Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts for my friend on a notable birthday September 12, 2018

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Smile, even when you’re turning sixty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY FRIEND, I’LL CALL HER JULIE, turns sixty today. I know she’s not particularly excited about that number because, as she says, “It sounds old (compared to 59).”

I remember feeling the same when I reached that landmark birthday. And to think I struggled with turning forty. I wish now that I was only four decades, rather than six-plus decades, old.

But there’s something to be said for this age. And I can summarize that in a single powerful, joyful word: grandma. Julie and I, who have been friends since our kids were in grade school, are both relatively new grandmas. Her grandson is 14 months younger than my almost 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter. We trade stories now about grandchildren and share images of the cute little ones who bring us much happiness.

Julie and I have been through a lot together. Joyful times and difficult times. We listen to one another and trust each other. With anything. What a blessing she has been in my life through rearing children and now into loving grandchildren.

On this her 60th birthday, I want Julie to realize that turning sixty is really not all that bad. Especially when you have a grandchild to spoil and love.

Happy birthday, dear friend! I wish you many more years of joyful living.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Remembering 9/11 in Hastings, Minnesota September 11, 2018

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TODAY, WHILE DRIVING THROUGH HASTINGS, I noted an American flag suspended across U.S. Highway 61 near the bridge that spans the Mississippi River connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“Why is the flag there?” I asked Randy.

“September 11,” he said, and I had one of those moments when I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten the anniversary date of the terrorist attacks on our country.

To the people of Hastings, thank you for reminding me of a date, an attack, a part of history that I should always remember.

 

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

My first photo shoot after breaking my wrist

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MY PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY runs deep. Like my love of words. Together they comprise this blog. Take away one and balance vanishes. My photos illustrate my words and my words my images.

But this summer, after slipping on rain-slicked steps and breaking my left wrist in early June, I could no longer use my camera. It takes two hands to operate my DSLR—one to hold the camera and click the shutter button and the other to support and manipulate the lens.

 

 

I knew my blogging would be intermittent without the ability to gather new content with my camera. But I had no choice except to post less often and to snap the occasional passable photo with my smartphone.

 

 

Given my orthopedic doctor’s initial timetable for my recovery, I expected the camera ban to last until the end of September. But as healing and therapy progressed, he gave me an early out, freeing me from my splint in late August and approving photography—with the admonition not to do “anything silly.” Whatever that means.

 

 

Upon my return home after that medical appointment, I grabbed my camera and stepped into the backyard to try my hand at photography. These are my first images post bone break and implant surgery. I quickly learned that I could not manipulate my telephoto lens. I simply did not have the strength. I have since exchanged that long and heavy lens for a regular lens. That I can twist.

I’m easing back into photography, realizing that if I push my passion too much, I risk slowing my recovery. It feels great to have my hands back on my camera.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The golden hour at the King Mill Dam, Faribault, Minnesota September 10, 2018

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Fishing in the gloaming of the day, June 12, Cannon River at King Mill Park, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

IN PHOTOGRAPHY, LIGHT isn’t everything. But it ranks among the top factors in creating a good photo as do framing, perspective, practice and creativity. A good camera is nice, too. Not essential. My Canon DSLR 20-D, for example, would be considered aged by most. Yet, I manage to produce marketable and memorable images.

 

Golden light slices across the sky.

 

A bird in a bush presents a striking silhouette in this edited image.

 

Glint of sunlight on water. Beautiful simplicity.

 

If you’re serious about photography, you’re aware of the golden hour—the hour right after sunrise and right before sunset. The light is softer, warmer then, lending itself to photography.

 

The King Mill Dam, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

Soft colors tinge the sky as the sun sets with this bush in the foreground.

 

High above, sunshine glints on the trails of a jetliner.

 

Several months ago, just days before I fractured my left wrist thus halting all photography for the summer, I shot some evening golden hour scenes at King Mill Park along the Cannon River in Faribault. I love this time of day in southeastern Minnesota. There’s a certain peacefulness as day closes and the door opens to evening, then night.

 

Milkweed and other flowers rim the shoreline.

 

Rather than expound in words, I’m showing you, because, oftentimes, a picture really is worth 1,000 words.

 

FYI: Tomorrow I’ll show you the first images I shot after my orthopedic doctor cleared me to use my camera some 10 weeks after my bone break and subsequent surgery to implant a plate.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Nearing graduation day September 7, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2016.

 

THE WORD GRADUATION SLIPPED into the conversation between me and my therapist. Just like that after I excelled on a weekly skills test. If I continue to do well, I expect to graduate within a few weeks.

That would be graduation from occupational therapy which began two months ago. It takes a long time to recover from a wrist fracture and subsequent surgery to implant a 4-inch plate. Not only have I gone to twice-weekly therapy, but I’ve worked hard at home doing exercises two to three times daily in half-hour sessions. I’m determined. And my efforts are showing in increased usage and strength of my healing left wrist/hand.

Every week my therapist checks my progress, measuring my range of motion and testing my strength. This week my grip strength showed incredible improvement, increasing from 17 to 30 pounds in six days. I might have shrieked in delight upon hearing that number. But then my excitement deflated a bit when I asked what my grip strength should be for my non-dominant left hand. Sixty-five. Oh, well. I’m half-way there.

But every day I’m noticing improvement as I use my left hand more and more. The other day I picked up a detergent bottle with my left hand, not even thinking. Thankfully, though the bottle was nearly full, I felt no pain.

I’m using my camera, short lens only.

I’m carrying a laundry basket.

I’m cooking.

I’m cleaning.

Life is returning to normal. There were days when I felt like I would never get there, when I felt impatient and frustrated. But I’m on the other side of that doubt now, pushing toward my goal of graduating soon.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the east side of Central, creativity thrives in a Faribault shop September 5, 2018

Suzanne’s original art tells the story of her life. The top of the painting, with two hearts, is missing from this image.

 

SHE IS THE KIND OF PERSON who exudes happiness. You know. Big smile. Energetic. Outgoing and welcoming. The type of person you want to be around because she’ll make you feel better simply by being in her presence.

 

The back room studio where guests paint. Suzanne is adding a kiln to this space.

 

Recently I spent some time with downtown Faribault shop owner/artist Suzanne Schwichtenberg of The Upper East Side. It was an impromptu visit, an invitation extended when Suzanne noticed Randy and me walking toward her in the 200 block of Faribault’s Central Avenue late on a Sunday afternoon.

 

Suzanne’s artistic flair, decorating talents and appreciation for historic buildings shine in the living room of her second floor Airbnb.

 

The Airbnb features a spacious, full kitchen.

 

Paintings by Joseph Feaster are featured in the beautiful gallery space as you enter The Upper East Side.

 

Even with guests inside her shop finishing artwork at a sip-and-paint event, Suzanne had time for us. Time to tour us through her second floor Airbnb and then around her gallery.

 

Guests can paint pillows like this one propped against an original brick wall and lovely wood floor.

 

I could not believe this was the same ground level space that previously housed an insurance and financial business once run by Suzanne’s husband. The transformation back to original exposed brick walls, wood floors, transom windows and more was remarkable.

 

 

Any restoration to historic delights me. As does this shop, a gathering spot for artists, from novice to professional. Creativity defines this space in the heart of an historic downtown that is ever spreading its artistic wings. Suzanne hosts painting parties for kids to adults. Other artists teach here, show here, work here. This space brims with colorful art, thrums with a creative energy.

 

After an afternoon of guests painting…

 

A sign on the wall notes the offerings of artist Anna Chance at The Upper East Side.

 

Sample paintings line the hallway floor from gallery to back guest studio.

 

Just being inside The Upper East Side with Suzanne left me feeling empowered as an artist. I may not create with paint and a brush, but I create via a keyboard and a camera. It is through the efforts of Suzanne and her team—Joseph Feaster, Anna Chance, Paul Schell and Sarah Beth Stadler—and many others that the arts continue to grow in Faribault.

 

 

We need art. We need the joy it brings. We need the beauty it brings. We need the insights and awakenings and purpose it brings. I cannot imagine my life without art—without stringing words into blog posts, poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. I cannot imagine my life without art—without using my camera to tell a story, to capture a moment, to create a work of art.

 

Tote bag art is another option for guests.

 

I understand Suzanne’s passion. That she is sharing her creative joy makes Faribault a better place. We have a strong community of artists in this southeastern Minnesota city. And to see them emerging as a defining presence in our business district reinforces the importance of the arts—for the local economy, but most of all for us as human beings.

 

 

FYI: The Upper East Side is among 19 studios on the 2018 Studio ARTour of South Central Minnesota set for October 12 – 14 in the Faribault, Northfield, Nerstrand and Farmington areas. Click here for more information.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those elephant ears September 4, 2018

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MY THREE ADULT CHILDREN MAY SEE each other only once a year. But their love for one another remains. Strong. Unaltered by time and distance. Bound by shared memories.

 

At the Minnesota State Fair. Photo by Miranda.

 

Take the photo my second daughter, Miranda, texted from the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday afternoon to her brother in Boston. The photo of concession stands is meaningless to most. But not to our family.

You see, back when Caleb was much younger and took words literally, he could not understand the serving of elephant ears at the fair. He considered those poor elephants with the missing ears and how awful the thought…until his dad and sisters explained. (I was smart enough to stay home and avoid the masses of fair-goers.) These elephant ears, they clarified, are sugar and cinnamon loaded pastries that, well, resemble elephant ears.

This fair story remains entrenched in our family’s collective memory. So I was not surprised that Miranda, back in Minnesota for the long weekend to visit and attend the State Fair with her sister, photographed the elephant ears concession stand. (I was smart enough to babysit my granddaughter and avoid the masses of fair-goers).

Caleb took his sister’s teasing in stride, now all these years later laughing with the rest of us at the elephant ears story. It is these types of family memories that bring joy. I have five siblings and, believe me, not all resurrected memories bring joy, especially when versions vary and some stories are best left untold.

This story is not one of those hurtful remembrances, but rather one that connects us and takes us back to a time when we were a family of five living under the same roof. We were not separated by nearly 1,500 miles or several hundred miles or 50 miles. I miss those days of togetherness. I know that life goes on. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my kids. I do. Every day.

So when my second daughter drove to Minnesota this weekend to visit her sister and niece for the first time in more than a year, I was over-the-moon happy. The sisters needed this time together. And I love that they thought of their brother while at the State Fair. They thought of me, too, returning with a bag of sugar-laden mini donuts. They remembered just how much I love that fair treat, a memory pulled from their childhood of attending the Rice County Fair.

This is the stuff of family love. Elephant ears and mini donuts. Sweet memories that endure time and distance.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling