The Pilgrims' Progress


My family is living in poverty. Shocking, I know, especially since my husband has a steady income, we have food on the table three times a day, and we even go on vacation occasionally. However, our income is thousands — even tens of thousands of dollars — below the government determined level for a family of our size.

It’s strange that we could be poor (according to federal standards) and not know it. In fact, when I think about it, we have at least as much abundance as the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock did: a bit of earth, a house, a well with clean water, orange-golden pumpkins, several fat chickens (no turkeys), blue sky, a fireplace and a home full of children.

  In addition, we enjoy the freedom to worship as we please, and the ability to determine our own destiny.

Still, caring for a large family every day is hard.  This is America! Shouldn’t life be easy? Perhaps I could drum up some sympathy for our situation if I took my nine children and camped out on the lawn of the County Building. I’m sure that if we pitched a tent and stayed for a week, people would truly understand how destitute we are.

Good grief! The Pilgrims didn’t come to America to live on Easy Street, or because houses, food, or doctors were free; they came because of opportunity! “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” have nothing tangible attached: no mansions, no perfect jobs, no great health benefits--just freedoms. Wealth isn’t about having things, it’s about having choices — choices that can progress to abundance if made correctly.

Although we celebrate abundance as a trademark of those first colonists, life wasn’t a piece of pie for the Pilgrims. Just days after the 1621 Thanksgiving celebration, another ship arrived bringing 36 more people to the fledgling colony. These new Pilgrims were as poor as those from the Mayflower. The added mouths were an additional burden on the original Pilgrims, still weak from the previous harsh winter, and preparing for another one.

The first Thanksgiving didn’t guarantee a life of ease ever after; it was only an expression of gratitude for their progress so far. There were still many long winters, cold days and difficult years before “plenty” became the norm in their lives. Landing in Plymouth wasn’t the end, it was the beginning. I believe their eventual progress was, in part, due to their gratitude.

My parents recently lived in Detroit as church service missionaries. They combined their efforts with many denominations to gather blankets, clothing and food for destitute people in the area. One medical student from Africa was happy to help their humanitarian efforts. However, although he had lived in downtown Detroit for several years, he remarked, “I still have yet to see real poverty in the United States.” Indeed, American poverty is a breed all its own, very different from the terrible hunger in many other countries.

Perhaps, in some ways, poverty in the USA is a state of mind. A stamp (no pun intended) that’s placed upon us and can potentially damage our free way of thinking. Maybe the real remedy isn’t freebies, but freedom.

Perhaps those who think that protesting these freedoms is patriotism should try gratitude instead.

So Happy Thanksgiving! This distinctly American holiday is founded on gratitude, not “gimme.”

Are we living below the poverty level? Not in my book. If this is being poor, I’ll take it! I’d rather live on a small income in America than above the national average in any other country. My family is rich! The blessings the Pilgrims enjoyed when they arrived on the Mayflower are still here. I would be honored if my own posterity’s progress mirrored that of the Pilgrims’.

No matter what our income level, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” can still be served up in abundance on our platters and in our lives, if we will but partake.

Thank you, Pilgrims.

The Victory of Veterans

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal November 15, 2011

A month ago I visited my sister in Los Alamos, N.M. The small mountain town may not ring a bell for people of my generation. However, I’m certain that it strikes a chord in the hearts of an older generation.
I first heard of Los Alamos somewhere in a high school history class ... something to do with the making of the atomic bomb, something about a national laboratory. But visiting the town was an eye-opener.
My sister picked me up at the airport, and we drove up, up through the rugged mountains of New Mexico. Sagebrush, scrub oak and pine trees dotted the beautiful, red landscape. Aside from a few cars traveling with us, it was hard to imagine that anyone lived nearby. Suddenly, the mountain road leveled out onto a mesa, and there was a town: “The Town That Never Was,” according to archives of World War II. But it did exist in the 1940s — hundreds of people, houses, schools, stores and, of course, the national laboratory.
The land was originally owned by Mr. Ashley Pond. He had a sophisticated boys’ ranch, where wealthy young men came to study both books and botany. The students had lessons indoors, and spent time swimming, hiking and camping outdoors - strengthening both their minds and bodies. We toured the original ranch lodge, beautifully built of logs, the inside with large fireplaces and inviting classrooms.
However, when the government purchased the land, the school was closed and the buildings were inherited by a group of international scientists. Their mission: develop a bomb to end the war.
Within a few months, the ranch was transformed into a town. Those who lived there during those tense times must have found some peace. The view was gorgeous. From my sister’s back yard, we could look down on the Rio Grande River. The tree-covered hills and hiking trails were perfect for any outdoor enthusiast and well-secluded from the world ... and potential enemy invasions. It was a time of secrets. Residents of Los Alamos couldn’t use the town name off of the mountain. Their address was a P.O. box in Santa Fe. Children born in Los Alamos had the same P.O. box listed as the location on their birth certificates.
Secret messages were sent to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman from the laboratory, informing them of the experiments and successes taking place on the mountain. Those involved in the project sensed the implications of their work, and did it with a heavy heart, yet with fervor to bring peace back to a crazy world. And, after months of experimenting, the weapon was ready. When the bomb was tested, less than a month before it was used, the light and explosion were seen for miles. Mankind had changed forever.
My sister and I toured the museum. Replicas of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were there, complete with details of their creation and destructive powers. Having been to Hiroshima and having seen the “other end” of the story, my heart was heavy. There were real people in Hiroshima. There were real people in Los Alamos. However, the victory and peace that came from the war’s end were also powerful.
We wandered through the museum for several hours, learning the history, studying what the lab does now, and feeling great gratitude for those who protect our nation.
My generation has lived mainly during peaceful times. Military drafts, rationing and bombs are words that don’t forcefully affect our lives today - at least, not yet. When I returned home and shared my travelogue with my children, they asked, “What’s the national lab?” I tried to describe it to them: the town today, the beauty around it and the incredible history involved. It was hard for them to grasp the feeling that was there, but I want them to comprehend it. In fact, I think I’ve already planned our next family vacation. Veterans aren’t just those who fight at the forefront of battles; there are those behind lines working and sacrificing as well. And their victories also deserve our gratitude.
The national lab isn’t part of our everyday vocabulary and could potentially be forgotten in the history books. However, just as we honor our veterans, we must never forget people who gave up everything and moved their families to a small, mesa-top town to defend us.

Pet Perfect

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal November 1, 2011

Last month we inherited a rooster, two cats and three goats (all within a few days of having a new baby). The rooster was promptly named “Bar-B-Que” by the children. We didn’t tell him about his name, but have thoroughly enjoyed his happy crowing each morning, the perfect touch to any farm. The cats (still kittens) will hopefully soon be trained in their duties - mousing — a great help as the cold weather sets in. And the goats? Their cute, furry antics and friendly bleating from the pasture have won our hearts over. Perhaps they’re the “perfect pet” we’ve been searching for.
I’m from a large family, and my parents raised children, not pets. No cat. No dog. I was never introduced to the task of caring for animals. However, wanting to be good parents, my husband and I eventually gave in to our own children’s pleading for a pet.
The first pet we agreed to was a fish. After a day of selling lemonade, my three oldest children had money in their pockets, and soon we had a fish bowl with a pretty “kissy” fish inside of it. The fish was the center of attention for the first hour or two of joining our family. She (or he) was fed often, perhaps too much, as feeding is the only activity one can really engage in with a fish. After a week, the fun wore off, summer ended, and the children went back to school. “Feed the fish” was one job marked very blackly on someone’s morning chore chart, yet it was often forgotten. Not wanting to fix meals with a hungry fish watching me, I often gave in and fed Kissy. Feeding wasn’t as much of a nuisance as the fact that Kissy would sometimes “flip” out of her fish bowl onto the floor. Although I eat fish, I don’t touch them, yet several times I found myself chasing a loose, flipping fish across the linoleum to carry her back to safety. When we went on vacation a few months later, I was secretly thrilled when Kissy died under our neighbor’s care.
Despite our sad fish tale, when our boys became excited about raising gerbils, we agreed to try some new pets. However, this time we required that the children read several library books about gerbils before we purchased the animals. Once the boys had studied up on their new hobby, we all made the exciting trip to the pet store. Inside, the store associate positively assured us that we were only purchasing male gerbils, and by evening we were all watching the cute, furry things run happily through their tunnels. The gerbils were friendlier than fish, and aside from making lots of noise during sleeping hours and successfully chewing up the bedroom curtains, they seemed relatively harmless.
One day, after a month of gerbil peace, my youngest called, “There’s a bug in the gerbil cage!” Everyone hurried to look. A strange, naked looking creature with a huge head was burrowed into the sawdust. Next to it was another, and another, and another. “Those aren’t bugs,” I ventured. “They look more like baby gerbils.”
“Oh!” offered my excited daughter. “The library book said that gerbils can reproduce every 28 days!” My eyes popped out. Someone had failed to fill me in on that detail. “But how did we get a girl and a boy gerbil?” asked my son. I’m sure the overly-eager store associate couldn’t answer that question.
The next few weeks were definitely interesting as we not only cared for the new babies, but welcomed two more batches of gerbils into our growing family. After the third litter, I had had enough. One afternoon, we took the cage and all of the inmates to an “exotic” pet store. “We’ll gladly take the gerbils,” one associate smiled. We followed him to the back of the store where he placed our cage among a menagerie of snake aquariums. I stifled a gasp as the children waved goodbye.
It’s been a few years since our fish and gerbil pets. In the meantime, we’ve also tried hermit crabs and a desert tortoise (both as cuddly and exciting as fish.) The children are older now, and we gave in again. My daughter received a goat for her birthday. Of course, one goat deserves another, and my son purchased the twin goat so they wouldn’t be “lonely.” Now they’re prancing around in our pasture, watched by the rooster and kittens.
I’m not sure exactly what the next few months will bring. However, this time, we have a deal: I feed people inside the house (including the baby) and the children must feed the animals outside. In addition, I’ve done my own research. Goats are cuddlier than fish, they sleep when it’s dark, and they do NOT reproduce at gerbil speed. I can only hope for the best.