Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on 2021 in an A & E magazine column January 12, 2022

Photographed at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Flea Market, rural Dundas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2021)

WHEN SOUTHERN MINN SCENE, a regional arts and entertainment magazine in southern Minnesota resumed publication late last year, I reclaimed my column. I’m delighted to be back crafting “Through a SoMinn Lens,” an essay of images and words, but mostly images.

Leaves in the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

A look back at 2021 themed the recently-published January issue. I titled my piece “Reflections and hope during a pandemic year.” I wrote a reflective essay and then searched my photo files for supporting images.

A scene at Faribault’s 2021 Memorial Day Parade along Central Avenue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2021)

I encourage you to view my column, which features 26 photos, by clicking here. I aim to tell the story of 2021 in southern Minnesota from an everyday perspective. Through my camera lens as I’m out and about. I focus on words, people, events, nature, art, small town Main Street… This is my world. Perhaps your world, too. Or maybe a place not at all familiar.

A funeral visitation notice posted in front of the greeting cards at Lerberg’s Foods in Ellendale, MN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2021)

Yet, wherever we live, whatever we do, we share the commonality of humanity. We need to remember that as we begin 2022, as we continue pushing through this pandemic with hope.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflecting on 2021 December 31, 2021

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This quarter-sized token, gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann, lies on my computer desk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

AS 2021 DRAWS to a close, thoughts naturally turn reflective as I look at the year behind and, tomorrow, to the beginning of a new year. Never did I think we would still be in this pandemic, entering year three.

For me, 2021 brought grief, hope, frustration and many other emotions. Grief at the death of my father-in-law (not from COVID) in February. Hope in the availability of COVID vaccines to protect us from severe illness and death. Frustration over the ongoing resistance to those life-saving vaccines. Frustration in the failure of too many to follow simple measures, like masking in public, to prevent the spread of the virus.


I want to focus on the word “hope,” which surged within me when I received an email from my clinic that I could schedule an appointment to get the vaccine. I fit the high risk category. I’ve never determined exactly why, but I speculate due to a severe case of whooping cough 16 years ago which left me coughing uncontrollably, gasping for air and, eventually, using an inhaler and on Prednisone. I was sick for three months then. So when I got my COVID vaccine on March 14, I felt such joy, gratitude and hope. I felt the same following my second dose a month later and then after my booster in October.

Spring brought such hopefulness. I remember thinking this would be the summer of reclaiming my life as I once lived it. That proved short-lived as COVID cases surged once again. Yet, there were moments of normalcy pre-surge—attending outdoor events, dining out a few times, even attending church twice (until masking became optional, not required). The brief spring/early summer respite lifted my spirits. But now here we are, back to an out-of-control situation.


Despite how the pandemic has affected my life in negative ways, I have many reasons to feel grateful. Twice this year, my family circle has been together. All of us. Nothing surpasses the happiness of family togetherness. My grandchildren, especially, bring me such joy with their hugs, kisses, cuddles. I feel fortunate that they live only a half hour distant.

And several times this year I’ve been allowed to visit my mom in her long-term care center, most recently right before Christmas. Mom is in hospice. It’s not been easy. But I try to focus on the blessing of having her here on this earth for 89 years. Not everyone has their mother around for that long. My mother-in-law died at age 59, only months before the birth of my son.


Time at a family lake cabin in central Minnesota also provided a break from everything. Thrice Randy and I headed north for some R & R. Our eldest daughter and her family joined us twice. Lots of time immersed in nature calmed, recharged, brought peace. Many country drives and hikes in parks produced similar feelings.

Now, as 2022 begins, I expect much the same as 2021. I wish I could feel more optimistic. But I just don’t. Not today. Yet, hope remains.


TELL ME: How was your 2021? What proved challenging? What brought you joy?


NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science, anti-health, please don’t comment. I moderate all comments and will not publish those “anti” views and/or misinformation on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Mn Prairie Roots’ photo favs from July – September 2012 January 2, 2013

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TODAY WE CONTINUE to scroll back through my 2012 posts, seeking out my most-loved photos. I planned to present to you images from the final six months of the year. But, I’m narrowing our focus today to the months of July – September because, clearly, when you live in Minnesota like me, you take many more photos during the warmer months than during the winter.

Given the sheer volume of photos from summer into early autumn, I found choosing a single image per month an impossible task.

Five-year-old David of Faribault, aka Apache Shadow, was among costumed reenactors from the Old West Regulators at the extravaganza.

Five-year-old David of Faribault, aka Apache Shadow, was among costumed reenactors from the Old West Regulators at the extravaganza.

JULY: Have you ever seen a cuter cowboy? The 26th annual Steele County Historical Society Extravaganza at the Village of Yesteryear in Owatonna presented numerous interesting photo ops, including this portrait of re-enactor David, aka Apache Shadow. I also shot the portrait, below, at the same event:

Family photo of John and Frank Styndl.

Family photo of John and Frank Styndl.

John Styndl was demonstrating blacksmithing skills when I asked him to pose with this cut-out of his great great grandfather, Frank Styndl. The family resemblance was remarkable.

At the same event, I shot this photo, a favorite because of the composition and how the word “horses” relates to the horsepower of the tractors.

Horsepower at the Steele County Fairgrounds, Owatonna, Minnesota.

Horsepower at the Steele County Fairgrounds, Owatonna, Minnesota.

You might also rightly speculate that the farm girl in me considered the tractors worthy of a photo.

An elderly man turns to a hymn in the old pocket-size songbook that's been used for decades.

An elderly man turns to a hymn in the old pocket-size songbook that’s been used for decades at the mission fest.

AUGUST took me to Marquardt’s Grove south of Janesville on a Sunday morning for an old-fashioned outdoor mission festival hosted by Freedom and Wilton churches. I roved around the wooded hillside for the entire service and afterward for the potluck to bring you a photo essay of this memorable event. Even hands can tell a story and this, by far, rates as my most beloved image from that outdoor worship service. (You can view one of my photo essays from that day by clicking here.)

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician.

A portrait taken at the International Festival Faribault.

Also in AUGUST, I shot some of my best portraits of the year at the International Festival Faribault. To see more portraits and photos from this festival, click here.

The observer

“The observer”

SEPTEMBER: Labor Day weekend brings the Rice County Steam and Gas Engine Show to rural Dundas and ample opportunity for some great photos. I chose this image to highlight because of the perspective from which I took it and because this leaves you wondering, “What is the aging farmer thinking as he stands there watching the threshing crew?”

Singing Hills Coffee Shop's delicious maple bacon sundae.

Singing Hills Coffee Shop’s delicious maple bacon sundae.

SEPTEMBER also brought the sweet discovery of Singing Hills Coffee Shop in Waterville while on a Sunday afternoon drive. I dared to try the maple bacon sundae and loved it. You just have to see the inside of Singing Hills, so click here for a tour.

Inside Nemo, my absolute favorite part of the entire antique theme park.

Inside Nemo, my absolute favorite part of the entire antique theme park.

Another wonderful discovery in SEPTEMBER was Hot Sam’s Antique Shop (theme park) south of Lakeville. For decades I’ve seen the sign and the kitschy hillside art from Interstate 35. I cannot believe it took me this long to visit. This is a must-see for anyone who loves junk, art and creativity. Click here to view more images.

The kids served popcorn.

Tending the popcorn machine.

Finally, the waning days of SEPTEMBER took me to a 50th wedding anniversary barn dance near Dundas. Although the lighting for photos was not particularly good in the dark barn, I managed to capture this sweet pic of the popcorn makers/servers.

So I’ll leave you here, lingering in the final days of autumn, before taking you, tomorrow, into the final days of 2012.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflections on 2012 from Minnesota Prairie Roots December 31, 2012

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS present a time to reflect. So on this, the final day of 2012, I’ve considered the past year, what’s been most significant in my personal life and for me as a blogger.

My 18-year-old son, shortly before my husband and I left him in his dorm room on the campus of North Dakota State University four weeks ago.

Our 18-year-old son, shortly before my husband and I left him in his dorm room on the campus of North Dakota State University in mid-August.

This year marked a time of transition for my husband and me from the full-time job of parenting, a position we’ve held for 26 consecutive years, to becoming empty-nesters. The youngest of our three children, our son, started college in August. The past 4 ½ months have been a period of adapting for all of us. But it’s gone well. Although I miss our boy, the letting go process has been easier than I thought. And for our son, even though he would not admit it, I think he’s missed us a tad more than he imagined.

Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982

My husband, Randy, and me on our wedding day, May 15, 1982.

Prior to that, in May, Randy and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. I cannot even fathom how three decades have soared past, snap, like that. But I am thankful to have lived them with the man I cherish and love. That reminds me of this little story from yesterday, when we were shopping for window treatments. The associate assisting us complimented us on how well we were getting along, noting that disagreements between some couples often get so intense he simply needs to step away. Not that Randy and I don’t disagree—we do. But we always manage to work things out.

I love this sweet image of Amber and Marc taken after my son's high school commencement.

I love this sweet image of Amber and Marc taken after my son’s high school commencement.

This year also brought love into the life of our oldest daughter, Amber, who met Marc, now the love of her life. I never realized, until this happened, how happy I would feel as a mother to see my girl so happy.

Some of the guest gathered in the Vesta Community Hall for my mom's 80th birthday party.

Some of the guests gathered in the Vesta Community Hall for my mom’s 80th birthday party open house.

The celebration of my mother’s 80th birthday in April, several weeks before her actual birth date, was also defined by love. My mom is the most kind-hearted person I know. And to see the community hall in my hometown filled with family and friends who came to show her their love filled my heart to overflowing with gratitude. This open house party was the best gift we, her family, could ever have given her, even if the party ended early due to a tornado warning. You can read two posts about the party by clicking here and then clicking here.

During 2012, I continue to be gifted with a faithful and growing readership here at Minnesota Prairie Roots. My blog has been viewed this past year 290,000 times by readers from 186 countries. Such support humbles me. I also am honored, even surprised, that I continue to find success in writing poetry. This has been a good year for me in poetry.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Within the realm of writing, specifically here on this blog, I had no difficulty choosing my favorite post of 2012: Yearning for respect & equality, “no matter what color you are.” In that post, I featured photos from the International Festival Faribault and interviews with several teenaged Somali immigrants. It was an especially powerful piece, both in portraits and in the honest and troubling words spoken by these young people who face discrimination in my community. To this day, it hurts my heart to read this post. I’d encourage every single one of you to read or reread that story by clicking here.

The south side of the house roof, reshingled.

The south side of our house roof, reshingled.

The post which drew the most comments, and the most heated comments, this year, Why I am not getting a kitchen redo, totally surprised me. I never expected to hear from so many readers who empathized with our experience related to defective shingles. If you haven’t read that post, click here. However, if you prefer to keep your blood pressure low, skip this story.

Creative freedom of speech

Creative freedom of speech along Interstate 94 in west central Minnesota.

A political post, Driving home a political point along a Minnesota interstate, produced the most views, 3,288 in a single day. Typically I avoid politics. But, when I spotted a limo driven front end first into the ground along Interstate 94 near Alexandria in a statement about the direction in which President Obama is driving this country, I had to post photos. The post was picked up by reddit.com, which generated the high viewership. (Click here to read this post.)

This concludes my review of 2012. It’s been a good year, filled with love, change, constancy and, most definitely, many blessings.


© Copyright 2012