Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Joy on a Friday in February February 5, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

HOW ARE YOU, dear friends? I don’t ask that question without expecting an honest answer.

Perhaps you’ve had a really difficult week. Like me. One filled with concern for those you love. One of endless texts and emails among family. Worry. Awake too early. Feeling stressed.

Or maybe everything is going great. And that’s good. Life is a mix of rainy days and sunny days. Or if I put that in the context of winter in Minnesota, days with snow and days without snow. Days when temps are well above zero and days when they are unbelievably cold. Like the weather predicted for the next week.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

But let’s put all that aside right now and focus on flowers. Yes, flowers. When I awakened too early the other morning and couldn’t fall asleep again with pain pressing upon my head, neck and shoulders, I prayed. And then I pictured flowers. These flowers. Aren’t they lovely?

While scrolling through blog posts earlier this week, I found these images of a floral bouquet Randy gave me in February 2014, six days before Valentine’s Day. The photos brought back sweet memories and made me happy.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

And happy is good. Even in difficult days that challenge us, there are ways to find joy. And today my joy comes in remembering the gift of these flowers, how they popped color into a February day and lifted my spirits seven years ago. And now again, today.

TELL ME: What brings you joy today?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas joy along US Highway 14 December 22, 2020

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The joy of Christmas banners McNeilus Steel, Inc., Dodge Center, Minnesota.

HOLIDAY DECORATIONS SEND a message, lift spirits, bring joy. This year, more than ever.

Santa and his reindeer fly across the side of a McNeilus building.

I appreciate every homeowner, every city, every church, every nonprofit and every business that takes the time and effort to create Christmas joy via festive decorations.

McNeilus, a 70-plus-year-old family-owned business centered in Dodge Center, has four locations.

McNeilus Steel, Inc., headquartered in Dodge Center, uses its sprawling complex of buildings as a canvas for holiday art.

More holiday joy at McNeilus.

I photographed the company’s holiday decorations recently while traveling along US Highway 14. The business sits right next to the busy highway. I had to focus and shoot quickly from the passenger seat as the decorations flashed past our van.

Stretching along another building, more Christmas decor.

What a gift from this family-owned full-line steel distributor and processor to the thousands of motorists who pass by daily.

Another view of Santa and his reindeer.

During a year that’s challenged and stretched us in so many ways due to COVID-19, I’m grateful for scenes like these that share the Christmas spirit in such a visual, public way.

TELL ME: Have you spotted holiday decorations that bring you an added measure of joy this Christmas? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond simply chalk art August 27, 2020

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Chalk art by Jane.

 

SIMPLY PASSING BY without acknowledgment of something we appreciate is so easy. We all do it, right? Admire something from afar, and then continue on our way. And Randy and I did just that, even though he asked if we should stop. “Maybe on the way home,” I said.

“She’ll be gone by then,” Randy surmised.

At that point, I was more interested in getting to North Alexander Park for a short evening walk than in photographing a chalk art artist. I appreciated her efforts from the comfort of our passing van and figured if I remembered the art on our return trip, fine. If not, fine, too.

And so we enjoyed our evening trail walk, which included geese and squirrel watching, and a pass through the Rice County Fairgrounds as we headed back toward home along Second Avenue. Nearing the intersection with Seventh Street, Randy repeated his “Do you want to stop?” question.

This time I agreed.

 

Jane, at work, with her angel heart wings in the foreground.

 

And I’m glad I did. Or I never would have met Jane, a lovely young woman who looks about 10 years younger than her mid-twenties age. She sat on a sidewalk step at a house along Seventh Street, chalk in hand, creating art.

 

 

 

As I admired the flowers, turtle, angel heart wings, peace symbol and smiley face, and took photos, Jane and I chatted for a bit. She shared a glimpse into her life story. There have been struggles.

 

 

But here she was, exuding joy in our conversation, in the sweet smile gracing her face. I saw grit and determination there, too, as she focused on creating art. Her fingers, dusted with chalk, worked art onto the sidewalk. She was creating this public art to bring joy to others. I thanked her for that effort. That gift.

 

Chalk, Jane’s tool of choice on this summer evening.

 

Art, Jane says, is her passion. She’s also painted with acrylics, had some art training. Nothing formal.

 

Jane’s art stretches along the sidewalk in front of her Seventh Street residence.

 

I felt compelled to encourage this young woman as I asked about her plans. She’s uncertain about her future. I advised her to follow her passions in life, that life is too short to not do what you love. And that money isn’t everything. Things aren’t everything. But happiness is. I sensed she already knows this.

 

 

I complimented her, too, on her smile and Jane confirmed others have told her the same, how beautiful her smile. It was genuine, coming from deep within. From a place that has experienced challenges and overcome them. To create art. Bright and bold and beautiful.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating a moment in life in Cannon Falls September 17, 2018

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THE NUANCES OF RURAL MINNESOTA delight me.

On a recent Saturday afternoon stop in Cannon Falls, population around 4,000, I spotted a John Deere tractor driving through the heart of downtown, wagon in tow. A bride and groom sat on straw bales as the tractor paraded past First Farmers Merchant Bank, Brewsters Bar, antique shops, the side street leading to a winery and brewery, and on down the road.

I love moments like this when I can pause to take in a joyful scene, to smile, to celebrate the happiness of another, to appreciate the rural character of southeastern Minnesota. This is why I live where I live, why I document people and places and events and life in general. It isn’t always the big things that define life, that mean the most. It is the moments of unexpected delight that bring me joy. And if I have my camera in hand, I delight in sharing these snapshots with you. In today’s world, we need more of this—more reasons to pause, to just stand there, to take it all in, to feel moments of joy.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bea’s Thanksgiving Day blessings November 26, 2017

Kids create festive placements like this one for the Faribault Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

 

Go to the back door and walk in, the slip noted. Despite the instructions, I felt uncomfortable simply walking into a stranger’s home without first knocking. So I knocked, eased open the door and entered the galley kitchen. There Bea (not her real name) shoved her walker toward me, smile bright with greeting on this Thanksgiving morning.

Randy and I carried Styrofoam containers—one holding in the heat of a traditional turkey dinner, the other a slice of pumpkin pie.

Bea’s face flashed joy in seeing us. She directed me to place the containers on the seat of her walker. But I set them on the counter instead, advising her I would carry them to the dining room table. First, though, Bea peeked at the pie, which drew her praise.

“Would you like to see the dinner?” I asked. I lifted the lid to reveal shreds of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans, a dab of cranberries and a dinner roll. Bea’s smile widened wider.

The petite senior pulled silverware from a drawer and I followed her to the table with the dinner and the dessert, depositing both onto her directed spot. And then I bent close, spontaneously wrapping this dear woman in a hug. She held on and cooed and I nearly cried for the joy of the moment, of holding Bea close in a prayer of thanksgiving.

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Note: This is the second year Randy and I have delivered meals for the Faribault Community Thanksgiving dinner. We donated about two hours of our time to wait in line, pick up 10 meals and take them to five homes in Faribault. It continues to be a humbling, joyful and meaningful experience.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Time for a positive focus August 18, 2017

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MY THOUGHTS WEIGHED heavy earlier this week. So today I focus on the positive.

It is important in the midst of chaos, unrest and discontent to reconnect with whatever brings you joy, peace and purpose.

 

Four generations: Great Grandma Arlene, Grandma Audrey, Mother Amber and baby Isabelle, all together for the first time in July 2016. This photo represents the love of family to me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

I find my joy in my family,

 

A snippet of Jesus’ face in a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

peace in my faith,

 

Photography and writing are my passions. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

and purpose in my passions.

 

This image of a boy feeding ducks in Morehouse Park, Owatonna, Minnesota, exudes pure and simple joy to me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo November 2016.

 

May you find your place of contentment, your sense of peace, your happiness in life. You are worth it.

TELL ME: Where do you find yours?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joys of grandparenting continued May 4, 2017

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Isabelle, my granddaughter.

 

WHEN I BECAME A GRANDMA just over a year ago, my definition of love broadened.

I discovered a new love so profound, so deep, so undeniably wonderful that it nearly defies explanation. Those of you who are grandparents understand.

 

At bedtime, Izzy did not want me to stop reading books. Her mom (pictured here) warned me she would do this. This baby girl loves books. When she awakened, Izzy pointed toward her closet and her stash of books.

 

I am re-experiencing the simple joys of life through my granddaughter. A squirrel scampering across the yard never looked so intriguing. A children’s picture book never appeared more interesting. A first step never seemed more applause worthy. A small body curved against mine never felt more comforting.

It’s not like any of this is new to me. I birthed and raised two daughters and a son and cared for many children in between. Endless memorable and loving moments imprinted upon my heart. But there’s a difference. I was a mother, not yet a grandmother.

 

Isabelle claims her grandpa’s heart and hand.

 

Grandparenting stretches love in a wider way, across and connecting generations. I find incredible joy in watching my eldest daughter with her baby girl. I find incredible joy in seeing how deeply my granddaughter loves her mama (and daddy). I delight in observing my husband as a grandfather, his grease stained fingers clutched by those of his one-year-old granddaughter.

 

On the last two visits to our home, Izzy has been drawn to the stairway. For her safety, we blocked access with a gate. But then Randy decided it was time to teach Izzy how to navigate the stairs. Once the gate was removed, she lost interest and abandoned the stairway.

 

I’m at the age when I am cognizant of time, wondering how the years of raising children—feeling sometimes overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood—slipped by, zip, just like that. Now I have an opportunity to reclaim that period of my life. If my granddaughter wants to page through the same book repeatedly, I will oblige her. If she stretches out her arm, pointing toward whatever she wants with fingers clenching and unclenching, I will “listen.” I will parcel Cheerios onto her high chair tray. I will carry her to the window to watch the neighbor’s dog. I will do what grandparents do best—I will love her with a love that is deep and tender, consuming and wonderful.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joys of grandparenting August 10, 2016

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The MY GRANDMA LOVES ME onesie I gave to my granddaughter at her birth four months ago now fits her.

Isabelle, dressed in the “My Grandma LOVES me!” onesie I gave her at birth, swings a favorite toy.

I’VE BEEN A GRANDMA for four months now. And I have loved every single minute. It’s as if I can’t get enough of sweet baby Isabelle.

By my own admittance, I’ve never been a baby person, deferring holding a newborn until several months after birth. I’m talking other newborns, not my own three babies. And certainly not my darling granddaughter.

Every time I see Izzy, I do a photo shoot. Here's my favorite, shot in the golden hour of evening light on a screened porch.

Every time I see Izzy, I do a photo shoot. Here’s my favorite, shot in the golden hour of evening light on a screened porch.

This past weekend my husband and I had time alone with our sweet baby girl while her parents went on a date. They live an hour away, so we stayed overnight.

Grandpa pushes his little girl during an evening walk.

Grandpa pushes his little girl during an evening walk.

Sunday morning I swooped Izzy up before her mommy or daddy realized she was awake. I carried her to the living room and settled onto the sofa, cradling her in my arms. To my left, Grandpa greeted his granddaughter and coaxed her in to smiling. I love watching my husband interact with Isabelle with such tenderness and love. He is smitten. The day prior, on a stroller walk through the neighborhood to a road construction site, Randy humored us. “Look, Izzy,” he said, “a big sandbox.” I laughed. And although Isabelle couldn’t comprehend, I hope she develops a sense of humor like her grandpa.

Isabelle rolled onto her side once during our stay.

Isabelle rolled onto her side once during our stay.

As the three of us bonded on Sunday morning, I considered the blessing of this baby girl who has brought us such joy. Every little developmental accomplishment calls for celebration. Smiling. Cooing. Rolling over. Standing (with support) on two strong chubby legs. Batting at toys. As the parents of three, Randy and I have witnessed all of this in our own children. But there’s something endearing and remarkable when it’s your grandchild.

And then there’s the joy in seeing your own child as a parent. When Amber walked into the living room Sunday morning to greet her daughter, she sang a short made-up song about sunshine and birds and morning. Isabelle smiled at her mommy. And we all smiled back.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Simple country joys November 12, 2013

IT’S 10:30 ON A SUNDAY MORNING and I am savoring a slice of yellow cake topped with vanilla pudding and a dollop of whipped cream.

Trinity's basement, set up before the annual October fall dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Trinity’s basement, set up before the annual October fall dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I really shouldn’t be eating cake; I don’t need it. But my husband and I have been personally invited by Jean into the basement of Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, for the fellowship hour after worship services. We are visitors.

Beautiful Trinity Lutheran Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Trinity Lutheran Church, a small country church west of Faribault in North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I’m not about to pass on this opportunity to mingle with folks in this rural Rice County church. They are a friendly bunch. These congregants know us as we’ve attended church dinners and the annual North Morristown Fourth of July celebration many times.

I feel comfortable here, chit chatting with Jean about her granddaughter who attends college in South Dakota and is working as a waitress for $2.50/hour. Our discussion centers on whether such a wage is even legal. “How can it be?” we ask one another, incredulous.

But before we can resolve the pay issue, one of the pastor’s sons bolts into the basement clutching something in his hand. He unfurls his fingers to reveal an egg.

“Our first egg!” he exclaims as his older brother peers across the table at the precious brown egg and Dad enthuses about the first egg laid by the flock of 25 chickens. I learn then that the pastor’s boys sold futures on eggs—30 dozen at $6/dozen—during a recent fundraising auction for Cannon Valley Lutheran High School. Now that the hens are starting to lay, it will soon be time to deliver on those purchases.

As I witness this enthusiasm over an egg, I am reminded that sometimes it is the simplest things which give us the most joy. A brown egg in a boy’s hand in a country church basement on a Sunday morning. You can’t make this stuff up.

On bald eagle in this shot, or any I took, but simple joys in viewing this rural scene along Rice County Road 12 on the way to church in North Morristown.

No bald eagle in this shot, or any I took, but simple joy in viewing this rural scene along Rice County Road 12 on the way to church in North Morristown. There’s something about the big sky and the red barn…

Then, after we’ve left the church basement and the boy and his egg and wonder whether he might smash it between his fingers in his excitement, we are equally as excited to spot a bald eagle winging above farm fields. Simple joys. Like cradling a brown egg in your hand in a country church basement.

Horses in the pasture drew my camera, not a deer dangling from a tree.

Horses in the pasture, not a deer hung from a tree, drew my camera on the way home from church.

And then I glimpse a dead deer dangling from a tree, half-skinned, hunters clustered around the body. I am not overjoyed at the sight. But I expect these men are excited. Like cradling a brown egg in your hand in a country church basement.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling