Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The power of a Turtle October 1, 2020


Leonardo, up close in Zimmerman, Minnesota.


THE SIGHT OF LEONARDO standing strong and tall at the wheel of a motorboat left me feeling simultaneously nostalgic and amused.

Amused because, well, who expects a fictional turtle piloting a parked boat in Zimmerman, Minnesota? The scene caused me to laugh. And, today more than ever during these unsettling and difficult times, I need laughter.

I need laughter to loosen muscles that are too often tight. A head that too often hurts from hearing too much hatred and rhetoric. I need this momentary visual escape from reality.


Figurines displayed at a past toy exhibit at the Steele County History Center, Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


And so, as I photographed this cartoon character manning a stationery boat in a residential neighborhood, I also remembered how my daughters—children of the 80s— watched the superhero cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And embraced the four turtles named after Italian Renaissance artists. Leonardo. Michelangelo. Donatello. Raphael.

They played with Turtle figurines, sang the cartoon theme song, even celebrated a birthday with a home-crafted Turtle cake, although I no longer recall which character or which daughter.

The masked hero in the boat is Leonardo, the leader of the quartet and named for artist, engineer and scientist Leonardo da Vinci.


A design allowing actors to fly across a stage, included in the “Machines in Motion” exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.


In 2012, I toured an exhibit, “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion,” at The History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin. To see a show originating in Florence, Italy, here in the Midwest was a gift. The exhibit featured 40 operating machines built from da Vinci designs. Amazing. (I encourage you to check out my photos and story about “Machines in Motion” by clicking here.)


One last look at the unusual “public art” in Zimmerman.


Now, eight years later, I am reminded of that museum exhibit. I am reminded, too, of my daughters, now grown into adulthood and one with children of her own. I am reminded also that, in the chaos and uncertainties of today, I can find a reason to laugh. Thank you, Zimmerman boater, for placing Leonardo inside your boat parked on your front lawn. You made me laugh.

TELL ME: What has caused you to laugh recently?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Way to go, Wisconsin DNR March 28, 2020

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources image


IF EVER WE NEED LAUGHTER, it’s now. And the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources delivered this week with A CHEESY GUIDE TO KEEPING YOUR SOCIAL DISTANCE OUTDOORS.

The second daughter, who lives in Wisconsin, where a “Safer at Home” order is now in place, texted the graphic to me this morning. While reading this message, I laughed out loud. Repeatedly.

This additional info accompanied the guide posted on the DNR Facebook page:

Hey Cheeseheads! Wisconsin’s state parks and trails are open for you to OutWiGo and enjoy some fresh air. If you head out, we encourage you to stay close to home and within your community.

Social distance is key to slowing COVID-19. Stay at least 6 feet away from others – but don’t forget about the air fives!

Kudos to the creative who came up with this idea. I always appreciate a savvy and fun media campaign. Humor resonates with people. They remember. They talk about it.

The Facebook posting certainly has people talking in the comments section. And it’s not good. Seems people are flocking to state parks and not a lot of social distancing is happening. Wisconsin isn’t the only place with this problem. I’ve heard from friends about overcrowding issues at North Carolina state parks (now closed) and even in Minnesota.

You can only do so much, I suppose. Thank you, Wisconsin DNR, for doing your best and for making me laugh today.


In need of laughter, a few sort of humorous stories March 24, 2020

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The grandkids play hide-and-seek behind curtains, while in Grandma and Grandpa’s care. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2020.


THESE DAYS I FEEL like I’m on information overload regarding COVID-19. That’s no surprise given my journalism background. I need to be informed. It’s just the way I am.

In addition to the extra media reports I’m consuming, I’ve also reached out to my family more. My eldest daughter and her family live in the Twin Cities metro. My other daughter and her husband and my son live in Madison, Wisconsin. All in major metro areas with many cases of the coronavirus. Wisconsin is now under a shelter-in-place order. I expect that in Minnesota soon.

I miss my family. My grandchildren, especially. But we are not seeing each other to protect one another. It’s the right thing to do. I expect many of you are in the same situation. I suggested to Randy that we drive to the metro and wave to the grandkids from outside their home. He thought I was joking. I was sort of serious.

For now I settle for updates from the daughter about Isabelle, almost four, and Isaac, just over a year old. Here’s a text she sent several days ago:

Yesterday the kids were pretending to go to the store to buy hand sanitizer. Izzy said, “Come on, Isaac, let’s go buy hand sanitizer.” And then they would carry their bottles around.

It’s funny. But yet it’s not.

From my Wisconsin daughter, I got this text the other evening:

John and I are going to get out of the house and go for our daily “apocalypse drive”…so strange to see barely any cars on a Friday night.

It’s funny. But yet it’s not. They are now without jobs.

Then there’s this idea from Brad, a native Minnesotan now living in the South, who suggested to me and some of his family members that we take up this activity to fill unexpected time at home:

Find your encyclopedia. Every day look up one of the Presidents, starting with George Washington. Was most interesting. Got through FDR.

One of his family members replied:

What’s an encyclopedia?

Now that’s funny.


IF YOU HAVE a personal humorous story to share, please do so in the comments section. I’m looking for stories from your life, not from a media report or other source. I need to laugh today.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


the power of laughter in healing June 20, 2018

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THE BEST MEDICINE for my days’ old injury of a broken left forearm came not in prescription pain medication, which I never picked up. Rather, it came in laughter, perhaps the best medicine of all.

First the backstory. On the day of my fall, Randy and I intended to head to our eldest daughter and son-in-law’s home an hour distant to babysit our granddaughter. Those same plans had been in place a week prior. But then I developed a bad upper respiratory infection and canceled. So I was especially excited about the rescheduled time with two-year-old Isabelle. Then I slipped on those rain-slicked wooden steps and broke my radius and…

Thankfully Izzy and her parents came to visit us the day after my fall. I wasn’t feeling all that great given only one hour of sleep Saturday night and a high pain level. But Izzy proved a good distraction. As we visited and Izzy played, she stumbled over a ball. Given the awkwardness of the tumble and her subsequent tears, I worried for a second. But she seemed ok, as in nothing broken.


One authentic broken arm, one not. Photo by Randy.


I asked Isabelle if she wanted her arm wrapped like Grandma. I expected a no. But Izzy said, yes, so Dr. Grandpa gathered supplies and wrapped her arm. Of course, we needed pictures, after Izzy pointed at my bandaged arm and then hers and counted, one, two.

We all laughed. Really laughed. Laughter is good. It releases endorphins, which my retired ER nurse friend Diane says promote healing. And I’m all about healing, especially the natural healing powers of a granddaughter’s sweet empathy.


Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Oddities at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show, Part III September 8, 2017

Rows and rows of vintage tractors are a main attraction at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.


WHEN I’M OUT and about with my camera whether at an event or simply exploring a small town or other setting, I often seek out the off-the-wall, the unusual, the humorous. The Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas offers all three. I appreciate the creativity and humor displayed there. In these troubling and difficult times, we need diversions. We need laughter.

So I targeted seven scenes that grabbed my photographic attention in the categories of odd, funny, weird and, most certainly, creative. Take a look.



At the flea market, I noticed a fake bloody hand positioned next to vintage saws. Randy suggested we buy the appendage to gift to my sister at her annual Halloween-themed autumn soup party. The hand, the vendor said, was not for sale. His sister staged it next to the saws as a marketing gimmick. I’d like to meet his sister and introduce her to mine.





Then there’s Mike, who brought his 1930 Model A to the show. Typically one expects shiny restored cars showcased by proud owners. The Northfield man’s vintage Ford, though, is riddled with bullet holes. On purpose. After paying $800 for the car, Mike was advised that the decrepit Ford was not worth the $30K he would spend to properly refurbish it. Not to be discouraged, Mike and a friend shot up the Model A then created a story about Jesse James III killing two bank tellers while robbing a southern Missouri bank in 1932. The car was his get-away vehicle. Now the bullet-riddled Ford and the accompanying legend garner more interest than if Mike had spent all that money restoring his car.



Parked next to the Model A was yet another original—a customized Ford Courier pick-up transformed into a double-headed car by the crafty Andy’s Auto Body of Webster. That turned a few heads, including mine. And made me laugh.



Not everyone was laughing at the toy John Deere tractor George Pinc placed inside a jar atop his Farmall tractor. He got a less than courteous comment from a show attendee. George didn’t care. He’s not a loyal-to-one-brand type of guy. But he assuredly is a man with a sense of humor.



I don’t know the story behind the horns clamped to the top of another tractor. But the add-on caused me to smile.



And then, as I walked between rows of tractors, I noticed a boy (I think Mike’s son) on a banana seat bike towing a cooler. Again, I just had to smile at the ingenuity. Got a problem? Solve it.



Finally, there’s the water bottle. By itself, tucked in the crook of a tree, it means nothing. But there’s a story. I watched a guy stretch and place the bottle in the vee. Before he entered a porta potty. How smart is that? Got a problem? Solve it.

Sometimes in life you have to think and act beyond the expected and laugh. Just laugh.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Picnic perfect January 16, 2017

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WINTERS TEND TO GROW long here in Minnesota. Double-digit below zero temps, windchills, snow, ice and too much darkness wear on even the heartiest of native Minnesotans. Like me.

So I force myself sometimes to embrace this season. This weekend, which yielded balmy temps in the 30s and sunny skies, brought a smile and lifted my spirits. As did this photo, shot Sunday afternoon while hiking snow-packed paths at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault:




I am struck by this scene—by the contrast of seasons (thoughts of summer in the reality of winter), by the lone picnic table set upon snow on the prairie’s edge. I expect the table placement was intentional, for a purpose. But the creative side of me likes to imagine otherwise—that perhaps an artist or a comedian staged the table here to make a point/prompt conversation/elicit laughter.

I am applauding. Because I am laughing. And in a Minnesota winter, laughter is good.

TELL ME: What’s your response to this “picnic perfect” scene?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sometimes I see humor in the oddest places February 5, 2016

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Motorhome in Owatonna in January


WHEN I NOTICED THIS SCENE in a residential neighborhood along a busy street in Owatonna, I laughed. I can’t pinpoint the precise reason. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of winter (the snow-covered yard) and summer (the motorhome and thoughts of camping).

Or perhaps I laughed because the camper covering reminds me of a Paul Bunyan-sized sleeping bag.

When laughter erupts unexpectedly, I accept it. Laughter is a gift.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We competed for prize packages like this snowman poop.

We competed for prize packages like this snowman poop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we redeemed ourselves with laughter and with love.

Another of the wonderful prizes awarded to game winners.

Another of the coveted prizes awarded to game winners.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Laugh away holiday stress at FHS one-act plays December 15, 2011

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NEED A BREAK from the stress of preparing for the holidays?

Well, Faribault area residents, I’d recommend taking in Faribault High School’s student-directed one-act plays Friday or Saturday night.

For only $3 and about an hour of your time, you can escape your holiday busyness, relax and laugh. That’s a dollar for each benefit you reap. A bargain, I’d say.

And you will laugh, or maybe snort like the girl sitting behind me, at the humor in “Bad Auditions By Bad Actors,” directed by FHS student Lorelei Tinaglia, and “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” directed by Jeremiah Kuehne.

The content of the first play is self-explanatory by the title. The second play is about relationships.

These teens can entertain. They’re confident, poised, talented and funny. But, more importantly, they’re having fun. You can see that.

Eke out an hour of your time to support these theater students who will gift you with laughter.

Be there. Black Box Theatre. At 7 p.m. Friday or Saturday. Faribault High School.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Three dumb moments December 20, 2010

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HAVE YOU EVER SAID, done or believed something that ranks as stupid/dumb/unbelievable, etc., and shortly thereafter realized your mistake/stupidity/gullibility?

Of course you have, and so have I, plenty of times.

In recent days, I’ve had too many of those moments. Can I blame it on holiday stress, lack of sleep or maybe, more truthfully, myself?

We’ll start with Sunday morning church. As the offering plate is passed down my pew, I hand it along to my husband, who typically pulls our offering envelope from his dress shirt pocket and drops it into the plate.

But he’s not doing that. He’s sitting there holding the collection plate, looking at me with one of those looks that only a spouse can give his/her spouse. We’ve been married long enough that I knew exactly what I hadn’t done.

I unzipped my purse, reached inside and grabbed what I thought was the offering envelope and nearly dropped it into the plate before realizing I was offering God $10 off on a $25 purchase at J.C. Penney.

Later Sunday, apparently still in that dumb mode and while dining with my extended family at a soup lunch I hosted, I was convinced by two brothers-in-law that another brother-in-law had scooped the beets for the borscht from the highway. That would be as in sugar beets that had fallen from an overloaded truck.

Why I believed the pair is beyond me. You would think that after nearly 30 years of knowing these two guys I would realize they are sometimes full of…, well, you know. So I asked the brother-in-law who made the beet-laced borscht (soup) if this was true. Of course it wasn’t and a dozen guests had a good laugh at my expense.

Perhaps my recent dumbest moment occurred a few days ago when I was talking with my second-born, who recently moved to Wisconsin. I asked if, when she was Christmas shopping, she could look for a Minnesota Twins long-sleeved shirt for her sister. I couldn’t find any in Faribault and did not want to run all over the area shopping for one given I detest shopping.

“Um, Mom,” she replied. “I don’t think I’m going to find a Twins shirt in Wisconsin. Maybe a Green Bay Packers shirt.”

Honestly, these stories are all true. Really, could I make up anything as stupid/dumb/unbelievable?

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED in publicly sharing any of your similar memorable moments, submit a comment. With the stress of the holidays, we could all use a few more laughs.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling