Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In small ways, we can make a positive difference November 22, 2022

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Photographed several months ago in Pine Island, this scene epitomizes love and care. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’VE FELT IN A RATHER reflective mood recently. Perhaps it’s the shift in seasons. Perhaps it’s the approach of Thanksgiving. Perhaps it’s the deep concern I hold for those who are struggling. In reality, all three and more contribute to these present feelings.

November—with shortened daylight, colder temps and a landscape devoid of color—always brings a noticeable change within me. I prefer snuggling under a fleece throw with a good book in the evenings. I feel more cocooned, not as connected. That’s not necessarily negative, just different.

But what doesn’t change is my awareness that these months of family-centered celebrations can be really hard for some. Not everyone will gather with those held dearest. Geographical distance, death, illness and more separate. I, for one, seldom have my entire family together on holidays given distance and work schedules. Yes, that can be tough when others share about all of their loved ones back home. I’ve learned to feel grateful for the family I do see.

A welcoming message spotted in a downtown Faribault business. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

I’ve found also that focusing on others goes a long way in creating a mindset of care and compassion. A lot of people, at least in my circle, are dealing with a lot right now. Death. Illness. Job loss. Financial struggles. It’s almost overwhelming, the amount of need, the grief, the pain, the trauma.

I can’t fix things, but I can be there in meaningful ways.

This inspiring message on a business in downtown Pine Island uplifted me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

We have this capacity, each of us, to make a difference in this world. Not necessarily on a grand scale. But in small ways that touch individuals in our communities, our families, among our friends and beyond. Something as simple as opening a door for a stranger; mailing an encouraging handwritten note; treating people with kindness and respect; dropping off a gift card or a bag of groceries; calling; and listening can make a big impact on someone.

My mom, Arlene, who died in January, taught me the importance of caring for others. As a mother of six, she always put her children first. Beyond our farmhouse, she did the same within her community, volunteering at church, blood drives, veterans-related groups and with other organizations. She left a legacy of love, faith and compassion.

We can all learn a lot from the Arlenes of this world.

Whenever I’m out and about, I feel especially grateful when witnessing the goodness of people. One of those moments came in early September while in Pine Island. Near the Hardware Hank, I watched two women, presumably mother and daughter, walking hand-in-hand down the sidewalk. I nearly cried at observing such love, care and compassion.

A welcoming message on Just Food Co-op in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

I celebrate, too, when I see welcoming signs posted at businesses or on homes.

This loving inscription is posted at the State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children’s Cemetery in Owatonna. The school (orphanage) was open from 1886-1945. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Even a message of love imprinted in stone at a cemetery touches me. When I intentionally look for the positive, I see it, hear it, feel it. There truly is more good than bad in this world if we allow the light to break through the grey and outshine the darkness.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At Buckham Library: Portraits honor Faribault’s founding fathers November 21, 2022

“Faribault’s Founding Fathers,” Alexander Faribault (left to right), Chief Taopi and Bishop Henry Whipple, painted by Dana Hanson. “Yuonihan” means honor or respect. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022. Art copyrighted by Dana Hanson.)

MY LIBRARY, BUCKHAM MEMORIAL in Faribault, features dozens of art pieces by local artists scattered throughout the building. I’ll admit that I really don’t even notice the art any more in my frequent visits to the library. Like anything, after time, familiarity begets overlooking.

But that all changed recently when I looked across the library to the west by the adult fiction and saw a work of art I hadn’t previously noticed. It’s been there for about a year. Yet, just now, I happened to see Dana Hanson’s original art piece, “Faribault’s Founding Fathers.” I strode across the library toward the high-hanging portrait piece and took pause.

Dana Hanson’s artist statement posted at the 2016 Artgo! art show at Buckham Center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2016)

I first met Dana, who specializes in portraits, in 2015 during Faribault’s summer Concerts in the Park weekly outdoor music series at Central Park. Local artists were invited to paint on-site and Dana was among them. She has since moved away from Faribault.

A close-up of Dana’s “The Native Man, His Eagle & His Chanupa,” an oil painting exhibited in Owatonna in 2018. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

Eventually, her art started showing up in exhibits—at Buckham Center, at the Paradise Center for the Arts and at the Owatonna Arts Center. Her work ranged from faith-inspired to celebrity (like Bob Dylan, Prince and Judy Garland) and Native American portraits and more. In Owatonna, her “Healing the Land” exhibit several years ago focused on the Dakota people.

Up close with Chief Taopi, center, and Bishop Henry Whipple, right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

So when I saw the recently-donated 2019 painting of Faribault’s founding fathers, I was not at all surprised. Dana holds a heart full of gratitude, love and compassion for Indigenous peoples. That shows in her art, including in these portraits of Chief Taopi, a member of the Little Crow Band of the Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe; town founder Alexander Faribault, “friend and protector” of the Dakota; and Bishop Henry Whipple, “Spiritual Father and Humanitarian” and “Advocate for the Native Americans.”

Another example of Dana’s art, MESSENGERS OF HOPE with the horses subtitled, from left to right, “Light,” “Passion Fire” and “Grace.” These were exhibited at the Paradise Center for the Arts in 2017. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2017.

Indigenous peoples were the original inhabitants of Faribault, of Rice County, a fact now only beginning to be widely-acknowledged and honored. The Wakpekute, part of the Dakota Nation, placed their dead on scaffolding on the hill just up from my house in today’s current-day Wapacuta (sic) Park, a fact I only learned this fall at an historical presentation. Eventually, they were buried in Peace Park, a triangle of land near the library. There’s so much rich local history I am beginning to learn.

“Protector of the 38 + 2,” an oil on canvas by Dana Hanson and previously displayed in Owatonna. Her art honors the 38 Dakota men who were hung in Mankato following the US-Dakota War of 1862. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

Chief Taopi, who centers Dana’s portrait trio, was a leader among his people and a member of a Peace Party during the US-Dakota War of 1862. Eventually he landed in Faribault, living on land owned by founder and fur trader Alexander Faribault. Taopi and the Bishop forged a strong friendship also. The Dakota chief died in 1869 and is buried at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Faribault.

Now, to see these three men honored via a painting in a place of learning, a place of connection, a place where history writes onto pages, reminds me of their importance in my community. In the familiarity of the library and during this, Native American Heritage Month, I need to pause, appreciate and respect those who shaped this place I’ve called home for 40 years.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winter in Minnesota: Of snow, flannel, chili, soup & more November 18, 2022

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We use an assortment of shovels for snow removal, to scrape, scoop and push snow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2021)

ALTHOUGH THE CALENDAR is about a month out from the official start of winter, we in Minnesota are already in the throes of the season. Cold and snow define winter here and we have both already. Too early, I say.

The snow boots I wear are warm, practical and fashionable. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2020)

Three consecutive days this week found me shoveling snow from the sidewalk and driveway. I allowed Randy the honor of shoveling the first snowfall of the winter. But I figured I best do my part, so I laced on my warm winter boots and headed outdoors on the second day of shovellable snow.

Isaac, waiting to head outdoors to shovel snow at my house in January 2021. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2021)

Thirty-five minutes to the north, my nearly 4-year-old grandson bundled into his snowpants, winter coat, mittens, hat and boots to clear snow from the driveway with his small plastic shovel. As only a child can feel, Isaac was, his mom said, “Loving the snow!” With an exclamation point. I encouraged him to head south and shovel Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway. He never showed.

And so I am accepting that winter is upon us. That means replacing the cotton bed sheets with warm flannel sheets, layering up (inside and out), wearing lots of flannel, cozying under a fleece throw with a good book in the evening, delaying rolling out of bed in the morning because the house is still too cold. The thermostat is programmed to drop to 62 degrees at night, up to 67 during the day, and then bump a notch to 68 in the evening.

Photographed on the door of a Northfield business in April 2022. Shoppers are encouraged to stomp the snow from their boots and shoes. And, yes, we get snow well into April here in Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

Staying updated on the weather has become even more important, mostly to determine how bad the roads will be (and when to shovel). Have plows been out sanding and salting? How’s the visibility? Watch those bridge decks and ramps for slippery spots. Slow down. Take it easy. Spin-outs and crashes were a regular part of this week’s vocabulary.

Inside my house, a few changes are happening, too, as I adapt to winter. Laundry, which I typically clip to outdoor clotheslines, now drapes a drying rack. Sheets and towels go in the dryer. Already I miss the fresh scent of linens dried by the sun.

Chicken Wild Rice Soup, one of my favorites, served at a fundraiser in St. Peter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Wednesday I cooked up a big pot of chili. I crave chili and soup in the winter. I start my morning with a bowl of old-fashioned, fruit-filled oatmeal, the same as always, no matter the season. That is a constant, just like my need to write. Winter doesn’t alter my writing. But it does limit my outdoor photography. Even though I own combo mittens/gloves with the mitten end flipping open to expose half of my fingers (thanks, Randy, for one of the best gifts ever), I take fewer photos in winter. I don’t like freezing my fingertips, just like I don’t enjoy shoveling snow.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Music, memories & a heartwarming moment November 17, 2022

This shows a portion of the recital program cover. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted & edited photo November 2022)

RECENTLY I ATTENDED a senior voice recital for a vocal music education major whom I cared for as a preschooler. His mom, my friend Jane, invited me. I was delighted to join the family in celebrating Nick’s musical accomplishments and those of another music student, Josie.

I didn’t know quite what to expect. I’ve never been to a senior voice recital at a college. And I haven’t seen Nick in a really long time. He and his family moved from southern Minnesota to Duluth when he was about four. Sure, I’ve seen the yearly Christmas photos. But that’s not the same as seeing someone in person after a significant time span.

When Nick walked onto the performance stage in that beautiful recital hall at St. Olaf College in Northfield, my jaw nearly dropped. The preschooler I remembered had stretched lean and tall. Yet the Nick I recalled was still there, just a grown-up version of himself.

Then, when Nick opened his mouth and a deep bass-baritone boomed, I experienced another jaw-dropping moment. There was no resemblance to the voice of the four-year-old who loved to sing pa-rum pum pum pum, repeating the refrain from “Little Drummer Boy” as he played on my living floor all those years ago. Yet, the same love of singing remained, now refined and flowing with ease from the depths of a young man clearly gifted in and passionate about music.

From my side seat, I had a good view of Nick and his mom, who never stopped smiling. It was such a joy to watch both of them and to hear “my” little boy, all grown up, performing with such skill, such talent, such grace and, occasionally, drama.

Afterwards, I approached Nick, realizing he wouldn’t recognize me. But, since he knew I was coming, he was prepared and wrapped me in a hug. It was a heartwarming moment, this embrace from the little boy who once held, and always will hold, a piece of my heart.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Southern Minnesota slides toward Christmas with snow, holiday sales & more November 16, 2022

Volunteers vend trees and more at the Christ Lutheran Christmas Market last weekend in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK, and feel, a lot like Christmas in Minnesota. This week brought snow and cold to our state, a reality check for those of us hoping our stretch of gloriously warm autumn days would continue. Yet, as a life-long Minnesotan, I understood winter weather would arrive no matter my wishful thinking.

As I was out and about in Faribault in the biting wind and cold temps pre-snowfall, I hurried in and out of buildings. Temperature spirals to the 20s and lower always require acclimation, no matter how long I’ve lived in the North Star State (my entire life).

A shopper arrives at the Christmas Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

Throughout my community, the spirit of Christmas is emerging in holiday decorations and holiday boutiques/craft sales/marketplaces, whatever term is tagged to an event featuring handcrafted items, food and more.

This festively-decorated vintage pick-up truck set a holiday mood at the market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

I attended my first of the season, a Christmas Market, at Christ Lutheran Church high atop a hill on Faribault’s east side last Saturday. Originally, the market was planned for outdoors. But then wind moved the sale indoors so vendors’ tents wouldn’t blow over. I felt a tad disappointed as I anticipated attending an outdoor market. But I fully understand given the wind and cold.

Holiday boutiques aren’t just about shopping. They are also about community, about connecting. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

Inside the church, vendors crammed into limited space under tent canopies and at open tables. There was lefse and jewelry and vintage finds and, oh, a whole lot of merch for sale. I focused my attention, though, on the scene outside the front doors of the church. Here a vintage red pick-up truck set the scene for the holiday market.

Smoke from a barrel drifts around the vintage pick-up truck outside the marketplace/church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

Decked with bows, a wreath, a Christmas tree tossed in the bed, a porch pot aside, strung with unlit lights, the truck presented a postcard scene perfect for photo ops. And those were available for a fee.

Outside the Christmas Market entrance, fire flames. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

Near the truck, smoke billowed at times and flames danced from a barrel, adding ambiance and the feeling of warmth in the mid-November cold.

Trees & wreaths sold at the Christ Lutheran Christmas Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

To the side, porch pots, Christmas trees and wreaths leaned and hunkered, available for purchase by anyone wanting to get a jump on holiday decorating.

The City of Faribault has already put up holiday decorations in the downtown area, here looking toward the historic viaduct near Buckham Memorial Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

November sometimes feels too early for all of this—the Christmas decorations, the holiday sales. But, in reality, it’s not. Minnesotans understand that putting exterior lights and decorations up when the weather is warm is just plain smart. No frozen fingers. No dealing with snow. Too late now. Both are upon us. And so is this season of holidays markets.

Outside Buckham Library, a bold holiday banner marks the season. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

I suppose it’s smart also to get a jump on gift buying to ease the stress, to spread out the spending. There seem to be more local boutiques/craft sales/markets with an emphasis on local. I like that shift toward supporting creatives within our communities whether at church-based sales like those at Christ Lutheran, at art centers, at local shops… There’s a connection to those who use their hands—to stitch, to knit, to saw, to string beads, to roll potato-based dough into lefse rounds…

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FYI: Here are a few upcoming holiday boutiques/craft sales/markets in my area:

Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Boutique/Craft Sale from 9 am – 3 pm Saturday, November 19, in the auditorium.

Holly Days Sale, Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, November 17 (opening at 5 pm) – December 22, featuring one-of-a-kind art by local artists.

Holiday Boutique, Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery, now until December 31

Christmas Pop Up Shoppe, Buckham West, Faribault, November 26, 28 & 29, hours vary.

For specifics on each listing, please click on links.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mental illness: Learn. Listen. Link. November 15, 2022

Slowly we are beginning to unmask mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2018)

HER VOICE RISES. Strong. Compassionate. Without hesitation.

She is Penny Wilson, published poet, blogger, fiction writer, advocate. Penny, who blogs at Penny Wilson Writes, advocates for those diagnosed with mental illnesses. She is open about her struggles with depression. And it is that honesty which impresses upon me how much, how deeply, Penny cares.

From her fixer-up home in a small Texas town, Penny pens pieces that inform, educate, advocate about mental health. Recently she spent hours researching and compiling a list of resources in a post titled “Affordable Mental Health Counseling.” A friend’s need for affordable therapy (when her benefits were running out) prompted the piece. What Penny found was nothing. No low cost or no cost counseling services for mental health issues. I’m not surprised.

Yet, Penny published that list of 14 possible places to find some sort of help. It’s a start, a good resource list. I encourage you to read that compilation by clicking here.

A particularly powerful book that shows how mental illness ripples, affecting the entire family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

All of this got me thinking given I, too, write occasionally on the subject of mental illnesses. My goal, like my friend Penny’s, is to increase awareness, educate, advocate. I want to use my writing skills to make a difference. Penny and I recognize that we have this gift, this ability to communicate information in a way that connects and perhaps challenges our readers to learn more, to grow in their compassion and care.

Yes, it starts with each of us, individually. Learning. Listening. Acknowledging that depression, anxiety, bi-polar, post traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and any host of mental illnesses are hard and challenging and sometimes/often debilitating. Recognition, understanding and support are vital. Not just in words of encouragement, but in action. Individuals and their families need compassionate care.

This book should be in every church library.

I learned recently that Hosanna Church, just up Interstate 35 north of Faribault in Lakeville (and with campuses also in Northfield, Rosemount and Shakopee), won NAMI Minnesota’s 2022 Faith Community of the Year Award for demonstrating extraordinary work and advocacy on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota’s mission. In part, that mission is to champion justice, dignity and respect for all people affected by mental illnesses. To read the full mission statement, click here.

Justice. Dignity. Respect. Pretty basic, yet often overlooked by society, where mental illness still carries stigma.

That a faith community like Hosanna reaches out to individuals with mental illnesses and their families and aims to change public attitudes towards those with mental illnesses shows they care. They get it and they want others to get it, too. They love, listen, act. I appreciate those efforts and I’d like to see more faith communities do the same.

We each hold within us the capacity to learn, listen, link. Learn about mental illnesses. Education goes a long way in reducing stigmas and in understanding. Listen to those who live with mental illnesses (and their families). Ask how they are doing, how you can help and genuinely mean it. Link to them in meaningful ways. Offer help. Connect with professional resources. Be there. It’s that simple. Learn. Listen. Link.

FYI: I encourage you to visit the NAMI website for additional information by clicking here. I also encourage you to visit the “mental health help” page of Penny’s blog at Penny Wilson Writes by clicking here. Also read her recently-posted fictional short story, “Dragons in the Dark,” which offers powerful insights into depression.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memories of sundaes, wood type & more in Two Rivers November 14, 2022

A strawberry sundae served in a heavy tulip glass at the replica Berners’ Ice Cream Parlor, Two Rivers, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2011)

EVERY DAY IS NATIONAL something or other day, right? Typically I hear or read about a national whatever designation and then promptly forget. But not National Sundae Day, which was Friday, November 11. Not wanting to detract from the really important designation for that date, Veterans Day, I delayed posting about this.

Signage marks the entry to the birthplace of the ice cream sundae in 1881. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2011)

When I heard about National Sundae Day, I was also reminded of the soda fountain owner who invented the sundae in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, back in 1881. I’ve been inside the Washington House, where Edward Berners first topped a dish of ice cream with chocolate sauce in a treat initially sold only on Sundays.

The historic Washington House in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2011)

Today visitors to The Washington House Museum and Visitor Center can still purchase sundaes and other treats inside this former 1850 hotel with replica ice cream parlor. I did in 2011, when Randy, our daughter Miranda, our son Caleb and I visited this charming Lake Michigan side town. At the time, Miranda lived in Appleton about an hour to the west.

The sprawling Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2011)

While the rest of my family headed to the ice cream parlor, I lagged behind at the neighboring Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. The working museum houses the world’s largest collection of type. For someone like me, with a journalism background and past employment at a weekly newspaper that used old typesetting equipment, this museum held great interest. I love old type. I love letterpress. I love the artsy look, the craftsmanship, the hands-on passion in creating. The ice cream sundae could wait.

A glimpse inside the working museum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2011)

Eleven years after my tour of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, I remember the joy I felt in being there. I remember, too, how the tour guide chided me for taking photos. Apparently he found my photographing intrusive, even though I lingered at the back far from other visitors. Despite his reaction, I still delighted in the smell of ink, the slim drawers holding type, the chunky blocks of wood type, the artsy results inked onto paper.

Beautiful Lake Michigan at Two Rivers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2011)

A snippet of the historic Rogers Street Fishing Village. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2011)

A simply bucolic scene of Two Rivers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2011)

And I delighted, too, in the community of Two Rivers. I recall its quaintness and beautiful natural setting along Lake Michigan. I recall, too, the historic Rogers Street Fishing Village. Just thinking about this eastern Wisconsin community makes me want to return. To view the expansive lake and follow the sandy beach. To take in weathered fishing boats and learn of lake lore. To meander through a museum that smells of ink with camera in hand. And then, finally, to step inside the Washington House ice cream parlor, the birthplace of the sundae, to savor a sundae served on more than just Sundays.

My second daughter and my son order ice cream sundaes at the replica Berners’ Ice Cream Parlor during a 2011 visit to Two Rivers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2011)

TELL ME: Have you been to Two Rivers? What’s your favorite sundae flavor? Do you share my interest in wood type and printing? Yes, lots of questions today.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

With thoughtful gratitude on Veterans Day November 11, 2022

A bronze statue titled “Poppie” personalizes the Rock County Veterans Memorial in Luverne as do the names of some 1,600 veterans engraved in pavers. I’ve seen a lot of veterans memorials and this is among the most impressive. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2013)

NEARLY EVERY COMMUNITY has one. A veterans memorial. I appreciate that public recognition of military service in communities from rural to urban. Yet, acknowledgment of our veterans must stretch beyond public memorials.

Today, Veterans Day, I pause to personally thank the individuals who have served our country. That’s important to remember—individual service and sacrifice. I expect most of you can rattle off names of those in your circle who engaged in combat or other military work. They left their homes, their everyday lives, to answer the call of duty.

I feel gratitude to individuals who, either by draft or by choice, stood strong for democracy. Words like courage, commitment, strength, fortitude…filter into my thoughts when I think of our veterans.

But I also think of the physical, emotional and mental challenges too many combat veterans face post-war. I can never comprehend the pain, the trauma, the grief experienced by those who fought in war zones. I only know how my own father, an infantryman in the Korean War, battled the demons of war during his lifetime. That glimpse was enough to elicit deep concern within me.

We are making strides in recognizing and treating post traumatic stress disorder, for example. Not until near his 2003 death was my dad aware of his PTSD. He never got the intervention and help he needed upon arriving home from war. I’m thankful for the help available today, although I expect sometimes it’s not easily-accessible and not nearly enough.

Suicide among veterans remains high. After hearing a few of my dad’s stories of war atrocities and killing, I recognize the emotional and mental tolls on health. Returning to everyday life after experiencing the traumas of war brings challenges civilians will never fully understand. We need to be there for our veterans in ways that matter—support, compassion, care, understanding—with gratitude in our hearts.

TELL ME: If you’re a veteran, what would you like to hear today, Veterans Day? How can we as a country better honor and help you? If you know a veteran, what have you done to honor and help veterans?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Considering deafness (& blindness) while walking at MSAD in Faribault November 10, 2022

A sign posted on a pillar at MSAD and viewed when exiting the campus. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED what it would feel like to be deaf or blind, or both? I remember pondering that from a young age after learning about Helen Keller, who was unable to see and hear. I asked myself which would be harder. I concluded that I’d rather lose my hearing than live in darkness.

I lost most of my hearing in my right ear in 2011. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Realistically, both present challenges. And, because I am neither blind nor deaf, I really can’t fully understand what it means to live with those disabilities. I do, however, have a partial understanding of deafness.

Achieve. Care. Thrive. ACT banners a sign outside Lauritsen Gym at MSAD. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Nearly 12 years ago, I lost most of my hearing in my right ear, diagnosed as sudden sensory hearing loss. I know the exact moment it happened. Visits and tests with a local ENT doctor and an ear specialist at the University of Minnesota led to the conclusion that my hearing loss was caused by a viral infection. My hopeful reaction was this—I could get a hearing aid. That is not an option for my type of hearing loss. Thus I’ve learned to live with near deafness in my right ear. Yes, it’s annoying and bothersome that I can’t hear whispers in my right ear, that I can’t tell the location of sound, that white noise and too many conversations at one time make hearing really difficult, that I need people on my left side when they are talking to me. But I manage with one ear.

Bannering the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault, the school’s mascot. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I’ve been advised by my medical team that, if I ever experience hearing issues with my good left ear, I should consider it a medical emergency and seek immediate care. I will.

Stunning Noyes Hall Auditorium on the MSAD campus. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I live in a community especially attuned to sight and hearing. Faribault is home to the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and the Blind. Here, at two separate campuses on the east side of town, students from all over Minnesota attend residential academies for preschool through high school.

An early childhood scarecrow displayed next to the ball field and green space which center the MSAD campus. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

A Gopher pumpkin head represents the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind mascot. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Side-by-side scarecrows from each academy. Trojans, left at MSAD and Gophers, right at MSAB. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Occasionally on weekends I walk the campus for the deaf. It’s a beautiful setting of mostly historic buildings (many on the National Register of Historic Places) ringing a green space. I last walked there right before Halloween to view the annual scarecrow display. It’s been a school tradition for many years, a bit scaled back now.

Detailed building identifiers of old. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Identified as a residential hall for boys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Art on Pollard Hall. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

When on the MSAD campus following sidewalks that take me past buildings where deaf students learn, live, gather, I consider how difficult it must be for families to separate on weekdays. (Some families live locally, thus are not separated.) Yet, I understand the necessity of residential schools that focus on educating and preparing these young people for life. They learn to navigate in a hearing world. And, I expect they learn, too, that their disabilities do not define them, that they can pursue their hopes and dreams.

Sprawling Tate Hall is majestic, historically and architecturally stunning. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

When on the MSAD campus, I consider also how we sometimes take our senses for granted, until they become diminished or we lose them. Aging, or something like my sudden sensory hearing loss, open the door to understanding, to a deepened sense of awareness, to empathy and compassion.

I feel grateful for the reminders, the lessons learned when I walk the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus. To ponder deafness and blindness connects me to a segment of our population which faces challenges beyond my full understanding. To walk these grounds for a short time stretches my mind, opens my heart, broadens my perspective.

FYI: Limit your time on either academy campus to weekends, when students are not there. Be aware that building construction is also underway so follow posted rules.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Post election day focus: peace, hope, love November 9, 2022

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A one-word message, LOVE, banners a mural in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020)

THE DAY BEFORE THE ELECTION, I challenged myself to focus on a positive mindset, to remind myself that no matter the results, I would remember three words. Peace. Hope. Love.

A partial quote from John Lewis, photographed at a Dundas home in 2020. The complete quote: “Let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

Holding onto those words following an especially contentious campaign season in a country divided on many issues feels vital to my personal well-being and also to the well-being of this nation.

“Peace” art created by Aseneth, 12th grade, Faribault Alternative Learning Center for a 2020 student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2020)

This is not a political post. I have no desire to discuss politics. Rather my words and images together remind me that we all, at our core, need peace, hope and love. Some days it’s admittedly easier to feel peaceful, hopeful and loving than other days. Yet, peace, hope and love are always there, sometimes subdued, sometimes bold.

A positive message photographed at LARK Toys, Kellogg. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2015)

In consciously choosing these three words on Monday, I scrolled through my files for photos that reinforce peace, hope and love. Whether photographs taken within my home or public spaces, the message remains the same. Peace is possible. Hope remains. Love matters.

This HOPE token from my friend Beth Ann lies on my computer desk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2020)

On this post election day, I invite you to consider my selected photos. Allow the images to imprint upon your mind and spirit. And then live them.

This shows a portion of a cherished peace painting by Jose Maria de Servin purchased at a recycled art sale in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2022)

Embrace peace. Feel it calm your mind. Recognize that peace is possible.

This HOPE stone, painted by my great niece Kiera, sits on my office desk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2015)

Hold hope.

An especially bright spot in the heart of downtown Faribault is the Second Street Garden, a pocket garden with positive messages. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2019)

And, above all, show love. To your family, friends, neighbors, strangers. Love exhibits itself in care, compassion, understanding, kindness and much more. It means self-control, pausing before writing or saying something hurtful. Love means uplifting. Love means doing, helping others. Love means offering hope to someone. Love means being there.

I felt such joy in spotting this message posted along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin in 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020)

On this Wednesday, may you feel peace, hope, love. You are loved.

TELL ME: What’s your post election day message? No political comments, please.