Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Time passages September 26, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:38 AM
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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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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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


Tom at the organ March 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:41 AM
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My father-in-law, Tom, at the used Lowrey organ he purchased a few years ago.

THE CONSOLE LIGHTS UP like a Christmas tree or the Vegas strip or a carnival midway as my father-in-law settles onto the bench of his Lowrey organ and flips switches.

I’ve asked Tom to play a tune or two during a brief visit at his St. Cloud apartment.

He’s taking organ lessons. I find that particularly admirable given he’s 81. Not that he’s a musical novice. Tom isn’t. He once played an accordion and piano and even an organ and tuned and repaired pianos. He typically plays music by ear, including on this occasion.

Playing the organ, with his artificial hand, left, and his real hand.

Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Somewhere My Love,” from the movie “Doctor Zhivago” flow from the keys like music at a supper club all sugary and sweet and smooth. We should be dining in the dark corner of a long ago Saturday night destination, backs pressed against walls pasted with flocked red wallpaper, slicing our serrated knives through pink steaks and sipping our whiskey sours.

But instead, we are cramped into a tiny apartment among a hodgepodge of doll and angel collectibles, beer steins and toy tractors, and a clutter of miscellaneous knickknacks. We’re sipping water in a room flooded with light.

The organ takes up considerable space in the tiny apartment.

In the corner, my step mother-in-law pauses from circling words in a word search book to listen to the organ music, until, finally, she requests that the music stop.

We leave her there, with her words, as we descend several floors to my father-in-law’s art studio, a corner in the basement community room. Just over from a cluster of outdated exercise bicycles, Tom has stashed frames he’s recycling for his own art. Finished and in-progress works lean against each other and we file through them—elk in the mountains, loons, raccoons…

Threshing on the home place, a painting by my father-in-law. While growing up here, Tom already played organ.

He unrolls a scroll onto a table, revealing a sketch of the home place near St. Anthony, North Dakota. His second oldest daughter wants a painting of the farm where Tom grew up with his parents, Alfred and Rosa, and siblings, then later lived with his bride.

My husband studies the drawing, points out the summer kitchen and the creek, the details he remembers of Sunnybrook Farm, the place he called home until moving with his parents to central Minnesota in the early 1960s.

In moments like this, I begin to glimpse the history and the roots of this family I married into 30 years ago.

And in moments like photographing my father-in-law at the organ and in sifting through his paintings, I see the artistic side of this man. The man who once attended Catholic boarding school and worked the land and lost his left hand to a corn chopper in 1967, but never lost his desire, or ability, to pursue his passion to create music and art.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Turning 55 and fed up with healthcare costs September 7, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:04 AM
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In 19 days I turn 55.

Recently I received my first birthday greeting, from my health insurance carrier, a well-known Minnesota-based company.

The message wasn’t all that nice.  In fact, I’d say it wasn’t at all thoughtful, not one bit, for a soon-to-be birthday celebrant. My three-month premium is increasing $151, from $878 to $1,029.

The whole correspondence made me so darn mad that I called my husband at work to see if I could still get on the company insurance plan. His employer was switching to a new insurance carrier to try and curb costs. He said he would check and get back to me.

So while he was asking, I was calling my insurer. I got through the first automated voice when my cell phone rang. (Did I mention that I hate those automated systems?) It was my husband calling back, and probably a good thing since at that moment I glanced at my insurance bill and saw the reason for the $151 premium increase:


There it was in bold-faced, capitalized letters.

The bill could have included these bold-faced, uppercased letters to project some Minnesota Nice: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AUDREY!

My husband shared a dismal message. Coverage through his employer would be $30 higher than my new monthly premium of $342.83. How do they come up with that 83 cents tacked on the end?

My husband’s news sent my anger level soaring off the charts. “What the blankety-blank (not my exact words, but I want to keep this post family-friendly) is going on?” I screeched.

“Welcome to Obama Care,” he said.

I have no idea if rising insurance premiums are related to changes in healthcare policies, but my spouse seems to think so. I didn’t follow healthcare reform because half most of the time I couldn’t understand it anyway. That’s not an excuse, simply the truth.

But I do know this: Way too much—well over $800 a month— of my family’s income is now going toward health insurance premiums for my husband and me, who turns 55 shortly after me. I have a $3,000 deductible and my spouse has a $2,400 deductible.

His employer has been paying about $90 of his monthly premium. Since I’m self-employed, well, every premium cent comes from my pocket.

We rarely visit the doctor because that costs us even more money.

Honestly, I am fed up with the rising cost of health insurance and healthcare and I don’t know what the heck to do about it.

I’ve even thought about dropping my insurance coverage. But I am smart enough to realize that at my age, that would not be a wise decision.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Are you fed up with the rising cost of health insurance premiums and overall healthcare costs? What are you doing to control/cut costs? Share your thoughts by submitting a comment. Feel free to speak your mind. Just use family-friendly language and keep your comments libel-free.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling