Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Where do you get your news?


6/17/15 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Digital changes to our daily news sources

“Well, what shall I talk about? I ain’t got anything funny to say.
All I know is what I read in the newspapers.”
Will Rogers

This famous statement by renowned American humorist Will Rogers was originally used during his appearances in Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic shows in 1915. One hundred years later, it still rings true for many of us today. We get meaningful news from newspapers.

The times however are changing. Our news today comes from many sources, including radio, television and the Internet’s social media. All of which are (presumably) more attractive to today’s on-the-go generation. It’s sad but true that hold-in-your-hand newspapers are a dying breed of communication.

It was shocking to me when The Oregonian ceased a daily publication in 2013 and went mostly digital. Today, one can pay for unlimited (7 days a week) access to the Oregonian Digital Newspaper with apps from a tablet, smart phone or computer.  Twice a week, a print edition is delivered and sold on the newsstand.

Recently, the Eugene Register Guard newspaper announced that the family-owned paper’s new publisher was not a family member. They were proudly heralding a new era of digital change to become “more than a newspaper.” With that thought in mind, one has to wonder how long before they quit printing.

This is not good news for us real newspaper junkies. I subscribe to both the RG and the CG Sentinel and used to buy the Sunday Oregonian. I wake up to radio news, read the daily Internet news and watch two different news channels at night. I like to know what’s going on in the rest of the world as well as Lane Co.

It’s because of the Internet’s Yahoo! that I discovered Katie ‘s FYI. Former news anchor and daytime TV star Katie Couric is now Yahoo’s Global News Anchor. I was never a big fan of hers so frankly, I ignored her Internet presence until last Dec. Then, I stumbled across her report on falling oil prices. In a segment that she calls, “Now I get it,” she explained (in words that I could understand) the oil crisis situation.

Suddenly, I was a fan. I signed up at http://katiecouric.com/katies-fyi/
to receive her daily reports. Turns out that I like her news choices as much as I did her commentaries. Now, every morning, a variety of important and interesting news gets delivered to my email inbox. They range from breaking hard news to whimsically articles that make me think.

In January, the first headline that grabbed my attention was: “Unlock your creativity this year: Get bored, early and often.” The author was a mother with a colicky baby. But it wasn’t a sweet mother-child relationship study. Instead, this working mom had to turn off her iPhone while walking her baby. She was bored. Eventually she discovered that this mindless activity of walking and thinking paid great dividends in productive thinking. Imagine that!

In March, thanks to Katie, I watched a fascinating video on a very timely subject: “Cancer’s Most Controversial Surgery.” Can you guess which one it is? Breast cancer. Today about 60 percent of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer choose lumpectomy surgery followed by radiation instead of a complete mastectomy. Once this was not a choice. Now it is.

In May I read a fascinating piece about an outspoken Iraqi parliamentarian taking a brave stand against ISIS. We don’t hear much about how ordinary people in Iraq feel about this scourge. Certainly not if the person is an unveiled woman, who believes in democracy! But there is such a woman and her name is Vian Dakhil. She cares about all the people in her country and is working politically to save the endangered Yazidi religious and ethnic minority. Her story gave me hope. It was published in “Fast Company.” 

Other headlines have included “Who decides where autistic adults live?” “Can one man end the global drug war?” “Will Cleveland’s police reform offer blueprint for other cities?” “Why cursive mattered.” And “The real reason you have a terrible memory.” There’s something for everyone. Check it out.

Thanks to Katie my horizons are stretched in different ways every day. I need that. Otherwise I might get lazy and settle for being spoon fed whatever pops up on my screen i.e. the latest UFO sighting or Kardashion fashion statement. Even worse, I could become depressed over the depravity of this world—murders, molestations, global warming, genocide, terrorism and more. No, I need a balanced look at the world and Katie’s FYI provides it.

Locally, “Around the Grove,” is a new weekly resource for events that are happening here in Cottage Grove. Its goal is to encourage community participation. This enews made its debut a few months ago and is an additional resource to the Chamber of Commerce, radio station KNND or the Sentinel.

ATG is a nice addition to the mix with a laid out calendar of events that I find easy to read and mark on my own calendar. Although it’s technically not a news sources, I always learn something. For instance: Do you know what the networking acronym TEAM means? “Together Everyone Achieves More.” A worthy community goal.

KNND calendar coordinator Cindy Weeldreyer is the editor of ATG. If you’re interested in getting on the weekly email list or would like to submit an item for the weekly calendar, send an email to cindy@knnd.com or drop it off at radio station KNND, 321 Main St.

Yep. Times have changed. I do wonder what Will Rogers would say about all these new-fangled options. But he was a simple guy. He’d probably still be funny and find a newspaper to read.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 










The power of one person


5/13/15 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The power of ONE…

“One person can make a difference and everyone should try.”
John F. Kennedy

On August 11, 1965 a routine traffic stop by police, triggered a race riot in a suburb of my hometown in Los Angeles. African Americans (then called Negroes) lived in semi-isolation in the Watts area of L.A. Unemployment was high, relations between the mostly white police department and the community was strained at best. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was in its infancy. The area was a powder keg.

Ugly rumors about the traffic stop grew, flew and ignited an explosion like we Angelenos had never known. For six days, as many as 10,000 rioters took to the streets in roving bands. By the time the riots ended, 34 people died, more than 1,000 were injured and 600-plus buildings were damaged or destroyed by fire and looting.

After the riot, racial tensions continued to simmer. Young men were still unemployed and turning to drugs, gangs and violence. Into this scene came a most unlikely peacemaker—“Big Willie” Robinson.

Willie, a Vietnam veteran and member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, came home to another kind of war. He was an imposing 300 pound, 6’6” gentle giant of a man— the kind of guy that could get gang members and cops to put down their weapons and shake hands. He also loved fast cars and soon made a name for himself in East L.A.’s street racing underground in his ’57 Chevy.

Veterans returning from WWII are credited with starting the hot rod racing craze. “My car is hotter than your car” conversations led them to the streets in competition for bragging rights. Later, in the 1950s my husband and his buddies raced after school in isolated areas and at night at Lion’s Drag strip in Long Beach. It was everything that a young man loves—speed and competition.

In 1966, a year after the riots, L.A. residents and politicians were desperate for ways to vent the Watt’s pressure cooker. Future mayor Tom Bradley (then a councilman) noticed that the local street-racing scene of hot rodders and drag racers attracted an integrated crowd. He and the council approached Robinson to stage a series of semi-legal street races at midnight on Fridays for all comers.

More than 10,000 people showed up on the first night! Thus was born the National and International Brotherhood of Street Racers. "Jalopnik" magazine, said membership was simple: pledge to race under safety supervision; abstain from alcohol, drugs, fighting; and NO squirreling during events (i.e. acting stupid while showing off).

In 1968, the program was credited to have helped L.A. keep order on the streets after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Cities like Chicago, Detroit and New York saw spikes in racial unrest.

Robinson worked for years to get a drag strip that could be operated with the low buck street racer in mind. In 1974, he finally saw his dream come true on Terminal Island outside L.A. The track was short on amenities but it was a true melting pot for the car culture. There, on their own turf, guys could quasi-legally drag race off the city streets without the dangers of illegal racing.

Big Willie Robinson, street racer and peacemaker, died on May 21, 2012 at the age of 69. He helped thousands of men to build a brotherhood through street racing. “When you get around cars, man, there isn’t no colors, just engines,” he told the L.A. Times in 1981.

The power of one person to make a difference under pressure cooker circumstances always amazes me. Last month, the whole world sat up and paid attention when Ms Toya Graham chased down and stopped her son as he took part in the Baltimore riots. I nominate her for mother of the year!

The riots began when Freddie Gray, a 25-year old African American resident of Baltimore, died in police custody a week after being arrested.  Gray reportedly was in good health prior to his arrest but possibly incurred neck and spine injuries while being transported to jail. He later fell into a coma and died. Charges have been filed against six police officers.

Irate citizens initially protested peacefully. Once charges were filed against the police the scene turned ugly. Angry crowds took to the streets in massive acts of violence, vandalism, looting and arson. In the end, everyone suffered—police, rioters, innocent civilians and shopkeepers. There were no winners.

Well, maybe one. Score one for mothers! I loved Toya Graham, rushing into the fray to do what she could. She didn’t rush out to beat up the police, or the protestors or shopkeepers. No, she zeroed in to stop the only person that she had any control over—her son. Her actions went viral, giving us all a lesson in love and wisdom.

Graham, a single mother of six children, spotted her 16-year old son Michael wearing a hoodie and mask. She said, “I just lost it. I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out here doing that. I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray…I’m a no-tolerant mother.”

 It’s that reputation that made her son wince the second he saw her. He said, “when I seen you, ma, my instinct was to run.” Photos show her whacking and herding him out of the crowd and home where they watched and discussed the riots play out on television. I can only imagine what was said.

Graham hopes that with the perspective of time it will be a teachable moment for her son. I’m thinking that it’s a teachable moment for all of us: Respect one another, play by the rules, don’t hurt others, make a scene for a good cause but start the training at home.

God bless the peacemakers. They make a difference. It’s a task for each of us to try.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Road trip calling? It must be spring fever!


4/15/15 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

 On these glorious, sunshiny days, I do not like to be inside, tied to my desk and a keyboard! Outside there is real work to be done: moss to be scrubbed off planters and walkways; weeds to be pulled; bushes to be shaped; roses to be uncovered and winter’s damage to be repaired. And of course, roads to be traveled.

In springtime, if it’s a sunny day outside then I’m a gloomy inside person. So now that I’ve got that out of my system, here comes another confession—I’m not getting much done inside either. I’m sitting here looking at the blank computer screen with a road trip brain, dreaming about new places to explore.

One of the many things that I love about Oregon is that it is such a compact state. In our RV days we traveled to just about every nook and cranny possible in the Pacific North West. Now, for the first time in 35 years, we are touring by car, bus or train and there aren’t many places we haven’t been.

Where to go next? That is always the question. The answer usually arrives when the monthly edition of Travel Oregon arrives in my inbox. They have great suggestions for cities and regions to visit, places to stay, things to see and do, in places large and small.

Last month their visitor information concentrated on the “Seven Wonders of Oregon.” In no particular order, they are:  Crater Lake, the Wallowa Mountains, Painted Hills, Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Hood, and the Oregon Coast. I was able to check off five of those areas as well-explored. We had been near the Painted Hills but were unable to stop on our way to Baker City.

Baker City is worth the long drive just to visit the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. There, the story of the Oregon Trail comes alive before your eyes. The 23,000 square foot facility is more than a museum or monument. The story of tens of thousands of men, women and children who walked for 2,000 miles comes alive through life-size exhibits, interpretive trails, special events and Oregon Trail ruts. The living history performances bring life to the trail experience. I even bonded with one of the oxen over its long eyelashes!

Having been-there-done-that, its time to visit the Wallowas and the Painted Hills. Both destinations make me a little apprehensive. First, I’m not fond of deserts—high or low. We took a trip one year from our home in Ventura (on the Calif. coast) to Death Valley—the lowest, driest and hottest area in No. America. Not our favorite trip.

It was, however, one of the last Calif. National Parks. to check off our list. We had to go. The valley is known for its isolation, sizzling temperatures and lack of rain. But it was only May. How hot could it possibly be? Well, we would soon find out. This was the early 1980s. Information was limited. There were no computers or cell phones. Word-of-mouth, maps and encyclopedias were our guides.

As I recall, we drove into the town of Ridgecrest at dusk. We had plenty of water and snacks in our ’81 Oldsmobile but only about a quarter tank of gas. Our maps indicated Death Valley was just down the hill. We decided to head down and fill up in the valley.

I can still see the long, winding, isolated road to nowhere that greeted us. We promptly turned around, filled up the gas tank and ate a hamburger (our last meal!) at the only café in town. Down, down, down we went. There was no traffic. We were the only car on the road. It was almost dark and we had a sinking feeling wondering if the road would lead to civilization and a comfy, air-conditioned motel.
 
We gratefully arrived about 9 p.m. and the heat was tolerable. The next morning we woke up to brilliant sunshine and (gulp) 100° F. heat. By the time we had breakfast and headed out on a tour bus to Scotty’s Castle, the temperature had climbed to about 117° F.

Scotty’s Castle was 53 miles from the Furnace Creek Resort where we were staying. The castle and grounds are famous for opulence in the middle of nowhere. In the early 1900s, Albert Johnson grubstaked a gold mining expedition for Walter Scott (Scotty). The gold never panned out but Scotty convinced everyone that he had money from secret mines in the area and built a castle. Actually, Johnson and his wife built the spectacular two million dollar home as a vacation getaway. The National Park Service now owns it.

Today Death Valley State Park is quite the destination spot. The Furnace Creek Inn has luxury lodging as high as $370 per night. Its amenities are endless and of course, include swimming pools. A nearby mini-town built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company now features another hotel and the Amargosa Opera House. Things are a wee bit different than during our visit.

Now, back to Oregon’s desert hot spots. The stunning Wallowas Mountains are said to be one of Oregon’s most beautiful secrets and a multi-day adventure. Pictures of the Painted Hills are spectacular. The colors shift and change with the difference of light and the seasons. Wild flowers flourish at this time of year. Both destinations sound wonderful. But they’re still far away in a hot, desolate setting.

To go or not to go? That is the question. But the road is calling...

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Trash and treasures in the mailbox


1/18/15 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Going to the mailbox used to be one of life’s pleasures. In a more personal and un-computerized society, we corresponded across town and around the world with pen and paper. Telephone calls were expensive but postage stamps were not.  A treasured note from someone saying ‘hello’ was usually tucked in among the inevitable bills. Those cards, notes and letters always made my day.

Today, just about the only people saying ‘hello’ to me by snail mail are not people at all. The mailers are automated computers deep in the bowels of marketing offices all across the nation. There, clever ad agencies put together enticing, colorful offers that are mass mailed to millions of people. At my house they go right in the trash/recycling.

This past year our mailbox has been bombarded with a ridiculous amount of unwanted catalogs, coupons, credit card offers and donation requests. Some charities send one or two solicitations a week. Many add stamps and coins to entice a donation. They are seldom opened. In an effort to stop the flow, I tried marking them “return to sender.” It made things worse and they keep coming.

One day I couldn’t stand it any longer. I opened a solicitation and found a phone number to call and (hopefully) stop the onslaught. I was told they would be happy to do so but  “Mrs. Kaiser, you must understand that these mailings are prepared months in advance and will take up to 12 weeks to stop.” I hung up before I said something that I shouldn’t.

Eventually, the mailings dwindled down to once a week communications. As I stand over the trashcan, slicing and dicing them, I no longer wonder what some banking institutions are doing with our money. I know. They’re spending it on soliciting more customers and keeping the post office in business.

I am an avid magazine subscriber and thanks to some very nice ‘two-years-for-the-price-of-one’ offers, I often get good deals. Especially nice are the ‘buy-one-give-one’ gift offers. Obviously (as you will see) these are cash flow bonanzas for the companies and cash cows for the long haul.

A couple of years ago I noticed that the due dates for my Reader’s Digest magazine subscriptions were coming closer and closer together. December bills for family gift subscriptions were arriving in July. When I didn’t pay them, the bills kept coming. So I decided the subscriptions must be expired and wrote a check. The next year I did the same thing.

Guess what? By the time that I caught on to their advance billing game, everyone still had two years left on subscriptions. I finally called Customer Service and got it all straightened out. Now I keep a list of expiration dates.

“Final Notice!” offers without an actual expiration date are common.  An offer to renew my three-year AARP membership was really annoying.  My membership was only one year old when I received a notice to confirm that I wanted to renew my AARP membership and receive a Free Travel Bag! I called and complained that the offer was deceptive and they apologized. Yea, right.

Of course, these solicitations are not just limited to snail mail. Oh, no. They also come via telephone (email spam is another subject).

Last winter, in one of March’s wild winter storms, our power was out about 24 hours. As soon as our telephone service was restored, the phone rang. The caller inquired if everyone was okay and if we were interested in purchasing a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) in case this happens again. In a different state of mind and a different time, I might have been cordial. Instead, I just told him to remove our name from his calling list and hung up.

My husband has a product in his workshop for which he purchases parts on the telephone. When he needs something, he calls and orders it. If he doesn’t need anything, he doesn’t call. The problem is that if he doesn’t call every 30 days, they call him — night after night at dinnertime. He asked to speak to their supervisor and be removed from their call list. They agreed but still the calls came.

Finally, I got online and ferreted out email addresses for the corporate office customer service division. A distinctly worded message protesting their sales tactics resulted in corporate calling me. They assured me that the sales solicitations would stop. And they did.

Still, in spite of our enrollment in the “Do not call” program, the other calls continued. So, we threw in the towel and subscribed to our phone company’s feature that blocks unwanted calls. For a small fee its message annoys everyone who calls—but it does what we pay for—a great job of filtering out solicitors and scam artists!

In a last ditch effort to opt out of the trash mail offers that kept coming, I Googled for some help. I started with http://www.usa.gov/topics/family/privacy-protection/junk-mail.shtml. Their site suggests that we tell the companies directly to remove our name (an on-going chore) or call the credit reporting agencies notification system at 1-888-567-8688. This required giving one’s Social Security number.

A final suggestion was to visit the Direct Marketing Association’s website at: https://www.optoutprescreen.com/opt_form.cgi

I decided to sign up with this one even though it doesn’t get rave reviews and must be renewed every three years (without an expiration notice). It was quick and simple and hopefully it will work.

Now, if I could just get friends and family to fill the mailbox with hand-written treasured notes—I would be a happy girl!

 Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Getting the picture


2/18/15 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Getting the picture

We all like good news. It makes us happy and hopeful. No one likes bad news. It would be nice if we could just ignore the barrage of negative stuff coming across the airwaves. Nice but not realistic. Currently, a respected television anchorman is under fire and in danger of losing his job for not being completely truthful. Here in Ore. our governor has been under fire for ethics violations and resigned under pressure.

On the International scene we have constant, overwhelmingly bad news of undeclared warfare: kidnappings, mass killings, property destruction and starvation. Like you, I have many questions but no answers about these power plays and atrocities. We can’t ignore this stuff nor can we solve the problems. What do we do?

Shortly after the Brian Williams hubbub broke loose, a “Blondie” cartoon caught my eye. It gave me a little perspective on human nature. The scene: It’s a snowy day. Dagwood and his friend Herb are briskly walking to work. Their conversation goes like this:

Dagwood:  “Days like this remind me of being on the veranda at The Grand Hotel in Fiji.”
Herb: “When was that?” (Silence)
Dagwood: “Well, technically, this reminds me of a photo I saw in a travel magazine a long time ago…but you get the picture.”

Well, I get the picture about Williams. All of us from time to time tend to embellish the facts. Maybe it’s shaving a few years off our age. Making our job description sound more important than it is. Coloring our hair. Upping our school GPA. Making our children sound like brainiac angels or whatever. You get the idea. We all do it.

NBC anchorman Brian Williams belatedly confessed that he embellished being in a helicopter hit by a grenade in 2003. Actually, it was the helicopter ahead of his that was hit. Oops! Now Williams has been suspended for 6 months without pay and it remains to be seen if he will come back as anchorman. I doubt it.

Frankly, I did not lose any respect for him over this. I believe that initially he was caught up in the moment and that it may have felt like his chopper was hit. Unfortunately, he never clarified his initial statement with the truth. Millions of viewers will not calculate that the majority of his career has been honest and straight arrow. They have lost complete trust in him due to this falsehood (and possibly others).

Oregon’s Gov. John Kitzhaber’s personal and political life has been under fire for months. His fiancĂ©, Cylvia Hayes served as the state’s first lady. As a paid consultant outside government, it was alleged that her relationship with the governor was helping her land contracts for her business. This, among other things, chipped away at his credibility. At first the governor refused all calls to resign, saying, “I have broken no laws.” He abruptly resigned Feb. 13, stating he had become a liability to the office. No doubt there is more to come.

The above battles are mostly political. They are sad situations but not hopeless. All concerned will emerge with their egos bruised and battered but live to work again. There are solutions. The following scenarios are real life and death battles. Wanton killing and power grabs characterize many areas of the world.

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a huge topic of concern all around the world. This barbaric terrorist group is trying to establish a conservative Islamic state to encompass the Arab world. An empire. They financed their war against Infidels by taking over Mosul, the third largest city in Iraq and seizing more than $400 million from city banks to bankroll their evil empire.

How evil are they? Well, women and children who did not fit the mold were their first victims. The United Nations reported ISIS systematically killing, torturing and raping the families and children of minority groups in Iraq. Their methods included mass executions of boys, reports of beheadings, crucifixions of children and burying children alive. 

ISIS’ goal is to rule the entire world by fear. Their horrific beheading of hostages from the United States was followed by the gruesome beheadings of Japanese hostages and immolation of a Jordanian pilot captive. ISIS loves publicity and toys with the captives’ family emotions. The young American woman who was evidently ‘given’ to their leader was still killed. The end is always death. That’s evil.

And what is really going on in the Ukraine? I get it but I don’t get it. Thanks to Vladimir Putin and Russia’s land grab history, Russian troops and tanks are pulverizing buildings in the Ukraine. Helpless citizens are living underground in rubble and starvation. Why is Putin doing this?  Because he can. He’s power hungry. Can anyone stop the madness? Nope. No one wants to start a war with nuclear-armed Russia. That’s the way it looks to me. What do you think?

“The world is going to hell in a hand basket” (i.e. deteriorating rapidly) was one of my dad’s frequent comments during times of war and economic hardship. Looking at the events of this era I can only agree that things don’t look good. The hope is that future generations will serve and not destroy their fellow humans.

In that spirit, I offer this perspective from the comic “Beetle Bailey”:

Beetle: “I don’t get it…mankind has been at war since the beginning of time. What’s wrong with mankind? Why can’t we get smart and figure it out?”
Soldier: “Because every 30 years there’s a new mankind.”

Now I get the picture.


Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.






Thursday, January 22, 2015

How old is too old?


1/21/15 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Last week I celebrated another birthday. I use the term “celebrate” loosely. In this seventh decade of life, I am struggling with enjoying aging and the losses that accompany it. And I’m not alone, so I know that I just exposed the elephant in the room. The truth is that aging gracefully is an art that many of us have yet to master.

Some things don’t bother me at all. I enjoy having young people open heavy doors for me at shopping centers and saying, “After you, ma’m.” A senior discount at restaurants is nice. It’s great that I no longer have to pop out of bed at the crack of dawn to be at work by 7 a.m. And I’m happy if I’m not invited to every party in town.

I started turning gray at 40, so I don’t even miss my beautiful black hair with red highlights. At this age—except for the ‘natural’ blonds among us—our hair all looks alike anyway. In fact, I joke that when my friends get together we look like Q-tips! And while I’m not happy about my wrinkles, I’m not contemplating plastic surgery.

I am, however, being pulled kicking and screaming into an era of less energy and forgetfulness. Or, as I believe Erma Bombeck (my all time favorite columnist) said, “Of all the things I’ve lost in life, I miss my mind the most!”

Isn’t that the truth? Once we reach the age of 70, most of us look back fondly on our golden years. The years in which we remembered everyone’s names and wondered what the heck was wrong with our parents who struggled to remember names of people and places. “Oh, that was Virginia, don’t you remember?” we would piously spout.

Now we are the ones struggling with memory lapses. My husband and I often have a conversation that goes like this:

 Me: “Yesterday I saw the girl with six kids that we went to church with in California.” Hubby: “ Who was that?” Me: “Oh, you know, she had long red hair and lived near us.” Hubby: “I have no idea who you’re talking about.” Me: “Of course you do. our daughter used to babysit for them. Her husband was a pharmacist.” Hubby: “Oh, yeah, his name was…I forget.” Three days later we remember that her name is Jan and his name was Jim. It's frustrating.

I suppose that turning 100 years old is something to get excited about. As a reporter, I covered many a centenarian’s birthday. Most of them seemed quite content to just “be.” They are happy to look at where they’ve been and reminisce about the good old days with anyone who cares to listen. Their contribution is wisdom.

Fortunately, I’m not there yet. I often say that I am in the middle age of old age. Mentally I’m pretty active. I’m always planning our next trip, keeping up with what’s going on in the family, volunteering, teaching and writing. Physically, I’ve really slowed down. Exercise no longer consists of a three times weekly aerobics class and seven mile hikes or bike rides. Now I have a stretching routine, walk the dogs over to Wilson Creek Park and hop on my stationary bike.

I’m not alone in my aging frustration. Many others wonder if there is life after 70 or 90. Surely there is something more for us to do than watch TV. It can’t be too late for us to make a contribution to the greater good of mankind. So when are we “too old”? At what age do we sit back and say, “I give up. Let someone else do the work.”

Tucked away in a book on my desk, I found this list of famous people who didn’t know it was time to stop being creative or sharing what they do best when they turned the corner into old age:

At 81, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin engineered the diplomacy that led to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

At 82, Winston Churchill wrote the four-volume work, “A History of the English Speaking Peoples.”

At 82, Leo Tolstoy completed “I Cannot Be Silent.”

At 83, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe completed “Faust.”

At 88, Cellist Pablo Casals was still performing cello concerts

At 89, Pianist Arthur Rubinstein gave one of his greatest recitals in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

At 90, Cubist and collage artist Pablo Picasso still drew and sculpted.

At 91, Samon de Valera served as president of Ireland.

At 93, George Bernard Shaw wrote “Farfetched Fables.

At 98, Renaissance master Titian painted “Battle Lepants.”

At 100, Grandma Moses was still painting. She began at age 76!

Looking at the above list kind of makes me feel like a whiner. Sure I’m older and I can’t do the things that I used to do. But am I old enough to do nothing? Obviously not. Looking at the above list tells me that we have something to share at every age.

When we were young, we waited for life to begin. We were always looking forward to next week, next month and next year. Now that we’re older and have less time, our fountain of youth has changed. It is found in today. Tomorrow may not come. Our joys must be found in the moments of today.

The struggle against aging may be futile but we can still live a full life. As my husband likes to say, “Old age is putting on new wheels and going in a different direction.” I say that we just keep doing what we love…but at a slower pace.

My morning mantra comes from the Psalms: “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” An attitude of gratitude can make any day better.

Can I get an Amen?

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.







Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Christmas story


12/24/14 Chatterbox

Betty Kaiser

“Merry Christmas, My Friend”

It’s Christmas Eve and time to celebrate. At its core, Christmas is spiritual—a religious holiday. Sometimes we need to be reminded that it is more than glitz, glamour and gluttony. Christians all over the world are celebrating the birth of Christ. But that doesn’t leave anyone out. Because everyone can celebrate peace, love and joy. And in America we can all rejoice that we live in the land of the free and the brave.

It has long been my holiday tradition to find and share an old-fashioned, feel-good Christmas story. One that will warm our hearts as it reminds us that Christmas about things of the heart. My story time frame is usually around the Great Depression era because so many had so little but appreciated what they did have—family.

This year’s story salutes the family bond from a military perspective. It’s a Christmas tribute to those who serve our country (and us). A tearjerker written from Santa’s perspective. I first saw it years ago in a greeting card from the USO. The author, James M. Schmidt, was a Lance Corporal stationed in Washington D.C. in 1986. A Marine, he was inspired to write a Christmas poem by a Marine for Marines. He hung it on the door of the Marine Barracks gym.

Later, Lance Corporal Schmidt explained how he pounded it out on a typewriter while awaiting the commanding officer’s annual Christmas holiday decoration inspection. The other leathernecks strung lights for the contest. His contribution was a poem for his section. It was so touching that copies were made and passed around all over the world. Soon it was published in the Marine Corp Gazette and later in Leatherneck Magazine in 1991.

Over the years, the poem was adjusted (dare I say plagiarized?) and claimed by other branches of the Armed Forces. The Internet version is Army. (Well, I think it’s the Army. The verse mentions a soldier.) Other versions are credited to Marines stationed in Okinawa and Afghanistan and one version to an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. And if you are Navy, there is even a “Sailor’s Christmas” piece. You can find it at: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1941076/posts

The following version is the original, as printed in “Leatherneck” back in 1991. Schmidt, the author, was evidently a good Marine as well as a writer. He was a recruit and infantry school honor graduate and selected for security at Camp David, Md., under Ronald Reagan. He is now an attorney in Los Angeles. May God bless us all.

Merry Christmas, My Friend
By James M. Schmidt, a Marine Lance Corporal,
 stationed in Washington D.C., in 1986

Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.

I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live.

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I'd seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I'd heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
and grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
"Santa, don't cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don't ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps."

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn't control it, I continued to weep.

I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.

I didn't want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said, "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day, all secure."
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.