Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts as Lent ends April 15, 2017

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Photographed in the balcony of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota.

 

TODAY MARKS THE END of Lent, the 40-day period of intense spiritual focus that began on Ash Wednesday. For Christians like me, these past weeks have been one of contemplation as I consider Christ’s suffering and death.

As I read my bible and daily devotions, I felt sometimes overwhelmed by all Christ endured. The betrayal, the pain, the agony, the abandonment, the public ridicule, the horrific death… Mine is a normal, human emotional reaction.

When I react that way, it puts the difficulties of my life into perspective. Nothing I have endured matches what Christ suffered for me. How great His love. How great His sacrifice. I am grateful.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy first birthday, Isabelle! April 6, 2017

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WHEN I BECAME A MOM 31 years ago, I was amazed at the depth of love I felt for my newborn girl. That repeated itself with a second daughter 21 months later and then a son six years thereafter. The love a mother holds for her children is unmatched, almost indescribable.

 

My new granddaughter, Isabelle (“Izzy” for short), photographed when she was about 17 hours old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

But then along came my first grandchild, Isabelle, born one year ago today. Izzy, as we call her, brought a new kind of love. Those of you who are grandparents “get it.” There’s something about a grandchild that weaves incredible joy into your heart.

 

My eldest daughter, Amber, and her husband, Marc, and their daughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

That we are not the parents frees us to love and care for a grandchild in a different and exuberant way. Sure, we still change diapers, cradle crying babies and more. But the primary responsibility of this little one lies with the parents. I delight in watching Amber and Marc care for Izzy with such tenderness, patience and love. It is obvious this baby girl is adored by her parents and by family on both coasts and many states in between.

 

One of my favorite photos of my husband and his granddaughter, taken when Isabelle was 10 days old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

I cannot get enough of Izzy. Occasionally the words, “You and Marc need to go on a date,” slip from my fingers into a text message. I cherish my Izzy time.

 

I snapped this photo of Izzy snuggling against her mom shortly after she awakened from a nap in her mama’s arms.

 

Several days ago I got lots of time with my granddaughter when she and her mom stayed overnight. Since they live only an hour away, these sleep-overs are rare. It’s just easier when a baby can sleep in her own bed in familiar surroundings.

 

Izzy reads a new book, a birthday gift from my friend Kathleen, former children’s librarian in Faribault. Izzy is also wearing the horse pajamas I gave her awhile ago. Photo by Amber.

 

Izzy and I settled on the couch, her tiny left index finger turning the cardboard pages of books I once read to her mother. From the stack of a half dozen or so books, Izzy repeatedly chose the same two, Ducky’s Seasons by Dick McCue and Baby Animals (photographs by Gerry Swart). Words tumbled in rote memory from my lips, from all those years earlier. Like her mama and grandma, Isabelle loves books.

 

Encouraging Izzy to try walking on her own.

 

She’s not walking yet, but she’s close. I witnessed several steps taken. It won’t be long.

 

Izzy pushed her baby around in the empty laundry basket.

 

Isabelle “helped” me with the laundry—a task she also does with her mom—by handing dried clothes for me to put away. Once done, she pushed her beloved baby doll around in the clothes basket. Izzy loves her baby, giving her hugs and reminding me of how Amber dragged her baby doll, Sal, around by the hair.

 

Mama Amber pushes her beautiful baby in the laundry basket just days before Izzy’s first birthday.

 

Izzy still has only minimal hair. But it’s filling in, growing thicker. She has beautiful hazel eyes from parents with brown and green eyes.

 

Izzy eats toast for breakfast.

 

She eats nearly anything put on her plate with an affinity for meat. Her parents enjoy cooking and eat healthy and that shows in Isabelle’s wide palate. I wish I held their interest in cooking; my two youngest likely would have been less picky eaters.

 

There’s a reason this image is blurry. Izzy was crawling as fast as she could toward the stairway.

 

Now that she’s one, Izzy’s personality is beginning to show. I am amazed at how smart these little ones, how imitating of adult actions. When I pet a kitty in a book, Izzy soon did the same. Efforts to keep her from the stairway, though, failed. She kept returning to climb the two stairs that could not be blocked by a gate. She is a determined girl. That will take her far in life.

 

Izzy plays with the same Fisher Price bus her mama played with as a child.

 

While it’s bittersweet to see my granddaughter turn one already, it’s also exciting. I wonder how she will develop, what her interests will be, where life will take her some day.

 

Mother and daughter.

 

To my sweet baby Isabelle, I wish the happiest of first birthdays! I love you and I love being your grandma.

 
© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring emerges at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault April 5, 2017

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WITH THE CALENDAR flipped to April, the greening of the grey is subtly emerging in Minnesota as the season shifts from winter to spring.

 

 

The Turtle Pond at River Bend Nature Center.

 

Nesting pond along the entry to River Bend Nature Center.

 

Wisps of buds. Greening in the pond and woods. Skies and water so incredibly blue you wonder if your winter weary eyes are fooling you.

 

A frog camouflaged in the Turtle Pond.

 

 

The banks of the Straight River proved a popular spot Saturday afternoon. The woman in the purple is wearing a t-shirt with this message: “Leave me alone. I’m only speaking to my dog today.”

 

Frogs making more noise than raucous children on a playground. Geese nesting. River flowing.

 

Saturday’s weather proved perfect for motorized and non-motorized bking.

 

I almost cried when I met this trio of walkers as I thought of my mom and wished I could guide her on a walk through the woods.

 

Two teens parked their bikes trailside to explore the waterfall.

 

Give us Minnesotans a nice day of warmth and sunshine, like that on Saturday, and we, too, emerge from our homes to celebrate this changing of the seasons.

 

My husband, oldest daughter and granddaughter walking through River Bend Sunday afternoon.

 

My husband and I were among the throngs of visitors hiking at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault during Saturday’s respite warmth. We returned Sunday with our eldest daughter and her daughter. By then conditions had changed from sunny to cloudy with a brisk wind and much lower temps. The weather required stocking caps and winter coats (for the oldsters) unlike the sweatshirts of the previous day. Few others were out and about.

 

If not for Randy’s sharp eye, we may have stepped on this toad (or is it a frog?) sitting on a trail Saturday afternoon.

 

Another immobile amphibian sitting in the parking lot Sunday afternoon.

 

Even the frogs, a deafening chorus on Saturday, were quiet in Sunday’s cold. The toads hunched immobile.

 

Blue skies reflected Saturday afternoon in the nesting pond for geese.

 

As a Minnesotan, I understand how weather can change, just like that. So I accept each warm and sunny day as a gift.

 

Rustic signs mark trails at River Bend Nature Center.

 

TELL ME: Are there signs of spring where you live? Please share.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part V from La Crosse: A final look at downtown March 29, 2017

 

IN ONE FINAL PHOTO sweep through downtown La Crosse, I present a collage of images.

 

 

I am drawn to signs and architecture, to distinct characteristics which define a town’s personality.

 

 

 

 

La Crosse is a river town, storied in history. You can see that in the aged buildings which flank streets that bend, like the Mississippi River. History holds a place of honor within this downtown.

 

 

 

 

Yet, this Wisconsin city is not stodgy, existing only in the past. Rather, La Crosse is like a sometimes flamboyant relative claiming attention with loud colors and signs and messages. I doubt I’ve ever seen more vivid and unique signage in a small Midwestern city.

 

 

 

But that does not surprise given La Crosse’s considerable number of downtown drinking establishments. Wisconsinites love their booze. And this is a college town. Visit in the daytime or early evening and you can avoid that whole bar scene, although remnants of night life may linger the morning after with beer in a glass outside a bar door. (True sighting.)

 

 

 

 

La Crosse seems, too, part big city urban yet rooted in rural. Somehow the blend works in a downtown that draws all ages.

 

 

FYI: Please check back for one more post in this “From La Crosse” series as I take you to one of the city’s most notable natural landmarks.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetry in Minnesota beyond the classroom, beyond anthologies March 21, 2017

I EXPECT MANY OF YOU dislike poetry. You sat in a high school English class bored to death by the required reading of poems you didn’t understand. Or worse, you had to pen a haiku or a rhyming poem or free verse. And then you had to take a test. You couldn’t wait until the poetry unit was done.

You struggled. You didn’t care. I get it. I felt that way about math. But poetry I’ve always embraced. I am grateful for the educators who taught, and continue to teach, poetry to resistant students.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

If you’re one of those non-poetry people, I hope you’ll give this literary art a second chance. Poetry is certainly less rigid and stuffy than years ago. It’s also much more accessible beyond a collection published in a book. Now you’ll find poetry creatively presented in videos such as Minneapolis-based Motionpoems; online in Gyroscope Review, co-founded and co-edited by a Minnesotan; imprinted in sidewalks in cities like Northfield and St. Paul and Mankato; and more.

 

A graphic I created for Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Cardboard walls that once held poetry inside an intellectual box have collapsed and been recycled. The result is poetry that maybe, just maybe, you will find approachable, understandable and enjoyable.

 

My poem, “Bandwagon,” posted in 2014 in Lion’s Park in Mankato as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. The poems are changed annually. Each poem must be 18 lines or less with no more than 40 characters per line. They must also be themed to the area. “Bandwagon” was inspired by a Mankato TV show by that name. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Take the 2017 Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. I’ll join other poets at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Emy Frentz Arts Guild Gallery in Mankato for a poetry reading and awards reception. I’ll read my poem, “Cornfield Memories,” which won honorable mention. While that’s an honor, the truly exciting aspect of this project is the public accessibility and visibility of poetry.

Michael Torres, a CantoMundo fellow, creative writing teacher and co-host of art workshops for homeless and at-risk youth in the Mankato area, selected 29 poems from about 70 submissions for inclusion in the Poetry Walk & Ride. The poems will be posted on signs along recreational trails in Mankato and North Mankato. This endeavor brings poetry to people in parks, playgrounds and other outdoor spaces in an unassuming way. What a great idea. Poems cover a broad range of topics from experiencing the outdoors to Minnesota to water, says Erin Dorney, writer and project organizer.

 

My poem initially printed in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota, has been crafted into a song by Rochester, Minnesota composer David Kassler. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The next day, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, poetry will also be showcased publicly, this time at a concert. My poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” is among seven being sung by a chamber choir at the Hill Theater at Rochester Community and Technical College. Admission is $7.50. The same concert will be presented for a free-will offering at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester. I’ll attend that Sunday concert and read my poem. A reception follows the Sunday concert.

I appreciate that Rochester composer David Kassler invested considerable time in creating choral settings for selected poems. It’s just one more way to bring poetry to the people of Minnesota in an inviting public way. Please join me and other Minnesotans in celebrating poetry at either or both events.

TELL ME: What’s your attitude toward poetry?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Don’t tell me you’re “fine” when you’re not & other insights March 5, 2017

 

HOW ARE YOU? I’ve never liked that question, even realizing the underlying kindness that laces those three trite words.

The standard answer of “I’m fine” is expected. The truth most often is not.

 

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Now Minneapolis writer Nora McInerny Purmort—who has faced her share of “I’m not fine” days—tackles the “How are you?” question in a podcast series from American Public Media. Terrible, (Thanks for Asking) is a must-listen series in which Nora seeks only honest responses to “How are you?”

I’ve listened to one podcast thus far. “Unbroken” features an interview with sexual assault survivor Sarah Super. It’s an incredible, horrible, powerful and, yes, sometimes graphic, story. But so worth your time for the insights revealed. Sarah is one strong woman. And we can learn so much from her about the importance of speaking up, of being heard and more.

Both she and Nora address the issue of silence. And, yes, I picked that from the interview because silence is all too pervasive. I’m talking the hard, uncomfortable silence that those who have suffered trauma, those who are dealing with health issues, those who are facing unimaginable difficulties and challenges hear. Yes, hear. Silence truly can be deafening.

Sarah cites the reason many friends and loved ones remained silent following her assault: “I didn’t know what to say or do.”

Puh-lease.

“Your silence,” Sarah says, “feels like apathy.” The definition of apathy is lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Lack of. Imagine how that feels to your loved one who is hurting. Lack of.

Nora reiterates Sarah’s thoughts: “Silence hurts when you are on the other end of something awful.”

In an interview with National Public Radio about her podcast series, Nora repeats, “The worst thing—and it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with death, or if you’re dealing with all of these other things that we’ve talked to people about—silence is the worst thing you can hear from people.”

She gets it. Within six weeks, this young woman lost her father to cancer, miscarried and then lost her husband to brain cancer. Since then, Nora has authored the book It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool, Too). And now the enlightening podcasts have followed.

What can we learn from all of this? My take-away is this: First, we need to speak up, to end the silence, to really care when we ask someone, “How are you?” And then we need to listen, really listen. That means setting aside our stories, our comments, our whatever, and truly focusing on what the other person is telling us. It’s about them. Not us.

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CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a way that Minnesota is breaking the silence on an issue that affects all of us, directly or indirectly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

You matter February 27, 2017

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sign-in-buckham-bathroom

 

THE IDEA SEEMS simple enough. Post a sign that will uplift and encourage others. Yet it was so unexpected, which pleased me even more.

I love discovering sweet surprises that make my day or shift my mood or restore my faith in the goodness of others.

Of all places, I spotted this sign in the women’s restroom at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. The pointing finger and the bold words, YOU MATTER, grabbed my attention as I stood drying my hands under a blower.

And although I didn’t tear off a slip of paper, I read the messages:

You are VALUABLE.

You have INFLUENCE.

You are APPRECIATED.

You are LOVED.

You are TALENTED.

You are AMAZING.

I noticed several messages missing. And I considered how those words of encouragement, of validation, of praise may have affected those who took those slips.

We need more of this in today’s crazy world. We need to shift the focus away from ourselves to caring for others. Genuinely caring. It doesn’t take much effort. Just a few words posted on a sign in a public restroom, a few kind words spoken or encouraging words written can change a person’s day. We all need to hear sometimes that we matter, that we are loved and valued.

TELL ME: What easy ideas do you have (or have you seen) to uplift others? I would love to hear.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling