Monday, December 15, 2014

A Little Christmas Trivia

  When I was a kid, Christmas was a magical time of year. Shortly after Thanksgiving, ol' Mac would start to receive the Christmas trees that he chose back in October. He owned Mac's Trading Post and was one of the main suppliers of Christmas trees for the area. I've always enjoyed the sights and sounds and smells of Christmas. In northern climates the days tend to be dark and gloomy and the extra lights and colorful tinsel help to brighten the season. As an adult I still enjoy the the bright colors and whatnot, but even more so I enjoy receiving Christmas cards. You get to hear from friends who you might not have contact with any other time of year. Usually there's always some relative who sends a brief history of what they or their kids are doing in a type-written mass produced letter. It's nice to know what little Johnny is doing...I guess. I just wish they would include some real world experiences. If one were to believe what was written, you would be led to believe that their world was practically perfect, with mom being in charge of the garden club, Dad receiving a huge bonus, the family building a new second vacation home to take advantage of the beach in the winter, and both kids being put on the deans list at college for academic excellence. I'd like a little shot of reality. "Well, we had the annual family get together. Grandpa got drunk and passed out at the table. Grandma forgot to put on her Depends and we spent an hour cleaning the dining room chair. The kids spent the whole Christmas vacation fighting over the remote and the water heater broke down while I was trying to get a shower." That's a letter I could believe. Anyway, back to the Christmas cards. I do enjoy getting them. From what I can gather, the first Christmas cards were developed back in 1843 in England. Sir Henry Cole commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley to come up with a design for the cards. Sir Henry was a government worker and I believe he was looking for a way to get people to utilize the new postal service. Horsley received fame for being a bit of a prude, campaigning against using nude models as subjects for art. He was nicknamed Clothes Horsley for his efforts. Some more bits of trivia- 45% of all the cards sent in the U.S. are Christmas cards. 72% of people aged 8- 24 send out cards, while a whopping 91% of those of us over the age of 55 send them out. At least that's the way it was a few years ago. In 2008 the average American family spent $32.43 on Christmas cards. I don't know if that includes postage or not. I seldom buy cards anymore. We receive quite a few from various charitable organizations we support, and even some from those we don't support. I guess they think that if they send me something I'll feel obligated to send them something. Maybe we could just exchange Christmas cards. I kind of wish the folks who make hoochies and King Salmon spoons and other assorted fishing gear would send me some Christmas samples. I'd gladly send them a card in return. While Christmas cards in Europe were taking off, the first commercial American cards didn't really catch on until 1875, when Louis Prang, a German born lithographer started producing them. He became known as  "the father of the American Christmas card."Apparently his cards didn't feature the typical Christmas scenes, but rather different kinds of flowers. They were quite expensive too and he went out of business. Not to fear though, old Louis teamed up with the American Crayon Company and got into the water color business. I well remember the boxes of Prang Water Colors that were part of every elementary school child's supplies. The company is still in business, so I guess he did something right. The other day I bought some Christmas cards at the annual Christmas bazzar at the school. My daughter Jen 's 3/4 class was selling cards to raise money for a little girl in Utah who is suffering with a debilitating disease that threatens to take her life soon. She was featured on CNN and would like to receive cards from all over. We sent her one with a few post cards of Hoonah. I'll try to find her address if anyone out there would like to send her one. Anyway, that's about what I've got. Hope you feel enlightened or at the very least entertained.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Decorating the House

Can you believe that it's almost Christmas again? It seems like we just put all this stuff away in the attic, and now it's time to drag it out and go through the whole scenario of shuffling through it and decorating. I remember hearing older people talking about how fast the time goes as you age, and because I was young and days seemed to last forever, I thought they were mistaken, or at the very least pulling my leg. Now that I've entered my senior years, I realize they were so right. We're on a train through time that starts off slow as it leaves the station and continues to gather speed until it's hurtling faster and faster towards our end. Ah well, guess we need to make the most of the time we're given. In any event, back to the subject at hand. At the beginning of the week Jan rooted around in the attic and started digging out the  boxes of "Christmas Stuff." Holy Crow! It looks like the seasonal isle at a Walmart Store. How in heaven's name did we acquire all this stuff? Actually, I know how. I'll be in shopping sometime close to the holiday season and run across the shelves and pegboards stuffed to the gills with all manner of Trim a Tree goodies and I'll feel that old familiar lust for a box of shiny new ornaments. They almost glow as they reflect the fluorescent lights overhead. I'll run my fingers over the soft bristles of sparkling tinsel and feel my pulse quicken just a bit. I'm sure the stuff we have crammed away has flat spots and bare areas and  sections of Scotch Tape clinging to it where I attempted to get it to hang in a window or on a door, and so I buy it, forgetting that in the dark recesses of the crawl space there is enough tinsel to decorate the White House.  Good Lord in heaven, we have at least eight boxes of tinsel and ornaments, wreathes and magi scenes and tree skirts... and lights. Oh man, the lights. They are without a doubt the most irritating part of decorating. Don't get me wrong, I love the colored lights. I'm a real sucker for color. The brilliant sparkling bulbs that shine at night really dress up the drab greys and blacks and whites of a winter landscape, but thuderation, trying to get them strung is another story altogether. I like to string lights outside on the porch. When I was a kid I always wanted my dad to decorate the outside of our house like many of the other houses around town did. We used to go out for a drive at night during the holiday season and ogle the colorful displays. Some people spared no expense when decorating their homes. It was cheap entertainment. However it was always a bit of a disappointment to come home and have to settle for just a tree displayed in the window. Now I see the wisdom of letting someone else go to the trouble of stringing all those lights and bearing the expense. The other day I decided it was time to go ahead and string the outside lights. Regardless of how carefully I try to put away the stings of lights each year, by the time I get them out and attempt to hang them, I've got a bird's nest that would make an eagle proud. Fortunately I'm a fisherman and I'm used to untangling lines, but it's still a challenge. Somehow, in the process of unwinding the mess, there always seems to be a wire that breaks or a bulb that isn't making contact, so two thirds of the lights will come on, but that one third in the middle refuses to light. I shake the wires, I try to tighten the bulbs, I've even bought a cheap tester to find out which bulbs are working, but all to no avail. Shouting and cursing I make my way down to the seasonal isle of the local store and buy more. This year I had to purchase  two sets of green lights and one red. They may be UL approved, but they're all made in China, and if you get two years out of a set you count yourself lucky. I saw today on the news that China surpassed the U.S. in terms of GDP. No wonder. We're spending half of our holiday income replacing the Christmas lights every year. Merry Christmas from the folks who brought you gunpowder... and disposable Christmas lights. Anyway, the lights are strung, the tinsel is hung, the bells are rung and the tree is up. Christmas is in full swing, so go out and enjoy the fruits of your neighbor's labor, and if for some reason about a third of the lights on display aren't lit, don't be critical. Let's blame it on the Chinese.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Give Thanks!

 I hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving Day with family and friends. For those who had to be away from home or without family members, I hope that you can find some comfort in your memories and pray that your future memories will be pleasant. My son Brian is visiting right now, for which I am most grateful. I miss having all the kids sitting around the table like it used to be. I'm very fortunate that my daughter and granddaughter live here in Hoonah and we're able to see them fairly often, but I do wish that I could afford once a year to pay for everyone to come together for a Thanksgiving feast.  Since that isn't possible, we have to settle for phone calls and Face book I guess.
  A few weeks ago my good friend, Buffalo Bob Holden called. We first became friends when we were both living on the farm at Game Creek. Periodically one of us will call the other to catch up on our lives and compare books we've read. I'm reading a book right now that he had suggested. It's called Breakfast at Sally's, about a man who had been a very successful businessman who was in the publishing business, but when the Internet started and e-books and what not he lost it all and ended up homeless and sleeping in the back of a van with his little dog. He spent his days wandering about, speaking with other homeless people, eating at the Salvation Army (Sally's) and parking his van in a church parking lot. I've never given a lot of thought to the homeless. I suppose, like many, I just assumed that they were all lazy or druggies or drunks. I'm coming to find out that it's not the case. Some folks have suffered a loss of a job and as a result their home; some young people are escaping an abusive home life, some have mental issues. There are indeed some of them who seem to be consumed with getting the next drug fix or bottle of booze, but sometimes, that's more of a result of desperation. Without a home address, many businesses won't hire someone. They can't receive their social security benefits and things like hygiene are a constant struggle. No business wants a person who stinks to come in and use their restrooms. I don't really know what the answer is. It's a complex problem, but I've come to realize that, but for the  grace of God there go I. Many people are just one pay check away from losing their home. I hadn't really meant to write about this, but I guess I did anyway. The thing is, if you're in a place where you can read this, hopefully you're warm and well fed and your health is good, let's give God thanks. It's not a once a year thing to do. It's multiple times a day as we enjoy the sunshine or family or a good book or a warm piece of Apple pie. There's a hundred million things to be thankful for. The last time I spoke to Buffalo, he told me he had seen a plaque somewhere and it had made such an impression on him that he wrote down the saying. I'm going to pass it on to you now.
 What if you awoke today with only what you thanked God for yesterday?
 Food for thought. I sincerely hope you all have a blessed holiday season. God bless!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Two Bathrooms- Twice the Trouble

  When Jan and I bought this house years ago, we were a family of nine. Including Jan, there were six females trying to live in harmony in a home that had only one bathroom. For the life of me I don't know how we did it. Mornings were especially hectic as everyone had to try to get ready for school or work. Fortunately, if things got desperate the boys could step outside to the woods in back for some immediate relief if the bathroom was tied up. Our home was one of the original "war houses" that were diverted to Hoonah after the fire of 1944 burned down most of the town. I believe they were originally bound for Hawaii or some warmer climate. It runs in my mind that there wasn't any insulation in them when they were first installed. Of course it wouldn't be such a big deal if the average year round temperature was 75 or so, but it didn't work too well for Alaska. When we purchased the house, it had been remodeled recently with new plumbing and electrical and a new roof, but it still only had one bathroom, and for reasons that I can't fathom, there was only one closet and it was located in our bedroom. Maybe the previous owners didn't have very many clothes or they just put everything in a chest of drawers or perhaps just threw their things on the floor, who knows? Anyway, thanks to the foresight of Governor Jay Hammond and the legislature at the time, the newly found oil wealth from the Alaska pipeline was used in part to establish a dividend program to share with the Alaska residents that is in effect to this day. We combined the dividends of the entire family to remodel the upstairs, expanding the bedrooms, complete with closets and adding another bathroom, which was sorely needed. Of course with two bathrooms comes twice the headaches. Two times the toilets, sinks and tubs to be cleaned and of course maintenance. This past weekend we had some dear friends come for a visit for a few days, and Jan had decided some weeks ago to repaint the upstairs bathroom, I guess in preparation for their arrival. Of course human nature being what it is, she was busy until two days before they got here trying to finish up the border and get the last of the painting done. Because she was at work and I wasn't, and also I might add, because I'm a gem of a husband, I ended up putting the final touches on it. For the past several months I had been noticing that whenever I took a shower in the downstairs bathroom, water would end up pooled on the floor. Not a lot, but enough. About the same time I had noticed that over the course of the day, water would also creep out from around the base of the toilet. Enough that if a person was standing in the area, your socks would wick up the moisture to where you could ring them out. It was uncomfortable and unsightly as well, especially given the fact that the toilet bolts were rusty and would discolor the water from the base, giving it a fairly suspicious tint. In fact several times Jan accused me of peeing on the floor.Though I adamantly denied her claim, I don't think she really believed me. In any event, knowing that we were due to have company, and not wanting them to soak their socks and wonder  about the source of the discomfort, I thought I would go ahead and correct the problems. Thank God for company- otherwise things might never get done. It's like leaving the lawnmower and rake laying around the yard until the first snowfall- it's the incentive you need to act on the problem.Anyway, I took apart the shower frames so I could caulk under them, and noticed that the tub surround was pulling away a little from the wall. Much like a kid with a scab, I had to pick at it until I had the whole surround off the wall. I can never leave well enough alone. Actually that was good. I found a little mold on the sheet rock that I was able to replace. Of course the adhesive that had held the surround on was hard as a rock and had to be sanded off and replaced. It smelled like a chemical plant in the bathroom,which I guess isn't the most offensive odor it's ever harbored, and I had dust on every available surface. Once that project was finished, I decided to tackle that toilet. It needed a new wax ring, so I shut off the water supply and unbolted the blasted thing. Even though I had flushed several times and taken a towel to the inside bowl to remove all the water,when I lifted the commode from the floor, there was a regular gulleywasher flowing all over the floor and leaving my slippers saturated. Lovely. After I was already neck deep into the project I started wondering if I had gotten everything I needed to complete the job. It was a moot point, since the hardware store had been closed for several hours by the time I got the bright idea to work on it. As it was, even though the main and secondary water valves were closed, I still had a pretty good drip going on. I had visions of spending the next twelve hours sleeping on the bathroom floor and waking every fifteen minutes to empty the Cool Whip container I had under the valve to catch the drips. Sticking the wax ring on wasn't exactly a picnic either. It's supposed to be a fairly simple thing, but nnnooooooo..... not for Botts. I couldn't get it to stick to the bottom of the toilet like it was supposed to, and when it did kind of attach more or less, I couldn't line the blasted thing up with the hole in the floor. It's at times like that when the appeal of the outhouse comes in to play. The bottom line is, the shower doesn't leak and neither does the toilet, so if your feet get wet when you come in to the bathroom now, it probably is pee on the floor.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


  Today's post will be number 300. Who knew that I could be so long winded? Well, maybe everyone but myself. It's why I accomplish so little in the course of a day. I should be a DJ or something so I could at least be paid for being a windbag. In any event, I suppose I should celebrate somehow- maybe bake a cake and stick on three hundred candles. I could probably shut off the heat for awhile. More likely I'd set the house on fire, so I guess I won't attempt the cake.
  I went out yesterday to document something that I never thought I would see- utility poles stretching out beyond the town. I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw the crews from Chatham Electric erecting them. I knew that Shorty Tonsgard had started a subdivision out past the runway, but the power lines go well beyond that, all the way out to the O3 road where our water supply for the city is. I asked a former city administrator about it, and she said we were going to tap into Garteeni Creek and start getting hydro power. I kind of like that idea. The cost of diesel is through the roof here, and since the generators that supply the power are diesel, our electrical costs are high as well- something like 61 cents a kilowatt hour. Compare that to Juneau which pays somewhere between 5 and 8 cents I believe. Unfortunately, because of the cost of the project, we won't see any savings on our electric bill in my lifetime I don't believe, but hopefully future generations will see some degree of savings.
  Jan and I have lived in the area for over thirty eight years. A lot of things change in thirty eight years. Of course there's the obvious, thirty eight... or more pounds added, grey hair, wrinkles, aches and pains- those can all be expected, but who would have thought when we came here back in 76 that there would be such profound changes to Hoonah. When we drove off the ferry that late June day, cars were an anomaly. Pavement was non existent. The woods surrounding Port Frederick were mostly virgin forest. There were three stores, two restaurants and one hotel or motel or lodge or whatever it is. It runs in my mind that about once or twice a year, usually in the winter, a house would catch fire, either because of a chimney fire or a faulty oil stove. Since then whole area has seen large scale logging, the cannery has ceased to exist as a fishing facility and has been turned into a tourist destination, we have paved roads, and on those roads we have cars. Lots and lots of cars. I have to wait at the intersection now for a chance to dash out into traffic and hope I don't get broadsided. We have a new ferry terminal, new fuel tanks, a longer runway, sidewalks, a harbor that many boats from out of town utilize, a travel lift for hauling out boats, a new power plant, and we're in the process of getting a new clinic. We have three restaurants, not including the ones at the cannery during the tourist season, two or three coffee shops and a handful of bed and breakfasts, as well as the lodge. The last house fire that I know of was about three years ago, possibly because so many people have turned to using Toyostoves for their primary heat. When I walk around town now I'm shocked at how many people I don't know. At one time I knew almost everyone in town- at least the adults. Now I don't know if the folks I see are transients,cannery workers, fishermen or if they own a home in town. I'm afraid it's only going to get worse. The Discovery Channel is filming up the bay for some phony Alaskan show about a family supposedly toughing it out in the wilderness. I think its called Alaskan Bush People or some such thing. There's a pretty mixed reaction to having them here. We've already experienced a bunch of white people trying to make it on the land in Alaska- it was called Mt. Bether at Game Creek- the farm. I lived there for ten years. We didn't get outside help to protect us from the bears or erect the cabins or provide the game to survive on, and we certainly didn't have camera crews filming our every move. I'm afraid what is going to happen is those who watch the show will become enamored with the lifestyle and the area and there will be a mass influx of unprepared city dwellers who want to "get back to nature" and "live off the land" and I'll have to tolerate a bunch of bearded buffoons who want to kayak up and down the bay, live in tents, crap in the woods and leave a trail of toilet paper in all my favorite hunting areas. Sometimes change is hard to take.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Could I borrow a cup of sugar?

   I made a trip over to Juneau last week to go shopping. Sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry doesn't it? I believe most ladies like to shop, but I think that usually involves fun things like shoes or clothes or some such thing. I don't know what's so fun about those items. Now if they were shopping for hoochies or spoons or flashers and assorted other fishing gear, I could see where that would be fun. I think my heart skips a few beats every time I spot a new pack of hoochies that have the potential for catching fish. That's much more practical than a tenth pair of shoes or an extra blouse to squeeze into a closet. Unfortunately I wasn't shopping for fishing gear. I paid $132.00 to hop a ferry and go shopping for groceries. It seems like a lot of money, and it is, but the fact is, it costs so much for groceries here, that with the amount that I bought, I actually saved money. A case in point. I ran out of gum prior to my trip so I elected to go to Colette's Cupboard to buy some. Colette's is the only other store in town that carries groceries. I bought two packs of my favorite gum- Trident original. When the gal rang up the sale, I had to cough up $4.03. Holy Crow! I really savored that gum, chewing it until there wasn't a smidgen of flavor left. At Costco I bought gum on sale for $5.99 a carton. There are 14 packs in a carton, so I bought four cartons. I figure I saved about $88.00 just on the gum alone, which pays for a good bit of the cost of the ferry ticket. I love shopping at Costco. Most of the groceries you buy come in case lots or in  a size so big that you need to invite  the whole neighborhood to help you eat it all. I bought a beef sausage log that's about two feet long and two and a half inches in diameter. You could feed half of Germany with this thing. I bought it for an upcoming Christmas party that we're having. As you can see from the pictures above, the shelves are well stocked- at least for now. I believe I've mentioned in the past that on occasion my daughter Jennifer will fail to pick up some necessary item that she needs for dinner. For whatever reason, she'll decide she wants to cook something like, say, chicken. Well she doesn't check to see if she has chicken before she decides to cook it, and because she is incredibly busy, and apparently shopping isn't at the top of her list, by the time she discovers that she doesn't have what she needs, the store is closed. Hey, no problem- I'll just go over to mom and dads and tap into their supplies. No need to go to Costco, I'll shop at Bottsco's. I can't count the number of times down through the years that she's called and wanted to "borrow" one thing or another. I don't know how you borrow a spoon of mayo. It runs in my mind that we've provided coffee, sugar, potatoes, canned vegetables, soy sauce, mayonnaise, other items that escape memory for now and of course toilet paper. I don't know how, in a house full of women, you could possibly forget to buy toilet paper, but apparently it happens. I guess we're guilty of enabling by the very act of providing said TP. Once or twice of having to squat in the woods without the benefit of tissue would probably do wonders for ones memory. However, we're not totally hard-hearted, so we of course "lend" whatever is needed. Just don't bring back the toilet paper when you're done with it. I have a tendency to express my opinion when I deem something isn't what it should be, and Jen has called to borrow things with such frequency that I inevitably give her a hard time for not being prepared. Now when she needs to borrow something, if I answer the phone she'll ask to speak to her mom. Of course I know what that's about. Things are looking up though. She recently had to go to Juneau for some medical issues and while she was there she stocked up at Costco. When I was at her house the other day Jen proudly announced that she had a full compliment of toilet paper and coffee and other supplies that in times past could be conveniently gotten at our house. Then she marched me down to her freezer and showed me how neatly stocked it was. She was very proud of herself. I'm proud of her too. However, I know that it's just a matter of time before she'll run out of something and she'll need to be making a trip to Bottsco's. Fortunately I have a large supply of plastic grocery bags she can use to take my supplies home with her.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Danita's Children

A Haitian boy in the market
Children in school at Danita's Children


Francia Dervilus

Robenson Talabert

 I received a lovely color pamphlet from Danita's Children  a couple weeks ago. Danita's Children is an organization down in Haiti that runs an orphanage, a school and most recently a hospital on the compound. In 1998 Danita Estrella came to the Dominican Republic with a group of doctors in order to translate for them. Several weeks later she traveled to Haiti. When she saw the orphans, the people sleeping in the streets, the abject poverty, her heart was broken. Two months later she said goodbye to her family and moved to Haiti by herself. She opened a home for orphans and one month later she had fourteen children she was caring for. She started a charitable organization called Hope for Haiti and has since renamed it Danita's Children.I'm not sure how many children she's taking care of right now, but as you can see in the second picture, there is quite a few of them. They have a saying at Danita's Children- there's always room for one more. Somehow they have been able to take in so many needy kids. It's not just a temporary fix either. As Danita states, this is a lifetime commitment to feed, clothe and educate these children. With the hospital she has opened she hopes to provide medical care for the entire island,so that no one in this desperately poor country will have to suffer because they can't afford it.As she states in a video, when we get up in the morning we wonder what clothes we will wear, or what we will fix for dinner. When Haitian families wake up, they wonder how they will survive. She mentioned that there are one hundred and forty eight million orphaned children in the world. How will they know that they have value as human beings? How can they know that God hasn't forgotten them, that He loves them if those who are Christians don't step up to the plate? Who does God use to meet the needs of these kids?  He uses us. It's not up to the United Nations or UNICEF or some government funded corrupt organization to feed and clothe these kids. Its up to those who call themselves Christians. It takes money to run a place like this. Sorry, but it does. An orphanage or a church or a hospital needs  money, just the same as you need money to buy food or medical help or heat for your home. A lot of folks are turned off  by requests for money when it comes from the pulpit, but as she mentions, in the Book of Proverbs God says, those who give to the poor, lend to God- He will repay. Will the king of all the universe repay grudgingly? Will He default on what you have lent Him? No way! I know that there are a lot of very worthwhile charitable organizations. If you aren't in the habit of giving, I hope that you will start a new habit. I can attest to the fact that you can not out-give God. It doesn't have to be this organization, though I believe it is certainly worthwhile. I hope you will prayerfully consider supporting a Christian charity, whether it is feeding the hungry or teaching prisoners or visiting the elderly. We have so many needs in this world, and if Christians don't step up who will?