Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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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

 

My hopes for 2019 January 1, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WILL 2019 DIFFER from 2018? My hope is that it will.

I hope for less hate, for more understanding and acceptance and an ability to see individuals.

I hope for more listening, less talking. More empathy and compassion, less self-centeredness. More kindness, less meanness.

Less narcissism.

I hope for words that uplift and encourage, not break down and discourage. No gossip/talking behind people’s backs. No silence when compassionate words would help. But no judgment either. No controlling and acting like you have all the answers and making darn sure everyone knows that you have all the answers.

Instead, embrace. Appreciate. Like. Love.

These are difficult times. But these are also times of possibilities. We each have within us the power to treat strangers and those we love with respect and decency. Hold a door. Flash a smile. Hug. Inquire without interjecting your experience, your challenge, into conversation. Make it about someone else, not you. Listen. Care.

When mean words slam into conversation, open your mouth. Be that voice which doesn’t alienate but rather opens the heart to understanding.

Hope is more than a wish. It’s optimism and expectancy and trusting that things will get better. I hold hope for 2019. How about you?

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Rancho Deluxe Z Garden in Mason City, Iowa, features an eclectic mix of art with some powerful messages. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2014.

 

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When the holidays are anything but happy December 27, 2018

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An edited photo of a sign promoting kindness as part of The Virtues Trail Project in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

THIS PAST YEAR SEVERAL FRIENDS lost loved ones—one to suicide, another to an aggressive cancer, the other to advanced age-related health issues. Friends are battling cancer. Other friends are facing a myriad of challenges.

Christmas is not always easy. It can be downright difficult when you’re missing a loved one or working through something that’s really really tough. I get that. And I hope in some small way that my friends feel my care for them. I’ve reached out with words of comfort, with hugs, with a recognition of their struggles. I don’t pretend that I can erase their grief or solve the issues that are affecting their lives. I simply want them to know that they are not alone, even if they feel alone.

More than ever, it’s important for each of us to step outside of ourselves and recognize that people are hurting. Within our circles of family and friends. It’s important to realize that loss—whether by death or through strained relationships or other factors—hurts. We can ease that hurt by caring. Caring enough to ask, “How are you?” Caring enough to validate an individual’s loss and say, “I’m sorry.” Or “I’m here for you.” It doesn’t take a lot of effort. But it takes that pause, that ability to recognize that saying something is better than remaining silent.

I understand. I’ve heard words of care and support when I needed them. But I’ve heard, too, the loudness of silence.

TELL ME: How do you support family and friends dealing with a loss and/or a difficulty, especially during the holiday season?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling