Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A quick tour of Rochester shows me its artsy side June 24, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The southbound exit off U.S. Highway 52 which took us to the Rochester Civic Center Theater.

The southbound exit off U.S. Highway 52 which took us to the Rochester Civic Center Theater.

FIFTEEN MINUTES. That’s all the time I had to view downtown Rochester before I needed to be at the Civic Center Theater for a weekday evening Poetry Bash.

Almost to the theater, left.

Almost to the theater, left.

So my husband parked the car across the street from the theater. I grabbed my camera and we headed the opposite direction toward the heart of downtown.

A great idea for turning an otherwise mundane utility box into a work of art.

A great idea: Turning an otherwise mundane utility box into a work of art.

We’d made it only half a block, almost to the railroad tracks, when I noticed art painted on a utility box. First photo snapped.

My first glimpse of the music themed mural.

My first glimpse of the music themed mural.

Across the tracks, more art—this time a music themed mural on a building next to a vacant, fenced lot—distracted me. Focus, snap, focus, snap, focus, snap, focus, snap. Until I’d lost count, so intrigued was I by the mural fronting a dramatic high rise backdrop.


Rochester, mural 2


Rochester, mural 5


Rochester, mural 4


Rochester, mural 3


“Are you photographing the tall building?” a passerby inquired. I was and I wasn’t. It was the art that interested me more than the structure. I chatted a bit with the man from Chicago who was in town for treatment of his skin cancer at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic which centers this southeast Minnesota city’s downtown.

Kahler Hotel

The historic Kahler Grant Hotel in the heart of downtown has been around for 80 years and offers 660 rooms and suites.

Next I photographed the Kahler Grand Hotel’s iconic sign, a work of art, too.

A skyline snapshot shows a mix of old and new.

A skyline snapshot shows a mix of old and new.

A glance at my watch told me there was no time to wander any farther. The muses were calling.

But I am determined to return to Rochester and explore this city which we always bypass on our hurried way to somewhere. Its artsy vibe appeals to me. And I’d really like a closer look at the Mayo Clinic, only glimpsed as we swung through downtown after the Poetry Bash. By then darkness had descended. I couldn’t help but think of all the people from all over the world who would sleep this night in Rochester, perhaps restlessly, and rise in the morning to meet with medical professionals and undergo tests and receive diagnosis. Does the art distract them as it distracted me?


Waiting at a stoplight along Civic Center Drive, I spotted this artwork.

Waiting at a stoplight along Civic Center Drive, I spotted this artwork.

Downtown: the Rosa Parks Pavilion. I have no idea what is housed here.

Downtown: the Rosa Parks Pavilion, a Mayo Clinic administration building and a former Dayton’s Department Store. The building was named in 2008 after Parks, well-known in the Civil Rights movement for refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

Another scene in downtown Rochester.

Another scene in downtown Rochester.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Giving blood, saving lives February 17, 2015

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“YOU SAVED THREE lives today.”

I’d never thought about blood donation in that specific personal frame until recently, when I gave blood at an American Red Cross blood drive in Faribault for the third time in my life.

In eight minutes and eight seconds, I filled a plastic bag with one unit of life-saving blood.


Blood donation sticker


Why haven’t I donated more often? I offer no excusable explanation.

But when the woman who had taken me through the entire hour-long process of preparing for and donating blood thanked me with those five words, I committed then and there to giving more frequently.

My mother, after all, was saved some 10 years ago by massive transfusions of blood. That memory of her near death weaved through my mind as blood flowed from my vein.

Personal experiences often influence our words and actions, fuel our passions and opinions.


Blood donation card


Adding to that personal connection and the “you saved three lives” was the discovery that my blood type, AB +, ranks low in the general population. Just three percent of Caucasians, like myself, have AB + blood. My blood can only be given to those with the same type. But I can, thankfully, get blood from anyone.

O + and A + blood types are the most common among all ethnicities. (Click here to learn more about the eight blood types.)

If you can’t donate blood for health or other reasons, you can still help. Take my friend Tami. She worked the refreshment table, making sure donors were properly fed and hydrated and doing OK before leaving the donation center. She’d rearranged her work schedule because the Faribault collection site was short of volunteers. That’s to be applauded.

Here’s the real clincher, though. Tami can’t handle blood and needles. She’d likely pass out if she attempted to donate. That came as a surprise because Tami came over to talk to me while my blood flowed into the collection bag. She displayed not an ounce of fear. I had no clue.

Only afterward, when my friend waited on me and other donors at the refreshment table, did I learn the truth. To set aside one’s personal anxieties to assist in the process of saving lives impresses me.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Have you ever donated blood or volunteered at a blood drive?

As an extra incentive, the North Central Chapter of the American Red Cross will enter the names of all donors who give blood between February 9 and 28 for a chance to win an iPAD mini.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


On the cost of health insurance: Sometimes all you can do is laugh February 15, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:42 AM
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I PROBABLY SHOULDN’T be penning this post because it’s likely to raise my blood pressure. And that’s not a good thing considering I want to avoid activity that would necessitate a doctor’s visit.

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for doctors and nurses and other medical professionals who possess the skills and talent to help heal people.

But I’m frustrated about the ever-rising cost of health insurance. Last year my family forked out $11,022 to cover three of us—two late fifty-somethings and a 20-year-old. Do your math. That’s just shy of $919/month.

Add on the $4,048 we paid out-of-pocket for medical expenses in 2014 and that’s a significant chunk of money going toward healthcare costs.

Info from my current health insurance documents.

Info from my current health insurance documents.

The monthly premium on my individual plan this year has dropped $30 to $412/month. Now you might think that a good thing. But, in order to keep my premium down, I switched insurance companies and now have a much higher deductible—$5,200 instead of $2,000.

When I was considering my options in November, after my then insurer informed me that my 2015 monthly rate would skyrocket from $441 to $777, I felt like I was gambling. I am. I’m gambling on not needing to visit a doctor, except for “free” preventative care, in 2015.

Sure we have “free” preventative care now, which is great. But at what cost? Is it really “free?”

And, yes, I checked into whether I qualify for financial assistance through MNsure, the state’s online health insurance marketplace. I don’t given I could get on my husband’s plan through his employer. Never mind that I would need to pay the full $777/month premium. So that option was out. That left me searching for an individual plan I could afford. (It doesn’t exist.)

Minnesota Public Radio nailed it in a February 10 headline, High deductibles keep patients away from care. (Click here to read that story.) Yes, as crazy as it sounds, many of us now carry deductibles so high that we think twice about going to the doctor. What good is health insurance then?

I consider my health insurance coverage a catastrophic plan. I need the coverage “just in case” something major happens.

These ever-rising costs need to be brought under control. The current system isn’t working for lower middle income families like mine and, I expect, most families except those fortunate enough to have full employer paid health insurance.

Employers are feeling the financial burden, too. I’d guess some small business owners have had to reduce benefits or even lay off employees.

One positive note with healthcare reform, though, is the elimination of the pre-existing condition clause that prevented me from switching insurers.

I appreciate the approach taken by Almost Iowa, a southern Minnesota blogger whose wife was recently laid off. This blogger writes humorous and sarcastic fiction. Brilliantly. He addresses the issue of health insurance premiums and deductibles in “I married the wrong girl!”  Just like the MPR story, he nailed it. (Click here to read.)

Every fiction writer knows that beneath the surface always lies some bit of truth.

“I married the wrong girl!” made me laugh out loud in an “I wish this wasn’t true” sort of way. But, as they say, laughter is the best medicine. And that doesn’t cost us anything.

FYI: Today marks the final day to open enroll through MNsure, in other words the last day you can purchase health insurance through this venue until the next open enroll later this year.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Undergoing that most dreaded of screening tests October 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Two of six photos of my colon given to me after the procedure.

Two of six photos of my colon given to me after the procedure.

SHE CALLED ME a Colon Virgin.

And, at eight years past fifty, I was and shouldn’t have been.

I had my first colonoscopy on Friday.

That title bestowed upon me by the nurse taking my health history prior to the colon cancer screening made me laugh. That was her intention along with praise for the young family doctor who made sure I didn’t leave the clinic after my annual physical in July without scheduling a colonoscopy. Smart doctor.

So there I was, 3 ½ months later, lying on my back in a hospital gown, thin sheet covering me, answering health questions and dreading the procedure that would begin within the hour.

I was assured that I would not be aware nor would I remember anything while under conscious sedation. I thought to myself, they don’t know me.

The two nurses continued prepping me– inserting an IV, wrapping a blood pressure cuff around my left arm, snapping a heart rate monitor on a right finger and then clipping tubes into my nose because “sometimes you forget to breathe.” Probably not the best thing to say to me.

I could feel my rapid heart rate, the tenseness that held my body. I didn’t want to be here. But, I reminded myself, I’d just endured a challenging cleansing process and I’d been through much worse than this medically. Why would I back out now?

So I tried to relax, told the two healthcare workers that I needed something to distract me. “That’s why we have music,” said the nurse with the sense of humor. For the first time, I heard the music as the two headed out the door to find the doctor.

I laid there for a really long time, or so it seemed, listening to the music, wishing it was the uplifting and prayerful Christian music I listen to daily on Twin Cities radio station KTIS. I willed my body and mind to relax and chuckled to myself when a singer crooned something about waking up when it’s done. Quite appropriate.

At the exact appointed time of 8:30, the surgeon entered the room. “I’m really cold,” I complained and was promptly layered in a heated blanket. Yes, I should have been more welcoming to this man who delivered my first daughter nearly 29 years ago by emergency Caesarean section. But at that moment on that morning, I was not particularly happy to see him again.

I told him I was nervous, made him promise that I wouldn’t remember anything. He reassured me. Last thing I remember was his request that I roll onto my left side and my wondering aloud where to comfortably place my blood pressure cuff wrapped left arm.

And that was it until I saw changing images of my colon on the computer screen.

Remember that part about not being aware or remembering? Despite my alertness, I was not anxious. The “happy juice” was still working its magic.

In the end, I made it through just fine. I survived the cleansing of my bowels, semi-fasting (liquid diet), lack of sleep and a resulting headache and lower back (kidney) pain and then the actual procedure.

The good doctor removed two non-cancerous polyps. And even though I remembered part of the colonoscopy, I wasn’t traumatized. In five years, I’ll be back because, you know, dealing with colon cancer would be a lot worse than having another colonoscopy.


COLONOSCOPIES HAVE BEEN IN THE NEWS this week as Cologuard, a new non-invasive procedure to screen for colon cancer, is now on the market. The screening involves submitting a stool sample, which is then analyzed using “advanced stool DNA technology to find DNA from abnormal cells and hemoglobin from red blood cells” according to information on the Cologuard website. The lining of the colon naturally sheds cells.

Early reviews on this screening method are mixed. That’s to be expected.

You can learn more about Cologuard by clicking here.

Whatever you decide, if you’re age 50 or older and/or have a family history of colon cancer, don’t just do nothing. Doing nothing could cost you your life. Take that from a former Colon Virgin.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling






Celebrating her granddaughter’s wedding September 8, 2014

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SHE WAS DETERMINED to attend her granddaughter’s wedding. And she did, one day shy of three weeks after suffering traumatic injuries in a fall.

Three of my mom's granddaughter's visit with her after the wedding.

Three of my mom’s granddaughter’s (including my daughter, middle) visit with her after the wedding.

She would be my 82-year-old mother.

About the only photo I managed during the ceremony, taken from my place in the pew.

About the only photo I managed during the ceremony, taken from my place in the pew.

Saturday afternoon Mom was among some 400 guests packing English Lutheran Church in Walnut Grove for the marriage of Carlyn and Jared.

The day marked a milestone for Mom, her first outing in three weeks except for the long ambulance ride from a southwestern Minnesota hospital to the trauma unit at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale and the car ride back to a nursing home five days later.

The reception was held at the community center in the bride and groom's hometown of Westbrook.

The reception was held at the community center in the bride and groom’s hometown of Westbrook.

Already while hospitalized, Mom set a goal to attend the wedding. Then she decided that she might like to go to the reception for awhile also. She accomplished both.

Guests shower Jared and Carlyn with birdseed as they leave the church.

Guests shower Jared and Carlyn with birdseed as they leave the church.

It is good to have goals when you are eighty-two, or any time really.

I laughed because my mom's nails were painted and I forgot to paint mine.

Nursing home staff painted Mom’s nails for the wedding.

I am thankful to the staff of Parkview Home in Belview for encouraging and working with my mom and even painting her nails for the wedding.

I am grateful, too, for a family that has been there for her every step of the way, encouraging, supporting, loving.

And for prayers. Yes, prayers.

Mom faces a long road toward full recovery. I understand that. But she has already come so far.

Yet, it is not easy to see the fading purple bruises, the oversized bump that still mars her forehead, the neck collar that locks her broken neck in place, her frailness…

There are times when sadness overwhelms me. But then I remind myself to be grateful. For every single day I have my mother.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The challenges of aging & prayers answered August 22, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:38 AM
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Me with my mom in her Parkview Home room.

Me with my mom in late May.

AS THE DAUGHTER of an aging parent, it is the call you do not want to get—that your mother has fallen and is being transported 130 miles via ambulance to a metro area hospital.

That exact scenario played out earlier this week when my octogenarian mom fell in her assisted living room and suffered multiple severe injuries that landed her in a trauma unit.

It’s been a difficult week. Worrying. Waiting. More injuries added to the initial list. Questions. Tests. Rest, recovery, therapy.

So many emails, text messages and phone calls have been exchanged among siblings, other family members and friends that I’ve lost count. And prayers, lots of prayers, prayed this week.

In the end, Mom, who has faced many medical challenges throughout her years, rallied. Today she is back in the care facility where she moved earlier this spring. She is happy to be home. The staff in this rural small town facility welcomed her with open arms. I am grateful for their concern and care.

And I am thankful for answered prayers. I believe strongly in the power of prayer and the faithfulness of God. So many times this week, I found myself requesting prayers for my Mom and asking for God’s healing hand upon her. Those prayers continue now for her recovery.

I have not seen my mother; she did not want visitors. She realized her need to focus on rest and recovery. That was difficult, but for the best. However, I have seen photos of a woman who appears to have been on the losing end of a bar brawl. She claims to have been scrimmaging with the Minnesota Vikings. It’s good to laugh in the midst of challenges.

And my mom faces the challenges now of recovery, of ongoing physical therapy, of regaining her strength. Her goal is to attend her granddaughter’s wedding in a few weeks. I have no doubt she will achieve that goal. She is a strong woman.

FYI: The online news source, MinnPost, published an interesting story today in a late-in-life healthcare series. The piece focuses on options for those living in rural Minnesota. I’d suggest you read it by clicking here. With families today often living far apart, rural elderly face challenges unlike those of previous generations. I live about 125 miles from my mom.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Raising awareness of MS via snow art, plus an idea for Faribault March 11, 2014

IF KURT KLETT CAN CONVINCE city councilors, my community could host an annual snow carving competition in Central Park.

Faribault resident Kurt Klett and his latest snow sculpture, a leprechaun with a pot of gold.

Faribault resident Kurt Klett and his latest snow sculpture, a leprechaun with a pot of gold. Warm temps had partially melted the snow, fading the colors, when I photographed the art late Sunday morning.

That’s the plan, according to this 42-year-old Faribault resident who, for the past five winters, has created snow sculptures in his front yard and this year also entered the St. Paul Winter Carnival snow sculpting contest.

Photographed from Second Street.

Photographed from Second Street.

Given Klett’s enthusiasm and talent and the admiration of locals, his idea certainly could fly. I absolutely support his proposal as a way to bring visitors into Faribault, add a fun, diversionary aspect to an oftentimes long Minnesota winter and promote awareness of Multiple Sclerosis.

Entry fees for the proposed snow sculpting contest would go toward MS, says Klett, diagnosed with the disease of the central nervous system in 1999. The single father of three, ages 6 – 13, suffers from vision and other issues and is currently on disability. He once worked in construction and sales and now works at the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School hockey arena.

His body embraces cold temperatures, Klett says, so he needs to take care not to become overheated while sculpting.

Multiple rubber duckies not sit atop the giant duck graced with a heart and a colored bill.

Klett’s first sculpture of this winter, photographed in late February.

This winter he’s already crafted two snow sculptures in Faribault. The first, a duck, stood completed until two days of 40-degree temps caused the beak to partially fall off.

Klett showed me these photos he took of the two sculptures showing the especially vibrant colors before temps warmed.

Klett showed me these photos he took of the two sculptures with especially vibrant colors before temps warmed.

Undaunted, Klett and a neighbor then “sawed” the remainder of the beak off with a 10-foot chain so he could reshape the duck into a leprechaun holding a pot of gold.

As I’ve observed and as Klett notes, his sculptures are constantly changing, just like the effects of MS. His art, he says, is an ode to MS, a way to raise awareness of the disease.

FIGHT MS is barely visible now on the pot of gold after warm temps began melting the sculpture.

FIGHT MS is barely visible now on the pot of gold after warm temps began melting the sculpture.

FIGHT MS marks the front of the leprechaun’s pot of gold. Klett carved a bull for the St. Paul Winter Carnival snow sculpting contest, dubbing the bull as “Bully the MS Goalie.” Last year he created a stop sign with hockey sticks in his yard, honoring Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding who also has MS.

The leprechaun's pipe is crafted from a crowbar and a raisin container wrapped in hockey tape.

The leprechaun’s pipe is crafted from a crowbar and a raisin container wrapped in hockey tape. This sculpture reaches 12 feet to the top of the hat.

What he crafts from the snow gathered into a huge mound from his and sometimes a neighbor’s yards and even from the roof of his house at 417 Second St. N.W. “depends on what the pile looks like,” this sculptor says.

He’s previously also created a leprechaun on a shamrock, a komodo dragon surrounded by a skyscraper with two hearts, and a T-Rex. Sometimes his kids help choose the art.

This photo montage by Klett shows the process of creating the duck sculpture.

A photo montage by Klett of his 10-foot high duck sculpture.

The process of sculpting this year’s duck and leprechaun took him 14-16 hours each. Depending on the weather, the leprechaun may eventually evolve into a third sculpture. Already warm temps are eroding his leprechaun, fading the colors.

The artist shines a spotlight on his sculptures.

The artist shines a spotlight,left, on his sculptures.

His art draws admiring fans, so much that Klett shines a spotlight on his sculpture at night. As I photographed his leprechaun and chatted with the artist Sunday morning, an older couple stopped. The driver rolled down his car window. “That’s remarkable,” enthused the man. “It’s beautiful.”

I agree. Now imagine Central Park in Faribault graced next winter with such remarkable and beautiful snow art.

FYI: Kurt Klett has not yet approached the Faribault City Council with his request for a snow sculpture contest in Central Park. He is currently raising awareness and gathering support for this project.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



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