Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Inauguration day: Inspiring poetry January 21, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FOR THOSE OF US who write poetry, its power to move, to inspire, to uplift, to matter, were evident during Wednesday’s Presidential inauguration as National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman delivered her powerful poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

To watch that 22-year-old Los Angeles poet stand before the nation’s capitol, before the new President and Vice President and so many others, and hear her deliver her poem with such passion filled me with hope.

Hope themed her poem. If you missed hearing Gorman’s poem, I’d encourage you to seek it out online and listen. Poetry, when read aloud by its author, takes on a depth missing if simply read silently to one’s self.

Gorman’s poem complemented, reinforced, the hopeful messages I took away from the day through speeches, songs, prayers and actions.

Words—like unity, resilience, strength, faith, respect, possibilities, together—resonated with me. Words that will write, as President Joe Biden said, “the unfolding story of our great nation.”

And part of that story will be the words of a young poet, who inspired hope on January 20, 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Words worth considering January 8, 2021

Posted at the Congregational Church, UCC, located at 227 Third Street Northwest, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

AS I PONDERED TODAY’S POST, even considered not writing one because I feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained from the events of January 6 inside our nation’s Capitol, I remembered messages I photographed back in June.

These messages, in the light of recent events in America (this week and in the past year, especially), seem more important than ever. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

The messages, posted on the side of the historic Congregational Church of Faribault United Church of Christ, are worth our focus. They are a reminder that we, as human beings, can strive to protect, care for, forgive, share, embrace and love.

We all need to look within ourselves but also look through the windows of others. Here I aim my camera up at the historic UCC in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

We can choose those actions over destruction, neglect, animosity, selfishness, separation and hate.

We can open the doors to better days by the choices we make. Some day I want to tour this church, to see the beauty therein in stained glass and more. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.
The many facets of this window create a beautiful piece of art, a metaphor as it applies to people. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.
The historic steeple of Faribault’s UCC. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I feel such sadness, mixed with hope, over all that has transpired in recent days. I sense that most Americans, including me, will now hold a deeper appreciation for democracy. For freedom. Perhaps we (or at least I) have become too complacent.

A historic marker tells the history of this aged church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

It would do us all good to review the suggestions posted at Faribault’s Congregational Church. To reflect. And then to put into practice those very basic principles of common decency and kindness. And to remember that what we think, say and write, and how we act, matters. Just like it did in 1776.

The impressive Congregational Church, Faribault United Church of Christ. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Please note that I monitor all comments on this, my personal blog, and will not publish anything I deem false, inflammatory, etc.

 

Creating kind words in chaotic times November 6, 2020

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My vintage Scrabble game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

GIVEN MY LOVE OF WORDS, I’ve always enjoyed playing Scrabble. But it’s been years since I pulled out my 1970s vintage game to build words on a board. Randy doesn’t like the game. So it sits in the closet, collecting dust.

But let’s imagine for a second that I pulled out that Scrabble game, turned all the letters face down and randomly selected seven to start the game. What words would I form? Could I plan ahead and make the most of my letters to score the most points? I could try. Yet, another player’s actions often change the best thought-out plans.

Much is also left to chance. There’s only so much you can control while playing Scrabble, or most games for that matter. Kind of like life.

“Protect the herd” plays off Northfield, Minnesota’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Like right now we can do everything possible to protect ourselves from COVID-19 (such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands, avoiding crowds, etc.). But we may still contract the virus. That doesn’t mean, though, that we should just give up and resign ourselves to getting COVID. We do have the power, and the responsibility, to try our best—by following health and safety guidelines, by making changes in our behavior and finding ways to improve our health—to possibly fend off the virus. And we need to recognize that our choices and actions affect others. Just like in Scrabble.

The past few days have been difficult ones, not only because of the presidential election, but also because more and more people I care about have either contracted COVID or have loved ones with the virus. COVID cases and deaths here in Minnesota are breaking records. I feel pretty stressed, as I’m certain many of you do.

Displayed at LARK Toys. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

What’s a person to do besides stay the course and seek ways to relieve the building anxiety and stress? Part of the answer rests on the Scrabble board I photographed several years ago at LARK Toys in Kellogg. Be kind.

I can be kind to myself, recognizing that my feelings are valid. And if I feel like I need a handful of dark chocolate chips to help me feel better, that’s OK.

I can also strive to work harder at kindness. I recognize I sometimes fail and miss opportunities to express kindness. I can choose to take my focus off scoring points to creating kind words. That’s my Scrabble analogy.

And just so you know, the one person who always beat me at Scrabble was my mother-in-law, Betty, gone 27 years now She proved a fierce competitor. And I loved her for that.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Palm Sunday thoughts & messages from Minnesota April 5, 2020

St. John’s 50th presentation of “The Last Supper Drama” in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

PALM SUNDAY. It’s a noted day in the church year as we remember Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem followed this Holy Week by The Last Supper, the betrayal of Jesus and then His crucifixion. And, a week from today, we celebrate His resurrection on Easter morning.

Typically this Palm Sunday evening, Randy and I would head out of town to a country church to watch “The Last Supper Drama” at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault. This would have marked the 58th year St. John’s folks present this depiction of The Last Supper, the final time Jesus gathered with all His disciples.

But this year, because of COVID-19, there will be no drama.

 

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Attending this drama has become tradition for us. And for many. The script, penned long ago by a St. John’s pastor, remained unchanged through the decades. I’ve always appreciated this mini-play in which each disciple speaks of his personal relationship with Christ. It gave me a new perspective.

I appreciated, too, the time invested in bringing this message to those of us gathered at sunset in this small country church. There’s something incredibly comforting in the sameness of it all—in the same narrative and monologues, the same music, the same costumes, the same fake beards (for those that don’t grow real ones), the same props, the same movement of the creaky spotlight… Only the actors vary from year to year.

In a time when we are all struggling, I reflect on those “The Last Supper Drama” presentations at St. John’s with gratitude. I can draw on memories of those messages to uplift me on this Palm Sunday.

Click here to see past posts I’ve written about “The Last Supper Drama.”

 

Photographed a week ago at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

MORE MESSAGES

Last week I photographed this message posted outside Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault. It’s always interesting to see what local churches post on their outdoor signage. Words can be powerful.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MORE WORDS

I invite you to read my message posted earlier this week on the Warner Press blog. Click here to read “From Darkness to Light.” I lead the blogging ministry at this Indiana-based Christian publisher and am humbled to use my writing skills to help others during these trying times.

Many blessings to you and those you love today and in the Holy Week ahead and beyond. Be well, my friends.

(Disclaimer: I am paid for my work with Warner Press.)

© Copyright 2020 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

 

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