Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mother’s Day 2020 from southern Minnesota May 8, 2020

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

 

I STOOD BEFORE THE CARD RACK at the dollar store, pink cotton print mask covering my face, eyes scanning the choices before me. I filtered through a few Mother’s Day cards before choosing one for my eldest daughter and one for my mom.

It was an emotional moment for me as I selected the card to send to my mom, who lives in a senior care center 120 miles away in southwestern Minnesota. I last saw her on March 7, the weekend before Parkview closed to visitors to protect them from COVID-19.

Mom is on hospice, which makes a difficult situation even more emotionally challenging. How do you work through the guilt of not being there for your mom when she most needs family? How? The intellectual part of me understands the closure. The “I love my mom” side does not.

So I stood there, in front of that display rack of flowery cards with sweet messages, and considered that this could be the last time I would buy a Mother’s Day card for Mom. I wanted to rip off that mask and plop down on the floor and cry away my pain in heart-wrenching sobs. Because that’s how I felt. Overcome with sadness.

But, instead, I clutched my two cards and walked to the check-out lane, strips of orange tape marking social distancing lines on the worn carpet. I waited while the cashier scanned the biggest pile of merchandise I’ve ever seen a shopper purchase at a dollar store. I tried to be patient and wait my turn while an unmasked young woman edged closer to me, closer than my comfort level. It didn’t help that I’d just heard someone coughing repeatedly minutes earlier.

I recognize my heightened awareness created by COVID-19. I recognize, too, my heightened emotions. I considered for a moment just leaving the cards and walking out of the store. But I wanted, needed, to get the card for Mom without another visit to another store and more possible virus exposure.

So I refocused, wondering about that heap of merchandise the masked woman ahead of me was buying. Teacher, I thought to myself, then asked, “You must be buying for a bunch of kids?” Her answer surprised me. She was not. The goods were rewards for potty training. I nearly laughed aloud. Not because of the concept. But because of the sheer volume of rewards purchased for a preschooler who might just be smart enough to manipulate Mom.

Humor got me through that check-out line and out the door with a card for my mom and another for my daughter. Memories will carry me through this Mother’s Day as I think of Mom. Still here on this earth, yet so far away.

To all of you who have lost your moms, I am sorry. To those of you who still have your moms, cherish them. And to those of you who are mothers, like me, Happy Mother’s Day!

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The progression of COVID-19 in Minnesota & my thoughts May 6, 2020

The marquee at the Paradise Center for the Arts, photographed on March 17, 2020. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A SERIES OF PHOTOS I’ve taken in historic downtown Faribault represent, in many ways, a visual timeline documentation of the progression of COVID-19 in Minnesota.

Just three days after touring the annual Faribault Area Student Art Exhibit and shopping the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market at the Paradise Center for the Arts, I photographed this message on the PCA marquee:

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 17, 2020.

 

That was 10 days before Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued his initial Stay-at-Home executive order. On the date of that first photo, March 17, the state was already shutting down due to the global pandemic that has changed every facet of our lives. Among the closures, our local center for the arts.

 

PCA marquee photographed on April 11, 2020. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I next photographed the marquee on April 11, when the “closed until” date had changed to May 1.

 

Photographed on April 19, 2020. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And then, only eight days later, I stopped to photograph the marquee message again. This time no “closed until” date was noted. Rather, the posted words offer encouragement. That seems the best approach. One of hopefulness, of unity and of strength rather than focusing on dates that continue to change.

None of us really knows how long COVID-19 will be around, although every indication is that it will be here for a long time. Infection and deaths are rising at a rapid rate here in Minnesota. Yes, testing has increased, resulting in higher numbers. But so has the spread. Just ask my friend who lives in Worthington. Or my extended family who live in Stearns County. Even in my county of Rice, which still has a low rate—30 positive cases as of Tuesday—in comparison to many other counties, numbers are on the rise.

 

A helpful reminder posted on the Paradise Center for the Arts marquee. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

 

These are difficult days for so many of us. My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Like my friends Raquel and Bob. Randy and I are concerned about my mom and his dad, both in the high risk elderly group living in care centers. But worry doesn’t fix anything. So we do what we can to tamp our fears, use common sense, and try to keep ourselves and others safe. We aren’t gathering with family or friends. We limit our travel to local. Shop only for necessities. Wear masks. Social distance. Wash our hands often and use hand sanitizer.

 

Posted in the front window of the Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2020.

 

But this is about much more than just our individual behavior. The current marquee message at the Paradise states, WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. Our choices, our actions, our decisions affect others. Our families, friends, neighbors, strangers… That, I believe, is especially important to remember during this global pandemic. This is about the health and safety of all of us.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Adapting worship in rural southwestern Minnesota during a global pandemic May 4, 2020

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

 

HIS ROBE BILLOWED in the wind as he stood atop the hay rack on a stunningly beautiful spring Sunday morning in southwestern Minnesota. A simple wooden table adorned with a gold cross formed a makeshift altar behind him.

To the south, vehicles filled the parking lot next to a farm field bordering the Redwood River. Across the river bridge, more fields and farm sites define the landscape, including my childhood farm a half-mile distant.

I visualized this rural scene as I focused on my computer screen. I watched the Rev. Adam Manian prepare to lead Sunday morning worship services outside St. John’s Lutheran Church, the church where I was baptized, confirmed, married, and have attended weddings and funerals of many loved ones.

 

The one-block Main Street of downtown Vesta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2018.

 

It seemed fitting that the pastor would preach from atop a hay rack backed up to the church entry. This place in Minnesota is through and through rural, centered on agriculture. It is also a place centered by church and its importance in the faith lives of most and in the social fabric of the Vesta community. I can only imagine how much locals—including aunts, uncles and cousins—miss gathering at St. John’s. I miss seeing my faith family, too, at Trinity Lutheran in Faribault.

 

I watched the St. John’s service live-streaming Sunday morning. Drive-in worship will continue next Sunday at 9 a.m.

 

During these weeks of social-distancing, stay-at-home orders and the need to protect our most vulnerable and each other, churches have gotten creative in continuing with worship. On this first Sunday in May, the pastor of this very rural congregation in a community of some 300 launched drive-in worship. Worshipers sat in their vehicles and tuned in to 102.1 FM on their radios while he led the service. And 120 miles away to the east, I booted up my computer and watched live-streaming of St. John’s service.

It did my heart and soul good to see that on this Sunday, “Good Shepherd Sunday,” the pastor at my hometown church was tending his flock—providing for their spiritual needs through the familiarity of liturgy, beloved hymns, preaching and prayers. What a blessing, especially to the many seniors in the congregation who now find themselves isolated, alone, separated from loved ones. An aunt even washed her car in preparation for Sunday’s service.

I thought back to decades earlier when my paternal great grandparents, Rudolph and Matilda Kletscher, arrived here and St. John’s grew from a mission church that met in their farm home. My faith is rooted here, in this church, in this place, among these prairie people.

 

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As Rev. Manian preached, I noticed the wind, ever-present in this landscape of wide open space. His robes billowed. His audio caught the wind. The camera shook on occasion. Tree branches swayed. Birds flew and some chirped in morning birdsong. It was as if creation joined in worship.

Occasionally I heard the start of a motor, presumably to run the air conditioning.

And when the pastor’s family, inside the sanctuary, sang “Have No Fear, Little Flock,” I experienced such a connection to St. John’s, such a renewed sense of confidence that we will get through this COVID-19 crisis, that God stays close beside us, that we are all in this together.

 

These grain bins sit just down a gravel road from St. John’s church in Vesta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I realized, too, that we are writing stories every day of overcoming, of adapting, of being here for one another, of resilience. We are writing stories of hope and of community. These are our stories. Faith stories. Community stories. Personal stories. Stories connected by the commonality of living during a global pandemic.

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Thank you to my cousin Lori for tipping me off to St. John’s drive-in worship service.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lean on me or let me lean on you April 28, 2020

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A portrait I took of my mom during my last visit with her in early March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

 

I HIT A WALL late yesterday afternoon. Maybe you’ve reached that point. Maybe not. But, after weeks of shelter-in-place and concern for loved ones, I felt overwhelmed.

A health update on my mom, who is in hospice in a care center 120 miles distant, caused sadness to sweep over me. I long to see her, to be there for her in the final stages of her life. But I can’t. And that breaks my heart. Then, I thought, how selfish of me. She is the one without family surrounding her. Not me. She is the one who is alone. Not me. So I re-framed my thinking, feeling gratitude for the last time I visited her, the weekend prior to care centers closing to visitors. What a gift.

 

I love this message in the Second Street pocket garden in downtown Faribault. It’s a wonderful reminder to love one another. I photographed this just the other day.

 

And then I called my uncle and updated him on his sister and talked to him about my aunt, his wife, who is undergoing chemo for terminal cancer. We discussed the challenges of this situation during COVID-19. And, in that conversation, we talked also about Zoom and mashed potatoes and gravy, and phoning his cousin, a pork producer. Laughter mingled with near tears.

I thought of his hog farmer cousin and all the other farmers facing unprecedented challenges now with regional meat processing plants shutting down and no place to send animals. And I considered my friend and her family in Worthington, a community in southwestern Minnesota hard hit by COVID-19. Nobles County, with a population of some 22,000, had 399 confirmed cases of the virus on Monday, most traced to a local meatpacking plant. No place is exempt. I worry about my friend…

We are all dealing with something, right? Missing family. Job loss. Concern about loved ones living in care centers with diagnosed cases of COVID. Grieving, like friends who last week lost a sister/sister-in-law to COVID and an uncle to a farm accident. It’s a lot.

 

My prayer list, written on a whiteboard propped against the entertainment center in my living room. This photo is from a few weeks ago. I update this list nearly daily with some names/concerns removed, others added.

 

In all of this, the need to support and love one another seems more important than ever. I’ve found myself reaching out and connecting every day with friends and family dealing with situations that are difficult any time, but even more so now. Mental illness. Cancer. Unemployment. I try to listen and encourage. And I continue to pray, updating my whiteboard daily by adding new names of those in need of prayer.

We’ll all get through this. I know we will. But there are days when we will struggle, when we will feel overwhelmed, when we will grieve and even feel angry. On those days, especially those days, I reach out to others. Not for sympathy, but to be that person they can lean on.

TELL ME: Are you struggling at times? How do you handle those moments? And how are you helping others? I’d like to hear, because we can all learn from one another as we continue to deal with this global pandemic and the resulting challenges.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sunday inspiration from Burkhartzmeyer Shoes April 26, 2020

 

BY NOW I EXPECT YOU’VE all seen them—paper hearts decorating windows as a way to show love for one another during the COVID-19 pandemic. I smile every time I see those hearts. In a world that has been too often divided, I feel a sense of unity in efforts like #aworldofhearts.

 

One of many windows filled with hearts.

 

In downtown Faribault numerous businesses have joined the movement, including local icon and third-generation family-owned business Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. I love this shop, run by a family with an incredibly kind, giving and loving spirit. Second-generation owner Buck. Cousins Bruce and Brian. And their employees. I consider them more than people who peddle and repair shoes. I consider them part of my faith family, my community family. And they serve the wider community via their services as certified pedorthists, filling prescriptions and providing orthopedic shoes.

 

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes is open from 11-5 Monday-Saturday. Those are temporary hours during the COVID crisis.

 

And then there’s that extra care, a care of the spirit exemplified in the many paper hearts taped to windows in this Central Avenue store. I’ve passed by several times and noticed writing on some of those hearts. On a recent evening, I stopped for a closer look and found exactly what I expected. Inspirational bible verses hand-printed on select hearts.

 

One of the bible verses posted in the window.

 

I snapped a few photos to share that scripture with you.

 

From Isaiah…

 

I also want to share my latest Sunday series blog post at Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publisher. I lead the blogging ministry there and we started this series as a way to uplift and encourage people during the COVID-19 crisis. Please click here to read today’s post, “Scripture to Uplift You, From Your Warner Press Family.”

 

From John 16…

 

Have a beautiful Sunday, my friends, and be blessed.

 

Disclaimer: I am paid for my work with Warner Press.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Minnesota student art show viewed through a COVID-19 lens April 20, 2020

An overview of one small section of the student art shown at the Paradise Center for the arts, second floor gallery.

 

BEFORE COVID-19 BROKE here in Minnesota, before we began to social distance and isolate at home, I toured the annual Faribault Area Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

 

The Paradise marquee shows the arts center is closed until May 1, maybe longer.

 

As I do each year, I photograph some of that art to showcase here, as a way to celebrate these talented young creatives and to encourage people to view the exhibit. But the Paradise is closed now and that show by elementary through high school students inaccessible.

 

COVID-19 seems so relentless, breathing a firestorm of infection around the world. Art by sixth grader Eric from Cannon River Stem School.

 

Much has changed in the world since I toured this exhibit a month ago. Viewing it now, through the lens of COVID-19, I see the art from a different perspective. Not as the artists created pre-global pandemic, but interpreted in light of today’s crisis.

 

The virus rolls, overwhelms, overtakes. Yet, in the distance are the bright colors of hope. Art by Avery, fifth grader, Cannon River Stem School.

 

I think we’re all feeling this way. We just want this pandemic to stop, for everyone to be safe and well, and for life to return to normal. Art by Nico, second grader, Cannon River Stem School.

 

This art by Henrik, Nerstrand Elementary School second grader, reflects the #aworldofhearts movement to spread the love via placing hearts in windows to show care and love.

 

That’s the thing about art. It’s open to interpretation. We all bring our stories, our histories, our experiences, our insights, our observations, to art. No matter when it’s made or by whom, art is subjective.

 

A month ago, students would have been thrilled to miss a day of school. But now I expect they all wish they were back in class rather than distance learning. This art was created by Jazz, Faribault Middle School seventh grader.

 

While I will always view Lady Liberty as a symbol of freedom, I now also think specifically of New York and how hard this city has been hit by COVID-19. My heart breaks for New York. Art by Wendy, Faribault Middle School eighth grader.

 

I love Minnesota. And I’m thankful for the strong leadership shown by our governor, commissioner of health and others in leading us during this crisis. Art by Max, Jefferson Elementary School fifth grader.

 

Today, while scrolling through my photos from the student art show, I selected art that holds an entirely different meaning than it would have a month ago.

 

We are all hoping for this at some point–a return to normalcy, to doing the things we love. Like camping. Art by Alex, Jefferson Elementary School fifth grader.

 

Take your time to study this student art. Consider your reaction. And read my thoughts (in the captions under each photo) about the art in the light of today’s COVID-19 reality.

 

This superhero art by Audrey, third grader at Lincoln Elementary School, represents all the heroes out there on the frontlines. The doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery store workers…scientists who are working hard to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

 

THOUGHTS? I’d like to read your reactions to any of the art featured here.

Please check back for more photos from this student art exhibit.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting April 18, 2020

This quarter-sized token, gifted to me some time ago by my friend Beth Ann, lies on my computer desk.

 

IF YOU’RE LIKE ME, you find yourself reaching out daily to check on family and friends. Now, more than ever, it seems important to connect via mail, email, text, phone calls or video chatting. I need reassurance that people in my life are OK and know they are loved and supported. Likewise, people have done the same for me. And more.

 

Face masks crafted by my blogger friend Penny.

 

Earlier this week I received a package from a Texas blogger. I’ve never met Penny, but we’ve followed each other’s blogs for years and also exchanged emails. Inside the padded envelope I found four cloth face masks. Penny, who is an incredibly kind and loving soul, has been sewing masks for people in her community. And beyond. She also included a lovely card and note. Her gift felt like a hug from across the country.

 

Paul Schell, whom I photographed several years ago painting at the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And yesterday I received an equally lovely note from a Faribault artist who grew up in my native Redwood County. I first met Paul several years ago while photographing artists at a summer evening concert. Paul sat far removed from everyone, quietly painting in a corner of Central Park. Since then, his skills as a watercolor artist progressed. Several years back he gifted me with a print of a destination waterfalls in Redwood Falls. And on the card I received Friday was his watercolor of Moland Lutheran Church, which I’ve written about several times on this blog. The card and accompanying note were unexpected. I must add that Paul mentioned a favorite community cafe, Stacy’s Kitchen in Wabasha, per my post the other day about small town eateries. I so appreciate the time Paul took to gift me with his art and his note.

 

The Warner Press blog page shows some of the most recent posts.

 

Cards are a great way to connect. I’ve always been big on sending cards. Last week “Connecting with Cards” was the topic of my blog post for Warner Press, a Christian publishing company based in Anderson, Indiana. I work remotely as Warner’s blog coordinator. I invite you to click here, read that post and then start your own card outreach/ministry.

 

Encouragement from Beth Ann in a mini card.

 

I have one friend in particular, Beth Ann from North Carolina (I met her when she lived in Iowa), who is especially gifted at uplifting and encouraging others. When our family was going through some really difficult times, she sent me cards and extra encouraging items. What a blessing. I felt so loved.

 

Coloring can be calming and therapeutic.

 

We can all spread the love. I think especially of those in nursing homes. Like my mom on hospice and my father-in-law. We’ve received letters from both care centers about ways these facilities are trying to keep loved ones connected via technology. That won’t work for my mom. But I can still mail cards to her. And I’ve thought of coloring a picture, like I did for my two grandchildren for Easter. Sometimes we need to color outside the lines.

And sometimes we need to go old school by picking up the phone and calling those without technology. Voice to voice so we can hear the laughter, the inflections, the worries, the joys. On Thursday I phoned two aunts—one in Missouri and the other in New Jersey. As our conversation grew to a close, my Aunt Dorothy said, “I love you, My Little Princess.” I felt overcome by emotion at those sweet words. “My Little Princess.” It’s the endearing name Dorothy has called me my entire life. She was the big city aunt who occasionally returned to southwestern Minnesota to visit family. Dorothy arrived with tubes of discarded lipstick and jewelry and arms full of love. She would wrap me in a hug and whisper those endearing words, “I love you, My Little Princess.”

Today please take the time to connect with someone who needs to hear that same message—that they are loved.

 

From the front page of the Faribault Daily News.

 

IN LOVING MEMORY

I dedicate today’s post to the Rev. Craig Breimhorst, who died on Thursday due to complications from COVID-19. A resident of my community of some 24,000, Pastor Breimhorst was the first person in Rice County, Minnesota, diagnosed with the virus. He became ill in mid-March, a day after returning from a trip to the Holy Land. He was the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Faribault for 30 years and currently served part-time as pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, West Concord.

Although I didn’t know Pastor Breimhorst, I have read enough social media comments to see how deeply he was loved and valued as a person and as a pastor. Blessed be his memory.

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Disclaimer: I am paid for my work with Warner Press.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling