Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Dime store memories in Plainview June 23, 2022

Plainview’s version of the old-fashioned dime store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

GRAB BAGS AND VINYL SINGLES. Goldfish and tiny turtles. And, oh, an endless assortment of whatever you needed, and didn’t need. Such are my dime store memories upon entering J.T. Variety & Toys in Plainview.

To the left, knick knacks. Center and to the right, supplies for crafters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This crammed-with-merchandise store along West Broadway in the heart of downtown Plainview hearkens to yesteryear when Ben Franklin and F.W. Woolworth stores dotted Main Street USA. J.T. Variety & Toys fits the dime store model.

A sign directs customers to the shop at 333 West Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And while I spotted no turtles, fish, grab bags or vinyl, the business offers a wide range of merchandise for all ages and interests.

Lots of fabric, lots of knick knacks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Need a gift for Aunt Gertie or your next-door neighbor or whomever? There are knick knacks and home décor items galore.

Lots of rainbow yarn choices. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Crafters—whether knitter or seamstress or some other creative—can shop an array of colorful yarn skeins cramming cubbies, folds of sorted-by-color fabric layering shelves, and much more. Choices are bountiful.

Flowers, shoes, knick knacks, craft supplies…so much merchandise packed into this small store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The same goes for the selection of fake flowers splashing color into a display and spilling over into baskets lining the floor. Above the flowers I found a collection of summer shoes—flip flops, slip-ons shaped like insects…

Unlike the dime stores of old, credit cards are welcome at this variety store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

If I sound a tad giddy about J.T. Variety & Toys, it’s because I am. A lot of those feelings trace to childhood memories of shopping dime store aisles. Back in the day, I mostly looked because, coming from a poor farm family, buying usually wasn’t an option, except for necessities. I would stand for a long long time in the pet section at the back of Woolworths looking at those mini imported pet turtles, wishing for one.

The toy section. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I expect the kids of Plainview gravitate to the toy section of their local variety store with its puzzles and games, marbles and Play Doh, trucks and dolls, Little Golden Book and other books, and much more. I’d feel giddy if I was a kid with money to spend here.

Lots of great book choices. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Plainview is fortunate to have this homegrown business akin to the dime stores of old. It was here in this southeastern Minnesota small town, the day before our 40th wedding anniversary in mid-May, that my husband purchased a lovely anniversary greeting card while I paged through a storybook about Paul Bunyan. It wasn’t like he could buy a tiny imported pet turtle for me…

More yarn choices for crafters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

TELL ME: Do you have dime store memories? Have you discovered a store similar to J.T. Variety & Toys (Dollar stores don’t count)? I’d like to hear.

To learn more about Plainview, read my previous posts by clicking here. And watch for several more stories on this community northeast of Rochester in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A bit like the Dust Bowl inside my house June 1, 2022

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I’d encourage you to read this book about The Dust Bowl. It’s riveting and informative, filled with stories.

I AM A THROW the windows open, let fresh air flow into my house kind of person. I dislike stuffiness, feeling closed in by lack of air movement. Randy sometimes calls me “Ida.” He’s referencing my paternal grandmother, who slept with her bedroom window cracked, even in the winter. While I don’t do that, I’ve opened windows on cool-ish days. Hey, I gotta get some fresh air in the house.

Monday was one of those days when I should have kept the windows clamped shut. Why? Because of the wind. Fierce, strong, relentless winds blew all day, even blowing in destructive storms and tornadoes into parts of central Minnesota. And while we avoided that here in Faribault, our lawn is littered with maple leaves, small branches and twigs.

At one point Monday afternoon, Randy and I launched from our lawnchairs upon hearing a loud crack. We convened with our next door neighbor, attempting to determine what cracked and fell in the woods behind our homes. But we couldn’t determine the source in the denseness of greenery and felt thankful a tree or limb did not land on our houses and garages. The woods are littered with dead trees and broken branches from a 2018 tornado. That storm cut a destructive path through our neighborhood with trees falling on vehicles, roadways, houses, garages and, for us, the electrical wire and meter ripped off our house.

I digress. On Memorial Day, winds whipped all day. And our windows were open. Wide open. I should have known better. But, at the time, I was thinking only of keeping the house cool without switching on the air. I’m all about conserving energy and saving money because, you know, everything costs so darned much these days.

By evening meal prep, I realized just how dirty the house had gotten. Grit layered the kitchen counters, the table, the floors, the… I had no desire or energy to clean beyond swiping a rag across surfaces to reveal a line of dirt.

Heavy duty cleaning awaited me Tuesday morning. I spent hours washing surfaces and floors, spraying a layer of visible dirt from the bathtub, vacuuming. I could have prevented this, if only I’d kept the windows closed.

I should have, could have, learned from my Grandma Ida. Over the weekend, I was reading the Kletscher family history compiled by my Uncle Merlin. He included this story:

My family lived through the very dry years of the 30s commonly referred to as The Dust Bowl years. I recall my mother telling how she could wipe off the table in the morning after breakfast and by noon it would be covered with dirt and dust blown into the house by the dry winds. I always wondered why she had the habit of covering everything that was setting out on the table or counter with a dish towel. I also recall my father telling about gathering wind blown tumbleweed from the fence lines so they could have feed for the livestock. He felt sorry for the animals but that was all they could find for feed.

From my own childhood, I recall a Good Friday dust storm which layered our rural southwestern Minnesota farmhouse with dirt. Mom left the windows open a crack before we accompanied her on a shopping trip to nearby Marshall. A dust storm swept through while we were gone. We spent hours thereafter wiping, sweeping and vacuuming dirt from the house, just like I did on Tuesday.

I have not yet finished cleaning following the wild winds of Memorial Day 2022. I have the second level to vacuum and wipe down. But compared to those Minnesotans who lost homes, vehicles and more to tornadoes, a little (OK, a lot) of dirt seems like nothing.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thinking of Mom on her birthday May 24, 2022

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My mom celebrates her 82nd birthday at Parkview Home in Belview, Minnesota, in May 2014. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2014)

THE FIRSTS ALWAYS prove the hardest. And today marks a first. Today would have been my mom’s 90th birthday, had she not died in January.

I miss her. Sometimes believing she is truly gone feels impossible. A lot of that has to do with COVID—of seeing so little of her during the pandemic and then attending her funeral in the absolute height of omicron. Like so many other families with elders in long-term care, with loved ones who passed during COVID, the loss is compounded. Closure seems elusive in the absence of community comfort.

But I don’t want to dwell on that. I want to focus instead on my mom, a woman of deep faith, humble, kind…and such a gift to me.

I think back on her birthday in May 2014, shortly after she moved into the long-term care center which became her home for the remainder of her life. Randy and I drove the 2.5 hours to visit her, bringing with us a homemade chocolate cake and several jugs of lemonade. A few extended family members joined us to celebrate.

I took a photo of Mom as she gazed upon that rectangular cake, nine candles blazing, sprinkles scattered atop the homemade chocolate frosting. She looks content, pleased. That I could bring her joy on her 82nd birthday still makes me smile.

On Monday I smiled, too, as Mom’s sister Rachel and her husband, my Uncle Bob, stopped to see me en route back to their Missouri home after a visit to Minnesota. As Rachel and I stood in the driveway wrapping our arms around each other in the tightest hug, I felt a moment of fleeting sorrow mixed with comfort. None of my mom’s siblings attended her funeral due to COVID concerns, health issues and/or distance. I was thankful for their decision, although I knew it had to be difficult for them not to say goodbye to their sister. As my godmother and I hugged upon her arrival, I felt Mom’s presence. There was an undeniable moment of shared grief.

Later, after I served lunch, I grabbed a bag of gingersnap cookies from the kitchen counter to pass around. Mom’s favorite. I’d baked a batch awhile ago and froze some. When Mom lived at Parkview, I made gingersnaps for her every Christmas.

Today, May 24, I think of gingersnaps and birthday cakes and multiple memories that remind me of the mom I loved, still love. And miss. Oh, to sing “Happy birthday!” one more time.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections upon 40 years of marriage May 13, 2022

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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. (Photo credit: William’s Studio, Redwood Falls)

FORTY YEARS. May 15, 2022, marks a milestone for Randy and me as we celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Where did the years, then the decades, go?

Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982. (Photo credit: William’s Studio)

It seems only yesterday I walked down the aisle of St. John’s Lutheran Church, my slim hand clenching my farmer father’s massive hand. I walked with confidence and joy in my $82 off-the-rack high-necked lace wedding dress from Maurices, floral wreath encircling my head, left hand holding a bouquet of yellow roses, daisies and babies breath with ballerina flats pinching my toes.

Randy waited there, before the altar, at the front of the rural southwestern Minnesota church. In his charcoal grey rental suit with matching bow tie accenting his white shirt, single yellow rose pinned to his lapel. He even managed to scrub the grease from his fingernails just for our wedding day. The proof is in the professional photo of our hands focusing our shiny wedding bands. I haven’t seen Randy’s fingernails that clean since given his job as an automotive machinist.

The Vesta Hall, a community gathering place in my hometown, and our wedding reception site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

While details of our wedding day aren’t as sharp as they once were, I have photos and my mom’s May 15, 1982, journal entry to refresh my memory. Mom noted that the supper of ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, fresh fruit salad, cabbage slaw, buns, relishes and beverages catered from Toni’s in nearby Marshall cost $2.65 a plate or $500 total. That covered the meal for 172, taxes and the cost of punch. Delicious punch, but in a putrid shade of green, as Randy reminds me to this day. Our colors were green and yellow.

Now, 40 years after that cool spring day which began with light rain opening to evening sunshine, it’s not details of the celebration which matter as much as the vows we made to each other before God, family and friends. For better or worse, in sickness and in health…

When you’re young—we were both not quite 26—and in love, the possibilities of challenges ahead seem unfathomable. But life happens with all its sorrows and joys and moments of incredible difficulties. And through all of those trying times, of which we’ve had plenty, Randy and I have stood together. We balance each other. He with calm. Me with organization and a plan of action. Our shared faith in God upholds us.

A favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016)

And now here we are, 40 years removed from our 2 pm wedding ceremony that included singing my favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior,” with the congregation; listening to the pastor read Genesis 2:22-24; exchanging vows and rings; lighting the unity candle…

Randy in the automotive machine shop at NAPA Northfield, where he has worked for 39 years. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Here we are, still united. United as loving parents of three children, now adults. United as loving grandparents of a 3 and 6-year-old. And united now in facing the unexpected loss of Randy’s job (due to a change in ownership and resulting closure of the automotive machine shop) after 39 years at the same workplace. It is yet another challenge to manage, to navigate. Together.

Randy, as cliché as it sounds, remains a rock of strength as he has throughout our marriage. I appreciate that about him, as much today as I did on May 15, 1982, the day I married the man I love. And still love.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering Mom on my first Mother’s Day without her May 6, 2022

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One of the last photos I took of my mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

IN RECENT YEARS, as my mom’s health declined, I considered how I would feel when she was gone, when Mother’s Day would come and go without her. Now, four months after her death, I understand. I feel a deep sense of loss, but also thankfulness for the mother I loved and who loved me.

I love this sweet photo of Mom at age seven. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Who was my mom? She was the oldest of five. (Her sister Deloris died in infancy.) She was valedictorian of her high school graduating class. She completed a short business college course thereafter and worked in an employment office before marrying my dad. Within a year of their marriage, the first of six children was born. I came next. And within two months of my birth, Mom’s mother died. Mom was 24, her mother only 48.

The Bode siblings, left to right: John, Rachel, Dorothy and Arlene. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

When I consider Grandma Josephine’s premature death, I wonder how Mom handled that. To lose her mother at such a young age is a profound loss. If only I had asked.

A portrait of Mom. I’m unsure of her age here, but probably around 20. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Mom left behind a collection of notebooks in which she wrote daily entries. Journals begun in high school and continuing into her senior years. The short entries are documentations of her life from student to full-time mother/southwestern Minnesota farm wife and, finally, a grandmother.

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother Doug. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I wish her writing held personal thoughts and observations. But that is mostly missing, along with journals from around the years she met Dad. Not a surprise given that generation’s aversion to expressing emotions. I don’t recall either of my parents ever telling me they loved me, or hugging me, during my growing up years. It just wasn’t done. Yet, I inherently knew they loved me. Only in later years, long after I’d left home, did love-filled words and hugs come.

Entries from one of Mom’s earliest journals. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Since my mom’s death, I’ve dipped into some of her journals as has my eldest daughter. Mom’s one-paragraph daily entries about the weather, everyday farm life and the occasional trips into town and social outings reveal a hardworking woman. I never doubted just how hard Mom worked to keep our family fed, the house clean and six kids in line. I read of gardening, harvesting, preserving. I read of doing laundry (in a Maytag wringer washer), ironing, folding clothes. I read of endless baking, including occasionally making her favorite Sour Cream Raisin Pie. To this day I have never developed an appreciation for that pie. But I loved when she baked homemade bread, shaping tiny buns just for us kids to eat hot from the oven.

This page in an altered book created by my friend Kathleen focuses on the animal-shaped birthday cakes Mom made for me and my five siblings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I also appreciated that Mom made birthdays special by creating animal-shaped birthday cakes from homemade chocolate cake and seven-minute frosting. Those cakes, selected from a cake design booklet, defined our childhood birthdays. Because my parents couldn’t afford gifts, Mom’s cake was our gift. Oh, the memories.

This shows family photos on a board I created for Mom’s funeral. The card at the bottom is a Mother’s Day card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

That I never realized our family was poor is a credit to my mom. There was no emphasis on material possessions, but rather on self-sufficiency and contentment with what we had—each other and land, our land, all around us. Sure, I occasionally longed for rollerskates (like my friends Jane and Robin had), for shopping clothing racks other than the sales rack, for getting whatever toy I wanted from the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog. But, in the end, I didn’t care all that much. I had enough. I still do. And I still don’t get gifts on my birthday.

My mom saved everything, including this Mother’s Day card I made for her in elementary school. I cut a flower from a seed catalog to create the front of this card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Mom’s gifts to me stretch well beyond anything tangible. She exuded a spirit of kindness. Soft-spoken, except when we kids occasionally overwhelmed her, Mom always encouraged us to speak well of others, to serve with humility. She did. At church, in the community. I’ve been told she was much like her sweet and loving mother, my Grandma Josie.

Me with my mom during a January 2020 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling)

This Mother’s Day I hold onto the memories. The photos. The stack of journals. The lessons and qualities passed along to me that speak to a legacy of faith and kindness and love. Mom’s love. A love that endures in how I choose to live my life. A love that rises above grief to remind me how blessed I was to have my mother as my mother.

I printed this message inside a handmade Mother’s Day card for my mom back in elementary school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In my last visit with Mom before her January 13 death, I said my goodbyes, told her it was OK to go. She was mostly unresponsive then, heavily-medicated. But when I spoke the words, “I love you,” for the final time, her lips curved into a smile so slight I wondered if I imagined it. I didn’t. That was her final gift to me—an expression of love I will forever remember and cherish, especially today, my first Mother’s Day without Mom.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Difficult Mother’s Day experiences & what I learned May 5, 2022

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My friend Kathleen recently created an altered book honoring my mom, who died in January. She included a copy of this 2016 photo of my three adult children. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

TRAUMA WRITES INTO my Mother’s Day history. Two events. Two Mother’s Days. Two memories that, even with the passing of time, remain vivid.

The first occurred in May 1987. Randy and I had just gotten off the phone with our moms. We wished them Happy Mother’s Day and then told them we were expecting our second child, due in November. The grandmas were excited. We were delighted to share the news.

And then it happened. The bleeding. The panic when I realized what was happening. The call to the ER with instructions to lie down and see my doctor in the morning. I recall lying in bed, flat on my back, overwhelmed by fear. “I don’t want to lose my baby,” I sobbed and prayed.

How could this be happening? Moments earlier we’d shared such good news. And now the future of our baby seemed uncertain.

Miranda, five days old. Photo source: hospital photo

In the end, we didn’t lose that precious baby girl born to us six months later. Miranda. Beautiful in every way.

Fast forward to the morning of May 12, two days before Mother’s Day in 2006. Miranda was a senior in high school, her older sister just returned home from college. And their little brother, Caleb, 12, was on his way to the bus stop. Then the unthinkable happened. While crossing the street to his bus, Caleb was struck by a car. He bounced off the car, somersaulted, landed on the side of the road.

The moment when I heard the sirens, when I instinctively knew deep within me that something had happened to my son, terror unlike anything I’d ever felt gripped me. I can’t explain how or why I knew. I just did.

I have a file thick with information related to my son’s hit-and-run. The file includes newspaper clippings, e-mail correspondence with the police, medical and insurance papers and more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In the end, Caleb suffered only a broken bone in his hand, cracked ribs, bumps and bruises. While it was a terrifying experience—compounded by the driver who left the scene and to this day has not been found—we felt relief in the outcome.

Even though I endured those Mother’s Day traumas in 1987 and in 2006, I did not lose a child. But in those experiences I gained empathy—for those who have lost children through miscarriage, still birth, disease, illness, accident, violence, suicide… And if that’s you, I am deeply sorry for the pain, grief and loss you’ve felt and feel.

My daughter Miranda and me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2016.)

Through those experiences I realized how deep my motherly love, how my children hold my heart in a way that the very thought of losing them caused me such angst. I would do anything to protect them from harm. Anything. Even today.

My son and I in 2016, when he graduated from Tuft’s University, Boston skyline in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo by Randy Helbling)

Through those experiences I grew stronger. And I recognized that, no matter what, we are not alone. When Caleb was hit by the car, our family received overwhelming support from family, friends, his school and the greater community. There were prayers, encouraging cards and phone calls, a stuffed animal and even a gift certificate to Dairy Queen. What love, compassion and care.

To my dear readers who are mothers, you are cherished, valued, loved. And the children you raised/are raising are equally as cherished, valued and, above all, loved.

TELL ME: If you have a story or thoughts you would like to share about being a mom or about what your mom meant/means to you, please comment. I’d love to hear from you.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, how Mom loved the Kentucky Derby May 4, 2022

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Watching the 2015 Kentucky Derby in the auditorium at The Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, during a “Big Hats & Big Hearts event. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

MAY, MORE THAN any month, reminds me of my mom. And not just because of Mother’s Day.

Mom’s birthday falls in late May. She would have turned 90 this year.

A guest arrives for the Derby party at the Paradise Center for the Arts in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

May also means Kentucky Derby time, an annual event Mom looked forward to with unbridled enthusiasm. It wasn’t only the horses which drew her interest. It was the fashion. Mom loved the big hats, the showiness of this social gathering.

I remember phone conversations when Mom talked about the upcoming Derby. I regret that she never attended the Kentucky race. But she saw several horse races at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. I have no doubt she would have loved the Kentucky Derby events set there for Saturday, including the Derby Fashion Show followed by live screening of the actual race.

This year’s race holds special interest for Minnesota as two of the horses are owned by Minnesotans. I expect Mom would have chosen Zandon or Zozos to win. Jeff Drown of Clearwater owns Zandon, #2 in the leaderboard rank. And Barry and Joni Butzow of Eden Prairie own Zozos, ranked #17. Both Drown and the Butzows have a long history in racehorse ownership.

Dressed in Derby Day fanciness, attendees view a hat-themed exhibit in the Paradise Center for the Arts gallery in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

And my mom had a long history of loving horse racing. And of loving the fancy, wide-brimmed Derby hats adorned with flowers, feathers, bows, ribbons… Fashion focus didn’t fit Mom at all. She was a no-frills kind of woman. Basic wardrobe of nothing flashy or fancy. But when it came to the Kentucky Derby, she was fully-engaged in appreciating fashion.

Fresh mint leaves for the mint juleps. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

This year, especially (four months after her death), I remember Mom’s unbridled joy in the Kentucky Derby—both the fashion and the race. I wish I could sit by her side, both of us sporting fancy Derby hats, sipping mint juleps, watching the race live on the screen.

My friend Beth Ann gifted me with official Kentucky Derby glasses from 1986 and 1991. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Yet, I can honor her via memories and via the horse art which I pull out each May. A paint-by-number horse scene purchased at a second-hand store. A painting of horses by my father-in-law. And two Derby drinking glasses gifted to me by a friend.

I purchased this stunning 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

There is comfort in memories, in remembering how very much my mom loved the Kentucky Derby. This Saturday, when I settle in to watch the horse race, I’ll think of Mom and how she delighted in “Southern Belle” inspired fashion while watching the Derby on TV from her Minnesota home.

NOTE: This is the first in three mother-themed blog posts leading up to Mother’s Day on Sunday, the day after the Kentucky Derby.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring the earth, past & present on Earth Day April 22, 2022

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Monarch attracting milkweed grows next to a soybean field in southwestern Minnesota. Planting milkweed is one way to help the earth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2015)

TODAY, APRIL 22, marks Earth Day, a day to focus on our planet, the environment and ways we, individually and globally, can protect both.

This day gives me pause to reflect on an event which began in 1970, when I was nearing young adulthood. I remember the anti-litter campaigns, the energy shortage and even Earth Shoes. Fifty-two years later, the focus has shifted to clean energy, Zero Waste and climate change.

But, taking it down to a personal level, what am I doing to honor the spirit and intent of Earth Day on a daily basis? Some examples follow. What are you doing?

WHEN I WORE FEED SACKS

One of my all-time favorite images of laundry drying outside was taken on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2015)

I recognize that some of what I do is rooted in my past, where reuse was popular long before it became hip. For example, as a child I wore clothing stitched from feed sacks. Not all clothes, of course, but enough that I remember. Clothing was handed down the line from oldest to youngest siblings and sometimes among cousins. Whenever I got new clothes in my youth, they were either from the sales rack or sewn by my godmother or, later as a teen, by me. When I had children, most of their clothing came from garage sales. To this day, I dislike clothes shopping and gravitate to the discount rack. And, yes, I still occasionally buy second-hand. My approach to apparel is, I figure, earth-friendly.

Likewise when it comes to laundry, I either line dry outdoors or on a rack inside. To me hanging laundry isn’t a chore. I love the methodical rhythm of clipping laundry to the line early in the morning, then pulling it off when the sun has dried the clothes, towels, sheets… In the process, I’ve saved energy by not using my electric dryer.

SAVE THE BOWS, PLEASE, & THE CARDS

Examples of Christmas cards that were recycled into gift tags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

I also save and reuse gift bags, tissue paper and ribbons/bows. Through the years, I’ve taken a lot of ribbing for that practice. But, frankly, I don’t care. Tossing those items seems wasteful to me. And I am simply following the example set by my mother who, Christmas to Christmas, saved and reused tissue, ribbons, bows and carefully-folded wrapping paper. (We didn’t get birthday gifts.) I don’t reuse paper. Mom’s reasons for reuse were not necessarily rooted in the environment, but rather in finances. Wrapping paper and all the embellishments cost money. She also saved Christmas cards, repurposing them as gift tags, something I also do.

BREAD BAGS & PEACH PAPER

An outhouse repurposed as a storage shed on my middle brother and sister-in-law’s rural acreage near Lamberton. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

I also follow Mom’s example of washing and reusing plastic food storage bags. I don’t save bread bags, though. While growing up, I slid bread bags over my feet before slipping into boots. The bags kept my feet dry and warm, especially if my rubber boots leaked.

Thankfully I don’t need to repurpose the tissue from individually-wrapped crated peaches as toilet paper in the outhouse. Yes, I grew up using an outhouse in the warm weather months and a pot on the porch in the winter because our old farmhouse didn’t have a bathroom. I am quite appreciative of the small solo bathroom in my current house.

OLD IS JUST FINE WITH ME

A display at Reborn Home Furnishings, which recycles/upcycles/repurposes furniture. I discovered this shop during a visit to Luverne in southwestern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

The one other area in which I’ve really focused on reuse is furniture. I just counted all the furniture pieces in the six rooms on our main level. Of the 20 pieces, we’ve purchased only five new—the sofa, recliner, entertainment center and my office desk and chair. The dining room table and chairs came from two auctions 40 years ago. Other furniture either came from garage sales or from family. Even our bedroom ensemble—hideous 1950s blonde—is used. Not the mattress or boxspring. In the two second floor bedrooms, all of the furniture is second-hand.

RECYCLED ART, OH, HOW I LOVE THEE

Donated art fills a gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The center hosts an annual Recycled Art Sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

And then there’s art. I love art and own a stash of it thanks to thrift stores, garage sales, the local recycled art sale and my mom. My “newest” pieces are “Jesus, the Good Shepherd” and “Jesus Knocks,” wedding gifts to my parents in 1954. Budget-friendly sources of art have allowed me to curate pieces I love in an earth-friendly way.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. How do you honor the spirit and intent of Earth Day in your daily life? Let’s learn from one another about ways we can reuse, repurpose, recyle, upcycle, reduce waste…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A one-of-a-kind loving keepsake honoring my mom February 17, 2022

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The book cover features a loving quote and my mom’s favorite flower, the iris. To the left, along the spine, is an empty locket for me to place pictures inside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

THOSE WE LOVE stay forever in our hearts.

The first page features a photocopied photo of my mom holding newborn me. I have only a few photos from my early childhood, this one my most treasured. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

What beautiful, meaningful and heartfelt words. That message titles a 10-page mini altered book crafted by my dear friend Kathleen upon the recent death of my mom. The book arrived unexpectedly from Kathleen’s secluded cabin studio in Idaho on a February morning, when I most needed it.

Kathleen includes this photocopied picture of my mom on her last Mother’s Day in 2021 and posted on the Parkview Nursing Home Facebook page. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I settled into a comfy chair, paging through the book as tears fell. Soon I was sobbing.

Me with my mom in a photo taken several years ago. The words are in my printing, from a Mother’s Day card I made for Mom as a young child. The blue flower tucked into the lavender pocket graced the front of that card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Kathleen, using carefully selected photos pulled from my blog, inspirational quotes and poems, recycled materials and more, created a book reflecting my mom. From Mom’s faith to her love of irises to our mother-daughter bond to her rural background and more, this book lovingly honors my mother.

It is a treasure, an absolute treasure, now cherished.

This is a special memory of my mom. On our birthdays, she baked a homemade chocolate cake and then crafted it into an animal shape following instructions in the “Animal Cut-Up Cake” booklet. We chose which animal we wanted. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

My long-time friend, once the children’s librarian in Faribault, never met Mom. But you’d never realize that by seeing this visual memoir. That’s a tribute to Kathleen, a kind, caring and compassionate soul who truly listens, whose empathy runs deep, whose heart overflows with goodness and love.

A cross hugging a corner of the last page represents Mom’s strong faith. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Kathleen has read my blog posts about Mom through the years. She’s viewed the photos I’ve posted (and some I sent to her), from past until recently. She understood the essence of my mother—her strong faith, her farm background, her love of family, her compassion for others, and more.

The book includes a copy of a photo I took of Mom’s “The Good Shepherd” framed print, a 1954 wedding gift to my parents from Dad’s Uncle Walter Arndt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

No detail went unnoticed by my friend in creating this work of art. In a mini-bottle attached to the book, “Amazing Grace” labels a music scroll. That was among three hymns sung at Mom’s funeral. Polka dotted ribbon and paper frame two family photos, matching the polka dotted blanket covering my Mom’s lap and the polka dots decorating her great grandson’s birthday cake in two images. A swatch of gold lace mimics the frame of my mom’s “The Good Shepherd” print which now hangs on my dining room wall. Kathleen incorporated selected “good shepherd” verses from John 10 (read at the funeral) into the book along with a photo of that cherished print.

Two pages are devoted to the grandmother-grandchild relationship, featured in this copied photo of my three children taken in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Words cannot fully convey my gratitude to Kathleen for crafting this keepsake. It is, for me, a love-filled book to be shared with my children and grandchildren. Sweet memories of my mom, their grandmother and great grandmother. My three now-grown children are connected to Kathleen also, my daughters once working as library pages and attending teen events under her supervision and my son as a young boy asking her to find space-themed and other books for him.

Kathleen left Faribault years ago with her dear husband, Justin. But we remain deeply connected. Connected via our shared love of words and writing and reading and poetry and libraries. Connected via our shared values and genuine compassion for others. Connected via her connection to my children as they were growing, developing. And now that has extended to the next generation. Geographically, we are distanced from one another. But our friendship remains rooted, strong, enduring. Miles matter not.

And when Those we love stay forever in our hearts arrived from 1,400 miles away, I felt as if Kathleen had stopped by to give me a hug. Such are my loving thoughts upon embracing this comforting keepsake crafted by my dear dear friend.

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NOTE: Several years back, Kathleen created an altered (much larger) book all about me. It tells my life story. As with the book about my mom, Kathleen tapped into my blog for images and information. My friend, even without that resource, knows me well. That book, too, is a treasure, deeply cherished.

© 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