Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What a mess, but we can “do something” January 14, 2022

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One of my first pandemic images, photographed along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault in May 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

“THERE’S NOTHING ANY of us can do about it,” she said. I disagree.

“What a mess,” she texted. I fully agree.

Those assessments came in recent communications with two family members about the current state of COVID. While a certain resignation themes both comments, they differ.

I believe we hold the power to “do something” about COVID. We’ve always had the ability to end this pandemic. If only we would listen. And act. But now we’re in so deep to this not listening to health and science, but rather to the voices of misinformation and untruths and politics, that I wonder when we will ever get to the other side. (Note that I’m thankful for those of you who do listen to health and science and act.)

PROTECTING & PREVENTING

So what can we do? First and foremost, get vaccinated and that includes getting boosted. (Thank you to those who have done so.) I am aware of far too many individuals who went unvaccinated, got COVID and then died. Perhaps they didn’t believe the science, distrusted the vaccines, listened to a loved one/friend/politician/social media/doctor (yes, even a doctor) advising them not to get the shot, believed they were not at risk for serious illness or death. Reasons vary, but the end result was the same. Needless deaths. That breaks my heart.

None of us knows how COVID will affect our bodies. Until we get it. There’s no guarantee on outcome. But being vaccinated, and following CDC guidelines, assures us that we have done all we can to protect ourselves (and others) from severe disease and/or death. Data backs that.

THE FAITH COMPONENT

As a woman of faith, I’m particularly bothered by the attitude that we don’t need the vaccine because God will protect us through natural immunity or otherwise. He also gave us scientists, researchers and others who develop life-saving vaccines. I consider those individuals, those vaccines, a blessing. Just like I consider other advances in medicine through the years an absolute blessing. Without advances in medicine, and an acceptance of them, we’d be living in the 1800s and early to mid-1900s with women dying in childbirth, children dying of disease, too many people dying of heart attacks… Our life expectancy would be low.

I believe in the power of prayer and I trust in God. Yet, I wouldn’t stand on a railroad track, praying and trusting that God will stop a locomotive barreling toward me. That doesn’t mean my faith is lacking. Not at all. But recognizing the danger and then getting off the track would certainly be a wise decision if I wanted to live.

MASK UP, PEOPLE, JUST DO IT

We have plenty of tools to “do something” about COVID. That includes masking (N95, KN95 or tight-fitting multi-layer cloth over surgical, if you don’t have 95s), staying home if we’re sick, testing (yes, I recognize securing a test right now can be difficult), avoiding crowds, social distancing… Yet, I don’t see this necessarily happening. At least not in Faribault or in rural areas (especially) of Minnesota. Shopping at the grocery store recently found me attempting to slip past two unmasked men conversing and blocking an aisle. That’s not uncommon. Most people in Faribault do not wear face masks in public.

Our city, public school and county require masking inside their facilities. But when I stopped at the library a few days ago, I saw unmasked patrons. A notice on the front door states that masks are required. Masks are even available on a table. I can cite many other examples, but I think you’ve all seen the lack of masking or the ineffective half-masking/”chin diapers”/gaiters/clear plastic face shields.

I wish that employees at grocery stores and other local businesses would wear face masks. That would set an example and show me that the business cares about the health and safety of its customers and of the community in general. The same goes for houses of worship, a place where I would expect mask-wearing as a way to show love and care. These places need to require, not just recommend, face masks. Some Minnesota schools (Owatonna and Worthington, for example, but others also) are only now just requiring face masks. I’m not sure why it took so long, but I expect community resistance factored in.

LISTEN TO THE PLEAS & WARNINGS

What a mess. The mess we’ve gotten ourselves into reaches into every facet of our lives, particularly into healthcare and schools. Staffing shortages in hospitals threaten all of us. In Minnesota, hospitals are overwhelmed. Full. Once again, surgeries are being delayed. Quality of care is being affected as our healthcare providers are stretched thin. That’s according to media reports. I feel for doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who are overwhelmed, frustrated and stressed by caring for COVID patients in this ongoing pandemic. I hear their pleas to the public. Their warnings. Minnesota government officials announced a plan Wednesday to hire temporary nurses, although I’m uncertain where they will find them. It’s a good, and necessary, move.

And in our schools, rising numbers of COVID cases are creating staff shortages and pushing some schools back to distance learning. Faribault Middle School went to distance learning today. And the high school goes to online classes on January 19. The plan now is to return to in-person learning on January 24.

More and more families are delaying funerals. That’s emotionally difficult, yet wise in days such as these. The family of Edward Kohman of Faribault writes in his obituary that a celebration of life for the 84-year-old will be held later “when it’s warmer and perhaps safer to gather.” He died as a result of COVID. The family goes on to write: Dad was vaccinated, but if you want to do something to honor his life, please make sure you are too. I appreciate when a family, even in their grief, considers the health and safety of others, and encourages vaccination. What a loving way to honor the man they loved.

It seems inevitable that all of us will get COVID given the highly-contagious omicron variant. But this is no time to give up. Vaccines, masking and other preventative/protective measures remain especially important. Now, more than ever, we need (like the Kohman family) to think beyond ourselves to the greater good, if we want to get ourselves out of this mess.

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NOTE: I moderate all comments and will not publish anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science, anti-health and/or misinformation on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look at the new year from The Land of Plenty January 7, 2022

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted edited file photo December 2017

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, people far and wide welcomed the new year. Some with optimism. Others with cautiousness. And yet others with ambivalence.

But at least one family celebrated as they began their third calendar year in power. No one had elected them to office, attempted a take-over or used nepotism to open doors. Rather, the family patriarch, The Great Invader, simply slipped into the country and began his campaign of destruction. Illness. Death. Discord. Division. He spared nothing to remain in power.

SUCCESS

His plan was working. Despite warnings from The Ministry of Health. Despite a life-saving potion. Despite Centers for Healing filling to capacity. He gloated in his success and that of his cousins, enlisted to help with the cause. His Office of Misinformation labored into the wee hours disseminating falsehoods, which quickly passed via word-of-mouth from village to village and then into the countryside.

The Office of Truthfulness likewise worked tirelessly, posting daily information and statistics on scrolls in the village square. Tallies of the sick. The dead. But often The Village Know-It-All ripped down the scrolls before anyone could read them. He despised the officials who released facts and supporting data. He considered them a threat.

And so life went. The Great Invader and his family roamed mostly unfettered, infecting more people than ever. They’d had enough time to adjust, to tweak their strategies. Even those protected by a life-saving potion were now falling ill, although their illnesses proved mostly minor. Those without the protection of a magic potion, however, proved especially vulnerable. Too often they fell gravely ill, filling cots at Centers for Healing to overflowing. Others, particularly the elderly and those who suffered from other maladies, died. The Great Invader watched streams of mourners gather in the village graveyard. He clearly saw just how effective his efforts on the unprotected, even if many villagers didn’t.

UNHEEDED WARNINGS

Health officials pleaded with villagers to accept the life-saving potion. They warned of a shortage of cots and healers, of overworked and stressed caregivers. They warned of death and severe illness. But none of it seemingly mattered. Even the deaths of loved ones did not convince the villagers to protect themselves, their families, friends and community.

NAME-CALLING AT THE PUB

In the village of Drofdem, locals crammed elbow to elbow over pints of ale at the pub. Rumors and untruths circulated, fueled by alcohol. When the proprietor, who had taken the life-saving potion and who wore a protective face mask, circulated among the revelers, they scoffed at him. Called him names. Laughed in his face. He remained stoic, showing no emotion while inwardly reeling from the insults. He wanted nothing more than to throw them out of his pub, bar the door and flee. But his family depended on him.

MORE ISSUES & CONCERNS, OR NOT

Several cobblestone streets away, students gathered inside the village school, in cramped windowless rooms with clay walls and dirt floors. Few of those children had received the magic potion to fend off The Great Invader. Their parents distrusted The Ministry of Health, believing instead the misinformation spewed by The Village Know-It-All and his core team. They refused to mask their children, although that was proven to help stop The Great Invader. No one, they claimed, should tell them what was best for their children.

However, in far away cities, teachers expressed concerns about the ever-spreading virus. Some refused to teach, noting the risk to their health and that of their students. Debates and division arose.

Other concerns existed in The Land of Plenty, too. Shortages of wagons and oxen meant delays in getting shoes from cobblers to far-away cities. Peasant farmers fell ill, creating a shortage of food in the marketplace. Travelers found themselves stranded, unable to secure transportation as cart drivers fell ill and dirt roads turned to muck in torrential rains. Threats of war remained as universal as time.

HOPE & LOVE

Yet, in a small stone house in the village, a waif of a girl and her mother remained hopeful. Of little means, especially since the death of their father and husband at the hands of The Great Invader (pre life-saving potion), they had enough. They had each other. They had taken the protective potion. Each evening they sat by the fireside, the mother singing softly to her beloved daughter. “You are my sunshine.” Even in the darkness, love prevailed. No one, not even The Great Invader and his cousins or The Village Know-It-All, could destroy their love or diminish their hope.

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NOTE: In every story exists truth, this one no exception. This story is part of an ongoing series about The Great Invader (COVID-19). Please choose vaccination to protect yourself, your loved ones and others. If you’ve already been vaccinated and boosted, thank you. Please also mask up in public and follow other CDC guidelines to help prevent spread of the virus.

I moderate all comments and will not publish anti-vaccine, anti-mask and other such views on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2022 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

 

From Minnesota healthcare leaders: “Heartbroken & overwhelmed” December 15, 2021

Coronavirus. (Photo source: CDC)

SOME TWO WEEKS until Christmas and nearly two years in to the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota medical leaders on Monday issued a strong warning to the public along with a plea for the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

Nine healthcare executives—including the head of the world famous Mayo Clinic—signed a letter which published in newspapers throughout Minnesota. These two statements banner the message:

We’re heartbroken.

We’re overwhelmed.

The carefully-crafted letter is powerful. Emotional. Factual. And, oh, so necessary. I feel deep gratitude to these healthcare leaders who joined in sending a strong message to Minnesotans. We need to hear this. All of us. Vaccinated. And unvaccinated.

The decision not to get vaccinated affects every single one of us. That’s clear in the words of these medical professionals, in daily media reports and in information from the Minnesota Department of Health. Emergency rooms are full. Hospital beds are full. And that means challenges in accessing healthcare. For treatment of COVID-19, cancer, injuries, heart attack… That should concern anyone and everyone. None of us knows when we might need immediate emergency medical care. The situation is “critical,” according to the letter.

I appreciate the honesty. The statement “…every day we’re seeing avoidable illness and death as a direct result of COVID19” points directly to the root of the current crisis. And the frustrations felt in the medical community. “How can we as a society stand by and watch people die when a simple shot could prevent a life-threatening illness?” Exactly. How? Why? I don’t get it and I share the frustrations of those nine Minnesota healthcare leaders and their associated healthcare teams.

They conclude their letter with an “ask.” Get vaccinated and boosted. Wear a mask (regardless of vaccination status). Socially distance. Get tested if you feel sick. Encourage others to follow those steps. None of that is new. But it just does not seem to be sinking in. Especially in rural areas. My roots are rural. I love and care about our rural communities. But the truth is that in many areas of Greater Minnesota, vaccination rates are low, COVID case counts high. This virus doesn’t care about rural or urban boundaries.

In Faribault, I see very few people masking in public. Our vaccination rates in Rice County could be better, especially in those under age 49. Of those eligible for the vaccine, from age five on up, only 62% have completed their vaccine series, according to Rice County Public Health (December 13 statistics). We’ve already lost 147 of our friends, family members and neighbors to COVID in our county. Some died before vaccines became available. And I expect, although I can’t confirm, that some recent deaths of seniors may be from break-through cases in that vulnerable population. But many likely are among the unvaccinated, a situation repeating throughout the country.

I feel for the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel staffing our hospitals. I have no doubt they feel heartbroken and overwhelmed. The stress. The demands. The never ending flow of COVID patients. The death all around. The grief. The helplessness. Day after day after day. Endless physical and mental exhaustion.

I am grateful for their fortitude. Their strength. Their compassion. Their care. And now, today, I feel grateful for this united message from nine healthcare professionals calling on all of us to come together, to do our part to end this pandemic.

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NOTE: I moderate all comments and will not publish anti-vaccine, anti-mask and other such views on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In The Land of Plenty as Christmas approaches December 10, 2021

Rag rugs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021)

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the people busied themselves preparing for Christmas. Merchants stocked their shops with goods. Peasant farmers butchered plump geese. Artisans and craftsmen gathered in the marketplace, peddling rugs woven from rags, vessels shaped from clay, candles made of tallow.

A spirit of festiveness prevailed, from sprawling cities to remote villages to farms upon the plains. Crowds gathered. The mood was jovial.

LURKING, WATCHING, PLOTTING

But in the dark alleyways of cities, in dark corners of village marketplaces, in the darkness of distant farms, a dark figure watched. He smirked, not wanting to reveal his sickly yellow teeth and thus his identity as The Great Invader. He felt such power in his ability to be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. He’d also recruited his cousins to join his cause of inflicting illness and death upon The Land of Plenty and beyond.

The lurking figure hunkered down, delighting in the scenes unfolding before him. Nothing pleased him more than crowds of people mingling, seemingly oblivious to his presence. He felt particularly emboldened by the prevalence of denial and by the misinformation spewed by The Village Know-It-All. This made his work much easier.

“NO THREAT,” BUT NUMBERS SHOW OTHERWISE

“Refuse the magic potion,” the self-appointed village expert commanded. “It’s dangerous and will only harm you. There’s no need for the potion. The Great Invader poses no threat.” This he belched while ripping down scrolls released by The Ministry of Health to The Office of Truthfulness. Those scrolls listed statistics which, if examined, countered his declarations.

Unbeknownst to both The Village Know-It-All and The Great Invader, a group of truth-seeking villagers snuck into the village square to review the scrolled documents upon posting. What they read startled them. Frightened them. Gave great cause for alarm. Reaffirmed their understanding of The Great Invader’s presence and power.

In the neighboring province of Cebanak, the positivity rate for infection stood at 24%. It was even higher in Acesaw province at 28%. And yet higher in Yelbis province at 30%. Those overwhelmingly high numbers struck fear into the hearts of those who read them. They were not so much frightened for themselves, for they’d taken several doses of the potion protecting them from serious illness and death. Rather, they felt concern for their friends, neighbors and family members who refused the potion. Too many lay in The Village Center for Healing (or on overflow cots outside). Others were already gone, buried in the cold black earth of the graveyard.

CARE & CONFLICT

They pleaded, especially with those in their close family circles, to take the protective potion. But nothing convinced the doubters. Nothing. Not even the healers who’d arrived from far away places to help care for the sick and dying at the Center for Healing, now filled to capacity.

As Christmas approached, conflict bubbled in The Land of Plenty. There were those who wanted to celebrate as usual. Gather with family. Shoulder into the local pub with holiday revelers for a hot toddy or pint of ale. Cram into the town square to hear performers sing of Christmas joy. Anger boiled, especially in the outlying villages. Most villagers distrusted The Ministry of Health and leaders from far away cities who warned of more illness and death.

GATHER SAFELY

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. Health officials suggested ways to gather safely. Accept the protective potion. Cover your face with a mask. Test for illness. Stay home if you feel unwell. But that only angered many and caused rifts within families and among friends and neighbors.

And so, weeks out from Christmas, The Great Invader found himself in the enviable position of still retaining his power and control. He never expected this, not with the creation of the potion nearly a year prior. But, oh, how he celebrated, albeit inwardly, as he watched from the dark corners in The Land of Plenty and beyond and plotted his next invasion.

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Note: In every story exists truth, this one no exception. As The Great Invader (COVID-19/variants) marches on, please take care. Get vaccinated. Mask up. Avoid indoor crowded spaces. Get tested if symptoms arise. Stay home if you’re sick. And, if you celebrate Christmas together, take precautions. I care about you and want you to be safe and well.

This is part of an ongoing series about The Great Invader. I moderate all comments and will not give voice to anti-vaccine, anti-mask, etc. views on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the village November 30, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2020.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a waif of a girl and her mother huddled, seeking warmth inside their small stone house. They’d just returned from a tiring journey by foot to a neighboring village. There the daughter received a magical potion to protect her from The Great Invader, who had claimed her father’s life. They felt such gratitude for the protective potion now available to all but the youngest.

The pair felt no bitterness about the loss of their beloved husband and father, but rather a mournful acceptance of his fate. When he fell ill, Ministry of Health researchers had only begun to understand The Great Invader and ways to effectively deal with him. They were certain he could be stopped. But, alas, Ministry officials underestimated the resistance to their advice, to the life-saving potion, to measures that would keep most villagers, city-dwellers and peasants from serious illness or death.

Spikes define The Great Invader and his cousins. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2019)

A KNOCK ON THE DOOR

As mother and daughter edged near the hearth, fire heating a small kettle of thin porridge, a persistent pounding broke the silence. The weary woman hesitated, unsure whether to answer the urgent knock. But the kindness instilled in her by sage elders replaced her momentary hesitation. She rose, grabbed a swatch of cloth from a peg on the wall, covered her face and cracked the door.

There stood a stranger—teeth a sickly yellow, spiked hair framing his filthy face, gnarled hand raised in a threatening pose. Without even a second thought, the mother slammed the door, dislodged a worn plank, dropped and locked it in place. Her shoulders heaved. Her legs gave way. And she fell in a heap onto the dirt floor, overcome with emotion. She recognized the stranger as a cousin of The Great Invader from a sketch posted in the village square (before The Village Know-It-All removed the identifying scroll). She breathed gratitude for the potion that protected her and her cherished child.

Wheat. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2019)

STRUGGLES & EMPOWERMENT

The young mother and her daughter were, by nature, kind and loving. They often befriended the lowliest among them. The beggars. The downtrodden. Those who had fallen on hard times. They had little themselves, but shared what they had. Yet, even with the mindset of kindness, they struggled to understand how so many in their village seemed now to care only about themselves. Gone was the cohesiveness of community care. The Great Invader and his extended family gloated, empowered to press on with selfishness, untruths, misinformation and distrust fueling their cause. They never could have imagined the ease with which they could infiltrate The Land of Plenty and beyond.

Frustration mounted whenever mother and child ventured into the crowded village marketplace. Few covered their faces. Few believed The Ministry of Health or the Office of Truthfulness. The pair observed how villagers dismissed warnings about The Great Invader and scoffed at ways to protect themselves and others. So the two hastened to gather a handful of potatoes, a sheaf of grain and a clutch of carrots clumped with dirt. They parceled pennies into the palms of peasants, then fled the market.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

HOPE IN AN UNSETTLING SCENE

On their way home, mother and daughter passed by The Village Center for Healing, now overrun with the sick and dying infected by The Great Invader. Most had refused the magic potion. The pair’s hearts hurt for the exhausted village healers who continued to care for the failing, even in the face of disrespect and denial. They skirted past the ill and sidestepped rotten tomatoes lobbed by villagers refuting reality with anger.

The woman paused for a moment when she noticed strangers tending to the ill in overflow cots along the cobblestone streets. Fear prickled her spine. Could this be The Great Invader in yet another disguise? But she soon realized these strangers had come to ease the burden on village healers. She recalled a posting in the village square announcing the arrival of the group from a far away city. Gratitude rose within her, a smile curving her lips.

Hope swelled within her that maybe, just maybe, the influx of healers would convince the doubters to recognize the severity of the situation. To realize they could stop The Great Invader, first by believing those who had investigated him and then trusting the magic potion to keep them safe. It was within their grasp…

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NOTE: In every story exists truth, this one no exception. As The Great Invader (COVID-19) continues his march, now in mutant strains, we need to remain vigilant. Get vaccinated and boostered. (If you already are, thank you.) Mask up. (If you do, thank you.) Stay home when you’re sick. Follow other safety mitigation. Think beyond yourself. To the child next door. To the elderly. To the immune-compromised. To the family you love. This is about more than each of us individually. This is about all of us, our community of humanity.

This is part of an ongoing series about The Great Invader. I moderate all comments and will not give voice to anti-vaccine, anti-mask and other such opinions on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sleuthing through “Mailbox Mysteries” crafted in Cannon Falls November 15, 2021

I used a magnifying glass to study this vintage Cannon Falls area map, among clues in the “Gangster’s Gold” mystery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

THE “Mailbox Mysteries” SIGN POSTED in the front window of a downtown Cannon Falls insurance agency, drew my interest. I’ve always appreciated a good mystery and I wanted in.

So I headed to the nearby library, home base for the mysteries, to inquire about the featured Gangster’s Gold mystery. Within a week I received an introductory letter about notorious gangster and bootlegger Dutch Schultz and his $50 million treasure hidden somewhere in the Cannon River Valley.

Background and clues. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

Channeling my inner Nancy Drew, I determined to locate that treasure. If only my sleuthing skills matched my enthusiasm. Right from the start, I couldn’t figure out how to fold, and then use, a Tri-Hexa-Flexa-Coder to de-code a secret message. I needed help. My friend Stephani, who once considered becoming a private investigator but stuck to family genealogy, solved the folding/coding problem.

I realized solving this mystery would not be easy. Exactly as “Mailbox Mysteries” creator Matthew Stelter, Teen and Adult Services Librarian in Cannon Falls, likely intended. He created this interactive mystery series last winter as an outreach program for library patrons stuck at home during COVID-19 and, as he said, “tired of a life lived entirely through a computer screen.” At that time, the library building was closed to visitors. All of the clues for his mysteries are sent via US mail to the home-based investigators.

Eventually, Stelter crafted six mysteries—five for adults and a math-based set, “Postcard Puzzles,” for kids 12 and under. A bit overwhelmed by managing all of those mysteries, Stelter has since tweaked and downsized the “Mailbox Mysteries” to three.

The final clues to locate the hidden treasure. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

His past experience developing escape rooms and murder mysteries shows in “Mailbox Mysteries.” I admire his ability to craft a fictional mystery rooted in facts with added local elements. He uses newspaper clippings, photos, letters, historical documents, maps, coded messages (he created the code for the challenging Hexa-Flexagon) and more in believable story lines.

A seemingly authentic newspaper article, for example, references the long-ago Fleckenstein Brewery in Faribault and a possible connection to the underworld. Turns out that story was pure fiction as is gangster and bootlegger Dutch Schultz’s connection to Minnesota. He never had ties here, although many gangsters did. Rather, he lived in New York, where his treasure is rumored to be hidden. Schultz died in a gang shoot-out.

So much to consider in solving “Gangster’s Gold.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

In the end, I found the location of the $50 million treasure after hours of dissecting documents—yes, I became a bit obsessed—and using a magnifying glass to better view details on a map. Stelter rewarded me with a personalized Certificate of Commendation and advised me to bring a shovel to dig deep for the buried treasure.

These three items were in the first mailing of “Spy School” mystery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

Now I’m on to the next “Mailbox Mysteries,” Spy School. I’ve received my introductory letter, a brochure for the Vera Atkins Spy Academy and an encoded note warning that the school is compromised.

The arched entry to Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, upper campus, in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

VASA happens to be in Faribault, as printed in a brochure so professionally done that I would think the academy really existed if I didn’t recognize the photos of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. Stelter lived at Shattuck for 10 years. I’m also semi-familiar with the campus so I’ll see if that familiarity helps in solving the mystery. As in Gangster’s Gold, I expect this mystery writer to weave more local details into the fictional story line.

While I await the next set of clues, I invite you to join the team of private investigators. Stelter welcomes all Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes types to register by November 30. Simply email your request for Spy School along with your name and complete snail mail address to: mstelter (at) selco (dot) info

Be forewarned, though, that these mysteries are challenging and time-consuming. Yet so worth the satisfaction of solving and of reaching into your mailbox to find, not a bill, but rather the efforts of a talented and creative librarian.

The third “Mailbox Mysteries,” Cypher Cabin, will be available starting December 1.

Good luck, sleuths.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The journey November 12, 2021

Featured in a 2016-2017 “Minnesota Disasters” exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a waif of a girl and her mother wound through the packed dirt and cobblestone streets of their remote village.

Sometimes they walked side-by-side. Other times the wee girl trailed her mother. But when they reached the village square, where a raucous crowd had gathered, they clasped hands and quickened their pace. The pair wanted to avoid the angry villagers crowded around The Village Know-It-All. He stood high above the throng, encouraging them to resist all attempts by The Ministry of Health and other officials in a far away city to stop The Great Invader.

His voice boomed authority across the square. “Stand strong,” he urged. “There is no need to defend yourselves against The Great Invader. He poses no threat. Stories of his strength are greatly exaggerated. There is no need to arm yourselves with protective gear or to hide or to avoid each other. There is no need for a potion to keep you safe. That’s nonsense. Lies. No one can tell us what to do! No one!”

Masks, precautions and isolation helped protect against the flu epidemic. To the left in this photo are names of Steele County residents who died from the flu in 1918. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

DEATH & DENIAL ALL AROUND

As mother and daughter fled, reaffirming cheers created a deafening din. The two wanted nothing more than to escape the ire and untruths that raged.

Soon the pair passed The Village Center for Healing where an overflow of the sick and dying lay in cots along the street. While the ill-informed words of The Village Know-It-All droned on, echoing through the streets, the ill struggled with fits of coughing, gasping for breath. Fevers wracked their bodies and some lay stone still, perhaps already dead.

The mother shuddered in fear, clenching her daughter’s hand, distancing them as best she could along the narrow pathway.

They pressed on, passing the marketplace where vendors and villagers crowded among wagons heaped with grain, potatoes and overripe tomatoes. The mother had heard stories of villagers stealing the rotting tomatoes to lob at healers. She couldn’t understand why the healers—those who toiled endless days and nights to care for the sick—were now targeted, viewed as traitors. She could only trace that hatred to The Village Know-It-All and his followers who continued to spew misinformation about The Great Invader.

Activities that brought people together, including here in southern Minnesota, were suspended during the flu outbreak. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

INSIDE THE VILLAGE SCHOOL

Soon they reached the village school where children scratched sticks across the dirt yard. Inside, other students crammed onto benches in cramped, windowless rooms made of clay walls and dirt floors. After her daughter shared of the crowded conditions, of sick classmates and no efforts to keep The Great Invader out of school, the concerned mother kept her daughter home. She could not fathom risking her daughter’s health or life. Already a long-time elder educator had succumbed to The Great Invader and another, much younger teacher, lay gravely ill.

THE DARKNESS OF GRIEF, THE LIGHT OF HOPE

Just beyond the school on the outskirts of town, the duo passed by the graveyard. To their right, a cluster of villagers circled as the local gravedigger lowered a pine box into a dark hole. The heartbreaking wails of mourners pierced the air. The mother recognized many of the grieving for theirs was a small village. Sadness clenched her thoughts. She knew this much-loved elder had succumbed to The Great Invader, although his family and friends denied the truth. The Office of Truthfulness posted a daily record in the village square and she had seen the man’s name on that list before The Village Know-It-All ripped down the official death document.

Witnessing such grief and observing the cemetery grounds marked by countless rectangles of black, mounded dirt, the mother hurried on. Past a simple marker with a familiar name. She hoped to reach a distant, much larger, village by nightfall. There she would accept the preventative potion to protect her beloved child. Just as she had sought out for herself many months earlier. She’d waited for this day, through the grief of losing her husband to The Great Invader only weeks before the magical potion was created and distributed, then subsequently destroyed by The Village Know-It-All. She focused on the journey at hand, through her weariness and grief, determined, filled with hope.

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NOTE: In every story exists truth, this one no exception. This story about The Great Invader (COVID-19) is part of an ongoing series on the topic. If you read my previous posts, you understand that I believe science and health. I support vaccines and other measures to keep us all safe.

Minnesota is currently in a precarious place with COVID-19 cases at a 2021 high, few ICU hospital beds available and deaths increasing.

I welcome comments, but will not give voice to anti-vaccine, anti-masking, etc. viewpoints and misinformation on this, my personal blog. I moderate all comments.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Throwing tomatoes October 20, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the villagers gathered in the harvest. Pumpkins. Potatoes. Squash. Root vegetables. And then the last of the tomatoes, much of the fruit rotting atop the soil in a plentiful yield.

In a typical year, the villagers would toss the over-ripe tomatoes to the swine. But this was anything but a typical year. What was once discarded as undesirable fodder now held value. Great value.

And so the villagers rolled empty wheelbarrows into their garden plots. They stooped to scoop and pluck the decaying tomatoes swarming with bugs. As they toiled, they hummed in unrestrained happiness. They had a plan. And their plan, they determined, would allow them to unleash their anger and frustration in a visible way, a way that would hurt beyond mere words.

OVERRUN & OVERWHELMED

While they focused on the unseemly task of salvaging rotten tomatoes, others in the village worked hard to treat those who had fallen ill—seriously ill—after encountering The Great Invader. Those caregivers felt overwhelmed by tending the sick, some of whom lay in the streets awaiting an open cot inside The Village Center for Healing. There were not enough beds, not enough caregivers to handle the sick and dying.

DENIAL

Yet, despite their frustration and exhaustion, those healers forged forward. Even as the villagers denied the presence of The Great Invader and his ability to inflict great pain and suffering. Even as village elders succumbed. Even as a life-saving potion could have stopped The Invader. Denial raged like a virus in the village and through-out The Land of Plenty.

At the Office of Truthfulness, efforts continued to share information about the life-saving potion and its availability through-out the land. But the villagers would hear none of those truths. They listened instead to The Village Know-It-All, who spouted of poison and control and loss of personal freedom. Swallow a potion reserved for swine and other livestock, he suggested to those who encountered The Great Invader. But, above all, never ever publicly acknowledge that the rulers of the kingdom, or those in The Ministry of Health, cared about anyone other than themselves, The Know-It-All impressed upon his believers. The leaders and officials, he claimed, desired to overtake the villages, to trample upon the villagers, to steal their individual rights.

Meanwhile, villagers continued to fall ill. The Great Invader felt comfortably at home in remote rural regions where few accepted the preventative powers of a powerful potion. Even as elders and others lay dying, wheezing and struggling to breathe, their loved ones denied the presence of The Great Invader. They attributed the illness to unknown spores and pollen from a poisonous plant. They would not credit the source cited by the village caregivers, for to do so would undermine their beliefs, their integrity. Their credibility.

A PLAN

And so, in their anger at The Ministry of Health, the Office of Truthfulness and those relentless caregivers, the villagers hatched a plan. On a sunny afternoon, they rallied at the town square. And then, wheelbarrows heaped with rotting tomatoes, they wheeled along cobblestone streets to The Village Center for Healing. There they waited, en-masse, for the healers to emerge after a long shift of tending the ill. And when the first caregivers exited, the villagers began lobbing orb after orb after orb of decaying fruit toward the weary healers. Smack. Smack. Smack.

The villagers felt empowered. How dare anyone tell them their loved ones, friends and neighbors had succumbed to The Great Invader. They knew better. It was all a lie. The virus. The effectiveness of some unknown potion. Lie. Lie. Lie. So they wedged their way among the cots filled with the sick and dying and emptied their wheelbarrows of rotting tomatoes typically reserved for swine.

COVID-19 virus. Photo credit: CDC

MY DEAR READERS, in every story truth exists, this one no exception. In a statement last week, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm shared her anger about mistreatment of hospital staff by COVID-19 patients and families who don’t believe they or their loved ones have the virus.

Minnesota remains in a precarious point in this pandemic with few ICU, pediatric and other hospital beds open. A northwestern Minnesota family lost a loved one recently after he was unable to get transferred from a small town hospital to a facility with a higher level of care due to no ICU bed availability. An extended family member of mine was also unable to be transferred to a Mayo hospital in Rochester due to no beds. That’s reality. On Saturday, my neighbors buried their father, who died of COVID.

As The Great Invader/COVID-19 continues to rage, I urge you to get vaccinated if you are not yet vaccinated. Too many continue to get seriously ill and/or die. As I read stats here in Minnesota, the ages of those who are dying of COVID includes not just seniors, but increasingly those much younger. This virus does not discriminate. We need to think beyond our individual selves to the health and safety of the broader, collective community. We need to care about others—from our most vulnerable eldest and health-compromised to our youngest, who cannot yet be vaccinated.

Please also continue to mask up, whether vaccinated or not. Social distance. Stay home if you are sick. Most of all, care like you are part of a community.

Click here to read posts from my series about The Great Invader. Note that I moderate all comments on this, my personal blog, and choose which to publish and which not to publish.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

As words fly, The Great Invader presses on September 30, 2021

COVID-19 virus. Photo source CDC/Alissa Edkert, MSMI; Dan Higgins MAMS, 2020

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the villagers determined they’d had enough of the restrictions, recommendations and mandates imposed during a far-reaching health emergency. The Great Invader be damned, they would live life like it was 2018, pre-intrusion into their quiet village lives.

And so they did. They gathered in the arenas. They gathered in the squares. They gathered in the taverns and around the hearth. They packed the marketplace. They crammed into wagons and traveled hither-and-yon without worry. They cared only about their own happiness. No one, not even the Ministry of Health or the rulers of the kingdom, would tell them what they could and could not do.

DENIAL

Despite their best efforts, there was no denying The Great Invader’s presence in the land, even in the smallest of villages. But the villagers would never publicly acknowledge that. Such validation would only undermine their integrity and cast them as supporters of the kingdom leadership. They would not defect or risk becoming outcasts among their own. So, if worry or doubt entered their minds, they dared not share their concerns.

Even in that state of outcry or denial, depending on perspective, the Ministry of Health continued to post documents from the Office of Truthfulness in the village square. Oftentimes The Village Know-It-All would rip down the official scrolls, especially those listing deaths caused by The Great Invader. He didn’t need The Counters in the village adding numbers and circulating the results.

FACT & FICTION

Stopping the flow of information from respected wordsmiths, though, proved much more difficult. The writers were relentless in penning pieces about The Great Invader and his effect upon the people of the kingdom. To counter their efforts, The Village Know-It-All began posting his own carefully crafted stories for all to see. He was especially skilled in the art of manipulation. Whatever he wrote would be quickly repeated as the truth. He held that type of power.

OPPORTUNITY GALORE

The Great Invader, who could be everywhere and anywhere simultaneously, recognized opportunity when he saw it. He would up his efforts to invade the villages, to sicken the villagers, to cause pain and suffering. And even death. His job would be so much easier among those who refused to believe the Office of Truthfulness, who spread false information and who refused to take a life-saving potion available throughout the kingdom. He felt giddy with anticipation as he continued his invasion. This was proving much easier than he ever hoped, ever dreamed, ever thought possible in The Land of Plenty.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

AS COVID-19 CASES continue to surge, here are some recent headlines from Minnesota media sources, plus one from Minnesota-North Dakota. Please, if you are unvaccinated, get vaccinated. Please wear a mask in public or in close proximity indoors to those outside your immediate circle, regardless of vaccination status. Be safe. Be well. Care about others. We need to stop The Great Invader/COVID-19.

Local hospitals see record patient volume in emergency departments—Faribault Daily News

The number of schools in Minnesota with confirmed COVID-19 cases has tripled twice in the last two weeks. What’s going on?—MinnPost

“How will we keep going like this?” School nurses, staff worry about burnout—Minnesota Public Radio

Hundreds of U of M faculty want stronger vaccine policies—Minnesota Public Radio

Protestors Demonstrate Against Vaccination Mandates Thursday in Redwood Falls—KLGR radio

Carris Health—Redwood Hospital and Clinic Reinstates COVID Visitor Restrictions—KLGR radio (posted on the same date as the protest story)

Avera Marshall reopens drive-up COVID testing as need grows—The Marshall Independent

Latest surge wears on Carris Health—Rice Memorial Hospital staff 18 months into the pandemic—West Central Tribune (Willmar)

Trending rise of COVID-19 continues in Morrison County—Morrison County Record

As hospitals struggle amid delta surge, North Dakota puts extra ambulances on stand-by—The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

North Dakota baby’s nearly fatal fight with COVID-19 signals new risk to children—The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

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Click here to read my previous posts in this series about The Great Invader. Note that I moderate all comments on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling