Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My granddaughter turns one: A celebration in images & words April 18, 2017

 

TO WATCH MY GRANDDAUGHTER gives me such joy. To hold her and hug her and kiss her swells my heart with such love. To watch my eldest care for and love her baby girl along with her husband swells my heart with even more love.

I’ve only been a grandma for a year. But it’s long enough to know just how much I love this new role.

 

 

 

 

This past weekend family and friends celebrated the first birthday of our darling Isabelle with a The Very Hungry Caterpillar themed party. It was a perfect theme for a baby girl who loves books, who just weeks earlier sat on my lap flipping through the pages of this timeless story by Eric Carle.

 

 

 

 

Her mama, my daughter Amber, confessed that she felt a bit pressured to pull off the birthday celebration given my history of throwing detailed themed birthday parties. Amber needn’t have worried. She did great and impressed me with everything from decorations down to the caterpillar cupcake birthday cake.

 

 

 

 

It was the birthday girl, though, who spotlighted the attention of those gathered to celebrate her first birthday. Izzy did great, going to everyone and, as expected, finding tissue paper, gift receipts and a water bottle sometimes more interesting then the gifts she was supposed to be opening. Give her another year.

 

 

But for now, we all delighted in Izzy’s smile and cheered her on as she walked across the living room. We declared that Isabelle is now officially walking.

 

 

I was reminded again of how much joy a baby can find in the simple things. A textured ball released from a gift bag brought the widest smile to Izzy’s face as she shoved it across the floor. The sighting of a dog and later a squirrel through windows sent my granddaughter nearly leaping from my arms in excitement. In the craziness of life today, it is good to witness such exuberance from the perspective of a one-year-old.

 

 

 

 

Life is good when you’re one. And good, too, when you are the grandmother of a baby girl whom you love and adore.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A new spin on carrot cake, four-year-old style March 9, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

WHEN MY GREAT NEPHEW Landon turned four last week, he asked for a carrot cake. What preschooler chooses that flavor of birthday cake? A kid who loves vegetables and, as far as I have observed, every food. I’ve even watched Landon eat an ear of raw sweetcorn just pulled from the stalk.

His mom, Amber, makes one delicious carrot cake. She bakes and cooks from scratch. No boxed mixes or convenience foods for her or her family. Or guests. Lucky me.

I could end this story here by singing praises about the carrot-cake-baking mom and the boy who loves carrot cake.

Landon, with help from his nearly two-year-old sister Evelyn, sticks raw carrots into his carrot cake. And, yes, he chose to wear a Halloween shirt at his birthday party. When you’re four, you can do that.

But Landon is Landon and he took this carrot cake thing a bit further. As Amber finished prepping his birthday meal of spaghetti and meatballs, Landon pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter. He then reached into a container of raw carrots, celery, radishes and peppers and pulled out the carrots. As we watched, Landon poked the carrots, like candles, into his birthday cake. How’s that for a veggie loving four-year-old?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy birthday to my daughter Miranda November 16, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,

WORTHY OF ADMIRATION. WONDERFUL.

Look up the definition of Miranda and those are the words that define the name derived from Latin.

Miranda, five days old

Miranda, five days old

But to me the name is much more personal. Much more meaningful. Much more precious. Miranda is the name my husband and I chose for our second daughter. Today our Miranda celebrates her birthday.

She fits the definition of admirable and wonderful. And here’s why:

Our daughter is incredibly caring, kind and compassionate. Not only in the loyalty of her friendship but in her care for others. While still a high school student, she went on mission trips to help hurricane survivors. She also modeled good choices, resisting peer pressure and more through theater and outreach at her high school.

She’s well beyond those years now. Still her compassion prevails in her work as a Spanish medical interpreter, in service projects at her church and in simply caring deeply about others.

Miranda in Valles Calchaquies, near the town of Cafayate in the Salta province.

Miranda in Valles Calchaquies, near the town of Cafayate in the Salta province during one of her trips to Argentina.

But there’s much more to Miranda. Beneath her external gentleness, she is incredibly strong. Rock strong. At age four, she walked with a nurse toward a hospital operating room, Big Bird in hand, neither crying or afraid. As a teen, she powered through wearing a back brace 24/7 for a year with focused determination. While traveling in Argentina, she fought off an attacker and come through stronger than ever. Not much rattles her.

As a little girl, Miranda was all girly girl, wearing only skirts and donning ribbons in her hair. She also loved horses, including her stick horse, shown here in a photo taken when she was 5 1/2.

As a little girl, Miranda was all girly girl, wearing skirts and donning ribbons in her hair. She also loved horses, including her stick horse, shown here in a photo taken when she was 5 1/2. She still has beautiful curly hair, although no longer blonde.

She has always been her own person. Independent and spirited in the way that she’s OK with following her own path. I admire that quality in her. At an amusement park, you’d find Miranda rocking the roller coaster, hands up. She’s that kind of adventurous. Seemingly unafraid.

Miranda and me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2016.

Miranda and me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2016.

I don’t see Miranda nearly as often as I would like; she lives 300 miles away. But I think of her daily, holding her close in my heart and my prayers. I love her with the same fierceness as the day she was born, even before she was born. The kind of love so strong it locks your heart forever to your child. The kind of love that can’t be defined by words, but rather by emotions and feelings and an overwhelming need to always be there for your child. No matter their age. To want the best for them—to be safe and happy and well.

Miranda is an adult now, has been for more than a decade. But that doesn’t change how I feel about her, how deep my motherly love.

She is beautiful in so many ways. And on this day, her day, I wish my daughter a most beautiful birthday. And I want her to know how very much I love her. Always.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on my husband’s 60th birthday October 12, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

helbling-siblings-in-n-d-1963

 

IN THE PHOTO, one of the few from his childhood, he is a slim blonde-haired almost 7-year-old standing in front of three of his four sisters.

 

Grandfather and granddaughter.

One of my favorite photos of Randy: holding his 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

Fast forward 53 years and he is a 60-year-old father of three and a new grandfather. He is my husband, Randy. And today he turns sixty.

We’ve known each other for more than half our lives. I often wonder how those decades have passed, snap, just like that and we are each now sixty.

Birthdays for me today are more reflective and less celebratory. Not that I don’t appreciate another year of life. Rather, I find myself thinking about the past.

I have heard through the decades stories from Randy’s past. He was born in North Dakota and moved with his family to central Minnesota in his early elementary years. As he tells it, in the one-room country schoolhouse he attended in North Dakota, students were kept in from recess one day due to coyotes roaming the schoolyard. I love that story.

While attending a Catholic school in Minnesota, he apparently misbehaved and was punished by a nun drilling her thumb into his skull. I don’t love that story.

And then there’s the story about the day my husband saved his father’s life. On Saturday, October 21, 1967, my father-in-law’s left hand was pulled into the spring-loaded roller of a corn chopper. Blades sliced off his fingers. The roller trapped his arm. Randy was with him. As his father screamed, the 11-year-old disengaged the power take-off and then ran along cow pasture and across swampland to a neighbor’s farm for help. Randy saved his dad’s life. I love that example of courage and calm exhibited by a young boy, my husband.

That trait of quiet, reassuring strength has continued throughout Randy’s life. Not much rattles him. It’s an admirable quality, especially in times of stress and difficulty. And, as we all know, life brings many struggles and challenges.

He is strong. Strong in his work ethic, his faith and his love of family.

Today I celebrate and honor the man I’ve loved for some 35 years. Happy birthday, Randy! And many more!

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Turning one May 13, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

Birthday, 5 blowing out candle

 

BIG BROTHER BLEW out the candle. But one-year-old Evelyn didn’t care. She seemed more focused on the flame. And then the cake. Smart girl.

 

Birthday, cake 1

 

Her mom baked a homemade chocolate cake layered with homemade raspberry preserves and frosted with more chocolate. The cake looked like something out of a food magazine. And it tasted like something out of a master baker’s kitchen.

 

Birthday, 15 eating cake

 

Once the prerequisite candle blowing was complete, Evelyn proceeded to dig into all that chocolatey goodness while grandmas and aunts laughed and snapped more photos.

 

Birthday, 17 eating cake

 

When a child turns one, we celebrate with exuberance. It is a joyful and memorable occasion. A first. First year. First cake. So many firsts during those first 12 months of life.

I wonder what lies ahead for my sweet great niece. I look forward to watching her grow under the care of loving parents. She is much-loved, too, by extended family. And I can’t think of anything better for a one-year-old than to be so loved.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating a Minnesota barn’s 100th birthday with an old-fashioned barn dance September 28, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
The band, Downtown Sound, sets up inside the Becker barn for a 10th birthday barn dance.

The band, Downtown Sound, sets up inside the Becker barn for a 100th birthday barn dance.

THE OLD BARN was all decked out with rural décor.

 

Barn dance, 24 Dekalb sign & corn

 

Barn dance, 84 wagon display

 

Barn dance, 30 bouquet

 

Guests gather in a corner near a display of Becker family farm photos.

Guests gather in a corner near a display of Becker family farm photos. The images are displayed on the exterior of the bathroom built into the barn.

Ear corn and seedcorn signs. Washboard and washtubs. Gourds and pumpkins. Fresh-cut zinnias, cosmos and other garden flowers in jars. Red-and-white checked gingham tablecloths. And in a corner, a collection of family and barn photos.

 

Barn dance, 127 Becker barn banner close-up

 

Across the end of the hayloft, just above the section where the band, Downtown Sound, was setting up, and below an American flag, a banner blazed Becker Barn Dance 1915 – 2015.

The sun sets on a perfect September evening on the Becker farm.

Guests gather on the hayloft deck as the sun sets Saturday evening.

John and Debbie Becker purchased the farm from John's dad, Herb, in 1988.

John and Debbie Becker purchased the farm from John’s dad, Herb, in 1988.

John and Debbie Becker purchased the farm from John's dad, Herb, in 1988.

John and Debbie Becker

 

Hundreds gathered on a perfect September Saturday evening at the John and Debbie Becker farm just west of Dundas along Rice County Road 1 to celebrate the birthday of a sprawling 36-foot by 100-foot barn built in 1915. One hundred years ago.

Family arrives for the barn dance and party.

Family arrives for the barn dance and party.

A vintage photo of the Herb and Dorothy Becker family. The current barn owner, John, is the youngest in the family.

A vintage photo of the Herb and Dorothy Becker family. The current barn owner, John, is the youngest in the family.

Family and friends visit before the meal and dance.

Family and friends visit before the meal and dance.

But this party was about more than commemorating this century-old massive barn in the Becker family since Herb and wife, Dorothy (both now deceased), purchased the farm in 1948. It was also about a coming together of family—only one of the elder Beckers’ descendants was missing—and friends to celebrate the land, farming and the rural way of life.

A view of the farmyard and barn dance guests from a hayloft window.

A view of the farmyard and barn dance guests from a hayloft window.

Posted in the barn

Posted in the barn, a photo of the Becker farm and an appropriate saying.

Aunt and nephew at the barn dance.

Aunt and nephew at the barn dance.

As I gazed through an open hayloft window at the crowd mingling in the farmyard below, I considered how thankful I am to have grown up in rural Minnesota, to have this close connection to the land and to extended family. Just like the Becker family.

The sun spotlights machine sheds. Vehicles parked in every nook and cranny on the farm.

The sun spotlights machine sheds. Vehicles parked in every nook and cranny of the farm.

Wagons rolled.

Wagons rolled.

A vintage swingset proved a popular spot.

A vintage swingset proved a popular spot.

Playing games...

Playing games…

Here, on this evening when the sun set a brilliant gold across ripening corn fields and edged shadows around silos, kids rumbled wagons across gravel, pumped legs high on an aged swingset, covered eyes in an old-fashioned game of hide-and-seek. It was like a flashback to yesteryear for me, back to simpler days when kids played with imagination and folks took time to visit.

 

Barn dance, 28 interior barn overview 2

 

Nostalgia prevailed on this September evening of a near full moon. Host John Becker briefed guests on the history of the barn, known long ago for its neighborhood barn dances. In his youth, long before he bought this farm, John’s father attended dances here, where men sat on one side of the hayloft, women on the other. On this evening, all generations mingled in the hayloft and John reminded them to be thankful to the Lord for the harvest.

 

Barn dance, 36 barn dance sign outside barn

 

I was thankful to be here, sitting on a bench on the newly-constructed deck off the hayloft. Gazing at the peak of the barn toward the evening sky scattered with stars. Inside the band played Sweet Caroline as the autumn breeze cooled me.

 

Barn dance, 268 dark barn interior band area

 

Later I would twirl, in my husband’s arms, across the cornmeal slicked plywood floor to a polka, flap my elbows to the chicken dance and rock it out to I Fought the Law (and the law won) and many more tunes. I danced until my muscles ached. And I smiled, oh, how I smiled. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun, since I’ve forgotten the worries of life and immersed myself in the joy of a memorable evening with friends.

 

Barn dance, 131 plate of food

 

Barn dance, 148 family in food line

 

Barn dance, 118 fall themed pie close-up

 

Judging pies.

Judging pies.

The food was equally as memorable with savory beef and pork sandwiches from Nerstrand Meats, baked beans and an assortment of salads and bars brought by guests. Later, after judges sampled pies in the pie-baking contest, plated pies presented a dessert smorgasbord. And if that wasn’t enough, sausage and cheese, chips and dip and other snack foods were available for grazing later.

The side entry into the hayloft.

The side entry into the hayloft.

Some six hours after we arrived, Randy and I descended the steep walk-way into the hayloft and followed the gravel drive past the grain dryer (next to the yard light) toward vehicles parked on the lawn. We threaded our way toward our car, music fading as the distance widened between us and the 100-year-old barn.

FYI: Check back for more photos from the barn dance in additional posts tomorrow and thereafter.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: A three-year-old from the prairie June 19, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,

Portrait #28: Hank

Portrait 28, Hank

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of Hank from 2013.

 

I wish I lived closer to sweet Hank. But my great nephew and his parents (and soon to be sibling) live nearly 125 miles away in Walnut Grove, childhood home of author Laura Ingalls Wilder. I see Hank only a few times a year at family gatherings. But such is life these days with extended families separated by many miles, sometimes even by oceans.

Hank, though, is lucky enough to have his paternal grandma and a beloved auntie caring for him while Mom and Dad work. He is loved by many near and far.

This Saturday, Hank turns three. I expect he will have quite the birthday party.

If you’re fortunate enough to live near relatives, I hope you appreciate that close geographical connection. And if you don’t live near family, I hope you’ve found your own circle of friends to embrace and love and support and care for you. We all need each other to get us through the rough patches and to celebrate those occasions when life is as simple and good as it was when we were three.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling