Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A COVID-19 update & thoughts from Rice County, Minnesota January 22, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Valley Grove Cemetery, used for illustration only.

SLIGHTLY OVER A MONTH has passed since I wrote about COVID-19 in my southeastern Minnesota county. And in those 34 days, 22 more individuals in Rice County have died due to the virus, bringing our total deaths to 69. Since the pandemic began, the number of people infected with COVID (January 21 county stats) stands at 6,139.

My heart breaks when I consider the death data, because behind every number is a person. Someone who loved and was loved. The virus claimed individuals ranging in age from 24 – 104. Most (42) lived in long term care centers.

I scrolled through area obituaries to find a few of those individuals who died due to COVID. I appreciate when families publicly share that cause of death as I think it’s a personally powerful way to make a statement to the community that, This virus is deadly.

READ THEIR NAMES

In my brief search, I found these names: Craig, 71; Ted, 77; Harvey, 75; Chuck, 89; Norma, 92; and Dave, 87. Dave, part of my faith family, was a long-time funeral home director prior to retiring and passing along the business to his son. Craig was a Faribault pastor, the first in my county to die of COVID-19 in April.

While my immediate family has thus far remained healthy, many extended family members have gotten and recovered from the virus. Friends have also been ill, including one hospitalized for two weeks. I indirectly know others who’ve been hospitalized and/or died. They are individuals I’ve sometimes prayed for for weeks as they’ve battled the virus and struggled to recover.

My niece will tell you the story of a friend who has suffered serious, severe and long-lasting complications from COVID-19. That’s the thing about this virus. We never know if we will experience only a mild case or something much more serious. Even deadly. Age is not a given protection.

MASK WEARING REMAINS AN ISSUE

Wearing a multi-layered, tight-fitting mask (and, no, a plastic face shield alone doesn’t count as CDC-approved protection); socially distancing; washing/sanitizing hands often; avoiding time with those outside our household, especially in enclosed spaces; and staying home when sick or with COVID symptoms remain as important as ever to help stop the spread of the virus. I can’t stress those health and safety protocols enough.

I continue to see people in public without masks or wearing them below their noses and sometimes even below their mouths. That frustrates me to no end—this inability to wear a mask or to wear it correctly by covering both the mouth AND the nose. It’s not that difficult. Even my 2-year-old grandson wears his mask properly. Why is it so hard for adults (like the cashiers at a local dollar store, some grocery store customers, etc.) to do so? Most troubling was the half-masker sporting a jacket for an area small town volunteer fire and rescue department. I want to scream at these people and confront them. (I don’t. I avoid them.) And, yes, that may sound judgy. But at this point in the pandemic, when a new variant is increasing spread, masks are even more important. People ought to care about protecting others. They ought to care that their neighbors are getting really sick and/or dying.

HOPEFUL AS VACCINES ROLL OUT

As of yesterday, 2,039 people in Rice County, or 3.1 percent, have started the vaccination process targeted first to those living in long term care settings and working in healthcare. It’s a start in a county with a population of 65,765. Some vaccines have also been set aside for childcare workers, educators and those age 65 and over. That said, the supply cannot meet demand. Yet, I am thankful for vaccination beginning and hopeful that will amp up under the Biden administration.

Randy and I are some eight months shy of the age 65 cut-off. I’m not worried about myself as much as my husband. He faces possible COVID exposure in the workplace. (And, yes, there have been cases.) As a highly-skilled and in high demand automotive machinist, working from home is not an option. So I ask him to mask and distance himself from co-workers and customers, especially those non-maskers and half-maskers.

If Randy gets COVID, I likely will, too. And I’d rather not test how my body will react. A severe case of whooping cough at age 50, which left me incredibly sick for three months, gasping for air, using an inhaler and taking a steroid, shows me just how awful an illness that affects the lungs and impedes breathing. I expect COVID would be worse. Much worse.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo picks for January-June 2020 December 31, 2020

Paper hearts, symbolizing hope and togetherness, decorate the entry to Rice County Government Services as the pandemic begins. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

COVID-19 DEFINED 2020. No question about that. Yet, even as many aspects of life changed, we continued onward, facing the challenges. The isolation. The separation. The very real effect the virus had on humanity—in the hospitalizations and deaths of family, friends, neighbors…individuals who loved and were loved. In the loss of jobs, and that includes job loss for me. In the loss of life as we once experienced it.

Through it all, though, I’ve continued to write about and photograph the world around me for this blog. In a more limited way, for sure. In a way that stretched me and grew me and focused my eyes and my heart on the simpler things in life. My appreciation for nature, something as ordinary as a walk in the woods, took on new meaning. Outdoors marked one place I could feel safe, distanced from COVID-19. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally.

So, it comes as no surprise really that my year-in-review photo picks for 2020 theme mostly to nature images. I scrolled month-by-month through my posts, choosing one favorite photo per month. Each image represents more than a scene or moment captured through my camera lens. Each represents a story, a part of my life. An experience. A gift.

Exhibit visitors could page through these books featuring photos by Edward S. Curtis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

JANUARY started off rather “normal” with a visit to a photography exhibit in small town Montgomery. If you’ve followed me long enough, you recognize how much I value rural areas and the arts. For that reason, I chose a scene from the Montgomery Arts and Heritage Center, host of “The North American Indian” exhibit of early 1900s photos by Edward S. Curtis, as my photo pick for January.

Randy starts down the driveway with the snowblower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2020.

Early FEBRUARY brought eight inches of snow in a single storm. And since weather shapes our lives here in Minnesota, I picked a photo of my husband blowing snow from our driveway for my February photo. It’s the perspective of this frame, taken while holding my camera low and angling it up, that makes this image.

Posted in the window of Keepers Antiques, downtown Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

Then came MARCH. The month that, here in Minnesota, marked the beginning of the pandemic and a year rearranged around COVID-19. The journalist in me emerged as I photographed signs on downtown Faribault businesses.

The graceful arc of sumac draws my eye at Faribault Energy Park. I don’t often edit photos beyond cropping or downsizing. But this one I did and I love the results. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2020.

As the months passed, I soon realized this thing—this pandemic—would continue. In APRIL, my granddaughter celebrated her fourth birthday, not with friends at an indoor play space, but rather on the driveway watching as her little friends passed by in their parents’ vehicles. Horns honking. Little hands waving. Randy and I continued to frequent outdoor spaces like Faribault Energy Park. Although located next to noisy and busy Interstate 35, it is one of my favorite local parks for the gravel paths, the ponds, the waterfowl, the flowers, the prairie grasses and other plant life.

The vivid hues and the softness of the image make this a favorite. Tulips from Paula in Holland, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

MAY. In Minnesota, this month represents the shifting of seasons, the greening of the land, the eruption of buds, the dawning of warmer days. By May, I crave color. Paula, a native Minnesotan living in Holland, surprised me with a shipment of tulip bulbs in a pot. What joy. The bulbs sprouted and stretched at a rapid rate until soon buds formed and then popped in vivid hues. What a gift from a fellow blogger whom I’ve never met but have grown to appreciate through her writing and photography. She is a kind soul, down-to-earth and genuine.

What a wonderful surprise to find this clean and clear creek water. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

My focus on nature continued into JUNE as Randy and I explored area parks and our ever dear River Bend Nature Center. At Falls Creek County Park just outside Faribault, I was surprised to find the creek running clear, not all that common in this part of Minnesota. So I aimed my camera downward to the creek bottom, capturing my June photo pick. There’s something about water…

In this year 2020, so much has shifted. My photos represent that change. Yet one thing remains constant—my love for writing and for photography. Thank you for reading Minnesota Prairie Roots, for appreciating the work I do here as I follow my passions.

Please check back for my year-in-review photo picks from July-December 2020. And, if you’re so inclined, please tell me what you most enjoy reading and seeing here on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

COVID-19, a photo review from Minnesota Prairie Roots December 30, 2020

COVID-19 RANKS AS THE STORY of 2020, including here on Minnesota Prairie Roots. Since early March, I’ve photographed hundreds of scenes that relate to the pandemic. I’ve scrolled through my many COVID-themed posts to showcase a selection of images that summarize the pandemic’s effects on our lives.

I took this photo of my mom in early March, before care centers closed to visitors. This is inside her room.

For me, the most personal image is also a universal one. In early March, I visited my mom, who is in hospice in a southwestern Minnesota nursing home. I didn’t know it then, but this would mark my last in-person visit with her in 2020. The last time I would hug her, kiss her cheeks. For our seniors living in long-term care centers, 2020 brought isolation, separation from family and, for too many, death. The empty chair in this photo symbolizes the absence of family.

A look at the toilet paper aisle at Aldi in Faribault in March.

March also brought shortages. Of toilet paper. Of hand sanitizer. Of Lysol wipes. Of Tylenol. I stocked up on a few supplies. Just enough to get us by if we got sick and couldn’t get out.

Our family connects via Zoom.

Separation brought a new appreciation for technology with our family connecting via Zoom from the north metro to Madison, Wisconsin, to Faribault.

From the front page of the Faribault Daily News.

The deadly reality of COVID-19 hit home when the Rev. Craig Breimhorst of Faribault died in April, the first of now 52 Rice County residents to lose their lives to the virus. My heart hurts for all those who are grieving, some of whom I know.

Photographed on April 19, 2020, at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

Signs remind us daily of COVID, including messages bannered on the Paradise Center for the Arts marquee as theaters, restaurants, libraries, museums and more closed to prevent the spread of the virus.

Stay off the playground in North Alexander Park. Playgrounds later reopened.

Even playgrounds became inaccessible as communities roped and fenced off equipment (including at North Alexander Park in Faribault) to stop the spread of COVID. Since then, we’ve learned a lot more about the virus, with surface spread not the primary form of transmission.

Photographed on May 15, 2020, in downtown Faribault. A powerful image.

In May, while watching a car cruise in downtown Faribault, I photographed a local walking along the sidewalk wearing a face mask. This is my “favorite” COVID photo. Simple. Yet powerful. Face masks, by mid-summer, became the norm. Yet, some still refuse to wear them, or wear them improperly, an ongoing source of frustration for me. Minnesota has a face mask mandate for a reason—to stop the spread of COVID and to keep us safe. Just wear a mask. And over your nose, please.

The Rev. Adam Manian leads worship services from a hay rack at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Vesta, Minnesota, on Sunday, May 3, 2020.

The pandemic changed how many of us worship. Randy and I have not attended church services since early March. When our kids learned we had been to Sunday morning services, they advised (told) us not to continue attending in-person. Our eldest remarked that she and her friends were struggling to convince their Baby Boomer parents of COVID’s seriousness. It didn’t take us long to determine just how serious this virus; we’ve attended church online ever since. In my hometown church, the pastor took to preaching from a hay rack. St. John’s now worships in-house.

Banners honor the Northfield High School graduates of 2020.

High school and college graduation ceremonies also pivoted, mostly to virtual celebrations. In Northfield, Minnesota, the community honored grads with banners posted downtown. Some families still hosted receptions. We opted out, not wanting to risk our health.

A couple circles themselves with rope to keep others at a distance during an outdoor concert.

Our sole social activity this summer was attending outdoor concerts in Faribault’s Central Park nearly every Thursday evening. It’s a long-time community tradition. We felt safe there with concert-goers distancing throughout the sprawling park. Some wore masks, like the couple in this photo, with a rope defining social distancing lines.

One family’s humorous take on COVID-19 during the Faribault Pet Parade.

The annual Faribault Pet Parade in August also went on, but as a drive-through only. No masses of kids and pets walking in the streets. Randy and I watched, all by ourselves in our lawnchairs positioned along Fourth Street, and I spotted one vehicle with a COVID message.

Photographed on August 29 in the Ace Hardware store parking lot, Faribault, Minnesota.

For many, the cancellation of county fairs, and then the Minnesota State Fair in August, dashed any hopes that summer could retain any normalcy. Food stands, like this one at Ace Hardware in Faribault, popped up in parking lots and elsewhere.

An impromptu concert in Bridge Square during DDJD.

In Northfield, the Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration scaled back. Randy and I walked through Bridge Square, where I photographed a solo guitar player strumming. It was a lovely September day, minus the overcrowding typical of DJJD.

I photographed this sign on a business in Crosby. So Minnesotan.

September took us to the central Minnesota lakes region for a short stay at a family member’s guest lake cabin. While en route, we stopped in Crosby, where I photographed this distinctly Minnesotan masking sign.

I photographed this from the passenger seat of our van as we drove through Rochester in November.

In November, when the COVID situation in Minnesota went to really bad, I photographed a hard-hitting electronic message above US Highway 14 in Rochester, home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Concerns about hospital bed shortages not only concerned Minnesota, but the entire US. And this was about more than just COVID.

This message puts COVID in perspective.

One of my final COVID photos of 2020 was taken at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, posted there by the Rev. Greg Ciesluk, also a friend. His message puts the virus in perspective. As we transition into 2021 with vaccines rolling out, I feel hopeful. Truly hopeful.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Merry Christmas, dear ones December 24, 2020

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My granddaughter looks at Baby Jesus in a Nativity set up in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

CHRISTMAS 2020. What can I write that you haven’t already read? This year’s celebration will be much different as we adjust our plans due to COVID-19. Randy and I will gather with our eldest, her husband and our two darling grandchildren here in southeastern Minnesota. We won’t see our second daughter and her husband and our son living in Madison, Wisconsin, four hours away.

Is it disappointing? Of course, it is. We want to see everyone, to be together as a family. But we recognize that it’s best if we keep our distance. We don’t want to throw our caution of the past 10 months out the window, especially this close to vaccination. I remind myself of that often. And I remind myself also, that I still have family with whom I can celebrate. Nothing beats time with the grandchildren to shift your focus from what you’re missing to the joy right there beside you.

I know too many of you will be missing loved ones—lost this year to COVID or many other causes. I’m sorry for your losses. It hurts.

An historic Nativity in Faribault (edited photo). Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Yet, in all of these challenges, one thing remains unchanged about Christmas. And that is the birth of Christ. As a Christian, I reflect on this sweet baby come to earth with a plan of redemption. If not for my faith, I would struggle to face life’s challenges. That is my truth.

As I celebrate Christmas, I wish you the blessings of peace, love and joy. You, dear readers, bring me much joy by appreciating me and the work I do here on this blog. I value you. Your insights. Your kindness. Your friendship. Your care.

A handcrafted ornament sold at Fleur de Lis in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Merry Christmas, dear friends!

Audrey

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gingersnaps for Mom December 23, 2020

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Gingersnaps

CINNAMON, GINGER AND CLOVES scent my kitchen on the first afternoon of winter as sun streams bright through the southern window.

Christmas music plays on KTIS.

And I stand at the peninsula, rounding dough into walnut-sized balls before rolling the orbs in granulated sugar.

Each holiday season I bake gingersnaps. For my mom. They are a favorite of hers. But this year, although I am still baking the cookies, Mom won’t enjoy them.

She lives 120 miles away in a southwestern Minnesota nursing home, where she is in hospice. Her appetite is minimal. Even last year when I dropped off homemade gingersnaps around Christmas time, she didn’t eat them. Upon a return visit, I took the stale cookies back home with me and tossed them. Mom never was one to throw away food.

Now, as I shape and bake dough and pull crinkled gingersnaps from the oven, thoughts of Mom distract me. Earlier I’d forgotten to add molasses to the mix as my mind wandered away from the kitchen.

I wasn’t baking these cookies for Mom. Yet I was. I baked them to honor her, to celebrate her, to remind myself how blessed I’ve been to have such a caring, loving and kind mother. I told her that recently, thanking her in a loving goodbye letter. Phoning her is not an option. Nor is visiting due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions. I’m sort of OK with that, recognizing from an intellectual perspective the need to keep care center residents as safe as possible.

This has proven a difficult year for our seniors living in long-term care centers with too many dying from COVID. And the separation from loved ones has taken a toll. I miss Mom. But this is not about me. This is about her. That’s what I try to remember when my focus shifts, when the scent of old-fashioned gingersnaps fills the house and tears edge my eyes.

TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS:

If you are feeling alone this Christmas, experiencing the recent loss of a loved one, enduring separation from those you love or struggling, you are not alone. I hope you can reach a place of peace, perhaps in the cinnamon and ginger scent of cookies or a tradition or memory that links you to the one (s) you love and miss.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

As COVID continues, thoughts from Linda & me December 19, 2020

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I photographed my mom’s hands when I last visited her in-person in her care center in early March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U

Each letter in the two rows above represents a person who lost their life to COVID-19 in my county of Rice.

Forty-seven individuals ranging in age from 24 to 94.

These were our family and friends and neighbors. Sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and one, Dave, part of my faith family.

I think sometimes we lose site of the humanity in the statistics. These numbers come from the Rice County Public Health weekly COVID-19 report, last updated December 18.

Of those who died in Rice County, Minnesota, to date, 25 lived in long-term care settings, 17 in private residences and five in prison.

My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones to this horrible virus. I’m sorry. Deeply sorry. That includes extended family and friends now without a sister, a father, a father-in-law, an uncle.

A POWERFUL LETTER BY A DAUGHTER

My mom’s care center. The last time I visited my mom, it was on a phone through these glass doors. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Recently, I read an especially touching letter to the editor penned by Linda Hoffman of neighboring Owatonna and published in my local newspaper. It was titled The virus takes its opportunity where it can find it. Linda recently lost her mother, a resident of a care facility, to COVID. She addresses the issue of people disregarding masking and other health and safety protocols. Linda emphasizes how the repeated message that, of those who died recently from COVID in Minnesota, “60% were residents of long-term care facilities and most had underlying health conditions” may create a false sense of security. Her point: this may partially explain why some people are not masking, thinking it’s just old people in nursing homes who are dying. They are wrong, she says, as she writes of how a young person running around with friends can pick up and spread the virus.

It’s a powerful letter that ends with this admonition to those who fail to mask up, who live life like there’s no pandemic, who complain about closed businesses and government restrictions:

So when you hear the news that 60% of COVID fatalities are residents of long-term care facilities with underlying health conditions, don’t think that you had nothing to do with their death.

Wow. That’s powerful.

I JUST DON’T GET IT.

The reason the Rare Pair in Northfield gives for wearing face masks. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

Like Linda, I’m weary of ignorant attitudes, of the failure to wear face masks. Every time I’m out and about in Faribault, which isn’t all that often because I’m trying to stay healthy, I see people without masks or people wearing them below their noses. I’ve observed preschoolers wearing masks without a problem and then will pass by an adult with no mask. And most of the time, those mask-less individuals are young adults, who can often be asymptomatic and spread the virus.

I don’t understand how, after 47 deaths in my county, after 5,152 confirmed and probable cases of COVID, after 177 hospitalizations (with 35 in ICU), people still do not recognize the importance of masking, social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding gatherings and crowds to prevent and stop the spread of the virus.

I MISS MY MOM.

Me with my mom during a January visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling.

My 88-year-old mom (who is in hospice) and 90-year-old father-in-law live in care centers in other parts of Minnesota, in counties with incredibly high per capita rates of COVID. Their centers have been on lockdowns due to COVID cases more times than I recall. I want to visit my mom in-person, to hug her, hold her hand. I last did that in early March. But I understand the need to keep visitors away, to keep residents well. I would never risk giving my mom COVID and being responsible for her death.

I understand Linda’s anger penned in her letter. I feel her pain, appreciate her points. And I want to add that, even if 60% of Minnesota’s COVID deaths occurred in residents of long-term care centers, their lives are no less important. I value our elders. None of them should suffer and die, with or without family, from the virus.

Forty-seven individuals in my county, to date, have lost their lives due to COVID. It is incumbent upon each of us to follow health and safety guidelines to protect ourselves and others. Yes, vaccines are here and for that I feel grateful. Vaccinations take time, though. We need to commit to caring. About others, not just ourselves.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Christmas message from Fourth Avenue UMC December 18, 2020

Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

BEAUTIFUL, HISTORIC CHURCHES ABOUND in Faribault. I’ve been inside many, but not all. I appreciate the craftsmanship, the materials, the art, the essence of aged houses of worship.

I appreciate, too, the deep meaning these churches hold for many. The baptisms. The weddings. The confirmations. The funerals. And regular worship. Plus those most blessed of days to celebrate. Christmas and Easter.

For me, church is also about community and family and love and care and so much more. Above all, faith.

Front doors to the church feature paper hearts to show love and support during the pandemic.

Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church has, like many other churches in Faribault, brought the community together, most notably at its annual Community Christmas Dinner. That didn’t happen this year due to COVID-19.

Pastor Greg Ciesluk has focused his community outreach this December on coordinating a virtual concert, “Christmas in Faribault 2020,” which is showing at 7 pm Saturday, December 19, on YouTube and local community television. I’m honored to be part of this project via contributing still photos pulled from my blog posts.

I first met Greg in the fall of 2018 when he joined a team working to clear fallen limbs, trees, branches and debris from my friend’s yard following a tornado. Greg lived nearby and showed up, as good neighbors do, to help. Randy and I have been friends with him since.

A COVID-19 Christmas message from Fourth Avenue UMC.

I appreciate his enthusiasm and energy, his care for others (including us and our family), his deep faith, his love for and involvement in our community, his willingness to serve and more. And I also appreciate the messages Greg posts on the sign board that stands on the corner outside his church along Fourth Avenue. I hold a fondness for messages like these. Electronic message signs do not appeal to me. I’m old school like that.

I love the beautiful wreaths, surrounded by hearts and crosses.

In this year of COVID-19, I appreciated Greg’s latest thought. He’s right. Not even a global pandemic can overtake the meaning, spirit and joy of Christmas.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Erica Staab’s latest book focuses on loss December 15, 2020

AS WE NEAR CHRISTMAS, perhaps you aren’t feeling all that merry. These past 10 months of dealing with COVID-19 proved challenging, resulting in feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation and uncertainty. Even anger.

In many ways, we’re all grieving. We’ve lost our sense of normalcy, of life as we once lived it. Some of us have lost jobs. We’re separated from family and friends. And, for too many, that separation came via death from COVID-19 and the inability to mourn in traditional ways.

The year 2020 redefined the meaning of the words “loss” and “grief” in the context of a global pandemic. Yet, the core meanings remain, as universal, yet as individual as each person experiencing them.

WRITING ROOTED IN PERSONAL LOSS

My friend Erica Staab, director of HOPE Center in Faribault, addresses loss in her latest book, The First Christmas—Finding Your Way After Loss. In this slim 32-page volume, Erica writes from the heart, as a sister who experienced the tragic death of her brother, Mitchell, in 2007. The 27-year-old died of injuries sustained in a fall after stopping to assist a motorist involved in a single-vehicle accident. Any death can be difficult, but especially when the loved one is so young, the death unexpected.

It comes as no surprise to me that Erica takes her personal loss and her life’s work of helping survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault (and their families) to craft this insightful and encouraging book. She is one of those individuals who gives selflessly and with a heart full of compassion. Her words ring with authenticity rooted in experience.

GRIEF: “A WILD MESS OF THINGS”

She calls grief “a wild mess of things that can’t be anticipated.” That seems such a spot-on assessment as we all grieve in different and unexpected ways. Erica advises us to be gentle with ourselves, to allow grief in, to listen to what our hearts need.

I found this statement particularly profound: When grief is invited in…it is then that it loses its power over you, it is then that grief offers itself to share its gifts. It is then that there is space made for joy.

I appreciate that Erica embraces and acknowledges grief in all its pain and darkness. Yet, she writes with the light of hope, of joy-filled moments returning, of strength gained. When I emailed Erica to tell her that her writing touched me and caused me to cry as I thought of losses in my life, she responded, “…that was my prayer…that people would feel heard, understood, and not alone in their grief journey or their choices.”

PERMISSION TO EXPERIENCE LOSS IN YOUR UNIQUE WAY

Her book applies to many losses, not just loss through death. Loss of a relationship. Loss of a job. Loss of financial security. Loss of health and/or safety. And therein lies its even broader appeal, especially in 2020, a year of much loss. Erica wants her readers to realize they are not alone, that no one should try to erase their pain, that they need to experience it fully and in their own way and time.

And if that means you don’t feel like putting up a Christmas tree this year or mailing holiday cards, then don’t. That was me last year. Writes Erica: You have permission to simply make it through.

Her book also offers specific ways to ease loss, culled from her experiences and those of others. That’s helpful, too.

If you’re dealing with any type of loss, I suggest you buy The First Christmas—Finding Your Way After Loss. Purchase copies, too, for family and friends. Every funeral home and church should have copies to give away. The $10 book may be purchased at The Upper East Side, 213 Central Avenue North, Faribault, or online by clicking here. You can also reach out to Erica directly. I am so appreciative of Erica, her writing, her encouragement and her unique way of addressing difficult topics.

© Copyright 2020 by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, how sweet this dessert from Basilleo’s December 3, 2020

A popular pizza (and more) restaurant in downtown Faribault, Minnesota.

IT WAS A NICE GESTURE of gratitude. The free wedge of apple dessert pizza boxed in Styrofoam with a note of thanks handwritten in marker atop the cover.

This thankfulness for our patronage expressed by Basilleo’s 2.0, a Faribault pizzeria, impressed me. These are tough times to be in the restaurant and bar business. But yet Tom and Connie, co-owners of this homegrown eatery, took the extra time and effort to connect with customers in a personal way.

Basilleo’s has a long history in my community, tracing back to 1960 when brothers Basil and Leo Burger opened the pizza place. They combined their first names to come up with the catchy business name. Basilleo’s has long been a favorite local source of homemade thin crust pizza. Spicy Italian sausage remains our family’s top choice.

Randy and I last dined at Basilleo’s with friends on a Sunday evening in early March, the day before Minnesota Governor Tim Walz closed bars and restaurants due to COVID-19. We didn’t know then that this would mark our last time eating inside a restaurant in 2020. Yes, the governor later re-opened bars and restaurants, but with limited capacity. We opted out of in-person dining, choosing to occasionally do take-out. Like last Saturday evening, when Randy picked up our ready-to-go Italian sausage pizza at Basilleo’s along with a complementary slice of apple or cherry dessert pizza.

Now, as COVID rages out of control in Minnesota, bars and restaurants are once again closed to in-house drinking, dining and socializing. I think it a wise, and necessary, move from a public health perspective. Now it’s up to those who typically frequent bars and restaurants to continue supporting them via carry-out orders. Complaining that these businesses are closed during a pandemic helps no one. Rather, spending money at these businesses will help them, hopefully, survive.

When Tom and Connie conveyed their gratitude through a simple handwritten message and a free slice of dessert, they made an impression. Their small act of kindness shows they value their customers. And, in these days of COVID-19, I welcome such thoughtfulness.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Thanksgiving of gratitude November 25, 2020

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I created this Thanksgiving centerpiece using a vintage tray, vintage candles, pinecones from friends, shells from Detroit Lake and letters from my 1970s Scrabble game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Start each day with a grateful heart.

This Thanksgiving, more than ever, those seem important words to consider and then follow.

I’m thankful to my friend Beth Ann, who back in January, before 2020 evolved into the year of COVID-19, gifted me with a daily gratitude journal. It helped me then, and helps me now, to focus on reasons to feel thankful.

A quick look back to the beginning of the year shows a much different gratitude mindset as I wrote of thankfulness for photos of the grandkids, a handwritten letter, a comment from a blog reader that my images of rural Minnesota calm her, time with friends and more.

On March 7, I wrote, “Grateful for another opportunity to spend time with Mom.” I didn’t know it then, but this would mark the last time I stepped inside her care center room, hugged her, kissed her cheek. My heart hurts now every time I think of Mom. It’s an ache that never leaves, that rises sometimes unexpectedly to the surface in raw emotions. But then I reshift my thinking and consider how grateful I am that Mom is still with us, in the care of kind, caring and compassionate individuals who truly value her.

Shortly after that last in-person early March visit, everything changed. There would be no more visits inside the care center. Life as we once knew it changed due to COVID-19. My gratitude journal reflects that as my writing focused more on thankfulness for beautiful days outdoors, for mask mandates, for a stop at a winery, for country drives. And, more recently, for loved ones recovered from COVID-19, for a day that passes without news of another person I know infected with the virus.

In this year 2020, gratitude takes effort. But it’s still there. And this Thanksgiving, more than any, I feel grateful for my health, for my loved ones, for all the blessings that define my days.

Dear readers, I wish you a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving overflowing with gratitude.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling