Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Time for kindness April 4, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


WE ALL HOLD WITHIN US the ability to express kindness. That needn’t come in a grandiose gesture, a well-thought-out plan. Rather, we can show kindness in random opportunities presented in everyday life.

Take such an opportunity several days ago as I waited with bread and a pound of butter in a grocery check out line. Behind me, a mom and her daughter stood, too, with a carton of strawberries. Ahead of us, a clerk scanned a young woman’s bottle of salad dressing, jar of spaghetti sauce, bag of meatballs and a hefty pack of bottled water. All of the items went into a shopping cart, which the 20-something customer would need to remove before my purchases went therein. If you don’t pay 25 cents to get a cart before entering the store, you don’t leave with a cart.

As I paid for my two items, I observed the young woman wrestling the case of water from the cart while simultaneously clutching the other purchases in the crook of her left arm. I envisioned the jar dropping, spaghetti sauce and glass splattering, shattering across the floor.

“Here, I can help,” I offered, reaching toward the clutch of groceries in her arm. She smiled, released her purchases to me and grabbed the package of water. “I’ll follow you,” I said, trailing her out the store. I limped and struggled to keep pace while dealing with back and leg pain. But I made it to her van at the far end of the parking lot and waited while she opened the door, placed the water inside, then reclaimed her other groceries. “Thank you,” she said, then repeated, her face flashing a wide smile.

“I’m happy to help,” I said and wished her a good day.

I don’t share this story to applaud myself. I share this story because it’s an example of how a stop at the grocery store gave me the opportunity to be kind. I could have chosen to simply watch the young woman struggle with her groceries. But I didn’t. I opted to help, to take the extra time to do what was right. I hope that you, too, find such moments to reach out with acts of kindness. In today’s chaotic and tension-filled world, where disagreements and meanness seem all too prevalent, we need to connect, to help one another. Whenever we can. However we can.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your stories of simple kindnesses extended or received. Let’s celebrate the goodness in this world.




BONUS KINDNESS STORY: Days after I finished this post and before it published, I noticed my 80-year-old neighbor outside her car parked at the end of her inclined driveway. I was about to grab my shoes and head over to see if something was wrong. But before I could do that, a motorist stopped his car, backed and parked next to her car. Then I watched as a tall and lean young man pulled my neighbor’s recycling bin up her snow-covered, icy driveway to her garage. I doubt she knew him. He was just some guy passing by who saw a person in need and stopped to help. What a fine example of random kindness. This is what I’m talking about, spontaneous giving because we care about each other as human beings.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Yes, I eat ice cream in winter & here’s my new favorite in name & taste January 5, 2018


AS A WORDSMITH, I appreciate creative marketing. And that defines a new line of ice cream sold at Fareway Foods, a Midwest grocer with a store in my community.

Fareway is unique among grocers. The business is closed on Sundays, following the company philosophy that Sunday should be a day of rest and a time for families to be together.

That business value explains the name Cookie Doughn’t Work on Sundays, a cookie dough flavor in the new Fareway Premium Ice Cream made by Blue Bunny. How clever is that doughn’t?

Other names include You Had Me At Cheesecake, Better Choco-late Than Never, my favorite (in taste, that is) Truffle Shuffle Salty Caramel and more. The salty caramel pairs perfectly with apple crisp.

Winter isn’t exactly prime ice cream season in cold Minnesota. But that doesn’t stop me from grabbing a carton of Fareway’s new, since May, branded ice cream. The names got me initially. Kudos, marketing team. But the taste and price have made me a repeat customer.

TELL ME: Have you come across an especially memorable marketing name for a food product? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An unwelcome packaging trend of more, more, more November 21, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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IF YOU NEEDED ONLY ONE green pepper for a recipe, would you buy three?



If you wanted only one lemon, would you purchase a half dozen?

You probably wouldn’t. But the discount grocery store I shop is now offering some produce items only as pre-packaged and in larger quantities than I want or need. That troubles me. Produce is perishable, which means I likely will end up tossing fruits and vegetables that spoil before I can eat them. With only two in our household now, we don’t go through food nearly as quickly as with three kids at home.

So you might suggest I shop at another grocery store. I do, for the items I can’t find at my regular grocer. But often times purchasing say a single pepper at the second choice store will cost more than buying three packaged peppers at the discount grocer. I am a budget conscious shopper. I have to be given outrageously high health insurance premiums (about $1,300/month now and soon to be $1,500/month) are sucking away the major portion of my family income.

The bottom line is this—I don’t like bulk packaging of food or other items such as tissue and toilet paper. The manufacturer is forcing me to buy more. More, more, more. That seems to be the American mantra in a world with too many people starving and living in poverty.

TELL ME: What do you think of this pre-packaging trend?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Witness to an unleashing of verbal abuse in a grocery store parking lot August 29, 2017

A snippet of a domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


HE EXITED AHEAD OF US, the man with his right arm in a cast. His whole demeanor exuded anger as he strode from the grocery store pharmacy empty-handed.

Then the f-word started flying like missiles zoning for a target in the parking lot. “Where the f*** is she?” he shouted, followed by a string of more f-words. Clearly he expected her at the door, waiting for him.

His fury struck me like a coiled rattlesnake. His every move, his every word, heightened my concern. For her. His poisonous words flowed in a venomous assault on the absent woman. If he could verbally attack her in public without her present, what would he say and do in private?

“If he does anything to her, I will call the police,” I told Randy. My husband knew I meant it. I will not hesitate, ever, to phone law enforcement when I see someone being abused. I have done so in the past. If an abused woman was my daughter, my sister, my niece, my friend, I would want someone to speak up, to take action, to refuse to remain silent.

My eyes traced the irate man’s path across the parking lot toward a maroon SUV too distant to notice license plate or details. We watched, listened. I was already mentally preparing to punch 911 into my smartphone.


A photo of police reports published in the Faribault Daily News in May show the pervasiveness of domestic calls to local law enforcement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2017.


But no criminal laws had been violated, only human rules of common decency and respect. “He has anger control issues,” Randy observed. I agreed. I feared his rampant rage might explode into physical abuse of the woman behind the steering wheel. Heck, he had already verbally abused her in her absence. I doubt that ended once the vehicle door slammed.

I stood next to our van on the opposite side of the lot, eyes following the vehicle as it turned right onto a frontage road and eventually onto Minnesota State Highway 60 heading west out of Faribault.

I wondered and worried. Could I have done more? What awaited this woman? Would she be OK? Or would he blacken her eyes, clench his hands around her throat, shove her around?  Would he tell her she was worthless and no good and a b****? Would he strike with those venomous words, “f*** you,” while she recoiled in fear?

Perhaps I am wrong about this man, this situation. But my gut and observations tell me otherwise. I trust both; they have never failed me.


I hope victims of domestic abuse will focus on that word, HOPE, and take action to reclaim their lives, lives free of abuse.


FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship (and that covers not only physical, but also verbal, mental, psychological, emotional, spiritual, technological and financial abuse), please seek help. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, clergy or anyone who can help you. Reach out to your local women’s shelter or advocacy services. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The probability of violence against victims heightens substantially when they try to leave their abusers. Do not do this alone, for your own safety. You deserve to be free. Free of any type of abuse.

NOTE: I am aware that men can also be victims of abuse. But since women are most often victims, I write about domestic abuse and violence from their perspective. Click here to read previous posts I have written on the subject.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Little General Store on the Prairie March 27, 2013

I LOVE BERNADETTE THOOFT’S infectious laugh and outgoing personality. And I love what this mother of seven is doing for my hometown.

The Store: Thrift and More sits just off Minnesota Highway 19 in Vesta in Redwood County.

The Store: Thrift and More sits just off Minnesota Highway 19 in Vesta in Redwood County.

In February she opened The Store: Thrift and More in Vesta, population 330 and the only town along the 40-mile stretch of Minnesota Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and Marshall.

The “more” part of Bernadette’s store includes eight shelving units stocked with foodstuff, personal care items, paper products and more in addition to perishables stashed in nearby coolers.

The grocery section of the store includes basic perishables like dairy products, some fruit, lettuce and more. Canned, boxed and bagged foods, personal care items, and miscellaneous items like greeting cards, tape and such fill eight shelving units.

The grocery section of the store includes basic perishables like dairy products, organic eggs, some fruit, lettuce and more. Canned, boxed and bagged foods; personal care items; and miscellaneous items like greeting cards, tape and such fill eight shelving units.

I don’t know exactly how long my hometown has been without a grocery store. But it’s been awhile. Locals, like my 80-year-old mom, have had to drive 20 miles either east or west to find the nearest grocery store. Now this community’s residents, many of them elderly, need only walk or drive to the west edge of town to buy a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, organic eggs from Bernadette and Matt Thooft’s farm, fruit and an assortment of processed foods that include SPAM, much to my mom’s delight.

This is huge, to have groceries and basic necessities available in Vesta. Bernadette even offered to have her 11-year-old son deliver right to my mom’s doorstep a block away. Such small-town neighborliness simply warms my heart. Many times the good people of Vesta have assisted my mother. And for that, I am grateful.

Looking toward the back thrift section of the floor.

Looking from the front grocery section toward the back thrift area of The Store.

Bernadette tells me she originally hadn’t planned on stocking groceries, rather dedicating her floor space to thrift items that range from kitchenware to toys, books to clothing, gift items to home décor and an assortment of other merchandise.

Vintage glasses in the thrift section.

Vintage glasses in the thrift section.

Bernadette offers a great selection of used books for all ages.

Bernadette offers a great selection of used books for all ages.

You'll also find a selection of clothes.

You’ll also find a shoes and clothing.

One of my favorite finds in The Store, an $8 vintage Pyrex casserole, which I nearly purchased.

One of my favorite finds in The Store, an $8 vintage Pyrex casserole, which I nearly purchased.

But then she started getting requests to carry groceries. So Bernadette decided to buy food and products her family can use. That way, if items don’t sell, she doesn’t lose anything. Once a week this entrepreneur mother drives the 20 miles west to Hy-Vee Foods in Marshall, reselling her purchases in Vesta at a slightly marked up price that will help cover gas expenses.

Jason Kramer stops in to buy a few grocery items from Bernadette.

Jason Kramer stops in to buy a few grocery items from Bernadette.

Already several local families come to The Store once a week to purchase their groceries, she says. On the Saturday afternoon I visited, Jason Kramer popped in from his home across the street to pick up Oreos, chips, bread and milk. He calls opening of The Store “flippin’ awesome.”

It is that type of enthusiasm Bernadette hopes for from other Vesta area residents. She needs their support, and business off the highway, to make her venture work in this isolated prairie town.

Just another view of the store with Bernadette bagging Jason's purchases.

Just another view of the store and Bernadette’s office with Bernadette bagging Jason’s purchases.

In the short time I perused the store and spoke with Bernadette, several others stopped in—two middle schoolers to eye the toy collection and eventually purchase candy, a middle-aged couple scanning thrift items and then Jason for his groceries. I walked out with a kettle for my college-aged son and my husband grabbed packaging tape and a dispenser.

This 1800s general store counter anchors The Store.

This 1800s general store counter anchors The Store. Those are our purchases on the counter, that kettle and tape.

Bernadette says she’s aiming to recreate a Mom and Pop general store with a little bit of everything. I was delighted to find candy lining the 1800s checkout counter, reminding me of the penny candy I bought at Rasmussen’s Grocery while growing up in Vesta. The vintage counter, purchased from a Lake Benton antique store, originated from a general store between Lake Benton and Brookings, South Dakota. It’s the perfect fit for The Store, lending that historic authenticity reminiscent of yesteryear.

Like the old-fashioned general store, Bernadette has set up candy display, including my favorite Tootsie Pops.

Like the old-fashioned general store, Bernadette has set up a candy display, including my favorite Tootsie Pops.

I can remember when Vesta boasted two hardware stores, several restaurants/bars and a grocery store along with other businesses, in its one-block Main Street.

Rarely does a new business open here. But Bernadette, who lives on a farm near Lucan seven miles to the south, was looking to locate along the highway, conveniently next door to her husband’s business, Matt’s Frame Repair.

A young customer exits The Store, left, while three of the Thooft kids, including Maxwell, 4, and Beatrice, 21 months, hang out with Mom.

A young customer exits The Store, left, while three of the Thooft kids, including Maxwell, 4, and Beatrice, 21 months, hang out with Mom. The Thooft’s children include an 11-year-old, two 7-year-olds, two 4-year-olds, a 3-year-old and a 21-month-old.

She likes that Matt can walk over for lunch and spend time with her and the kids, ranging in age from 21 months to 11 years. She affectionately calls her seven, five of them birth children, two adopted, “the hoodlums.” The kids hang out in a room built into a corner of the poleshed style building.

Look around and you'll see Bernadette's sense of humor in signage and props like this doll perched upon the cash register.

Look around and you’ll see Bernadette’s sense of humor in signage and props like this doll perched upon the cash register.

While the kids play and Matt naps in that corner playroom, Bernadette tends to customers on this Saturday afternoon in March. Her laptop sits open on her desk, her reference source for the thrift merchandise purchased primarily from online auctions and also from garage sales.

This sign by the thrift store points travelers along Minnesota Highway 19, left, to The Store and the Vesta Cafe.

This sign by the thrift store points travelers along Minnesota Highway 19, left, to The Store and the Vesta Cafe.

Bernadette is donating 10 percent of thrift sale proceeds to local charities like the United Way, a crisis nursery, area schools and the broader Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. She’s also created a “Believe in the Backpack” charity whereby she fills backpacks for kids in foster care.

In the short time I’ve spent with Bernadette, it’s clear to me that this Osakis native and former daycare provider loves kids and cares about folks in my hometown enough to open her own little general store on the prairie. And for that I am grateful.

This sign graces the front of The Store: Thrift and More.

This sign graces the front of The Store: Thrift and More.

FYI: The Store: Thrift and More is open from 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday; and with varied hours on Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Tuesday.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


You will never believe what I saw in the grocery store today December 2, 2012

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SO…I’M STROLLING down the produce aisle at HyVee in Faribault this afternoon, romaine lettuce dropped in my shopping cart, aiming for the tofu, when I spot the dogs. Two smallish white dogs nestled on a plaid bed inside a white-haired woman’s shopping cart.

I may have stood there for a moment with my mouth agape. I wanted to say something like, “Lady, what are you doing with your dogs in a grocery store?”

But, to be honest, I was so stunned that I weaved around her and continued on my way, all the while wondering why anyone, except those who have service dogs, would think it alright to bring these obviously pampered pets into a grocery store.

I saw dogs similar to this one (except white fur) in the grocery store today. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I saw dogs similar to this one, except with white fur, in the grocery store today. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Is this even legal in Minnesota? I would think not for a variety of reasons, the first being health concerns.

I would not want to be the next customer placing my food in that cart.

I suppose, in hindsight, I should have tracked down a manager and registered my concern.

But I didn’t.

Am I wrong? Is it OK to bring a non-service dog into a grocery store?

I once saw a woman shopping in a women’s clothing store with a dog tucked in the crook of her arm. I was appalled then. But this, this grocery store sighting tops even that.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Hastings: The comfortable familiarity of an old-fashioned grocery store November 1, 2012

Reissner’s Meats & Grocery in historic downtown Hastings, Minnesota.

YOU KNOW HOW SOMETIMES, when you step into a place, you feel like you’ve been there before, but you haven’t.

That would be Reissner’s Meats and Grocery in historic downtown Hastings.

Third-generation owner Dick Reissner.

Entering this narrow two-aisle store with a mustachioed, gray-haired shopkeeper in a butcher’s apron leaning on the front counter, I experienced a sense of familiarity tracing back to my childhood. Reissner’s reminds me of the corner grocery in my hometown of Vesta where I purchased my favorite Tootsie Pop suckers, Bazooka bubble gum and yellow packs of Juicy Fruit gum from the candy counter on many a trip to town with Mom.

Honestly, I cannot remember much else about Rasmussen’s Grocery except the candy and the wood floors and the big old screen door that banged shut behind me.

Aisle one with the candy counter to the left.

Reissner’s in Hastings possesses that same nostalgic feel, even a vintage look in the red-and-white tile floors, the mishmash of merchandise, the hulking and energy-sucking open cooler that holds pop, and the price stickers adhered to canned foods and more.

Dick Reissner reads at the front counter while I explore his store.

Richard (Dick) Otto Reissner was preoccupied with reading when I walked in on a recent Saturday afternoon and didn’t seem to want to be bothered. So I didn’t query him with the list of questions formulating in my mind as I perused the aisles.

Vintage photos which clued me in as to the history of this place.

Therefore I have no stories to share with you about this third-generation family business. Only photos.

The exterior sign, which dates the business to 1902.

I totally forgot to search for the lefse or ask about  Grandma Ruth.

The vintage toys, etc., are not for sale.

An old, old cooler…

How often do you see price stickers on food anymore?

I have no clue, none, why there’s a saddle, right, in the grocery store.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling