Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts for my friend on a notable birthday September 12, 2018

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Smile, even when you’re turning sixty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY FRIEND, I’LL CALL HER JULIE, turns sixty today. I know she’s not particularly excited about that number because, as she says, “It sounds old (compared to 59).”

I remember feeling the same when I reached that landmark birthday. And to think I struggled with turning forty. I wish now that I was only four decades, rather than six-plus decades, old.

But there’s something to be said for this age. And I can summarize that in a single powerful, joyful word: grandma. Julie and I, who have been friends since our kids were in grade school, are both relatively new grandmas. Her grandson is 14 months younger than my almost 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter. We trade stories now about grandchildren and share images of the cute little ones who bring us much happiness.

Julie and I have been through a lot together. Joyful times and difficult times. We listen to one another and trust each other. With anything. What a blessing she has been in my life through rearing children and now into loving grandchildren.

On this her 60th birthday, I want Julie to realize that turning sixty is really not all that bad. Especially when you have a grandchild to spoil and love.

Happy birthday, dear friend! I wish you many more years of joyful living.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Part I from Hackensack: Into the Minnesota northwoods to visit a blogger friend October 9, 2017

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Among the attractions in Hackensack is this rendering of Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack. She stands on the shores of Birch Lake.

 

NEVER HAVE I FELT more grateful for specific directions than when invited recently to my blogger friend Sue’s lake home near Hackensack in north central Minnesota. In this unfamiliar region of lakes and woods and winding roads, Randy and I could easily have become lost. We couldn’t rely on cell phone coverage. And given my general overall difficulty reading maps and sensing direction, I would be of no help.

 

 

 

But with Sue’s detailed instructions to first turn at Swanson Bait Shop then drive east and more, we eventually found our way onto a road that twisted deep into the woods. Initially, the gravel road ran wide enough for two vehicles. But then Randy swung the van onto a narrower road that left me feeling a tad unnerved by downed and broken trees from a 2016 storm and closed in by woods. Yet, I trusted Sue’s directions as we passed the row of mailboxes she noted and then the handmade signs directing us toward her home. After one missed sign and resulting turn-around, we arrived 10 minutes early. Success.

 

 

Sue and her husband, Charley, whom I’d never met, welcomed us with warmth to their home overlooking a lake in a series named Woman, Man, Child and Baby lakes. Their lovely home sits atop a hill, snugged in by signature northwoods pine and by deciduous trees, some flaming color during our mid-September visit.

 

 

Lakeside, I delighted in the tranquil setting—the curve of the lake around an island, the masses of trees hugging the shoreline, the overall seclusion of this place. It is a land that seems foreign to a prairie-raised girl most at home in wide open spaces among corn and soybean fields.

I appreciate, though, this part of Minnesota and this opportunity to visit for a few hours with Sue and Charley. Cold and windy weather foiled plans to dine on the deck or spend much time outdoors. But it didn’t matter. Engaging conversation doesn’t require perfect weather.

 

Sue, right, and I pose for a photo taken by Randy.

 

I met Sue a few years back via blogging and in person in 2013 when she and her sister made a road trip from the metro to explore Faribault and have lunch at my house. Sue and I share a love of writing, of poetry and of books. This retired educator has, for the past few years, organized the book part of the Northwoods Art & Book Festival in Hackensack. With 37 Minnesota authors participating in this year’s fest, I can only imagine the time my friend invested in this event. She also chairs the Northwoods Art Council. Through her freelance writing, blogging, attendance at writers’ workshops and more, Sue has established an incredible network with Minnesota writers.

 

Sue’s started our Sunday brunch with a delicious salad featuring her homemade dressing. Photo from Sue’s Ever Ready blog.

 

But there’s more. Sue loves to cook. Food focuses her Ever Ready blog along with poetry and book reviews. Whenever I’m looking for a new recipe, I go to Sue’s blog or shoot her an email for ideas. I appreciate that her featured recipes include common ingredients, are often a twist on a familiar dish and are easy to prepare. On the day we lunched with her and Charley, Sue served Apple, Grape & Pecan Salad with Mustard Maple Vinaigrette; assorted breads; Wild Rice, Sausage and Potato Casserole; and Angel Food Cake with Warm Chocolate Kahlua Sauce. I expected nothing less than delicious and that’s exactly what Sue presented.

This couple also served up plenty of hospitality in conversation. Through the years, Sue and I have communicated often via email, offering each other support and encouragement, simply being there for each other as friends are. Randy and Charley, with a shared interest in cars, also had plenty to discuss.

 

 

And then there was Bella, the yellow lab. She welcomed us, too, and especially liked being petted, pawing for me to stroke her more after I stopped. What a dog.

 

 

Hours after our arrival, after I photographed the affectionate Bella and after Sue and I posed for photos, Randy and I set off into the woods with instructions to stay to the right. As we emerged onto the county road, I felt as if we’d just exited a retreat. I am grateful to Sue and Charley for sharing their place of northwoods solitude with us. For a few hours I felt blissfully sheltered from the world.

 

FYI: To check out Sue’s Ever Ready blog, click here. She also has a blog written from Bella’s perspective. To read The World According to Bella, click here.

To read the blog post Sue wrote about our visit, which includes links to recipes for the food she prepared, click here.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My first stay at an Up North Minnesota lake cabin September 22, 2017

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THROUGH THE PLEATED SHADES, lightning flashed like a strobe light outside the cabin. Soon thunder rumbled, not loud and crashing, but slow and ramping in volume. I willed myself to shut out the light, the sound, to fall asleep here in this place nestled in jackpines along the shore of a lengthy lake four hours from my southeastern Minnesota home.

 

Downtown Park Rapids features two rows of parallel parking down the middle of the street and diagonal parking curbside on both sides.

 

Randy and I arrived in a flush of rain after an afternoon in Park Rapids, a resort town abundant in shops and quirky in its center of the street parking. Already I loved this place, despite the grey skies and near constant rain.

Yet, this was not my vision of our first-ever stay at a Minnesota northwoods cabin. But when you can’t control the weather, you can either choose disappointment or embrace the situation. And I was determined to make the best of our visit with friends Jackie and Rick.

 

Jackie, right, took this selfie of the two of us. Photo courtesy of Jackie Hemmer.

 

When Jackie invited us to their cabin, I accepted with the enthusiasm of someone who has always wanted to experience this quintessential Minnesota activity of “going Up North to the cabin.” Our friends made us feel as comfortable as if we were family and long-time friends. We are neither. I met Jackie several years ago after connecting with her via blogging. She and Rick live some 40 miles from us in Rochester. Jackie is a nurse by profession and a blogger with strong photography skills.

 

Randy and I, left, with Jackie and Rick. Photo courtesy of Jackie Hemmer.

 

We joke that we could be sisters given our shared interests in photography, barns, cemeteries, country churches, small towns, gravel roads and much more. We are women of faith, mothers of three, grandmothers and wives who are grateful for loving and supportive husbands of 35 years. We each birthed sons who weighed nearly 11 pounds. Jackie beat me by two ounces.

Mostly, though, we have that natural connection of conversing with ease, of laughing and enjoying each others’ company in a developing friendship. Previously, the four of us had gotten together briefly several times. This weekend at the cabin would forge our evolving friendship.

 

With Rick at the wheel, we head across the lake. Photo courtesy of Jackie Hemmer.

 

Given the weather, we mostly sheltered inside the cabin peering through spacious windows toward the grey lake and rainy skies. We laughed and talked with barely a lull in the conversation. When the weather broke for a bit Saturday morning, I suggested a boat ride. I surprised all of them. I had to overcome a general uncomfortableness on water to board a boat.

 

As the boat picks up speed, waves trail behind.

 

I appreciate that Jackie and Rick honored my request that we not venture too far from shore. Eventually I felt comfortable enough to ask Rick to increase the boat speed. The distractions of my camera and Rick’s history tour of the lake along with Jackie’s encouragement made for a pleasant ride. There’s something to be said for friends who are supportive and loving.

 

Watching Randy relax and unwind from work gave me much joy. We needed this vacation.

 

That evening, after dining on grilled steak, we clustered around the dining room table for a game of Outburst. Boys against girls. We laughed and talked and laughed some more between munching on caramel corn from Molly Poppin’s Gourmet Snacks in Park Rapids. Before 11, we were off to bed and I slept well without rumbling thunderstorms.

 

Only a few boats were on the lake Saturday morning.

 

As wonderful as the cabin experience was, I had hoped to spot a loon. Sunday morning while looking across the lake, I noticed a black floating shape with the seeming distinctive curve of a loon. Jackie handed me binoculars while she fetched her glasses. Through the lenses, we confirmed a loon sighting. It would have to do—this lone loon in the distance. I was thrilled.

 

A grouping of loons. Photo by Jackie Hemmer.

 

That evening, hours after our mid-morning departure, Jackie texted a photo of seven loons with this message: Saw about 15 loons on the lake tonight just beautiful!

 

 

Just beautiful. That summarizes, too, our weekend stay with friends who blessed us with a delightful time at their Up North cabin.

 

FYI: Click here to read Jackie’s blog, “Who Will Make Me Laugh.”

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos by Jackie Hemmer are also copyrighted and used with her permission as noted.

 

May Day sweetness from cherished friends May 1, 2015

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An artsy edited image of my tulips.

An artsy edited image of my tulips.

TODAY, WHILE TWO LOVED ONES are viewing the tulip fields of Amsterdam, I am delighting in the tulips that brighten my Minnesota front yard.

And I am celebrating May Day with thankfulness for friends who continue to bring joy into my days with sweet surprises.

This morning my doorbell rang. Twice. I glimpsed legs and arms flying as young friends raced to vehicles driven by their mothers. I hurried to a side window, flashed a wave and a smile and mouthed a thank you.

The first May Day basket to arrive included four construction paper flowers with candy centers.

The first May Day basket to arrive included four construction paper flowers with candy centers.

Then I swung open the front door and retrieved May Day baskets from the front steps.

Four homemade chocolate chip cookies were tucked inside the second May Day basket.

Four homemade chocolate chip cookies were tucked inside the second May Day basket.

The kindness of these dear and thoughtful friends continues to touch my heart. These are busy young families—one with five children and another with two and fostering a third—who homeschool their children. It takes time and effort to create May Day baskets, then gather everyone into a vehicle and deliver those treats.

The two May Day baskets dropped on my front steps this morning. The one on the right reminds me of the baskets I wove as a child for my mother.

The two May Day baskets dropped on my front steps this morning. The one on the right reminds me of the baskets I wove as a child for my mother.

What a fine example these parents are setting, encouraging their children’s creativity and showing them the true joy in giving to others. Their sons and daughters are already growing into fine, compassionate and caring young people. It’s not easy raising kids in today’s world. Just last evening when I saw one of these mothers at a church function, she wished aloud that times were like those on the Andy Griffith show. Simpler. I understand. I’ve often wished that myself.

I’ve raised my children into adulthood. It wasn’t always easy and still isn’t at times. But I have that seasoned experience and ability to see that “this too shall pass.” I can offer the gift of encouragement to young families.

And what I’ve gotten in return are true and cherished friendships.

© 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

 

When blogging friends become “real friends” May 13, 2014

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IN THIS WONDERFUL WORLD of blogging, I expected to share my passions for writing and photography.

I never anticipated, though, the friendships and connections I would form with other bloggers and with readers.

Doreen, left, and I at Crossings at Carnegie.

Doreen, left, and I at Crossings at Carnegie.

Saturday evening, I met, in real life, my blogger friend, Doreen, who writes at “Treadlemusic.” She and her husband, Tom, drove 1 ½ hours from their southeastern Minnesota home to the small community of Zumbrota for Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII at Crossings at Carnegie. I read my poem, “Lilacs,” at the event which paired 26 selected poems with art they inspired. (Click here to read about that.)

I was impressed that Doreen and Tom would drive that far to support me. But I’m not surprised. Doreen, whom I’ve gotten to know through blogging and a few phone conversations, is that kind of caring person. Just read some of her blog posts (click here) and you will meet a woman passionate about quilting and about bringing joy into the lives of others.

She was everything I expected. Funny. Bubbly. Full of energy and enthusiasm and genuinely happy to be at the collaboration. She cheered me on, gave me two thumbs up after my reading. Doreen is the kind of friend you cherish.

And Tom is equally as delightful, albeit much more subdued than his wife. People would likely say the same thing about my husband, Randy. They are a good balance for their wives. I figured the two husbands would get along just fine and enjoy some guy conversation. They did.

Crossings at Carnegie, site of the Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII.

Crossings at Carnegie, site of the Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII.

Tom shared with Randy that, if not for the woman he married, he would not have attended events like the Poet-Artist Collaboration. Randy would say the same. Today both guys embrace the arts, for the most part.

As for Doreen and me, there’s no question we share a passion for creativity. She stitches hers into fabric. I stitch mine into words and images.

And now we’ve stitched together a friendship that goes beyond the exchange of blogger comments and the occasional email and phone call. We are real life friends.

IN ADDITION TO DOREEN, I’ve met four other bloggers whom I now consider friends:

Beth Ann, who writes from northeastern Iowa at “It’s Just Life,” also traveled 1 ½ hours to meet me for the first time in December of 2012. She and husband, Chris, came for my poetry presentation and reading at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. Since then, Beth Ann and I have lunched together, talked many times on the phone and recently dined together in nearby Owatonna with our husbands. She possesses great compassion and care, makes me laugh and has this wonderful Southern accent. I am blessed by her friendship.

Gretchen is the second blogger (“A Fine Day for an Ephiphay”) whom I met when she and her family drove to Faribault from rural Worthington to attend a play directed by a friend. We invited them to our home for supper. Since then, Randy and I have been to their home for supper. Gretchen is an incredibly gifted writer. But more than that, she is a kind and loyal friend who listens and cares. She has a wonderful husband and kids and we all feel like we’ve known each other for years. Such comfortable familiarity endears this family to me.

Jackie, who writes at “Who will make me laugh,” is the third blogger I’ve met. We share a passion for barns, country churches, gravel roads, Sunday afternoon drives and more. She’s one talented photographer. Jackie and I met last summer when my husband and I were in Rochester moving our son into his new apartment. She had scouted out apartment options for him and tipped us off to suitable options. For that I was grateful. Jackie and her husband, Rick, are also the type of individuals who make you feel right at home with their warmth and friendliness. A bonus of our meet-up was meeting their adorable granddaughter, Audrey. Within minutes of meeting, Audrey gave me a bracelet. She is sweet and kind, just like her grandma.

Sue, who lives in the metro (and elsewhere depending on the season) and blogs at “Ever Ready,” traveled to Faribault last fall with her sister for lunch at my house. She is among the most enthusiastic supporters of my poetry. I am so appreciative of Sue’s encouragement. She writes poetry, too, and heads up the Northwoods Art and Book Festival in Hackensack. My poem, “Lilacs,” was selected last year as a “Work of Merit” at that event. Sue is a real foodie and I’ve gone to her blog numerous times to find great recipes.

There you have it. Blogging is about so much more than writing and showcasing photos. It’s about community and friendship.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A sweet May Day tradition May 2, 2014

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THE UNEXPECTED RAPID ring of the doorbell jolted me from my writing.

Who would summon me to the door shortly after 9 a.m.?

I should have known, should have been on alert.

But I’d forgotten all about May Day and the tradition of depositing a basket on a doorstep, pressing the doorbell and then dashing away unseen.

 

May Day bag gift tag

 

As in past years, dear friends have gifted me and my husband with a treat on May 1. Magic marker floral artwork. A plastic bag of puppy chow tucked inside a brown paper bag.

Yummy puppy chow bagged and placed inside a decorated brown paper bag.

Yummy puppy chow bagged and placed inside a decorated brown paper bag.

 

While I appreciate the treat of rice cereal squares blended with peanut butter and chocolate and coated with powdered sugar, I value even more the thoughtfulness and kindness of this family.

Our friends, Tammy and Jesse, are raising their four children to be kind, caring, compassionate and loving, just like them. What a blessing this God-loving family has been in my life.

Their May Day surprise brightened an otherwise gloomy morning of grey skies dripping rain.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling