Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Skipping the snacks & then along came the Super Bowl February 6, 2018

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In 2014, I photographed these vintage potato chip bags at a “Food: Who We Are & What We Eat” exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

FOR THE MOST PART, I’ve avoided eating chips for the past year. This snack avoidance began with a weight loss challenge at my husband’s workplace. I, unofficially, joined him in the challenge. I lost 20 pounds and have managed to keep off the weight for almost a year now. Randy lost about the same.

 

I started out lifting 1.5 pounds, then advanced to 3 pounds followed by five. Today I am lifting eight pounds with a single arm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Our weight loss happened primarily via eating smaller portions, reducing sugar intake and eliminating unhealthy snacks. I’m also lifting weights, an exercise initiated in physical therapy last summer for a broken shoulder. I noticed not only a strengthening of my arm muscles, but the side benefits of a stronger, and flatter, core. Win, win. Now, months after therapy ended, I continue to pump those individual weights.

But back to those chips. Randy ate them nearly daily with the lunch he packed for work. Me, only occasionally. I convinced him to stop eating chips and to pack almonds in his lunch instead. He’s mostly stuck to that chips ban, although once in awhile I must pull chips from the shopping cart and place them back on grocery store shelves.

 

Retailers really push the chips and other snack foods prior to the Super Bowl. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2018.

 

Last weekend we made an exception to our “no chips in the house” rule. I blame the Super Bowl and a weak moment of caving to the munchies hype that accompanies it. I wanted guacamole, which requires tortilla chips. I picked up a bag of multi-grain. Randy wanted Doritos. Who am I to deny him chips when I had just purchased some for myself?

 

 

 

And then I read an article about Minnesota’s snack industry, which includes BOOMCHICKAPOP. The ready-to-eat popcorn is made at Angie’s Artisan Treats in North Mankato. That’s an hour drive to the west of Faribault. I’ve seen the product with the signature hot pink package lettering in area grocery stores but never purchased the popcorn. Until Sunday. Just in time for Super Bowl snacking. I chose the sweet & salty kettle corn. That’s how the business started with husband and wife (Dan and Angie) making kettle corn in their Mankato garage and selling it locally. I appreciate that the ingredients are simple and few: popcorn, sunflower oil, cane sugar and sea salt.

In October, Chicago-based ConAgra Brands paid $250 million (according to Twin Cities Business magazine) for the business. BOOMCHICKAPOP is a Minnesota success story. So, you know, I just had to try that kettle corn…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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As health insurance costs rise, so does my personal financial concern November 1, 2017

 

EVERY YEAR ABOUT THIS TIME, my blood pressure temporarily spikes in response to my anger. Anger about ever-rising health insurance premiums depleting our family pocketbook faster than a pick pocket.

I’ve vented and raged and spewed my discontent here. My jaw drops. My mind thinks a few unprintable words. My stress rises. How can we continue to pay these astronomical premiums and still have money for basic needs like food, gas, utilities, clothes, etc?  I am thankful Randy and I paid off our mortgage decades ago, that our three kids are out of college and independent, that we’re OK driving aging (2003 and 2005) vehicles… We’ve always been, out of necessity, fiscally conservative, just as we were raised within poor rural families.

Let’s break it down. Health insurance premiums for my husband and me (I’m on his work plan) will go up $190 from $873/month to $1,000/month in 2018. That’s for each of us. Randy’s employer pays half his premium, $500. So we will shell out $1,500/month, or $18,000/annually. But before insurance kicks in, we must pay $3,600 each in deductibles. Alright then.

Let’s recrunch those numbers. In reality, our premiums are $1,300/month each if we need medical care and reach our deductibles. Times two, that’s $2,600/month or $31,200/year. Subtract the $6,000 Randy’s employer pays for his insurance and we’re down to $25,200. Still.

This year I met my $3,700 deductible. But I paid out $14,176 in premiums and deductible for around $4,000 (maybe a bit more; some bills haven’t processed yet) in medical expenses. I’m no math whiz. But even I can see that makes zero financial sense.

Holy, cow.

Somehow we’ve managed on a modest income, Randy’s as an automotive machinist and mine as a self-employed photographer and writer. But these latest insurance premium hikes are pushing us to a financial breaking point. I need to figure out an alternative to the $1,500 to be deducted from Randy’s paychecks each month for health insurance in 2018. Our incomes are not increasing to meet this through-the-roof expense.

My kneejerk brainstorming produced the following options and reactions:

  • Go without health insurance. Not a good idea given our ages and the financial risk.
  • Find jobs with better benefits. At age 61, that’s unlikely.
  • Take on second part-time jobs.
  • Use a Christian-based health cost sharing plan. A strong possibility that requires additional investigation.

Our eldest daughter suggested we move to Canada with its publicly-financed healthcare. I know little about that system. But in a recent conversation with a Canadian visiting her brother here in Minnesota, I heard all about the shortage of doctors and the months of waiting to see one. Even if you’re seriously ill. No, thank you. Besides, I won’t move that far from my granddaughter.

There you go. Now, on to the research, the discussions, the continuing frustration and anger and stress and number crunching that each autumn overtake me.

I’ve joked with Randy that soon he’ll pay his employer to work because nothing will remain of his paychecks. I wish that statement didn’t feel uncomfortably close to reality.

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AS BAD AS THE RATE HIKES would be for us, I know it could be worse. I’ve seen rates from a major carrier for individual off-exchange health insurance in my county of Rice and seven other southern Minnesota counties. If I chose the bronze plan (least expensive) with a $6,650 deductible, my monthly premium would be $1,361. Take that premium and deductible times two (there would be no subsidy from Randy’s employer) and our health coverage would cost $45,964 before medical bills would be covered. Holy cow. Who can afford that? Not us.

I realize many of you, especially self-employed small business owners or employees of small businesses, are dealing with the same absurd health insurance premiums. I don’t have an answer. I just know that the escalating cost of health insurance is creating a personal financial crisis for many of us. Additionally, because of those costs and matching high deductibles, we can’t afford medical care. Now does that make sense?

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TELL ME: Are you dealing with/facing similar skyrocketing health insurance premiums? I’d like to hear about your situation and what you are doing. Are you going without insurance? Selected another option? Found a job with better benefits? Whatever you have done, or haven’t, I’m listening.

Please note that I moderate all comments. So please keep the discussion on topic and civil.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ve graduated August 28, 2017

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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

 

How a woman of leisure moves toward healing July 28, 2017

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The exercise my therapist terms “Woman of Leisure.” Pretend that’s a woman in the drawing.

 

HOW CAN I BE a woman of leisure when he expects me to wash windows and throw dirt over my head? It’s tough. But I’m up to the challenges issued by my physical therapist.

John has tagged several of my exercises to help me remember them and probably also to make me laugh. Humor helps when you’re stretching and strengthening muscles after a right shoulder break. It takes the edge off the pain.

This recovery takes time, effort and grit. I certainly don’t feel like a woman of leisure as I recline, hands behind head with elbows bent stretching muscles. That right elbow won’t flex down like my left. And I feel pain.

But I’m getting there. After days of washing windows—placing my hands on a hand towel and sliding them up a wall—and other exercises, John noted that I was “significantly better” than at our previous visit. Three sessions into physical therapy, that encouraged me.

 

Daily I am stretching and strengthening my right arm and shoulder muscles. Martin Eichinger of Portland, Oregon, created this graceful “Bird in the Hand” bronze sculpture valued at $14,500 and posed near the Mankato Civic Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

So I’ll stick to my regiment of arm lifting and stretching. Not too little. Not too much. Just as John ordered.

I’m consciously also choosing to use my right appendage, even though my mind and body rebel. After nine weeks of guarding my injured right arm and shoulder, I am retraining my once dominant side. I instinctively do everything with my left hand/arm to avoid pain. I know now that if I am to fully recover, I have to push through the muscle soreness and use my right hand/arm/shoulder. So I am brushing my teeth, combing my hair, opening cupboard doors, washing countertops, closing curtains and more all with my right hand.

This week I caught myself pulling on a t-shirt just as I did pre-May 22 injury with head in neck hole first followed by arms in sleeves. To realize I had just done that boosted my confidence. I am healing.

 

This message on the window of a business in downtown Clear Lake, Iowa, resounds with me as I work toward healing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2015.

 

I am a woman determined. I have a granddaughter to lift, a camera to use, a life to live.

TELL ME: If you’ve ever had to recover from an illness or an injury, who and/or what motivated you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Busted July 21, 2017

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Effective immediatley, I can drink coffee using my left hand only.

 

DON’T LIFT. Not a laundry basket or a watering can or a dirty dish. Nothing. Not even a John Deere coffee mug.

That mandate came from my ortho doctor Wednesday afternoon after he asked, “What have you been doing with your arm?” He was referring to my right arm/shoulder, which I fractured 8 ½ weeks ago.

 

Thursday morning I stair-stepped a laundry basket up the basement stairs with my left hand, angled the basket onto my body and steered it out the door. Then, using only my left hand and mouth, I managed to clip towels onto the clothesline.

 

Not that he was accusing me of anything. But he knows me well enough to realize that I will push the limits. I confessed to all of the above. I was so busted. But, in my defense, I had surmised that if a specific movement/activity didn’t hurt, I could do it. Wrong. It’s a good thing I am not a doctor and that mine understands me as “a force of nature to be reckoned with” (his words, not mine).

I love my doctor, even if he tells me things I don’t want to hear. He is kind, compassionate, caring, funny, a great listener and a really good communicator. I always understand exactly what’s going on with my body and what’s expected of me when I leave his office. On this day, had I been a student in a classroom, I likely would have warranted after school detention for bad behavior.

 

This is a photo of an x-ray of my broken shoulder taken on May 22. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But I got an imaginary gold star for healing. Pulling my May 22 and July 19 x-rays onto his computer screen, the good doctor compared the results. “Looks great,” he said. If I used exclamation marks in my writing, I would string a series of them after that assessment. I beamed. He showed me how the top of my shoulder had settled, rounding back toward to its normal curve rather than jutting like two misplaced puzzle pieces. Then he traced his finger down the screen, along a white line indicating healing in the length of my shoulder.

After delivering that good news, my doctor issued the lifting ban for two weeks, longer if necessary. By 12 weeks the bone should be healed. I’ve learned, though, that directives can change. I intend to obey rather than risk a setback. “If I have to go in there and do surgery now, it will be a mess,” my doctor warned. So my husband will be washing the dishes again.

Today I return for my second physical therapy session. I have the OK now to start active (rather than passive) range of motion exercises to rebuild and strengthen my muscles. I can expect muscle soreness for up to a year. Ditto for the swelling that stretches from the top of my shoulder to my fingertips. Sigh.

 

For the first time in 8 1/2 weeks, I don’t have to wear this arm sling while sleeping.

 

But I can ditch my arm sling. I stopped wearing it during the day several weeks ago. I can also sleep on my side, including on either arm, as long as it doesn’t hurt. I tried sleeping on my left side Wednesday night. My arm hurt. I’m back to sleeping on my back. So much for sleeping freedom.

 

My blood donation card.

 

Then I asked one final question of the doctor: “Can I donate blood?”

“I don’t see any reason you can’t unless there’s something I don’t know about you,” he replied.

So I am scheduled today to donate blood, some 8 ½ weeks after I missed a step, fell and broke my right shoulder while on my way to donate blood at the local hospital.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Homemade pizza is back on the menu July 13, 2017

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FOR THE FIRST TIME in seven weeks, I made homemade pizza. But this was not your ordinary pizza. This pizza represented something much more than food to fill the belly on a Saturday evening. The pizza I crafted signifies healing.

I have reached the point in recovery from a broken right shoulder that I no longer feel the need to clamp my arm protectively to my side. I am reaching, pulling, even eating with my right hand. I am free of my arm sling except to sleep and to use in crowded public places.

I figure if moving my arm doesn’t hurt, then I’m OK doing whatever. So far, so good. I’m doing laundry, washing dishes and making pizza, with some assistance from the husband.

This Friday I start physical therapy. I am ready and could have begun 10 days ago had an opening been available. My goal is to lift 21 lbs, 10 oz., the current weight of my 15-month-old granddaughter, ASAP. I miss cuddling Izzy. Realistically, I expect I won’t be holding Isabelle for quite some time without supervision. But I need a goal, right?

My short term goal is to pull a t-shirt over my head, to dress my upper body by myself. I’d also like to use my Canon DSLR camera soon. I am passionate about photography and really miss that creative outlet. Sure I’ve been using my smartphone. But even that is challenging and the results not nearly as good as those of a DSLR.

 

Up until my fall and resulting broken shoulder, I crafted homemade pizza every Friday evening, always served with mugs of icy beer.

 

When I consider how much I’ve improved since May 22, the day I missed a step on a hospital stairway and fell while on my way to donate blood, I am amazed. My post injury exhaustion and need for daily naps have vanished. Sore muscles have replaced pain. My once purple, yellow and green arm is now almost free of bruises. I am healing. I can feel it in the handles of a rolling pin as I work dough across a floured board. And I can taste it in a bite of fresh pizza spread with homemade pizza sauce and sprinkled with Italian sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella and slips of fresh basil and oregano clipped from plants potted in my backyard.

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SORT OF RELATED, because I fell on my way to donate blood…please consider donating blood to the Red Cross if you are able. The current shortage of blood is termed critical. I’ve been bombarded with emails requesting that I donate. I need to check with my doctor whether I can resume donating. By giving blood, you may save a life. Blood transfusions saved my mom’s life about a decade ago. I am grateful to those many many donors.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ve never been so happy to hang laundry on the line June 30, 2017

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I KNOW THIS PHOTO is not particularly creative, interesting or exciting. I snapped it with my cell phone because I am unable to use my much heavier and bulkier Canon DSLR due to a right shoulder fracture.

But to me this image represents healing, recovery, progress, accomplishment. For the first time in nearly six weeks, I hung laundry on the line yesterday. To do this again gives me joy. Yes, I am a hanging-laundry-on-the-line fanatic.

But how did I manage one-armed and especially with my laundry room down a flight of stairs in the basement? Planning.

The husband provided some start-up assistance by taking the dirty towels and sheets to the basement before leaving for work. Once the first load was done, I continued with my plan.

I strategically placed an empty laundry basket on the rag rug just inside the kitchen door then headed downstairs. As I pulled bedding from the washing machine, I placed the sheets and pillowcases on the edge of the appliance. I then carried them upstairs in the crook of my left arm. Yes, I took the steps slow and steady because the last thing I want is to reinjure my healing right humerus by falling.

Once in the kitchen, I dumped the wet bedding into the laundry basket, propped open the exterior door and used my hip, left side and left arm to wrangle the basket onto the back steps. The movable clothesline stretches across the patio just out the back door.

Then with some careful draping and clothespins in hands and mouth, I managed to secure the sheets to the line.

Since my May 22 fall and resulting bone break, I’ve been unable to do many basic household tasks. Everything in general requires much more time and effort. It’s exhausting. Preparing a simple salad for lunch, for example, takes upwards to a half hour. I wash and slice with a left hand that has not adapted well to being the dominant appendage. It’s rather comical at times to watch myself.

I am frustrated by the difficulty or impossibility of doing simple things—opening a stubborn plastic clamshell, pulling apart bunched bananas, opening a can of food, closing a storm window, clipping my toenails, shaving my underarms, shutting a car door, tightening my belt, putting in my earrings, slipping on a shirt…

These tasks/movements are so routine that you never think about them until you can’t do them. But my disability is only temporary and I am getting better. For many others, their disabilities are permanent and there will be no “better.” I get that and I have no reason to complain.

With permission now granted to have my arm out of the protective sling while at home (but with still restricted movement), I feel myself regaining muscle strength. I still experience pain and frustration. But that’s to be expected. Next week I hope to start physical therapy beyond the exercises I am doing at home.

And I plan to continue hanging laundry on the line. Unless rain is in the forecast.

TELL ME: Have you ever dealt with a temporary or permanent disability and how did you adapt? What frustrated you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling