Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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To have and to hold, 36 years later May 15, 2018

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Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982

 

I FLIP THROUGH THE PAGES of the photo album looking at the faces. Young. Smiling. Happy.

Thirty-six years have passed since those formal portraits were taken on my wedding day. It seems so long ago, 1982. We were just 25 then, Randy and I. But as anyone who’s now in their sixties knows, time has a way of flying. It’s not just a saying. It’s the truth.

 

A selfie of Randy and me taken in September 2017 at the walleye statue along Mille Lacs Lake in Garrison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Tomorrow soon becomes yesterday and all of a sudden you aren’t that newlywed on the cusp of life but rather that married nearly four decades couple entering the golden years of life.

I would be lying if I said married life is fairy tale perfect. Maybe in the fantasy world of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But not in real life. We’ve faced many challenges from health to personal and family issues to injuries and accidents and deaths of loved ones. We’ve managed tight budgets and long hours of hard work and even survived many home improvement projects. And we’ve come through on the other side stronger, more appreciative of each other and maybe even better people for having endured difficulties.

Recently, Randy informed me he’s a legend. I laughed, said I would need to treat him with a higher respect. He’d been dubbed a “legend” by a customer referred to my automotive machinist husband as an expert in his field. He is. Randy is really really smart about all things automotive. And with something like 40 years of experience, he rates as a legend. I don’t know what his customers will do when he retires in a few years. I don’t care, frankly.

A favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

Life isn’t all about work. It’s about finding time for each other and those you love. And those we love has now expanded to include our two-year-old granddaughter. I love watching my husband in his relatively new role as Grandpa to Isabelle. There’s such sweetness and tenderness in the moments they share whether reading a book or crawling around on the floor pulling Brio trains.

Thirty-six years ago I didn’t see beyond the front of the church and the face of my groom on our wedding day. I saw only the man I loved. And still love, all these decades later.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving reflections on life November 22, 2017

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A few years ago I found this vintage 1976 calendar at a garage sale. Each year prior to Thanksgiving, I hang it in my dining room as a representative reminder of life’s blessings.

WHEN I CONSIDER THANKSGIVING, I visualize the tapestry of my life woven with gratitude and blessings and, yes, even sadness. Sometimes I’d like to yank the black threads and pull away the darkness, leaving only vivid hues of happiness.

But to do so would present an imitation of my life, a cheap knock-off work of art that portrays the idealistic rather than the realistic. I don’t care who you are, where you live, what you do, you are the accumulation of life’s experiences—positive and negative.

Challenges, whether financial, health-related, personal or otherwise, shape us, make us stronger, teach us empathy and compassion and how to handle grief and anger and disappointment and frustration and pain. At the time we battle difficulties, we usually fail to see the good, the reason to give thanks. Often that comes later, as time passes, acceptance comes, situations change and reflection happens.

For example, I was bullied as a pre-teen by junior high classmates so ruthless and mean that I hated school. I cried every day, wished the teasing would end. It should have. But in those days, no one stepped in to stop the abuse. And one teacher in particular was himself a psychological abuser. Because of those two unbearable years, I hold zero tolerance for abuse whether perpetrated by a child, teen or adult. I use my words now as a way to educate, to help others, to advocate, to make a positive difference.

When I consider personal health challenges like severe osteoarthritis and resulting hip replacement, a broken shoulder, and near deafness in my right ear, I see how my empathy for others has grown, how my patience lengthened, how my thankfulness for my husband deepened. Threads of gold shimmer in the tapestry of my life, outshining the underlying less-noticed darkness of difficulties.

My life remains a work of art in progress. There are days when life circumstances seem overwhelming, when the mother in me wants to make everything better. But then I hear an uplifting song, get an encouraging email or text, hold my granddaughter, hug my husband, write something especially meaningful, talk to my son too far away in Boston, gather with friends, reach out to someone hurting. Then threads of silver and gold sparkle gratitude and thanksgiving for this life I live. Not perfect. But beautiful in blessings.

Today, may you find many reasons to give thanks for your life. Happy Thanksgiving!

© 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

 

From Minneapolis neighborhood to prison, one inmate’s life story June 13, 2017

 

NOT ALL THAT FAR from my home, across the historic viaduct spanning the Straight River, past the hospital and down the road a bit, razor wire tops fences surrounding the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Faribault.

Among the men incarcerated there is Zeke Caligiuri, prisoner and author.

I recently read his book, This Is Where I Am, a memoir that takes the reader from Caligiuri’s growing up years in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of south Minneapolis to a prison cell. His urban life was marked by school truancy, drug use and dealing, crime, violence, and a lack of purpose. All this despite loving parents and a grandmother who never gave up on him, who wanted and expected so much more. He doesn’t blame them for the choices he made.

I’ve never read a book like this because, well, I’ve never read a book written by an inmate. His story is both revealing and yet not so. I kept waiting for Caligiuri to share information on the crime that landed him a 34-year prison sentence in 1999. He never did. To me, the absence of that presents a gaping hole in an otherwise revealing read. For the record, he is in prison for robbery and second-degree murder with a scheduled release in 2022.

A threading theme throughout Caligiuri’s story seems to be an innate desire to change. Yet, the pull of environment, the pull of long-time friends, the pull of drugs, the pull of darkness overwhelmed him. Depression defined that darkness. Given the recent public shift toward addressing mental health issues, this particular part of the story is especially enlightening in its in-depth details. My heart hurt for the young adult overcome by an illness that is too often not addressed by society (although that seems to be changing).

Caligiuri doesn’t write about daily prison life as much as he writes about his feelings and his struggles to maintain his sanity within the confines of a penal institution. When he throws food out of his cell and when he hides a banned something (which he fails to identify) in his cell during a lockdown, I feel no sympathy for the rebellion, defiance and anger he holds. Perhaps I should. But then my thoughts trace back to his crime.

How you view this book depends, I think, on your experiences. If you have been personally affected by violent crime either directly or indirectly through a family member or friend as I have been, you will probably react differently than a reader who has never been victimized.

I appreciate, though, this honesty in Caligiuri’s book: I looked around and everyone had a story about getting f****d by the system, or by their best friend, or the mother of their kids.

Blame, blame, blame…anyone but themselves for their incarceration. That this inmate-writer recognizes that lack of responsibility and accountability is noteworthy.

The author considers himself a much different person than the young adult who entered prison nearly two decades ago. That is evident through the telling of his story. He’s clearly proven himself as an author with a unique voice. He can write. He’s educated himself. He’s matured. In five years he’ll leave prison, trying to determine his new role in the world away from the men who have become his family and away from the place that’s been home for so long.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How to think like a one-year-old May 22, 2017

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EXAMPLE #1:

 

 

“That’s my baby!”

 

 

“My aunt never saw that coming. I got my baby back.”

 

EXAMPLE #2:

 

 

“You’d think Grandma would know how to use her smartphone by now. Guess I’ll teach her.”

 

EXAMPLE #3:

 

 

“Mommy is telling me to get my foot off the table. But then why are she and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa laughing and taking pictures of me?

 

EXAMPLE #4:

 

 

“I really like this toy airplane. If I just drop it in the cooler along with the rhubarb and asparagus, no one will notice. Not Grandma. Not Mommy. Not Daddy. Last time I took a wooden block from Grandma’s house and Mommy didn’t find it until we got home.”

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on 35 years of marriage May 15, 2017

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This photo is from my files, taken at a 50th wedding anniversary celebration several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

HOW DO YOU DEFINE 35 years of marriage?

 

My husband, Randy, and I exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta following our May 15, 1982, wedding.

 

Today Randy and I mark that numeric anniversary. Maybe we’ll go out for dinner. Either this evening or another evening. I prefer not to cook on special occasions.

Mostly, we’ll be content just to be with one another, finding comfort in simply being in the same space. The fireworks of early love have settled into a loving relationship that has endured and grown stronger through shared experiences. Some joyful, others difficult. Life can be challenging, but it’s easier when faced with a loving and supportive partner.

 

Son-in-law Marc, left, daughters Amber and Miranda, and son, Caleb, taken several summers ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We’ve mourned the loss of parents, rejoiced in the births of children and now a granddaughter. Together.

 

Grandfather and granddaughter. This is my favorite picture of Randy with Isabelle, taken shortly after her birth in April 2016.  When it comes to Izzy, Randy is an open book of emotions in his love for her. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Randy matches my often emotional reaction to situations with a balanced calm. And I sometimes push him to examine and express his emotions. When I am too serious, he makes me laugh. I’ve mostly always appreciated his humor.

 

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate, too, his strong work ethic. But I’m thankful he’s finally stopped working six days a week. We both realize time is fleeting and long work days are not worth missing out on life. Looking back on our years of early home ownership and parenting, I wish we’d been less focused on getting projects done around the house. So, yes, there are regrets.

But we’ve learned. We’ve learned that the work can wait. If the lawn needs mowing but we’d rather take a Sunday afternoon drive into the country or to some small Minnesota town, we’ll go. We share a passion for discovering the nuances of places during day trips.

 

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library at Tufts University with the Boston skyline as a backdrop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

Last spring we drove from Minnesota to Boston and back for our son’s college graduation. And survived. Only once, while lost in a seedy part of Buffalo, New York, did I demand to return home. Randy calmed me, assured me that he would find our way out of the mess. He did. We joke about my inability to read a road map and to hold a sense of direction in any place but the familiarity of the gridded prairie.

I am especially grateful to Randy for his continuing support of my creative work. He’s been to more poetry readings than he ever imagined. And he never complains. That’s something for a hardworking blue collar man with permanent grease rimming his fingernails and stamping the creases of his hands. He’s learned that poetry is more than roses are red, violets are blue. Poetry is what his wife writes (even about him; click here).

 

Lilacs, up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Occasionally Randy brings me flowers for no reason other than he realizes I need them. Each spring he gathers a bouquet of lilacs for me. I love that about him, that unexpected gesture of love.

 

My husband grilling in our snowless and warm backyard on Christmas Day. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And I love how nearly every single weekend—yes, even in winter—he fires up the Weber to grill tasty meals.

 

Randy prepares brunch nearly every Sunday after we attend worship services together.

 

He also prepares an incredible Sunday brunch of made-to-order omelets and hash browns with fresh fruit on the side. On Friday evenings he slices the homemade pizza I make and pours our mugs of craft beers. He knows I like IPAs.

 

Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982

 

He also knows my preference for a house that’s comfortably cool. If we disagree about one thing, it’s room temperature. I’m dialing back the heat while he’s notching up the temp. That ongoing dispute seems trivial and laughable now that I’m writing it here.

 

Audrey and Randy in 2015. Rare are the photos of us. That needs to change. This was photographed outside Vang Lutheran Church by a woman at the church following an impromptu stop there. We love touring country churches.

 

When Randy falls asleep in his recliner on a weekend afternoon with NASCAR races droning in the background, I let him be. I immerse myself in a book, ignore the roar of race cars and consider how blessed I am to love, and to be loved, by this man. For more than 35 years.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling