Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Busted July 21, 2017

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Effective immediatley, I can drink coffee using my left hand only.

 

DON’T LIFT. Not a laundry basket or a watering can or a dirty dish. Nothing. Not even a John Deere coffee mug.

That mandate came from my ortho doctor Wednesday afternoon after he asked, “What have you been doing with your arm?” He was referring to my right arm/shoulder, which I fractured 8 ½ weeks ago.

 

Thursday morning I stair-stepped a laundry basket up the basement stairs with my left hand, angled the basket onto my body and steered it out the door. Then, using only my left hand and mouth, I managed to clip towels onto the clothesline.

 

Not that he was accusing me of anything. But he knows me well enough to realize that I will push the limits. I confessed to all of the above. I was so busted. But, in my defense, I had surmised that if a specific movement/activity didn’t hurt, I could do it. Wrong. It’s a good thing I am not a doctor and that mine understands me as “a force of nature to be reckoned with” (his words, not mine).

I love my doctor, even if he tells me things I don’t want to hear. He is kind, compassionate, caring, funny, a great listener and a really good communicator. I always understand exactly what’s going on with my body and what’s expected of me when I leave his office. On this day, had I been a student in a classroom, I likely would have warranted after school detention for bad behavior.

 

This is a photo of an x-ray of my broken shoulder taken on May 22. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But I got an imaginary gold star for healing. Pulling my May 22 and July 19 x-rays onto his computer screen, the good doctor compared the results. “Looks great,” he said. If I used exclamation marks in my writing, I would string a series of them after that assessment. I beamed. He showed me how the top of my shoulder had settled, rounding back toward to its normal curve rather than jutting like two misplaced puzzle pieces. Then he traced his finger down the screen, along a white line indicating healing in the length of my shoulder.

After delivering that good news, my doctor issued the lifting ban for two weeks, longer if necessary. By 12 weeks the bone should be healed. I’ve learned, though, that directives can change. I intend to obey rather than risk a setback. “If I have to go in there and do surgery now, it will be a mess,” my doctor warned. So my husband will be washing the dishes again.

Today I return for my second physical therapy session. I have the OK now to start active (rather than passive) range of motion exercises to rebuild and strengthen my muscles. I can expect muscle soreness for up to a year. Ditto for the swelling that stretches from the top of my shoulder to my fingertips. Sigh.

 

For the first time in 8 1/2 weeks, I don’t have to wear this arm sling while sleeping.

 

But I can ditch my arm sling. I stopped wearing it during the day several weeks ago. I can also sleep on my side, including on either arm, as long as it doesn’t hurt. I tried sleeping on my left side Wednesday night. My arm hurt. I’m back to sleeping on my back. So much for sleeping freedom.

 

My blood donation card.

 

Then I asked one final question of the doctor: “Can I donate blood?”

“I don’t see any reason you can’t unless there’s something I don’t know about you,” he replied.

So I am scheduled today to donate blood, some 8 ½ weeks after I missed a step, fell and broke my right shoulder while on my way to donate blood at the local hospital.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Where, oh, where has my little dog gone & pet photos July 20, 2017

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Photographed recently along a busy roadway in Cannon Falls. (Yes, I blacked out the phone number.)

 

EVERY SPRING, SUMMER and fall, handcrafted photo signs pop up on street corners with the message, LOST DOG.

DO NOT YELL, APPROACH OR CHASE, the writer advises of a dog lost recently in Cannon Falls.

I often wonder if these canines are ever found or wander home or why they are running loose in the first place. I realize pets sometimes escape…but I appreciate responsible pet owners who keep their animals under control on their property and who clean up after the dogs they’re walking. I’ve stepped in stinky dog poop too often in my yard. Yuck.

A few years ago a woman even posed her dog in the middle of a corner flowerbed by my house for a photo op. In the process, the dog destroyed flowers I’d planted. I was not happy.

 

 

But I was happy to see the owner of a lost (as in deceased) pet post a public notice offering free pet portraits. I spotted the sign recently in a Waterville gift shop. The owner of Chaz the dog is a photographer specializing in pictures of people and their pets, according to the Facebook page for Chazman Photography based in Janesville.

 

 

I haven’t photographed a lot of pets. But the animal images I’ve taken are, I think, notable. I’m not your typical stand, point-and-shoot photographer. I strive to tell a story, using perspective and setting to achieve that. Here are some cat and dog photos I’ve shot, my favorite being the “NO PETS ALLOWED” image shot outside Riverfront Park in Mankato in June of 2011. The dog owner, upset his canine couldn’t enter the park, suggested the photo location, almost daring himself and his dog to cross that line.

Here are those promised pet photos pulled from my files:

 

My sister Lanae’s fat cat, Sable, now deceased. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

Ian with Zephyr in rural Bigelow. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Titan, so active I struggled to photograph him in 2014. He was owned by the Spitzack family of rural Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I photographed this cat outside Hopefull Treasures in Hope, MN., in 2011. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another cat photographed in 2011 in Hope, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another view of that dog outside Mankato’s Riverfront Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Rudi, one friendly collie at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

My friend Mandy’s cat, Gretchen, photographed in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Taco the dog, photographed at the Faribault Farmers’ Market in Central Park in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Brianna’s cat, in her home in Hayfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

This has to stop, these shootings July 19, 2017

Positive words posted near a garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOMETIMES I COME across an article and accompanying video so profound that I am moved not to tears, but to sobbing.

Often I read those stories in Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins’ NewsCut column. He rates as one of my favorite writers for his ability to ferret out those stories that touch human emotions. You won’t necessarily see top news stories of the day featured online in NewsCut. But you will read stories that are deeply human, that elicit thought and emotions.

Sometimes Bob makes me laugh. Sometimes cry. Sometimes shake my head. And, almost always, he makes me think. His stories prompt plenty of reader interaction. Whether I agree with comments or not, I always find them interesting.

On Monday Bob published a story and linked to a video in a piece titled A wellness check by police ends with a son dead. The headline grabbed my attention. But it was the video of a grieving father that twisted my gut and made me cry in the deep sort of painful way that heaves your shoulders and unleashes primeval wailing.

In summary, the Massachusetts man’s 26-year-old son, despondent over a break-up with his girlfriend, holed himself up in his room with his dog and a gun. Police were called as was the SWAT Team. The parents were ushered from their home, the father pleading with police to just let his son sleep and to not over-react. I would encourage you to read the entire story and watch the video by clicking here.

 

I purchased this retro tray at an antique/vintage shop in St. Charles for its simple message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Admittedly, I came to this story with emotions on edge after the police shooting of Justine Damond, 40, in an affluent south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday evening. She called 911 to report a suspected assault in an alley by her home, her family says. The death of this Australian woman, who moved to Minnesota several years ago to be nearer her fiance’, has triggered outrage and world-wide attention. And rightly so. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting of the unarmed, pajama clad Justine. Few details have been released. The police officer who shot Justine in the abdomen has thus far refused to be interviewed. Justine’s death continues to top the news in Twin Cities media.

Nearly every evening I turn on the 10 o’clock TV news to hear of another shooting in the Twin Cities. A drive-by, a targeted victim, a domestic and, yes, more and more, a fatal shooting by a police officer.

All of this leaves me wondering. Why? Why so much gun violence? Why the increase in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Repeatedly, I hear of the need for more officer training. A recently-passed Minnesota state law requires police officers to receive specialized de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training beginning in July 2018. In my county, that training is already happening and may have factored into a positive outcome for a 61-year-old local man who last week threatened suicide. He survived his crisis when police responded.

With increased societal awareness and openness, we’re seeing an attitude shift in handling of suicide threats and other mental health related calls to police like the one in Massachusetts. Common sense should tell you not to roll in with an excessive show of force and upset an already struggling individual. Lights, sound, action may work in Hollywood, but not necessarily in reality.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

We can choose to remain calm, to listen to one another, to be compassionate and caring, whether we are a neighbor, a family member, a police officer or a stranger. I know that’s not always easy in a fluid and tense situation.

But something has to change. Too many people are dying due to gun violence in their homes, in alleys, along city streets, on sidewalks…from Minnesota to Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Holy Smoke, what talented musicians & what great food July 18, 2017

 

TWO TURKEY VULTURES rode the wind high above the church on the hill. Dipping, circling, gliding.

 

Sweet Potato Jackson performs.

 

Far below in the grassy side yard of Christ Lutheran Church, Sweet Potato Jackson and the Todd Thompson Band entertained with foot-tapping bluegrass, pop, country, gospel and other tunes. Adults settled into lawn chairs and listened. Kids ran—to the playground and back. A wee girl swayed to the rhythm of the banjo, the guitar, the mandolin and other string instruments.

 

The Todd Thompson Band gets up close to the audience.

 

I sang the lion sleeps tonight, only 10 feet from the quartet performing the catchy tune I remember from decades ago. My husband and I were front row with the Todd Thompson Band, four guys standing on the lawn and performing music with an unbridled passion. I could see their love for song in the rapid movement of their fingers across strings, hear it in their enthusiastic voices.

 

 

They exuded joy during this event billed as Holy Smoke by the host Lutheran congregation. Several Wednesday evenings during the summer, this church on Faribault’s east side offers a free concert as a community outreach. The music is served up along with savory homemade pizza and smoked pork and brisket sandwiches and sides available for purchase.

 

The hilltop location offers a wide view of Faribault and beyond.

 

The descriptive words Holy Smoke fit both the food and the featured musicians. And the setting. This is a tranquil location overlooking this southeastern Minnesota city and beyond. Wind blowing a cool breeze through trees after a hot and humid day. Shifting white clouds in a blue sky. Lovely. Kids and music and the occasional adult conversation blending in a soothing harmony.

 

 

I delighted in the carefree feel of this event, of watching children run and play like kids should on a summer evening as perfect as they get in Minnesota. I was reminded of bygone years when my extended family gathered to visit and we cousins played without adult direction, without any planned activity.

For a few hours I forgot about the problems of the world, about the challenges in life. I simply was—enveloped in Holy Smoke.

 

FYI: The next Holy Smoke event/concert is set for 6 – 9 p.m. Wednesday, August 9, at Christ Lutheran, 1200 NE First Street (along Minnesota State Highway 60), Faribault. Bring lawn chairs or blankets and an appetite for great food and equally great music.

Note: I’ll rephotograph Holy Smoke (including the food) once I’m healed from my shoulder fracture and able to shoot with my Canon DSLR camera.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Aging, up close & personal July 17, 2017

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MORE AND MORE I am experiencing the difficulties of watching a parent age. My husband likewise along with many of our friends.

Bodies are failing, memories fading, personalities changing as our parents move further into their eighties. I feel at times a profound sadness in all of this. Yet, I understand from an intellectual perspective that this is the natural progression of life. I feel in my own body the changes that occur with advancing age.

I want to turn back time to the days when Mom took care of me, to the days when my father-in-law would walk into a room. Roles are reversed, mobility now diminished. Walker and wheelchair. Dinner in a care center dining hall. BINGO and rare days out.

If I would allow it, melancholy would seep into my thoughts in their presence. But I shove it aside, replace it with a smile and encouragement.

On a recent visit with my father-in-law, I observed my husband pick up a toy truck and fiddle it in his hands. Before him rested his dad’s vacant wheelchair. I snapped a few quick photos with my smartphone because I saw something in that moment. I observed a depth of sadness my quiet husband would never share in words. But it was there, lingering in the silence, in the flood of sunlight through spacious windows, in the sparse room made homey by a recliner and a collection of replica small-scale vintage tractors and trucks.

 

TELL ME: Are you in a similar place of watching parents age and decline in health? What are your thoughts and how are you coping?

Note: My father died in 2003 at the age of 72. Randy’s mother died in 1993 at the age of 59. His dad remarried. My mom did not.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Loving the settings & beer at these greater Minnesota breweries July 14, 2017

A flight of craft beer from F-Town Brewing in my community of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FIVE YEARS AGO if anyone had suggested I would drink (and like) craft beer, I would have laughed. I was only the occasional have-a-beer-with-your-pizza or on a hot summer evening type of beer drinker. And at that, I drank whatever mass produced beer the husband had stocked in the fridge.

How my tastes have changed. I can no longer drink beer that flows by the gallons into bottles or cans inside a sprawling factory. Those beers taste like water to me. Rather, I’ve become a beer snob, preferring hoppy IPAs crafted at small breweries.

I’ll be the first to tell you my preference for craft beer developed over time as an acquired taste. But once acquired, I was hooked, enough so that I, along with my husband, seek out craft breweries. These specialty businesses are an experience, not just a place to try new beers.

 

Reads Landing Brewing Company in Reads Landing, Minnesota.

 

Two recent road trips took us to Reads Landing Brewing Company (between Lake City and Wabasha) and to Imminent Brewing Company. They are distinctly different breweries, but both with excellent beer. And I don’t say that about every craft beer.

We almost missed the Reads Landing establishment in the same named unincorporated community along U.S. Highway 61 in southeastern Minnesota. The brewery sits at the base of a hillside, a train track away from the Mississippi River. Housed inside an historic 1870 former dry goods store, the setting hearkens to bygone days. As an appreciator of old buildings, I delighted in the location and the wide window view of the Mississippi.

 

Randy and I shared a sampler flight of Reads Landing beer.

 

With the exception of slow service on a weekday afternoon when the place wasn’t overly busy, I rate Reads Landing Brewing highly. Randy and I settled onto high chairs at the front window for a perfect view of the river and a slow moving train. Then we waited and waited until the bartender/waiter finally got off the phone, noticed us and then made excuses for his lack of attention. Thankfully, the house-made beers in the sampler flight and accompanying Bavarian Style Soft Pretzel Sticks with homemade beer cheese and mustard dipping sauces compensated for the inattention and left us with a mostly good impression of this brewpub.

Of special note is the Cap’n Amber beer, a beer into which Cap’n Crunch cereal is incorporated in the mash. All of the beers were to our liking; we’d recommend this beer and brewery.

 

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota.

 

Farther inland to the north and east in the riverside college town of Northfield, we checked out the recently-opened Imminent Brewing. I love this place, declaring to Randy that this was my absolute favorite brewery. Located in a former National Guard Armory garage, the brewery has an industrial look and a welcoming vibe. There’s just something about this place that seems particularly comfortable for anyone from a blue collar worker to a college professor.

The brewery also features an expansive patio. And, bonus, food trucks. On this particular weekday evening, Randy and I enjoyed arepas from Noris Cuisine. We didn’t stick around for the live music.

We shared a flight sampler of simply superb craft beers. We’ll be back, given the location some 15 miles from our home.

And we’ll be checking out Tanzenwald, the other new brewery in Northfield, sometime soon.

TELL ME: Do you drink craft beer and/or visit craft breweries? Share your favorites.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Homemade pizza is back on the menu July 13, 2017

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FOR THE FIRST TIME in seven weeks, I made homemade pizza. But this was not your ordinary pizza. This pizza represented something much more than food to fill the belly on a Saturday evening. The pizza I crafted signifies healing.

I have reached the point in recovery from a broken right shoulder that I no longer feel the need to clamp my arm protectively to my side. I am reaching, pulling, even eating with my right hand. I am free of my arm sling except to sleep and to use in crowded public places.

I figure if moving my arm doesn’t hurt, then I’m OK doing whatever. So far, so good. I’m doing laundry, washing dishes and making pizza, with some assistance from the husband.

This Friday I start physical therapy. I am ready and could have begun 10 days ago had an opening been available. My goal is to lift 21 lbs, 10 oz., the current weight of my 15-month-old granddaughter, ASAP. I miss cuddling Izzy. Realistically, I expect I won’t be holding Isabelle for quite some time without supervision. But I need a goal, right?

My short term goal is to pull a t-shirt over my head, to dress my upper body by myself. I’d also like to use my Canon DSLR camera soon. I am passionate about photography and really miss that creative outlet. Sure I’ve been using my smartphone. But even that is challenging and the results not nearly as good as those of a DSLR.

 

Up until my fall and resulting broken shoulder, I crafted homemade pizza every Friday evening, always served with mugs of icy beer.

 

When I consider how much I’ve improved since May 22, the day I missed a step on a hospital stairway and fell while on my way to donate blood, I am amazed. My post injury exhaustion and need for daily naps have vanished. Sore muscles have replaced pain. My once purple, yellow and green arm is now almost free of bruises. I am healing. I can feel it in the handles of a rolling pin as I work dough across a floured board. And I can taste it in a bite of fresh pizza spread with homemade pizza sauce and sprinkled with Italian sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella and slips of fresh basil and oregano clipped from plants potted in my backyard.

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SORT OF RELATED, because I fell on my way to donate blood…please consider donating blood to the Red Cross if you are able. The current shortage of blood is termed critical. I’ve been bombarded with emails requesting that I donate. I need to check with my doctor whether I can resume donating. By giving blood, you may save a life. Blood transfusions saved my mom’s life about a decade ago. I am grateful to those many many donors.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling