Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Nesting in an unlikely place July 13, 2022

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The clothespins I use are weathered by years of exposure to the Minnesota elements. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

HANGING LAUNDRY OUTDOORS on the clothesline rates as an enjoyable activity for me, not a chore. Several times a week I unwind three lines, string them across the patio and clip laundry pulled from a clothes basket placed on the back steps. It’s pretty routine. I place heavier items in the full morning sun, sometimes shift clothing as the sun moves in the progression of the day.

A tabletop fountain on my patio features bird art. Birds sometimes drink water from the fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

The rhythm of pulling, clipping, pulling, clipping, is calming, soothing. I notice the sky, the weather. Hear birds above the drone of traffic. Feel the sun on my face.

I hang my clothespin bag, open side in, to the side of the house. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I feel, too, a connection to the past, to all those women who, without dryers, relied on the sun and the wind to dry their laundry. Women who were saving energy and money long before that became an environmental and financial concern.

I discovered a jumble of clothespins and twigs inside the clothespin bag. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

A few weeks back, my normal routine of pinning laundry onto the clotheslines proved anything but routine. When I reached into the faded dress-shaped clothespin bag crafted by my dad’s cousin Lindy, I felt something other than clothespins. I felt twigs. Lots and lots and lots of twigs.

I never leave the bag fully exposed when I’m not hanging laundry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I removed the bag, which I always hang with the opening placed inward against the side of the house, to investigate. I spilled the contents onto the back steps to reveal a pile of twigs, the makings of a bird’s nest. In less than two days, a bird had managed to somehow maneuver a stash of short sticks into the bag. How? I don’t know given the bag opened flat against the house. I do admire that bird’s determination and hard work.

I always keep the open side of the bag turned flush to the house, not exposed as shown here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

But…I didn’t want a nest, broken eggs and baby birds among my clothespins. I felt some guilt in dismantling the under construction nest. Not enough, though, to cause me to refill the bag with clothespins and twigs and turn the bag to allow that bird easier access.

TELL ME: Would you have done the same as me, or allowed a bird to nest in a clothespin bag? No right or wrong answer here. Do you hang laundry outdoors?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Defying winter in Minnesota January 10, 2018

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WITH SNOW MELTING from rooftops and sidewalks under a bold January sun, I lugged a laundry basket of thermal long john tops outdoors to hang on the clothesline.

The visual contrast of those shirts on the line against the backdrop of a snow-filled backyard imprinted by rabbit, squirrel and other animal tracks nearly made me laugh aloud. I was taunting Winter, daring her to keep me from a task I enjoy, although less often in the cold and snow than in other seasons.

But with a respite from sub-zero temps here in Minnesota, I grabbed the opportunity to trump Winter, to prove that, yes, if I want to hang out laundry in January, I will find a day warm enough to do so. There’s something to be said for defying Winter.

As the cold of 20-degree temps numbed my fingers, I felt a sense of satisfaction in this methodical task of hanging laundry. Clip, clip, clip. And then, after the dozen shirts dangled from the line, I stepped back inside to brew myself a mug of coffee, to thaw my hands and to delight in my momentary triumph over Winter.

TELL ME: If you live in a cold weather state, do you hang laundry outdoors in winter?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


I’ve never been so happy to hang laundry on the line June 30, 2017

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I KNOW THIS PHOTO is not particularly creative, interesting or exciting. I snapped it with my cell phone because I am unable to use my much heavier and bulkier Canon DSLR due to a right shoulder fracture.

But to me this image represents healing, recovery, progress, accomplishment. For the first time in nearly six weeks, I hung laundry on the line yesterday. To do this again gives me joy. Yes, I am a hanging-laundry-on-the-line fanatic.

But how did I manage one-armed and especially with my laundry room down a flight of stairs in the basement? Planning.

The husband provided some start-up assistance by taking the dirty towels and sheets to the basement before leaving for work. Once the first load was done, I continued with my plan.

I strategically placed an empty laundry basket on the rag rug just inside the kitchen door then headed downstairs. As I pulled bedding from the washing machine, I placed the sheets and pillowcases on the edge of the appliance. I then carried them upstairs in the crook of my left arm. Yes, I took the steps slow and steady because the last thing I want is to reinjure my healing right humerus by falling.

Once in the kitchen, I dumped the wet bedding into the laundry basket, propped open the exterior door and used my hip, left side and left arm to wrangle the basket onto the back steps. The movable clothesline stretches across the patio just out the back door.

Then with some careful draping and clothespins in hands and mouth, I managed to secure the sheets to the line.

Since my May 22 fall and resulting bone break, I’ve been unable to do many basic household tasks. Everything in general requires much more time and effort. It’s exhausting. Preparing a simple salad for lunch, for example, takes upwards to a half hour. I wash and slice with a left hand that has not adapted well to being the dominant appendage. It’s rather comical at times to watch myself.

I am frustrated by the difficulty or impossibility of doing simple things—opening a stubborn plastic clamshell, pulling apart bunched bananas, opening a can of food, closing a storm window, clipping my toenails, shaving my underarms, shutting a car door, tightening my belt, putting in my earrings, slipping on a shirt…

These tasks/movements are so routine that you never think about them until you can’t do them. But my disability is only temporary and I am getting better. For many others, their disabilities are permanent and there will be no “better.” I get that and I have no reason to complain.

With permission now granted to have my arm out of the protective sling while at home (but with still restricted movement), I feel myself regaining muscle strength. I still experience pain and frustration. But that’s to be expected. Next week I hope to start physical therapy beyond the exercises I am doing at home.

And I plan to continue hanging laundry on the line. Unless rain is in the forecast.

TELL ME: Have you ever dealt with a temporary or permanent disability and how did you adapt? What frustrated you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Yes, I hang laundry on a clothesline May 3, 2017

Vintage tablecloths, clothes and towels hang on my backyard clothesline in this November 2009 photo.


Clothespins? Who uses a clothes line anymore?

Minnesota Public Radio writer Bob Collins posed that question yesterday in a NewsCut column about a Cloquet matchstick and toothpick manufacturer that is closing. The plant also made wooden clothespins at one time.


I hang laundry out in all seasons. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2014.


My immediate reaction to Bob’s question was to raise my hand high. I am a devoted user of an outdoor clothesline and a drying rack, when Minnesota weather necessitates indoor usage. Several readers commented on Bob’s column that they use clothespins. For laundry and for clipping shut snack bags.

Why do I hang laundry on the line when I could just throw everything into the dryer?


Snow does not stop me from hanging laundry outside. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2015.


I enjoy hanging wash on the line. Yes, even in the winter, if the sun is shining bright and the patio (where my clothesline is stretched) is cleared of snow and ice.


The clothespins I use are weathered from years of exposure to the elements. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


There’s something comforting about the rhythm of clipping wet clothing, sheets and towels to the line. Grab two or more clothespins, choose a piece of damp laundry, then clip. Grab, choose, clip. Grab, choose, clip.


Laundry on my clothesline. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


There’s a certain pleasure in slowing down, in ignoring the busyness of life to do this simple act of hanging out the laundry. I’ve learned to appreciate the crispness of the morning air, the sharpness of a cardinal’s trill, the nuances of a breaking day. And I’ve learned, too, to appreciate more the warmth of my home as I step back inside, fingers stiff from hanging out laundry in 30-some degree temps.


In my opinion, nothing beats line-dried laundry. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


When I hang laundry, I am, in those minutes, free of life’s worries, calmed by simply being outdoors, separated from stressors, focused solely on the methodical and therapeutic task at hand. By habit I hang the heaviest items, such as socks and jeans, in the full morning sun for maximum drying exposure.


Laundry drapes over a chain link fence on a balcony along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.


Hanging laundry outside offers the benefit also of fabric that smells of the outdoors—of sunshine and fresh air woven within the fibers. There’s the satisfaction, too, of saving money via solar power.


Monday wash day in the Amish community of Eden Hollow, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.


Who uses a clothes line anymore?


I cannot imagine so many grasshoppers that they obliterated everything, including clothing hung out to dry. I photographed this info at a Minnesota Historical Society exhibit on disasters in April 2016 at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna.


I do. And I have no intention of discontinuing that practice any time soon…unless Minnesota experiences another Grasshopper Plague.

TELL ME: Do you hang laundry outdoors? If yes, why?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Honoring the clothesline July 22, 2015

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ON A RECENT AFTERNOON, I hustled outside to pull laundry from the line during an unanticipated downpour.

I rushed along three lengths of clothesline, unclipping clothing I’d hung hours earlier when the sun shone with the promise of a good drying day despite the intense humidity. Now I was hauling everything inside to dry in the dryer or on a clothes drying rack. In the process, I was soaked.

I am a clothesline drying devotee, choosing to hang laundry outdoors any day, even in the cold of a 30-degree Minnesota winter morning. It’s therapeutic—the methodical lifting of wet laundry, of clipping it to the line. I delight in the shifting light of morning, of being outside, of solo time to think, of an aged rite that celebrates the beginning of a day.

The scene along a balcony on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office.

The scene along a balcony on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office.

So I wondered, when I spotted colorful laundry draped over a second story railing behind an historic building in downtown Faribault, whether the immigrant woman I saw there felt the same as me. Does she delight in hanging out laundry? Or is this, for her, a matter of simple practicality, of saving money?

Whatever the reason, I was pleased to see her hanging laundry outdoors, in the heart of my community, making this place her home.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a second clothesline post, this one about an entirely different purpose.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Monday wash day in Minnesota Amish country November 5, 2012

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Monday wash day in Eden Hollow, Minnesota, in early October.

IMAGINE MY DELIGHT, being a hanging-laundry-outside fanatic, when I spotted this clothesline recently in southeastern Minnesota. Pure genius, wouldn’t you say, to rig up a contraption like this for reeling laundry outside and back inside?

A close-up on how this clothesline system works.

I photographed this scene in a place marked Eden Hollow as my husband and I were traveling somewhere between Lenora and Canton in Fillmore County on a drive through southeastern Minnesota Amish country.

Given the style and jewel tones of the clothing, I’d say this laundry belonged to an Amish family. Double bonus for me as I also am intrigued by the Amish and their lifestyle.

Happening upon daily snippets of ordinary life like this pleases me for I am given the opportunity to view life as it is, unedited and real.

The pulley system, rigged to a post in the front yard on one end. I couldn’t see the other end.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


How about this balmy January weather in Minnesota then? January 6, 2012

HEY, ALL YOU MINNESOTA SNOWBIRDS wintering away in Texas, Arizona and Florida. How’s the weather at your winter retreat? As warm as back home?

If you’re detecting a hint of smugness in my inquiry, you are correct.

The temperature reading at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 5, is 28.4 degrees in my backyard. Note that the time is incorrect , so just ignore it.

Let’s step into my backyard and review yesterday’s weather via a series of photos. First, imagine me dressed in a comfy red and black buffalo plaid flannel shirt and blue jeans minus a winter coat. It’s 8:30 a.m.and I’m clipping freshly-laundered flannel sheets onto the clothesline. At 28.4 degrees the cold air nips at my fingers, but I work at a rapid pace.

Notice all of the snow on the ground at 8:30 a.m. when I hang sheets on the clothesline.

Four hours later I step outside to read the temperature; it’s already climbed to 46 degrees.

I scrape the last remnants of snow and ice from the concrete driveway. The snow that had clung to the lawn on the north side of the backyard fence is disappearing in the warmth heat of the day.

By 3:30 p.m., when I visit the backyard again, I read 52.7 degrees on the weather recording station.

My temperature recording device reads a balmy 52.7 degrees @ 3:30 p.m. Again, note that the time is incorrect so you'll just have to trust me on this time and temp.

An hour later I pull the mostly-dry sheets from the line in a backyard nearly free of snow.

How’s that for January 5 in southern Minnesota?

This is my backyard @ 3:30 p.m. See how the snow has all but vanished in the balmy temps.

NOTE: These temperature readings from my Faribault backyard are unofficial.

But officially, Minnesota broke some record temps on Thursday. According to the National Weather Service, temperatures soared into the 60s in southwestern Minnesota.

Reports the NWS: “There has never been a 60 degree temperature recorded in Minnesota during the first week of January…in the modern day record. Click here to read the full NWS summary on Thursday’s record temps.

And for me, personally, this may mark the earliest date I’ve hung laundry on the clothesline in a new year.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Hotdish on a Saturday November 19, 2011

RATHER THAN DWELL on a single topic today, I’m going to serve hotdish. You know, this and that all mixed together to create this Minnesota-based post.

  • First off, if you follow my writing regularly, you know that I hang laundry outside. But even I’m beginning to wonder about my obsession. When I hung freshly-laundered towels outside Thursday morning, the outdoor air temperature stood at a bone-chilling 17 degrees. Yes, the towels froze nearly instantly. My fingers did not; I worked at a rapid pace. And, yes, the towels were dry when I pulled them from the line at 4 p.m.
  • Our proposed 2012 property tax statement arrived on Wednesday. I nearly fell over. The taxable market value of our property plunged $30,000 to $50,200. If this keeps up, the value will be lower than the price we paid for our house in 1984. The interest rate on our loan then was 10.75 percent. No typo, folks. Nearly 11 percent. (The loan was refinanced to 8.5 percent and paid off early long ago.)

Even though our proposed 2012 property value dropped $30K, our taxes will apparently increase by 12.6 percent or $72. Now tell me that makes sense? There’s a story here; I simply need to figure it all out.

  • If you dye your hair with an over-the-counter product and don’t use the same color or brand you’ve always used, beware. If your hair shows tinges of orange during the dying process, you should panic. This happened to me once.

Wednesday night, with a new color and a new product, the dye appeared white on my head. I do not need white hair to replace my gray hair. But this time I did not panic, trusting that the color would magically transform to the promised “tiki hut.” It did. Whew. I will not need to fire my hairdresser.

  • Back to the money thing. Every time I go to the grocery store, I walk out shaking my head. I cannot believe that I just paid $80 for groceries that fill only two bags.
  • After 10 months of placing cardboard over my living room windows because I didn’t have window treatments for my new windows, I am happy to announce that I have purchased grommet-top panels, the same ones I was eying, oh, about 10 months ago. It is a good thing I waited so long. I got them on sale.

The panels are bold and colorful and unlike anything anyone would expect to find in my home. This is proof that even I can occasionally emerge from my conservative shell. I expect the panels to be in place by Thanksgiving. (Yes, I will post about them here and show you photos.)

  • My 17-year-old made his acting debut Thursday evening as Dr. Thanatos in the Faribault High School production of Teenage Night of Living Horror. When I heard the name of the play, I laughed. Those teens won’t have to act, I thought. Wrong.

Consider dressing like a Zombie if you attend the FHS play. Here's one of the 25 Zombies from the production.

If you live anywhere near the Faribault area, you have two more opportunities to attend this horror genre production. (Don’t bring young children.) Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday. Word has it that if you arrive tonight looking like a Zombie, your ticket price will be discounted $1. No official confirmation on that…

FEEL FREE to comment on any of the above. Let your voice be heard.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Wash day May 16, 2011

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I CARE NOT ONE bit that he detests the rough feel of a scratchy towel against his skin, the abrasive texture of cotton encasing his foot or the stiffness of line-dried blue jeans brushing against his legs.

Nothing. Not my teen’s complaints, or pleads or requests will stop me from hanging freshly-laundered clothes outside to dry.

It is one of my joys—to hoist a basket of wet clothes onto my hip, lug the basket upstairs from the dark cave of a basement laundry room and then step onto the back stoop into the bright sunshine of a spring morning.

Methodically I work my way through the pile of wet clothes, clipping them onto the clothesline as the early day sun warms my fingers and the wind whips socks and jeans and underclothing and shirts into a frenzied dance.

The simplicity of this task pleases me, connects me to the land and to the women before me who toiled, hanging their faded calico dresses, their hand-stitched crazy quilts, their worn aprons, and the patched trousers of their men and sons under the prairie sun.

As my fingers touch the wet cloth, bind cloth to line, I am bound, by this simple act of hanging out the wash, to generations of women.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An environmentalist speaks out about dirty socks and underwear July 16, 2010

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Remember that segment by Art Linkletter on his 1950s -1960s television show, House Party? He would interview kids who responded with “the darndest things.”

Well, recently my 8 ½-year-old nephew Christian produced a comment that would be Art Linkletter worthy.

Here’s how the scenario played out. When Christian’s mom, Jamie, went to do the laundry, she discovered that her son had dropped only one pair of socks and three underwear into the basket of dirty clothes for the week.

For illustration purposes, please pretend that these dirty socks belong to my 8 1/2-year-old nephew instead of the two big-footed guys in my household.

“I knew he wore socks (and hopefully underwear) every day, so I asked him about it,” she says.

Well, Christian had it all figured out. He explained that he would only change his socks and undergarments on bath nights (Wednesdays and Saturdays) to help save the environment. But that’s not all. His mom wouldn’t have to do the laundry as often.

Now how can you argue with a thoughtful environmentalist like that?

Clearly, when you’re the mom, you can. Jamie instructed Christian that he needed to change his socks and his underwear daily.

Well, I have a little secret, which you probably shouldn’t share with my sister-in-law and certainly not my nephew. When I was growing up, I did not change my underwear and socks every day. It just wasn’t done.

And, get this, my siblings, parents and I bathed once a week—on Saturday night in an old tin tub in the kitchen—whether we needed a bath or not.

Isn’t that just the darndest thing?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling