Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts & choices & frustrations during this pandemic November 17, 2021

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I took this photo in downtown Faribault on May 15, 2020. It remains my personal most powerful early local documentation of the pandemic. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

I DISLIKE CONFLICT. I prefer decency, kindness and respect. I’d rather we all just got along. Listened. Stopped all the political jockeying and spread of misinformation. Cared about one another. Really cared. That would be ideal.

But this is not Utopia, especially not now during a pandemic. I am beyond frustrated. We’ve risen to new levels of disagreement and disconnect that threaten our health and our relationships, even our democracy. I find myself faced with sometimes heartwrenching choices as I try to protect my health and that of those I love most.

WHOOPING COUGH WAS BAD ENOUGH

A severe viral infection, which my husband caught at work and then passed along to me in mid-August, showed just how vulnerable I am to respiratory infections. While this week-long-plus infection had all the marks of COVID-19, it was not. We both tested negative. (Yes, we were fully vaccinated and recently got our boosters.) Yet, this reminded me of my need to be careful. Sixteen years ago I developed a severe case of whooping cough that lasted for three months and required an inhaler and steroids to help me breathe. (Yes, I was vaccinated for pertussis, but that protection wears off, unbeknownst at the time to me. Staying current on vaccines is essential.)

When I asked my doctor back in 2005 where I could have contracted whooping cough, he replied, “You could have gotten it waiting in line at the grocery store.” I was his first adult diagnosed case in 30-plus years of practicing medicine. I never want to be that ill again.

PROTECTING MYSELF & OTHERS

I have made, and will continue to make, choices that best protect me and my closest family circle from COVID-19. With young grandchildren and also a mother in a long-term care center, I am not willing to take chances with their health or mine. Because of high COVID rates in Minnesota, I haven’t seen my mom since July.

In the past nearly two years, I’ve opted out of grad parties, family reunions and gatherings with friends that included unvaccinated and unmasked individuals. I also stopped attending in-person worship services earlier this summer for the second time during this pandemic. I don’t feel comfortable being in enclosed spaces (beyond brief passing) with people who may or may not be vaccinated and who are unmasked.

I’ve missed funerals, attending only one since this whole pandemic began. And that was my father-in-law’s in February, pre-vaccination. It was a horrible experience, trying to keep my distance from the half-maskers and unmasked, too often repeating that I wasn’t hugging or shaking hands because, um, we’re in a pandemic.

STRAINED RELATIONSHIPS

Already, family relationships feel strained as I struggle to understand why some extended family refuse to get vaccinated. And then feel it’s OK to attend family get-togethers. I expect to make some difficult choices soon about whether to attend upcoming holiday gatherings. If unvaccinated adults are in attendance, I likely won’t be. Not because I don’t trust the vaccine, but because there’s always some risk and it’s a matter of principle. I don’t want to, by choice, be around individuals I know to be unvaccinated.

CARE, COMMON SENSE & OUR CHILDREN

And then there are those daily life occurrences which trigger concern. Like the unmasked teenage grocery store cashier who ran her fingers around her mouth. Then checked out my groceries.

Early on in the pandemic, playgrounds were off-limits to kids, including this one at North Alexander Park in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2020)

Months ago at the playground, I watched my granddaughter run up and down a tunnel slide with another little girl. The whole time I wondered, should I allow her to do this? In the end, I did, mostly because they were outdoors and in constant motion. I find myself feeling especially protective of my two grandchildren. The day my 5-year-old granddaughter got her first vaccine dose, I felt incredible joy. I cannot wait for the nearly 3-year-old to become eligible for his COVID vaccine.

Week Day, 6, a first grader at Park Side Elementary School in Marshall, MN., died of COVID on April 25, 2021. Photo source: Hamilton Funeral Home.

It’s true that, generally, if kids get COVID, they experience milder cases. But some have also ended up severely ill in the hospital and others have died. I will take every preventative measure I can to keep my dear grandchildren healthy and safe.

I recognize we each have different comfort levels. I tend to believes the experts, to be a rule follower, to want to do my part to keep others safe via vaccination and mitigation. I trust health and science. If public health officials are recommending we wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, I will do exactly that. Not that I need them advising this. Common sense and knowledge of the highly-contagious Delta variant are enough for me to mask up, keep my distance and more. I would never think of going into surgery (and I’ve had many surgeries in my life) with an unmasked healthcare team, pandemic or not.

OVERWHELMED IN MINNESOTA, A COVID HOTSPOT

I photographed this from the passenger seat of our van as we drove through Rochester in November 2020. I’d like to see a message now stating, GET VACCINATED & save ICU beds for anyone who needs one. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

Minnesota, for the past week up until Tuesday, had the distinction of experiencing the highest COVID infection rate in the country. Michigan now ranks first. Minnesota hospital beds are filling or are full with few ICU beds available. People continue to die at at an alarming rate from COVID. And it’s not just individuals in their 70s and older any more. COVID is killing those in their 60s, even 30s and 40s and younger. Sometimes even teens. Long-haul COVID is also afflicting many, too many.

Minnesota’s overwhelmed healthcare system concerns me as it affects anyone who needs care. Not just those with COVID. Despite all of this, too many Minnesotans are still refusing to get vaccinated.

I want this pandemic to end. But right now I don’t foresee that happening any time soon…unless we start acting like we care about one another. How? Get vaccinated (and that includes boosters). Wear a face mask. Social distance. Stay home when sick. Practice other proven COVID mitigation measures. We have the power to stop COVID-19. This isn’t 1918. But sometimes it sure seems like 103 years ago, despite advances in science and knowledge and an understanding of how this virus spreads.

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NOTE: I will not publish anti-vaccine or anti-masking comments on this, my personal blog. Likewise, I will not publish misinformation, etc. as it relates to COVID and vaccines.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The tough part about holidays for this mom April 2, 2018

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MOST HOLIDAYS, NO MATTER how hard I try, I find myself envying families who can all be together. I know it’s juvenile thinking and I should be thankful for the times I have my three adult children (that always seems like such an oxymoron) under my roof for a holiday.

But if you’re a mom (or dad), and you’re honest, don’t you miss having every child you’ve birthed or adopted together with you, celebrating? OK, maybe it’s just me. But I miss the daughter who lives four hours away. And I miss the son who lives 1,400 miles away. And, when my eldest daughter and her family are with the other side of the family on the other side of the country, I miss them, too.

I’m getting better at accepting this as the way things are when your kids grow up and leave home. I’m adjusting. Connecting via technology helps. Randy and I have also found other ways to deal with the absence of our once nuclear family. On Thanksgiving, for example, we volunteered to deliver meals in our community. Last Easter we drove 2.5 hours to southwestern Minnesota to visit my mom in a care center. I can choose to be sad. Or I can choose to purposely give joy, thus receiving joy in return.

I’ve learned to delight in the once-a-year-occasion (maybe) that our family gathers in Minnesota. That last happened in August. Seven months ago. Too long. But at least we were together for a few days. Never mind that my son texted recently that he is changing his residency to Massachusetts, tangible evidence that he doesn’t plan to return to Minnesota to live anytime soon.

Then I think of the parents who have lost children and I have no reason, none, to feel sorry for myself.

This is life. I am reminded that, as parents, we are to give our kids roots and wings. Roots and wings. It sounds so poetic, so uplifting. But the reality is that sometimes I wish my kids had missed that flying part. Or at least landed closer to home.

TELL ME: Do you share any of my feelings? How do you cope with missing your kids on holidays? Or are you one of those “lucky” parents who always has your kids around for holidays?

 

Just for the record, I spent this Easter with my husband, oldest daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. And it was wonderful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts as my son heads back to Boston after the holidays January 3, 2018

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Caleb and I pose for a Christmas Eve 2017 photo.

ON THE FINAL EVENING before he left, I leaned across the sofa to wrap my arms around him. He closed his laptop, stretching his long arms up and around me.

“I want to hold onto this moment,” I said, gripping him tighter.

“I’m not going to take it away from you,” my son answered.

 

The downtown Minneapolis skyline. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

He was right. Only my mind could keep or release the sweet memory of our hug. After 10 days with Caleb home for the holidays from Boston, I was struggling with his departure. Hints that perhaps he could relocate to Minneapolis or St. Paul were met with a firm “no.” At least for now. So I widened the geographic range to Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis. Still no interest.

 

The 2016 commencement ceremony begins at The School of Engineering, Tufts University. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am resigned, for now, to the fact that my son loves the East Coast. He’s in a place where, after more than four years, he feels comfortable and at home. I never thought my youngest would move the farthest from Minnesota. He started college in Fargo, but soon found the flat and windy North Dakota city and the college a less than ideal fit for him and his insatiable desire to learn, to be challenged. So, shortly after he turned 19 and following his freshman year, he flew to Boston, toured three colleges and gained acceptance to all three. He transferred into Tufts University, a stellar college that offered the challenges (and financial aid) he needed. And now he works in the computer science field in greater Boston.

 

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library at Tufts University. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo spring 2016.

 

He’s never really said why he prefers Boston over Minnesota. Not that he owes me an explanation. I understand how a metro region with a strong tech base would hold appeal for Caleb. The area seems to me the Silicon Valley of the East Coast. Caleb has found plenty of like-minded techies in groups like Boston Indies. Several times he’s demoed his soon-to-be-released video game, Blockspell. And he’s presenting at the 2018 BostonFIG (Festival of Indie Games) Talks on January 20 at MIT Stata Center. I’m not saying similar opportunities don’t exist in Minnesota. But he’s found his fit in Boston. I need to be good with that. And I am.

Yet, a selfish part of me still yearns for geographical closeness.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The generational magic of the holidays, as seen through my camera lens January 3, 2017

Three generations: my mom, my eldest daughter and my granddaughter.

Three generations: my mom, my eldest daughter and my granddaughter.

MY HOLIDAYS HELD magical photographic moments, mostly because of my granddaughter, just days shy of turning nine months old.

Isabelle is so accustomed to Grandma and her DSLR Canon that she crawls toward me whenever I have my camera in hand. So I try to be quick and sneaky, not always possible with an active baby.

 

family-izzy-grandma-looking-58

 

But I managed, at a family holiday gathering this past weekend in southwestern Minnesota, to photograph some special moments. I’m always seeking to document emotions, interactions and everyday life. Posed portraits also hold value.

 

family-izzy-grandma-55

 

I aimed my lens toward my mom, in her eighties, and her connection to her great granddaughter. I love watching the interaction between the two generations and observing my own daughter as a loving and caring mom.

 

family-izzy-crawling-47

 

Often I found myself crawling and chasing after Izzy, sometimes placing my camera on the floor to get her perspective. That resulted in my favorite shot of the weekend—Isabelle crawling while her daddy and grandpa watched from the next room.

 

family-izzy-at-bottom-of-stairs-82

 

Grandpa also thought he should teach his grandbaby to maneuver the stairs. She’s a little too young for that. But that didn’t stop Izzy from pausing at the base of the stairway to imagine the possibilities. Stairs appear particularly daunting from a baby’s perspective.

 

Santa visits with my mom and my niece.

Santa visits with my mom and my niece.

As always, Santa showed up at the extended family holiday gathering to parcel out candy, humor and questions about naughty and nice. All ages landed on his lap, earning a moment of Santa’s full attention.

 

family-santa-leaving-143

 

There’s something magical about that—when, for a brief span of time, we all believe in Santa Claus.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rejoicing in the Sunday School Christmas Program December 16, 2012

Sunday School students at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, present the Christmas story Saturday evening.

Sunday School students at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, present the Christmas story Saturday evening.

EMBEDDED DEEP in the memories of, I expect, many Midwestern Baby Boomers like me is the rich tradition of the Sunday School Christmas program.

There is simply nothing sweeter, nothing more meaningful to me, than viewing the Christmas story from the perspective of a child. Such telling, such re-enacting of the biblical account of Christ’s birth exorcises the frills, the stress, the hustle and bustle, the worldliness from my holiday experience. And that is a good thing.

Every little girl wants to portray an angel...

Every little girl wants to portray an angel…

For one evening, for one hour, I take it all in—this most basic sharing of the gospel by darling angels in glittery halos and restless wings, by usually rambunctious boys cinched in bath robes, by the honored two portraying Mary and Joseph, by the other children who sing and tell of Jesus’ birth.

Dressed in holiday finery, the little ones wait in the fellowship hall before the start of the worship service.

Dressed in holiday finery, the little ones wait in the fellowship hall before the start of the worship service.

It is a magical time, a butterflies-in-your-stomach worship service for the children, giddy with joy yet nervous about stepping before the congregation,.

I grew up with the Sunday School Christmas Program, lined up on the basement steps of the old wood-frame church in Vesta packed shoulder to shoulder with my classmates, awaiting that moment when the organist would begin playing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and we would enter, pair-by-pair, into the sanctuary.

An angel proclaims the news of Christ's birth.

An angel proclaims the news of Christ’s birth.

Although costumed pageantry was not allowed in the conservative Lutheran church of my youth, I remember with fondness those traditional Christmas hymns—“Away in a Manger,” “Joy to the World,” “Behold, A Branch is Growing,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem”—which told of Christ’s birth as did the memorized sharing of the gospel when we each “spoke our piece.”

I always prayed I would never be assigned to recite the confusing verse: So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David…

And so the years passed until I outgrew the Sunday School Christmas program.

The cast from the biblical account of the Savior's birth.

The cast from the biblical account of the Savior’s birth.

Decades later I would pass the tradition along to my own three children, this time in a Lutheran church which allowed the costumed pageantry of sharing the biblical account of the Savior’s birth. The halos and bathrobes, the reading of the gospel, the singing of Christmas hymns all wove into their memories.

Now I am at that place in my life when I sit side-by-side with my husband in a pew, our children grown and gone, not yet married, awaiting those Christmases when the tradition of the Sunday School Christmas Program will pass along to the next generation.

After the service, my friends' children, Nevaeh (Mary) and Braxton, pose for photos in the fellowship hall.

After the service, my friends’ children, Nevaeh (Mary) and Braxton, pose for photos in the fellowship hall.

TELL ME, is a Sunday School Christmas Program (or something similar) part of your Christmas experience? Do you have such fond memories from your youth?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Laugh away holiday stress at FHS one-act plays December 15, 2011

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NEED A BREAK from the stress of preparing for the holidays?

Well, Faribault area residents, I’d recommend taking in Faribault High School’s student-directed one-act plays Friday or Saturday night.

For only $3 and about an hour of your time, you can escape your holiday busyness, relax and laugh. That’s a dollar for each benefit you reap. A bargain, I’d say.

And you will laugh, or maybe snort like the girl sitting behind me, at the humor in “Bad Auditions By Bad Actors,” directed by FHS student Lorelei Tinaglia, and “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” directed by Jeremiah Kuehne.

The content of the first play is self-explanatory by the title. The second play is about relationships.

These teens can entertain. They’re confident, poised, talented and funny. But, more importantly, they’re having fun. You can see that.

Eke out an hour of your time to support these theater students who will gift you with laughter.

Be there. Black Box Theatre. At 7 p.m. Friday or Saturday. Faribault High School.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dancing the Irish jig at St. Patrick March 17, 2011

I’M NOT IRISH, not one cell of me. But I am the niece of an Irishman from Northern Ireland who married in to our German family. Does that count for anything on St. Patrick’s Day?

Despite the fact that I’m not Irish and I don’t celebrate St. Paddy’s day, in the spirit of the day, I’m posting these images of a lovely old building I discovered in 2009 while photographing a veterans’ memorial in Shieldsville for a magazine feature story.

Shieldsville is a tiny community along Minnesota Highway 21 west of Faribault. But it’s more than just a pause in the road. This town lays claim as Minnesota’s first organized Irish settlement, dating back to 1855.

If not for my fondness for meandering, I never would have discovered this quaint circa 1910 parish hall belonging to, ta-da, the Church of St. Patrick.

 

The old parish hall at the Church of St. Patrick, Shieldsville, is now used primarily for storage.

‘Tonight the parishioners of St. Patrick, and others who wish to be Irish, will gather across the street from the old parish hall in the new parish hall. There they’ll dance an Irish jig. They’ll feast on mulligan stew and Irish soda bread. And they’ll drink green beer in a toast to their ancestors.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

 

Sign above the parish hall door.

 

The front entry to St. Patrick's Parish Hall, photographed in 2009.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Santa needs a technology lesson January 1, 2011

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EVEN SANTA makes mistakes.

The proof lies in this classified ad published this week in the Bargain Hunters section of The Faribault Daily News:

Brand new got for Christmas never used PS3 Tony Hawk Ride. Santa made mistake boy has PS2. $50.00 507-XXX-XXXX.

Santa, I totally get it.

With the ever-changing technology out there, keeping on top of everything becomes a challenge. I gave up long ago.

I wouldn’t know a PlayStation if it walked through the door. True.

So I googled “Tony Hawk Ride,” because I had no clue, and discovered this is a game about skateboarding. Apparently it works only on a PS3, which differs in what way from a PS2 or a PS? How many PlayStations exist anyway and how is a parent supposed to keep this all straight?

By asking the kids, of course. My 16-year-old son has a laptop computer and a Nintendo DS. No PS. No Wii. No Xbox.

He’s asked for them, but I’ve never caved in to the “gotta have it because everyone else has it” mantra. I don’t even apologize. I just say “no.”

Even so, I struggled this year with his request for two computer games and a JavaScript Patterns (what is JavaScript Patterns?) book. I purchased all three from amazon.com, but only after my son went online and showed me exactly what to order.

Yes, this takes the element of surprise out of Christmas giving. But, at least I don’t have to run a classified ad stating that “Santa made a mistake.”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorable 2010 Christmas gifts December 30, 2010

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WHAT DID YOU GET for Christmas? Anything interesting, fun, different?

This wind-up NunZilla walked and shot fiery sparks from her mouth. Sadly, the toy worked only briefly.

The gift our second eldest gave to her father ranks as the most entertaining and unusual of all the presents exchanged in our household.

Having heard her dad’s stories about attending a Catholic grade school, our daughter picked up a NunZilla at Vagabond Imports in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The sparking, walking, ruler-toting wind-up toy nun proved to be the perfect humorous gift for a man who endured the physical punishment of a sister or two during his childhood. He’s never explained why the nuns slapped his hands with a ruler or dug a thumb into his scalp. Apparently they thought he was misbehaving. He can laugh about it now, kind of.

I don’t condone corporal punishment. However, times were different back in the 1960s and teachers, unfortunately, got away with such physical abuse. Sad, but true. I can’t speak from first-hand experience (because I did not grow up Catholic), but I would like to believe that the ruler-slapping nuns were in the minority and that most were kind and caring.

Another Christmas gift also drew my attention, or should I say my husband’s attention. As he washed the eight new dinner plates that our eldest gave me, he noticed that the “IKEA of Sweden” plates were “made in China.” No need to say more on that one.

FYI, the wind-up NunZilla was also made in China.

Finally, the ghost of Annie Mary Twente, a 6-year-old girl who was buried alive near Hanska, Minnesota, in 1886, remembered me with a Christmas gift. For the second consecutive year, she (AKA my cousin Dawn and Aunt Marilyn) sent me a book about mice. She knows how much I detest rodents and takes great delight in taunting me.

The book was not—I don’t think—printed in China.

The imprint on the bottom on my new IKEA plates.

But the other part of Annie Mary’s gift, a combination calendar and notepad decorated with chickens (of which I am not fond), was manufactured in China.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Did you receive any memorable Christmas gifts? Humorous or otherwise? Submit a comment to Minnesota Prairie Roots. I’d love to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sleepy Eye’s Rudolph December 29, 2010

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IF I WAS A KID, I would have been genuinely super-excited to see this oversized Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer outside of Sleepy Eye on Christmas Eve afternoon.

 

I photographed Sleepy Eye's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer while traveling to southwestern Minnesota on Christmas Eve afternoon.

I would have been firing off questions after first exclaiming, “Look, Mom, Rudolph, Rudolph!

“But why isn’t he flying and where are the other reindeer? Where is Santa and where is his sleigh?”

Yes, I would have been full of questions, just like I am today.

Why is this lone Rudolph prancing in the snow along U.S. Highway 14 on the eastern edge of Sleepy Eye, right before you round the curve into town? Is this reindeer always there, or only at Christmas? Where did he come from?

OK, I suppose some smart aleck will answer, “The North Pole, of course.”

But, really, does anyone know?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling