Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Let’s be there for one another December 6, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING for others this holiday season? How are you connecting, offering support, comfort and care, and bringing joy and hope to others? I’m talking outside your immediate circle of family and friends.

Today, more than ever, we need to care about one another in a world that seems increasingly self-centered, mean and hostile.

We have the power individually and collectively to make a difference, to counter the negativity, to do something good. Not for ourselves. But for others. Especially during the holiday season.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

For example, each December for the past several, I’ve rung bells for the Salvation Army. It’s uncomfortable standing outside in the biting cold of a Minnesota winter. But it’s only for two hours and I can step inside Walmart to warm my hands under the bathroom hand dryer when my fingers feel numb. This is not about my comfort, though. Rather this is about greeting people with warmth and accepting donations from those wanting to help others.

And there are plenty of generous souls. This year a woman stopped, pushed coins into the kettle slot and told me she knew what it was like to go through rough times. And then there was the young mom who parceled coins into her toddler son’s hand to drop into the kettle. Except he returned each coin to her and then watched her drop the pennies, the quarters, the…into the bucket. What a valuable lesson she taught him. I especially appreciate those young parents who model giving.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Not everyone can give financially. I get that. But we can give of our time. On Sunday afternoon my bible study group gathered to wrap gifts as part of our Angel Tree Project. We’ve done this for years, ending our wrapping marathon with a soups and salads dinner together. I am always amazed at the generosity of people who pull some 75 paper angels from a Christmas tree at our church and then purchase gifts for those less fortunate. One young boy asked for a tacklebox (he’s getting it). I found that especially refreshing in a time when most kids would rather stay indoors with their tech toys. Typically I don’t like wrapping presents. But doing this with friends is fun and fosters a sense of togetherness in a shared mission.

I also helped pack boxes for our military men and women overseas and filled bags for local veterans. As the daughter of a Korean War veteran, I can only imagine how much my dad would have appreciated such a gift. Through that volunteerism I indirectly honored my dad.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

There are endless ways we can help one another. It doesn’t take much effort to find a cause that fits your interests and your talents. Or simply reach out on your own to uplift someone. Send a card. Make a phone call. Give a hug. Mentor a child. Open a door. Smile.

It’s within our power to make this world a better place, to show we really do care about others through our positive words and actions.

TELL ME: How do you help others?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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One mother’s remarkable love December 3, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

HER WORDS LEFT ME near tears. They are words of a mother who loves her 22-year-old daughter beyond measure.

She wishes, she told me, that she could trade places with Brittany*, that she would be the one battling ovarian cancer. Not her girl.

I saw the pain in Ellen’s* eyes, heard it during our brief exchange outside Walmart as I rang bells for the Salvation Army on Saturday morning. Ellen and I are acquaintances, two of our children once classmates. I haven’t seen her in years, thus greeted her with “How are you?”

When Ellen looked away and responded with a subdued OK, I picked up immediately that she was not alright. So I asked. And then she told me about the discovery of a large tumor on one of Brittany’s ovaries, the eight months getting care at a metro hospital, the seemingly successful treatment…until abnormal blood work results last week.

I reached out and hugged her.

We didn’t talk stages or treatment or about other medical details. I focused instead on how Ellen was coping, knowing how difficult this must be for her. How it would be for any mother. As moms we want to make everything better for our children, no matter their ages. Ellen didn’t disagree. But her response went beyond that. “I wish I was the one with cancer,” she said.

For the second time, I instinctively wrapped her in a hug.

Ellen spoke with the authenticity of a mother who’d thought often about her desire to trade places, to be the one fighting cancer. I admire the strength of her love for Brittany.

During the two hours I greeted folks while ringing bells, my time with Ellen proved an emotionally pivotal moment. I’d seen so much of humanity. Smiling faces. Scowling faces. Faces that exuded joy. Faces that showed nothing but despair. Mouths that spoke gratitude. Mouths that complained (about the winter storm—”It’s too early for this s**t”). I thought I’d heard it all. But I hadn’t until I heard the profound words of love from an incredible mother—”I wish I was the one with cancer.”

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

*Not their real names.

 

To write or not to write & insights on holiday letters November 29, 2018

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A holiday greeting sent to friends by Faribault founder Alexander Faribault. The vintage card was displayed at a 2017 holiday open house at the home of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017, photo edited.

 

DO YOU WRITE AND SNAIL MAIL a Christmas letter? Or is this mostly a Minnesota thing?

Last week I sat down at the computer to compose the annual letter I will send to 100 family members and friends. Some I haven’t seen in years. Others I see often. No matter who they are, at some point in my life, we connected and they remain important to me.

Giving and receiving letters and cards ranks as one of my favorite aspects of the holiday season. I appreciate the updates, the photos, yes, even of people I no longer recognize. We grow older, greyer, wider… But it is that advancing of age that makes me realize even more the importance of this annual correspondence. Sure, we have email and Facebook (which I’m not on) and texting and so many other ways to communicate. But there’s something to be said for a card I can hold in my hands, a photo I can stick on my refrigerator, a letter on paper that I can read and reread.

Simply put, I value the old school way of communicating with one another at Christmas. It takes time and effort to compose a letter, to wrangle a photo, to sign a card, to address an envelope. That invested time shows care. Tangible love and care. On paper.

Right about now I can hear the but Audrey protests. But Audrey, sending cards adds to the stress of an already hectic season. There’s not enough time and this is one thing I can cut out. You’re right. You can. And it’s your choice.

For me, though, the annual rite of writing a family letter continues. I’ve reduced that letter from two pages to one, recognizing shorter attention spans. I hit the highlights of 2018, although much of the bad never makes print. No one wants to read every detail of the challenges in your life. Or maybe they do. But I prefer not to share difficulties that fuel gossip and here’s what you should do reactions from those who think they have all the answers. As if all of us have ideal lives where nothing but good prevails.

These annual letters are, in many ways, carefully crafted news releases. We choose to put a primarily positive spin on the content, exercising restraint in delivery of anything negative. As long as we understand the PR perspective, we can read between the lines of those happy family vacations, those stellar accomplishments, those above average toddlers…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving thoughts November 22, 2018

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I recently picked up this honeycomb paper turkey at a thrift store for a dime.

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, dear readers!

I hope today finds you gathered with family or friends around a table laden with all the traditional foods of this holiday. Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries, a side vegetable (maybe green bean casserole), pumpkin pie… No grape salad, though. Unless you are DeLores from Belview, Minnesota.

 

Another recent thrift store purchase: this sweet little handmade wooden turkey.

 

We are eating a traditional meal at our house, although the husband is grilling the turkey on our Weber charcoal grill and not in the oven. My oldest daughter, her husband and our granddaughter are joining us and I am grateful for their presence. Several years have passed since any of our three adult children have been back home for Thanksgiving. But we made the best of those years, volunteering to deliver turkey dinners as part of Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner. While I’ll miss that opportunity this year, I am beyond happy to have our daughter and her family here.

I realize Thanksgiving can be difficult for those of you without family to celebrate. Or for those of you who have recently lost loved ones. I am sorry. But I do hope you can find some joy in your day and many reasons to be thankful.

 

Stems of wheat on a candle symbolize the harvest and gratitude for that harvest.

 

While life holds many sorrows, many challenges, many struggles—none of us are without them—it also holds much that is good, joyful, lovely. I really believe that.

Today may you experience that which is good. May you feel joy. And may you see that which is lovely.

 

Words of thanks in the Psalms.

 

May gratitude fill your heart.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating my daughter on her birthday November 16, 2018

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Miranda. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

LOVE HOLDS MEMORIES. So many. And today I remember my second daughter, celebrating her birthday 265 miles distant in south central Wisconsin. I wish I could be with her, embracing her and telling her how much, how deeply, I love her.

But time passes and kids grow up and become adults and move on and celebrate birthdays without us. That is the reality of life. I wonder sometimes why some kids choose to stay in the place of their roots and some choose to leave. Mine left, although one daughter lives only an hour away, for which I am thankful.

Today, on Miranda’s birthday, I remember her entry into the world—on her timeline, not mine. She awakened me in the early morning hours of November 16, days before her scheduled delivery by C-section. She sent Randy and me scrambling to find someone to watch her 21-month-old sister so I could get to the hospital. I shall be forever grateful to my neighbor Cheri.

This launch into life set the tone for Miranda. She is her own person, not one who feels the need to follow the crowd. She has stood strong among bullies and strong through treatment for scoliosis and strong under administration fire as a co-editor of her high school newspaper many years ago. She stood strong through a mugging in Argentina. She stood strong while volunteering with Hurricane Katrina clean-up.

She’s compassionate and kind and loving. Miranda works in a profession that requires compassion. She is a Spanish medical interpreter. From birthing rooms to emergency rooms, she offers a calming presence to patients and their families. I admire her ability to handle whatever situation with professionalism and grace. I could not do what she does. But I appreciate that she is there for people both in moments of joy and in moments of crisis.

Miranda is also a woman of faith, of a gentle spirit. She is quiet, yet bold. Creative.

There’s so much I love about this girl of mine, who really is not mine in the sense of ownership. No one owns anyone. But the bonds of family connect us, hold us close in the infinite love of a mother for her daughter. Today my love overflows as I think of the sweet baby girl I welcomed all those decades ago. On her timeline, not mine.

Happy birthday, Miranda! I love you. Always.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joy of time with family-plus November 14, 2018

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I TOLD MYSELF I wouldn’t cry. And I didn’t. Not until they had exited the van, scooped together their luggage, hugged me tight and entered Terminal 2 at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.

Then, even before Randy pulled away from the curb late Monday afternoon, the choke of parting sadness erupted for a brief moment. Until I refocused on the joy of seeing my son, of meeting his girlfriend. Of the hours during their 2 1/2-day visit from Boston that filled my mama’s heart to overflowing with love.

 

Siblings together for the first time in 15 months. My eldest is due with her second child in less than two months.

 

Caleb’s sisters joined us from an hour away and from four hours away in Madison, Wisconsin, as did the 2 ½-year-old granddaughter and a son-in-law. This marked our first time together since August 2017. Too long.

We spent most of our time just hanging out at home, gathering around the dinner table, cozying on the couch, viewing images from Paris and delighting in the novelty of a Polaroid camera. Preschooler Izzy now has a stash of photos. We celebrated my second daughter’s birthday early with gifts and well wishes and birthday candles—one on her mint bar, one on Izzy’s piece. When you’re the granddaughter, you can have a candle to blow out, too.

 

Our friendly waitress offered to take our photo before we ate our pizza.

We talked and laughed and ate too much—including the requested mint bars and potato soup and delicious meals grilled by Randy and lots more. I made hotdish, albeit not tater tot, but Amy Thielen’s Classic Chicken and Wild Rice Hotdish. You can’t host a first-time visitor to Minnesota without serving hotdish (not casserole). One evening we ate out, enjoying Caleb’s (and our) favorite Italian sausage pizza at The Signature Bar & Grill.

We toured Sunny around Faribault, showing her the places of Caleb’s youth—his schools, church, the hospital of his birth. Disappointment showed when I told Caleb the library, where he spent a lot of time while growing up, was closed on Sunday. Likewise, we couldn’t hike at River Bend Nature Center. No one wanted to risk a walk with archery deer hunting happening there. But we walked the new Virtue’s Trail, fighting a brisk wind and abnormally winter cold temps to do so.

I tried to think like someone who’d never visited Faribault. We stopped at the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store and downtown (unfortunately little is open on Sunday), drove past historic Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and pointed out the sliding hill near our home. Sunny delighted in all of it and expressed her desire to attend a county fair as we drove through the Rice County Fairgrounds. I jumped on that and invited her back. Any time.

 

Before going to the airport, we met our eldest daughter and granddaughter at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

 

It was a joy to have Sunny here. To see southern Minnesota through her eyes—to appreciate her appreciation for cozy homes, the quiet of the night, the darkness of the night sky pinpointed by stars, the spaciousness of open land, even cattle glimpsed from Interstate 35.

But mostly, it was a joy to have my house full. To be with those I love, to widen the circle of that love to include Sunny.

My mama’s heart overflows with happiness at the memories.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The season of autumn in images & words October 23, 2018

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AS LEAVES SPIRAL IN BURSTS of wind to the ground, the season of autumn nears the exit here in Minnesota.

 

 

We are all cognizant of that impending departure. The farmers as they hurry to harvest crops. The squirrels as they gather and hide walnuts. And those of us who still have yards to prepare for winter.

 

 

I feel that pressure. To get the leaves raked,

 

 

the flowerbeds cleaned, flowerpots emptied,

 

 

the tabletop fountain hefted above garage rafters.

 

 

I wish for more days of cobalt skies, sunshine blazing warmth onto my back as I rake leaves, stuff them into trash cans.

 

 

 

 

I wish until I realize that by wishing, I am missing the season. So I grab my camera and turn it toward the maple leaves on the solo tree in our backyard, toward the woods edging our property, even to the neighbor’s bare branched trees.

 

 

Of course, I wish I could slow time, grab back summer days, hold onto each leaf stem yanked by the wind. But I can’t.

 

 

Every season brings its joys, its sorrow, its light, its darkness. That is a given. I can yearn for another season. Or I can choose to embrace the season in which I am living.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling