Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thankful Tuesday: Here’s to you, blue collar workers April 7, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2015, northbound on Interstate 35 with the Minneapolis skyline in the distance. We depend on mechanics and automotive machinists to keep our vehicles running.

 

MONDAY MORNING I PULLED a whiteboard from the closet. And then I started a list. Of everyone and everything I need to pray for daily. The list numbers nine categories already and I expect will continue to grow. Typically I wouldn’t need a written list as I have a good memory. But I find myself needing a recall prompt. And, in some sense, physically grabbing a black marker and writing on a whiteboard helps me.

Last evening I added three more names to the prayers for friends and family category after a sister-in-law asked me to pray for a friend’s son, who is infected with COVID-19, and his young family.

On that prayer list I’ve written thankfulness as a reminder to thank God for the many people—especially in healthcare, emergency response, law enforcement and military—who are on “the frontline” serving others.

 

Randy at work in the automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Today, though, I want to focus on thanking essential blue collar workers, those men and women who don’t have the option of working from home. That includes my husband, Randy, an automotive machinist. His employer has taken steps to protect customers and employees. Customers (mostly) are no longer allowed inside the store or inside the shop with doors to both locked. Rather, they must stay outside, call and then await curbside service.

 

The door to the automotive machine shop is now locked and signs posted on social distancing, business hours and new customer services practices.

 

But for Randy, it’s not that easy. He sometimes needs to help customers carry heavy auto parts into the shop so he can perform tasks like turn brake rotors, resurface heads and much more. That means close contact then and as they discuss the needed repair work. I don’t like it. But he reports customers are getting better at social distancing. Still…

Randy is not alone. All across Minnesota and across this nation, automotive machinists and mechanics are working hard to keep vehicles—from tractors to cars to trucks, including semis—running. There’s concern in those garages and shops where employees must drive customers’ vehicles into bays. Imagine stepping into a semi cab driven by an over-the-road trucker who’s traveled who knows where. There’s real fear, with extra precautions needed to clean those cabs and protect the mechanics repairing them. Yesterday I talked to someone with a family semi truck repair business. She’s worried about exposure to COVID-19 and understandably so.

Yet, these hardworking men and women—just like those in grocery stores—continue to work. (And, yes, I’m grateful Randy still has a job.) They work to deliver products, goods and services to us. Thank you, truckers and delivery drivers. Thank you, grocery store employees. Thank you, mechanics, automotive machinists and those working the counters in parts stores. Thank you, all blue collar workers. We need you, and that is evident now, more than ever.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another birthday party missed… April 4, 2020

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My granddaughter, Isabelle (“Izzy” for short). Photographed when she was about 17 hours old in April 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY CELLPHONE PINGED YESTERDAY with a notification. For my granddaughter’s fourth birthday party. Today. At an interactive indoor play area in the northern Twin Cities metro. The party was canceled a few weeks ago, but I’d forgotten to delete the notice from my phone.

So today, instead of celebrating with my darling Isabelle, her parents and little brother, and a whole bunch of Izzy’s friends, I am home. Separated from the ones I love because of the COVID-19 crisis. I have no reason to complain. Everyone in my immediate family is healthy and in the extended family, too, although we had a bit of a scare recently. My mom remains on hospice in a care center 120 miles distant.

We are all making the best of this pandemic which now shapes our lives. We do what we must to stay healthy and to keep others healthy. While out grocery shopping earlier and then on to a Big Box store to buy a garage door because, you know, the garage door just had to break right now, I saw some people with masks. Not a lot. But I noticed more social distancing signs and the larger retail store banning anyone under age 16 from entering. I also saw too many folks not heeding social distancing. I steered clear of them, including employees at one local grocery store which has no COVID-related signs, nothing.

 

Izzy’s first birthday cake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

Yes, I should have been hugging my granddaughter today instead of grocery shopping and buying a garage door. I should have been watching Izzy blow out candles while singing happy birthday to her and celebrating with gift-opening and cake. The year before last, I missed her party because of a blizzard. In retrospect, that is nothing compared to missing a birthday party due to coronavirus.

Isabelle, in a video chat earlier this week, seemed unfazed by the change in plans. She excitedly shared, “I’m celebrating with my family!” She told me about the planned pink birthday cake—her favorite color—frosted and decorated with unicorn sprinkles. I inwardly thanked her parents for stressing to their daughter what she will still have, not what she’s lost in the postponed (until October) party.

 

One of my favorite photos of Isabelle is this one I took of her in September 2019. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I decided to add to Izzy’s celebration by reaching out to friends and family with a request to send birthday cards to my granddaughter. Many responded and for that I am grateful.

This afternoon, while returning home with the $470 garage door strapped to the top of our van, I saw a family celebrating what appeared to be a birthday. A clutch of colorful balloons decorated the front stoop and people stood in the yard. Social distancing. The scene made me think of my sweet Isabelle and how much I miss her. Especially on her birthday. And I wonder just how long it will be until I can hug her again.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Five people, two dogs, no kids April 1, 2020

 

Ducks swim in the Cannon River at North Alexander Park, Faribault.

 

NOW, MORE THAN EVER, the desire to get outdoors, to stretch my legs, to connect with nature, to escape all things COVID-19 related intensifies. I need the mental break, the sense of calm that prevails when I distance myself from the current crisis.

I live in a city of some 24,000 with an extensive recreational trail and park system and a sprawling nature center. We can spread out within city limits or quickly drive into the countryside for a rural escape.

 

Walking the dog along the trail in North Alexander Park.

 

On Saturday morning, before a day of rain began, Randy and I drove to North Alexander Park on the other side of Faribault to walk the Northern Link Trail connecting with the Straight River Trail. The paved path hugs the Cannon River, curving past trees, playgrounds, picnic shelters, and clusters of ducks and geese.

 

A section of the trail passes through a space populated by trees, and birds.

 

I enjoy this section of trail for several reasons—the river, the waterfowl, the diversity in open and wooded spaces, and the minimal number of people walking or biking here. It’s always been that way, even pre-coronavirus. While the trail is typically uncrowded, the park itself is usually busy. Teens shoot hoops. Families picnic. Athletes play baseball and softball. Kids use the playgrounds. But not now. Not during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Fences block picnic shelters.

 

A broad view of the now off-limits playground.

 

Stay off the playground.

 

With a “Stay at Home MN” executive order and social distancing in effect, park amenities can no longer be used. Orange snow fences wrap picnic shelters and playgrounds. When I saw those, I stopped. Sadness swept over me to see these places, where families often gather, where kids swing and slide and climb, closed. This is our new reality. Intellectually, I understand. Mentally, I rebel.

 

In my mind’s eye, I see a little one swinging.

 

A playground near the Cannon River.

 

No sliding here…

 

I want to hear the laughter of children. I want to see kids run and slide. And swing sticks at pinatas during family celebrations, as I have during past walks here.

 

Geese line the bank of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

But on this Saturday I saw none of that. Heard none of that. Instead I observed only three other adults (besides Randy and me) and two dogs. And I heard the warning honks of nesting geese, breaking the morning silence.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hunting for teddy bears March 31, 2020

The 30th anniversary edition of Michael Rosen’s book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, published in 2019.

 

WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT. We’re going to catch a big one.

Those words from the 1989 children’s picture book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, are inspiring the latest global movement unifying the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teddy Bear Hunts.

Worldwide, families are searching for teddy bears in windows during walks about their neighborhoods and communities. Minnesota Public Radio reports in its March 30 Daily Dose of Sweetness series that Rochester, home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, is already heavily involved in the Teddy Bear Hunts. My friend Jackie, a nurse at Mayo, confirms that.

 

A teddy bear sighting in the window of a house at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Division Street in Faribault.

 

Here in Faribault, I haven’t searched much for bears, only watched for them while out and about on Saturday to pick up groceries and to later walk a city trail. Randy spotted one bear, in a house window at the corner of Division Street and Fourth Avenue.

 

A close-up of the Fourth Avenue teddy bear with a cross above it.

 

I find these hunts a great idea to distract kids, and grown-ups, from the scary realities of the current health crisis. Shifting our focus onto something fun seems vital to our mental health. I often wonder how much our kids are picking up on our concerns, on the seriousness of the situation. When I asked my eldest awhile ago what she’s told her 4-year-old about COVID-19, my daughter said only that “a lot of people are sick.” Isabelle can understand that. I’m thankful my grandson, at a year old, is too young to comprehend any of this.

For us grown-ups, movements like Teddy Bear Hunts help us cope by shifting our attention to engaging the youngest among us. Kids have always held that ability to refocus our minds, to make us smile, to remind us of life’s simple joys. Like reading a book and going on a bear hunt in the middle of a global pandemic.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Simple, yet powerful: The paper heart March 30, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

IN A WORLD THAT TODAY needs all the love we can give one another, the simple act of cutting out and posting paper hearts in windows is spreading the love. Right here in my Minnesota community.

 

In the window of a house along Second Avenue NW in Faribault.

 

While en route to the grocery store and to a local park to walk a recreational trail on Saturday, I spotted paper hearts. In the front window of a house. On the windows of a bank. And covering doors and windows at Rice County Government Services. Those bright displays made me smile.

 

Hearts cover the doors leading into the Rice County Social Services building in Faribault.

 

I had no idea then that this heart art is part of a movement, spread on social media via “A World of Hearts” and “Hearts in the Window” Facebook pages. A woman from Bismarck, North Dakota, started #aworldofhearts. And another from British Columbia started the second group.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

What a great idea. To uplift spirits. To give joy. To connect people in a time when we are all social distancing and staying home due to COVID-19. To spread the love via a world-wide movement. We need this sense of togetherness.

TELL ME: Have you seen heart art in windows in your community? What’s your reaction to this movement? Are you, or will you, join this effort?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Way to go, Wisconsin DNR March 28, 2020

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources image

 

IF EVER WE NEED LAUGHTER, it’s now. And the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources delivered this week with A CHEESY GUIDE TO KEEPING YOUR SOCIAL DISTANCE OUTDOORS.

The second daughter, who lives in Wisconsin, where a “Safer at Home” order is now in place, texted the graphic to me this morning. While reading this message, I laughed out loud. Repeatedly.

This additional info accompanied the guide posted on the DNR Facebook page:

Hey Cheeseheads! Wisconsin’s state parks and trails are open for you to OutWiGo and enjoy some fresh air. If you head out, we encourage you to stay close to home and within your community.

Social distance is key to slowing COVID-19. Stay at least 6 feet away from others – but don’t forget about the air fives!

Kudos to the creative who came up with this idea. I always appreciate a savvy and fun media campaign. Humor resonates with people. They remember. They talk about it.

The Facebook posting certainly has people talking in the comments section. And it’s not good. Seems people are flocking to state parks and not a lot of social distancing is happening. Wisconsin isn’t the only place with this problem. I’ve heard from friends about overcrowding issues at North Carolina state parks (now closed) and even in Minnesota.

You can only do so much, I suppose. Thank you, Wisconsin DNR, for doing your best and for making me laugh today.

 

I want you to know… March 27, 2020

I photographed my mom’s hands during a visit with her about a month ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

THE FIRST TIME I READ their messages on Facebook, I cried, an unexpected eruption of mixed emotions.

These are difficult days when separation from loved ones challenges all of us. Sure, we can tout technology. But what if you live in a senior living center—assisted living or a nursing home or a senior apartment—and you can’t directly connect via technology? Then what?

 

Downtown Belview, Minnesota, photographed in November 2019. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I love what Parkview Senior Living in Belview, a small town in my native southwestern Minnesota, is doing to connect residents to loved ones. Parkview holds a special spot in my heart. My octogenarian mom lives there, where she is on hospice. I last saw her the weekend before the care center closed to visitors in an effort to protect residents during the COVID-19 crisis. Given her current health, I doubt Mom fully understands what’s happening in the world. And that’s OK. She’s lived through enough challenging days in her life-time.

 

This file photo shows the nursing home section of Parkview Senior Living. At the time I took this photo, the center was closed due to damage caused by a tornado which struck Belview in 2011. Thus the blue tarp on the roof. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

But back to Parkview’s efforts to connect. On its Facebook page, this senior living center has posted photos of residents holding signs with messages for their loved ones. I recognize many of the people, having met or seen them while visiting Mom. Parkview is small. I’ve always appreciated the feels-like-family atmosphere. Mom and others living here are well cared for and loved. That comforts me during this time when I can’t visit. Or even call, because Mom can no longer communicate that way.

Kudos to the staff for photographing residents holding signs that begin with I want you to know…

The responses are both encouraging and difficult to read. Nearly every person shares how much they miss their loved ones. That’s to be expected.

I cried when I saw my mom’s photo and message. “I love and miss you all. Hope to see you when this is all over. I enjoy when we get together it doesn’t happen often enough.” And then I cried again as I scrolled through the photos and read the I want you to know…from other residents.

 

WAITING, HOPING…

Fern says, “…even though you look good through my window, I hope you will be able to come see me soon.”

“…Hope you remember me,” writes Grandma Bea.

And from John, who rolled his wheelchair into my mom’s room during my last visit, comes this. “When this clears up, come and see me when you can…maybe in June?!!”

 

HOW THEY’RE DOING

Most say they are doing OK, well, good. But not Barb. Her message reads: “Being given all the TLC of my awesome staff and family. I am doing ‘super fantastic.’” I love Barb’s upbeat attitude.

Andy also praises Parkview. “I’m doing good…the nurses are good and also the food.” But then he offers this advice. “Stay out til this is over.” Gotta appreciate that directive from a man who’s lived a few years.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Talbert isn’t thinking about himself. Instead, he asks, “Donald…how are the cats doing?

 

WHERE THEY’D RATHER BE

If Hazel had her way, she’d be outside. On the farm.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of crocuses.

 

And Beata, well, she’s hungry for lefse. This is a strong Norwegian community. And she’d like to be running outside picking crocuses. That made me laugh. In the midst of this global pandemic, these seniors are thinking about the simple joys in life. Maybe we could all learn something from them.

 

BECAUSE IT’S GOOD TO LAUGH

Humor, in my opinion, helps. Laura, from my hometown of Vesta, offers this message: “I miss your jokes, but not your needle pokes. I saw the Easter Bunny today. He looked to be healthy! He was wearing a mask, yet I think he will be ready to go on with Easter…” A little poetry. A little humor. And then this poignant ending: “We are home sick for you all!”

 

Grandview Valley Winery north of Belview. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

Many residents are connecting with loved ones via phone. They are reading and solving word puzzles. And praying. And they are thinking about better days. Especially Judy, who shares this message: “I’m doing okay. Looking forward to going out for a meal and a glass of wine when this is over.”

Me, too, Judy. Me, too.

TELL ME: If you have a loved one in senior living, how are you staying connected during this global pandemic? I’d love to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling