Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Is there hope for our world?

12/26/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

As the days of 2012 wind down, I think we can all agree on one thing—it has been a difficult, heartbreaking year for individuals and communities all across these United States. The despicable, wanton murder of innocent children and adults by crazed individuals; the widespread destruction of property and lives by Mother Nature; and the hard financial times suffered by so many of our families, cause us to wonder if there is hope for our world.

For many years it has been my tradition to tell an old-fashioned, feel-good holiday story in this space in the last column of the year. And if ever we needed a reason to feel good, the time is now. Today I’m going to take you back to another time of heartache and suffering. Fear in the form of The Great Depression stalked the land of these United States and the only joy that could be found was in family ties.

This story is attributed to farmer Webster Howe’s recollection of his favorite Thanksgiving but it could have been told by my father who was also living in the hills of Missouri trying to help his father eke out a living for their family of five after the death of his mother. Eventually they all emigrated to Calif. Mr. Howe tells a similar tale with a different ending.

“It was 1934 or ’35. Our kids had all left home lookin’ for work in California and in Kansas, takin’ all the little ones with them. Probably to starve, as Mother put it. There was no one left on the farm but me, Mother and John, our youngest son.

In those days there was want all across this country. Where we was you couldn’t hardly make a thin dime. We milked our string of cows and couldn’t sell the milk; fed it to the pigs and couldn’t sell the pigs but we was blessed with food and work.

That year we put up more dried and canned stuff and put down and smoked more meat than we ever done before or since. You’d of thought we was squirrels, putting’ away nuts for a hard winter.

Anyway, it got to be the week before Thanksgivin’ and we didn’t hear nothin’ from any of the kids livin’ in Kansas or Calif. Mother had writ them long letters and wondered if any of them was comin’ home for the holiday.

When she didn’t hear, she jest went out one mornin’ and killed two big tom turkeys and dressed them. Then she set about making apple, mince and pumpkin pies. By evenin’ the bread and baked stuff began to pile up till I asked who she was cookin’ all that for, me and John? She never even answered me.

I tell you, it got to me. Mother was workin’ hard and lookin’ tired. I was getting’ bitter at the kids who hadn’t even answered their mother’s letter.

Well, it didn’t get no better and by the time we was doing chores the night before Thanksgivin’ me and John was feeling low too. I still had two cows to go, when I heard a car drive up. John left the feedin’ and went out to look. He come runnin’ back and told me to come quick, he’s finish up later.

When I stepped out of the barn, there was my son Ken’s old touring car loaded with women and kids and Jack, my son-in-law, jumpin’ out of it. I jest turned around and went back into the barn. John came to get me and said they’d jest come down after me if I didn’t come on up to the house.

At the house there was a lot of laughin’ and talkin’ and everyone was huggin’ Mother and John and me. When we went inside, John, poured coffee for the grownups and icy cold milk for all the children. Mother and the girls went to the pantry for something to eat and we could hear them teasin’ and laughin’ about all the stuff she’d made. 

Then with both hands full of cookies, the littlest grandchild come out to lean against my chair. She was a purty little redheaded kid. She told me that up in Kansas they didn’t have no cookies like Grandma made. I looked down at her and seen right away that she was as scrawny as a lamb whose mother didn’t have enough milk to feed it. About then, Mother and Daughter walked out of the pantry.

Daughter has always been the bravest of all my children but when she looked straight at me, I saw fear in her eyes. Never sheddin’ a tear, not a waver in her strong voice, she told us how they’d been broke most of the time and how they’d sold everything to get the money to come home. Without asking for an ounce of pity, she made me a deal to work out their keep till things picked up as though I wouldn’t a taken them in for nothing’.

My boy Ken, he never said nothin’, neither did his wife, they jest let Daughter talk. Jack, our son-in-law, never said a word, jest sat there with his kind of down and his elbows on his knees. Mother seen he was feelin’ shamed for not bein’ able to take care of his own, so she told him how much we was needin’ help and how his comin’ was a real godsend.

The next day was Thanksgivin’ Day. The boys helped me with chores, then we sat awhile in the barn and talked about how we was goin’ to make it. And how bad it was in Kansas and on up north. The women spent the whole mornin’ puttin’ dinner together. Then about two o’clock we ate.

Sitting’ there at the crowded table, covered with plates and food, the family all spruced up and smilin’, Mother lookin’ like the Spirit of God had descended on her purty face, put me to mind of my own pa and ma and my own brothers, and I remembered the old, old prayer my father said at our table:

We thank Thee, then O Father,
For all things bright and good
The seed-time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food.
Accept the gifts we offer
For all Thy love imparts,
And what Thou most desirest,
Our humble thankful hearts.”

The prayer of this (then) 96-year-old man certainly gives me pause to reflect. Along with the deep, deep sorrows of 2012 we have also received blessings. It reminds me that now—the day after Christmas and all the days to come—is the time to practice the spirit of Christmas. In this New Year may we resolve to share the gifts of love, joy, peace and hope every day, in every way, with everyone.

Yes, there is hope for this world and it begins with us.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail —

There is no place like home for the holidays but...

12/12/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Christmas is in the air. Like everyone else, my life is a flurry of activities as I compile list after list of what to do and when to do it.

The decorating is done but we still don’t have a tree. The annual Christmas letter is still waiting to be written. Most gifts have been purchased but for some people I don’t have a clue. There are cookies to bake, meals to plan, gatherings of friends and church services to attend. It’s a busy time of year.

But thanks to Melinda, my longtime travel agent friend, I am sitting here with a stack of travel catalogs while Jingle Bells plays in the background. Melinda thinks that we and our husbands should take a trip to England and Germany to explore the fabulous, glittering world of open air Christmas Markets. The brochures show romanticized photos of visitors dressed in snow boots and parkas as they browse the shops drinking mulled wine among twinkling lights. Beautiful!

“No, no, we can’t go,” I protested weakly. Christmas is not a travel time. It is family time. My childhood memories of Christmas are still bright. They range from buying dime store gifts for my siblings to riding a new bicycle and eating grandma’s yeast rolls. Christmas is a big deal and everyone has always been home on December 25.

Still, the ads are tempting. “Nothing gets you into the festive mood like a good old Christmas market teeming with cheery stall holders selling handmade gifts from twinkling wooden chalets, the sweet smell of mulled wine and a couple of tap dancing turkeys!”

I think it was the turkeys that got me. Soon I was entertaining visions of visiting new places and learning new Christmas traditions—on site. But it’s winter. I don’t like the cold and I have grandchildren. I’ve been to some of these places when it’s warm. I can’t go now. So, instead, I’m going to share some of my discoveries with you. Come along with me, you’ll enjoy the journey.

The city of Cologne, Germany, offers a total of six Christmas Markets.
I vividly remember visiting Cologne one hot day in May. Teeming crowds of visitors wearing shorts and tee shirts gave a cursory look at the Cologne Cathedral as they jostled one another on the way to the harbor for a tour of the Chocolate Museum. Winter brings a different crowd.

The four largest markets attract about two million visitors. The Cathedral is the impressive backdrop for the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland and over 160 wooden pavilions feature artisans in all media and of course, food and mulled wine. Pictures show the entire city sparkling like gold with strolling musicians and bands. I was very tempted to click Expedia’s ‘book now’ button.

Both Germany and England are known for their castles but how about a castle and a cavern? Castleton, England is home to the picturesque ruins of a Norman Castle and four spectacular caverns with stalagmites and stalactites. And Peak’s Cavern is a Christmas favorite that offers evening songfests at the entrance to the lead cave. They say the acoustics are great for singing traditional hymns like “We Three Kings” and even “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

And then there’s Rome. Sure we’ve been there in the brilliant sunshine of summer but how about winter? Every year a larger-than-life nativity scene is unveiled in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 24 just in time for the Pope’s midnight mass. And you can pick up your own crèche set at the Piazza Navona Christmas Market. Also available are depictions of the Italian witch La Befana made of burlap and straw. She is said to fly around on a broomstick at Epiphany dropping candy or lumps of coal down chimneys. Sound familiar?

A little closer to home, in Taos, New Mexico, bonfires blaze nightly in the plazas, bringing what one person described as a “block-party vibe” to the town. Brown paper bags lighted with votive candles line streets of famous galleries and art studios made famous by Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe. Christmas Eve, there’s a procession at Taos Pueblo, a 1,000 year old adobe settlement and on Christmas Day harvest and hunt dances are performed in the center plaza.

One of the most unique western hemisphere events takes place in Oaxaca, Mexico. On the evening of Dec. 23 it is home to a century old competiton known as the Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes). In the city’s central square, farmers display elaborate sculptures of nativity scenes, robed kings and musicians all carved out of giant locally grown radishes. The sculptures are judged and then fireworks light up the sky.

Christmas Eve, Posadas—door-to-door processions that re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter— fill the streets along with a parade. And then, there is the tradition of “breaking of the plates.” People buy crispy bunuelos, topped with sugar or syrup and then smash the ceramic plate to the ground to signify the end of the old year. Personally, I can’t help but wonder who cleans up after them.

Finally, thousands of miles away in Jerusalem, it’s business as usual on Dec. 24 and 25 because only two percent of the population is Christian. But Christmas is joyously celebrated in the Christian quarter of the Old City where Jesus lived and died. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is only six miles south a short pilgrimage from Jerusalem. There, marching bands and bagpipers led by Arabian horses weave through the narrow streets to Manger Square, the plaza outside the Basilica of the Nativity, which stands on the grotto where Jesus was born. It’s a solemn yet joyous time for all.

It’s funny how writing things down can change one’s perspective. I realize that interesting as these destinations are, our yearly family traditions are equally fascinating. Christmas anchors our lives and connects us spiritually. Our time together builds family history. It grounds the youngsters, fosters values and shapes their lives. And it’s fun! Spending time with family is a priceless, memory-making and heart-warming experience.

Truly, there is no place like home for the holidays. (Of course, if the family wants to go with us to Europe next year that would be great!) 

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail —

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Midnight Madness is CRAZY!

11/28/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Oy! Shopping has sure changed. Halloween was once just a day of costumes and trick or treating. Now it looks like a national holiday when aisles of decorations and costumes are unveiled in September. Supplies and decor for Thanksgiving (a true national holiday) are now available in mid-October.

So why am I always surprised that the hype for Christmas shopping begins in early November? Because I think it’s ridiculous, that’s why. Come on, shop keepers! Just let me enjoy a time of Thanksgiving before you start shoving Christmas cards, trees, ornaments, poinsettias and glitter down my throat. I don’t want to think about Christmas gift lists, baking and travel until I’ve eaten turkey and pumpkin pie and reflected on my blessings.

In early November I awoke to a Valley River Center radio announcement that said, “IMAGINE…all your shopping done before the sun comes up-now that’s insane. Stores open at midnight Thanksgiving night…and will be offering the craziest deals of the year.” Well, in my opinion, the idea of shopping all night is crazy.

I remember the first time I heard a Black Friday announcement. I thought the advertisers had gotten their holidays mixed up. Good Friday. Black Friday. I was confused. One day is a Holy Holiday and the other is gaudy greed.

Black Friday (so named because it’s the first day of the year that merchants turn a profit) is all about bargain shopping—at midnight. Now I’m a shopper and I love a bargain, I just don’t like bargain hunting between midnight and 7 a.m.—not even extreme bargains. That’s when most of us sleep. I need daylight to think straight.

Shoppers know that bargains are always available somewhere. Let’s say your husband needs a new sports coat. Stores A and B don’t have what you want. So you end up at a Macy’s One-Day Sale. They have the perfect $250 Ralph Lauren coat on sale for $99 and it’s marked down to $79 with a $20 off coupon. Now that’s a bargain. And you can purchase it in broad daylight without standing outside the store with hordes of frantic shoppers in the pouring rain!

Nevertheless, being the open-minded journalist that I am, I Googled some of the items being offered on Black Friday. If I had stayed up all night Thanksgiving and into the wee hours the next day, I could have run around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, getting substantial discounts at any of my favorite haunts from J.C. Penny’s in Eugene to Kohl’s in Springfield.

I will reluctantly concede that if you have electronics or children’s gifts to buy, Black Friday is probably the time to get great bargains at Best Buy, Sears, Kmart, Toys-R-Us, Walmart and Target. I checked out some of their online ads and their Door Buster prices were impressive. Of course, most of the prices were good for only 24-48 hours and subject to stock on hand.

Target’s doors were opening at 9 p.m. turkey day and they were offering a $99 Nook Simple Touch for only $49.00; a Polaroid 19” LED/DVD TV for $109.99 and you could save $100 on a Nikon digital camera. WalMart’s most impressive deals were TVs ranging from 19” to 50” in size and starting as low as $78. Sears had a 50% savings on Craftsman 18-volt drill and you could get 75% off plus an extra 20% off on selected jewelry.

It all sounds so tempting until you hear the horror stories about the mob scenes. I read about a lady who practiced “competitive shopping” with pepper spray in a crowd at a Los Angeles WalMart. She reportedly injured more than 20 people just to be sure she could obtain a video game console. Too scary for me.

I’m also too lazy to slosh around in the rain when I could be eating pumpkin pie in front of the fireplace in my slippers. Heck, after dessert, I don’t even want to go online to shop. And at this stage of the game, I wouldn’t know what I was looking for. My grandsons are still in school. They aren’t even thinking about Christmas yet.

To be a Black Friday competitive shopper you must meet three criteria and I fail in all areas.

Number one: A shopping list. If you have a list in Nov., I’m impressed. If you don’t, do not leave the house. Kids are fickle. Advertising is just beginning for the hottest toys of the season. I never knew what my kids wanted until mid-Dec. My husband was in the toy business for 10 years and he was even surprised when a new Elmo burst on the scene late in the season. So leave room to wiggle.

Number two: You need a budget. The hardest thing that I do is figure out how to spend the same amount of money (give or take a few dollars) on the same number of gifts for each grandson. Sheesh. It takes an accountant to bring equality to gifting for ages 10 to 22. 

Number three is this question: do you have the energy to shop all night long? I don’t. I never did and I never will. That’s why I’ll never go. However, I must admit that I enjoy hearing the war stories that shoppers have about their experiences and envy them for being finished with their shopping.

But hey, I’m not worried. There are more sales coming up. While I was online checking out Black Friday deals I was introduced to Cyber Monday. Just imagine what advertisers will come up with in the next few weeks. There will be something for everyone on Wonderful Wednesday, Terrible Tuesday, Freaky Friday or Silent Sunday.

My rule is—first I decorate and then I shop. So I’ll see you at the stores in December. Just not at midnight!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail —

'Free' TV and OPB too!

11/14/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Thanks to South Lane Television’s translator on Hansen Butte, our family is one of the recipients of Cottage Grove’s 'free' television. When we moved here in 1989 we did not have television reception. A visit to our local Radio Shack and an antenna was installed so we could receive three stations—ABC, CBS and NBC. We were stoked!

Thanks to a recent Sentinel article, I know a little more than I did about the history of the translator that transmits broadcasts to us here in the country. Kudos to the five local businessmen who decided in 1957 that if they were going to sell more televisions they were going to have to get us better reception. Now, according to Lloyd Williams of SLTV, that system is one of the finest in the United States.

At our house, we receive far more channels than we watch but nothing compared to those of you with access to dozens of channels on cable or satellite dishes. We toy with signing up for one of those just to watch certain HGTV and History channel shows. Still, nothing can beat OPB (public television) as our favorite network channel.

My husband is the principal viewer of all television at our house and most of the programs he watches are on OPB. He enjoys everything from “This Old House” to “Oregon Art Beat.” Anything from car shows, woodworking shows to travel, history or old guys solving cold cases is fair game for his clicker.

I, on the other hand, have just a handful of favorites. First and foremost, I am an avid fan of the Antiques Roadshow. Life comes to a standstill at our house on Monday night. The Roadshow is arguably the best reality show on TV. It mixes nostalgia with hope and a little greed. Probably one of my favorite segments was an Oklahoma man who was utterly shocked when his (ugly) Chinese rhinoceros-horn cups were appraised at $1.5 million. In everyone’s dream, he went from Social Security to millionaire in the blink of an eye.

Last year, we discovered a new treasure on OPB. “Doc Martin” is the name of the hit show that began its run in England. It took only one episode for it to become our must-see Thursday night TV event.

We love the unlovable and cantankerous Doctor Martin Ellingham. He is a surgeon whose rising star in the London medical world crashed and burned when he developed a blood phobia that prevents him from operating. He’s a bitter man.

Doc was forced to retrain as a general practioner and hired to set up his surgery (office) in Portwenn, a tiny little Cornish town where he spent childhood summers with his Aunt Joan. His patients were used to tea and sympathy. He is a brilliant physician and diagnostician and a total curmudgeon. On this premise is built one of the most complicated and enjoyable story lines on television.

Doc is socially challenged to the maximum. Over and over it is clear that this he could care less about how his patients and peers emotions. He lives to make them well physically. Any other kind of relationship is an intrusion. He is blunt and to the point—“do this and check back with me in two weeks. Goodbye!” No bedside manner.

Slowly, the story line introduces a pretty primary school teacher Louisa Glasson into his life. She’s attracted to him. He’s attracted to her. And you cannot imagine how complicated and stressful their relationship becomes. Most of the time I wonder how she keeps from slapping him but then…well, you just have to watch it evolve.

As I understand it, the show only films every two years. Right now, it’s in re-runs and if you haven’t seen it, tune in Thursday nights. Doc Martin has something for everyone—humor, relationships, mystery, suspense and romance. And you don’t have to worry about it being inappropriate for mixed company. It’s all done in good taste.

“Call the Midwife” is my latest addiction. This OPB series is based on a memoir written by Jennifer Worth describing her life in the East End of London during the 1950s. It was written in response to a call for “someone to do for midwifery what James Herriot did for vets.” Worth died in 2011 and Vanessa Redgrave narrates her story.

I must admit that as a child of the 1950s, I was shocked at the poverty and harsh living conditions that are portrayed in London tenements. Young twenty-two year old Jenny Lee Worth was also shocked as she arrived not at a clinic but at Nonnatus House (a pseudonym for the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Whitechapel) to live and work alongside her fellow nurses and the Sisters.

The Sisters of St. Raymond Nonnatus have been active in the East End as Anglican nursing nuns since the beginning of the 20th century. I love the way their humanity is portrayed and the way they teach the young nurses their mission. They are there to serve their patients. They are not there to judge the often harsh and immoral lifestyles. Their primary work is to bring literally thousands of babies safely into the world and help the moms care for their newborns.

The stories revolve around the drama and trauma in the lives of individual mothers. There is lighthearted fun back at the nunnery as the young nurses struggle to have a personal life.  And then there’s Sister Monica Joan, an elderly and eccentric nun who is also a kleptomaniac! It’s a dedicated, diverse community ministering in a challenging and diverse environment. The story line is intense but also a breath of fresh air.

So check out OPB. It has something for everyone and you’ll be glad that you did. And thank you SLTV for making it possible for everyone to enjoy quality television!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail —