Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating Valentine’s Day every day February 14, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,
You can't go wrong with chocolate, like this box from my daughter Miranda on Mother's Day.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

VALENTINE’S DAY BRINGS expectations of love expressed in some perhaps grand way. It’s a great day for florists and chocolate shops and restaurants. And that’s alright. Both flowers and candy are visual reminders of love. Dining out allows time to connect and celebrate. I have a half-dozen red roses on my dining room table. And I appreciate them.

But even more important are the everyday moments of love. You know, those little things you take for granted in your life. Or the surprises that cause your heart to surge joy.

What does that look like for you?

 

homemade-valentine

 

For me, love has shown itself recently in these ways:

  •  a handcrafted valentine from friends
  •  the giggle of my granddaughter
  •  a bag of macadamia nuts, a gift from my eldest and her husband who recently vacationed in Hawaii, a place I will never visit.
  •  my husband washing the dinner dishes every Sunday so I can phone my mom at 6:30 p.m.
  •  a friend buying valentine books for my 10-month-old granddaughter whom she’s never met.
  •  an unexpected call from my second daughter
A view of the 300 block on North Broadway, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more.

Downtown Fargo, North Dakota, the real Fargo, not as depicted in the movie or TV series. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

  •  my husband binge-watching Fargo (the TV show) with me on DVD
  •  skyping with my son in Boston
  •  seeing my great nephew Landon with his face pressed to the patio door watching and waiting for my husband (Papa Two) and me to arrive
  •  texts from a friend asking, “How are you?”

Today, please express your care and appreciation for your friends, your family, and, yes, even for those outside your closest circle. Try to make that a practice every day.

Birthday roses from my husband, Randy.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers! I appreciate you.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Planning a Valentine’s Day heart attack February 12, 2016

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

WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING for Valentine’s Day?

Birthday roses from my husband, Randy.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Roses?

You can't go wrong with chocolate, like this box from my daughter Miranda on Mother's Day.

You can’t go wrong with a box of chocolates. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Chocolates?

Some creative mind (not mine) came up with the "You've been heart attacked" idea.

Some creative mind (not mine) came up with the “You’ve been heart attacked” idea. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

How about a heart attack? No, not the medical emergency that threatens your life. But rather a staged attack that plants paper hearts in your yard.

Image three times-plus this number of hearts placed in our friends' yards.

Imagine three times-plus this number of hearts placed in our friends’ yards. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Two years ago, my husband and I crept into the front yards of two friends on the evening of February 13. There we stuck colorful paper hearts into snowbanks with the message, Happy Valentine’s Day! You’ve been heart attacked! Then we fled into the darkness of a cold Minnesota night, hoping to elude barking dogs and porch lights. We succeeded.

The two young families awoke the next morning to find dozens of hearts scattered across the snow. It didn’t take them long to determine who’d done this. And then, because they have such giving hearts, these families plucked up the hearts and heart attacked two more families.

My husband and I got as much joy out of giving this Valentine’s Day gift to families we treasure as they did out of receiving.

Piling up the hearts in anticipation of Operation Heart Attack.

Piling up the hearts in anticipation of Operation Heart Attack. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

There’s still time to plan a heart attack. Click here for details.

If you carry out a heart attack, please report back here in the comments section. I’d love to hear about your experience.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pumpkins, picking & prayer September 2, 2015

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

HAVE YOU EVER TRIED to coax a cat onto a pumpkin? It is difficult at best.

I am not a cat owner. But I grew up with farm cats, simply calling, “Here, kitty kitty,” and the felines would come running. They did not, however, appreciate any attempts to dress them in doll clothes and then plop them into a doll buggy.

The sprawling garden includes pumpkins and popcorn.

The sprawling garden includes pumpkins and popcorn.

That “here, kitty kitty” tactic did not work with Gretchen, who belongs to friends, Jeff and Mandy. My bible study group gathered recently at their rural Faribault acreage. We always socialize for an hour before digging into our study. And on this perfect late summer evening in Minnesota, we surveyed Mandy’s garden. Gretchen meandered with us among the vines and rows.

Hannah's sunflowers

Hannah’s sunflowers

Mandy grows vegetables that I’ve never seen grown—like kidney beans and burgundy beans and tomatillos. This year she’s had help from Hannah, a teen who wanted to learn gardening.

Jeff coaxes Gretchen...

Jeff coaxes Gretchen…

...onto the pumpkin.

…onto the pumpkin.

Hannah planted pumpkins which just kept growing and growing and growing into ginormous orbs. I wanted to photograph them. But I needed scale. Ah, Gretchen the cat would be perfect. So Jeff, kind friend that he is, agreed to lure Gretchen onto a Great Atlantic (or something like that; Jeff couldn’t quite remember the name) pumpkin. Eventually I got an acceptable photo.

Later, Gretchen hopped atop a fence post, providing for more photo ops as the sun edged down:

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 1

 

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 2

 

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 3

 

When the photo shoots and garden tour ended, we began moving toward the house. But we were sidetracked. Debbie and I, dairy farmers’ daughters, checked out the barn. Most of the guys headed to a shed and scrounged in a scrap metal pile. Steve, the artist among us, found metal for art projects and a trough that will work as a flower planter. Then Mike and I waded through tall grass with Mandy, aiming for the wood pile. There we rooted out wooden boxes. Mike also found scrap wood for his oldest son’s May wedding.

The barn rises high above the garden.

The barn rises high above the garden.

One person’s junk is another’s treasure.

The top of the silo and the barn roof.

The top of the silo and the barn roof.

What a fun evening it was, first touring and photographing the garden and Gretchen, then picking, then gathering around the kitchen table with dear friends to study, to share and to pray. I am blessed.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Friends February 27, 2015

Portrait 9: Nimo and Nasteho

Friends, Nimo, left, and Nasteho.

Friends, Nimo, left, and Nasteho.

“They assume I’m a terrorist.”

I’ll always remember that statement shared with me 2 ½ years ago by a then high school senior who asked me to photograph her and a friend at the International Festival Faribault.

Nasteho, a native of Kenya, posed with Nimo for this beautiful portrait of the pair. They were among students volunteering at the fest.

What Nasteho told me that August day in 2012 broke my heart. She’d been subjected to ongoing insults from a customer in her workplace, felt stares at the grocery store, been flipped the bird while driving. All because of the way she dressed, her skin color and her ethnicity.

“There is no respect for Somalis,” she concluded.

I couldn’t disagree with her. I’d heard the negative comments, too, about Faribault’s newest immigrants.

Despite the outright prejudice Nasteho had already endured at such a young age, she did not appear bitter or angry, only desiring of respect and understanding. She seemed wise beyond her years. Poised. Thoughtful. Well-spoken.

I recall thinking, if only those who hold disdain for Somalis could meet Nasteho. They would see her as the beautiful, young and spirited woman I photographed.

It is the personal connections that bridge differences. I believed that then. I still believe that now.

#

This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

You’ve been “heart attacked!” February 14, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:30 PM
Tags: , , , ,

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS HAVE PASSED since the deed was done. Correction. Deeds. Plural.

The covert operation began, as all such operations do, with a plan.

Piling up the hearts in anticipation of Operation Heart Attack.

Piling up the hearts in anticipation of Operation Heart Attack.

Days before the staging, my husband and I (mostly me) traced and cut hearts from construction paper. Red hearts, pink, yellow, blue, purple, orange… The color didn’t matter as much as the quantity.

All told, there were about 70 hearts in three sizes—half destined for each home.

Then the search was on for stakes to which the paper hearts would be secured. The original intent was to purchase wooden skewers. But since this isn’t exactly grilling season in Minnesota, none were to be found.

Clearance holiday light stakes worked perfectly.

Clearance holiday light stakes worked perfectly.

That left us wandering the aisles of Walmart, where I happened upon universal light stakes on the clearance shelves. These 9-inch long plastic sticks, typically used to secure Christmas lights in the ground, were on sale for the bargain price of 10 cents for a box of 25. I snatched three.

Each paper heart was secured to a plastic stake with regular tape.

Each paper heart was secured to a plastic stake with regular tape.

But would tape adhere and stick in Minnesota’s brutal temps? We tested regular tape, packaging tape and masking tape and rated the everyday tape as the best option. And so stakes were taped to hearts.

On the morning of February 13, the day of Operation Heart Attack, I divided the hearts into two piles and later stashed them in canvas tote bags.

That evening, around 7, Randy and I set out to place the hearts in the front yards of our friends. We knew we had to work quickly and quietly in the cold and darkness of a Minnesota winter evening.

The plan was to park around the corner from the targeted homes. There was no need for such stealth at Billie Jo and Neal’s, though, as their house was dark. So Randy stopped the car right in front of their place along a quiet residential street.

A test run in my backyard as, obviously, I could not photograph the heart attack in progress.

A day-time test run in my backyard as, obviously, I could not photograph the evening heart attack in progress.

We hustled out and then begin stabbing the stakes into the snow banked along the edge of their driveway. We had not anticipated rock hard snow. But we managed and in less than five minutes were out of there, contemplating when our friends and their two elementary-aged children would discover they’d been heart attacked.

Then on to the next house, where we did have to park around the corner and use extreme stealth. Our friends Tammy and Jesse had an exterior light switched on and their living room curtains partially open. They also have a dog. We thought for certain that we would be caught by them or one of their four children as we, once again, jabbed stakes into hard-packed snow.

However, we made a clean get-away.

Some creative mind (not mine) came up with the "You've been heart attacked" idea.

Some creative mind (not mine) came up with the “You’ve been heart attacked!” idea.

Early Friday morning Tammy emailed: “I was wondering if we have you and Randy to thank for the heart attack in our yard?”

Busted. No interrogation tactics needed. I confessed immediately.

Seems Tammy and Jesse’s daughter, Hannah, discovered the clutch of hearts within a half hour of their placement when she let the family dog outside. Violet set up quite a racket barking at the fluttering hearts. Apparently she didn’t bark, though, when we were executing Operation Heart Attack. Good doggie.

Then the mystery needed to be solved. And here’s the funny part. Tammy and Jesse and family thought Billie Jo and Neal and family placed the hearts in their yard. And Bille Jo and Neal and family thought Tammy and Jesse and family had carried out the attack in their yard.

Ruling each other out, they eventually settled on Randy and me as the likely suspects.

Says Tammy after my confession, “…the kids couldn’t wait until morning so they could get a better look at it. Everyone has been smiling all morning. How very thoughtful of you.”

That Randy and I could give such joy to our friends on Valentine’s Day…

Image three times-plus this number of hearts placed in our friends' yards.

Imagine three times this number of hearts placed in our friends’ front yards.

Both families have since pulled up the hearts we left and heart attacked others.

Billie Jo, along with her daughter and son, passed the joy along to a classmate of Nevaeh. While my friends were driving home, Nevaeh told her mom, “…wouldn’t it be cool if they did it to someone else then it got all the way around the world. Then Audrey could get famous just by doing one little thing.”

I cannot claim credit for the Operation Heart Attack idea. I saw this online. But I will accept the grateful thanks of my friends for making their Valentine’s Day a memorable one.

As Billie Jo says, “I never knew I would be so thankful for a heart attack!

And Tammy claimed she and her kids had a blast sneaking out to a place in the country and passing the hearts on to mutual friends of ours.

Oh, the joy in something as simple as a heart attack.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Creative parenting: Let the painting & mud slinging begin August 26, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
The kids, Braxton, left, Jack and Nevaeh, were thrilled to paint blocks, unlike me.

The kids, Braxton, left, Jack and Nevaeh, were thrilled to paint blocks, unlike me.

I SWEAR SHE would have locked me in the basement.

The sheetrock wall canvas.

The sheetrock wall canvas.

Billie Jo, a former preschool teacher and the mother of two school-aged youngsters, insisted. “You need to paint a brick, Audrey.” She emphasized “Audrey.”

The paint comes from the county recycling center.

The paint comes from the county recycling center.

There was no wiggling my way out of her demand, even if my friend was preoccupied with opening paint cans, stirring paint, handing out brushes, washing kids’ hands and wiping paint spills from the concrete basement floor.

See, I really was busy taking photos, here of Hannah. She's quite the artist who not only paints, but also sews. Plus, she writes poetry.

See, I really was busy taking photos, here of Hannah. She’s quite the artist who not only paints, but also sews. Plus, she writes poetry. Oh, and she made that pony tail holder in her hair.

feet

Painting in bare feet.

Jack creating his masterpiece.

Jack creating his masterpiece.

My excuse of “I’m busy taking pictures” wasn’t sliding by Billie Jo. Nope.

My, ahem, masterpiece.

My, ahem, masterpiece.

So, eventually, I set down my camera and picked up paintbrushes to paint a clutch of lilac hued flowers, my name and the year onto an orange brick painted upon a sheetrock wall. I’ve never pretended to be an artist, except perhaps in photography.

Where the project started, on the cement walls.

Where the project started, on the cement walls.

Prior to the sheetrock dividing wall construction, visitors to Billie Jo and Neal’s south Faribault home created art (a record of their visits) on a cement block wall in a corner of the basement. That area is now covered by totes in a storage room stocked full of board games, art supplies and more.

“Garage sales are great,” Neal says.

Braxton, in near constant motion, took time to paint.

Braxton, in near constant motion, took time to paint.

And so are he and Billie Jo and their kids, Nevaeh (heaven spelled backwards) and Braxton.

They are loving and kind and fabulous and generous and in the paperwork process of adopting, hopefully, two children from Colombia. These will be blessed children to join this fun-loving family. (International adoptions are costly, so if you wish to donate to the cause, email me personally or at audrey at mnprairieroots.com)

I love how they parent, reminding me of bygone times. They have no television, instead choosing board games and crafts and bike rides and storytime at the library and such to define their family togetherness.

My friends stretched a wood plank between their deck and an outdoor play cube for the kids to jump and run and do whatever kids’ imaginations tell them to do. The plank was added when Braxton was in his pirate phase.

Fun times at Billie Jo and Neal's mud party.

Fun times  for Hannah at Billie Jo and Neal’s mud party. The event included mixing of “potions” at the picnic table. Photo courtesy of Billie Jo.

Recently, they hosted a mud party, as in purchasing black dirt, shoveling it into a kids’ swimming pool, mixing in water and letting Nevaeh and Braxton and friends muck around.

Billie Jo tells me that clean-up lasted longer than the party. Here Braxton and Nevaeh pose. Photo courtesy of Billie Jo.

Billie Jo tells me that clean-up lasted longer than the party. Here Braxton and Nevaeh pose. Photo courtesy of Billie Jo.

If I hadn’t been out of town, I would have been there photographing the event. But, if Billie Jo had insisted I join the fun…

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Friendships forged via blogging August 3, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

YOU KNOW SOMETIMES how, when you meet someone, you instantly connect and feel as if you’ve been friends forever.

Well, that’s exactly how I feel about my blogger friends Beth Ann, who writes at It’s Just Life, and Gretchen, who writes at A Fine Day for an Epiphany. They are now real life friends, as in I’ve met them.

Beth Ann has been to Faribault twice, first last December with her husband, Chris, to hear me present on and read my poetry during a program at Buckham Memorial Library. Chris always worries about his wife and her “imaginary” blogger friends and whether one of us will stuff her in the trunk of a car. “Not to worry,” I told Beth Ann when she visited me at my home several weeks ago. “I’ll stash you in my basement freezer.”

Now Chris terms me “that Audrey character.”

I don’t know that Gretchen’s husband, Colin, has assigned any such moniker to me. He seems not too concerned about my character.

Driving the state line road to Gretchen and Colin's rural southwest Minnesota home.

Driving the state line road to Gretchen and Colin’s rural southwest Minnesota home.

Last week my husband and I, while en route to Luverne in the extreme southwestern corner of Minnesota, detoured off Interstate 90 into Worthington, wound our way through construction zones and aimed south to the Minnesota/Iowa border where Gretchen and her family live on the state line. Literally. The gravel road past their rural acreage is half in Minnesota, half in Iowa. How cool is that?

I could have chosen to show you a "perfect" family photo in which everyone in Gretchen's family is standing nice and looking at my camera. But I love this one of Ian eyeballing the antics of his little sister, Lucy. Last summer, when visiting me, Colin also held Lucy upside down for a photo and Lucy wanted to do the same again this time.

I could have chosen a “perfect” family photo in which everyone in Gretchen’s family is standing nice and looking at my camera. But I love this one of Ian eyeballing the antics of his little sister, Lucy. Last summer, when visiting us, Colin also held his youngest daughter upside down for a photo and Lucy wanted to do the same pose this time. Given her sweetness, we obliged.

Randy and I were excited to visit our friends as last summer Gretchen, Colin and their three kids accepted a dinner invitation to our home when they were in Faribault for a theatrical performance. We instantly bonded.

Gretchen and me, now real-life friends. Photo by Randy Helbling.

Gretchen and me, now real-life friends. Photo by Randy Helbling.

Who says “Imaginary” blogging friends can’t become “real friends?” Not I, says this blogger.

Sweet little Lucy, who narrated on the nature walk and later read a book to me. She just finished kindergarten.

Sweet little Lucy, who narrated on the nature walk and later read a book to me. She just finished kindergarten. That’s her blanket, appropriately named “Blue.”

Upon our arrival, I refused the handshakes of Colin and Ian, embracing them instead. The girls—Gretchen and daughters Katie and Lucy—were quick with the hugs.

A creek winds through the property.

A creek winds through the acreage. That’s the neighbor’s land in the background.

Then Randy and I were off on a nature walk with the kids through the 10-acre wooded and hilly creek-side property while Gretchen and Colin prepared a delicious meal of grilled pork, lettuce and fruit salads, assorted breads and the best peach dessert ever. (Click here for the recipe.)

Ian, 14, with the family's cat,

Ian, 14, with family cat, Zephyr.

As much as I savored the food, I especially savored the time with our friends, who are warm and welcoming and kind and good and great conversationalists. Even the kids. I mean that in the best sort of way as Ian, Katie and Lucy are so well-mannered and interesting and bright and talented and funny and just the kind of children any parent would be proud to call theirs.

Standing on the state line road with Katie, left, and Lucy.

Standing on the state line road with Katie, left, and Lucy. Rural Minnesota and rural Iowa. Love it. Photo by Gretchen.

When we were about to leave, they all humored me when I insisted on standing in the middle of the state line gravel road for a photo opp, just to say I’d been simultaneously in Minnesota and Iowa, where, by the way, imaginary blogger real life friend Beth Ann lives.

The Welcome to Minnesota sign just down the road from Gretchen and Colin's place.

The “Welcome to Minnesota” sign just down the road from Gretchen and Colin’s place, photographed while driving by.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling