Posts Tagged: aryn henning nichols

Q&A with Dr. Michael Osterholm

By Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Holiday + Winter 2020-21 Inspire(d)

Dr. Michael Osterholm / Photo courtesy Stuart Isett

Perhaps you’ve seen his name in the news: Dr. Michael Osterholm. The nationally renowned epidemiologist has been quoted or published in media outlets across the nation – from New York Times to Oprah – in regards to COVID-19 and other epidemics and disease-related news. He’s one of the many scientists who have been busy studying, researching, reporting facts, and trying to help the world deal with this outbreak.

And he happens to be from Northeast Iowa.

Dr. Osterholm is a Waukon native. He graduated from Waukon High School in 1971, and got a degree in biology – and a second in political science – from Luther College in Decorah in 1975. He then went on to earn two master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota and, finally, a doctorate in environmental health in 1980. After working at the Minnesota Department of Health as a graduate student, then as Minnesota’s state epidemiologist for 15 years, he eventually founded the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in 2001, which he continues to lead.

But how does one follow that path from Northeast Iowa? Epidemiology isn’t a profession you see on a regular basis around here.

According to Dr. Osterholm, epidemiology is basically “medical detective work,” and it’s something that has intrigued him ever since junior high (you’ll hear more about that below). Despite his fame in the field, and now, in the nation, he’s maintained his Midwestern accent and mannerisms – he even thanked me for my time, when he was clearly the one with a tighter schedule. He only had 15 minutes to spare for this interview before Zooming in on at least three more talks that day.

Read on to see all the topics we crammed in to that quarter of an hour – Dr. Osterholm’s background, Zoom sessions, thoughts on COVID-19, and how he likes to keep in touch, even through a pandemic.

Q&A with Dr. Michael Osterholm:

Why did you decide to get into epidemiology?

What happened was I had a close relationship with the woman married to the owner of the Waukon Newspaper, Laverne Hull. She was a real renaissance of a woman. She worked at the newspaper – really, she was part owner too – was multi-lingual – spoke French and English – had a masters in journalism, and subscribed to the New Yorker. She was someone who had a major influence on my life. She would give me these New Yorkers when she was done reading. There was a series of articles in there called the “Annals of Medicine” by Berton Roueché. And Berton Roueché was someone who was a constant storyteller. He would take these outbreak investigations and write them up as kind of “who done it” stories. I loved reading these, even when I was in seventh and eighth grade. Whenever she would get done with a copy, I would quick run and get it. So I even knew back in junior high that I wanted to be a medical detective. So that’s what I pursued.

Has it been as exciting as you thought it would be in seventh and eighth grade?

I had no idea – it was one of those things. It’s like me asking you what your life’s going to be like when you’re 60. It’s just one turn after another. The thing that was most remarkable is that Berton Roueché actually wrote up an outbreak investigation that I led in Southwestern Minnesota back in the 1980s. A thing called thyrotoxicosis, and it was his very last story he wrote before he died. I was able to tell him how he influenced my life, and say “thank you” for all he did for me.

And now we have COVID-19, a type of virus you predicted would happen in our lifetime in your 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs. Realistically, how long do you think we’ve got to go before we can be together again, COVID-19 carefree?

We just don’t know yet – clearly it’s going to be challenging in the coming months because we don’t really understand yet how well vaccines will work, we don’t know when people will actually get a vaccine, and how durable the immunity is, meaning will it last for a certain period of time. We just don’t know yet.

What are some things we can all do in order to get there faster?

So, it’s all about distancing, which is a very hard thing to get across to people. You know, it’s basically sharing the air with someone, someone who could be putting the virus out into that air. When you’re indoors, it’s very difficult to distance. Outdoors is easier, but it’s still a challenge.

And masking?

Masking is something everyone should do. I think anything we can do right now to minimize the risk of transmission, we should consider. We still don’t know how well it works; it’s likely just a thing that’s another layer, in effect. Distancing is still by far the most important thing you can do, but also just being aware of being in crowds – in the sense that it’s not just how far away you are from someone, but if I go and spend three hours indoors and I’m more than six feet away from someone, that doesn’t mean that I’ll be safe there. We have many outbreaks right now – bars and restaurants, funerals, weddings, family reunions, school-based activities that are indoors. All of these have led to big outbreaks, right here in the Midwest.

Do you think any number is safe? Less than 25? Less than 10?

There’s nothing magical about 10. It’s more about who your bubble’s with. For example, my partner and I are very bubbled together. So, you know, we can do whatever we want. People who are living together in one building – they can get together pretty routinely if they don’t have outside contact.

You’ve said numerous times you prefer to say physical distancing instead of social distancing – because we still must remain social through COVID-19. We love that. What are your favorite physical distancing activities that still allow you to be social?

 I don’t think there’s been a time in my adult life when social closeness has been more important. So I make sure I see my kids on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and be with them outdoors. I’ll give them each a 30-second hug, then back away at that point, and maintain at least a 10-foot distance outdoors. I go out for walks with my partner frequently in a park near where I live, and feel very comfortable holding her hand as we walk around the park and just staying, you know, at least 10 feet away from everybody outside and I don’t have any concerns at all.

Along those lines, how do you keep in touch with your relatives who are far away? Do you Zoom with them?

I Zoom with them a lot. And for work, too. I work with more than 30 people with our center, and we have our routine Zoom calls. I will often spend eight to 10 hours a day on Zoom.

Whoa, that’s got to be exhausting.

Yeah, it is. I mean, I’m giving a talk here in just a few minutes, and this will be my third talk of the day. And I’ve got three more to go yet before I’m done.

Yeah, you are highly sought after, I imagine.

Well, I can’t say that (laughs). Everything is virtual for me now. I haven’t left Minneapolis since March, which is a big change for me. I’m usually a 200,000-mile-a-year flier, but I haven’t been on a plane since March.

Do you miss it?

Ah, you know… I don’t. I miss the contact with all my friends and family that I once had, but I think travel is something you realize – once you’re not doing it – what it feels like to get off the gerbil wheel.

The theme of this issue of Inspire(d) is “Look for the Bright Spots”. Have you found some bright spots to these past months? Any you could share?

You know, I do a weekly podcast, The Osterholm Update: COVID-19. And with that, we have many thousands of people who download it and listen to it each week. The response we’ve gotten from this podcast… the feedback has been nothing short of remarkable. And it’s been a really positive thing to see all the acts of kindness that people do and follow up on. So I have to say that has probably been one of the really special things. There have been so many people that have done so many kind things. I think that we must not forget that despite what’s going on with this virus right now, there’s a tremendous amount of good in the world.

Find the Osterholm Update: COVID-19 podcast at www.cidrap.umn.edu/covid-19/podcasts-webinars or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or on YouTube.

Red Piglet

Photo by Nancy Lukes Photography

 

Introduction by Aryn Henning Nichols
Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2020 Inspire(d) 

Words, at their base, are simple. Just a series of letters placed in a certain order. Yet, in the right order, they can hold immense power. They can lift you up or tear you down; bring you hope or bring you to tears; inspire you to love yourself, and others. Words can motivate you to get up, every day, and keep. showing. up.

Mike Nelson with his wife, Jodi. Photo by Red Piglet

In 2013, when Mike Nelson founded Red Piglet, the mission from the start was to wield words for the good of the world. With messages like “Shift Status Quo,” “Radiate Love,” or “Observe Without Judgment,” the Calmar, Iowa-based business – specializing in apparel, cards, prints, stickers, mugs, and more – encourages people to see their own uniqueness and worth. This kind of mission is vital in times like these – and, frankly, all other times too. And for Mike, it all started with the simplest of tools: pencil and paper

“I’m one of those humans that have a note pad and pencil at my bedside for the sole purpose of documenting those ‘bright’ ideas that pop into my head at 2 am,” he says. “A night in 2010, I woke to the name ‘RED PIGLET.’  My mind started racing to the possibility of creating a Red Piglet brand. After 10 minutes, I popped out of bed, fired up the computer, and went straight to GoDaddy.com. RedPiglet.com was available. I couldn’t believe it. I purchased that URL on the spot.”

While Mike spent more than three years dreaming of the possibilities for Red Piglet, fear of failing kept him stuck. It was this very struggle of being “stuck” that inspired him to finally take the leap and launch Red Piglet in 2013. He wanted to help others get unstuck and pursue their passions and purpose.

Photo by Red Piglet

Mike, his wife, and three kids live in Northeast Iowa, where they, like many other people and businesses across the world, have pivoted to make things work during COVID-19. Originally booked for shows and markets each Saturday through summer and fall, the Red Piglet schedule is now much more open. The plus side for folks local to or traveling through Calmar, is that you can now find the Red Piglet Shop open more frequently (see sidebar for Open Shop Weekends).

Name: Mike Nelson
Age: 47
Business: Red Piglet
Years in Business: 7
Business address: 101 S. Charles St., Calmar, IA (across from the Fire Station)
Website: redpiglet.com

Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

I remember sitting in my car after a job interview and thinking, “My worth is not linked to others’ opinions, a career advancement or paycheck.” The chase was coming to an end.

I decided to shift my perspective and pursue a more purposeful life – to help people get unstuck by taking action with their lives. I proceeded to lead by example and got myself unstuck – I launched the Red Piglet brand.

Why “Encourage Uniqueness” as the foundation message for the Red Piglet brand?

I have a theory: People get stuck because they judge themselves. Why do they judge themselves?Because they compare their life in some fashion to other people’s lives. What happens when comparison takes place? Fear sets in and prevents us from pursuing our passions and gifts. You know, those things that make us happy. The truth is, we are all unique. No one can do what you do, in precisely the way that you do it. How miraculous is that? Be you, your authentic self. Everyone else is taken.

Photo by Nancy Lukes Photography

What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

I don’t have to wait for others to validate my decisions. I have 100 percent creative freedom, and I guide Red Piglet based on my life experiences, beliefs, and unique style. Who knows, I might reinvent the Red Piglet brand in a few years. Stay tuned.

How about the worst?

I love the ideation and execution process so much that sometimes I get carried away and find it difficult to cut designs for a launch. In the end, it might not be the best business decision because customers can get overwhelmed from too many options. I’m getting better at reigning myself in and learning from my business mistakes.

What/Who inspires you?

My wife, who is a talented maker and wonderful mother to our children, kind photographers that have a unique eye and aren’t afraid to take creative risks, woodworkers, clay sculptors, A-frame cabins, garden studios, birds, birdhouses, barns, Black Angus cattle, Old School Country music (Waylon, Merle and George), typography, roached-out metal signs

How do you manage your life/work balance?

I’m just really grateful that my wife, Jodi (pictured with Mike on page 19), is patient and she handles the bookkeeping. Red Piglet is definitely a team gig. Most of my designing and order fulfillment starts at night after we tuck the kids in.

Any quotes that keep you going?

Many years ago, I read a book called Choose Yourself by James Altucher. He talked about his 1/3 Rule: “1/3 of the people in your life will like you (or like the products you are selling). 1/3 of the people in your life will dislike you (or dislike the products you are selling). And 1/3 of the people in your life will not care about you (or not care about the products you are selling).” That message was an a-ha moment and really stuck in my skull. Those words were a breath of fresh country air. I inhaled, exhaled like I meant it, and topped it off with a relaxed, ear-to-ear smile. IT’S TRUE, you can’t be all things to all people, no matter how hard to try. It taught me that I am not for everyone, and my Red Piglet products are not for everyone. I’m content with that. Just continue to be you. The people who are meant to cross paths with you will and they will definitely dig what you are cookin’. Be patient.

The cover on this magazine features a Red Piglet design: Keep Showing Up. What does this message mean to you?

You plug in your phone. Your eyes see the lightning bolt appear. All is right with the world when that connection is made with the electrical outlet. If you choose not to plug in your phone daily, the phone loses its purpose.

Well, think of yourself as a real-life, breathing smart phone. You store a ton of data. You multi-task every day. You are an intelligent, multi-purpose being. Think about how valuable you are to every person that you’re connected to.

Give yourself the same care and attention you give your phone, by recharging your battery every single day and showing up for yourself and the rest of us. We value you.

Photo by Nancy Lukes Photography

Any inspiration happening during the COVID-19 crisis?
All three of my NEW 2020 First Edition shirts were inspired by this pandemic crisis:

Pause and Appreciate: We get up early. We work out. We commute. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. We work all day. We rush to pick up the kids. Noise is knocking at your eardrums from all angles. Guilt creeps in and exhaustion sets in… And then, the pandemic and quarantine happens. The world pauses. We are forced to become present and appreciate what surrounds us. We open our eyes, look left, right, up and down. We watch the sun set. We gather for meals. We hear the giggles and see the smiles. The guilt fades away. Our bodies heal. We become our better selves in the midst of uncertain times.

HA, Laughter is the Best Medicine: We need it now more than ever. It decreases stress. It increases infection-fighting antibodies. It improves your resistance to disease. It releases endorphins. It promotes wellbeing and relieves pain. Surround yourself with the joke-tellers, the full-o-pep peeps, the funny-facer makers and the stand-up wannabes. Their wit will nurture your health and you will nurture theirs.

IOWA: Where Impossible is just an opinion: As a wild whipper snapper, my answer to grandpa was often “That’s Impossible!” when he assigned me a task beyond my pay-grade. His reply to my answer was always “Impossible is YOUR opinion, young man!” Grandpa never liked it when someone told him that something couldn’t be done. He didn’t care if you were young, old, or somewhere in-between. You see, that ol’ farmer blazed through the Great Depression, a few wars and several natural disasters, without a plan B in the back pocket of those weathered OshKosh B’goshes. He was a self-made doer that just made it happen without the gums flappin’. Grandpa was Pure Moxie! I know, I know “Moxie” is an old school word. Sorry, I can’t help myself. I’m an old soul with wit and it shows up on many of my designs.

“MOXIE” means: The ability to face difficulty with spirit, courage, and skill. If you have moxie, you won’t let a minor setback stop you from trying again, because you’re a determined person who doesn’t give up easily.

Since Red Piglet was born in 2013, I’ve traveled this fine state of Iowa and have had so many conversations with hard-working people that forge forward with a whole lot of moxie. To all the Iowans that do what others don’t think is possible, this shirt is for you.

Advice to help folks get “unstuck” now?

Life is a challenge right now. Our health, self-esteem, and bank accounts are taking a hit. Don’t judge yourself. This is a great time to reflect and possibly reevaluate your direction. Last year, I designed the T-shirt “Clarity is in the climb”. I think the Red Piglet meaning to this message fits nicely under this question.

Clarity is in the climb: Ahhh, good ol’ clarity. For me, clarity never shows up when I’m taking a stroll down easy street or when I’m coasting downhill. Hell no. Clarity happens when I’m pushing uphill. When I’m pulling myself out of hole. The harder I work towards something or the more I struggle… that’s when things become clear. The climb reminds me what’s important. The climb tells me what things to shed and what things are worth the hard-ass work.

What’s one positive outcome you see coming from this pandemic (for you or for the world)?

I believe all humans will be more grateful for their loved ones and more present in their daily connections. We have the freedom to inspire others with action. Let’s get moving and make the world a better place. Peace and love from Red Piglet.

Photo by Red Piglet

 

Check out the positive messages in person at Red Piglet open shop weekends in Calmar, Iowa. The remaining 2020 dates are below, and hours are Saturdays (9 am – 3 pm) and Sunday (10 am – Noon). Please follow Red Piglet on social media to double-check that open shop dates are still happening due to COVID-19. And remember, you can always shop online at redpiglet.com

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Inspire(d) Updates + BOGO Magazines!

Hello, dear Inspire(d) friends,

We’ve been having some tough-but-necessary conversations around our house lately – talk of Juneteenth, racism, Black Lives Matter, and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, talk about COVID-19 and what it means for our immediate and future lives, talk of business and money, and what we have to do to stay afloat – talk about the general (and understandable) unrest in the world right now.

To be clear, we here at Inspire(d) believe in everything that’s so concisely spelled out on those awesome signs going up in neighborhoods all around us: Black lives matter. No human is illegal. Love is love. Women’s rights are human rights. Science is real. Water is life. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

It’s on us to keep these conversations going. We can and need to do better, and it starts with talking, listening, reading, learning.

Know better; do better.

Ultimately, when we finish these tough conversations, I always try to come back to hope. With Roxie, I compared it to cleaning her room. She loves to reorganize her closet, where she’s made a home for her dolls. Everything comes out of the closet, dumped on the floor. The mess looks much worse than when she started, but then she’s able to carefully put things back in a way that makes more sense. In a way that’s better. And that’s what I hope we can do with this country – this is our chance to rebuild, reorganize, and make this country – this world – a better, more positive, and inclusive place.

Know better; do better.

Along the way, we need to remember there are good people all over doing the work, and we should read/tell/share their stories far-and-wide. That brings us to what WE’RE doing right now – to stay afloat, to do our part, and to better the world: We’re working on the next Inspire(d) Magazine!

Due to COVID-19, we had to adjust our 2020 production schedule. This next magazine will be a Summer/Fall Inspire(d), on stands July, August, September, and October. The following magazine will be a Holiday/Winter Inspire(d), on stands November, December, January, and February. We hope to be back to our normal quarterly schedule in 2021.

Please bear with us as we do our best to get this heartfelt magazine out into the world safely and effectively. We can’t wait to brighten your lives with the positive news of the Driftless world right now.

Want to make sure you get one? We’re doing a BOGO – Buy One/Give One – sale on membership (this is how you get Inspire(d) sent to you in the mail!)! Head over to our Inspire(d) Membership page to sign up. It’s $28 for you and a friend/loved one. We’ll make sure you and they get Inspire(d) in the mail for a year!

Thank you for believing in us and supporting positive news. We’re going to get through this stronger and better than before.

Looking forward,
Aryn

P.S. We got a new canine member of our family this spring – her name is Athena! She’s a bernedoodle, and the photo above is just two days after we got her in late April (she’s MUCH bigger already)! <3