Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In which I experience the joy of serving on Thanksgiving November 25, 2016

I KNEW IF I STAYED HOME Thanksgiving morning in to early afternoon, melancholy would seep in. No matter how hard I tried. This would be my first Thanksgiving without any of my grown children home to celebrate. So I needed to divert my thoughts from missing them.

The setting for Faribault's Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

The setting for Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner, which began 30 years ago in a restaurant.

I didn’t even think. I knew exactly where I would go, what I would do. And that was to head to the Faribault American Legion and volunteer, with my husband, at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner. That volunteerism, that mingling with other volunteers and guests, was, I will selfishly admit, about helping me as much as helping others. It worked.

Bagged lunches await pick up by guests and by those delivering meals to homes.

Bagged lunches await pick up by guests and by those delivering meals to homes.

When you take the focus off your sadness, happiness shines. I felt myself smiling as we delivered 12 meals to five homes, each recipient grateful for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and bagged left-overs of a turkey sandwich and apple.

Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them.

Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them.

From a mobile home to a condo to an apartment to single family homes, we brought not only food, but also holiday happiness: To the woman recovering from pneumonia with her husband in the hospital. To the woman whose meal I left on the kitchen counter per her instructions to also take the $5 (given to the Faribault Foundation) lying near the cracked open exterior side door. To the woman who answered the door in her bathrobe. To the woman who waited outside her apartment building for us to arrive. All welcomed us with gracious gratitude.

A child's artwork on a placemat reminds diners of life's many blessings.

A child’s artwork on a placemat reminds diners to be thankful.

Those blessings of giving and receiving exude the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Hundreds of pounds of turkey are baked along with hundreds of pounds of potatoes peeled...

Hundreds of pounds of turkey are baked along with hundreds of pounds of potatoes peeled… (This image for illustration purposes only and not taken at the community dinner.)

Back at the Legion, Randy and I paused to eat. Volunteers expected to plate and package 1,200 meals in three hours. From conversations I overheard and my observation that the kitchen ran out of whole turkey (and resorted to pressed/processed turkey), guests exceeded the anticipated number.

All tables are festively decorated and all guests served at their tables.

All tables are festively decorated and all guests served at their tables. Children contribute their art.

I’ve often wondered who attends the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, meant for anyone no matter their financial means, their age, their anything. Seated at our dinner table were a retired long-time Faribault Woolen Mill employee dining with his 20-something grandson, who had to work later in the day at Target; a retired hospital employee and Vietnam War vet with nowhere to go for dinner; and a couple, like us, without children at home. I also spotted a neighbor, church friends (both dining and volunteering) and others I know from the community.

Kids decorate placemats.

Kids decorate placemats.

I was particularly impressed by the number of kids helping. I applaud parents who are teaching their children at such a young age the joy of serving others. Watching a girl, perhaps six, carry a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, a dinner roll and cranberries to a diner, is one of those moments that impresses hope for the future.

Volunteers dish up meals.

Volunteers dish up meals for take-out and to serve to diners.

Likewise, observing others my age and older scurrying to serve the sit-down meals reaffirms that goodness exists.

Randy and I filled in where needed. I primarily poured milk while he greeted, served and more.

Some three hours after we arrived at the Legion, Randy and I left. As we exited the parking lot, I was already calling our 22-year-old son in Boston, home alone, but planning a Thanksgiving dinner for Saturday with friends. I called the daughter in northeastern Wisconsin, catching her as she returned from the grocery store with her husband before going to the home of friends for dinner. I texted our eldest, in California with her in-laws. She also texted photos of her family, including our granddaughter. It helped to hear their voices, to be able to tell them, “I love you.”

Preparing for diners by plating pumpkin pie.

Preparing for diners by plating pumpkin pie.

The reality of life is that we cannot always be with those we love most. On those holidays, we need to stretch beyond ourselves and our feelings. On this Thanksgiving, that made all the difference for me.

FYI: Later in the afternoon, Randy and I joined our nephew and his family, along with our niece-in-law’s family, for a Thanksgiving dinner. We were grateful for their inclusion of us. I laughed and smiled and ate more turkey, so thankful for the blessings of the day and of life.

I took all of these photos with my smartphone rather than my DSLR, limiting my photography so I could focus on volunteering.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Thanksgiving Day thoughts November 24, 2016

thanksgiving-bulletin-board-2

 

WHEN I PHOTOGRAPHED this bulletin board at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault, I failed to notice the missing “s” on THANK. Not until I viewed the image on my computer did I see the letter near the pilgrim man’s shoe.

Was this intentional?

I suppose it doesn’t really matter, because the message posted here is to share our blessings and to be forgiving. The creator of this display also expresses gratitude for that giving.

So how do you share your blessings?

To answer that, you first must recognize those blessings. Are they family, friends, health, wealth, food—what?

Add to that list your talents. We all have them, whether it be the ability to sing, the ability to sew, the ability to care for others, the ability to repair or build, the ability to create, the ability to teach, the ability to..

We can use our gifts for good purposes or not so good. We can choose to focus outward rather than inward. We can choose to be kind rather than combative. We can choose to listen rather than to talk about ourselves. We can choose compassion and empathy over mean-spiritedness and I told you so.

Today, on this national day of Thanksgiving, I hope you will choose not only to reflect on all the goodness in your life. But I hope you will also reflect on what it means to use those blessings in ways that will benefit others.

Strive to listen and to care, genuinely care. At the dinner table, ask about those who are absent, who live far away, who would love to be with you. If a friend or family member is dealing with a challenge, be attentive and supportive rather than pretending everything is alright or totally ignoring the issue. Something as simple as “How are you doing?” can bring comfort.

We each have the opportunity to stretch this day beyond simply being thankful for everything we have. Rather, we hold the opportunity to extend grace, love and compassion to others. May you be the recipient of those blessings today and may you also share them.

Happy Thanksgiving, my dear gracious readers!

FYI: To inspire and uplift you, consider subscribing to weekly messages of encouragement from Twin Cities based Christian radio station KTIS. Click here for more information.

And click here to read Hands & Feet, suggestions for serving and encouraging others.

Finally, please click here to listen to an uplifting message in the song “Beautiful” by MercyMe.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanks for great friends, a grandbaby on the way & no more mice November 26, 2015

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I created this Thanksgiving display in a stoneware bowl. My sister-in-law Rena created the Thanksgiving card.

I created this Thanksgiving display in a stoneware bowl. My sister-in-law Rena crafted the Thanksgiving card.

DURING THIS THANKSGIVING WEEK, thoughts naturally turn to, well, thankfulness.

Life has presented numerous challenges in recent years. But I still have many reasons to give thanks. Like most of you, the obvious food and shelter cannot be omitted from my list of blessings along with my family, my dear dear family.

The extended Kletscher family poses for a photo on the Fourth of July. Seven are missing.

The extended Kletscher family poses for a photo on the Fourth of July 2015. Seven are missing. My nephew’s wife, in the purple-and-white striped shirt, gave birth to a daughter in August. Hattie joins two other great nieces, Sierra and Evelyn, born this year. What a blessing to have all of these new babies on both sides of the family. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

In five more months, my immediate family will grow in size as my eldest daughter and her husband welcome their first baby, my first grandbaby. Excited? Yes, you betcha.

I just know that my husband, Randy, will be a wonderful grandpa. He’s not the most demonstrative with words or emotions. But when it comes right down to it, he’s as good as they come. He works hard. He’s loyal and strong and smart. And funny. He makes me laugh. That is a blessing. Plus, he’s great with kids. Our 2 1/2-year-old nephew Landon, who moved a year ago to rural Faribault with his family, considers Randy one of his “papas” (aka grandpas).

And then there are those close friends… Honestly, these are the people who are here for me through the ups and downs of life. They don’t judge. They don’t criticize. Rather they listen and encourage. They pray and support and show care and compassion. Life would be a lot harder without them.

A snippet of the stained glass window in the balcony.

One of my favorite depictions of Christ, this one in a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Which brings me to my faith. Thank God for God.

This photo from March shows the basement project in progress. We removed Styrofoam insulation and paneling from the clay tile walls. I then painted walls white. We also removed Styrofoam sheets from the ceiling and I painted the ceiling boards white. Later, we also removed the rest of the paneling from the stairway and surrounding area, replacing it with sheetrock. That, too, was painted white.

This photo from March shows the basement project in progress. We removed Styrofoam insulation and paneling from the clay tile foundation walls. We brushed and scraped loose concrete and paint from walls before washing with Borax and painting white. We also removed Styrofoam sheets from the ceiling. I painted the ceiling boards white. Later, we also removed the rest of the paneling from the stairway and surrounding area, replacing it with sheetrock. That, too, was painted white. Floors are now covered with carpet tile. We installed a Beaver waterproofing system and a sump pump. (Yes, eventually I’ll post more about this project.)

And thank God we finally finished our basement project after more than a year. (OK, the steps aren’t carpeted yet, but I’m still calling the project done.) We now have a waterproofed basement with white walls and ceiling. The clean industrial look. Gone are the mold, dark paneling and red carpet. Totes are now neatly organized on a corner shelving unit. But the best part of all—the absence of mice after we uncovered, and sealed, their entry point. Everyone knows the arrival of cold weather in Minnesota brings mice inside.

Given my love of words, I created this Thanksgiving display with thrift store art purchases and Scrabble letters.

Given my love of words, I created this Thanksgiving display in my dining room with thrift store art and Scrabble letters.

I’m not particularly fond of Minnesota’s cold and snowy months. But I am thankful to live in a state that embraces and supports the arts. In the past year, I’ve participated in three poetry readings, been published in two anthologies (poetry and creative nonfiction) and penned poems for a joint photo-poetry exhibit. All of these opportunities connect me to other writers. Minnesota truly is a great place to engage in all facets of the arts.

That's my post, labeled "Barn Memories," featured today on Freshly Pressed.

That’s my post, labeled “Barn Memories,” featured on November 30, 2013, on Freshly Pressed. Daily, WordPress editors highlight the best content from WordPress sites in a section now tagged “Discover.” My work has been showcased thrice on Freshly Pressed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

I also count this blog as a major blessing. Through my writing and photography, I’ve connected with some pretty fantastic people both in person and online. And, as a blogging bonus, I’ve also sold photo rights to clients ranging from creative agencies to authors to an Austrian musician to a local funeral home and more. I’ve had an especially good year in photo sales, just at a time when the extra income is especially needed. (If you’re interested in buying rights to my photos, email me at audrey at mnprairieroots.com.)

Yes, I am thankful for you, dear readers. You are the best. Happy Thanksgiving!

I purchased this vintage turkey candle several years ago in a Redwood Falls thrift store. The candle has never been lit and never will be.

I purchased this vintage turkey candle several years ago in a Redwood Falls thrift store. The candle has never been lit and never will be.

Read a related story on NPR about gratitude being good for the heart and soul. Click here.

This concludes my three-part “blessings” series.  Click here to read my first blessings post and then click here to read my second.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving morning December 2, 2014

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Thanksgiving morning sunrise between Faribault and Kenyon

 

THE SUN WAS BEGINNING to edge into the landscape as we aimed east out of Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60 toward Kenyon on Thanksgiving morning.

I’d been awake since 5 a.m., unable to sleep. Shortly before 6 a.m., I rose to shower, grab breakfast, pack and head out the door for the 300-mile drive to Appleton, Wisconsin, south of Green Bay to visit our daughter.

 

Driving into Kenyon, the view of the rising sun is temporarily blocked.

Driving into Kenyon, the view of the rising sun is temporarily blocked.

 

Snow ribboned the pavement, whitened the land, locked the temperature in the icebox category. This was not the Thanksgiving I envisioned. The world seemed more Christmas-like than November.

But this is Minnesota and, after living here my entire life, I should accept that the weather is unpredictable. I’d just shoveled more than a half a foot of snow from our driveway and sidewalk the day prior.

 

Thanksgiving morning sunrise 2

 

These thoughts rolled through my brain as the sun eased above the earth in a brilliant, blinding orb. On this day of national thanksgiving, I was grateful to be on the road with my husband, closing the miles between us and the daughter I love and cherish.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural gratitude December 1, 2014

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ON THANKSGIVING MORNING, between Zumbrota and Pine Island along U.S. Highway 52, I spotted this message:

 

Thank a farmer, along US Hwy 52

 

And I thought how good that this farmer would remind us of his labor, of the crops he grows and the animals he raises, and of the food that sustains us.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Oh, give thanks… November 27, 2014

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DEAR READERS:

I hope today, in between food and football and family, you will pause to focus on all for which you are thankful.

And I’m not just talking the obvious like a roof over your head and food on your table and good health.

The turkey's head was flopping down, so I used my left hand to hold the head in place and then snap this photo.

Artwork photographed last Thanksgiving in a hallway at Faribault Lutheran School shows those things for which one student was thankful. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Think deep. Think emotional. Think specific.

I am grateful to God for giving me strength to endure the many challenges I’ve faced this year. Often I’ve wondered if/how/when I will make it to the other side. I’m sure you’ve all been there in some way at some time in your life.

What carries you through those tough times? Those are the things for which I am especially grateful this year: The love and support of my husband; the love of my children and son-in-law; the care and encouragement of friends; my heavenly Father; the comfort and hope of Scripture; prayer…

Dancing around the maypole with a sun ball, from an earlier game, resting nearby.

No matter what happens in life, the sun still rises each morning. Here dancers celebrate the Summer Solstice during a Midsommar fest in Northfield, MN., in June 2012.

Twin Cities Christian radio station KTIS also makes my “I am truly thankful for” list. Songs like “You’re Not Alone” by Marie Miller and “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman, on the station’s playlist, have uplifted me many a day:

The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

–Lyrics from “10,000 Reasons”

Candles at the Saint Paul Cathedral, St. Paul, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Candles at the Saint Paul Cathedral, St. Paul, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My faith in God sustains me. Those are not simply trite words written without a belief that runs deep and wide through my soul.

I am also thankful this year for the recovery of my 82-year-old mom who suffered severe injuries in a fall that landed her in a trauma unit several months ago.

What are you giving heartfelt thanks for this Thanksgiving?

Have a blessed and wonderful day contemplating that for which you are grateful, in the company of those you love.

Audrey

© Copyright 2014

 

A Psalm of Thanksgiving November 27, 2013

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A harvest basket, photographed in the entry to Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Minnesota.

A harvest basket, photographed in the entry to Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Minnesota.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through the generations.

MAY YOU BE BLESSED on Thanksgiving day by the presence of those you love. May your table be full. And may your heart overflow with gratitude to God for all you have been given.

From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling