Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beyond books: Connecting at the library January 3, 2023

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2022)

I MET HER AT BUCKHAM Memorial Library on the final day of 2022 in front of the “Lucky Day” shelves. The two-unit section—one for fiction, one for nonfiction—features newly-released titles immediately available to library patrons. No reserving or waiting, just the luck of finding a new book on the shelves.

As I browsed the fiction, I noticed her approach from the right, pushing a walker. I scooted a tad to the left, giving her more space. I wanted her to feel comfortable as we stood side-by-side.

I don’t recall which of us spoke first, but I think I did. I rarely remain silent in the closeness of strangers. And she was close.

(Photo credit: Goodreads)

“Have you read that book?” I asked, pointing to Three Sisters by Heather Morris. She hadn’t. But she’d read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, also by Morris. I hadn’t. We talked about the books briefly, about the difficulty of reading these fictional stories of concentration camp atrocities. Yet, we agreed reading them was important, perhaps even necessary. She directed me toward the fiction section, strongly suggesting I check out The Tattooist. Now. I’d already learned this woman beside me was opinionated and strong.

I felt her eyes following me to the fiction shelves. “Did you find it?” she asked upon my return. When I shook my head no, my new book-loving friend called out to the reference desk librarian to find the missing book for me. The computer showed the book was lost. He ordered it from another library.

In the meantime, I indulged this older book lover as she handed me two novels pulled from the “Lucky Day” fiction shelves—Joy Fielding’s The Housekeeper and B.A. Paris’ The Prisoner. “Have you read these?” she asked. I hadn’t and accepted her choices. Turns out she likes thrillers and mysteries as much as I do, even referencing Nancy Drew as the books which long ago sparked her interest in mysteries. Those teen mysteries did the same for me. Her recommendation of The Prisoner, a psychological thriller, proved an excellent read. I finished it in three days. She also recommended New York Times bestselling author C.J. Box. I had too many books already, so tucked that name into my memory.

A section of my poem selected for publication in “This Was 2020…” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Next I’ll move on to The Housekeeper, the other psychological suspense novel she chose for me, ironically with a character named Audrey. I told the book enthusiast that I am a writer and that since she selected two books for me, I wanted her to read an anthology that includes a poem I wrote. I struggled to remember the lengthy name of This Was 2020—Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year, a collection of poems and short stories published by the Ramsey County Library. But I remembered enough for the reference librarian to find the book on his computer and then on the shelves. I thumbed through the pages until I found Funeral During a Pandemic. “That’s me, my poem,” I pointed. We conversed briefly about the difficulties of my father-in-law’s funeral during the COVID-19 pandemic. I didn’t tell her that my mom died in January 2022, at the height of omicron, in a time when most people were no longer masking and large funerals were allowed. I could have penned a sequel poem.

A Boomerang Bag available to patrons at Buckham Memorial Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2018)

Eventually we parted, me lugging a cloth Boomerang bag weighted by books, she shoving her walker with books inside a plastic bag. When I later aimed back toward the check out desk, she called out, “Can you mail this for me?” She thrust a bright yellow envelope toward my outstretched hand. I agreed to mail the get well card to her niece who’d fallen on the ice.

She left the library and I soon followed with my bag of books. She maneuvered beside a car parked in a handicap space. Even though offered assistance to wrangle her walker into a weathered white late 1980s K car, she refused. She had this. But she did express concern about navigating an icy patch of pavement leading to and next to her car. She feared falling and breaking bones, something that’s happened thrice already. I empathized, sharing that I’d also had a hip replacement and broken bones twice during falls. “We’re sisters,” I laughed. But I meant it. We share a broken bone history, a love of books and a habit of mailing greeting cards to those who are celebrating or grieving or in need of encouragement.

Some of the get well cards I received after a bone break. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

“I love that you’re sending a get well card to your niece,” I said, waving the yellow envelope. I like to send cards, too. I’ll be sure to mail this.”

She replied, “I’m old school. I don’t even have a computer.”

“I need one to do my work—to write.”

“I always wanted to be a writer,” she blurted.

“It’s not too late,” I encouraged. A look flashed across her face, albeit briefly. A flash of possibility.

I had one final question. “What’s your name?”

“Noreen.” (Or maybe it’s Norene; I didn’t ask for the spelling.)

I don’t recall our parting words. But it doesn’t matter. I’d made a new book-loving, opinionated friend who dreamed of becoming a writer. It was, indeed, my lucky day at the library.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A token of friendship & thoughts thereon October 24, 2022

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(Minnesota Prairie Roots edited and copyrighted photo October 2022)

GLINT OF SUNSHINE on metal caught his eye while mowing lawn. Five feet from the stop sign, Randy found the quarter-sized round in the grass. A friendship token with a center butterfly cut-out.

Like a writing prompt, my mind wandered to the story behind the token in our yard. How had it gotten there? When? Why? Plots form. Characters emerge. Tension builds.

I imagine the metal circle tossed by an angry friend. I picture friends—pre-teen or teen girls, simply because the token seems like something that age demographic would value—arguing. Perhaps their disagreement was over a boy or some weighty matter like name-calling or something trivial. No matter the reason, it was enough for one to fling the symbol of friendship onto a stranger’s lawn.

Or perhaps the coin was simply lost, fallen from a pocket. That scenario feels better, even if loss never feels good. I expect the physical reminder of friendship provided comfort and reassurance. Touch the coin when stressed, when missing a friend, when needing a moment of connection to someone who cares about you and loves you.

Friendships, no matter our ages, hold such importance. These are our people—those who get us, support us, encourage us, care about us, hold us dear. I cherish friends, from those who are on the level of just beyond everyday acquaintances to those with whom I can share anything and trust that they will listen, keep confidences and be there for me in joyful as well as challenging times. I reciprocate.

EVER-CHANGING

Certainly, friends come and go. The friends I had in grade school through college are mostly now friendships of memory. Memories of jumping rope during recess, dining at Club 59 in Marshall senior year and sitting cross-legged on dorm beds far away from home, our worlds opening wide. These friends will always hold a piece of my heart.

Moves, life changes, circumstances, differences and more change friendships, grow friendships, end friendships. That’s a given in life.

Technology has changed how we connect, form relationships. Through blogging, I’ve grown some close friendships with other bloggers. I never expected this, to first connect online and then develop friendships (think visiting one another, dining together, emailing one another and more). It’s wonderful, this widening of my friends circle. That circle is large, encompassing friends now from New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, even the Netherlands, and other locales, including many places in Minnesota.

ACCEPTING, LOVING, SUPPORTIVE

Life is hard. There’s no denying that we all face challenges at some point in life. But true friends lighten those struggles by their simple, non-judgmental presence, by their support and encouragement. Family histories, grievances and experiences don’t get in the way. These are our friends. Pure. Simple. They accept and love us as we are, for who we are.

I may not carry a friendship token in my pocket. But I understand its symbolism, its importance. I hope whoever lost or tossed that metal circle into my yard has reclaimed her friendship or realized the friendship was not worth continuing. Sometimes that’s the hard truth, too, that not all individuals should remain our friends. Sometimes the friendship token needs to be tossed into a stranger’s yard, left behind so we can move forward.

TELL ME: How do you define friendship and how has it changed for you through the years?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

With gratitude to an anonymous friend May 20, 2022

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Love in three languages along the Virtues Trail in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2018)

THE GREETING CARD arrived in a non-descript blue envelope, our names and address printed in reddish marker. No return address, only a flower sticker in the upper left corner. A Saint Paul, MN postmark with a May 13, 2022, date inked the paper next to a floral postage stamp. And, on the back, an artsy heart sticker graced the envelope flap.

I expected to find a card inside wishing Randy and me the best on our 40th wedding anniversary. I was right on that. I appreciated the verse focused on God’s blessings and a prayer for continued blessings in our lives.

From an anonymous friend, an anniversary wish and gift. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But I did not expect the anonymous signature—A friend—or a faith-themed post-it note attached to a $20 bill. That note suggested we treat ourselves, perhaps to Dairy Queen ice cream, and to enjoy our day(s).

The thoughtfulness of this anonymous friend (whom I suspect reads this blog) touched me deeply. There are moments in life when we all need an extra hug, extra words of encouragement, extra kindness. For me, that moment is now. This year, thus far, has proven challenging with the death of my mom in January and recently the news that my husband will be losing his job of 39 years due to a change in business ownership and closure of the automotive machine shop.

A Peanut Buster Parfait from DQ. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

So, when that surprise anniversary card and cash gift arrived, I felt a surge of gratitude for the reminder that others care, that I am blessed by a loving and caring husband of 40 years, that God will, and always has, given us the strength we need to face and work through life’s difficulties.

While walking a recreational trail in Madison, Wisconsin, when my son lived in the Atwood Neighborhood there, I spotted this wonderfully uplifting message. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Many times in my life, I’ve been uplifted by others. I’ve tried to do the same. When someone is struggling or celebrating, I acknowledge that. We all need to be heard, understood, loved, cared for, uplifted. Appreciated. Valued. Encouraged.

The Betty, from The S’Cream in Owatonna. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

And today, because of that anonymous friend—who’s apparently read on this blog that Randy and I treat ourselves to Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfaits twice a year (upon opening and closing of the local franchise)—I feel especially cared for. When I taste the sweetness of ice cream, either from DQ or from our favorite area ice cream shop, The S’Cream in Owatonna, I will taste, too, the sweetness of love sent by an anonymous friend.

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TELL ME: How has someone encouraged you in life? Or how have you encouraged someone? I’d like to hear your stories.

I’d like to thank you, my readers, for your kindness, generosity and encouragement through the years. What a blessing you have been in my life.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A one-of-a-kind loving keepsake honoring my mom February 17, 2022

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The book cover features a loving quote and my mom’s favorite flower, the iris. To the left, along the spine, is an empty locket for me to place pictures inside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

THOSE WE LOVE stay forever in our hearts.

The first page features a photocopied photo of my mom holding newborn me. I have only a few photos from my early childhood, this one my most treasured. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

What beautiful, meaningful and heartfelt words. That message titles a 10-page mini altered book crafted by my dear friend Kathleen upon the recent death of my mom. The book arrived unexpectedly from Kathleen’s secluded cabin studio in Idaho on a February morning, when I most needed it.

Kathleen includes this photocopied picture of my mom on her last Mother’s Day in 2021 and posted on the Parkview Nursing Home Facebook page. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I settled into a comfy chair, paging through the book as tears fell. Soon I was sobbing.

Me with my mom in a photo taken several years ago. The words are in my printing, from a Mother’s Day card I made for Mom as a young child. The blue flower tucked into the lavender pocket graced the front of that card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Kathleen, using carefully selected photos pulled from my blog, inspirational quotes and poems, recycled materials and more, created a book reflecting my mom. From Mom’s faith to her love of irises to our mother-daughter bond to her rural background and more, this book lovingly honors my mother.

It is a treasure, an absolute treasure, now cherished.

This is a special memory of my mom. On our birthdays, she baked a homemade chocolate cake and then crafted it into an animal shape following instructions in the “Animal Cut-Up Cake” booklet. We chose which animal we wanted. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

My long-time friend, once the children’s librarian in Faribault, never met Mom. But you’d never realize that by seeing this visual memoir. That’s a tribute to Kathleen, a kind, caring and compassionate soul who truly listens, whose empathy runs deep, whose heart overflows with goodness and love.

A cross hugging a corner of the last page represents Mom’s strong faith. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Kathleen has read my blog posts about Mom through the years. She’s viewed the photos I’ve posted (and some I sent to her), from past until recently. She understood the essence of my mother—her strong faith, her farm background, her love of family, her compassion for others, and more.

The book includes a copy of a photo I took of Mom’s “The Good Shepherd” framed print, a 1954 wedding gift to my parents from Dad’s Uncle Walter Arndt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

No detail went unnoticed by my friend in creating this work of art. In a mini-bottle attached to the book, “Amazing Grace” labels a music scroll. That was among three hymns sung at Mom’s funeral. Polka dotted ribbon and paper frame two family photos, matching the polka dotted blanket covering my Mom’s lap and the polka dots decorating her great grandson’s birthday cake in two images. A swatch of gold lace mimics the frame of my mom’s “The Good Shepherd” print which now hangs on my dining room wall. Kathleen incorporated selected “good shepherd” verses from John 10 (read at the funeral) into the book along with a photo of that cherished print.

Two pages are devoted to the grandmother-grandchild relationship, featured in this copied photo of my three children taken in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Words cannot fully convey my gratitude to Kathleen for crafting this keepsake. It is, for me, a love-filled book to be shared with my children and grandchildren. Sweet memories of my mom, their grandmother and great grandmother. My three now-grown children are connected to Kathleen also, my daughters once working as library pages and attending teen events under her supervision and my son as a young boy asking her to find space-themed and other books for him.

Kathleen left Faribault years ago with her dear husband, Justin. But we remain deeply connected. Connected via our shared love of words and writing and reading and poetry and libraries. Connected via our shared values and genuine compassion for others. Connected via her connection to my children as they were growing, developing. And now that has extended to the next generation. Geographically, we are distanced from one another. But our friendship remains rooted, strong, enduring. Miles matter not.

And when Those we love stay forever in our hearts arrived from 1,400 miles away, I felt as if Kathleen had stopped by to give me a hug. Such are my loving thoughts upon embracing this comforting keepsake crafted by my dear dear friend.

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NOTE: Several years back, Kathleen created an altered (much larger) book all about me. It tells my life story. As with the book about my mom, Kathleen tapped into my blog for images and information. My friend, even without that resource, knows me well. That book, too, is a treasure, deeply cherished.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts & thanks as 2022 begins January 1, 2022

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As we begin 2022, please remember this, that you are loved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo; image taken along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin)

HERE WE ARE, on the first day of a new year. Days and weeks and months unfolding before us. Full of unknowns, possibilities, whatever life brings. Happiness. Sorrow. Sickness. Health. Joy. Sadness. To be human is to experience all. Sometimes alone. Sometimes together.

I expect that, without much thought, you can recall particularly challenging times/events in your life. In those difficult days, you likely felt overwhelmed, wondered whether you would make it to the other side. To the days when the pain and stress and anguish would lift. And light would shine again.

And I expect also that you did not go it alone. Perhaps faith carried you. Family and/or friends, too. Maybe professionals. And your inner strength. It often amazes me just how strong and resilient we humans can be. Even in the toughest of circumstances.

The support and friendships I’ve formed via blogging amaze me, too. I’ve connected with some really kind, caring and compassionate individuals. Some friendships remain virtual. But others developed in to in-person friendships. Regardless, these individuals are now part of my circle, part of my life. Their generosity of spirit has uplifted me countless times.

Me behind my first Canon EOS 20D. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Most recently, a blogger friend asked what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted/needed only one thing. A camera. Just like the one I’ve used for the past decade plus. A Canon EOS 20D. I’m on my second 20D and it was failing, just like the first. Locking up. I knew its days were numbered and I would need a different camera. The 20D is an older camera. But I’m comfortable and familiar with it. I checked two camera shops online in the Twin Cities metro to find only a few used cameras, none of them a 20D. No surprise there. A new camera was not an option. Have you looked at camera prices lately? Then came my blogger friend’s email asking what I would like for Christmas. She hoped to send me something after the holidays.

Days later, a package landed on my front steps. I hadn’t ordered anything. Wasn’t expecting anything. But when I slit the box, I found a camera body inside. A Canon EOS 20D. I actually shrieked, nearly cried with joy at this most thoughtful gift which allows me to continue to create. I’m delighted to have my third 20D in my hands. I’ve always believed that good photography is more about the skills of the person creating with a camera than about the equipment. I couldn’t believe my blogger friend found this coveted aged camera, and so quickly. I am beyond grateful.

Now, entering into another year of creativity, I fully intend to use my talents to share, in images and words, the world I discover. I will continue to take you into small towns. Along gravel roads. Into woods and along rivers and lakes. To community events. I will show you art and natural beauty, the places I go, the things I see and do. And I hope that in doing so, I bring you joy, expand your world, perhaps uplift you.

Thank you, dear readers, for following Minnesota Prairie Roots. Thank you for supporting my creativity. For recognizing that creativity connects all of us. And that creativity matters.

Happy New Year!

© Copyright 2021 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

 

A long ago kindness honored January 4, 2019

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Edited image of a single rose in a bouquet of 12.

 

FORTY SOME YEARS AGO, I bought lunch for her. In Mankato. Neither of us remembered exactly when or where. But my friend recalled one important detail which she shared shortly after arriving at my Faribault home late Thursday morning. It was the reason she carried a dozen pink roses.

That Debbie would bring me roses seemed a bit much I thought as she walked in the kitchen door and we hugged. We hadn’t seen each other in decades. Our connection is not a deeply-rooted friendship. It just did not make sense that lunch and a visit would prompt Debbie to bring flowers.

Then she explained. When I bought her lunch those four decades ago, she was a poor college student with only $1.50 in her pocket. We met then to talk shop as Debbie considered accepting a reporting job at the same Minnesota weekly newspaper where I once worked. She wanted the scoop. As a young professional earning a salary, I didn’t think about Debbie’s finances. I just said, “Let’s do lunch.” And Debbie showed up.

I had no clue back then of her meager monies. But Debbie arrived at the restaurant with a plan to simply buy herself coffee. And then I offered to pay for her meal.

All these decades later she recalled that simple act of kindness. I had no idea how much my generosity meant to her. But now she wanted me to know, expressing her gratitude with those roses.

Debbie would go on to work at the same newspaper where I once reported. On Thursday we exchanged war stories about sources and too many long board meetings and the challenges of being journalists at a small town newspaper. I blazed the path for her, she said. I’d never considered that. But I knew she was right.

We talked, too, about children and grandchildren and challenges in life and our faith and much more. Debbie is the kind of person who, even if you haven’t seen her in years, you can pick up the conversation and feel like time has never separated you. We share values and work experiences and a certain comfortableness that marks our friendship.

And to think it all started with conversation and mentoring over lunch and me picking up the tab. Sometimes you don’t realize the value in a simple act of kindness. You just do what’s right. And then one day the kindness circles back with unexpected joy. And the blessings of a friendship renewed.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When the holidays are anything but happy December 27, 2018

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An edited photo of a sign promoting kindness as part of The Virtues Trail Project in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

THIS PAST YEAR SEVERAL FRIENDS lost loved ones—one to suicide, another to an aggressive cancer, the other to advanced age-related health issues. Friends are battling cancer. Other friends are facing a myriad of challenges.

Christmas is not always easy. It can be downright difficult when you’re missing a loved one or working through something that’s really really tough. I get that. And I hope in some small way that my friends feel my care for them. I’ve reached out with words of comfort, with hugs, with a recognition of their struggles. I don’t pretend that I can erase their grief or solve the issues that are affecting their lives. I simply want them to know that they are not alone, even if they feel alone.

More than ever, it’s important for each of us to step outside of ourselves and recognize that people are hurting. Within our circles of family and friends. It’s important to realize that loss—whether by death or through strained relationships or other factors—hurts. We can ease that hurt by caring. Caring enough to ask, “How are you?” Caring enough to validate an individual’s loss and say, “I’m sorry.” Or “I’m here for you.” It doesn’t take a lot of effort. But it takes that pause, that ability to recognize that saying something is better than remaining silent.

I understand. I’ve heard words of care and support when I needed them. But I’ve heard, too, the loudness of silence.

TELL ME: How do you support family and friends dealing with a loss and/or a difficulty, especially during the holiday season?

© Copyright 2018 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

 

Part I from Hackensack: Into the Minnesota northwoods to visit a blogger friend October 9, 2017

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Among the attractions in Hackensack is this rendering of Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack. She stands on the shores of Birch Lake.

 

NEVER HAVE I FELT more grateful for specific directions than when invited recently to my blogger friend Sue’s lake home near Hackensack in north central Minnesota. In this unfamiliar region of lakes and woods and winding roads, Randy and I could easily have become lost. We couldn’t rely on cell phone coverage. And given my general overall difficulty reading maps and sensing direction, I would be of no help.

 

 

 

But with Sue’s detailed instructions to first turn at Swanson Bait Shop then drive east and more, we eventually found our way onto a road that twisted deep into the woods. Initially, the gravel road ran wide enough for two vehicles. But then Randy swung the van onto a narrower road that left me feeling a tad unnerved by downed and broken trees from a 2016 storm and closed in by woods. Yet, I trusted Sue’s directions as we passed the row of mailboxes she noted and then the handmade signs directing us toward her home. After one missed sign and resulting turn-around, we arrived 10 minutes early. Success.

 

 

Sue and her husband, Charley, whom I’d never met, welcomed us with warmth to their home overlooking a lake in a series named Woman, Man, Child and Baby lakes. Their lovely home sits atop a hill, snugged in by signature northwoods pine and by deciduous trees, some flaming color during our mid-September visit.

 

 

Lakeside, I delighted in the tranquil setting—the curve of the lake around an island, the masses of trees hugging the shoreline, the overall seclusion of this place. It is a land that seems foreign to a prairie-raised girl most at home in wide open spaces among corn and soybean fields.

I appreciate, though, this part of Minnesota and this opportunity to visit for a few hours with Sue and Charley. Cold and windy weather foiled plans to dine on the deck or spend much time outdoors. But it didn’t matter. Engaging conversation doesn’t require perfect weather.

 

Sue, right, and I pose for a photo taken by Randy.

 

I met Sue a few years back via blogging and in person in 2013 when she and her sister made a road trip from the metro to explore Faribault and have lunch at my house. Sue and I share a love of writing, of poetry and of books. This retired educator has, for the past few years, organized the book part of the Northwoods Art & Book Festival in Hackensack. With 37 Minnesota authors participating in this year’s fest, I can only imagine the time my friend invested in this event. She also chairs the Northwoods Art Council. Through her freelance writing, blogging, attendance at writers’ workshops and more, Sue has established an incredible network with Minnesota writers.

 

Sue’s started our Sunday brunch with a delicious salad featuring her homemade dressing. Photo from Sue’s Ever Ready blog.

 

But there’s more. Sue loves to cook. Food focuses her Ever Ready blog along with poetry and book reviews. Whenever I’m looking for a new recipe, I go to Sue’s blog or shoot her an email for ideas. I appreciate that her featured recipes include common ingredients, are often a twist on a familiar dish and are easy to prepare. On the day we lunched with her and Charley, Sue served Apple, Grape & Pecan Salad with Mustard Maple Vinaigrette; assorted breads; Wild Rice, Sausage and Potato Casserole; and Angel Food Cake with Warm Chocolate Kahlua Sauce. I expected nothing less than delicious and that’s exactly what Sue presented.

This couple also served up plenty of hospitality in conversation. Through the years, Sue and I have communicated often via email, offering each other support and encouragement, simply being there for each other as friends are. Randy and Charley, with a shared interest in cars, also had plenty to discuss.

 

 

And then there was Bella, the yellow lab. She welcomed us, too, and especially liked being petted, pawing for me to stroke her more after I stopped. What a dog.

 

 

Hours after our arrival, after I photographed the affectionate Bella and after Sue and I posed for photos, Randy and I set off into the woods with instructions to stay to the right. As we emerged onto the county road, I felt as if we’d just exited a retreat. I am grateful to Sue and Charley for sharing their place of northwoods solitude with us. For a few hours I felt blissfully sheltered from the world.

 

FYI: To check out Sue’s Ever Ready blog, click here. She also has a blog written from Bella’s perspective. To read The World According to Bella, click here.

To read the blog post Sue wrote about our visit, which includes links to recipes for the food she prepared, click here.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling