Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on 2021 December 31, 2021

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This quarter-sized token, gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann, lies on my computer desk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

AS 2021 DRAWS to a close, thoughts naturally turn reflective as I look at the year behind and, tomorrow, to the beginning of a new year. Never did I think we would still be in this pandemic, entering year three.

For me, 2021 brought grief, hope, frustration and many other emotions. Grief at the death of my father-in-law (not from COVID) in February. Hope in the availability of COVID vaccines to protect us from severe illness and death. Frustration over the ongoing resistance to those life-saving vaccines. Frustration in the failure of too many to follow simple measures, like masking in public, to prevent the spread of the virus.

HOPE

I want to focus on the word “hope,” which surged within me when I received an email from my clinic that I could schedule an appointment to get the vaccine. I fit the high risk category. I’ve never determined exactly why, but I speculate due to a severe case of whooping cough 16 years ago which left me coughing uncontrollably, gasping for air and, eventually, using an inhaler and on Prednisone. I was sick for three months then. So when I got my COVID vaccine on March 14, I felt such joy, gratitude and hope. I felt the same following my second dose a month later and then after my booster in October.

Spring brought such hopefulness. I remember thinking this would be the summer of reclaiming my life as I once lived it. That proved short-lived as COVID cases surged once again. Yet, there were moments of normalcy pre-surge—attending outdoor events, dining out a few times, even attending church twice (until masking became optional, not required). The brief spring/early summer respite lifted my spirits. But now here we are, back to an out-of-control situation.

GRATITUDE

Despite how the pandemic has affected my life in negative ways, I have many reasons to feel grateful. Twice this year, my family circle has been together. All of us. Nothing surpasses the happiness of family togetherness. My grandchildren, especially, bring me such joy with their hugs, kisses, cuddles. I feel fortunate that they live only a half hour distant.

And several times this year I’ve been allowed to visit my mom in her long-term care center, most recently right before Christmas. Mom is in hospice. It’s not been easy. But I try to focus on the blessing of having her here on this earth for 89 years. Not everyone has their mother around for that long. My mother-in-law died at age 59, only months before the birth of my son.

PEACE

Time at a family lake cabin in central Minnesota also provided a break from everything. Thrice Randy and I headed north for some R & R. Our eldest daughter and her family joined us twice. Lots of time immersed in nature calmed, recharged, brought peace. Many country drives and hikes in parks produced similar feelings.

Now, as 2022 begins, I expect much the same as 2021. I wish I could feel more optimistic. But I just don’t. Not today. Yet, hope remains.

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TELL ME: How was your 2021? What proved challenging? What brought you joy?

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NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science, anti-health, please don’t comment. I moderate all comments and will not publish those “anti” views and/or misinformation on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. December 21, 2021

After the Community Christmas Dinner. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2012)

IN THE DAYS LEADING to Christmas, busyness can cause us to lose focus. Busy baking. Busy cleaning. Busy buying. Busy wrapping and trying to do too much. I invite you to pause and reflect.

Reflect on hope.

Reflect on peace.

Reflect on joy.

Reflect on love.

Those four words centered a bulletin board display I photographed in 2012 at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church. I love this image. For the message. And for the story behind it. The Faribault church annually (except during COVID) hosts a free Community Christmas Dinner in mid-December. Volunteers serve a full holiday meal in the church basement. I’ve attended many times and enjoyed not only the food, but also the coming together of my community.

In this particular photo, a woman awaits a ride home. I’d just finished my meal and came across her standing at the top of the stairs, poinsettia in hand. The holiday flowers decorated dinner tables and diners were welcome to take them home. She was unaware of my presence. I framed the moment. A moment that, against the backdrop Advent message, captures the reason for the season.

Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. May all be yours as we draw near to Christmas.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If I hear a media report about Randy Shaver… September 21, 2021

Randy Shaver trading cards. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021.

IF YOU’VE EVER READ the children’s picture book series, If You Give A… by Laura Numeroff, you understand the premise of how one thing leads to another. In her book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, for example, Numeroff writes about a mouse who, if given a cookie, will then want a glass of milk and then a straw and then…

That domino thought train followed for me after I heard a news report about KARE 11 TV anchor Randy Shaver’s induction into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame over the weekend. I remembered a photo I’d taken of a Randy Shaver trading card during a stop at Hopefull Treasures/Wilker’s Antiques in March. The antique shop is housed in an aged building in the small town of Hope just off Interstate 35 south of Owatonna.

Hopefull Treasures/Wilker’s Antiques. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021.

Recalling that image, I opened my photo files. Then I Googled the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame. There I found Shaver’s bio and current portrait along with those of four other 2021 inductees. Shaver has been with KARE 11 since 1983, working in positions ranging from reporter to sports director to evening news anchor.

I then began scrolling through the 2001-2018 Hall of Fame Honorees, looking for familiar names. And I found lots of them—Cyndy Brucato, Herb Carneal, Ralph Jon Fritz, Halsey Hall and, then, pause, Brad Nessler. I clicked on his bio. Nessler and I attended journalism school together at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He graduated a year before me, his focus in broadcasting and mine in news editorial/print journalism. Professionally, this small town boy from St. Charles in southeastern Minnesota excelled. Today he works as the CBS play-by-play sportscaster for the Southeastern Conference in football and basketball. I remember him, from my college days, as an all-around nice guy.

A vintage radio at Hopefull Treasures/Wilker’s Antiques. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021.

Once I finished scrolling through the Hall of Fame honorees, I then shifted to reading about The Pavek Museum in St. Louis Park which initiated this broadcasting award. I’d never heard of the museum. The 12,000-plus square foot museum houses antique radios, televisions and broadcasting equipment, most from the collection of Joe Pavek.

Well, then, who is Joe Pavek? He was an amateur radio operator and electronics instructor at Dunwoody Institute. And a collector.

The Pavek Museum opened in 1988 to preserve and present the history of electronic communication and provide a learning environment for those interested in the science of electromagnetism and sound, according to the museum website. That educational facet includes a Broadcast Workshop for kids to learn about the history of electronics communications while creating a 1960s style radio broadcast.

So there you go. If you give a writer a media report, she will remember a photo which will lead her to a website and then to…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When life overwhelms August 20, 2021

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Drought-cracked earth near the Turtle Pond, River Bend Nature Center, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2021.

THERE ARE DAYS when I feel such frustration. It’s then I remember the words of my mom, clearly frustrated with six misbehaving offspring.

“You kids make me so mad I could just run, run, run,” she declared. That grabbed our attention because Mom, one of the sweetest and most loving individuals I’ve ever known, seldom lost her patience with her three sons and three daughters. And, despite her threat, she never ran.

Oh, what I would give for my mom to make that threat today. But she can’t run. She can’t even walk. She’s confined to a wheelchair, living in a nursing home. Physically, she’s still with us, although we, her grown children, have been separated from her more than with her during this pandemic.

So perhaps I am grieving more than feeling frustrated.

I’m also feeling overwhelmed. Everything that could go wrong in the world seems to be happening. Raging pandemic. Check. Floods. Check. Wildfires. Check. Drought. Check. Hatred and division. Check. Politicizing everything. Check. Selfish behavior. Check. People in Afghanistan fleeing for their lives. Check. Shootings/murder every single day, night and day. Check. Injustices. Check. I expect I’ve missed something.

I cannot recall a time in my 60-something years of life that we were dealing, simultaneously, with so much as a state, a country, a world. And that can leave a person feeling, well, overwhelmed.

How do you deal with all of this? I try to remind myself that we will get through this. Somehow. I find myself connecting to my faith in a deeper and more intense way. I do what I can to uplift and encourage others. I read. Something other than news; books that take me away from reality. A friend also reminded me to hold onto my focus word: hope. There’s a lot to be said for hope.

Another friend offers practical suggestions in a blog post, “Doing What You Can & Your Personal Well-Being,” on Penny Wilson Writes. Please take time to read Penny’s tips by clicking here. Although I’ve never met this Texas blogger, I feel such a connection to, and appreciation for, her. She writes with empathy, compassion and understanding. She genuinely cares. She’s authentic. Honest. Penny, also a gifted poet, has written often about her struggles with depression. That openness, I expect, has helped many. She also shares the work of other bloggers, including me, with untethered passion and joy.

People like Penny give me hope. She uses her writing talents, her experiences and more to encourage, uplift and inspire others. She helps me tamp down the urge to rage and, then, to run, run, run. And for that I feel gratitude.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Perspective & hope June 26, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

PERSPECTIVE DOESN’T DIMINISH challenges in life. Rather, perspective helps one to assess, to consider, to reshape thoughts.

On Thursday, the word “perspective” edged to the top of my mind upon learning about the collapse of a 12-story residential building in Surfside, Florida. Suddenly what Randy and I experienced this week doesn’t seem all that bad. Minor, really, in comparison to the loss of life and home in Florida.

As I write this, four people are confirmed dead with 159 missing. And then there are the injured and those who are now without a home. It’s a lot of loss. A lot of grief and pain and heartache and stress beyond comprehension.

When I view the rubble of the high-rise, I think of the fallen World Trade Center towers and of the I-35 bridge collapse. The visuals from Florida imprint the immensity of the catastrophe. Media reports, especially interviews with loved ones of the missing, cause an emotional reaction which leaves me in tears, feeling deeply saddened. My heart breaks at the humanity of it all—the deaths of loved ones in such a sudden and awful way.

As six industrial-sized fans and a dehumidifier roar in our basement, I focus on perspective. I see those media reports featuring search and rescue teams, eye witnesses, family members, government officials and others at the site of the Florida tragedy. I also hear the repeated word, “hope.” Hope rises, even when it seems futile.

But, like perspective and resilience, we need hope. Especially now in Florida.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hope, joy & kindness at the clinic April 16, 2021

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Photographed along the bike trail in the Atwood neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

AS I WAITED POST VACCINATION in the clinic waiting room for the mandatory 15-minute observation, I observed. I am a people-watcher. A listener. A person who notices her environment.

After texting family, I set my cellphone aside to watch. Nearly every other person was on their phone, one guy even answering two calls. But, with magazines absent from tables and time to pass, few options remained. I’d left my library book, Funeral for a Friend by Brian Freeman, at home.

I wondered about all these people, if they felt as happy and thankful as me to receive the Pfizer vaccine protecting us against COVID-19. I expect they did.

Occasionally the nurse overseeing the small cluster of vaccinated individuals circulated among us. Checking times. And us. We each had labels stuck to our clothing, noting our dismissal time. I moved mine from just above the denim on my right knee to the right of my Army green jacket, making the label more visible.

Patients filtered in and out of the clinic as I sat there. Watching. A young mother entered, baby balanced on her hip. I was surprised to see her little one, perhaps six months old, wearing a face mask. I felt gratitude toward that mother who understands the value of face masks in protecting others and in keeping her child safe. The baby wore the mask with ease.

Photographed at LARK Toys in Kellogg, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Soon my eyes shifted to another mother and child waiting nearby, outside the vision clinic. I watched as the observation nurse walked over and asked if she needed help. Her kindness touched me. I expect this mother, a Muslim woman dressed in a black niqab with only her eyes showing through a rectangular slit, may struggle with English. But she understood enough to reply, although I didn’t hear her response. And then the nurse bent toward the child, perhaps nine months old, waving and talking and engaging her. The baby waved back, a broad smile spreading across her sweet face. In that moment I felt joy. Joy in seeing this very basic human interaction. Culture and dress and skin tone and religion mattering not. Just one human being interacting with another in the most loving way.

Photographed several years ago in the window of a downtown Faribault business. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Moments like this give me hope. Hope that we can accept one another. Connect. Express kindness to one another. Care about each other. And realize that, at the core, we are all simply human beings living on this earth. Individuals with wants and needs, no matter our skin tone, our beliefs, our culture, our language, our job status, our anything.

Love in three languages (Spanish, Somali and English), printed on a mirror along Faribault’s Virtue Trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

Understanding and acceptance start with each of us. Like the interaction I witnessed between nurse and mother and child at the clinic. When the observation nurse cleared me to leave at 3:38 pm, I thanked her. Beneath my face mask, I smiled. And although she couldn’t see that smile, I hope she heard the joy and gratitude in my words.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Easter hope April 2, 2021

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A sculpture inside St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Buckman, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

AS HOLY WEEK MOVES ever closer to Easter Sunday, I find myself focusing on hope. It’s such a positive word. One that I’ve held close to my heart through some really difficult challenges in life.

This past pandemic year has challenged all of us. Stretched our endurance, our patience, our ability to cope. To live life in a way that would keep us, and those we love, safe. I’ve felt frustrated about lax attitudes and behaviors regarding COVID-19. But through all of this, I’ve tried to balance that with hope.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

Hope seems synonymous with spring in Minnesota. Nature reveals hope in spring bulbs popping, in trees budding, in dormant grass greening and much more.

After a season of cold and darkness, hope breaks forth in longer days. More warmth. More sunshine. More light.

And now, in this too long season of COVID, hope for an end to this pandemic.

A photo of Christ’s face from a stained glass window in my church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

As a woman of faith, I also view this time of year through the lens of eternal hope. I see the face of Jesus. Determined. Caring. Suffering. Dying. And then living, breathing. Alive. Darkness replaced by light on Easter morning. The light of eternal life.

This Easter Sunday, just like last, I’ll miss celebrating Easter in person with my faith family. I’ll miss the feeling that comes with worshiping inside a church with other Christians. I’ll miss the scent of lilies and the reverberation of the organ. I’ll miss the blessings of being among friends, of joyful Easter greetings.

Yet, I can still view the Easter service online or listen on the radio. I can experience worship indirectly. I can praise God and pray and let the joyful music of Easter fill my ears. And my mind. Hope remains. I know that my Redeemer lives! What comfort this sweet sentence gives!

Inspirational and honoring words are embedded in the mosaic tile on a memorial for Barb Larson (murdered in an act of domestic violence) in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS, I wish you a most blessed, joyful and hope-filled Easter!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Quoted lyrics are from the hymn, I Know that My Redeemer Lives.

 

Thoughts of spring in February February 19, 2021

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Leaves unfurling in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

THIS FEBRUARY MORNING, with spring still months away in Minnesota, I crave a landscape flush with color. Snow gone. Spring flowers popping. Grass greening. Trees budding.

Daffodils bloom in my front yard. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I think we all need a glimpse of warmer, sunnier days after a wicked weather week across much of our country. I feel, especially, for the people of Texas. The unseasonably cold weather of ice and snow wrought incredible challenges with no power, broken water lines, even death. I feel for anyone living in Texas.

Crocuses blooming in my yard. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Even though we’ve endured a lengthy stretch of subzero temps here in Minnesota, it’s just cold. Not destruction. Not heartache. We can manage and function and mentally remind ourselves that this won’t last forever. Temps are already rising.

Beautiful bleeding hearts bloom on two bushes in my backyard each spring. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

With those thoughts, I searched my files for photos of spring flowers. To brighten your day. To bring you joy. To remind you that in every season of life, we face challenges which stretch and test and grow us. But we can, and often do, come out on the other side as better people. More empathetic. More understanding. More grateful than ever for life, even if it’s sometimes hard.

These tulips were sent to me, as bulbs, from Paula in the Netherlands last spring. I later planted the bulbs in my yard and hope they erupt this spring. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

We push through the difficulties, often with the support of loving family and friends, to bloom color into the world. Or at least that is my hope.

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BE ASSURED THAT MINNESOTA looks nothing like the photos above right now. Snow layers the land in a landscape devoid of color. Under the snow and decaying leaves, spring flowers await warmer days when the frozen earth opens to the sun and sky.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Inauguration day: Inspiring poetry January 21, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FOR THOSE OF US who write poetry, its power to move, to inspire, to uplift, to matter, were evident during Wednesday’s Presidential inauguration as National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman delivered her powerful poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

To watch that 22-year-old Los Angeles poet stand before the nation’s capitol, before the new President and Vice President and so many others, and hear her deliver her poem with such passion filled me with hope.

Hope themed her poem. If you missed hearing Gorman’s poem, I’d encourage you to seek it out online and listen. Poetry, when read aloud by its author, takes on a depth missing if simply read silently to one’s self.

Gorman’s poem complemented, reinforced, the hopeful messages I took away from the day through speeches, songs, prayers and actions.

Words—like unity, resilience, strength, faith, respect, possibilities, together—resonated with me. Words that will write, as President Joe Biden said, “the unfolding story of our great nation.”

And part of that story will be the words of a young poet, who inspired hope on January 20, 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Ask like you care & other thoughts January 20, 2021

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Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

POSSIBILITIES. Hope. Healing. Peace.

Those words frame my thoughts this Wednesday morning. Words that need, and I fully expect, to be followed by positive actions.

Photographed at LARK Toys, Kellogg, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

We hold within our nation, and within ourselves, the ability to reclaim that which we’ve seemingly lost—decency, kindness, empathy…

A year ago, I stuck four word magnets onto my refrigerator door to create this phrase: ask like you care. The directive reminds me to listen, really listen. The directive reminds to to react with empathy when I ask others, “How are you?” The directive reminds me that, if I don’t really care about the answer, then I shouldn’t ask the question.

I’m big on listening, which differs vastly from hearing. The act of hearing is simply sound reaching our ears. Listening focuses on the message, the person. It’s an art, a skill, and not all that difficult to practice. Listening inspires conversation. Listening builds and strengthens relationships. It places the focus on others, not ourselves.

Encouraging words posted near a pocket garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Today, on this Wednesday morning, I hold hope for the possibilities of healing, peace and so much more.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling