Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bringing the magic of prom to a Minnesota nursing home May 6, 2014

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TIS PROM SEASON in Minnesota, that annual rite of spring which throws teenage girls into a spin over finding just the right dress, getting a fabulous up-do, planning photo sessions and doing whatever to create the perfect evening.

That’s all delightful, to live in a fairytale world.

But what a group of girls in rural southwestern Minnesota did on the day of their high school prom impresses me more than all the magical glitz and glam.

They took the time last weekend to share prom with the residents of a small town nursing home.

This my mother, who recently moved into Parkview Home in Belview, shared with me during our weekly Sunday evening phone conversation.

If those teens could have eavesdropped on our exchange, they would know just how happy they made my mom by stopping at their workplace before prom to show off their Cinderella selves.

Mom didn’t comment specifically on the dresses, although she did on the “fancy hair.”

And, she noted, some of the girls brought their dates, who, she laughed, looked a bit bored and “were probably wondering when they could leave.”

I don’t doubt her observation. Physically Mom is limited in her abilities. But mentally she is still, as they say, sharp as a tack.

This isn’t about my mother, though, who also profusely praised those prom-goers as kind and thoughtful.

Rather, this is about these young women and, yes, their dates, too. I am impressed by their care, kindness and generosity of spirit. They could have gone on their way, without a thought of stopping at Parkview. But they did. And for that, this daughter is grateful.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thoughts on parenting as my son turns 20 February 9, 2014

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FOR 15 YEARS, I’ve been parenting teens.

Today that ends as my youngest, my son, turns 20.

Tomorrow his sister, my eldest, turns 28.

Like most parents, I wonder where the years have gone, how, snap, just like that, I’ve become an empty nester with three adult children. My other daughter is 21 months younger than her older sister.

At times, if I’m honest, I wished time would move faster, that the tantrums of a two-year-old, the sometime moodiness of a teen, would vanish.

I look back now and understand that this is all part of growing and of the parenting process. None of us—parents nor child—are perfect. But we stick together. We love and live and forgive and embrace and move forward.


At age five, the son dressed as an elephant for Halloween. Today he attends Tufts University. The university mascot is Jumbo the elephant.

At age five, the son dressed as an elephant for Halloween. Today he attends Tufts University. The university mascot is Jumbo the elephant.

The son lives in Boston now, where he is studying for a computer science degree at Tufts University. I’m proud of the independent young man he’s become, focused on his future, working hard to get the most he can from his education.

He’s always been a self-starter when it comes to learning. He didn’t wait for teachers to teach him. As a grader schooler, my boy would check out books from the library to learn what he wasn’t learning in class. Later, when he got a laptop, he would also research online. Up until he entered college, he basically had taught himself everything he knows about computers and programming. At age 18, he formed his own company, Apocrypha, LLC.

My big baby boy, born 20 years ago today.

My big baby boy, born 20 years ago today.

Watching him grow has been interesting. He started life weighing 10 pounds, 12 ounces, by far the biggest baby in the hospital nursery. By 10 months, my boy was walking. He was into everything. Everything. Today he towers well over six feet and, I think, is still stretching. Or so it seems whenever he returns back to Minnesota, which isn’t often enough for me.

That’s the thing about parenting. When your baby is born, you have no idea that the sleepless nights, the two-year-old tantrums, the turbulent teens will not be the most difficult part of parenting. It is the letting go that proves especially challenging, the realization that this child you’ve loved and cherished and held close will leave you. I just didn’t expect my son to journey 1,300 miles away.

But it is at it’s supposed to be.

At times, I feel like I could have done better as a parent. Don’t we all.

The letting go began in the fall of 1999. By spring, the son had graduated from kindergarten.

The letting go began in the fall of 1999. By spring, the son had graduated from kindergarten.

Yet, there comes a realization and acceptance that you’ve done the best you can and you must let go. Not that you ever stop caring or loving or supporting or praying for or worrying about…

Today the days of parenting teens are behind me. And I’m good with that.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


When a mother passes her dislike of shopping on to her son January 13, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:44 AM
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I AM THE RARE WOMAN who dislikes shopping. And I suppose, because of that, I am partly to blame for my teenage son’s lack of interest in shopping for clothes.

But it had gotten to the point where, day after day, he was wearing the same nondescript gray sweatshirt—the new one I gave him for Christmas—over a plain-colored t-shirt.

Finally, one day last week, I advised him that I needed to wash the sweatshirt and that he would have to choose another clothing option. The look he shot me at 7:37 didn’t exactly start my day with a “Good morning, Mom, I’m happy to see you” greeting.

I should mention here that my 17-year-old is not a morning person. Not at all. I have found it in my best interests to limit conversation with him any time prior to 10 a.m.

After this recent morning wardrobe exchange, I decided my teen simply needed to acquire additional clothing. After all, what must his classmates and teachers think with him wearing the same sweatshirt every day? Therefore, we needed to make the dreaded, long-avoided shopping trip.

Shopping success: A $60 hoodie purchased for $21.

So last Sunday afternoon we went clothes shopping. After about 1 ½ hours, which is an hour beyond my browsing limit, he had a new sweatshirt, three complimentary t-shirts and three flannel shirts. Success at only $58 sale prices.

Much to my surprise, my son handled the excursion without complaint, which might just be a first for him. I’ll be honest here and tell you that I understand my high school senior’s shopping frustration. He is tall, well over six foot—I’ve lost count of how many inches—and slender. He needs tall sizes for arm and body and leg length, but not for body girth. That presents a challenge whether he’s searching for shirts or for pants. Nothing fits him right.

It’s the same problem I had as a tall and slender teen. The “tall” part is still an issue for me. Honestly, every woman in this world is not average or petite in height and I am constantly frustrated by the limited choices for 5-foot, 8 ½-inch women like me who do not wear plus sizes.

So if you see me repeatedly wearing the same attire, my reasons are three-fold: I detest shopping, can’t find clothes that fit right and refuse to pay a pretty penny (aka full retail) for clothing.

Yup, I suppose I truly am to blame for my son’s avoidance of shopping and limited wardrobe.

IF YOU’RE THE MOTHER of a teenage boy or have raised one, what has been your experience with clothes shopping? I’ve tried the route of buying clothes for my son, but that rarely works. Either they don’t fit or he doesn’t like them or both. Help.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Zombie horror at Faribault High School November 18, 2011

My son Caleb, pictured with other cast members, made his acting debut last night.

Thomas Simonson plays one of the lead roles as Gary.

I’M PUTTING IN a proud mother plug today for the Faribault High School Theatre Troupe’s presentation of Teenage Night of Living Horror.

You must, must, must see this suspenseful, horrifying and, yes, sometimes funny, production which will be on stage through Sunday afternoon.

To summarize the plot, a group of high school students are planning Ghoul Night in an abandoned farmhouse located near a cemetery. The farmhouse has a not-so-great history that involves a mad doctor, who happens to be played by my 17-year-old son.

Caleb makes his acting debut as Dr. Thanatos. He plays his part to the hilt, evil laugh and all. For someone who’s never acted before, he seems a natural. And I’m not just saying that because I’m Caleb’s mom.

All 44 cast members did a superb job in creating a production that held my interest for the entire 1 ½ hours. And I can’t always honestly say that about a high school play.

These teens genuinely appeared to have fun while trying to scare the crap out of us. (Sorry for using that word, but I couldn’t think of a better one.) I fully expected one of the 25 Zombies to creep down the dark theatre aisle and grab me. But my sister Lanae was sitting closest to the aisle, so they would have gotten her first.

The mood-setting music, lighting and sound effects added to the chilling, frightening atmosphere.

Honestly, folks, you must see this show. It’s that good.

Two of the 25 horrifying Zombies.

FYI: Performances are scheduled for 7:30 tonight (Nov. 18) and Saturday and again at 2 p.m. on Sunday in the Michael J. Hanson Performing Arts Center at Faribault High School.

I would not recommend taking young children or anyone prone to nightmares about Zombies. I would also suggest locking your car doors, especially if you’re driving past a cemetery on your way home.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Twenty-seven degrees November 3, 2011

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THE 17-YEAR-OLD, bundled in his winter coat and stocking cap, poked his head out the kitchen door. “Mom, it’s below freezing.”

“I know. But the sun will come out,” I responded, continuing to pull heavy, wet bath and kitchen towels from the laundry basket and clipping them onto the clothesline.

The door slammed shut.

I smirked, amused that I’d annoyed my son so early in the morning, early being 8:30 given it’s the weekly late-start school day.

As I grabbed the last towel from the basket, my teen stepped out the door, shot me “the look” and shook his head, not even allowing me to reach up and wrap him in a goodbye hug.

“I love you,” I said. “Have a good day at school.”

He didn’t respond. But I saw the speech bubble above his head: “She’s crazy!”

SO, DEAR READERS, are you crazy like me? Crazy enough to hang laundry outside on a crisp, 27-degree morning?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


No first day of school tears here September 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:35 AM
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My oldest daughter and my son in a photo taken in May.

MY YOUNGEST STARTED his first day of his final year of high school this morning.

I feel as if I should be crying or something. But I’m not.

By now, by the third child, after 20 years of first days of school, it’s not such a big deal any more. The excitement and the anticipation just aren’t there.

It’s not that I’m a negligent mom who doesn’t care about her child or her child’s education. Rather, the first day of school novelty wore off long ago.

Last night in our house, there was no last-minute packing of the backpack, no pre-school-day jitters. Rather my concern leaned more toward making sure the 17-year-old got to sleep at a reasonable hour.

He is a night owl. If my teen had his way, classes would start around 11 a.m. So today, really, begins the battle of trying to get him to get enough sleep. This issue causes much strife in our household. Next year, at college, he’s on his own.

My focus right now is directed in guiding my son toward selecting a college. He has the smarts—an ACT test score of 32 and nearly a 4.0 GPA—to get in anywhere. But he certainly doesn’t have the money. However, I’ve encouraged him to apply wherever he wishes because maybe, just maybe, he’ll get a financial aid package that will allow him to afford a school he couldn’t otherwise afford.

I’ve suggested he make two college lists: a dream list and a realistic list.

In the meantime, during the first semester of his senior year of high school, my boy is enrolled in a rigorous course of study: Introduction to Economics, Advanced Placement Calculus, Advanced Chemistry and CIS Anatomy/Physiology. He’s also taking speech and logic at the local community technical college. By graduation in June, my son should have more than a semester of college credits earned.

I’ve encouraged him to pursue these college credits. They’re free, I keep telling him. Why wouldn’t you? He understands.

And so these are my thoughts this morning as my last child, who is eight years younger than his oldest sister and six years younger than his other sister, begins his senior year of high school.

No tears shed in this household. But next year at this time, when my husband and I are dropping our youngest off at his dorm, or seeing him off at the airport—if he manages to get into a college on his dream list—I expect the tears will fall fast and steady.

IF YOU’RE A PARENT with school-age children, how did the first day of school go for you? Share your thoughts and/or experiences in a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An aha moment at parent-teacher conferences March 5, 2011

EVER SINCE OUR TEEN stopped accompanying us to parent-teacher conferences, my husband and I have felt more open to asking candid questions about him. Not that we’re trying to talk about him behind his back, but his absence certainly allows us to ask questions we probably wouldn’t ask in his presence.

He’s a great student, near the top of his class. He’s taking rigorous courses, earns straight As and scores exceptionally well on tests. In other words, academics are not an issue.

So, then, you might wonder why we even bother to attend parent-teacher conferences. First, it’s important to show our son that we care about his education.

Secondly, it’s important for his teachers to know we care and to connect with them.

Third, I want to know what he’s learning, because I certainly don’t hear that information from him.

I’ll qualify that, though, by saying that this time, when our 17-year-old was helping me with dishes the night before conferences, I asked for an academics primer. I wanted a list of the classes he’s taking, the names of his teachers and what he is currently studying. Surprisingly, he obliged and I felt better prepared for conferences.

Just a note. I could have pulled his course information from a file, but engaging him in conversation about school seemed the better alternative. Also, I wasn’t completely oblivious to his class schedule or assignments.

When my husband and I headed off to conferences on Thursday evening, I wasn’t sure exactly what information I wanted to glean from or exchange with his teachers. Last time we focused on his future—his main interests, career options and college choices.

This time, though, a conversation with a friend several days earlier niggled in my mind. We were discussing our sons, who are both wired with strong science and math brains. Neither one cares all that much about engaging in social activities. My husband and I have worried for some time about our teen’s lack of interest in socializing and minimal participation in extracurricular activities.

About now, if you’re the parent of a teen, you’re probably thinking, how lucky to have that “problem.”

Well, as parents, we want a well-adjusted teen.

We were reassured by every teacher we asked that our son is well-liked by his peers, participates in class and socializes, has a great sense of humor that they enjoy, loves to learn, etc. In other words, they alleviated our worries.

While talking with his journalism teacher, I had one of those aha moments. My son, I realized, is confident enough in himself that he doesn’t feel the need to conform, to give in to peer pressure, to be surrounded by a group of friends. All the while I’ve been focusing on the negative when I should have been focusing on the positive, seeing the strengths in his personality.

Not everyone is interested in sports or theater or music, etc. And just because we as parents, as educators, as a society, think every kid should be intensely involved in extracurricular activities, we must also accept and realize that not every teen wants to be so involved. Not every teen is a social butterfly outside of the classroom.

My son doesn’t think like most teens. That’s OK. But he’s strong, smart, confident, inquisitive and more. When he focuses on a task, he wants his efforts to be invested in a real project, with real results. He doesn’t want to do something just to compete, although when he competes he’s very competitive. I finally understand that about him.

It just took asking the right questions at parent-teacher conferences to get there.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Chocolate cake for breakfast March 3, 2011

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“MOM, CAN I HAVE some hot fudge pudding cake for breakfast?” my 17-year-old asks.

“Sure, go ahead,” I reply. “There’s some whipped cream in the fridge too.”

Am I a bad mom for letting my teen consume a chocolate dessert before 8 a.m.?


Hot fudge pudding cake slathered with real whipped cream and topped with sprinkles.

When his sisters were that age—they’re 23 and 25 now—I never would have allowed them to eat cake for breakfast. But I’ve become a little much more relaxed in my parenting now that I’m older and tired.

Besides, I didn’t tell my boy this, but I was considering dipping into the chocolate pudding cake for breakfast too. I didn’t.

I wondered, though, as I poured cereal into a bowl, whether the cinnamon and sugar-laden squares I was about to eat were any more healthy than the homemade chocolate dessert?


The sugary cereal I ate for breakfast.

Just to clarify here, before you give me your opinion, you should know that my lanky son is over six feet tall, skinny as a toothpick, slim as a rail, etc. He can eat any amount of anything and not gain an ounce. Last night he ate a half a piece of pizza at 10:30. He does not like fruits (except for bananas and raspberries) or vegetables (except for potatoes). I did not raise him to dislike either as I could live on fruits and vegetables, OK, and chocolate.

If you would like to try hot fudge pudding cake for breakfast, or any time, here’s the recipe. It’s one of my favorite desserts, which my mom made when I was growing up, and is incredibly simple to prepare. Enjoy.

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup sugar

2 Tablespoons cocoa

½ cup milk

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cocoa. Stir in milk and vegetable oil. Spread in a 9-inch square pan.

Sprinkle with 1 cup of brown sugar and ¼ cup of cocoa that have been mixed together.

Pour 1 ¾ cups of hot water over the entire batter and bake at 350 degrees for 40 – 45 minutes. During baking, the cake mixture rises to the top and the chocolate sauce settles to the bottom. Serve warm, with whipped cream if desired.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Snow peas at the farmers’ market February 18, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:45 AM
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Faribault Farmers' Market sign, photographed during the summer.

MY HUSBAND AND I HAD some fun recently at our teen’s expense.

We were talking about food samples at the grocery store and I was raving about the bread. My spouse was telling me about the fish from Vietnam and how a shopper declared he wouldn’t eat anything from that country because of the parasites. I’m guessing he was a Vietnam War veteran.

Our son caught snippets of our conversation, remaining checked out for most of the exchange as is typical of him. Apparently any words said by the parents are not worthy of his full attention.

That is why, whenever he jumps into the middle of a discussion, his statements usually make no sense.

“What, you got bread at the farmer’s market?” he interjected into our grocery store sample conversation.

Now if we were teenagers, my husband and I would have rolled our eyes. But we didn’t.

One of us responded with something like, “You think there’s a farmers’ market in winter?” Well, maybe in some communities, but not in Central Park in Faribault, Minnesota, in February, even if the temp soared to nearly 50 degrees recently.

Besides, we added, it’s not like the local vendors would have any fresh fruits and vegetables to sell.

Then my husband, who possesses a sense of humor that balances my seriousness, thought for a moment.

Of course, he said, they could sell iceberg lettuce and snow peas, and, I added, freeze pops and snow cones.

And, oh, yeah, the Dairy Queen folks could peddle Blizzards.

By that time, the teen had already begun checking out. I could see it in his rolling eyes, in the dismissive shake of his head, in the vibe that indicated he thought his parents were nuts.

We just laughed.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Back to school for tired teens January 3, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:25 AM
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JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT the celebrating had ended, along comes today, Festival of Sleep Day.

I don’t know about you, but I could sure use some extra sleep. I never get enough. I blame that on aging and the necessity to get up nightly to pee, which disrupts my sleep.

But I don’t want to make me and my sleep issues the focus of this post. Rather, I want to highlight the topic of teens and sleep.

I made some interesting observations during the holiday break, when my 16-year-old son didn’t have to get up early and out the door to school. He was pleasant, actually pleasant. No crabbiness, for the most part. No disagreeable personality, for the most part. And, he willingly assisted with household tasks without resistance and complaining.

I liked, really, really liked, the teen who has lived here for the past 10 days or so. (That’s not to say I don’t like/love my boy. I do. But those of you who are parents of teens will understand exactly what I mean.)

So when this morning arrived and my son had to roll out of bed for his first day back at classes, I wondered which boy would greet me. It was the tired, I’m-not-happy-to-be-awake-this-early son. No surprise there given my high school junior stayed up late last night doing homework, although he said, “Not that late, mother.” I know what that means.

Let’s just say that he left his homework until Sunday, despite my strong, very strong, suggestion that he work on it earlier in the week. I’m going to derail again here and ask, “Why do teachers assign homework over holiday break?” Honestly, are they working on work when they’re on vacation? Maybe. My guess would be most likely not.

ANYWAY, BACK TO THAT SLEEP TOPIC. To my son’s credit, he slept in only until 10 every morning of break except for the first day and the last two days. Typically, he would slumber as late as he wished, which would be until about noon. But this time, this vacation, he set his alarm for 10 each morning and I give him credit for that self-discipline.

His dad and I have, for a long time, encouraged him not to sleep in so late, especially on weekends, because that just throws off his whole sleep cycle. He never understood that, up until now.

Based on my teen’s mood and sleep pattern, I’m convinced that, for him at least, starting school at about 9/9:30 a.m. would be a better physical and psychological fit. I’ve read and heard repeatedly that teens would do better with that later school day start. I can’t cite those sources right off the top of my head, but if you research the topic, you’ll find the studies to back up that statement. (Or just come and live at my house for awhile.)

I’m not holding my breath waiting for a change in high school start times locally. I don’t think that will happen, and certainly not in the next 1 ½ years, when my 16-year-old would benefit.

Once my son is off to college, I expect he won’t take too many 8 a.m. classes. But that’s OK. Then he can adjust his schedule to his natural sleep patterns and needs. Even without the teenage factor, he’s more of a night person, than a morning person.

That brings me full circle back to today and the Festival of Sleep Day celebration. I have no idea where this fest originated and had not heard of it until yesterday. But I think I’ll celebrate this afternoon by, maybe, taking a little nap.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling