Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on 2021 December 31, 2021

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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

 

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

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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

 

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

 

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

 

Into the fire September 20, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2021, used for illustration only.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the disbelieving villagers decided they’d had enough. They’d had enough of the Ministry of Health and its ongoing efforts to keep The Great Invader from continuing his march across the land. They were weary of being told what to do. They were weary of anything that limited their freedom. They were simply not going to listen. They would live their lives as they wished, unencumbered. And so they did.

Most, but not all, carried on as usual despite increasing reports of illnesses and deaths caused by The Great Invader. They didn’t fear him. After all, they’d gone this long without encountering him. Why worry now? They mocked those who expressed concern. They dismissed the daily lists of dead posted on multiple scrolls in the village square. They ignored, too, the stories of healers overwhelmed by the sick now lying on cots in the streets. They refused to listen to anyone who expressed even the slightest concern about the health of the kingdom.

INTO THE FIRE

Yet, despite their best efforts, they could not completely squelch the stories that circulated. It was rumored that The Great Invader had infected many in the region who refused a life-saving potion that would protect them. It was rumored, too, that many of the children in neighboring villages (and perhaps some of their own) had also fallen ill. And when a representative of the Ministry of Health tacked official documents from the Office of Truthfulness onto a post in the village square proving the stories were fact, not rumor, they ran him out of town. They built a roaring fire, ripped down the scrolls and burned the words of truth to ashes.

They would have none of this They danced in the square, hands joined in celebration. They sang, their boisterous voices rising. And when they grew weary from all the song and dance, they crammed onto long plank benches and drank their fill of ale. Their tongues loosened. Spittle flew. And they determined that no one, not even The Great Invader, held power over them or their village.

AND THEN…

Days later, The Village Know-It-All, who led the local anti-Ministry of Health campaign and subsequent celebrations, fell ill. The villagers heard him hacking, his voice raspy with phlegm. He looked unwell. Pale. Weak. Perhaps even running a fever. Snot dripped from his nose. Still, his adoring admirers circled close as he barked at them in a hoarse voice. He instilled fear in most. Few dared challenge him.

Yet some in the village, noticing his declining health, discreetly distanced themselves from a man they’d never liked, whom they secretly considered a bully of low intelligence. Doubt crept into their thoughts. And they began to wonder if perhaps the Ministry of Health officials had been right all along. Perhaps The Great Invader had infiltrated their village. If only they’d read fully the words of warning posted in the village square. If only they’d chosen truth over fire.

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NOTE: In every story, truth exists, this one no exception. As The Great Invader (COVID-19/delta variant) continues to ravage The Land of Plenty and beyond, please choose truth. Take care. Be safe. Be well. Think before you dance or sing in the village square. And, above all, care for one another, especially our children, our seniors and those who are health-compromised.

This marks the fourth in my ongoing series about The Great Invader. Click here to read my previous three posts.

NOTE: I moderate all comments on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on Labor Day 2021 September 3, 2021

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Portraits of industrial workers stretch along the Madison-Kipp building in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

WITH LABOR DAY only days away, I’m reflecting on employment. Not the unofficial end of summer or the start of school. But on jobs.

I can’t recall a time when jobs seemed so abundant, when businesses can’t find enough workers.

One look at my local paper and shopper shows postings for transit bus drivers, sandwich makers, managers, truck drivers, construction workers, nursing assistants, housekeepers, maintenance people, a city finance clerk, sports reporter, mortgage banker, cylinder delivery driver, pharmaceutical researchers, direct care staff, meat market counter help, digital media specialist, appraiser, engineering tech, bilingual-Somali eligibility worker and more.

Companies are offering sign-on bonuses, free food, enticing benefits and better wages. Not that these higher wages are high enough to meet the ever-growing cost of living in a community like mine with a housing shortage. In both rental and home ownership. I expect many in Faribault struggle to manage monthly rent of $831-$1,315, for a two-bedroom apartment, for example.

Many, despite full-time employment, struggle also to put food on the table, to afford healthcare, and more. Life is not vacations and dining out and having the newest and the best for many. Rather, it’s about getting by and budgeting and shopping thrift stores and stretching dollars until they stretch no more. This is reality.

Strong, determined, skilled… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

The gap between the haves and the have-nots seems as wide as ever. And often that distance exists not for a lack of hard work, but rather in the differing values placed on jobs. Or disparities that exist due to greed. Or a lack of appreciation for the knowledge and skills of hands-on laborers, especially, versus white collar workers.

The pandemic, too, has challenged the work force in ways we’ve never experienced. I feel, especially, for those who work in healthcare (namely hospitals), who are overwhelmed by the stress and pressures of caring for COVID patients. I can only imagine how disheartened they feel as cases surge, when it didn’t need to be this way. I can only image how disheartened they feel when dying patients and their families continue to deny the realities of this deadly virus.

That each window focuses on one worker highlights their importance. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

I am grateful for all those “essential workers” who continued to go to work when others could stay home and work from the safety of their home offices. Workers like my husband, an automotive machinist. Workers like my cousin, a grocery store cashier. Workers like another cousin, a nurse. Workers like my second daughter, who lost her job as a contract Spanish medical interpreter early in the pandemic and now works as a full-time letter carrier.

Faribault’s newest mural, LOVE FOR ALL, created by Minneapolis artist Jordyn Brennan. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I appreciate, too, the creatives who continue to create during the pandemic. The writers. The artists. The poets. The photographers. The musicians. I think, in the midst of lockdowns and lack of direct access to the arts, we began to understand the value of the arts to our mental health. Art heals. Art provides an escape. Art encourages and uplifts. We need art.

And so this Labor Day, my gratitude for the workforce runs high. But I’m also grateful for the unpaid workers—the volunteers—who serve with compassion and care. They, too, labor, giving from their hearts and souls to help their communities.

I value workers. Paid. And unpaid. Thank you for all you do to make this world a better place.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on COVID-19 in Rice County August 12, 2021

From the front page of the April 17, 2020, Faribault Daily News.

ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 14, family and friends of the Rev. Craig Breimhorst will gather to celebrate his life during a long-delayed funeral. This husband, father of three, grandfather of seven, and spiritual and community leader died on April 16, 2020. His death marked the first COVID-related fatality in my county of Rice.

I remember well the shocking headline in the local newspaper: Faribault pastor dies from COVID-19 complications. That singular head and the story that followed shook me and imprinted upon me the seriousness of this virus. This was no longer a virus an ocean away or half a country away in New York. This was here. In Minnesota. In my county. In my community.

MORE THAN NUMBERS, THESE WERE INDIVIDUALS WHO LOVED & WERE LOVED

And now here we are, nearly 1 ½ years later and the virus still rages. Since Breimhorst’s death, an additional 112 Rice County residents have died from COVID. I knew some of those individuals or had connections to them. The most recent death—an individual between the ages of 45-49—was reported on Wednesday.

Still, despite that death count of 113, despite 351 hospitalizations (62 in ICU ranging in age from three months to 95), despite 8,425 cumulative COVID cases (as of Wednesday) in Rice County, there are still doubters. Still anti-vacciners. Still those who refuse to wear masks, or argue/complain about wearing masks. Still those who cannot look beyond themselves and their agendas to the health and safety of their friends, families, neighbors, and, yes, even strangers.

SHOWING WE CARE. OR NOT.

Now more than ever with the highly-contagious and more serious delta variant, we need to care. And take care. Breimhorst’s online obituary ends with this requirement: Everyone not vaccinated of all ages are requested to wear a mask (at the funeral). Among Rice County residents ages 12 and older, 60.7 percent are fully-vaccinated, according to data listed by the Centers for Disease Control. Additional stats show 52.3 percent of the county’s population fully-vaccinated. That leaves a lot of unvaccinated people in Rice County. Too many by choice. And then those under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination and have no choice.

PLEASE, WEAR A FACE MASK

Rice County remains in the high community transmission category for COVID. And that is leading our local school district to rethink its “no masks when school starts” stand of just a few weeks ago. The Faribault School Board will vote soon on whether to require masks of staff and students when classes resume. We, as a community, owe it to our kids to protect them, to offer the safest and healthiest environment possible in which to learn. I cannot even fathom why anyone would object to masks to protect our children, especially. But then I can’t fathom either why people refuse vaccination.

A recent article in the Faribault Daily News quotes local student representatives saying that students feel wearing masks “is a small request…if it means staying in school in person.” Additionally, those reps state that vaccine hesitancy “seems to come from parents more than students themselves.” That doesn’t surprise me. Even though I don’t have kids in school, I still care about kids in Faribault.

I feel thankful for businesses, churches and others who are now asking, even requiring, the public (both vaccinated and unvaccinated) to wear face masks in an effort to stop the spread of COVID. Rice County is once again requiring face coverings to be worn in all county government buildings. And, yes, I’m definitely masking in indoor public places, adding another layer of protection to my vaccine protection. I don’t want to get a break-through case of COVID and then perhaps unknowingly spread COVID to my friends, family, neighbors or strangers. I feel a strong sense of personal, social and community responsibility.

I would like to think that I am also honoring the Rev. Craig Breimhorst by masking. A line in his obit reads: With Craig, love always won and love will always win. Those are words to ponder, to take to heart as this pandemic rages, to remember that love is more than a word. It is an action.

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NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine or anti-masking, please do not comment. I moderate all comments and will not give voice to those views on this, my personal blog. My stands on wearing face masks and vaccination are rooted in care. And in love.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Together”: Doesn’t seem that way August 4, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

ON PAGES 444 and 445 of my 2003 Webster’s New World Thesaurus, I read synonyms for the word together. (Jointly) collectively, unitedly, commonly…

Clearly, together means everyone working toward a common goal/purpose for the good of all.

Many times people have come together, especially during disasters, to help others. I recall when my second daughter traveled twice to New Orleans to help with clean-up after Hurricane Katrina. Recently, rescuers worked tirelessly to find victims and survivors following the collapse of a condo in Surfside, Florida. Locally, folks are providing financial support for a professional juggler who broke both wrists after falling from a ladder during a performance.

These examples of togetherness, rooted in genuine care for others, encourage me. They give me hope. They uplift me.

Together and togetherness as defined in the Fourth Edition of Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

DISHEARTENED & FRUSTRATED

As I reflect further, though, I grow disheartened. Disheartened because, as much as the “We’re all in this together” motto defines many official/marketing statements about COVID-19, I don’t feel it. I don’t see it. I don’t experience it. Perhaps it’s time for public health officials and others to ditch the word together as it relates to this global pandemic.

I suggest tapping into personal experiences, sharing the stories of those who’ve experienced COVID at its worst, to perhaps reach those who remain skeptics about every facet of this virus and vaccines. Stories hold power in a way that generalizations don’t.

Like many, I feel such frustration that COVID is now back full force in the much more contagious and deadly delta variant. This didn’t need to happen…if only people would get vaccinated. I’m thankful to read that vaccination rates are rising. I hope that continues.

In the meantime, my county of Rice is among 45 (as of Monday) Minnesota counties in the high or substantial risk categories for community transmission of COVID. The Minnesota Department of Health, following CDC guidelines, recommends everyone (regardless of vaccination status), wears a face mask indoors in public settings. Yes, even those of us who are vaccinated can spread the virus, which is why we, too, must mask.

FINALLY

Now some retailers, colleges, entertainment venues and more in Minnesota are embracing those CDC guidelines and reinstating masking. For that I feel great gratitude.

My healthcare provider has also joined a growing number of providers requiring vaccination of all employees. Finally. I have never understood how anyone in the medical profession (and that includes those working in long-term care and assisted living) can, ethically or morally, continue to care for patients/residents while unvaccinated. And, looking at it from a patient perspective, I don’t want an unvaccinated nurse/doctor/lab tech/whoever near me, even if I am vaccinated.

One source for the definition of “together.” Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

WHAT HAPPENED TO KEEPING STUDENTS SAFE?

That brings me to education. I really struggle with preschool-high schools that are not requiring students and staff to wear face masks going into the new school year. I fail to understand that thinking. Our public health officials tell us that masking is one very basic, and easy, way to help stop the spread of COVID. My concern focuses primarily on those under age 12, who can’t yet be vaccinated. Schools owe it to children, like my 5-year-old granddaughter, to implement the strongest health and safety protocols possible. Teachers fought last year for the best protection for themselves, and rightly so. Protecting our kids is equally as important.

When I hear people say, “Well, just keep your child home or send them to school in a mask,” I cringe. Most parents want their kids in the classroom. And putting the burden of protecting himself/herself on a young child seems pretty selfish and childish behavior on the part of adults. Most kids prefer to “fit it” with their peers. A parent may send their child to school with the directive to “wear your mask.” But we all know that doesn’t mean they will, especially if masking is optional and their classmates are mask-less.

Where’s the compassion, the care, the willingness to provide access to education for all in a safe school environment? It’s best, from a health and safety perspective, to require (rather than recommend) face masks in schools for everyone.

So, yeah, I’m not seeing much togetherness during this global pandemic. I’m disheartened. I’m disappointed. And, yes, I’m even angry. I feel like, just as we were making progress in ending the pandemic, we are now back to START, farther than ever from the FINISH LINE. I’m beyond frustrated. (Just like Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.)

That all said, we can decide, right now, to work together. to mask up, to get vaccinated, to make choices that protect ourselves and each other. To end this pandemic sooner rather than later.

NOTE: I welcome readers’ comments. However, if you are anti-vaccine or anti-mask, I will not give voice to those viewpoints on this, my personal blog. As always, with any posts, I screen/moderate comments and determine which I will, or won’t, publish.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling