Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Spread a little sunshine with words of gratitude July 26, 2019

 

GRATITUDE. How do you define that word, express it, show it?

 

 

I express my thankfulness mostly in words, written and spoken.

 

 

For that reason I was especially drawn to a tree on a hillside outside the Northfield Public Library. Upon the branches dangle colorful tags. And on those paper pieces, people penned their responses to this prompt: What are you grateful for?

 

 

 

 

I filtered through some of those answers last Saturday when heavy rains ended and the sky broke to partially cloudy. To read those responses brought more sunshine into my day, I expect exactly as The Spread Sunshine Gang intends. The Gratitude Tree is a project of the group, “a non-profit with the mission to share goodness, kindness and generosity to the Twin Cities metro area and beyond,” according to the Sunshine website.

 

 

 

 

 

That mission makes me smile as do these additional thoughts from the website:

The Spread Sunshine Gang believes the world needs more love, happiness, forgiveness and kindness. We are a motley crew of hard-working people who make time to spread a little sunshine. Through random acts of kindness and dedication to paying it forward we create events for others to do the same.

 

 

 

 

I love this, absolutely love the purpose behind projects like The Gratitude Tree. In a world where selfishness and meanness and anger seem sometimes all too prevalent, we need to pause and ponder gratitude. And then we need to act on that word and shine our thankfulness and love.

 

 

TELL ME: What are you grateful for? Have you seen a Gratitude Tree or something similar? I’d love to hear.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Celebrating the value of virtues at family event in Faribault June 26, 2019

One of the virtues posted along the Virtues Project Trail, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

WORDS HOLD POWER. Positive or negative. The words we choose to speak—because we really do choose—can heal or hurt. Uplift or defeat. Encourage or discourage. Unite or separate. Words unspoken, meaning silence, hold the same power.

We all understand that, even if we choose to ignore the importance of words and simply say or write whatever we please, no matter the effect on others.

 

Loved in three languages. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

Here in my community, a year-old public art installation showcases the value of words in 10 mirrored signs showcasing 20 virtues. Because Faribault is a diverse community, those virtues are written in three languages—English, Spanish and Somali. Honesty, kindness, patience, tolerance and more banner the mirrors.

 

One of 10 mirrored signs along a trail that runs next to train tracks and the Straight River in Faribault’s Heritage Bluff Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

The Virtues Project Faribault, part of a worldwide Virtues initiative, aims to unite people. And what a creative way to do that through those strong and positive words posted along a trail in Heritage Bluff Park.

Those most active in promoting virtues here in my southern Minnesota community have done, and are doing more, than simply posting artsy signs along a riverside trail in the central downtown area. On three Wednesday evenings this summer, organizers are hosting Family Fun Night on the Virtues Trail. The first happens this evening, Wednesday, June 26, beginning at 5:30 p.m. and ending at 7:30 p.m.

The event features something for all ages: music, games, Virtues Theater performances, face painting, crafts, storytelling, other creative activities and more, according to promotional information. The second two fun nights will be on July 31 and August 28.

 

Here’s how it works… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

I realize many of you live nowhere near Faribault. But I hope you will take time to reflect on virtues and the power words hold. Use/choose your words wisely, recognizing that your words hold power to heal or hurt, uplift or defeat, encourage or discourage, unite or separate.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Eleven magnetic words equal a poem January 24, 2019

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SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, I purchased a duo Tootsie Toy magnetic board/chalkboard at an Owatonna thrift shop. I didn’t need it. But I liked the vintage look and the possibilities. Those reasons sufficed to hand over a few bucks.

 

 

Along with the board came a bonus baggie of magnetic words. They aren’t original to the board but probably were thrown in because what else do you do with a bunch of donated stray magnetic words?

I finally got around to making poetry with them. Here’s my first poem, which I posted on my refrigerator:

 

 

This proved a good challenge—to use the limited words to create poetry. (Pretend a question mark ends the first line.)

 

 

As poets understand, poetry requires tight writing. A word must hold value or out it goes. Poetry writing may seem easy to those not engaged in the craft. But it’s not. Penning poems requires focused skill and much practice as one of the most disciplined forms of literary art.

Thoughts?

© 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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.

 

From Faribault: Closing cultural gaps through public art August 29, 2018

 

One of 10 mirrored virtues signs along a trail that runs next to train tracks and the Straight River in Faribault’s Heritage Bluff Park. The trail is east of Heritage Bluff Apartments and south of The Depot Bar & Grill.

 

FINALLY, I’M SENSING A SHIFT in attitudes toward immigrants in Faribault. It’s been a long time coming, but certainly not for a lack of trying. There are good people in this community who have been, for years, working to welcome Somalians, Hispanics and others into this once mostly all-white southern Minnesota city. People like Dee and her sister Ann. And Lisa, Peter, Virginia, Suzanne, Carolyn, Cindy, Delane and many more. They’ve been there, reaching out, educating, welcoming, connecting, making a difference.

 

 

There are tangible, visible signs of those efforts, the latest in the installation of the Virtues Trail Project at Heritage Bluff Park near our historic downtown and along the banks of the Straight River.

 

 

 

 

 

As a creative, I appreciate this public art project featuring 10 mirrored signs highlighting 20 virtues like honesty, patience, kindness and, yes, tolerance. The signs edge a recreational trail, an unassuming natural setting where people can pause, view their reflections and consider words of positivity written in three languages—English, Spanish and Somali.

 

 

Here’s how it works…

 

 

Two simple words—I am—jumpstart the thought process.

 

 

An Artists on Main Street grant from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota in partnership with Springboard for the Arts and with support from the Bush Foundation funded the project developed by Wanda Holmgren, a Faribault elementary school teacher. Faribault is among three Minnesota cities receiving grant monies to address community challenges. Twelve more arts-based endeavors are planned, or are already in place, in my city.

 

Colorful posts support, and reflect in, the signs. Even the chosen art reflects the virtues.

 

Across the tracks is a foot bridge over the Straight River, a peaceful setting unless a train is roaring through.

 

You’ve heard the phrase “other side of the tracks.” While tracks run parallel to the Virtues Trail, they (to me) symbolize connection, not division.

 

The Virtues Trail is a simple concept really, one that makes sense. Language often serves as the first hurdle in connecting cultures. If we can’t communicate, an instant divide exists. Yet a smile is universal. As are virtues.

 

 

As I walked from sign to sign with camera in hand, I intentionally avoided photographing my reflection. That wasn’t particularly easy. In a way, my evasiveness mirrors the challenges Faribault has faced in a failure to accept differences in skin color, religion, language and culture. Now I see that we are beginning to look at each other in a new way—with understanding, kindness and, yes, perhaps, finally, acceptance.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

As I photographed the Virtues Trail, a bridal couple and their photographers walked the trail. I thought they were going to stop at the sign that reads “I am loved.” But they kept right on going, never pausing.

 

They were headed to the Straight River foot bridge, which offers a scenic view of the river and Faribault’s historic viaduct.

 

What an opportunity they missed to use this sign as a wedding portrait backdrop.

 

FYI: Please check back as I show you more ways in which my community is striving to be more welcoming of many cultures.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What you should & shouldn’t say to someone with a broken bone July 2, 2018

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Just days after open reduction internal fixation wrist surgery, the swelling in my fingers is diminishing.

 

I PONDERED WHETHER I should pen this post because many kind words have been extended to me since my fall and subsequent surgery on my broken left arm. Thank you.

But many other words have also been offered that don’t help me or my situation. So if I come across as a tad cranky in this post, it’s because I am. My humor, tolerance and Minnesota Nice only stretch so far.

Following is a short list of comments which I’ve heard and which you should not make to someone with a broken bone. I’ll follow that with a list of ways to encourage and help. We can all learn from one another, right?

Here goes.

DO NOT call me a klutz. I’m not. My fall on rain-slicked wooden steps was an accident. Simple as that.

DO NOT state or suggest (while laughing or not laughing)) that my husband pushed me. He didn’t. There’s nothing funny about domestic violence. I won’t dwell. Click here to read an earlier post on that topic.

DO NOT tell me I broke my arm because I don’t drink enough milk or eat enough cheese, yogurt or other dairy products. That’s like telling a cancer patient she ate too many red Popsicles or a heart attack victim that he didn’t eat enough oatmeal. Not helpful.

I defy anyone who fell as I did not to break a bone. A friend who worked as an ER nurse tells me broken arms are common in falls as we instinctively try to break a fall with our hands. My doctor noted in my records, in layman’s language, that the fall caused my arm bone to break. Not a lack of consuming enough dairy.

So what should you say? Here’s what I’ve found helpful: A simple “I’m sorry” works. Or, “How are you feeling?” Or something similar. There is no fault-finding, no accusations, no name-calling. Simply kindness.

Get well cards and encouraging emails/texts/calls also go a long ways in uplifting. Ask how the person is doing. And, please, don’t deflect the conversation to a lengthy story about your (or a family member’s) broken bone experience. I’m not selfish. But are we talking about you or me here?

Additionally, I really appreciated the meals my niece Amber prepared for us. I need to remember that myself and reach out to others with food in their times of need. Cookies baked by my 24-year-old son and his girlfriend and shipped from Boston likewise fed my body and soul. As did flowers from Randy and a thoughtful gift sent by a friend in North Carolina.

Everything I’ve written here is pretty common sense. Sometimes we just need to pause and think before blurting out words that aren’t at all helpful.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A legacy of love in 10 words May 19, 2018

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TEN WORDS IN A TELEGRAM. Ten words of love. Sent seven weeks prior to their December 7, 1945, wedding.

She saved the creased and partially torn slip of paper for 73 years, a reminder of the love they shared until his death a dozen years ago.

On Thursday that love letter, wired by my Uncle Glenn from Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia to his betrothed back in Minnesota, was shared at his beloved’s funeral. There, among all the family photos and remembrances, this piece of my Aunt Elaine’s life held the sweetness of young love and evidence of an enduring love between husband and wife.

“You don’t think of your grandparents in that kind of way, in a romantic way,” Glenn and Elaine’s granddaughter said as we stood (after the funeral dinner) reading the romantic words of Kim’s grandfather: DARLING. ARRIVED SAFELY. EXPECT TO BE HOME SOON. LOVE = GLENN.

Darling. That single word holds such love, such sweetness, such promise. I can only imagine the joy Elaine felt in receiving that October 19, 1945, wire from the man she was about to marry. While he served in the US military, she was back home on their native southwestern Minnesota prairie working as a nurse at the Marshall Hospital.

 

Elaine Borning. Photo from the Sunset Funeral Association website.

 

What a gift Elaine left to her six surviving children, 24 grandchildren and 47 great grandchildren by saving that telegram. Love of family threaded throughout her funeral day. In between comforting Scripture, we sang “I Was There to Hear your Borning Cry,” a hymn sung at every Borning family funeral. Song connecting generations, even in death.

I was there to hear your borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old. I couldn’t make it through that song without tears releasing at the death of my godmother, in the emotion of gathering in a small town Lutheran church to grieve and to celebrate Elaine’s life. There, on a May morning as perfect as they get in Minnesota, our voices rose in love and sadness and hope. When the evening gently closes in, and you shut your weary eyes, I’ll be there as I have always been with just one more surprise. I was there to hear your borning cry…

After the service, vehicles in the long funeral processional trailed clouds of dust through the under-construction gravel Main Street of Echo as we passed the grain elevator and boarded up buildings toward the cemetery. As I stood on the lush grass a tombstone away from Elaine’s gravesite, I took in the scene. Family gathered. Clenched tissues wiping tears from eyes. My cousin’s head bowed in sadness. A Spee-Dee delivery truck passing by. White clouds hung in a deep blue sky, farm fields just across the highway. And then, as the pastor led the graveside service, the noon whistle blaring, loud and clear across the land. So small town. So fitting. A moment to laugh within, to think, Elaine would have appreciated this.

 

 

Just like she would have appreciated the homemade chocolate mayonnaise cake served at her funeral dinner. She had a fondness for sweets, was known for the chocolate mayo cake she baked. After her death, her family found candy bars stashed in her freezer alongside bags of neatly-stacked homemade buns.

And they found, too, her life story written just for them. I can only imagine the comfort my cousins and their children and their children’s children will find in reading those words. Just like the ten words written in that telegram 73 years ago. Words that leave a legacy of love.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling