Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflections on this season of spring in Minnesota March 29, 2021

In this file photo, snow edges the patio as I’m about to hang laundry on the clothesline in early spring.

WHEN I STEP OUTSIDE to hang sheets and towels on the clothesline, I feel such gratitude for the arrival of spring in southern Minnesota. Winter gets long in these parts.

Crocuses are in full bloom in my front yard flowerbed.

I long for sunshine and blue skies and more light than darkness. Birds tweeting. Crocuses unfolding and tulips stretching above the earth. And no more freezing my fingers while hanging laundry in the morning. Early spring brings all of those.

Laundry on my clothesline. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I love hanging laundry outside. The rhythm of pulling items from the laundry basket then clipping and repeating soothes me. The physical task gives pause in my day, reconnects me with generations of women who did the same, connects me to nature via the warmth of the sun and the music of birds.

And then, when I reverse the task in the afternoon and carry the air-dried laundry indoors, I breathe in the scent of nature. The air of spring.

A biker swings his bike onto Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street past the Rice County Courthouse on a recent warm spring afternoon.

For others, spring signals biking season. And plenty of bikers have been out and about. Some even earlier, in winter.

My grandson hopscotching in his two-year-old way.

And the kids, oh, the kids. Taking them outside is so much easier with no snowpants or snowboots to pull on. Randy and I played with our grandkids in the driveway of their home last weekend with Izzy circling on her bike and Isaac jumping, rather than hopping, on chalked hopscotch squares. Then we headed to the neighborhood park with Izzy zooming ahead on her bike and me pushing her brother in the stroller, trying to keep up, but failing. At the playground, we pushed both kids in the swings with Isaac calling for “higher.”

Always the first flower of spring in my yard. The beautiful crocus.

How wonderful this time with our grandkids. To be in the moment. To feel their joy. To watch them soar and climb. To hear them laugh. To experience their delight. I feel blessed in this season of life.

TELL ME about your joyful spring moments.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grateful for time with my grandchildren March 12, 2021

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Isaac works on his favorite alphabet puzzle shortly after waking up last Sunday morning.

AS I WATCH NEWS FOOTAGE of grandparents and grandchildren reuniting after a year of separation due to COVID-19, tears flow. I cry at the unbridled joy and love of these families. I cry at all that has defined this unbelievably difficult year. I cry at the loss due to temporary and permanent separation. And I cry in relief that soon, as more and more people are vaccinated, we can be together again. Friends. And family.

I long for the day soon when I can wrap my second daughter in my arms, hold her close, feel her spiraling curls brushing my face. I long, too, for the day when I can kiss my mom, hold her hand and hug her in her long-term care center.

Yet, I feel fortunate that, throughout this past year, I’ve still seen my grandchildren. Randy and I discussed early on with our eldest and her husband the risks and the efforts we were each taking to stay as safe as possible. The biggest COVID exposure risk comes from Randy, who works as an automotive machinist, with some customers still half-masking or not masking. Our granddaughter did not attend preschool this year, her mom opting instead to purchase a curriculum and teach her daughter (and son) at home. I feel grateful for that choice.

In the middle of this pandemic, our eldest and her family moved into a new home in the south metro, placing them much closer to us, just a half-hour away. Now it’s easier to buzz up there or them down here for a short visit. Or an overnight.

Last weekend, Isabelle, almost five, and Isaac, two, stayed overnight with us, giving their parents a break and time alone. We love having the kids here. Saturday evening I made homemade pizza with both littles working the rolling pin across the dough. They ate a lot of pizza.

Isabelle and Isaac play with toys in our living room during a previous overnight stay. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2020.

Every visit, after the initial hugs and kisses, Randy heads to the basement with Izzy and Isaac to pull toys from the shelves. Toys their mom and/or aunt and uncle played with while growing up. The Fisher Price school bus and Little People. The Disney castle and accompanying characters. The BRIO train set. The Little Mermaid. Matchbox cars. A toy piano and typewriter. Yes, typewriter. And so many more toys that our living room looks like a toy store from 30 years ago.

Isaac, focused on completing the alphabet puzzle.

At some point, I also pull out the puzzles for Isaac, who loves puzzles, especially the alphabet one. He knows his letters and numbers (he recently turned two) and is fascinated by clocks. When I read My First Counting Book, Isaac’s more interested in the numbers on each page than the pictures of animals. He likes to carry around a vintage alarm clock from my small collection.

And Isaac likes to get up early. At 5:45 a.m. Sunday. He peered through the curtains, out the front picture window to see the sliver of moon between trees, then the pink sky and, finally, the golden morning sun. Somehow I didn’t mind the early rising to experience sunrise through my grandson.

Isaac, in his sister’s hand-me-down boots, seeks out another puddle during our Sunday afternoon walk.

This visit, we also spent time outdoors, not an option when the grandkids stayed with us during an arctic blast in early February. With the much warmer temps, the kids played at the playground. Then we walked, with Isaac pausing often to splash in puddles. We also stopped to see Faribo Frosty, a gigantic snowman built annually by the Hoisington family.

Grandpa and grandkids check out Faribo Frosty.

In this year of challenges, of giving up so much, my grandchildren remain a true source of joy. For those grandparents reading this who have not seen their grandkids in a year, or only from a distance, my heart hurts for you. I hope soon that you can be reunited with those you love and that tears of joy will flow.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Embracing winter in Minnesota January 6, 2021

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My two-year-old grandson with his new snow shovel.

WHEN YOU LIVE IN A NORTHERN state like Minnesota, where winter defines at least half the year, preparation for cold and snowy weather is a necessity, not an option.

It’s a lesson taught from early on. Snowsuit, waterproof mittens and snow boots for the kids. Check. Check. Check. Sled. Check. Snow shovel. Check.

No matter your age, dressing properly to protect from the elements and then having the right tools to deal with the snow are essentials. So we’ve equipped our grandchildren, Isabelle and Isaac, with snow shovels and sleds. Izzy got her mama’s childhood snow shovel and Lion King sled. Isaac got a new shovel purchased at the local hardware store. And we bought bright new sleds for both at a regional retailer.

Then it’s up to the parents, or the grandparents, to bundle the kids and get them outdoors. It’s a process. But important in teaching the little people that winter can be fun.

Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts.

I loved winter as a child growing up on the wind-swept southwestern Minnesota prairie. There snow drifted into rock-hard mountains around the house and farm outbuildings. There Dad shoved snow with the John Deere tractor and loader into more mountains, where my siblings and I played for endless hours. We carved out snow caves and raced on a vintage runner sled. Such is the stuff of memories. And of winter in Minnesota.

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo, rural Vesta, Minnesota. My uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck could reach the milkhouse.

While my grandchildren’s memories will be different—they live in a new housing development in the south metro—I hope they continue to embrace winter with joy and enthusiasm. Just as their mom (Dad grew up in warm and sunny California) and maternal grandparents did before them.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, the joy of autumn days with the grandkids October 13, 2020

Randy walks with the grandkids at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault on Saturday afternoon.

NOTHING BRINGS ME more joy than time with my grandchildren, Isabelle, 4 ½ and Isaac, 21 months. This past weekend they spent all of Saturday with us, overnight into early Sunday evening so their parents could have some much-needed time alone. Randy and I love having the kids. They are easy-going, fun and just plain happy.

Our living room, kid central this weekend with toys pulled from totes and cupboards.

At their young ages, the siblings are content doing most anything from coloring to “helping” make apple crisp. This visit, Izzy headed straight for her Uncle Caleb’s Brio train set. And Isaac, besides pushing any toy with wheels, loved putting together puzzles. The same ones, over and over. (We think he’s pretty smart.) And this visit, Grandpa’s vinyls spinning on the record player also fascinated him.

We stopped often at River Bend to view the colorful leaves.

But, for me, it was our time outdoors that proved most engaging and memorable. We took the kids to River Bend Nature Center on Saturday afternoon, arriving to a parking lot filled with vehicles, including several school buses. Unbeknownst to us, a cross country meet was taking place. We stayed as far away from that busyness as possible, although a cluster of several teens out for a practice run in the woods veered way too close for comfort. That aside, it was a mostly solo walk for the four of us.

Our grandson, 21 months, runs along a trail at River Bend. Once taken out of the stroller, he never went back. Our walk ended with his sister riding in the stroller.

We started out with Isaac in the stroller given the distance we planned to walk. Part way in, we let him walk, or shall I say, run. Even with legs much longer than his, Randy and I struggled to keep up with our grandson. Occasionally he would stop, though, to examine a leaf or pick up a stick.

That’s the part I appreciate about being with little kids. You see the world through their eyes, at their level, from their inquisitive perspective. And that’s refreshing. There are many stop and smell the roses moments.

The street by the MSAD shows the beautiful fall colors gracing Faribault.

We experienced those at River Bend and again on Sunday when we looped our way around the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus. Izzy zoomed ahead of us on her scooter. And Isaac likewise moved as fast as his legs could carry him. Fast enough for these grandparents.

Randy lifted Isaac for a closer look at these bold berries on a tree at the MSAD.

Occasionally the kids paused to gather pine cones, colorful leaves and berries or to pick petunias (shhh) from a flowerbed. I bagged their nature finds for them to take home.

I hope we are instilling in them an appreciation for the outdoors and for nature. But, more than that, I hope they will remember these times with us—the minutes and hours and days together. Connecting, sharing, learning and loving each other as only grandparents and their grandchildren can. What a joy. What a blessing.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A child’s perspective on face masks with notes from Grandma May 28, 2020

Some of our face masks, crafted by a friend in Texas.

 

“I like your face mask, Grandma.”

Her words nearly broke my heart. But I didn’t let on to 4-year-old Isabelle who sat behind me, buckled in her car seat, waiting for Grandpa to exit the convenience store with a gallon of milk.

My cotton print mask, dangling from the cup holder, was in her favorite color, pink. I grabbed the mask and pointed to the colored circles thereon—yellow, green, white, pink, blue, orange.

“Mine has lady bugs,” Izzy said. “And the other is brown.”

I knew about the masks, which had just arrived in the mail from my granddaughter’s great aunt in New Jersey. I was grateful for that gift. But, still, the thought of a preschooler aware of face coverings made me profoundly sad. Her parents had already talked to Izzy about COVID-19 in terms she could understand—that people are sick. She accepts that as the reason she can’t see her friends, go to the library, visit Como Park or the Minnesota Zoo and much more.

 

Izzy rides her scooter along the trail in North Alexander Park in Faribault.

 

I followed that same simple explanation when we were at a Faribault park with Izzy. I kept a watchful eye as she zoomed ahead of Randy and me on her scooter. When I saw others approaching on the trail, I called for her to stop. She listened. We moved to the side and I formed a barrier between myself and passersby. I feel an overwhelming need to protect my sweet granddaughter.

Isabelle never once asked to play on the playground. She understands that, for now, for her safety, she can’t.

 

Baby ducks are so so cute.

 

Mama duck watches her babies.

 

The drake swims nearby.

 

We tried to make our park visit as ordinary as possible, pausing to watch a family of ducks along the shoreline. It was a moment of grace, observing downy ducklings guarded by their mother. Not unlike me with Izzy. We listened to their incessant cheeping and I wondered what they were communicating to one another. Warnings perhaps.

 

A long row of lilacs in various shades grows in North Alexander Park.

 

We stopped also so Grandpa could clip a spray of lilacs.

 

There are plenty of picnic tables alongside the Cannon River.

 

And we picnicked beside the Cannon River, listening to the noisy chirp of birds. Izzy nibbled at her turkey sandwich, ate too many grapes, tried a few of Grandpa’s chips and enjoyed a chocolate chip cookie we’d baked the day prior. When she was done, I wet a napkin with an ice cube pulled from the cooler and wiped away the melting chocolate circling her lips. I love that sweet little face.

On our way home, we stopped at the convenience store. And had that conversation about face masks. When Grandpa pulled open the van door to set the jug of milk and bananas inside, Izzy watched as I squirted hand sanitizer into his open palm. “I don’t like your face mask, Grandpa,” she said. His is black-and-white checkered like a racing flag. No pink anywhere on the fabric.

Preschoolers are, if anything, honest.

And they need us to protect them and those they love. Like their parents. Their siblings. Their grandparents. Their aunts and uncles and cousins. Their friends. They need us to wear face masks.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joys of being a grandma September 5, 2019

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Grandkids, when they are preschoolers, are in constant motion. Here my granddaughter, Isabelle, runs toward her mama.

 

PREPARING APPLE CRISP would have been quicker, easier, had I completed the task solo. But I didn’t. I pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter so my 3 ½-year-old granddaughter could help. A sink away, Izzy’s mama, my eldest, peeled and sliced the apples.

 

Izzy playing on the North Alexander Park playground in Faribault.

 

As Izzy and I scooped, measured, dumped and stirred together ingredients, I considered the joy of being a grandma. There’s nothing like it—a love so overpowering and intense and strong that I still marvel at the delight of it all.

 

Isaac’s mama pushes him in a swing and big sister helps while attending a family reunion in Sauk Rapids.

 

In Isabelle I often see Amber at the same age. Perhaps in a certain look or expression. Memories resurface. Yet, these are new memories I am building through the time spent with Izzy and her 8-month-old brother, Isaac. I treasure every single moment with them. They live an hour away, close, yet not always close enough.

 

Izzy and Grandpa fly a kite together.

 

This past weekend they stayed overnight with us. Their mama, too, while our son-in-law was out of town. We played at the park, went to the library (where Izzy and I picked green beans from the community garden and both kids played in the kids’ indoor play area), read books, rocked, attended church services together, flew kites.

 

There’s something about a baby’s hand (Isaac’s here) that I love to hold and to photograph.

 

I wiped sticky hands and faces, made faces at Isaac until he giggled, poured milk, made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and did all those things grandmas do without thinking, slipping back into mom mode. Minus the 24/7 responsibility.

 

 

 

 

Grandpa untangles Izzy’s foot from the kite string.

 

I observed, too, my husband interacting with Izzy and Isaac. I love watching them. Grandpa chalking Charlie Brown onto the driveway along with an over-sized hopscotch game. Grandpa and Izzy holding onto the handle of a kite. Izzy leaning into her grandpa as she gazes skyward. Grandpa untangling Izzy’s foot from the kite string for the second, maybe third, time.

 

Isaac is always on the move.

 

And Isaac, not to be left out, lounging in his stroller, gripping the kite handle. Grandma hanging on, too. He’s a happy boy, always on the go, crawling already for a month. Keeping up with Isaac and Izzy requires lots of energy.

By day’s end, I felt my age. Weary. But in a good way. There’s a reason we raise children at a much younger age. Come bedtime, Isaac quickly fell asleep upstairs in his mama’s old bedroom. Izzy, though, required lots of cajoling to stay in my office, her temporary bedroom. Tiredness finally kept her there until a 3:20 a.m. bathroom break. I didn’t hear her call for her mama at 5-something. Grandpa did. It was his turn anyway to get up with her.

We would do anything for our grandchildren. They are precious beyond words. So sweet. So loved.

 

To all you grandparents out there, Happy National Grandparents Day on Sunday, September 8.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On being a mom & a grandma April 23, 2019

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WHEN I WATCH my granddaughter, I glimpse her mama. In a profile. In a smile. In the way her hair curls.

 

 

When I watch my grandson, I see my son. In chunky body. In his sweet face. And I flash back 25 years.

In those moments I yearn for the days of children at home. To hug. To greet every morning and kiss every night. To know they are safe and happy and within the reach of my arms.

 

 

But years pass and life changes and kids fly away from home. Some literally, some not. They grow their independence, move on, start their own lives. Even though distance separates, a mother’s love knows no geographical boundaries. And the missing them never goes away.

Then grandchildren arrive. Not replacing anyone or any memories. Rather, they add a new kind of love to life. Beautiful and wonderful and lovely and reminders of the children I raised. The daughters and the son, whom I love beyond measure. No matter the space that separates us.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Baby & big sister time February 12, 2019

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My newborn grandson snuggles against his mama.

 

I NEEDED TO SEE HIM again. The newborn grandson. I’d seen him briefly at the hospital on the day of his January 6 birth and for awhile on the afternoon he arrived home.

But that minimal time wasn’t enough for Grandma. I had yet to see Isaac with his eyes open. And I needed some cuddling time with him and time, too, with his big sister, Izzy.

The solution: Offer to babysit so his sleep-deprived, exhausted parents could take a break from caring for a new baby and an active nearly three-year-old. My daughter snapped up the offer.

 

 

So on a recent Saturday Grandpa and I headed the hour north to get our grandparenting fix, uh, I mean give Amber and Marc time for a lunch date. We arrived later than we wanted because of a 5-inch snowfall the previous evening. A failed snowblower required shoveling our sidewalk and driveway and that of an elderly neighbor before we left town.

Eventually we arrived at our destination and I asked for details on diaper changing supplies and feeding if Isaac got hungry before his mama returned. Then off the parents went.

We lunched in the sun-drenched dining room while Isaac slept nearby. Everything was going great until I said how much I liked the bright sunshine. Big mistake. Izzy said she didn’t like the sun, eased off her chair and yanked at the patio curtains. “But we like the sun,” I protested. She gave me a defiant look. Don’t challenge an assertive preschooler. The curtains remained closed. You have to choose your battles and this wasn’t important enough to pursue.

 

 

Eventually Isaac awakened and I had my Grandma cuddling time and a diaper changing opportunity, for which I should have been prepared but wasn’t. I called for Grandpa back-up. Hey, I haven’t changed a newborn’s diaper in nearly three years.

Izzy also got plenty of my attention with the two of us playing on the floor with Daniel Tiger figurines and then snuggling on my lap as I read a pile of books. She and Grandpa also rolled and shaped Play Doh while I held Isaac. Oh, and between everything, I pulled out my Canon DSLR to shoot some photos. I wish I could show you all those sweet images, but they are reserved for family.

By late afternoon, Grandpa and I were driving back home with memories of the day imprinted upon our hearts. There’s nothing like time with the grandkids…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome, baby Isaac January 9, 2019

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HE’S HERE, the grandson, my second grandchild. Isabelle’s not so little baby brother. And I am beyond in love with this beautiful baby boy.

My eldest daughter, Amber, gave birth to her son shortly after midnight Sunday. Isaac Henry weighed in at a chunky 9 lbs, 2 oz. and measured 22 ¼ inches. Who knew they measured in quarter inches? He’s tall like his daddy Marc.

 

Holding Grandpa’s finger. And, no, that’s not dirt. That’s grease permanently embedded in Randy’s skin. He’s an automotive machinist.

 

Isaac is healthy and darling and adored by all of us who love him, from California to Boston and many places in between.

 

 

Big sister Izzy, who turns three in early April, loved on her brother with cuddles and sweet words and a sweetness that melted this Grandma’s heart. While her parents and new baby brother were in the hospital, Randy and I cared for Izzy. Or rather played with her. Lots of Daniel Tiger and friends. Lots of book reading.

Finally, Baby Cake Boy, as Izzy early on named her unborn brother, is here. We have no idea whence that name came. It doesn’t matter. She calls him Isaac now, a biblical name. Henry comes from my side, the name of Isaac’s paternal great great grandfather.

What a joy to have another grandchild to love.

© Copyright 2019 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