Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Oh, the joy when you still believe in Santa December 24, 2018

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“SANTA!” he shouted, the single word expressing the joy of a child who still believes.

 

 

To hear that excitement made me smile wide as I turned toward the basement patio doors. There I saw a flash of red and then Santa peering through the window before he knocked on the glass.

 

 

Six-year-old Hank couldn’t race there fast enough to slide open the door allowing Santa entry to our annual extended family Christmas gathering in southwestern Minnesota on Saturday.

 

 

Santa shows up every year to greet young and old alike, to hand out candy and hugs and merry wishes. It is a tradition that never grows old, that always brings smiles and laughter and joy. For a moment or ten, we all see Santa through the eyes of a child. And we believe.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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From Faribault: #faribofrosty December 12, 2018

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BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME. The kids. The moms. The dads. The grandmas and grandpas. To see Faribault’s version of Frosty the Snowman.

 

 

Late Saturday afternoon, as day glided into the golden light of early evening, family after family pulled over at the corner of First Street Northwest and Third Avenue Northwest to take photos with a ginormous snowman created by the Hoisington family. It is their annual holiday gift to the community, a gift which brings lots of smiles and joy.

 

 

I witnessed that as kids and families posed for pictures with the towering snowman in the Hoisingtons’ front yard.

 

 

 

 

They came in their Paul Bunyan buffalo plaid and fur caps and hats, some with ear flappers, some not. They came in their boots and sneakers, their jeans, some ripped, some not. They came to see this towering snowman popular enough to now have his own hashtag, #faribofrosty.

 

 

I delighted in these families making memories on a cold December day in southern Minnesota.

 

 

Faribo Frosty embodies the spirit of giving. Faribo Frosty embodies the spirit of joy. Faribo Frosty embodies a sense of togetherness, of family, of community.

 

 

For a moment or ten, a snowman focuses thoughts and vision and the world seems a magical and happy place.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving thoughts November 22, 2018

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I recently picked up this honeycomb paper turkey at a thrift store for a dime.

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, dear readers!

I hope today finds you gathered with family or friends around a table laden with all the traditional foods of this holiday. Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries, a side vegetable (maybe green bean casserole), pumpkin pie… No grape salad, though. Unless you are DeLores from Belview, Minnesota.

 

Another recent thrift store purchase: this sweet little handmade wooden turkey.

 

We are eating a traditional meal at our house, although the husband is grilling the turkey on our Weber charcoal grill and not in the oven. My oldest daughter, her husband and our granddaughter are joining us and I am grateful for their presence. Several years have passed since any of our three adult children have been back home for Thanksgiving. But we made the best of those years, volunteering to deliver turkey dinners as part of Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner. While I’ll miss that opportunity this year, I am beyond happy to have our daughter and her family here.

I realize Thanksgiving can be difficult for those of you without family to celebrate. Or for those of you who have recently lost loved ones. I am sorry. But I do hope you can find some joy in your day and many reasons to be thankful.

 

Stems of wheat on a candle symbolize the harvest and gratitude for that harvest.

 

While life holds many sorrows, many challenges, many struggles—none of us are without them—it also holds much that is good, joyful, lovely. I really believe that.

Today may you experience that which is good. May you feel joy. And may you see that which is lovely.

 

Words of thanks in the Psalms.

 

May gratitude fill your heart.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating my daughter on her birthday November 16, 2018

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Miranda. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

LOVE HOLDS MEMORIES. So many. And today I remember my second daughter, celebrating her birthday 265 miles distant in south central Wisconsin. I wish I could be with her, embracing her and telling her how much, how deeply, I love her.

But time passes and kids grow up and become adults and move on and celebrate birthdays without us. That is the reality of life. I wonder sometimes why some kids choose to stay in the place of their roots and some choose to leave. Mine left, although one daughter lives only an hour away, for which I am thankful.

Today, on Miranda’s birthday, I remember her entry into the world—on her timeline, not mine. She awakened me in the early morning hours of November 16, days before her scheduled delivery by C-section. She sent Randy and me scrambling to find someone to watch her 21-month-old sister so I could get to the hospital. I shall be forever grateful to my neighbor Cheri.

This launch into life set the tone for Miranda. She is her own person, not one who feels the need to follow the crowd. She has stood strong among bullies and strong through treatment for scoliosis and strong under administration fire as a co-editor of her high school newspaper many years ago. She stood strong through a mugging in Argentina. She stood strong while volunteering with Hurricane Katrina clean-up.

She’s compassionate and kind and loving. Miranda works in a profession that requires compassion. She is a Spanish medical interpreter. From birthing rooms to emergency rooms, she offers a calming presence to patients and their families. I admire her ability to handle whatever situation with professionalism and grace. I could not do what she does. But I appreciate that she is there for people both in moments of joy and in moments of crisis.

Miranda is also a woman of faith, of a gentle spirit. She is quiet, yet bold. Creative.

There’s so much I love about this girl of mine, who really is not mine in the sense of ownership. No one owns anyone. But the bonds of family connect us, hold us close in the infinite love of a mother for her daughter. Today my love overflows as I think of the sweet baby girl I welcomed all those decades ago. On her timeline, not mine.

Happy birthday, Miranda! I love you. Always.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joy of time with family-plus November 14, 2018

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I TOLD MYSELF I wouldn’t cry. And I didn’t. Not until they had exited the van, scooped together their luggage, hugged me tight and entered Terminal 2 at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.

Then, even before Randy pulled away from the curb late Monday afternoon, the choke of parting sadness erupted for a brief moment. Until I refocused on the joy of seeing my son, of meeting his girlfriend. Of the hours during their 2 1/2-day visit from Boston that filled my mama’s heart to overflowing with love.

 

Siblings together for the first time in 15 months. My eldest is due with her second child in less than two months.

 

Caleb’s sisters joined us from an hour away and from four hours away in Madison, Wisconsin, as did the 2 ½-year-old granddaughter and a son-in-law. This marked our first time together since August 2017. Too long.

We spent most of our time just hanging out at home, gathering around the dinner table, cozying on the couch, viewing images from Paris and delighting in the novelty of a Polaroid camera. Preschooler Izzy now has a stash of photos. We celebrated my second daughter’s birthday early with gifts and well wishes and birthday candles—one on her mint bar, one on Izzy’s piece. When you’re the granddaughter, you can have a candle to blow out, too.

 

Our friendly waitress offered to take our photo before we ate our pizza.

We talked and laughed and ate too much—including the requested mint bars and potato soup and delicious meals grilled by Randy and lots more. I made hotdish, albeit not tater tot, but Amy Thielen’s Classic Chicken and Wild Rice Hotdish. You can’t host a first-time visitor to Minnesota without serving hotdish (not casserole). One evening we ate out, enjoying Caleb’s (and our) favorite Italian sausage pizza at The Signature Bar & Grill.

We toured Sunny around Faribault, showing her the places of Caleb’s youth—his schools, church, the hospital of his birth. Disappointment showed when I told Caleb the library, where he spent a lot of time while growing up, was closed on Sunday. Likewise, we couldn’t hike at River Bend Nature Center. No one wanted to risk a walk with archery deer hunting happening there. But we walked the new Virtue’s Trail, fighting a brisk wind and abnormally winter cold temps to do so.

I tried to think like someone who’d never visited Faribault. We stopped at the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store and downtown (unfortunately little is open on Sunday), drove past historic Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and pointed out the sliding hill near our home. Sunny delighted in all of it and expressed her desire to attend a county fair as we drove through the Rice County Fairgrounds. I jumped on that and invited her back. Any time.

 

Before going to the airport, we met our eldest daughter and granddaughter at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

 

It was a joy to have Sunny here. To see southern Minnesota through her eyes—to appreciate her appreciation for cozy homes, the quiet of the night, the darkness of the night sky pinpointed by stars, the spaciousness of open land, even cattle glimpsed from Interstate 35.

But mostly, it was a joy to have my house full. To be with those I love, to widen the circle of that love to include Sunny.

My mama’s heart overflows with happiness at the memories.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happiness November 9, 2018

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This photograph was taken at a Helbling Family Reunion in August 2017, the last time our three adult children were all back home in Faribault. Here my husband and granddaughter play bean bag toss. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

TWO FLY IN from Boston. One drives 260 miles from Madison, Wisconsin. Three arrive from an hour away.

They will all be here on Saturday. In my southern Minnesota home. It will be the first time in 15 months that we have all been together—our once nuclear family plus a son-in-law, a granddaughter and the son’s girlfriend.

I cannot wait.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When your kids live far away September 13, 2018

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WHENEVER I HEAR OTHERS talk about family vacations with all of their grown children, I feel a tinge of jealousy. Likewise I struggle at family reunions or holiday get-togethers, when often only my adult kids are missing. I experience sadness at their absence while everyone else is surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

I’m happy for families that have these cherished times together. But I don’t have that. Two of my three adult children live outside of Minnesota—one in the Boston area and the other several hundred miles away in eastern Wisconsin. More than a year has passed since we were all together. Maybe we’ll be together at Christmas. I’m hopeful, but not too hopeful. I’ve learned to hold my hope in check to tamp the disappointment.

Such is life with kids branching across the country. I want my son and second daughter to live where they choose, which, right now, is not Minnesota and likely never will be. I am thankful that my eldest daughter and family remain in Minnesota, just an hour away.

Technology keeps us connected. It helps. But how I’d love, too, to have a week with them. Solo or together. Or a few days. Yeah, I’d be happy with that.

 

TELL ME: If you have adult children and grandchildren living a long distance away, how do you stay connected in creative ways? And how do you handle family gatherings when no one seems to notice that your adult kids are absent?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling