Backyard birding in winter

By Jeanne Church

One of life’s simplest joys is bird watching. It can even be done from the comfort of your own home!

As I sit here in my easy chair in front of a warm fire, I can look out our sliding glass doors and watch as a variety of birds fly in from the nearby trees to take advantage of the many feeders hanging on our second story deck— one for suet, one for sunflower seeds, one for peanuts and one platform feeder that holds both peanuts and sunflower seeds. The platform feeder is a recent addition and currently my favorite. I purchased it in early December hoping to attract the evening grosbeaks that so many people from across Michigan had reportedly seen. Unfortunately, the grosbeaks have not yet found my new feeder – but lots of other birds have!

Just beyond the feeders is a thick bank of trees which provides an attractive cover for the birds to perch as they wait their turn at a feeder or go back to crack open a seed they have already fetched. Fortunately, the trees behind our house are close enough for me to get relatively good pictures of all the birds who land there. Several months ago though, I added a large dead limb to the corner of our deck so that I could take even closer shots of the birds as they landed! Surprisingly, I am only about ten feet away taking pictures, but the birds quickly get used to me.

Of all the birds that come to our feeders regularly, my favorite is the black-capped chickadee; a seemingly fearless little bird that readily takes food from my outstretched hand if I am willing to wait. Chickadees love to eat black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower, thistle, suet, whole peanuts, peanut hearts and mealworms.

Another bird that I love to see, especially during these long winter months, is the northern cardinal. The brightly colored male, and to a lesser degree his orange and brown female counterpart, really brighten up the drab, leafless landscape behind our house. They are an especially breathtaking sight on a snowy day! You can easily entice cardinals to your feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet and milo.

We also get a nice variety of woodpeckers at our feeders, but the most consistent visitor is the downy. Its favorite place to perch in our yard is on the suet feeder. “Downies” will also eat black oil sunflower seeds, millet, peanuts and chunky peanut butter.

Another regular visitor to our feeders, one who also adds a small splash of color, is the male house finch. The red feathers of a male house finch come from pigments contained in its food – the more pigment in the food, the redder the male. You can attract house finches to your yard with black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower seeds and thistle.

Keep your feeders full and you’ll enjoy hours of entertainment!

Editor’s Note: Jeanne Church is a retired special education teacher whose photography hobby began in earnest five years ago with the gift of a decent camera. Several camera upgrades later, Jeanne regularly shoots the nature preserves, sanctuaries and trails in the area with a Nikon D500 camera and a Sigma 150-600 zoom lens. Follow Jeanne on her blog: picturewalks.org.

Acts of kindness continue in South County

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

As 2020 closes, the year will be remembered as one of many challenges and difficulties. But sometimes, crisis brings out the best in people and communities. Repeatedly, this is the case in South County. Acts of kindness and gestures designed to encourage and lift others continue, often surfacing on social media, highlighting area individuals and groups.

In December, a couple who asked to remain anonymous approached the Village of Vicksburg’s leadership, desiring to help individuals and businesses in the community. South County Community Services assisted in identifying those in need. Using the couple’s generous financial gift, Rise N Dine and Main Street Pub provided meals for 200 people, both seniors and younger people, who might have gone without during the holiday season. This couple’s kindness supported the two restaurants and brightened the season for so many.

Local police officers who look forward each year to “Shop With a Cop” adjusted their protocols and continued their annual tradition of Christmas shopping with selected children, building important bridges to community families and children.

December nights were illuminated in both communities as residents decorated homes, businesses and streets for the season. Schoolcraft continued its luminaries along Grand, and homes around the village seemed in cheerful competition, providing enjoyment for all ages and a sense of connectedness.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram buzzed with night-time images of the two villages.

Area residents continue to support local agencies and check in with neighbors. Churches are learning to provide worship and connections in creative ways. Local governmental bodies continue to look for ways to support community businesses through grants and innovative funding.

After years of vacancy, beautiful holiday displays glowed in several storefronts in Vicksburg, and Santa and Mrs. Claus waved to children from the old Dancer’s building on Main Street.

And good news for the new year: Health providers and nursing home residents are receiving vaccines, delivering a dose of optimism about recovery from the pandemic.

The spirit of hope, kindness and compassion is alive and well in South County.

ChapNaz offers wide range of clothing – for free

Pastor Dave Downs, Debbie Bosworth, and Olivia Lewis.

By Kathy DeMott

Shopping for clothing is fun for many. For others it’s stressful due to the time and expense. However, when you enter the ChapNaz Community Clothes Closet, located at Chapman Memorial Church of the Nazarene on East U Avenue in Vicksburg, it’s more like a boutique.

The new and gently used clothing items are neatly hung up by category and sizes. All the clothing is clean and in good condition. The closet only accepts clothing without tears or stains. Everything is free.

The ministry was started in mid-September by Exchange (ChapNaz Ladies Ministries) and is co-directed by Sandy Johnson and Debbie Bosworth. It officially opened the first week of October to help others by providing free clothing. The church received 50 bins of clothing from a local church. Sandy and Debbie got to work with a heart to provide quality items for anyone in need. This new intergenerational ministry is staffed by ChapNaz women – and a few men – ranging from early 20’s to late 80’s. They help wash, sort and display items. Friendly volunteers welcome “shoppers” on Thursdays from 4-5:30 p.m. or by appointment, which can be scheduled by calling 269.649.2392.

College student Olivia Lewis volunteers and helps select stylish clothing for youth and teens. Her aunt, Beckie Ensfield, was helping so Olivia also wanted to get involved in providing a good experience for young families, middle-aged and elderly shoppers. The ChapNaz Clothes Closet has served many large families, some with up to eight children. The goal of the ministry is to provide for and meet the needs of the community. It is also an excellent resource for families providing foster care.

ChapNaz staff have been delighted to hear positive feedback from shoppers. Customers have enthusiastically commented on the cleanliness, organization and “good smell” that permeates the clothing closet rooms. Customers are welcome to choose from infant clothing to adult men’s and women’s clothing. There are also a wide variety of shoes, many of which were donated by First Day Shoe Fund in Portage. Many church members have purchased new clothing to donate as well.

Currently there are many winter coats available. One woman on a limited income said she had no winter clothing. She left the closet with warm clothes, a winter coat, hat and gloves. She was appreciative of the help, especially during the pandemic when finances are limited.

“Our local community works together to help each other,” Pastor Dave Downs said. “South County Community Services and Generous Hands have enthusiastically referred clients to the new ChapNaz Community Clothes Closet.” Local community members who have heard about the opening of the CNCCC have responded with generous donations. Anyone in need is welcome, and names or information from visitors is not required.

Those in need can visit the closet at 7520 East U Ave. at 29th in Vicksburg. Those with gently used (up-to-date styles) clothing, outerwear or footwear can drop it off at ChapNaz Church from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday or from 4-5:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Vicksburg woman lived an active life

By Rob Peterson

Nona Mattheis.

Nona Mattheis lived every moment of her 109 years. “She never let much grass grow under her feet,” said her youngest daughter, Margaret Miller of Schoolcraft.

The activity may have been a habit built from a young age, since she started working as a teenager to help support her father. She worked at Elam’s Stationery for a time, and then worked raising their family and tending to the animals on their 40-acre farm just south of Vicksburg. She sold the eggs from their chickens to make extra money while her husband, Vern, worked at the Lee Paper Company.

When Vern passed in 1965, she went to work at Arco in Schoolcraft. “She didn’t give up easily,” said Margaret.

She loved physical activity, starting with her teen years when she played basketball for Vicksburg and continuing until she was 100, when she finally stopped teaching line dancing. “She loved to dance,” said Margaret. “Every Saturday, she would drive the girls to the Helen Cover Center in Kalamazoo to dance. She enjoyed the heck out of it.”

