Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bringing poetry to the people in Mankato & I’m in January 19, 2018

 

NEARLY SIX MONTHS have passed since I stopped at Spring Lake Park in North Mankato to view my poem posted there as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride.

 

The post just to the front left of the car holds a sign with my poem printed thereon.

 

 

Looking back across the lake toward the willows and my nearby poetry sign.

 

Located at the edge of a parking lot next to a trail and within a stone’s throw of drooping weeping willows, my award-winning poem about detasseling corn contrasts with the tranquil setting of lake and lawn separated by bullrushes flagged by cattails.

 

The Sibley Farm playground inside Sibley Park features these cornstalk climbing apparatus. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The poem may have been more appropriately placed next to cornstalk climbing apparatus at the Sibley Farm playground in Mankato’s Sibley Park.

 

A beautiful setting for poetry.

 

 

 

Still, I am grateful for this opportunity to get my poetry out there in a public place. This placement of selected poems along recreational trails and in parks in Mankato and North Mankato brings poetry to people in an approachable and everyday way. That is the beauty of this project—the accessibility, the exposure in outdoor spaces, the flawless weaving of words into the landscape.

 

Inside a southern Minnesota cornfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

My poem, as with much of my writing, reflects a strong sense of place. In Cornfield Memories, I take the reader into a southwestern Minnesota cornfield to experience detasseling corn, a job I worked several summers as a teenager. It’s hard work yanking tassels from corn stalks in the dew of the morning and then in the scorching sun of a July afternoon. All for $1.25/ hour back in the day.

 

My poem, Bandwagon, previously posted at Lion’s Park in Mankato as part of a previous Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

My poem shares rural history, a story, an experience. Just as my past poems—The Thrill of Vertical, Off to Mankato to “get an education” and Bandwagon—selected as part of previous Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride contests did.

 

 

I value public art projects like the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Not only as a poet, but as an appreciator of the literary arts. Poetry doesn’t need to be stuffy and mysterious. And this project proves that.

I’D LIKE TO HEAR your thoughts on bringing poetry to the public in creative ways like this. Have you seen a similar project? Would you stop to read poems posted in public spots?

NOTE: All photos were taken in early September, within weeks of the 2017 Poetry Walk & Ride poems being posted.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Domestic violence awareness event stresses collaboration & a directive to speak up January 18, 2018

 

 

A YEAR AFTER TWO HIGH PROFILE murder-suicides in my community, a small group of Faribault residents and several professionals came together for a community-wide meeting on the topic of domestic violence Wednesday evening.

 

 

 

 

While statistics show substantial (49 and 121 percent respectively) increases in cases of domestic and sexual assaults in Faribault last year, the numbers don’t necessarily equate a significant rise in those crimes. Rather, there’s a heightened community awareness, resulting in more cases being reported, according to Erica Staab-Absher, executive director of HOPE Center.

 

 

Staab-Absher focused on the progress Faribault has made in the past year, specifically through the Blueprint for Safety Program. The program is a collaborative effort of HOPE Center, local law enforcement and other agencies that communicate and work together in addressing the issue of domestic violence. Professionals have been trained in the past year, for example, on strangulation and stalking. Law enforcement officers now carry a card listing questions to ask suspected victims of domestic abuse/violence. Advocates are called to the scene immediately to help victims and to assess their situations and the dangers they face. Most important, victims know help is available to them.

That theme of cooperation and heightened awareness threaded throughout Wednesday’s meeting as did the admonition that “we all have a calling to help our neighbors.”

 

 

Two of the speakers, Ruthann Lang of Rice County Child Protection Services and Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen, cited specific cases (the murder of a child and the current case in California of 13 malnourished children held captive by their parents) of people failing to intervene. They stressed the importance of speaking up rather than remaining silent.

The topic of mental health also surfaced, the police chief expressing frustration with the lack of mental health services available locally.

 

 

Many frustrations remain and much work still needs to be done. But I am hopeful. Any time a community improves communication, works together, creates awareness, we break the barriers of silence. Domestic abuse thrives in silence. In Faribault I hear a voice rising against domestic abuse and violence: No more. No more.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

All graphics published in this post were available to the public at Wednesday’s awareness meeting.

 

Just an important reminder… January 17, 2018

 

Graphic courtesy of the Faribault Police Department Facebook page, via Peter van Sluis.

 

Music & merchandise at Flour Sack Antiques

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THIS MARKED A FIRST for me, hearing accordion music inside an antique shop. I rather enjoyed the rhythm of songs as I eased around corners, dipped into rooms and keyed in on merchandise inside Flour Sack Antiques just south of Pequot Lakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I don’t recall the songs performed during my mid-September stop here, I remember how fitting the music for a place brimming with all things aged, all things vintage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After you visit a few antique shops, they often blend into a sameness of overstocked shelves in too tight quarters. But the Flour Sack I’ll remember for the two musicians squeezing music from boxes while seated behind the front counter.

 

 

And I’ll remember, too, the handwritten receipt penned by the male accordion player/shopkeeper.

 

 

Joy comes in music. And joy comes in memorable nuances of a place like the Flour Sack.

 

 

FYI: Flour Sack Antiques is located along Minnesota State Highway 371 at its intersection with County Road 168 two miles south of Pequot Lakes in Central Minnesota.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Take Two: Raising awareness about domestic abuse & violence in my community January 16, 2018

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A snippet of the domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

ON THE EXTERIOR, everything seemed normal. Julie and her husband attended church services every Sunday. She worked a 9 – 5 job at a local law office. Steven worked in sales. He came across as a charming guy with a strong opinion on everything. Julie, although friendly enough, was much more reserved. Quiet in the shadow of Steven’s overwhelming presence. Yet they appeared happy enough to those who knew the couple.

But something seemed off to Julie’s co-worker, Kathryn. She couldn’t pinpoint the reason for her concern. But it lingered, just below the surface. Kathryn caught unguarded moments of sadness in Julie’s eyes, unfounded anxiousness whenever she asked about Steven. Something wasn’t right.

Still, Kathryn felt it wasn’t her place to probe. If Julie and Steven had problems, they would work the issues out themselves. She didn’t want to meddle. Besides, she was probably just being overly-sensitive.

But Kathryn should have trusted her gut. Julie was in an emotionally abusive relationship. While Steven had yet to raise his hand against his wife, he had already intimidated Julie into silence, convinced her to lie for him, controlled their finances, pulled her away from friends and even belittled her with demeaning names. Julie feared losing Steven’s love if she resisted, disagreed, shared her worries about Steven’s behavior.

 

Photographed on the inside of a women’s bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg in 2015. I found this to be one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever read on domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The above story is fictional. But it could be your story, your neighbor’s story, that of the woman sitting next to you in church or across the hall in your workplace. You could be Julie. Or you could be Kathryn.

This Wednesday evening, January 17, the Faribault Elks Lodge hosts its second annual community-wide forum on domestic abuse and violence. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. and features talks by Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen, HOPE Center Executive Director Erica Staab-Absher, Ruthann Lang of Rice County Social Services and Jennifer David of DivorceCare.

 

A photo of a graphic posted on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page shows photos of all 21 individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson, left (second from top) was among those murdered. The 2017 Femicide Report releases soon. At least 24 people were killed in Minnesota in 2017 due to domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’d encourage you, if you live in Faribault, Rice County or a neighboring community, to attend. We all need to be educated and aware. Abuse thrives in silence. We each have the power within us to make a difference and that starts with knowledge.

 

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.

 

If you are in an abusive relationship like Julie, you can break free. No one has the right to control any aspect of your life. Help is available. If you are intuitively sensing abuse like Kathryn, it’s important for you to trust your feelings. Connect with an advocate so you can best help your friend, co-worker, loved one.

No one has to go this alone. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call 911. Know that the period in which you leave a relationship and immediately thereafter are the most dangerous times for you. Have a safety plan in place. Don’t rely on a piece of paper (an order of protection, for example) to keep you safe. Reach out to a women’s advocacy center or shelter in your community for help.

UPDATE, 12:53 p.m. Tuesday: This post has been updated with the correct time of Wednesday’s meeting, which differs from previously published information. The hour-long forum begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Elks.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Vikings fan for a day plus January 15, 2018

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Chilling beer Minnesota style in the snow. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I CAN’T RECALL the last time I watched a professional football game on TV.

But there I was Sunday afternoon, hunkered down on the couch watching the Minnesota Vikings take on the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Yes, I suppose you might term me a fair weather fan, if that. Until yesterday, I didn’t know any of the players’ names. And until several days ago, I knew nothing of SKOL, the Vikings’ fan chant.

 

Vikings pride displayed atop a home in Waterville. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

After a smashing first half, the home team seemed poised to easily win the play-off game. So Randy and I broke for supper, only to return to a stalled game and then an upset lead by the Saints. About that time I could barely bear to watch, diverting my attention instead to a John Sandford mystery.

 

The car of a Vikings fan photographed in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Randy, though, insisted the Vikes could still win. I didn’t believe him. Then it happened, in the last play of the game. Quarterback Case Keenum fired the ball to Stefon Diggs who nearly slipped, then regained his footing and ran in for the winning touchdown. And, yes, I saw the game winning play.

 

US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in downtown Minneapolis and site of Super Bowl 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

With a Vikings win of 29-24, the team is now one game from competing in the Super Bowl right here in Minnesota.

 

My snow boots. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

After a bit of whooping and hollering, I launched myself from my reclining spot, grabbed by winter coat, scarf, hat and gloves, laced my boots, and stepped outside. To shovel snow.

TELL ME: Did you watch the game? Do you think the Vikings will make it into the Super Bowl?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The power of words at the highest level January 12, 2018

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LAST EVENING I FINISHED reading 365 Days of Wonder, Mr. Browne’s Precepts: A Quote for Every Day of the Year About Courage, Friendship, Love, and Kindness by R. J. Palacio. The book packs powerful quotes that inspire, uplift and, most of all, cause readers to pause and think. Exactly what we need. Especially this morning in the light of President Donald Trump’s latest reported vulgar comment on immigrants and his subsequent denial.

While reading those precepts, I simultaneously started reading The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess the President by Bandy Lee. I’m only 60 pages into this book. But nothing—bullying, narcissism, racism—I’ve read thus far, and tagged to the President, surprises me. Nothing.

What will come out of this man’s mouth next? When you’re a powerful world leader like the President, especially, words matter. As they do with all of us.

I realize that in writing this post, I’m not exactly being Minnesota Nice. While I respect the Office of the Presidency, I don’t respect this President.

Perhaps Mr. Trump should read 365 Days of Wonder, Mr. Browne’s Precepts: A Quote for Every Day of the Year About Courage, Friendship, Love, and Kindness. I’m returning the book to my library tomorrow…so it’s available for check out.

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NOTE: All comments are moderated. You can disagree with me. But please keep comments civil, considering that words do matter.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

January grief January 11, 2018

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I TRAILED MY HUSBAND as he wheeled his dad through double doors and across door mats, guiding him between a duo line of young men waiting outside the care center.

Just moments earlier the group carried their grandmother’s casket, grey as the January skies that matched the mood of this Wednesday afternoon in central Minnesota.

Randy veered his dad’s wheelchair to the left, behind the coffin, behind the hearse that would carry my father-in-law’s wife two hours west to her burial plot in Montevideo. There she would be laid to rest in the cold soil beside her first husband.

Earlier we gathered inside the care center chapel to remember Jan and to seek comfort in words of Scripture, song, prayer and memories. I learned of my step mother-in-law’s fondness for Tator Tot Hotdish and doughnuts as my own memories surfaced of a woman who always looked lovely with nails painted, hair done, and clothes and jewelry just so. Twenty-two years ago I photographed her marriage to Tom, Randy standing beside him then just as he was now.

Now, with her family preparing for the 100-mile funeral processional westward, my wheelchair bound father-in-law had his final moments with his second wife. It took one heave of Tom’s shoulders for Randy to place his hand upon his dad’s shoulder in a loving and tender act of comfort. I did likewise as the funeral director slid the grey casket, brightened by a lovely spray of red flowers, inside the hearse, then shut the doors.

In that act of finality, grief for my father-in-law surged through me. To see him lose a second wife 24 years after losing his beloved Betty hurt my heart.

Yet, we are people of faith, confident that Jan, like Betty, is now in heaven, and no longer suffering. That comforted us as we headed back inside the care center to sip coffee and to eat ham sandwiches (made with homemade buns), chips and bars (baked by the hands of those who loved Jan). Absent, though, were my step mother-in-law’s favorite doughnuts and Tator Tot Hotdish.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Defying winter in Minnesota January 10, 2018

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WITH SNOW MELTING from rooftops and sidewalks under a bold January sun, I lugged a laundry basket of thermal long john tops outdoors to hang on the clothesline.

The visual contrast of those shirts on the line against the backdrop of a snow-filled backyard imprinted by rabbit, squirrel and other animal tracks nearly made me laugh aloud. I was taunting Winter, daring her to keep me from a task I enjoy, although less often in the cold and snow than in other seasons.

But with a respite from sub-zero temps here in Minnesota, I grabbed the opportunity to trump Winter, to prove that, yes, if I want to hang out laundry in January, I will find a day warm enough to do so. There’s something to be said for defying Winter.

As the cold of 20-degree temps numbed my fingers, I felt a sense of satisfaction in this methodical task of hanging laundry. Clip, clip, clip. And then, after the dozen shirts dangled from the line, I stepped back inside to brew myself a mug of coffee, to thaw my hands and to delight in my momentary triumph over Winter.

TELL ME: If you live in a cold weather state, do you hang laundry outdoors in winter?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Artistry along Minnesota State Highway 68 January 9, 2018

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STATE HIGHWAY 68 slices diagonally across rich Minnesota farmland southeast of Morgan.

 

 

I often travel this section of roadway until it intersects with Brown County Road 29 when I return to my roots in Redwood County. The angle of the highway in a place where roads typically run in a straight gridded pattern confuses my sense of direction. I must use the sun as my compass. Or remind my mind that highway 68 does not run true north or south, east or west.

Other than the directional issue, I delight in this roadway for the visuals. My photographer’s eye appreciates the power poles that stretch along the highway. Wires loop between poles reinforcing the horizontal lay of this land. There’s just something about the repeating line of poles and wire that artistically pleases me.

 

 

And then there are the sunsets which, in this exposed plain, prove spectacular, even in layers of clouds. Everything—trees, barns, fields—seems insignificant beneath a fiery sun suspended above the land, my native land.

NOTE: These photos were taken several weeks ago.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling