Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How a woman of leisure moves toward healing July 28, 2017

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The exercise my therapist terms “Woman of Leisure.” Pretend that’s a woman in the drawing.

 

HOW CAN I BE a woman of leisure when he expects me to wash windows and throw dirt over my head? It’s tough. But I’m up to the challenges issued by my physical therapist.

John has tagged several of my exercises to help me remember them and probably also to make me laugh. Humor helps when you’re stretching and strengthening muscles after a right shoulder break. It takes the edge off the pain.

This recovery takes time, effort and grit. I certainly don’t feel like a woman of leisure as I recline, hands behind head with elbows bent stretching muscles. That right elbow won’t flex down like my left. And I feel pain.

But I’m getting there. After days of washing windows—placing my hands on a hand towel and sliding them up a wall—and other exercises, John noted that I was “significantly better” than at our previous visit. Three sessions into physical therapy, that encouraged me.

 

Daily I am stretching and strengthening my right arm and shoulder muscles. Martin Eichinger of Portland, Oregon, created this graceful “Bird in the Hand” bronze sculpture valued at $14,500 and posed near the Mankato Civic Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

So I’ll stick to my regiment of arm lifting and stretching. Not too little. Not too much. Just as John ordered.

I’m consciously also choosing to use my right appendage, even though my mind and body rebel. After nine weeks of guarding my injured right arm and shoulder, I am retraining my once dominant side. I instinctively do everything with my left hand/arm to avoid pain. I know now that if I am to fully recover, I have to push through the muscle soreness and use my right hand/arm/shoulder. So I am brushing my teeth, combing my hair, opening cupboard doors, washing countertops, closing curtains and more all with my right hand.

This week I caught myself pulling on a t-shirt just as I did pre-May 22 injury with head in neck hole first followed by arms in sleeves. To realize I had just done that boosted my confidence. I am healing.

 

This message on the window of a business in downtown Clear Lake, Iowa, resounds with me as I work toward healing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2015.

 

I am a woman determined. I have a granddaughter to lift, a camera to use, a life to live.

TELL ME: If you’ve ever had to recover from an illness or an injury, who and/or what motivated you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Two Minnesota towns July 27, 2017

Fields and sky envelope a farm building just west of Wabasso in my native Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

I GREW UP ON THE PRAIRIE, a place of earth and sky and wind. Land and sky stretch into forever there, broken only by farm sites and the grain elevators and water towers that define small towns.

 

Along Minnesota Highway 19, this sign once marked my hometown. That sign has since been replaced. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

My hometown of Vesta in Redwood County once bustled with businesses—a lumberyard, feed mill, hardware stores, grocers, cafes, a blacksmith… Now the one-block center of town is mostly empty, vacant lots replacing wood-frame buildings that once housed local shops. Time, economics and abandonment rotted the structures into decay and eventual collapse or demolition.

 

One of the few businesses remaining downtown, the Vesta Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Why do I tell you all of this? The back story of my prairie hometown, where buildings were built mostly of wood rather than brick or stone, led me to a deep respect and appreciation for communities that have retained buildings of yesteryear. Cities like Cannon Falls, founded in 1854. By comparison, Vesta was founded in 1900.

 

The rear of an historic stone building in the heart of downtown Cannon Falls. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

Cannon Falls still has a thriving downtown landmarked by 29 properties in a Commercial Historic District. It’s population of around 4,000 and location between Rochester and the metro contrast sharply with Vesta’s population of 300 in the much more rural southwestern corner of Minnesota.

 

This sign marks the aged former Firemen’s Hall, now the Cannon Falls Museum, pictured below. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

The Cannon Falls Museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

Drive through Cannon Falls neighborhoods and you will see history still standing. In Vesta, history comes in photos and memories. It’s sad really. But that is reality.

 

The Church of the Redeemer, an Episcopal congregation founded in Cannon Falls in 1866. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

Because I grew up without solid stone buildings in a place that unsettles many for its breadth of sky and land, I am drawn to stone structures. They portray a strength and permanency that defies time and change. Yet I expect both masons and carpenters shared the same dreams of a better life, of prosperity and success.

 

Another lovely stone building photographed behind downtown Cannon Falls buildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

That’s the underlying truth. Even if the buildings and businesses in my hometown have mostly vanished, the ground upon which they stood represents something. The land remains—the same earth upon which early settlers planted their boots and stood with hope in their hearts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond a mother’s love July 26, 2017

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WHEN I BECAME A MOM 31 years ago, a new love settled into my heart so profound and protective and encompassing that I was forever changed.

Decades later, my care and love for my two daughters and son remain as strong as the day they were born. Sure they are independent now, living as near as an hour away and as distant as 1,400 miles. But they are still as close as the love I hold for them.

 

 

My motherly love reaches higher than a prairie sky, wider than a prairie landscape, deeper than the prairie place that rooted me.

And just when I thought love could expand no farther, my granddaughter was born. Isabelle is nearly 16 months old now, growing into a little girl with a mind of her own. She walks with confidence, is single-word talking, cries sometimes when her mama leaves the room, offers hugs and blows kisses, loves books and brings incredible joy to my life.

 

 

At the birth of Izzy, a new love settled into my heart so profound and protective and encompassing that I was forever changed. I am a grandma smitten.

TELL ME: How has a little one (whether son/daughter, grandchild or niece/nephew) changed you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Observations while caught in St. Paul traffic July 25, 2017

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Southwest bound into St. Paul on Interstate 35E. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2017.

 

CREEPING SOUTHBOUND ALONG INTERSTATE 35E in St. Paul early Sunday evening in a snarl of traffic due to a lane closure, I studied my surroundings. And people watched.

I waved to the elementary-aged girl flapping a mini American flag out the window of her family’s maroon van sidled next to ours. She smiled. I smiled. And I wondered if her dad couldn’t wait to get out of the metro Minnesota traffic mess and back to Iowa.

I watched, too, as a motorcycle driver sped his bike, American flag flying from the back, onto the shoulder, skirting lanes to get ahead of four-wheel traffic.

Soon several vehicles followed in the right lane that had emptied of traffic about a block before the right lane closure. The zipper merge worked up until then. I could see an accident waiting to happen as the impatient motorists flexed their muscles, bullying into the left lane with concern only for themselves and whatever hurry they had. Drivers like that endanger all of us with their excessive speed.

I dug two peppermint life savors from my purse, rolled down the passenger side window, tried to relax in the near traffic gridlock. I’ve never determined how people can handle this daily congestion while driving to and from work or wherever.

 

 

 

Randy diverted my attention to a sign posted on the Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota building next to the interstate. We laughed at the suggestion that joint replacement could transform the average patient into a buff biker.

 

Tents like the one above hugged the fenceline above and along Interstate 35E just south of Interstate 94 in St. Paul.

 

Then I noticed a string of one-man tents hugging the fence along and above the interstate. I have no clue why anyone would camp in such a location. What was that all about?

As much as I dislike traveling through the Twin Cities metro, I always spot something intriguing. And I always land back home in Faribaault incredibly thankful that I don’t live in the Cities.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joys of a July concert in the park July 24, 2017

The book on my lap wasn’t open for long before I focused on the concert and my surroundings.

 

UNDER THE CANOPY FRINGES of a locust tree, book in hand, I settled onto a lawn chair for an hour of music performed by the Owatonna Community Band at Faribault’s Central Park.

On this Thursday evening, as the sun lowered, a bandshell packed with musicians played a variety of tunes—The Entertainer, the best of Queen, a patriotic collection, Italian Feast, John Philip Sousa marches, 76 Trombones and more. Among my favorites, Prairie Dances, dedicated to the Old West Railroad and to those with an affection for Laura Ingalls Wilder and the prairie. That would be me. When the band began to play, a train whistled from across the city. Perfect.

 

 

Such detailed moments claim my attention, making an event particularly memorable. I observed the rise and fall of a small dog’s body in the declining heat of a hot and humid July day. Nearby another larger dog temporarily escaped its owner and then returned, leash in mouth. I laughed.

It’s important in life to grasp these moments for the joy they bring. I tipped my head back to a view of those locust leaves shadowed against the evening sky. Peace descended.

I watched as a widower unfolded his lawn chair then helped his lady friend with hers. Such old-fashioned manners impress me. Only minutes earlier, Randy carried my lawn chair across the park and opened it.

 

 

Several times I snapped photos with my smartphone, wishing for my Canon DSLR camera, currently tucked away due to my broken right arm/shoulder. Still, I could manipulate a few snapshots. I turned my camera phone toward the sun slanting through the trees in the golden hour of photography. I’ve always loved this time of day, of transition from light to dark, of busy to quiet.

And I love these summer evenings in the park, book on lap, if opened only briefly. Not even the words of New York Times bestselling author Karen White could compete with the beat of the band or the beauty of this July evening in my southeastern Minnesota community.

TELL ME: Does your community offer free outdoor summer concerts in a park? If yes, do you attend?

FYI: The Gold Star Band, a group of six Mankato-area musicians, will present a concert of classic and current music from 7 – 8 pm Thursday, July 27, during the Concerts in the Park series at Faribault’s Central Park. Two of the band members are in the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. The Community Cathedral Cafe will serve free root beer floats prior to the concert.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Busted July 21, 2017

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

My blood donation card.

 

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

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

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

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

Here are those promised pet photos pulled from my files:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling