Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Family reunion craziness with Hungry Hungry Hippos August 18, 2016

Hungry Hungry Hippos board game cover #9

 

THUNK, THUNK, THUNK. The rapid clatter of four hippo mouths banging against plastic in a furious game of Hungry Hungry Hippos is enough to make any parent or grandparent crave silence.

 

Hungry Hungry Hippos game #13

 

But preschoolers love this noisy Milton Bradley game in which players slam levers that open Henry, Homer, Harry and Happy hippos’ mouths to marble-sized white balls. The object is to gather as many balls as possible as quickly as possible.

For now, my Hungry Hungry Hippos game sits boxed in a spare bedroom closet, the four hippos’ mouths clamped in blessed silence. I’ve strategically placed the game at the bottom of a board game stack, hoping any preschool visitors to my home will fail to notice it. They always spot it.

 

Hungry Hungry Hippos human version #116

 

This past weekend my husband’s family took this favorite childhood game to a whole new level with the human version of Hungry Hungry Hippos played at the Helbling family reunion. We were advised in advance to wear bike helmets and long-sleeved shirts and pants if we wished to participate. Just like kids, we didn’t listen.

 

Hungry Hungry Hippos human version #117

 

But, just like kids, the young adults loved the game which had them lying tummy down on hand-built creeper type platforms shoved toward a pile of colorful balls with upside down laundry baskets acting as hippo mouths.

 

Hungry Hungry Hippos human version #119

 

The human hippos were hilarious to watch. It’s not a game for those without upper body strength or an inability to latch onto a laundry basket while simultaneously attempting to capture all those balls tummy side down.

 

Hungry Hungry Hippos human version #135

 

All participants were under the age of thirty.

 

Reunion, Helbling family 2016 137

 

After the young adults finished their brief play, the preschool and elementary-aged contestants joined the fun. They loved this version as much as the original. And more.

 

Hungry Hungry Hippos baskets become train #155

 

Once done, the kids climbed into laundry baskets set atop a creeper and went for a ride with Engineer Matt pushing the imaginary train.

TELL ME, have you played any such creative games at a family reunion? I’d like to hear. My husband and I are hosting the family reunion next year along with other family members and are planning an Oktoberfest theme in honor of our German heritage. It may be difficult to top Hungry Hungry Hippos, though.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II: Fun at the Kletscher family reunion July 31, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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THE THING I APPRECIATE about a little competitive fun at the annual Kletscher family reunion are the memories built and the melding of generations.

Review the images below and those published yesterday (click here) and I expect you will agree.

I love that my extended family loves to have fun.

In this game, contestants race to move gummy worms from a pie plate into a cup, with their mouths. The plates were supposed to be filled with whipped cream, but someone left it in a hot vehicle and, well, there was no whipped cream. Perhaps just as well.

In this game, contestants (my sister Lanae is on the left) race to move gummy worms from a pie plate into a cup, with their mouths. The plates were supposed to be filled with whipped cream, but someone left it in a hot vehicle and, well, there was no whipped cream. Perhaps just as well.

Dropping gummy worms into a cup.

Kegan drops gummy worms into a cup, doing his part for the Rednecks team.

Teams work together in assembling 25-piece puzzles.

Teams of all ages work together in assembling 25-piece puzzles.

Teamwork, up close.

Teamwork, up close.

Denver, member of the blue team.

Denver, member of the blue team.

Big sister assists little brother in the kids' nail driving contest.

Big sister assists little brother in the kids’ nail driving contest.

Determined, if anything.

Determined, if anything.

Uncle Wally, an experienced carpenter, won a round of the adult competition in nail driving.

Uncle Wally, an experienced carpenter, won a round of the adult competition in nail driving.

My cousin Sandy, organizer of the games, scrambles to pull boxcutters from the tool prize box before the kids grab the knives.

My cousin Sandy, organizer of the games, scrambles to pull boxcutters from the tool prize box before the kids grab the knives.

Colorful socks, colorful cups for this contestant in a race to fill the cups with popcorn.

Colorful socks, colorful cups for this contestant in a race to fill the cups with popcorn.

The water spigot proved a popular spot once squirt guns were distributed.

The water spigot proved a popular spot once squirt guns were distributed.

That would be my husband, Randy, sporting "safety glasses" for the nail driving contest. He wont the first round, pounding 9 1/2 nails into a chunk of wood in one minute.

That would be my husband, Randy, sporting “safety glasses” for the nail driving contest. He tied in the first round, pounding 9 1/2 nails into a chunk of wood in one minute.

My sister Lanae cuddles 5-month-old cousins Garrett (I think; he's a twin), left, and Logan, right. They represent the next generation of competitors.

My sister Lanae cuddles 5-month-old cousins Garrett (I think; he’s a twin), left, and Logan, right. They represent the next generation of Kletscher family competitors.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating family at the annual Kletscher reunion in southwestern Minnesota July 30, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:04 PM
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Referees watch over the competition in which contestants filled cups, attached to their feet, with popcorn and raced to fill ice cream buckets.

Referees watch over the competition in which contestants fill cups, attached to their feet, with popcorn and race to fill ice cream buckets.

THIS YEAR THEY CALLED in the referees to control the competitors.

The competitors would be the descendants (and spouses) of Henry and Ida Kletscher, gathered on Sunday afternoon in the Vesta City Park for the annual family reunion. My aunts and uncles and cousins and their kids and their kids’ kids; my mom; four of my siblings and two of their spouses; and a single nephew.

P)lating food at the potluck meal spread across several picnic tables in the Vesta City Park shelter.

Plating food at the potluck meal spread across several picnic tables in the Vesta City Park shelter.

My first plate of food. I made sure to grab a piece of the blueberry dessert, which my Aunt Elaine brings each year. Wait too long and you miss out on a piece.

My first plate of food. I made sure to grab a piece of the blueberry dessert, which my Aunt Marilyn brings each year. Wait too long and you miss out on a piece.

Fueled by a potluck meal, preschoolers to my 90-year-old Aunt Elaine participated in an afternoon of organized competitive activities ranging from puzzle making to relay races to nail pounding to Kletscher family trivia.

In the flag race, contestants carry flags from one ice cream bucket to another.

In the flag race, contestants carry flags from one ice cream bucket to another.

Laughter erupted. Legs pounded the parched and hardened lawn. Good-natured kidding abounded.

Winners in the puzzle making competition celebrate.

Winners in the puzzle making competition celebrate. Contestants assembled 25-piece puzzles.

Teams cheered.

My cousin Greg cheats in the popcorn game in which contestants were supposed to fill cups. attached to their feet, with popcorn. He found his hands to work much better.

My cousin Greg cheats in the popcorn game in which contestants were supposed to fill cups, attached to their feet, with popcorn. He found his hands to work much better.

Cheating ran rampant, despite the two referees, who couldn’t possibly spot every rule infringement.

That would be my Aunt Janice helping to fill a squirt gun.

That would be my Aunt Janice filling a squirt gun.

In order to protect my camera, I keep my distance from the water balloon toss.

In order to protect my camera, I keep my distance from the water balloon toss.

I stepped back from the water balloon toss, dodged squirt gun fire, held my camera above the chaos to photograph the competition.

The games begin with assembling 25-piece puzzles.

The games begin with assembling 25-piece puzzles.

To a distant passerby, the goings-on may have appeared crazy and chaotic and perhaps worthy of a call to the Redwood County Sheriff’s Department.

In the nail driving contest, entrants had one minute to pound as many nails as they could into a section of wood.

In the nail driving contest, entrants had one minute to pound as many nails as they could into a section of wood.

But I observed fun—a family connecting and building memories.

Team Red poses for a photo.

Team Red poses for a photo.

In many ways, the reunion took me back to decades earlier and evenings of gathering at the farms of extended family members to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Then I was the kid, the girl racing across a pitch black farm yard playing “Starlight Moonlight” with my cousins—connecting, building memories.

In this game, competitors soak up water with sponges and race to fill ice cream buckets.

In this game, competitors soak up water with sponges and race to fill ice cream buckets.

Today I am the photographer, capturing those memories, reveling in the blessings of belonging to a family that cares enough to come together every July in a rural southwestern Minnesota city park a skip over gravel roads from acres of cropland.

My Aunt Jeanette holds one of her newest great grandsons, who traveled from near Milwaukee with his parents and twin brother to attend the reunion. I'm guessing this is 5-month-old Landon.

My Aunt Jeanette holds one of her newest great grandsons, who traveled from near Milwaukee with his parents and twin brother to attend the reunion. At five months, Landon (or Garrett, I’m unsure which twin) is among the youngest of Henry and Ida Kletscher’s descendants. This image was shot at the Saturday evening get together. In recent years the reunion expanded to begin on Saturday evening, resuming with the Sunday noon potluck. Games were also added within the past five years to keep the young people coming and to mingle the generations.

This the land of our forefathers, the home of our hearts, the place where family memories are rooted, here on the prairie.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE photos of family reunion fun.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At Trinity Family Game Night: Thou shalt laugh January 13, 2013

“TRICK OR TREAT,” I blurted upon my turn, realizing in the very moment I shouted those words that I had erred big time, as in a major brain fart moment.

My teammates’ mouths dropped. Their laughter chastised, mocked me. I could hear their question—“What were you thinking, Audrey?”—even though they dared not speak it aloud in the church fellowship hall setting. They exercised that bit of restrained Christian charity.

But I deserved the laughter. Who would respond “trick or treat” to a Family Feud question about a popular holiday greeting? Me.

First, the specific Family Feud game version we were playing focused on Christmas, a theme I failed to remember. Second, Halloween may be a holiday for kids, but not officially.

Thus went the annual Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Family Game Night Christmas Party on Saturday, an event that always brings laughter. Lyda, who attended with her husband, Sean, and daughters, Rosemary and Anne, summarized the get together quite well in an email thank you to party planner Billie Jo. “We haven’t laughed this much in a long time,” Lyda wrote. Me either.

Laughter is good for the soul, even if the laughter is sometimes because of you.

Mandy, left, and Billie Jo vie to open a gift wrapped in multiple layers of boxes and wrapping paper and secured with layers of duct and packaging tape.

Mandy, left, and Billie Jo vie to open a gift wrapped in multiple layers of boxes and wrapping paper and secured with layers of duct and packaging tape. Rules called for contestants to dress in scarves, hats and mittens before attempting to open the gift.

From the exchange of white elephant gifts (more on that shortly) to the drawing of a Christmas scene upon a paper plate placed atop our heads, to tearing snowmen from paper tucked behind our backs to the pushing/near-wrestling/grabbing involved in the competitive unwrapping of a single gift secured in layers of paper and rolls of duct and packaging tapes to parceling M & Ms into bowls, the evening’s activities showcased comedic competitiveness.

Racing to sort M & Ms by color is not as easy as it looks.

Racing to sort M & Ms by color is not as easy as it looks.

Honestly, you would not expect grown-ups to behave like this, especially in church. But, and this is just my thought, I think sometimes we all need to act like kids, to let loose and freewheel our way through life, if but for a few moments.

We competed for prize packages like this snowman poop.

We competed for prize packages like this snowman poop.

Now if you’re thinking my Family Feud Halloween stupidity rates as the evening’s most memorable moment, you would be wrong. It ties with Jeff’s unwrapping of a white elephant gift which has become a Family Game Night Christmas Party tradition. For years, a gaudy holiday photo frame has circulated into the gift exchange. And, at some point, photos were added. Unbeknownst to Jeff, he grabbed the wrapped photo frame.

I knew, just knew, that my friend Jesse (who is a doctor, but not a medical doctor—so says his son Noah) would wrack his brilliant librarian brain until he came up with an incredibly creative photo to insert into the frame. Little did I know that my husband and I would be the subjects of Jesse’s creative efforts.

Jesse totally outdid himself. We party-goers erupted into thunderous laughter upon seeing his version of artist Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

The modern day version of Grant Wood's American Gothic painting was created by artist Jesse and features my husband and me. Outstanding, isn't it?

This modern day version of Grant Wood’s American Gothic painting was created by artist Jesse and features my husband and me. Outstanding, isn’t it? The garish frame will be regifted next year with a new photo inserted.

The only disappointment was that Jesse could not witness our reaction; he was home with his two youngest children who were ill. However, I asked Jesse’s wife, Tammy, to tell him I would be seeking revenge, to which there was some response about revenge belonging to the Lord. OK then, get back at/get even.

And I can get even, because that hideous photo frame is now in my possession. Yes, I actually stole the frame from Jeff at one point during the game because I really did not need a silverware tray from a dishwasher or two can coolers. My husband later stole this from Jeff—apparently for the can coolers.

I expect we broke many of the 10 Commandments Saturday evening what with stealing, infliction of bodily harm, mocking, maybe even coveting of some gifts, over-indulgence (ahem, consumption of too much chocolate)…

But we redeemed ourselves with laughter and with love.

Another of the wonderful prizes awarded to game winners.

Another of the coveted prizes awarded to game winners.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Throw that ear of corn and other family reunion memories August 3, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:17 AM
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“I WANT TO COME to your family reunion,” my friend Mike told me recently after I filled him in on all the fun my extended family has at our annual reunion.

That reunion happened this past weekend in Vesta, a town of about 300 in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota. This is the place where my great grandparents, Rudolph and Matilda Kletscher, settled and where their son, Henry, my paternal grandfather, raised his family.

Every year on the last weekend in July, we gather here—at the city park if the weather is nice, in the community hall if it’s too hot or rainy—to reconnect. Only once in recent years have I missed the reunion, for a wedding. Otherwise I keep my calendar clear for that date because, honestly, I love seeing my aunts and uncles and cousins and their families and my mom and siblings and their families.

Carli had a little fun with her name tag.

My Dad, who died in 2003, grew up with nine brothers and sisters, so you can imagine the size of our reunion, even when everyone doesn’t show up. We’ve finally resorted to wearing name tags the past two years just so we can identify everyone and who belongs to whom. And, yes, even the occasional boyfriend or girlfriend or other friend of a relative attends. We are welcoming that way.

Recently we infused new energy into a reunion that, for the younger generation, had become a bit boring. Seems they found simply sitting around, visiting and eating not all that exciting. I totally get that because even I want to do more than sit for hours.

Two years ago we added a Saturday evening campfire complete with homemade wine tasting, smores, snacks (Kletscher reunions always include lots of food), singing and old-fashioned games like gunny sack and 3-legged races. My cousin Vicki and her husband, Dave, also created a texting competition popular with the teens and young adults.

Family members toss ears of corn during the old-fashioned game competition Saturday night.

This year we didn’t have a campfire, but we still met at the park until the heat, humidity and mosquitoes chased us out around10 p.m. But we got in those old-fashioned games, with an ear corn toss added this year. Vicki and Dave also planned a few other games, including a treasure hunt. I teamed up with two cousins and an aunt and her elementary-age grandchildren. Smart move. When we adults determined that the clue “pop, popcorn and hot dogs” meant a concession stand, we pointed across the softball diamond and told the granddaughters to run. They did. We cheered them on.

More games continued following Sunday’s potluck. And let me tell you, the Kletschers know how to cook. Hotdishes crammed nearly every inch of one banquet table with salads and desserts jammed onto another.

Contestants in the Minute-to-Win-It competitions gathered around a table right after the potluck. To the left you'll see some of the food that family members brought. Many dishes had already been removed from the table.

We’d barely finished our meal when my sister Lanae set up the first of several Minute-to-Win-It games she pulled together. I stepped up to photograph the action. Last year I was in the thick of it, planning activities and leading a family trivia competition. This year I wanted to observe the fun.

And the kids had a blast. I could see it in their smiles and hear it in their laughter and in the pounding of their feet racing to the prize table.

Contestants had a minute to stack 36 plastic cups.

In another minute event, competitors maneuvered pasta onto spaghetti.

All ages participated in a rock-paper-scissors tournament coordinated by my cousin Jeff. I lost in the first round.

The younger kids could select a duck from the duck pond and win a prize.

Family members lined up to get temporary tattoos and their faces painted. I was among the first to get a tattoo. My cousin Greg, who didn't know about the tattoo parlor, saw my butterfly tattoo from across the community hall and said, "I didn't know Audrey had a tattoo." Well, now you know, Greg.

While planning games takes time and effort, it’s almost a necessity if we are to keep the young people interested in our reunion and connected as a family. By competing against each other or working together as a competitive team, they are getting to know one another. They are building memories.

Even my 17-year-old, who in years past grumbled about attending the family reunion, now looks forward to it. He protested when we told him we had to leave late Sunday afternoon for the 2 ½-hour drive back to Faribault.

Already the family in charge of next year’s reunion has selected a Mexican theme and is talking piñatas and tacos. We laughed at the idea since we’re a bunch of Germans. But we’ll go along with the theme, as long as we can bring our sauerkraut hotdishes.

CLICK HERE TO READ about the 2010 Kletscher family reunion in the blog post, “Making memories at a Minnesota family reunion with red Jell-O and, um, underwear.”

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sprinkler gymnastics on the Fourth and more family fun July 7, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:57 AM
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The winning team in the bean bag toss is quite obvious.

NAME SOMETHING PEOPLE save money for.

How many times does your mom have to tell you to do something before it gets done?

Name something you write down to remember.

If you know the answers (see below) to those Family Feud style questions, then you should have been at my middle brother’s home in southwestern Minnesota on Sunday. We sparred in a brief version of this television game show with young family members competing against old, “old” being anyone 50 or older.

Settled onto our lawn chairs on the driveway in front of the garage, one member of each team stepped up to a cooler, introduced themselves and then poised with hands behind backs awaiting the question. Lacking a buzzer to buzz, we substituted a plastic gallon of cheese balls plopped upon a cooler. Slap the cheese ball lid cover first and your team plays first.

If I hadn’t been so intent on winning this game, I may have thought to take pictures of the cheese ball container slapping contestants.

However, I took plenty of photos of the earlier sprinkler gymnastics. I refrained from that activity until later, at the exact moment one gymnast grabbed the sprinkler and ran onto the patio spraying all non-participants, including my 79-year-old mom. Just before that happened, I had decided to join the sprinkler crew. Timing is everything.

When you view these sprinkler gymnastics images, you will understand why I hesitated initially to join the group. I did not want to risk a leap onto water-slicked grass. Nor did I want to appear too foolish in that YouTube video my nephew-in-law was filming.

My extended family doesn't just nilly willy run through a sprinkler. Oh, no. We make it into a game. In this case, follow the leader. Whatever the leader does, you do.

From the youngest participant at age 17 to...

...one of the oldest sprinkler gymnasts at age 50.

Ah, my extended family loves to have fun.

Later, not long after the sun set on the Minnesota prairie, out came the sparklers. More fun. More laughter. More memories.

Sparkler fun for the younger ones.

Combine sparklers and a slow shutter speed and you get some interesting images.

I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather celebrate Independence Day than with my extended family on the land I love most, southwestern Minnesota.

After we shoot "nice" photos, we always like to do a fun photo. I am in the back row in the grass green shirt. Can you tell which of us were teens in the 1970s? (Hint: See the symbol we're making with two fingers. You would think we could be more creative.) All family members, except me, shall remain unidentified.

HOW DID YOU CELEBRATE your Fourth of July?

HERE ARE THE TOP answers to the three questions posed at the beginning of this post:

Vacation, two times and phone numbers.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling