Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The kindness of a faith community July 20, 2018

 

CHOCOLATE MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER, right? Or at least it helps.

Chocolate lifted my mood recently following the death of my friend and pastor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nirva. He died June 9 in Sweden from complications related to cancer. His unexpected death while traveling with family hit me, and our congregation at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, hard.

 

 

From across town, First English Lutheran Church reached out, gifting Trinity with a basket of hugs and kisses. Of the Hershey’s chocolate variety. The congregation’s act of Christian love and sympathy touched me and many others. How thoughtful and kind and caring.

 

 

Likewise, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church sent a plant to honor Pastor Nirva at a celebration of life service last weekend. What a blessing to live in a town where such grace is extended to a faith family grieving the loss of its senior pastor.

Thank you, First English and Our Savior’s.

 

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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What you should & shouldn’t say to someone with a broken bone July 2, 2018

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Just days after open reduction internal fixation wrist surgery, the swelling in my fingers is diminishing.

 

I PONDERED WHETHER I should pen this post because many kind words have been extended to me since my fall and subsequent surgery on my broken left arm. Thank you.

But many other words have also been offered that don’t help me or my situation. So if I come across as a tad cranky in this post, it’s because I am. My humor, tolerance and Minnesota Nice only stretch so far.

Following is a short list of comments which I’ve heard and which you should not make to someone with a broken bone. I’ll follow that with a list of ways to encourage and help. We can all learn from one another, right?

Here goes.

DO NOT call me a klutz. I’m not. My fall on rain-slicked wooden steps was an accident. Simple as that.

DO NOT state or suggest (while laughing or not laughing)) that my husband pushed me. He didn’t. There’s nothing funny about domestic violence. I won’t dwell. Click here to read an earlier post on that topic.

DO NOT tell me I broke my arm because I don’t drink enough milk or eat enough cheese, yogurt or other dairy products. That’s like telling a cancer patient she ate too many red Popsicles or a heart attack victim that he didn’t eat enough oatmeal. Not helpful.

I defy anyone who fell as I did not to break a bone. A friend who worked as an ER nurse tells me broken arms are common in falls as we instinctively try to break a fall with our hands. My doctor noted in my records, in layman’s language, that the fall caused my arm bone to break. Not a lack of consuming enough dairy.

So what should you say? Here’s what I’ve found helpful: A simple “I’m sorry” works. Or, “How are you feeling?” Or something similar. There is no fault-finding, no accusations, no name-calling. Simply kindness.

Get well cards and encouraging emails/texts/calls also go a long ways in uplifting. Ask how the person is doing. And, please, don’t deflect the conversation to a lengthy story about your (or a family member’s) broken bone experience. I’m not selfish. But are we talking about you or me here?

Additionally, I really appreciated the meals my niece Amber prepared for us. I need to remember that myself and reach out to others with food in their times of need. Cookies baked by my 24-year-old son and his girlfriend and shipped from Boston likewise fed my body and soul. As did flowers from Randy and a thoughtful gift sent by a friend in North Carolina.

Everything I’ve written here is pretty common sense. Sometimes we just need to pause and think before blurting out words that aren’t at all helpful.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How two Faribault businesses made me smile with great customer service May 2, 2018

In the small town of Ellendale, kids bike to Lerberg’s Foods for groceries and the occasional slushie. Here two sisters and a friend slurp their slushies while sitting on bags of water softener pellets next to the pop machine. This is one of my favorite images of a small town local business. I took this photo in August 2011. Lerberg’s Foods is still in business.

 

I VALUE GREAT CUSTOMER service. It can be the deciding factor in whether I patronize a business. If I have a bad experience, I’ll think twice about returning. If I have a great experience, you bet I’ll give that business my business.

Now more than ever, customer service holds significant value along our main streets. It is one way local businesses can compete with online shopping. Not that that is a personal concern for me; I seldom shop online. But most people do. So our local shopkeepers need to go that extra mile to create a welcoming experience that meets customers’ needs.

What comprises great customer service? For me, it starts with a smile. The minute I walk in the door, I should be greeted, valued. I don’t need a clerk or store owner who hovers, but I appreciate someone who is subtly attentive. Help me if I appear overwhelmed, uncertain or can’t seem to find whatever. Listen. Offer choices. Answer questions. And then listen some more. Or leave me alone if I’m sending body language signals that I’d rather be left to browse.

I expect it’s not always easy to determine how to best serve a customer. But a shopkeeper can’t go wrong by simply being nice. And helpful.

 

 

I cite two recent examples from my community of Faribault where two grocery store employees showed exceptional customer service. Both on the same day. While at Hy-Vee, I was approached by an employee who apparently noticed me filtering for too long through clamshells of strawberries special-priced at $1.28/pound. I couldn’t find any berries that weren’t over-ripe and/or rotting. Even at a bargain, I won’t pay for bad produce and dislike when a grocer tries to sell food that should be tossed.

But this employee decided he wanted a satisfied customer. He offered to go to the back storeroom and find a pack of acceptable berries. Two if I wanted two, although I pointed out the “Limit one to a customer” sign. He would bring two, he said. I waited until he returned. With only one pack. But that was OK. He also promised to have those over-ripe berries cleared from the shelves.

At my next grocery store stop, I experienced exceptional customer service in the bakery department of Fareway Meat & Grocery. I was on a mission to find a smiley face cookie for my two-year-old granddaughter. Typically those cookies are sold at Hy-Vee. But on this Saturday they weren’t immediately available. I didn’t have time to wait an hour so headed to Fareway hoping for the coveted cookie.

 

 

I found smiley face cookies, six to a package. But I didn’t want six. I wanted one. Perhaps, I thought, I could buy a single cookie from the pick-your-own selections. Turns out the cookies aren’t sold individually. I explained my dilemma to the baker, how I had hoped to buy one cookie for Izzy for her second birthday because her mama loved smiley face cookies when she was a little girl. The baker smiled, then told me to pull a package from the shelves. I could have one, she said. At no charge.

You can bet my mouth curved as wide as the blue smile on that cookie. My joy in that simple gesture of kindness shone as bright as the yellow frosting. Granted, giving away that cookie didn’t cost Fareway much money. But it was priceless in terms of exceptional customer service.

That’s what I’m talking about as we celebrate Small Business Month in Minnesota during May and National Small Business Week from now until May 5. Hy-Vee and Fareway may not classify as small businesses. But two employees at their Faribault stores exemplified outstanding customer service to me. And that, my friends, is how Main Street can compete in today’s global online marketplace.

TELL ME: What’s your definition of great customer service? Give me an example. Do you shop local or mostly online?

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Time for kindness April 4, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WE ALL HOLD WITHIN US the ability to express kindness. That needn’t come in a grandiose gesture, a well-thought-out plan. Rather, we can show kindness in random opportunities presented in everyday life.

Take such an opportunity several days ago as I waited with bread and a pound of butter in a grocery check out line. Behind me, a mom and her daughter stood, too, with a carton of strawberries. Ahead of us, a clerk scanned a young woman’s bottle of salad dressing, jar of spaghetti sauce, bag of meatballs and a hefty pack of bottled water. All of the items went into a shopping cart, which the 20-something customer would need to remove before my purchases went therein. If you don’t pay 25 cents to get a cart before entering the store, you don’t leave with a cart.

As I paid for my two items, I observed the young woman wrestling the case of water from the cart while simultaneously clutching the other purchases in the crook of her left arm. I envisioned the jar dropping, spaghetti sauce and glass splattering, shattering across the floor.

“Here, I can help,” I offered, reaching toward the clutch of groceries in her arm. She smiled, released her purchases to me and grabbed the package of water. “I’ll follow you,” I said, trailing her out the store. I limped and struggled to keep pace while dealing with back and leg pain. But I made it to her van at the far end of the parking lot and waited while she opened the door, placed the water inside, then reclaimed her other groceries. “Thank you,” she said, then repeated, her face flashing a wide smile.

“I’m happy to help,” I said and wished her a good day.

I don’t share this story to applaud myself. I share this story because it’s an example of how a stop at the grocery store gave me the opportunity to be kind. I could have chosen to simply watch the young woman struggle with her groceries. But I didn’t. I opted to help, to take the extra time to do what was right. I hope that you, too, find such moments to reach out with acts of kindness. In today’s chaotic and tension-filled world, where disagreements and meanness seem all too prevalent, we need to connect, to help one another. Whenever we can. However we can.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your stories of simple kindnesses extended or received. Let’s celebrate the goodness in this world.

 

 

 

BONUS KINDNESS STORY: Days after I finished this post and before it published, I noticed my 80-year-old neighbor outside her car parked at the end of her inclined driveway. I was about to grab my shoes and head over to see if something was wrong. But before I could do that, a motorist stopped his car, backed and parked next to her car. Then I watched as a tall and lean young man pulled my neighbor’s recycling bin up her snow-covered, icy driveway to her garage. I doubt she knew him. He was just some guy passing by who saw a person in need and stopped to help. What a fine example of random kindness. This is what I’m talking about, spontaneous giving because we care about each other as human beings.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Love defined on Valentine’s Day February 14, 2018

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This fabric heart, crafted by one of my children in elementary school, hangs on my back door.

 

AS A TEEN, I clipped Love is… cartoons from the newspaper and tacked them onto my bright yellow smiley face bulletin board in my lime green and partially paneled basement bedroom with the candy stripe carpet. I found the cutesy cartoon created by Kim Casali dreamy in the context of a dreamy teen.

 

I have several vintage valentines from my mom’s collection and have displayed them for Valentine’s Day.

 

Above my twin bed, I also taped a black-and-white poster photo of Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, stars in the 1970 movie, Love Story. Oh, how I loved that movie of love and tragedy and a rather feisty Jennifer Cavelleri who used shocking words like bulls**t.

Back then I believed the famous Love Story line: Love means never having to say you’re sorry. That, my friends, is BS.

 

I created a love vignette on a chest of drawers in my dining room. Included are this wood cut-out, wedding photos and vintage and homemade valentines.

 

After 36 years of marriage, I’ve learned the importance of apologizing. And I’ve learned that love deepens and widens and grows with each shared experience. Good and bad. Love bends. Love changes. Love listens, understands, forgives, encourages, supports, serves.

 

Friends who moved from Faribault to near Fargo crafted and mailed this cute owl valentine to us.

 

That definition extends to all who love each other, whether as partners, friends, family.

Love is care and compassion and kindness. It is being there through the joys and the challenges. It is also exercising self-control—clamping your lips, stopping your fingers from sending a hurtful text or email… It is about calling a friend or family member who needs support. It’s about asking, “How are you?” and really meaning it.

 

A snippet of the valentine my 22-month-old granddaughter, with the help of her mama, crafted for me and her grandpa. I love it.

 

This Valentine’s Day, I hope we can all be a little kinder to one another. I hope we can show love in ways that extend beyond chocolate and flowers and dinner out. I hope we can truly be there for one another in ways that surpass some Hollywood version of love. I hope we can listen and believe and care. I hope we can love how we were meant to love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers. I value and appreciate you.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Practicing kindness December 13, 2017

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We each have the power to make a difference through acts of kindness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

KINDNESS. We all understand the meaning of that noun as niceness, compassion, care and other positive definitions.

But do we take that noun and turn it in to action? Do we practice kindness?

The holiday season offers ample opportunities to extend kindness through donations to charity, volunteering and more.

I thought about that for awhile and considered ways I’ve experienced and offered kindness in recent days. Not in remarkable and expected ways, but in everyday life. Simple actions that exude kindness.

On Saturday, a young boy held the door open for me at my local public library. For my husband, too. I delighted in such good manners, such thoughtfulness from someone so young.

Later, after I left the library, I had the opportunity to practice kindness. I spotted a library card on the sidewalk. Rather than walk by, I picked up the card and took it to the front desk. A man observing that action thanked me as he’d once lost a library card and understood the negative consequences.

While shopping at Target on Sunday, I overheard a woman frantic to find her lost cellphone. I offered to call her phone in hopes the ring would pinpoint its location. She accepted my help. Eventually, she found the phone, which had already been turned in to customer service. A domino of kindness gave this story a happy ending.

Kindness also comes from Faribault’s Paradise Community Theatre. Before striking the set of a recent play, the stage crew allowed several of us to take parts of the backdrop to use for next summer’s Vacation Bible School at our church. Those set sections were otherwise destined for the garbage. This gift will save our set designer and builder a lot of time.

On Saturday, Randy and I delivered fruit baskets to two aging friends as part of the Angel Tree outreach at our church. There’s such joy in giving, in extending and receiving kindness.

How about you? How have you transformed the noun kindness into action? Or tell me about kindness gifted to you.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gotcha: A pre-Halloween scare October 31, 2017

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Three almost ghost-like faces, with undefined, haunting eyes, created by Pam Bidelman, and featured in a 2012 exhibit at the Arts Center of Saint Peter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

WHEN THE DOORBELL BINGED twice in rapid succession Saturday evening, my body pumped adrenalin. The ringing happened at the precise moment of intense drama in a psychological thriller unfolding on our DVD player.

I’ve heard this type of hurry-up-and-answer-your-door ring before, years ago when a young man appeared on our stoop seeking protection from a group of men pursuing him. In that panic of phoning 911, of split second decisions, of waiting for the cops, I felt exposed to real, definitive danger.

 

 

This time I expected a law enforcement officer at my door given the darkened hour. Instead, when I switched on the exterior light and peered through the narrow glass in the deadbolted front door, I saw nothing. No shadowy figure. Nothing.

 

 

Until I looked to the bottom step. And then my mind clicked into relief mode, to understanding that an unknown person left a Halloween treat for us. After Randy retrieved the treats—by that time he’d already sprung from his comfortable spot—we discovered that we’d been BOOed. That seems a fitting word given the pre-Halloween scare.

 

 

Once we recovered, we fingered through an oversized seasonal mug holding mini candy bars, a Little Debbie snack, two packets of hot chocolate, a mini scarecrow and my favorite, a blinking jack-o-lantern ring. You can bet I’ll sport that this evening when doorbell-ringing ghosts and goblins arrive, perhaps even the mysterious ghost who BOOed us. I have my suspicions about that spirit’s identity…

 

FYI: We’ve been recipients of such kindness in the past, although not on Halloween. But a cousin and an aunt have continued to haunt me each Halloween with the story of Annie Mary Twente. We’ve carried out such stealthy under-the-cover-of-darkness missions on unsuspecting friends on other occasions like Valentine’s Day.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling