Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

About that mailbox closure in Faribault January 7, 2019

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SOMETIMES BUREAUCRATIC DECISIONS make zero sense.

 

 

Like this example from Faribault. The local post office, several weeks ago, posted a note on a collection point mailbox that sits along an alley by the post office.

Customers can no longer deposit mail in the box because, according to the notice, the mailbox had been damaged. I can only assume a vehicle hit the mailbox, a possibility when people drive up and drop their mail therein.

But I’ve used this mailbox for decades and I can’t remember any previous such incident. I recall only the time about a year ago when the box overflowed with mail as did another collection box outside Faribault City Hall.

Whatever, the specifics, I am frustrated by the decision to close this particular collection box. I use it all the time. Yes, I’m among the declining number of people who still mail things like greeting cards, thank you notes and bill payments. Why alienate a good customer?

The signage directs customers to use the collection box in front of the post office. Good, we have an option. But that requires either stopping at the end of the alley and exiting my vehicle or parking street side to mail an item. I’m not lazy. I can get out of my vehicle and I can walk. But I don’t like walking across snow and ice. That’s my gripe. I could stay in my vehicle and avoid dealing with weather-related issues by using this mail drop-off point.

The box is also conveniently located downtown.

After 9/11, the post office pulled many collection boxes around Faribault. I learned to deal with that, although I didn’t agree with the decision. And I certainly don’t agree with removing this much-used collection box.

 

 

Based on two suggestions scrawled on the official notice, other customers are unhappy, too. They’ve even offered a solution: Move this one back a foot.

 

 

Makes sense to me.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A long ago kindness honored January 4, 2019

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Edited image of a single rose in a bouquet of 12.

 

FORTY SOME YEARS AGO, I bought lunch for her. In Mankato. Neither of us remembered exactly when or where. But my friend recalled one important detail which she shared shortly after arriving at my Faribault home late Thursday morning. It was the reason she carried a dozen pink roses.

That Debbie would bring me roses seemed a bit much I thought as she walked in the kitchen door and we hugged. We hadn’t seen each other in decades. Our connection is not a deeply-rooted friendship. It just did not make sense that lunch and a visit would prompt Debbie to bring flowers.

Then she explained. When I bought her lunch those four decades ago, she was a poor college student with only $1.50 in her pocket. We met then to talk shop as Debbie considered accepting a reporting job at the same Minnesota weekly newspaper where I once worked. She wanted the scoop. As a young professional earning a salary, I didn’t think about Debbie’s finances. I just said, “Let’s do lunch.” And Debbie showed up.

I had no clue back then of her meager monies. But Debbie arrived at the restaurant with a plan to simply buy herself coffee. And then I offered to pay for her meal.

All these decades later she recalled that simple act of kindness. I had no idea how much my generosity meant to her. But now she wanted me to know, expressing her gratitude with those roses.

Debbie would go on to work at the same newspaper where I once reported. On Thursday we exchanged war stories about sources and too many long board meetings and the challenges of being journalists at a small town newspaper. I blazed the path for her, she said. I’d never considered that. But I knew she was right.

We talked, too, about children and grandchildren and challenges in life and our faith and much more. Debbie is the kind of person who, even if you haven’t seen her in years, you can pick up the conversation and feel like time has never separated you. We share values and work experiences and a certain comfortableness that marks our friendship.

And to think it all started with conversation and mentoring over lunch and me picking up the tab. Sometimes you don’t realize the value in a simple act of kindness. You just do what’s right. And then one day the kindness circles back with unexpected joy. And the blessings of a friendship renewed.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Opening up about mental health January 3, 2019

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Slowly we are beginning to remove the stigma that masks mental illness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

FOR WEEKS, WE’D PRAYED for Lila*. I had no idea why she needed prayers. But it didn’t matter, pray we would as a church family for this friend who’d moved to another state.

A few weeks later, Lila’s husband returned, alone to Minnesota, to lead a local fundraiser. That morning he stepped up to the microphone after worship services and told us about Lila. She was hospitalized, undergoing treatment for severe depression and anxiety. I could almost hear the silent gasp. That took courage, I thought to myself.

I told Henry* the same when I later hugged him, expressed my concern and offered encouragement. He admitted to struggling with his decision to go public. But we agreed that the stigma surrounding mental health is beginning to lift, that talking about mental health issues is important and necessary. For Henry, a retired educator, his openness about Lila proved a freeing, teachable moment.

We all have much to learn on the topic, including me. Kicking depression is not a matter of simply willing yourself to feel better, to just get over whatever someone thinks you need to get over. It’s much deeper than that. Overcoming anxiety is not as simple as jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool and expecting someone to stay afloat.

I admire Henry’s decision to speak up. Likewise, I appreciate that my pastor publicly acknowledges his struggles with depression. That’s a first for me, to hear a pastor talk from the pulpit about personal mental health challenges. He’s young, of a generation seemingly more open to discussing mental health issues. The more we talk about mental illness, the better for those suffering and for loved ones and others trying to help.

Still, talk only goes so far. Waits can be long to see a mental health professional here in greater Minnesota. If you were having a heart attack, you wouldn’t be told to wait six weeks. If you had cancer, you wouldn’t be told to wait for treatment. A mental health crisis is no less important.

I am grateful to two bloggers I follow—Bob Collins at Minnesota Public Radio (NewsCut) and Penny Wilson (Penny Wilson Writes)—who write often on the topic of mental health. (Click here for a particularly enlightening post by Penny.) They are breaking through the stigma, opening the discussion, pointing out the challenges.

Twice in recent years I’ve stood in a snaking line at a Faribault funeral home to comfort the families of young men who committed suicide. I struggled to find the right words. I expect their loved ones struggle with the what ifs, survivor’s guilt, regrets, but, most of all, an unfathomable pain. Some grieving families are choosing now to go public in obituaries about their loved one’s struggles with depression or other mental health issues. That takes a lot of courage. We often read about a deceased person’s long and courageous battle with cancer. Battles with mental illness are no less courageous. I’m thankful to see this shift in thinking, to see people like Henry step up to a microphone and speak about mental illness.

THOUGHTS?

* Not their real names.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From southern Minnesota: Winter’s here, so I may as well embrace it January 2, 2019

A view of the Faribault Woolen Mill from the trail along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

WINTER IN MINNESOTA brings challenges. Ice. Snow. Cold. Sometimes I feel like simply curling up under a fleece throw with a good book and staying indoors until spring. But that’s neither realistic nor good for me.

So I determine that, despite the less than ideal weather, I need to get outside and get moving. Embrace winter the best I can.

 

A crack snakes through the semi frozen Cannon River in Faribault.

 

Recently Randy and I decided to hike at River Bend Nature Center, one of our favorite outdoor spots in Faribault. Although I mentioned the possibility of icy trails, we still opted to go there. Well, one shuffling walk down a paved trail across patches of ice and snow and I’d had enough slipperiness.

Yes, I’m a tad paranoid about falling given I’ve endured two broken bones in the past 1 ½ years, neither from falling on snow or ice-covered anything. I’m not risking broken bones simply to walk outside in the winter for recreational pleasure.

 

Randy follows the city trail along the Cannon River, the Faribault Woolen Mill in the distance.

 

I suggested instead that we head to a city trail which hugs the Cannon River in Faribault’s North Alexander Park. I was pretty certain the city would have cleared the paved path. I was right.

 

 

 

The outstretched American flag in the distance shows the strength of the wind on the day we walked the trail.

 

 

So, despite a bitter wind whipping across the water, we walked and I searched for photo ops. Winter offers far less of those. But I managed to grab some images before my fingers got too cold to further expose them to the elements.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t a particularly long walk. But, still, I stretched my legs, observed nature and appreciated the glint of sunshine across patches of open water. And I wondered, why are those geese still hanging around? I’d be outta here if I had their wings.

 

The trail offers a vantage point to view vintage signage on the Faribault Woolen Mill building.

 

TELL ME: If you live in a cold weather state, how do you embrace the outdoors in winter? Or don’t you?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Looking back to my “firsts” in 2018 December 31, 2018

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THE END OF THE YEAR offers a time for reflection. I could spew generalities about 2018, telling you it was a year of positives and negatives. And that would be true. But it’s a summary nearly anyone might make about 12 months of life.

Instead, I decided to list 10 firsts for me in 2018. They may seem trivial compared to what many of you have done in the past year. But I live a relatively quiet life in what is considered flyover country. And that’s just fine with me. Minnesota that is. And my small town (open to interpretation depending on where you live) life. I’m mostly content here, except when winter starts in October and stretches into April or May. But pros and cons exist wherever you live.

So let’s get to it—that list of 10 firsts for me in 2018, in no particular order.

 

Randy on the beach outside our lakeside condo timeshare in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

1) Randy and I stayed in a lakeside condo timeshare in Detroit Lakes in west central Minnesota late this fall. (Thanks to friends who offered several days they couldn’t use.) Late October into early November isn’t the best time to visit this resort area with trees stripped of leaves and a brisk wind sweeping across the lake. But our time there proved quiet, peaceful, relaxing. I kind of liked, OK really liked, my first time ever at a lakeside condo timeshare.

 

A water feature at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, Wisconsin, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

2) As long as we’re on the travel topic, this year I discovered Madison, Wisconsin, after my second daughter and her husband moved there last spring. It’s a lovely city of abundant green space and one I look forward to exploring more.

 

An inside look at VR goggles.

 

3) Virtual reality took me on another adventure as the son brought his VR goggles home at Christmas and introduced me to a whole new world. Wow. I could go places without going places. It really was an amazing experience. You gotta remember that I grew up without a telephone and a TV (until I was about ten). Virtual reality, now that’s something.

 

 

 

4) I read my first Stephen King novel, Elevation. I’ve always steered clear of King’s books given the genre. But something prompted me to pull this short title from the library shelves. As strange as the storyline, I found some current day truths within and I’ll try another King novel soon. Even though I shied away from his fiction, King’s nonfiction book On Writing rates as my favorite book on the craft of writing.

 

A graphic illustrating options to consider due to unaffordable health insurance. Our health coverage will cost $1,603/month in 2019 with $4,000 individual deductibles. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

5) Prior to the mid-term elections, I sent my first email ever to my local state representative addressing my concerns about the high cost of health insurance. He never responded. There you go. He didn’t get my vote. If you can’t reply pre-election to a constituent…

 

Two of my posts published on Warner Press this summer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

6) This spring I landed my first paid blogging gig. With Warner Press. I’m grateful for the opportunity to further share my writing talents with this Christian publisher. I’ve written greeting card verses for Warner for years.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a mural in Farmington, Minnesota.

 

7) I also shared my time and talents this summer by, for the first time, organizing a silent auction fundraiser for a friend in need. You can bet I was humbled and honored to hand my friend a hefty check.

 

Site of trivia night in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

8) I learned this year that I, for sure, suck at trivia. While vacationing in Detroit Lakes, Randy and I dined at a local pizza joint on trivia night. We decided to join the fun, even enduring the stink eye of another player after Randy responded to a text from our eldest during the game. Apparently that’s a no-no. In all fairness to the host, we were told beforehand that looking up answers on our smartphones constituted cheating. We clearly weren’t cheating given our solo correct answer. Try convincing the guy at the table next to us that we didn’t cheat. We left midway into the second round.

 

Faribault tourism’s newest billboard along Interstate 35 promotes attractions in our Minnesota community, including the new 10,000 Drops Distillery. Photo edited.

 

9) A month or so ago, after an evening of theater in Faribault, Randy and I walked a half-block to 10,000 Drops Distillery, our first visit to a cocktail lounge. It won’t be our last, even though we aren’t much for drinking. It was the setting of exposed brick and wood and cozy seating areas designed for conversations that will bring us back. It’s simply a really cool place that you would expect to find in the Twin Cities metro area, not necessarily Faribault. Yes, my city may just surprise those of you who haven’t been here for awhile or who’ve never been here.

 

A sign marked the location of my granddaughter’s first birthday party in 2017. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

10) Finally, for the first time, I missed my granddaughter’s birthday party. Because of a late April snowstorm. Never mind that Isabelle was only turning two.

There you go…my memorable firsts for 2018.

TELL ME: What firsts happened in your life during the past year?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The “real” Fergus Falls as viewed by a Minnesotan December 28, 2018

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A view of downtown Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

IF YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA, New York or Germany, you are likely familiar with the case of a now-fired Der Spiegel journalist who visited Fergus Falls and fabricated a magazine story about this west central Minnesota community and its people. If there’s one thing we Minnesotans don’t like, it’s lies about who we are. How this writer thought he could pen such a piece of fiction and get away with it is beyond my comprehension.

 

The iconic Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, click here to read a post on Bob Collins’ NewsCut blog at Minnesota Public Radio. He offers a good summary. Fergus Falls folks set the record straight with their own investigation of Claas Relotius’ claims in a particularly humorous piece. It’s worth your read.

 

Visitors to the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls peruse the art of Charles Beck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’ve been to Fergus Falls. Several times. And I’ve found it to be an artsy community with a lovely downtown and equally lovely people.

 

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls. This is the last of four billboards featuring my poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Heck, I even had a poem posted on billboards there back in 2011 as part of the (now-defunct) Roadside Poetry Project.

 

The iconic The Viking Cafe with its vintage booths and lunch counter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

I visited several places that endear Fergus Falls to me—The Viking Cafe, Dairyland Drive In, Kaddatz Galleries, Otto the Otter statue and top of my list, Victor Lundeen & Company. Then third-generation print shop owner Paul Lundeen gave me a personal tour of his second floor print shop, showing me lots of vintage art and type. You can bet I was an appreciative visitor given my interest in all things print.

 

Victor Lundeen & Co. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This is the Fergus Falls I saw. Not some backward, gun-toting community of hicks, as portrayed by the German magazine writer.

 

The Otto the otter statue in Adams Park in Fergus Falls. The Otter Tail River runs through this city where the Fergus Falls High School mascot is the otter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Take a look at my blog posts for my view of Fergus Falls. It’s nothing like Relotius’ fabricated version. And that’s a good thing.

 

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/30/a-photographic-tour-of-downtown-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/06/13/dairyland-an-old-fashioned-drive-in-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/23/touring-a-third-generation-family-print-shop-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/22/up-on-the-rooftop-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/17/off-i-94-artsy-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/12/prairie-poetry-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/18/my-visit-with-otto-the-otter/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/15/lunch-at-the-viking-cafe/

 

TELL ME: Are you familiar with this story and how would you react if a foreign writer negatively fictionalized your community? Have you been to Fergus Falls? If yes, what’s your perspective of this Minnesota community?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas blessings in a Nativity scene December 25, 2018

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WHEN I FIRST PULLED this image from my files, I planned to simply use it to illustrate the true meaning of Christmas and wish you a blessed Christmas. Quick and easy.

But then I noticed something. Hands. So many hands posing in different ways. I knew this was more than just a photo of my granddaughter looking at a vintage Nativity. The same Nativity her mama, aunt and uncle viewed every December in Faribault.

Let’s start with Izzy. You can barely see Grandpa’s hand clutching her arm to keep her from falling off the bales in front of the manger. Grandpa was also stopping Izzy from climbing into the scene for a closer look at the Baby Jesus, which she wanted to do. I see love and protection in the closeness of grandfather and granddaughter.

Two of the three Wisemen also hold their hands in a protective pose, guarding the precious gifts they carried to Bethlehem.

And that middle Wiseman, well, to me his arms folded to heart symbolize love, how close we hold those we love most. I suppose one could argue he’s just keeping his cape in place. I choose to see his adoration and love for his Savior.

Then there’s Joseph, his hand gripping a staff. I expect he felt overwhelmed in many ways by the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Holding onto something physical can ground someone in times of mixed emotions.

Finally, Baby Jesus lies with his arms outstretched in a gesture of openness. Like he’s welcoming us to come and hug him, to feel his embrace. Izzy saw that. She wanted to climb right into the manger. But, of course, I couldn’t let her.

Instead, I stepped beside this 2 ½-year-old and suggested she say goodbye. “Goodbye, Baby Jesus,” my sweet little granddaughter said. And my heart melted as I held her close.

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For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Merry Christmas, dear readers! Merry Christmas!

FYI: To see more photos of the Nativity, click here to read my 2016 post.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling