Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This has to stop, these shootings July 19, 2017

Positive words posted near a garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


SOMETIMES I COME across an article and accompanying video so profound that I am moved not to tears, but to sobbing.

Often I read those stories in Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins’ NewsCut column. He rates as one of my favorite writers for his ability to ferret out those stories that touch human emotions. You won’t necessarily see top news stories of the day featured online in NewsCut. But you will read stories that are deeply human, that elicit thought and emotions.

Sometimes Bob makes me laugh. Sometimes cry. Sometimes shake my head. And, almost always, he makes me think. His stories prompt plenty of reader interaction. Whether I agree with comments or not, I always find them interesting.

On Monday Bob published a story and linked to a video in a piece titled A wellness check by police ends with a son dead. The headline grabbed my attention. But it was the video of a grieving father that twisted my gut and made me cry in the deep sort of painful way that heaves your shoulders and unleashes primeval wailing.

In summary, the Massachusetts man’s 26-year-old son, despondent over a break-up with his girlfriend, holed himself up in his room with his dog and a gun. Police were called as was the SWAT Team. The parents were ushered from their home, the father pleading with police to just let his son sleep and to not over-react. I would encourage you to read the entire story and watch the video by clicking here.


I purchased this retro tray at an antique/vintage shop in St. Charles for its simple message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Admittedly, I came to this story with emotions on edge after the police shooting of Justine Damond, 40, in an affluent south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday evening. She called 911 to report a suspected assault in an alley by her home, her family says. The death of this Australian woman, who moved to Minnesota several years ago to be nearer her fiance’, has triggered outrage and world-wide attention. And rightly so. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting of the unarmed, pajama clad Justine. Few details have been released. The police officer who shot Justine in the abdomen has thus far refused to be interviewed. Justine’s death continues to top the news in Twin Cities media.

Nearly every evening I turn on the 10 o’clock TV news to hear of another shooting in the Twin Cities. A drive-by, a targeted victim, a domestic and, yes, more and more, a fatal shooting by a police officer.

All of this leaves me wondering. Why? Why so much gun violence? Why the increase in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers?


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


Repeatedly, I hear of the need for more officer training. A recently-passed Minnesota state law requires police officers to receive specialized de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training beginning in July 2018. In my county, that training is already happening and may have factored into a positive outcome for a 61-year-old local man who last week threatened suicide. He survived his crisis when police responded.

With increased societal awareness and openness, we’re seeing an attitude shift in handling of suicide threats and other mental health related calls to police like the one in Massachusetts. Common sense should tell you not to roll in with an excessive show of force and upset an already struggling individual. Lights, sound, action may work in Hollywood, but not necessarily in reality.


Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.


We can choose to remain calm, to listen to one another, to be compassionate and caring, whether we are a neighbor, a family member, a police officer or a stranger. I know that’s not always easy in a fluid and tense situation.

But something has to change. Too many people are dying due to gun violence in their homes, in alleys, along city streets, on sidewalks…from Minnesota to Massachusetts.

© 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


Post-election choices November 13, 2016



IN A WEEK THAT’S BEEN particularly difficult for our country, let’s pause and reflect on the goodness we can each do. Individually.

We can choose to be kind. We can choose to listen. We can choose to be respectful. We can choose to act like adults and not like bullies on the playground.

We can smooth the rough surfaces we’ve etched with our words.

We can empathize and offer compassion and be gentle with one another.

We can choose love over hatred.

We have the choice. Which will you choose?

I direct you to Minnesota Public Radio’s story, “Na-na-na-na No-no: A guide to post-election etiquette,” and to Twin Cities Christian radio station KTIS and Jason Gray’s song, “With Every Act of Love.”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating four years of blogging at Minnesota Prairie Roots July 15, 2013

Me and my camera, a tool in the writing profession I love.

Me and my camera, a tool in the writing profession I love.

FOUR YEARS AGO TODAY, I launched Minnesota Prairie Roots.

As the adage goes, “time flies when you’re having fun.” After writing more than 1,400 posts, I’m still passionate about blogging.

My approach to blogging hasn’t changed since publishing that initial post on July 15, 2009. I pledged then to write from the heart—about everyday life, about places I visit, things I do, observations I make about the world around me.

I told you then, and I’ll repeat now, that my writing reflects my down-to-earth personality and my appreciation for the simple things in life. I am the real deal. I really do like small towns and gravel roads, the prairie and sunsets and endless skies.

I’m the woman who hangs clothes on the line, relishes a good book, shops garage sales, savors the tang of rhubarb crisp, breathes in the intoxicating scent of freshly-cut alfalfa and appreciates Minnesota, the place I’ve called home for nearly 57 years.

Via my posts, I strive to show you those ordinary, yet extraordinary, people and places often overlooked.

To you, my readers, thank you for supporting Minnesota Prairie Roots via your readership and your comments. Some of you have become my real life friends, an unexpected blessing along this blogging journey.

I am also grateful to individuals like Bob Collins at Minnesota Public Radio for featuring my work in his online NewsCut column and to the folks at MinnPost for often choosing my posts for Minnesota Blog Cabin. Both have introduced my work to wider audiences.

Twice my work has been Freshly Pressed, meaning my posts have been selected as among the best in the world for a single day on WordPress.com.

Four years ago I was averaging about 50 daily views. Today that number is close to 700.

I also owe deep thanks to my dear husband, Randy, without whom I could not continue to pursue my passions of writing and photography. He has always been my strongest supporter and I am grateful for his encouragement.

My goal remains to someday earn money from blogging. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But a writer and photographer can dream. I’ve already sold quite a number of photos through my blog. So if you need/want a photo for professional or personal use or need a proofreader, editor or writer, contact me. You’ll find my email on my “About” page.

In all I write, photograph and do, and how I live my life,  I remain true to my values and upbringing rooted deep in my native Minnesota prairie.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


MPR debuts Minnesota architecture series with my submission July 1, 2011

LAST WEEK MINNESOTA Public Radio’s “State of the Arts” blogger Marianne Combs put out a call for photos and stories celebrating the great architecture of Minnesota.

I figured given how much I appreciate old buildings—and that would be considerably—I could submit an entry. But what building would I choose?

I started going through my photo folders in search of an image I considered most worthy of submission. FYI, I even have a folder labeled “architecture.”

Faribault topped my choices since this southeastern Minnesota community, my home since 1982, has many, many buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. And, yes, architecturally, these structures are jewels.

Then I considered images from Lucan, Morgan, Hanley Falls, Wood Lake, West Concord, Mantorville, Alexandria, Northfield and a few other towns I can’t immediately recall. Yes, the list was long.

But something kept tugging at me—my loyalty to my hometown of Vesta. Now those of you familiar with Vesta, population around 350 and with a block-long main street, are likely wondering what on earth I found in this southwestern Minnesota prairie town of architectural worth.

Here is the building I chose and which debuted Marianne Combs’ Minnesota architecture series this afternoon. You can click here to read why I chose the Vesta Municipal Liquor Store.


© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Kudos from MPR for Minnesota Prairie Roots March 29, 2011

OK, I’M NOT EVEN GOING to apologize for tooting my horn here today. It’s not something I’m all that comfortable doing. But, hey, every once in awhile it’s alright to let everyone know you’ve been recognized.

That latest recognition for me as a writer comes via Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins. He publishes a popular online MPR weekday column, News Cut. He’s a professional blogger, meaning he gets paid for blogging, which I aspire to accomplish.

I’m a News Cut fan, and not just because Collins has referenced my Minnesota Prairie Roots posts numerous times. I sincerely enjoy reading the content he pulls together and comments and encourages discussion on.

MPR Public Relations Manager Christina Schmitt interviewed Collins about News Cut for an article published in the Plugged In Minnesota Public Radio highlights section of Minnesota Monthly’s March issue. The “Behind the Blog: Bob Collins” article titled “Looking Sharp,” runs on pages 6 and 7.


This two-page spread in Minnesota Monthly's March issue features an interview with MPR's Bob Collins in which Minnesota Prairie Roots is mentioned.

And that’s where I’m mentioned, on the second page, when Schmitt asks Collins which online sources he trolls for information.

He taps into Twitter. And, like everyone else, Collins says he checks the BBC, National Public Radio and The New York Times. But then Collins shares that he also reads blogs like…ta-da, drum roll here, please…Iron Ranger Aaron Brown’s Minnesota Brown and Audrey Kletscher Helbling’s Minnesota Prairie Roots.

I’m honored, humbled and more than a tiny bit giddy that Collins would single the two of us out from among the hundreds, if not thousands, of writers out there in the Minnesota blogosphere.

Such an endorsement from a well-respected entity like MPR means a lot to me as a professional writer. It validates that I can blog, and blog well, or at least blog well enough to grab Collins’ attention and interest.

In the interview, Collins tells Schmitt that Minnesota Brown and Minnesota Prairie Roots “are intimately tied to what’s going on in their parts of Minnesota. They’re not news sources per se, but they quite often touch on a topic that is interesting and give me ideas to expand it a little bit.”


Right here, in the fourth paragraph, Collins talks about Minnesota Brown and Minnesota Prairie Roots.

So there you have it. Direct from News Cut.

To read the full story, track down Minnesota Monthly’s March issue. I’m looking for copies now as I only learned several days ago about this article. Gotta show my mom, you know. So…, if you have any extra copies of the magazine, send them my way.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Part VI: The future for Hammond and Tina March 19, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post marks the final in a series of six stories that focus on a Hammond, Minnesota, family forced from their home during a September 2010 flash flood. Today we look at Hammond, its recovery and how you can help.

“WE HAVE A LONG ROAD ahead of us and none of it can really start until spring,” says Tina Marlowe, assessing the work that still needs to be done in Hammond. Her family returned to this town of (once) 230 residents shortly after Christmas.

This southeastern Minnesota community exists in limbo as residents await the arrival of warmer weather, and money, to begin rebuilding their community. Many homes must be gutted and rebuilt or torn down. Hammond needs a new city hall and new maintenance equipment. The river bank, river bed, parks and canoe landing need to be cleaned and rebuilt.

“Everything…everything is left to be done,” says Tina, who plans to help form a park committee that will raise $200,000 to update and rebuild the town’s parks. Tubing, canoeing, a horseshoe tournament, camping, fishing, motorcycling and more draw locals and visitors to this quiet river valley, “a beautiful gift of nature that we like to call ‘Our Valley’,” Tina says.

She and good friend Katie Shones will be setting up a Park Fund for donations to rebuild the parks.


Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 25, 2010.


“SINCE OCTOBER, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota has been very involved in the long-term recovery efforts in the Pine Island – Oronoco area and in Wabasha County,” says Caitlin Hughes, LSS Disaster Services administrative specialist.  “LSSMN assisted in the development of two community supported long-term recovery committees. These committees are working with the LSSMN Southeast Minnesota Disaster Response Team to help families locate the precious resources to rebuild their homes and their lives.  Presently LSSMN has a local staff of three disaster case managers, a volunteer and resource coordinator and a reconstruction manager.

Currently, the disaster case managers are working with over 250 families/ individuals and the rebuild team is assisting 25 clients in using volunteers to make their homes habitable once again.”

St. John’s Lutheran Church is serving as a base for LSS relief operations in Hammond. Contact LSS caseworker Mary Walker at 507-753-3057 business days. St. John’s has served, among other functions, as a site for distribution of food, clothing and other essentials to flood survivors.

INDIVIDUALS INTERESTED in helping with Hammond’s recovery should contact LSS Volunteer Coordinator Dan Kalstabakken at 651-741-7234.

Go to this link for the most up-to-date information on LSS efforts in southeastern Minnesota: http://www.lssmn.org/disaster/

Also visit the Zumbro Valley Disaster Relief Fund.

Tina says flood survivors could use cash donations and that skilled laborers are still needed to help with the ongoing rebuilding efforts.


LSS also provides support for children who have been through disasters like the Hammond flood.

Camp Noah is a day camp for children impacted by disaster that offers children a safe, caring and fun environment where they can heal and process their disaster experience, according to LSS. The five-day camp is based on a curriculum that celebrates each child’s unique gifts and talents and provides them with an opportunity to share their story.

For more information about Camp Noah, call 612-879-5312 or go to http://www.lssmn.org/camp_noah/


This photo shows the destroyed road that goes from Wabasha County Road 11 to the business area on the east side of Hammond. A bar, bank, cafe, city hall and homes are located along this street. Waters are receding in this photo taken mid-morning on Saturday, September 25, 2010. All of the businesses, city hall and most homes along this road were flooded.


Tina and her fiancé, Micheal Mann, are planning a June 25 wedding. The bride will wear the wedding dress she saved from the floodwaters.

“I don’t know how we will get the wedding paid for now…it certainly won’t be all that I planned it to be,” Tina says.

But, despite the financial hardship, the setbacks, the challenges, this determined woman wants to move forward. And that means proceeding with the wedding as planned. Her wedding will give people a break, a reason to “take one night to celebrate all that is real in this life: friends, family and love.”

THIS CONCLUDES my six-part series of stories told through the voice of Hammond flood survivor Tina Marlowe. Thank you, Tina, for the privilege of sharing your story. I admire your strength, your determination and your resiliency.

Thanks also to Katie Shones, who has been my main contact in Hammond since last October. She is one strong, kind woman.

Thanks, too, to Susie Buck for pulling together the many photos featured in this series and to those who allowed their images to be published here.

Sheri Ryan, I am grateful to you also for the use of your photos, but, more importantly, for a deeply personal look at how this flood affected your mom. All too often we view blurs of faces and piles of debris, but we fail to see beyond, to the real hurt that runs deep.

I appreciate every one of you who have so willingly worked with me to tell the story of the people of Hammond through words and photos.

I also appreciate volunteers like Gary Schmidt from the Twin Cities who worked with a Woodbury church to bring volunteers to Hammond in late January and then again one day in March. Gary learned of the need through this blog. I hope to share Gary’s experiences with you in a future post.

I am grateful also to the folks over at Minnesota Public Radio who have plugged my flood series online. In the “Minnesota Today” section, Michael Olson included a reference to my stories in his March 16 statewide blog round-up. My post, “She just wants to hug her house,” was also featured in MPR’S “Blog Box.”

MPR columnist Bob Collins summarized my series and linked to my blog in the “5×8” section of his March 18 “News Cut” column. Bob also publicized my first set of flood stories back in October 2010, when I toured Hammond and Zumbro Falls about two weeks after the flash flood. Thank you, MPR, for helping Hammond’s story reach an even wider audience.

It is my hope, Minnesota Prairie Roots readers, that the flood stories I’ve shared with you this week will touch you. I hope you will be moved to help the residents of Hammond recover from a flood that may have damaged their homes, but has not destroyed their spirits.

These are strong, strong people who continue to need our support, our prayers and our help even six months after the flood.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tips to successful blogging from Minnesota Prairie Roots December 3, 2010

I AM NOT NECESSARILY the self-promoting type, which, for a writer, likely spells missed opportunities.

While I appreciate positive comments, even glowing praise and public recognition, I struggle with marketing myself. I’ve turned down invitations to speak to groups because I dislike giving public presentations. Not that I can’t, and won’t, but, given the choice, I’d rather not. I’m at that place in my life where I don’t feel pressured to do what others expect.

I’m not on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any social networking site that would likely benefit my career.

Rather, I have focused my energy on writing, simply writing, and not shouting to the world, “Hey, look at me, I’m great!”

But today I’m going to shed my conservative Minnesota Lutheran, avoid-the-spotlight persona and share my thoughts on blogging, which in my humble opinion, I’ve become quite good at during the past year. Even writing those words, though, makes me feel uncomfortable and boastful.

Yet, numbers don’t lie. Since launching my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog on July 15, 2009, my readership has soared. A year ago my views totaled an unimpressive 896 for the month of August, my first full month of blogging. This August, I had 6,132 views.

But the numbers get even better. The past three months, my views have scooted close to 10,000 per month with 9,623 views in September, 9,573 in October and a record 9,976 in November. That’s a current average of 332 daily views.

Maybe those numbers are small potatoes in the blogging world. I don’t know and I really don’t care, all that much. I’m happy with where I’m at, although getting paid for blogging would increase my happiness quotient substantially.


The homepage of WordPress.com, chose my "In Praise of Preserving Country Churches" as one of 11 featured posts from among 300,000-plus world-wide on July 10. There's my post in the lower right.

I’ve been featured on the home page of WordPress.com on “Freshly Pressed,” chosen from among hundreds of thousands of bloggers world-wide for that honor. That July 10 selection pushed my views to an all-time high of 1,052 on a single day.

I’ve been categorized among Minnesota’s best bloggers on at least two online publications.

At MinnPost, my posts have been featured numerous times on “Minnesota Blog Cabin” by Justin Piehowski who, weekdays, “surveys hundreds of Minnesota’s best blogs looking for the best of the best.”

Bob Collins, who writes the online “News Cut” for Minnesota Public Radio calls Minnesota Prairie Roots an excellent blog and one of his favorites. “This woman can write,” he wrote in a recent tweet. To get that kind of praise from a respectable media outlet like MPR confirms that I really can blog, and well.

And get this, Minnesota Twins fans, I even made Joe Mauer’s official Web site on June 11 under the section “Joe’s Kemp’s Dairy TV spots,” posted by his mom, Theresa Mauer. She links to my June 17 Minnesota Prairie Roots post, “I may not be Joe Mauer’s mom, but I’ve got it.” Let me tell you, getting onto Mauer’s Web site certainly drove traffic to my blog.

I’m not sure how I’ve managed to achieve all of these honors or grow my readership beyond family and friends. Mostly, I’ve stayed true to my down-to-earth self, writing about my everyday life, the places I visit, the things I do and observations I make about the world around me. In other words, I really haven’t changed how I write because my writing has been noticed.

My writing isn’t particularly opinionated. In fact, the topics of my blog posts seem rather ordinary to me. Perhaps therein lies their appeal. One reader (I must divulge that she is my cousin) says my writing makes her feel good. She likes that I don’t gripe and complain or have an agenda (usually). Another reader, who is a native Minnesotan and New York Times bestselling author living in California, says “Reading your e-magazine is almost like visiting Minnesota again.”

Whatever the reasons for my success, I’m pleased that folks continue clicking on Minnesota Prairie Roots. This validates me as a writer.

Recently a writer-friend asked for blogging tips. After some thought, which really made me examine this blogging passion of mine, I created a list that has proven successful for me.

Even though directed at blogging, these suggestions can apply to writing in general:

  • Keep paragraphs short. Big blocks of copy can be daunting to readers.
  • Use catchy, creative titles.
  • Categorize and/or tag your blogs. I did not tag initially. Big mistake.
  • Use photos. Readers find blogs paired with artwork to be more visually-appealing and interesting.
  • Keep a constant list of blog topics in your head or on paper. This means remaining attentive to everything around you. Almost anything can become a blog post. I never run out of ideas.
  • Engage all of your senses when you write. Paint a picture with words.
  • Use strong verbs. I avoid forms to “to be” whenever possible.
  • Sometimes what you think are the most mundane topics turn out to be the most interesting to readers. Do not underestimate a topic.
  • Story-tell with quotes in a style of creative nonfiction. I always, or almost always, use present tense when I write in this style.
  • Proof your writing to assure that you publish an error-free piece.

Now, with this post I’ve likely broken many of the above guidelines—too few images, too many weak verbs, too many long paragraphs. But this is not my typical writing style or topic. I’ve dared, for one day, to step outside of my comfort zone and promote myself. Thank you for indulging me.

IF YOU ENJOY READING Minnesota Prairie Roots, tell me why. You, after all, dear reader, have encouraged me through your views and your comments. I am grateful for the 72,986 (as of 2:15 p.m. December 2) views I’ve gotten during the past 17 months of writing for Minnesota Prairie Roots. Very grateful.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling