Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Only in Minnesota, North Dakota & Wisconsin February 10, 2018

Ice fishing on Union Lake in rural Rice County, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2017.

 

LIFE CAN BE STRANGER than fiction. As a life-long Minnesotan, I know that to be true.

 

Vang Lutheran Church advertises its annual Lutefisk & Meatball Supper. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

For example, here in Minnesota, we drive onto frozen lakes to drill holes in the ice and then angle for fish. We also organize polar plunges in which we dive into frigid lakes in the winter to raise monies for charities. And we eat cod soaked in lye at annual church dinners. Some of us. Not me, although I’ve tried lutefisk twice.

 

Downtown Fargo, North Dakota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Our neighbors to the east and west can tell similar strange stories. The most recent comes from the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo. On Thursday around lunch-time, a cow escaped from The Little International Livestock Show and roamed the campus for a short time before it was wrangled.

 

This photo, taken in southwestern Minnesota, illustrates the size of the cow which escaped at NDSU on Thursday. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

The NDSU Saddle & Sirloin Club sponsors the show, the largest student-led event on campus with 300 collegiates involved. That likely explains the calm reaction of students in the short video clip I watched of the escape. Students didn’t panic. They continued walking to classes or wherever they were headed. Many of them come from rural areas to this school with numerous ag majors. No reason to get excited about a bulky, wandering bovine.

 

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Then we have Wisconsin, which never ceases to surprise me, especially with its Packers fanaticism. I’ve seen brat buns and popcorn colored green and gold. And in Wautoma, two neighboring houses are painted in Packers colors. At least they were several years ago.

 

My daughter, Miranda, snapped this scene through the back car window while in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Miranda Boyd.

 

But then along came a February 4 report from my daughter, who lives in eastern Wisconsin and who was in Madison for the weekend. She snapped a photo of a guy riding a motorcycle, or maybe it’s a scooter, as snow fell on a 10-degree day. How crazy is that?

TELL ME: What stranger than fiction story can you share from your community or state?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Wisconsin biker photo courtesy of Miranda Boyd

 

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Is it true about “no flannel” in Boston? January 22, 2014

UNTIL MY SON PREPARED for a flight to Boston last spring to visit three colleges, I’d never heard of Tufts University.

My son in a Tufts University sweatshirt. Edited Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

My son in a Tufts University sweatshirt. Edited Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

He had to spell out the name for me, T-U-F-T-S.

That was my introduction to the private research university he now attends after transferring from North Dakota State University. The move to Tufts’ Medford, Massachusetts, campus was the right one for him. He’s challenged in his studies and happy living in a metro area far from the wind-whipped plains of Fargo. I don’t necessarily think he would be where he is today, though, without that year at NDSU.

But back to Tufts, which has a current student population of nearly 11,000 with 5,255 of them undergrads.

Last Thursday I was watching NBC’s Parenthood. The TV show focuses on the lives of the Braverman family, including college student Drew. Drew’s girlfriend, Amy, is currently staying with him in his Berkeley dorm room. I missed the season 4 finale in which Amy revealed she’d gotten into Tufts.

In Thursday’s episode, Amy shared that the girls at Tufts are snobby and everyone is smart and she simply cannot return there because she doesn’t fit in.

Awhile ago, I asked my son if he ever felt out of place at Tufts. I mean, this is a college where lamb is served in the dining center and there’s a sailing team. Not exactly a part of his lower middle class upbringing.

A man of few words, he said that depends on who he is with and that even then he doesn’t let his lack of family wealth bother him. Unlike Amy on Parenthood, I’ve never heard him call anyone at Tufts “snobby.”

Financial aid at Tufts is based on need, the sole reason my son can afford to attend this distinguished university. Annual attendance cost far surpasses our yearly family income. Tufts has set a goal of “ensuring that no highly qualified applicants are turned away because their need exceeds the university’s resources,” according to information on the Giving to Tufts portion of the university’s website. Our family is grateful to Tufts for embracing that philosophy of admitting students “not based on ability to pay, but on ability, pure and simple.”

That all said, when the son was home in Minnesota for holiday break, we went clothes shopping. I swear he grew an inch or more in the three months since I’d seen him.

About one thing he was adamant: “They don’t wear flannel shirts in Boston.” This from a 19-year-old who, only after entering college, began caring about attire. Not to say he dressed poorly. But fashion simply never mattered much to him.

Now he’s back at Tufts with these new clothes: four sweaters, three pairs of jeans, grey pants, and a winter scarf (in Tufts colors).

Legendary Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo.

Legendary Paul Bunyan (dressed in his flannel lumberjack shirt) and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo.

Surprisingly, though, he took his flannel back to Boston, too. He likely can wear the shirts, unnoticed, under his new sweaters.

Had he left his flannel shirts behind in Minnesota, I would have swiped them. I take no shame in dressing like Paul Bunyan.

FYI: Click here to reach Tufts’ Facebook page and the latest on the university’s mention in the Doonesbury comic strip.

Click here to reach Wikipedia’s “Tufts University in popular culture.”

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why NDSU research into growing human bones interests me June 28, 2013

File photo from June of the main entrance to North Dakota State University in Fargo.

File photo from June 2012 shows the main entrance to North Dakota State University in Fargo.

FOR THE MOST PART, I ignore the mass emails sent by whomever, including North Dakota State University, where my son attended his first year of college. He’s transferring to Tufts University in Medford, MA., outside of Boston, this fall.

But this head in a recent NDSU Alumni (I’m not an NDSU alumni) mailing caught my attention:

Researchers Coax Clays to Make Human Bone: Weak bones, broken bones, damaged bones, arthritic bones. Researchers at North Dakota State University, Fargo, are making strides in tissue engineering, designing scaffolds that may lead to ways to regenerate bone.

Arthritic bone.

Up until some seven years ago, I’d never considered arthritic bone, not even thought about arthritis or its debilitating impact on the body and spirit and on mobility.

But then, at age 48 ½, I developed back and hip pain which, initially diagnosed as a pinched sciatic nerve, was eventually correctly diagnosed as arthritis in my right hip. For 2 ½ years I lived with the constant pain until near immobility and an inability to tolerate the pain led me to undergo total right hip replacement five years ago. Given my age, 51, I wanted to put off the surgery as long as possible.

I likely will outlive my hip, which has a life expectancy of 15 – 20 years. That means hip surgery. Again. And that scares the heck out of me because I will be much older, the recovery more challenging.

When I read news about research like that being conducted at NDSU, I am encouraged—hopeful for a better alternative to the current implant system. There have been too many recalls on hip implants. Thus far, mine has not been among them. But pity those people who need to have their defective implants removed and replaced.

To the NDSU researchers who created the system of “3-D mesh scaffold composed of degradable materials compatible to human tissue” in which “cells generate bone and the scaffold deteriorates,” thank you for working on this project.

Do you think you could perfect the process and have it on the market in 10 years?

FYI: Learn more about this NDSU research project by clicking here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dog sled or boat? April 22, 2013

DEAR SON,

In less than three weeks you finish your spring semester classes at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Traveling Interstate 94 on our way to Fargo with hours to go. File photo.

Traveling Interstate 94 on our way to Fargo with hours to go. File photo.

Your dad and I are wondering whether we should come by dog sled or boat to retrieve you and your belongings once we cross the border into North Dakota. What would you suggest?

I’ll admit that, with the continuing snowfall in Fargo, I’m beginning to wonder if your winter will ever end. Kind of like here in southern Minnesota.

The Red River

The placid and narrow Red River photographed from Lindenwood Park in Fargo, June 2012.

And, I’m quite concerned about flooding of the Red River. Everything I read or hear seems to indicate record high water levels.

I viewed a computer simulated graphic of the Red at 42 feet.  (Click here.)  I know NDSU isn’t by the river, but the graphic shows the campus close to an area protected by levees and near areas which could be affected by back up of flood waters through the sewer system. I know, I know, nothing to worry about, right?

I suppose I just have to trust that Fargo officials have the situation under control. I read on the City of Fargo website that Sandbag Central has reopened and that levees will be built to 43 feet, protecting to a river level of 41 feet with two feet of “freeboard,” whatever that means.

The Sertoma Freedom Bridge over the Red River, linking Fargo and Moorhead.

The Sertoma Freedom Bridge over the Red River, linking Lindenwood Park in Fargo and Gooseberry Mound Park in Moorhead. File photo from June 2012.

It’s difficult to imagine, after seeing the Red last summer, how this river could flood into a raging and destructive force. Remember when we walked across that foot bridge over the Red linking Minnesota and North Dakota? I recall not being at all impressed with the size of the river.

The flat landscape near Fargo, on the Minnesota side. File photo.

The flat landscape near Fargo, on the Minnesota side. File photo from February 2012.

But when I consider the flat landscape in and around Fargo, flatter even than the prairie where I grew up (you know, that place you term “the middle of nowhere”), I understand. I compare the flooding of Fargo to spilling a glass of milk onto a table. The milk runs everywhere.

Anyway, when you have time between classes, could you drop me a line and advise?

Dog sled or boat?

Love,
Mom

P.S.  Does Interstate 94, which spans the Red River between Moorhead and Fargo, remain open if the Red floods?

UPDATE: According to information posted at 4:09 p.m. April 23 on the NDSU website, there are “no foreseen threats to the NDSU campus.” The university has a response team in place and continues to monitor the projected Red River level reports and attend meetings with the Fargo City Commission. Click here to read the flood-related statement posted on the NDSU website.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thankful he’s back in Fargo & not stranded along I-94 March 18, 2013

FOX 9 news at 8 a.m. shows just how bad the current weather situation is in Minnesota.

FOX 9 news at 8 a.m. shows just how bad the weather situation is in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Fargo is located above the B in “Blowing.” Faribault lies 300 miles to the south and east along Interstate 35, in the eastern edge of the blizzard warning.

ALREADY SATURDAY AFTERNOON his dad and I were urging him to call Brittany, his ride back to North Dakota State University.

“You need to leave early on Sunday,” we suggested to our 19-year-old. We’d heard the weather forecast for snow and strong winds, creating blizzard conditions. “If you don’t, you’ll end up stranded in some town along I-94 because they’ve closed the interstate.”

He listened. Brittany listened. They left at 10 a.m. Sunday, picking up three other NDSU students en route, arriving six hours later in Fargo. They beat the snow and the wind, if you can ever beat the wind in North Dakota. Many times our son has declared, “It’s a good day in Fargo when the wind doesn’t blow.”

FOX 9 news at 8 a.m. today lists the I-94 and other western Minnesota road closures.

FOX 9 news at 8 a.m. today lists the I-94 and other western Minnesota road closures.

This morning I-94 between Alexandria and Fargo is closed as persistent wind gusts of 40-50 mph sweep through the region creating those white-out conditions, making travel impossible. Along other sections of that interstate, especially in the Stearns County area, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has tagged travel as hazardous.

This morning NDSU is closed. I expect the son is sleeping in.

Even though I’d love to have him home for an extra day of spring break, I’m relieved that my boy is tucked safe inside Johnson Hall. Better there than 300 miles away in Faribault and all of us worrying about how he would make it back to Fargo for classes tomorrow.

You see, always at the back of my mind niggles the memory of a horrific crash along icy I-94 west of Alexandria on February 20, 2012, which killed four young women from Minnesota, all students at NDSU.

TELL ME ABOUT weather and travel in your area. How bad is it out there?

© Text copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Missing my boy, again January 8, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:11 AM
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I’LL ADMIT TO A BIT of melancholy. My son, my youngest, returned to college in Fargo on Sunday. I try not to think that he is 300 miles away to the west, just like my second daughter lives and works 300 miles to the east in Appleton, Wisconsin.

I realize they could live much more distant. Five hours by car in the big wide world is nothing really.

But to a mom accustomed to 26 years of direct face-to-face parenting, the switch to no children in the house is huge.

The funny thing is that I thought I’d adapted. And then, lo, the son returns home for three weeks of Christmas vacation and I get used to him being around and it’s kind of nice to hear that “Mom, can I have a hug?” It’s wonderful to rest my head against my boy, who towers above me. I didn’t mind washing his laundry or weaving around his belongings scattered upon the living room floor. I found myself planning meals based on what he might enjoy; one day I even made his favorite banana cream pie.

Yes, I rather spoiled him.

But not too much.

He accused me in one particular moment of being a helicopter mom. I try hard not to do that, to interfere, to suggest, to offer too much advice. But apparently in this instance I had. I suppose that is one of the toughest parts of parenting, realizing that sometimes lessons are better learned on their own. Miss a deadline and you suffer the consequences. Make the wrong decision and you have to deal with the outcome. Yet, steering our offspring from erring seems a natural parental response.

My 18-year-old son, shortly before my husband and I left him in his dorm room on the campus of North Dakota State University four weeks ago.

Our 18-year-old son, shortly before my husband and I left him in his dorm room on the campus of North Dakota State University in mid-August.

Prior to holiday break, I’d seen my son only four times since mid-August. And each time I noticed subtle changes in him which indicate growth in maturity and independence. He seems also to appreciate me more.

I continue to be impressed by his determination, his constant desire and drive to learn (often on his own), his focus, his discipline.

On numerous occasions, as he huddled over his laptop and a physics book these past few weeks, I had to remind him that he was on Christmas break and should, therefore, take a break from studying. But he seemed persistent in preparing for the physics exam he will soon take in an effort to test out of a class.

The afternoon he bounded down the stairs to tell me he made the dean’s list with a 4.0 GPA and that he’s six credits shy of junior year status going into his second semester at North Dakota State University, he was beaming and I wrapped him in a proud mama hug.

One of my all-time favorite photos of my son at age 5.

One of my all-time favorite portraits of my son at age 5.

In moments like that, I gaze at him and wonder how nearly 19 years could have passed already. Since birth he’s been his own person, the biggest baby in the hospital at the time weighing in at 10 pounds, 12 ounces. He walked at 10 months. He was putting together 100-piece puzzles by age four. Legos were his passion. He taught himself all about computers. He taught himself to yo-yo and then how to unicycle and then yo-yoing and unicycling together. Now he’s learning juggling.

His quest for knowledge seems unstoppable.

A current image of my son in the new eyeglasses he got over Christmas break. he brought home three frames to try for style and then his two sisters and I chose our favorite and we all picked this one. His oldest sister said the style fits his personality and makes him look smart. I agree and think they also age him, which is not a bad thing when you are almost 19 and do not want to look like you are still in high school. Note that these are the try-on frames, which explains the writing on the lens and the tag on the bow.

A current image of my son in the new eyeglasses he got over Christmas break. Note that these are the try-on frames, which explains the writing on the lens and the tag on the bow. I think the frames fit his personality and age him, in a good way.

The movement of time is also certainly unstoppable and I am reminded of that nearly daily, but especially when I consider the growth of children.

While my son was sleeping in this past Saturday morning, I was waiting in a check-out line behind a young father, his first-born cradled in a car seat in a shopping cart. To pass the time, with the father’s permission, I began interacting with his six-month-old roly-poly baby. Jacob smiled and cooed and “talked” in that charming baby way that melts a mother’s heart. And I couldn’t help but advise the new dad to cherish these moments because, before he knew it, his boy would be all grown up, just like mine.

TELL ME, ONCE our children leave home, do we ever truly stop missing them?

AND FOR THOSE OF YOU who have lost children too soon, how do you honor them, hold close their memories, even cope?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Forget shopping in North Dakota on a Sunday morning November 25, 2012

A sign along a city street welcomes us to Fargo, North Dakota, from Moorhead, Minnesota, just across the Red River.

LET’S PRETEND FOR A MOMENT that you are me. You’ve traveled nearly 300 miles from southeastern Minnesota to Fargo, North Dakota, with your husband to visit your son at North Dakota State University in mid-October.

Your son needs basic supplies like laundry detergent and deodorizing powder to sprinkle into his smelly athletic shoes. He also needs long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, socks and a warm scarf to wrap around his neck. Winter, after all, is waiting on flat and windy Fargo’s doorstep.

Being the nice parent that you are, you offer to take your boy shopping. And even though your son detests shopping, he agrees. He is no dummy. He would rather spend Mom and Dad’s money than his own.

So you plan a shopping trip to Target in West Fargo for 10 a.m. Sunday because that will allow the teen to sleep in. Afterward you’ll grab lunch around 11 a.m., then proceed to J.C. Penney (you checked online and Penneys does not open until noon) and leave town by 1 p.m. That is the plan. You have 300 miles to drive yet today.

But the entire plan is tossed out the window when you arrive at Target around 10:30 a.m. Sunday to find the doors locked. This big box retailer does not open until noon.

You suggest heading to Walmart. Your son gets on his smart phone, which he’s recently purchased quite successfully without your assistance or money, thank you. The three of you are soon winding your way around West Fargo, aiming for the discount retailer many love to hate.

Pulling into the parking lot, you notice that the place appears mostly deserted of cars and certainly of customers. As you draw nearer to the front doors, you spot signs stationed at the entrances:

The sign posted in front of the West Fargo Walmart on a Sunday morning.

OK, then.

Now what? Change of plans. Again.

Time to proceed with Plan C, which would be to check if Moorhead, Minnesota, just across the Red River, has a Target. It does. So you aim west for the border, driving five-plus miles, burning up gas because you don’t have time to wait for North Dakota’s stores to open.

You arrive at the Minnesota Target to find the parking lot packed with vehicles bearing mostly North Dakota license plates.

If only you had known about the Sunday morning shopping ban in NoDak, you would have planned differently and squeezed in a Saturday evening shopping outing. You would not be a now unhappy and grumpy Fargo visitor.

But you’ve heard/read nothing of this Blue Law (which you can read about in detail by clicking here)…

How are you supposed to know this stuff? You live in southeastern Minnesota.

And why is such a seemingly antiquated law still on the books?

FYI: I DID NOT REALIZE until I later spoke with a friend, a Minnesotan who grew up in North Dakota and whose son lives and works in Fargo, that the Blue Law not all that long ago prohibited retailers from any Sunday sales. So I suppose I should consider it progress that North Dakota retailers can now open their doors at noon on Sunday.

Secondly, this same friend told me that North Dakota has a five percent sales tax on clothing, of which I was unaware. The trip back across the river to the Target store in Moorhead thus saved us some tax dollars. However, according to information I found online, some North Dakota legislators want to repeal that tax. You can read about those efforts by some Fargo Democrats by clicking here.

Finally, can anyone explain the origin of the Blue Law in North Dakota? I expect it dates back to Sunday as a day of rest, as the Lord’s Day. I respect that and hope that most would choose worship over shopping. Yet, times have changed and church services are held on Saturdays too and, well, you know…

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling