Friday, June 7, 2019

Oregon: Now is the time to reduce Wildfire Risk!

6/5/19 The Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Last month the London Grange hosted a presentation on preparing our homes and properties for summer’s upcoming wildfire conditions. It was followed by a pulled pork sandwich meal and scrumptious desserts— so you know I just had to go. The Grange is only a few miles down the road from us so Chuck and I showed up, paper and pencil in hand, promptly at 5 p.m.

Speaker Justin Patten from the Oregon Dept of Forestry was introduced to the group by Grange President Alice Nowicki. For an hour, Patten shared some helpful Firewise information for those of us who live in wooded areas and then took questions on specific local problem areas.

Until a couple of years ago, the possibility of a forest fire in our area had never entered our minds. We love living in the forested area across from C.G. Lake, where wildlife roam and silence is golden. We were oblivious to the fact that there were no fire hydrants or an escape route around the lake in case of fire.

Previously we had lived in cities where there were no wildfire worries. We grew up in Los Angeles in an era of vacant lots and citrus groves. Large, out-of-control fires were practically unheard of and if perchance one broke out, there was a firehouse nearby.

Later, we lived in Ventura, Ca. It sits near the ocean, has sunny and foggy days; citrus groves and strawberry patches. Again, fire was not a big worry. Fire hydrants were on every block and the kids were drilled at school to come home and teach their parents to put up fire alarms and agree on meeting places in emergencies. Nothing about wildfires.

The last couple of summers, it seemed that the whole West Coast was on fire. This year’s Snowmageddon really got our attention. Dangerously dry, huge debris piles are everywhere around us—forests, campgrounds and homes. Suddenly we realized that wildfires are possible in our own backyard. Scary stuff.

Our daughter Kathy, her husband, their two sons and daughter-in-law live in East Ventura. There are many houses some near lemon and orange groves. Tim is a 30-year veteran of the Oxnard Fire Dept. and he was on duty the night that the largest fire in the state’s history broke out—a few short miles from their home. The Thomas Fire ultimately burned 282,000 acres and was fought by an army of 8,000 firefighters.

Thomas started in Santa Paula’s Steckel Park, south of Aquinas College. It soon spread west along the foothills powered by the dreaded Santa Ana winds. It quickly reached the city of Ventura where it destroyed neighborhoods in the hills above City Hall. The fire kept going and didn’t stop for weeks, until it reached Santa Barbara. Lives were lost and properties destroyed.

That fire and others caused us to look around and plan how we could lower our own fire danger. We have a sprinkler system, have knocked down our tall weeds, keep our perimeters mowed, taken junk to the dump and removed flammable debris. But it takes the cooperation of everyone in the neighborhood to also keep their properties cleaned up.

Lightning strikes and other forces of nature are beyond our control.

Forester Justin Patten (at his Grange talk) pointed out these important reminders:

#1 The leading cause of human-caused wildfires in Oregon is escaped debris from backyard burning.…
°Check the weather forecast and call your local fire agency before burning
° Clear a 10-ft radius around your burn pile.
° Burn yard debris only and always stay by your burn pile with tools on site
°Make sure your burn pile is completely out when you leave.

#2 Equipment fires are the second leading cause of wildfires on state-protected lands in Oregon. Spring is the time to clean up excess vegetation, not summer. Use the right tool for the job.
° Call first to find out if equipment use is restricted.
°Use gas-powered equipment early in the day.
°Use a weed trimmer with plastic line.
°Be sure your tools are in good working order.
°Keep a fire extinguisher or water hose nearby.

#3 Create a defensible space around your home free of combustible material: Fire follows fuel.
°Clean up dead or dying plans, branches, leaves and needles everywhere—decks too!
°Move wood pile 30 feet from the home.
°Remove flammable plants and replace with fire-resistant species.
°Prune tree branches to a height of 6-10 ft to remove ladder fuels.
°Cut grass to less than 4 inches.
°Keep shrubs low and away from the drip line of house foundations and trees.
°Maintain driveway clearance that is free of flammable debris to allow fire engine access.
°More information at or home/.

Now we are praying for an uneventful summer. But just in case… I would appreciate it if someone would tell us an emergency escape route to London Rd. and the freeway.

Contact Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Mother's Day Memories

5/8/19 The Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Head’s up everyone! This weekend is Mother’s Day. Now that you’ve been warned, there’s no excuse if you forget your wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother or anyone dear to your heart that you call “mother.” Mothers of all ages appreciate being remembered on their special day. So start planning now to celebrate them on Sunday. You’ll be glad you did.

Most moms are easy to please. Think about it. They raised you, didn’t they? At some point they must have told you how special you are to them. Maybe it was that primitive watercolor painting that you brought home from kindergarten and she framed. Or the Mother’s Day poem in your childish scrawl that still hangs above her desk. She loves you.

It takes so little to touch a mother’s heart.  Fughetta about the expensive stuff on the TV ads. Moms are just thrilled if you’re there. Flowers? Buy a single potted petunia to plant in the garden. Forget to send a fancy card? No worries.  Just pick up the phone and tell her that you love her. No money for a fancy dinner? Show up on her doorstep with her favorite chocolates wrapped in a ribbon and a great big hug. You’ll make her day.

And if your mom has gone to her heavenly reward, say a little prayer of gratitude.

How do I know all of these things? Because I’m a mother and it was the best job that I ever had. A mother’s love and caring instincts kicked in quickly for me and knew no bounds. I worked 24 hours a day for 20+ years and was paid in hugs and kisses. Still, from the day a baby is born and brought home until they fly away on their own, it’s work, work, work. But I always thought that was why we had kids. Their wants and needs ordered my days—from dawn to dusk and often, all night. Some people complain about the teenage years but I thought they were a walk in the park compared to infancy, toddlers and elementary school.

Actually, looking back, I sometimes wonder how I survived. My husband worked long hours, six days a week, often until midnight. He was also in the US Army Reserve. We had been married one year when our daughter Kathy was born. Jeff came 2 years later and John a mere 13 months after that. Money was scarce and so were creature comforts. No dishwashers or new-fangled clothes dryers. I spent most of my time feeding and burping babies, sterilizing bottles and formula, changing diapers, doing laundry by hand, ironing, hanging diapers on the clothes line and folding clothes after everyone went to bed.

I was young and energetic enough to cope with chaos. Most of the time. There were days when I was sure that I was going crazy. When the kids were toddlers, I really looked forward to naptime. But they all slept in the same room. Kathy dozed right off. Jeff was not so cooperative. One day he was very quiet. I looked in and he was gone! I found him outside in his underwear riding up and down the street on the neighbor kid’s tricycle! John never slept at naptime. His favorite trick was to empty out all the dresser drawers—every day. There was never a dull moment and lots of joy as their growing stages and harmless mischief kept me smiling along with the exhaustion.

In my childhood, Mother’s Day celebrations were a big deal and very formal. Growing up, the day revolved around my mother and grandmother’s wishes. Sunday was church day. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best—suits and hats—orchid corsages were mandatory! And dinner at the steak house with three well-behaved children was a must.

My Mother’s Day morning as a mom of three kids under the age of four years old was a little wilder. I would coax the kids out of bed and feed them cold cereal for breakfast. Sticky hands and faces were washed before they were dressed in their Sunday best; hair was combed and kids were plopped down in front of TV cartoons while I got dressed.

Then, between the time I ironed my dress and put on my stylish hat, an argument would break out. “Mom, he hit me!” And inevitably, one of the boys would run outside, fall down and rip out the knees of his new Sunday suit. Kathy stayed in her room just to avoid the commotion.

Somehow all five of us got out the door and into the car. As my husband drove, I would pull out a bottle of nail polish and paint my nails—praying they would be dry by the time we got to church. After church we all went out to supper (where the boys climbed under the table!) and then home for a nap!

Mother’s Day always began with chaos but was rewarded with hugs and kisses.

Happy Mother’s Day to moms of all eras! May all your memories be sweet. And if you’re a new, overwhelmed mom, remember that childhood is fleeting but love endures forever.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family
 and other matters of the heart.
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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Surviving "Oregon Snowpocalypse 2019”

3/27/19 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The snow may have melted, and the power restored to everyone but everywhere I go, people are telling their 2019 snow storm stories. Mother Nature really outdid herself last month and when she goes wild, the results are good, bad and ugly.

Let’s start with the good. It snowed! In the beginning, snow is beautiful. We ooh and ahh as the miracle white stuff coats everything. Snow is beneficial. and Planet Earth needs it to regulate the temperature of its surface. When it melts, the water helps fill our rivers and reservoirs. A couple of years ago it didn’t snow, and we lost dozens of trees on our property. Snow is good.

The bad? It snowed! And it kept snowing. Few of us were prepared for a heavy, wet snow to blanket everything. In taking down our power lines, it shut off our heaters and heated up our refrigeration. The snow plows opened up our main roads but closed off driveway entrances to and from our properties with three-foot-tall berms. We were totally isolated on our property.

Sun. Feb. 25, we were snowbound by late afternoon. No electricity in an all-electric house means no heat, water, refrigeration, flushing toilets, cooking facilities, lights, internet, cell or land phones. Monday, we woke up to crashing trees, 15” of wet snow on rooftops and ground. We turned on the generator intermittently to use the water, stovetop or microwave but we were very low on fuel and using it sparingly. Then the Jeep got stuck in the snow trying to get out of the garage.

The next 10 days I put in the ugly category. Thank goodness for a wood stove, a generator and angels of mercy.

Monday morning, we put on our boots and trudged out to the gate in about ¼ mile of deep snow. It doesn’t sound like much until you walk it several times in freezing weather. The gate was frozen shut. We needed gas for the generator, but no cars were traveling our roads, and neither were pedestrians. Our ATT cell phones neither received nor sent. It’s scary to be out of contact with everyone.

Chuck is still recovering from two heart surgeries and we needed help. But where would it come from? Miraculously, prayers were answered and miracles happened. Tuesday, our next-door neighbor, Aaron, jumped the fence and forged a path across the acres of deep snow. (He had power lines down across his driveway.) He daily stacked our firewood, shoveled snow, and was our contact with the outside world. His wife, Tanya (home with a toddler and baby) was able to contact our worried out-of-state family. Amazing!

Originally, we only had enough gas to minimally work our generator for one day. It consumes about 5 gallons a day. Every day someone supplied the basics we needed. Many thanks to Steve who lives nearby, neighbors Clint and Donna, friends Sella and Morrie in C.G. for bringing us gas, groceries and more. All were answers to prayer.

 Still, we couldn’t leave the property. And then the Marines landed! Clint and his monster truck knocked down an opening to the road and flattened our icy driveway. We were finally able to leave our property on Friday, March 1, but didn’t have power until 6 p.m. Wed. Mar. 6.

You can be sure that the busy EPUD and Tillamook Electric crews were a welcome sight as they strung wire and installed new poles for three days. I don’t know who was happiest to have heat again—us or our dogs Sweetie and Sammy. Thank you!

Now, a word about on-going electrical problems. This was not our first rodeo. At C.G. Lake, Dorena and other outlying areas, we have frequent power interruptions. We understand that we live in heavily wooded, rural areas. Transformers blow up and trees come down on the lines. But in 30 years, as the population has grown, we have seen little progress or changes to stop our long-term electric outages.

We have new meters to calculate usage and dedicated workers when something happens. But we also need communication and preventative action. Oregon’s electric companies tell us that underground lines are too expensive. Isn’t it expensive to keep replacing lines and equipment and pay over-time?

And what about the homeowners? It’s more expensive to NOT have electricity than it is to have it. Most households in our area do not have generators. They huddle in front of fireplaces and cook on camp stoves. Others spend hundreds of dollars on gas for small generators. Some stay in hotels at reduced rates worrying about pets and property. The system needs to be upgraded to the 21st century.

One final good thought. In spite of the inconvenience and frustration, we have much to be grateful for. One only has to read the news about droughts, famines, floods, wars and destruction in other areas of our country and world to know that we get off pretty easy here. So, I’m sure you will join me in counting our blessings and praying that another snowpocalypse doesn’t visit us again any time soon!

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

They meet at the U.S. Mexico border: The needy, the helpers and the guards

2/27/19 The Chatterbox 
Cottage Grove, Oregon
Betty Kaiser

Chris Heritage is a born helper and she is one busy lady. I first got to know her as the talented bell choir director at 1st Presbyterian Church. She’s also a loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend. Plus, as a PeaceHealth Certified Midwife, she has always felt a call to help refugees around the world. But most of the places she hoped to go were too far away.

Then she heard about the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas—across from Reynosa, Mexico. The Center was started in 2014 in response to exhausted Central America refugees arriving in the U.S. to escape violence and poverty. They were alone and bewildered upon arrival.

Enter the church nuns. Their missions statement says in part: “We believe that human beings who have no food, no security, no access to shower, etc. are people in crisis. We will continue responding to the needs of these families in crisis as long as there is a need.”

Last year a request went out from the clinic for help from Spanish speaking medical volunteers. Dr. Lauren Herbert, M.D., a PeaceHealth pediatrician, answered the call and invited Chris to come along. This was an opportunity not to be missed. Travel to a crisis at our own border was reasonable, people were suffering, she speaks Spanish and the timing was good. She thought, “I can do this.” Another nurse from Bellingham, WA joined them.

Upon arrival at the clinic on Jan. 13, they were put to work immediately. Buses arrive daily from the ICE detention facility with several hundred refugees who have been released to enter the country. Here, they are greeted by the volunteers with smiles and given help in connecting with their U.S. sponsors, a hot meal, warm showers and bathrooms, beds, clothing, shoes, medical help, phone services and safety courses.

Chris says, “Most of them are headed east. They stay for a day or two before continuing on their journey. People who felt especially sick came right away to the clinic for medical help. There was usually a surge of children and adults needing our help in the afternoon and into the evening. We would go to bed and the next morning there was a line again. We took care of everything from minor colds to bruises, scrapes, headaches, stomach aches, athletes’ foot and occasionally more serious illnesses. People with life threatening problems are sent to the local hospital ER.

“They have so much hope,” she says.  “Even the ones with ankle monitors who would likely be sent back to the dangerous situations they are trying to escape. I have met and worked with similar families here in Oregon. They are hardworking, kind, hopeful. They have strong family values, are attentive to their children. So happy to be here. Now, having worked in Texas, I have a new respect for their struggles.”

The volunteers occasionally had opportunities to take a break around lunch time to learn firsthand about the border situation.

“One day we visited La Posada, a place where Catholic nuns provide longer term housing and support for refuges that don’t have an immediate place to go. Another time we visited a 19th century chapel that will be torn down if the wall is built. Then, the next group would arrive, and the work would start again until the early evening.”

Chris’ stories about the common humanity of the people she encountered are heartwarming. There were the needy, the helpers and the guards. The needy, of course, were the most obvious. There was a 12-year-old boy, separated (and later united) with his father in a truck accident, where people were killed crossing the border. Another boy had an infected leg from the wreck.

A woman who was 6-1/2 months pregnant fell in the Rio Grande River and was tossed about by the current. She was worried about her baby. Chris got out her stethoscope and they both laughed out loud as they heard the baby’s heartbeat. There were tears of happiness.

People from all walks of life come to help. There are clothes to be sorted, floors to be mopped, meals to be prepared and cleaning of all kinds to be done. A group of Mennonite men and women come regularly and prepare the soup of the day. A local church group comes often as does a church from Iowa. A Facebook group helps people in the McAllen area to donate pizza dinners to the Respite Center.

One day, Chris observed some official looking men with clipboards watching the children play. She was suspicious. Turns out they were sketching plans to build a playground. Kindness abounds.

And then there was an hour-long discussion with a border guard. The government was shut down, but this man was working without a paycheck for his family. Chris began their conversation by thanking him. The guard’s response was, “If I was not working, people would die. I could not live with myself if that happened.”

So, what can we do? These are not illegal immigrants. They are legal. They had a destination. Still, they are needy. Getting from their country to ours is not easy even when they’ve done the paperwork. Of course, the easiest way to help is by direct donations to organizations like the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande.

Advocating for just treatment of the immigrants is another way to help. Sometimes government needs a little nudge to tell them that what they’re doing is kinda crazy. Here’s an example from Chris:

 “When people cross the border and turn themselves into the border patrol, they are sent to ICE detention. Their shoelaces are removed and taken away. Everyone needs a new pair of shoelaces when they arrive at the Center. One of the volunteers tried to get the shoelaces back from ICE, but so far, ‘NO” is the answer. There may be a logical reason for this, but to have them replaced days later by donations and volunteers seems pretty inefficient.” Betty sez, “That’s government for you.”

Many thanks to Chris for sharing her story and to all who care for these newcomers with open minds, hearts and expertise.

 God bless them all and God bless the USA!

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Saturday, February 23, 2019


1/23/19 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Laughter cures the winter blues for this senior citizen

One of the reasons that my husband and I moved to Oregon was to experience “the seasons.” You know, spring, summer, fall and winter. The latter, however, is my least favorite season. It’s cold, wet and dark and as I sit down at my computer to write this column, it’s another dreary winter day. True-blue, born and bred Oregonians revel in this weather. You can tell by my grumpy attitude, I’m an import waiting for spring.

Fortunately, my family, friends and readers have been cheering me up with lots of crazy computer cartoons, jokes and words of wisdom. Most are for senior citizens. And since my birthday this month, they have been working overtime to send me words of cheer that begin with “You know you’re a senior citizen when…”

Some of them are only too happy to add, “Of course, you’re older that I am!” So, just exactly what age is considered a senior citizen? Well, various sources say the age of a senior citizen begins at 60- 65. The Social Security Administration says that 67 is the age of retirement. I was about 60 when Taco Bell asked me if I was a senior. So, I guess anyone with gray hair is fair game to be elderly.

Last month my daughter Kathy started a flurry of senior jokes and advice with a “Welcome to the Golden Years” dialog. Someone passed it on to her, to pass on to me. It sounds like a mom and dad conversation because I am prone to lose keys. Visualize Chuck and me and prepare to laugh.

 “The keys weren’t in my pocket. Suddenly I realized I must have left them in the car. Frantically, I headed for the parking lot. My husband has scolded me many times for leaving my keys in the car’s ignition. He’s afraid that the car could be stolen.

As I looked around the parking lot, I realized he was right. The parking lot was empty. It was gone. I immediately called the police. I gave them my location, confessed that I had left my keys in the car and that it had been stolen. Then I made the most difficult call of all to my husband. ‘I left my keys in the car and it’s been stolen.’

There was a moment of silence. I thought the call had been disconnected but then I heard his voice. ‘Are you kidding me?’ he barked! I dropped you off at the mall!’ Now it was my turn to be silent. Embarrassed, I said, Well, come and get me. He retorted, ‘I will. Just as soon as I convince the police that I didn’t steal your dang car!’”

The following senior citizen quotes are mostly one-liners with attitude. My friends and I don’t like to waste words explaining ourselves. We tend to be bluntly truthful and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. After you read the following quips ask yourself, if maybe, you too are a senior citizen.
Today I was in a store that sells sunglasses, and only sunglasses. A young lady walked over to me and asked, "What brings you in today? I looked at her and said, "I'm interested in buying a refrigerator.  " She didn't quite know how to respond!

When people see a cat's litter box they always say, "Oh, have you got a cat?" Just once I want to say, "No, it's for company!" 

It’s okay if you disagree with me. I can’t force you to be right.
Aging:  Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it. 

Hospital and medical forms always ask who is to be called in case of an emergency. I think you should write, "An ambulance.”
The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight because by then your body and your fat have gotten to be really good friends. 

Being young is beautiful but being old is comfortable.

Some people try to turn back their "odometers." Not me. I want people to know WHY I look this way. I've traveled a long way and a lot of the roads were not paved.

Reporters interviewed a 104-year old woman. ‘What do you think is the best thing about being 104?” “No peer pressure” she answered.

Ann Landers said: “At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At age 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At age 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”

That’s it for now. Thanks for making me laugh and forgetting it isn’t springtime. May your troubles be less, your blessings be more and nothing but happiness come through your door.

Contact Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2018 Family Memories of Christmas Past

12/19/18 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The older I get, the more reflective I become during the Christmas season.  At this stage of my life, the joyful ghosts of Christmas past bring me great joy and fill me with gratitude.

The heart of the season—the birth of Jesus— has not changed. But everything else has. Especially gift giving. I miss the old days of fulfilling childhood dreams with big and small surprises. Today we buy gift cards. Come along with me on a trip down memory lane and see if you can relate.

My family’s early history (both sides) was one of poverty. An orange in the toe of a stocking was a big deal. It also became a tradition.

My parents were born at the turn of the 20th century. My dad’s family of seven was dirt poor in Missouri. I don’t remember him ever talking about receiving a gift. He and his siblings were barefoot and wore dirty hand-me down clothes. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was in the 6th grade and he quit school to go to work to put food on the table.

Mother was an only child and her dad originally was a roughneck in the oil fields of Mexico. Early pictures of her show a barefoot girl in a dirty dress in the blowing desert sand. Later, things picked up rather dramatically for her family and I now have her beautiful French china doll.

Mom and dad met and married in Missouri and moved to California near her parents during the Great Depression. Grandpa established a business and by the grace of God they all survived and went on to buy houses and live the American dream.

Chuck’s family immigrated from Wisconsin to Calif., during WWII. In Long Beach, his dad welded the Victory Ships. It was a dangerous job but it both helped the war effort and put food on the table for his family. Later, his job at Sears bought Christmas gifts for his three sons.

One year when Chuck was about 8 or 9 Santa brought him his favorite gift ever—a Gilbert Erector Set.  He spent hours building cars and even a motorized roller coaster. It foretold his future as a craftsman extraordinaire.

In my family, I remember what seemed like lavish Christmases. Oranges and apples were in stockings. Under the tree were new clothes and a toy. I still have my Madame Alexander bride doll. My favorite was a Schwinn bicycle. The same one that I would later fall off while racing the boy down the street. It put me in the hospital with a compound fracture of my left arm.

Our kids were blessed with toys. Their dad managed stores for Toy World! A childhood dream world. They always knew what the latest and greatest toys were. Chuck would put them on lay-away to be brought home and wrapped at midnight after the store closed on Christmas Eve.

Kathy, our oldest, was an avid doll collector and had her own dad-built playhouse in the backyard. Her favorite? “My bike,” she said. “In the pre-car, parents drive the kids to a million activities days…bikes were our freedom, our connection with our friends, the beach, shopping and more!”

Son Jeff was all about speed and music: skateboards, model cars, model airplanes and trumpets.

 Grandson Matthew says, “My absolute favorite gift was a used MacBook when I was in middle school. This gift allowed me to have something to create music on; illustrate and sketch out ideas; learn about things through sources like YouTube. It was an incredible gift that allowed me to learn everything from music mixing to video editing and graphic design. It is something that will forever stick out in my mind and I am super grateful for.”

Ashley, our granddaughter-in-law remembers her family’s on-going puzzle tradition. Every Christmas morning there’s a new puzzle for everyone to enjoy. She says it keeps them connected and doing something together with very little effort.

Finally, John, our youngest son, passes on a lesson learned:
“When I was 13, I wanted a 12-string guitar more than anything in the world. Knowing that no one would buy me a brand new 12 string guitar for Christmas—too expensive, too extravagant—I put a janky, used,
"trampoline action" 12 string guitar on layaway at Heck Music in Ventura.

“When my mom heard about it, she drove me to Heck Music, demanded they give my money back, and lectured me all the way home saying, ‘Never buy yourself something before Christmas!’

“I was humiliated, and angry. I knew darned well I wasn't getting a 12-string guitar for Christmas.

“On Christmas day, my grandparents arrived. Grandpa tossed me the car keys and said, "Well, you better get the presents out of the trunk." I opened the trunk, and sitting right on top was a guitar case!

“I had to wait until all the other presents were opened before I opened that guitar case. Inside was a brand new, beautiful Yamaha FG312 12 string guitar. I played that guitar for decades, until it was (sadly) stolen from my office about 10 years ago. Best gift ever!

“The moral of the story is, never buy yourself something before Christmas...because you never know what you might get!”

Merry Christmas, everyone! And may all your memories be ones of joy.

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Saturday, December 15, 2018


11/21/18 The Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Every November, I like to look back at the humble beginnings of this place that we call home— the United States of America. This year, as usual, our super-power country is in the midst of controversies of every kind. They include on-going wars and conflicts, political differences, homelessness, inequality, devastating climate changes, and more. It has ever been so. Nevertheless, we have a mighty fine place to call home.

I love stories of our founding parents and what life was like in 1620 when the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock in the Americas. And yes, I know that long before the Pilgrims arrived, the area had been visited by sea-going travelers from Africa, China, Europe and the Vikings. And we all know that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492!

But it was the Pilgrims who settled into the land when they arrived on our shores in 1620. They had previously lived in England under religious persecution and moved to Holland where there were other problems. So, off they sailed to the Americas. Now if that wasn’t bravery, I don’t know what is. Because this was no cruise ship that they were on.

They had planned to cross the ocean on the Speedwell, a passenger ship, but it developed mechanical problems. Instead, they boarded its sister ship, the Mayflower. A freighter, it was not built to carry passengers. Quarters were tight, food was rationed, the seas were rough, storms caused leaks and weakness in the structure, people were sick and one person died.

It took about 66 days to get to the new world. Their planned destination was the Colony of Virginia but the winter weather forced them to return to Cape Cod. There were about 30 crew and 102 passengers aboard.  

After the ship dropped anchor on Nov. 11, 1620, the new settlers had the foresight to write and sign the Mayflower Compact. Some of the passengers were non-Puritans who wanted to proclaim their own liberty. The Pilgrims wanted to establish their own govt. while affirming allegiance to the Crown of England. The result was an agreement in which all 41 of the male passengers consented to follow the community’s rules for the sake of order and survival. They were off to a good start.

That first winter was brutal. There was no local lumber yard to buy supplies. They had to build crude shelters from whatever was at hand. Food was scarce and there was no medicine to treat diseases like pneumonia.  Sources say that at one point each person could only eat 5 kernels of corn daily.

 Starvation, disease and exposure soon killed half the population. Only 53 adults survived that first winter. Fourteen of the 18 adult women died. Weak and hungry, they gave their children food and herbal medicines. Eleven of the 31 children died. Orphans were taken in by other families. Two baby boys had been born on the Mayflower journey. One died at 2 years of age. Another boy, Peregrine White was born nine days after they landed and he lived to be 83 years old.

Strangely enough, the Pilgrims had landed in an area where some Europeans had settled in the mid-1610s. An epidemic wiped out most of their coastal population. According to historian Charles Mann, “Plymouth was on top of a village that had been deserted by disease. The pilgrims didn’t know it but they were moving into a cemetery.”

Enter Squanto. He was the only living Patuxent Indian in the area. He had survived slavery in England and knew the language. He taught the Pilgrims to grow corn, fish and negotiated a peace treaty between them and the Wampanoag Native Americans.

The arrival and generosity of the Wampanoag’s saved the Pilgrim immigrants from starvation and death. They welcomed the newcomers and taught them what they needed to know to raiser bumper crops of corn, beans and more. Both sides abided by the peace treaty.

So where does Thanksgiving come in? Well, the religious Pilgrims yearly celebrated days of thanksgiving—days of prayer, not feasting. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag celebrated the colony’s first successful harvest with venison supplied by the Indians. The feast lasted three days and was attended by 63 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans. Two years later in 1623, the colonists gave thanks to God for rain after a two-month drought and Thanksgiving feasting became a yearly event.

This year, as we celebrate Thanksgiving and our many personal blessings, let us also remember our foundation. We are a unique, mixed nation of people, laws and compassion—built by immigrants and mutual respect. Let us never forget that we are blessed in so many ways.

Happy Thanksgiving and God bless you all!

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