Those words frame my thoughts this Wednesday morning. Words that need, and I fully expect, to be followed by positive actions.
We hold within our nation, and within ourselves, the ability to reclaim that which we’ve seemingly lost—decency, kindness, empathy…
A year ago, I stuck four word magnets onto my refrigerator door to create this phrase: ask like you care. The directive reminds me to listen, really listen. The directive reminds to to react with empathy when I ask others, “How are you?” The directive reminds me that, if I don’t really care about the answer, then I shouldn’t ask the question.
I’m big on listening, which differs vastly from hearing. The act of hearing is simply sound reaching our ears. Listening focuses on the message, the person. It’s an art, a skill, and not all that difficult to practice. Listening inspires conversation. Listening builds and strengthens relationships. It places the focus on others, not ourselves.
Today, on this Wednesday morning, I hold hope for the possibilities of healing, peace and so much more.
He inspired. He uplifted. He encouraged. He used words, like those spoken in his “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, to affect change. “I have a dream…my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Change came in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Change came in shifting attitudes and edging toward equality. Yet, we still have a long ways to go. Peaceful protests during the past year, especially, underscore the social injustice issues that still exist in our society. So do the many Black Lives Matter signs I’ve photographed in recent months.
In my own southern Minnesota community, I’ve observed, listened to, read of the challenges our Somali immigrant families face. In language barriers. In educational disparity. In housing. In prejudice. Many organizations, like the Faribault Diversity Coalition, local churches, schools, St. Vincent de Paul, government agencies and more, are reaching out, helping, supporting. For that I feel grateful.
But we also need to step up individually—speaking up, for example, when we hear derogatory remarks about our new neighbors or anyone of color. I admit to not always voicing my objections, although I often do.
I regret not speaking to a young man who, for months, flew a Confederate flag (along with an American flag) on the back of his pick-up truck. I worried how he would react if I approached him. Thankfully, he eventually removed this blatant public symbol of hatred/racism. I was relieved. Still, the root issues remain. And, as troubling as this Confederate flag was to me, I can only imagine how disconcerting, threatening and offensive this felt to anyone of color in my community.
Yes, much still remains to be accomplished. But we have made progress. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr set us on the course nearly 70 years ago as did others in the Civil Rights Movement. A peaceful course. As one coming of age in the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s, I gravitated to the word peace. It was everywhere, especially in the peace symbol. Many decades later, I still hold that word close to my heart. Peace. Just give peace a chance.
In the words of King: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
And more inspiring words from this Nobel Peace Prize winner and Civil Rights Movement leader: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
FYI: The Faribault Diversity Coalition celebrates its 7th annual Martin Luther King Day Breakfast with a virtual event from 9 – 10 am today. Click here for details. In neighboring Northfield, the Human Rights Commission will hold a virtual event themed to “In This Together” at 7 pm. Click here for info.
AS I PONDERED TODAY’S POST, even considered not writing one because I feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained from the events of January 6 inside our nation’s Capitol, I remembered messages I photographed back in June.
The messages, posted on the side of the historic Congregational Church of Faribault United Church of Christ, are worth our focus. They are a reminder that we, as human beings, can strive to protect, care for, forgive, share, embrace and love.
We can choose those actions over destruction, neglect, animosity, selfishness, separation and hate.
I feel such sadness, mixed with hope, over all that has transpired in recent days. I sense that most Americans, including me, will now hold a deeper appreciation for democracy. For freedom. Perhaps we (or at least I) have become too complacent.
It would do us all good to review the suggestions posted at Faribault’s Congregational Church. To reflect. And then to put into practice those very basic principles of common decency and kindness. And to remember that what we think, say and write, and how we act, matters. Just like it did in 1776.
I CRAVE LIGHT, especially now, in the deep of winter, in the darkness of these difficult days.
When I awaken in the dark of a January morning here in southeastern Minnesota, I switch on lamps, flick on light switches, filling the house with artificial light. And then, as the sun emerges, I throw open window coverings to reveal grey skies or sometimes brilliant sunshine.
In the evening, when black once again descends, I reverse the routine—close the blinds and curtains, switch lamps and lights back on. I need light flooding the house. To cook. To read. As I’ve aged, my vision has worsened. Some evenings my tired eyes cross to double vision, making reading difficult or impossible. I underwent surgery at age four to correct that problem. But now it’s resurfacing along with cataracts.
Thanks, though, to the kindness of Ruth, a blogger friend from Pittsburgh, I’m finding evening reading easier. She gifted me with a flexible OttLite floor lamp that now floods my reading space with bright light. It’s helped. A lot. What a dear and thoughtful Christmas gift from a friend I’ve never even met.
Light, whether shone through kindness or shone from an actual physical source, is a gift.
A few days ago, Randy gave me the gift of light by stringing white Christmas lights across our patio. He pulled the lights from storage as we packed away holiday decorations. Now, when darkness overtakes daylight as I prepare supper, I can look out the kitchen window to those festive lights. They bring me joy—in their brightness and in the love that motivated Randy to string them there.
Kindness shines in loving acts like those of Randy and Ruth. And that of our eldest daughter, who each Christmas gifts us with a personalized calendar featuring photos of our dear, darling grandchildren. Seeing their sweet faces in those images brightens my days. It’s the perfect gift. Full of love and joy and light.
Likewise, words also shine light. Kind words. Encouraging words. Uplifting words. Whether written in a comment on this blog, emailed or spoken, thoughtful and appreciative messages always bring me joy. I am grateful. Thank you for shining light into my life.
TELL ME: How has someone shone light into your life? I’d like to hear your stories. And I challenge you, today, to shine light into someone’s life and to continue that kindness in a world in dire need of light.
COVID-19 DEFINED 2020. No question about that. Yet, even as many aspects of life changed, we continued onward, facing the challenges. The isolation. The separation. The very real effect the virus had on humanity—in the hospitalizations and deaths of family, friends, neighbors…individuals who loved and were loved. In the loss of jobs, and that includes job loss for me. In the loss of life as we once experienced it.
Through it all, though, I’ve continued to write about and photograph the world around me for this blog. In a more limited way, for sure. In a way that stretched me and grew me and focused my eyes and my heart on the simpler things in life. My appreciation for nature, something as ordinary as a walk in the woods, took on new meaning. Outdoors marked one place I could feel safe, distanced from COVID-19. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally.
So, it comes as no surprise really that my year-in-review photo picks for 2020 theme mostly to nature images. I scrolled month-by-month through my posts, choosing one favorite photo per month. Each image represents more than a scene or moment captured through my camera lens. Each represents a story, a part of my life. An experience. A gift.
Early FEBRUARY brought eight inches of snow in a single storm. And since weather shapes our lives here in Minnesota, I picked a photo of my husband blowing snow from our driveway for my February photo. It’s the perspective of this frame, taken while holding my camera low and angling it up, that makes this image.
As the months passed, I soon realized this thing—this pandemic—would continue. In APRIL, my granddaughter celebrated her fourth birthday, not with friends at an indoor play space, but rather on the driveway watching as her little friends passed by in their parents’ vehicles. Horns honking. Little hands waving. Randy and I continued to frequent outdoor spaces like Faribault Energy Park. Although located next to noisy and busy Interstate 35, it is one of my favorite local parks for the gravel paths, the ponds, the waterfowl, the flowers, the prairie grasses and other plant life.
MAY. In Minnesota, this month represents the shifting of seasons, the greening of the land, the eruption of buds, the dawning of warmer days. By May, I crave color. Paula, a native Minnesotan living in Holland, surprised me with a shipment of tulip bulbs in a pot. What joy. The bulbs sprouted and stretched at a rapid rate until soon buds formed and then popped in vivid hues. What a gift from a fellow blogger whom I’ve never met but have grown to appreciate through her writing and photography. She is a kind soul, down-to-earth and genuine.
My focus on nature continued into JUNE as Randy and I explored area parks and our ever dear River Bend Nature Center. At Falls Creek County Park just outside Faribault, I was surprised to find the creek running clear, not all that common in this part of Minnesota. So I aimed my camera downward to the creek bottom, capturing my June photo pick. There’s something about water…
In this year 2020, so much has shifted. My photos represent that change. Yet one thing remains constant—my love for writing and for photography. Thank you for reading Minnesota Prairie Roots, for appreciating the work I do here as I follow my passions.
Please check back for my year-in-review photo picks from July-December 2020.And, if you’re so inclined, please tell me what you most enjoy reading and seeing here on Minnesota Prairie Roots.
AS RANDY AND I DISCUSSED YET another issue with our aging vehicles over dinner, I glanced at the painting on our dining room wall. “Sometimes I wish we got around by horse and buggy,” I said. “Life would be simpler.”
Or would it? There would be horses to feed, wagons or sleighs to fix, manure to pitch from a barn we don’t have. And our travel would be limited. Nah, wouldn’t work.
So we continue to keep our 2003 Chevy Impala with 276,000 miles and our 2005 Dodge Caravan with some 175,000 miles in running order. Or should I say Randy does? He’s an automotive machinist (that’s different than a mechanic) and is pretty darned skilled in vehicle maintenance and repair after 40+ years in the profession. This year he’s done brake work on both vehicles, put a new sway bar in the car and replaced a belt tensioner and belt, alternator and radiator in the van. Oh, and done regular oil changes.
Randy’s skills save us lots in labor costs. But parts alone, even with his work place discount, still ran $865.
I figured with all those repairs already this year, we were good to go for awhile. But then Randy texted recently that the heater in the car wasn’t working. He had one long, cold 22-minute commute to work. He thought the problem may be a blown fuse. It wasn’t. And, not being skilled in the electrical components of a vehicle or wanting to navigate repair inside/under the dashboard, he let the guys at Witt Bros Service in Northfield work their repair magic. They’re a great, trustworthy crew, located across the parking lot from Randy’s work place. Still, sinking $200 (most of that in parts) into a nearly 18-year-old car gives reason to pause. But, hey, where can you buy a well-maintained used car for that price?
Now, if we weren’t paying $1,868/month in health insurance premiums in 2021 (up $144/month from this year), we could drive newer, nicer vehicles. Thus far in 2020, we’ve forked out $20,447 for health insurance premiums with deductibles of $4,250/each. Sigh. Nearly $21,000 could go a long way toward paying for a vehicle upgrade or anything for that matter. But, hey, at least we have health insurance (that is basically worthless unless we have a major health event) and wheels, not horses, to get around.
CHRISTMAS 2020. What can I write that you haven’t already read? This year’s celebration will be much different as we adjust our plans due to COVID-19. Randy and I will gather with our eldest, her husband and our two darling grandchildren here in southeastern Minnesota. We won’t see our second daughter and her husband and our son living in Madison, Wisconsin, four hours away.
Is it disappointing? Of course, it is. We want to see everyone, to be together as a family. But we recognize that it’s best if we keep our distance. We don’t want to throw our caution of the past 10 months out the window, especially this close to vaccination. I remind myself of that often. And I remind myself also, that I still have family with whom I can celebrate. Nothing beats time with the grandchildren to shift your focus from what you’re missing to the joy right there beside you.
I know too many of you will be missing loved ones—lost this year to COVID or many other causes. I’m sorry for your losses. It hurts.
Yet, in all of these challenges, one thing remains unchanged about Christmas. And that is the birth of Christ. As a Christian, I reflect on this sweet baby come to earth with a plan of redemption. If not for my faith, I would struggle to face life’s challenges. That is my truth.
As I celebrate Christmas, I wish you the blessings of peace, love and joy. You, dear readers, bring me much joy by appreciating me and the work I do here on this blog. I value you. Your insights. Your kindness. Your friendship. Your care.
Of those who died in Rice County, Minnesota, to date, 25 lived in long-term care settings, 17 in private residences and five in prison.
My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones to this horrible virus. I’m sorry. Deeply sorry. That includes extended family and friends now without a sister, a father, a father-in-law, an uncle.
A POWERFUL LETTER BY A DAUGHTER
Recently, I read an especially touching letter to the editor penned by Linda Hoffman of neighboring Owatonna and published in my local newspaper. It was titled The virus takes its opportunity where it can find it. Linda recently lost her mother, a resident of a care facility, to COVID. She addresses the issue of people disregarding masking and other health and safety protocols. Linda emphasizes how the repeated message that, of those who died recently from COVID in Minnesota, “60% were residents of long-term care facilities and most had underlying health conditions” may create a false sense of security. Her point: this may partially explain why some people are not masking, thinking it’s just old people in nursing homes who are dying. They are wrong, she says, as she writes of how a young person running around with friends can pick up and spread the virus.
It’s a powerful letter that ends with this admonition to those who fail to mask up, who live life like there’s no pandemic, who complain about closed businesses and government restrictions:
So when you hear the news that 60% of COVID fatalities are residents of long-term care facilities with underlying health conditions, don’t think that you had nothing to do with their death.
Wow. That’s powerful.
I JUST DON’T GET IT.
Like Linda, I’m weary of ignorant attitudes, of the failure to wear face masks. Every time I’m out and about in Faribault, which isn’t all that often because I’m trying to stay healthy, I see people without masks or people wearing them below their noses. I’ve observed preschoolers wearing masks without a problem and then will pass by an adult with no mask. And most of the time, those mask-less individuals are young adults, who can often be asymptomatic and spread the virus.
I don’t understand how, after 47 deaths in my county, after 5,152 confirmed and probable cases of COVID, after 177 hospitalizations (with 35 in ICU), people still do not recognize the importance of masking, social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding gatherings and crowds to prevent and stop the spread of the virus.
I MISS MY MOM.
My 88-year-old mom (who is in hospice) and 90-year-old father-in-law live in care centers in other parts of Minnesota, in counties with incredibly high per capita rates of COVID. Their centers have been on lockdowns due to COVID cases more times than I recall. I want to visit my mom in-person, to hug her, hold her hand. I last did that in early March. But I understand the need to keep visitors away, to keep residents well. I would never risk giving my mom COVID and being responsible for her death.
I understand Linda’s anger penned in her letter. I feel her pain, appreciate her points. And I want to add that, even if 60% of Minnesota’s COVID deaths occurred in residents of long-term care centers, their lives are no less important. I value our elders. None of them should suffer and die, with or without family, from the virus.
Forty-seven individuals in my county, to date, have lost their lives due to COVID. It is incumbent upon each of us to follow health and safety guidelines to protect ourselves and others. Yes, vaccines are here and for that I feel grateful. Vaccinations take time, though. We need to commit to caring. About others, not just ourselves.
IT WAS A NICE GESTURE of gratitude. The free wedge of apple dessert pizza boxed in Styrofoam with a note of thanks handwritten in marker atop the cover.
This thankfulness for our patronage expressed by Basilleo’s 2.0, a Faribault pizzeria, impressed me. These are tough times to be in the restaurant and bar business. But yet Tom and Connie, co-owners of this homegrown eatery, took the extra time and effort to connect with customers in a personal way.
Basilleo’s has a long history in my community, tracing back to 1960 when brothers Basil and Leo Burger opened the pizza place. They combined their first names to come up with the catchy business name. Basilleo’s has long been a favorite local source of homemade thin crust pizza. Spicy Italian sausage remains our family’s top choice.
Randy and I last dined at Basilleo’s with friends on a Sunday evening in early March, the day before Minnesota Governor Tim Walz closed bars and restaurants due to COVID-19. We didn’t know then that this would mark our last time eating inside a restaurant in 2020. Yes, the governor later re-opened bars and restaurants, but with limited capacity. We opted out of in-person dining, choosing to occasionally do take-out. Like last Saturday evening, when Randy picked up our ready-to-go Italian sausage pizza at Basilleo’s along with a complementary slice of apple or cherry dessert pizza.
When Tom and Connie conveyed their gratitude through a simple handwritten message and a free slice of dessert, they made an impression. Their small act of kindness shows they value their customers. And, in these days of COVID-19, I welcome such thoughtfulness.
This Thanksgiving, more than ever, those seem important words to consider and then follow.
I’m thankful to my friend Beth Ann, who back in January, before 2020 evolved into the year of COVID-19, gifted me with a daily gratitude journal. It helped me then, and helps me now, to focus on reasons to feel thankful.
A quick look back to the beginning of the year shows a much different gratitude mindset as I wrote of thankfulness for photos of the grandkids, a handwritten letter, a comment from a blog reader that my images of rural Minnesota calm her, time with friends and more.
On March 7, I wrote, “Grateful for another opportunity to spend time with Mom.” I didn’t know it then, but this would mark the last time I stepped inside her care center room, hugged her, kissed her cheek. My heart hurts now every time I think of Mom. It’s an ache that never leaves, that rises sometimes unexpectedly to the surface in raw emotions. But then I reshift my thinking and consider how grateful I am that Mom is still with us, in the care of kind, caring and compassionate individuals who truly value her.
Shortly after that last in-person early March visit, everything changed. There would be no more visits inside the care center. Life as we once knew it changed due to COVID-19. My gratitude journal reflects that as my writing focused more on thankfulness for beautiful days outdoors, for mask mandates, for a stop at a winery, for country drives. And, more recently, for loved ones recovered from COVID-19, for a day that passes without news of another person I know infected with the virus.
In this year 2020, gratitude takes effort. But it’s still there. And this Thanksgiving, more than any, I feel grateful for my health, for my loved ones, for all the blessings that define my days.
Dear readers, I wish you a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving overflowing with gratitude.