Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Aging in Minnesota May 26, 2016

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This billboard along the northbound lane of Interstate 35 just north of Faribault prompted this post about aging. FaceAgingMN is "a statewide campaign to raise awareness about the issues of aging that accompany the reality of a rapidly aging society." The group's goal is "to create a conversation about aging.

This billboard along the northbound lanes of Interstate 35 just north of Faribault prompted my post about aging. FaceAgingMN is “a statewide campaign to raise awareness about the issues of aging that accompany the reality of a rapidly aging society.” The group’s goal is “to create a conversation about aging.”

One day, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to be old.

That single statement from the FaceAgingMN website emphasizes the positive side of aging. If we weren’t getting older every day, well, we wouldn’t be here. I remember how, when I turned 40 years old, I lamented that I was so old. My friend Jenny reminded me of the alternative. That put everything in perspective. Now, 20 years later, I wish I was only forty.

I often wonder these days, with more of my life behind me than ahead—although none of us knows the length of our days—how time passed this quickly. How can it be that I am an empty nester, now a new grandma? Where did the years go?

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see the crow’s feet lines around my eyes, the sagging chin line, the creases etched deep into my skin. I see the graying hair, the added pounds, feel the aches in my back and hip.

And, most recently, when my husband and I met with our financial advisor, we thought about retirement. How much money will we need to survive? Will we have enough? What do we envision for our retirement? How did we get this old? By living, obviously.

We are at the top end of the sandwich generation with a son about to graduate from college and parents in their eighties. Financial concerns thread through all three generations.

A dear aunt sent me a letter the other day. The golden years, she wrote, are not so golden. She then listed her husband’s health woes. I wish I could make things better for her and my uncle. I wish, too, that I could bring back my friend’s husband who died of a heart attack five weeks ago at age 59. I wish my mom would be the same mom I remember before she face planted in the floor of her assisted living apartment breaking her neck and suffering a concussion some two-plus years ago.

But I can’t change these things. I can’t change aging. But I can choose to handle aging with some sense of grace and gratitude that I get to be old.

Tell me, how are you handling aging?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on graduation & time passages June 11, 2015

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ON THE AFTERNOON MY HUSBAND and I dined at Teluwut in Lake Mills, Iowa, family and friends were filtering into Jayde Thompson’s graduation reception across the street at the Senior Citizen Center.

 

Lake Mills Iowa grad reception signs

 

The juxtaposition of that reception venue was not lost on me. Young and old. Beginnings and endings.

Not that senior citizen is an end. But it’s nearer ending than beginning. And although those of us who qualify for senior citizen status may sometimes feel young at heart, we no longer fit the physical definition of young.

All too many days now I wonder how the years vanished. I was once a Jayde Thompson, albeit not a cheerleader, embarking on life, eyes focused on the future. Today it’s not as much about the future as about yesterday. Or perhaps it’s that I think more now about my children’s futures.

May and June mark periods of transition for many families. Passage of time. Ceremony and applause and tears. Moving forward and standing still. Time gone. Youth beginning that all too quick movement of days, weeks, months and years that propel into the future, to wondering where yesterday went.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

October reflections from the St. Croix River valley October 15, 2014

Driving toward Taylors Falls, Minnesota, from the east.

Driving toward Taylors Falls, Minnesota, from the east provides an especially scenic view of this river community.

TWENTY-ONE YEARS AGO in October, my husband and I planned an overnight stay at a bed-and-breakfast in Taylors Falls. We anticipated gorgeous fall colors and rare time alone without the responsibilities of parenting three children.

But then my mother-in-law died unexpectedly a week before the booked get-away and we never rescheduled the trip.

Heading toward St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and Taylors Falls, Minnesota, along U.S. Highway 8.

Heading toward St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and Taylors Falls, Minnesota, along U.S. Highway 8.

This past week, we finally made it to the twin St. Croix River valley communities of Taylors Falls on the Minnesota side and St. Croix Falls in Wisconsin, staying at a chain hotel rather than a B & B. We found the glorious autumn colors we had hoped for and the freedom that comes with being empty nesters.

Shops in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Shops in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Hop in the van and go. Stop when and where we want. Drive along a winding river road. Hike without worry of kids trailing off the trail or plummeting over the edge of a rocky ledge. Eat late. Sleep in.

My husband on a dock at St. Croix Falls Lions Park along the St. Croix River.

My husband on a dock at St. Croix Falls Lions Park along the St. Croix River.

There’s something to be said for this season of life, this nearing age sixty that causes me to pause, to delight in the view, to reflect and appreciate and yearn for the past while simultaneously appreciating the days I live and those which lie before me.

"River Spirit," a bronze sculpture by local Julie Ann Stage, embodies the poetry and natural beauty of the St. Croix River Valley. The artwork was installed in 2007 and stands at a scenic overlook in downtown St. Croix Falls.

“River Spirit,” a bronze sculpture by local Julie Ann Stage, embodies the poetry and natural beauty of the St. Croix River Valley. The artwork was installed in 2007 and stands at a scenic overlook in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Perhaps I think too deeply, too poetically sometimes.

Reflections, like watercolor on water.

Reflections, like watercolor on water. A scene photographed at St. Croix Falls Lions Park.

But like the trees buffeting the banks of the St. Croix, I see my days reflected in the river of life.

Beauty along the St. Croix River.

Beauty along the St. Croix River as seen from Lions Park.

Blazing colors mingling with green.

Leaves upon rock, reflect the unchangeable and the changeable.

Leaves upon rock, reflect the unchangeable and the changeable.

Changed and unchanging.

Days of simply enjoying life.

Days of simply enjoying life.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Life is like a river, sometimes calm, sometimes raging.

Life is like a river, sometimes calm, sometimes raging. A view of the St. Croix River shoreline from Lions Park.

Life.

FYI: Click here for more information about the Taylors Falls and St. Croix Falls area.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Time passages September 26, 2014

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I recently started collecting alarm clocks and now have four, three Westclox and one General Electric.

I recently started collecting alarm clocks and now have four, three Westclox and one General Electric.

NEVER HAVE I BEEN MORE COGNIZANT of the passage of time than during this past year.

I can’t pinpoint a precise reason for this deep sense of time fleeting. Rather, a combination of life events has spawned this feeling.

A year ago, my eldest married. Although she graduated and left home 10 years ago and her sister two years later, only two years have passed since my youngest started college. He’s in his third year now, his second in Boston. He spent the summer there, too, working. I haven’t seen him in three months, won’t see him for another three.

I miss him and the girls—their closeness, the hugs, the conversation, the everything (almost) that comes with parenting children you love beyond words. Too many days I wish only to turn back the moments.

I wish again to be that young mom, with issues no bigger than the occasional two-year-old’s tantrum or the snarky teen or a kid I can’t rouse from bed or the picky eater. But when you’re handling such challenges, they seem ominous and big and looming. Ridiculous.

If only we knew.

Granted, I am, as the old adage says, “older and wiser.” But such wisdom comes via life experiences that color hair gray. Or maybe not solely. Time does that, too.

I am now the daughter with a mother in a nursing home, my father in his grave for nearly a dozen years. A friend noted the other day that he never saw his parents grow old to the age of needing his care. And I wondered if that was good or bad and then I didn’t want to think about it anymore.

I am now so close to age sixty that I feel my fingers reflexively curving around the numbers.

Which brings me to today, my birthday.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The challenges of aging & prayers answered August 22, 2014

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Me with my mom in her Parkview Home room.

Me with my mom in late May.

AS THE DAUGHTER of an aging parent, it is the call you do not want to get—that your mother has fallen and is being transported 130 miles via ambulance to a metro area hospital.

That exact scenario played out earlier this week when my octogenarian mom fell in her assisted living room and suffered multiple severe injuries that landed her in a trauma unit.

It’s been a difficult week. Worrying. Waiting. More injuries added to the initial list. Questions. Tests. Rest, recovery, therapy.

So many emails, text messages and phone calls have been exchanged among siblings, other family members and friends that I’ve lost count. And prayers, lots of prayers, prayed this week.

In the end, Mom, who has faced many medical challenges throughout her years, rallied. Today she is back in the care facility where she moved earlier this spring. She is happy to be home. The staff in this rural small town facility welcomed her with open arms. I am grateful for their concern and care.

And I am thankful for answered prayers. I believe strongly in the power of prayer and the faithfulness of God. So many times this week, I found myself requesting prayers for my Mom and asking for God’s healing hand upon her. Those prayers continue now for her recovery.

I have not seen my mother; she did not want visitors. She realized her need to focus on rest and recovery. That was difficult, but for the best. However, I have seen photos of a woman who appears to have been on the losing end of a bar brawl. She claims to have been scrimmaging with the Minnesota Vikings. It’s good to laugh in the midst of challenges.

And my mom faces the challenges now of recovery, of ongoing physical therapy, of regaining her strength. Her goal is to attend her granddaughter’s wedding in a few weeks. I have no doubt she will achieve that goal. She is a strong woman.

FYI: The online news source, MinnPost, published an interesting story today in a late-in-life healthcare series. The piece focuses on options for those living in rural Minnesota. I’d suggest you read it by clicking here. With families today often living far apart, rural elderly face challenges unlike those of previous generations. I live about 125 miles from my mom.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bringing the magic of prom to a Minnesota nursing home May 6, 2014

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TIS PROM SEASON in Minnesota, that annual rite of spring which throws teenage girls into a spin over finding just the right dress, getting a fabulous up-do, planning photo sessions and doing whatever to create the perfect evening.

That’s all delightful, to live in a fairytale world.

But what a group of girls in rural southwestern Minnesota did on the day of their high school prom impresses me more than all the magical glitz and glam.

They took the time last weekend to share prom with the residents of a small town nursing home.

This my mother, who recently moved into Parkview Home in Belview, shared with me during our weekly Sunday evening phone conversation.

If those teens could have eavesdropped on our exchange, they would know just how happy they made my mom by stopping at their workplace before prom to show off their Cinderella selves.

Mom didn’t comment specifically on the dresses, although she did on the “fancy hair.”

And, she noted, some of the girls brought their dates, who, she laughed, looked a bit bored and “were probably wondering when they could leave.”

I don’t doubt her observation. Physically Mom is limited in her abilities. But mentally she is still, as they say, sharp as a tack.

This isn’t about my mother, though, who also profusely praised those prom-goers as kind and thoughtful.

Rather, this is about these young women and, yes, their dates, too. I am impressed by their care, kindness and generosity of spirit. They could have gone on their way, without a thought of stopping at Parkview. But they did. And for that, this daughter is grateful.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

It’s in the details March 25, 2014

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Farm site 2

IN A FLASH, I’ve passed the farm site along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Kenyon.

But I’ve clicked the shutter button, preserving this rural scene, a moment frozen in time. Many times, for whatever reason, I have photographed this place.

Later, viewing this most recent image on a computer screen, I notice the details that escaped my eyes during that drive-by. And I wonder how, all too often, we miss the details.

Farm site 3

Details comprise the whole, define our lives in ways we never realize. A look. An intonation. A reflex. Puzzle them together and you have life.

A snapshot. An album. A collection of minutes, hours and days that collectively become weeks and months and years. And suddenly you are, like me, past middle age, a generation away from death.

You wonder about the details, whether you’ve noticed and embraced and lived them.

Farm site 1

Have you swung in a tire swing?

Or have you simply viewed tires as a necessity to carry you along the highway of life? Too busy to notice details.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling