Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I can’t hear you March 31, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:01 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

COULD SOMEONE PLEASE answer the phone, turn off the radio and fix the potholes?

That isn’t going to happen. Not for me now, anytime soon or perhaps ever.

Welcome to my new world of ringing telephones, annoying transistor radios and bothersome potholes. I’ll explain after giving you some background.

Three weeks ago I suffered a sudden sensory hearing loss. One minute I could hear mostly fine in my right ear. The next minute it was as if someone had closed the door to my hearing.

At this point, why I suddenly lost 70 percent of the hearing in my right ear remains an unknown. It could be related to an ear trauma three years ago at a Wisconsin waterpark where a waterfall pounded my head. That caused permanent nerve damage, and some hearing loss, to my right inner ear. Or it could be the result of a viral infection, or something else.

Whatever the cause, I now have only 30 percent of my hearing in my right ear.

Thus, the ringing telephone, the transistor and the problem potholes have become issues for me. It’s not like I didn’t try to eliminate all three.

I tried a 10-day mega dose of inflammation-reducing steroids in an attempt to salvage some, if not all, of my hearing. The Prednisone didn’t work, only made me jittery, sleepless and emotional. I noticed no improvement in my hearing. The drug is typically most effective within 48 hours of symptom onset and my treatment started long after that.

I see a specialist next week to recheck my hearing and perhaps get some answers.

I took this photo of my eyes last week when I wasn't getting much sleep due to the effects of my steroid treatment. I'm still having sleep issues.

For now, I’ve accepted the fact that this is my new world of hearing. Sometimes the tinnitus is so bad that I joke to my husband, “Can you please answer the telephone?” Only problem, the telephone is inside my right ear.

As for the transistor, those of you old enough to remember transistor radios will also recall how they were often plagued by poor reception resulting in lots of static. I’m hearing that type of static now in my right ear more often than I like.

With my “bad” right ear I hear just “noise,” nothing as clear or distinct as an individual word.

Driving over an uneven roadway surface, like a pothole or a crack, hurts my ear with the thump echoing unpleasantly inside my ear.

I’m trying to adjust to this hearing loss. But, honestly, it’s not always easy. I can barely tolerate the organ music in church and singing isn’t too much fun any more.

My right ear, in which I've lost 70 percent of my hearing due to a sudden sensory hearing loss.

But most difficult for me, like anyone with a hearing loss, is the inability to clearly hear conversations. And for me, a blogger and writer, that’s a very big deal. I need to hear, and hear accurately.

All too often I find myself asking others to speak louder. I’m sure they’re thinking, “Why doesn’t she just get a hearing aid?” It’s not that simple. An audiologist and an ear/nose/throat doctor have told me that a hearing aid will not help, not with this type of hearing loss.

Put me in a room full of people, and I struggle to hear.

The other night while waiting in a check-out line at the grocery store, I was frustrated because I couldn’t hear everything the young male checker in the lane next to me was telling the bagger. He was offering her relationship advice, something about his fiancée who’d gone to college on the East Coast and who’d cheated on him. I caught the advice about hanging on to someone you care about and to, basically, not mess it up. It would have been a great blog topic, but I couldn’t hear enough of the conversation to accurately pull together a post. My days of eavesdropping may have ended with this sudden sensory hearing loss.

Despite all of this, I realize my health issues could be much worse and that many people suffer from severe hearing losses.

Like all other challenges I’ve faced in my life, I’ll adjust, adapt, accept and move on.

Yet, if I feel the need to cry, which I have several times already, I’ll cry.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Prom economics 101: Lessons in giving March 30, 2011

The 1984 formal I donated to the FHS NHS Prom Dress Drive .

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO my husband stuffed a 1984 lavender formal into the back seat of our car and delivered it to Faribault High School. (I was sick that day or I would have dropped off the old bridesmaid’s dress myself.)

He was donating my dress, which has hung in an upstairs closet for decades, to the FHS National Honor Society’s first-ever Prom Dress Drive.

Naturally, I couldn’t allow this event to pass without asking whether a local high school student will wear “my” dress to the April 30 FHS prom. I also wanted to know how the drive went.

Although several young women tried on my lavender formal and one in particular with sewing abilities considered changing it up, no one bought it, says NHS co-advisor and FHS English language arts instructor Rachael Hoffman.

However, Hoffman, who is also the FHS theater wardrobe director, says she’s keeping my cast-off for possible use in future FHS theatrical productions.

Of 80 – 85 donated dresses, about 15 were sold with prices ranging from $2 – $50 and averaging around $20. Donations included vintage to current fashionable dresses, a few with price tags still attached. Shoes and jewelry were also contributed.

Hoffman, while grateful for the quantity of dresses donated, was hoping for more shoppers. Yet her enthusiasm for the project and its purpose cannot be quelled.

I’ll let her share a story that nearly moved me to tears. “I was overjoyed to hear a student say that she wouldn’t have to order a dress to fit her size this year since she found one at our drive,” Hoffman writes in an e-mail. “You could see on her face that she felt pretty and I really felt that made the drive worth it.

I also think that some of the NHS students who worked at the drive with me got to put themselves in other students’ shoes for a moment. It was a valuable experience.”

Lessons like that can’t be taught in a classroom.

While the project was a fundraiser for the NHS (the group raised about $400), Hoffman says more importantly that it was a service to the students and the community during difficult economic times. “It was my personal hope that a student who could not afford a dress would come and buy one. We did, in fact, have a few students who showed up with this purpose. It was a wonderful reward.”

Lessons like that can’t be taught in a classroom.

Hoffman clearly understands her students. “As a teacher at FHS, I know that many of these young people work jobs not merely for themselves but to contribute to their families in these hard times, or to save for college,” this astute educator observes. “We really wanted to serve our community in this way. Prom is a special occasion and many families cannot afford ‘extras’ right now. We wanted to make this less of a stressor on normal working families and more of an event to look forward to for the students.”

No one left the Prom Dress Drive without a dress, if they wanted one, Hoffman says. Prices were negotiable and most donors told organizers to give away their dresses (if they could not sell them) to anyone who needed a formal.

Lessons like that in giving from the heart can’t be taught in a classroom.

Details on the front of a lovely formal that also hangs in my closet and which my eldest wore in a friend's wedding. It would make a lovely prom dress, but it wasn't mine to give. Maybe next year?

THE GIVING DIDN’T END in Faribault. Extra Prom Dress Drive formals which won’t be utilized locally were donated to Total Care Cleaners. The south metro business sells the dresses for $10 to any prom-goer who needs one. Total Care also gives away $10 in dry cleaning services for each donated dress.

“They were so appreciative of the donations and excited to give more students this option for a prom dress,” says Julie Petersen, a co-advisor for Faribault’s NHS and a FHS Spanish instructor. “The owner said that many of the girls he helps would not be able to go to prom if not for the dresses he gets donated.”

That economic reality extends nationwide. At donatemydress.org, a national network connecting local dress drive organizations across the country, you’ll find a state-by-state listing of groups sponsoring these dress projects. Scroll to Minnesota and you can link to five metro area formal dress drives—Ever After Gowns, Operation Glass Slipper and The Paperbag Princess—and the two businesses-based projects at Vista Images and Total Care Cleaners.

I expect there are other Minnesota dress drives not listed on this website.

At least one of the prom projects, South St. Paul-based The Paperbag Princess, also accepts suits. Some take accessories too. Ever After Gowns will even accept spa products and new makeup.

I commend groups like the FHS National Honor Society for undertaking a drive like this which offers affordable prom attire to young women. NHS members seem to have benefited from the project, in lessons learned, as much as the young women who found prom formals.

Now, if only the cost of attending the FHS prom—$175 per couple for the event to be held at a South Saint Paul night club—would be more affordable…

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Kudos from MPR for Minnesota Prairie Roots March 29, 2011

OK, I’M NOT EVEN GOING to apologize for tooting my horn here today. It’s not something I’m all that comfortable doing. But, hey, every once in awhile it’s alright to let everyone know you’ve been recognized.

That latest recognition for me as a writer comes via Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins. He publishes a popular online MPR weekday column, News Cut. He’s a professional blogger, meaning he gets paid for blogging, which I aspire to accomplish.

I’m a News Cut fan, and not just because Collins has referenced my Minnesota Prairie Roots posts numerous times. I sincerely enjoy reading the content he pulls together and comments and encourages discussion on.

MPR Public Relations Manager Christina Schmitt interviewed Collins about News Cut for an article published in the Plugged In Minnesota Public Radio highlights section of Minnesota Monthly’s March issue. The “Behind the Blog: Bob Collins” article titled “Looking Sharp,” runs on pages 6 and 7.

 

This two-page spread in Minnesota Monthly's March issue features an interview with MPR's Bob Collins in which Minnesota Prairie Roots is mentioned.

And that’s where I’m mentioned, on the second page, when Schmitt asks Collins which online sources he trolls for information.

He taps into Twitter. And, like everyone else, Collins says he checks the BBC, National Public Radio and The New York Times. But then Collins shares that he also reads blogs like…ta-da, drum roll here, please…Iron Ranger Aaron Brown’s Minnesota Brown and Audrey Kletscher Helbling’s Minnesota Prairie Roots.

I’m honored, humbled and more than a tiny bit giddy that Collins would single the two of us out from among the hundreds, if not thousands, of writers out there in the Minnesota blogosphere.

Such an endorsement from a well-respected entity like MPR means a lot to me as a professional writer. It validates that I can blog, and blog well, or at least blog well enough to grab Collins’ attention and interest.

In the interview, Collins tells Schmitt that Minnesota Brown and Minnesota Prairie Roots “are intimately tied to what’s going on in their parts of Minnesota. They’re not news sources per se, but they quite often touch on a topic that is interesting and give me ideas to expand it a little bit.”

 

Right here, in the fourth paragraph, Collins talks about Minnesota Brown and Minnesota Prairie Roots.

So there you have it. Direct from News Cut.

To read the full story, track down Minnesota Monthly’s March issue. I’m looking for copies now as I only learned several days ago about this article. Gotta show my mom, you know. So…, if you have any extra copies of the magazine, send them my way.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grassroots dining: Church dinners are the best March 28, 2011

GIVEN A CHOICE of eating at a church dinner or dining at a restaurant, I’ll choose the holy place. I appreciate the good home cooking and fellowship that comprise church dinners.

So Sunday my husband and I headed to St. John’s United Church of Christ in Wheeling Township, about a 15-minute drive from Faribault, for a Lenten Soup Luncheon.

 

St. John's United Church of Christ is northeast of Faribault about two miles off State Highway 60 on Rice County Road 24 near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

As soon as I stepped inside the fellowship hall attached to the old stone church and saw the spread, I regretted that I’d snacked on a doughnut at my church only an hour earlier.

This luncheon offered soups, salads, sandwiches and bars. A regular smorgasbord with nine salad and three soup options and, well, I didn’t count the varieties of bars but suffice to say any chocolate lover would have been happy.

 

Some of the bars offered for dessert. I tried the bar with the marshmallow topping on the back left.

Salads like tuna pasta, tangy rhubarb squares and 3-bean, and the spinach-strawberry I chose, awaited diners who could select plated salads and/or build their own.

 

Even the salad bar sign grabbed my attention. How cute and eye-catching and kitschy.

The plated and build-your-own salad bar fills two tables in the dining hall.

A few of the salad bar choices, including a tangy rhubarb square on the right in this photo.

After I’d selected my salad and placed it on a fancy silver tray, I headed to the kitchen where cooks were ladling potato-bacon chowder, hamburger vegetable soup and chicken noodle with dumpling soup from large roasting pans into hefty bowls.

 

The busy-as-a-beehive kitchen crew at St. John's United Church of Christ.

Volunteers were ready with roasters full of soups in the kitchen.

I started with the potato and eventually sampled the other two. The creamy and savory potato was my hands-down favorite, although I also appreciated the spicy kick to the hamburger veggie. I’ve never been big on chicken noodle soup or dumplings. The chicken soup is served at every Lenten Soup Luncheon the church hosts. Oyster stew and chili will be the other featured soups at the last luncheon from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 10.

 

The Lenten Soup Luncheon sign posted by the kitchen. The final luncheon is from 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 10.

A diner's tray (not mine) that includes a bowl of chicken noodle soup with dumplings.

Church dinners are all about food and fellowship. I scored an invitation to visit a farm with a robotic milking operation while visiting with church members at my table.

Of course, no church dinner is complete without bread, so diners were offered an array of sandwiches. I inquired about the ground concoction on an open-faced sandwich, was told it was bologna and pickles, paused, thought, and picked it up. And you know, for someone who doesn’t really care for bologna, I liked the spread.

 

Plenty of sandwich choices like ham, tuna and, yes, even ground bologna and pickles were offered.

Except for lutefisk, I’ve never tasted a church dinner I didn’t like.

I notice and appreciate details like the lovely floral dishware. My husband and I learned that once you carry your food to your table on the fancy silver tray, you're supposed to take your plates and bowls off the tray and servers will pick it up for others to use. We even had big, hefty soup spoons for eating our soups. Now that impressed me.

 

There's no specific cost for the St. John's Lenten Soup Luncheon, which benefits the youth fellowship group, helping members finance mission trips and more. Cost for the meal is whatever you choose to donate. Just drop your money in the bucket before picking up a fancy silver tray at the salad bar.

FYI: Click here for more information about St. John’s United Church of Christ, 19086 Jacobs Avenue, located near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, rural Faribault. Watch for a future post featuring photos of the church interior and exterior.

PLEASE SUBMIT A COMMENT and tell me about a church dinner you enjoy and why.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A glorious sunset at St. John the Baptist Church March 27, 2011

THAT I APPRECIATE country churches should come as no surprise to those of you who’ve followed Minnesota Prairie Roots. I value their beauty, architecture, history, reverence and connection to the land and its people.

Therefore, I photograph these rural sanctuaries whenever possible. If a church door is unlocked, I’ll take you inside for a photographic tour. If not, you’ll at least see the exterior.

Others, like rural Carver resident Harriet Traxler, share my interest in photography and all things country. So when Harriet emailed images of a local rural church, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Faxon Township some four miles northwest of Belle Plaine, I asked if I could share her photos with you.

Because I struggled to pick my favorite of the four, shot around sunset on Friday, I’m publishing three of Harriet’s photos.

I hope you’ll agree with me that even on a cold Minnesota March day, these gorgeous photos warm the heart, and the soul.

 

Built around 1870, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church still holds Sunday Masses and has many young parishioners.

In the summer, the church is surrounded by cornfields.

The sun sets the sky on fire behind St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, rural Belle Plaine, Minnesota.

FYI: Harriet has published a series of barn books featuring barn and other rural images from her native Sibley County, Minnesota. To view her work, click here. Some of Harriet’s work will be featured in the spring issue of Minnesota Moments magazine.

© Text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

© Photos copyright 2011 Harriet Traxler

 

Traveling photo shoots March 26, 2011

BOY, WAS I HAPPY to meet photographer Loretta M. Verbout of Rochester during an opening night gallery reception recently at the Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault. She is among three photographers and a painter currently exhibiting at the center.

Although I enjoyed all of the art, I was particularly drawn to Loretta’s photos because she photographs the same types of subjects I like photographing. Flowers. Rural scenes. Everyday objects. Her images have a certain down-home quality that appeals to me.

I was especially drawn to her photo of a country church barely visible behind a field of ripened corn. I wanted to know more about the church and where it was located. I enjoy discovering rural churches, then photographing them.

“It’s somewhere between Dubuque and the Minnesota border,” Loretta said.

Then Loretta explained that she shot the image through the passenger window of a moving vehicle.

I didn’t expect that answer.

 

Loretta shot this rural church scene while driving roads along the Mississippi River somewhere between Dubuque, Iowa, and the Minnesota border. It's in her gallery exhibit at The Paradise.

Instantly, I bonded with this photographer. I do the exact same thing—set my EOS 20D SLR digital Canon camera on a fast shutter speed and click, click, click while traveling. Loretta also uses mainly Canons.

I called my husband over. He needed to hear this, to confirm that I’m not the only crazy photographer who shoots while riding shotgun.

But apparently I’m not to Loretta’s level of commitment yet. She’s worn out the motor on her vehicle’s automatic window. Typically, I shoot through the window given I don’t want to risk dust filtering into my camera and landing on my sensor, plus sometimes the weather is just too cold for an open car window.

Here are two more drive-by images from Loretta’s Mississippi River road drive:

FYI: Loretta’s gallery show, “The beauty in everyday things,” and exhibits by photographers Laura Schenck of Northfield and Catherine Michele Adams of St. Paul will run through April 23 at the Paradise’s Carlander Family Gallery, 321 Central Avenue, in downtown Faribault. Minneapolis artisit Lauren S. Strom’s paintings are also on display in the Lois Vranesh Boardroom Gallery. Paradise hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

CHECK BACK for a trio of on-the-road farm place photos I shot recently while traveling through southwestern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Preparing for the floods, which haven’t arrived, yet, anyway March 25, 2011

Xcel Energy sandbagged its electrical substation near the Straight River in preparation for spring flooding. See the green, fenced enclosures next to the building. Last fall this substation flooded during a flash flood.

UNLESS THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE changes its forecast, a flood warning that covers Rice County expires at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

That’s good news for Faribault, where residents and officials have been nervously watching the rising, and now receding, Cannon and Straight Rivers that run through town.

Six months ago, those rivers rushed over their banks during a September flash flood, threatening homes and businesses and actually flooding some. Sewage also backed up in to homes and the city’s wastewater treatment plant was compromised. Because of the sudden nature of that flood, my community was not fully prepared.

This spring, though, following a winter of heavy snowfall and then a quick snow melt, officials had emergency plans in place to deal with possible flooding. They had even recruited students to fill sandbags, stockpiled at a local park for residential use.

They were ready. Ready is good.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Here’s a look at some river and preparedness scenes I shot near the Cannon and Straight Rivers Wednesday evening.

If we don’t get another major storm—rain or snow— and the weather stays cold, slowing the snow melt, I think we should be OK here in Faribault, meaning no need to worry about flooding.

But then that can change on a dime, and I’ve heard predictions of another possible river crest next week.

And so we wait…prepared.

Student volunteers and others filled sandbags, available to residents who needed them. These were stockpiled at South Alexander Park by the Cannon River when I shot this image Wednesday evening.

River waters rise close to Faribault Foods. Last fall floodwaters reached as far as the overhead doors.

The Straight River encroaches on Faribault's Water Reclamation Plant, which now appears "safe" from floodwaters.

A sandbagged utility area along the Straight River by the viaduct and Teepee Tonka Park on Faribault's east side.

CLICK HERE to view images from last September’s flash flood in Faribault, comparing the situation then to today. River levels are much lower than six months ago.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling