Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Nearing graduation day September 7, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , ,

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2016.

 

THE WORD GRADUATION SLIPPED into the conversation between me and my therapist. Just like that after I excelled on a weekly skills test. If I continue to do well, I expect to graduate within a few weeks.

That would be graduation from occupational therapy which began two months ago. It takes a long time to recover from a wrist fracture and subsequent surgery to implant a 4-inch plate. Not only have I gone to twice-weekly therapy, but I’ve worked hard at home doing exercises two to three times daily in half-hour sessions. I’m determined. And my efforts are showing in increased usage and strength of my healing left wrist/hand.

Every week my therapist checks my progress, measuring my range of motion and testing my strength. This week my grip strength showed incredible improvement, increasing from 17 to 30 pounds in six days. I might have shrieked in delight upon hearing that number. But then my excitement deflated a bit when I asked what my grip strength should be for my non-dominant left hand. Sixty-five. Oh, well. I’m half-way there.

But every day I’m noticing improvement as I use my left hand more and more. The other day I picked up a detergent bottle with my left hand, not even thinking. Thankfully, though the bottle was nearly full, I felt no pain.

I’m using my camera, short lens only.

I’m carrying a laundry basket.

I’m cooking.

I’m cleaning.

Life is returning to normal. There were days when I felt like I would never get there, when I felt impatient and frustrated. But I’m on the other side of that doubt now, pushing toward my goal of graduating soon.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advertisements
 

I’ve graduated August 28, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

LYING WITH MY HANDS behind my head, elbows bent, I studied the photo of rock climbers strategically positioned at the end of the therapy table to offer motivation. Funny thing, I’d never noticed the over-sized image on prior visits, 11 total. But on this, my last day of physical therapy, I did.

 

This is a photo of an x-ray of my broken shoulder. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2017.

 

And my thoughts were this: I’ll never climb a rock wall. I couldn’t before the May 22 fall that left me with a broken right shoulder and I have no intention of ever doing so. But I feel as if I’ve scaled a precipice to get to where I am today. I once again have a nearly fully functional right arm that for too long hugged my body in a sling as it healed. Muscle strength and range of motion vanish quickly in a constricted appendage.

 

I’m using this shoulder pulley at home twice a day for three minutes each time to stretch my muscles.

 

But you do what you must to heal and then recover. It takes a certain amount of discipline, fortitude and willpower to work through the pain, to push yourself, to move forward. I couldn’t have done it alone. My physical therapist, John, provided the tools, the know how and the extra spark of motivation. I didn’t want to let him, or myself, down. When I would grimace in pain, John would look at me and ask, “Who’s in charge?” I wanted to say, “you are,” but that answer would have been wrong. I was always in charge of my body.

 

I hold this elastic band in my hands and pull opposite directions to stretch and strengthen my muscles.

 

When I walked into therapy on August 24, I looked at John and asked if I could graduate. I was so ready to be done. Not that I didn’t like John or therapy. I simply felt as if I had reached my potential in supervised therapy and the rest would come naturally with increased activity. John agreed.

 

The weight of the dumbbells I could lift started at 1.5 pounds, then advanced to the 3, 5 and 8 pound weights shown here. The eight-pounder is still a challenge.

 

And so, as I passed my final tests and rated my pain at one, I felt a sense of relief that I’d come this far. Just weeks ago I couldn’t lift five pounds, couldn’t reach to slide a plate into the cupboard, couldn’t hook my bra. I had even attempted to mow the lawn the evening before my final therapy session, but found that still too difficult especially given the too tall grass and the too heavy lawnmower. John typed “no mowing lawn” into my records, but gave me permission to lift my 21-pound granddaughter if I rely primarily on my left arm. Then I shared that I’d already picked her up the day prior. He smiled.

 

During the past six weeks or so, I’ve done the exercises shown here and more to first regain range of motion and then to rebuild muscle strength.

 

As I lay on the therapy table waiting for John’s final instructions, I focused on that photo of the rock climber. I had scaled a steep and sometimes rocky wall to regain use of my right arm. I felt good and thankful for the grace of healing.

Now if only John had programmed the theme song to Rocky or perhaps Pomp and Circumstance into the sound system to mark my graduation day, a goal I had been striving toward for three months and two days. That would have marked the pinnacle of reaching the recovery summit.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Walking around the Tufts’ neighborhood the day after graduation June 7, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Art on a utility box by campus.

Art on a utility box by campus.

THE MORNING AFTER MY SON’S recent graduation from Tufts University in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts, life was back to normal.

 

Snapshots, 331 construction workers in Medford, MA.

 

Construction workers labored on a campus building project while a police officer stood nearby to stop traffic if needed. His Boston accent matched every preconceived notion I held of a Boston accent. Thick. Unpronounced “r’s.” Perfect Boston diction to my Minnesota ears.

 

Snapshots, 334 watering dog in Meford, MA.

 

On this Monday morning while my son attended appointments, my husband and I walked around his neighborhood and lunched at a campus coffee shop on a busy street corner. I people-watched. The construction workers. The cop. A young woman who pulled a water bowl and water bottle from her backpack to hydrate her dog on a street corner.

 

Snapshots, 338 congrats on house in Somerville, MA.

 

After lunch we walked around the neighborhood, skirting smelly garbage cans on the narrow sidewalk while also surveying the broken furniture, rolled rugs and assorted goods emptied from college students’ apartments. Parents filled car trunks and U-Hauls. A college co-ed carried boxes from campus to a new off-campus apartment.

 

Snapshots, 343 scavenging Somerville, MA.

 

And, in the street, a woman rolled a cart bulging with can-filled garbage bags and assorted loot from all the graduation parties the day prior.

 

Snapshots, 337 grad napkin on ground Somerville, MA.

 

I noted the residue of those celebrations—a stray napkin, a congrats banner stretching across a porch, a commencement banner still hanging from a post.

 

Snapshots, 349 carvimg on tree

 

And, etched into the bark of a hillside tree, I noticed names. Knifed there by college students, I suppose. Not just this year. But through the years.

 

Snapshots, 346 house on hill Medford, Ma.

 

The day sparkled with the kind of light that is bright and sharp and new, as in this is spring, your kid has finished college, new.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When a Minnesota mom attends her son’s East Coast college graduation June 3, 2016

A Tufts University graduate decorated her graduation hat.

A uniquely decorated graduation hat at Tufts University 2016 commencement.

I’VE ATTENDED THREE COLLEGE graduations now, for each of my three children, with eight years separating the first and final commencements.

The tented area in the background served as the stage during the all-school commencement ceremony.

The tented area in the background served as the stage during the all-school commencement ceremony at Tufts.

The daughters’ ceremonies were held in gyms at public universities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I don’t recall much about either other than the Wisconsin politician who used his commencement speech as a campaign platform. I was deeply disappointed, even angry. This wasn’t supposed to be about him, but rather about the graduates.

Congratulatory balloons floated among spectators.

Congratulatory balloons float among spectators.

So when alum and Emmy-award winning actor Hank Azaria was slated to deliver the all-school commencement speech at my son’s May 22 graduation from Tufts University in greater Boston, I was wary. I had no idea who he was, which is no surprise given I am unaware of most Hollywood celebrities. When I learned that Azaria voiced many of The Simpsons characters, I was delighted. My son is a big fan of The Simpsons.

A snapshot of the crowd before the all-school commencement began.

A snapshot of the crowd before the all-school commencement begins.

To my relief, Azaria gave a humorous speech with the simple message that graduates should be honest with themselves and trust their instincts.

The second phase of graduation moved us nearer the stage and to the ceremony for The School of Engineering.

The second phase of graduation moved us nearer the stage and to the ceremony for The School of Engineering.

He voiced several characters from The Simpsons, providing much needed laughter in a morning with an abundance of drawn-out pomp and circumstance.

I caught this dad napping at The School of Engineering commencement ceremony.

I caught this dad napping at The School of Engineering commencement ceremony.

Role-playing Moe the bartender, Azaria said, “I didn’t have a high-falutin’ education. I went to BU.” The audience roared at the comparison between Tufts and Boston University. I understood, feeling a bit like a country hick myself amidst the obvious wealth of many Tufts families.  I am keenly aware that my son, too, felt at times out-of-place on this East Coast campus as a Minnesota boy from a lower middle class family.

Lots of photos were taken at the ceremony and of Tufts' mascot Jumbo, in the background here.

Lots of photos were taken at the ceremony and of Tufts’ mascot, Jumbo, in the background here.

Laughter also erupted when Azaria mimicked the Indian-American owner of the Kwik-E-Mart (from The Simpsons): “We both worship an elephant.” Tufts’ mascot is Jumbo the elephant. P.T. Barnum was an early benefactor of the university.

Tufts police and EMS stood ready near the main commencement stage. Just weeks prior to commencement, a car was torched on campus and a bomb threat discovered.

Tufts police and EMS stand ready near the main commencement stage. Just weeks prior to graduation day, a car was torched on campus and a bomb threat discovered.

Light-hearted moments were welcome among the formal protocol, which began at 9 a.m. and extended well into the afternoon. Thousands gathered on the campus green for, first, the all-school commencement ceremony, and afterward for individual school commencements.

A father photographs the

A father photographs The School of Engineering commencement ceremony. That’s a side profile of Jumbo the elephant in the background.

My husband and I were sitting so far back from the stage that we could see little. I used my camera’s telephoto lens as binoculars several times.

Thousands of chairs covered the campus green for commencement. The event went on, rain or shine. Rain drizzled briefly.

Thousands of chairs cover the campus green for commencement. We sat in this side wing area near the back. Apparently you need to arrive really early to get a good seat.  The event went on, rain or shine. Rain drizzled briefly.

I was thankful events were held outdoors on the beautiful university green rather than inside some stuffy auditorium. Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus sits atop a hill with a picturesque view of the Boston skyline. Campus buildings are aged and solid, trademark visuals of a long-established and respected educational institution.

Flowers and balloons await graduates.

Flowers and balloons await graduates.

Visiting Tufts for the first time on graduation weekend was an experience, an opportunity to see this place our son has called home for three years. Many other families traveled, too, from across the country and across the world to watch their sons and daughters graduate. We shared that commonality. Maybe not of financial wealth, or lack thereof. But of parents celebrating.

BONUS PHOTOS:

After the two commencement ceremonies, we were finally able to eat a picnic lunch--salad, strawberries and a bar--on a grassy hillside.

After the two commencement ceremonies, we were finally able to eat a complimentary picnic lunch–salad, strawberries and a bar–on a grassy hillside. Everything was recycled.

Vendors hawked flowers before and after commencement ceremonies.

Vendors hawked flowers before and after commencement ceremonies.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

FYI: Check back next week for a tour of the Tufts campus.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts upon my son’s graduation from Tufts University June 2, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Caleb returns to his seat after graduating from Tufts University School of Engineering with a bachelor of science degree in computer science.

Caleb returns to his seat after graduating from Tufts University School of Engineering with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science on May 22.

HE’S GRADUATED. The son. My youngest. Through four years of college with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from Tufts University in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts.

Posing afterward atop the roof of the Tufts library with the Boston skyline some 10 miles in the distance.

Posing afterward atop the roof of the Tufts library with the Boston skyline some 10 miles in the distance.

I am thankful. Grateful that Caleb was given the opportunity to attend such a noted private research university as a selected transfer student. Grateful for the academic challenges he needed. Grateful for the financial gifts that enabled him to attend an institution where the annual cost of tuition far exceeds our household income.

After attending college for a year at North Dakota State University in Fargo, Caleb was accepted as a transfer student into the highly-competitive Tufts University.

After attending college for a year at North Dakota State University in Fargo, Caleb was accepted as a transfer student into the highly-competitive Tufts University and two other noted Boston colleges.

He’s grown into a strong young man of whom I am immensely proud. I am proud of his ability to leave the familiarity of Minnesota to attend college half a country away. He knew no one and learned on his own to navigate greater Boston.

Caleb graduated in four years. Had he stayed at NDSU, he would have finished in three.

Caleb graduated in four years. Had he stayed at NDSU, he would have finished in three. However, Tufts did not accept all of his college credits from high school and NDSU.

I am proud that he graduated in four years, magna cum laude.

Caleb poses in front of the school mascot, Jumbo. And, yes, that would be Jumbo of circus fame. This latest sculpture of the elephant was recently installed at Tufts.

Caleb poses in front of the school mascot, Jumbo of circus fame. This latest sculpture of the elephant was recently installed at Tufts.

I am proud, too, that he loves to learn. Caleb craves expanding his knowledge. He hopes for a research career with plans to some day attend graduate school. He’s interviewing for jobs in the Boston area. Any place would be fortunate to have him as an employee. And I’m not just saying that because I am Caleb’s mom. I have seen his focus and determination when working on tech projects. He is a problem solver, an innovator, a young man seeking solutions and answers and better ways of doing things. He wants to make a difference in this world.

Students in the School of Engineering gather for that school's commencement ceremony.

Students in The School of Engineering gather for that school’s commencement ceremony.

Commencement speaker, Emmy-award winning actor Hank Azaria who voiced numerous characters on the TV show The Simpsons, offered some good advice to graduates like Caleb. He advised the 160th Tufts graduating class to calm down, trust their instincts and they will, at the end of the day, know what to do.

The commencement ceremony begins at The School of Engineering, Tufts University.

The commencement ceremony begins for The School of Engineering, Tufts University.

Graduation is a time of adjustment and change. A scary time in many ways as young people leave the security of the educational setting. It is a time of change for Caleb and for me.

The message on this balloon probably fit the feelings of many students.

The message on this balloon probably fits the feelings of many students.

As my son continues on his life’s journey, I wish for him contentment, peace and happiness. I want him to always be passionate about his life’s chosen work, to feel joy in getting up each morning.

My husband, Randy, waits for the first of two commencement ceremonies to begin.

My husband, Randy, waits for the first of two commencement ceremonies to begin. We drove 3,029 miles round trip to attend Caleb’s graduation.

And I want him to know that, above all, he is deeply loved by his family back here in Minnesota and in Wisconsin.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more graduation photos followed the next day by a tour of Tufts University, Medford/Somerville campus.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rewarding academic success May 30, 2012

I’M GOING TO HAVE a proud mama moment today. So please indulge me. But my youngest, my only son, graduates in a few days and I am especially proud of his academic accomplishments.

Last Thursday my husband and I attended Senior Awards Night at Faribault High School where graduating honor students were recognized and scholarships awarded.

Although the guidance office had notified me that Caleb was receiving a scholarship, I didn’t know specifics. Reading through the list of scholarships on the printed program, I couldn’t figure out which one he was getting.

That’s my son, the tall one third from the left, receiving a $1,000 Faribault Falcon Scholarship Fund Scholarship from Marjorie Helmer. (Excuse the photo quality; I shot without flash in a dark auditorium.)

But when Cheryl J. Freund, former school district curriculum director, explained the selection process behind awarding of the $1,000 Faribault Falcon Scholarship Fund Scholarships, I knew. The scholarship recipients, she said, were chosen based on ACT test scores and grade point averages. It mattered not whether you played sports, served your community, participated in theater or anything. The scholarship was solely, unequivocally, for academic achievement.

Thank you, Faribault Falcon Scholarship Fund committee for that sole focus on ACT scores and GPAs. Thank you.

Caleb performed exceptionally well on his college entrance exam and has a near 4.0 GPA.

Freund prefaced awarding of the scholarships by stating: “This is one of the best groups of scholars I’ve seen in my career.”

Now I’d like to take some genetic credit for my son’s intelligence. But since he excels in mathematics and science (my weaknesses) and has to work a bit harder at English (my strength), I cannot claim credit for his academic success. I’ve never been the type of parent to check his homework or read his papers or such—except encourage him and bug him about completing assignments. I’m just not that kind of hands-on homework helping parent. Like he ever needed my help anyway.

I suppose, though, that the emphasis I placed on reading through-out Caleb’s formative years and even today, did factor into his success in school. My teen is a voracious reader—for the enjoyment of reading and for the purpose of learning. He has taught himself so much by reading on his own, not because I told him to read or because he was assigned reading for a class, but because he wanted to learn more.

My son’s also had some engaging and encouraging teachers in the past few years as he’s taken a rigorous course of advanced and college level classes in subjects like physics, calculus, composition, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and more. I expect Caleb will have nearly a year of college credits when he begins classes later this summer at North Dakota State University.

Just last Friday he took a College-Level Examination Program test in chemistry for which he’ll receive four college credits. He was the only student taking the test at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and only the second student to have taken the CLEP chemistry exam there, according to the examiner.

Caleb’s academic achievements and self-initiated pursuits in computer technology also earned him a Presidential Scholarship, an Entrepreneurial Scholarship and entrance to the Honors Program at NDSU. About a third of his college costs will be covered by scholarships. As part of the Entrepreneurial Scholarship, he will work and volunteer in the university’s technology incubator. What an incredible opportunity to learn and to network.

In 2 ½ months, my 18-year-old leaves home to further his education, working toward a degree in computer or electrical engineering. I have no doubt Caleb will continue to approach education as he always has, with enthusiasm and with a strong desire to learn.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections, in words and photos, upon graduation June 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:41 AM
Tags: , , , ,

A soon-to-be graduate walks down the hallway of Westbrook Walnut Grove High School one last time.

ALL ACROSS THIS COUNTRY, family, friends and faculty gather in hot, stuffy gymnasiums or auditoriums to celebrate high school and college graduations.

The honored students perch on hard folding chairs, fidgeting, sweating in their caps and gowns, some crying, others smiling, most simply wishing the ceremony over.

Speakers speak of friendships and memories, of lessons learned and lessons yet to be learned, of the past and of the future.

Mothers wipe away tears. Cameras flash. Applause rings out and choirs sing.

And then the graduates march, down the aisle, tassels swaying, smiles wide, into the waiting arms of those who love them enough to let them go.

My niece, Carlyn, left, and a classmate prior to graduation from Westbrook Walnut Grove High School.

Graduation gowns await graduates at WWG High School.

The guys hang out one last time before graduation ceremonies at WWG High School.

Family, friends and faculty gather in the WWG gym for graduation ceremonies.

A family member videotapes the WWG High School graduation ceremony Sunday afternoon in Westbrook.

WWG students await their diplomas.

A long line of family and friends forms to greet WWG graduates with flowers and hugs.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling