Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts as my son heads back to Boston after the holidays January 3, 2018

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Caleb and I pose for a Christmas Eve 2017 photo.

ON THE FINAL EVENING before he left, I leaned across the sofa to wrap my arms around him. He closed his laptop, stretching his long arms up and around me.

“I want to hold onto this moment,” I said, gripping him tighter.

“I’m not going to take it away from you,” my son answered.

 

The downtown Minneapolis skyline. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

He was right. Only my mind could keep or release the sweet memory of our hug. After 10 days with Caleb home for the holidays from Boston, I was struggling with his departure. Hints that perhaps he could relocate to Minneapolis or St. Paul were met with a firm “no.” At least for now. So I widened the geographic range to Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis. Still no interest.

 

The 2016 commencement ceremony begins at The School of Engineering, Tufts University. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am resigned, for now, to the fact that my son loves the East Coast. He’s in a place where, after more than four years, he feels comfortable and at home. I never thought my youngest would move the farthest from Minnesota. He started college in Fargo, but soon found the flat and windy North Dakota city and the college a less than ideal fit for him and his insatiable desire to learn, to be challenged. So, shortly after he turned 19 and following his freshman year, he flew to Boston, toured three colleges and gained acceptance to all three. He transferred into Tufts University, a stellar college that offered the challenges (and financial aid) he needed. And now he works in the computer science field in greater Boston.

 

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library at Tufts University. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo spring 2016.

 

He’s never really said why he prefers Boston over Minnesota. Not that he owes me an explanation. I understand how a metro region with a strong tech base would hold appeal for Caleb. The area seems to me the Silicon Valley of the East Coast. Caleb has found plenty of like-minded techies in groups like Boston Indies. Several times he’s demoed his soon-to-be-released video game, Blockspell. And he’s presenting at the 2018 BostonFIG (Festival of Indie Games) Talks on January 20 at MIT Stata Center. I’m not saying similar opportunities don’t exist in Minnesota. But he’s found his fit in Boston. I need to be good with that. And I am.

Yet, a selfish part of me still yearns for geographical closeness.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Dear Smartphone, This is not a party line… January 11, 2017

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android-smartphoneAPPARENTLY I HAVE much to learn about technology.

The other day while at Walmart, I pulled out my Android to view a photo in my album. No big deal.

But soon a message popped onto my screen suggesting I take a photo at this Big Box retailer. What? I stood there, mouth agape, trying to wrap my head around my smartphone’s knowledge of my location and activity.

A tad unsettled, I grew even more unnerved when a second message popped onto my screen while I shopped at Aldi. The unwelcome messenger suggested I take a photo at the grocery store.

By then, I wanted this intrusion to stop. I asked my husband if he’d ever had this happen. He had.

This personal tracking feels way too Big Brother-ish. Too snoopy. Too creeping into my personal space.

Can location history reveal that I perused the toy aisles and the bargain aisles and the…? Does Big Brother know I bought a bag of Hershey kisses, Brussels sprouts (yes, they really are good when roasted) and a whole cartfull of groceries?

Yeah, I probably don’t want those questions answered.

I remember the days when telephone eavesdropping by a party line neighbor proved worrisome. But that seems like nothing compared to today’s technological tracking.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How you can make a difference in one Minnesota kindergarten classroom August 24, 2013

Looking to the front and one side of the school.

Long gone are the days of ink well desks, blackboards and Big Chief tablets.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of Little Prairie School, rural Dundas, Minnesota.

MY ELDEST DAUGHTER’S friend, Laura, teaches at Earle Brown Elementary School in the north metro, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, Independent School District 286.

I’ve met Laura once. Mostly I “know” Laura because I follow her “These are a Few of my Favorite Things” blog. Click here to reach her blog and you will meet a young woman who is passionate about life, about teaching, about helping others (she’s been on summer mission trips to Africa), about photography, her faith and more.

Laura is the kind of person you would hope would teach your children or grandchildren. She cares. Deeply.

Presidential portraits grace the blackboard by the teacher's desk.

Technology long ago replaced the blackboards of my youth. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

That said, this passionate teacher is looking to buy two iPad minis for her classroom to use in literacy and math centers. Her school district, she says, doesn’t have the monies for such purchases. She needs about $900 and has set up a donation venue at DonorsChoose.org. Click here to reach her Donors page, where you will find more details.

Laura writes in part:

My kindergartners start school already behind academically. Many of them have never set foot in a school environment. Others don’t come to school with clean clothes or proper school supplies. A third of my class doesn’t speak English as their first language.

But the thing is, my kids don’t know they are behind. They don’t realize the challenges they are facing. They are five, and this is life as they know it. They come in my door ready to learn, EXCITED to learn. I want to capitalize on this eagerness and provide them the best environment with the best tools at their fingertips. My goal is to have them leave kindergarten at or above grade level. My goal is for each of my students to know that they matter and they are loved. I want my students to know that they have what it takes to accomplish something in this world.

Can you sense this teacher’s enthusiasm and love for her students? I can. She wants (let’s reread this) her kids “to know that they have what it takes to accomplish something in this world.”

You should also know that the label of “high poverty,” based on the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunches, is attached to Earle Brown Elementary.

Please consider donating. For the sake of those five-year-olds.

Click here to link to Ms. Karsjen’s project and give.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Creativity unleashed at Bethany, my alma mater January 14, 2013

TYPICALLY, COLLEGE ALUMNI magazines hold my interest only long enough to thumb to the section where class updates are printed. I read those and then toss the publication into the recycling bin.

But recently, the bold, artsy cover of the November issue of the Bethany Report, the alumni magazine of Bethany Lutheran College, caused me to take a closer look at an article detailing the school’s new media arts program. I’m a Bethany grad, which in 1976 offered only a two-year associate arts degree to undergraduates.

Today this scenic hilltop campus in Mankato offers an array of four-year degrees, including one in communications, my eventual major at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Oh, how I wish majors and minors had been available back in my Bethany years, because I loved that small Christian college.

All of that aside, today’s Bethany students with an interest in communications, the fine arts and technology can enroll in the media arts major. I don’t pretend to know how Bethany’s program compares to that of other colleges.

I did my own editing on this recent photo of a Bethany billboard along U.S. Highway 14.

I did my own editing on this recent photo of a Bethany billboard along U.S. Highway 14.

But when I saw that magazine cover design emphasizing the media arts program and then an equally vivid, eye-catching billboard along U.S. Highway 14 near Janesville recently, I was impressed enough to visit the BLC website.

There I clicked onto a portfolio showcasing the creations of current and former students.

I’m no expert on the fusing of art, technology and communication. But I liked what I saw. And perhaps that uninformed spontaneous reaction counts for more than the dissected opinion of anyone in academia.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Musings of a Baby Boomer upon touring a museum exhibit in Moorhead November 15, 2012

I’M WONDERING IF the rest of you baby boomers out there feel as I do, that youthful years have vanished, poof, just like that.

I need only look in the mirror to see the patches of ever spreading gray (time for a dye, again), the lines and creases and sagging skin to realize that Age has crept into my life to the point that I no longer can deny her presence.

Age has also shoved me into the corner of those who are overwhelmed by technology. It’s like the boxing gloves never come off as I resist, rather than embrace, technological changes. No Facebook or Twitter for me. No PayPal or paying bills online. And what is a smart phone and an iPad?

I am not joking, people. I need to enroll in a Technology 101 course or persuade the 18-year-old son, who is pursuing a degree in computer engineering, to tutor me.

Interestingly enough, this musing relates to a recent tour of  The Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County exhibit, “The BOOM 1945-1960 in Clay County,” at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.

While I was only a few years old at the end of that boom period, much of what I saw in that exhibit, including the outhouse, looked pretty darned familiar:

These books are shelved in a mock boom era one-room schoolhouse display. I own that exact Dick and Jane book.  I love Dick, Jane, Sally, Tim, Spot and Puff. They taught me to read. Oh, I mean my teacher taught me to read via that book series.

Fun with Dick and Jane book. Check.

So familiar to me, desks just like I sat in through my years at Vesta Elementary School. The blackboard, though, is not correct. Ours was black, not green.

Rows of school desks. Check.

I remember the floral print plastic curtains which once hung in the tiny wood-frame house where I grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. Today I collect vintage tablecloths like the one draping the table here. And, yes, I use them. Come to dinner at my house and you’ll find one gracing the table. I love retro.

A floral print curtain and floral print tablecloth. Check.

Tucked behind the close-up of the vintage plate, you’ll spy eyeglasses. I’ve worn prescription eyeglasses since age four, including the cat eye style and dark brown framed ones.

Dark-framed eyeglasses and vintage tableware. Check.

Popular Baby Boomer toys, ones my children, born between 1986 and 1994, also played with. Some toys truly are timeless, although I expect the View-Master isn’t. I played with Mr. Potato Head in the background, but he was not a favorite.

An Etch a Sketch, View-Master reels and Tinker Toys, all among my favorite childhood toys. Check, check and check.

There was not a piece of technology in sight save the old grainy black-and-white television.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

We may have skipped class at NDSU, but… June 21, 2012

The main entrance to North Dakota State University in Fargo.

OLIVIA FROM THE NORTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY Conference, Orientation and Recruitment Team promised not to tattle on us, because, on our first day back at school, my husband and I skipped our afternoon classes.

We’re not setting a very good example for our 18-year-old son, who was also in class on the same day at NDSU. He didn’t skip.

But we were tired due to the noisy Fargo Holiday Inn guests who practically shouted their way past our room around 2 a.m. Friday. My husband struggled to stay awake during the first Friday afternoon orientation session. And I admit my eyelids were weighing heavy, too. We needed a break.

I mean no disrespect to NDSU as the university did an excellent job in programming at the orientation and registrations sessions my husband, son and I attended. But our youngest marks the third child we’ve sent off to college so we kind of know this basic college stuff already.

I wish I could spin some dramatic tale about the reasons for our truancy. But I cannot. It is what it was and Olivia promised not to report us.

Perhaps I can redeem our bad behavior by telling you that we pursued only educational opportunities during our time away from class.

A Bison t-shirt in the NDSU Bookstore.

We started by stopping at the college bookstore to inquire about textbooks and to look at the Bison apparel. The bison is the university’s mascot.

Inside the NDSU Memorial Union, I photographed this sculpture of a bison, the university’s mascot.

The NDSU Technology Incubator.

Next we weaved our way over to the NDSU Research & Technology Park, where, according to a pamphlet I picked up, “…university researchers combine their talents with private industry to create new technologies, methods and systems.” Our son was awarded an NDSU Entrepreneurial Scholarship which requires him to work and volunteer in the Technology Incubator during his four years at NDSU. We’re thrilled that he will have the opportunity to gain hands-on research experience and network with private industry as he prepares for a career in computer engineering.

We weren’t able to meet with any of the incubator clients, but at least we got inside the building and learned basics about the facility.

The Plains Art Museum in downtown Fargo.

From the technology park, we headed to the Plains Art Museum, an art center housed in a lovely, historic brick building along First Avenue North in downtown Fargo. Inside, we perused an outstanding/phenomenal/incredible collection of wood carvings by Willmar, Minnesota, artist Fred Cogelow. We also enjoyed the works of Luis Jimenez, whose notable “Sodbuster” sculpture is temporarily on exhibit. The works of Fargo abstract expressionist artist Marjorie Schlossman were also on display. Since neither my husband or I especially like abstract art, we breezed through those galleries.

The North Dakota Mural by James Rosenquist installed in 2010 inside the Plains Art Museum.

I, of course, was quite disappointed that I couldn’t photograph any of the art except the North Dakota Mural on the first floor. It kills me to pack away my camera when I see so much I want to share with you.

The Plains Art Museum building was built in 1904 by International Harvester Company and originally served as a shipping, receiving and showroom space for farm implements. It’s a beautiful place with wooden floors, exposed support posts, rough brick walls and more.

An informational display outside the research rooms of the NDSU “Germans from Russia” Heritage Collection.

After a short walk around the block and a stop at a gas station, we headed back to the NDSU campus and hung out at the library. Or, more specifically, my husband holed himself up in the “Germans from Russia” Heritage Collection rooms while I sat on a retaining wall outside because our cell phones did not work in the library and we were awaiting a call or text message from the son as to when he would finish registering for classes. (NDSU, please add some benches to your campus; the parents would appreciate resting spots.)

Eventually the husband extracted himself from digging into the history of the Helbling family whose roots run deep in North Dakota. His forefathers were among the “Germans from Russia” who settled in the Mandan/Bismarck area, home to the largest group of such immigrants in the U.S. My spouse’s parents relocated from North Dakota to central Minnesota in the 1960s.

Now, some 50 years later, our son is coming full circle back to North Dakota, to the place where his paternal ancestors settled upon arriving in America so many, many years ago.

So, you see, my husband and I may have skipped our afternoon college classes. But we never stopped learning.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Blackberry never tasted so sweet March 22, 2012

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“TELL ME AGAIN. What is a Blackberry Playbook? What does it do?”

I’ve asked him for the umpteenth second time and he is clearly frustrated with me.

“Never mind,” he says.

I persist because I want to understand. My son knows I am technologically-challenged, that I can’t distinguish a Blackberry from an iPAD or a Kindle. It is all too much for someone who grew up without a telephone during the early years of her life and only within the past 18 months acquired a cell phone. It is all too much for someone who learned to type on a manual typewriter. It is all too much for someone who recently upgraded from her 2003 desktop computer.

I don’t decry technology. I am simply slow to understand the ever-evolving world of high tech gadgets.

But my high school senior, with his scientifically and mathematically-wired brain, embraces technology and is planning a career in computer and/or electrical engineering. It’s a career path that will suit him perfectly, focusing on his passions.

That leads us to his latest endeavor, which ties in with the Blackberry Playbook. My son created Agon, a Blackberry Playbook game app which released March 17. Described as “an abstract strategy game with perfect information,” Agon was invented in France during the late 18th century. I won’t even attempt to explain the game or how my 18-year-old adapted it to the Blackberry. He would tell me, “Never mind,” if I asked. Click here to read for yourself. And feel free to try the game and post a review.

One reviewer compares the game, also known as “Queen’s Guards,” to chess. This does not surprise me. My teen plays chess and enjoys strategic board games like Settlers of Catan and Power Grid. Pull out those games and I run the other way. Give me word games. My boy once tried to teach me chess, but without success.

His success with Agon, though, has netted him a sweet prize—a Blackberry Playbook. Pretty cool, huh? Besides getting the actual product, this accomplishment can be listed on college scholarship applications and eventually on his resume.

Additionally, my son tasted sweet success at the recent Minnesota Science Olympiad, placing second in the astronomy competition. Yes, he knows a lot about the sky, too.  He and a teammate also took sixth in state with their gravity vehicle after coming in first at regionals. Faribault High School, his school, finished 14th overall in state among 33 schools.

Success tastes especially sweet when you’re only eighteen.

NOTE: The creators of Blackberry Playbook and the creator of the Agon app (namely my son) have no idea I wrote this post. I am simply a proud mother sharing my boy’s success. Had I not googled “Blackberry Playbook,” I would be mostly uninformed about this tablet.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling