Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hunting for squirrels, but not how you think April 10, 2019


FROM AFAR, I THOUGHT Peter Jacobson carried a bow and arrow, hugged near his body.



But then, as I drew near, I saw instead an antenna and hand-held radio device. Not one to pass by, I stopped and asked about the equipment.



Turns out this science teacher was tracking collared squirrels for the wildlife field biology class he teaches at Faribault High School. If only biology had been this hands-on decades ago, I may actually have liked science. And, yes, we dissected frogs, which held zero appeal for me.



But this, this live trapping, collaring and tracking of squirrels at River Bend Nature Center to learn about their territorial behaviors would have grown my interest in science. Jacobson’s students are out in the field, observing, formulating questions, gathering data.

The study is Minnesota Department of Natural Resources approved with students also earning college credits from Vermilion Community College. Jacobson mentioned a DNR study of moose as we talked about his small scale tracking of squirrels.



I had one question for him. I asked if he could determine how to keep squirrels out of flower pots, a perennial problem for me. I’ve tried to resolve the issue by laying sticks and stones in and across pots around newly potted flowers and plants.

Jacobson laughed, noting the squirrels likely enjoy the challenge. And that was my wildlife biology lesson for the day.


TELL ME: I’d like to hear about any creative and interesting science projects that were part of your high school education.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The evolution of prom April 28, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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Me in the dress I stitched for prom in 1974, my senior year of high school.

Me in the dress I stitched for prom in 1974, my senior year of high school. I went with a date that year.

THERE WAS A TIME when prom was as simple as a bunch of girls and guys dressing up, dining in the school cafeteria and then dancing the night away under crepe paper streamers. No need to have a date, no flowers required, no professional photos, no getting your hair and nails done. No spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars for an evening of fun which, decades later, is mostly forgotten.

I recall few details of my high school proms except the dresses I stitched from flocked gingham and dotted Swiss fabrics.

If there was a grand march at the prom site, the Wanda American Legion, I don’t remember it and my parents were certainly not there to watch. My friends and I snapped pictures of each other with our Instamatic cameras. Many of us came with friends, not dates.

Today’s proms, with expensive formals and flowers and photos and everything else, are nothing like those of 40 years ago. Today even asking someone to prom is a big deal. Take Faribault High School. Student organizers set up a Twitter account encouraging prom goers to submit their promposals. The entry with the most “favorites” won a prize at prom, which was held on Saturday.

I amused myself scrolling through the creative prom invitations. Using Van shoes to arrows to cats, tennis balls, a watch, balloons, dinner out at a Japanese restaurant, bananas, Girl Scout cookies, a horse and more, these students asked each other to prom.

The winner popped his promposal during previews to a movie.

But if I was to choose the winner, I would have selected David, who penned lyrics to his girlfriend, Katie, to the tune of “Marry Me” by Jason Derulo. I don’t know the song. I don’t know the artist. But I do know that writing a song takes time and thought. And I have, as you would expect, an affinity for words.

What are your thoughts on prom and promposals? Have they gone over the top, gotten too expensive, become too important? Or do you like how prom has evolved to what it is today?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating my birthday Faribault Falcon style September 27, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:17 PM
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THEY THREW A PARADE for me in Faribault.

Not really. But my friend Beth Ann and I decided that, yes, the Faribault High School homecoming parade Friday afternoon was also my birthday parade.

We had just finished to-die-for individual pizzas—mine pear paired with award-winning blue cheese made in Faribault and Beth Ann’s a Caprese with fresh basil pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes—at The Cheese Cave and toured the Paradise Center for the Arts when we stepped outside to find a throng of young people.

I deduced that it must be homecoming.

Every parade needs a band.

Every parade needs a band.

In minutes, a police car was leading the band

Faribault High School homecoming king

Faribault High School homecoming queen, Nyamal Tut, and king, Danny Ehlers.

Even the convertible was in the school color.

Even the convertible was in the school color.

and homecoming court candidates and the newly-crowned king and queen

A senior class float.

Senior football players.

and lots of raucous FHS students along Central Avenue.

My favorite float featured the theme of preferring Miracle Whip over Mayo, as in the Faribault Falcon's opponent, Rochester Mayo High School.

My favorite float featured the theme of preferring Miracle Whip over Mayo, as in the Faribault Falcon’s opponent, Rochester Mayo High School.

We were in on this parade whether we wanted to be or not and we wanted to be. How can you resist the youthful excitement of teens on an autumn day as perfect as they come in Minnesota?

Appreciated this message.

Appreciated this message.

Lots of green hair...

Lots of green hair…

Humor at the expense of the Mayo Spartans. The Falcons beat the Spartans 23 - 21 in the homecoming football game.

Humor at the expense of the Mayo Spartans. The Falcons beat the Spartans 23 – 21 in the homecoming football game.

Sophomore football players.

Sophomore football players.

Cheers and noise and drum beats and hair colored green and humor and throbbing energy and candy tossed onto pavement. A homecoming parade. For a moment or ten, I wished I was sixteen again.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Minnesota high school graduation in snapshots June 4, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:42 AM
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Faribault High School graduates enter the gym for commencement Sunday afternoon as family and friends look on.

ALL ACROSS THE U.S., high school students are graduating or have graduated. Families and friends pack bleachers to witness commencement ceremonies, to listen to talk of the past and of the future.

It is a bittersweet time for parents.

For students, the day is one of of mixed emotions. Happiness. Sadness. Excitement. Perhaps a bit of trepidation about life ahead.

On Sunday afternoon, the youngest of my three children, my son, graduated from Faribault High School. I didn’t cry, didn’t get all emotional and introspective. I expect the tears will come later, when we drop him off at his North Dakota State University dorm nearly a five-hour drive away.

In the meantime, in these final two months, I will embrace each day I still have my boy home. For I know that not only will his life change, but so will mine.

The seven valedictorians, with GPAs of 4.0, speak at the graduation ceremony.

The class of 247 students toss their caps after diplomas are awarded.

My eldest daughter checks to see if her little brother’s diploma is signed.

The typical pose in front of the school photo, of my son.

The ever-changing/growing diversity of Faribault as seen in this post commencement gathering outside the school.

My family in our backyard after commencement.

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Rewarding academic success May 30, 2012

I’M GOING TO HAVE a proud mama moment today. So please indulge me. But my youngest, my only son, graduates in a few days and I am especially proud of his academic accomplishments.

Last Thursday my husband and I attended Senior Awards Night at Faribault High School where graduating honor students were recognized and scholarships awarded.

Although the guidance office had notified me that Caleb was receiving a scholarship, I didn’t know specifics. Reading through the list of scholarships on the printed program, I couldn’t figure out which one he was getting.

That’s my son, the tall one third from the left, receiving a $1,000 Faribault Falcon Scholarship Fund Scholarship from Marjorie Helmer. (Excuse the photo quality; I shot without flash in a dark auditorium.)

But when Cheryl J. Freund, former school district curriculum director, explained the selection process behind awarding of the $1,000 Faribault Falcon Scholarship Fund Scholarships, I knew. The scholarship recipients, she said, were chosen based on ACT test scores and grade point averages. It mattered not whether you played sports, served your community, participated in theater or anything. The scholarship was solely, unequivocally, for academic achievement.

Thank you, Faribault Falcon Scholarship Fund committee for that sole focus on ACT scores and GPAs. Thank you.

Caleb performed exceptionally well on his college entrance exam and has a near 4.0 GPA.

Freund prefaced awarding of the scholarships by stating: “This is one of the best groups of scholars I’ve seen in my career.”

Now I’d like to take some genetic credit for my son’s intelligence. But since he excels in mathematics and science (my weaknesses) and has to work a bit harder at English (my strength), I cannot claim credit for his academic success. I’ve never been the type of parent to check his homework or read his papers or such—except encourage him and bug him about completing assignments. I’m just not that kind of hands-on homework helping parent. Like he ever needed my help anyway.

I suppose, though, that the emphasis I placed on reading through-out Caleb’s formative years and even today, did factor into his success in school. My teen is a voracious reader—for the enjoyment of reading and for the purpose of learning. He has taught himself so much by reading on his own, not because I told him to read or because he was assigned reading for a class, but because he wanted to learn more.

My son’s also had some engaging and encouraging teachers in the past few years as he’s taken a rigorous course of advanced and college level classes in subjects like physics, calculus, composition, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and more. I expect Caleb will have nearly a year of college credits when he begins classes later this summer at North Dakota State University.

Just last Friday he took a College-Level Examination Program test in chemistry for which he’ll receive four college credits. He was the only student taking the test at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and only the second student to have taken the CLEP chemistry exam there, according to the examiner.

Caleb’s academic achievements and self-initiated pursuits in computer technology also earned him a Presidential Scholarship, an Entrepreneurial Scholarship and entrance to the Honors Program at NDSU. About a third of his college costs will be covered by scholarships. As part of the Entrepreneurial Scholarship, he will work and volunteer in the university’s technology incubator. What an incredible opportunity to learn and to network.

In 2 ½ months, my 18-year-old leaves home to further his education, working toward a degree in computer or electrical engineering. I have no doubt Caleb will continue to approach education as he always has, with enthusiasm and with a strong desire to learn.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A mother’s thoughts on prepping for a third child’s grad party May 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:37 AM
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BY THIS TIME six years ago, and two years prior to that, I would have had everything planned. Right down to the last food and decorating detail.

But now, the third time around, I am less stressed about the high school graduation reception which my husband and I will host for our youngest in a few weeks.

I suppose you might say the third time’s a charm. Or you might say that by child number three, I’m more relaxed. That would be true. It’s not worth worrying about weather or if I’ll have enough food or all those other details that can stress a graduate’s mom. Everything will fall into place or what will be will be.

That said, recently I finally forced the graduating son to help me design and print invitations. We’re keeping it simple—black and white photo paired with a slip of paper upon which the party information has been printed.

The soon-to-be graduate also assisted me in setting up a system to print computer generated addresses upon labels. I know those labels fail to meet Miss Manners guidelines. But I am lazy with this third graduate and prefer easy and convenient over hours of hand-addressing envelopes.

I was spoiled with the previous two graduates, both daughters. They pitched in, designed their own photo display boards and were otherwise helpful in the party planning. My boy has no interest in any of this.

A photo display board of my boy through the years. The images kept falling off, until I attached them with photo corners.

So I was left to peruse photo albums, to choose photos of my son and then organize them onto a tri-fold display board.

I’ve e-mailed extended family and asked for kitchen help and pans of bars for the party. They’ve obliged. We help each other like that.

Nine hams, bought on sale before Easter, are stashed in the freezer as are three batches of cookies.

I did a trial test of the cheesy potatoes I planned to serve and have subsequently replaced that menu item with easier-to-prepare and less-costly baked beans.

My florist sister has potted flowers that will serve as centerpieces upon tables draped with vintage tablecloths. It is better if I don’t think about the pre-party ironing.

My husband replaces crumbled stones on a backyard limestone pathway.

The husband has redone a portion of the partially crumbling backyard limestone pathway. We can’t have guests tripping on rock. He just began cleaning the garage, which will center the reception along with several tents. We have a working man’s garage packed with two work benches, a tool box and equipment everywhere. Nothing pristine and bare or neat and orderly about our exposed-studs garage.

We’re not planning to paint rooms, shampoo carpet or otherwise upgrade our house. Except to use the bathroom, guests are supposed to stay outside.

But when they do venture indoors to use the facilities, I hope they won’t notice the section of cardboard-covered wall in the dining room where a brick chimney was removed 2 ½ years ago. Maybe they will appreciate that the bathroom faucet does not leak; the husband recently replaced it.

I hope the kitchen crew doesn’t twist off the leaky and worn kitchen faucet or wonder too much why I haven’t yet replaced the vintage brown kitchen sink or yellowing cupboards or the Formica countertops or the aged vinyl flooring. Perhaps several strategically-placed bottles of wine will keep them from focusing on the flaws…

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Am I the only mom who thinks prom is ridiculously expensive? April 24, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:12 AM
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HOW WOULD YOU react if you reached into your mailbox and pulled out a letter from the county attorney’s office addressed to the “parents of?”

My heart skipped a beat last Thursday morning when I saw my son’s name on that official envelope. Turns out it was simply a mass mailing endorsed by the Rice County Chemical Health Coalition’s Enforcement Team, Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster, Faribault Community Action Team, Rice County Safe Communities Coalition and Rice County MADD.

But talk about momentarily scaring the heck out of me. Seriously.

With prom approaching this Saturday at the local high school, these organizations and the county attorney wanted to remind parents and students about safety and legal issues related to driving and to alcohol use. Message received.

If scaring parents by mailing the flier in an official Rice County Attorney’s envelope was the intended result, then they achieved that with me. But I would have preferred delivery of this important information in a less intimidating manner.

Now about prom…, my son isn’t attending. I’m glad. Why? Prom has become so overblown in importance and expense to the point of ridiculousness.

I can’t understand spending hundreds of dollars on clothes, hair styling, photos, flowers, food and transportation for a formal high school dance.

At Faribault High School, the upfront cost to attend prom is $175/couple. That covers transportation to a European style nightclub in St. Paul, a dinner (I think, although it is not listed on the official itinerary) and a dance.

Add to that the dress/tux, shoes and all the other expenses and you’re looking at hundreds of dollars. For prom. For one night.

Is this affordable for parents and students, in this economy, in any economy? Are too many students being priced out of prom? Won’t many of these same students soon hope for college scholarships at senior awards ceremonies and later borrow thousands of dollars for college?

How can parents and students justify hefty prom expenditures? This mother can’t. And, yes, I am financially conservative. None of my three children ever attended their high school proms. Unlike some moms who would be absolutely devastated by this (and, believe me, I know one mom who was frantic when her daughter didn’t have a date months before prom), I was/am not.

How do you feel about the cost of prom and the importance placed upon it? What changes could be implemented to make prom more affordable for anyone who wants to attend? Is too much importance placed on prom? I’d like to hear your opinions and ideas.

And just to assure you that I’m not totally anti-prom, I like to see teens have fun and build memories from their high school days. But within reason.

And, I do see the economic benefits with all that money parents and students are pumping into prom.

© Text copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Graphics were in the mailing my family received from the Rice County Attorney’s office.


Another chapter finished in the book of parenting March 2, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:27 AM
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AFTER 22 YEARS of going to parent-teacher conferences, my husband and I attended our final one last night. The youngest of our three children, who is eight years younger than our eldest, graduates from high school in three months.

And to think we almost missed this notable occasion because I had not flipped the calendar from February to March yet. An ad in Thursday’s local daily newspaper alerted me of that evening’s sessions at Faribault High School.

En route to school, I mentally planned the extra words I would scrawl onto my name tag: “After 22 years, this is our final conference!”

But alas, the school did not provide name tags for parents on this occasion. What a disappointment.  Instead, I had to inform all four of our son’s teachers that they had the privilege of concluding our 22-year parent-teacher conference tenure.

It’s been a good ride. All three of our children have worked hard in school, done their best and been respectful. Teachers have always spoken highly of them.

So then you likely wonder why we have even bothered to attend conferences.

Simply put, we care. We are interested in the individuals who educate our children. We want to connect with them. We want them to know that we care.

We’ve gained insights into our children and learned about what they’re learning, because children/teens don’t always inform parents.

Parent-teacher conferences are a two-way process. We’ve always approached these meetings with the idea that we are there to glean information as much as to share it.

And now we’re done. Twenty-two years later. I’m not all misty-eyed and sad as one teacher suggested. But I’m not jumping for joy either.

I’m simply wondering how we got from crayons to calculus in the seeming blink of an eye.

IF YOU’RE A PARENT, have you attended parent-teacher conferences? What value do you find in them? How would you improve conferences if you think improvement is needed? Please share your thoughts and stories in a comment.

Likewise, if you’re a teacher, feel free to share your thoughts and insights.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Help with the FAFSA equals a happy mom February 28, 2012

IT IS A RELIEF, I tell you, to have the taxes and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid filed. Both have been hanging over my head since the first of the year.

Since I detest figures and forms, I fail to welcome January with any hint of enthusiasm.

But somehow I manage to plow through the paperwork, sifting through files, pulling together information for the tax preparer. Yes, I pay someone to “do” our taxes because it is well worth the money to have everything done right without stressing me to the max.

This year I was under additional pressure to get the taxes done early so I could file the FAFSA. My son, my youngest, starts college in the fall.

Several years have passed since I last filled out this college financial aid form for my second daughter and, before that, her sister. I welcomed the respite from this task. Not that it should be so difficult given the process is done online. But, remember, I don’t like figures or forms. At all.

A portion of the informational sheet my son received from Faribault High School about the FAFSA workshop.

This time around, though, I wasn’t on my own. The Faribault High School Counseling Department hosted a Minnesota College Goal Sunday Workshop to assist parents and students in completing the FAFSA.

Yes, my son and I were among the first in line for the two-hour workshop. I expected long lines. My expectations were wrong. I have no idea how many turned out, but certainly significantly fewer than I anticipated during the hour we were there. Computer terminals were not packed, not by any stretch.

That was good for my son and me. No waiting. Questions answered as soon as my arm shot into the air, which was often.

The FAFSA offers a new feature—at least new since the last time I filed—that allows applicants to connect to their tax returns. The tax return information then automatically transfers to the FAFSA app. That option failed to work for us; something about too little time elapsing since taxes were filed.

Within an hour, my son and I had his FAFSA completed and zipped into cyberspace. The process should have taken us only a half hour, according to a rep from the local technical college, among three volunteers who assisted us at the workshop. Well, yeah, I shared with her that I detest figures and forms.

And it didn’t help that I left my prescription computer eyeglasses at home, meaning I struggled to read the words and numbers on the monitor.

FYI: COLLEGE GOAL SUNDAY is a national effort that brings financial aid professionals and other volunteers together to help students and their families complete the FAFSA. Click here for general program information about the Minnesota College Goal Program.

Click here for information and a listing of workshop sites in Minnesota.

Students who attend, fill out and submit a FAFSA and then complete a workshop evaluation are entered into a drawing for a $500 scholarship. Now how’s that for an incentive to participate? One student in Faribault will walk away with $500 for his/her college education. Win. Win.

Even if my son doesn’t win the scholarship, we’ve still won. We got professional assistance, at no cost, to complete a task I dread.

I’m just wondering. Can I return next year even though my son will already be in college?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Kudos to the smart science kids out there February 8, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:27 AM
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SEARCH THE RECESSES of my home and you won’t find a single sports trophy, medal or ribbon. We are not athletes.

But you will find honors for academic achievements.

During elementary school, my second daughter consistently placed in the region’s Lutheran schools spelling competition, bringing home trophies and ribbons. In 2006, she graduated from high school at the top of her class. (My mom and a niece also graduated at the tops of their classes and I graduated second.)

Now my 17-year-old high school senior has won two medals for his scientific and mathematical skills and knowledge. This past weekend Caleb and his Faribault High School Science Team teammate, Luke, earned first place in the Regional Finals Science Olympiad competition in Rochester with their gravity vehicle.

They built a vehicle and ramp and then, using physics skills, calculated time, distance and speed to race and stop their car at a specific point. They came within about an inch of the target. I won’t attempt to explain the details of how they accomplished this because, well, I don’t understand it. Suffice to say, they did everything right to win the contest.

A wheel on the winning car, as it was being built. I would show you the car, except I did not get a good shot of it and now the car is at school and Caleb would not like that I want to photograph it. Suffice to say the car is basically four pieces of wood joined into a rectangular shape. Caleb and Luke wrote their names on the car. That's it. Why make it flashy? Flashy doesn't count, my son says. Gotta love that attitude.

Caleb, along with a different teammate, Travis, also placed third in an astronomy competition.

Faribault students Anna and Anwyn earned first place regional honors in “Write It Do It.” Sara and Riley placed second and Anwyn and Tanner, fourth, in “Forestry.” And a fourth place finish also went to Nathaniel and Max in the “Fermi Questions” competition. (Don’t even ask about “Fermi.” I have no clue; I never claimed I was smart in science.)

Faribault High’s two science teams finished fifth and eighth at region, qualifying both teams for state competition. However, rules allow only one team from each school to compete at state.

FHS science teacher Jason Boggs says this is the first time since he’s been co-coaching the science teams that both teams have technically qualified for state.

Caleb and 14 other FHS students will compete at state on March 3 at the University of St. Thomas.

So there you have it—my little plug today for all those smart kids out there who excel in academics but seldom receive the recognition they deserve.

Be proud.

Your academic successes will take you far in life.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling