Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My granddaughter turns one: A celebration in images & words April 18, 2017

 

TO WATCH MY GRANDDAUGHTER gives me such joy. To hold her and hug her and kiss her swells my heart with such love. To watch my eldest care for and love her baby girl along with her husband swells my heart with even more love.

I’ve only been a grandma for a year. But it’s long enough to know just how much I love this new role.

 

 

 

 

This past weekend family and friends celebrated the first birthday of our darling Isabelle with a The Very Hungry Caterpillar themed party. It was a perfect theme for a baby girl who loves books, who just weeks earlier sat on my lap flipping through the pages of this timeless story by Eric Carle.

 

 

 

 

Her mama, my daughter Amber, confessed that she felt a bit pressured to pull off the birthday celebration given my history of throwing detailed themed birthday parties. Amber needn’t have worried. She did great and impressed me with everything from decorations down to the caterpillar cupcake birthday cake.

 

 

 

 

It was the birthday girl, though, who spotlighted the attention of those gathered to celebrate her first birthday. Izzy did great, going to everyone and, as expected, finding tissue paper, gift receipts and a water bottle sometimes more interesting then the gifts she was supposed to be opening. Give her another year.

 

 

But for now, we all delighted in Izzy’s smile and cheered her on as she walked across the living room. We declared that Isabelle is now officially walking.

 

 

I was reminded again of how much joy a baby can find in the simple things. A textured ball released from a gift bag brought the widest smile to Izzy’s face as she shoved it across the floor. The sighting of a dog and later a squirrel through windows sent my granddaughter nearly leaping from my arms in excitement. In the craziness of life today, it is good to witness such exuberance from the perspective of a one-year-old.

 

 

 

 

Life is good when you’re one. And good, too, when you are the grandmother of a baby girl whom you love and adore.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The mystery box along the Cannon River April 12, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

 

I MISSED THE BIG MOMENT by just minutes.

From the highway, I observed a group of people clustered along a recreational trail by the Cannon River in Cannon Falls. I had no clue what they were doing there on such a cold winter afternoon. But then, as our van drew closer, I saw the oversized box and a bouquet of pink balloons. My initial reaction to pink anything in public is related to breast cancer. Perhaps they were honoring a loved one.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Any guesses?

 

 

By the time my husband swung the van into a parking lot and I exited, the balloons were already tucked inside the major-appliance-sized cardboard box. I’d missed the prime photo opp.

Still, I needed to learn the story behind the riverside gathering.

 

 

Turns out…ready for this? The group was there for a gender reveal party as in “Is it a boy or a girl?”

The obvious answer given the pink balloons is girl. I congratulated the father-to-be as he climbed a stairway from the river to parking lot. Noticing grey tinging his hair, I asked, “Your first?” I’m nosy curious like that.

“My fourth, her first,” he answered.

What a joyous moment for the family and even strangers like me. A baby is always cause to celebrate.

TELL ME: What are your thoughts on gender reveal events/parties? Have you attended one? If yes, let’s hear details.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy first birthday, Isabelle! April 6, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

WHEN I BECAME A MOM 31 years ago, I was amazed at the depth of love I felt for my newborn girl. That repeated itself with a second daughter 21 months later and then a son six years thereafter. The love a mother holds for her children is unmatched, almost indescribable.

 

My new granddaughter, Isabelle (“Izzy” for short), photographed when she was about 17 hours old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

But then along came my first grandchild, Isabelle, born one year ago today. Izzy, as we call her, brought a new kind of love. Those of you who are grandparents “get it.” There’s something about a grandchild that weaves incredible joy into your heart.

 

My eldest daughter, Amber, and her husband, Marc, and their daughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

That we are not the parents frees us to love and care for a grandchild in a different and exuberant way. Sure, we still change diapers, cradle crying babies and more. But the primary responsibility of this little one lies with the parents. I delight in watching Amber and Marc care for Izzy with such tenderness, patience and love. It is obvious this baby girl is adored by her parents and by family on both coasts and many states in between.

 

One of my favorite photos of my husband and his granddaughter, taken when Isabelle was 10 days old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

I cannot get enough of Izzy. Occasionally the words, “You and Marc need to go on a date,” slip from my fingers into a text message. I cherish my Izzy time.

 

I snapped this photo of Izzy snuggling against her mom shortly after she awakened from a nap in her mama’s arms.

 

Several days ago I got lots of time with my granddaughter when she and her mom stayed overnight. Since they live only an hour away, these sleep-overs are rare. It’s just easier when a baby can sleep in her own bed in familiar surroundings.

 

Izzy reads a new book, a birthday gift from my friend Kathleen, former children’s librarian in Faribault. Izzy is also wearing the horse pajamas I gave her awhile ago. Photo by Amber.

 

Izzy and I settled on the couch, her tiny left index finger turning the cardboard pages of books I once read to her mother. From the stack of a half dozen or so books, Izzy repeatedly chose the same two, Ducky’s Seasons by Dick McCue and Baby Animals (photographs by Gerry Swart). Words tumbled in rote memory from my lips, from all those years earlier. Like her mama and grandma, Isabelle loves books.

 

Encouraging Izzy to try walking on her own.

 

She’s not walking yet, but she’s close. I witnessed several steps taken. It won’t be long.

 

Izzy pushed her baby around in the empty laundry basket.

 

Isabelle “helped” me with the laundry—a task she also does with her mom—by handing dried clothes for me to put away. Once done, she pushed her beloved baby doll around in the clothes basket. Izzy loves her baby, giving her hugs and reminding me of how Amber dragged her baby doll, Sal, around by the hair.

 

Mama Amber pushes her beautiful baby in the laundry basket just days before Izzy’s first birthday.

 

Izzy still has only minimal hair. But it’s filling in, growing thicker. She has beautiful hazel eyes from parents with brown and green eyes.

 

Izzy eats toast for breakfast.

 

She eats nearly anything put on her plate with an affinity for meat. Her parents enjoy cooking and eat healthy and that shows in Isabelle’s wide palate. I wish I held their interest in cooking; my two youngest likely would have been less picky eaters.

 

There’s a reason this image is blurry. Izzy was crawling as fast as she could toward the stairway.

 

Now that she’s one, Izzy’s personality is beginning to show. I am amazed at how smart these little ones, how imitating of adult actions. When I pet a kitty in a book, Izzy soon did the same. Efforts to keep her from the stairway, though, failed. She kept returning to climb the two stairs that could not be blocked by a gate. She is a determined girl. That will take her far in life.

 

Izzy plays with the same Fisher Price bus her mama played with as a child.

 

While it’s bittersweet to see my granddaughter turn one already, it’s also exciting. I wonder how she will develop, what her interests will be, where life will take her some day.

 

Mother and daughter.

 

To my sweet baby Isabelle, I wish the happiest of first birthdays! I love you and I love being your grandma.

 
© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Two birthdays February 9, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,
Amber and Caleb. Minnesota Prairie Roots cell phone photo December 2016.

Amber and Caleb. Minnesota Prairie Roots cell phone photo December 2016.

TODAY AND TOMORROW, two of my three children turn another year older.

Now that they are adults (the daughter an hour away, the son in Boston), birthday celebrations have changed. I will celebrate belatedly with Amber by babysitting my 10-month-old granddaughter while she and her husband dine out. We’ll have a chocolate tofu pie upon their return, my contribution to the mini party.

As for Caleb, I hope to connect with him via Skype or a phone call. He’s young and single, less inclined to understand the need his mother has to talk to him on his birthday. At his early twenties age, friends take priority. No surprise there. I was once young.

Amber in 1986, sometime during her first year of life. The photo is not dated. A friend told me she looked just like the baby on the Gerber baby food jars.

Amber at six months.

Not that I was a young mother. I wasn’t, having given birth to my first daughter at age 29 ½ and to my son eight years later with another daughter in between.

Motherhood shifts behavior and thoughts to a primeval need to nurture, protect and love our children. And as the years pass, that never changes.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb's sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb’s sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother.

My children’s birthdays bring now a certain melancholy in that I miss them and birthday dinners out followed by the ritual of singing “Happy Birthday!” and then eating the homemade dessert of their choice, not always cake.

But this is the logical progression of parenthood—this move of our children toward independence, beginning at birth.

Today and tomorrow, I will honor my youngest and my oldest by thinking of them, their lives and the blessings they have given me as their mother. I love them deeper than the ocean, higher than the skies. I will always love them and encourage them. They are of me and that connection binds us always on their birthdays.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

With gratitude to my husband on Father’s Day June 19, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , ,
Randy walking along the shore of Lake Erie on a recent road trip to the East Coast.

Randy walks along the shore of Lake Erie on a recent road trip to the East Coast for his son’s graduation from Tufts University.

MY HUSBAND ISN’T ONE to get all gushy, to be right out there with his emotions. He’ll choose the humorous greeting card over the flowery one any day. A bit stoic even at times, not much rattles him.

He’s a great dad and grandpa, in his own reserved way. He’s the calm to a storm, the quiet in the noise, the light in the darkness.

Randy is a gentle spirit, steady and strong. I can count on him. So can his three “kids,” now grown. He’s always been there for all of us, as trite as that may sound. But it’s true.

He’s guided wobbling bikes down sidewalks, waited in hospital emergency rooms, played Monopoly way too often, read Sunday comics with kids sprawled on the living room floor, painted his young daughters’ toenails, repaired kids’ cars, toured college campuses, ironed his son’s college graduation gown…

For 30 years now, Randy has been a dad. A strong, steady and loving one. I am so appreciative of my husband as a father.

Today, when I watch Randy with his first grandchild, I see that same fatherly love extending to the next generation. He cradles baby Isabelle with such tenderness that my heart aches. She is deeply loved, just like her mama before her.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Touring Tufts University in greater Boston June 6, 2016

Tufts melds almost seamlessly into the residential neighborhoods of Medford and Somerville.

Tufts melds almost seamlessly into the residential neighborhoods of Medford and Somerville.

PRIOR TO MY SON considering Tufts University as a potential transfer college three years ago, I’d never heard of this Massachusetts university. But Caleb had done his research, followed by a flight to Boston to explore three colleges there. All three eventually accepted him, with Tufts offering a financial aid package that would allow him to afford an education at the Medford/Somerville campus.

Caleb and Randy climb Memorial Steps, in honor of Tufts' war dead, to the campus. There are a lot of steps.

Caleb and Randy climb Memorial Steps, in honor of Tufts’ war dead, to the main campus.

I shall always be grateful to the benefactor who gave my son this opportunity to learn at a highly-ranked student-centered research university. Caleb needed the challenges Tufts offered. He needed to leave the Midwest. He needed a place like Tufts.

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library.

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library.

After visiting Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus for the first time the day before commencement, I understood why Caleb loves this university. The college, set atop a hill and with a spectacular view of the distant Boston skyline from the roof of Tisch Library, is stunningly impressive.

Eaton Hall

The political science, sociology and classics departments, among other offices, are located in Eaton Hall.

A newer building on campus.

A newer building on campus.

New construction is underway on campus, as seen to the right in this photo. That's the John Hancock building in the distant Boston skyline.

New construction is underway on campus, as seen to the right in this photo. That’s the John Hancock building in the distant Boston skyline.

Aged buildings define the campus, although newer ones also stand and are under construction.

This new Jumbo sculpture was recently installed on campus.

This new Jumbo sculpture was recently installed at Tufts. It’s a popular spot for photo ops.

Tufts (with four campuses) was established in 1852 and has an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students. It’s mascot is Jumbo the elephant of circus fame. President Barack and Michelle Obama’s daughter Malia toured Tufts in March 2015, settling later on Harvard University in next-door Cambridge as her college choice. Noted individuals like Meredith Vieira, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Michlle Kwan are Tufts alum.

Ballou Hall, built 1852-54.

Ballou Hall, built 1852-54. Graduation ceremonies were held on the adjacent green.

Goddard Chapel, built in 1883.

Goddard Chapel, built in 1883.

Beautiful stained glass windows and dark wood dominate Goddard Chapel.

Beautiful stained glass windows and dark wood define Goddard Chapel.

The Gifford House, home to the college president.

The Gifford House, home to the college president.

Given my appreciation for old buildings and lovely architecture, I loved the historic feel of Tufts. There’s something comforting and storied about structures that have existed for a long time. There’s an ongoing connection to generations of students who’ve walked these halls and this campus under a canopy of trees with spacious green space, seemingly a premium in the greater Boston neighborhoods I saw during my late May visit.

I adore the reading room in the Edwin Ginn Library at The Fletcher School.

The Edwin Ginn Library at The Fletcher School looks like something out of a movie set. Oh, to study here. And my son did.

A sculpture on campus.

A sculpture on campus.

Posted on an athletic field fence.

Posted on an athletic field fence.

It is easy to love Tufts.

Caleb spent a lot of time here, in the computer lab.

Caleb spent a lot of time here, in the computer lab.

I understand why, at age 22, my son likes living in greater Boston. This metro area teems with young people. There’s a certain vibe, a constant hum, a busyness that prevails. People are walking/hurrying everywhere. The mass transit system makes getting around easy.

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library with the Boston skyline as a backdrop.

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library with the Boston skyline as a backdrop.

It’s not a place I would choose to live. But it is, for now, my son’s home. And although I don’t like having him 1,400 miles away, I have accepted that he lives here, too far from Minnesota, in a city he loves.

FYI: Check back for a tour of a neighborhood surrounding Tufts.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When a Minnesota mom attends her son’s East Coast college graduation June 3, 2016

A Tufts University graduate decorated her graduation hat.

A uniquely decorated graduation hat at Tufts University 2016 commencement.

I’VE ATTENDED THREE COLLEGE graduations now, for each of my three children, with eight years separating the first and final commencements.

The tented area in the background served as the stage during the all-school commencement ceremony.

The tented area in the background served as the stage during the all-school commencement ceremony at Tufts.

The daughters’ ceremonies were held in gyms at public universities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I don’t recall much about either other than the Wisconsin politician who used his commencement speech as a campaign platform. I was deeply disappointed, even angry. This wasn’t supposed to be about him, but rather about the graduates.

Congratulatory balloons floated among spectators.

Congratulatory balloons float among spectators.

So when alum and Emmy-award winning actor Hank Azaria was slated to deliver the all-school commencement speech at my son’s May 22 graduation from Tufts University in greater Boston, I was wary. I had no idea who he was, which is no surprise given I am unaware of most Hollywood celebrities. When I learned that Azaria voiced many of The Simpsons characters, I was delighted. My son is a big fan of The Simpsons.

A snapshot of the crowd before the all-school commencement began.

A snapshot of the crowd before the all-school commencement begins.

To my relief, Azaria gave a humorous speech with the simple message that graduates should be honest with themselves and trust their instincts.

The second phase of graduation moved us nearer the stage and to the ceremony for The School of Engineering.

The second phase of graduation moved us nearer the stage and to the ceremony for The School of Engineering.

He voiced several characters from The Simpsons, providing much needed laughter in a morning with an abundance of drawn-out pomp and circumstance.

I caught this dad napping at The School of Engineering commencement ceremony.

I caught this dad napping at The School of Engineering commencement ceremony.

Role-playing Moe the bartender, Azaria said, “I didn’t have a high-falutin’ education. I went to BU.” The audience roared at the comparison between Tufts and Boston University. I understood, feeling a bit like a country hick myself amidst the obvious wealth of many Tufts families.  I am keenly aware that my son, too, felt at times out-of-place on this East Coast campus as a Minnesota boy from a lower middle class family.

Lots of photos were taken at the ceremony and of Tufts' mascot Jumbo, in the background here.

Lots of photos were taken at the ceremony and of Tufts’ mascot, Jumbo, in the background here.

Laughter also erupted when Azaria mimicked the Indian-American owner of the Kwik-E-Mart (from The Simpsons): “We both worship an elephant.” Tufts’ mascot is Jumbo the elephant. P.T. Barnum was an early benefactor of the university.

Tufts police and EMS stood ready near the main commencement stage. Just weeks prior to commencement, a car was torched on campus and a bomb threat discovered.

Tufts police and EMS stand ready near the main commencement stage. Just weeks prior to graduation day, a car was torched on campus and a bomb threat discovered.

Light-hearted moments were welcome among the formal protocol, which began at 9 a.m. and extended well into the afternoon. Thousands gathered on the campus green for, first, the all-school commencement ceremony, and afterward for individual school commencements.

A father photographs the

A father photographs The School of Engineering commencement ceremony. That’s a side profile of Jumbo the elephant in the background.

My husband and I were sitting so far back from the stage that we could see little. I used my camera’s telephoto lens as binoculars several times.

Thousands of chairs covered the campus green for commencement. The event went on, rain or shine. Rain drizzled briefly.

Thousands of chairs cover the campus green for commencement. We sat in this side wing area near the back. Apparently you need to arrive really early to get a good seat.  The event went on, rain or shine. Rain drizzled briefly.

I was thankful events were held outdoors on the beautiful university green rather than inside some stuffy auditorium. Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus sits atop a hill with a picturesque view of the Boston skyline. Campus buildings are aged and solid, trademark visuals of a long-established and respected educational institution.

Flowers and balloons await graduates.

Flowers and balloons await graduates.

Visiting Tufts for the first time on graduation weekend was an experience, an opportunity to see this place our son has called home for three years. Many other families traveled, too, from across the country and across the world to watch their sons and daughters graduate. We shared that commonality. Maybe not of financial wealth, or lack thereof. But of parents celebrating.

BONUS PHOTOS:

After the two commencement ceremonies, we were finally able to eat a picnic lunch--salad, strawberries and a bar--on a grassy hillside.

After the two commencement ceremonies, we were finally able to eat a complimentary picnic lunch–salad, strawberries and a bar–on a grassy hillside. Everything was recycled.

Vendors hawked flowers before and after commencement ceremonies.

Vendors hawked flowers before and after commencement ceremonies.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

FYI: Check back next week for a tour of the Tufts campus.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling