Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

More than just a riddle February 20, 2019

DO KIDS STILL appreciate riddles?

When I was a kid, I loved them. Some riddles were stupid. Others silly. Many challenged me. Whichever, riddles usually made me laugh.

 

 

So when I saw one of my favorite childhood riddles posted in a newspaper stand outside the Faribault post office, I laughed, exited the van and walked across icy surfaces to photograph the posting.

Q: What’s black, white and read all over?
A: A newspaper.

I heard that riddle countless times when growing up. I liked it then, like it still, although the riddle no longer rings reality. Newspaper aren’t read all over. And that saddens me, a former journalist. Too many people no longer value newspapers. Rather, they get their news from other sources, not necessarily the most reliable sources either.

Newspapers and journalists are too often the targets of criticism, much of it unjustified. I’m not talking about the publications that call themselves newspapers, but truly are not in any sense of the word. I’m talking about legitimate “news papers” staffed by hardworking, unbiased journalists.

 

 

I value newspapers, especially community newspapers. I value the stories reporters write, yes, even the hard news. I value that newspapers keep me informed, expose me to differing viewpoints on the editorial page, alert me to happenings and issues in my community and elsewhere.

I recognize that my feelings about newspapers and journalists stand much stronger than those of most people. In my days working as a news reporter, I was attacked by individuals who disliked me quoting them or writing on an issue they’d rather not see in print. But their disdain didn’t stop me from doing my job.

We need a free press, a strong press, a press that does not cave to political or societal pressure. Our democracy depends on freedom of the press.

Q: What happens in a country without a free press?

A:

 

TELL ME: Share your thoughts or share a riddle. Please be respectful in your comments.

 

Here’s an example of a riddle my second daughter shared with the public many years ago at a roller rink:

A: How do you make a Kleenex dance?

Q: Put a little boogie in it.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Valentine’s Day thoughts February 14, 2019

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VINTAGE VALENTINES. They can be cheesy, unconventional, interesting, stereotypical of an era. But I still like them. There’s just something about the feel of the heavy paper, the art, the words, the messages that endear me to these pieces of yesteryear.

A few years back, when my siblings and I were cleaning out my mom’s house in anticipation of her move into assisted living, I sorted through a box of cards Mom saved. The sister grabbed the collection first, so I got the left-overs. No fancy tissue pop-up valentines remaining for me. Still, I found cards that delighted me, that I pull out each February to display.

The older I get, the more treasured are memories and bits of the past. These valentines are more than pretty cards exchanged between friends and family many decades ago. These valentines represent moments in time when everyone paused for a single day to celebrate each other.

We need more days like that, when we think beyond our selfish selves and consider others. We need to remember how our words and actions affect others. Understanding, compassion and care connect and heal. Shutting others out via words and actions hurts, damages, even destroys, relationships. We need to expand our vision beyond tunnel vision to see the wider picture. It is often in our closest relationships that we fail, that we hurt, and are hurt, most deeply.

But we each hold the capacity to love, to make the right choices, to embrace each other. To do the right thing. Those are my thoughts on this Valentine’s Day 2019.

TELL ME: What are your thoughts?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Heartfelt February 11, 2019

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IT’S A SIMPLE FABRIC HEART. Puffed with stuffing. Hand-stitched with red thread. The words I Love You printed with red paint.

I could have trashed the heart years after the son crafted it for me in elementary school. But there are some things you keep. Things that remind you of the sweet love of a child, of a heartfelt gift lovingly made for a mother.

This heart reminds me that love threads through our lives—in memories, in moments, in the art of living.

Remember that on Valentine’s Day and always. You are loved.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The positive steps toward embracing diversity in Faribault January 18, 2019

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I took this photo, reflecting Faribault’s diversity, during a downtown event several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FARIBAULT IS A COMMUNITY EVOLVING. Changing as our population diversifies and we are no longer a place of mostly European and Scandinavian peoples. Rather, my southeastern Minnesota city is now home to people of many colors. We are increasingly diverse.

 

1960s vintage art that represents, to me, the colorful and beautiful diversity of my community. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

An article published last week in the Faribault Daily News stated that from 2010 to 2018, the population of students of color in the Faribault School District increased from 25 percent to 55 percent. That’s a remarkable change in just eight years.

 

Faribault Community School is hosting two more Harboring Voices Choir evenings on January 22 and 29. Led by St. Olaf College students, the gathering gives adults and kids an opportunity to sing together in a community setting.

 

Equally as remarkable is the shift I’ve noticed in attitudes, in efforts to welcome our newest families. I’m hearing fewer negative comments about Somalis, Hispanics and other immigrants. I’m not saying those attitudes don’t still exist. It’s just that I don’t hear that animosity as much or sense such strong resentment toward these newcomers.

Why the change?

 

One of the virtues highlighted as part of The Virtues Trail Project. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

After time, people become more accepting as they adjust and as newcomers assimilate into the fabric of Faribault. I think much of that can be attributed to the kids, who see their classmates as classmates and friends, not defined by their skin color.

 

This notice is posted, among the one above and the one below, on a community bulletin board at Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault.

 

But adults have also made concerted efforts to help locals and newcomers accept one another. The Virtues Project Faribault, the Faribault Diversity CoalitionFaribault Community School and the creators of 1855, a local history series on Faribault Community Television, are all making a difference. I am grateful for their efforts.

 

Faribault celebrates MLK Day on Monday as noted in this notice posted at the library.

 

My great grandparents emigrated from Germany to America. They faced challenges in language, culture and more. It’s important to remember our immigrant roots. But no matter our ethnicity, our language, our culture, our skin color, we are all just people…with hopes and dreams. And voices.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shut-down fall-out ripples through southern Minnesota families January 16, 2019

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The art of Roosevelt Elementary School student Anzal Abdi displayed during a 2018 Faribault area student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2018, Used here for illustration only. I prefer peace over conflict, resolution over discord.

 

I’M NOT ONE TO CREATE discord and division. I really don’t like conflict. So it’s not often I write on current political topics. Hot topics seem to bring out the worst in people, especially in online comments. So be forewarned. I moderate comments. I’m OK with disagreement. But only if it’s civil.

Here goes, the current day topic that has me shaking my head in disbelief:

This whole border wall funding-federal government shut-down makes zero sense. Why? Because federal employees and ordinary citizens who have nothing at all to do with the border wall are being hurt. Financially. Emotionally. I am surprised this situation has continued for this long. But then I’m not surprised. And, no, I won’t expand on that. You can read between the lines.

Only in recent days have I heard the stories of southern Minnesotans feeling the effects. My nephew for one. He is an air traffic controller. Currently unpaid. He and his young family of five are OK for now. They have enough money saved to cover expenses for the next several months. But they are expecting a baby in April and that’s a concern.

Another young couple is also expecting a baby soon. And they are in the process of buying a home. But with the partial federal government shut-down, the home loan process is stalled. Talk about stress.

The third family is also expecting a baby. The expectant father works for the federal prison system. For now, the family is OK. They still have their health insurance coverage, a major worry with that baby coming.

I can only imagine how many more individuals and families are feeling the financial fall-out of no paycheck. How many folks are awaiting loans and more, all delayed now because of the impasse? How many people on vacation now find they can’t visit federal sites they planned to see or are caught in long lines at airports? One can only hope a resolution is reached soon as effects of the shut-down ripple through our economy, our country.

TELL ME: Are you personally affected by the shut-down or do you know of someone who is affected?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome, baby Isaac January 9, 2019

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HE’S HERE, the grandson, my second grandchild. Isabelle’s not so little baby brother. And I am beyond in love with this beautiful baby boy.

My eldest daughter, Amber, gave birth to her son shortly after midnight Sunday. Isaac Henry weighed in at a chunky 9 lbs, 2 oz. and measured 22 ¼ inches. Who knew they measured in quarter inches? He’s tall like his daddy Marc.

 

Holding Grandpa’s finger. And, no, that’s not dirt. That’s grease permanently embedded in Randy’s skin. He’s an automotive machinist.

 

Isaac is healthy and darling and adored by all of us who love him, from California to Boston and many places in between.

 

 

Big sister Izzy, who turns three in early April, loved on her brother with cuddles and sweet words and a sweetness that melted this Grandma’s heart. While her parents and new baby brother were in the hospital, Randy and I cared for Izzy. Or rather played with her. Lots of Daniel Tiger and friends. Lots of book reading.

Finally, Baby Cake Boy, as Izzy early on named her unborn brother, is here. We have no idea whence that name came. It doesn’t matter. She calls him Isaac now, a biblical name. Henry comes from my side, the name of Isaac’s paternal great great grandfather.

What a joy to have another grandchild to love.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Opening up about mental health January 3, 2019

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Slowly we are beginning to remove the stigma that masks mental illness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

FOR WEEKS, WE’D PRAYED for Lila*. I had no idea why she needed prayers. But it didn’t matter, pray we would as a church family for this friend who’d moved to another state.

A few weeks later, Lila’s husband returned, alone to Minnesota, to lead a local fundraiser. That morning he stepped up to the microphone after worship services and told us about Lila. She was hospitalized, undergoing treatment for severe depression and anxiety. I could almost hear the silent gasp. That took courage, I thought to myself.

I told Henry* the same when I later hugged him, expressed my concern and offered encouragement. He admitted to struggling with his decision to go public. But we agreed that the stigma surrounding mental health is beginning to lift, that talking about mental health issues is important and necessary. For Henry, a retired educator, his openness about Lila proved a freeing, teachable moment.

We all have much to learn on the topic, including me. Kicking depression is not a matter of simply willing yourself to feel better, to just get over whatever someone thinks you need to get over. It’s much deeper than that. Overcoming anxiety is not as simple as jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool and expecting someone to stay afloat.

I admire Henry’s decision to speak up. Likewise, I appreciate that my pastor publicly acknowledges his struggles with depression. That’s a first for me, to hear a pastor talk from the pulpit about personal mental health challenges. He’s young, of a generation seemingly more open to discussing mental health issues. The more we talk about mental illness, the better for those suffering and for loved ones and others trying to help.

Still, talk only goes so far. Waits can be long to see a mental health professional here in greater Minnesota. If you were having a heart attack, you wouldn’t be told to wait six weeks. If you had cancer, you wouldn’t be told to wait for treatment. A mental health crisis is no less important.

I am grateful to two bloggers I follow—Bob Collins at Minnesota Public Radio (NewsCut) and Penny Wilson (Penny Wilson Writes)—who write often on the topic of mental health. (Click here for a particularly enlightening post by Penny.) They are breaking through the stigma, opening the discussion, pointing out the challenges.

Twice in recent years I’ve stood in a snaking line at a Faribault funeral home to comfort the families of young men who committed suicide. I struggled to find the right words. I expect their loved ones struggle with the what ifs, survivor’s guilt, regrets, but, most of all, an unfathomable pain. Some grieving families are choosing now to go public in obituaries about their loved one’s struggles with depression or other mental health issues. That takes a lot of courage. We often read about a deceased person’s long and courageous battle with cancer. Battles with mental illness are no less courageous. I’m thankful to see this shift in thinking, to see people like Henry step up to a microphone and speak about mental illness.

THOUGHTS?

* Not their real names.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling