Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hunting for teddy bears March 31, 2020

The 30th anniversary edition of Michael Rosen’s book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, published in 2019.


WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT. We’re going to catch a big one.

Those words from the 1989 children’s picture book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, are inspiring the latest global movement unifying the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teddy Bear Hunts.

Worldwide, families are searching for teddy bears in windows during walks about their neighborhoods and communities. Minnesota Public Radio reports in its March 30 Daily Dose of Sweetness series that Rochester, home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, is already heavily involved in the Teddy Bear Hunts. My friend Jackie, a nurse at Mayo, confirms that.


A teddy bear sighting in the window of a house at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Division Street in Faribault.


Here in Faribault, I haven’t searched much for bears, only watched for them while out and about on Saturday to pick up groceries and to later walk a city trail. Randy spotted one bear, in a house window at the corner of Division Street and Fourth Avenue.


A close-up of the Fourth Avenue teddy bear with a cross above it.


I find these hunts a great idea to distract kids, and grown-ups, from the scary realities of the current health crisis. Shifting our focus onto something fun seems vital to our mental health. I often wonder how much our kids are picking up on our concerns, on the seriousness of the situation. When I asked my eldest awhile ago what she’s told her 4-year-old about COVID-19, my daughter said only that “a lot of people are sick.” Isabelle can understand that. I’m thankful my grandson, at a year old, is too young to comprehend any of this.

For us grown-ups, movements like Teddy Bear Hunts help us cope by shifting our attention to engaging the youngest among us. Kids have always held that ability to refocus our minds, to make us smile, to remind us of life’s simple joys. Like reading a book and going on a bear hunt in the middle of a global pandemic.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Gotcha: A pre-Halloween scare October 31, 2017

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Three almost ghost-like faces, with undefined, haunting eyes, created by Pam Bidelman, and featured in a 2012 exhibit at the Arts Center of Saint Peter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.


WHEN THE DOORBELL BINGED twice in rapid succession Saturday evening, my body pumped adrenalin. The ringing happened at the precise moment of intense drama in a psychological thriller unfolding on our DVD player.

I’ve heard this type of hurry-up-and-answer-your-door ring before, years ago when a young man appeared on our stoop seeking protection from a group of men pursuing him. In that panic of phoning 911, of split second decisions, of waiting for the cops, I felt exposed to real, definitive danger.



This time I expected a law enforcement officer at my door given the darkened hour. Instead, when I switched on the exterior light and peered through the narrow glass in the deadbolted front door, I saw nothing. No shadowy figure. Nothing.



Until I looked to the bottom step. And then my mind clicked into relief mode, to understanding that an unknown person left a Halloween treat for us. After Randy retrieved the treats—by that time he’d already sprung from his comfortable spot—we discovered that we’d been BOOed. That seems a fitting word given the pre-Halloween scare.



Once we recovered, we fingered through an oversized seasonal mug holding mini candy bars, a Little Debbie snack, two packets of hot chocolate, a mini scarecrow and my favorite, a blinking jack-o-lantern ring. You can bet I’ll sport that this evening when doorbell-ringing ghosts and goblins arrive, perhaps even the mysterious ghost who BOOed us. I have my suspicions about that spirit’s identity…


FYI: We’ve been recipients of such kindness in the past, although not on Halloween. But a cousin and an aunt have continued to haunt me each Halloween with the story of Annie Mary Twente. We’ve carried out such stealthy under-the-cover-of-darkness missions on unsuspecting friends on other occasions like Valentine’s Day.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Small town Iowa: Where kids still fly kites May 19, 2015

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One of two kites spotted upon arriving at Forest City.

One of two kites spotted while approaching Forest City.

APPROACHING FOREST CITY, Iowa, from the south Saturday, bursts of color broke through the grey of morning fog. Kites. Two. I suspected they were to attract customers to a business. But I was wrong, as I would soon learn from Monte Topp.

Steam engine enthusiasts await instruction during Steam Engineer School at Heritage Park in Forest City, Iowa.

Steam engine enthusiasts gather during Steam Engineer School at Heritage Park.

My husband and I met Monte when we pulled off the highway into Heritage Park of North Iowa, a 91-acre site dedicated to the preservation of America’s rural heritage. On this Saturday, the park was hosting Kite Day and a Steam School to teach the basics of steam engine operations, mechanics and safety.

Because of the weather, only a few people flew kites Saturday morning.

Because of the weather, only a few people flew kites Saturday morning.

Directly across the chain link fence from the main grounds, dedicated enthusiasts gathered to fly kites. It was, said Monte, Forest City’s annual Kite Day. But with drizzle and fog making for less than ideal flying conditions, participation was minimal. We saw only three kites launched.

As we toured the grounds, this frog kite began to ascend.

As we toured the grounds, this frog kite began to ascend.

But still, I was not disappointed. I was impressed. Impressed that Forest City and other north Iowa communities (according to Monte) set aside a day and a place to safely fly kites. On this Saturday it was Forest City’s turn to host. The municipal airport even closed for the event, Monte noted.

The vivid colors of this kite were a welcome visual jolt in the grey sky.

The vivid colors of this kite were a welcome visual jolt in the grey sky.

In this day when lives are ultra focused on technology and team sports, I find it comforting that the simple solo act of flying a kite holds such value in northern Iowa. There’s something about flying a kite that connects you to the sky in a way that’s powerful and poetic and freeing. Powerful wind tugging at string gripped in hand. Kite dancing. And then the soaring, oh, the joyfulness when everything comes together and a kite rides the wind.

Kids and kites.

Kite Day is all about kids and kites.

It’s lovely. Simply lovely in a way that roots you to the land, yet frees you to dream, to believe, to reach. I hope these north Iowa kids realize just how fortunate they are to live in communities that understand the value of kite flying enough to host Kite Day.

FYI: Clear Lake, Iowa, to the southeast of Forest City hosts a Color the Wind Kite Festival each February. Held on frozen Clear Lake, the event features about 50 kites, including stunt kites.

Check back tomorrow for a tour of Heritage Park in Forest City.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A St. Patrick’s Day blessing March 17, 2015

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The scene in my yard this St. Patrick's Day.

The scene in my yard this St. Patrick’s Day.

I CAN’T STOP SMILING even now, hours after I flung open my living room curtains to discover a crop of shamrocks growing in my front yard.


Shamrock, close-up


What a magical surprise on this St. Patrick’s Day, to see that my husband and I had been Sham “Rocked”ed.


Shamrock, trio of


We’re not even Irish. But who cares? We’re all Irish today, right? Plus, my favorite color is green.

And I love surprises. Don’t we all? What joy they bring into your day.

One little leprechaun signed his name.

One little leprechaun signed his name.

Immediately I suspected one of two young families for creating a memorable St. Patrick’s Day. Little Jack made sleuthing unnecessary. He printed the message, ‘YOU ARE SMART,” and signed his name. Thanks. No detective work necessary.

The leprechaun even shamrocked our van.

The leprechaun even shamrocked our van.

And Mrs. Leprechaun, aka my dear friend Tammy, whom I phoned to thank, revealed that her husband, Jesse, came up with the idea to “shamrock” us. This morning, before leaving for work in the Twin Cities metro, he crept into our yard and planted those lucky clovers on our lawn and on our vehicles.


Shamrock, super close-up


If I wasn’t so happy about this act of kindness, I think I would be crying. Crying at having friends who are dear and thoughtful and loving and kind and, above all, an incredible blessing in my life.

To Jesse, Tammy, Noah, Hannah, Jack, Amelia and baby Benjamin:

A Wish for a Friend

Wishing you a rainbow
For sunlight after showers—
Miles and miles of Irish smiles
For golden happy hours—
Shamrocks at your doorway
For luck and laughter too,
And a host of friends that never ends
Each day your whole life through!

An Irish blessing, author unknown

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling