Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thanksgiving reflections on life November 22, 2017

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A few years ago I found this vintage 1976 calendar at a garage sale. Each year prior to Thanksgiving, I hang it in my dining room as a representative reminder of life’s blessings.

WHEN I CONSIDER THANKSGIVING, I visualize the tapestry of my life woven with gratitude and blessings and, yes, even sadness. Sometimes I’d like to yank the black threads and pull away the darkness, leaving only vivid hues of happiness.

But to do so would present an imitation of my life, a cheap knock-off work of art that portrays the idealistic rather than the realistic. I don’t care who you are, where you live, what you do, you are the accumulation of life’s experiences—positive and negative.

Challenges, whether financial, health-related, personal or otherwise, shape us, make us stronger, teach us empathy and compassion and how to handle grief and anger and disappointment and frustration and pain. At the time we battle difficulties, we usually fail to see the good, the reason to give thanks. Often that comes later, as time passes, acceptance comes, situations change and reflection happens.

For example, I was bullied as a pre-teen by junior high classmates so ruthless and mean that I hated school. I cried every day, wished the teasing would end. It should have. But in those days, no one stepped in to stop the abuse. And one teacher in particular was himself a psychological abuser. Because of those two unbearable years, I hold zero tolerance for abuse whether perpetrated by a child, teen or adult. I use my words now as a way to educate, to help others, to advocate, to make a positive difference.

When I consider personal health challenges like severe osteoarthritis and resulting hip replacement, a broken shoulder, and near deafness in my right ear, I see how my empathy for others has grown, how my patience lengthened, how my thankfulness for my husband deepened. Threads of gold shimmer in the tapestry of my life, outshining the underlying less-noticed darkness of difficulties.

My life remains a work of art in progress. There are days when life circumstances seem overwhelming, when the mother in me wants to make everything better. But then I hear an uplifting song, get an encouraging email or text, hold my granddaughter, hug my husband, write something especially meaningful, talk to my son too far away in Boston, gather with friends, reach out to someone hurting. Then threads of silver and gold sparkle gratitude and thanksgiving for this life I live. Not perfect. But beautiful in blessings.

Today, may you find many reasons to give thanks for your life. Happy Thanksgiving!

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The importance of Veterans Day to me as a writer & veteran’s daughter November 10, 2017

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea.

 

WHEN I CONSIDER Veterans Day, I think beyond a general blanket of gratitude for those who have served, and are serving, our country. I see a face. I see my soldier father, an infantryman on the battlefields of Korea and recipient of the Purple Heart.

 

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe.

 

My dad, Elvern Kletscher, died in 2003. But his memory remains strong in my heart as do the few stories he shared of his time fighting for his country. He witnessed unspeakable, violent deaths. And, yes, he killed the enemy, often telling his family, “It was shoot or be shot.” I cannot imagine shooting someone so near you can see the whites of their eyes.

 

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

 

Atop Heartbreak Ridge, Dad picked off a sniper who for days had been killing off American soldiers. He suffered a shrapnel wound there.

But his wounds ran much deeper than the physical. His wounds stretched into a lifetime of battling post traumatic stress disorder, long unrecognized. He told stories of diving to the earth when a neighbor fired at a pheasant, the sound of gunfire triggering all those horrible war memories. The neighbor laughed. Likewise, guns shot at a small town parade sent him ducking for cover.

 

My dad’s military marker in the Vesta City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I can only imagine the demons my father fought. You cannot walk away from war-time death and violence unchanged. Only much later in life, as the decades passed and awareness of PTSD grew, did my dad find some comfort in talking to other vets with similar experiences.

 

Soldiers receive The Lord’s Supper in Korea, May 1953. Photo by my soldier father, Elvern Kletscher.

 

Dad’s strong faith also pulled him through his emotional turmoil, during and after war.

Now, as I look back, I wish I had been more understanding, more grateful. But I can’t change that. Rather, I can choose to honor my dad by writing, an expression of the freedom he fought to preserve.

 

I wrote a story (“Faith and Hope in a Land of Heartbreak”) about my dad’s war experiences in this book, published in 2005 by Harvest House Publishers.

 

As a writer, I hold dear the value of my freedom to write. No one censors my writing or tells me what to write. I treasure that. I cringe at the current overriding criticism of the press in this country, the constant allegations of “fake news.” I worry about this negative shift in thought, the efforts to suppress and discredit the media. My dad fought to keep us free. And that freedom includes a free press.

 

 

That struck me Thursday evening as I gathered with 13 Faribault area writers at a Local Authors Fair at Buckham Memorial Library. Here we were, inside this building packed with books and magazines and newspapers and more, showcasing our writing. No one stopped us at the door to check if our writing met government standards. No one stopped us from selling our books. No one stopped us from engaging in free conversation with each other and with attendees.

I am grateful to those who assured, and are assuring, that I will always have the ability to write without censorship in a country that still remains free.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road to recovery, an update June 9, 2017

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“I DON’T LIKE YOU,” I told him.

“Most people don’t,” he answered.

And we both laughed. Laughed because I really did like him and he wasn’t to blame for the bad news he shared. As a former journalist, I understand well the habit readers have of blaming the messenger. And now I was doing that to a medical professional.

 

The bruising on my injured right arm has decreased considerably on the front with the bruising (not shown here) shifting to the back of my elbow.

 

What could I do except joke and laugh when my ortho doctor on Wednesday afternoon revealed that total healing and recovery time from my broken shoulder could stretch up to 16 weeks? That’s four more than he told me during our initial visit two weeks ago. Sigh.

And then, as we chatted about the elbow flexing and pendulum exercises I am now doing at home, I found myself in a bit of trouble. I had been doing more than three flex sessions and arm swings daily. “More is not better,” he said, noting that he had me pegged as someone who would do just that. More. Busted.

I like my doctor. He has a great sense of humor, empathy and a personality that is down-to-earth approachable and friendly. I never feel rushed with him. He listens and he answers. And I’m trying to abide by his admonition to “stop when it hurts.” I’m trying, like he says, to rest. I don’t want my bone break, which widened a bit to 2.8 millimeters, to crack wider. Shoulders apparently take a long time to heal.

After that bit of news yesterday, I felt a tad discouraged. But then, because I can choose to be positive, I remembered his words of “everything looks good” upon viewing my latest x-rays. Good is good.

Good is also the continuing encouragement of family and friends. My eldest daughter sends me photos of my granddaughter nearly daily and that makes me happy. I used Google Hang-outs for the first time the other day and that was great, to see and hear darling Isabelle.

 

My friend Kathleen sent a lovely vintage card along with the sweetest message. The thing about the card is the specific selection just for me. Kathleen knows I have chosen hope as a focus word in my life. Long before this accident. She remembered.

 

 

And then Thursday afternoon, I received a bouquet of sunny yellow and white daisies from my sister Lanae and her husband, my niece Tara and her husband and their baby and the couples’ cats.

 

 

And recently I received a handcrafted metal cross from my artist friend Steve, who in his own quiet and creative way offers such encouragement and support.

We all have our burdens to bear in life. That’s a given. I don’t care who you are. But we are not alone. It is in times like this that I fully realize the importance of being there for each other—whether through a card sent, a word spoken, a gift given, a bouquet of flowers sent, prayers offered, well wishes written.

Thank you, dear readers, for being here for me. I will continue to update you occasionally on my recovery.

Have a wonderful weekend and take the time today to encourage someone inside or outside your circle who is going through a difficult time.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grateful for my right hand man, literally June 6, 2017

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AWHILE AGO my friend Patty gave a white board to Randy and me and to others in our circle of friends. She advised us to exchange loving, caring and encouraging messages with our spouses, just as she does with her husband, Doug. Their white board is posted in their kitchen.

This couple inspires me with their love, their positive attitudes and their resilience. They have been through many difficulties, losing their first spouses to cancer and dealing with their own serious health issues.

Yet, they are not defeated and exude joy in living a happy, faith-filled life.

Following Patty’s directive, I previously penned words of gratitude to Randy, propping the white board on the dresser where he drops his billfold, change and pocket knife after a long, hard day of work. But it’s been awhile since I messaged him via marker.

A few days ago, not quite two weeks into my recovery from a right shoulder fracture, Patty suggested I jot a note of thanks to my husband. I’d forgotten about the board hidden behind a pile of decorative pillows on the bedroom floor. Our bed doesn’t get made now given more important tasks consume Randy’s time.

Patty was right. I needed to thank my husband in writing, not just verbally. So with great effort and some pain, I managed to print my thanks.

It is during times like this that I fully realize how vulnerable we all are, how one minute we can be walking down a flight of stairs and then the next moment our legs are fighting air and we are plunging into a hurting heap upon concrete.

But, in the afterward, love rises to new heights—beyond a kiss or a dozen roses or dinner out. It rises to easing my arm into a sling to swabbing deodorant under my armpit to putting earrings in my lobes to carrying my stack of library books to closing the van door to simply being there when tears of frustration occasionally overtake me.

To my husband, my right hand man, thank you.

 

 

And to Patty and Doug, who Monday evening delivered a bouquet of garden peonies to me, thank you. I am blessed by your care, your love, your prayers and your friendship.

TELL ME: How have you expressed your thanks to a family member or friend who has helped you through an especially difficult time?

© Copyright 2017 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

 

In which I experience the joy of serving on Thanksgiving November 25, 2016

I KNEW IF I STAYED HOME Thanksgiving morning in to early afternoon, melancholy would seep in. No matter how hard I tried. This would be my first Thanksgiving without any of my grown children home to celebrate. So I needed to divert my thoughts from missing them.

The setting for Faribault's Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

The setting for Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner, which began 30 years ago in a restaurant.

I didn’t even think. I knew exactly where I would go, what I would do. And that was to head to the Faribault American Legion and volunteer, with my husband, at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner. That volunteerism, that mingling with other volunteers and guests, was, I will selfishly admit, about helping me as much as helping others. It worked.

Bagged lunches await pick up by guests and by those delivering meals to homes.

Bagged lunches await pick up by guests and by those delivering meals to homes.

When you take the focus off your sadness, happiness shines. I felt myself smiling as we delivered 12 meals to five homes, each recipient grateful for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and bagged left-overs of a turkey sandwich and apple.

Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them.

Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them.

From a mobile home to a condo to an apartment to single family homes, we brought not only food, but also holiday happiness: To the woman recovering from pneumonia with her husband in the hospital. To the woman whose meal I left on the kitchen counter per her instructions to also take the $5 (given to the Faribault Foundation) lying near the cracked open exterior side door. To the woman who answered the door in her bathrobe. To the woman who waited outside her apartment building for us to arrive. All welcomed us with gracious gratitude.

A child's artwork on a placemat reminds diners of life's many blessings.

A child’s artwork on a placemat reminds diners to be thankful.

Those blessings of giving and receiving exude the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Hundreds of pounds of turkey are baked along with hundreds of pounds of potatoes peeled...

Hundreds of pounds of turkey are baked along with hundreds of pounds of potatoes peeled… (This image for illustration purposes only and not taken at the community dinner.)

Back at the Legion, Randy and I paused to eat. Volunteers expected to plate and package 1,200 meals in three hours. From conversations I overheard and my observation that the kitchen ran out of whole turkey (and resorted to pressed/processed turkey), guests exceeded the anticipated number.

All tables are festively decorated and all guests served at their tables.

All tables are festively decorated and all guests served at their tables. Children contribute their art.

I’ve often wondered who attends the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, meant for anyone no matter their financial means, their age, their anything. Seated at our dinner table were a retired long-time Faribault Woolen Mill employee dining with his 20-something grandson, who had to work later in the day at Target; a retired hospital employee and Vietnam War vet with nowhere to go for dinner; and a couple, like us, without children at home. I also spotted a neighbor, church friends (both dining and volunteering) and others I know from the community.

Kids decorate placemats.

Kids decorate placemats.

I was particularly impressed by the number of kids helping. I applaud parents who are teaching their children at such a young age the joy of serving others. Watching a girl, perhaps six, carry a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, a dinner roll and cranberries to a diner, is one of those moments that impresses hope for the future.

Volunteers dish up meals.

Volunteers dish up meals for take-out and to serve to diners.

Likewise, observing others my age and older scurrying to serve the sit-down meals reaffirms that goodness exists.

Randy and I filled in where needed. I primarily poured milk while he greeted, served and more.

Some three hours after we arrived at the Legion, Randy and I left. As we exited the parking lot, I was already calling our 22-year-old son in Boston, home alone, but planning a Thanksgiving dinner for Saturday with friends. I called the daughter in northeastern Wisconsin, catching her as she returned from the grocery store with her husband before going to the home of friends for dinner. I texted our eldest, in California with her in-laws. She also texted photos of her family, including our granddaughter. It helped to hear their voices, to be able to tell them, “I love you.”

Preparing for diners by plating pumpkin pie.

Preparing for diners by plating pumpkin pie.

The reality of life is that we cannot always be with those we love most. On those holidays, we need to stretch beyond ourselves and our feelings. On this Thanksgiving, that made all the difference for me.

FYI: Later in the afternoon, Randy and I joined our nephew and his family, along with our niece-in-law’s family, for a Thanksgiving dinner. We were grateful for their inclusion of us. I laughed and smiled and ate more turkey, so thankful for the blessings of the day and of life.

I took all of these photos with my smartphone rather than my DSLR, limiting my photography so I could focus on volunteering.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving Day thoughts November 24, 2016

thanksgiving-bulletin-board-2

 

WHEN I PHOTOGRAPHED this bulletin board at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault, I failed to notice the missing “s” on THANK. Not until I viewed the image on my computer did I see the letter near the pilgrim man’s shoe.

Was this intentional?

I suppose it doesn’t really matter, because the message posted here is to share our blessings and to be forgiving. The creator of this display also expresses gratitude for that giving.

So how do you share your blessings?

To answer that, you first must recognize those blessings. Are they family, friends, health, wealth, food—what?

Add to that list your talents. We all have them, whether it be the ability to sing, the ability to sew, the ability to care for others, the ability to repair or build, the ability to create, the ability to teach, the ability to..

We can use our gifts for good purposes or not so good. We can choose to focus outward rather than inward. We can choose to be kind rather than combative. We can choose to listen rather than to talk about ourselves. We can choose compassion and empathy over mean-spiritedness and I told you so.

Today, on this national day of Thanksgiving, I hope you will choose not only to reflect on all the goodness in your life. But I hope you will also reflect on what it means to use those blessings in ways that will benefit others.

Strive to listen and to care, genuinely care. At the dinner table, ask about those who are absent, who live far away, who would love to be with you. If a friend or family member is dealing with a challenge, be attentive and supportive rather than pretending everything is alright or totally ignoring the issue. Something as simple as “How are you doing?” can bring comfort.

We each have the opportunity to stretch this day beyond simply being thankful for everything we have. Rather, we hold the opportunity to extend grace, love and compassion to others. May you be the recipient of those blessings today and may you also share them.

Happy Thanksgiving, my dear gracious readers!

FYI: To inspire and uplift you, consider subscribing to weekly messages of encouragement from Twin Cities based Christian radio station KTIS. Click here for more information.

And click here to read Hands & Feet, suggestions for serving and encouraging others.

Finally, please click here to listen to an uplifting message in the song “Beautiful” by MercyMe.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling