Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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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

 

Artistry in a Minnesota sunset April 24, 2017

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The sun begins to set as we head west on Minnesota State Highway 60 toward Kenyon.

 

SUNRISE, SUNSET…so begin lyrics from a song in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I’ve always loved that musical and the song about the seasons of life. How quickly we progress from the sunrise of life to the sunset.

The setting and rising of the sun, while symbolic of life, are of themselves worthy of appreciation. There’s such beauty in the hues that break across the sky, weaving with clouds and sometimes water to produce spectacular visuals. Works of art, really.

 

A line of clouds divided the sky as we continued west.

 

On an early spring Saturday afternoon, returning from a day trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin, my husband and I aimed toward the setting sun, the sky layered in darkness and light.

 

Between Kenyon and Faribault, the sun silhouetted a farm site.

 

As we drove along Minnesota State Highway 60 west to Faribault from Kenyon, the sun slipped closer to the earth, blazing like a brilliant spotlight in our eyes.

 

 

 

 

Then, entering Faribault on the east side, cresting the Highway 60 hill before dipping toward the river valley, I saw before me hues of orange and yellow brushed across the sky like a watercolor painting. It was one of those moments of nearly indescribable, spectacular beauty. A gift at the end of the day.

Welcome home.

FYI: Please check back for photos of the sun setting over the Cannon River by the King Mill Dam. We headed there to watch the final moments of the sunset.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts after the inauguration from my ordinary life in Minnesota January 23, 2017

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inauguration

 

A COLLAGE OF THOUGHTS swirl as I consider the weekend, one that began with watching inauguration coverage. My life is so far removed from Washington, from all the glitz and glam and powder blue fashions. I simply can’t relate to such wealth, such power, such opulence.

There’s really no comparison to my ordinary life in Minnesota.

 

car-wash-vehicle

 

My weekend involved grocery and other necessity shopping, checking out a pile of books and a movie from the library, watching a 1960s film about Bonnie & Clyde, sitting through the car wash twice, reading On Writing Well by William Zinsser, rewriting a piece of nonfiction, attending worship services, calling my mom and going to the funeral home. Walk into one visitation, then out the door and into a second visitation.

 

Soap slides down the car window at the car wash, symbolic of my weekend.

Soap slides down the car window at the car wash, this edited photo symbolic of my weekend.

I consoled grieving parents, two grieving husbands, a grieving son and two grieving daughters. I wrapped my arms around a young woman shaking with sorrow at the death of her 56-year-old mom. I comforted a friend who painted the nails of her deceased 98-year-old mother-in-law lying dressed in her wedding gown. As I considered the nonagenarian’s Christian faith, I thought how fitting her burial attire.

 

inauguration-crowd-copy

 

 

This weekend was one of tears, of ranging emotions, of grey skies and foggy days. The world of Washington elite seems as far removed from my life as Mars.

TELL ME: Do you ever think similar thoughts, wondering how those in power can possibly understand the ordinary worlds in which most of us live? Be advised that I don’t want this to turn into a heated political debate.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Silence is not always golden January 10, 2017

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Powering into a new year, symbolism in a locomotive photographed along US Highway 14 between Owatonna and Janesville.

Powering into a new year, symbolism in a locomotive photographed along US Highway 14 between Owatonna and Janesville.

A NEW YEAR BRINGS introspection, the opportunity to start anew, to face challenges head on, to build up rather than tear down.

That can be applied on a personal level and on a community level. In Faribault, my home for more than 30 years, I’ve never felt a stronger sense of caring for one another. That message of “you are not in this alone” has repeated itself in words and actions following two murder-suicides here in December. My community is choosing to be there for one another. That uplifts and empowers.

When life throws us a curve, we need to be there for another, linked by the commonalities of care and compassion.

When life throws us a curve, we need to be there for another, linked by the commonalities of care and compassion.

Yet, it takes more than a community reacting to tragedy to effect real and long-lasting change. And that starts with each of us. But we get busy. And we forget about the individuals in our circle of family and friends who are grieving, battling illnesses, struggling financially, facing unimaginable challenges. I try to be cognizant of the needs of others, especially those closest to me. Sometimes I fail, though, to extend much-needed care. There is no excuse. I have enough time to pick up the phone, send an email, jot a note in a card and/or simply ask, “How are you doing?” I can listen and encourage without injecting my opinion, my advice, myself.

We can

In a harvested cornfield, we choose to walk around the stubble to avoid physical pain. In life, we need to acknowledge the painful stubble in others’ lives and not avoid it.

By ignoring an issue, by failing to address the difficulty a friend or family member is facing, we add to the pain. Silence is not always golden.

Sometimes we must intentionally choose to keep at arm’s length those who fail to support us. That failure can come via omission or via hurtful words and behavior. We are all adult enough to realize when words encourage and when words hurt.

So many times I’ve observed people shift a conversation to themselves, as if that’s going to help whomever is struggling. This is not about ourselves; this is about the person sharing his/her concern.

A strong visual that we can help one another. Photographed near New Ulm.

This strong visual shows that we can help one another. Photographed recently near New Ulm.

Bottom line: We need to hone our listening skills, to show genuine compassion, to be here for each other.

TELL ME: How do you help family and friends who are struggling with challenges in life? What do you find helpful and hurtful when you are dealing with a difficulty? Please be specific. We can all learn from one another.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling