It’s been a difficult, heartrending year. Actually, more than 20 long, sometimes-painful months have passed since COVID-19 shut us down, decimated global economies, threw our lives into disarray, and started taking away our loved ones. More than 770,000 have died in the U.S. alone. In Minnesota, the death toll is nearing 10,000 this Thanksgiving holiday. And in St. Louis County, where more than 27,000 of us have battled the disease, nearly 400 have perished.

Nonetheless, there are many things Northland residents can be thankful for today. Even this year we can go around the table multiple times, taking turns ticking off reasons for gratitude.

Since everyone does top-10 lists, how about 10 reasons here and now for our appreciation this holiday? As you gather in-person, in-spirit, or virtually with loved ones today, feel free to add to this list. Treat it as a jumping-off point for remembering, acknowledging, enjoying, and embracing our countless blessings.

No. 1: It has to be vaccinations against COVID-19. Rolled out in record time, thanks to Operation Warp Speed, and still with all the scrutiny and testing all vaccines receive, the jabs were a game-changer this spring. But not yet enough of a game-changer with approximately one-third of Minnesotans yet to make the decision to get vaccinated. Until they do, getting control of the virus’ spread remains difficult. Encouragingly, vaccinated Duluthians are flocking for booster shots, if wait times for appointments are an indication.

No. 2: In the midst of a pandemic and with political and other divisions as polarizing as ever, let’s not overlook the many simple, everyday things that enrich our lives but go largely unacknowledged: family and real friends, a traffic light staying green when we’re in a hurry, the sun bursting out after an otherwise-gloomy day, and even sleeping in on occasion are all worth taking a moment to appreciate.

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No. 3: Our recovering jobs outlook. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell close to pre-pandemic levels last week, as Reuters and others reported. It’s quite the turnaround after millions were laid off when the pandemic forced businesses and industries to limp along and even close.

No. 4: Kids back in school. Many may be required to wear masks, which actually is a pretty small concession and sacrifice, but far more school-aged kids this year than last year have a shot at academic success because they’re learning in-person. Give educators credit for their heroic efforts to teach virtually, but distance learning left far too many students behind.

No. 5: Duluth’s record-setting miles of road repairs. Nearly 17 miles are expected to get fixed next year, which will be nearly 40% more than this year and almost seven times the 2.5 miles of repairs that were being done annually before 2017. That was the year Duluth voters overwhelmingly approved a new half-percent sales tax exclusively for city streets. The dedicated tax is expected to generate about $7.25 million in 2022, the News Tribune reported in October.

No. 6: Our present political reprieve. The Duluth City Council and Duluth School Board races this fall were interesting but thankfully lacked the nastiness and political vitriol of national and even, more and more, statewide races. Distasteful politics no doubt will mark the midterms. But those aren’t until next year. Appreciate the peace while you can.

No. 7: Finally, snow-emergency declarations in Duluth. After putting it off because city money had to be spent on more urgent things in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, an estimated 2,800 signs went up this year along some 120 miles of snow-emergency routes. To receive emails or texts when a snowstorm is turning into a crippling and dangerous blizzard, go to duluthmn.gov/northlandalert/ to sign up.

No. 8: Our enviable outdoors. From fat-tire biking to surfing in November to ATV riding to simple hikes along the Superior Hiking Trail to the beauty of the North Shore to sunrises over Lake Superior, every time we're outside around here we’re surrounded by reminders to be thankful.

No. 9: Our rich arts, including our own symphony; ballet company; and professional, community, college, and high school theater companies. There are so many opportunities here for creative people. That now also includes filmmakers, after the Minnesota Legislature this year wisely and finally created a Hollywood-attracting film production tax credit. Duluth seems especially ready to cash in with the Catalyst Story Institute locating here in 2018.

No. 10: How we all work together after a snowstorm. How we pitch in when someone needs a hand. How quick we are with directions or whatever else others need. And how we all come together to offer our input and insights on issues that determine our shared futures, ensuring that the path forward belongs to everyone.

Finally, grape salad on every Minnesotans' table today. OK, this one's a joke — and No. 11 in what was supposed to be a top 10. With so much for Northland residents to be thankful for, it's no surprise 10 was too limiting.

This isn't a joke: the wish that those you love are part of your Thanksgiving celebration today — whether in-person, virtually, or in your hearts — and that the mood is joyful and filled with gratitude.