Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Happy Halloween, Minnesota style October 31, 2016

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I was working in the lab driving into Janesville late one night Friday afternoon, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…Frankenstein by the train tracks.

 

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I was working in the lab exploring Hayfield late one night one Saturday morning, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…a sign for Kuster’s Dead & Breakfast.

 

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I was working in the lab walking in Zumbrota late one night early one morning, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…a witch/ghost with an identity crisis.

 

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I was working in the lab visiting the House of Kuster in Hayfield late one night morning, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…skulls staggered along a stairway.

 

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I was working in the lab checking my texts late one night early one morning, when my eyes beheld an eerie a crazy sight…my six-month-old granddaughter disguised as Poppy the troll. I laughed and laughed and laughed. Deep belly laughs. I’m still laughing.

 

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Happy Halloween!

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Troll image of my granddaughter, Izzy, is courtesy of her mom, Amber. Izzy’s paternal uncle works for DreamWorks Animation, which is releasing the movie, Trolls, in a few days. He shipped the Poppy hat from California to Minnesota for his niece.

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Raising awareness about domestic violence because I care & so should you October 28, 2016

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Becky Kasper's portrait.

Northfield, Minnesota, native Becky Kasper was only 19 and a student at Arizona State University when her abusive ex-boyfriend killed her on April 20, 2013. Her murderer is serving a total of 30 years in prison followed by a life-time of probation with mental health terms. Read Becky’s story by clicking here. She died in a vicious act of domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Domestic violence thrives when we are silent; but if we take a stand and work together, we can end domestic violence.the National Network to End Domestic Violence

October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

 

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women..

“Homicide” and “murdered,” strong and accurate words on a t-shirt that is part of The Clothesline Project from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Have you thought much about domestic violence? I’ve always thought the word “domestic” minimizes the crime, as if it’s less brutal, less meaningful, less harmful. It’s not. The emotional wounds, especially, run long and deep.

 

Photographed on the inside of a women's bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Photographed on the inside of a women’s bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Have you been impacted by domestic abuse/violence? If you answer, no, I’d be surprised. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women will be the victims of physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Victims of domestic abuse are as close as your next door neighbor, your co-worker, the woman worshiping next to you, your hair stylist, your friend, your niece, your college roommate…you just may not realize it. I can personally list about 20 women by name (family, friends and indirect acquaintances) who have been victims of domestic violence/abuse. Several of them died. Murdered by their abusers.

 

Profound words for anyone who's been abused or known someone who's been abused or is in an abusive relationship.

Profound words for anyone who’s been abused or known someone who’s been abused or is in an abusive relationship from the book, The Help. In this section, Aibileen is talking on the phone with her friend, Minny, who is hunkered down in a gas station after leaving her abusive husband.

 

Are you in an abusive relationship? If you are, I want you to know that you do not deserve this. You are not somebody’s property. You are stronger than you think. There are individuals and organizations who can help you. Don’t do it alone. Leaving an abuser is dangerous; have a safety plan in place before you attempt to leave. You can break free. I believe in you.

 

Bird art perched on a front yard rock.

Survivors are no longer birds in a cage. They are free. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Are you a survivor? I admire you and your strength. You are F-R-E-E. Your abuser can no longer claim you.

 

Reasons she stays, published on page 18. Text copyright of Erica Staab.

Reasons she stays, published on page 18 of She Stays, written by HOPE Center Director Erica Staab. Text copyright of Erica Staab.

 

Through the years, I have written on this topic, and I will continue to do so. Because we need to speak out, to understand, to educate ourselves, to support victims and survivors, to hold offenders accountable, to care.

It’s that important.

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WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Trust your gut. If someone raises red flags (whether in words or behavior) in a relationship, trust your instincts. Trust yourself, not him.
  • Educate yourself. If you learn one thing about domestic abuse, it should be this: Do not blame the victim. Ever.
  • Believe her.
  • Support her. Listen. Keep the communication open. Simply be there.
  • Realize you cannot “save” a woman who is in an abusive relationship. She must decide, on her own, to leave her abuser.
  • When she is ready to leave, help her stay safe. Reach out to resources in your community. Support her. Believe her.
  • Support the victim’s/survivor’s family, too.  Listen. Encourage. Be there. The impact of domestic abuse spirals like a stone dropped in water.
  • Talk to your daughters, your sons, your grandchildren, about healthy relationships.

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FYI:

Domestic abuse is about control, manipulation and power. It can take the forms of physical (including sexual), mental, emotional, financial and spiritual abuse. Abusers want to “own” their victims; they do not.

If you are in an abusive relationship and are in immediate danger, call 911. Leaving an abuser is an especially dangerous time.

Seek help from a local resource center or safe house. Or call the National Domestic Violence Helpline at 1-800-799-7233. You deserve to be free.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

For purposes of this article, I reference women as victims of domestic abuse, realizing that men and children are also victims.

 

Halloween in Hayfield October 27, 2016

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A doll's head lies next to a tombstone in a Hayfield, Minnesota, yard decorated for Halloween.

A doll’s head lies next to a tombstone in a Hayfield, Minnesota, yard decorated for Halloween.

 

YOU WON’T FIND A SINGLE Halloween decoration in my yard. It’s not that I’m anti-Halloween. It’s just that, without kids at home anymore, I don’t feel the need to decorate. And the trick-or-treaters who stop at my house typically number less than a dozen.

 

 

Looking from the Gargoyle suspended from the Kuster home toward Hayfield's Main Street.

Looking from the Gargoyle suspended from the Kuster home toward Hayfield’s Main Street.

 

But then there’s Brianna Kuster who lives in Hayfield, a Dodge County community of about 1,300. She loves Halloween. So much, in fact, that she and Ryan were married on October 31. Their first of two children, a son, was born on a Friday the 13th.

 

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Until last Saturday, I’d only been to Hayfield once previously and I’d never met Brianna. But as I was photographing her Halloween adorned home in the former The Herald newspaper office, Brianna opened her front door to let out the dog. I nearly toppled over in fright, not expecting a canine to bound out of a building.

 

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Along Main Street in Hayfield, Brianna and Ryan Kuster have decorated their property for Halloween.

Along Main Street in Hayfield, Brianna and Ryan Kuster have decorated their property for Halloween.

 

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Thus my introduction to this young mother who creatively staged her House of Kuster, est. October 31, 2009, property for Halloween. The décor is tastefully done with nothing particularly ghoulish.

 

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There’s a humorous bent and an obvious attention to details. This is kid-friendly.

 

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That said, Brianna shared how she recently scared a group of students walking by while on a field trip. She simply peered through the curtains. That was enough to get a rise.

 

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As we talked, Brianna carried totes of Halloween items to a vehicle for transport to the fire hall a few blocks away. The Hayfield Fire Department is sponsoring a Spook House & Carnival and this Halloween lover was on it.

 

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Before leaving, Brianna invited me into the former newspaper office. There’s no evidence this Main Street building once housed a community newspaper. The Kusters live upstairs and hope to some day finish the lower level, which holds great promise with worn wooden floors. As we stepped inside, a black cat (imagine that) walked through an open doorway. And then I noticed the mini green skulls lining the stairway.

 

On the Kusters' front door...

On the Kusters’ front door…

 

Yup, this is the home of a family (or at least a wife/mother) who loves Halloween. And I expect come October 31, the House of Kuster will draw lots of trick-or-treaters to the Main Street of this small southern Minnesota farming community.

 

When the Kusters purchased the former The Herald building, they also bought the property next door. They tore down the house there. The vacant lot is now the setting for the bulk of the Kusters' Halloween decorations.

When the Kusters purchased the former The Herald building, they also bought the property next door. They tore down the house there. The vacant lot is now the setting for the bulk of the Kusters’ outdoor Halloween decorations.

 

TELL ME: Do you decorate for Halloween or have a neighbor/friend/family member who loves Halloween as much as Brianna Kuster?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When you can no longer afford health insurance… October 26, 2016

I live on one of Faribault's busiest residential streets, also a main route for the ambulance which is based near my home.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ABOUT A YEAR AGO, I penned a post expressing my outrage at the ever-rising cost of health insurance.

I expected those costs to stabilize. I was wrong. So here I am, writing and agonizing again about insurance rates that are through the roof nearly unaffordable for my husband and me.

Beginning on January 1, our monthly premiums will total $1,746, of which we will pay $1,310. Add in $3,700 deductibles for each of us and you can see the financial ridiculousness of this plan. Before we can benefit from this health insurance offered through Randy’s employer, we will spend thousands and thousands of dollars. Like $14,176 for me and $8,944 for Randy since his employer pays half ($437/month) of his premium.

We are not wealthy. Nor are we poor. We are lower middle income. I am self-employed. Randy has worked the same job for more than 30 years. His benefits are minimal.

This year we both turned sixty, bumping us up on January 1, 2017, into a newer and higher premium bracket. Lucky us.

In 2016, our health insurance premiums were $723/month each for policies with a $3,500 per person deductible. In the new year, we will pay $225 more a month (nearly a 21 percent increase) with $3,700 deductibles.

This cannot continue. The cost of health insurance premiums threatens our financial stability. Paying $15,720 a year in premiums is crazy and unaffordable. We are careful with our money. Thankfully, years ago we paid off the mortgage on our modest home. We don’t take big vacations. We seldom dine out. We don’t own new vehicles. We limit our spending. But we have to eat and pay other basic cost of living bills.

Something has to give. I wish I had the answer. Of one thing I am certain. I am sick and tired of health insurance costs that have skyrocketed. It’s to the point where we can’t afford to get sick or to seek medical treatment. We can’t save money for retirement. The cost of health insurance and healthcare is my greatest financial worry.

I know many others are in the same predicament. The Minnesota legislature intends to call a special session addressing the crisis, specifically for those buying individual plans. Up until a year ago, I had an individual plan, too. What am I missing here? I was advised that we cannot apply for coverage through the state run marketplace, MNsure, (thus qualifying for a subsidy) because we have insurance available through an (my husband’s) employer.

TELL ME: How about you? Are you in the same situation as us? Do you have a solution to this crisis?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Observing the Minnesota harvest October 25, 2016

A farm site between Kenyon and Faribault.

A farm site between Kenyon and Faribault.

ALONG GRAVEL ROADS and across fields, farm machinery kicked up dust, shrouding rural southeastern Minnesota in pockets of hazy grey.

Somewhere southeast of rochester.

Somewhere southeast of Rochester.

Dust sometimes trailed plumes behind tractors.

All American Co-op in Stewartville Saturday afternoon.

All American Co-op in Stewartville Saturday afternoon.

The elevator in Hayfield.

Grain bins in Hayfield.

In small towns, tractors pulling grain wagons and trucks loaded with corn or soybeans waited at local elevators.

Bees wings accumulating along Main Street in Hayfield.

Bees wings (chaff from corn cobs) accumulate along Main Street in Hayfield.

And bees wings drifted, tinting Main Street and sidewalks red.

Near Root River County Park in Olmsted County.

Near Root River County Park in Olmsted County.

Near Wanamingo...

Near Wanamingo…

In township after township after township, I observed farmers gathering in the crops and working the land on Saturday. A good drying day. Sunshine and crisp temps. Perfect to finish the harvest.

A cluster of bins near Hayfield.

A cluster of bins by Hayfield.

A day trip drive this time of year requires patience as combines, trucks and tractors clog roadways, slowing traffic. But that’s OK. Sometimes we need to creep along, to simply appreciate this land and the farmers who plant, tend and gather in the crops.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A sweet moment at Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center October 24, 2016

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IT WAS LIKE A SCENE from yesteryear. Two bikes dumped along the side of a trail, just before a bridge. Two blue-jean, t-shirt clad boys on the bridge, so focused they were unaware of my presence.

 

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Until I reached them, paused and asked what drew their attention at the River Bend Nature Center Turtle Pond. Not a turtle could be seen in the stagnant, murky water.

 

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But the boys had stopped to dip their hands into the pond, pulling tiny black snails from the water to place next to a woolly caterpillar clinging to a cottonwood leaf. They’d rescued the caterpillar earlier from a roadway.

 

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This is the stuff of Mayberry. This is the stuff of my childhood—those carefree days when kids roamed and ranged and delighted in the intricacies of nature. This scene, these boys, brought me joy. Rare are the times I see kids playing, exploring, discovering without the supervisory presence of adults in an organized activity.

But on this autumn afternoon, this pair—certainly old enough to be off on their own—delighted in simply being outdoors. As we watched a snail peer out of its shell, I thought, life really doesn’t get any better than this, this slowing down to appreciate nature at a snail’s pace.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Glorious autumn in Faribault October 21, 2016

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THE TIME OF LOVELY, stunning days in Minnesota is fleeting, moving from autumn toward winter. Those of us who live here understand that. And we appreciate each day that brings sunshine, warmth and no precipitation, especially snow.

 

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With that mindset, it’s as if we can’t get enough of the outdoors. Raking leaves, clearing flowerbeds and other pre-winter activities fill our days. As do walks in the woods or drives to see the fall colors, which are nearly gone now except in portions of southern Minnesota.

 

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Last Sunday afternoon, I slung my camera across my shoulder and joined my husband on a walk through Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center. We had about a half hour to hike before an afternoon obligation would draw us indoors.

 

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I am not, by craft, a nature photographer. But I am an observer and a detail-oriented person. Put a camera in my hands and I begin to view my surroundings with even more detail. That’s one of the things I love about photography.

 

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Through the lens of my camera, I notice the play of light, degrees of color or lack thereof, curves and lines and shapes.

 

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Autumn is, if anything, a season when color fades, when muted earth tones prevail.

 

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Except for the occasional flare of fiery red-orange maples and oaks. And the blazing yellow.

 

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I love the cobalt blue skies of this season. While that hue was absent on the afternoon of my walk, I still tilted my head up to a canopy of clinging leaves.

 

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I also aimed my eyes and camera lens horizontally to appreciate plants drying. Cattails dry to a cottony fluff. Milkweed pods burst with the promise of next year’s growth.

 

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The seasons cycle. And as they do, I observe. I notice. I photograph.

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

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TELL ME: What’s your favorite fall activity? What do you appreciate about autumn?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling