Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Elsie September 3, 2019

Elsie Keller, right, works in the kitchen at St. John’s Germanfest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

THERE ARE PEOPLE you meet in life who make a profound impact. Not on a grand, public scale. But upon the people they meet, the communities in which they live and serve simply by the way they live and serve. Humbly. Exuding kindness and friendliness. Living a life of service, of giving to others. Elsie Keller fits that description.

I don’t recall exactly when I met Elsie. But I know where. At St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, just down the road from the rural Nerstrand home where she lived her entire life. Ninety-three years.

 

Elsie making German potato salad, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Inside the church kitchen, that’s Elsie standing next to her stool at a Lenten Soup Luncheon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

Elsie next to The Last Supper painting given to St. John’s in honor of her husband, Arnold. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’ve attended many functions at St. John’s from the annual Germanfest to Lenten soup luncheons to ice cream and pie socials to the yearly The Last Supper Drama. And every time I set foot inside that aged limestone church, Elsie was there. Most often behind the scenes—plating pie, stirring German potato salad, operating spotlights and much more.

 

Elsie poses with family at the 2017 Germanfest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

If I didn’t spot her, I sought her out to hug her diminutive frame, to see her sweet smile, to catch up a bit. She was that kind of woman. The grandmother you miss. The mother who lives too distant. The friend who cares. The churchgoer who lives her faith in service to her church and to God. Singing. Coordinating Vacation Bible School for 51 years. Teaching Sunday School for more than five decades.

 

Elsie, hard at work in the Pie Room. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

A member of St. John’s Youth Fellowship waits, plate in hand, for a slice of pumpkin pie scooped up by Elsie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

By the end of the day, Elsie had blisters on her hand from cutting pies. Here she scoops a slice of apple pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

To know Elsie was to love her. I loved her smile, her demeanor, her humility, her kindness, her devotion to church and family, her work ethic. I remember, especially, the time I found her working in the St. John’s pie room sliding pieces of homemade pie onto plates with her gnarled arthritic hands.

 

Elsie takes a break from kitchen work to enjoy a bowl of ham and bean soup. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

Back at the farm, Elsie still gardened. She canned green beans on Thursday evening. The night before her death.

 

Elsie in The Pie Room, a space so small that this petite woman can barely fit her stool between a counter and refrigerator. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

I still cannot believe my friend is gone, even though she was nearly 94 years old. There are people in life who seem ageless, whom you always expect will be there. For me, that was Elsie. If only you could have known her. For those of you who did, you understand why I will miss her. Her smile, her kindness, her positive and giving spirit…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts for my friend on a notable birthday September 12, 2018

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Smile, even when you’re turning sixty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY FRIEND, I’LL CALL HER JULIE, turns sixty today. I know she’s not particularly excited about that number because, as she says, “It sounds old (compared to 59).”

I remember feeling the same when I reached that landmark birthday. And to think I struggled with turning forty. I wish now that I was only four decades, rather than six-plus decades, old.

But there’s something to be said for this age. And I can summarize that in a single powerful, joyful word: grandma. Julie and I, who have been friends since our kids were in grade school, are both relatively new grandmas. Her grandson is 14 months younger than my almost 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter. We trade stories now about grandchildren and share images of the cute little ones who bring us much happiness.

Julie and I have been through a lot together. Joyful times and difficult times. We listen to one another and trust each other. With anything. What a blessing she has been in my life through rearing children and now into loving grandchildren.

On this her 60th birthday, I want Julie to realize that turning sixty is really not all that bad. Especially when you have a grandchild to spoil and love.

Happy birthday, dear friend! I wish you many more years of joyful living.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Valentine’s Day every day February 14, 2017

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You can't go wrong with chocolate, like this box from my daughter Miranda on Mother's Day.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

VALENTINE’S DAY BRINGS expectations of love expressed in some perhaps grand way. It’s a great day for florists and chocolate shops and restaurants. And that’s alright. Both flowers and candy are visual reminders of love. Dining out allows time to connect and celebrate. I have a half-dozen red roses on my dining room table. And I appreciate them.

But even more important are the everyday moments of love. You know, those little things you take for granted in your life. Or the surprises that cause your heart to surge joy.

What does that look like for you?

 

homemade-valentine

 

For me, love has shown itself recently in these ways:

  •  a handcrafted valentine from friends
  •  the giggle of my granddaughter
  •  a bag of macadamia nuts, a gift from my eldest and her husband who recently vacationed in Hawaii, a place I will never visit.
  •  my husband washing the dinner dishes every Sunday so I can phone my mom at 6:30 p.m.
  •  a friend buying valentine books for my 10-month-old granddaughter whom she’s never met.
  •  an unexpected call from my second daughter
A view of the 300 block on North Broadway, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more.

Downtown Fargo, North Dakota, the real Fargo, not as depicted in the movie or TV series. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

  •  my husband binge-watching Fargo (the TV show) with me on DVD
  •  skyping with my son in Boston
  •  seeing my great nephew Landon with his face pressed to the patio door watching and waiting for my husband (Papa Two) and me to arrive
  •  texts from a friend asking, “How are you?”

Today, please express your care and appreciation for your friends, your family, and, yes, even for those outside your closest circle. Try to make that a practice every day.

Birthday roses from my husband, Randy.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers! I appreciate you.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Planning a Valentine’s Day heart attack February 12, 2016

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WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING for Valentine’s Day?

Birthday roses from my husband, Randy.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Roses?

You can't go wrong with chocolate, like this box from my daughter Miranda on Mother's Day.

You can’t go wrong with a box of chocolates. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Chocolates?

Some creative mind (not mine) came up with the "You've been heart attacked" idea.

Some creative mind (not mine) came up with the “You’ve been heart attacked” idea. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

How about a heart attack? No, not the medical emergency that threatens your life. But rather a staged attack that plants paper hearts in your yard.

Image three times-plus this number of hearts placed in our friends' yards.

Imagine three times-plus this number of hearts placed in our friends’ yards. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Two years ago, my husband and I crept into the front yards of two friends on the evening of February 13. There we stuck colorful paper hearts into snowbanks with the message, Happy Valentine’s Day! You’ve been heart attacked! Then we fled into the darkness of a cold Minnesota night, hoping to elude barking dogs and porch lights. We succeeded.

The two young families awoke the next morning to find dozens of hearts scattered across the snow. It didn’t take them long to determine who’d done this. And then, because they have such giving hearts, these families plucked up the hearts and heart attacked two more families.

My husband and I got as much joy out of giving this Valentine’s Day gift to families we treasure as they did out of receiving.

Piling up the hearts in anticipation of Operation Heart Attack.

Piling up the hearts in anticipation of Operation Heart Attack. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

There’s still time to plan a heart attack. Click here for details.

If you carry out a heart attack, please report back here in the comments section. I’d love to hear about your experience.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pumpkins, picking & prayer September 2, 2015

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HAVE YOU EVER TRIED to coax a cat onto a pumpkin? It is difficult at best.

I am not a cat owner. But I grew up with farm cats, simply calling, “Here, kitty kitty,” and the felines would come running. They did not, however, appreciate any attempts to dress them in doll clothes and then plop them into a doll buggy.

The sprawling garden includes pumpkins and popcorn.

The sprawling garden includes pumpkins and popcorn.

That “here, kitty kitty” tactic did not work with Gretchen, who belongs to friends, Jeff and Mandy. My bible study group gathered recently at their rural Faribault acreage. We always socialize for an hour before digging into our study. And on this perfect late summer evening in Minnesota, we surveyed Mandy’s garden. Gretchen meandered with us among the vines and rows.

Hannah's sunflowers

Hannah’s sunflowers

Mandy grows vegetables that I’ve never seen grown—like kidney beans and burgundy beans and tomatillos. This year she’s had help from Hannah, a teen who wanted to learn gardening.

Jeff coaxes Gretchen...

Jeff coaxes Gretchen…

...onto the pumpkin.

…onto the pumpkin.

Hannah planted pumpkins which just kept growing and growing and growing into ginormous orbs. I wanted to photograph them. But I needed scale. Ah, Gretchen the cat would be perfect. So Jeff, kind friend that he is, agreed to lure Gretchen onto a Great Atlantic (or something like that; Jeff couldn’t quite remember the name) pumpkin. Eventually I got an acceptable photo.

Later, Gretchen hopped atop a fence post, providing for more photo ops as the sun edged down:

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 1

 

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 2

 

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 3

 

When the photo shoots and garden tour ended, we began moving toward the house. But we were sidetracked. Debbie and I, dairy farmers’ daughters, checked out the barn. Most of the guys headed to a shed and scrounged in a scrap metal pile. Steve, the artist among us, found metal for art projects and a trough that will work as a flower planter. Then Mike and I waded through tall grass with Mandy, aiming for the wood pile. There we rooted out wooden boxes. Mike also found scrap wood for his oldest son’s May wedding.

The barn rises high above the garden.

The barn rises high above the garden.

One person’s junk is another’s treasure.

The top of the silo and the barn roof.

The top of the silo and the barn roof.

What a fun evening it was, first touring and photographing the garden and Gretchen, then picking, then gathering around the kitchen table with dear friends to study, to share and to pray. I am blessed.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Friends February 27, 2015

Portrait 9: Nimo and Nasteho

Friends, Nimo, left, and Nasteho.

Friends, Nimo, left, and Nasteho.

“They assume I’m a terrorist.”

I’ll always remember that statement shared with me 2 ½ years ago by a then high school senior who asked me to photograph her and a friend at the International Festival Faribault.

Nasteho, a native of Kenya, posed with Nimo for this beautiful portrait of the pair. They were among students volunteering at the fest.

What Nasteho told me that August day in 2012 broke my heart. She’d been subjected to ongoing insults from a customer in her workplace, felt stares at the grocery store, been flipped the bird while driving. All because of the way she dressed, her skin color and her ethnicity.

“There is no respect for Somalis,” she concluded.

I couldn’t disagree with her. I’d heard the negative comments, too, about Faribault’s newest immigrants.

Despite the outright prejudice Nasteho had already endured at such a young age, she did not appear bitter or angry, only desiring of respect and understanding. She seemed wise beyond her years. Poised. Thoughtful. Well-spoken.

I recall thinking, if only those who hold disdain for Somalis could meet Nasteho. They would see her as the beautiful, young and spirited woman I photographed.

It is the personal connections that bridge differences. I believed that then. I still believe that now.

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This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling