Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I want you to know… March 27, 2020

I photographed my mom’s hands during a visit with her about a month ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

THE FIRST TIME I READ their messages on Facebook, I cried, an unexpected eruption of mixed emotions.

These are difficult days when separation from loved ones challenges all of us. Sure, we can tout technology. But what if you live in a senior living center—assisted living or a nursing home or a senior apartment—and you can’t directly connect via technology? Then what?

 

Downtown Belview, Minnesota, photographed in November 2019. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I love what Parkview Senior Living in Belview, a small town in my native southwestern Minnesota, is doing to connect residents to loved ones. Parkview holds a special spot in my heart. My octogenarian mom lives there, where she is on hospice. I last saw her the weekend before the care center closed to visitors in an effort to protect residents during the COVID-19 crisis. Given her current health, I doubt Mom fully understands what’s happening in the world. And that’s OK. She’s lived through enough challenging days in her life-time.

 

This file photo shows the nursing home section of Parkview Senior Living. At the time I took this photo, the center was closed due to damage caused by a tornado which struck Belview in 2011. Thus the blue tarp on the roof. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

But back to Parkview’s efforts to connect. On its Facebook page, this senior living center has posted photos of residents holding signs with messages for their loved ones. I recognize many of the people, having met or seen them while visiting Mom. Parkview is small. I’ve always appreciated the feels-like-family atmosphere. Mom and others living here are well cared for and loved. That comforts me during this time when I can’t visit. Or even call, because Mom can no longer communicate that way.

Kudos to the staff for photographing residents holding signs that begin with I want you to know…

The responses are both encouraging and difficult to read. Nearly every person shares how much they miss their loved ones. That’s to be expected.

I cried when I saw my mom’s photo and message. “I love and miss you all. Hope to see you when this is all over. I enjoy when we get together it doesn’t happen often enough.” And then I cried again as I scrolled through the photos and read the I want you to know…from other residents.

 

WAITING, HOPING…

Fern says, “…even though you look good through my window, I hope you will be able to come see me soon.”

“…Hope you remember me,” writes Grandma Bea.

And from John, who rolled his wheelchair into my mom’s room during my last visit, comes this. “When this clears up, come and see me when you can…maybe in June?!!”

 

HOW THEY’RE DOING

Most say they are doing OK, well, good. But not Barb. Her message reads: “Being given all the TLC of my awesome staff and family. I am doing ‘super fantastic.’” I love Barb’s upbeat attitude.

Andy also praises Parkview. “I’m doing good…the nurses are good and also the food.” But then he offers this advice. “Stay out til this is over.” Gotta appreciate that directive from a man who’s lived a few years.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Talbert isn’t thinking about himself. Instead, he asks, “Donald…how are the cats doing?

 

WHERE THEY’D RATHER BE

If Hazel had her way, she’d be outside. On the farm.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of crocuses.

 

And Beata, well, she’s hungry for lefse. This is a strong Norwegian community. And she’d like to be running outside picking crocuses. That made me laugh. In the midst of this global pandemic, these seniors are thinking about the simple joys in life. Maybe we could all learn something from them.

 

BECAUSE IT’S GOOD TO LAUGH

Humor, in my opinion, helps. Laura, from my hometown of Vesta, offers this message: “I miss your jokes, but not your needle pokes. I saw the Easter Bunny today. He looked to be healthy! He was wearing a mask, yet I think he will be ready to go on with Easter…” A little poetry. A little humor. And then this poignant ending: “We are home sick for you all!”

 

Grandview Valley Winery north of Belview. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

Many residents are connecting with loved ones via phone. They are reading and solving word puzzles. And praying. And they are thinking about better days. Especially Judy, who shares this message: “I’m doing okay. Looking forward to going out for a meal and a glass of wine when this is over.”

Me, too, Judy. Me, too.

TELL ME: If you have a loved one in senior living, how are you staying connected during this global pandemic? I’d love to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting during the COVID-19 crisis March 26, 2020

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HOW ARE YOU CONNECTING with family and friends during these difficult days of separation due to COVID-19?

None of this is easy. In these stressful, unprecedented times, more than anything, I want to “just be” with my family and hug them. But I can’t. And I expect most of you are experiencing the same.

This Friday at 11:59 pm, a “Stay at Home” executive order goes into effect in Minnesota, restricting activities outside our homes to “essential” only for a two-week period. The action isn’t unexpected and follows (somewhat) what many other states are already doing.

So we need to get creative in how we connect. Randy and I don’t have smartphones with enough storage space to support video chatting. Suffice to say our Android phones are several years old. Too old. Thus that option was out.

So the other evening the eldest daughter set up a family conference on Zoom. Just the thought of attempting to use this communications tool on my desktop caused me angst. I asked lots of questions beforehand and thought I could manage. But I struggled and didn’t join the family conversation until 18 minutes into the chat. But when I finally did, a cheer erupted that “Mom figured it out!”

To see all of my immediate family, with the exception of the sleeping one-year-old grandson, just made me happy. I didn’t realize how much this meant to me until the moment we were all there online talking to one another.

 

 

At one point in the group conversation, I held up a 16-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer the second daughter ordered for me and which arrived Wednesday. I couldn’t find any in Faribault. I told my family I would double-secure all house doors given the value of the product. That garnered laughter. If there was eye-rolling (a family trait), I missed it.

I loved that for a short while we could laugh and talk and feel like we were together as a family. From Minnesota to Madison, Wisconsin. I reminded them they are all invited to our house for Easter because, you know, some people think this will all blow over by Easter. (I’m not one of them, nor are they.) Laughter erupted.

In these days of uncertainty and fear and separation from loved ones, I am thankful we can still find moments to laugh.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sample billboards along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin February 19, 2020

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Drive Interstate 90 between La Crosse and Madison, Wisconsin, and you’ll see lots of billboards around the larger cities and in the area by the Dells. Edited Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

BILLBOARDS CAN CLUTTER the landscape. Too many words. Too many materialistic messages. Too much visual imprint when I’d rather see the natural surroundings.

 

As you would expect in Wisconsin, there are lots of signs for cheese places along I-90. Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

But I understand the value of signs, large or small, in drawing people into businesses, to destinations, to detour off the interstate. That said, I noticed a lot of vacant billboard real estate while traveling Interstate 90 from La Crosse to Madison, Wisconsin, this past weekend. I can only speculate that in a tech driven world, this form of marketing to the masses is declining.

 

Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots. Anyone know the story behind this billboard?

 

Still, I pay attention to roadside signage and noticed a billboard with a simple and profound message: FORGIVE and BE KIND. I photographed the sign within 10 minutes of Exit 69, the road to Mauston and Oxford. A LAMAR Advertising credit runs along the bottom.

FORGIVE and BE KIND. The words are simple enough. But forgiveness and the added directive to “be kind” can prove a struggle when the pain and hurt run deep. Yet, both can be achieved. It takes work. Time. Healing.

 

Another cheese sign along I-90 in south central Wisconsin. Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the FORGIVE and BE KIND billboard and/or on billboards in general.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Even though stamps cost more, I’ll continue mailing cards February 7, 2019

 

IF ONLY I’D KNOWN. If only she’d informed me of the price increase when she asked whether I wanted more than one sheet of postage stamps. “Nope, just one,” I said and pulled out my debit card.

I had no idea that the cost of postage stamps was rising by 10 percent the very next day, from 50 cents per first class forever stamp to 55 cents.

I suppose it’s my fault for not being on top of things. But she, the U.S. postal clerk, could have told me when I bought stamps that Saturday morning at my local post office. Had I known, I would have purchased more than 20 stamps. I like to save money when given the opportunity.

Not that I would have bought a stack of postage stamp sheets. But, given all the birthday and Valentine’s Day cards I mail in February, I certainly would have purchased more to save more money.

Sigh. Live and learn.

The increased cost of mailing cards won’t stop me from sending them. I consider greeting cards an important way to communicate care and more. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I appreciated the get well cards I received while recovering from two broken bones in recent years. Never underestimate the power of a greeting card to encourage and uplift others.

I like also to write personal thank you notes. We don’t do that often enough in this high tech world—put pen to paper and hand-write gratitude.

And birthday cards…I still send them even though I seldom get them anymore. It saddens me that most people are seemingly too busy to choose, sign, address and mail birthday cards. A text message or email just is not the same. To slice open an envelope, pull out a greeting card, read and re-read a hand-signed message brings me joy.

Yes, being a writer (including of greeting card verses for Warner Press) likely contributes to my fondness for cards. I’ll give you that. I understand the value of the written word.

How about you? Do you still send greeting cards? If not, why not?

Or what are your thoughts on that 10 percent increase in first class postage stamp rates?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

To write or not to write & insights on holiday letters November 29, 2018

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A holiday greeting sent to friends by Faribault founder Alexander Faribault. The vintage card was displayed at a 2017 holiday open house at the home of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017, photo edited.

 

DO YOU WRITE AND SNAIL MAIL a Christmas letter? Or is this mostly a Minnesota thing?

Last week I sat down at the computer to compose the annual letter I will send to 100 family members and friends. Some I haven’t seen in years. Others I see often. No matter who they are, at some point in my life, we connected and they remain important to me.

Giving and receiving letters and cards ranks as one of my favorite aspects of the holiday season. I appreciate the updates, the photos, yes, even of people I no longer recognize. We grow older, greyer, wider… But it is that advancing of age that makes me realize even more the importance of this annual correspondence. Sure, we have email and Facebook (which I’m not on) and texting and so many other ways to communicate. But there’s something to be said for a card I can hold in my hands, a photo I can stick on my refrigerator, a letter on paper that I can read and reread.

Simply put, I value the old school way of communicating with one another at Christmas. It takes time and effort to compose a letter, to wrangle a photo, to sign a card, to address an envelope. That invested time shows care. Tangible love and care. On paper.

Right about now I can hear the but Audrey protests. But Audrey, sending cards adds to the stress of an already hectic season. There’s not enough time and this is one thing I can cut out. You’re right. You can. And it’s your choice.

For me, though, the annual rite of writing a family letter continues. I’ve reduced that letter from two pages to one, recognizing shorter attention spans. I hit the highlights of 2018, although much of the bad never makes print. No one wants to read every detail of the challenges in your life. Or maybe they do. But I prefer not to share difficulties that fuel gossip and here’s what you should do reactions from those who think they have all the answers. As if all of us have ideal lives where nothing but good prevails.

These annual letters are, in many ways, carefully crafted news releases. We choose to put a primarily positive spin on the content, exercising restraint in delivery of anything negative. As long as we understand the PR perspective, we can read between the lines of those happy family vacations, those stellar accomplishments, those above average toddlers…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The faith of our fathers still flourishes in a long-time Faribault radio ministry April 26, 2018

A temporary display in the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church celebrates the radio and video ministry.

 

FROM MINNESOTA to Sweden to Saudi Arabia, people are listening to worship services from Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

 

 

That may not seem remarkable in this technological age. But the longevity of this Minnesota-based ministry—seventy years—and its basic beginnings are remarkable. In April 1948, a group of men founded the Trinity Radio Council with the goal of broadcasting services on KDHL radio in Faribault. Just three months after that station formed and weeks after the Council initially met, the first Trinity worship service aired at 8 a.m. on April 25, 1948.

 

The original coverage area for KDHL radio.

 

With promised payments of 35 cents per broadcast per Council member, this ministry into the southern regions of Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northern Iowa launched. Today those live radio broadcasts cost $175, but reach a much wider audience. And well beyond radio.

 

 

Worship services (at 8 a.m. Sundays and on other special church days) are also live-streamed, available for online viewing, aired on the local community cable channel and shared with care center residents.

 

The original microphone used in 1948.

 

 

 

The transmitter.

 

From a simple RCA microphone, a basic switchboard and a transmitter, broadcasting has advanced to high tech with multiple cameras, computers and more.

 

Art suspended in the sanctuary denotes radio waves and the focus of the radio ministry.

 

 

Yet, the purpose of sharing these worship services remains unchanged. And that is to bring Christ to the nations, to spread the good news of salvation. In a recent sermon, Trinity Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nirva, referenced Romans 10:17 as he noted the Trinity Faribault Radio Club’s 70th anniversary: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

 

A view inside the studio and overlooking the sanctuary through the studio window.

 

Vintage radio room art, currently in the historical display case.

 

 

 

That word of God centers worship at Trinity. And that’s visible in the radio room angled into a corner of the sanctuary. Todd Voge, who today leads the radio and video ministry, gave me a quick tour. While Todd showed me the brains of the operation condensed on a computer screen, pointed out the transmitter and more, I noticed two bibles sandwiched between a telephone directory, song books and devotionals. In a cramped room filled with all sorts of high tech stuff, the printed bible still holds a place of importance.

 

 

This ministry remains important to Trinity with generations of families involved and committed to its continuance. Within my family, my husband once a month takes a DVD of the morning’s worship service to a local care center and shows it to residents. And when my son was in high school, he volunteered in the radio room. While I’m not a volunteer—the computer aspect is enough to scare me—I’ve occasionally listened to worship services on KDHL when I couldn’t make it to church.

 

Original meeting minutes are currently displayed in the narthex history case.

 

I am grateful to the original Trinity Radio Council members for having the foresight and the faith to start this ministry. They saw the potential in radio, in a ministry which has endured for 70 years. And expanded well beyond what they ever imagined.

 

An overview of the historical display.

 

FYI: To learn more about the Trinity Faribault Radio Club and/or to listen to/watch worship services, click here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In the dark of the night along a rural Minnesota roadway… November 2, 2017

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A semi awaits the harvest. Photo used for illustration purposes only and not at the same location where this story takes place. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2014.

 

AHEAD OF US along the side of a county road between Faribault and Medford, hazard lights from a tractor trailer pulsated amber into the blackness of a late autumn evening.

A few miles away, combines spotlighted cornfields as farmers worked the night shift in an already late harvest season.

In the rural blackness, our 2003 Chevy Impala beamed headlights through the deep dark, our eyes scanning ditches for deer evicted from fields.

The setting was prime for drama, for threatening possibilities, for imaginations to race rampant.

And then it happened. As we edged even with the parked semi near the county line and our turn-off intersection, the driver stepped from the cab, hailing us. Randy stopped the car. I rolled down the window and the stranger approached. I never considered in that moment the possibility of danger. It was only afterward when friends questioned our decision that I evaluated our choice. But in this moment, this man needed assistance.

Randy pulled the car ahead to a safer spot. Then the stranger leaned toward me, handed me a slip of paper, cigarette breath hanging in the air. I pulled down the visor, flipped up the mirror cover to unleash light. He spoke in jerks of thickly-accented words. “No English. Ukraine, Poland…”

He pointed to the paper again. And we understood that this Ukrainian needed to find his delivery destination. Here, in this countryside where the wind whipped across fields in bone-chilling cold. Here, where dark prevailed. We pulled our smartphones out and Randy punched in the address. We were there, at the driver’s destination. But in the blackness, we perceived nothing except the faint outlines of grouped buildings.

I tried to explain that we would turn around, check out the location and return. But the driver didn’t understand and started walking, swallowed by the darkness. Randy followed. Except I didn’t know that he planned, too, to disappear into that roadway ribbon of blackness. As the minutes ticked by and I waited, my angst rose. Where was my husband? Had this stranger robbed him, assaulted him, pushed him into the road ditch…?

I picked up my phone, punched the green icon connecting to Randy’s phone. He answered. My fear lessened. “Where are you?” I asked.

“Walking back,” he assured. “There in a minute.” And he was, along with the truck driver.

Still, we hadn’t solved the problem. Randy thought the destination business had a second access. There was none, only a single gated road in and no room for a tractor trailer to park until the next morning. Our efforts to communicate in English with the driver failed. So I resorted to mimicking sleep, the rising sun and turn around and go back to town with my arms. Finally he understood and thanked us profusely.

We left the trucker there on the side of the county road, in the blackness of night. Hours later we retraced our route home to find the semi gone, presumably parked miles away at a truck stop for the night. And we wondered about the Ukrainian, how he had come to be a commercial truck driver lost on a rural southeastern Minnesota roadway in the season of harvest.

 

TELL ME: Would you have stopped if this trucker flagged you down along a remote rural roadway in the dark of night?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling