Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Inspired by Maria Shriver’s reflective book, “I’ve Been Thinking…” August 5, 2022

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Published in 2018, a bestselling book I found at my local library. (Cover source: Amazon)

BE STILL. Two words. Two words that, at their core, seem so simple to follow. Yet, in the busyness and chaos and struggles of life, they often prove difficult to remember, then practice.

What does it mean to “be still”?

New York Times bestselling author, journalist, mother and celebrity Maria Shriver addresses the topic in “A Time to Rest,” a chapter in her book, I’ve Been Thinking…Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life. In the chapter focusing on the importance of rest and reflection, Shriver reminds us to “be still.”

Those two words are a reference to Psalm 46:10 which, several years ago, became a bit of a mantra for me thanks to my friend Steve. Steve is quiet, a man of sparse words. So when he speaks, people tend to listen, really listen. He holds a deep faith. And when he pointed me to a specific verse in a Psalm that would remind me often to “be still” and hear the voice of God, he knew exactly what I needed.

A contemplative and peaceful photo I took, and edited, in December 2017. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

This past week, Shriver’s book has based my morning time of quiet, of prayer and devotional/inspirational reading. I recommend this reflective collection of short themed chapters ending in prayer to anyone, whether a person of faith or not. I fully agree with Shriver’s advice to take time each day for quiet reflection, for thought and for a centering that calms. Be still.

Her inspirational book covers so many topics—empathy, listening, gratitude and much more—that, if we choose to practice them, will make our lives better and this world a much better place, We are, after all, all connected, Shriver writes as she calls for kindness and love to prevail. None of this is new. Yet, to read her words, from her perspective and experiences, reminds me that none of us are truly alone, unless we choose to be alone. Each of us deserves to be valued and appreciated. Heard.

An important message displayed at LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

She encourages each of us to pause before we pass along something we’ve read or heard as truth. Like Shriver, I have worked in journalism and understand the necessity of verification, of truthfulness. She calls for a social kindness movement. I’ll take kindness period in a world where kindness feels more and more elusive.

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

In the end, Shriver holds hope. And I do, too. Hope has been my focus word for many years. Hope, centered in my faith, has carried me through some especially difficult times. We’ve all had them—the struggles that stretch and challenge us. I hope you’ve never felt alone in difficulties. I haven’t.

I need to read books like I’ve Been Thinking…, to remind me of hope. To uplift and encourage and inspire me. To remember always to rest and reflect. To be still.

TELL ME: How do you work at being still? And what does “be still” mean to you?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The realities of job loss, a personal story July 21, 2022

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My husband, Randy, at work as an automotive machinist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

THIS IS MY TRUTH. It is 9:25 am, and I am exhausted. I’ve been awake since 4 am. Randy awoke two hours earlier. After a while of tossing and turning, I rolled out of bed and finished reading a book by a nurse who worked for 11 months in a Minnesota COVID ICU Unit. A review of that powerful book will be forthcoming.

But today this is a post about what’s keeping me awake. More precisely this is a story of job loss. In early May, my husband of 40 years learned that he will lose his job of 39 years as an automotive machinist at an auto parts store. Not because he didn’t do a helluva a job, but because the new out-of-state corporate owner is opting to close down the profitable and much-needed machine shop. Randy was given four months to wrap up work he had scheduled in, with orders not to accept new work. That’s substantially affected his income and his morale.

FEELING DEVALUED AND STRESSED

It’s been hard, really hard. The stress is wearing on us, Randy especially. He is one of the calmest individuals I know. But this, this disrespect and devaluing of him after 39 years of hard work and loyalty is tough to take. Every single day he deals with customers upset about the shop closure. Every single day he turns away work. Every single day he deals with rumors spread by co-workers and others. Every single day he goes to work weary of it all.

And that filters to me as I try to support, encourage and be there for him. I am angry. I am frustrated. I am tired and drained and stressed. Mentally exhausted. Randy likely feels that quadruple. We are grieving.

DON’T SAY THIS TO US

If one more person tells me to look on the positive side, that something good will come from this, I will scream. I don’t need to hear that right now. I need affirmation of my anger, my frustration, my exhaustion, my worries, my stress. Randy needs the same. We are entitled to these feelings. And we will own them.

I recognize that our current situation has happened to others. I’m sorry for that. But today this is our story.

YOU WORK HARD ALL YOUR LIFE & THEN THIS HAPPENS

Randy is not yet full retirement age. That won’t occur until early next year. Uncertainties exist about his future, including his end date, which may be as early as July 29 or perhaps August 31. Communication is lacking. An attorney has been consulted. None of this should be. Not after 39 years.

My heart hurts for Randy. He should be leaving his long-time job on his terms, in his time. Gone is the thought of a retirement party with customers, co-workers and family gathering to celebrate and honor Randy. He’s a good man. A decent man with a strong work ethic. Highly-skilled at his trade. Remarkable in his devotion to meeting customers’ needs and providing excellent service. He is dedicated, working long hours for 39 years. The list of attributes could go on and on.

I, of course, am biased. But anyone who knows Randy would tell you the same. He is farm boy strong with a background of physical labor. Talented and hands-on skilled. Grease rings his fingernails. Grease stains his worn steel-toed work boots. And sometimes grease stains his face.

Today I see his weary face. I see the exhaustion. I see the stress and uncertainty. He can’t sleep. Neither can I. We are exhausted.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts & thanks as 2022 begins January 1, 2022

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As we begin 2022, please remember this, that you are loved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo; image taken along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin)

HERE WE ARE, on the first day of a new year. Days and weeks and months unfolding before us. Full of unknowns, possibilities, whatever life brings. Happiness. Sorrow. Sickness. Health. Joy. Sadness. To be human is to experience all. Sometimes alone. Sometimes together.

I expect that, without much thought, you can recall particularly challenging times/events in your life. In those difficult days, you likely felt overwhelmed, wondered whether you would make it to the other side. To the days when the pain and stress and anguish would lift. And light would shine again.

And I expect also that you did not go it alone. Perhaps faith carried you. Family and/or friends, too. Maybe professionals. And your inner strength. It often amazes me just how strong and resilient we humans can be. Even in the toughest of circumstances.

The support and friendships I’ve formed via blogging amaze me, too. I’ve connected with some really kind, caring and compassionate individuals. Some friendships remain virtual. But others developed in to in-person friendships. Regardless, these individuals are now part of my circle, part of my life. Their generosity of spirit has uplifted me countless times.

Me behind my first Canon EOS 20D. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Most recently, a blogger friend asked what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted/needed only one thing. A camera. Just like the one I’ve used for the past decade plus. A Canon EOS 20D. I’m on my second 20D and it was failing, just like the first. Locking up. I knew its days were numbered and I would need a different camera. The 20D is an older camera. But I’m comfortable and familiar with it. I checked two camera shops online in the Twin Cities metro to find only a few used cameras, none of them a 20D. No surprise there. A new camera was not an option. Have you looked at camera prices lately? Then came my blogger friend’s email asking what I would like for Christmas. She hoped to send me something after the holidays.

Days later, a package landed on my front steps. I hadn’t ordered anything. Wasn’t expecting anything. But when I slit the box, I found a camera body inside. A Canon EOS 20D. I actually shrieked, nearly cried with joy at this most thoughtful gift which allows me to continue to create. I’m delighted to have my third 20D in my hands. I’ve always believed that good photography is more about the skills of the person creating with a camera than about the equipment. I couldn’t believe my blogger friend found this coveted aged camera, and so quickly. I am beyond grateful.

Now, entering into another year of creativity, I fully intend to use my talents to share, in images and words, the world I discover. I will continue to take you into small towns. Along gravel roads. Into woods and along rivers and lakes. To community events. I will show you art and natural beauty, the places I go, the things I see and do. And I hope that in doing so, I bring you joy, expand your world, perhaps uplift you.

Thank you, dear readers, for following Minnesota Prairie Roots. Thank you for supporting my creativity. For recognizing that creativity connects all of us. And that creativity matters.

Happy New Year!

© 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

 

Creating kind words in chaotic times November 6, 2020

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My vintage Scrabble game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

GIVEN MY LOVE OF WORDS, I’ve always enjoyed playing Scrabble. But it’s been years since I pulled out my 1970s vintage game to build words on a board. Randy doesn’t like the game. So it sits in the closet, collecting dust.

But let’s imagine for a second that I pulled out that Scrabble game, turned all the letters face down and randomly selected seven to start the game. What words would I form? Could I plan ahead and make the most of my letters to score the most points? I could try. Yet, another player’s actions often change the best thought-out plans.

Much is also left to chance. There’s only so much you can control while playing Scrabble, or most games for that matter. Kind of like life.

“Protect the herd” plays off Northfield, Minnesota’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Like right now we can do everything possible to protect ourselves from COVID-19 (such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands, avoiding crowds, etc.). But we may still contract the virus. That doesn’t mean, though, that we should just give up and resign ourselves to getting COVID. We do have the power, and the responsibility, to try our best—by following health and safety guidelines, by making changes in our behavior and finding ways to improve our health—to possibly fend off the virus. And we need to recognize that our choices and actions affect others. Just like in Scrabble.

The past few days have been difficult ones, not only because of the presidential election, but also because more and more people I care about have either contracted COVID or have loved ones with the virus. COVID cases and deaths here in Minnesota are breaking records. I feel pretty stressed, as I’m certain many of you do.

Displayed at LARK Toys. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

What’s a person to do besides stay the course and seek ways to relieve the building anxiety and stress? Part of the answer rests on the Scrabble board I photographed several years ago at LARK Toys in Kellogg. Be kind.

I can be kind to myself, recognizing that my feelings are valid. And if I feel like I need a handful of dark chocolate chips to help me feel better, that’s OK.

I can also strive to work harder at kindness. I recognize I sometimes fail and miss opportunities to express kindness. I can choose to take my focus off scoring points to creating kind words. That’s my Scrabble analogy.

And just so you know, the one person who always beat me at Scrabble was my mother-in-law, Betty, gone 27 years now She proved a fierce competitor. And I loved her for that.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections after 38 years of marriage May 15, 2020

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My husband, Randy, and I exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta following our May 15, 1982, wedding. Photo by William’s Studio, Redwood Falls.

 

TODAY RANDY AND I CELEBRATE our 38th wedding anniversary. He is taking the day off from his job as an automotive machinist. It’s a much-needed break in this, his especially busy season. COVID-19 or not, vehicles, tractors, recreational toys and more still need repair. And rare are the specialists like Randy who do this type of work anymore. It’s labor intensive, demanding and requires knowledge that comes from decades of experience.

But I digress. Today is our anniversary, a day to reflect on our marriage and each other, not on a global pandemic and work.

 

MAY 15, 1982

Thirty-eight years ago, I married Randy in my small southwestern Minnesota home church, surrounded by family and friends. The ceremony included singing of my favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior,” by the congregation and a solo of “O, Perfect Love” by a friend. The selected scripture reading was Genesis 2:22-24. There are no recordings of our wedding service, only still photos and a worship service bulletin. And memories.

 

The Vesta Hall, a community gathering place in my hometown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

After the ceremony at St. John’s Lutheran, we gathered at the Vesta Community Hall a few blocks away for a meal catered by HyVee, followed by socializing and then a dance, with a live band. There was nothing fancy about any of this. Strips of twisted crepe paper and vases of single carnations decorated long tables. My cousins waited on guests, green and yellow gingham cotton aprons, stitched by me, protecting their dresses. Diners sat on metal folding chairs pulled up to uncovered tables.

Randy and I toasted with green punch my mom prepared. Randy still reminds me of the putrid hue. Hey, our colors were green and yellow. Not John Deere shades, though. We posed for photos with our three-layered wedding cake with my husband insisting we not smash cake into each other’s faces. I’m thankful for that request. Smart guy.

Afterward, we danced across the worn wooden floor, twirling and linking arms and enjoying the evening with family and friends. I kicked off the ballet style shoes that pinched my toes. Around midnight we left for the short drive to nearby Marshall and a hotel room that reeked of cigar smoke. Funny how you remember details like that.

 

MAY 15, 2020

Fast forward to today. It seems unfathomable that 38 years have passed since our May 15, 1982, wedding. Three kids and two grandkids later, here we are, much older, much more seasoned in life. When I think on all that’s transpired in nearly four decades, I feel especially thankful for Randy. He remains the calm and steady man I married, a good balance for me.

 

Me, next to my poem, River Stories, posted along the River Walk in Mankato as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Photo by Randy Helbling, November 2019.

 

Together we have grieved the loss of parents and other loved ones, dealt with family crisis, faced health issues, raised a family, found joy in the simple things in life, been there for one another. When he married me 38 years ago, I doubt Randy ever envisioned attending poetry readings. But he has, many times, supporting me in my writing. That says a lot for a guy who likely never cracked open a poetry book before marrying a writer. I appreciate, too, that Randy supports my photography, sometimes even pointing out photo ops I miss.

We both enjoy country drives, small towns, craft breweries, summer concerts in the park, church dinners, time with our grown children and now, especially, our sweet grandchildren. I’ve learned to like car shows, but not for the same reasons as Randy. While he’s looking under hoods, I’m looking at hood ornaments, appreciating the artistic aspect of vintage vehicles. He enjoys reading historical non-fiction. I prefer fiction. He does Sudoku. I tried once, but failed miserably. Our interests are similar, yet separate.

 

Randy grills nearly every weekend year-round. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate Randy’s many talents, from his grilling skills (and, yes, he even grills veggies like Brussels sprouts and broccoli for me) to his ability to fix almost any mechanical issue with our vehicles to his compassion in “leading” Sunday morning video church services at a local nursing home (pre-COVID).

My love for Randy remains as strong as 38 years ago. Changed, yes. But not at its core. We have done life together. Celebrated good times and, together, managed many difficult times. He has been there for me and I for him. For 38 years. And for that I am grateful.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts as I welcome 2020 January 1, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

TODAY THE SUN rises and sets on a new decade, 2020. That number sounds so surreal to me, someone who came of age in the early 1970s, at the end of the Vietnam War, a time of unrest and discord, of young people raising their voices.

But has anything really changed? The sun still rises. Discord still exists. And if it didn’t, I’d worry.

These are certainly trying times. But every generation has faced challenges. The difference now is the instant speed at which we become aware, how close our world has grown (or maybe not) due to technology, how rapidly untruths spread. I remember my mom telling me once how frightened she felt following the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a nine-year-old living in rural Minnesota, she had no concept of place, of distance. She thought the attack occurred only towns away.

I am, of course, simplifying the differences between yesteryear and today. One could argue more points about the ever-changing world. And I likely would not disagree.

But at the very basic, we are all just human beings with wants, needs, desires, hopes and dreams. For some those are grand and far-reaching and social media attention grabbing. For others, life is less complex. I, for example, am content with a quiet life, with loving and being loved, with serving others, with experiencing joy in everyday moments, with finding delights in the simple. A sunset. A sweet, “I love you, Grandma.” A good book. A Sunday afternoon drive. A hoppy IPA from a local craft brewery. Chats with friends after church.

In 2020, I desire more of those moments that frame a life of contentment. I desire, too, more time with my adult children and their families; I’d love for all of us to spend a few days together. I pray for improved health for family members.

Whatever happens in 2020, I am grateful for another year. To live. To love. To write. To photograph. To be the best person I can be. To treat others with respect and kindness. To show care and compassion. To listen, an art that seems in short supply in a me-driven world of talking over others. To empathize and make a positive difference whenever and wherever I can. Thank you for being a part of my life, for embracing my creative endeavors and for all you do to make this world a better place.

Happy 2020, dear friends!

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When fact & fiction twist together December 19, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo, March 2019.

 

THE ROUTE TOOK US along a twisting river road past decaying and broken trees in dense woods. I worried a limb might drop atop our van as we drove north out of Lucan in southwestern Minnesota.

Then we reached a spot abuzz with people—campers and anglers mostly—stopping at a store to stock up on supplies. We decided to stop, too, and explore this rustic place in the middle of nowhere. Randy parked. Then we, with kids in tow, crossed a narrow walkway over a stream as we hiked toward the store some distance away.

Once inside, a maze of rooms awaited us at this lakeside property. People swarmed the shop. We browsed.

I decided, at some point, that I needed photos of this unique rural general store. But I’d left my camera in the van, a choice I sometimes make when I opt to simply enjoy being in the moment.

But once outside, I couldn’t find the van among the vehicles jammed into parking spaces scattered through the woods. By that time the rest of the family had exited the shop and we began, in earnest, to search for the van. I remembered then, as I crossed the narrow walkway over the stream, that we’d parked on the other side of the waterway. Near an ice cream shop I hadn’t initially noticed. How could that be?

After searching to no avail, I inquired about the missing van. They had it towed, the dispenser of ice cream said. I understood none of this. Sure, we’d experienced problems with the van, but nothing tow-worthy. We needed our vehicle to get to our niece’s 3 p.m. wedding and to visit my mom prior. By this time I was crying, sobbing really, frantic words pouring forth. “My mom is in hospice. She’s dying,” I wailed. “We need our van.”

And then I awakened from my nightmare. Partially. The setting, the general store, the ice cream shop, the story-line are all fictitious—part of a dream I experienced a few nights ago. But snippets are real. Too real.

On the rare occasions when I recall my dreams, I can connect them to thoughts and emotions. My mom is in hospice. For real. I thought I was mentally and emotionally prepared for her ongoing decline in health. I am not. And our 2003 van, just days ago, was in the repair shop, causing me additional angst.

We have places to go, family to see, goodbyes to say…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections at summer’s unofficial end September 4, 2019

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THE SIGNS EXIST EVERYWHERE. In the sunny warm days that give way to nights so cold I’m now closing windows overnight. In the melodic chirp of crickets. Of leaves tinged red.

 

 

These days feel of summer’s end, of autumn slipping in, of days that are shorter, nights that are longer.

 

 

And, unofficially, Labor Day marks the end of summer.

 

 

I expected a different summer from my previous two of broken bones and subsequent therapy. I expected a fun summer of relaxation and exploration. Joy of carefree days. Sunday afternoon drives.

 

 

But sometimes life delivers the unexpected (worse than broken bones) and we learn that we are made of much more than we ever thought possible. Strength stretched. Faith strengthened. Patience tested. Endurance not a choice.

 

 

I learned that I can be assertive and strong and persistent and a fighter. I learned the definition of selflessness, not that I’m a selfish person. I learned the incredible depth of love. Beyond what I even thought possible.

 

 

I learned to prioritize, to drop the unnecessary, to focus on what was most important.

 

 

I learned the enduring value of friendship from those friends who cared from day one and continue to care. It is true what they say about finding out who your friends really are during difficult days.

 

 

When I look back on the past four months, I see a spring and summer that seem unrecognizable. It’s been a journey, one that continues. But as the season of autumn arrives, life is better, calmer. And for that I am thankful.

 

All of these photos were taken last week during an evening walk through Faribault Energy Park.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on listening, understanding & more, plus a poem April 25, 2019

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I’LL BE THE FIRST to admit that I am not bold. I am not a risk taker. I dislike change.

But to read this poem I crafted with magnetic word tiles and posted on my fridge, you might think I am a bold risk taker. Not all of us are. Not all of us can be. And that’s alright. We each hold value in who we are. This poem simply expresses my creativity.

I don’t pretend to be someone I am not. Call me authentic. I like that word.

I am not loud, but I will speak up when necessary. Sometimes the quietest voices are louder than the loudest.

I value listening more than talking. Too many people like the sound of their own voices. We should all strive to listen better. It seems a mostly lost art.

When we listen, compassion and understanding happen. When we place ourselves in the shoes of someone struggling with challenges, we begin to understand. Begin to understand how words and actions can hurt. Or heal.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of judging, of thinking we have all the answers, that everything in life is black-and-white. It isn’t.

Life is a mix of colors. Some days vibrant. Other days muddied. But it is a life we are in together. If only we recognize that and try harder to care for one another. With ongoing understanding, love and compassion.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling