Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Troubling words in Faribault August 17, 2017

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I photographed these words by aiming my cellphone down toward the water and the bottom of a public fountain in Faribault.


WHEN I SAW THE WORDS White gang in a public fountain in Faribault recently, I was troubled. I still am and especially in the light of all that’s happened in this country in the past week.

My intention is not to give a voice to those who hate.

Rather, I feel the need to express my sadness, disappointment and dismay that a message like this was scrawled inside a fountain below a sculpture of town founder Alexander Faribault and a Dakota trading partner. Alexander modeled compassion, kindness and acceptance in his life and work as a fur trader. He did not advocate hatred.

There’s been a shift in our nation that is empowering and emboldening individuals—perhaps like the person who wrote these two words—to spew violence and hatred and bigotry. No place seems immune.

Sometimes I can’t believe this is America in 2017.


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© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


At the library: Making Faribault a better place June 14, 2017

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This poster at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault promotes the theme of the summer reading program.




This sign rests on the check-out desk at the library for all to read.


Hate has no business in our community.


I picked up this bookmark at the library several days ago.


One world, many stories.

I appreciate these three messages, shared on a poster, on a sign and on a bookmark at my local library.


Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


In this public place along Division Street in Faribault, local residents of all ages, all colors, all backgrounds, gather. While there are certainly divisions and differences, there is also a coming together here facilitated by library staff.


These signs were previously (and may still be) posted in the library restrooms. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Words matter. When I read words that encourage building up rather than tearing down, choosing love over hatred and fostering of unity instead of division, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that we can learn to get along, to appreciate the individual stories we each bring to our community. Once we begin to see each other as individuals, the building begins, the love flows, our world widens.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Three phrases I’d like to ban June 13, 2016

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ARE THERE CERTAIN WORDS or phrases that bother you? I mean big time irritate you to the point that you want to shout, DO NOT SAY (WRITE) THOSE WORDS TO ME!

Here are the top phrases/words I would like to ban:


Words buck up


My husband once advised me to “Buck up!” when I was gasping for air while in the middle of a major asthmatic type attack. I was ill at the time, severely ill, with whooping cough. Rather than suggesting I “Buck up!”, he probably should have been dialing 911. (In his defense, neither of us fully realized the seriousness of the situation.)

Why do I dislike those two words? In my particular instance, no amount of bucking up would solve my medical emergency. This was out of my control. Telling someone to “Buck up!” minimizes their situation/issue/problem. Rather than suggest someone toughen up, how about offering help and/or a solution? Or simply listen.


Words awesome


How can everything in life be awesome? It is the most overused trendy word. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Really?

Rather than apply the worn-out word awesome, which has lost all meaning because of its repetitive use, tell me precisely why something is awesome. Is something awesome because it’s an incredible accomplishment? Is something awesome because it pleases you and solves a problem? Is something awesome because it’s uniquely creative? Use specific words that hold meaning.


Words it is what it is


I’ve heard these five words spoken in trying situations. These are not words anyone facing or managing a crisis or challenge needs to hear. Why? This dismissive phrase only makes a person feel worse.

Instead, validate an individual’s feelings and then offer support, comfort, encouragement and/or assistance. No one needs to be reminded that a situation is bad; that’s already a known.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what words/phrases bug you. Or, if you wish, defend usage of the words/phrases I dislike.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


You write the definition of… March 17, 2016

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Ugh...photographed at St. Olaf College


I PHOTOGRAPHED THIS three-letter word on the wall outside the Flaten Art Museum inside the Dittman Center of St. Olaf College in Northfield.

It’s meant, I believe, to be a work of art.

If you were to write a definition of ugh, what would you write?

Would you choose a standard dictionary definition? A synonym?

Or would you draw on a memory? Think of a repulsive smell or taste? Picture a creepy bug or other frightening creature? Perhaps a scene?

Go ahead. Write your definition here. Let’s see what creative thoughts those three letters—u-g-h—can unleash. (Note, your comments are subject to my editorial discretion, meaning let’s steer clear of topics like politics. This is a family friendly blog.)

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thoughts as the year ends & a new one begins December 31, 2015

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I hope your year has been a mostly good one. Hope. That was my chosen focus word for 2015 and will remain my focus word into 2016.

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which I got at a recent family reunion.

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which I chose as a BINGO prize at a family reunion. Since then, I’ve had her paint a similar HOPE stone for a friend going through a difficult time. This HOPE stone sits on my office desk.

A strong visual reminder of hope sits on my office desk. It is a HOPE stone, crafted by a great niece.

There are days when we all need hope. Whether you are dealing with financial challenges, health issues, relationship difficulties, a personal loss, grief or anything else that weighs you down, may you see HOPE in the New Year. The flip of the calendar offers the opportunity to begin anew.

In four months, a baby girl will be born, making me a grandma. She is reason for joy. A new life. A new beginning for my eldest and her husband. A new beginning for me and my husband as grandparents.

May you, too, dear readers, find such joys in 2016.

Thank you for being a part of my life, for sharing your thoughts, for encouraging and supporting me and my writing and photography. I am grateful as 2015 closes and a new year unfurls full of possibilities and hope.


© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Words to ponder upon beginning the new year December 31, 2013

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Sign at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church

THIS MESSAGE GRABBED my attention recently at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault, Minnesota.

Definitely words to ponder as 2013 draws to a close and we look ahead, with hopefulness and resolution, to the new year.

What opportunities will you seize in 2014?

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Words matter January 20, 2013

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IT’S THAT KIND of afternoon here in Faribault, you know, the type where you just want to curl up on the couch under an afghan with a good book or, like my husband, nap in the recliner with the television blaring football in the background.

After church, followed by a trip to the grocery store this morning, I have no desire to step outside into the frigid nine-degree cold.

When I complained about that cold upon entering church this morning, my friend Kathi responded that at least I didn’t have to shovel snow.

Her comment set the tone for the day, reminding me that life sometimes can be exactly how you choose to perceive it.

Today I choose to see the beauty of white in daisies, one of my favorite flowers.

Today I choose to see the beauty of white in daisies, one of my favorite flowers.

Then, even before I pulled off my coat, my friend Joy handed me a packaged date-filled cookie from Saudi Arabia because, she said, “You gave me those date cookies at Christmas and I figured you liked dates.” How thoughtful was that?

Upon entering the fellowship hall, I spotted two cookbooks lying on a table with a “free” sign on them. I grabbed them for my daughters and bee-lined for the kitchen to thank Joy. I knew, just knew, the cookbooks had come from her.

Outside the fellowship hall, I greeted Bob, who lost both his parents within six months of each other last year. I asked how he was doing and he told me how he and several family members had been sorting through his parents’ possessions yesterday and came across greeting cards and notes they’d saved. Among those notes were some I’d sent to the couple, who always showed such kindness and generosity to my family. Bob shared an observation by one of his sisters: “That Audrey, she sure has a way with words.”

That Bob’s mom would choose to save all those notes from family and friends surely emphasizes the importance of care and gratitude expressed in handwritten words.

The UPS delivery man dropped a dozen multi-colored roses and a box of chocolates off at my house late Thursday morning.

Remembering the beautiful roses my daughter Miranda sent me for Mother’s Day 2012.

That reminds me of the two hand-printed poems I received on Saturday from Hannah, a sweet 11-year-old whom I’m mentoring in poetry. My friends’ daughter also jotted a note with this P.S.: You are the coolest poet I have ever known!

You can bet Hannah and Bob both made me feel good with the kind words they shared.

Words matter.

Poppies have long been associated with honoring and remembering veterans. I photographed this poppy in my neighbor, Cheri's, yard this past summer.

The vivid color of poppies just makes me happy.

Saturday evening, words made me laugh, a lot, during an improv comedy show by southern Minnesota based Spontaneous Productions at The Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault. For nearly two hours, this high-energy group of guys entertained with family-friendly, audience-interactive improv.

If you’re like me and want to avoid potty-mouth comedy, then Spontaneous Productions would be the group to entertain you. Even when the name “Chuck” was chosen by the audience during a rhyming improv scene, we were assured by the host that we wouldn’t hear any bad words. I was especially smitten by one performer’s stellar imitation of Bob Dylan during the group’s “Sweet Home Minnesota” version of “Sweet Home Alabama.” The comedians had the audience belting out the chorus of “Sweet home Minnesota, where the lakes are blue…”

The unassuming beauty of the southwestern Minnesota prairie in the winter of 2012.

The unassuming beauty of the southwestern Minnesota prairie in the winter of 2012.

While lakes may appeal to most Minnesotans, my friend Kathleen understands my deep love for the southwestern Minnesota prairie. So last week this former Faribault children’s librarian living in Washington state, mailed me a hard-cover copy of If you’re not from the prairie… written by David Bouchard and illustrated by Henry Ripplinger. Kathleen knew, when down-sizing her children’s book collection, that I would appreciate the book. I do. But I also value her thoughtfulness.

On a serious note, my blogger friend Nina Hedin, whose husband Tom was seriously injured in a snowmobile crash two weeks ago, posted these words on Tom’s Caring Bridge website today:

I can honestly say this has been the longest two weeks ever. So much has passed, life changing moments, hugs, tears, family and friends pulling together… so much to be thankful for.

First, that Tom survived not only one, but two impacts; the first when he hit the embankment, and the next when he flew off the sled and landed some thirty feet away. It’s amazing that he didn’t have any internal damage or paralysis.

Second, that we have all of you. Our prayer warriors. Our friends and family and strangers that care.

"Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."-- Forrest Gump. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”– Forrest Gump.

Although Nina could choose to focus on the difficulties, on Tom’s long road to recovery as he has transitioned out of Hennepin County Medical Center into sub-acute rehab back in the couple’s community of Glencoe, she remains overwhelmingly positive. The family has faced plenty of challenges. But this 30-something mother of two young children chooses to see the humor, the goodness and the progress that will bring her husband home, their family back together.

If you are able to help this family financially, please consider making a gift to the GiveForward “Help for Tom Hedin” fund to cover medical and other expenses by clicking here. Already family, friends and strangers have given nearly $4,000 toward the $40,000 goal. If you are unable to give, offer an encouraging word and/or prayer.

Words matter.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: All photos were pulled from my files.