Nona traveled frequently, taking trips that often included family. She took a train to Texas, and she took a camper to Alaska. She camped up and down the West Coast and watched whales off the East Coast. “She really loved to travel,” said her eldest daughter, Phyllis Barrett of Schoolcraft.

Her travels usually centered around her family, like her visits to her son while he served in the military or the annual family reunion at Round Lake.

One of her first trips, appropriately enough for someone so focused on her family, was to elope with Vern Mattheis to LaGrange in 1932, not long after they were set up on a blind date. They raised four children in Vicksburg and remained together until Vern passed away.

Her active life also included many acts of service, first to her family and then to her community. Much of that service involved food. “She was an excellent cook,” said Margaret. “She could cook just about anything. I loved her potatoes and dumpling soup that she would make on Saturdays.”

She brought enough food to the annual family reunion to feed everyone there, and she would feed the men who came to thresh wheat on their farm every year. She spent 21 years delivering food for Meals on Wheels, making a record number of deliveries. “She enjoyed being around people and doing things to help them,” said Margaret.

Her community service also included her involvement at Vicksburg United Methodist Church, the Vicksburg Community Center, the Eagles Lodge and the Rebekah Lodge, where she served as the Noble Grand.

She kept friends and family close her entire life. “I don’t think I ever saw her get mad or lose her patience,” said Phyllis.

Thanks to her active lifestyle, her independent nature, and her large support network, she was able to stay in her Vicksburg apartment until she was 104 years old. “Everyone kept an eye on her,” said Margaret, “but she was never under their thumb.”

She will be missed, but “We were blessed to have her for so long,” said Margaret.

Marital bliss, COVID-19, and relationship support

By Kathy DeMott

The joy and excitement of a wedding, honeymoon, and a bright future together launches new marriages. The comfort of a seasoned marriage supports couples as they face ongoing responsibilities of children, careers, health concerns and aging parents. The marriage relationship is ever changing, depending on the stages of life.

Enter Covid-19, an unexpected pandemic which has driven many couples back together, in the comfort of their homes, working, teaching children, and spending more time together than ever before. “Finally, the time we’ve missed being together,” or possibly, “Finally she ran to the store and I have a minute to myself.”

For some couples, Covid-19 has strengthened their marriage and family dynamics. Michael, married for almost 30 years, and who has struggled with health problems, said Covid forced him home as his company was non-essential. He used the time to get outdoors, exercise and spent more time with his family. “Covid-19 has been the best thing for me; I realized what I have, my wife and I are closer than ever, and I’m taking better care of myself.” According to the American Family Survey, 55% of couples have reported greater satisfaction in their marriage during Covid-19.

For others, the stress of being home has increased tensions and underlying issues. According to data collected from Legal Templates, a company that provides legal documents, there has been a 34% increase in the sales of their divorce agreement compared to the same period in 2019. This leads counselors and attorneys to speculate that divorce is on the rise. Couples married less than 5 months have the highest rate of divorce since Covid-19 began. That’s attributed to the lack of support systems and commitment.

Many couples stay so busy with careers, sports, school and community service that the underlying marital issues are put to the side. With Covid-19, and the shutdown of many activities, the tensions have risen and relationship problems have come forward.

There is help.

Jessica Parr, a therapist at Bronson Vicksburg Family Medicine with a master’s degree in social work, confirms there has been an increase in the need for therapy in the past year. People are feeling more stress and often need a neutral person who is non-judgmental. Bronson offers its patients a therapist to speak with to help manage their stress. Although their social workers don’t offer marriage counseling specifically, often if an individual meets with them they can help with coping strategies which can decrease tension. If needed, they can refer to marriage therapists.

Likewise in Schoolcraft, Wellspring therapist Danielle Buchheit, a licensed professional counselor, has also seen an increase in patients experiencing anxiety and depression due to Covid-19. Wellspring practices an integrated model of primary care which includes medical and behavioral services in one location. Dr. Curtis Buchheit oversees the medical care while Danielle and two other therapists see patients for additional mental, emotional and spiritual care as needed.

Connections for Psychological Wellness is located in Vicksburg and currently has six therapists available for individuals seeking help. Owner Meredith Taft, a licensed professional counselor, encourages families to get help when they first experience tension or disagreements so they can learn communication skills and boundaries to strengthen their relationships. Often, couples wait until the marriage is in crisis to seek help.

Kalamazoo Marriage Resource offers proactive tools to help support couples before and during marriage. Directors Chad and Kristen Cottingham share a passion “to help build life’s most important relationship.” KMR also hosts community date nights to foster fun, romance and “edutainment.” It hosts marriage classes and retreats which allow couples time to learn and connect on deeper levels. For information on their events, weekly encouragement and tools, visit http://www.kalamazoomarriageresource.com or follow on social media.

KMR offers SYMBIS, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, a pre-marital assessment which can identify a couple’s strengths and potential weaknesses. The couple then meets with a facilitator to process the results to gain new insights and practical tips for their relationship.

Tips from area counselors include focusing on your partner’s positive qualities during Covid-19, engaging in healthy communication by listening, asking open-ended questions, setting time and space boundaries if working from home, making time for each other, reading books on marriage or watching videos on YouTube. Authors such as John Gotham and Gary Chapman provide relationship guidance.

Kalamazoo County has many counseling resources available. Most accept insurance or offer a sliding fee or payment plans. South County Community Services is available to help with applying for Medicaid and other financial options. For free and low-cost agencies, explore Catholic Charities of Kalamazoo, Meaningful Connections Counseling, or Psychologytoday.com for local therapists.

Bee club hands out honey for healthcare heroes

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

The Kalamazoo Bee Club (KBC) recently donated 600 one-pound jars of honey to health care heroes working the pandemic front lines. Funded by donations, and bottled, labelled and transferred by a swarm of volunteers, the honey was dropped off to Bronson and Borgess’ volunteer coordinators.

According to KBC President Charlotte Hubbard, Schoolcraft resident, talking with the volunteer coordinators was emotional and stunning. Coordinators described the exhausting, relentless battles being fought in the COVID areas, and the “we will get through this” attitudes of their employees. Recipients said the thoughtful donations help boost the flagging morale of frontline workers. KBC was thanked profusely by the coordinators and then later by honey recipients on the club’s social media. “But,” said Hubbard, “I know I speak on bee-half of so many of us – we have profuse thanks for them, for their skills, resilience and expertise.”

To offset the cost, the project is funded by donations, which are still welcomed via www.kalamazoobeeclub.com. Any contributions are appreciated. If gifts exceed the cost, the KBC will work to provide additional gifts to other area hospitals.

KBC supports beekeepers through free monthly educational offerings, a free hands-on apiary when conditions allow, and a social media presence to answer questions and assist beekeepers with seasonal challenges. KBC has over 500 members and 100 active members. South County is home to over a dozen KBC members.

More thefts from cars, fewer from homes

Law enforcement suggests that getting to know neighbors and being aware of what’s happening are important deterrents.

By Bob Ball

An uptick in south county burglaries and larcenies? Posts on a social media site in recent weeks appeared to indicate one.

Police chiefs Scott Boling in Schoolcraft and Scott Sanderson in Vicksburg aren’t seeing it in their villages. But Capt. Jeff Christiansen of the Kalamazoo County sheriff’s Operations Division acknowledged an increase in stolen vehicles and thefts from vehicles in rural areas, calling them crimes of opportunity.

And he added many can be prevented by ending the opportunities.

In all of Kalamazoo County, “We’ve had a lot of larcenies in cars left running or with the keys in them,” said Christiansen. “You’re certainly prone to having your car stolen if you leave the keys in it. At this time of year, people run into the store, leaving the car unlocked and running.

“The biggest thing is to protect yourself. Put a lock on your trailer. Don’t leave keys in your car. Don’t leave valuables in the vehicle. If you leave computers, phones, tablets, it’s an invitation for someone.”

And more might be prevented with the use of video surveillance camera, which Christiansen noted have become affordable.

Christiansen said home theft “is down significantly. It may be because a lot of people are working from home. But in the middle of the night, larcenies from vehicles are up significantly.”

He acknowledged that rural areas ordinarily are “more susceptible to home break-ins. Homes are unattended during the day.” But recently, he said, “We’re having very few of those.”

“Crimes of opportunity are the easiest to commit,” Sanderson said. “They see a laptop in an unlocked car, take the laptop and walk off. That’s what a lot of these are. “Someone walks into an open garage, sees a set of golf clubs and leaves with it.”

“For prevention, I think there are a couple of things to do,” Boling said. “First of all, have contact with neighbors and establish relations with the neighborhood and the people around you. You look out for them they look out for you…. If you’re getting packages delivered, have a neighbor grab them. Make sure you lock your car up at night. Leave a light on during nighttime hours. Those can stop a lot of theft.”

In Vicksburg, Sanderson said, “We do a lot of neighborhood canvassing. Officers walk around, knock on doors, talk to folks, ask if there are any issues. Hey, if you see something, give us a call! If there’s an issue, call. Sometimes people don’t know if they should call or not. We say call.”

Christiansen noted that video surveillance cameras “are an emerging tool. They’re no longer cost-prohibitive. A lot of those systems are based on some kind of wi-fi service,” he said, capable not only of notifying the owner if there’s a break-in, but reaching out to a monitoring service which can notify a law enforcement agency.

Some of the systems, he added, can notify their customers near the site of an incident, asking them to check their own surveillance systems to see if they recorded anything that might be useful to police. “That’s a new feature that came up recently,” Christiansen said.

Vicksburg District Library carries on despite COVID

The front door of the Vicksburg District Library remains locked and closed to patrons indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Services are still being offered curbside, but strictly by appointment only.

By Adrianne M. Schinkai, Head of Reference & Circulation Services at Vicksburg District Library

On Dec. 8, alongside recommendations of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the cooperation of the Southwest Michigan Library Cooperative, the Vicksburg District Library made the decision to shut its doors to the public indefinitely.

This came in response to rising numbers with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Library is still offering many of its services through curbside pickup appointments.

Director Eric Hansen understands the frustration being felt in the community, but made a point of putting the safety and health of his staff and patrons first.

“This was a difficult decision to make since our library takes pride in serving the community,” Hansen said. “Our purpose is to provide a safe, free location where the community may find information and entertainment, and use internet services. However, at the time of this decision, 25 of the 38 libraries within our Southwest Michigan Library Cooperative had reported they were closing entirely, switching to curbside service, or opening only for appointments.

“All remaining libraries have limited admittance at their locations. Based on this information and incoming reports from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, it became necessary to implement additional safety measures.”

The continued services available are strictly by appointment only and patrons are highly encouraged to see the website in order to stay up to date on just what services are available at this time.

Services that are available include checking out any regularly circulating items, copying items that have already been printed by the patron, faxing, laminating, and registering for library cards. Services not available at this time are printing from email, downloads and USB drives, as well as resizing copies and photos. These services are quite difficult to format at a distance for patrons. The Library also does not circulate any technology, such as laptop computers or hotspots.

Despite COVID-19’s effect on the library, curbside services have proven to be quite popular since the closure. The library staff is keeping busy. Between answering phone calls, making appointments and gathering items for patrons, staff has been busy organizing and cleaning in the library.

As part of safety protocols, two members of staff always come out to meet patrons at their vehicle, wearing appropriate PPE for the entire transaction. When making appointments, patrons are always reminded to wear a mask as well during the transaction. “Again, everyone’s safety and health is our top priority at this time,” Hansen explained.

Those interested in making a curbside service appointment are encouraged to check out the Library’s website at http://www.vicksburglibrary.org, then call (269) 649-1648. The library also accepts emails at info@vicksburglibrary.org.

Bestselling books reflected in Vicksburg top 25 list

By Adrianne M. Schinkai, Head of Reference & Circulation Services at Vicksburg District Library

Every December, I research the critiques and ratings of the year’s new books across the internet and library science journals. I make a list of the best, see which of those the Vicksburg District Library purchased during the year, then whittle the list to the top 25.

I take great pleasure in putting together the list every December. I enjoy seeing what people across the globe are reading each year. Many of our library’s patrons tend to prefer adult fiction and mysteries. Writers such as James Patterson, Jodi Picoult and David Baldacci are among our most requested items. The list is a great tool to help patrons pick a book that may have slipped under their radar.

The 2020 list:

  1. “His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope” by Jon Meacham
  2. “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own” by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
  3. “Clanlands: Whiskey, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other” by Sam Heughan & Graham McTavish
  4. “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama
  5. “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
  6. “The Magic Fish” by Trung Le Nguyen
  7. “All the Devils Are Here” (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #16) by Louise Penny
  8. “Battle Ground” (The Dresden Files #17) by Jim Butcher
  9. “Punching the Air” by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam
  10. “The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm” by Hilarie Burton Morgan
  11. “Killing Crazy Horse: The Merciless Indian Wars in America” by Bill O’Reilly, with Marin Dugard
  12. “Legendborn” by Tracy Deonn
  13. “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
  14. “Rage” by Bob Woodward
  15. “The Evening and the Morning” by Ken Follett
  16. “Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss” by Jenna Bush Hager
  17. “Get Out of your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts” by Jennie Allen
  18. “White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color” by Ruby Hamad
  19. “The Girl with the Louding Voice” by Abi Daré
  20. “Where the Lost Wander“ by Amy Harmon
  21. “Network Effect” (The Murderbot Diaries #5) by Martha Wells
  22. “The Invisible Life of Addie Larue” by VE Schwab
  23. “The Mirror and the Light” (Thomas Cromwell #3) by Hilary Mantel
  24. “Solutions and Other Problems” by Allie Brosh
  25. “Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the 116 Days that Changed the World” by Chris Wallace, with Mitch Weiss

Non-fiction is always popular on the list. And politics is always present. That has been the norm for the last few years I have done this. This year, with the rise of civil rights events in the country, a lot of books having to do with the historical movement and anti-racism made the list.

At the same time, it is normal to see science fiction and graphic novels on the list, as well as young adult selections. Those shouldn’t be discounted simply because they are written with a younger audience in mind. Many young adult novels tell amazingly complex stories for all ages. These genres may not be for everyone, but people do read them and they are quite popular.

Items from the list come from the library’s adult fiction, adult non-fiction, and young adult collections. Suggestions, ratings, and reviews were taken from Amazon, Goodreads, Google Books, Booklist and The New York Times. I really hope patrons enjoy the books on the list. All of them are available for circulation at the Vicksburg District Library, so my only recommendation is to give us a call so we can put them on hold for you!

Tournament of Writers wraps 2020, looks to 2021

By Syd Bastos

The Tournament of Writers, a program of the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center, will end its 2020 season with a virtual celebration of writers at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 13. The publication of the sixth collection of works, “Small Town Anthology, Vol VI” is also now available to order via Amazon. In prior years, participants, family and friends had the opportunity to attend a book-signing celebration in person. The pandemic prevented this event from happening in 2020.

Winner of the Judges’ Choice award, new in 2020, will be announced at this virtual event and various authors will be reading their works live. The public is welcome to attend this event, broadcast simultaneously via Zoom and Facebook. Readers interested in attending can go to vicksburgarts.com/tournament-of-writers to learn more about the live event, see the list of winners and find links to works of first-place winners. The event will also be recorded and available on the VCAC website. 

The Tournament will open again in the spring of 2021. Improvements in the submission process and virtual writing clinics are in the works now. Readers can follow announcements on the Tournament and other programs of the VCAC on Facebook, email info@vicksburgarts.com or by calling (269) 200-2223.