Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

No solar eclipse for me…just grey skies August 22, 2017

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A line of grey stretches across the sky as we drive back into Faribault along Rice County Road 19 Monday evening.

 

ON A DAY WHEN THE SOLAR eclipse focused eyes to the sky, I failed to share in the excitement. For me the day marked my son’s return to Boston after a few days in Minnesota. His visit had been too brief and I’d been too busy with a family reunion to consider the weather event of the year.

 

 

About the time the eclipse peaked in Minnesota, clouds shifted across the sky, diminishing the view. It didn’t matter much to me. We were aiming for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. My thoughts were not of the solar eclipse, but of the miles closing in before I would, once again, hug Caleb goodbye. I long ago stopped crying at the airport.

On the drive home, grey clouds opened, pouring down rain in weather that fit my emotions.

 

 

Hours later my phone binged with a message that Caleb’s plane had just landed in Boston. We were back on the road again, this time heading to the reunion site to load up tables and chairs to return to friends. A band of grey stretched across the darkening evening sky in a seemingly infinite trail that, in my mind’s eye, reached 1,400 miles away to a residential neighborhood in greater Boston.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Pop goes the love May 16, 2017

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I’M SENTIMENTAL. I appreciate receiving greeting cards and handwritten notes and letters. There’s something about pen put to paper that conveys thoughts, feelings, emotions better than a text or an email. Perhaps it’s the writer in me. Or the traditionalist.

 

 

When I opened a Mother’s Day card from my second daughter, I actually gasped in amazement. And delight. Miranda purchased a Lovepop card, a work of sculpted art.

 

 

If you are a fan of the television show Shark Tank, then you likely know about this Boston-based card company. Two young entrepreneurs started this business that creates cards described as “intricate 3D paper sculptures designed…on cutting edge software and then hand-crafted in the Asian art form of sliceform kirigami.”

Simply put, these are pop-up cards that WOW you as works of art.

 

A patch of daisies. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Miranda took care in choosing the right card design for me. Daisies are one of my favorite flowers, reflecting the simplicity of my life-style and my appreciation for nature. Perfect. My daughter knows me well.

 

My daughter Miranda and me.

 

The giving of this card was made even better by the delivery method. Miranda handed the Lovepop to me Sunday morning. I can’t recall the last time my daughter, who lives 5 1/2 hours away in eastern Wisconsin, was with me on Mother’s Day. That makes this card even more dear, for the memories now connected to it.

TELL ME: What’s one of the most memorable greeting cards you’ve received?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Touring Tufts University in greater Boston June 6, 2016

Tufts melds almost seamlessly into the residential neighborhoods of Medford and Somerville.

Tufts melds almost seamlessly into the residential neighborhoods of Medford and Somerville.

PRIOR TO MY SON considering Tufts University as a potential transfer college three years ago, I’d never heard of this Massachusetts university. But Caleb had done his research, followed by a flight to Boston to explore three colleges there. All three eventually accepted him, with Tufts offering a financial aid package that would allow him to afford an education at the Medford/Somerville campus.

Caleb and Randy climb Memorial Steps, in honor of Tufts' war dead, to the campus. There are a lot of steps.

Caleb and Randy climb Memorial Steps, in honor of Tufts’ war dead, to the main campus.

I shall always be grateful to the benefactor who gave my son this opportunity to learn at a highly-ranked student-centered research university. Caleb needed the challenges Tufts offered. He needed to leave the Midwest. He needed a place like Tufts.

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library.

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library.

After visiting Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus for the first time the day before commencement, I understood why Caleb loves this university. The college, set atop a hill and with a spectacular view of the distant Boston skyline from the roof of Tisch Library, is stunningly impressive.

Eaton Hall

The political science, sociology and classics departments, among other offices, are located in Eaton Hall.

A newer building on campus.

A newer building on campus.

New construction is underway on campus, as seen to the right in this photo. That's the John Hancock building in the distant Boston skyline.

New construction is underway on campus, as seen to the right in this photo. That’s the John Hancock building in the distant Boston skyline.

Aged buildings define the campus, although newer ones also stand and are under construction.

This new Jumbo sculpture was recently installed on campus.

This new Jumbo sculpture was recently installed at Tufts. It’s a popular spot for photo ops.

Tufts (with four campuses) was established in 1852 and has an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students. It’s mascot is Jumbo the elephant of circus fame. President Barack and Michelle Obama’s daughter Malia toured Tufts in March 2015, settling later on Harvard University in next-door Cambridge as her college choice. Noted individuals like Meredith Vieira, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Michlle Kwan are Tufts alum.

Ballou Hall, built 1852-54.

Ballou Hall, built 1852-54. Graduation ceremonies were held on the adjacent green.

Goddard Chapel, built in 1883.

Goddard Chapel, built in 1883.

Beautiful stained glass windows and dark wood dominate Goddard Chapel.

Beautiful stained glass windows and dark wood define Goddard Chapel.

The Gifford House, home to the college president.

The Gifford House, home to the college president.

Given my appreciation for old buildings and lovely architecture, I loved the historic feel of Tufts. There’s something comforting and storied about structures that have existed for a long time. There’s an ongoing connection to generations of students who’ve walked these halls and this campus under a canopy of trees with spacious green space, seemingly a premium in the greater Boston neighborhoods I saw during my late May visit.

I adore the reading room in the Edwin Ginn Library at The Fletcher School.

The Edwin Ginn Library at The Fletcher School looks like something out of a movie set. Oh, to study here. And my son did.

A sculpture on campus.

A sculpture on campus.

Posted on an athletic field fence.

Posted on an athletic field fence.

It is easy to love Tufts.

Caleb spent a lot of time here, in the computer lab.

Caleb spent a lot of time here, in the computer lab.

I understand why, at age 22, my son likes living in greater Boston. This metro area teems with young people. There’s a certain vibe, a constant hum, a busyness that prevails. People are walking/hurrying everywhere. The mass transit system makes getting around easy.

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library with the Boston skyline as a backdrop.

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library with the Boston skyline as a backdrop.

It’s not a place I would choose to live. But it is, for now, my son’s home. And although I don’t like having him 1,400 miles away, I have accepted that he lives here, too far from Minnesota, in a city he loves.

FYI: Check back for a tour of a neighborhood surrounding Tufts.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When a Minnesota mom attends her son’s East Coast college graduation June 3, 2016

A Tufts University graduate decorated her graduation hat.

A uniquely decorated graduation hat at Tufts University 2016 commencement.

I’VE ATTENDED THREE COLLEGE graduations now, for each of my three children, with eight years separating the first and final commencements.

The tented area in the background served as the stage during the all-school commencement ceremony.

The tented area in the background served as the stage during the all-school commencement ceremony at Tufts.

The daughters’ ceremonies were held in gyms at public universities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I don’t recall much about either other than the Wisconsin politician who used his commencement speech as a campaign platform. I was deeply disappointed, even angry. This wasn’t supposed to be about him, but rather about the graduates.

Congratulatory balloons floated among spectators.

Congratulatory balloons float among spectators.

So when alum and Emmy-award winning actor Hank Azaria was slated to deliver the all-school commencement speech at my son’s May 22 graduation from Tufts University in greater Boston, I was wary. I had no idea who he was, which is no surprise given I am unaware of most Hollywood celebrities. When I learned that Azaria voiced many of The Simpsons characters, I was delighted. My son is a big fan of The Simpsons.

A snapshot of the crowd before the all-school commencement began.

A snapshot of the crowd before the all-school commencement begins.

To my relief, Azaria gave a humorous speech with the simple message that graduates should be honest with themselves and trust their instincts.

The second phase of graduation moved us nearer the stage and to the ceremony for The School of Engineering.

The second phase of graduation moved us nearer the stage and to the ceremony for The School of Engineering.

He voiced several characters from The Simpsons, providing much needed laughter in a morning with an abundance of drawn-out pomp and circumstance.

I caught this dad napping at The School of Engineering commencement ceremony.

I caught this dad napping at The School of Engineering commencement ceremony.

Role-playing Moe the bartender, Azaria said, “I didn’t have a high-falutin’ education. I went to BU.” The audience roared at the comparison between Tufts and Boston University. I understood, feeling a bit like a country hick myself amidst the obvious wealth of many Tufts families.  I am keenly aware that my son, too, felt at times out-of-place on this East Coast campus as a Minnesota boy from a lower middle class family.

Lots of photos were taken at the ceremony and of Tufts' mascot Jumbo, in the background here.

Lots of photos were taken at the ceremony and of Tufts’ mascot, Jumbo, in the background here.

Laughter also erupted when Azaria mimicked the Indian-American owner of the Kwik-E-Mart (from The Simpsons): “We both worship an elephant.” Tufts’ mascot is Jumbo the elephant. P.T. Barnum was an early benefactor of the university.

Tufts police and EMS stood ready near the main commencement stage. Just weeks prior to commencement, a car was torched on campus and a bomb threat discovered.

Tufts police and EMS stand ready near the main commencement stage. Just weeks prior to graduation day, a car was torched on campus and a bomb threat discovered.

Light-hearted moments were welcome among the formal protocol, which began at 9 a.m. and extended well into the afternoon. Thousands gathered on the campus green for, first, the all-school commencement ceremony, and afterward for individual school commencements.

A father photographs the

A father photographs The School of Engineering commencement ceremony. That’s a side profile of Jumbo the elephant in the background.

My husband and I were sitting so far back from the stage that we could see little. I used my camera’s telephoto lens as binoculars several times.

Thousands of chairs covered the campus green for commencement. The event went on, rain or shine. Rain drizzled briefly.

Thousands of chairs cover the campus green for commencement. We sat in this side wing area near the back. Apparently you need to arrive really early to get a good seat.  The event went on, rain or shine. Rain drizzled briefly.

I was thankful events were held outdoors on the beautiful university green rather than inside some stuffy auditorium. Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus sits atop a hill with a picturesque view of the Boston skyline. Campus buildings are aged and solid, trademark visuals of a long-established and respected educational institution.

Flowers and balloons await graduates.

Flowers and balloons await graduates.

Visiting Tufts for the first time on graduation weekend was an experience, an opportunity to see this place our son has called home for three years. Many other families traveled, too, from across the country and across the world to watch their sons and daughters graduate. We shared that commonality. Maybe not of financial wealth, or lack thereof. But of parents celebrating.

BONUS PHOTOS:

After the two commencement ceremonies, we were finally able to eat a picnic lunch--salad, strawberries and a bar--on a grassy hillside.

After the two commencement ceremonies, we were finally able to eat a complimentary picnic lunch–salad, strawberries and a bar–on a grassy hillside. Everything was recycled.

Vendors hawked flowers before and after commencement ceremonies.

Vendors hawked flowers before and after commencement ceremonies.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

FYI: Check back next week for a tour of the Tufts campus.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts upon my son’s graduation from Tufts University June 2, 2016

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Caleb returns to his seat after graduating from Tufts University School of Engineering with a bachelor of science degree in computer science.

Caleb returns to his seat after graduating from Tufts University School of Engineering with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science on May 22.

HE’S GRADUATED. The son. My youngest. Through four years of college with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from Tufts University in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts.

Posing afterward atop the roof of the Tufts library with the Boston skyline some 10 miles in the distance.

Posing afterward atop the roof of the Tufts library with the Boston skyline some 10 miles in the distance.

I am thankful. Grateful that Caleb was given the opportunity to attend such a noted private research university as a selected transfer student. Grateful for the academic challenges he needed. Grateful for the financial gifts that enabled him to attend an institution where the annual cost of tuition far exceeds our household income.

After attending college for a year at North Dakota State University in Fargo, Caleb was accepted as a transfer student into the highly-competitive Tufts University.

After attending college for a year at North Dakota State University in Fargo, Caleb was accepted as a transfer student into the highly-competitive Tufts University and two other noted Boston colleges.

He’s grown into a strong young man of whom I am immensely proud. I am proud of his ability to leave the familiarity of Minnesota to attend college half a country away. He knew no one and learned on his own to navigate greater Boston.

Caleb graduated in four years. Had he stayed at NDSU, he would have finished in three.

Caleb graduated in four years. Had he stayed at NDSU, he would have finished in three. However, Tufts did not accept all of his college credits from high school and NDSU.

I am proud that he graduated in four years, magna cum laude.

Caleb poses in front of the school mascot, Jumbo. And, yes, that would be Jumbo of circus fame. This latest sculpture of the elephant was recently installed at Tufts.

Caleb poses in front of the school mascot, Jumbo of circus fame. This latest sculpture of the elephant was recently installed at Tufts.

I am proud, too, that he loves to learn. Caleb craves expanding his knowledge. He hopes for a research career with plans to some day attend graduate school. He’s interviewing for jobs in the Boston area. Any place would be fortunate to have him as an employee. And I’m not just saying that because I am Caleb’s mom. I have seen his focus and determination when working on tech projects. He is a problem solver, an innovator, a young man seeking solutions and answers and better ways of doing things. He wants to make a difference in this world.

Students in the School of Engineering gather for that school's commencement ceremony.

Students in The School of Engineering gather for that school’s commencement ceremony.

Commencement speaker, Emmy-award winning actor Hank Azaria who voiced numerous characters on the TV show The Simpsons, offered some good advice to graduates like Caleb. He advised the 160th Tufts graduating class to calm down, trust their instincts and they will, at the end of the day, know what to do.

The commencement ceremony begins at The School of Engineering, Tufts University.

The commencement ceremony begins for The School of Engineering, Tufts University.

Graduation is a time of adjustment and change. A scary time in many ways as young people leave the security of the educational setting. It is a time of change for Caleb and for me.

The message on this balloon probably fit the feelings of many students.

The message on this balloon probably fits the feelings of many students.

As my son continues on his life’s journey, I wish for him contentment, peace and happiness. I want him to always be passionate about his life’s chosen work, to feel joy in getting up each morning.

My husband, Randy, waits for the first of two commencement ceremonies to begin.

My husband, Randy, waits for the first of two commencement ceremonies to begin. We drove 3,029 miles round trip to attend Caleb’s graduation.

And I want him to know that, above all, he is deeply loved by his family back here in Minnesota and in Wisconsin.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more graduation photos followed the next day by a tour of Tufts University, Medford/Somerville campus.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

He’s not arriving on a jet plane April 7, 2016

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I photographed this Frontier plane as it approached Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport early Saturday afternoon. Edited image.

I photographed this Frontier plane as it approached Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport early Saturday afternoon. Edited image.

SOMETIMES I AM SURPRISED by the nuances that impact me emotionally.

Recently it was the sight of jets flying into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as my husband and I traveled along 35E in the south metro. My memory map directed me to the Cedar Avenue/Highway 77 exit, the route we take to the airport to pick up and drop off our son who attends Tufts University in the Boston metro.

I haven’t seen him now in three months, not since he returned to the East Coast following Christmas break. I miss him. Not with the kind of aching heart absence I felt when he first moved there three years ago. But with the sort of ache that slips below the surface and sometimes erupts into wanting to hug his lanky body and cook his favorite meal and tell him, in person, that I love him.

I felt the same at Easter. Instead of mailing him a chocolate bunny delivered by the U.S. Postal Service in three pieces, I would have preferred filling his Easter basket with too much candy and sugary PEEPS and hiding it in our Minnesota home for him to find. I don’t care that he’s 22. Everyone needs Easter candy.

I could imagine the loved ones awaiting the arrival of this Frontier jetliner.

I could imagine the loved ones awaiting the arrival of this Frontier plane.

I’ll admit to being envious of those moms who see their grown children on holidays, who can travel along a metro interstate, spot an aircraft and think nothing of it.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

He’s home from Boston for Christmas December 18, 2015

MSP Airport, 16 Delta 2

 

WAITING IN THE CELL PHONE LOT at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport late Thursday morning, I watched plane after plane after plane land and take-off.

 

MSP Airport, 22 low flying airliner

 

Mostly, though, I focused my eyes on planes flying in from the east. A United Airlines flight would bring my 21-year-old son home from Boston, via Washington D.C.

 

MSP Airport, 15 Southwest

 

 

He always takes connecting flights to save money. And he usually flies Southwest. But this time, for whatever reason (probably cost), he chose United.

 

MSP Airport, 14 Delta 1

 

More than five months have passed since I’ve seen my son, a senior at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Too long. Too many miles between us. I am grateful, though, for text messages, phone calls, emails and Skype.

 

MSP Airport, 17 Sun Country

 

On this bone-chilling December morning, I waited, with my husband scratching numbers into his Sudoku book, me photographing planes arriving and leaving MSP. I wondered a few times if security was watching me, questioning why the woman inside the white van was photographing planes.

 

MSP Airport, 12 United Express

 

Finally, I spotted a United Express flight that matched the son’s text message description from DC: “I’m on a tiny plane to Minneapolis. I had to walk out into the tarmac in order to board.”

 

MSP Airport, 29 almost to terminal 1

 

Soon my cell phone buzzed with the news that he had landed. And then we waited another 32 minutes for his message to drive to Terminal 1 for pick-up at Door 5.

 

Driving home from MSP Airport, 36

 

He is home now as I write this at 2:40 p.m. Thursday. He’s fed. Dirty clothes are in the wash. I am a happy mama.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling