Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The realities of job loss, a personal story July 21, 2022

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My husband, Randy, at work as an automotive machinist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

THIS IS MY TRUTH. It is 9:25 am, and I am exhausted. I’ve been awake since 4 am. Randy awoke two hours earlier. After a while of tossing and turning, I rolled out of bed and finished reading a book by a nurse who worked for 11 months in a Minnesota COVID ICU Unit. A review of that powerful book will be forthcoming.

But today this is a post about what’s keeping me awake. More precisely this is a story of job loss. In early May, my husband of 40 years learned that he will lose his job of 39 years as an automotive machinist at an auto parts store. Not because he didn’t do a helluva a job, but because the new out-of-state corporate owner is opting to close down the profitable and much-needed machine shop. Randy was given four months to wrap up work he had scheduled in, with orders not to accept new work. That’s substantially affected his income and his morale.


It’s been hard, really hard. The stress is wearing on us, Randy especially. He is one of the calmest individuals I know. But this, this disrespect and devaluing of him after 39 years of hard work and loyalty is tough to take. Every single day he deals with customers upset about the shop closure. Every single day he turns away work. Every single day he deals with rumors spread by co-workers and others. Every single day he goes to work weary of it all.

And that filters to me as I try to support, encourage and be there for him. I am angry. I am frustrated. I am tired and drained and stressed. Mentally exhausted. Randy likely feels that quadruple. We are grieving.


If one more person tells me to look on the positive side, that something good will come from this, I will scream. I don’t need to hear that right now. I need affirmation of my anger, my frustration, my exhaustion, my worries, my stress. Randy needs the same. We are entitled to these feelings. And we will own them.

I recognize that our current situation has happened to others. I’m sorry for that. But today this is our story.


Randy is not yet full retirement age. That won’t occur until early next year. Uncertainties exist about his future, including his end date, which may be as early as July 29 or perhaps August 31. Communication is lacking. An attorney has been consulted. None of this should be. Not after 39 years.

My heart hurts for Randy. He should be leaving his long-time job on his terms, in his time. Gone is the thought of a retirement party with customers, co-workers and family gathering to celebrate and honor Randy. He’s a good man. A decent man with a strong work ethic. Highly-skilled at his trade. Remarkable in his devotion to meeting customers’ needs and providing excellent service. He is dedicated, working long hours for 39 years. The list of attributes could go on and on.

I, of course, am biased. But anyone who knows Randy would tell you the same. He is farm boy strong with a background of physical labor. Talented and hands-on skilled. Grease rings his fingernails. Grease stains his worn steel-toed work boots. And sometimes grease stains his face.

Today I see his weary face. I see the exhaustion. I see the stress and uncertainty. He can’t sleep. Neither can I. We are exhausted.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Mental health: A look at stress, distractions & help July 30, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:10 PM
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Part of the sculpture, “Waist Deep” themed to mental health. and outside the Northfield Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

I REACHED UNDER THE SINK, pulled out the garbage container and dumped the flour mixture into the trash. The morning prior, I’d tossed overcooked wild rice.

It’s not like me to waste food. But I’ve been stressed and distracted this week, causing me to lose focus. When preparing Blueberry-Banana Bread this morning, I couldn’t recall whether I’d added baking powder. So into the garbage the flour mix went. On Thursday I was similarly distracted and, while I heard the timer alert me to the rice being done, the grains needed a bit more cooking. Except I forgot. Lucky for me the rice didn’t burn to the point of a smoke alarm sounding.


What’s the point of sharing this? My experiences, minor in comparison to US Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, reaffirm how stress and distraction can affect results. Because my thoughts were elsewhere, I burned the wild rice and couldn’t recall ingredients added, or not, to the flour mix. So I opted to start over and focus on the task. The results were delicious Chicken Wild Rice Hotdish and Blueberry-Banana Bread.

Perhaps Biles wishes she could start over. Or not. She recognized the mental stress and pressure she was feeling and chose to step out of the competition. That shows great personal strength. She chose to put her health first. She chose also to put her team first, realizing she was not at her best. I applaud the honesty, courage and recognition that her health needs to come first. She’s also reopened the discussion on mental health issues faced by athletes. That leads to other discussions about mental health in the general population.


Some of the strongest, bravest people and families I know are those who live/deal with mental health challenges. They must not only find ways to cope and live their lives, but also overcome stigma and roadblocks. That can be undeniably difficult. These individuals and families need our compassion, love and support.

I fully expect Biles will have easy access to professional mental health care. Yet, for too many, that is not the case. Finances, lack of providers and more can limit treatment. That is reality.


As I write this, I feel focused. Writing helps me mentally. And as a woman of faith, prayer helps, too. As does reading my Bible.

I’ve also eaten way too much Blueberry-Banana Bread today. Typically when I’m stressed, I don’t eat much. But there’s something about warm bread that keeps drawing me back to the kitchen…

Between pauses in writing and bites of bread, I still find my mind drifting. To my dear cousin Dawn and family who lost their husband/father/grandfather unexpectedly yesterday due to natural causes. Rich was only 58. The stress that family is experiencing must feel overwhelming. My heart hurts for all of them at their loss.

Because I was thinking of Dawn this morning, I was unfocused in the kitchen. I was also thinking of my son’s upcoming move, which will take him even farther away from Minnesota. My mind brimmed with concern, worry, sorrow and too many distracting thoughts. We all have days, maybe even weeks, when we feel stressed, unfocused.


I hope that when you see someone struggling, you choose to encourage. To show compassion. To understand. To listen. To keep the focus on the friend or family member and not interject your own story, advice or opinions. Bake some Blueberry-Banana Bread or Chicken Wild Rice Hotdish (“casserole”if you live outside Minnesota) to take to and comfort someone. I expect Dawn’s refrigerator is already filled with food from those who love her and her family.

Most of all, simply be there. In a text, a note, a call or in-person. Show you care.

© Copyright 2021 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