Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

With gratitude to an anonymous friend May 20, 2022

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Love in three languages along the Virtues Trail in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2018)

THE GREETING CARD arrived in a non-descript blue envelope, our names and address printed in reddish marker. No return address, only a flower sticker in the upper left corner. A Saint Paul, MN postmark with a May 13, 2022, date inked the paper next to a floral postage stamp. And, on the back, an artsy heart sticker graced the envelope flap.

I expected to find a card inside wishing Randy and me the best on our 40th wedding anniversary. I was right on that. I appreciated the verse focused on God’s blessings and a prayer for continued blessings in our lives.

From an anonymous friend, an anniversary wish and gift. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But I did not expect the anonymous signature—A friend—or a faith-themed post-it note attached to a $20 bill. That note suggested we treat ourselves, perhaps to Dairy Queen ice cream, and to enjoy our day(s).

The thoughtfulness of this anonymous friend (whom I suspect reads this blog) touched me deeply. There are moments in life when we all need an extra hug, extra words of encouragement, extra kindness. For me, that moment is now. This year, thus far, has proven challenging with the death of my mom in January and recently the news that my husband will be losing his job of 39 years due to a change in business ownership and closure of the automotive machine shop.

A Peanut Buster Parfait from DQ. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

So, when that surprise anniversary card and cash gift arrived, I felt a surge of gratitude for the reminder that others care, that I am blessed by a loving and caring husband of 40 years, that God will, and always has, given us the strength we need to face and work through life’s difficulties.

While walking a recreational trail in Madison, Wisconsin, when my son lived in the Atwood Neighborhood there, I spotted this wonderfully uplifting message. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Many times in my life, I’ve been uplifted by others. I’ve tried to do the same. When someone is struggling or celebrating, I acknowledge that. We all need to be heard, understood, loved, cared for, uplifted. Appreciated. Valued. Encouraged.

The Betty, from The S’Cream in Owatonna. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

And today, because of that anonymous friend—who’s apparently read on this blog that Randy and I treat ourselves to Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfaits twice a year (upon opening and closing of the local franchise)—I feel especially cared for. When I taste the sweetness of ice cream, either from DQ or from our favorite area ice cream shop, The S’Cream in Owatonna, I will taste, too, the sweetness of love sent by an anonymous friend.

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TELL ME: How has someone encouraged you in life? Or how have you encouraged someone? I’d like to hear your stories.

I’d like to thank you, my readers, for your kindness, generosity and encouragement through the years. What a blessing you have been in my life.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In loving memory of Buck Burkhartzmeyer January 8, 2022

Donald “Buck” Burkhartzmeyer. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home)

HE WAS AMONG the most caring individuals I’ve ever met. He being Donald Burkhartzmeyer, “Buck” to those of us who considered him a friend.

Buck died unexpectedly on Thursday, January 6, at the Faribault hospital. He was 97.

A life-long Faribault resident, he made a major impact on this community. Not in a splashy, attention-calling way, but rather in the simplicity of a kind and generous soul who lived his Christian faith. He was soft-spoken, gentle, giving. Always smiling. I expect many stories will emerge in the coming days about Buck’s acts of love. I have my own to share. But first a little background.

Early in the pandemic, inspirational Scripture was posted in the windows of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

A MAN OF FAITH & FAMILY

Buck was first and foremost a man of great faith. He faithfully attended my church, Trinity Lutheran, where he welcomed me to Faribault nearly 40 years ago. Buck was an unofficial community ambassador, showing newcomers around town. He made me feel comfortable as a new bride living in a new place. His example of devotion to God and service to others proved inspirational. He was involved in church and in many community organizations.

He was, too, a family man—husband of Delilah (she preceded him in death), father of four, a grandfather. Friend to many.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes anchors a corner in downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

BURKHARTZMEYER SHOES

After WW II, he joined his brothers, Alvin (Al) and Walter (Putts) in operating Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. He is the last surviving brother. Their parents, Ferdie and Martha, started the business with a shoe repair and harness shop opened in the late 1930s. The Burkhartzmeyers grew the family shoe business, now with third-generation owners, Brian (Buck’s son) and Bruce (Al’s son). And, yes, the store still includes a repair shop.

Buck specialized in fitting and modifying shoes as a certified pedorthist. Now Brian continues that tradition of offering corrective footwear to meet the needs of customers. Their services are well-known, and not just locally. Inside the shoe repair shop hangs a framed thank you letter from Twins baseball great and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. Buck, who enjoyed Minnesota sports and played basketball while in the Navy, assisted many an athlete with their shoe needs. Helping the everyday person, though, meant just as much to Buck.

Through the decades, our family purchased footwear from Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. Work boots. Snow boots. Tennis shoes. Dress and casual shoes. Kids shoes. This is the type of shoe store where owners and/or employees measure your feet, slip your feet into shoes/boots, watch you walk, push on toe ends to check fit, adjust sizes as needed. Every effort is made to get a good and comfortable fit. Buck remembered people’s shoe sizes. Burkhartzmeyer Shoes excels in customer service.

I purchased these snow boots at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

GENEROSITY, FROM CANDY TO SHOES

Buck excelled in goodness and kindness, too. In 2004, the year my eldest daughter graduated from high school, he told her to come down to the store before she left for college. He wanted to give Amber a complimentary pair of tennis shoes. Why? Amber had applied for a scholarship from the Faribault High School Class of 1942, but was not awarded the monies. Buck, who served on the scholarship committee, felt so bad that he decided to give her a new pair of shoes. I’ll always remember the moment we walked into Burkhartzmeyer Shoes to find Buck waiting. He fit Amber with a new pair of shoes and wished her well at Winona State University. That was Buck. Generous. I expect many others in this community can share stories of shoes given to them.

He gave away more than shoes. Buck also handed out red licorice sticks to children after Sunday morning church services. He pulled the candy from his suit coat pocket and slipped it into little hands.

HIS MINISTRY

But perhaps the selfless and loving spirit of Buck is best shown in his many visits with those living in nursing homes. Daily he visited his mother, Martha, at St. Lucas Care Center. She died in 2005 at the age of 107. What a loving son. And husband. Later, when his wife, Delilah, moved into St. Lucas, he visited her daily also. And many others. Endless elders whom he remembered and uplifted with his visits. Employees at Faribault’s east side Kwik Trip, where Buck often stopped after those visits, knew him well.

MORE MEMORIES

A number of years back, Randy and I, as part of our bible study’s Christmas outreach ministry, stopped at Buck’s house to deliver a basket of fresh fruit. I remember sitting in his sprawling living room engaged in conversation. I don’t recall what we discussed. But to be in Buck’s presence was to feel uplifted. And joyful.

There’s one more thing Buck did—and I expect he did this for others, too. Whenever an article about me published in the Faribault Daily News, he laminated a copy and stuck it in my church mailbox. That tells you something. He recognized my accomplishments as a writer and wanted me to understand how much he valued me and my God-given gifts.

Today I mourn the loss of this incredibly kind and generous man who showed such love to me and my family. I expect many in this community can say the same. We are all the better for having known Buck. He touched many lives with his gentleness of spirit and will be forever cherished.

TELL ME: If you have a memory or story about Buck, please feel free to share. Click here to read comments about Buck posted on the Burkhartzmeyer Shoes Facebook page.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home website

 

The winds of December topple holiday trees December 6, 2021

The Holiday Tree Display in Faribault, late Sunday afternoon, when winds tipped trees. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

WICKED WINDS SWEEPING from the northwest into Faribault Sunday afternoon into Monday brought more than cold temps. The strong winds also toppled Christmas trees displayed in Central Park.

Tipped tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Fallen ornaments atop a Christmas tree skirt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Fallen snowman tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Randy and I headed out to view the Holiday Tree Display, a project of the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, after the Vikings game. When we pulled up, we observed numerous trees lying on the ground, ornaments littering the lawn, tree toppers askew.

A member of the Wunderlich family stands near the tree (left front) he and his sister donated. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
A cross tops the tree donated by the Wunderlich family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Tubes of sand anchor a tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Several tree sponsors arrived to deal with the unexpected damage. A Wunderlich family member who, along with his sister set up a tree honoring loved ones and community members who died of cancer, headed across the street to Ace Hardware for sandbags. I noticed sandbags anchoring several trees. And when two women came to upright their trees, Randy and I convinced them to let the trees lie given the prevailing winds.

Randy chats Sunday afternoon with a member of the Wunderlich family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Even though toppled onto the ground, this star topper still shines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
A particularly beautifully-decorated tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

When Randy drove by the holiday display Monday morning on his way to work, he reported more trees down with only perhaps 10 of the 34 still standing. Winds still blew, with the temp dipping into the single digits. It feels a lot like winter now. No snow here, though. But central and northern Minnesota got enough to create travel issues and necessitate late school starts.

Across the street, the beautiful, historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour provides a lovely backdrop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Ah, Minnesota. I expect next year precautions will be taken to keep those holiday trees standing straight.

An unusual tree sponsor name. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
So many beautiful ornaments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Grey against grey. A rustic star. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

This is only the second year of a project which spreads Christmas joy. All trees are sponsored and decorated by local businesses, organizations, civic groups, etc., and then donated to families/individuals without a tree. It’s a great idea, one which garnered the 2020 Minnesota Recreation and Park Association Award of Excellence for Faribault Parks and Rec.

In the grey of a December day, this red star brings light. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

I feel thankful to live in a community of generosity.

Found among the ornaments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021.)

None of us ever knows when strong winds will sweep into our lives and knock us down. None of us ever knows when we will need the kindness of others to uplift us, to help us stand, to support us. To give us hope. There is something to be learned from wicked winter winds. We need one another, even if sometimes we think we don’t.

Photographed Sunday afternoon. All trees have now been placed upright. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

FYI: The trees have now been placed upright and staked, and will be displayed until December 10.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shining a light of hope at the pharmacy October 5, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2021.

SHE VOCALIZED HER DISTRESS not to me specifically. But in general. In the pharmacy waiting area at a local grocery store.

I’d just arrived to get my seasonal flu shot, the powered-up version for those 65 and older, when a woman familiar to me expressed dismay over the price of her medication. Medication she couldn’t afford because she was on limited disability income. That much she shared publicly with those of us waiting. Hers was not a plea for help, but rather frustration released in words not directed at anyone. Simply spoken.

MY HEART BREAKS

In that moment, my heart broke. My empathy swelled. I recall standing at that same pharmacy window not all that long ago feeling overwhelmed by the cost of a necessary medication for a family member without insurance coverage or income. I was on the verge of tears. I didn’t turn away from the window then and unleash my despair. But rather I spoke my anguish to the pharmacy employee. And, on that day when I felt such angst over the price of a med, that caring employee found a discount that made the prescription affordable.

Now here I was, presented with an opportunity. I could ignore the distress I heard in someone I knew—but who didn’t recognize me in my face mask—or I could choose to help. I would like to write that I reacted immediately. But I didn’t. Rather I pondered briefly before reaching into my bag to remove a $20 bill. Money from a check I’d cashed a half hour earlier. Payment for photo rights sold at a discount to a nonprofit. Unexpected income that I could use, but which this woman needed more than me.

SUNSHINE

I called her by name, then extended my hand toward her with the $20. “Here, I want you to take this to help pay for your prescription.” She accepted with a smile. And a surprised look on her face. And a generous “thank you” shining a sliver of sunshine into the darkness of financial worry.

As I waited, she did, too. We didn’t converse further. Soon a pharmacy employee called her to the window. They’d found a generic brand of her medication. Presumably more affordable. She returned to me, to return the $20. I declined. “You keep it,” I said. And she did.

MEMORIES & GRATITUDE

Afterwards, when I shared with my husband about this encounter and my gift, I started crying. The emotion of remembering when I was that woman in line at the pharmacy rushed back in those tears. I recalled, too, how extended family and friends helped us during a challenging period in our family’s life and how I’ve felt the blessings of kindness and generosity from others (including those who read this blog). How loved and encouraged and supported I felt.

MEANT TO BE THERE

There’s another twist to this story worth noting. I initially planned to get my flu vaccine at the grocery store’s advertised drive-up clinic. But there was/is no drive-up clinic (much to my dismay). Because of that, I had to go inside the store to the pharmacy. That put me in the path of this woman—who lost her husband several years ago—and in a position to help. Moments like this happen for a reason. And even though $20 is not a lot of money, it was/is more about the uplifting of another human being. I hope my small gift brought her hope, showed that someone cares, that she matters. That even in the distress of financial worry, sunshine slants through the darkness.

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TELL ME: Have you had a similar opportunity to extend compassion or been the recipient of kindness? I’d like to hear. Now, more than ever, we need the sunshine of goodness shining into our days.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Promoting kindness in Deerwood August 31, 2021

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Deerwood’s historic water tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

IN RECENT POSTS, I’ve highlighted several points of interest—an historic water tower and auditorium and a roadside deer sculpture—in Deerwood, a small town in the central Minnesota lakes region.

Kindness promoted in Deerwood. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

But I need to include one more discovery. That’s the posting of kindness messages on several street corners. I have no idea who posted them or how long they have been in place. But I appreciate them. They gave me a really good impression of this Crow Wing County community on the Cuyuna Iron Range.

Perhaps more are displayed around town. Even if not, this trio was enough to uplift, encourage and give me pause. Now, more than ever, kindness needs promoting. That seems a bit ridiculous to even write. Kindness should come naturally. Sadly, in today’s ever divisive world, kindness is elusive to many.

Kindness is also an “act,” not simply words. This was posted near Deerwood’s water tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

So what exactly is kindness? It’s being nice. You know. Using nice words. Doing nice things. Smiling. Caring. Listening, especially listening. Putting others before yourself, eliminating the me-centered thinking which pervades too much of society.

Kindness, too, is thinking before you speak or post something mean or untrue or uncaring on social media.

Kindness is empathy and understanding and compassion. It is all that is good and lovely and wonderful.

Kindness matters today more than ever. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I can’t help but think that, if we could reclaim kindness, we could overcome this pandemic. That’s simplifying the situation, of course. An article I read recently on MPR about a Texas pastor who nearly died from COVID-19 really resonates with me and fits this kindness topic. I encourage you to click here and read what Pastor Danny Reeves has to say about “what it really means to love our neighbor.” It’s a powerful story that summarizes kindness in a deeply personal way.

To the good people of Deerwood who posted these kindness signs, thank you for the positive messages. I appreciate you and your efforts.

TELL ME: If you’ve seen similar upbeat signage, please share. I’d like to hear what you’ve seen and where. Also feel free to share your definition of kindness.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Insights from a pocket garden June 21, 2021

2nd Street Garden in downtown Faribault. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

WHEN YOU CONSIDER THE WORD pocket, what flashes into view? A side or back pocket in your jeans? A place to tuck your cellphone or keys? A slip of fabric stitched to the front of a shirt? How about a garden? Yes, a garden.

Downtown Faribault features a pocket garden, a mini garden sandwiched in an open space between buildings. I love the concept, the artsy and practical use of a spot that might otherwise exist as unused and unsightly.

In 2018, two sisters and two artists created the 2nd Street Garden next to DuFour’s Cleaners thanks to funding from Faribault Main Street. That downtown-focused group secured a $15,000 grant from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and the Bush Foundation for six creative placemaking art projects, including the pocket garden.

With financial support, sisters Dee Bjork and Beth Westerhouse (who has since died) and husband-wife team Ann Meillier and Dave Correll (Brushwork Signs) designed and created the garden. It incorporates metal flowers, real flowers and plants, a bench and floral art.

A bench offers a place to rest and ponder. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The result is an inviting oasis that feels tranquil and welcoming. And unexpected.

Left behind by a recent visitor to inspire kindness. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Recently, I revisited the garden and discovered a mini stuffed bear on the park’s bench. An attached tag invited visitors to take a photo and to use #LovePeopleBeKind. The bear, with red heart connected, fits the garden’s theme of Love One Another.

An important message tagged to the bear. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

It’s such a simple concept: Love One Another. But it’s not always easy to do. We say and do things that hurt others. We fail to listen. We blame and criticize and jump to conclusions. And with technology, it’s easier than ever to fire off words in the heat of the moment. Without thinking. Without considering. Without putting our fingers and mouths on pause.

The positive message painted onto a fence panel in the garden. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted and edited photo, August 2019.

I’d like each of us to step into a pocket garden. To sit on a real or imaginary bench, surrounded by natural and artistic beauty, and to contemplate. To think beyond ourselves. To think of ways we can grow more loving and caring. To consider that what we say, write and do matters. In either a positive way or a negative way. We can hurt people. Or we can choose to love one another. We can choose to show, and grace others with, kindness, love, care, empathy and compassion.

© 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

 

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

 

Shining light in to lives January 7, 2021

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In this photo, you can see the roofline of our garage. Randy strung three strands of light over the patio, which is between our garage and house. A wooded hillside borders our yard.

I CRAVE LIGHT, especially now, in the deep of winter, in the darkness of these difficult days.

When I awaken in the dark of a January morning here in southeastern Minnesota, I switch on lamps, flick on light switches, filling the house with artificial light. And then, as the sun emerges, I throw open window coverings to reveal grey skies or sometimes brilliant sunshine.

In the evening, when black once again descends, I reverse the routine—close the blinds and curtains, switch lamps and lights back on. I need light flooding the house. To cook. To read. As I’ve aged, my vision has worsened. Some evenings my tired eyes cross to double vision, making reading difficult or impossible. I underwent surgery at age four to correct that problem. But now it’s resurfacing along with cataracts.

Thanks, though, to the kindness of Ruth, a blogger friend from Pittsburgh, I’m finding evening reading easier. She gifted me with a flexible OttLite floor lamp that now floods my reading space with bright light. It’s helped. A lot. What a dear and thoughtful Christmas gift from a friend I’ve never even met.

Light, whether shone through kindness or shone from an actual physical source, is a gift.

Beauty in light against background winter trees.

A few days ago, Randy gave me the gift of light by stringing white Christmas lights across our patio. He pulled the lights from storage as we packed away holiday decorations. Now, when darkness overtakes daylight as I prepare supper, I can look out the kitchen window to those festive lights. They bring me joy—in their brightness and in the love that motivated Randy to string them there.

Kindness shines in loving acts like those of Randy and Ruth. And that of our eldest daughter, who each Christmas gifts us with a personalized calendar featuring photos of our dear, darling grandchildren. Seeing their sweet faces in those images brightens my days. It’s the perfect gift. Full of love and joy and light.

As darkness descends, the lights flood our patio with a festive glow.

Likewise, words also shine light. Kind words. Encouraging words. Uplifting words. Whether written in a comment on this blog, emailed or spoken, thoughtful and appreciative messages always bring me joy. I am grateful. Thank you for shining light into my life.

TELL ME: How has someone shone light into your life? I’d like to hear your stories. And I challenge you, today, to shine light into someone’s life and to continue that kindness in a world in dire need of light.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Nika & the giving tree December 28, 2020

A welcoming message banners the Division Street entrance to the Northfield Public Library.

RECENTLY, I NEEDED to replenish my stash of library books. That meant a trip to the Northfield Public Library 20 minutes away. The Faribault library remains closed to in-person visits due to COVID-19. I’m the type of reader who needs to browse shelves, hold a book and read its summary before deciding whether to check it out.

Plus, Northfield, COVID or not, always rates as a delightful community to visit.

“Rocky the Giving Tree” against the backdrop of the Northfield library.

As soon as Randy and I pulled up to the Northfield library, I noticed a small tree draped with winter scarves near the base of the library hill. But first things first. Books.

I found four, one of which I started and finished that very day. Yes, sometimes books are that good.

Inside the library, a portion of a poem by Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy. This seems to fit well The Giving Tree.

Once I’d gathered those books and snapped two photos inside the library, I focused my attention on the tree. The Gratitude Tree, now renamed The Giving Tree. Previously I photographed gratitude notes here, among the branches.

The library tree is serving as a host site for The Giving Tree and similar projects.
Empty clothespins indicate scarves already taken from a tree once sporting many more items of winter wear.
A tag on each item explains the project.

But this time, hand-knit scarves hung among the branches, each with a note attached indicating these are part of the 100 Kind Deeds Day Project. Need a scarf or other winter wear (I spotted a single hat)? Take one.

Handknit with love…and draped in The Giving Tree.
In the background sits the historic Archer House, severely damaged in a recent fire and its future unknown.
The scarves are almost like an art story.

As I photographed the collection, I wondered about the backstory. After researching online, I discovered this is the endeavor of 10-year-old Nika Hirsch of Northfield, founder of This Life Rocks. Annually for the past four years, Nika has invited the Northfield community to accomplish 100 kind acts in 24 hours. This year she dropped toys off at a hospital, picked up trash in a park and gathered donations for The Giving Tree.

Just across the street from The Giving Tree/library are the lovely historic buildings of downtown Northfield.

But there’s more. Remember that name, This Life Rocks? Well, this all started a few years back after Nika was diagnosed with selective mutism, a disorder often linked to social anxiety resulting in difficulty speaking with most people. With therapy, hard work, the love and support of her family and others, and a project—painting encouraging messages on rocks to leave in public places—Nika has accomplished much. The rock painting allowed her to communicate in a non-verbal way.

The beautiful Northfield Public Library serves as host site and backdrop for The Giving Tree.

Watching videos of Nika, I am amazed at how much she’s overcome, how confident and strong in the face of challenges. Nika truly inspires. She makes this world a much better place with her hands-on care, with her positive attitude, with her motto to live life with enthusiasm. And with her kindness.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling