Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Dance, smile, toss confetti, spread joy… September 30, 2019

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THE BEST GIFTS cannot be bought. How often have you heard that cliché? It’s true.

We each hold the capacity to give gifts that hold value far beyond anything that can be purchased. For example, when I celebrated my birthday last week, I received several unexpected gifts that brought me profound joy. Joy as in crying and experiencing an overall feeling of being deeply loved.

 

 

 

The first arrived in my mailbox, by all appearances just a birthday card sealed inside an envelope. But when I opened the card, I discovered a clutch of colorful sticky notes. Upon those neon slips of paper, a friend and her family penned powerful words of encouragement and love. Exactly what I needed.

How could I not feel joyful when I’m told I’m loved and that God created me to do amazing things?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

The simple word SMILE, written in an artsy font, prompted a smile.

Now I have that stack of uplifting notes to remind me that Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about dancing in the rain. I needed to read that perspective and my friend knew it.

Then several hours later my dear Aunt Dorothy called from New Jersey to wish me a happy birthday. She’s the aunt who lived in Minneapolis when I was a child and who gave me her old nail polish and lipstick and jewelry and made me feel so loved, especially with her endearing name for me, My Little Princess. All these decades later, Dorothy still calls me that sweet name. Not simply Little Princess. But My Little Princess. I feel so loved.

 

 

And then, just as Randy was preparing to cook dinner on my birthday (because I refuse to cook on my birthday), my niece Tara arrived with her sweet family. She held a box containing six fancy cupcakes from Cream of the Cakes in Lakeville. I never expected this. And that’s the sweetness of this act. This young mom took time out of her busy life to not only buy those delicious cupcakes but then to drive 20 some minutes to deliver them. And bonus, I got wonderful hugs from my great nephew who is, as he told me, three. Not two.

Add to that a bouquet of garden-fresh hydrangea from a friend earlier in the week and flowers from Randy and I feel pretty darned loved. Calls, emails and a video chat with the grandkids brought more birthday joy. The best gifts cannot be bought.

I challenge you this week to reach out to someone who needs the gift of joy—of uplifting words, of a simple act of love and kindness, of a surprise gift. As my friend printed on a sticky note: Be the reason someone smiles today!

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Blessings in a box from North Dakota November 24, 2015

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WHEN THE MAIL CARRIER arrived at my door on Friday bearing a package, I was surprised. “I didn’t order anything. Who’s it from?” I asked.

“Looks like it’s from a relative,” he said.

And then I remembered my sister-in-law’s quick phone call several days earlier requesting my address. She was running errands and had no time to chat. This box with her return address solved the mystery of that call.

Inside, I found several sweet surprises—a pillow, a book and a clutch of notecards.

My niece worked all last winter stitching these yo-yos for this pillow.

My niece worked all last winter stitching these yo-yos for this pillow.

My 10-year-old niece crafted a yo-yo pillow for me. Fifty-six yo-yos, tiny circles of fabric gathered at the edges and sewn into circles stitched to a pink flannel pillow. Yo-yos were, Beth wrote in an attached note, popular during the Depression. Women made them from scrap fabric (oftentimes from old clothing) and then stitched them into quilts.

The story and history behind the yo-yo pillow.

The story and history behind the yo-yo pillow.

As much as I appreciate the pillow, I treasure even more the words Beth typed when she entered the pillow in her county fair and then the North Dakota State Fair. She earned two blue ribbons for this 4-H project. Here’s the part that especially touched me:

I made it for my Aunt Audrey’s birthday. She loves funky stuff and vintage, so I think she’ll like this pillow.

Beth’s wrong. I don’t just like this pillow; I love it.

And I like that my dear niece and her mom, Rena, know me so well. I do, indeed, value funky and vintage.

"When I discovered this historical gem from under junk and odds and ends (in a rummage store), I knew it was meant for you. Enjoy!" my sister-in-law wrote.

“When I discovered this historical gem from under junk and odds and ends (in a rummage store), I knew it was meant for you. Enjoy!” my sister-in-law wrote. This chapter explains how Land O’Lakes came to be the name of the Minnesota Cooperative Creameries Association’s butter. The Co-op launched a contest in 1924 to name its sweet cream butter, offering $500 in gold as prizes. Mrs. E.B. Foss of Hopkins and George I. Swift of Minneapolis submitted the same winning name. Contest entries of about 7,000 daily overwhelmed the company office. The contest topped news in the Midwest, second only to the Teapot Dome oil scandal, according to the author.

That leads to the second gift, the book Men to Remember: How 100,000 Neighbors Made History by Kenneth D. Ruble. Land O’ Lakes Creameries, Inc. commissioned the volume published in 1947. Perfect for someone who grew up on a dairy farm.

The "Spatial Odysseys" collection of notecards by David Paukert.

The “Spatial Odysseys” collection of notecards by David Paukert.

The last item in the package—a collection of rural-themed notecards—is a fitting gift also. The cards feature the work of Michigan, North Dakota, photographer David Paukert. Titled “Spatial Odysseys,” the photo cards showcase fields, a church, a barn and more from Paukert’s “Visions of the Prairie” Collection. Prairie. That reflects me, rooted in the prairie.

These gifts from Rena and Beth arrived at the end of a difficult week. They didn’t know this, of course, because the presents were originally intended for my birthday two months ago. But the timing of the delivery couldn’t have been better. Rena and Beth blessed me not only with the items they made and chose for me, but also with their thoughtfulness, love and care.

My sister-in-law also included a quote from Mother Teresa: “…do small things with great love.”

This week, please consider ways you can bless someone. Call a friend or family member who needs your support and encouragement. Listen. Avoid “hearing without listening.” Send a card with a heartfelt handwritten note. Or a gift. Volunteer. Be kind. Show your love. In whatever way you can.

Check back tomorrow for another “blessings” post.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An overdue valentine February 14, 2013

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A vintage pop-up valentine belonging to my mom.

A vintage pop-up valentine belonging to my mom.

MY FONDEST VALENTINE’S DAY memories are of shoeboxes with slit covers, jars of thick white paste, construction paper hearts, glitter-edged valentines punched from oversized books, gum (preferably Juicy Fruit), and even those chalky conversation hearts (except, please, not a lovey dovey message from the boy I do not like).

Ah, Valentine’s Day as a grade schooler…

Now fast forward decades, when the valentines I give and receive are plucked from store displays. Gone are the creativity, the thought, the time, the effort invested in making homemade valentines.

Until this year. I decided to make valentines for the children of some friends. So I pulled out the red and pink paper, the markers and scissors and tape (no thick paste in gallon jars) to craft individualized valentines. Instead of gum or conversation hearts, I taped foil wrapped chocolate hearts onto the paper hearts. The kids were pleased.

But…at least one dad was not. Seems Jesse felt cheated/neglected/shunned by me. He even emailed to tell me he was bummed about not getting a valentine, but “may get over it by Friday.” Well, then, since he opened that door… Not wanting to permanently damage our friendship, I pulled out the crafting supplies again. I would make a very special valentine for Jesse.

Now, because I did not have this blog post idea until after I completed and mailed the valentine to Jesse, I am relying on memory for the exact wording on the front of the card. But it went something like this:

These heartfelt wishes are long overdue
so I’ve created this valentine just for you

Jesse, you see, is a librarian. I decided to have a little fun following the library theme.

Inside the valentine I taped a print-out designed to look like the print-out I get when checking out books at the local library. Except these aren’t “real” books, although I expect you may find actual volumes with similar titles.

Here’s the mock print-out, which I followed with a “Happy Valentine’s Day, Jesse! Your not-so-secret admirer.”

Checkout Receipt

Faribault Buckham Memorial Library

CALL TO RENEW 334-2089
ON THE WEB: http://www.faribault.org
(click on “Library”)

02/12/13 8:39AM

PATRON: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

PLEASE NOTE DUE DATES:

0100702766518
The Case of the Missing Valentine 02/14/13
_________________________________________
0100702757921
Easy-to-Make Valentines 02/14/13
_________________________________________
0100702763978
A Mr. Jess Valentine Mystery: 02/14/13
Book Heist at the Library
_________________________________________
0100702723014
A Husband’s Guide: 02/14/13
Best Valentine’s Day Gifts for Your Wife
_________________________________________
0100702740786
How to Impress Your Friends with Valentine Poetry
02/14/13

TOTAL: 5

A valentine my son received from his maternal grandparents probably a decade ago.

Jesse has concluded that, because I sent him a valentine, I must like him, just like the sentiments expressed in this valentine from my son’s grade school years.

Apparently my strategy to make amends with Jesse worked. He opened his valentine and then sent this email:

Ah, you like me, you really like me!

Yes, Jesse is a great guy and obviously appreciates my humor. But he also possesses a sense of humor, which you can read about in a previous post. Click here and scroll down to Jesse’s version of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting. Jesse is clever. He is also a dear friend just like his wife, Tammy, for whom I made a sweet valentine lest she, too, feel cheated/neglected/shunned by me.

Dear readers, while I can’t possibly create personalized valentines for each of you, as I did for Jesse and Tammy, my wishes for you on this special day of love and friendship are no less sincere. Have a delightful Valentine’s Day!

And to the special valentine in my life, I direct you to these illustrations from A Husband’s Guide: Best Valentine’s Day Gifts for Your Wife.

Birthday roses from my husband, Randy.

Birthday roses from my husband, Randy.

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

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

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I recycle holiday trimmings and cards December 19, 2012

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ONCE THE GIFTS are opened—after we’ve played the steal-the-presents game—gift wrap and trimmings are scooped up in a furious rush to rid the room of rubbish.

And if I’m not quick enough, I miss the opportunity to salvage ribbons and bows, tissue paper and gift bags.

I cannot bear to see these items trashed. My extended family knows this about me and they laugh as I hurry to gather in the goods at our annual holiday get together.

I used festive holiday trim and a card from Christmases past to decorate this gift.

I used festive holiday trim and a card from Christmases past to decorate this gift.

But I was raised right, by a Depression era mother who saved everything. As the eldest daughter in a family of six children, I assumed some of her saver traits, including the recycling of holiday trimmings.

I do not, however, rescue wrapping paper as Mom did so many years ago while a farm wife guarding every penny. She would fold each piece of gift wrap with great care, attempting to remove strips of Scotch tape without ripping the paper. And then she would pack the pretty paper away with the previously used bows to reuse the following Christmas.

Examples of Christmas cards in my stash that could be recycled into gift tags.

Examples of Christmas cards in my stash that could be recycled into gift tags.

Like my mom, I also learned to recycle holiday greeting cards into gift tags. Why not? With a few snips of the scissors, I have a lovely tag to adorn a present.

I like to think, as I’m clipping cards and gathering the pretties ripped from presents, that I am honoring my mother, honoring an entire generation of Americans who saved and scrimped and got by as best they could with what they had.

We could all learn from them.

Long before recycling and going green became trendy buzz words, they already understood the importance of reusing/repurposing.

A recycled ribbon and card grace this package.

A recycled ribbon and card grace this package.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Do you recycle anything from the holidays?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A sweet May Day surprise from dear friends May 1, 2012

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TODAY IS MAY DAY, dear readers. Did you remember?

I had forgotten, until I opened the front screen door this afternoon and spotted a bag on my front steps. This bag:

The sweet May Day surprise friends dropped onto my front steps sometime today.

I knew, even before reading the tag, that this May Day bag (basket) came from my friends Tammy and Jesse and their children, Noah, Hannah, Jack and Amelia.

They are thoughtful like that—so giving and caring and simply the kind of family that you love because they are good and kind and wonderful and genuine.

I read the note wishing my family a blessed spring, untied the blue ribbon and found, inside, a plastic bag brimming with puppy chow. It is not dog food. I do not have a dog. Rather, this version is for humans and is made from crispy rice cereal squares, chocolate chips, peanut butter and powdered sugar. Yummy and addicting and my friends know just how much I enjoy this treat. I will stash away the puppy chow now or it will be gone before the husband and son taste even a morsel.

Love, love, love puppy chow...

CLICK HERE to find a recipe for puppy chow. Thank you, Tammy, Jesse, Noah, Hannah, Jack and Amelia, for brightening my first day of May with your unexpected gift.

Readers, there’s still time today to surprise someone you care about with an unexpected May Day basket/bag on their front steps.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My Christmas gift wish list December 22, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:27 PM
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IS MINE THE ONLY husband who leaves his Christmas gift shopping until nearly the last minute? I mean, there it was Wednesday evening and he was asking what I want for Christmas.

Honey, if you’re reading this, maybe just click off the computer screen right now. Or, go ahead, keep reading. I simply find it amusing how you dally and dawdle with this Christmas gift buying nearly every year.

I suppose, in your defense, I should tell my readers that you asked several weeks ago for a wish list from me and I failed to deliver.

So Wednesday night I pulled my list from the e-mails I’d sent our daughters and then scratched a few more items onto the bottom: a telephoto or macro lens for my camera and that thing like the professional photographers have with the cord that you can attach to your camera to click the shutter button when you have your camera on a tripod.

I handed the list to the husband and explained about the camera items and other stuff I really want like a new living room chair, a different kitchen sink to replace the vintage 70s brown one (or an entire kitchen re-do), a new boxspring and mattress, new kettles to replace the vintage 70s brown ones and, oh, maybe earrings.

I then qualified that I really didn’t expect him to buy me anything for my Canon EOS 20-D SLR camera because that would kind of be like me walking into an auto parts store and trying to purchase a tool he wants for Christmas (which I did because he wrote down precisely, exactly, what he wanted; he knows because he saw my entry in the checkbook—I am not sneaky, not at all).

By the looks of the small, flat, wrapped box the spouse slid under the Christmas tree, it appears I am not getting a camera lens, chair, sink, mattress, kettles or kitchen re-do.

I’d put my money on earrings.

However, Santa (not my husband), if you’re reading this, I have one other wish: for families everywhere to truly appreciate, value, respect, listen to and love each other this Christmas and into the new year. Amen.

READERS, WHAT’S your wish for Christmas this year whether practical and personal or more of a prayer?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The white elephant gift no one wants December 12, 2011

KUDOS TO MY FRIEND Jesse.

He truly outdid himself at the annual Family Game Night Christmas party at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault this weekend. And he wasn’t even there. Rather, Jesse was hermited away in his grandpa’s farmhouse near Barrett, without internet or more than four television stations, writing his dissertation.

Jesse left his wife, Tammy, behind to carry out his mission. Initially, it couldn’t have gone any better had he been there himself to execute his plan.

But he missed the moment when my husband selected the gaudy holiday picture frame from among the wrapped white elephant gifts. From the shape of the package, I knew immediately that Randy had chosen the wrong gift—the garish Christmas-themed frame which each year is returned to the exchange pile. No one wants the darned thing. It’s that ugly.

Last year, Jesse took the frame home after I brought it back for the exchange. Apparently since then, my friend has been plotting his revenge.

He got it Saturday. Randy opened the gift to find my face smiling back at him. Jesse had taken my outdated 2005 photo from this blog, enlarged it and tucked it into the frame underneath mini photos of his family, another family and my family. It’s tradition that whoever gets the frame must tuck a photo into it. Jesse started this by placing Tammy’s high school graduation picture into the frame. That image has mysteriously disappeared.

This year, though, Jesse tweaked the tradition by blowing up my image. (BTW, I don’t look much like this anymore, readers. My hair is shorter and graying and my glasses are rectangular, not oval.)

The frame no one wants.

Anyway, party-goers doubled over in laughter when they saw my framed photo in the hands of my loving husband. I waited to see if he would keep my picture or trade it away in a snap.

But Randy hung onto the photo until the very end, when he traded Tammy for a decorative rolling pin (equally as ugly as the frame).

I can only imagine the look of surprise on Jesse’s face when he arrived home from Barrett to see my lovely face staring at him from that gaudy picture frame.

DO YOU HAVE a tradition like this, where you keep passing the same unwanted gift around to family or friends? I’d love to hear about your shenanigans via a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling