Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Peace poster contest inspires young artists to celebrate connections January 6, 2022

Maelynn Thoele, award-winning artist. Photo source: Arlington Lions Club Facebook page.

IMAGINE A WORLD OF PEACE. Of minimal division. Of connecting and compassion and care. That seems elusive right now. But one can hope, aim toward, embrace such goals.

The annual Lions International Peace Poster Contest encourages me. Young people from all around the world create art themed to peace. Therein lies the possibility that perhaps some day we can achieve peace and unity. If our young people have anything to say about it.

I invite you to scroll through the grand prize winning art in past peace poster contests by clicking here. Yue Zheng, 13, from China took the top prize in 2020-2021 when “Peace Through Service” themed the competition. During the first “Peace Will Help Us Grow” contest in 1988-1989, Mustapha El Tawokji, 13, of Lebanon earned the grand prize. The award-winning art created by 11-13-year-olds from places like South Africa, Peru, Brazil, Thailand, multiple U.S. states and elsewhere since 1988 inspires.

This year young people were tasked with creating art centered on “We Are All Connected.” The Lions website defines that:

While overcoming new challenges brought on by an unprecedented global pandemic, we’re celebrating the things that keep us connected—to each other, to our communities, all together around the world. This year, we invite young people to envision, explore and visually express these connections.

And that these young artists did. Maelynn Thoele, 13, a seventh grader at Sibley East in Arlington, Minnesota, won multiple district competitions to advance to the international level with her peace poster. Her puzzle art fits visually well with the “We Are All Connected” theme. Just like puzzle pieces fit together to create a scene, peoples and countries connect to create our world.

The details in Maelynn’s art convey peace in the backdrop peace symbol, a dove and more. Her art includes the flags of many countries and hands of multiple skin tones assembling that puzzle. Together. Connected.

A vintage peace tray I purchased in 2015 at an antique shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

NOTE: I’d love to see the award-winning art of these students featured on t-shirts, posters, cards, etc. and, in Maelynn’s case, on a puzzle. Thoughts?

A Peace Poster Tabletop Exhibit is available (and loaned at no cost) to Lions groups in the U.S. The peace exhibit has been displayed, for example, in libraries, community events and Lions conventions. Call (630) 203-3812. I’d love to see that come to my Minnesota community.

Also, the Lions sponsor an International Peace Essay Contest for young people. I appreciate that opportunity for creatives who express themselves via words.

Please click here to read an earlier post I wrote about a 12-year-old girl from Rochester, who won the peace poster contest in her Minnesota middle school. Winners of the 2021-2022 peace poster contest will be notified by February 1.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo source: Arlington Lions Club Facebook page. That club sponsored Maelynn.

 

Reflecting on 2021 December 31, 2021

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

AS 2021 DRAWS to a close, thoughts naturally turn reflective as I look at the year behind and, tomorrow, to the beginning of a new year. Never did I think we would still be in this pandemic, entering year three.

For me, 2021 brought grief, hope, frustration and many other emotions. Grief at the death of my father-in-law (not from COVID) in February. Hope in the availability of COVID vaccines to protect us from severe illness and death. Frustration over the ongoing resistance to those life-saving vaccines. Frustration in the failure of too many to follow simple measures, like masking in public, to prevent the spread of the virus.

HOPE

I want to focus on the word “hope,” which surged within me when I received an email from my clinic that I could schedule an appointment to get the vaccine. I fit the high risk category. I’ve never determined exactly why, but I speculate due to a severe case of whooping cough 16 years ago which left me coughing uncontrollably, gasping for air and, eventually, using an inhaler and on Prednisone. I was sick for three months then. So when I got my COVID vaccine on March 14, I felt such joy, gratitude and hope. I felt the same following my second dose a month later and then after my booster in October.

Spring brought such hopefulness. I remember thinking this would be the summer of reclaiming my life as I once lived it. That proved short-lived as COVID cases surged once again. Yet, there were moments of normalcy pre-surge—attending outdoor events, dining out a few times, even attending church twice (until masking became optional, not required). The brief spring/early summer respite lifted my spirits. But now here we are, back to an out-of-control situation.

GRATITUDE

Despite how the pandemic has affected my life in negative ways, I have many reasons to feel grateful. Twice this year, my family circle has been together. All of us. Nothing surpasses the happiness of family togetherness. My grandchildren, especially, bring me such joy with their hugs, kisses, cuddles. I feel fortunate that they live only a half hour distant.

And several times this year I’ve been allowed to visit my mom in her long-term care center, most recently right before Christmas. Mom is in hospice. It’s not been easy. But I try to focus on the blessing of having her here on this earth for 89 years. Not everyone has their mother around for that long. My mother-in-law died at age 59, only months before the birth of my son.

PEACE

Time at a family lake cabin in central Minnesota also provided a break from everything. Thrice Randy and I headed north for some R & R. Our eldest daughter and her family joined us twice. Lots of time immersed in nature calmed, recharged, brought peace. Many country drives and hikes in parks produced similar feelings.

Now, as 2022 begins, I expect much the same as 2021. I wish I could feel more optimistic. But I just don’t. Not today. Yet, hope remains.

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TELL ME: How was your 2021? What proved challenging? What brought you joy?

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NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science, anti-health, please don’t comment. I moderate all comments and will not publish those “anti” views and/or misinformation on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Christmas message from Minnesota Prairie Roots December 24, 2021

Baby Jesus stitched by my cousin Traci Sanford. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

SIX COUNTED CROSS-STITCH CARDS depicting the birth of Christ grace an aged chest of drawers anchoring a corner of my living room. I’ve leaned the cards against the backdrop mirror reflecting my Christmas tree.

These works of art visually tell the Christmas story minus a few important characters—Joseph and the Three Wisemen, who would later come bearing gifts. Perhaps those cards were lost. Or maybe my cousin Traci, who stitched the art, didn’t complete the series. She gifted my mom with these cards. One each Christmas.

A few years back, after Mom moved into assisted living and eventually long-term care, my extended family divided the Nativity sets our mother collected. And, among those I chose were these cards. My mom was also an avid counted cross stitch artist.

I cherish the stitched collection. Not only for its artistic value but also for the emotional connection to a mother celebrating her final Christmas on this earth. That is reality and I’ve reached a sense of peace in that certainty.

This Christmas, I hope you, too, experience peace. I hope you find a connection to those loved ones no longer on this earth via treasured memories or objects. I hope you feel connected also to those still here. To those who can still hear the words, “I love you.”

Have a blessed Christmas, dear readers!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. December 21, 2021

After the Community Christmas Dinner. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2012)

IN THE DAYS LEADING to Christmas, busyness can cause us to lose focus. Busy baking. Busy cleaning. Busy buying. Busy wrapping and trying to do too much. I invite you to pause and reflect.

Reflect on hope.

Reflect on peace.

Reflect on joy.

Reflect on love.

Those four words centered a bulletin board display I photographed in 2012 at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church. I love this image. For the message. And for the story behind it. The Faribault church annually (except during COVID) hosts a free Community Christmas Dinner in mid-December. Volunteers serve a full holiday meal in the church basement. I’ve attended many times and enjoyed not only the food, but also the coming together of my community.

In this particular photo, a woman awaits a ride home. I’d just finished my meal and came across her standing at the top of the stairs, poinsettia in hand. The holiday flowers decorated dinner tables and diners were welcome to take them home. She was unaware of my presence. I framed the moment. A moment that, against the backdrop Advent message, captures the reason for the season.

Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. May all be yours as we draw near to Christmas.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grief & peace in the Christmas season December 17, 2021

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The dove, a symbol of peace, carved onto an aged tombstone at the Cannon City Cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2020)

Sleep in heavenly peace… The refrain of “Silent Night, Holy Night” unleashed tears as I washed dishes Friday morning. My shoulders heaved, my hands swirling in the soapy water. I gave in to my emotions, overwhelmed by words that simultaneously comforted and grieved me.

Earthly peace sometimes feels elusive. Even in this season of Christmas.

I want to acknowledge that and to acknowledge also the grief many of you are experiencing. There’s been so much loss in the past two years. Too much.

I’m thinking especially of those of you who have lost loved ones. I recognize how your hearts hurt, how you ache at the missing of your dear ones. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. We each differ in how we process loss, how we manage grief. But we all must grieve.

Music often stirs my emotions. Sometimes uplifting, other times opening my spirit to that which lies heavy on my heart. I listen regularly to Christian music on 98.5 KTIS in the Twin Cities. Several songs before “Silent Night,” I cranked the volume to “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” an incredibly uplifting song.

Minutes later, I cried into the water-filled sink at sleep in heavenly peace.

As we move closer to Christmas, expectations exist to feel joyful. I hope you find joy. But please know that it’s OK to feel otherwise. It’s OK to listen to “Silent Night” and cry as you think of a dear one asleep in heavenly peace.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The choice is ours November 10, 2020

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The historic Ames Mill sits along the banks of the Cannon River in downtown Northfield. Malt-O-Meal hot cereals are made in the mill. You can often smell the scent of cereal wafting through this southern Minnesota community.

THE CITY OF NORTHFIELD, about a 20-minute drive northeast of my Faribault home, has long-rated as one of my favorite Minnesota communities. For many reasons.

Crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon River in downtown Northfield.

It’s situated along the banks of the Cannon River, making for a picturesque setting.

Standing along a river walk, I photographed the pedestrian bridge in downtown Northfield.
I spotted this art on the hood of a car parked along Division Street near Bridge Square.
From the river walk, nearly under the pedestrian bridge, I photographed the Cannon River and distant buildings.

Homegrown businesses fill the historic downtown, which edges the river. Here you’ll still find an independent bookstore plus antique shops, boutiques, restaurants, an arts center, the public library and much more.

Bridge Square, Northfield’s downtown community gathering spot often chalked with messages.

And, in the heart of Northfield’s business district you’ll also find a community gathering spot. Bridge Square. Here you can buy popcorn from a vintage wagon in the summer, take the kids or grandkids to visit Santa during the holiday season. You can rest here on a bench and engage in conversation. Watch the river flow by or the water fall over the fountain sculpture or the nearby dam.

This motor vehicle bridge lies next to the Ames Mill, across the river from Bridge Square.

But Bridge Square is so much more than a Norman Rockwell-like place to meet, gather and relax. It’s also a spot where opinions are expressed. Students from St. Olaf and Carleton, two noted private liberal arts colleges based in Northfield, use this space to gather and voice their concerns. And, even though I may not always agree with their views, I appreciate that they share them. To see young people concerned enough about an issue to publicly express their thoughts gives me hope.

Among the many messages, peace vs division.

For the first time in a long time, I feel hope. Out of all the chalked messages I read on Sunday while at Bridge Square, I found one that really spoke to me. Peace vs division. Oh, how we need that. Peace. Not division.

A message printed on a step leading to the river walk. You’ll also find poems imprinted into sidewalks in downtown Northfield.

That stop at Northfield’s town square, with so many issues printed in chalk on cement, could easily have overwhelmed me. I could have despaired at all the problems that need fixing. But rather, I choose to see this as an acknowledgment of concerns. Of the possibilities. Of the solutions. Of choices which can bring peace rather than division.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lessons learned from an orange cat November 4, 2020

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I GLANCED OUT THE BATHROOM window to see an orange cat sitting on the back steps. Eyes closed. Every bit the image of contentment on a cold Minnesota morning.

The spot just outside the kitchen door and next to the garage sheltered the tabby from the wind, offering a place of warmth and sunshine following an unseasonably early record snowfall here in southern Minnesota on October 20. Since then, temps have risen from the 30s into the 60s and only a few patches of the 8-inch snowfall remain in shaded areas and in piles pushed by snowplows.

As I watched the cat, I focused on his/her closed eyes. Peace emanated as this feline did whatever cats do when their eyes are closed. Maybe the cat napped. Maybe not. But that stray cat with eyelids pressed shut somehow soothed me, reminded me that finding a place of peace is possible if we choose to seek, recognize and embrace it.

THOUGHTS? I’d like to hear where and how you’re finding peace these days. We can all learn from one another.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Embracing nature, seeking peace in chaos October 7, 2020

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Posted near the amphitheater at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault, Minnesota.

IN EVERY WALK with nature one receives far more than he seeks—John Muir.

A scene at River Bend, looking from the swamp across the prairie to the distant treeline on Sunday afternoon.

Those words, imprinted upon a memorial plaque at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, hold a depth of meaning worth pondering. To think that every walk outdoors gives us more than we expect, or search out, seems valid. Especially now, during COVID-19, when many of us are rediscovering the beauty and healing power of the natural world.

Even the drying swamp grasses prove beautiful against the autumn sky.

Are you among the many embracing the outdoors with renewed enthusiasm and appreciation? I certainly am.

This is an example of the many beautiful tree-lined streets in Faribault. I shot this along Second Avenue, with Central Park on the left and The Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior on the right.
To the northeast of Cannon City, we stopped along a back gravel road so I could photograph this distant, colorful hillside across acres of ripening corn.
Northbound along Interstate 35 just north of Faribault, leaves are changing color.

Whether walking at a local park or hiking through a nature center or following a city street or driving along a back country road or even traveling along a busy interstate, I feel a heightened sense of gratitude for the sky, the trees, the land, all that surrounds me.

Wildflowers still bloom at River Bend as autumn wanes.

And as autumn presses on toward winter, I also feel an urgency to get outside. On foot before ice and snow pack trails and I feel less secure in my footing. Maybe this will be the winter I buy metal grippers that clamp onto my boots. Maybe this will be the winter I reclaim my youthful enthusiasm for the season.

A prairie plaque honors a volunteer at River Bend.

Many days I long to get away. Away from traffic and noise and busyness and people to the quiet of woods, the silence of the prairie, the peace that nature offers.

Autumn colors trees at River Bend.

There’s so much turmoil now. Too much hatred. Too much dissent and too much untruth and too much of everything that’s mean and unkind and disrespectful of others. I yearn for a world where we all hold genuine compassion and care for one another.

The hole, the decay, in this tree reminds me in some ways of our country right now.

I’ve never, in my sixty-plus decades on this earth, witnessed such chaos, discord, selfishness…

Like these bold berries pop color into the River Bend landscape, we can pop positivity into the world. We can choose to be bold, to stand for decency and the common good.

I have within me the power to act with decency, with empathy, with understanding. With kindness.

North of Faribault along I-35.

To settle my mind into a frame of peacefulness, I embrace prayer and nature. To do so is to receive more than I seek.

Currently, I am reading The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu. A friend, who recently moved to the lakes region of central Minnesota, gifted Katja Pantzar’s book to me. I’m only 58 pages into the read. But already the words written therein about the Finns’ resilience and close connection to nature resonate. In two more chapters, I’ll be into “Nature Therapy, The Benefits of a Walk in the Woods.”

In the woods at River Bend…

I don’t expect the contents of that chapter to surprise me. Whether walking in the woods or through a city park, we can benefit from simply being in nature. To feel the warmth of sunshine, to hear the rush of wind through trees, to watch water tumble over rocks, to smell the scent of autumn…all calm the spirit, restore peace, and lift moods. What a gift.

TELL ME: Are you rediscovering nature during COVID-19? If so, in what ways has this helped you deal with the pandemic? What’s your favorite nature spot?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Let peace & love guide us August 26, 2020

 

It’s truly timely. The message posted in windows spanning the front of an historic building in Dundas.

 

 

VOTE FOR OUR PLANET EARTH

VOTE FOR OUR DEMOCRACY

VOTE DEAR ONES VOTE

 

 

And then in the windows to the right side of the front door:

LET THE SPIRIT OF PEACE

AND THE POWER OF EVERLASTING LOVE

BE YOUR GUIDE

—JOHN ROBERT LEWIS

 

 

And then above the door:

BLACK LIVES MATTER

I spotted these powerful words while in this small southeastern Minnesota community on Saturday for a history cruise. And I felt compelled to stop and photograph the scene, to share this with you before continuing on to the tour.

As someone who grew up after and near the end of turbulent times—the Civil Rights movement (with its racial injustices) and the Vietnam War and an increasing awareness of environmental issues—I get it. The teenage me embraced the peace symbol, wrapped my wrist in a POW bracelet, wore Earth shoes. That was decades ago. Yet, it seems sometimes that little has changed.

 

 

And so those words resonate with me in their familiarity. I appreciate the gentleness of the selected words, yet the power behind them. Urging people to vote by calling them “dear ones” feels intensely personal and loving. Now, more than ever, we must exercise our right to vote. Men and women have died for our freedom, ensuring our democracy and the right to vote. Others have marched for the right to vote, including long-time Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis, who died in July from cancer.

The quote from Lewis that peace and love should prevail is something we can all aspire to in this deeply divided nation in need of healing. I appreciate the positive message. The words uplift, rather than press down. They enlighten rather than oppress. They encourage rather than attack.

 

 

And, yes, black lives do matter. As does every life. I recognize the frustration, the anger, the desire for change. I don’t condone the violence, the looting, the destruction, which detract from the cause. Let peace and everlasting love be our guide.

John Lewis marched for voting rights for blacks across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965 and suffered a skull fracture at the hands of police. He organized voter registration drives and participated in lunch counter sit-ins. And here we are, so many decades later, with root cause issues unresolved, people still struggling, hurting, protesting.

 

 

If only we remember how “dear” we are to one another, how the words we choose, the actions we take, matter, affect others. Let peace and the power of everlasting love be our guide.

 

 

FYI: The building where these messages are posted was built of locally-quarried limestone in 1866 as the Ault General Store and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only remaining structure from Dundas’ original commercial district, which ran along Second Street. When the railroad came to town, businesses moved to the west side of the Cannon River near the new train station. That included the Ault Store.

The local newspaper, the Dundas News, was housed here from 1876-1979 as was the town’s first library on the second floor. Today the old store is in a residential neighborhood and a residence. But it still retains that feel of community, of centering knowledge and of expressing opinion.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A message from Minnesota officers: Let peace prevail July 9, 2016

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Peace ad published in Faribault

 

NEARLY NINE HUNDRED MILES from Dallas, Texas, and an hour from Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a message of peace published this morning in my local newspaper, The Faribault Daily News.

The full-page ad on the back page of the front section comes from the Faribault Police Department and the Rice County Sheriff’s Department. In a succinct 13 words, these law enforcement officers deliver a powerful statement to our culturally diverse community.

It is the final three words that I find universally hopeful: Let Peace Prevail.

Let. Peace. Prevail.