Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Keep voting for Minnesota Prairie Roots as best blog in southern Minnesota August 16, 2014

southern minnesota scene best of logoVOTING CONTINUES now through Labor Day for the Best Local Blog/Blogger in southern Minnesota. “The Best of SOMINN 2014” is sponsored by the regional arts and entertainment magazine, SouthernMINN Scene.

And just to remind you all, Minnesota Prairie Roots is one of three blogs vying for this honor.

I’d appreciate your vote. I’m in the “miscellaneous” category. Yeah, I know…

Unlike other elections, you can vote once daily per email address. Yes. Hey, I don’t make the rules. So, please, exercise your democratic right and stuff my ballot box.

Thank you for your support.

I make this campaign promise: I will continue to blog about people, places, events and more with a passion. I love writing. I love photography. And I love this place called Minnesota.

And I appreciate all of you faithful readers, especially the nearly 1,000 of you currently subscribing to Minnesota Prairie Roots.

Click here to vote.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Vote for Minnesota Prairie Roots as the best blog in southern Minnesota August 1, 2014

southern minnesota scene best of logoTHE NOMINATIONS ARE IN, dear readers, for the “Best of Southern Minnesota 2014,” sponsored by the regional arts and entertainment magazine Southern Minnesota Scene.

And, ta-da, Minnesota Prairie Roots/Audrey Kletscher Helbling is among nominees for best blog/blogger, along with Dennis Vogen and Anhedonic Headphones/Kevin Krein.

I am honored. Truly. To those of you who nominated me, thank you.

Now, you have one month, until 11:59 p.m. September 1, to vote.

Click here to cast your ballot for Minnesota Prairie Roots and nominations in more than 150 other categories of “best ofs” in southern Minnesota. You need only register your name and email (there’s a promise not to sell your information).

You will find the blog/blogger ballot in the miscellaneous category, near the bottom of the page.

If you are reading this post, you likely are already among the nearly 1,000 Minnesota Prairie Roots subscribers. You know that I write from the heart about places I go, people I meet, everyday life, area events, my native prairie, the arts, small towns, poetry and so much more.

Writing and photography are my passions.

I love Minnesota. I love sharing stories and photos from rural Minnesota. It’s as simple as that. I give this place, and you, a voice through my words and images.

If you are so inclined, please share this “vote for Minnesota Prairie Roots” request via good old-fashioned word-of-mouth or on Facebook and/or Twitter. I’m not on either social media outlet. I know. I’m among the last hold-outs, just like the last one to get a cell phone several years ago. My husband and I still get our TV reception from a roof-top antenna.

But that’s me—the woman who hangs her laundry on the line, finds the scent of freshly-mown alfalfa intoxicating and writes with a passion.

Again, click here to vote.

Thank you for your support, but most of all, for reading Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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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


On the road along Wisconsin Highway 21 April 21, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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TRAVELING THE 100 MILES or so between Tomah and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, can get downright tedious.

My husband and I have driven that stretch of narrow Wisconsin State Highway 21 numerous times in the past three years en route to and from Appleton, where our second eldest daughter lives.

With lots of small towns to filter through—and you know how much I appreciate small towns, unless I’m on a schedule, which we typically are—and a roadway that rates as heavily traveled and usually impossible to pass slow moving vehicles, this section of the trip is often taxing.

So we divert ourselves by trying to appreciate the sites around us, although not always pleasant. The shoulders and ditches of Highway 21 are often littered with deer carcases. Better a dead deer than one walking/running into the path of our van.

Sometimes we play a game, seeing how many dead deer we can spot. Yes, I know. Whatever works to pass the time.

I typically rest my camera in my lap, too, ready to capture whatever I find intriguing, in other words potential blog material.

My single Wisconsin Amish photo during our most recent trip shows and Amish buggy in a farmyard and an Amish teen standing next to a small outbuilding.

My single Wisconsin Amish photo during our most recent trip shows an Amish buggy in a farmyard and an Amish teen standing next to a small outbuilding.

Typically I am on shutter button alert around the Coloma area, home to many Amish.

But anything out of the ordinary can cause me to raise my camera and shoot.

Photographed just east of Coloma.

Photographed just east of Coloma.

How often do you see a pink semi cab?

The weaving truck in Wautoma.

The weaving truck, right, in Wautoma.

Or a truck with boats aboard weaving through traffic in Wautoma like some some speed boat on an area lake?

I really should have photographed the crazy multi-lane roundabouts near Oshkosh. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation seems to fancy these traffic intersectors with more than 200 constructed in the state, many in the Fox Valley area where we travel. In contrast, Minnesota has about 120.

While I understand how roundabouts enhance safety, that does not make them any less scary, especially during rush hour. Suffice to say, you best know which lane you need to be in, something not in the knowledge bank of out-of-state drivers like us encountering a particular roundabout for the first time.

In summary, though Highway 21 proves a long drive through central Wisconsin, I manage to keep it semi interesting by scouting for blog material.

FYI: These photos were shot during a March trip, thus the snow you see in some of the images. Check back for additional posts this week from that visit to eastern Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


All about community in Emmaville, a nostalgic place in Minnesota’s northwoods February 19, 2014

I’VE NEVER VISITED Emmaville, Minnesota, population four two.

And up until last week, I’d never even heard of this unincorporated settlement, a remnant of an early 1900s logging town located 12 miles north of Park Rapids along Hubbard County Road 4 deep in Paul Bunyan country.

The Emmaville was dark and empty when the Sprys purchased it in 2010. They did a lot of cleaning and renovating before reopening the cafe and convenience store in January 2011.

The Emmaville Store stood dark and empty when Mike and Melinda Spry purchased it in 2010. They cleaned and renovated the combination cafe, bar and convenience store before reopening the business in January 2011. The vintage motel and gas signage dates back to the 1950s or 1960s.

But thanks to the folksy writing of Mike Spry, co-owner of the Emmaville Store along with wife, Melinda, since 2010, I’m now endeared to this place.

In his blog, “Rediscovering Emmaville—The adventure continues,” Spry shares his love for Emmaville in a way that only one intimately familiar with a people and place can.

Snowmobilers frequently stop in Emmaville.

Snowmobilers frequently stop in Emmaville.

Spry begins his recent “The Emmaville Shuffle” post:

You know it’s winter when you witness the Emmaville Shuffle. The dancers walk up to the counter in our store and start patting themselves. They grab their butts, pause briefly to think, and then start unzipping their outer wear. They stretch and grope inside their suits, and sometimes undo more zippers and straps before their hands dive back in. We sometimes feel the need to avert our eyes.

You might think we’re running some kind of backwoods burlesque show here, but all we’re really talking about is snowmobilers trying to find their money. We call it the Emmaville Shuffle.

From those opening paragraphs (you can read the rest by clicking here), I was hooked on this blog, which focuses on “creating and sustaining community.”

Mike and Mel Spry, Emmaville's only residents, decided not to mess with a successful marketing tool

Mike and Mel Spry, shown here, “decided not to mess with a successful marketing tool” created by a previous owner although the population today is only two.  “The Biggest Little Town in the World,” advertising the population as four, dates back to the 1980s. At that time the store’s owner, his wife and two kids lived in Emmaville.

I needed to know more about these business owners, this settlement’s only permanent “residents” although Mike says those living in the surrounding woods and along area lakes also call Emmaville home.

The couple, now in their early 50s, grew up in nearby Detroit Lakes. Mike hunted and fished in the Emmaville area as a boy. Both attended Bemidji State University. Eventually, they would leave the region, only to return after Mike sold his shares in an environmental consulting and engineering firm.

Mike, in an email exchange with me, can’t pinpoint precisely why he and his wife decided to purchase and reopen the vacated Emmaville Store. The business venture also includes a cafe, bar, cabin, four-unit motel, a 10-site campground and seasonal storage units. But he calls the endeavor a labor of love.

“We love being a part of a rural community where people look out for each other and support each other,” Mike says. “In our previous life we traveled and moved around a lot, so we really long to be part of a community.”


Hanging out in Emmaville.

And that they are, as noted in a May 2013 blog post titled “Clayton is back!” Mike writes of seasonal resident Clayton, a 91-year-old who claims “the second bar stool from the right, where he can hear the TV good” and who serves as official Ambassador, Welcoming Committee, Handyman, Tour Guide and Historian:

You’ll be happy to know that Clayton is back in Emmaville, having arrived safe and sound last Thursday. However, upon seeing him in the flesh, Mary and Mel became concerned. To them, he seemed just too skinny. Clayton explained he had exercised all winter to work off all the weight he gained at Emmaville last year. So the ladies have rolled up their sleeves and are bound and determined to plump him up.

Three squares a day, plus all the pie and ice cream he can eat ought to do it.

With offerings like fresh-baked cinnamon and caramel rolls, banana bread, bars and other sweets, I expect Clayton regained weight in no time. The cafe does most of its business during breakfast and lunch, Mike says. The Emmaville Store website promotes a “famous” Sunday Brunch and Buffet from mid-May to early September and suggests trying the French toast made from cranberry-wild rice bread.

Friday evenings you’ll find, among other selections, an All-You-Can-Eat Taco Bar. And on Saturdays, it’s “Burgers in the Bar” night.

A vintage photo shows the Emmaville Store shortly after it opened in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

A photo from the late 1930s or early 1940s shows the Emmaville Store shortly after it opened.

Nostalgia, as much as gas and food, likely draws customers off the county road to Emmaville. Itasca State Park lies only 20 miles away and the recreational Heartland Trail and North Country Scenic Trail are even closer. Emmaville also sits along state-funded snowmobile trails connecting Itasca with Bemidji, Park Rapids and Walker.

Tourists, hunters, anglers, seasonal residents, bikers, snowmobilers and more all find their way here.

Dining at the Emmaville Store cafe.

Dining at the Emmaville Store cafe.

No matter who walks in the door, whether local or visitor, Mike says, “We try to be warm and welcoming to everyone. We want them to feel like family. It’s a place where they can step back in time and remember when they used to come up north when they were kids. It’s also a place for locals to gather for coffee, meetings and celebrations.”

Business can be slow sometimes, though, including in March and April. Yet the Sprys have managed to make enough money to pay the bills. The challenge has been finding time to get away. “It’s a lot like owning a dairy farm,” Mike says. “You can’t leave it easily.”

As Mike says, the Emmaville Store is a labor of love for him and Mel. His down-to-earth heartfelt writing about the people and happenings in Emmaville proves that.

Mike emailed this bonus photo from Emmaville of the 1907 schoolhouse, labeled by previous owner Cal Jensen as the University of Emmaville.

Mike emailed this bonus photo from Emmaville of the 1907 schoolhouse, labeled by previous owner Cal Jensen as the University of Emmaville. Jensen was a colorful character, Mike says, who posted several witty signs to attract tourists. The Sprys have refurbished that signage like “The More People I Meet, the More I Like My Dog.” Today the old schoolhouse is owned and used by two brothers as a hunting cabin.

FYI: Want to read more of Mike’s musings from Emmaville? Click here to reach his “Rediscovering Emmaville” blog. And click here to reach the Emmaville Store website.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos courtesy of Mike Spry


2013 in retrospect January 1, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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REFLECTING ON 2013, it’s been a good year in many ways. Not without challenges—no one’s life is perfect or worry-free—but mostly the past year rates as a good one on personal and professional levels.

Newlyweds Amber and Marc with Amber's brother, Caleb, and sister, Miranda.

Newlyweds Amber and Marc with Amber’s brother, Caleb, and sister, Miranda.

I watched as my eldest daughter married the love of her life. I watched as my youngest, my 19-year-old son, headed off to Boston, to a university that challenges him.

My role as a mother is ever evolving as my three adult children (that always seems like such an oxymoron) stretch their wings wider and fly higher. I am thankful for the independence and confidence they possess, although at times I joke that I should have tossed them into the basement and locked the door, keeping them forever close.

Personally, I continue to be blessed by the presence of so many caring people in my life from loving family members to a supportive bible study group to bloggy friends who have become real-life friends, and more.

I am grateful, too, that God continues to bless me with a listening ear and a compassionate heart. My husband always tells me that I can make anyone cry, and he means that in the best of ways.

That's my post, labeled "Barn Memories," featured today on Freshly Pressed.

For the third time since I began blogging, my work was selected for Freshly Pressed in 2013. That’s my post, labeled “Barn Memories.”

On the professional side of my life, the past year has presented new opportunities and accomplishments. This blog continues to flourish with around 230,000 views in 2013 and a growing readership, now at 708 followers.

I am thankful for everyone who reads Minnesota Prairie Roots and to media outlets like Minnesota Public Radio (Bob Collins’ NewsCut) and MinnPost (Minnesota Blog Cabin), which occasionally pick up my work.

Me and my camera, a tool in the writing profession I love.

Me with my DSLR Canon EOS 20D.

I’ve always considered myself first and foremost a writer in my professional life. But in the past year, my confidence as a photographer has soared as I’ve sold numerous photos which have been featured in places like a cable TV show intro, a catalog in the UK, a corporate report and more.

Photos published on Minnesota Prairie Roots are for sale. Check my “About” page for a contact email address. Just don’t email and tell me you would like to use a specific photo and you will give me photo credit. I don’t give away my work (meaning photos and stories should not be lifted and used without my permission).

Me, next to my "Off to Mankato to 'get and education'" poem posted near Glenwood Gardens.

Me, next to my “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education'” poem posted near Glenwood Gardens in Mankato as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride.

Writing has always been my passion and that includes poetry. I don’t pen poetry as much as I should. But when I do, I often succeed in getting it published. This past year was no exception with, among other places, two of my poems published on signs posted in a park and along a recreational trail in nearby Mankato.

I wrote my first piece of fiction in years and won honorable mention for my short story, “The Final Chapter,” published in The Talking Stick, Volume 22, In Retrospect.

I continue to evolve as a writer and a photographer. Thank you, dear readers, for joining me on this journey, for allowing me to share my discoveries, insights and life with you via my images and words.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


I’ve been Freshly Pressed again November 30, 2013

“I HOPE YOUR BLOG is ready to welcome some new readers…”

That's my post, labeled "Barn Memories," featured today on Freshly Pressed.

That’s my post, labeled “Barn Memories,” featured today on Freshly Pressed.

With those words, I recently learned that my November 25 blog post, “An essay of barn photos & memories,” earned Freshly Pressed status on WordPress.com. (Click here to read that post.)

In the WordPress blogging world, that’s akin to winning an Emmy or an Oscar or something similar, although you could perhaps argue that I am exaggerating. I think not, though, given the half a million plus WordPress bloggers world-wide. (Click here to reach the Freshly Pressed page on WordPress.)

That said, I’d like to thank you, my readers, for your faithful following of Minnesota Prairie Roots. Just over 600 of you now follow my blog via subscription and I am grateful for each of you.

I’d also like to thank my husband, who is very much a part of this blogging journey via his support and company.

The Freshly Pressed tweet about my barn post.

The Freshly Pressed tweet about my barn post.

And, finally, I’d like to thank the editors at WordPress who daily hand-pick eight posts to feature on Freshly Pressed. My barn post is featured today on Freshly Pressed.

Here’s what WordPress editor Ben Huberman wrote in an email:

You struck such a delicate and moving balance in this piece between letting the photos you took speak for themselves, and sharing with your readers the memories and emotions they invoke in you. It’s a lovely, well-executed post that deserves a wider audience.

How sweet is that to get an editor’s comment on your work? It’s invaluable and uplifting and reaffirming.

An old-fashioned farm along Wisconsin Highway 21.

An old-fashioned farm along Wisconsin Highway 21. This is one of the photos published in my winning post.

About the barn photos featured in my winning post… I shot all of them in mid-October while traveling through northeastern Wisconsin. And by traveling, I mean traveling. All six images were photographed from the passenger side of our family van while traveling down the highway at 55 mph. I had one, maybe two, opportunities to capture each photo I showcased. There was no stopping to compose a frame. Rather, I set my camera at a fast shutter speed, anticipated and clicked. That’s it. Either I got the photo or I didn’t. Clean windows help, too. Ask my husband about bottles of window cleaner and paper towels.

The words I paired with the six barn photos came from my heart, from my memories of laboring in my childhood dairy barn on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. Images and smells and textures and sound flowed from my memory onto the keyboard in a piece rich in imagery, heartfelt in emotions.

That combination of from-the-heart writing paired with just the right photos made this post stand out among the hundreds of thousands of others published on WordPress, apparently. For more information on how Freshly Pressed posts are selected, click here.

The homepage of WordPress.com, as photographed Thursday morning. My "In praise of preserving country churches" blog post is on the lower right.

The homepage of WordPress.com, as photographed in July 2010. My “In praise of preserving country churches” blog post is on the lower right. The story focuses on Moland Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been featured on Freshly Pressed. My July 7, 2010, post, “In praise of preserving country churches,” (click here to read) was Freshly Pressed as was my June 11, 2012, post, “Testing the track during a Soap Box Derby trial run in Faribault” (click here to read).

A screen shot of the Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Freshly Pressed on the WordPress homepage. My post is featured in the bottom center. I've been Freshly Pressed twice since I began blogging, meaning my posts were chosen, for a single day, as among the top 10 WordPress posts in the world.

A screen shot of the Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Freshly Pressed on the WordPress homepage. My post is featured in the bottom center.

To earn Freshly Pressed status three times rates as rewarding for a blogger like me, who is undeniably passionate about writing and photography. Thank you for joining me on this blogging journey.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling