Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sometimes you just have to walk away… January 9, 2020

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An especially bright spot in the heart of downtown Faribault is the Second Street Garden, a pocket garden with positive messages like this one. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo August 2019.

 

BY NATURE, I AM a quiet observer. Not introverted. But a watcher, a listener, the person who mostly sits back, especially in a room filled with strong personalities.

But that doesn’t mean I embrace overpowering people, especially those who talk over and at others. That type of self-centered behavior bothers me, bothers being a tempered word choice. Lack of empathy, understanding and compassion hurt personal relationships, communities, countries. I see too many people driven by their goals, their agendas, their misinformed/uninformed assessments of others and of situations. Their “I’m right” and “I don’t care if I’m hurting you” perspectives.

How do you fix that on a personal level? The answer: We usually can’t. I’ve learned that unless someone is willing to engage in civil dialogue, it’s probably a waste of time to even have a discussion. I can only control how I react. And sometimes the best way to react is simply to walk away, to let it go, to extract myself from those who are toxic, who lack empathy and the ability to think beyond themselves.

The Minnesota Nice part of me screams, “That’s not very nice!” But the reality is that we all deserve respect. To be heard and understood and loved. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Color my winter world January 8, 2020

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The nearly colorless landscape of southwestern Minnesota in late December.

 

MY EYES, MY SPIRIT, my very being craves color this time of year.

I need pops of color to break the white monotony of a Minnesota winter landscape. Without color, the bleakness of setting presses down the spirit. Not that winter can’t be beautiful. It’s just that I prefer a world beyond black and white.

So when I’m out and about, I find myself drawn to hues that flash. Like red, especially red. Set against a backdrop of white, red appears even bolder, stronger.

 

Parked in a Morristown, Minnesota, driveway.

 

A red pick-up truck.

 

Red barns, like this one in southwestern Minnesota, really stand out in a winterscape.

 

A red barn, tractor, outbuildings.

 

Right next to the I-90 in the Wisconsin Dells, a colorful waterslide breaks the grey of a foggy late December morning.

 

Even, while driving through the Wisconsin Dells recently, red spiraling on an outdoor waterslide.

 

Taillights are welcome along a foggy I-90 in Wisconsin.

 

And, on that same trip, the welcome red of taillights beaconing through thick fog pressed upon Interstate 90.

During a Midwest winter, red equals the visual equivalent of happiness.

TELL ME: Do you involuntarily gravitate toward color this time of year? If yes, I’d like to hear more.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on a Monday morning in Minnesota January 6, 2020

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So many winter days lately here in Minnesota have been dominated by cloud-filled grey skies, this scene along Interstate 90 in far southeastern Minnesota.

 

SUNSHINE RADIATES WARMTH, splashing light into my office on this Monday morning. Such a blessing after too many days of grey skies. Winter in Minnesota can challenge the spirit with endless cold and dreariness. But this morning hope rises in the light.

That all sounds so optimistic and poetic. And I wish I fully believed those words, although I am trying to be more positive. Yet, it’s difficult when the current global situation prompts concern about the stability and safety of our world, our country, our state, our communities.

My thoughts are all over the place today. Negative. Positive.

 

Another winter scene along Interstate 90 in rural southeastern Minnesota. I noticed a thin break in the pressing cloud line.

 

This morning, after finishing my devotions, I picked up the gratitude journal gifted to me several days ago by a friend. I reread what I’d written. Gratefulness for a lengthy hand-penned letter from a loving friend who also gifted Randy and me with a gift certificate to a favorite Faribault restaurant. Gratitude for Randy receiving a gift certificate for a pie from the Trinity Pie Makers after entering a “name that Christmas hymn” contest at our church. Gratitude for our grandson turning one. Gratitude for the annual holiday dinner out at a new Northfield restaurant compliments of Randy’s employer.

Those are all really good things and I am grateful for each.

They balance the ongoing challenges of life. My mom in the process of dying. Other family members dealing with major health issues complicated by limited and costly health insurance that includes unaffordable premiums and high deductibles and insurers thinking they can dictate what care/prescriptions an insured should get. I’ve written previously about our own financial struggles with health insurance and I’m hearing more and more about just how bad the situation is for a lot of people.

Yesterday, as I started reading the stack of magazines and books I picked up from the local library (I am so grateful for libraries), I came across two articles mentioning health insurance in the December 2019 issue of The Writer magazine. In both stories, the freelance writers mentioned the high cost of health insurance and how fortunate they are to have coverage through their spouses. Two stories out of 11 referencing health insurance seems significant in a 48-page magazine.

 

Blue sky breaks through the bank of clouds along a rural county road between Faribault and Morristown last week.

 

Something needs to change. But change seems slow in coming. First there needs to be a recognition among politicians that a real problem exists with the current health insurance system.

I could write lots more on the topic. But, as I look outside my office window at the sunshine, as I press keyboard letters that write words upon a screen, I feel grateful that I can create. I have that freedom. I live in a wonderful community, which though imperfect, is a pretty darned sweet place to live. Today, sunshine breaks through the clouds.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts as I welcome 2020 January 1, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

TODAY THE SUN rises and sets on a new decade, 2020. That number sounds so surreal to me, someone who came of age in the early 1970s, at the end of the Vietnam War, a time of unrest and discord, of young people raising their voices.

But has anything really changed? The sun still rises. Discord still exists. And if it didn’t, I’d worry.

These are certainly trying times. But every generation has faced challenges. The difference now is the instant speed at which we become aware, how close our world has grown (or maybe not) due to technology, how rapidly untruths spread. I remember my mom telling me once how frightened she felt following the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a nine-year-old living in rural Minnesota, she had no concept of place, of distance. She thought the attack occurred only towns away.

I am, of course, simplifying the differences between yesteryear and today. One could argue more points about the ever-changing world. And I likely would not disagree.

But at the very basic, we are all just human beings with wants, needs, desires, hopes and dreams. For some those are grand and far-reaching and social media attention grabbing. For others, life is less complex. I, for example, am content with a quiet life, with loving and being loved, with serving others, with experiencing joy in everyday moments, with finding delights in the simple. A sunset. A sweet, “I love you, Grandma.” A good book. A Sunday afternoon drive. A hoppy IPA from a local craft brewery. Chats with friends after church.

In 2020, I desire more of those moments that frame a life of contentment. I desire, too, more time with my adult children and their families; I’d love for all of us to spend a few days together. I pray for improved health for family members.

Whatever happens in 2020, I am grateful for another year. To live. To love. To write. To photograph. To be the best person I can be. To treat others with respect and kindness. To show care and compassion. To listen, an art that seems in short supply in a me-driven world of talking over others. To empathize and make a positive difference whenever and wherever I can. Thank you for being a part of my life, for embracing my creative endeavors and for all you do to make this world a better place.

Happy 2020, dear friends!

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dear Santa December 21, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

DEAR SANTA,

I hesitate to write this last-minute letter given your hectic travel schedule and the sheer volume of work involved in delivering gifts around the world, not to mention supervising all those elves. I can’t imagine the stress. I bet you’re thankful for smartphones, loyal reindeer and a reliable sleigh.

I don’t mean to add to your burden, Santa. But I haven’t asked for anything from you in decades. So I thought I would send you my Christmas list and see what you can do. Here goes:

DSLR camera  (My aged Canon EOS 20-D performs poorly in low light and, well, it won’t last forever.)

office chair (Mine is ripping on the back and I need one that offers better back support.)

comforter (I noticed when I made the bed last week that ours is tearing.)

new bed (Ours is wearing out, as in sagging.)

new pots and pans (Mine are circa late 70s, handles coming loose…)

insta pot (This is a wish, not a need.)

kitchen update (Or at least a new faucet to replace the leaky one and maybe a new sink to replace the brown one.)

new smartphone (My Android is old and slow.)

shirts & sweaters (A weight loss necessitates this as does the need to upgrade an aging wardrobe.)

short boots (Not snowboots, but the fashion kind.)

There you go, Santa.

Wait a minute. I’m having second thoughts about asking for so much. I am thankful for all I already have. Let’s cross all those wishes off my list and make it a single wish. Here’s what I really want, and not just for myself: I want affordable health insurance, lower deductibles and insurance companies to stop making decisions about individual healthcare. Do you possess enough magic to make that happen?

Here’s the deal. The overwhelming cost of health insurance ($1,700/month for us with $4,250/each deductibles in 2020) is causing financial and emotional stress not only for me and Randy but for many others (those who are self-employed, work for small businesses with minimal or no benefits…) in the same situation. I don’t expect free insurance. But I do expect reasonable premiums and deductibles that make our insurance affordable and usable.

I know of family members, myself included, who are not getting necessary healthcare because they can’t afford it, due to the aforementioned high premiums and deductibles. And, no, I can get neither subsidy or tax credit. I checked, with multiple sources (aka MNsure navigators and social services). We fall through a loophole.

I know of family members denied prescriptions or treatments because health insurance companies judged these unnecessary or determined there were other options. Why do insurance companies have the right to override a medical provider’s directive? This makes absolutely no sense to me, Santa. Sure, policyholders can appeal decisions. But why aren’t doctors’ orders good enough?

I expect that for every grievance I could list here, thousands millions more exist.

Well, Santa, I don’t want to sound like a complainer and you probably can’t grant this wish. But if you have any connections with anyone who can effect change, I’d appreciate your help.

Safe travels and Merry Christmas!

Love,

Audrey

 

In the spirit of the holiday, I’m grateful for local businesses December 20, 2019

Urns filled with greenery add a holiday flair to the historic Bachrach building in downtown Faribault.

 

IF YOU’RE OLD SCHOOL—and that would be me—you appreciate homegrown brick-and-mortar businesses. These are the places that make our communities unique, the places that offer excellent customer service, the places that connect us as people, the places that boost our local economies.

 

Faribault Print Shop offers lots of options and promotes shopping local with the I GET IT! in Faribault campaign.

 

I can walk into the local hardware store to a greeting of “What can I help you find?” I can walk into a local third-generation family shoe store, be greeted by name, get my feet measured, shoes fitted. I can walk into a local gallery and chat it up with other creatives. People I know by name.

 

The only Grinch you will find in downtown Faribault is this painted one.

 

I love this about my community of Faribault. The interaction between business owners and customers. The feeling that I matter, as an individual as much as a potential customer.

 

In its window display this December, Heartman Insurance honors the Olympia Cafe, once housed in the firm’s building.

 

Historic buildings line Central Avenue in Faribault.

 

I love, too, the historic buildings that define our downtown and the care most property owners take in maintaining those structures.

 

At the Cheese Cave, windows promote the cheese sold inside, including bleu cheeses made and aged in Faribault.

 

Keepers Antique Shop always does an exceptional job with window displays, any time of the year.

 

On the antique shop door.

 

I love how, this time of year, businesses spread holiday cheer through creative window displays, encouraged by an annual competition.

 

An assortment of art in the front window of The Upper East Side Gallery.

 

Not everything here is perfect, of course. Nowhere is. There are vacant eyesore storefronts, negative attitudes still about immigrants who call downtown home (although that seems to be improving), perceived problems with parking…

 

 

But, overall, Faribault frames a positive image in a place I’ve called home for 37 years.

FYI: For another shop local option, check out the Solstice Market from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 21, at Keepsake Cidery, rural Dundas. Styled after outdoor European markets, the event will feature bonfires, grilling and 20-plus vendors from the Cannon Valley region vending their wares/food/creations inside a heated tent. The cidery is open from noon – 8 p.m.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts in the light of recent news headlines December 4, 2019

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Artwork created by Gracie for a student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo March 2018.

 

LIFE CAN BE TOUGH sometimes, really tough.

Five dead in a Minneapolis high-rise fire last week.

Four dead, including two young brothers and their mother, in an act of domestic violence in south Minneapolis just days ago.

Nine killed in an airplane crash in South Dakota.

The headlines and media reports can overwhelm.

Yesterday, a 16-year-old boy was taken into custody in my community after reportedly sending threatening texts to two students that he was “thinking about shooting up the school.” Faribault High School. A similar, but worse, scenario played out in violence in two eastern Wisconsin schools in recent days.

I wish the world was free of meanness, violence, hatred and tragedies. But it isn’t and never will be. Yet we have the power within our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities, our circle of family and friends, yes, within our hearts to individually treat others with kindness, compassion, empathy and respect. And that is a start.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling