Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The art of autumn September 23, 2021

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Colorful oak leaves at Mission Park south of Crosslake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

DAYS AGO I SWITCHED out the art in my home to autumn scenes. To reflect the changing season.

I stitched this crewel embroidery art in the 1970s from a kit gifted by an aunt and uncle. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

I leaned two paint-by-number autumn landscapes, acquired several years ago in Detroit Lakes, atop a vintage chest of drawers. I exchanged an old mill scene for a rendition of a river winding through flaming orange woods in an interchangeable print my parents received as a 1967 housewarming gift. I hung a crewel embroidery piece I stitched of a multi-hued treeline set against a mountain backdrop. It was a 1974 high school graduation gift from my Uncle John and Aunt Sue. And I placed, too, a mammoth print of Robert Woods “White Mountains and Aspens” purchased for a few dollars at a garage sale in Medford.

“White Mountains and Aspens” by Robert Wood. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

Every piece of art I own—and I have a lot, acquired mostly at garage sales, thrift stores and recycled art sales at bargain prices—means something to me. Some is personal. But others simply inspire me or give me peace or take me into nature, as does most of the art now decorating my home.

It’s as if I’m bringing the outdoors in.

Outside, autumn eases into the landscape with oranges, yellows, reds and browns painting over green leaves. I noticed that especially last week on a short get-away to the central Minnesota lakes region where Randy and I stayed for several days at a family lake cabin south of Crosslake. We hiked into the woods at Mission Park and I found myself stopping often to photograph the leaves and the abundance of wild mushrooms. I’ll showcase images from that park soon. But for today, you get this solo image.

Take time to step outdoors. To walk in the woods. To appreciate the beauty of autumn as she paints color into the landscape. I welcome these September days. The cool mornings and evenings. The sunshine that warms the day. The earthy scent of the outdoors. The changing colors that delight me visually, that make this season so beloved to me.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learning Mental Health First Aid September 22, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. Several years ago I saw that message printed on the back of a young woman’s shirt at a community celebration. I approached her and asked about the meaning behind those words. She explained that she lives with depression and that her family has loved and supported her through her struggles. I thanked her. Encouraged her. Then walked away feeling grateful for the young woman’s openness and for her caring and loving family.

That we should all be so honest. And compassionate. But the stigma surrounding mental illness, although lessening, continues. The failure to understand and support continues. And that’s where education and training are vital—to recognize, to de-stigmatize, to make a difference in how we perceive and approach mental health.

An upcoming opportunity in my area, Mental Health First Aid, helps those enrolled in the course to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Attendees learn initial support skills and then how to connect individuals to appropriate care.

The class, taught by Mary Beth Trembley, a psychiatric nurse with 30-plus years of experience, will be held from 8 am – 4:30 pm on Tuesday, October 12, at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 1054 Truman Avenue, Owatonna. The course meets Continuing Education Credits. Among those encouraged to attend are employers, law enforcement officers, hospital staff, first responders, faith leaders, care providers, and anyone, really.

Photographed at the Northfield Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My friend, the Rev. Kirk Griebel, who completed Mental Health First Aid a year ago and is hosting the upcoming session at his church, agreed to answer several questions about the class. He has served as Redeemer’s pastor for 20 years and, during his time in the ministry, has cared for people in mental health facilities and provided support to the families of those who have committed suicide.

My questions and his answers follow:

Q: You took the Mental Health First Aid course. What prompted you to do that?

A: I first heard about Mental Health First Aid at the opening of an art show. The show was a benefit for a non-profit agency that promoted Mental Health First Aid. When I got home from the show I did some research on Mental Health First Aid and decided it would be a good thing for me to explore. The closest course I could find was in Mankato and then the pandemic hit but with a little perseverance I managed to take the course about a year ago.

Q: What was your biggest take-away from this class?

A: The first thing that comes to mind is one of the Agree/Disagree questions I was asked to respond to during the course: “It is not a good idea to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal in case you put the idea in their head.” If you are concerned about a person’s mental condition and their potential for self-harm it is better to ask a person if they are feeling suicidal than to avoid the topic.

I also learned a number of calming techniques to use for people in crisis. I learned about how to listen non-judgmentally and ways to get people to the appropriate help they need.

Q: How can we, as individuals and communities, best help family, friends and others who are dealing with mental health challenges?

A: Accessing the necessary professional mental health resources and dealing with the stigma of mental illness are two of the greatest difficulties that I see for people facing mental health challenges. So community leaders should make sure that their communities are just as prepared to respond to mental health emergencies as they are to respond to other health emergencies. Mental Health support groups such as those provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are a great way for family members of those who have mental illness to support each other.

Q: What should we avoid saying/doing? What doesn’t help?

A: “Just snap out of it”, “Pull yourself together,” or “Here we go again” should be avoided when offering support to those with mental illness. We should also avoid words like “crazy” and “retarded.” Phrases like, “I am concerned about you.” or “Is something bothering you?” are more open-ended and non-judgmental.

Q: If you were to give one reason for taking this class, what would that be?

A: I don’t look at taking the Mental Health First Aid course as a “one and done” scenario. That’s not the way it works with traditional first aid classes either. Mental Health First Aid is an important first step in getting educated about the many facets of mental health and should be followed up with ongoing efforts to become better equipped to offer support to those who struggle with mental illness. Mental health issues are so common these days that everyone, but especially those in care-giving professions, should have at least a basic understanding of this topic.

Photographed along a bike trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I hope this post encourages you to consider taking Mental Health First Aid or a similar course and/or to connect with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for information and support. Or to seek professional help if needed. You are not alone, whether you are dealing with mental health issues or you love/care for someone who is facing challenges. The Struggle Is Real.

FYI: To sign up for the October 12 Mental Health First Aid class in Owatonna or for more information, email redeemerowatonna at outlook.com or call 507-451-2720. Registration deadline is Tuesday, October 5. Cost is $90.

Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If I hear a media report about Randy Shaver… September 21, 2021

Randy Shaver trading cards. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021.

IF YOU’VE EVER READ the children’s picture book series, If You Give A… by Laura Numeroff, you understand the premise of how one thing leads to another. In her book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, for example, Numeroff writes about a mouse who, if given a cookie, will then want a glass of milk and then a straw and then…

That domino thought train followed for me after I heard a news report about KARE 11 TV anchor Randy Shaver’s induction into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame over the weekend. I remembered a photo I’d taken of a Randy Shaver trading card during a stop at Hopefull Treasures/Wilker’s Antiques in March. The antique shop is housed in an aged building in the small town of Hope just off Interstate 35 south of Owatonna.

Hopefull Treasures/Wilker’s Antiques. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021.

Recalling that image, I opened my photo files. Then I Googled the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame. There I found Shaver’s bio and current portrait along with those of four other 2021 inductees. Shaver has been with KARE 11 since 1983, working in positions ranging from reporter to sports director to evening news anchor.

I then began scrolling through the 2001-2018 Hall of Fame Honorees, looking for familiar names. And I found lots of them—Cyndy Brucato, Herb Carneal, Ralph Jon Fritz, Halsey Hall and, then, pause, Brad Nessler. I clicked on his bio. Nessler and I attended journalism school together at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He graduated a year before me, his focus in broadcasting and mine in news editorial/print journalism. Professionally, this small town boy from St. Charles in southeastern Minnesota excelled. Today he works as the CBS play-by-play sportscaster for the Southeastern Conference in football and basketball. I remember him, from my college days, as an all-around nice guy.

A vintage radio at Hopefull Treasures/Wilker’s Antiques. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021.

Once I finished scrolling through the Hall of Fame honorees, I then shifted to reading about The Pavek Museum in St. Louis Park which initiated this broadcasting award. I’d never heard of the museum. The 12,000-plus square foot museum houses antique radios, televisions and broadcasting equipment, most from the collection of Joe Pavek.

Well, then, who is Joe Pavek? He was an amateur radio operator and electronics instructor at Dunwoody Institute. And a collector.

The Pavek Museum opened in 1988 to preserve and present the history of electronic communication and provide a learning environment for those interested in the science of electromagnetism and sound, according to the museum website. That educational facet includes a Broadcast Workshop for kids to learn about the history of electronics communications while creating a 1960s style radio broadcast.

So there you go. If you give a writer a media report, she will remember a photo which will lead her to a website and then to…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the fire September 20, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2021, used for illustration only.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the disbelieving villagers decided they’d had enough. They’d had enough of the Ministry of Health and its ongoing efforts to keep The Great Invader from continuing his march across the land. They were weary of being told what to do. They were weary of anything that limited their freedom. They were simply not going to listen. They would live their lives as they wished, unencumbered. And so they did.

Most, but not all, carried on as usual despite increasing reports of illnesses and deaths caused by The Great Invader. They didn’t fear him. After all, they’d gone this long without encountering him. Why worry now? They mocked those who expressed concern. They dismissed the daily lists of dead posted on multiple scrolls in the village square. They ignored, too, the stories of healers overwhelmed by the sick now lying on cots in the streets. They refused to listen to anyone who expressed even the slightest concern about the health of the kingdom.

INTO THE FIRE

Yet, despite their best efforts, they could not completely squelch the stories that circulated. It was rumored that The Great Invader had infected many in the region who refused a life-saving potion that would protect them. It was rumored, too, that many of the children in neighboring villages (and perhaps some of their own) had also fallen ill. And when a representative of the Ministry of Health tacked official documents from the Office of Truthfulness onto a post in the village square proving the stories were fact, not rumor, they ran him out of town. They built a roaring fire, ripped down the scrolls and burned the words of truth to ashes.

They would have none of this They danced in the square, hands joined in celebration. They sang, their boisterous voices rising. And when they grew weary from all the song and dance, they crammed onto long plank benches and drank their fill of ale. Their tongues loosened. Spittle flew. And they determined that no one, not even The Great Invader, held power over them or their village.

AND THEN…

Days later, The Village Know-It-All, who led the local anti-Ministry of Health campaign and subsequent celebrations, fell ill. The villagers heard him hacking, his voice raspy with phlegm. He looked unwell. Pale. Weak. Perhaps even running a fever. Snot dripped from his nose. Still, his adoring admirers circled close as he barked at them in a hoarse voice. He instilled fear in most. Few dared challenge him.

Yet some in the village, noticing his declining health, discreetly distanced themselves from a man they’d never liked, whom they secretly considered a bully of low intelligence. Doubt crept into their thoughts. And they began to wonder if perhaps the Ministry of Health officials had been right all along. Perhaps The Great Invader had infiltrated their village. If only they’d read fully the words of warning posted in the village square. If only they’d chosen truth over fire.

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NOTE: In every story, truth exists, this one no exception. As The Great Invader (COVID-19/delta variant) continues to ravage The Land of Plenty and beyond, please choose truth. Take care. Be safe. Be well. Think before you dance or sing in the village square. And, above all, care for one another, especially our children, our seniors and those who are health-compromised.

This marks the fourth in my ongoing series about The Great Invader. Click here to read my previous three posts.

NOTE: I moderate all comments on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Ready to seed September 16, 2021

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The excavator used to dig a trench for the new water line. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2021.

FOR THE PAST THREE MONTHS, our front side yard has looked like a disaster. Not from the drought, although that factored into the issue. Rather, excavation to replace an aged, failing water line into our house resulted in a dug up mess of a yard. I’m not blaming the excavators. Running a line into our house required a round-about and lengthy access route.

So here we are, months later, finally ready to fix our unsightly yard during the cooler days of pre-autumn. I started the process by hand pulling crabgrass, which had overtaken most of the lawn. That annual thrives in dry conditions, quickly spreading and rooting into the soil. I spent hours, days, yanking the invasive grass…until I realized I simply couldn’t do it any more.

Randy used a chemical—what I was trying to avoid by all that hands-on work—to kill the rest.

Since then, he’s tilled the soil, carefully digging for utility lines marked by flags and paint. I appreciate these markings, but wish we were informed as to the depth of these pipes and lines. The last thing we want is to slice through a line and have that added expense on top of our original water line replacement bill of $5,000. Yes, you read that right.

We need to seed this entire side yard, part of the front yard and the entire boulevard. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2021.

But back to the lawn. The plan is to seed grass. If we were younger and stronger, owned a truck, had endless cash flow, and weren’t in a drought, I’d prefer sod. But grass seed it shall be. Now what to seed…

I just read an article online about research by the University of Minnesota’s Turfgrass Research, Outreach and Education Center (who knew there was such a center?) which suggests Minnesotans rethink seeding Kentucky bluegrass, the seed grass of choice in our state. Rather, the center suggests considering fine fescues. That slower growing grass requires less water and fertilizer and is more tolerant of shade and drought conditions, according to the researchers. Hmmm. That sounds worthy of consideration to conserve water and to deal with dry conditions.

Or, I had the thought of just letting the tilled yard be…and seeding field corn in the spring…because Randy and I both grew up on crop farms and…

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TELL ME: I welcome your input and advice on seeding of our now dirt yard.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Crafting baked beans September 15, 2021

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Baked beans prepared for Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

THUMBING THROUGH THE PAGES of the July/August issue of Country Living magazine recently, I found a recipe, “Slow Cooker Baked Beans,” which inspired me to try making baked beans from scratch.

I read through the list of ingredients noting that all were common and in-stock in my kitchen, except for the pound of dried navy beans. Too often I find magazine recipes calling for ingredients I don’t have or can’t find locally. But this recipe was a go. So I bought a bag of beans and determined I could do this.

But…just to assure I would do everything correctly, I texted my sister-in-law Annette, who makes incredible baked beans, to ask a few questions. Do I soak the beans overnight on the counter or in the fridge? Covered or uncovered?

Perhaps she chuckled at my basic bean questions. Maybe not. Whatever, I appreciated her advice to soak the beans in a covered container. In case a fly or ? gets in the house, she wrote. It was the question mark which concerned me given I live in an old house with many access points for mice. Once upon a time (true story) I found a dead mouse floating in a water-filled crockpot. I’d left the uncovered pot soaking overnight in the kitchen sink. I took her warning seriously and covered the beans before I left them to soak overnight in a kettle on the counter.

Aside from that advice, Annette shared one more important tip which, had I not followed, likely would have resulted in a baked bean failure: Beans will NOT soften any further once anything sweet is put in such as brown sugar, catsup or molasses. What? The recipe did not include that important detail. But I believed my sister-in-law, an expert in crafting baked beans. I cooked the beans for 45 minutes to their desired softness before dumping them into the crockpot along with the three afore-mentioned sweet ingredients, bacon, spices, onion and water.

Volunteers guide a kettle of baked beans lifted from a pit at Bean Hole Days. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I should have remembered also that the good folks of Pequot Lakes, who have since 1938 prepared massive kettles of baked beans for the community’s annual Bean Hole Days, partially pre-cook the soaked navy beans with propane. The oversized pots of beans are then lowered into a pit to cook overnight over wood coals. And I gotta tell you, the deliciousness of those bacon-laced beans in a secret, special sauce ranks right up there with those my sister-in-law makes.

How did mine turn out? Well. They were tasty and flavorful. And not at all soupy. I worried initially that I might be eating bean soup given the ratio of beans to liquid in the crockpot. But, during the slow, all-day cooking, that problem remedied itself.

Will I make these beans again? Absolutely. I’ve noted Annette’s tips in the margin of the printed recipe because, even though I think I will remember, I likely won’t. And who wants a baked bean bomb? Not me.

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TELL ME: Have you ever made baked beans from scratch? If yes, I’d like to hear about your bean-baking experiences/tips/recipes.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetic reflections from Faribault Energy Park September 14, 2021

Among the many beautiful wildflowers growing at Faribault Energy Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

DESPITE THE STEADY THRUM of traffic along adjacent Interstate 35 and the drone of the power plant, Faribault Energy Park remains a favorite place to walk. Not because it’s quiet—because it’s not, not at all. But because of the dirt trails that wind through 35 acres of wetlands and ponds.

Dirt trails ring the ponds. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Here, when I put sneaker to ground, I feel connected to the land. There’s something satisfying and comforting about earth directly beneath my soles.

The foxtail, especially, remind me of the prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo September 2021.

And although this isn’t prairie, the openness of this park appeals to me. It reminds me of my prairie roots, of the gravel drives and roads I biked and walked while growing up in southwestern Minnesota. Sometimes my heart hurts for missing those familiar wide open spaces and spacious skies.

The park’s single wind turbine. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

At Faribault Energy Park, I pause occasionally to look skyward, to the expanse of blue. Or toward the churning arms of the wind turbine which, during my most recent visit, spun shadows across the land.

A view of the power plant from across the pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

It should be noted that I’m not particularly fond of wind turbine fields. I understand their importance, but don’t like their visual intrusion upon the landscape. Like visual pollution, they detract from the beauty of the land. They seem out-of-place, invasive to my eyes. I feel the same about massive solar panel fields planted on farmland. But here at Faribault Energy Park, only one wind turbine stands, across the road from a solar garden (not field).

Goldenrod, one flower I can identify. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
I’ve always loved milkweeds from fluff to pods to how they are necessary for the monarch butterfly population. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
Dainty wildflowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Mostly, I notice the wildflowers and grasses. Goldenrod. Black-eyed Susans. An endless variety of plants that I should take time to research for identification. Rather, I settle for photographing them and appreciating their beauty. How they sway in the wind. How they appear in the sunlight. How they splash color into the landscape.

I especially love how these grass plumes bend and blow in the wind, like poetry. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
Bold berries jolt color into the landscape. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
I love the hue and texture of this grass, whatever it may be. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

If my current photos were poems, they would write of Autumn and her floral dress flowing, billowing as she walks the runway of Faribault Energy Park. (My poetic interpretation of all those colorful wildflowers edging trails.) Audience applause rising. (My poetic interpretation of the droning traffic on I-35 and the noisy power plant.) I imagine that as easily as I recall prairie memories.

There is an abundance of cattails at Faribault Energy Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Faribault Energy Park, 4100 Park Avenue North, keeps drawing me back. To follow the dirt trails. To appreciate the landscape. To, for a short while, escape, even if quiet remains elusive.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on 9/11 after 20 years September 10, 2021

A drawing by my then young son of “something to remember” for a grade school assignment: A plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

TWENTY YEARS. TWO DECADES. Two hundred and forty months.

Whatever words are attached to the time that has passed since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the reality of that day in our nation’s history remains forever imprinted upon our collective memories.

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumna who died on 9/11. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

That day changed us. It changed how we view each other and the world. The acts of those terrorists not only claimed lives, but our sense of security. Our sense of peace. And much more.

I remember well that September morning, how my then seven-year-old son and his friend Sam reacted to scenes unfolding on our television set. My husband had phoned me from work, alerting me to the attacks. I switched on the TV. And the boys saw it all, right alongside me. Perhaps I should have been a responsible mother/caregiver and turned off the television. But I didn’t.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2001.

Soon Caleb and Sam were building twin towers with wooden blocks and flying toy airplanes into the skyscrapers. It was heart-breaking to watch. Both reality unfolding on the screen and then the re-enactment on my living room floor.

For a Minnesota mom geographically far-removed from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, none of this seemed distant. I felt the collective fear. I felt the collective pain. I felt the collective grief.

A memorial at the Faribault Fire Department honoring those who died on 9/11. The department will host a commemoration this Saturday, September 11, beginning at 7:46 am. That includes a welcome by the fire chief, a flag presentation, ringing of the bell and a brief eulogy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

Today I remember, 20 years later, those who died. The families left without loved ones. The heroes. And those two little boys who saw, yet didn’t fully-understand, the events unfolding far from Minnesota. Yet too close.

Here’s a poem I wrote shortly after September 11, 2001:

September 11, 2001

You clutch your silver toy jetliners

then blast them into the twin towers,

blocks scattering across the floor.

Like that show on TV,

you tell me,

where the planes crashed

into those two tall buildings.

—————————————-

Somehow I must tell you

that this was no show on TV,

but real people

in real buildings.

Moms and Dads

with little boys just like you,

boys who build towers and fly toy airplanes.

—————————————————————

How do I begin to show you the truth

behind a scene so terrifying

that it keeps replaying in my mind?

Hollywood could have written the script,

the latest disaster film, grossing millions

for an industry embedded in itself.

You’re right; this could be a show on TV.

———————————————————-

Except this is very real,

so real that I want you to believe

those were just pretend buildings, pretend airplanes.

But you see the worry in my eyes,

hear the sadness in my voice.

You know the truth,

even before I tell you.

——————————-

My son, only seven years old,

too young to fully understand

the evil that has invaded the world,

the fear that grips the American heart, my heart,

the sense of security forever lost.

Like so many blocks scattered across the floor,

we must pick up the pieces and rebuild, peace by peace.

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Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesotans write about pandemics & social justice in “This Was 2020” September 8, 2021

A collection of essays and poems by Minnesotans, including me. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

RAW. HONEST. EMOTIONAL. POWERFUL.

Those words describe This Was 2020: Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year. This collection of 54 poems and essays by 51 writers is a finalist for the Minnesota Author Project: Communities Create Award. Two other books are vying for this MNWrites MNReads honor supported by the Minnesota Library Foundation. The winner will be announced at the Minnesota Library Association’s annual conference in October.

The collection includes my poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic.” Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I am humbled and honored to have “Funeral During a Pandemic” selected for publication in this award-nominated book. In my poem, I share my thoughts and experiences from my father-in-law’s funeral in a small rural Minnesota town. During a pandemic.

The book features short bios on each writer. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

As the title of this collection conveys, the 170 pages of writing focus on pandemics and social justice. Those who penned these pieces, solicited by the Ramsey County Library via a competition, are a diverse group. In age. In writing backgrounds, although many are seasoned writers with extensive writing credentials. In skin color and ethnicity. In perspective and experience. That said, most writers live in the metro with a few of us from other places in Minnesota, including several from my county of Rice.

Those from outside the metro include a 12-year-old from New Market. Evelyn Pierson, in “My Experience at the George Floyd Memorial,” writes of her emotional reaction to visiting the site where Floyd died at the hands of police on May 25, 2020. It’s heart-wrenching—to feel her torrent of emotions, to read her insights and thoughts, to envision her tears. But it’s important, even necessary, to hear the voice of this eighth grader.

Just like it’s necessary to read Brainerd resident Susan Smith-Grier’s essay, “Black in White.” I find her observations and experiences of a black woman living in a primarily white community to be particularly powerful. She moved with her parents/family to north central Minnesota in the early 70s to escape the violence in Chicago. One of very few black families in her new northern home. The death of George Floyd triggered childhood memories of tear gas and rubber bullets, fires and looting…and then, today, a bit of hope that things will change.

Hope weaves into many of the pieces. As does overcoming the fear, the loss, the grief and more that too often defined 2020.

In his poem, “The streets emptied out, but their lungs,” Moyosore Orimoloye reminds us that, despite lungs filling with fluid from COVID, lungs also filled with song on the balconies of Turin.

The incredible cover art features the work of Carolyn Olson, “Grocery Store Cashier and Bagger (Essential Workers Portrait Series #1). 2020, Duluth, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

So many writers detailed how the pandemic affected them—from worries about going grocery shopping to separation from loved ones to ways in which they learned to cope. I found Dave Ryan’s “Living and Dying in Memory Care” profoundly relatable given my mom lives in a long-term care center. I’ve experienced some of the same scenarios—trying to visit through a window, for example. Before he could no longer visit his mom due to COVID restrictions, Ryan installed a video camera in her room. That connected him to her. But then the unthinkable happened. As I read the conclusion of his essay, my heart broke right along with his.

On the back cover, a summary of the book and a list of the writers whose work was selected for inclusion in this collection. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

These are stories you need to read. Real. Life. Authentic. Eye-opening (especially Chee Vang’s “To Kuv Niam,” about how her mother was treated upon contracting COVID). I learned so much, particularly from those writers who have experienced social injustice. From those writers, too, who live in the Twin Cities, who are widely-traveled and who have seen and experienced much more than a farmer’s daughter from southwestern Minnesota.

But I share one commonality with poet and educator Katie Vagnino of south Minneapolis. I am, like her, a Rapunzel with overgrown hair.

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FYI: I encourage each one of you to purchase This Was 2020 by clicking here or buying it elsewhere (in print or as an e-book). Besides the 54 pieces, the book includes writing prompts, a discussion guide and a short list of grief, mental health, and anti-racism resources. This truly rates as an outstanding collection of writing that documents historical events which have forever changed us.

Publication of this book was made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Thank you, Minnesota voters, for supporting the arts. And thank you, Paul Lai of the Ramsey County Library for your hard work on, and dedication to, this book project. I appreciate you and every single writer who contributed to this exceptional must-read book.

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© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Getting cultured in Faribault: From opera to Somali song to booyah September 7, 2021

A promo for Mixed Precipitation’s on-the-road performance. Graphic source: Mixed Precipitation.

IN ONE WEEK’S SPAN, I heard opera for the first time and then seven days later listened to an internationally-known Somali singer perform. Both right here in Faribault. In Central Park.

What a delight to experience these performing arts locally, to be exposed to something new to me.

And at 6 pm Friday, September 10, I’ll be back in Central Park, enjoying “Arla Mae’s Booyah Wagon,” a play presented by Minneapolis-based Sod House Theater.

If I’m sounding a bit giddy, it’s because I am. I love the arts and feel grateful for our local Paradise Center for the Arts. Yet, I often yearn to see more. But I don’t want to go into the metro. And, truth-be-told, there’s always cost to consider. Even in attending local arts events. I expect others in Faribault face the same barriers.

So I feel such gratitude for our long-running free summer Concerts in the Park series. And I feel thankful, too, for sponsoring groups like the City of Faribault Parks & Recreation Department and the Paradise Center for the Arts and the local businesses and residents who helped fund the special events I attended recently.

When Mixed Precipitation brought its The Pickup Truck Opera, Volume 1: The Odyssey to Faribault on August 26, I wondered how I would respond. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I needn’t have concerned myself as the adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey proved lively and entertaining with dancing and over-sized puppets and toe-stomping music. Plus opera. And it was performed on the grass, in front of the historic bandshell from the bed of a blue pickup truck. I felt like I was in a small village of yesteryear being entertained by a traveling troupe.

Dalmar Yare. Photo source: Faribault Parks & Rec Facebook page.

The feel was completely different on September 2, when I set up my lawn chair in Central Park to hear and watch Dalmar Yare, a Somali entertainer from Minnesota and with family ties to Faribault. He describes his music as a blend of traditional Somali styles with hints of western influence.

I quickly found myself swinging my crossed left leg to the tempo of the upbeat music. I didn’t understand what Yare sang in a language foreign to me. But I understood the joy I felt, the joy I saw. Throughout the park, local Somali children, teens and adults gathered to listen. Many danced, especially the kids. It seemed part concert, part celebration, part reunion. Simply joyful.

While I listened, I observed the crowd. I noted the open affection of Somali youth for one another. Young men draped arms over shoulders as did teen girls. Preschool girls in their flowing dresses and hijabs ran hand-in-hand across the park. I noticed, too, a stunningly beautiful 20-something layered in a golden dress and matching hijab, fashionable mini purse dangling from her shoulder. The vibrant colors and patterns of dresses and hijabs swirled like a kaleidoscope. An ever-changing gallery of art.

Dressed in my casual attire of jeans, a tee and a zipped sweatshirt with the hoodie occasionally pulled up to provide warmth and protect me from the rain, I felt under-dressed and conscious of my white-ness. And that’s OK; I needed to feel this. I only wish more long-time Faribault residents would have attended.

Photo source: Sod House Theater

Now this week I’ll learn about booyah, a rich and flavorful stew that is supposedly an Upper Midwest tradition, although I’ve never eaten it. Booyah will theme the Sod House Theater musical comedy about Arla Mae, a rural Minnesotan claiming to operate the state’s first food truck out of which she serves her famous booyah. The play aims to spotlight buying and eating fresh local food. Thus the involvement of James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Kim in creating a special booyah recipe for the production. So what goes into this stew, which is traditionally cooked outdoors in large kettles over a wood fire? You name it: a mix of meats and an assortment of vegetables—onion, potatoes, rutabagas, cabbage, carrots, celery, peppers…

I envision a collage of shapes and colors. Art in a kettle. Art that is new to me. Served to me. Right here in Faribault. In Central Park.

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NOTE: “Arla Mae’s Booyah Wagon” will also be performed in neighboring communities on these dates and at these locations:

Keepsake Cidery, rural Dundas, 6 pm on Thursday, September 23

Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm, rural Waseca, 6 pm on Friday, October 1

Northfield Central Park, Northfield, 6 pm on Thursday, October 7

© Text Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling