Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Humorous honesty from the granddaughter January 24, 2023

When my grandchildren say the darndest things, I think of Art Linkletter’s “House Party” and his “Kids Say the Darndest Things” segment. Their answers to his questions proved honest, humorous and entertaining.

KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS. I can vouch for that. I raised three kids, cared for many others and am now the grandmother of two, one going on seven, the other just turned four.

Recently the grandkids, Isabelle and her little brother, Isaac, stayed overnight. During that short stay, Izzy elicited laughter with her honest observations and her leadership skills.

An outhouse repurposed as a garden shed at my brother and sister-in-law’s rural southwestern Minnesota acreage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

First the honesty. I don’t recall how we got on the topic, but at some point I shared that I grew up in a house without a bathroom. Taking a bath meant my dad hauling a tin tub from the porch into the kitchen every Saturday evening and then Mom filling it with water. Our bathroom, I explained to Izzy, was a little building outside with two holes cut in a bench. And in the winter, we used a covered pot set inside the unheated porch.

I don’t know that Izzy understood all of this. But, as she sat there listening to Grandma spin tales of the olden days, she assessed. “It sounds like a different world to me!” I laughed at her observation. She was right. Growing up in rural Minnesota in the 1950s and 1960s was, most assuredly, a different world from hers. My granddaughter lives in a sprawling suburban house with four bathrooms. In 1967, my family of birth moved into a new farmhouse with a single bathroom. And a bathtub. Today I feel thankful to live in a house with one bathroom. I wouldn’t want to clean four.

I took this award-winning photo of BINGO callers at the North Morristown July Fourth celebration in 2013. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

Then there’s BINGO, which we play nearly every time we’re together with Isabelle and Isaac. They were introduced to the game at the Helbling Family Reunion and have loved it since. The kids take turns not only playing, but also calling numbers.

Isabelle has advanced greatly in her BINGO-calling skills. This time, in addressing us, she called us “folks.” I don’t know where Izzy heard that term, but it’s certainly more rural than suburban lingo. I suggested she might be ready to call BINGO next summer at North Morristown’s annual Fourth of July celebration. Unincorporated North Morristown is a Lutheran church and school and a few farm places clustered in the middle of nowhere west of Faribault. Izzy seems well-prepared to call BINGO numbers to the folks there.

I should have shared with my granddaughter that, when I was growing up, we covered our BINGO cards with corn kernels during Vesta’s (my hometown) annual BINGO Night. I expect she would have responded as a child 60 years younger than me: “It sounds like a different world to me!” And I would have agreed.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Time with the grandkids on a winter weekend in Minnesota January 19, 2023

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A year ago, the grandkids were into “PJ Masks.” This is Owlette. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

KEEPING UP WITH THE GRANDKIDS’ evolving interests can prove challenging. I’m not up on the newest kids’ shows and trends. And just when I think I’ve learned all the latest from first grader Isabelle, especially, and 4-year-old Isaac, they are on to something new. But right now they are focused on dinosaurs and the solar system, both timeless topics.

The pair stayed overnight with us recently as much for Grandma and Grandpa solo time as for their parents having time together without kids. It’s a win-win all around.

At least I know something about space. Here the moon rises. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

The sleep-over was a last-minute decision, meaning we mostly winged it for the weekend. I did, however, stop at the library for a pile of dinosaur and solar system books and a few videos for those moments when the exhausted grandparents needed to rest.

Grandpa and Isaac inside their backyard snow fort. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

When the kids asked to play outside in the snow, we obliged. I forgot, though, how much work it is to get a 4-year-old into winter gear for outdoor play. Grandma and Grandpa bundled up, too, for the backyard adventure. When Randy pulled the scoop shovel and two 5-gallon buckets from the garage and started building a snow fort, I was surprised. Hadn’t he already scooped enough snow this winter? What grandpas won’t do for their grandchildren.

Occasionally we helpers helped the master mason by locating chunks of frozen snow to layer onto the fort walls. It was a process, impeded once by Isaac who scrambled over the wall, partially deconstructing it in the process.

At one point, Isabelle decided we should play snow tag. That would be regular tag played in the snow, doncha know, Grandma? Ah, of course. Easy for the little ones who don’t break through the snow. Not so easy for the heavier elders whose boots plunge through the snow surface.

Grandpa and grandkids climb the hill in our backyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Thankfully I managed to avoid the mountain-climbing aspect of our time in the backyard. But Grandpa, Isabelle and Isaac headed up the hill behind our house with Izzy intending to hike all the way to the park at the very top. Grandpa put a halt to that, recognizing that thorns, branches and assorted dangers threatened as the wooded hill steepened. We did not want to risk an emergency room visit.

Fortunately, distraction still works with our grandkids. Oversized rabbits loping across the snowy hillside proved entertaining. A hole in the snow near the fort invited guesses as to what animal dug into the snow. A squirrel was suspect and I noted the following day that was a correct assumption upon watching a squirrel dive head first into the snow and emerge a bit later with a walnut. When I shared my observation in a text to my eldest daughter, Izzy expressed her concern that the bushy tail rodent might destroy the fort. “Grandpa worked hard on that!” she told her mom. She’s right. He did.

Time with my grandkids invigorates me. I view the world from their perspective. They are inquisitive, adventuresome, approaching life with wonderment. They teach me to pause, to be in the moment. When Isaac drew a spaceship on his sort of modern day version of the Etch-a-Sketch (except with a “pen” and button to erase his art), I learned that the two of us were blasting off into space. His sister? Nope. She was staying behind because she is a paleontologist. Ah, yes, that’s right. Across the room Isabelle played with a herd of dinosaurs, or whatever a mixed group of dinosaurs is termed.

Isaac chose oranges over ice cream. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2011)

I don’t pretend to know everything. I didn’t know Isabelle attends first grade in a building built for 600 students, not the 900 it houses. I didn’t know Isaac would choose an orange over ice cream for a bedtime snack and then three days later ask to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for ice cream. But I do know these things: I love these two little people beyond measure. I love any time with them. Simply put, I love being a grandma.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Birthday blast off minus this astronaut January 11, 2023

Isaac posing with his solar system birthday cake. Note the diagram in front of him, the design he and his mom created before making the actual cake. Besides space, Isaac loves art and math and geography and…he’s only four. (Photo credit: Amber, image edited)

EVEN UP UNTIL THE EVENING PRIOR, I held hope that I could join the mission. But it was not to be.

I missed my grandson Isaac’s space-themed fourth birthday party on Saturday because I was still sick with a nasty cold*. Oh, how I wanted to be there for the celebration. But I knew in my heart of hearts that I couldn’t in all good conscience expose anyone to this virus. So I hugged Randy goodbye, told him to have a good time and broke down crying.

Until that moment, I didn’t fully realize how much I had been anticipating this gathering of family to celebrate a little boy’s big day. Not any little boy. But my beloved grandson. To miss his party proved beyond disappointing.

I busied myself during party time by taking down Christmas decorations, reading, compiling a grocery list for Randy, basically doing whatever to distract myself from the celebration unfolding 35 minutes away.

Occasionally Randy and Isaac’s mom, our daughter Amber, would text a photo. The space-themed table décor. The space-themed gifts Isaac loved, including a fleece blanket from Eclectic Alliance in Faribault. And the space-themed birthday cake Amber created with the input of her son who is an expert in all things solar system. I’m not exaggerating.

Amber used this photo of her brother Caleb’s solar system birthday cake as a guide in creating Isaac’s cake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2001)

It was the cake, though, that meant the most to me, even if I wasn’t there to eat it. Earlier in the week Amber requested a photo of her brother Caleb’s long ago solar system birthday cake. The bakery where she typically buys her kids’ cakes was temporarily closed, thus she would need to make Isaac’s cake.

This photo shows a page in an altered book created for me by my friend Kathleen (following my mom’s death a year ago). This page is dedicated to the birthday cakes mom made. That’s me at age two with my clown cake. That’s my mom, late in life, to the left. And to the right is the vintage cake design book that inspired Mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

I was thrilled. I grew up with my mom making all of my birthday cakes, the designs often chosen from a “Baker’s Coconut Animal Cut-Up Cake” booklet. I followed the tradition, crafting my three kids’ birthday cakes*. And now this was continuing into the third generation, albeit maybe for just one year. Time will tell.

Together, Amber and Isaac designed the solar system birthday cake—a round cake (the sun) ringed by cupcakes (the eight planets). Isaac had strong opinions about colors and lay-out. Uncle Caleb texted from Indiana that when he celebrated his seventh birthday with a solar system cake, there was one more planet. Pluto.

In the end, I got Mars, set aside especially for me per my request. Randy also brought home three slices of sun and left-over pizza. When I bit into Mars, I tasted the sweetness of the cake and the love that went into creating it. I may have missed the actual party, but my loving family texted messages (“The presents were a hit”) and photos during the party and then saved some cake for me. In the absence of presence, I was still included in the mission of a special little boy blasting off into another year of life. We have lift-off!

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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*I tested negative for COVID twice. Symptoms differed from COVID, but I wanted to be certain. Note, if you’re sick, please stay home, because you will make someone else (like me) ill.

*My two daughters on several occasions made their younger brother’s birthday cakes when they were all still living at home. There’s an eight-year age gap between youngest and oldest.

 

No BINGO for Grandma August 22, 2022

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A BINGO cage at a church fundraiser. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

SHORTLY AFTER SCRAMBLING out of her sleeping bag, before she got dressed for the day and wolfed down two slices of toast smothered in peanut butter and strawberry jelly, my 6-year-old granddaughter was already asking, “Grandma, when can we play BINGO?” It was only 7:15 a.m. and her brother was still sleeping. I was in my PJs, hadn’t had coffee or breakfast yet and needed to toss clothes in the wash.

But Isabelle was singularly focused. Her love for BINGO was sparked by playing the game at the annual Helbling family reunion six days prior. Young and old alike gathered in the shelter at Palmer Park in central Minnesota to try their luck at this time-honored game of chance. The prizes ranged from kitchen gadgets for the adults to ring pops, play dough and more for the kids. Nothing costly. Just simple prizes. But, more importantly, time together making memories.

Placing BINGO balls in the caller’s board during a church festival. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

With that backstory, Izzy was delighted to find BINGO balls, a cage, cards and tokens inside a box at Grandpa and Grandma’s house when she and Isaac, 3, arrived for an overnight visit. That first evening we played plenty of BINGO with Izzy as the caller, then Grandpa, then grandfather and grandson. I was content to play. The kids were happy to win small coinage.

Given her enthusiasm, Izzy asked to play BINGO again the next day. I promised, but did not expect game time to commence at her requested 7:15 a.m.

Finally, by 9 a.m., we gathered around the dining room table for our first round of BINGO. Except the start was delayed again…because I got up to do something and on the way back to my chair, while skirting around Randy, stubbed my little toe on the peninsula baseboard. Not just the type of stub that stings for maybe a minute, but rather a serious “insert a bad word I thought but couldn’t say” type of pain. Randy remarked that he heard a snap. Not good.

This is a photo of an x-ray showing the implant in my wrist, held in place by 10 screws. I shattered my wrist in June 2018 after slipping on rain-slicked wooden steps while wearing flip flops. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018)

I assessed that I’d likely broken my little toe based on the #10 level of pain—enough to make me cry—I was experiencing. I am not inexperienced in the pain of a broken bone having broken my right shoulder and shattered my left wrist in recent years.

“Better call Amber to come and get the kids,” I advised Randy as I moved to the sofa so I could elevate my foot. Already I was feeling bad about BINGO and ruining everyone’s day. While we waited for our eldest to arrive from the south metro, the trio played BINGO, enough for the kids to win quarters. Randy also hung laundry on the line and I sneaked in a few comforting hugs from Izzy and Isaac.

By that time the siblings realized their stay with Grandma and Grandpa was ending prematurely. The 3-year-old plopped himself on the living room floor and emphatically declared, “I don’t want to go home! I want to stay!” Finally, I called Isaac over to look at my smartphone calendar to see when we might plan his next overnight visit. That, thankfully, placated him.

Once the grandkids were packed and on their way home with their mom, we focused on getting me to the clinic. I knew not much can be done for a broken toe. But I didn’t want a misaligned toe and future problems if I didn’t get it checked. Randy made calls and was advised I needed to be seen in urgent care since the clinic had no open appointments. Alright then. It was Friday and I expected a long wait awaited me.

But that wasn’t the worst. Randy dropped me off at the door and I hobbled inside…only to learn that urgent care didn’t open until noon. And it was only 10:45. The check-in staff apologized profusely for the failure of the metro-based call center to tell Randy of the noon opening. Their frustration was clear as they advised me to return around 11:45 to register and then wait.

So I limped back out, trying to walk in a way that minimized my pain. I uttered a few words that I wouldn’t want my grandkids to hear.

Since I can’t comfortably wear a shoe, I am now wearing this supportive and protective walking boot/shoe while my sprained little toe and foot heal. Nope, I’m not showing you my awful looking foot. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

When we returned to the clinic, I queued number nine, eventually made my way to x-ray and then got the diagnosis. Much to my surprise, my little toe was not broken, but rather badly sprained. I felt thankful for that mercy. I left with a walking boot and instructions to ice and elevate. Over-the-counter meds manage the pain, which is minimal now. However, my little toe and the adjoining toe plus half of my foot are swollen and bruised.

So that’s my BINGO story. Not one of luck, but rather of unintended bad luck and a whole lot of guilt about sending Isabelle and Isaac home too early. Way too early for this grandma.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Buzz Lightyear reappears at my house June 3, 2022

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Buzz Lightyear. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, I determined to locate the oversized Buzz Lightyear my son, now 28, played with as a child. Buzz is the space ranger toy in the computer animated feature film “Toy Story.” The movie stars Andy and his collection of toys, which come to life.

The son’s childhood Buzz Lightyear collection. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

I was searching for Caleb’s Buzz because the grandkids were coming. Last time they stayed overnight, Isabelle and Isaac enjoyed playing with the smaller Buzz Lightyear characters stashed in a tote in the basement. But, oh, I knew they would be impressed with the larger scale ranger who, with batteries inserted, can spew phrases like “To infinity and beyond.” But the challenge was finding that particular Buzz in an upstairs bedroom closet stuffed with totes.

I pulled plastic box after plastic box from the recesses of that dark space. Finally, back in the far corner, after I’d dragged nearly everything out, I found the missing toy. I decided then and there that, as long as I had emptied the closet, I may as well go through everything. What a job.

Just to clarify, most of the “stuff” stuffed into the closet belongs to my son and to my second daughter. The son, back in college 525 miles away pursuing an advanced degree, lives in an apartment with no room for childhood toys. But Miranda lives in a rental house and I decided it’s time she gets her “stuff.” Boxes are now stashed in a corner of a spare bedroom for the next time we see each other. She lives 4.5 hours away in Madison, Wisconsin.

I’m really feeling the need to purge. That’s part of aging and understanding that I don’t want to leave a houseful of material possessions for my kids to sort through some day. I’ve done that with my parents and my in-laws, now all deceased, and it’s not fun.

My son loved playing with this large scale Buzz Lightyear. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

But then I face the dilemma of what to keep so the grandkids have something to play with when they visit and/or stay overnight. I was surprised when they were interested in playing with Buzz Lightyear. But their mom tipped me off that Buzz is the star in an upcoming movie, “Lightyear.” That film releases this month. Who knew? Not this grandma.

Owlette, a character in the currently popular PJ Masks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

I struggle to keep up with the ever-changing interests of the three and six-year-old grandchildren, especially my granddaughter. Her little brother likes numbers, the solar system and maps/globes. But Isabelle’s interests have ranged—Daniel Tiger, Trolls, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Frozen, Thomas the Tank Engine, Disney princesses, Paw Patrol, PJ Masks… I give up trying to learn the characters’ names before she moves on to the next “in” thing.

But at least I know Buzz Lightyear and Woody and Andy. Yes, those I will keep, along with the Fisher Price bus and the castle and the potholder weaving set and…

TELL ME: If you’re a grandparent, are you up on the latest whatever? And do you keep old toys, games, etc. for the grandkids to play with when visiting?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Valentine’s Day: Of conversation hearts, sparkly sugar & a whole lot of love February 14, 2022

Vintage valentines from my mom’s collection. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

AT THE RISK of sounding old, which, by the way, I sort of am, I remember Valentine’s Day back-in-the-day, meaning the 1960s.

I remember bringing a shoebox to Vesta Elementary School, covering the box with white paper, cutting a slit in the lid (the teacher helped) and then pasting red construction paper hearts onto the wrapped box. Whew, that was one long sentence. If I didn’t have a shoebox, I crafted a mega envelope from white paper, decorated it with paper hearts and then taped the valentine holder onto the edge of my desk. Either way, I had a vessel to hold valentines.

I carefully picked the valentines I gave to each classmate. This is from my mom’s collection. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

On the day of our Valentine’s party, I arrived at school with cards carefully chosen for each classmate. These were not Disney-themed valentines pulled from a box, but rather generic, often flowery, cards punched from an over-sized book. It took effort to remove those cards. But it took even more effort to choose just the right one for each classmate.

An “I love you” valentine heart crafted for me by one of my children (I think my son) in elementary school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Words mattered to me even back then. I didn’t want anyone, especially the boys, to misinterpret messages printed on a valentine. That applied to those chalky candy conversation hearts also. There would be no “Be mine” or “True love” for boys I found disgusting. And, no, I did not gift an entire box of those hearts to anyone. I came from a poor farm family. Several candy hearts tucked inside an envelope or a single stick of Juicy Fruit gum taped to a card was the treat limit.

Stencils and colored paper for crafting cards. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Those sweet memories of Valentine’s days past remain. But now I’m making new memories. With my grandchildren. On a recent Saturday morning I baked carrot cupcakes, mixed up a batch of cream cheese frosting, gathered construction paper, stencils and foam hearts, and checked valentine-themed books out from the library. Randy and I were headed to see the grandkids and I had projects planned.

Isaac in non-stop motion racing his truck. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

But first we played, the kids racing over-sized vehicles across the floor, round and round the table and through the house with the expectation that Grandma would do the same and I did for awhile with a toy airplane, which conveniently took flight. But then I needed a break. A break meant decorating those healthy cupcakes I baked, the healthy being the 1 ½ cups of shredded carrots (never mind the cup of sugar in the batter and then an additional cup in the homemade frosting).

Isaac with one of the cupcakes he frosted and sprinkled. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Heart-shaped toppings for the cupcakes from my daughter’s stash. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
The cupcake in the center is minus about half the sugar Isaac dumped onto it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Wiping crumbs and frosting from Isaac’s face. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Frosting and decorating cupcakes hold universal appeal for kids. Grandpa and I tag teamed with him assigned to 3-year-old Isaac and me to 5-year-old Isabelle. All went seemingly well with the usual admonition not to lick the knife, then wash the knife and repeat. But then I handed a slim bottle of sparkly pink sugar to Isaac, who tipped the bottle, and, well, you can guess what happened. He dumped enough sugar atop that single cupcake to decorate a dozen. What could we do except laugh, dump most of the sugar off and continue on. Eventually the cupcakes were all decorated and one each eaten.

We played with Owlette and Catboy from the Disney Junior show “PJ Masks.” I had no clue who these characters were prior to playtime. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

We took a break for more play, this time climbing up Mystery Mountain (stairs) to the Splat Volcano (Isaac’s room), where I got my feet stuck in splat, not to be confused with lava. The kids pulled me free. Good thing because there were valentines to craft. Except we never got to the valentines. I thought it more important for the siblings to create birthday cards for their mom, whose birthday is shortly before Valentine’s Day.

I brought a bag plumped with foam heart stickers for the grandkids to use in creating cards. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Again, I supervised Izzy while Randy helped Isaac. I got the easy job as Isabelle is a kindergartner, meaning she can sit quietly and create, managing a pencil and markers and stencils just fine, thank you. She finished her mom’s birthday card long before her brother. Isaac was quite taken with the foam heart stickers I brought. Hearts in hues of pink and purple. He’d stick one on the orange construction paper folded into a card and then stick on another. And another. And another. No valentines were ever made. But if foam hearts can convey love, then my daughter Amber ought to know her son loves her lots.

Stickers galore decorate the birthday card Isaac made for his mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

So these are my latest Valentine’s Day memories. Not of candy conversation hearts or heart-covered shoeboxes or fixating on valentine choices, but rather memories of time with my beloved grandchildren. Such sweetness in those love-filled moments…

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TELL ME: I’d like to hear your Valentine’s Day stories, past and/or present.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The happiest of birthdays for a 3-year-old (& his family) January 4, 2022

A special order rainbow birthday cake from Sweet Kneads by Farmington Bakery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

OH, TO BE THREE AGAIN. To see the world through a preschooler’s eyes. To view the world with unbridled excitement. To find wonder and excitement…in a rainbow birthday cake.

This past Saturday, I watched as my grandson Isaac focused on his beautiful rainbow-themed birthday cake crafted by Sweet Kneads by Farmington Bakery in Farmington. After posing for countless photos, he rested his arms, elbows bent, on the kitchen island and admired the work of culinary art at eye level. Isaac, encouraged by his mom (my eldest), chose a rainbow theme because he attends early childhood class in the “Rainbow Room.”

Shortly thereafter Isaac leaned over the counter, watching as his dad sliced into the cake, cutting the first thin piece for the birthday boy. Nearby, his older sister hovered. Soon we all savored the layered chocolate cake with strawberry filling.

There would be no blowing out candles in this pandemic year.

The stack of birthday gifts. Isaac noticed that I failed to put bows on the ones I gave him, far right. I won’t forget again. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Afterwards, we gathered in the living room to watch Isaac open his stack of gifts. I love how he first opened each card, not simply as a precursory gesture, but because he genuinely wanted to see the special wishes for him. He delighted in Mickey Mouse, three monkeys… But, by far, the greatest hit proved to be the musical “3” card with its happy birthday song. All gift unwrapping paused as he opened the card. Closed. Reopened. Celebratory music filled the room.

Isaac’s mom helps him open a card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Finally, gift opening resumed. With lots of help from Isabelle. This year Isaac didn’t mind; next year he may. Among the gifts—a mini lantern to take to the “brown house” (Isaac’s label for an extended family lake cabin; his party location was listed as “the blue house”), a sensory exploration kit, puzzles, a sprawling farm play set, a suitcase and more. The “more” includes clothes from his other grandparents. I especially like the gold plaid flannel shirt. When you live in Minnesota, you can never have enough flannel. Even when you’re three.

What joy-filled hours we spent with the birthday boy. Randy and me. His uncle from Indiana, back in Minnesota for the holidays. His California grandparents and uncle and aunt now permanently relocated to Minnesota. His parents and sister. Only Isaac’s aunt and uncle from Wisconsin could not attend. Family embraced the birthday boy in a circle of love. To have those who love this little boy the most together to celebrate him swelled this grandma’s heart with endless happiness. What a joyful way to begin 2022.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lake stories: Of dragons & fish & bears July 29, 2021

The lake cabin where we stay. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

THROUGH THE SCRUB GRASS and pines we hurried. Me leading.

“You go first, Grandma,” 5-year-old Isabelle urged on our mission to corral the dragons. I’d heard them earlier, their breathy, fiery voices coming from near the cabin. Just down the lane, I noted the broken fence and the missing dragons.

There were no dragons, of course, except in our imaginations. But the sound of the blower vent on the water heater prompted the dragon round-up. We four—the two grandchildren and Grandpa and I—chased the creatures back to their enclosure.

Isaac waits to fish with Grandpa. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This dragon tale is among the memories I hold from our recent stay at a central Minnesota lakes region cabin. Time with Izzy and Isaac, 2 ½, and their parents is precious family time. Days of loving and bonding and building memories.

Sunset through the pines lining the driveway. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

As in previous visits, Randy and I took the kids on numerous nature walks down the pine tree-lined driveway. And when we returned to the cabin, we dropped our finds in a tub of water. To see what would float—acorns, leaves, pinecones, twigs, birch bark… And what wouldn’t—stones. And that offered an opportunity to educate about Native Americans who crafted canoes from birch bark.

Izzy started a shell collection on the beach. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Staying at a lakeside cabin immerses us in nature without the distractions of technology and life in general. Izzy collected a mound of shells, five of which she was allowed to keep. I brought the rest home for Randy to bleach, dry and then deposit in a pint jar, a visual reminder of our time at the lake. Memories in a jar.

Horseshoe Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The water and beach drew us. To dip in the clear water, where schools of fish swarmed our feet.

Preparing to fish. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
None of the fish were “keepers.” Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Fishing, though, proved futile. While Randy, with the “help” of the grandkids, hooked some fish from the dock, all were too small to keep. Yet, the experience of fishing, of attempting to teach Izzy and Isaac how to reel in a line, bonds Grandpa and grandchildren. I loved watching the trio.

Launching a kite from the dock. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

On one particularly windy day, Randy grabbed two kites from our van and headed to the end of the dock. The kids showed minimal interest, probably because they couldn’t run with the kite lakeside. We mostly watched from the beach as Randy patiently retrieved fallen kites from the water and then attempted relaunch. Repeatedly. His determination impressed me.

Our eldest daughter and grandson relax on the beach. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Like our last stay, Izzy opened her Sand Pie Bakery and we adults (role-playing vacationers) ordered pies in non-Minnesotan accents. Son-in-law Marc had us nearly rolling on the beach after he asked for a Mississippi Mud Pie in the thickest of Southern drawls. It was good fun, especially when Izzy claimed unfamiliarity with that particular pie while she stood with mud (sand) pie in hand.

Izzy roasts marshmallows. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

But the grandkids are enthusiastically familiar with s’mores, a campfire treat prepared each evening, except on the day strong winds warranted fire safety first due to tinder dry drought conditions. This visit Isaac joined his sister as a s’more making apprentice. I tasked him with spreading peanut butter on graham cracker halves, then adding Hershey pieces. Doing this myself would have proven easier, quicker. But easy and quick are not necessary on lake time.

To the far right you can see the hammock strung between pines with the lake nearby. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I loved the lazy time of lying in the hammock strung between pines and with a lake view. Izzy and I lay there late one afternoon while I shared about my growing up on a farm. I’m not sure how the topic drifted to that. But my memories interested her…until she brought up bears. “What if there really was a bear here, Grandma?” She asked. We’d shared bear stories around the campfire during our last cabin stay. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth, that a bear had been sighted in the neighborhood. I didn’t want to scare her.

“We would just scare it away,” I said, as the hammock gently swayed. That proved good enough for her.

Horseshoe Lake was busy with water sports. Canadian wildfires created hazy skies. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

She snuggled up to me. “I love you, Grandma.” In that moment, my heart overflowed with love for this precious little girl. This 5-year-old who wears tulle skirts on nature walks, who collects shells, who bakes pies from beach sand. Who, like me, didn’t want to leave the lake cabin…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Family connections in the berry patch & beyond June 25, 2021

Picking berries at Straight River Farm on a Saturday morning in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

JUNE PROMPTS MEMORIES of Junes past, when our then family of five headed south of Faribault to Straight River Farm to pick strawberries.

We made a game of it, seeing who could harvest the most berries. It added an element of fun as we collectively picked 20-plus pounds of sun-ripened strawberries.

Years have passed since the kids left home and Randy and I picked berries. But now our eldest daughter continues the family tradition by taking her two children to a berry patch. Together the three of them (the kids are two and five) recently picked close to four pounds. While that’s not a lot of strawberries, it’s not all about the quantity. It’s also about time outdoors. About being, and working, together. About learning that strawberries come from fields, not just the produce section at the grocery store.

My grandchildren are a second-generation removed from the land. I want them to understand the origin of their food and to appreciate that their maternal grandparents grew up on family dairy and crop farms. Agriculture is part of their heritage.

Our granddaughter zooms along on her scooter last year at North Alexander Park in Faribault. This past Saturday we shared a picnic lunch near the shelter in this image. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

As their grandmother, I hold a responsibility to continue that connection to the land. This past weekend, when Isabelle and Isaac stayed overnight, we enjoyed the stunning summer weather with lots of time outdoors. That’s one simple way to link to the land. We packed a picnic lunch, with the kids “helping” to make their own sandwiches. Then it was off to North Alexander Park, where they learned to side step goose poop on the paved trail before we finally found a picnic table in a goose-poop-free zone. (Note to City of Faribault: Please place more picnic tables in the park among all those shade trees.)

While eating our picnic lunch, being in nature spurred conversations, which prompted questions, observations and more. Grandma, how many oak trees are there in the world? Leave that grape on the ground; the ants will eat it. The airplane is in the blue sky. Oh, how I love viewing the world from the perspective of my grandchildren. Life is so uncomplicated and simple and joy-filled.

Randy and the grandkids follow the pine-edged driveway at a family member’s central Minnesota lake cabin last summer. This is one of my favorite photos from that time in the beautiful outdoors. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2020.

Later that day, Randy and I took the kids to Wapacuta Park near our home. Rather than follow the most direct path up a steep grassy hill, we diverted onto a narrow dirt path that winds through the woods and leads to a launching point for disc golf. The kids loved that brief adventure into the woods, where we found a broken park bench (Note to City of Faribault: Please repair or replace.) and art flush to the earth. Exposed tree roots and limestone provided insights into the natural world and local terrain.

Randy also posed the kids next to a gigantic boulder near the playground while I snapped photos with my cellphone. Our three adult children responded with enthusiasm to the texted images. Wow! It looks the same as 30 some years ago! It has barely eroded. Amber and I will have to climb it the next time we are in Faribault.

A second trip to Wapacuta the following afternoon led to a lesson about storms as thunder banged, rain fell and we hurried home. Not through the woods this time.

I love every moment with my grandchildren. The time making cut-out star cookies for an upcoming July Fourth celebration. The time in our backyard blowing up a bubble storm. The time at the playground. The time reading and laughing and building block towers and putting dresses on the same Little Mermaid dolls Izzy’s mom and aunt played with some 25-plus (or less) years ago. These are the moments which link generations, which grow family love, which I cherish.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cabin memories, May 2021 June 10, 2021

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Isabelle by the beach. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

SHE RACED BACK AND FORTH along the beach, arms outstretched.

“I’m flying,” she said. “To the moon and into the pink sky.”

My heart brimmed with infinite love as I watched, the moon a pale orb in a sunset sky tinged with streaks of pink. On the far earth below, my 5-year-old granddaughter ran, her imagination flying.

This singular scene defined a recent stay at a family member’s guest lake cabin in the central Minnesota lakes region. For Randy and me, it’s all about enjoying time with those we love most. Connecting. Building memories and bonds that we hope will last a life-time.

Shortly after that stay, Isabelle mailed a picture she’d drawn. It included a rainbow and characters from Frozen inside a pink shape. I thought it was the pink sky of Horseshoe Lake. She clarified that it was simply a pink path. But in my eyes, I see the pink sky.

Horseshoe Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Memories of days at the lake with our eldest daughter, our son-in-law and our two grandchildren continue to bring me joy. This stay I recruited Izzy to dry dishes while I washed. I also taught her to make s’mores. She counted and cracked graham crackers, then broke Hershey bars to fit. I expect she will assist me again next time we’re at the cabin.

We all sat around the campfire, Randy and Amber roasting marshmallows for s’mores. Sticky faces and fingers added to the memories.

One evening we shared bear stories, starting with Marc’s experience from a childhood camping trip. I added mine. And then Amber brought humor into the mix with her version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Randy tossed in bits about Smokey the Bear and the Hamm’s beer bear. At least the bear tales didn’t scare the grandkids.

A trail winds through Mission Park near the cabin. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

But masses of dragonflies bothered Izzy. Our cabin stay coincided with dragonflies and mayflies invading like a biblical plague. Isaac just walked right through them and didn’t notice when I plucked several dragonflies off him. Yellow jackpine pollen also clouded the air. Because of that, I kept my Canon 20-D mostly tucked inside my camera bag.

The lake temp at the time of our late May visit was still too cold for swimming. So we waded only. Randy fished, hooking a few fish too small to keep. Two warm and sunny days allowed for sunning on the beach for the adults and playing for the kids. Izzy opened Sand Pie Bakery on the afternoon her parents left for a brief jaunt into town. Oh, what fun to order an assortment of fruit pies crafted by Izzy and her brother.

Isaac and I grew closer as we interacted. He now clearly calls me Grandma in the strong voice of a 2 ½-year-old. He also learned to love sliding after we went to a playground in town. I felt exhausted just watching him run up steps, slide and repeat.

Izzy plays with figurines one morning at the cabin. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

All of these family moments I hold precious. Time on the beach. Time inside the cabin—dining together, doing dishes, playing “school” with the kids. Time outside the cabin on nature walks—gathering treasures of stones, shells, pine cones. Watching loons near the dock. There’s nothing quite like viewing the natural world through the eyes of a child. Time outside the local ice cream shop, eating our treats as the afternoon sun and strong wind dripped ice cream onto our hands and the ground.

I cherish these memories. Every. Single. One. Some day perhaps my grown grandchildren will sit around a campfire and reminisce about cabin stays with Grandma and Grandpa. Stories of mayflies and dragonflies, of ice cream and sand pies, and of pink streaking the sky over Horseshoe Lake.

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TO MY BROTHER-IN-LAW Jon and to my sister-in-law Rosie, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for opening your guest lake cabin to extended family. We feel incredibly blessed by your generosity, by our time at the lake and by the family moments we are sharing and the memories we are building.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling