Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The reality of COVID-19 October 9, 2020

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A portrait I took of my mom during my last in-person visit with her in early March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

I EXPECTED THIS. Yet, the news that an employee in my mom’s southwestern Minnesota care center has tested positive for COVID-19 hit me hard. I felt my heart race, my blood pressure rise, my worry spike when my daughter alerted me to this development Wednesday afternoon. It took awhile for me to process this and what this might mean.

I’m more settled now with the passage of time and answers from the care center administrator who advised, in a Facebook post, to email her with any concerns or questions. She was prompt and thorough in her reply to my inquiry and for that I am grateful. I feel better if I am informed, rather than guessing or wondering.

I photographed my mom’s hands during that last in-person visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

Time and testing will tell if Mom has been exposed to the virus. I am confident the care center is doing the best it can to protect staff and residents. But I also recognize that the best, when it comes to this potentially deadly virus, may not be enough. I am preparing myself mentally.

Simultaneously, my father-in-law is now in in-room quarantine after a resident of his wing in a central Minnesota care center tested positive for COVID.

And our second daughter, who works as a letter carrier in Madison, Wisconsin, texted Wednesday evening that an individual in her office tested positive for the virus. She was not surprised. She has shared often that masking up is about the only safety measure being taken to protect her and other postal employees. Thankfully she was not told she needed to quarantine, meaning she was not exposed to the infected co-worker.

All of this, as you would guess, is stressing me. These cases are getting way too close to people I love.

To those of you in similar situations or who have lost loved ones to COVID, my heart breaks for you. This is hard, just plain hard.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I especially appreciated, as part of her Facebook post, the administrator at my mom’s care center adding this:

“We have kept a close eye on the increase in cases within our county; however, we can only do so much. To help continue to keep our residents safe and allow them to live without all of these restrictions, we ask that our community members please take this virus seriously. Please mask if you are able and social distance from others.”

That’s prudent advice no matter where you live. No place is immune. I continue to see way too many people not wearing masks or wearing them under their noses (which does no good). I hear stories from my husband about co-workers and customers exhibiting the same careless behavior. This frustrates me to no end. Why don’t people care? I just do not understand.

COVID-19 kills. In Minnesota, most of those who have lost their lives lived in long-term congregate care centers or assisted living facilities. I’ve heard nonchalant comments like, “Oh, they are old, they were going to die anyway.” As if that’s OK. It’s not. Sure, my mom has major health issues that could end her life any day. But her life still has value. And I’d rather she didn’t die of COVID-19.


© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Color away the stress April 5, 2016

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ONE EVENING LAST WEEK, I was seriously stressed.

When I’m deeply worried, time seems to pause and hover. I can’t focus enough to read a book or even a magazine. I can’t follow the storyline of a TV show. Any conversation seems rather meaningless and trivial.

But I had to manage. I needed something to busy my hands. Something to do while I waited for a text or phone call. The solution was only a couch cushion away. Inserted in my local daily newspaper was a 15-page coloring book for adults. That would do.


Coloring book, 24 pencils and page


I headed upstairs to dig out a box of colored pencils. And then I settled onto the end of the couch, box splayed open next to my cell phone.


Coloring book, 26 close-up


As I chose colors and began methodically coloring petals on a page imprinted with florals, I felt the tension ease. There’s something soothing about the rhythm of coloring. It’s effect is akin to watching flames dance in a campfire, listening to water gurgle or rocking back-and-forth in a chair. All are comforting. Repetitive.


Coloring book, 28 floral close-up


Adult coloring books are all the rage right now as folks discover their calming value. But I wonder, if I remembered how to crochet, would the results be the same?

TELL ME, WHAT HANDS-ON activity works to calm you? And what are your thoughts on the adult coloring book phenomenon?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


If the holiday season is already stressing you, then… November 28, 2012

Strolling along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault late on a Saturday afternoon in December 2011.

ALREADY I CAN FEEL the stress. Only four weeks until Christmas and so much to do:

I created a Christmas family photo card online yesterday (gold star for me) and will soon work on the holiday letter.

Greeting cards to write and send.

I’ll bake cookies, but probably not candy. How well I remember this ribbon candy of my youth, dropped into goodie bags parceled out after Christmas Eve worship services. This candy is artfully displayed by Vicki, a family member who has a real talent for decorating. The candy, card and lights images were all taken in her home.

Gifts to purchase and wrap. Cookies to bake.

The only lights at our home will be on the Christmas tree, although we really should decorate outdoors given we live along a busy street. But because our house was scheduled to be shingled (work started Tuesday), we could not hang lights in the balmy weather. And who wants to freeze their fingers now?

Decorating to do. Holiday events to attend. Travel.

My dear husband grilled this 2011 Christmas Day dinner.

Menus to plan. Food to buy and prepare.

It all can seem a bit overwhelming, throwing me into a rather Grinch-like state of mind. What’s a woman to do?

Short of acting like a Grinch and eliminating some items from that list, which I’m not going to do, I have one choice. That’s to cope. But how?

My friend Mandy Blume, who’s a nurse practitioner and the parish nurse at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, my home congregation, is coordinating a Stress Relief Workshop set for 2 p.m. Sunday, December 2, in the Trinity Fellowship Hall.

If you can squeeze this into your pre-holiday schedule, do. Susan Knutson, a registered nurse and certified healing touch practitioner from Rochester, will speak on “Stress in the holidays & healing touch.”

Workshop attendees will participate in stress relief activities such as guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing.

Mandy even promises massages. Can you feel your muscles loosening already, the tension easing from your body?

The majority of the workshop—and Mandy emphasizes the word “workshop” over “presentation”—will be hands-on participating in and learning stress-reducing skills. In other words, do not expect simply to sit and take notes or read hand-outs. Oh, no.

Additionally, delicious snacks (and knowing Mandy, also healthy) and beverages will be available and door prizes awarded.

Cost is only $10. Register today by contacting the Trinity church office at 507-331-6579.

Or, you can just show up at 2 p.m. this Sunday in the Trinity Fellowship Hall, 530 Fourth Street N.W., Faribault, with your payment, although Mandy would appreciate preregistration.

(If you cannot afford the $10 registration fee, talk to Mandy.)

HOW DO YOU DEAL with stress during the holidays?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Stressing over a home improvement project February 2, 2011


I dislike chaos and disorder.

I delay making decisions when I’m not confident about the topic that needs deciding.

So you might rightfully guess that a home improvement project would throw me for a loop. It has. It is.

For some time now, we’ve been dealing with a project that put five new windows and a new door into our aging home. Of course, in an old house like ours, issues arise. New windows didn’t fit quite like the old ones, necessitating lumber and sheetrock patching. That means I’ll need to repaint. More decisions. More work.

There are issues with the new door, which are in the process of being resolved.

I am stressed and I really shouldn’t be. I mean, it’s not like we’re building a house.

But all of the decisions, the upheaval, the time away from writing, are wearing on me.

Every day for nearly two weeks I’ve pulled on my old faded blue jeans, one of my husband’s discarded t-shirts and headed upstairs to a spare bedroom to stain and varnish wood trim. Foot upon foot upon foot of wood. Sand and stain and varnish. Sand between coats and varnish each piece of wood three times.

Here's just a sampling of the wood trim I've stained and varnished during the past two weeks.

After about the third day of breathing stain and varnish fumes, and, honestly, “tasting” the toxins, I began wearing a dusk mask. I also left an upstairs window open. Yes, even on 20-degree days.

Yesterday I finished varnishing the last eight pieces of wood, until the carpenter brings me more wood for the door threshold. Oh, joy, more trim to prepare for installation.

I'm into my second quart of varnish. Every piece of wood gets three coats of polyurethane varnish.

But I keep telling myself I am saving us hundreds of dollars by staining the 75 pieces of wood and varnishing each three times. Hundreds. Of dollars.

That’s good because the money goes fast when you’re house-improving. For a frugal person like me, such spending doesn’t come easily.

I’m struggling, too, with choosing a color for the living room walls, which need to be painted before the carpenters nail the window and door trim in place. This is causing me great angst as evidenced in the endless paint swatches I’ve plucked from displays in three stores. I think now that I’ve narrowed the color down to two choices. I need to decide because once the sheetrock mudding is done, we’re ready to paint.

I've picked up way too many paint cards, further confusing me. I'm leaning toward "Whole Wheat," a warm color from Sherwin Williams with a golden tint. Anybody have that color on their walls?

My living room is a mess with wood piled in front of the TV, our bed headboard in the corner next to a bucket of sheetrock mud. A canvas covers the carpet in front of the new picture window and cardboard leans against the wall. Two white showers curtains serve as temporary window drapes…

I don’t even bother to put away the vacuum cleaners any more.

A corner of my living room. I'm not showing you any other rooms, some of which are also in disarray due to this "project."

P.S. To those of you who drive by our house daily, yes, we are getting new siding on the front. It’s tough living on a fish bowl busy street where “everyone” sees what you’re doing.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling