Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on 2019 December 31, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots edited sunset photo from February 2013.

 

ON THE CUSP of the new year, the final day of 2019 represents a day of reflection.

For me, the year past proved among the most challenging of my life. Situations stretched my strength. My patience. My endurance. My ability to cope.

I learned that I am stronger than I ever thought possible. I learned that I can be persistent and pushy and advocate for those I love. I learned to never give up hope, to rely on God (more than I already had) and that something good can come from difficulties.

I also experienced the goodness of so many people. Prayers. Compassionate words and actions and gifts. All uplifted me. Cards in the mail. Gift cards. Food. Help with medical expenses. Several unexpected Christmas gifts. Hugs. Visits. Texts and emails and phone calls of care.

I felt loved. And that helped me get through those days when I felt overwhelmed by circumstances and all I had to do as a mother, a daughter, a sister.

This past year is one I am ready to see gone. It was that hard. Not everything is all better. But as I step into 2020, I do so as a woman made stronger by that which I’ve endured. And survived.

TELL ME: How was your 2019? How have you changed/grown/experienced the goodness of others?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas gratitude, Part II December 24, 2019

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A handmade ornament for sale at Fleur de Lis in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

“YOU GOT A LARGE PACKAGE,” Randy said. “From Amazon.”

“I’m not expecting anything,” I answered from our bed where I was layered in sweats, a tee, flannel shirt, and heavy sweater under a flannel sheet, two blankets, a comforter and a denim/fleece blanket. With a fever, I simply could not get warm.

I awakened this morning to a full-blown case of crud that caused us to cancel a planned trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to celebrate Christmas with our second daughter, her husband and our son. I felt more than a bit down. Then that unexpected package arrived.

Randy wrestled the huge box inside the front door just as I emerged from the bedroom to see what this was all about. He slit the taped box to reveal an Instant Pot, an item included on my wish list in Saturday’s “Dear Santa” post.

I was stunned, overwhelmed by the kindness of the anonymous blog reader who was moved to give me an item on that list. I found a sweet note inside, signed by Your Ms. Santa.

I also received a copy of Amanda in Spain—The Girl in the Painting by Darlene Foster. That arrived in a separate package so I’m uncertain whether the two items are from the same giver.

It matters not. What matters is how grateful I am for these gifts, for the thoughtfulness of Ms. Santa, for experiencing, for the second day in a row, the true spirit of Christmas. Yesterday I received a cash gift from an anonymous individual.

In these days when so much unkindness exists, these individuals exemplify goodness, kindness and the giving spirit of Christmas. I am blessed. Again.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

With Christmas gratitude December 23, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY DEAREST SECRET ANGEL,

Your identity is unknown to me. The single clue inside the legal-sized envelope with no return address shows me you are from the Faribault area. I suspect (hope) you read this blog.

Thank you for the cash gift which arrived in my mailbox today. I wasn’t expecting anything for Christmas.

You clearly possess a kind, caring and loving heart. I am grateful for your generosity, compassion and recognition that I really needed this gift. Not solely in the monetary sense, but to uplift me.

It’s been a difficult year with challenges that stretched my endurance. Many remain. But, with the love and support of others and my strong faith, I’ve managed. Hope prevails.

You, dear angel, have shown me the true spirit of Christmas. Thank you. And Merry Christmas!

Blessings,
Audrey

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas wishes

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An historic Nativity in Faribault (edited photo).

 

TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS, a most blessed Christmas! However you celebrate, I wish for you a sense of peace, moments of joy.

I recognize that we all face challenges, that life can overwhelm, that holidays can be difficult. There’s no skirting the realities of life stressors.

But this week, as I celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, I hold hope high. May you, too.

Audrey

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dear Santa December 21, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

DEAR SANTA,

I hesitate to write this last-minute letter given your hectic travel schedule and the sheer volume of work involved in delivering gifts around the world, not to mention supervising all those elves. I can’t imagine the stress. I bet you’re thankful for smartphones, loyal reindeer and a reliable sleigh.

I don’t mean to add to your burden, Santa. But I haven’t asked for anything from you in decades. So I thought I would send you my Christmas list and see what you can do. Here goes:

DSLR camera  (My aged Canon EOS 20-D performs poorly in low light and, well, it won’t last forever.)

office chair (Mine is ripping on the back and I need one that offers better back support.)

comforter (I noticed when I made the bed last week that ours is tearing.)

new bed (Ours is wearing out, as in sagging.)

new pots and pans (Mine are circa late 70s, handles coming loose…)

insta pot (This is a wish, not a need.)

kitchen update (Or at least a new faucet to replace the leaky one and maybe a new sink to replace the brown one.)

new smartphone (My Android is old and slow.)

shirts & sweaters (A weight loss necessitates this as does the need to upgrade an aging wardrobe.)

short boots (Not snowboots, but the fashion kind.)

There you go, Santa.

Wait a minute. I’m having second thoughts about asking for so much. I am thankful for all I already have. Let’s cross all those wishes off my list and make it a single wish. Here’s what I really want, and not just for myself: I want affordable health insurance, lower deductibles and insurance companies to stop making decisions about individual healthcare. Do you possess enough magic to make that happen?

Here’s the deal. The overwhelming cost of health insurance ($1,700/month for us with $4,250/each deductibles in 2020) is causing financial and emotional stress not only for me and Randy but for many others (those who are self-employed, work for small businesses with minimal or no benefits…) in the same situation. I don’t expect free insurance. But I do expect reasonable premiums and deductibles that make our insurance affordable and usable.

I know of family members, myself included, who are not getting necessary healthcare because they can’t afford it, due to the aforementioned high premiums and deductibles. And, no, I can get neither subsidy or tax credit. I checked, with multiple sources (aka MNsure navigators and social services). We fall through a loophole.

I know of family members denied prescriptions or treatments because health insurance companies judged these unnecessary or determined there were other options. Why do insurance companies have the right to override a medical provider’s directive? This makes absolutely no sense to me, Santa. Sure, policyholders can appeal decisions. But why aren’t doctors’ orders good enough?

I expect that for every grievance I could list here, thousands millions more exist.

Well, Santa, I don’t want to sound like a complainer and you probably can’t grant this wish. But if you have any connections with anyone who can effect change, I’d appreciate your help.

Safe travels and Merry Christmas!

Love,

Audrey

 

In the spirit of the holiday, I’m grateful for local businesses December 20, 2019

Urns filled with greenery add a holiday flair to the historic Bachrach building in downtown Faribault.

 

IF YOU’RE OLD SCHOOL—and that would be me—you appreciate homegrown brick-and-mortar businesses. These are the places that make our communities unique, the places that offer excellent customer service, the places that connect us as people, the places that boost our local economies.

 

Faribault Print Shop offers lots of options and promotes shopping local with the I GET IT! in Faribault campaign.

 

I can walk into the local hardware store to a greeting of “What can I help you find?” I can walk into a local third-generation family shoe store, be greeted by name, get my feet measured, shoes fitted. I can walk into a local gallery and chat it up with other creatives. People I know by name.

 

The only Grinch you will find in downtown Faribault is this painted one.

 

I love this about my community of Faribault. The interaction between business owners and customers. The feeling that I matter, as an individual as much as a potential customer.

 

In its window display this December, Heartman Insurance honors the Olympia Cafe, once housed in the firm’s building.

 

Historic buildings line Central Avenue in Faribault.

 

I love, too, the historic buildings that define our downtown and the care most property owners take in maintaining those structures.

 

At the Cheese Cave, windows promote the cheese sold inside, including bleu cheeses made and aged in Faribault.

 

Keepers Antique Shop always does an exceptional job with window displays, any time of the year.

 

On the antique shop door.

 

I love how, this time of year, businesses spread holiday cheer through creative window displays, encouraged by an annual competition.

 

An assortment of art in the front window of The Upper East Side Gallery.

 

Not everything here is perfect, of course. Nowhere is. There are vacant eyesore storefronts, negative attitudes still about immigrants who call downtown home (although that seems to be improving), perceived problems with parking…

 

 

But, overall, Faribault frames a positive image in a place I’ve called home for 37 years.

FYI: For another shop local option, check out the Solstice Market from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 21, at Keepsake Cidery, rural Dundas. Styled after outdoor European markets, the event will feature bonfires, grilling and 20-plus vendors from the Cannon Valley region vending their wares/food/creations inside a heated tent. The cidery is open from noon – 8 p.m.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When fact & fiction twist together December 19, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo, March 2019.

 

THE ROUTE TOOK US along a twisting river road past decaying and broken trees in dense woods. I worried a limb might drop atop our van as we drove north out of Lucan in southwestern Minnesota.

Then we reached a spot abuzz with people—campers and anglers mostly—stopping at a store to stock up on supplies. We decided to stop, too, and explore this rustic place in the middle of nowhere. Randy parked. Then we, with kids in tow, crossed a narrow walkway over a stream as we hiked toward the store some distance away.

Once inside, a maze of rooms awaited us at this lakeside property. People swarmed the shop. We browsed.

I decided, at some point, that I needed photos of this unique rural general store. But I’d left my camera in the van, a choice I sometimes make when I opt to simply enjoy being in the moment.

But once outside, I couldn’t find the van among the vehicles jammed into parking spaces scattered through the woods. By that time the rest of the family had exited the shop and we began, in earnest, to search for the van. I remembered then, as I crossed the narrow walkway over the stream, that we’d parked on the other side of the waterway. Near an ice cream shop I hadn’t initially noticed. How could that be?

After searching to no avail, I inquired about the missing van. They had it towed, the dispenser of ice cream said. I understood none of this. Sure, we’d experienced problems with the van, but nothing tow-worthy. We needed our vehicle to get to our niece’s 3 p.m. wedding and to visit my mom prior. By this time I was crying, sobbing really, frantic words pouring forth. “My mom is in hospice. She’s dying,” I wailed. “We need our van.”

And then I awakened from my nightmare. Partially. The setting, the general store, the ice cream shop, the story-line are all fictitious—part of a dream I experienced a few nights ago. But snippets are real. Too real.

On the rare occasions when I recall my dreams, I can connect them to thoughts and emotions. My mom is in hospice. For real. I thought I was mentally and emotionally prepared for her ongoing decline in health. I am not. And our 2003 van, just days ago, was in the repair shop, causing me additional angst.

We have places to go, family to see, goodbyes to say…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling