Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When reporters cover tough topics… January 31, 2019

 

THE NEXT TIME YOU CRITICIZE a journalist or rant that reporters are nothing but a bunch of biased writers, consider this. My local newspaper, the Faribault Daily News, recently placed first in the Social Issues category of the 2017-2018 Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest. For a series on domestic violence.

The award-winning series, titled “Abuse,” published over a period of a year and covered the gamut from information to interviews with survivors and their families, advocates, police and more. These were powerful pieces, written primarily by reporter Gunnar Olson but also by Regional Editor Suzanne Rook.

It is the personal stories which made this series. Emotional stories. Gut-wrenching, difficult stories. Stories that needed to be told, heard, written, read and, then, remembered.

 

 

When a reporter can take a topic like domestic abuse and violence, interview people in a caring and compassionate way, and then share those stories through dynamic writing, that work deserves recognition. By fellow journalists. And by readers. I applaud the Daily News for raising awareness, educating and connecting people to this social issue via deeply personal stories.

As a former weekly and daily newspaper reporter, I will confirm that writing stories like this is difficult. I once wrote a series on eating disorders that included interviewing a survivor and the mother of a young woman who died from anorexia. Although I kept my professional persona in place while working on the series, inside my heart hurt for every single individual I interviewed. Reporters have a job to do. But they are still human.

I often hear newspapers criticized for printing nothing but bad news. That raises my ire. Do not kill the messenger. Newspapers are not PR mouthpieces. They are newspapers. It is their job to report the news—good and bad. Features and hard news. They do not cause the bad news. People do.

Today, more than ever, journalists are under attack. For writing fake news. For not writing something they should have or for writing something they shouldn’t have. They are losing their jobs. The free press is threatened. That should scare every single person. Democracy needs a strong and free press.

Yes, I’ve sidetracked a bit. But I’ll circle back now and reaffirm how much I appreciate my community newspaper. Reporters keep me informed of local issues and happenings, of good news and bad. I am grateful for their hard work and their willingness to stretch beyond the everyday news to cover important topics. Like domestic violence.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Lunchbox love in January January 30, 2019

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HE DROPPED HIS BLACK LUNCHBOX onto the kitchen counter upon his arrival home. “I have something for you,” Randy said, flipping latches to unlock the box.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of cheesecake.

 

I anticipated a sweet. Randy occasionally grabs a birthday treat for me from work. Not that I need sweets—because who does—but I enjoy the occasional piece of left-over cheesecake, square of apple pie bars, slice of chocolate cake. When Randy brings me a sweet rather than simply tells me about it, I am particularly happy. Already I craved whatever he’d stashed away for me.

“Here, I brought you spring,” he said, reaching inside.

Puzzlement flushed my face. Lemon bars? Rhubarb pie? What did he have inside that lunchbox?

 

 

Then Randy handed me a dead Monarch butterfly. Brittle. Wings folded. A dead butterfly when I’d expected dessert?

I regrouped my thoughts, put my disappointment on hold and reconsidered. In the midst of a record-breaking cold snap and recent snowfall (which required joint snowfall removal efforts that very morning), Randy decided I needed a glimpse of spring. Or, more accurately, summer, the season butterflies emerge. How sweet is that?

But where did he find this Monarch in January in Minnesota? Randy works as an automotive machinist. He found the butterfly—along with acorns and leaves—inside a cylinder head dropped off by a customer. More often he finds a mouse nest or evidence of mice.

 

The forecast for Minnesota on a Twin Cities TV station at noon-ish Tuesday.

 

He may not have given me what I expected. But Randy gave me exactly what I needed on an especially cold evening in late January. He gifted me with hope. That spring always follows winter. And that, even after nearly 37 years of marriage, love still offers sweet surprises.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sorry folks, no BINGO tonight January 29, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MOST MINNESOTA SCHOOLS remain closed through Wednesday due to extreme cold. Air temps in the minus 30-degree range combined with 30 mph winds could bring windchills of 60 degrees below zero. That’s dangerously cold. Too cold for kids to wait at bus stops or walk to school. Too cold, really, for anyone to be outdoors. Exposed skin can freeze in minutes.

We expect schools to close. But how does weather affect the rest of our day-to-day activities here in the Bold North?

I poked around and found the cancellation of a community staple. BINGO. Here’s a sampling of BINGO cancellations as posted on various online sources:

  • Afternoon and evening sessions of Bingo at Jackpot Junction is canceled.
  • Senior Citizens Bingo at Hardees in Granite Falls cancelled for Tuesday
  • Gibbon Lions Bingo @ D’s Pit Stop canceled
  • Bingo at Meyer’s Bar in Sleepy Eye canceled
  • VFW Post 1215 – Rochester: Hall Bingo for tonight, Jan 28th, is cancelled.

And one more thing, if you live in Morton: Residents of Valley Drive and Quarry Drive in Morton should leave water dripping in faucets to avoid frozen pipes. Yup, just one more concern besides frostbite. And no BINGO.

BONUS: Click here to read my published poem, Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Too cold even for Minnesotans January 28, 2019

Bring out the warm weather gear. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2018.

 

YOU KNOW IT’S COLD in Minnesota when…

  • daily low temps are breaking records, such as minus 46 degrees Fahrenheit in International Falls on Sunday morning.
  • Kabetogama in the far northeastern part of Minnesota records a low of 49 degrees below zero on Sunday morning.
  • customers pack grocery stores in a rush to beat the cold and snow.
  • vehicle tires crunch on surfaces.
  • frost paints windows.
  • cold seeps through the house.
  • extra blankets are needed atop beds.
  • warming up the vehicle is a necessity, not an option.
  • skin exposed to the elements can freeze in a matter of minutes.
  • dressing up means layering up.
  • flannel rules.
  • schools start late or close.
  • a mug of coffee doubles as a hand-warmer.
  • no one (or at least me) wants to go outdoors.

The National Weather Service is forecasting an Arctic air mass moving into Minnesota and other areas on Tuesday with dangerous windchills. We’re talking windchills of minus 45 degrees or colder in some parts of the state. For days.

Is Spring here yet?

FEEL FREE TO ADD your own you know it’s cold in Minnesota when…

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Way too cold here in the Bold North January 25, 2019

The FOX 9 News weather report Thursday morning on my TV.

 

A YEAR AGO, PROMOTERS tagged Minnesota as the Bold North while marketing the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. They wanted locals and visitors to embrace the cold and snow. View both as positives, see Minnesota as a place that celebrates winter.

Today I doubt many of us Minnesotans feel like celebrating winter. It’s just too darn cold. An Arctic blast, bone-chilling cold front, whatever phrase you want to throw out there for absurdly cold temperatures, has parked itself here in the Bold North.

 

No relief in sight…

 

With 30 – 40 mph winds in the western region of Minnesota and frigid air temps, feels-like temps dipped into the minus 30-degree range on Thursday. Some parts of our state will experience minus 50-degree windchills through noon today. Forecasters predict the cold snap will continue into next week.

 

Source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

What does that mean in a state which brags an image of ruggedness and toughness in the words Bold North? It means canceled events. Like the St. Paul Winter Carnival parade, canceled Thursday evening due to the bitter cold. And cancellation of activities at the Vulcan Snow Park, also part of the St. Paul carnival. Ironic, isn’t it, that winter cancels winter? It happened here in Faribault in December, too, with a major winter storm postponing the Winterfest parade. But, hey, we have the annual Faribault Flannel Formal coming up on February 9.

 

 

In the meantime, we must survive these days so brutally cold that venturing outdoors requires layers of clothing—which probably include flannel. Plus stocking caps snugged on our heads, boots strapped on our feet, warm winter coats bundled around our bodies and mittens/choppers clamped on our hands. This cold is serious stuff. Frostbite serious. Exposed skin can potentially freeze in minutes. Remember that, smart hat-less teens walking to school.

And, yes, the brutal cold has closed schools and delayed start times.

But it isn’t stopping Owatonna from going on with its Bold & Cold Winter Festival running through this weekend. Snow sculpting, sledding, ice fishing, iceskating, ice bocce ball and more are slated for the celebration. We’ve got the cold. Let’s hope everyone also owns bold.

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Wabasso Public School. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

AT MY ALMA MATER, illness, not frigid temps, closed schools on Thursday and again today. Some 20 percent of the student population (74 students) were absent from class on Wednesday, according to a Facebook video posted by the superintendent of Wabasso Public Schools. Staff, too. Yes, this is a small rural district in southwestern Minnesota.

You would think no virus could survive in this current cold. But this is exactly when illnesses spread, when cold keeps us indoors, close to one another, here in the Bold North.

HOW DO YOU, or how would you, handle such Bold North frigid winter weather?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Eleven magnetic words equal a poem January 24, 2019

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SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, I purchased a duo Tootsie Toy magnetic board/chalkboard at an Owatonna thrift shop. I didn’t need it. But I liked the vintage look and the possibilities. Those reasons sufficed to hand over a few bucks.

 

 

Along with the board came a bonus baggie of magnetic words. They aren’t original to the board but probably were thrown in because what else do you do with a bunch of donated stray magnetic words?

I finally got around to making poetry with them. Here’s my first poem, which I posted on my refrigerator:

 

 

This proved a good challenge—to use the limited words to create poetry. (Pretend a question mark ends the first line.)

 

 

As poets understand, poetry requires tight writing. A word must hold value or out it goes. Poetry writing may seem easy to those not engaged in the craft. But it’s not. Penning poems requires focused skill and much practice as one of the most disciplined forms of literary art.

Thoughts?

© 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Love, Minnesota style January 23, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from a past snowy Minnesota winter day.

 

I received this loving text message from my husband Tuesday morning: Do not shovel snow. It’s freezing mist now and sidewalks would get icy.

 

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling