Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

About those holiday lights on my tree December 14, 2021

This paper angel, saved from my childhood Sunday School class lesson, tops my Christmas tree. I treasure this nearly 60-year-old angel. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted, edited photo December 2021)

AS I WRITE, Christmas music plays on the radio. Snow falls.* And in my living room, an angel-topped tree graces a corner near the front picture window.

On a day like today,* when grey infiltrates the house, I typically plug in the holiday lights. But they remain unplugged, no lights brightening the room.

There’s a problem. One strand no longer works and, on the other, only half of the bulbs flash color. A brief search for Christmas lights locally proved futile. “You can’t find them anywhere in Faribault,” a cashier at a local chain store told me. The two stores I checked validated that. Sort of.

I didn’t necessarily believe that lights can’t be found anywhere locally. But then I heard the co-hosts of an Owatonna radio talk show say the same. No holiday lights to be found.

UPDATE: I found Christmas lights in Faribault. At ACE Hardware early Saturday afternoon. Shelves were adequately stocked with a variety of lights.

The challenge then was to replace the burned out strings. And, let me tell you, putting lights on a tree after it’s been decorated with ornaments and tinsel rates as frustrating and difficult. Eventually Randy finished the task after my pleas to, please, help me.

So…if you live in Faribault and need Christmas lights, stories of their lack of availability anywhere in town are greatly exaggerated.


* I wrote the beginning of this post on Friday, December 10.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


I’m taking you Christmas tree shopping tomorrow December 18, 2014

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

Christmas tree sign

So grab your winter coat, cap and mittens and slip on your boots, unless, of course, you live in a warm weather state unlike Minnesota.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Christmas trees past December 23, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:16 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Christmas tree lot in Faribault

FOR MANY A HOLIDAY SEASON, this unpretentious Christmas tree lot has operated at the intersection of busy Second Avenue Northwest and Minnesota Highway 3 near the edge of Faribault.

I’ve never shopped for a tree here. But, one of these holiday seasons, instead of passing by, I need to stop and ask a few questions, take a few photos, learn the history of this place and perhaps pick out a tree.

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo.  That's me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

The lot reminds me of childhood Christmases, when my family would choose a short-in-stature, short-needled Christmas tree at the local grocery store.

To this day, I prefer a Charlie Brown type tree to one that’s tall, full and perfectly-branched.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Feeling like a Grinch December 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:05 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

WITH LESS THAN three weeks until Christmas, I truly need to pull myself out of my pre-holiday funk.

Here’s the deal. I haven’t sent out a single Christmas card, although the annual holiday letter has been drafted and awaits final editing.

I haven’t baked Christmas cookies. I don’t need the sweets and the guys in the house don’t have a sweet tooth. Eventually I’ll bake the cream cheese roll-out cookies that have been part of my Christmas since childhood. And I’ll pull together some date pinwheels for my husband, part of his childhood tradition.

No presents in my sleigh yet.

As for shopping, the lists have been compiled. But since I dislike shopping, the task looms before me.

Decorations? If you count the holiday painting by my father-in-law hanging in the dining room, the six Christmas cards we’ve received and the peppermint candies in a dish, then, yes, I’ve started my decorating.

I’m not the type who goes all out with holiday decorating because, visually, I dislike clutter. I also live in a relatively small house.

Then there’s my husband, who worries about the Christmas tree drying out and creating a fire hazard (a legitimate concern) if we buy it “too early”. Once we waited so long to purchase a tree that we had five pathetic choices in the tree lot. We got a heckuva deal, though, by buying only days before Christmas. True story.

So there you have it. I am feeling more Grinch-like than holiday-ish. For me, the important part of Christmas lies in celebrating Christ’s birth and in gathering with family.

Gathering with family...one of the most important aspects of Christmas for me.

I expect therein exists the partial reason for my melancholy. My second daughter, who lives in eastern Wisconsin, will not be home for Christmas. She’s on-call both holiday weekends at her job as a Spanish medical interpreter. She has missed Christmas before, while living in Argentina. So I should be used to this. I am not.

I have no right to complain. None. Many families are separated by greater distances or war or illness or death, or even by choice.

Eventually I’ll pull myself out of my holiday blues. Perhaps I’ll start with addressing Christmas cards and work my way up to mixing cookie dough. The shopping, though, I never have been able to embrace no matter how hard I try.

Although I'm struggling right now to pull everything together for Christmas, I will. Here's the complete holiday painting by my father-in-law, Tom Helbling of St. Cloud, MN.

SO…WHERE ARE YOU at with your holiday preparations? Do you struggle with any aspect of preparing for Christmas? Submit a comment and share.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tossing the Christmas tree and welcoming spring May 6, 2011

The remains of our dried up Christmas tree, now properly disposed of at the local composting pile.

ON WEDNESDAY EVENING we tossed the Christmas tree which has been buried under snow for, oh, about six months. Well, not quite, but winter seemed to linger into half a year.

I’m serious. As recently as this morning, we had temps in the 30s and several days ago wisps of snowflakes whirled in the sky.

But enough of that. With the official disposal of the Christmas tree at the finally-opened Faribault Compost Site, I can declare that spring has finally arrived here in southeastern Minnesota.

You don’t have to simply take my word for it. Join me on this photographic tour of my yard, where spring has clearly, finally (I hope) ousted winter.

Hostas push through the soil, unfurling bright green leaves. Why does green always seem brighter in the spring?

Most of my tulips are clasped shut yet, waiting for more sun and more warmth.

A plump red tulip about to burst into bloom.

A yellow tulip edges ever closer to full blossom in the spring sunshine.

Unfurling wild raspberry leaves hold the promise of summer.

Dainty violets, so easy to overlook in the splendor of spring.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Merry CHRISTmas December 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:40 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Each year I place this paper angel on our family Christmas tree. The angel is from my childhood, cut from a Sunday School lesson. I also have a Jesus in a manager from the same era and same lesson that goes on the tree.

BUT THE ANGEL said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2: 10 – 14


Every year I display the six angels that comprise the Shiny Brite Christmas Angel Band. My oldest brother and I bought the angels for our mom for Christmas one year back in the 1960s at a hardware store in Echo. Several years ago my mom gave the tiny plastic angels to me. They are among my dearest Christmas treasures.


Members of the Christmas Angel Band, still in their original box.

May your Christmas be blessed with hope, with peace, with joy and with love as we celebrate the birth of the Savior.

Merry Christmas from Minnesota Prairie Roots!

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Six reasons to buy a real Christmas tree December 21, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:46 AM
Tags: , , , ,

My very real Christmas tree.

REAL OR FAKE? I’m talking Christmas trees here, folks.

Ever since artificial Christmas trees debuted, and I have no idea when that was, debates have ensued within families about whether the annual holiday tree should be a natural one or a fake one. (I prefer the word “fake” as that seems more accurate than the word “artificial.”)

Yes, given my word preference, you would rightly guess that I prefer a real tree.

Now I have six reasons to support my argument for choosing a natural Christmas tree over an artificial one. Those reasons are revealed in a tale that comes from my Aunt Rachel, a native Minnesotan who retired to Arkansas. I’m quite certain my aunt won’t mind my sharing of this story since she is my godmother and a preserver of family history via her memoirs.

This paragraph is lifted from her holiday letter, which arrived just days ago. She writes:

“The yearly animal story is saved for last because it is recent history. While putting up our artificial Christmas tree (stored in the basement) we were greeted by six mice. The five babies still had closed eyes and could not run, so were easy to capture. The mother tried to hide one baby in our closet, but was frightened and dropped it. Our cat, Xanadu, finally captured the mother and proudly presented it to us.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but this frightening tale of six mice is enough to rid me of any desire to ever purchase an artificial Christmas tree.

Did I mention that I really dislike, detest, abhor, can’t stand and hate mice?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Shopping for a Christmas tree December 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:32 AM
Tags: , , , ,

AT OUR HOUSE, we never rush out to buy a Christmas tree. For whatever reason, my husband has always been concerned about the tree drying out and becoming a fire hazard. Perhaps he’s justified in his wariness.

However, due to his vigilance, we’ve come very close, several years, to going without a Christmas tree. I recall one December standing in a tree lot just days before Christmas with about five trees to select from. We got a cheap, Charlie Brown tree. If you wait long enough, they practically give the trees away.

If you wait too long, you'll find mostly empty Christmas tree lots, like this one at Farmer Seed & Nursery in Faribault. Fortunately, there were plenty of trees to choose from inside.

This year, though, because of a full schedule, we purchased our tree on the evening of December 14, early by our standards.

A nearby greenhouse offering half-price trees was already closed for the evening, so we headed to Farmer Seed & Nursery in Faribault with a pocketed $5-off coupon. After a quick perusal of the trees, I pronounced that I really didn’t like any of them (in our price range).

My husband muttered something about “a tree’s a tree,” but humored my desire to check out the trees at another greenhouse in town. As we drove by the front side of Farmer Seed, I saw a sign advertising the trees at 25 percent off. I figured I’d just made a mistake by suggesting we search elsewhere. But I did not say this out loud.

So, down the road we headed to the next tree lot, which was closed. My husband, to his credit, did not utter a word of disapproval as I directed that we better return to Farmer Seed with less than a half hour until closing time.

I knew if I was to have a Christmas tree, I needed to find it here, and fast.

I passed on the trees painted an unnatural blue-green. I passed on the short tabletop trees.

I could have chosen from among about a half dozen flocked trees.

I admired the flocked trees but decided they really weren’t my style.

The premium Christmas trees, which are too tall and too costly.

I lingered too long over the magnificent and costly fraser firs that were absolutely perfect but way to big and tall for my living room. I passed on the two trees that were barren of needles in too many spots.

After doing some quick math, I decided we could buy the $44 tree I liked best because, at 25 percent off and with that $5 coupon, it would cost only $31.05. I thought that a bit much, but Randy didn’t. I think he just wanted to get the darned tree and get out of there, because he mentioned something later about cold feet and I then mentioned that I had suggested he wear boots (like me) instead of tennis shoes.

That tree is sitting now, undecorated, in a corner of the living room. By the time Randy got the tree into the house, it was too late to decorate and too cold to decorate. I mean the tree was too cold; it was still thawing. Just stepping near the tree was like stepping into a freezer.

Anyway, that’s how the Christmas tree selection process works at our house.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Do you put up your tree right after Thanksgiving? Or do you wait, like us, until shortly before Christmas? And, even more interesting, how does the selection process go for you? Is it difficult, fun, easy, trying, etc.?

Let’s hear your stories.

P.S. Maybe I’ll post a photo of our tree once it’s decorated.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling