Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Post election day focus: peace, hope, love November 9, 2022

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A one-word message, LOVE, banners a mural in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020)

THE DAY BEFORE THE ELECTION, I challenged myself to focus on a positive mindset, to remind myself that no matter the results, I would remember three words. Peace. Hope. Love.

A partial quote from John Lewis, photographed at a Dundas home in 2020. The complete quote: “Let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

Holding onto those words following an especially contentious campaign season in a country divided on many issues feels vital to my personal well-being and also to the well-being of this nation.

“Peace” art created by Aseneth, 12th grade, Faribault Alternative Learning Center for a 2020 student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2020)

This is not a political post. I have no desire to discuss politics. Rather my words and images together remind me that we all, at our core, need peace, hope and love. Some days it’s admittedly easier to feel peaceful, hopeful and loving than other days. Yet, peace, hope and love are always there, sometimes subdued, sometimes bold.

A positive message photographed at LARK Toys, Kellogg. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2015)

In consciously choosing these three words on Monday, I scrolled through my files for photos that reinforce peace, hope and love. Whether photographs taken within my home or public spaces, the message remains the same. Peace is possible. Hope remains. Love matters.

This HOPE token from my friend Beth Ann lies on my computer desk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2020)

On this post election day, I invite you to consider my selected photos. Allow the images to imprint upon your mind and spirit. And then live them.

This shows a portion of a cherished peace painting by Jose Maria de Servin purchased at a recycled art sale in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2022)

Embrace peace. Feel it calm your mind. Recognize that peace is possible.

This HOPE stone, painted by my great niece Kiera, sits on my office desk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2015)

Hold hope.

An especially bright spot in the heart of downtown Faribault is the Second Street Garden, a pocket garden with positive messages. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2019)

And, above all, show love. To your family, friends, neighbors, strangers. Love exhibits itself in care, compassion, understanding, kindness and much more. It means self-control, pausing before writing or saying something hurtful. Love means uplifting. Love means doing, helping others. Love means offering hope to someone. Love means being there.

I felt such joy in spotting this message posted along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin in 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020)

On this Wednesday, may you feel peace, hope, love. You are loved.

TELL ME: What’s your post election day message? No political comments, please.


Love defined on Valentine’s Day February 14, 2018

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This fabric heart, crafted by one of my children in elementary school, hangs on my back door.


AS A TEEN, I clipped Love is… cartoons from the newspaper and tacked them onto my bright yellow smiley face bulletin board in my lime green and partially paneled basement bedroom with the candy stripe carpet. I found the cutesy cartoon created by Kim Casali dreamy in the context of a dreamy teen.


I have several vintage valentines from my mom’s collection and have displayed them for Valentine’s Day.


Above my twin bed, I also taped a black-and-white poster photo of Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, stars in the 1970 movie, Love Story. Oh, how I loved that movie of love and tragedy and a rather feisty Jennifer Cavelleri who used shocking words like bulls**t.

Back then I believed the famous Love Story line: Love means never having to say you’re sorry. That, my friends, is BS.


I created a love vignette on a chest of drawers in my dining room. Included are this wood cut-out, wedding photos and vintage and homemade valentines.


After 36 years of marriage, I’ve learned the importance of apologizing. And I’ve learned that love deepens and widens and grows with each shared experience. Good and bad. Love bends. Love changes. Love listens, understands, forgives, encourages, supports, serves.


Friends who moved from Faribault to near Fargo crafted and mailed this cute owl valentine to us.


That definition extends to all who love each other, whether as partners, friends, family.

Love is care and compassion and kindness. It is being there through the joys and the challenges. It is also exercising self-control—clamping your lips, stopping your fingers from sending a hurtful text or email… It is about calling a friend or family member who needs support. It’s about asking, “How are you?” and really meaning it.


A snippet of the valentine my 22-month-old granddaughter, with the help of her mama, crafted for me and her grandpa. I love it.


This Valentine’s Day, I hope we can all be a little kinder to one another. I hope we can show love in ways that extend beyond chocolate and flowers and dinner out. I hope we can truly be there for one another in ways that surpass some Hollywood version of love. I hope we can listen and believe and care. I hope we can love how we were meant to love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers. I value and appreciate you.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Grateful for my right hand man, literally June 6, 2017

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AWHILE AGO my friend Patty gave a white board to Randy and me and to others in our circle of friends. She advised us to exchange loving, caring and encouraging messages with our spouses, just as she does with her husband, Doug. Their white board is posted in their kitchen.

This couple inspires me with their love, their positive attitudes and their resilience. They have been through many difficulties, losing their first spouses to cancer and dealing with their own serious health issues.

Yet, they are not defeated and exude joy in living a happy, faith-filled life.

Following Patty’s directive, I previously penned words of gratitude to Randy, propping the white board on the dresser where he drops his billfold, change and pocket knife after a long, hard day of work. But it’s been awhile since I messaged him via marker.

A few days ago, not quite two weeks into my recovery from a right shoulder fracture, Patty suggested I jot a note of thanks to my husband. I’d forgotten about the board hidden behind a pile of decorative pillows on the bedroom floor. Our bed doesn’t get made now given more important tasks consume Randy’s time.

Patty was right. I needed to thank my husband in writing, not just verbally. So with great effort and some pain, I managed to print my thanks.

It is during times like this that I fully realize how vulnerable we all are, how one minute we can be walking down a flight of stairs and then the next moment our legs are fighting air and we are plunging into a hurting heap upon concrete.

But, in the afterward, love rises to new heights—beyond a kiss or a dozen roses or dinner out. It rises to easing my arm into a sling to swabbing deodorant under my armpit to putting earrings in my lobes to carrying my stack of library books to closing the van door to simply being there when tears of frustration occasionally overtake me.

To my husband, my right hand man, thank you.



And to Patty and Doug, who Monday evening delivered a bouquet of garden peonies to me, thank you. I am blessed by your care, your love, your prayers and your friendship.

TELL ME: How have you expressed your thanks to a family member or friend who has helped you through an especially difficult time?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating Valentine’s Day every day February 14, 2017

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You can't go wrong with chocolate, like this box from my daughter Miranda on Mother's Day.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

VALENTINE’S DAY BRINGS expectations of love expressed in some perhaps grand way. It’s a great day for florists and chocolate shops and restaurants. And that’s alright. Both flowers and candy are visual reminders of love. Dining out allows time to connect and celebrate. I have a half-dozen red roses on my dining room table. And I appreciate them.

But even more important are the everyday moments of love. You know, those little things you take for granted in your life. Or the surprises that cause your heart to surge joy.

What does that look like for you?




For me, love has shown itself recently in these ways:

  •  a handcrafted valentine from friends
  •  the giggle of my granddaughter
  •  a bag of macadamia nuts, a gift from my eldest and her husband who recently vacationed in Hawaii, a place I will never visit.
  •  my husband washing the dinner dishes every Sunday so I can phone my mom at 6:30 p.m.
  •  a friend buying valentine books for my 10-month-old granddaughter whom she’s never met.
  •  an unexpected call from my second daughter

A view of the 300 block on North Broadway, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more.

Downtown Fargo, North Dakota, the real Fargo, not as depicted in the movie or TV series. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

  •  my husband binge-watching Fargo (the TV show) with me on DVD
  •  skyping with my son in Boston
  •  seeing my great nephew Landon with his face pressed to the patio door watching and waiting for my husband (Papa Two) and me to arrive
  •  texts from a friend asking, “How are you?”

Today, please express your care and appreciation for your friends, your family, and, yes, even for those outside your closest circle. Try to make that a practice every day.

Birthday roses from my husband, Randy.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers! I appreciate you.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Happy birthday to my daughter Miranda November 16, 2016

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Look up the definition of Miranda and those are the words that define the name derived from Latin.

Miranda, five days old

Miranda, five days old

But to me the name is much more personal. Much more meaningful. Much more precious. Miranda is the name my husband and I chose for our second daughter. Today our Miranda celebrates her birthday.

She fits the definition of admirable and wonderful. And here’s why:

Our daughter is incredibly caring, kind and compassionate. Not only in the loyalty of her friendship but in her care for others. While still a high school student, she went on mission trips to help hurricane survivors. She also modeled good choices, resisting peer pressure and more through theater and outreach at her high school.

She’s well beyond those years now. Still her compassion prevails in her work as a Spanish medical interpreter, in service projects at her church and in simply caring deeply about others.

Miranda in Valles Calchaquies, near the town of Cafayate in the Salta province.

Miranda in Valles Calchaquies, near the town of Cafayate in the Salta province during one of her trips to Argentina.

But there’s much more to Miranda. Beneath her external gentleness, she is incredibly strong. Rock strong. At age four, she walked with a nurse toward a hospital operating room, Big Bird in hand, neither crying or afraid. As a teen, she powered through wearing a back brace 24/7 for a year with focused determination. While traveling in Argentina, she fought off an attacker and come through stronger than ever. Not much rattles her.

As a little girl, Miranda was all girly girl, wearing only skirts and donning ribbons in her hair. She also loved horses, including her stick horse, shown here in a photo taken when she was 5 1/2.

As a little girl, Miranda was all girly girl, wearing skirts and donning ribbons in her hair. She also loved horses, including her stick horse, shown here in a photo taken when she was 5 1/2. She still has beautiful curly hair, although no longer blonde.

She has always been her own person. Independent and spirited in the way that she’s OK with following her own path. I admire that quality in her. At an amusement park, you’d find Miranda rocking the roller coaster, hands up. She’s that kind of adventurous. Seemingly unafraid.

Miranda and me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2016.

Miranda and me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2016.

I don’t see Miranda nearly as often as I would like; she lives 300 miles away. But I think of her daily, holding her close in my heart and my prayers. I love her with the same fierceness as the day she was born, even before she was born. The kind of love so strong it locks your heart forever to your child. The kind of love that can’t be defined by words, but rather by emotions and feelings and an overwhelming need to always be there for your child. No matter their age. To want the best for them—to be safe and happy and well.

Miranda is an adult now, has been for more than a decade. But that doesn’t change how I feel about her, how deep my motherly love.

She is beautiful in so many ways. And on this day, her day, I wish my daughter a most beautiful birthday. And I want her to know how very much I love her. Always.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thoughts after 34 years of marriage May 15, 2016

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Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John's Lutheran Church following our May 15, 1982, wedding.

Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John’s Lutheran Church following our May 15, 1982, wedding. That’s my mom in the pinkish dress standing next to my bachelor uncle Mike. My paternal grandma, in the red scarf and blue coat, is just behind me. That’s my sister Lanae, my maid of honor, in the long green dress. I love this photo. It captures a moment and portraits of loved ones, some no longer with us.

THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO TODAY, I married the man I love.

Our wedding day began with drizzle and clouds. But by the time of the reception and dance, skies cleared to a beautiful May evening in rural southwestern Minnesota. Family and friends celebrated with us in the Vesta Community Hall, where veterans’ uniforms hang in cases along walls. We polkaed and waltzed and bunny hopped and swung across the worn wood dance floor. I kicked off my toe-pinching ballet flats to dance barefoot.

There was nothing fancy about our wedding or the reception. Crepe paper strips running down tables and single carnations in vases. A meal catered by HyVee. Gingham aprons, stitched by me, for the waitresses. Green punch prepared by my mom. To this day, Randy remembers the not-so-appealing hue of that punch.

There are memories, too, of the trickster brother-in-law who let air out of our truck tires, necessitating a drive several blocks west to my Uncle Harold’s gas station.

While some of the memories have faded, others have not. Nor has our love. I love my husband as much today as the day I married him.

Admittedly, it’s a different kind of love, one shaped by years together, by a shared history, by the comfort that comes from being with someone for this long. Our experiences—good and bad—have made us stronger as a couple. Life isn’t always easy. But it’s easier with a loving partner beside you.

Randy isn’t the most demonstrative man. It’s just not in his nature or his genes. But he’s always been here for me and our three children, now grown.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the little things he does for me, which aren’t really little things. Every Sunday he prepares brunch. And nearly every weekend, even in the winter, he grills. I appreciate the break from cooking.

Occasionally, he buys me flowers for no reason other than he knows I need them. Each spring he brings me a bouquet of lilacs cut with a jackknife pulled from his pocket.

He works hard, sometimes too hard. I was grateful when he stopped working Saturdays a few years ago.

On Sunday mornings, he’ll sometimes slide his arm across the back of the church pew, his fingers lingering on my left shoulder. I feel so loved by that simple gesture, by having this man beside me as we worship.

Randy has also accompanied me to many poetry readings, supporting me in this writing venture. He’s a grease rimming his fingernails hard-working automotive machinist, certainly not the type you would envision ever listening to his wife read poetry. But he does, because he loves me.

I am blessed.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Happy birthdays February 9, 2015

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Amber and Caleb.

Amber and Caleb. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, July 2014.

BACK-TO-BACK BIRTHDAYS. Eldest and youngest with middle in between. What are the odds that two of my three children would be born one day after the other with eight years in between? I did have some choice in the son’s birth date as his was a scheduled C-section. Still…

Today my only son celebrates his birthday. In Medford, about five miles from Boston. He’s enjoying his fourth snow day (no classes again at Tufts University) in the past two weeks as Winter Storm Marcus drops a foot or more of snow. That’s on top of the 48.7 inches which fell in Boston in a recent 14-day stretch.

Tomorrow my eldest daughter celebrates her birthday. In Minnesota, where we don’t have nearly as much snow.

One thousand plus miles distant and an hour away. I won’t celebrate with either. I can’t recall the last time I was with any of my three on their birthdays. Cards have been mailed and phone calls will be made. Perhaps not answered, but attempted.

They’re grown. Gone. But always in my heart. Always.

To have a son or a daughter, or both as I do, is to love like I’ve never loved. Love deeper than the ocean, farther than the moon, wider than the distance that separates. Time and miles never diminish that love.

Sometimes I long for those days when the kids were still home, gathered around the dining room table, posing with cake (or dessert of choice), candles blazing, smiling for the camera. Gifts ripped open, often before cards. All of us settled after a rare meal out at the birthday celebrant’s restaurant of choice.

Those birthdays are memories away now. But love isn’t. It’s always there. In a thought. In a moment. In a photo. In a date.

February 9.

February 10.

Happy birthdays—to my beloved son, Caleb, and my precious daughter, Amber.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My beautiful niece on her wedding day September 9, 2014

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Carlyn and Jared leave the church in the early evening, showered with birdseed.

Showered with birdseed, Carlyn and Jared leave the church in the gorgeous early evening light of a perfect September day.

IT’S SO CLICHE to say that the bride was radiant. But no other word seems fitting for my niece, Carlyn, so in love with her now-husband, Jared, her high school sweetheart whom she married on Saturday at English Lutheran Church in Walnut Grove.

Just a historical note here. The English Lutheran church bell dates back to the late 1800s, when Charles Ingalls, the father of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, donated monies toward its purchase.

Lots and lots of birdseed tossed.

Lots and lots of birdseed tossed at the newlyweds.

The bridal couple, family and guests walked below that bell Saturday before witnessing a beautiful ceremony celebrating faith and family and the beginning of a new life together.

Look at how happy they are...

Look at how happy they are…that loving look Jared is giving his new bride.

Carlyn cried more than any bride I’ve ever seen. Cried walking down the aisle. Cried during the ceremony. Cried when she hugged her parents. So much emotion overwhelming her.

That look, oh, that look on the new groom's face...

That look, oh, that look on the new groom’s face after the ceremony.

And I thought how fortunate she is to live only blocks from her parents, to work side-by-side with her mother in a family-owned daycare. Likewise, Jared works with his father on their nearby farm.

Instead of signing their names in a guestbook, guests signed the leaves on this tree.

Instead of signing their names in a guestbook, guests signed the leaves on this tree.

These newlyweds will be surrounded by those who have loved and nurtured and cared for them their entire lives.

I watched as kids wove freely among adults on the church grounds and at the reception in the Westbrook Community Center. Small town carefree. Connected. Something you wouldn’t see at a wedding reception in a larger community.

Jared and Carlyn await their introduction and entry into the reception hall.

Jared and Carlyn await their introduction and entry into the reception hall.

On one end of the reception venue, kids tossed a toy football back and forth. A boy rumbled a toy truck across the floor. Preschool boys splashed in the drinking fountain.

And in between it all, adults laughed and conversed and danced to the beat of polkas, country line dances, 70s tunes that I once sang as a member of the Wabasso High School choir and more.

As my husband and I passed below street lights outside the community center, past the impressive corner veterans’ memorial and the old brick implement dealership where the bride’s dad (my eldest brother) worked before a new facility was built on the edge of town, I considered what a perfect day it had been. September weather at its best. My mom recovered enough to attend the wedding and reception. And love. Radiant.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating an enduring love of 50 years July 30, 2014

THE PHOTO FROM FIFTY YEARS ago is priceless. Six cousins, all nieces of the groom, step ladder lined up on the steep steps of Rock Dell Lutheran Church, rural Belview, Minnesota.

I'm third from the top.

I’m third from the top in this 50-year-old image tucked into a photo album.

I wish I remembered that moment when newlyweds, Merlin and Iylene Kletscher, descended the stairs. But I was only eight then, snugged between cousins, on that beautiful early November day in 1964. Or at least I assume the weather was unseasonably pleasant as we’re dressed like it’s summer.

Historic Odeon Hall in Belview.

Historic Odeon Hall in Belview.

Fast forward fifty years and I’m back in Belview, this time at Odeon Hall, an historic 1901 community center next to city hall and the fire department and within a block of my aunt and uncle’s home. They recently moved back to Iylene’s hometown.

The crowd dwindles as the 50th anniversary party comes to a close.

The crowd dwindles as the 50th anniversary party comes to a close. The honored couple are to the left front.

I am there with my husband and hundreds of others celebrating the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary several months early.

Merlin and Iylene's wedding photo served as a table decoration.

Merlin and Iylene’s wedding photo served as a table decoration.

And I wonder, as I reconnect with cousins and other aunts and uncles, how fifty years have passed.

Dyed bridesmaid's shoes from the November 7, 1964, wedding.

Dyed bridesmaid’s shoes from the November 7, 1964, wedding.

It seems only yesterday I was an 8-year-old wearing cat eye glasses, hair pulled back with a barrette, dressed in my Sunday best button back green corduroy jumper and white blouse perched on those steps in my shiny black patent leather shoes.

Iylene's wedding dress (which she sewed) and veil and Merlin's suit.

Iylene’s wedding dress (which she sewed) and veil and Merlin’s suit.


Cake to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

Cake to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

But yesterday was fifty years ago, when high school sweethearts Merlin, 19, and Iylene, 20, pledged their love to one another before family and friends in a small country church. Within six years, they had four children.

Merlin and Iylene today.

Merlin and Iylene today.

What a blessing to have a half century together.

A little lunch was served at the anniversary party.

A little lunch was served at the anniversary party.

Fifty years are worth celebrating.

Guests linger as the party ends.

Guests linger as the party ends.

And I was delighted to be there, as I was on November 7, 1964, to congratulate my aunt and uncle, this time fully appreciating the depth of their love for one another.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Love’s memory May 17, 2014

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Bouquet 1

CERTAINLY HE DIDN’T RECOGNIZE the significance of his choice—yellow and orange sweetheart roses in a vase tied with a yellow gingham ribbon.

Even I didn’t realize until the day after how the color choice and the ribbon transcended time. Men don’t often notice these details. And I nearly missed them in the bouquet he gave me.

On May 15, 1982, yellow sweetheart roses and babies breath ringed my short-cropped hair on our wedding day.

Bouquet, roses close-up

On Thursday, our 32nd wedding anniversary, my husband gave me a bouquet of yellow and orange sweetheart roses accented with babies breath.

Yellow roses were my bridal day flower of choice, along with daisies.

Bouquet, yellow gingham ribbon

I also stitched yellow and white checked aprons for my cousins who waited on tables at our wedding reception.

Bouquet, orange roses

It took me an entire day to connect the past to the present. And when I did, I leaned in and breathed even more deeply the fragrance of love’s memory.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling