Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Gardening: Passing along my rural heritage & much more May 2, 2023

Seeds for sale at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2018)

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, my 4-year-old grandson excitedly shared that his broccoli was growing. His mom, my eldest, clarified. Sixteen broccoli seeds and one carrot seed had sprouted, popping through potting soil in three days. That surprised even me, who grew up in a gardening family with most of our food from farm to table, long before that became a thing.

Annuals that are easy to grow from seed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

A year ago, I gifted my grandchildren with several packets of seeds. Flowers only. Zinnias and bachelor buttons, easy-to-grow-from-seed annuals that blossom throughout the summer. Isaac and his mom planted the seeds in flower pots. And then watched seeds emerge into tender plants that grew and bloomed in a jolt of color.

Old-fashioned zinnias grown by my friend Al and sold at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

That was enough for the preschooler to get the gardening bug. This year, in selecting seeds for Isaac and his older sister, I added vegetables to the mix of flowers. Spinach because I knew it would grow quickly and flourish in Minnesota’s still cool weather. And carrots, because Isaac wanted to plant them. Later, he told his mom he also wanted to plant broccoli because he likes broccoli. I’m not sure that’s true. But Amber bought broccoli seeds for her son, whom she’s dubbed Farmer Isaac.

“Summer in a Jar,” sold at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. This photo published in the book “The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired The Little House Books” by Marta McDowell. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2015)

I can’t think of a better way to encourage kids to try vegetables. And to teach them about plants and that veggies don’t just come from the grocery store. With most families now a generation or two or three removed from the land, it’s more important than ever to initiate or maintain a connection rooted in the soil.

Several types of tomatoes grow in the garden outside Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Soil was the gardening starting point for my grandchildren. Once when they stayed overnight, I got out the gardening shovels and directed them toward a corner flowerbed and a patch of dirt. The dirt flew as they dug and uncovered earthworms and half a walnut shell and bugs. I didn’t care if their hands got dirty. I simply wanted them to have fun, to feel the cold, damp earth, to appreciate the soil beneath and between their fingers.

My great niece waters plants inside her family’s mini greenhouse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2018)

I was a bit surprised when my eldest embraced gardening with her kids. But then again, she was the daughter who always watered flowers and observed that “the flowers are opening their mouths” (translation, “the tulips are blooming”) as a preschooler. I never had much of a garden due to lack of a sunny spot in my yard. But I usually grew tomatoes in pots and always had pots overflowing with flowers and flowers in beds. So Isaac and Isabelle’s mom did have a sort of gardening background.

Heirloom tomato at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

As a farmer’s daughter and a grandma, passing along something like gardening is like passing along part of my rural heritage. My Grandma Ida always had a big garden, an essential with a family of 10 kids. She continued to garden throughout her life, long after her kids were gone and she moved to town. Likewise, my mom planted a massive garden to feed her six kids. My siblings and I helped with the gardening—pulling weeds, picking vegetables… And shelling peas. Of all the garden-related tasks, the rhythmic act of running my thumb along an open pod to pop pearls of peas into a pan proved particularly satisfying. Plus, I loved the taste of fresh peas from the garden. There’s nothing like it except perhaps the juicy goodness of a sun-ripened tomato or leaf lettuce or a just-pulled carrot with dirt clinging to the root.

My friend Al vends flowers and vegetables at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

I don’t expect my grandchildren will garden like their great great grandma or great grandma. But that’s OK. They’ve been introduced to gardening. They see now how seeds sprout and develop into plants that yield beauty or food. Hopefully they will gain an appreciation for garden-fresh, whether fresh from the pots on their patio or deck, or from a farmers’ market.

Purple beans grow in the library garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Even though they live in a south metro suburb, my grandkids remain close to the land with farm fields within view, not yet replaced by massive housing developments. It’s important to me that Isabelle and Isaac always feel connected to their rural heritage, that they value the land, that they grow up to remember the feel of cold, damp dirt on their hands. That they understand their food is not sourced from grocery stores, but rather from the earth.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating 75 years of radio ministry at Trinity, Faribault April 27, 2023

Signage indicating the Trinity service is airing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, when I wasn’t attending worship services at my church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault, I switched on the radio. In the safety and shelter of my home, I listened to Sunday morning worship services broadcast on Faribault-based KDHL radio. I was grateful for the AM listening option. I could have watched live-streaming. But I preferred the less distracting radio delivery.

Vintage switches inside the Trinity Radio Club booth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

Eventually, I returned to in-person worship. But today I’m back tuning the radio to 920 AM at 8 am Sunday because of a health issue that leaves me sensory sensitive and more. I can’t tolerate the sound of the organ or the multi-layered sensory input of being among people in a busy environment.

The original microphone used in 1948. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

That’s the backstory behind my personal appreciation of the Trinity Radio Club, which has broadcast church services for 75 years, first airing on April 25, 1948. That’s remarkable in longevity, in decades of sharing the Gospel initially via the air waves and then via live-streaming and other online platforms.

The early transmitter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

This weekend, April 29 and 30, the Trinity Radio Club celebrates its 75th anniversary during worship and during a special program between Sunday morning services. It’s important to commemorate and honor the work of long ago visionaries who embraced a radio ministry. They initially pledged $5/each toward the effort and also committed to paying 35 cents weekly to support the broadcasts. That doesn’t seem like much money today. But I expect it was a sacrifice in 1948, when the first broadcast cost $46.

The original coverage area for KDHL radio, which began broadcasting in 1948. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

Throughout its 75 years, the Trinity Radio Council (today the Trinity Radio Club) has remained strong in its mission of reaching people with the good news of salvation, whether locally or an ocean away. The club has continued to upgrade technology, to make improvements that assure uninterrupted transmission of services via radio and online. Unlike many churches during the COVID pandemic, Trinity was already up and running with a strong, safe and viable way of reaching and connecting with people outside the walls of the sanctuary.

Vintage radio room art centers on Christ. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

For awhile, Randy and I (mostly Randy) were part of the club’s mission. Once a month, sometimes more, Randy would take a DVD of the 8 am worship service to a local nursing home. Sometimes I accompanied him. He would lead part of the service and then play the sermon part of the recording for residents. Many of them slept through the entire thing. But, yet, when Randy led them in The Lord’s Prayer, they would join in. No memory issues. No sleepiness. Just a roomful of the faithful praying.

The operations tech hub inside the radio studio at Trinity in 2018. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

That word “faithful” seems appropriate to insert here. Generations have committed to maintaining and expanding the Trinity Radio Club ministry. That comes via financial support and volunteering. When our tech-savvy son was in high school, he volunteered. Every broadcast and streamed service requires people in the soundproof studio working the computer, the switches, all the tech stuff I don’t understand.

A view from the studio overlooking the sanctuary in 2018. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

But I understand one thing. I understand the importance of this ministry personally. When I can’t be in church, and there are others just like me, I can still be there.

Gratitude on the screen, Trinity sanctuary in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

I am grateful to those individuals who saw the need for a radio broadcast 75 years ago. I am grateful for the continuing expansion via technology. I am grateful for a congregation which financially and otherwise supports the Trinity Radio Club. I am grateful for listeners who also donate. It takes a joint effort, a team, dedication and hard work. And for the initial founders of the Trinity Radio Council, it took a vision based on faith to launch this ministry which has blessed so many, including me, during its 75-year history.

FYI: To learn more background on the Trinity Radio Club, click here to read a post I published in 2018 on the 70th anniversary of this ministry.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Randy is retiring after a long career as an automotive machinist April 26, 2023

My husband at work in the Parts Department, Northfield, machine shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

NEARLY A YEAR AGO, RANDY received the devastating news that he would be losing his job of almost 39 years. Boom! Just like that, with no warning of the impending sale of Parts Department, Inc., Northfield, where he worked as the sole automotive machinist. He went to a store meeting one evening and came home with news that the business was sold and the new out-of-state owners were closing the busy and profitable machine shop. A life-long of hard work and dedication unappreciated. That event nearly broke us emotionally, mentally. Stress pressed upon us in those initial months of uncertainty. Randy was not yet full retirement age. How do you even begin to deal with job loss in your mid-sixties?

Here we are, a year later, in a much better place. It took awhile to get there. After marking his final day at NAPA on July 29, 2022, Randy was unemployed for nearly three months. It was a period of adjustment, a time of uncertainty, a time of waiting.

One of several truck loads of shop equipment moved from Northfield to rural Randolph in August 2022. (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)


Then, in mid-October, my husband started working as the automotive machinist at newly-opened Nate’s Machine Shop & Diesel Repair, rural Randolph. Nate bought the equipment from NAPA Northfield. A wise decision given so few people work as automotive machinists and there’s a high demand for the specialized, skilled service. There were a lot of really angry customers when the NAPA shop closed and Randy lost his job. That added to the stress. Randy has always been dedicated to taking care of his customers.


He won’t be doing that much longer, though. He’s transitioning into retirement. And from 4-7 pm this Friday, April 28, Nate’s Garage will host a retirement party for Randy and a grand opening of the machine shop. Randy has been training an apprentice. It takes time, patience and effort to teach someone what you’ve been doing for 43 years. But the reality is that Randy doesn’t want to work forever, even if customers think he should. They will have to trust the new shop guy, Tyler.

Those three months without work caused something to shift inside Randy. He realized that life is about much more than work. And that is the good that came from losing his job. He’s full retirement age now, too, which makes the decision to ease out of his job easier. He no longer feels obligated to be there for his customers.

And it helps that he’s now leaving on his terms, in his time, rather than being shoved out the door.

Before and after cylinder head cleaning process. (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)


It’s time to be done with long work weeks of physically demanding labor that have taken a toll on his body. He’s been working full-time since graduating from the auto mechanics, auto parts and auto parts management programs at Brainerd Vocational Technical School in 1976. He started in auto parts, at a store in Rochester, eventually relocating to Faribault. There he learned automotive machining. After a short stint in Owatonna, Randy accepted a job with NAPA Northfield, growing a customer base that stretches across the country. He grew to become one of the best in his field in southern Minnesota.

If you do the math, that’s 47 years of working full-time in the automotive field, plus the time he worked while at Brainerd Vo-Tech. So let’s just round the number to 50.

I am incredibly proud of my talented and hardworking husband. He possesses a strong work ethic and is devoted to great customer service. He’s old school that way. I’ve witnessed him solve problems that others can’t. He’s really good at what he does and he deserves to be celebrated. And thanked.

The service door entry to the machine shop at Parts Department, Northfield. Randy really wanted that machine shop sign, given he worked there for nearly 40 years. He asked, but… (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)


I welcome your presence at his retirement party (note, he won’t arrive until around 5 pm). I welcome your congratulatory messages in the comments section here. And I invite you to send him a congratulatory card the old-fashioned way, via snail mail. I want Randy to be recognized, honored, celebrated for 50 years of selfless service to others. He deserves the accolades. I want him to feel the gratitude, the love. He’s worked hard all of his life. And now it’s time for Randy to rest, to do what he wants, when he wants.

Randy’s NAPA automotive machine shop toolbox. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

FYI: Nate’s Garage is located at 1471 310th Street Way, Cannon Falls. The shop is two miles south of Randolph along State Highway 56. Food and beverages will be provided by the R-Bar. The celebration is from 4-7 pm. Again, Randy won’t arrive until @ 5pm and I’ll be there if I’m feeling well enough to attend.

PLEASE CLICK HERE to read a previous post about Randy’s work as an automotive machinist, which is different from machining.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thoughts following the funeral of slain Pope County, Minnesota, Deputy Josh Owen April 24, 2023

Josh Owen with his canine partner. (Photo credit: Pope County Sheriff’s Department)

Let us go forth in peace.

Those final words from the Rev. Bryan Taffe, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lowry in western Minnesota, concluded a Saturday morning funeral service for Pope County Deputy Josh Owen, shot and killed April 15 while responding to a call of domestic violence. Taffe’s message and final blessing comforted me as I watched TV coverage of the deputy’s funeral some 180 miles northwest of Faribault in Glenwood.

I didn’t know the law enforcement officer killed on his 44th birthday. But, collectively, as a state, we knew Josh. He was described by speakers as hardworking, a common sense individual, calm under pressure, a family man… The kind of guy you would want having your back, whether on the battlefields of Iraq or in rural Pope County, Minnesota.


Lt. Col. John Anderson of the Minnesota National Guard served as Josh’s platoon leader during a 22-month deployment, including 16 months in Iraq. He shared of his soldier’s selfless heroism. Anderson learned early on to “always pick Josh.” He could count on him to handle dangerous situations, including the rescue of a severely-injured soldier in what he described as “a killing zone.”

An emotional Pope County Chief Deputy Nathan Brecht echoed Anderson’s theme of relying on and trusting that Josh could handle anything. His physical bulk proved invaluable. Yet, he held a tender side, showing compassion to a suicidal man and encouragement to a young woman in the throes of drug addiction.


As I listened to Anderson, Brecht and his cousin by marriage, Josh Palmateer, a clear picture began to emerge of Josh Owen. For me that was important, to begin to understand the man behind the badge, the man behind the headlines. The husband of Shannon, father to 10-year-old Rylan, friend, co-worker, son, cousin…protector.

Josh had a distinct laugh, pulled pranks with his fellow soldiers, had an insatiable thirst for Mountain Dew, loved lifting weights, hated doing paperwork. His motto: “Don’t start sh*t you can’t finish.”

I embraced Chief Deputy Brecht’s poetically descriptive image. When he sees a crack of lightning and hears a roll of thunder, he will think of Josh. Campfires and fishing and drinking an IPA will also remind him of the guy he could count on.


At times, I wondered if the grieving deputy would make it through his remembrances of Josh. But he did, and with an important message. He vowed to tell his co-workers that he appreciates and loves them. Brecht regrets not doing that with Josh. He thanked the community for its outpouring of support, sharing that “every act of kindness sustains us.” And he referenced one of my favorite bible verses, Romans 8:28: All things work together for good to those who love God… Admittedly, Brecht said finding the good in Josh’s tragic death is not easy. But he said he’s gotten to know the family better and understands the importance of expressing love, aloud, to others. Like Brecht, I firmly believe that something good comes in every challenge, although it can take awhile to see that. For me, the good has often emerged in empathy, compassion and, yes, reaching out with kindness.

More scripture was quoted at the funeral held in the Minnewaska Area High School gymnasium packed with mourners, including hundreds of law enforcement officers. Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. By the time Josh Palmateer quoted Joshua 1:9, I was not surprised. That is my Confirmation verse, words that embolden me to trust.


As the memorial service closed with a message by the Lutheran pastor, I felt joined in grief to the 4,000-plus mourners in that rural high school gymnasium. I felt connected and comforted. As a Christian, I appreciated the clergy’s hopeful message of eternal life. I appreciated, too, his reference to The Beatitudes, recorded in Matthew 5. Most of us know them: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God… But Rev. Taffe explained the blessed part in a way that I’d not previously grasped. “You may not be feeling blessed,” he told the crowd. He then went on to explain that being blessed in grief “means God is showing favor on you…in deep sadness you are in God’s hands more than any other time.” That resonated with me, deep within my soul.

When the funeral service and TV coverage ended simultaneously at noon, I felt emotionally drained. But I also felt better for having learned about Josh Owen—the deputy and the man—and better for having heard inspirational messages. Calls to express love, to realize that we can unite collectively, give me hope.

Let us go forth in peace.


FYI: Click here to read Josh Owen’s obituary and how you can support the family via The Josh Owen Memorial Fund.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflecting on Earth Day April 21, 2023

A retro tray I purchased at a second-hand shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I AM OF THAT AGE, not quite old enough to have once considered myself a hippie, an anti-war activist or a rebellious, anti-establishment young person coming of age. But I did embrace the peace symbol and embroider flowers on my home-sewn gauzy shirts accenting lime green bell bottoms. I wore a prisoner of war bracelet and Earth Shoes, a marketing gimmick more than anything.

Golden light slices across the sky above Mother Earth at King Mill Dam in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2018)

I was on the edge of a generation that no longer accepted the status quo. The generation that latched onto causes, the generation weary of war and wanting to effect change. That applied also to the early 1970s growing awareness of environmental issues and an earth which needed, still needs, protecting, nurturing, care.

A banner marks the 2022 Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square in Northfield. This year’s event has been moved indoors to First United Church of Christ. For a complete listing of 2023 events, click here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

In 1970, the first celebration of Earth Day happened. Now here we are 53 years later and still trying to deal with issues affecting our planet. A lot of good has happened in those five decades, especially in creating awareness. Sometimes that has led to action. But a lot has also deteriorated.

I thought about that, specifically, “What do I do in my everyday life that reflects care for the world in which I live?”

Topping my list is buying used rather than new. It helps that I really don’t like to shop and that I don’t even care about stuff all that much. No one will ever view me as fashion conscious. I simply don’t care.

This peace-themed art painted on burlap by Jose Maria de Servin, is one of my favorite artworks. I purchased it at a recycled art sale at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Nearly all of the furniture in my house has come from family, garage sales or thrift shops. The same for art. I love art. It is admittedly my one indulgence. But the art I own—and it’s a lot, enough so that I rotate it off and on my walls—has come from second-hand sources. The dishes in my cupboard were my mom’s. Drinking glasses are vintage. Serving pieces and bowls were passed down or purchased second-hand.

Hanging laundry on the line has been around forever. I photographed this clothespin bag in an exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home,” at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. And, yes, I have a clothespin bag. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

Then there’s laundry. For decades I’ve dried laundry outside on a clothesline. I love the task of rhythmically clipping clothing to line. It’s therapeutic in connecting me with nature. I feel the sun, if it’s shining. Or I feel the nip of frosty weather numbing my fingers. I feel the wind, hear the birds, notice the shift of seasons. I am attune to Earth.

In the winter, I layer laundry over a drying rack. Seldom do I use my electric dryer. I’m trying to conserve energy, do my part.

A reminder at last year’s Northfield Earth Day to stop using plastic bags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

I also use cloth bags. But only sometimes. I take my boomer-rang cloth bag to bag books at the library. At least I’m consistent with that. But I need to use cloth all the time at all the grocery stores I shop, not just the one that requires bringing your own bags.

I recycle wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbon, bows and gift bags to the point that my extended family ridicules me for that behavior. I learned this from my mom, who did the same, but for economic reasons. I don’t care if my siblings laugh. I’m doing what’s environmentally right.

Admittedly, I can do more. But it’s a start. Every single effort, big or small, matters. We only have one Earth and we all need to care, and do our part.

Chalked onto the sidewalk at Northfield’s Bridge Square during the 2022 Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

TELL ME: What are you doing in an effort to protect and care for our planet?

FYI: Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day. Celebrations are planned locally in Northfield and also at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Calling all cardinals April 20, 2023

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Cardinal photographed at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

PERHAPS HE SHOULDN’T MESS with their bird brains. That’s not Randy’s intention when he whistles back at whistling cardinals. But my husband seems to enjoy the challenge, the sport, the act of communicating with the cardinals that frequent our neighborhood.

A bird nest and hatched egg (not a cardinal’s) found in my yard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2021)

This time of year especially—which in Minnesota means weather that is spring on the calendar but yet sometimes still very much winter in reality—erupts in birdsong. Trees show just the slightest hint of green. Birds sense the shifting season, soon time to craft a nest, settle in and raise a family.

Cardinal at River Bend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Randy recognizes that this boisterous season of bird calls brings endless opportunities to practice his cardinal calls. He doesn’t really need practice, in my opinion. He’s nailed the cardinal’s whistle so well that, if I close my eyes and listen, I can’t distinguish the human from the bird, the bird from the human.

Whether the birds can tell the difference, I’m uncertain. But the cardinals always answer him, which tells me Randy’s mimic of their whistle is convincing.

Barn swallow nests cling to a building at the Rice County Fairgrounds, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021)

I’ve never been much of a bird person, having grown up with rather common, plain birds like blackbirds, sparrows, robins and the detestable barn swallows. The bomb-diving swallows “attacking” me (so it seemed) as I pushed a wheelbarrow of ground feed down the barn aisle is the stuff of nightmares. Those unpleasant memories will never make me a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

Only one bird on my native prairie home place could be considered anything but ordinary. It was not the cardinal; there were none. Rather we had a pair of Baltimore Orioles, which my mom adored. They were “her” birds, a bit of exotic avian beauty in her ordinary farm life world.

Cardinal at River Bend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In my current-day ordinary town life world, the cardinal is my exotic bird. A flash of red. A sharp whistle that cuts through the street noise. And a time for me to bear witness to a conversation between man and bird.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite bird? Any bird stories to share. I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Book review: Things you gotta see & do in Minnesota showcased in new travel guidebook April 17, 2023

(Image source: Julie Jo Larson’s website)

WHETHER YOU’RE A LIFE-LONG Minnesotan, a newbie or a visitor, Julie Jo Larson’s newly-published 100 Things to Do in Minnesota Before You Die guidebook is an invaluable resource for exploring this place I call home. I’ve lived here my entire life, but only experienced or visited one-quarter of the listings in Larson’s travel guide.

Babe the Blue Ox of Paul Bunyan legend stands along Nisswa’s Main Street. In her book, Larson encourages readers to seek out the many Minnesota-centric statues found throughout our state. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

Minnesota is an expansive state, spanning 400 miles from north to south and 350 miles from east to west. So there’s lots to see and do from prairie to woodland, from lakes to rivers, from bluffs to valleys, from small towns to bigger cities. Larson offers a good mix of destinations and activities.

Domeier’s German Store, nestled in a residential neighborhood for decades, is a must-see German import shop in New Ulm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I should note that I feel a kinship with Larson in a commonality of roots. She was born in New Ulm, in Brown County next to my home county of Redwood in southwestern Minnesota. New Ulm, situated in the Minnesota River Valley and rich in German heritage and culture, has long been a favorite community of mine. There’s so much to see and do from touring and sampling beer at August Schell Brewing Company; shopping at compact German import store, Domeier’s; exploring Flandrau State Park along the Cottonwood River; watching the Glockenspiel; and lots more. Larson now lives in rural Brainerd and has already written a guide on the Minnesota Northwoods. Her love for Minnesota shines.

Craft beer flights are served on old movie reels at Sleepy Eye Brewing, housed in a former movie theater. While not included in Larson’s book, I recommend a stop at this unique southwestern Minnesota brewery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In creating this travel book, Larson divides her suggested “things to do” into five categories: Food and Drink, Music and Entertainment, Sports and Recreation, Culture and History, and Shopping and Fashion.

The bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs every July 4 in North Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I so now want to try the chicken wild rice pizza at Poor Guy’s Pizza in Moose Lake. That—the wild rice part—sounds incredibly Minnesotan. I want to tour the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm to learn more about musicians and bands like Monroe Crossing, which performs each July Fourth in North Morristown. I want to wander among the 50 metal sculptures crafted by Ken Nyberg in Vining simply because I love outdoor public art. I want to tour the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in Onamia to learn more about that region’s Indigenous peoples. I want to peruse the handcrafted goods at The Shoppes of Little Falls. I want to…

I climbed up to the tower, but not up the Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower. I’d suggest combining a stop here with Pequot Lakes’ annual Bean Hole Days in July. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2021)

Yes, there’s a lot to do in Minnesota. Some things on Larson’s list, though, I won’t do. I won’t travel into the depths of the earth at the Soudan iron ore mine. I won’t climb to the top of a fire tower at Pequot Lakes, although I’ve hiked to it. I won’t zip through the trees 175 feet off the ground on a Kerfoot Canopy Tour in the Minnesota River Valley at Henderson. But other readers of Larson’s guidebook will and that’s good. Her “100 things to do” offers a variety of experiences and places that appeal to diverse interests.

At Minneopa State Park, Mankato, visitors can get up close with a bison herd on a drive-through across the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2019)

As a life-long southern Minnesotan who has explored this region extensively, I especially appreciate Larson’s tips from other areas of this vast state. She even breaks down her list to activities by seasons and suggested itineraries. Black-and-white photos scattered through the pages and a centerfold of color images only further entice readers to get out and explore.

A walleye statue fronts Lake Mille Lacs in Garrison. The walleye is Minnesota’s state fish. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Bottom line, 100 Things to Do in Minnesota Before You Die rates as an excellent resource for anyone planning a road trip, looking for something to do/see while in a specific area of Minnesota or even just seeking to learn more about the North Star State.

You’ll find great hamburgers and homemade pies at The Dam Store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

Looking for a great slice of pie? Larson recommends (and so do I) the Rapidan Dam Store, yes, by the dam at Rapidan (which is near Mankato). Want to enjoy art in a top-notch museum along the Mississippi River? Visit the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona. Interested in a cave tour? Head to Niagra Cave near Harmony. Wanna see a replica Viking ship? The Hjemkost Center in Moorhead features one. Need a book fix? Visit any one of Minnesota’s independent bookstores.

The independent bookstore portion of Victor Lundeen Company in Fergus Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

And while we’re talking books, buy a copy of 100 Things to Do in Minnesota Before You Die, published by Reedy Press. Support a Minnesota author while, bonus, learning about all sorts of places to visit and things to do in this place Larson and I call home.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Inspired by an outdoor community gathering spot in Marshall April 13, 2023

Terrace 1872, under development in September 2022 in downtown Marshall, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

WHEN I PHOTOGRAPHED an under construction patio while visiting Marshall in mid-September, I wondered exactly what was up with this space. And then I forgot about it…until now.

The Lyon County Historical Society Museum, housed in a former library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

It was a warm and sunny day when I happened upon the patio project in the heart of Marshall’s downtown business district. This ag-based community and college town sits on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, some 20 miles west of my hometown. I was back in the area to view two of my poems on display in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum. After touring the museum, Randy and I did a short walk-about in a downtown that looks nothing like the downtown I remember from my last visit 40 years earlier.

During that brief tour, we came across the developing outdoor area. I was impressed by what I saw—by the well-laid pavers, the strong arched entry, the cluster of patio tables and chairs, and the then-unfilled planter bed. I envisioned plants and flowers adding a calming natural balance to hard surfaces.

An unreadable (to me) ghost sign speaks to Marshall’s history. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

My eyes saw all of this. But, still, I didn’t know the backstory until now. This is Terrace 1872, a public gathering space next to City Hall. It came to be after the former Marshall Hotel was demolished, leaving a narrow, empty lot. Local visionaries saw this as an opportunity to create a community gathering spot. And so it will be. And the name, well, Terrace is self-explanatory. But 1872 represents the year Marshall became a city.

A mural, “At the Bend of the Redwood,” sprawls across a business in the heart of downtown Marshall. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I love this concept of an outdoor area downtown where visitors, shoppers and downtown employees can meet, relax, just be. I also envision Terrace 1872 as a site for pop-up events—mini art shows, concerts, poetry readings… The possibilities seem endless for this pocket park.

Plans are to add a sculpture or art piece to the terrace, enhancing a downtown already graced by murals. Online plans also show movable fire pits and patio lights strung between posts. I appreciate the vision of an inviting and welcoming space to gather.

Businesses across the street from Terrace 1872. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’d love to see my community of Faribault adopt Marshall’s Terrace 1872 idea and create a similar mini gathering spot in the heart of our downtown. We have many vacant lots left after buildings were demolished. Previously demolished buildings were replaced by parking lots. Faribault now needs some greenery and additional outdoor public art infused into downtown, creating a peaceful place for people to gather, connect, relax, grow a sense of community while outdoors. I hope the visionaries here follow Marshall’s lead…

TELL ME: Do you have a Terrace 1872 in your community or have you seen one in another community? I’d love to hear details.


The powerful impact of a Little Free Library April 11, 2023

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The beautiful handcrafted LFL donated to my hometown of Vesta in 2012 by Todd Bol. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2012)

TEN YEARS AGO, Todd Bol, co-founder of the Little Free Library, drove three hours from Hudson, Wisconsin, with his wife, Susan, to deliver and install a LFL in my hometown. That act of kindness fulfilled my life-long dream of a library in Vesta, a small farming community on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. Growing up on a farm a mile from town, I longed for a library. So when Todd offered to make that dream come true, I felt overjoyed.

The team that worked to bring a Little Free Library to Vesta includes Dorothy Marquardt, left, and Karen Lemcke, representing the sponsoring Vesta Commercial Club, LFL co-founder Todd Bol and me (holding a copy of a poetry anthology I donated). (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2012)

On a July afternoon in 2012, the Bols, a local newspaper reporter, two community leaders and I gathered outside the Vesta Cafe for the library planting. Todd and I then shelved the books we brought. From there the project grew with the cafe operators adding shelving inside for more books, and magazines. A librarian from nearby Wabasso contributed eight bags of books. And I brought more whenever I visited my mom. Community members embraced the LFL. Today the library has expanded into the City Hall/Community Center with a library based there. That’s inside the former Vesta Elementary School where all those years ago I learned to love books from teachers who read The Little House and other chapter books aloud each day after lunch. That compensated for the lack of an in-school library.

The books Todd Bol and I placed inside Vesta’s LFL. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2012)

At the time of his donation to Vesta, Todd called this the first in his Small Towns Minnesota LFL Movement. He aimed to get LFLs into rural communities without libraries. He died in 2018 from pancreatic cancer. But his mission continues today through the LFL’s Impact Library Program designed to reach underserved urban, suburban, rural and indigenous communities without, or with limited access to, books.

A Tardis LFL in a front yard in Waseca. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2018)

Thus far, the St. Paul-based nonprofit has donated more than 1,500 LFLs filled with books via the Impact Library Program. That includes 14 in Minnesota. One went to the small town of Goodridge in northwestern Minnesota near the Canadian border. The closest library is 20 miles away. I can relate to that geographical distance given I also lived 20 miles from a library as a child.

But even in big cities, there’s a need for LFLs. During National Reading Month in March, one was placed inside the governor’s office at the Minnesota State Capitol in celebration of books and accessibility to books.

Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2022)

Today I live several blocks from the public library in Faribault, a city of nearly 25,000 about 120 miles from my hometown. I’ve spotted many LFLs in Faribault neighborhoods. And I’ve also seen many others in Minnesota and beyond, most placed and maintained by individuals or organizations. I have easy access to books.

A LFL in an east-side Faribault neighborhood. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Yet, even with a public library nearby, a library may not be accessible to all. For example, in Le Center, a small town about 30 miles west of Faribault, a LFL was still needed, according to Christine. She applied for a free LFL and got one. In her application to the Impact Library Program, Christine noted the many low income families (including migrants) who live in this rural community and who have limited access to books. Now they have one more book source in a LFL. Also in southern Minnesota, the cities of Austin and Winona (both with public libraries), have LFLs as part of the Impact Library Program.

A LFL in downtown Decorah, Iowa. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

When I think back to the July day Todd Bol arrived in my hometown 10 years ago with a LFL and books donated by participating publishers, I feel such gratitude. He told me at the time how much he loved books. And he showed that by bringing a little library to a town without a library. From there, the library in Vesta became so much more than little. It became big. Bigger than I ever dreamed.

Photographed in a front yard in Somerville, MA., in 2016. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2016)

Books opened, still open, the world for me. They took, still take, me on adventures to places I will never visit, experiences I will never experience. Books grew, still grow, my love of words. And that love of words evolved into a love of writing. That’s powerful.

A LFL in downtown Plainview, a small southeastern Minnesota town. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2022)

FYI: If you’re in need of a LFL in your community or neighborhood, apply to the Impact Library Program. There are requirements such as maintaining and stocking the LFL, hosting a community event and more.

TELL ME: Are you the sponsor of a LFL or do you have one near you? I’d like to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Easter memories of song, tattoos & faith April 9, 2023

My favorite Easter hymn. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IT IS MY ABSOLUTE favorite Easter hymn—“I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” And there is a reason behind that choice.

As a child, I sang that song with my Sunday School class during Easter worship services at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta. Dressed in our Easter finery—girls in pastel dresses and Easter hats, boys in dress pants and shirts, some with bow ties cinching their necks—we belted out the joyful words about the risen Lord.

To this day, I can recite most of the verses. The words are that ingrained in my memory. Words of triumph, love, blessings, assurance and so much more. I feel my soul filling with Easter morning hope in the memories of singing that aged hymn.

I admittedly cannot carry a tune or read a single musical note. And I admit to a bit of fear on those long ago Easter mornings in rural southwestern Minnesota. Not fear about forgetting the words to a hymn. But rather a dislike of sitting in the St. John’s balcony with only a low, partial wall separating me from the sanctuary below. I never jostled for the front pew in that upstairs packed with kids.

I hold another memory from Easter morning. Not of danger, but rather of youthful disobedience. Mom asked my siblings and me not to tattoo our arms before church services. Of course, we didn’t listen and excitedly held washcloth to paper tattoos, imprinting temporary art (from Easter egg dyeing kits) onto our skin. In the end, I don’t think anyone really cared as long as we showed up to sing at church.

And so all these decades later, I remember my favorite hymn and how my faith has carried me through life. Through joyful moments, through ordinary days, through really difficult times…

He lives to bless me with his love.

He lives to help in time of need.

I know that my Redeemer lives!

A joyful Easter to all of you from my home in southern Minnesota, not from the balcony of St. John’s!

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite Easter hymn and/or memory? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling