Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

About greeting cards & why I value them May 17, 2023

Among the many retirement cards Randy recently received. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

I’M OLD SCHOOL. I like to give and receive greeting cards. Why? It’s personal. Much more personal than anything sent electronically.

All of the cards in this boxed set are verses I wrote. (Source: Warner Christian Resources)

I also happen to write freelance greeting card verses for a faith-based publishing company in Anderson, Indiana. I’ve done that for years, so long I can’t recall when I started. But I appreciate that Warner Christian Resources (formerly Warner Press) prints the writer’s name on the back of each card. Currently, all the cards in the boxed set, “Sympathy—Classic Condolences,” are printed with verses I penned. Order a box of these 12 cards, four designs (click here), and you’ll read my verses and see my name on the backs of the cards. I have one other card in a 2023 get well collection.

Typically I sell a handful of verses during each annual submission period. So while not particularly lucrative, writing greeting card verses for Warner challenges me. It’s not easy coming up with new ways of delivering a message. Kind of like writing poetry, every creative word counts.

Now back to greeting cards in general. I value them. They require time to choose or craft. They require putting pen to paper to sign and/or add a personal note. They require a stop at the post office or a mailbox if mailed. In other words, greeting cards take time and effort to send or give. And to me, that says something. That someone is thinking about me or I of them. That they care, that I care.

A downward view of some of Randy’s retirement cards. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

Recently, we’ve received an influx of greeting cards, starting with congratulatory wishes for Randy upon his recent retirement (well, sort of retirement as he eases into it by working fewer days each week). When I posted about his retirement, I encouraged you, my readers, to send cards. The many greetings that filled our mailbox humbled us. For Randy to receive cards from blog followers who took the time to choose or craft, sign and send greetings shows me what kind and caring hearts you have. Thank you.

My friend Valerie colored this postcard for me and wrote a get well message on the back. She knows how much I like to hang laundry on the line and how I colored when my vestibular symptoms were the worst. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

Recently, I’ve also received get well cards as I deal with the difficult symptoms of vestibular neuronitis. Anyone who’s ever faced a health challenge understands just how much a card means when you’re not feeling well. Such cards uplift, encourage, show that someone cares about how you’re doing, how you’re feeling. I understand that and try to always mail cards to friends and family who need encouragement.

Lastly, Randy and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary on Monday. We’ve received a few cards. Early on in our marriage, we got lots of anniversary cards every May. Now? Not many. Maybe after you’ve been married for as long as us, the thought is not even there to send a card. I have a sister-in-law who considered it weird that I would mail an anniversary card to her and her husband. No matter her opinion, I still send them a card each year.

How about you? Are you old school like me and still appreciate greeting cards? Do you send them, receive them? Or do you prefer to convey wishes in another way, or not at all? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflections on commencement from the mom of a postgraduate grad May 16, 2023

An edited computer screen image of students about to graduate Sunday evening from Purdue University. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

“YOU ARE READY and the world needs you….The world needs your energy and talents.” Versions of those statements are likely being repeated by keynote speakers during college commencements across the country. Sunday evening, Kathleen Howell, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University, delivered those words to master’s and doctor of philosophy students receiving their diplomas, my son among them.

Purdue’s Boilermaker mascot was on-site for weekend commencement ceremonies. (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)

From hundreds of miles away in southern Minnesota, I watched livestreaming of the lengthy ceremony. My vestibular neuronitis symptoms prevented me from making the long trip to Indiana. But Randy was there, sitting in packed Elliott Hall of Music for hours waiting to see Caleb walk across the stage to accept his master’s diploma.

Purdue’s college president, left, and other staff filled the stage Sunday evening in this computer screen photo. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

As speakers go, Howell did a stellar job of addressing graduates, reflecting on their time at Purdue and the future. And I’m not just saying that. I’ve attended college commencements thrice through the years and have heard some not so good speakers, especially the Wisconsin politician who apparently thought he was at a campaign rally rather than a university graduation.

The rising moon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

But back to West Lafayette, Indiana, and that speech by Howell. She shaped her address around a quote from President John F. Kennedy’s “moon speech,” quite appropriate given her area of expertise and involvement with the space program. In his talk about space exploration at Rice University in Houston, Texas, in September 1962, JFK said, “We chose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Graduates, families and friends gather pre-commencement at Purdue Sunday evening. (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)

Howell took that quote and expanded, suggesting grads reflect on what they’ve learned and the lessons they’ve learned. How they’ve chosen the things that are hard, pushed through hard times, modified their paths, come out stronger and more resilient. Her words, I expect resonated with many. They did with me as a parent. Howell encouraged the new degree-holders to trust themselves, to always recognize that not everything is accomplished alone. I appreciated her specific acknowledgment of those who supported, continue to support, these new graduates.

All in all, Howell’s keynote address was upbeat, uplifting, encouraging. I never once just wanted her speech to end so the ceremony could proceed. But when it did and doctorate candidates began the process of being “hooded,” I admittedly grew impatient.

Caleb, pre-commencement. (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)

Eventually, Caleb walked across the stage and I found myself overcome with emotion. He’d worked hard, met challenges to reach this point and I felt incredibly proud and grateful and many other feelings rolled into that moment. Howell’s speech caused me to reflect on Caleb as a little boy and his interest in space, not space travel as much as the solar system. He even had a star chart. His star, though, shines not in the skies, but in computer science. Caleb will be among those Purdue students who go on to create technological advancements. He’s already off to a good start with his undergrad accomplishments, independent research and work experience in the years between earning his bachelor’s (from Tufts University) and master’s degrees.

For all those parents who are watching their “kids” graduate, this is your moment, too. As Professor Howell said, none of us can do this alone. Not us. Not these new graduates. And especially not the first men on the moon.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Remembering Gordon Lightfoot & his ballad about the Edmund Fitzgerald May 3, 2023

A photo of the Edmund Fitzgerald shown during a 2014 presentation in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

CERTAIN SONGS FROM MY TEEN years into my early 20s occasionally surface like ear worms in my mind. Today that tune is “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” a ballad by Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist Gordon Lightfoot.

Taconite pellets, like these, filled the cargo holds of The Edmund Fitzgerald as it journeyed across Lake Superior on November 9 and 10, 1975. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

The 84-year-old musician died on Monday, leaving a legacy of storytelling that includes his version of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s fateful final journey. The iron ore carrier sank in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, claiming the lives of 29 crewmen.

Newspaper clippings about The Fitz were passed around to audience members at a 2014 presentation in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

Stories about the catastrophic shipwreck during a storm with hurricane force winds, waves reaching 70 feet and a gale force warning bannered newspapers. It was especially big news here in Minnesota since the 729-foot long by 75-foot wide ship left Superior, Wisconsin, just across from the port city of Duluth. The Fitzgerald was weighted with 26,000 tons of taconite pellets and bound for a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan.

PBS did a documentary on the Edmund Fitzgerald. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

On the afternoon of November 9, the freighter left Superior. By 7:15 pm the next evening, the USS Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared, the wreckage later found 17 miles northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan.

In Lightfoot’s words:

The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Lightfoot on the cover of his 2002 CD, which my husband owns. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” soared to #2 on the Pop chart and remained there for 21 weeks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

The lengthy folk song of 6.5 minutes unfolds in suspenseful storytelling style. Lightfoot takes his listeners on board the massive Edmund Fitzgerald caught in the stormy, churning waters of Gitche Gumee (Ojibwe for Lake Superior). The songwriter uses some artistic license in his version of the disaster as noted when comparing facts to lyrics. Yet, his haunting song, like reality, carries the truth of death, the heavy emotions of loss. Every time I hear Lightfoot’s song, I feel overcome with sadness, as if the powerful, roiling waves of Superior are rolling over me, pulling me down down down into the dark depths of the lake.

The Edmund Fitzgerald stretched more than two football fields long. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

The emotional intensity of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” remains strong for me, even decades after I first heard the new release in 1976. And that’s a credit to Lightfoot, who wrote history into a ballad that is poetically and tragically memorable.

TELL ME: Are you a fan of Gordon Lightfoot or any of his songs? I’d like to hear your thoughts on him, this ballad or musicians and/or songs particularly memorable to you.

FYI: Click here to read a post I wrote in 2014 about a presentation on the Edmund Fitzgerald at the Rice County Historical Society Museum in Faribault.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Good Friday focus on suffering & compassion April 7, 2023

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A crown of thorns (similar to that worn by Jesus on the cross) used in a Stations of the Cross event at my church in 2019. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2019)

ON THIS GOOD FRIDAY, the day Christ was crucified, I contemplated what I would write. I had two topics in mind—suffering and compassion. Then I realized I needn’t choose one. I could focus on both.

Christ died a cruel and agonizing death. There is no denying that. Yet, even in his betrayal, his pain, his intense suffering, he showed compassion to the end. And beyond the end. We can learn a lot from Jesus.

We all experience suffering in life. That’s a given in our humanity. Right now I have friends going through some really rough stuff within their immediate and extended families. A one-year-old on life support. A nephew dead in a tragic car accident. Another battling advanced cancer. Ongoing and new health issues. It can feel like a lot. And to think otherwise would be to deny the challenges facing people about whom I care deeply. There are days when I feel overwhelmed by all the suffering in this world and beyond. Enough already, I want to scream.

Reaching out with care and compassion. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

But then I recognize that I can either be dragged down by it or I can do as Christ did—show compassion. I can be that person who listens. I can be that person who offers encouraging words. I can be that person who mails an uplifting greeting card with a personal note. I can be that person who connects and shows care in tangible ways and sets aside my anguish to focus on those at the center of challenges.

This is not the time to pull out my own stories and compare, thus putting the focus on me. This is not the time for me to tell anyone how to think, feel or act. This is not the time to offer advice. This is the time to simply be there. To listen. To hug. To pray, but to take my compassion beyond thoughts and prayers.

We can all work on improving our listening skills. Not just hear, but listen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am a major advocate of listening. It is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give to someone who is grieving, in crisis, in the throes of health or other challenges. Listening doesn’t seem to come easily for most people. It takes a conscious, focused effort. But at its core, listening is easy. It requires keeping one’s mouth closed, for starters. And then it necessitates concentrating, taking in every word, every nuance, body language and detail.

By nature, I am a quiet observer. I don’t need to be, want to be, the loudest person in the room pushing my ideas or opinions or recommendations. I know too many individuals who fit that self-centered persona. They exhaust me and, yes, sometimes even anger me. Quiet compassion and listening center me.

An important message painted onto a fence in a downtown Faribault pocket garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Today, as I reflect on the life and death of Christ, I see someone who showed great compassion throughout his time on earth. He witnessed and understood suffering. He experienced emotions. He felt pain. Yes, I can learn a lot from Jesus. About loving. About listening. About showing compassion, even in suffering.

TELL ME: How do you show compassion to those who are facing challenges?

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Immersing myself in student art at the Paradise April 4, 2023

Art created by Briana, Faribault Middle School sixth grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

THAT LOOKS LIKE an illustration in a children’s picture book” I think while viewing a drawing of a cat eyeing fish in a fish bowl. But I’m not paging through a book. Rather I’m appreciating a work of art by Faribault Middle School sixth grader Briana in the All Area Student Art Show at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The exhibit with student art from eight schools closes April 8.

A sampling of artwork in this exhibit, here the art of Faribault Middle School students. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Likewise, I envision other art on t-shirts, note cards, mugs, places beyond the walls of this Minnesota center for the arts in historic downtown Faribault.

I am grateful to the Paradise Center for the Arts showcasing student art annually. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Yet, on this day I value this student art in its role as part of a gallery exhibit, showcased to the public. This annual show is always such a delight in the variety of art, the talent, the way these young artists pour themselves into their work. Some pieces, more than others, offer glimpses into personalities and interests.

Making music via the visual arts. Guitars by Kiley, left, and Mish of Faribault Middle School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I can feel my fingers press into the strings of a guitar, the beat of music filling the room.

Paper collages by Faribault Middle School eighth graders Claire, left, and Maddie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I can hear the rhythmic thump of a basketball upon the floor, feel my foot connecting with a soccer ball, see a tennis ball fly across the net toward me. I can hear a dog panting, feel its presence nearby.

Two especially creative pieces of art from Kylie, left, and Cassie, Faribault Middle School sixth graders. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I can see my beautiful multi-hued nails, a reflection of this beautiful, diverse world.

Belinda, Roosevelt second grader, created this bold rooster. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I can hear the rooster crowing, the chicken clucking, the dog barking.

A collection of kitties drawn by Kennedy, first grader at Roosevelt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I can feel a hundred cat eyes on me, watching, waiting.

Holly, a senior at Faribault Area Learning Center, crafted this mask. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

It doesn’t take much to immerse myself in this student art, to experience it. Art can take us places. Geographically. Mentally. Back in time, forward in time. Into an imaginative place. Into a real place. Art can be healing and therapeutic and so many other things. Art can make a statement.

A sampling of art by students from Roosevelt Elementary School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

To confine art’s purpose to a sentence or two would be like locking ideas inside a box. It can’t be done. As long as creatives create, the expanse of art’s reach is endless. Today these youth have shown me their evolving, developing creativity. And that gives me hope in a world that needs art today more than ever.

FYI: This concludes my three-part series on the All Area Student Art Show. Please click here to read my first post on nature-themed art in this exhibit. And then click here to see portraits created by these students.

The PCA is open from noon-5pm Wednesday-Friday and from 10am-2pm Saturday at 321 Central Avenue North in Faribault.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Some encouraging mental health news & then… March 21, 2023

This message refers to the struggles associated with mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

WE’VE ALL SEEN THEM—fundraisers and GoFundMe campaigns to help individuals and families who are struggling. Perhaps you’ve even been in that spot of needing financial help following a devastating event or a major health crisis. You’ve likely attended many fundraisers and/or donated online. I am thankful for such generosity.

Typically, these pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, silent auctions,…crowdfunding efforts follow a diagnosis like cancer, a car accident or a major event like a house fire. Missed work and overwhelming medical and other bills all too often deplete finances. And if not for the assistance of caring family, friends and even strangers, many could not get through the challenges.

Yet, in the all of this, I’ve often wondered why individuals who’ve experienced a mental health crisis are not fundraising also. When they’ve been hospitalized and/or found themselves unable to work, the financial fall-out is no less.

I photographed these mental health themed buttons several years ago on a bulletin board at the Northfield Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


But I hold hope that is changing. I read an encouraging article, “Out from under: Crowdfunding is an option for people in mental health crisis,” by freelancer Andy Steiner. In her MinnPost article, Steiner shares the story of a 42-year-old artist and educator diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder linked to childhood abuse and who suffers from debilitating migraines as a result. Unable to work sometimes for months at a time, the woman faced financial struggles. She was behind on her rent. A friend suggested she start a GoFundMe. Eventually, she reluctantly did so, getting enough donations to pay overdue bills and then some. It was just the boost she needed. Financially and mentally/emotionally.

Steiner’s article includes interviews with Mental Health Minnesota and with GoFundMe. I encourage you to read her story by clicking here. I feel such hope in reading that more people facing mental health crises are beginning to seek the outside financial support often elusive to them.

I recognize this doesn’t fix everything. We have a long ways to go in ending the stigma which continues to surround mental illness. I see improvements. But I don’t think we’re to the point where family and friends are delivering hotdishes (the Minnesota term for “casseroles”) to individuals and families in the throes of a mental health crisis. Financial and emotional support, encouragement and, yes, even compassionate greeting cards/calls/notes are needed just as much in these situations.

Reaching for help, this hand was part of a mental health-themed sculpture, “Waist Deep,” which once stood outside the Northfield Public Library as part of a changing art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)


And we definitely need more mental healthcare professionals. That brings me to another recent bit of encouraging news. My county of Rice has been selected as the site for a new satellite office of the South Central Mobile Crisis Team, a team which responds (to homes, etc. and virtually) 24/7 in mental health crises in a 10-county area. Currently, it can take some 2 ½ hours for that team to arrive here from its home base 40 miles away. That’s too long. If you were experiencing a heart attack, for example, you wouldn’t be expected to wait two hours.

Yes, I hold hope. I hold hope for the many individuals and families who will benefit from additional, immediate mental healthcare resources. I hold hope that Crowdfunding and fundraising dinners and breakfasts will become more common for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and the financial fall-out. I hold hope that they will find, too, a more understanding community of emotional support. All of this is so long overdue. We each have the power within us to show compassion and care and thus help reduce the stigma of mental illness. Let’s do it.

I highly-recommend this book to learn more about mental illness from the perspective of parents. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


And then this happens: Irvo Otieno, 28, died March 6 in a Virginia psychiatric hospital days after initially experiencing mental health distress. Seven deputies have now been charged with second-degree murder in his death.

In a powerful statement to the media, Caroline Ouko said, “Mental illness should not be your ticket to death. There was a chance to rescue him. We have to do better.” The words of this grieving mother should cause every single one of us to pause and consider, what if this had been my loved one in a mental health crisis? Could this happen to someone I love? To any of us? Sadly, it could.

We can do better. We have to do better. Mental illness should not be a ticket to death.

Photographed along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighbor of Madison, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


FYI: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis and/or is in need of mental health support, please seek help.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Minnesota Chapter and Operation: 23 to Zero (aims to prevent suicide among veterans and those in the military) are co-hosting a safeTALK Training from 8 a.m.- noon Saturday, March 25, at the Faribault American Legion. This event provides training in suicide alertness skills, connections to life-saving resources and more. To learn more and/or to register for this free-will donation half-day program, click here.

South Central Minnesota Crisis Line: 877-399-3040

National Suicide and Crisis Line: 988

National Alliance on Mental Illness, with state chapters, is a great resource for information and support, including virtual and in-person support groups. Click here to reach the national NAMI website.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Alright, winter, time to leave Minnesota as spring arrives March 20, 2023

Trees bud at Falls Creek Park, rural Faribault, in late May 2022. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

TODAY, THE FIRST DAY of spring, hope springs that this long winter of too much snow will soon exit Minnesota. Most Minnesotans, including me, are weary of days marked by new snowfall that has accumulated, pushing this 2022-2023 winter season into top 10 records in our state.

Asparagus, one of my favorite spring vegetables. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

But now, with the official start of a new season on March 20—the season of new life, the season of planting and budding and greening—I feel a mental shift. Psychologically, my mind can envision a landscape shifting from colorless monochrome to vivid greens. I can feel the warmth of warmer days yet to come. I can smell the scent of dirt released, breaking from winter’s grip. I can hear the singsong chatter of returning birds. I can taste asparagus spears snapped from the soil.

A bud beginning to open in late April 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2020)

All of this is yet to come. I understand that. A date on a calendar doesn’t mean spring in Minnesota. That season is realistically weeks away. April can still bring inches of snow.

Crocuses, always the first flower of spring in my flowerbeds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021)

But we are edging toward spring. I feel that in temps sometimes reaching just past 40 degrees. I feel it in the warmth of the sun, shining brighter, bolder, longer. I see dwindling snow packs and exposed patches of grass. I hear spring in vehicles splashing through puddles rather than crunching across snow. I see spring, too, in the endless potholes pocking roadways.

The first line in my winning poem, posted roadside in 2011. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2011)

On this first day of spring, I am reminded of a poem I penned in 2011, a poem which splashed across four billboards along a road just off Interstate 94 in Fergus Falls in west central Minnesota. To this day, publication of that poem remains an especially rewarding experience for me as a poet.

Billboard number two of my spring-themed poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2011)

I submitted the poem to the now-defunct Roadside Poetry Project’s spring competition. Poems changed out seasonally in this Fergus Falls Area College Foundation funded contest. It was a bit of a challenge writing a spring-themed poem, as I recall. Not because of the theme, but rather the rules—four lines only with a 20-character-per-line limit. But, as a writer, it’s good to be challenged.

Line three of my Roadside Poetry Project spring poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2011)

I suppose you could say the same about Minnesota weather. It’s good to be challenged by an especially snowy winter so we appreciate spring’s arrival even more. Yes, that’s a positive perspective—a way to mentally and psychologically talk myself into enduring perhaps six more weeks of winter in this official season of spring.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2011)

NOTE: I intentionally omitted any pictures showing snow/winter.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Beyond BIG PLANS, the moments that matter most to this grandma February 20, 2023

Book cover credit: Bob Shea’s website

I GOT PLANS! BIG PLANS, I SAY!” shouts the boy standing atop the highest hill in town, the hill he just climbed.

His plans take him to a big city, to a board room filled with MUCKETY-MUCKS, into a helicopter and onto a football field. He becomes mayor and then President. He has, he continues proclaiming, BIG PLANS.

His plans take him into space, flying in a rocket ship built by the state of Pennsylvania and wearing a space suit made of potatoes from Idaho. There is seemingly nothing he cannot do.

My grandkids, Isabelle, 6, and Isaac, 4, loved this easy reader picture book written by Bob Shea and illustrated by Lane Smith. I did, too. It’s funny, empowering and imaginative. And I loved reading it to my grandchildren as we snuggled into the recliner under a fleece throw. I lost count of how many times I read BIG PLANS during their overnight weekend stay.

As a grandma, I hold onto the moments rather than big plans for my young grandchildren. I want them to appreciate who they are now and Isaac as much as stated the same when he said he wanted to remain a kid. For now he is—a little boy whose knowledge of the solar system is not to be challenged. Likewise his sister with dinosaurs.

Saturday into Sunday afternoon, toys and books and puzzles littered the living room turned playroom. Toys pulled from totes in the basement. A Fisher Price school bus, a fire truck, a bulldozer. Matchbox vehicles, including an ambulance with doors that open, Isabelle noted. Small plastic dinosaurs and larger roaring ones. Cootie and BINGO pulled from an upstairs closet. Toys that their mom and their aunt and their uncle and a host of other children have played with through the decades, imaginations unleashed.

Isaac created art with crayons, inspired by another book we read, Jigsaw Mystery in the Mail by Bob Graham. He drew a birthday cake with two flaming candles, asked me to cut out double layers of cake and then staple the two together to form a card. He asked for an envelope, then requested I address it to United States of America. Nothing more. He expects his mom to drop the card in a mailbox, just like in the book.

The animal-focused book Moon Glowing written by Elizabeth Partridge and illustrated by Joan Paley brought discussion about hibernating beavers, bats and bears. Maybe a bear lives inside the snow cave we discovered in the backyard, Isabelle and I considered. The snow den into which Izzy and I poked a stick three feet long, the stick easily swallowed. I considered for a moment that an animal might come raging out. Certainly not a bear, but…

So we moved onto fishing (Izzy’s idea). She dropped her line over the limestone wall, hauling in fish after fish after fish. I appreciated how creative her mind, how dry maple leaves topping the snow, mulching flowerbeds, morphed into sunnies and crappies and walleyes caught via her stick fishing pole. And then this first grader mentioned that she wished she really was fishing. And although it’s no longer truly safe to ice fish in Minnesota this season, there’s always next winter. Or fishing from the dock at the cabin this summer.

These were the moments of my weekend. No BIG PLANS. But something far better—time with these dear little ones. Time to hug and hold and hang onto the moments that matter most. Like the moment Isaac declared, “Peanut butter pancakes make me happy!”

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Conversation hearts February 14, 2023

Not candy conversation hearts…but a collection of my mom’s vintage valentines which can also be conversation starters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

CANDY HEARTS. I’ve never liked their chalky texture and taste. But these hard pastel candies are as much a part of Valentine’s Day history as valentines, red roses and chocolates. And they are a starting point for conversations: Be mine. Hugs. Love.

What exactly is love? It’s not a word completely defined without context. Yet, there is a basic understanding of romantic love, of love within a family, of love between friends. But what about the everyday love that we can express in words, especially towards those not in our friends and family circles?

Let me explain as I reflect on several conversations with strangers over the weekend. There’s nothing particularly dynamic about these brief encounters. Still, they are worth noting given each exchange reaffirms the importance of connecting with others as we go about our daily lives, sort of like handing out candy conversation hearts. I should note that I am comfortable initiating conversations with people I don’t know, if it feels right.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


So there I was, in the check-out lane at a local grocery store when I noticed the man behind me with a shopping cart full of healthy foods. (Yes, I do notice what others are buying.) “You eat oatmeal, too,” I said, nodding toward the two cylinders of old-fashioned rolled oats standing side by side in his cart.

“Ever since I had my heart attack 13 years ago,” he said.

While I don’t remember my exact rambling reply, it went something like this: “Oatmeal’s supposed to be good for your cholesterol and the first time I ate it I thought I can’t do this every morning and then I added fruit…”

“Lots of fruit,” he qualified, when my run-on sentence ended. We fully agreed on the need for lots of fruit.

“Good for you that you’re eating healthy.” And then I wanted to tell him about how my father-in-law hated oatmeal and stuffed it in his pockets at Catholic boarding school in North Dakota but then I ran out of time because my groceries were being scanned and I had to move on, minus any old-fashioned oats in my cart.

Heart-shaped cut-out cookies I baked on a previous Valentine’s Day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


That same morning, I popped into the post office to mail homemade M & M cookies to my son in Indiana. He’d celebrated his birthday only days prior and I’d failed. I failed to mail him a box of goodies. He obviously expected one. The day before his birthday, Caleb texted to ask if he should be expecting a package. Uh, no. My mom guilt kicked in big time and the next morning I was in my kitchen baking cookies.

Waiting in line at the post office, I wondered how long it would take those sweets to arrive in Lafayette. I once shipped homemade cookies that somehow ended up in Montana, arriving 10 days later in Indiana. So you can understand my apprehension. As I stepped up to the window, the postal clerk asked the usual “anything liquid, hazardous, perishable…?

“Are cookies considered perishable?”

I expected the usual no, but instead got a yes. The clerk clarified by asking if I baked the cookies. When I confirmed I had, she advised me to touch “yes” on the screen, further clarifying that this didn’t mean the cookies would arrive any earlier or that they wouldn’t be diverted to Montana. But I am happy to report the package arrived in Lafayette on Monday, unbelievably fast. I appreciated that the postal clerk appreciated that homemade cookies lack preservatives and are, indeed, perishable or at least capable of going stale. I have to think that conversation with her factored into the swift delivery.

Red roses from my husband for a previous celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


On to another grocery store, once again waiting in line, this time on a price check for the customer ahead of me. I decided to guess the price of the mixed bouquet of wrapped flowers he held. “I’d pay $7.99 for them,” I said. “But they’re probably lots more because of Valentine’s Day.” I was way off. They were nearly $17.

“You should have guessed higher,” he said.

“Whoever they’re for, she’ll appreciate them.” The cashier concurred.

“They’re for my daughter, for her dance recital.”

That simply made me smile in the sort of way that filled my spirit with happiness and joy. The love of a father for his daughter. Had I not initiated a conversation, I never would have experienced this everyday, love-filled dozen roses moment.

A fused glass heart created by Northfield artist Geralyn Thelen for the “Spreading the Love” sculpture, public art installed in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


As I moved ahead, waiting for a teenager to bag my groceries, I noted her long hair cascading in ringlets. “I love your hair. It’s beautiful. How do you get it to curl like that?”

She explained how she rolls curlers into her hair and sleeps in them overnight. Her wide smile revealed to me just how much she appreciated my sincere compliment. As she pushed my shopping cart across the grocery store parking lot toward the van, this bubbly young woman commented on the sunny day and asked how mine was going. Her very being radiated warmth like the February sunshine. It was as if we were exchanging conversation hearts when she wished me a wonderful day and I reciprocated.

Life is filled with opportunities like this. Maybe not to talk about oatmeal or cookies or flowers or curly hair or sunny mornings. But to interact, to connect, to show others that we value them, that they matter to us in the everyday moments of our lives.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Council vacancy generates 17 candidates in Faribault, now time to choose one February 2, 2023

Serving on the Faribault City Council is about more than attending meetings and making decisions. It’s also about being involved in the community. Here council member Peter van Sluis, left to right, Mayor Kevin Voracek and councilman Royal Ross serve chili and engage during the Faribault Main Street Chili Cook-off in October. The WTF on Vorack’s tee stands for “Welcome To Faribault.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

JUST MONTHS OUT from the general election, 17 individuals applied for an open seat on the Faribault City Council. The current council is tasked with choosing the individual who will fill the spot vacated by Jonathon Wood with two years remaining in his term. The council invited interested individuals to apply, resulting in the unprecedented 17 applicants.

It’s interesting to note that in the November election, three candidates ran unopposed for three council seats. Two incumbents were re-elected with the third winner a newcomer and our first person of color elected to the council.

Without talking to each of the 17 applicants, I can only speculate on their reasons for wanting to join the council. Some come with a history of government and community involvement, whether locally or elsewhere. Some are life-long Faribault residents, others newcomers. Some are young, others more advanced in age. Whatever their reasons for wanting to serve, I hope they approached this with open minds (and not with personal agendas), with a strong desire to do what’s right and best for Faribault, all of Faribault.

I know some of the people on this candidate list personally. I can easily envision them sitting on the council, doing their homework, carefully researching and considering issues, listening, voicing their thoughts. I can see them investing the time, energy and effort needed to make informed decisions that affect not only how this city operates, but also Faribault residents and businesses.

From my perspective, the ability to listen, really listen, is vital. That means listening to all voices—heard and unheard, loud and quiet.

I don’t envy the current council’s task of filling this council vacancy. They met, narrowed the choices down, and are sending follow-up questions to the five remaining contenders. Those individuals will be asked to give short presentations at a council workshop session next week.

I’m grateful that so many individuals applied to serve on the Faribault City Council. Seventeen. That’s an incredibly high number of people willing to devote their time and energy to issues that affect my community. Whomever the council ultimately appoints, that individual will help shape the future of this city, shaped, too, by its rich history.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling