Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When blogging friends become “real friends” May 13, 2014

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IN THIS WONDERFUL WORLD of blogging, I expected to share my passions for writing and photography.

I never anticipated, though, the friendships and connections I would form with other bloggers and with readers.

Doreen, left, and I at Crossings at Carnegie.

Doreen, left, and I at Crossings at Carnegie.

Saturday evening, I met, in real life, my blogger friend, Doreen, who writes at “Treadlemusic.” She and her husband, Tom, drove 1 ½ hours from their southeastern Minnesota home to the small community of Zumbrota for Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII at Crossings at Carnegie. I read my poem, “Lilacs,” at the event which paired 26 selected poems with art they inspired. (Click here to read about that.)

I was impressed that Doreen and Tom would drive that far to support me. But I’m not surprised. Doreen, whom I’ve gotten to know through blogging and a few phone conversations, is that kind of caring person. Just read some of her blog posts (click here) and you will meet a woman passionate about quilting and about bringing joy into the lives of others.

She was everything I expected. Funny. Bubbly. Full of energy and enthusiasm and genuinely happy to be at the collaboration. She cheered me on, gave me two thumbs up after my reading. Doreen is the kind of friend you cherish.

And Tom is equally as delightful, albeit much more subdued than his wife. People would likely say the same thing about my husband, Randy. They are a good balance for their wives. I figured the two husbands would get along just fine and enjoy some guy conversation. They did.

Crossings at Carnegie, site of the Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII.

Crossings at Carnegie, site of the Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII.

Tom shared with Randy that, if not for the woman he married, he would not have attended events like the Poet-Artist Collaboration. Randy would say the same. Today both guys embrace the arts, for the most part.

As for Doreen and me, there’s no question we share a passion for creativity. She stitches hers into fabric. I stitch mine into words and images.

And now we’ve stitched together a friendship that goes beyond the exchange of blogger comments and the occasional email and phone call. We are real life friends.

IN ADDITION TO DOREEN, I’ve met four other bloggers whom I now consider friends:

Beth Ann, who writes from northeastern Iowa at “It’s Just Life,” also traveled 1 ½ hours to meet me for the first time in December of 2012. She and husband, Chris, came for my poetry presentation and reading at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. Since then, Beth Ann and I have lunched together, talked many times on the phone and recently dined together in nearby Owatonna with our husbands. She possesses great compassion and care, makes me laugh and has this wonderful Southern accent. I am blessed by her friendship.

Gretchen is the second blogger (“A Fine Day for an Ephiphay”) whom I met when she and her family drove to Faribault from rural Worthington to attend a play directed by a friend. We invited them to our home for supper. Since then, Randy and I have been to their home for supper. Gretchen is an incredibly gifted writer. But more than that, she is a kind and loyal friend who listens and cares. She has a wonderful husband and kids and we all feel like we’ve known each other for years. Such comfortable familiarity endears this family to me.

Jackie, who writes at “Who will make me laugh,” is the third blogger I’ve met. We share a passion for barns, country churches, gravel roads, Sunday afternoon drives and more. She’s one talented photographer. Jackie and I met last summer when my husband and I were in Rochester moving our son into his new apartment. She had scouted out apartment options for him and tipped us off to suitable options. For that I was grateful. Jackie and her husband, Rick, are also the type of individuals who make you feel right at home with their warmth and friendliness. A bonus of our meet-up was meeting their adorable granddaughter, Audrey. Within minutes of meeting, Audrey gave me a bracelet. She is sweet and kind, just like her grandma.

Sue, who lives in the metro (and elsewhere depending on the season) and blogs at “Ever Ready,” traveled to Faribault last fall with her sister for lunch at my house. She is among the most enthusiastic supporters of my poetry. I am so appreciative of Sue’s encouragement. She writes poetry, too, and heads up the Northwoods Art and Book Festival in Hackensack. My poem, “Lilacs,” was selected last year as a “Work of Merit” at that event. Sue is a real foodie and I’ve gone to her blog numerous times to find great recipes.

There you have it. Blogging is about so much more than writing and showcasing photos. It’s about community and friendship.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Jackie makes three August 23, 2013

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THRICE NOW I’VE MET, in person, Midwest bloggers with whom I initially formed online friendships. And they—Gretchen at A Fine Day for an Epiphany, Beth Ann at It’s Just Life and Jackie at Who Will Make Me Laugh—are as genuine in person as they are in their postings.

There are no pretenses. All three of these women are kind, generous and caring individuals who are the real deal.

I first met Beth Ann last December when she and her husband, Chris, drove up from Mason City, Iowa, to hear me read and present on poetry at the local library. Beth Ann didn’t tell me she was coming; she simply showed up. I recognized her from her online photo. We instantly connected and she has since visited me.

As an example of Beth Ann’s caring ways, she uses her blog to raise awareness of and donate monies to worthy causes via her “Comments for a Cause.” For each comment made, Beth Ann and Chris donate 50 cents to the selected cause. Fifty cents per comment adds up.

In the Worthington area, Gretchen is an active volunteer with many organizations and the entire family has participated in community theatre. A theatrical performance brought Gretchen, her husband and three children to Faribault last summer to see a play directed by a friend. Before the show, they dined at our house. This summer my husband and I dined at Gretchen’s home. It’s as if we’ve known them forever instead of just a year. They are that kind of warm and welcoming family.

Me, left, with Jackie

Me, left, with Jackie

Ditto goes for Jackie and her husband, Rick, whom we met on Sunday afternoon after moving our son’s belongings from his apartment in Rochester. It was our boy’s move three months ago that truly connected me, on a personal level, with Jackie. I asked her for suggestions on apartments and she presented me with a list. Later, when I was looking for thrift stores in town, she gave me another list. How nice was that?

But I wasn’t at all surprised at Jackie’s kind spirit. I’ve followed her blog for quite some time and knew we shared similar values and interests. Think driving down a country gravel road; appreciating barns, country churches, old country schools and cemeteries; photography; the importance of faith and family in our lives. Meeting Jackie in person on Sunday was like reuniting with a long-time friend.

As a bonus to our visit with Jackie and Rick, my husband and I met their son, Gavin, and their sweet granddaughter, Audrey. Upon our arrival, Audrey was playing with a tin of jewelry. She’s quite the diva, and I mean that in the most fashionable and nicest way. By the time I left, I was wearing a beautiful stone and bead bracelet in my favorite hues—green and purple—gifted by the darling little girl with the big brown eyes.

The bracelet Audrey gave me. My one regret is that I didn't have a photo taken of me and Audrey together.

The bracelet Audrey gave me. My one regret is that I didn’t have a photo taken of me and Audrey together.

Jackie has often written about Audrey’s giving spirit, so evident in her gift to me. I was deeply touched. I expect the spirit of generosity has been passed through the generations.

Now whenever I wear that bracelet, I’ll think of Jackie and Audrey and how individual writers and photographers, threaded through blogging, can form an unbroken circle of friendship.

FYI:

To read Jackie’s blog, Who Will Make Me Laugh, click here. Jackie, a nurse by professions, is an especially talented photographer who claims she could spend all day editing images.

To read Beth Ann’s blog, It’s Just Life, click here. Threads of compassion and care run through Beth Ann’s blog posts. I am trying to convince her to write a book of devotionals.

To read Gretchen’s blog, It’s a Fine Day for an Epiphany, click here. Gretchen is an incredibly talented writer, evident in her postings. She’s written a children’s book manuscript, which I fully expect to be accepted for publication someday soon.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A bear sighting in Faribault August 10, 2013

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Bear

UNLIKE SOME BLOGGERS I know (click here), I do not have to travel all the way to Wyoming to see a bear. I photographed this bear at the intersection of a four-lane highway and a busy street in a commercial area of Faribault Wednesday evening. The A & W bear almost seamlessly blends in with the road construction environment.

No need to be alert, make noise, carry bear spray or avoid hiking alone or running.

This bear, offering free root beer floats, seemed much too friendly for those worries.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Friendships forged via blogging August 3, 2013

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YOU KNOW SOMETIMES how, when you meet someone, you instantly connect and feel as if you’ve been friends forever.

Well, that’s exactly how I feel about my blogger friends Beth Ann, who writes at It’s Just Life, and Gretchen, who writes at A Fine Day for an Epiphany. They are now real life friends, as in I’ve met them.

Beth Ann has been to Faribault twice, first last December with her husband, Chris, to hear me present on and read my poetry during a program at Buckham Memorial Library. Chris always worries about his wife and her “imaginary” blogger friends and whether one of us will stuff her in the trunk of a car. “Not to worry,” I told Beth Ann when she visited me at my home several weeks ago. “I’ll stash you in my basement freezer.”

Now Chris terms me “that Audrey character.”

I don’t know that Gretchen’s husband, Colin, has assigned any such moniker to me. He seems not too concerned about my character.

Driving the state line road to Gretchen and Colin's rural southwest Minnesota home.

Driving the state line road to Gretchen and Colin’s rural southwest Minnesota home.

Last week my husband and I, while en route to Luverne in the extreme southwestern corner of Minnesota, detoured off Interstate 90 into Worthington, wound our way through construction zones and aimed south to the Minnesota/Iowa border where Gretchen and her family live on the state line. Literally. The gravel road past their rural acreage is half in Minnesota, half in Iowa. How cool is that?

I could have chosen to show you a "perfect" family photo in which everyone in Gretchen's family is standing nice and looking at my camera. But I love this one of Ian eyeballing the antics of his little sister, Lucy. Last summer, when visiting me, Colin also held Lucy upside down for a photo and Lucy wanted to do the same again this time.

I could have chosen a “perfect” family photo in which everyone in Gretchen’s family is standing nice and looking at my camera. But I love this one of Ian eyeballing the antics of his little sister, Lucy. Last summer, when visiting us, Colin also held his youngest daughter upside down for a photo and Lucy wanted to do the same pose this time. Given her sweetness, we obliged.

Randy and I were excited to visit our friends as last summer Gretchen, Colin and their three kids accepted a dinner invitation to our home when they were in Faribault for a theatrical performance. We instantly bonded.

Gretchen and me, now real-life friends. Photo by Randy Helbling.

Gretchen and me, now real-life friends. Photo by Randy Helbling.

Who says “Imaginary” blogging friends can’t become “real friends?” Not I, says this blogger.

Sweet little Lucy, who narrated on the nature walk and later read a book to me. She just finished kindergarten.

Sweet little Lucy, who narrated on the nature walk and later read a book to me. She just finished kindergarten. That’s her blanket, appropriately named “Blue.”

Upon our arrival, I refused the handshakes of Colin and Ian, embracing them instead. The girls—Gretchen and daughters Katie and Lucy—were quick with the hugs.

A creek winds through the property.

A creek winds through the acreage. That’s the neighbor’s land in the background.

Then Randy and I were off on a nature walk with the kids through the 10-acre wooded and hilly creek-side property while Gretchen and Colin prepared a delicious meal of grilled pork, lettuce and fruit salads, assorted breads and the best peach dessert ever. (Click here for the recipe.)

Ian, 14, with the family's cat,

Ian, 14, with family cat, Zephyr.

As much as I savored the food, I especially savored the time with our friends, who are warm and welcoming and kind and good and great conversationalists. Even the kids. I mean that in the best sort of way as Ian, Katie and Lucy are so well-mannered and interesting and bright and talented and funny and just the kind of children any parent would be proud to call theirs.

Standing on the state line road with Katie, left, and Lucy.

Standing on the state line road with Katie, left, and Lucy. Rural Minnesota and rural Iowa. Love it. Photo by Gretchen.

When we were about to leave, they all humored me when I insisted on standing in the middle of the state line gravel road for a photo opp, just to say I’d been simultaneously in Minnesota and Iowa, where, by the way, imaginary blogger real life friend Beth Ann lives.

The Welcome to Minnesota sign just down the road from Gretchen and Colin's place.

The “Welcome to Minnesota” sign just down the road from Gretchen and Colin’s place, photographed while driving by.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thrice blessed on a Sunday May 5, 2013

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DO YOU EVER EXPERIENCE one of those days when you feel blessed, just blessed?

This Sunday would be such a day.

One of those blessings came in a shoebox, carted to church this morning by my friend Joanne. She spotted two vintage drinking glasses at her son-in-law’s mother’s garage sale yesterday and mentioned my glassware collection. The mother told Joanne to take the two glasses and give them to her friend. That would be me.

And so this morning after the 8 a.m. church service, Joanne handed me that shoebox with two outrageously cheerful glasses, unlike any others in my collection.

Vintage glasses

While I absolutely adore the vintage 70s glasses, I value even more Joanne’s thoughtfulness in giving me something she knows I will use and appreciate. It’s not my birthday, not any special day for me…

The second blessing of the morning came when 2 ½-year-old Mia, who wasn’t feeling well, arrived at my house around 9:30. Her mom, my friend Tammy, had phoned earlier wondering if I could care for Mia while her family attended the confirmation of their eldest son. I didn’t hesitate. The rite of confirmation is too important for parents to miss.

Tammy thought I was doing her a favor. But she was also doing me a favor. Years have passed since I’ve “played dolls” and read picture books to a child. And let me tell you, such child’s play is good for the soul.

Finally, my third blessing of the day came from Cecilia, one of my favorite bloggers, who writes from her “little farm on the prairie” in Illinois. I can’t even tell you how long I’ve read “The Kitchens Garden,” but I cannot imagine my day without a trip to Cecilia’s “farmy.”

She takes me back to my childhood on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, reconnecting me to my roots via her insightful, creative and splendid writing and photography. But more than C’s ability to write well are her compassion and care for both people and animals.

Rather than try to explain, just read this comment posted by Cecilia on my “Hope Unfurls” post published Saturday:

I was out collecting trees the other day and Sandy (The Matriarch) said how she always enjoys your comments, she is so worried about you out there in this infernal snow.. a winter that will not let up is not good for a woman she said, it wears on her, but you have stood up to it with grace and fortitude, not long now I hope, and you will have some flowers. Love from all of us! So proud to be your friend, Audrey. c

Thrice blessed I am this Sunday, dear readers. Thrice blessed.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How a circle of bloggers are using their voices to help a Minnesota family January 12, 2013

NEVER HAVE I FELT more connected to and appreciative of the caring community of bloggers than I have this week.

In just a matter of a few days a circle of bloggers have, together, shared the story of Tom and Nina Hedin of Glencoe. (Read my initial post by clicking here.) And in turn, their readers, family and friends have passed the story along via social media. Bob Collins at Minnesota Public Radio even picked up the story in the 5×8 section of his Friday morning News Cut column. (Click here to read that; scroll down to number 4.)

We are spreading the word about the Hedins’ great need for prayer, encouragement and financial assistance after Tom was seriously injured in a snowmobile accident one week ago this afternoon. He remained, as of Friday, in intensive care at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. For updates on Tom’s condition, visit his Caring Bridge website by clicking here.

Nina and Tom Hedin with Jack and June.

Nina and Tom Hedin with Jack, 3, and June, seven months. Photo courtesy of Nina Hedin.

As you can imagine, this couple with two young children cannot manage their mounting medical bills and other expenses alone. Already, Nina received the first bill on Wednesday: $20,793 for her husband’s 50-mile air-link helicopter ride.

If you can assist the family financially, please consider doing so by contributing via the “Help for Tom Hedin” GiveForward account. You will find details by clicking here.

Now, I know some of you out there would prefer to give directly by writing out a check to the family. I am not yet aware of a way in which you can do this. So, if you know me well enough to have my personal email or snail mail address and wish to give in this way, I would be more than happy to pass along your contribution to the family.

You can also contribute via commenting on It’s Just Life, a blog written by Beth Ann Chiles of Iowa. For every comment on her blog during January and February, Beth Ann is giving 50 cents to the Hedins. Click here to link to It’s Just Life. Beth Ann has the most giving heart, each month selecting a beneficiary for her “Comments for a Cause” project.

That leads me right into Beth Ann’s blog post for today. You just have to read it because she spins a story into her post that gave me goosebumps when I first read it in an email from her a few days ago. You just cannot make up something like this. Click here to read this powerful and touching story as it relates to Nina Hedin. Be sure to leave a comment.

Like my friend Beth Ann, each of us has the power to make a difference. And this week a circle of bloggers have used their words to do just that. I have never been prouder to be a part of this blogging community.

I have a box of greeting cards in my office, one of them inscribed with this quote by the Chinese philosopher Confucius: “Words are the voice of the heart.”

Indeed.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Meet 10 Minnesota bloggers, a contest winner & more January 11, 2012

THEY WRITE FROM EVERY section of the state—from the southwestern Minnesota prairie to up north on the Gunflint Trail and the Iron Range to the heart of the Twin Cities metro area and places in between.

They are your next-door neighbor, the guy in the office, the young mother down the street, the 20-something…just regular folks who write online.

They are bloggers.

Thus, dear readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots, begins a feature package on 10 Minnesota bloggers, plus one (that would be me), just published in the winter issue of Minnesota Moments.

As a writer for this central Minnesota based magazine, I have the opportunity to present story proposals to the editor and then, when approved, pursue those ideas.

In the blogger package, you’ll meet these Minnesota bloggers with distinct voices: Aaron J. Brown, Nina Hedin, Ada Igoe, Beth Johanneck, Laura Karsjens, Gretchen O’Donnell, Gary Sankary, Brenda Score, Michael Wojahn and Emily Zweber. (Click here to read the story online.)

Prior to my search, I’d already been following about half of these writers. Finding the remaining five proved more challenging than I anticipated. Eventually I found them and if you check out their blogs, I think you will agree that they write in a way that’s as comfortable as sharing conversation over a cup of coffee.

MY SECOND MAJOR PROJECT for this issue focused on a contest, “Snapshots of Love,” which I created and curated. Magazine readers were invited to submit vintage black-and-white candid photos on the theme of love and then share what the photos told them about love.

We received some truly impressive images and stories that made selecting a winner difficult. However, in the end, Jeanne Everhart of Erhard was chosen as the winner with a 1948 picture of her and her sister riding the tricycle they shared. Her story will move you. View all of our contest entries by clicking here.

Jeanne Chase hitches a ride from her sister Sylvia in this 1948 photo taken at the sisters' home in Inman Township, Otter Tail County, Minn.

Since I came up with this contest idea, I also had to find prizes for our winner. I didn’t need to look far. Nina Hedin, one of the featured bloggers, also runs an etsy shop, Camp Honeybelle, and agreed to contribute a $25 gift certificate toward the prize package.

Bernie Nordman Wahl, a Duluth native now living in Billings, Montana, graciously created a card-a-month collection of vintage style greeting cards for our winner. Bernie sells her handmade cards on her Budugalee etsy shop. You simply must see her cards; this artist possesses a delightful sense of humor. Be sure also to visit Bernie’s One Mixed Bag blog. If Bernie still lived in Minnesota, she most definitely would have been included in my Minnesota bloggers feature.

But…, Bernie is in this issue. Her story, “A simple wooden plate equals love,” was published in our “moments in time” reader-submitted stories section. It’s a sweet story of family love.

Mary Bruno of St. Joseph-based Bruno Press and the subject of a story in Minnesota Moments’ fall issue, rounded out the prize package by contributing a letterpress, vintage graphics fine art print. If you’ve read my post on the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, you know how much I appreciate vintage printing.

One of the 26 handmade cards with a vintage flair crafted by Bernie Nordman Wahl for contest winner Jeanne Everhart.

VINTAGE COULD ALSO DEFINE the subject of one other story I  wrote for this issue—a “back in the day” piece on The Last Supper Drama which will be presented for the 50th time this Palm Sunday at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault. Yes, that’s right: 50 consecutive years.

I’ve attended this interpretation of The Last Supper twice and blogged about it. Click here to read that blog post. The photos published in the magazine printed way too dark, so the quality is not what you have come to expect in my photography. Please try to overlook that when you read the story.

A scene from the 2011 Last Supper Drama at St. John's UCC.

FINALLY, THIS CANNOT GO without mentioning. Swanville, Minnesota, native Joanne Fluke, who is a New York Times best-selling author, has a full-page ad on the inside front cover of this issue. She writes the “Hannah Swensen Mystery with Recipes!” series. She was the subject of a feature I wrote several years ago for the magazine. Her “Hannah” stories are set in fictitious Lake Eden, Minnesota.

Anyway, Joanne’s publisher, Kensington Publishing, is sponsoring a contest right now with a chance to win a Joanne Fluke gift basket.

So there, dear readers, you have just one more reason to check out the winter edition of Minnesota Moments.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling