Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“I hated myself”: Journey to recovery through Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge April 30, 2013

A member of the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir sings a solo during a presentation on Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

A member of the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir rehearses his solo before a concert on Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

SHE’S FOUR MONTHS to graduation, this mother of four, this 13-year meth addict.

Jill speaks with passion, sharing her downward spiral into addiction and her remarkable recovery through Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. Her voice raw with emotion, Jill reveals how, as a single mom trying to raise a son and a daughter, who had cystic fibrosis, she gave her girl up for adoption. That pushed her over the edge.

Later, she would marry, have two more children and, eventually, her husband would enter treatment at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, a faith-based recovery program for those with drug and alcohol addictions. “I watched him turn into a godly man,” Jill says. “Our lives are unbelievable. We love each other. It’s amazing what God can do when He’s in your life. He restores.”

Praise and personal testimonies highlighted the choirs performance.

Praise and personal testimonies highlighted the choir’s performance.

By age 13, James from my community of Faribault, was smoking crank out of a light bulb. The son of a teacher and social worker, he had no direction or purpose in life. He was using and selling drugs and breaking into places. By age 22, he’d been to prison twice, had a son. “You try to manage and have as much fun as you can before you get locked up again,” he says.

He also used heroin. Then his brother died. “They’re thinking they’re going to bury two kids in the same month,” James says of his parents.

In 2011 he graduated from the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge treatment program. “I found God and feel God. I have the joy of the Lord.”

And then James shares more. He was once best friends with a 27-year-old Faribault man charged last week with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree and second-degree assault in an attack on his fiance, stabbed more than 30 times. She survived and is out of the hospital.

“Bad things happen…God sustains you,” this former addict says.

Heartbreaking and inspirational stories were shared.

A soloist performs with the choir.

Heidi, 22, the daughter of divorced parents and an alcoholic father, grew up in a small town. She started drinking, eventually wracked up two driving under the influence charges, was in and out of court-ordered treatment.

She turned to abusing prescription drugs, yet managed to go to college, even held a job in sales. She stole from her family, got into heroin.

By her admission, Heidi says, “I threw away opportunities in life…I hated myself…I was sitting in my apartment all day getting high.”

Then she overdosed, suffered a seizure.

Heidi is set to graduate in May from Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. “I needed a relationship with God,” this young woman says.

IF YOU’VE NEVER attended a Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge presentation like the concert/personal testimonies I heard at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, on Sunday, I’d encourage you to do so. You will never forget the stories of these courageous individuals who have overcome so much to reclaim their lives and their families and forge new relationships with God.

Choir members line up and dish up at the potluck after the service and concert.

Choir members line up and dish up at the potluck after the service and concert.

At the potluck dinner after the concert, I sat with Tyler, a 20-year recovering heroin addict and father of two boys, 9 and 13. When his wife died two years ago, Tyler knew he needed to change. You’d never guess, just looking at and talking with this well-groomed and articulate young man, that he’d once been into drugs. He’s been in and out of treatment several times. But this time, in the longer one-year faith-based recovery program, Tyler’s succeeded.  He’s set to graduate soon, will start college and work, and get his boys back.

Tyler, Jill, James and Heidi and about 35 others, through primarily song and those few personal testimonials, brought their messages of hope, joy and recovery to my church through the center’s community outreach program.

Anthony Bass, who played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1998-2000 and is now the church relations manager for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and is planting a church in northeast Minneapolis, says the on-the-road programs are part of an effort to help fight heroin, meth and prescription drug addictions, showing “how God’s power has helped and restored.”

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge has eight facilities in Minnesota—in Minneapolis, Brainerd and Duluth and one soon to open in Rochester. The name was changed last October from Minnesota Teen Challenge to Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, more accurately reflecting the ages of program participants. Eighty percent are over age 18.

Bass also asked for prayers and financial support.

The Trinity Quilt Makers gifted the group with this stash of quilts.

The Trinity Quilt Makers gifted the group with this stash of quilts.

As I sang the hymn, “Who Are You Who Walk in Sorrow,” with the congregation and choir members, I considered how fitting these words:

Great companion on our journey,
Still surprise us with Your grace!
Make each day a new Emmaus;
On our hearts Your image trace!

FYI: Click here to learn more about Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(Note that I may or may not have the correct spellings of names referenced in this story. I did not check the spellings. And, yes, I asked and was given permission, to photograph the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir.)


Chalking poetry April 29, 2013

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FOR WEEKS I’VE WANTED to chalk poetry onto the sidewalk past my house in celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

But not until today, April 29, did sunny and dry weather finally allow for chalking.

A week ago six inches of snow fell, for gosh sakes. Rain fell early yesterday evening.

The first two parts of my illustrated poem.

The first three lines of my illustrated poem.

After sweeping winter sand from several sections of sidewalk, I scouted for the box of chalk in the garage then proceeded to print my poem:

Cold earth warmed
by budding sun
sprouts the seeds
of vernal equinox

Two springs ago, this poem published on four billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls.

I thought my poem particularly fitting for re-publication this morning on my sidewalk.

Poetry 2

The entire poem, plus “In celebration of National Poetry Month” tacked onto the end.

So if you are walking past my house, take note, read and enjoy.

Before the rain, or snow, washes away my poetry. And, yes, snow is apparently in the forecast for later this week, so two friends tell me.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


How I spent my first weekend of spring

Perennials are finally popping through the earth.

Perennials are finally popping through the earth in my yard.

SPRING OFFICIALLY SPRANG in southern Minnesota this weekend.

Yes, readers. No snow. Temps in the 70s, maybe even 80s. I should know, but I was too busy to check.

Flip flop weather, for sure.

Sunshine and windows thrown wide open to vent the stale winter air from the house.

Most of my weekend I labored outside, trying to make up for lost time, for all those weekends when snow and cold prohibited any sort of outdoor work.

I raked these leaves from backyard flower beds. Look at that lawn and the hillside. No snow. Anywhere.

I raked these leaves from backyard flower beds. Look at that lawn and the hillside. No snow. Anywhere.

I raked leaves from perennial flower beds.

And when I wasn’t raking, I was sanding a table for our son who moves into a Rochester apartment a week after my husband and I retrieve him from college in Fargo. He’s interning with IBM. The oak table, purchased at a thrift store for a song, needed refinishing.

Compare the two table halves, the left side stripped and sanded, the right side top, not.

Compare the two table halves, the left side stripped and sanded, the right side top, not.

Smokers owned the table. Do not ever, I repeat, ever, purchase a table owned by anyone who smoked cigarettes. Do you know how difficult it is to remove cigarette smoke odor and tar and nicotine build-up from wood? Nearly impossible.

I sanded the skin right off tiny sections of two fingers from the hours, and I do mean hours, I sanded. Take that times two, because Randy worked side-by-side with me. All the while I was thinking, if this cigarette-exposed wood looks like this, imagine a smoker’s body inside and out.

Lecture finished for today.

The Frankoma teapot I purchased.

The Frankoma teapot I purchased. There’ s a slight chip in the lid handle.

On the way to the paint store to purchase supplies for that table refinishing project, I stopped at a garage sale and picked up a beautiful Frankoma teapot. I seldom drink tea, but I loved the artful shape and simple style of this collectible.

As a bonus, Mike, the guy having the garage sale, told me about all the old Mason and other fruit jars he buys and rents out for weddings and/or sells after I noticed an oversized blue jar for sale.. Since my eldest daughter is getting married this fall and mentioned perhaps using fruit jars for flowers, I was interested. So Mike took me inside his old stone house and showed me his boxes upon boxes of jars.

Although the jars initially drew me inside, they were not the find of the day. In the corner of Mike’s living room stood a deer. Yes, readers, a deer. Dead, of course, and mounted. An entire deer, not just the head, although several deer heads are suspended from walls, too.

Totally creeped me out and I told Mike that. He may have laughed. I so regret leaving my camera at home.


Spring, grill

My husband grills year round, so there’s nothing unusual about him grilling this weekend. But focus on that landscape. No snow. Anywhere.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Boots and blooms April 27, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:29 PM
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IF YOU ARE AN ELEMENTARY school student of the 1960s, like me, you can relate to this post. If you are not, pretend that you are and imagine sitting at your desk, mimeographed math worksheet and box of eight thick Crayola crayons at your fingertips.

Your teacher, we’ll call her Mrs. Olson, instructs you to circle the one item among the pictures that does not belong.

You pull a nubby green crayon from the box of colors because green is your favorite. You’re pretty sure you can use green because Mrs. Olson has not instructed you otherwise. You wish to be obedient.

You study the pictures and crook your elbow around your paper. David is seated across the aisle and you have caught him several times peeking at your math worksheets. Mrs. Olson does not like cheaters. Neither do you.

You study the five images.


Blooms, purple


Blooms, pink

Blooms, blue

Without hesitation, you circle the second picture of the single purple bloom.

The next day Mrs. Olson returns your paper with an “S+” and a smiley face scrawled beside your name.

DEAR READERS, would you have circled the single bloom? I expect most of you would have drawn a circle around the boots. But, remember, this is a math worksheet. We are learning numbers. All of the pictures, with the exception of the purple bloom, show multiples.

I assure you, this marks a rare occasion when I will teach you a math lesson, for I struggled mightily with numbers and still do.

THESE EDITED PHOTOS were taken at Donahue’s Greenhouse in Faribault. I am still wondering how those boots fit in among all those flowers at Donahue’s.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Minnesota bait shop Norman Rockwell could appreciate April 26, 2013

White's Bait Shop, Madison Lake, Minnesota

White’s Bait Shop, Madison Lake, Minnesota, photographed while passing by.

FROM A PURE visual perspective, White’s Corner Bait in Madison Lake confuses the eye with a mishmash of angles and cluttered signage. Too many words to read while passing by on Minnesota Highway 60.

Pop, ice, bait...

Pop, ice, bait, batteries, tackle, rods, reels…

But from an artistic perspective, this long-time bait shop delights with a Norman Rockwell-like Americana charm.

I have, for decades, admired this barn red multi-layered building of angles and assorted jumbled rooflines defined by a pointed corner tower.

Not once, though, have I stopped to photograph it, to step inside, to check out the bait, to gather information on where the fish are biting.

Oh, how I love that kitschy fish.

Oh, how I love that kitschy fish.

White’s Bait, open since 2011 in a building that has been a bait shop for more than 50 years, prides itself on providing “good quality bait and great customer service.” Says so, right there on the business website.

Seems quintessential Norman Rockwellish to me. That good quality, that great customer service.

Next time I’ll stop.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Wisconsin school honors orphans via “The Orphan Bed Exhibit” April 25, 2013

The main building at the orphanage, built in 1886, housed offices, a reception room, chapel/auditorium, boys' cottage, living quarters for employees, a sewing room, attic and linen storage. This main portion today serves as the Owatonna city administration building.

The main building at the Owatonna orphanage, built in 1886, housed offices, a reception room, chapel/auditorium, boys’ cottage, living quarters for employees, a sewing room, attic and linen storage. This main portion today serves as the Owatonna city administration building. File photo from December 20, 2011, blog post.

THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY miles from the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum in Owatonna, a group of Lutheran school students in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, just southwest of Milwaukee, are honoring orphan children of the 1920s and 1930s.

The story of how this came to be involves me, a dedicated and creative middle school language arts teacher/musical theater director, and a bit of personal family history.

Several weeks ago, teacher Judy Lillquist, a native of Le Sueur, MN., who has lived in Wisconsin for 20-plus years, commented on a December 2011 blog post I published after a visit to the Owatonna museum. (Click here to read that story.)  She discovered my orphanage stories while researching for her school’s production of  Annie Jr. My posts included photos of simple orphans’ beds in a stark orphanage bedroom. (Click here to read my second orphanage post.)

The boys' bedrooms are stark, devoid of anything homey. This small room slept three.

This photo of an orphan’s bed inspired Lillquist to create “The Orphan Bed Exhibit.” The orphans were not allowed to sleep on their pillows; those were just for show. File photo.

Those orphan bed photos inspired Lillquist to work with her students in creating “The Orphan Bed Exhibit” which accompanies the school’s spring musical, Annie Jr., showing this Friday and Saturday at Hales Corners Lutheran Middle School.

Working with middle schoolers on a musical seems challenging enough. So I really have to admire Lillquist’s efforts to personally connect her students and audience members to the plight of actual orphans via “The Orphan Bed Exhibit.” The exhibit includes a synopsis of the inspiration behind the project.

The orphan bed designed by Lillquist.

The orphan bed designed by Lillquist.

Using cardboard boxes, paper, tape, glue, clearance bed sheets and other everyday materials, Lillquist’s sixth graders built 20 orphan beds. Those attending the musical will see silent orphan statues (students), attired in tattered dresses, stationed next to those beds.

Beds were packed tight into sparse bedrooms in the cottage.

Beds were packed tight into sparse bedrooms in the Owatonna orphanage cottages. File photo.

The scene is meant to make a powerful impact. Lillquist explains:

In my research for the play, I began formulating an idea of somehow showing our audience how important it is for us to count our blessings. I for one am very thankful for a warm home and comfortable bed. It gives me a heavy heart knowing that the orphan children of those days were not so fortunate, my husband’s dear grandmother among them.

…The beds pay homage to the orphan boys and girls of the 1920s and 30s. Our plucky little orphan girls get to play that role for a little while. Some children played that role their entire lives. This is simply to honor their memory.

A photo of some of the school's residents on exhibit in Cottage 11, which housed boys ages 6 - 13.

An Owatonna school orphans photo displayed in Cottage 11, which housed boys ages 6 – 13.

For Lillquist’s family, this is personal as her husband’s grandmother and siblings were placed in a state orphanage after their mother died. Lillquist shares:

Once placed, she would wave across the lunchroom at her two brothers. When she was finally fortunate enough to be adopted, her new family decided one year to go back to the orphanage to adopt her sister. That was her birthday present. She was in her 80s when she told us this story.

She never saw her brothers again once she left the orphanage and she could not bear to tell us what eventually happened to her sister.

Can you imagine?

I expect “The Orphan Bed Exhibit,” combined with the theatrical performance of Annie Jr., will drive home the message Lillquist intends:

Our families are blessed and that’s the message of the exhibit.

FYI: Hales Corners Lutheran Middle School, 12300 West Janesville Road, Hales Corners, Wisconsin, presents “The Orphan Bed Exhibit” at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, and at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27. The curtain rises on Annie Jr. a half hour later.

Thank you to Hales Corners students, and especially to Lillquist, for their dedication to this project. I am honored to have been, in some small way, a part of this undertaking.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
“The Orphan Bed Exhibit” image courtesy of Judy Lillquist


Hardy, defiant or ? April 24, 2013

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Scene on Willow Street, Faribault, Minnesota, 6:09 p.m., Tuesday, April 23.

Scene on Willow Street, Faribault, Minnesota, 6:09 p.m., Tuesday, April 23.

TUESDAY EVENING, APRIL 23, and I’ve just finished supper when I spy a motorcycle on the street.

Any other spring, and I would not give this mode of transportation a second thought nor grab my camera.

But this is no ordinary April in Minnesota. The six inches of snow which fell Monday into early Tuesday morning in Faribault have mostly melted, but plenty still blankets the landscape.

Forty degrees. Snow on the ground. And a biker hits the road.

As crazy as this appears, I recall seeing a motorcyclist riding in 30 degree temps a few months ago.


© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Yes, Minnesota, there really is a spring April 23, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:44 AM
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ALLOW ME TO WEAVE a magical photo essay today, to sprinkle fairy dust into your eyes, to transport you from the snowy Minnesota landscape into a place of wondrous beauty and warmth.

If you truly believe, just as Virginia believed in Santa Claus, you will see spring.

Ready? Let’s go.

Greenhouse, fairy

A little fairy dust in the eyes

Greenhouse, exterior

and we enter the magical world of spring inside Donahue’s Greenhouse in Faribault.

Greenhouse, flowers and ferns

Here a spell is cast upon winter weary Minnesotans, some of whom load their carts with plants, unable to resist the overpowering pull of flowers in bloom.

 Greenhouse, yellow bloom

Blossoms unfurl, fooled into spring by the warmth of the greenhouse, the rare sunshine which graces this April day.

Greenhouse, gazing ball and geraniums

Gazing into the future, gardeners envision spring

Greenhouse, birds

with nesting birds

Greenhouse, seed packets

and soil warm enough to embrace seeds.

Greenhouse, blue flowers

They imagine delicate buds unfurling into graceful blossoms,

Greenhouse, broad view

defying winter in bursts of vibrant hues.

Greenhouse, close-up flowers and ferns

Everywhere, in this magical place, the sweet promise of spring prevails,

Greenhouse, baby sleeping

except on a shelf where fantasy vanishes in the face of truth.

Spring, my dear Minnesotans, exists only in our dreams.

THIS MORNING WE AWOKE to “a bunch of snow” (my husband’s measurement) here in Faribault, snow which began falling around 4 p.m. Monday and was still coming down when I went to bed around 11 p.m.  Snowfall guesstimate would be around six inches. The landscape looks similar to this scene (click here) from last Thursday, except with even more snow. Power lines and trees are frosted with the heavy, wet snow. And for awhile last night, probably less than 15 minutes, the power was off in my neighborhood.

The scene outside my office this morning, dear readers, looks nothing like spring and exactly like winter.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Dog sled or boat? April 22, 2013


In less than three weeks you finish your spring semester classes at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Traveling Interstate 94 on our way to Fargo with hours to go. File photo.

Traveling Interstate 94 on our way to Fargo with hours to go. File photo.

Your dad and I are wondering whether we should come by dog sled or boat to retrieve you and your belongings once we cross the border into North Dakota. What would you suggest?

I’ll admit that, with the continuing snowfall in Fargo, I’m beginning to wonder if your winter will ever end. Kind of like here in southern Minnesota.

The Red River

The placid and narrow Red River photographed from Lindenwood Park in Fargo, June 2012.

And, I’m quite concerned about flooding of the Red River. Everything I read or hear seems to indicate record high water levels.

I viewed a computer simulated graphic of the Red at 42 feet.  (Click here.)  I know NDSU isn’t by the river, but the graphic shows the campus close to an area protected by levees and near areas which could be affected by back up of flood waters through the sewer system. I know, I know, nothing to worry about, right?

I suppose I just have to trust that Fargo officials have the situation under control. I read on the City of Fargo website that Sandbag Central has reopened and that levees will be built to 43 feet, protecting to a river level of 41 feet with two feet of “freeboard,” whatever that means.

The Sertoma Freedom Bridge over the Red River, linking Fargo and Moorhead.

The Sertoma Freedom Bridge over the Red River, linking Lindenwood Park in Fargo and Gooseberry Mound Park in Moorhead. File photo from June 2012.

It’s difficult to imagine, after seeing the Red last summer, how this river could flood into a raging and destructive force. Remember when we walked across that foot bridge over the Red linking Minnesota and North Dakota? I recall not being at all impressed with the size of the river.

The flat landscape near Fargo, on the Minnesota side. File photo.

The flat landscape near Fargo, on the Minnesota side. File photo from February 2012.

But when I consider the flat landscape in and around Fargo, flatter even than the prairie where I grew up (you know, that place you term “the middle of nowhere”), I understand. I compare the flooding of Fargo to spilling a glass of milk onto a table. The milk runs everywhere.

Anyway, when you have time between classes, could you drop me a line and advise?

Dog sled or boat?


P.S.  Does Interstate 94, which spans the Red River between Moorhead and Fargo, remain open if the Red floods?

UPDATE: According to information posted at 4:09 p.m. April 23 on the NDSU website, there are “no foreseen threats to the NDSU campus.” The university has a response team in place and continues to monitor the projected Red River level reports and attend meetings with the Fargo City Commission. Click here to read the flood-related statement posted on the NDSU website.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The art of reclaiming and repurposing in a Northfield shop April 20, 2013

Makeshift accessories

THE CLEVER CREATIVE sidewalk sign crafted from license plates catches my eye and draws me into a cozy shop in downtown Northfield.

Inside I finger rings formed from spoons, try to slide on bracelets shaped from old license plates and other materials, admire oversized blooms folded from pages.

But I don’t take a single photo to show you, save that outdoor sign.

I Should have asked to photograph the art. I didn’t.

So you will have to imagine a one-of-a-kind home-grown shop featuring handmade merchandise repurposed from reclaimed items.

MakeShift Accessories, owned by artist-enterpreuner Devin Johnson, hometown boy come back home to Northfield, is my kind of store with its authentic artsy vibe.

FYI: To learn more about MakeShift Accessories, 418 Division Street, click here to reach the business website. Or, if you’re at Junk Bonanza today at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, scout out Johnson’s booth.

His work is also sold in Minneapolis at “I like You,” Gallery 360 and Mill City Museum; in New Prague at Cranky Alice; and in other locations.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling