Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The happiest of birthdays for a 3-year-old (& his family) January 4, 2022

A special order rainbow birthday cake from Sweet Kneads by Farmington Bakery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

OH, TO BE THREE AGAIN. To see the world through a preschooler’s eyes. To view the world with unbridled excitement. To find wonder and excitement…in a rainbow birthday cake.

This past Saturday, I watched as my grandson Isaac focused on his beautiful rainbow-themed birthday cake crafted by Sweet Kneads by Farmington Bakery in Farmington. After posing for countless photos, he rested his arms, elbows bent, on the kitchen island and admired the work of culinary art at eye level. Isaac, encouraged by his mom (my eldest), chose a rainbow theme because he attends early childhood class in the “Rainbow Room.”

Shortly thereafter Isaac leaned over the counter, watching as his dad sliced into the cake, cutting the first thin piece for the birthday boy. Nearby, his older sister hovered. Soon we all savored the layered chocolate cake with strawberry filling.

There would be no blowing out candles in this pandemic year.

The stack of birthday gifts. Isaac noticed that I failed to put bows on the ones I gave him, far right. I won’t forget again. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Afterwards, we gathered in the living room to watch Isaac open his stack of gifts. I love how he first opened each card, not simply as a precursory gesture, but because he genuinely wanted to see the special wishes for him. He delighted in Mickey Mouse, three monkeys… But, by far, the greatest hit proved to be the musical “3” card with its happy birthday song. All gift unwrapping paused as he opened the card. Closed. Reopened. Celebratory music filled the room.

Isaac’s mom helps him open a card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Finally, gift opening resumed. With lots of help from Isabelle. This year Isaac didn’t mind; next year he may. Among the gifts—a mini lantern to take to the “brown house” (Isaac’s label for an extended family lake cabin; his party location was listed as “the blue house”), a sensory exploration kit, puzzles, a sprawling farm play set, a suitcase and more. The “more” includes clothes from his other grandparents. I especially like the gold plaid flannel shirt. When you live in Minnesota, you can never have enough flannel. Even when you’re three.

What joy-filled hours we spent with the birthday boy. Randy and me. His uncle from Indiana, back in Minnesota for the holidays. His California grandparents and uncle and aunt now permanently relocated to Minnesota. His parents and sister. Only Isaac’s aunt and uncle from Wisconsin could not attend. Family embraced the birthday boy in a circle of love. To have those who love this little boy the most together to celebrate him swelled this grandma’s heart with endless happiness. What a joyful way to begin 2022.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So, yeah, it’s cold here in Minnesota January 2, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:07 PM
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Frost on the window pane against the backdrop screen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots edited & copyrighted photo January 2022)

I CONSIDERED THIS QUESTION: How can I convey just how cold the weather in Minnesota right now via a photo, without stepping outside?

Ah, not so difficult after all.

I headed upstairs to photograph frost layering a bedroom window. Our second level is undeniably cold with only one air duct opening to two bedrooms. Factor in that the duct runs along an exterior wall and the heat which actually reaches the upper story is minimal. That does not provide for a warm and inviting space for guests. But such is the reality of this old house.

This afternoon I found the warmest spot to be in the kitchen—standing next to a heat vent under the south window, bright sunlight streaming into the room. The sunshine can almost fool me in to thinking it’s nice outside.

I thought momentarily about stepping outdoors, but opted not to do so given the current outdoor temp of four degrees. As cold as that may sound to some of you, consider Ada in the northwestern part of Minnesota. That small town broke a January 2 record from 1892, recording a low today of -39 degrees. I have friends who live near that Norman County community. On New Year’s Eve, my friend texted that the air temp was -17 degrees and falling with wind chills in the -40 to -50 degrees range. Now that’s cold. Their family was hunkering indoors and playing board games.

Our entire state has been in either wind chill warnings or advisories. Exposed flesh can freeze within 10 minutes in temps as cold as we’ve experienced in the past several days.

But change is coming. Monday and Tuesday temps are expected to reach into the 20s and possibly 30s. Downright balmy. Comparatively speaking.

TELL ME: What’s the temp like where you live?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts & thanks as 2022 begins January 1, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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As we begin 2022, please remember this, that you are loved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo; image taken along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin)

HERE WE ARE, on the first day of a new year. Days and weeks and months unfolding before us. Full of unknowns, possibilities, whatever life brings. Happiness. Sorrow. Sickness. Health. Joy. Sadness. To be human is to experience all. Sometimes alone. Sometimes together.

I expect that, without much thought, you can recall particularly challenging times/events in your life. In those difficult days, you likely felt overwhelmed, wondered whether you would make it to the other side. To the days when the pain and stress and anguish would lift. And light would shine again.

And I expect also that you did not go it alone. Perhaps faith carried you. Family and/or friends, too. Maybe professionals. And your inner strength. It often amazes me just how strong and resilient we humans can be. Even in the toughest of circumstances.

The support and friendships I’ve formed via blogging amaze me, too. I’ve connected with some really kind, caring and compassionate individuals. Some friendships remain virtual. But others developed in to in-person friendships. Regardless, these individuals are now part of my circle, part of my life. Their generosity of spirit has uplifted me countless times.

Me behind my first Canon EOS 20D. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Most recently, a blogger friend asked what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted/needed only one thing. A camera. Just like the one I’ve used for the past decade plus. A Canon EOS 20D. I’m on my second 20D and it was failing, just like the first. Locking up. I knew its days were numbered and I would need a different camera. The 20D is an older camera. But I’m comfortable and familiar with it. I checked two camera shops online in the Twin Cities metro to find only a few used cameras, none of them a 20D. No surprise there. A new camera was not an option. Have you looked at camera prices lately? Then came my blogger friend’s email asking what I would like for Christmas. She hoped to send me something after the holidays.

Days later, a package landed on my front steps. I hadn’t ordered anything. Wasn’t expecting anything. But when I slit the box, I found a camera body inside. A Canon EOS 20D. I actually shrieked, nearly cried with joy at this most thoughtful gift which allows me to continue to create. I’m delighted to have my third 20D in my hands. I’ve always believed that good photography is more about the skills of the person creating with a camera than about the equipment. I couldn’t believe my blogger friend found this coveted aged camera, and so quickly. I am beyond grateful.

Now, entering into another year of creativity, I fully intend to use my talents to share, in images and words, the world I discover. I will continue to take you into small towns. Along gravel roads. Into woods and along rivers and lakes. To community events. I will show you art and natural beauty, the places I go, the things I see and do. And I hope that in doing so, I bring you joy, expand your world, perhaps uplift you.

Thank you, dear readers, for following Minnesota Prairie Roots. Thank you for supporting my creativity. For recognizing that creativity connects all of us. And that creativity matters.

Happy New Year!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on 2021 December 31, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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This quarter-sized token, gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann, lies on my computer desk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

AS 2021 DRAWS to a close, thoughts naturally turn reflective as I look at the year behind and, tomorrow, to the beginning of a new year. Never did I think we would still be in this pandemic, entering year three.

For me, 2021 brought grief, hope, frustration and many other emotions. Grief at the death of my father-in-law (not from COVID) in February. Hope in the availability of COVID vaccines to protect us from severe illness and death. Frustration over the ongoing resistance to those life-saving vaccines. Frustration in the failure of too many to follow simple measures, like masking in public, to prevent the spread of the virus.

HOPE

I want to focus on the word “hope,” which surged within me when I received an email from my clinic that I could schedule an appointment to get the vaccine. I fit the high risk category. I’ve never determined exactly why, but I speculate due to a severe case of whooping cough 16 years ago which left me coughing uncontrollably, gasping for air and, eventually, using an inhaler and on Prednisone. I was sick for three months then. So when I got my COVID vaccine on March 14, I felt such joy, gratitude and hope. I felt the same following my second dose a month later and then after my booster in October.

Spring brought such hopefulness. I remember thinking this would be the summer of reclaiming my life as I once lived it. That proved short-lived as COVID cases surged once again. Yet, there were moments of normalcy pre-surge—attending outdoor events, dining out a few times, even attending church twice (until masking became optional, not required). The brief spring/early summer respite lifted my spirits. But now here we are, back to an out-of-control situation.

GRATITUDE

Despite how the pandemic has affected my life in negative ways, I have many reasons to feel grateful. Twice this year, my family circle has been together. All of us. Nothing surpasses the happiness of family togetherness. My grandchildren, especially, bring me such joy with their hugs, kisses, cuddles. I feel fortunate that they live only a half hour distant.

And several times this year I’ve been allowed to visit my mom in her long-term care center, most recently right before Christmas. Mom is in hospice. It’s not been easy. But I try to focus on the blessing of having her here on this earth for 89 years. Not everyone has their mother around for that long. My mother-in-law died at age 59, only months before the birth of my son.

PEACE

Time at a family lake cabin in central Minnesota also provided a break from everything. Thrice Randy and I headed north for some R & R. Our eldest daughter and her family joined us twice. Lots of time immersed in nature calmed, recharged, brought peace. Many country drives and hikes in parks produced similar feelings.

Now, as 2022 begins, I expect much the same as 2021. I wish I could feel more optimistic. But I just don’t. Not today. Yet, hope remains.

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TELL ME: How was your 2021? What proved challenging? What brought you joy?

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NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science, anti-health, please don’t comment. I moderate all comments and will not publish those “anti” views and/or misinformation on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bonfires blazing, donut holes toasting December 30, 2021

The Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2021)

UPDATE #2: 1:45 pm Thursday, January 6, 2022. The Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast has been rescheduled for the second time due to cold weather. It’s now set for 2-4 pm Saturday, January 8.

UPDATE #1: 1 pm Friday, December 31, 2021. The Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast has been postponed and rescheduled for 2-4 pm Sunday, January 9, due to the drop in temperatures.

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, an unusual invite landed in my email in-box. The invitation came from the Valley Grove Preservation Society. The board, tasked with overseeing two historic Norwegian churches near Nerstrand, is hosting a Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast from 2-4 pm Sunday, January 2.

Now, I’ve never heard of a Donut Hole Roast. But I could easily warm up to the idea since I like donuts. Plus, warming by a bonfire sounds especially wonderful given our current brutally cold weather here in southern Minnesota.

Come Sunday, temps could struggle to reach double digits for highs from morning lows of well below zero. Wind will also likely factor in to comfort levels. Wind chill warnings are probable. Translate: It will feel much colder than the thermometer reads. Plan accordingly so as not to experience frostbite while outdoors.

A sweeping view of the land surrounding Valley Grove. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

The good folks at Valley Grove promise bonfires ablaze for warming and for toasting donut holes. Still, the two churches, on the National Register of Historic Places, sit atop a hill where the wind whips.

Those attending are advised to dress warm. Bring blankets and warm beverages. Wear winter boots. If you want to sit, bring a chair. And, if you plan to explore the prairie, pack your snowshoes.

The 1862 stone church and the 1894 wood church adjoin the church cemetery surrounded by 50 acres of prairie and an oak savanna restoration project. It’s a lovely place, which Randy and I have visited often. But never in the deep cold of winter. We’ve walked the church and cemetery grounds. Attended events here. Picnicked on the 1894 church steps. I love the peacefulness of this spot in rural Rice County near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. I love, too, the history, the natural beauty, the art, the sacredness…

A woman demonstrated the art of baking the Norwegian treat Krumkake, available for sampling at a past Fall Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2018)

Typically, Valley Grove hosts an annual Fall Country Social and a Candlelight Christmas Eve Service. But those events were canceled this year and last due to COVID-19.

Now those who care about these aged churches, the land and the Norwegian heritage are trying something new to bring people safely together. To celebrate the new year. With donut holes toasting over bonfires blazing. Dress warm if you plan to attend.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Dear Santa” letters from Minnesota first graders December 29, 2021

Santa, done delivering gifts at a family Christmas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS, a small town Minnesota weekly newspaper published 32 letters—31 addressed to Santa and one to Elsa. The letters written by Sibley East first graders, as you would expect, are honest. Or at least honest enough to convince Santa of good behavior.

As I read through the letters to Santa published in The Gaylord Hub (where I worked as a reporter from 1978-1980), I laughed. And I nearly cried. Read on and you’ll understand as I share highlights pulled from the kids’ writings.

Many first graders assured Santa of their helpfulness and kindness among family and friends. But young Oskar hesitated. “I have been kind of good this year,” he penned before asking for Legos and books with one Lego figurine.

WISH LIST BASICS

What kids wanted for Christmas varied widely. Aleah asked for markers, glue, coloring books, crayons and Skye from Paw Patrol. Her request for glue and for crayons caused me to pause, considering she needed/wanted something so basic. I hope sweet Aleah got those gifts. Other kids asked for items like shoes, clothes, a bunk bed, a garbage can for their bedroom. Necessities.

But perhaps the most touching was Elsa’s request: “Please can you give me a picture of me for my family.”

WISHFUL THINKING

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alex requested items that could bankrupt Santa. He not only wanted a remote control car, a gun, a kids’ motorcycle and an iPhone 11, but he also asked for $1 million. Alright then. Alex wants a sister, too. Not sure how Santa handled that.

A UNIQUE REQUEST

Perhaps the most unusual gift desired came from Angie, who assured Santa she’s been working hard in school and helping her mom with dishes. The first grader asked for a skeleton so she can study the human body. Impressed? I am. I expect Angie will accomplish anything she sets her mind to, maybe even becoming a medical professional.

Other gift lists included Nintendo games, a skateboard, not just some but “a lot of” Nerf guns, a remote control semi, a LOL doll, Pokemon cards…and the usual horse and puppy. And for one boy, dogs. Plural, not singular. He promised to share the dogs with his friends.

QUESTIONS FOR SANTA

These kids also had lots of questions for Santa. About the reindeer (What do they eat? How do they fly?). About the elves (How are they?). About Mrs. Claus (How old is she?). About the North Pole (How cold and snowy is it there?).

Santa also faced questions about himself. “Do you like cookies or not?” Cameron asked, getting right to the point. Oskar was more specific. “Do you like cookies that are bought or decorated cookies?”

Angie, who wanted the skeleton to study the human body (I sure hope she got it) wondered why Santa wears a red hat instead of a blue hat. Good question. Like I said, I expect this inquisitive first grader will achieve whatever goals she sets.

REALLY PERSONAL QUESTIONS FOR SANTA

Then two first grade boys got even more personal. “Do you have any kids?” Charlie asked Santa. Good question.

And then there’s Jaxson, concerned about Santa’s mental health. “Are you happy? Yes?” I love how this little boy’s letter opened with that question before he went on to ask for one thing, a Nintendo Switch. He even thanked Santa. We could all learn from Jaxson. About compassion and care for others. From the pencils of first graders…

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© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Source: December 23, 2021 edition of The Gaylord Hub

 

A Christmas message from Minnesota Prairie Roots December 24, 2021

Baby Jesus stitched by my cousin Traci Sanford. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

SIX COUNTED CROSS-STITCH CARDS depicting the birth of Christ grace an aged chest of drawers anchoring a corner of my living room. I’ve leaned the cards against the backdrop mirror reflecting my Christmas tree.

These works of art visually tell the Christmas story minus a few important characters—Joseph and the Three Wisemen, who would later come bearing gifts. Perhaps those cards were lost. Or maybe my cousin Traci, who stitched the art, didn’t complete the series. She gifted my mom with these cards. One each Christmas.

A few years back, after Mom moved into assisted living and eventually long-term care, my extended family divided the Nativity sets our mother collected. And, among those I chose were these cards. My mom was also an avid counted cross stitch artist.

I cherish the stitched collection. Not only for its artistic value but also for the emotional connection to a mother celebrating her final Christmas on this earth. That is reality and I’ve reached a sense of peace in that certainty.

This Christmas, I hope you, too, experience peace. I hope you find a connection to those loved ones no longer on this earth via treasured memories or objects. I hope you feel connected also to those still here. To those who can still hear the words, “I love you.”

Have a blessed Christmas, dear readers!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas homecoming December 23, 2021

Nearing Terminal 1 at MSP on a quiet December day in 2015, a very different scene from Tuesday evening. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

NEARLY AN HOUR after picking him up outside Terminal 1 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Tuesday evening, my son and I embraced.

I wanted to wrap him in my arms immediately. But vehicles jammed the pick-up area. The hug would have to wait 45 minutes until we arrived home in Faribault. I recognized that if everyone stopped to hold their loved ones close, the traffic delays would only worsen. So he shoved his suitcase inside the van and climbed into the front passenger seat while I skirted the bag and slid the side door shut.

Randy and I’d already spent too much time waiting, creeping along toward arrivals. Mostly unfamiliar with the roads and lay-out of this terminal, Randy took a wrong turn and we ended up looping back around, back into the gridlock. In the end, that error proved OK timing wise.

I felt gratitude for drivers who allowed us to nudge into line. We did the same. I felt not so much appreciation for the driver of the big black pick-up truck with Wisconsin license plates. I observed bullying moves. But I suppose when you’re piloting a bulky truck…

I felt thankfulness also for the airport traffic director, attempting to create order from a traffic mess. I didn’t envy his job of keeping motorists and pedestrians safe.

Flying into MSP. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

In the end, I got that long-awaited hug. Six months have passed since I’ve seen my son, who moved to Indiana in August to pursue his PhD at Purdue University. Oh, the joy in that first hug. The love that filled my mama’s heart. We held each other tight. Lingering. Savoring the moment.

In only days, that will repeat with my second daughter, whom I have not seen since mid-May. I’m anticipating the moment when she and her husband pull into the driveway after a 4 ½ hour drive from Madison, Wisconsin. I will wrap her in my arms. Lingering. Savoring the moment.

On Sunday, the eldest daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren will join us, completing the family circle. This will be our first Christmas together in five years. There will be more hugging and lingering. And joy filling this mother’s heart.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connected: The award-winning art of a preteen December 22, 2021

Art supplies photographed during a Studio ARTour. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.)

WE ARE ALL CONNECTED. Those words theme the 2021-2022 Lion’s International Peace Poster Contest. And I simply must share a winning entry created by a 12-year-old from Rochester. Audrey, granddaughter of my friend Jackie, won the contest at her Minnesota middle school and then earned honorable mention at the district level.

It’s well-deserved recognition. As you will see on Jackie’s “Who Will Make Me Laugh” blog (click here), Audrey drew flags from assorted countries along the outer edges of a heart, then created a group of children from many ethnicities to front that heart.

Audrey’s art is detailed, following that theme of connection. Linked hands. Friendly waves. Smiles. Hearts. A rainbow. Plenty of peace symbols. All connect to create an overwhelmingly positive message of togetherness.

I needed to see the work of this young artist at a time when I observe more division than connection in our world. This gives me hope. Our youth have always been our hope for the future.

The bracelet Audrey crafted for me in 2013. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

I met Audrey back in 2013, at the same time I met Jackie. During that visit, Audrey gifted me with a handcrafted stone and bead bracelet in my favorite hues of green and purple. Jackie has often shared that Audrey possesses a loving and giving spirit. I saw that then. And I see it now.

The thought this preteen put into designing her peace poster shows. I love how kids today are growing up in a diverse world. A world brimming with possibilities. Opportunities. Creativity.

Whenever I meet another creative, I feel a connection. Jackie and I originally connected via our shared love of photography. A nurse by profession, Jackie is kind, compassionate and caring, and a gifted photographer. We also share commonalities of faith, of country churches, old barns, drives in the country, etc. We are connected.

And now Audrey is following her grandma’s (and Uncle Brice’s) creative paths. Her current work-in-progress is writing a book. Given my love of writing, I now have that additional connection (other than shared first names) to Audrey.

And while I await news of that book, I’d love to see Audrey’s winning artwork in print, on a t-shirt… I love it that much.

Please stop by Jackie’s blog to view Audrey’s art and to encourage this young artist. And, while you’re there, scroll through Jackie’s photo rich posts.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The President talks about his COVID frustrations, concerns & plans December 21, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:46 PM
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The Coronavirus. Photo source: CDC.

CONCERN. NOT PANIC.

Those words repeated in an address to the nation by President Joe Biden Tuesday afternoon as the highly transmissible omicron variant has now become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the US.

While Biden advised calm, he also issued a strong warning to the unvaccinated that they remain at high risk for severe illness and/or death. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before.

Yet, the warning comes with a new sense of urgency as hospital beds fill and healthcare workers continue to be overwhelmed. The actions of those choosing not to get vaccinated are affecting all of us, the President said. The unvaccinated, he noted, have an obligation to themselves, their families and their country to get vaccinated.

I agree. I would emphasize, though, the obligation to others. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Strangers. The common good.

Like the President, I’m feeling tired, worried and frustrated. Frustrated particularly because we have the tools to end this pandemic. Vaccination. Testing. Masking to stop the spread. We know so much more than we did when this pandemic started, a point the President emphasized in saying, “This is not March 2020.”

But here we are, hospitals filling or full. Not enough staff to treat patients. National Guard and federal military personnel now called to help over-burdened hospitals/healthcare workers. We should never have gotten to this point.

Biden termed the misinformation out there about vaccines and the virus “wrong” and “immoral.” Some of the misinformation I’ve heard from those who oppose vaccines is unbelievable, making me wonder how anyone can believe the untruths spewed.

At this point, it seems like people have made up their minds about vaccination. I know of cases when not even the death, or near death, of a family member would convince someone to get vaccinated.

So here we are with the federal government calling up 1,000 troops to assist in hospitals. They’re already in Minnesota. And newly-arrived in Wisconsin and Indiana and other states. More ambulances are being sent to states. Additional vaccination and testing sites are being set up. Soon we can order COVID tests online, delivered free to our homes. All of these actions are necessary.

But we must also do our parts individually. And that starts with the very basic premise of caring for one another. Caring enough to get vaccinated, and boostered. Wearing masks in public settings, regardless of vaccination status. Testing if we have symptoms or have been exposed. Caring that our actions affect others.

I feel gratitude for those 200 million plus Americans who are fully-vaccinated. They did the right thing. For themselves. For their families, friends, neighbors, community, strangers. For the common good. For their country. I can only hope the remaining however many million will choose to do the right thing and get vaccinated. I don’t want unvaccinated people to land in the hospital on a ventilator. Or worse. Die. Nor do I want vaccinated individuals who may experience a health crisis unable to get the care they need because our understaffed hospitals are filled with unvaccinated COVID patients.

NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-whatever, don’t bother to comment. I won’t publish those views, or misinformation, on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling