Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My son would probably rather be in Minnesota right now than Boston January 27, 2015

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Monday afternoon the temperature in my southeastern Minnesota backyard ranged in the mid to high 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Monday afternoon the temperature in my southeastern Minnesota backyard ranged in the mid to high 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

THE TEMPERATURE MONITOR atop the refrigerator reads 48 degrees outside. It’s likely off a few degrees. But still…

 

A view from and in my backyard.

A view from and in my backyard.

 

I swing the kitchen door open to sunshine squinting my eyes and flooding the backyard on a late January afternoon in Minnesota about as glorious as they come.

 

Fence shadows on the snow.

Fence shadows on the snow.

 

Bare-branched trees brace a blue sky. Birds chirp. Water clinks through the down spout in a gentle and methodical rhythm. The basket weave of the fence slants shadows across the melting snow.

I stand there, just stand there in my backyard, absorbing the warmth and sunshine my soul and body crave.

More than 1,000 miles away, my son is among Boston area residents enveloped in a major winter storm. Areas of the city are expected to get as much as 30 inches of snow accompanied by 50 mph winds. The Governor has declared a State of Emergency and issued a state-wide travel ban. Public transportation via the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority has been suspended for Tuesday. Same goes for Logan International Airport.

Tufts University, the college my son attends, is closed today. This mom, who understands winter from a howling wind raging snow across the Minnesota prairie perspective, is grateful.

I can only hope that today my 20-year-old sleeps in, stays put in his apartment, realizes the dangers of an historic storm like this, even within the confines of a big city.

Be safe, Boston.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Every time I cross this bridge, I remember January 26, 2015

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Southbound on Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis.

Southbound on Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis on a recent Sunday afternoon.

6:05 p.m.

A section of the then now wow exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features the 35W bridge collapse. This image shows the collapsed bridge and the emergency exit door from a school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed.

A section of the “then now wow” exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features the 35W bridge collapse. The image shows the collapsed bridge. To the right is the emergency exit door from the school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed. Everyone on board that bus survived.

August 1, 2007.

All the children and adults on the bus signed the door on display.

All the children and adults on the bus signed the door on display.

One hundred forty-five injured.

Thirteen dead.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Minnesota Faces: Madeline January 23, 2015

PORTRAIT #4: Madeline, bearer of Christmas cake

 

Madeline, Fourth Ave. United Methodist dinner 2013

 

Sweet Madeline served Christmas cake at the 2013 Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Community Christmas Dinner in Faribault.

I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to photograph this young volunteer draped in what I expect was a vintage apron, delivering cake on a vintage tray.

This isn’t just any old cake. It’s Poke Cake—white cake mix baked, poked with fork tines and flooded with red or green Jell-O, then topped with Cool Whip (or maybe Dream Whip) and sprinkled with red or green sugar. It’s a recipe that’s, oh, so 70s.

I purposely framed this portrait to include a section of the holiday banner, the aged door and the light switch. Those, too, are part of this portrait story from a Minnesota church basement.

This portrait is part of a new series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bullying in Minnesota: In the news again & a look back January 22, 2015

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WHO AMONG YOU has been bullied?

If I could see you all, I expect many a hand would rise.

Both my arms would be waving wildly, high above my head. Me. Me. Me.

That bullying occurred more than 40 years ago. Yet, it feels like yesterday when my junior high classmates picked on me and other kids from a nearby farming community. We, apparently, did not meet their standards given our rural addresses outside the county seat.

Countless days I arrived home from school in tears. Crying over mean words. Crying and wishing with all my might that things would change or that I would never need to return to that school.

A teacher who also bullied students added to my angst as did other teachers, who simply looked the other way.

These horrible memories flash to the forefront because of a bullying incident in Minnesota that is, today, big news. News because the father of the girl being bullied created a YouTube video that shows just how mean bullies (and their parents) can be—mean as in using the “N” word against the father’s African American daughter. Click here to read background on this bullying case and to watch the father’s video.

You would think in the year 2015, with all of the discussion on bullying, all of the awareness, all of the laws, that bullying would not exist. Wishful thinking. All the talk and rules in the world will not close mouths that speak words of hatred and racism and just plain meanness. Yet we need to keep trying.

What to do. There’s no single solution. I wished back in the late 1960s that my parents would have done something—anything. But that can backfire, too, make the bullying worse.

When our son was bullied as in being spit on, pinched, pushed and kicked by a classmate, my husband and I met with his teacher. Her response: Befriend the bully. Are you kidding? Place the responsibility for solving the problem on our elementary-aged son and not hold the bully accountable? Not going to happen. Eventually we pulled our son from the school.

Recently, I was shouted at during a meeting. I sat there stunned, struggling to hold back tears. Soon thereafter I left, unable to suppress my emotions. But this time the reaction was different. Concerned individuals approached me, assuring me that I didn’t deserve the verbal attack for asking a legitimate question.

After the meeting, the man who launched those angry words at me apologized. He phoned again early the next morning to apologize. I accepted both apologies.

If only every case of bullying ended that way, with a sincere apology, acceptance of responsibility and determination to change.

That would be hoping for Utopia.

A snippet from a sign at the International Peace Garden, Nerstrand Elementary School, Minnesota.

A snippet from a sign at the International Peace Garden, Nerstrand Elementary School, Minnesota. The sign and garden do not specifically address bullying. Rather the Peace Garden advocates peace and getting along, despite our differences. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Yet, I can take my experiences and find some good therein. Because I was bullied, I am a more compassionate, caring and empathetic person, championing for others. I may have been that way without the bullying. The qualifying word would be “more.”

I can use my words in a positive way to affect change, to show others I care, really care. As we all know, words are powerful.

Now it’s your turn to speak. Please share your thoughts on bullying.

FYI: To learn more about bullying prevention, click here to reach the Pacer Center’s Kids Against Bullying website. And then click here to reach the site for teens.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

And the winner of the down comforter is…

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The prize: a toasty warm white down comforter, left, with a green duvet cover, right.

The prize: a toasty warm white down comforter, left, with a green duvet cover, right.

I WISH I HAD MORE than one down comforter with duvet cover to give away.

But I don’t. So Virginia, who coordinated with me on the give-away of bedding she no longer needs because she lives in warm and sunny Arizona, and I chose a winner. One.

Drum roll….

Merri McElderry penned the winning entry. This Minnesotan’s poem best met our request for entries that were creative and proved a true need for Virginia’s king-sized down comforter.

Here’s Merri’s poem:

If I could win this downy gift,
It surely would make me feel less adrift,
In icy wind and blowing snow,
It would I am sure uncurl my toe,
And I would fall on unfrozen knees,
Giving thanks to God, for miracles such as these.

Merri, please claim your prize by commenting on this post with your mailing address. (Your address will not be published.) Congratulations.

Thank you to all who entered and to Virginia for her generosity. She is making a difference.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Appleton, Wisconsin: Focusing on homelessness via the Little Red Wagon January 21, 2015

Little Red Wagon movieWHEN CHURCHES PRACTICE what they preach, they make a noticeable impact in the world.

When individuals do good, they also make a difference.

This Saturday The Mission Church will impact Appleton, Wisconsin, with a free screening of the movie, Little Red Wagon, based on the true story of Zach Bonner. In 2005, the then 7-year-old founded the Little Red Wagon Foundation, a nonprofit that helps underprivileged kids, focusing on those who are homeless. Just a year earlier, he’d canvassed his Arkansas neighborhood with his little red wagon gathering items for survivors of Hurricane Charley.

Zach, who now lives in Florida, will be in Appleton for the 10 a.m. Saturday, January 24, screening at Valley Value Cinemas, 2165 South Memorial Drive, and for a reception following at The Mission, 314 North Appleton Street. Movie attendees are invited to afterward walk the two miles from the movie theatre to the church, thus visually and publicly raising awareness of homelessness.

Now, you’re likely wondering how I know about this movie event 300 miles from my Minnesota home. Well, my second daughter, Miranda, lives in Appleton and attends The Mission Church. She phoned recently all excited about the Little Red Wagon. I’m not surprised. Twice after Hurricane Katrina, she traveled to New Orleans to assist with clean-up. She’s a young woman with a big heart and a passion for helping others.

So even though this project is not happening in my main readership area, I couldn’t turn down my daughter’s request to publicize this cause.

In addition to the movie showing and the Q & A with Zach, The Mission Church has been collecting small toys, activity books, socks, mittens, sample-size toiletries, food and more to fill 300 “Zach Packs,” bags measuring 14 by 17 inches. These will be gifted to area homeless children through Harbor House (which serves victims and survivors of domestic abuse) and Homeless Connections (an organization helping the homeless in the Fox Valley region), Miranda says.

If you live in eastern Wisconsin, I’d encourage you to attend this Little Red Wagon event in Appleton on Saturday. If you can’t be there, like me, I suggest you check out the Little Red Wagon website by clicking here. The nonprofit accepts monetary donations for its projects. Or take action in your own community.

Watch the movie trailer by clicking here. As the narrator says, “In every one of us there is the power to do great things.”

All we need to do is act.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Peters Billiards sign January 20, 2015

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TRAVELING THROUGH THE CROSSTOWN area of Minneapolis along Interstate 35W, I note the Peters Billiards sign flashing bright on the side of an earth-toned building.

 

Billiards, edit 1

 

You can’t miss it.

Pool cues and racked balls define the signage, leaving no doubt that this family-owned business sells pool tables and accessories. I appreciate such specific graphic signage that’s colorful, clear and concise.

Behind that sign there’s a history that stretches back to 1957, according to the company’s website.

Inside, you’ll find Greg Peterson, one of the world’s leading experts and collectors of antique billiard tables. Some of those tables are displayed here.

The business restores pool tables, even offers a custom line created by co-founder Ken Peters.

All of this I learned because that interstate side sign grabbed my photographic attention.

Well done, graphic designer.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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