December 2020

Another year completed

Friends, the year 2020 has come to an end and so has this chapter of my journal. There will be no more posts to this page. However, you can continue to follow me at my Journal 2021 page. Check it out by following this link.

New Year's Eve, 2020

NOTE: Tomorrow's journal will appear on a new page in my website. You'll be able to follow the new year by selecting Journal 2021 from the main menu.

The last day of the year is a good day to look back on the year that has passed and ahead to the year that is yet to come. New Year’s Day is a rather arbitrary day for the beginning of the new year. Throughout history other days have been celebrated as the first day of the new year, including December 25 and March 25. Prior to the reign of the Roman king Numa Pompilius, who ruled from about 715 to 673 BCE, the Roman calendar’s official new year came in March. Numa Pompilius’ calendar revision made sense from the perspective of Roman theology since Janus was the Roman god of all beginnings. Mars was the god of war. The history gets a bit murky and January didn’t become the official start of the Roman new year until 153 BCE. In the half a millennium between Numa Pompilius and the official declaration of January 1 as New Year’s Day different people within the Roman empire celebrated the new year on different days.

The Roman calendar was adopted and revised by Christian leaders and became known as the Julian calendar. When the Christian calendar was revised by Pope Gregory January 1 was retained as the official start of the new year. There are, of course, other calendars that celebrate the new year on other days. In the Chinese calendar, New Year’s won’t be celebrated until February 12, 2021, when the year of the Ox is ushered in.

This journal, however, observes today as the last day of the year 2020 and tomorrow will be New Year’s Day. That means that a new page has been added to the web site. Regular readers of my journal will find tomorrow’s entry on the page called “Journal 2021” that is now available on the main menu. Those who have bookmarked “Journal 2020” will need to change their bookmark to continue to follow my journal. The process of setting all of this up requires uploading thousands of files as headers on pages need to be revised and the web site’s main content are my journal entries which contain more than a decade of daily essays. Getting everything sorted out so all of the links work will take a little while, so I ask my readers to be patient with my journal archives where not all essays are currently available. New essays are being uploaded every day and the archives will be back in shape soon.

In the meantime, I have had some time to reflect as I watch the computer upload files.

In our world, looking back 12 months carries some meaning, but going back 15 months seems like a better span of time to give meaning to where we now find ourselves. It was then, on the last day of September of 2019 that my wife’s heart stopped. Fortunately for us, she was a patient in the hospital at the time and was hooked up to a heart monitor. The day was dramatic, with the full code blue, crash team, CPR response. After restoring her pulse, the team transported her to the ICU where she arrested a second time. Again CPR was performed and she was connected to a ventilator. From that point, we started down the road to recovery.

One of the participants in our story is a doctor, and electrophysiologist, who was in the Intensive Care Unit when they brought in my wife. He was new to Rapid City, having been recruited by the hospital’s cardiology practice from New York where he had been practicing. My wife’s crisis was the first time he performed CPR in Rapid City. It was a day he will always remember.

Yesterday, Susan met with that doctor over telemedicine to review her condition. She wears an implanted monitor which allows her heart to be continually monitored by the cardiology team. The doctor informed her of her excellent heart health and the success of the procedure that they had performed to correct her heart rhythm problem. He also informed her that while the monitoring will continue, she no longer needs any heart medications. We start 2021 free from medicines, which seems to us to be an occasion worthy of the highest celebration. A non alcoholic toast to the future and to the people who have made it possible for us! (Alcohol can be a trigger for atrial fibrillation, so avoiding it just makes sense.)

Susan’s health is one reason that I face the new year with renewed hope. Looking back at the past 15 months I can see how far we have come. It is easy for me to express my deep gratitude to so many people, starting with the doctor who has guided her recovery. There re many others. The licensed minister who took over for me and performed a funeral on a very short notice the day that Susan’s heart stopped is a hero. I’ll never forget her compassionate visit and prayer later that day. I’m also grateful for the colleague who dropped everything and came to the hospital while I was sill waiting to hear what was happening in the ICU. And the nurse who sat with me in the waiting room and conveyed messages from the ICU before I could go to be with my wife. And our son, who booked a flight and arrived at the hospital before midnight that same day. And our daughter who came all the way from Japan with her 3 month-old-baby. And my sister and sisters in law who rushed to provide support and remained to help us through the first weeks of recovery.

There are so many others. I don’t know the names of the members of the hospital rapid response team who rushed in and saved her life. I don’t know the names of all of the nurses and aids and therapists who supported us in those first days of recovery. There is a huge cloud of witnesses who held us in prayer and provided support as we returned to our lives.

So here we are. We’ve retired. We’ve moved to a new home in a new state. And this morning Susan will get up and the only pills she will need is her vitamins. It’s not a bad way to start the new year. With faith and love, and the support of a whole lot of people, we greet a new year and a new chapter in our adventure.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

At the DMV

When we moved to Idaho from North Dakota, I went to the Division of Motor Vehicles office and waited in line with my registration slips and titles to our cars to get our vehicles registered and obtain Idaho license plates for our vehicles. After waiting in line for quite some time, I finally got to a clerk who took a look at our North Dakota titles and informed me that I would have to bring my wife with me to the office in order to get the cars registered. Since the titles were in both of our names, I was told the only way they could be registered was if we both signed. I told the clerk that the titles were so issued that either of us could sell the cars without the other being present. I was informed that it didn’t matter. If we wanted to get the cars registered, we would need to come in together. On another day the two of us both want to the office, waited in line, and succeeded in registering our vehicles and putting the paperwork in order to receive Idaho titles for our cars.

That was more than 35 years ago and I had not thought of the incident in a very long time before yesterday, when I stood in line outside of the office, properly distanced as marked with blue lines on the pavement and wearing a mask, until my turn to hand over the titles to our cars to get them registered in Washington. I had visited the state web site and thought I knew what paperwork was required. I handed over my new, temporary Washington Driver’s License and the titles to the cars. The agent admired the South Dakota titles, which are issued in different colors and began to study them. She informed me that my wife would have to come in and sign if we wanted the Washington titles to bear her name along with mine. I sighed and asked if there was anything else we needed. The clerk responded that my wife would need to bring in her Washington Driver’s License. I told her that my wife doesn’t have a Washington Driver’s license yet and that it takes more than a month to get an appointment to get one. She said, “It doesn’t matter. There is no rush as long as your South Dakota plates are not expired.” I didn’t mention that I had read on the State website that new residents are required to obtain Washington plates within 90 days of establishing residency. She prepared forms for two cars and two trailers that could be signed by my wife and brought back to the office and the titles and license plates would be issued. I thanked her and asked if there was anything else I would need upon my return. She studied the titles for a while and said, “You’ll need proof that you have owned the vehicles for more than 90 days.” I informed her that the titles were dated and showed the date that the titles were issued - all several years ago. She said that didn’t matter. I showed her the registration slips for the vehicles which were issued in May - more than 90 days ago. She was satisfied by that. Then she said that for the trailers I would need proof that the sales tax had been paid. I informed here that in South Dakota you can’t obtain a vehicle title until the tax had been paid and asked what kind of proof I would need. She said that I would have to call the Department of Revenue in South Dakota and obtain a receipt for the taxes paid.

I haven’t called the South Dakota Department of Revenue. It was after 5 pm in Pierre when I was standing in line yesterday. I don’t think I’m going to get a receipt for taxes paid in 2009 and in 2012 when I bought the trailers. I’m going to give it a try, however, because I don’t want to have to pay 8.7% of assessed value on the trailers in Washington State Tax. While I’m at it, I’ll try to get a tax receipt for the car and pickup, because who knows what the next clerk will think I need for documentation.

I know I’ll get it sorted out. I know I’ll have Washington license plates for our vehicles and will obtain Washington titles for the vehicles before they are sold. But it will take a bit more frustration and probably a bit more expense. And I know that there are some fees that you end up paying more than once. I paid for a South Dakota driver’s license in July that was set to expire in 2025. There was a delay in the issuance of the license due to the pandemic. But I paid the fees for five full years. Now, six months later, I had to pay for a 5 year license in Washington. And they cost more here. It was more than $100. There’s no way around it, however, unless I want to quit driving. I paid the fees and watched the clerk punch a hole through my SD Driver’s license. I hope I don’t need to use my new Washington license for identification before I get my new permanent license in the mail. The paper temporary license doesn’t look very official. I doubt it would get me past TSA at an airport without a lot of hassle.

I know my troubles with getting all of this paperwork straightened out are small and that I’ll get it done. The experience, however, makes it easy to understand why some people end up with no license or expired licenses on their cars. You have to have a mailing address to obtain a Washington State Driver’s License. That’s how they deliver them to you. You can’t pick one up in person. A homeless person is going to be asked to show identification on any encounter with the police, but they might not be able to obtain official identification. Someone with less cash or less patience is going to end up not having all of the proper paperwork to convince a clerk behind a desk that they should get unexpired license plates for their vehicle.

I wonder how much they’ll assess me for an 11-year-old utility trailer that was only worth $1,300 when it was new. Then again, I hope I don’t find out.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Living in community

Before our daughter was married, the man who is now her husband sought me out. He wanted to do things properly and was told that it was a tradition for a young man to ask a woman’s father for permission to propose to her. He was really nervous as he asked me the question. I was expecting it, so it was much easier for me. I said two things in response. The first was that while I would encourage him to propose to her, it wasn’t my choice. Whether or not to marry and who to marry was her choice and her answer was the one that mattered. The second thing I said to him was to simply inform him that she “comes with a family.” By that I meant that we would continue to be her parents and her brother would continue to be her brother even after they married. I told him that he was getting more than a wife if she said yes. He would also be gaining her whole family.

I hope that was sound advice. It certainly has seemed that way to me. With easily available and affordable technology we talk with our daughter several times each week. We are present, over Skype or FaceTime in their home on a regular basis. And we have visited in their home almost every year of their marriage. This year was different. They live in Japan. Travel to Japan was not possible for us with the pandemic and the challenges of retiring and moving to a new home. Still, we feel very connected to her and to our grandson. And we feel connected to her husband. Although we had two children in our family when they were growing up, we often think of ourselves as parents to four children now that they are adults. Their spouses are as integral to our family constellation as any of the other of us. And their children are central in our lives. When the time comes for grandchildren to marry the universe of our family will continue to expand.

It was that way for us when we married, too. I was a relatively young man when my father died. I had more years with my father-in-law than I had with my father. And my in-laws were very important people in my live. My wife’s sisters are my sisters in many ways. And my siblings are special people in her life as well.

I once read somewhere, thought I cannot remember the source, that “marriage is a community of two.” Indeed marriage is a community, but it has never been just two in our experience. Yes, there are only two people who live in this house right now. But it is often filled with our grandchildren and their parents. My sister will arrive today for a short visit. In February our daughter and her family will stop as they move from Japan to South Carolina. Our daughter and grandson may be with us for a couple of weeks or even more as they work out where they are going to live and wait for their possessions to be shipped from Japan.

When we were looking for a home to rent, one of the things we were certain we wanted in a house was room for guests. And, in the season of pandemic, that means, for the most part, room for family. We know we need to be careful and as people who have traveled, we know that we need to observe protocols to avoid the possibility that we might carry the virus, but being a family is essential to our way of life.

Right now our “bubble” is our son and his family and my sister. All of the rest of our family we are only seeing only through technology. I have a brother who lives less than 50 miles from our new home, but we have not gotten together face-to-face and may not do so until after we’ve all received the vaccine. We aren’t taking this pandemic lightly. But we are willing to accept some risk to remain in relationship with those we love.

Reading through the Christmas letters we receive from friends, I realize that there are a lot of different approaches to the pandemic. We have friends who have remained completely isolated, leaving their homes only for doctor or dentist appointments that could not be conducted over telemedicine. They have their groceries delivered and they don’t go out for any reason. I’m not sure how they can maintain their sanity with such isolation. It seems to me to be a kind of new monasticism - a spiritual discipline of distance. Some of us haven’t been called to the monastic life, however. I am a fairly independent person and I enjoy time to myself. I’m completely happy to be all alone in the shop, making things. I spend quite a bit of time in the garage yesterday crafting furniture for a doll house. I enjoyed it.

But I do not live alone. I have a partner with whom I sit down to meals and with whom I discuss the events of my day. I have children who send me pictures of my grandchildren every day. I have grandchildren who are full of questions and whose learning and discovering the world is fascinating and engaging for me. I wouldn’t have been making doll house furniture if it wasn’t for a couple of granddaughters who have been having a lot of fun playing with their aunt’s doll house that still has a place in our home all these years after she has grown up.

I think we are best when we live in community. Although the community of the church is challenged by the pandemic, we are discovering ways to continue to be a community for one another. Despite online church and a whole host of challenges, we are beginning to feel connected to a congregation in our new home. A letter from one of the pastors sparked a warm feeling and stirred conversation among us yesterday.

In one of the creation stories that our people have been telling for generations, God observes the first human and says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Fortunately I have never had to experience that kind of being alone. Being in a family, however, is good.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

A Model Airplane

Like a whole lot of other people, I really enjoyed the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons drawn by Bill Watterson. I loved the flights of fancy spurred by the creative mind of the six-year-old Calvin. He seemed to get into the kinds of trouble I experienced when I was a child. I didn’t have any imaginary friends, but was charmed by the relationship between the boy and the tiger in the comic strip. The timing of the strip matched the growing up years of our son, so I saw some of his experiences reflected by the strip as well. I loved the choice of the names of two theologians for the characters and saw a bit of amateur theology in many of the strips Watterson drew. I also admired Watterson for refusing the syndicate’s attempts to market merchandise with the strip’s characters. And, though I was sad to see the strip go and still miss it, I understand and salute Watterson’s decision to retire while the strip was at the height of its popularity. He has left a wonderful memory in our minds and the collections of strips that we own are treasures to which we return time after time.

One of the recurring themes of the strip was Calvin’s frustration with model airplanes. They never turned out to be like the glorious pictures on the packages. He tried, but continued to fail at producing the airplane of his dreams. Each new kit started as an exciting adventure and each ended in an unsuccessful disaster.

The strip that has been copied into the opening of today’s journal came to my mind yesterday. I made a trip to the farm specifically to work with our grandson on the building of a model airplane. The kit is part of a STEM curriculum designed to encourage children to learn about aviation, airplane design, and engineering by making flying models. The kit is the first in what is a series of different items that teach the basics of flying. Children and youth who stay engaged in the program soon are able to design and build their own aircraft using inexpensive materials and the principles taught in the program. The first kit was a Christmas present that we got for our grandson and both he and I were eager for him to build the kit. I was determined to act as a consultant and make sure that he did the work on the airplane himself, including being the pilot for the test flight.

The result was successful, so you don’t have to worry about a Calvin and Hobbes-style failure. Our grandson did a beautiful job of reading and following the instructions and assembling his airplane. He went through the protocol for charging the battery, hooking up the components to the control board, installing the wiring, and testing the motors. Unfortunately, however, it was a rainy day and the test flight had to be delayed until better weather. He took the disappointment well, however, and we shared delight in his successful build and are looking forward to the first flight later this week.

The glue that came with the kit, however, was much like the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. I am no newcomer to sticky glue messes. I made a lot of models as a child. It took me a long time to learn that when it comes to model airplane glue less is almost always better. The trick is getting a tiny amount of glue in exactly the right place. If you get any glue on your fingers, they will stick to the parts and almost always cause a big problem. Excess glue is hard to wipe away. The tissue or paper towel you use to wipe it ends up stuck to the model.

The kit manufacturer knew of this problem. It is clearly explained in the instructions. Furthermore the kit came with a nozzle that could be screwed onto the tube of glue to direct the flow of glue into a tiny stream. Furthermore, our son provided a pair of disposable gloves for our grandson to wear so that he didn’t end up with excess glue on his hands. The problem was that the threads on the nozzle did not match the threads on the tube of glue. It would not tighten and it leaked. The tub of glue was soon a sticky mess. It was a good thing I put down some paper to protect the table from drips.

Our grandson, however, was patient and careful with the mess. We avoided getting it on the airplane parts and figured out how to use the nozzle as an applicator after removing it from the tube. We’d dip it in a drop of glue on the paper and apply the glue to the parts of the airplane. Small amounts of glue were transferred and we had success! He has a beautiful model airplane. After showing off the completed kit to his sisters and parents it was time to look at the forecast and wait for the rain to stop. Unfortunately, the forecast was calling for rain until darkness that afternoon. Flying had to be delayed.

It was time for stories about airplanes. In addition to lots of models, I grew up with a fair number of airplanes. My parents were both pilots. My father was manager of the airport in our town in addition to being a full time working pilot. I don’t remember my first ride in an airplane, but flying trips were as common as car trips were for other kids. I learned to fly as a normal part of my growing up and earned my pilot’s license as a teenager. As a result, I have a lot of stories about weather delays in private aviation. Once, when his father was a boy, I flew our family out to North Dakota from Idaho. We planned to attend church in the communities where we had served when we lived in North Dakota, but instead spent most of the day at the airport in another town. The distance that we could have covered in a couple of hours by car took an extra day because we were traveling by air. As the saying goes, “Time to spare? Travel by air!”

And a rainy day is a good time to curl up with a good book. A collection of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons is just right for a grandson waiting for the rain to stop.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Nunc dimittis

When Christmas lands on a Friday, there is a kind of jumble of action for a working preacher. The worship service for the 1st Sunday after Christmas has to be planned before Christmas. The worship bulletin will need to be printed and folded in addition to the bulletins for the Christmas Eve services early in the week. Then the preacher has to make the shift from the big Christmas Eve services to one of the lightest attended services of the year. There will be a few visitors, but the choir is probably going to be taking a week off and the congregation will be small as families engage in what was, for most, a three or four day weekend. All of this is being managed behind the scenes, mostly unnoticed by the congregation. In addition, the preacher needs to balance family and work as the holiday is important to the preacher’s spouse and children. It was a balance that I often missed. I had a tendency to lean a bit too hard on the work side sometimes, often not spending enough time with my family, or being distracted by the mental preparation for work when I was with them.

It is vastly different for preachers this year. Many of them are working in settings where there is no in person worship and quite a few of them prepared the video for today’s worship before Christmas. Christmas is a season in the church, lasting 12 days, and most years there are two Sundays during the season, so the themes of Christmas keep flowing. However, the days after Christmas Eve are moments when the church is running counter to the culture. Retail businesses are moving on from Christmas as quickly as possible. Valentines Day displays go up the day after Christmas. Many people take down their decorations before New Years Day. I’ve been asked on many occasions, “Why are we still singing Christmas Carols?” Sometimes the person asking the question noticed my reluctance to sing too many Christmas Carols during Advent.

It can be a confusing time.

Today’s Gospel text reflects the complexity and confusion of the season. In Luke 2:22-40 the Gospel describes the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. This was a special time for a family with a new baby. The ceremonies included the formal naming of the child and the entrance of the child into the faith and traditions of the ancestors. It was usually the first public viewing of the new baby and there were lots of people who were eager to see the child. In the story of the Gospel, the focus is on two elderly members of the congregation, Simeon and Anna. The reading includes a poem or song that was uttered by Simeon at the event. Since the 4th Century, or shortly after the institution of Christmas as an official holiday of the church, the Song of Simeon has been known as the Nunc dimittis, from the Latin Vulgate translation of the passage, which begins, “Now you dismiss.” The song has been used in many regular services of the church, especially evening prayer services. It is usually read at the very end of the service as the people are preparing to leave: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace according to your word. For my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared before all people to be a light to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”

It is one of those cases where the scriptures and traditions become jumbled. In the King James Version of the Bible, common and beloved among English speaking Christians, the words of the Song of Simeon in Luke are exactly the same as the words of the Book of Common Prayer. While the tradition is that the Book of Common Prayer took the words directly from the Gospel, it isn’t quite that simple, because that specific wording was in the Book of Common Prayer before the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. It is probably most accurate to say that the worship traditions informed the Bible and the Bible informed the worship traditions.

In our tradition these words are often said just prior to the benediction at a funeral.

Life is like that. Birth and death, youth and age all come face to face and are mixed up in our hearts and minds and memories. People, however, don’t want to hear a funeral sermon on the first Sunday of Christmas.

The thing about all of this is that this year, when I am retired and not responsible for a sermon today, I feel very connected to that particular text. As a grandfather who has been given the luxury of more time with my grandchildren, I am deeply aware of the deep joy that comes from the children. We often think of elders teaching children, and we do assume that role, but there is another dimension that I didn’t understand before I became grandfather. We receive more from the infants and children in our community than we give to them. They give us energy and enthusiasm and joy and peace in ways that are amazing and wonderful. Yesterday when I made arrangements to spend some time with our grandson this afternoon, his excitement couldn’t be contained. He was literally hopping up and down. His mother said, “I love your energy, but be careful. You are shaking the table.” I was able to just enjoy the energy. His mother was capable of protecting the items on the table.

My father lived to meet eleven of his grandchildren face to face. Our son was grandchild number 12. Susan was pregnant when my father died. I had to assume the role of a bridge between generations, showing our children pictures of my father and telling his stories to them. There is no question in my mind, however, that my father did “depart in peace.” His eyes had beheld the glory that enlightens the entire world. Tomorrow would have been his 100th birthday and it will be a day to remember with deep joy.

When my time comes, I know that I, too, will be able to depart in peace. Like Simeon, I’m grateful that I was allowed to live to see the children. They light the path forward for all ages.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Another best day

We stepped out of our front door for our Christmas Day walk and were greeted by the trumpeting of two swans flying overhead. It was a grand Christmas greeting. Trumpeter swans don’t sound like the Canadian geese which were so familiar in our South Dakota home. There are Canadian geese around here, but also snow geese and lots of swans: trumpeter swans, tundra swans and mute swans, which aren’t really mute. But the grand sound comes from the trumpeters. While I can see why others associate the call with a trumpet, what comes to my mind is a klaxon, the antique car horn that is sounded by squeezing a bulb to force air across a reed and through a tube with a bell.

It was just a couple of blasts, but it was enough to get me to look up at the birds as they flew overhead. Swans look graceful in flight, with long necks that stretch out ahead of their wings, making them appear to be very fast, like a supersonic airplane. On a clear day, with blue sky, the white swans stand out against the sky. On gray and cloudy days, there is less contrast, but the birds still appear magnificent in flight.

I thought of people I know who were experiencing “firsts” this year: a first Christmas without a loved one who died during the year; a first Christmas in a new home; a first Christmas celebrated alone because of restrictions on travel and gatherings caused by the pandemic. It is a first for us as well - the first Christmas of our retirement and the first Christmas in a new home in a new place.

As we walked, however, we weren’t talking about firsts. We were talking about our memories. For both Susan and me, there is something comforting and natural about being able to see the mountains nearby. We loved our home in the Black Hills and the hills are a wonderful and beautiful place. We miss the deer and the turkeys and the unique sound of the wind in the pine trees. But even though we lived in South Dakota and loved that place for 25 years of our lives, we both know that the hills aren’t mountains in the sense that we knew growing up. Susan spent part of her childhood in Libby, where the Kootenai River winds through the high country of Northwestern Montana, just west of Glacier National Park. I grew up in Big Timber, on the east slope of the rockies with the Crazy mountains appearing to be right at the end of main street. Snow capped mountains with craggy peaks thrust up above the tree line are different and have a different feeling from the more gently rounded hills of our South Dakota home. Both of us find that being able to see the mountains rising 20 or 30 miles to the east spurs some deep memories. It is more of a general feeling than it is a specific story, but the memories make us feel at home in this place. It is easy to feel north, south, east and west once you know where the mountains are.

After we had finished our walk, just after noon, our house was filled with energy and excitement as three of our grandchildren arrived, bubbling with stories of the gifts they had opened that morning. They had things to show us and stories to tell and it seemed for a moment that everyone wanted to talk at the same time. It was difficult for the children to settle down enough to enjoy the gifts we were exchanging. We like to open gifts one at a time at our house and the children soon discovered the pattern as paper was torn and gifts revealed. After a while we settled down to a grand feast with both ham and salmon as main courses - a kind of “surf and turf” Christmas dinner - a new menu for a new home.

There was tradition present in our dinner as well. Susan had used a set of Christmas tree moulds to fashion dessert trees out of mint chocolate chip ice cream - something that she has been doing for many, many years. And we shared the table grace that was most common at our family table when I was a boy growing up. Giving thanks for rain and sunny weather, for food and for the joys of being together always stirs a thousand memories for me, including memories of those with whom we once gathered, but who are not present at our table this year.

As they were gathering things to go back to their home, our grandson said, “It was a perfect day! A best day!” When he was only two or three, he used to call nearly every day a “best day.” His enthusiasm was delightful and inspiring and we found that just being with him made for a lot of “best days” for us all.

It was a best day, but we have had the joys of many good days in our lives.

We have a friend who lives in Maine, on the opposite side of the country, who also retired last June after a lifelong career as a minister. He is continuing his tradition of posting a prayer for each of the 12 days of Christmas. I’ll read them as another way of honoring tradition and remembering the past. It has been a long time since we were college students together, but we have remained connected. Neither of us live in the shadow of Montana mountains any more, but we remember the place of our birth and growing up. And our prayers grow out of a shared tradition that began hundreds of generations before we showed up.

I never took it very seriously before, but at this stage of my life, it is helpful for me to sometimes think of the seasons of our lives like the seasons of the year. We’re entering a new season of promises and challenges. And as we do, the trumpeter swans are calling us forward.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Christmas 2020

Part of the nature of being a Christian is that we are always telling our story as a complete narrative when we only have access to part of the story. The Gospels are the written tradition of our people about Jesus, and though they do give us the advantage of hearing the story from multiple perspectives, they don’t give us the complete story. There are a lot of things that have been lost from the written record. The traditions of our people add to the written record, but while traditions give a broad interpretation of events, they are usually very short on details. Over the years, thousands of Christmas pageants have made a big deal out of an adverbial clause that appears in a single Gospel: “because there was no room for them in the inn.” In the original text, the clause is given as an explanation of why the baby was laid in a manger. From that clause people have created a narrative of a city so full of guests that Mary and Jospeh were unable to obtain lodging in a public house. I’ve been at meetings planning Christmas pageants where the inn keeper, and sometimes the wife of the inn keeper, was determined to be an essential character in the proposed drama.

It is unlikely that there ever was an inn keeper. Public houses were very rare in 1st Century Bethlehem. And poor people like Mary and Joseph didn’t have money to stay in public houses. Furthermore, the Gospel tells us that the reason for their journey to Bethlehem was because “Jospeh was of the house and lineage of David.” They had family in Bethlehem. It is likely that they stayed with family and that the house of the family was full with other relatives - so full that there was no room in the guest room on the upper level of the house and the baby was born in the lower common room - the room where animals were kept when the weather was inclement.

We don’t think of a public house when the same word for “inn” is used to describe the upper room where Jesus shared the passover with his disciples later in the same Gospel. We think of the guest room in a private home.

There are other clues in the text. We know, for example that the shepherds were out keeping watch over their flocks by night. Communal shepherds stayed in the fields with the flocks when the weather allowed, but brought the flocks back to the owners, who each had a few animals, when the weather was bad. Since the shepherds were out that night we know that the animals weren’t at home. The manger wasn’t needed to feed animals at the moment Jesus was laid there.

As is often the case with our Scriptures, a careful and educated examination of the actual words of the text raises questions with tradition and preconceived notions.

Still there is much that we don’t know and can’t discover about the situation. We know that Jospeh was nervous about the pregnancy and offered to end the engagement before the baby was born. We know that Mary spent part of the pregnancy in the home of her kinswoman Elizabeth, who was also pregnant, though Elizabeth’s pregnancy would be considered in modern times to be “high risk” because of the age of the mother.

Not knowing the complete story with all of the feelings and private conversations is a common position for us in this life. We usually aren’t aware that a baby is coming into the lives of other people until a few months into the pregnancy. Except when we are directly involved, we hear the news after about one third of the waiting has passed. Most of the time our experience isn’t a full nine months, but closer to six months or less of being aware that there is a child coming. And the details of the conversations between the parents aren’t recorded in the baby book - they are left private as they should be.

From the bits and pieces of the story, we assemble a narrative in our heads and in our hearts about the birth of Jesus and we give thought to that narrative during Advent and Christmas each year. Like other stories that are told over and over again, we embellish and fill in details until our memory and the actual events aren’t quite the same. I know that first hand because sixty-five years ago yesterday a baby was born to my mother. He is my brother, but each of his siblings has a slightly different story of the events of that long-ago Christmas. I was only 2 1/2 years old, but I remember that we opened our Christmas presents in the day room at the hospital, which was across the alley from our house. In one version of the story we took the tree from our house over to the hospital, but that is very unlikely. More likely there was a decorated tree already at the hospital around which we gathered for those pictures. The attending doctor and nurse are no longer living to verify the details. Both of our parents are now gone. We have a few black and white snapshots and our memories. And we also have 65 years of storytelling to inform our memories. My brother, who claims to be the leading authority on the event, really was too young to remember details accurately.

It is nearly certain that Jesus’ day of birth was not December 25. The church didn’t place a date on the events until long after his death. Most of the gospel writers focused on other parts of the story and didn’t even tell the details of the birth. Matthew focuses on the visit of the Magi and Herod’s infanticide spurred by his fear of the rise of a new king. Mark doesn’t have a birth narrative at all. The Gospel of John uses poetry and alliteration to weave a story of meaning without need for details. Only Luke gives a few words to the birth event. The choice of late December as a date grew out of the cycle of teachings about Jesus that arose hundreds of years after his death. Ever since the time of Constantine in Rome, we have told the story of the events of Jesus life between Christmas and Easter and spent the rest of the year focusing on his teachings.

With little information, then, we celebrate each year and today is the day. At our house the telling of the story will be accompanied with play with several different nativity sets, collected over the span of many years. One day our grandchildren will read the texts for themselves and have even more questions than they do now. Perhaps we will be fortunate enough to discuss those questions when the arise. For now the story and the tradition underlie our family traditions and our grandchildren know it is a very special day.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Christmas Eve 2020

As much as I looked forward to retirement, it turns out that I’m not very good at it. At least that is the way it has been feeling this week. In our working life, Christmas Eve was one of the longest work days of the year. There were some enormous stresses that occurred on that day. But it was also a day to which I looked forward each year. It is difficult for me to explain.

The earlier Christmas Eve service, in my opinion, is one of the most challenging services for any pastor. It is the “traditional” service, a “when we always” event for the congregation. In contrast to many other services, it is a service that the church plans primarily for itself. Sure, there are a lot of visitors. It is a big service and well-attended. The visitors, however, are mostly former members of the congregation. College students are home for the holidays. Other young people bring their families home to celebrate with their parents. There is a huge pressure to have the service reflect what people remember from prior years. This is especially difficult for a new pastor, who is expected to know all of the local traditions. People just expect the pastor to know what they want and aren’t very articulate at expressing what those expectations are. The carols must be the right ones. The visual effects must be the ones people remember. In the congregation we served for the last 25 years, the star had to move across the walls to the front of the room in just the right manner. I know this because I was yelled at on more than one occasion when it didn’t go off as planned.

A family friend, who worked in retail all of her life, commented to us once that people talk a lot about Christmas spirit, but the closer Christmas comes, the less of it they show. Some of the shortest tempers and some of the harshest words I experienced in my career came on Christmas Eve. One year a long-time parishioner, who was angry about events in the church that had occurred over the past year, decided to write his anger and frustration on a Christmas card and present it to me about a half hour before the start of the early service. I should have just put the card on my desk and dealt with it later, but I read it before I headed into the service. It didn’t help me project the mood that is expected on the occasion. I started the service close to tears.

I learned not to take all of the Christmas Eve pressure as personally, but it took me years to learn that lesson. I learned to channel that stress in ways that didn’t take such a heavy toll.

In contrast to that first service, however, the late service on Christmas Eve was, for the span of my career, one of my favorite services. I looked forward to that service with great eagerness. It was the culmination of the weeks of Advent preparation. The late service was, in my experience, one with the highest attendance by people who were not affiliated with the congregation. In Rapid City, we set our midnight service in response to the change in shifts for shift workers. In contrast to other congregations, our service was at 11:30 pm, so that those who worked a 3 - 7 shift at the hospital or in law enforcement could attend the service. That service became popular with people who didn’t often attend church. It drew seekers and single people and folks who felt they didn’t fit in at the earlier service. It was quiet and reverent and peaceful. The candlelight set just the right mood. I spoke the scriptures from memory instead of reading them from the book. The communion was intimate. I felt connected to those I served. The midnight tolling of the Christmas bell sent us off into the new day with renewed hope.

In order to make all of that work, we learned to plan our Christmas Eve activities as a family carefully. We had a special Christmas Eve dinner, but it was served early. We had family traditions that were planned for the short time between the two services. Our shopping and wrapping and preparing had to be done in advance to allow time for the work of Christmas Eve.

It is different this year. It would have been different even if we had not retired, with the pandemic forcing congregations to explore alternate ways of worshiping together. I’ve already checked out a listing of online Christmas Even programs. You no longer have to travel to see a particular congregation. You just look it up on the Internet and watch it at your convenience. We have a special Christmas dinner planned with our son and his family and we had extra shopping to make sure we had all of the things we needed, but that has been done. Yesterday, I was wandering around the house wondering what I was supposed to do. I’ve never felt that on December 23 before. Our son stopped by our house after work yesterday. I asked him what the plan was for today. He said, “There is no plan.” He has the day off and will spend it with his family. I’ll probably go to the farm to be with them, but I’m not good at “There is no plan.” I’ve decided that I’ll do some work in the shop that is flexible. I have a project that will take more than one day that I will start if I can’t figure out what else to do.

In contrast to other days of retirement, today doesn’t feel like a vacation or a sabbatical. It just feels weird. I need to remember a lesson that took me years to learn as a pastor. It isn’t about me. It isn’t about how I feel. It is about the people I serve. It is about the story I tell:

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Bethlehem of Judea because he was of the house and lineage of David. He went with his wife Mary, who was great with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered and she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Merry Christmas!

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

A dramatic accident

The Williston Basin is an area of oil and gas deposits that covers most of North Dakota and extends west into Montana, north into Saskatchewan and Manitoba and south into South Dakota. The area is also known as the Bakken Shale Play. Geologists have known about the petroleum deposits in the area for decades. In the 1980’s, when we lived in Southwest North Dakota, there was a boom of oil and gas exploration and new wells, driven by the higher prices for gas and oil following the shortages of the 1970’s. Much of the transient traffic in our town consisted of people heading to the basin in search of jobs. New techniques for drilling and the drive to increase US oil production in this century have driven additional activities in the area. The crude oil that comes out of the ground has to be transported. There are no oil refineries in the immediate area. Some of that oil is loaded onto unit trains and shipped west to refineries on the coast of Washington. One of those refineries is about three miles from where our son and his family have their farm.

I have some sense of the journey that the crude oil takes because I’ve driven between the Dakotas and the west coast many times. Over the years that our son has lived in Washington, we have visited family in northern Montana on our way to Washington and driven the high line from Williston, North Dakota to the coast, following US highway 2 all the way. I’ve seen the trains with their oil cars on the tracks at various points along the journey.

Yesterday as I was working in the shop at the farm, milling some wood for trim in their house, I heard several loud booms. They were coming from the northeast and I didn’t think much of them. It was the first snowfall of the year and the children were having a grand time playing in the snow, so I took a break to look at their snow fort. As I stepped out of the shop, I could see a large smoke plume rising from the northeast. I’m not good at estimating distance, but I could tell that it was a significant fire. There was no immediate danger and so I checked on the children and went back to work. There mother was taking pictures of their play and sending them to family, so I got the images on my phone as I worked.

In the early afternoon we found out what was going on. A neighbor had come in from the Interstate, on the road I had taken to get to the farm earlier that morning, and reported that there was a train derailment and fire at Custer, just a couple of miles away. They had evacuated a 1/2 mile radius from the fire, which included closing the Interstate highway in both directions. We checked the Internet and sure enough the train derailment and fire was big news. It turned out that at least seven train cars, filled with Bakken crude oil, had derailed and two of them were on fire as well as oil spilled in the accident. Checking the news later in the evening, after I had returned to our home, taking the back roads to avoid the area, I discovered that there had been a big response, involving the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington State Patrol, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, local fire departments and fire departments from two oil refineries as well as a response team from Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. Officials from the EPA and Washington Environmental Division also responded.

Other than stinky smoke which settled on the area, we weren’t affected by the accident, but it was a reminder that transporting fuel is a dangerous process and accidents can pose a significant danger to people.

Over the years, we have learned a lot about the risks of pipelines that transport crude oil. There have been many leaks in the Dakotas with oil headed south to refineries in the heartland and on the Gulf Coast. Our demand for energy has resulted in a huge system of transport and trains are a major part of that system. In addition to unit trains carrying crude oil, there are unit trains carrying coal from mines in Wyoming to the west coast where the coal is loaded onto ships and transported to Japan.

If you think about it the scale of the operation is incredible. Just producing the diesel and heavy oil to power the trains and the ships is a significant operation involving the consumption of huge amounts of fuels. Most of the time we aren’t too aware of the process. We hear the train whistles in the night. Occasionally we get stopped at a train crossing. A couple of hours before the accident, I was stopped at a railroad crossing and watched a train that stretched back to the accident site crossing heading the opposite direction of the train that derailed. I would have been traveling on the same tracks as the accident train. I was in no hurry, but I did entertain myself by counting the oil tank cars on the train. I lost count somewhere between 50 and 60 and the train kept going. These days a huge unit train consisting of more than 100 cars is usually staffed with only two people on board.

As I left the farm yesterday, I saw a helicopter circling the accident site. I assumed they were a news crew and wondered if they were getting any usable pictures with all of the smoke at the site. By the time I got home, there were pictures on the Internet and an article about the accident on the USA Today website as well as additional information on local news sites. It was the lead story on the local Public Radio station at 4 pm.

The site will be cleaned. The tracks will be repaired. Trains will be running to and from the refineries before too long. The demand for fuel is too high for things to stop for long. But for a moment folks in the area paused yesterday and were reminded of the high cost of our appetite for fuel.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Not too comfortable

After she was widowed, our mother had a modest two-bedroom log home built at our summer place. The original building that was on the site had been damaged when a wild fire swept over the property. It hadn’t been much of a structure in the first place, a building thrown up as an office for a motor court sometime before the second world war. I often consulted with our mother in those days, giving her a bit of feedback and providing a second opinion. She always had her own ideas and she was a good manager and our father had left her with his affairs in order, so she didn’t really need my advice. At any rate, I was allowed to go over the plans for the cabin with her and look at the documents for the county planning commission, etc. I suggested that she budget for some new furniture for the building when it was finished. She didn’t think the expense was necessary. “There’s a lot of furniture around the place already,” she responded. I said, “At least get a new bed for yourself.” Her response to that was quick: “I don’t want the bed to be so comfortable that I won’t want to travel.”

It is an interesting idea. Apparently she had know a relative or friend who didn’t like to travel as much as her and used the fact that one sometimes gets a lumpy bed when staying in a hotel as an excuse. Whatever the status of furniture, our mother never lost her love of travel and adventure. After she had come to live with us in the last few years of her life she would still dream of trips she’d like to take. There were some pretty wonderful trips that she did get to take.

After our father’s death she did a lot of bicycle travel, taking tours with the American Cycling Federation and other groups. She didn’t have any trouble keeping up with a cycle group that was averaging 50 miles per day. She was a member of the first cycle tour from the United States to tour China that was allowed to bring in bicycles from the outside. Previous groups had been forced to tour on Chinese-made bicycles. Her group brought their touring bikes and found lots of admirers among the Chinese people who were fascinated with the skinny tires and 18-speed transmissions. At that point, our mom, who was quite short, was riding a bicycle that had been made in Japan, so it wasn’t even a product of the United States.

There were plenty of other tours. She went to the USSR with a Friendship Force tour group. She went on a couple of cruises with a friend, going to Alaska and traveling through the Panama Canal. She traveled to Germany for a church music festival and played her trumpet at a brass music event on that trip.

She didn’t seem to get overly attached to any one bed.

Our mother earned her private pilot’s license before I was born and was always up for a ride in an airplane. She flew in light aircraft, helicopters, antique aircraft, homebuilt aircraft and a hot air balloon. One year she was vacationing with our family on her birthday and I was able to purchase a ride in a sailplane for her. It was her first ride in an airplane towed by another plane and she loved it.

One of the jokes we shared near the end of her life was sparked by her saying, out of the blue one day, “I’d like to ride on a camel. I’ve never ridden on a camel.” Maybe she hadn’t. I got a ride on a camel at a tourist place in Central Australia in 2006 and it was my first such ride. She did, however, ride an elephant during a bike trip to Sri Lanka. I’ve got a couple of pictures of her riding the elephant with her bike helmet on her head.

I’ve been very fortunate to have inherited my parents’ love of travel and sense of adventure. Our children grew up making jokes about my tendency to find “the long cut.” Instead of finding a short cut, I’d take a road we’d never traveled and end up somewhere we’d never gone and the process usually took significantly more time than the direct route. I get a kick out of our grandson who always has to have one or more books with him whenever we go anywhere in the car, no matter how short the trip. He recently told me that having a book along is important because you never know how long the trip will be when his dad is driving. The love of adventure and exploring has been passed down from my parents to my son.

Of course the drawback to that love of adventure is that our two children aren’t living on the same continent. Our daughter and her husband will be moving from Japan soon, but one of their criteria for this move was that the new location not be a place where either of them had lived before. Something tells me that her son will grow up with a sense of adventure as well.

The next nine months will be a time of transition for us as we look for a home to purchase while living in a rental. We’re not sure exactly which neighborhood or what features we’d like to find. We want to make sure we have room for guests to visit, and we like having a bit of room to work on various projects and hobbies, but we don’t need much. And we have no intention of going shopping for new furniture. We’ve got lots of furniture, most of it inherited from various relatives over the years.

One thing of which I’m certain is that we don’t need a new bed. Although our bled is very comfortable, I don’t want to get a bed that is so comfortable that I won’t want to travel.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Telling stories

I’ve been scanning some of my mother’s slides recently. The thing that prompted the most photographs was travel. She took several really big trips after my father died, including bicycle trips in China and Sri Lanka. The travel bug, however, was something that affected both of my parents. Before my father died, they traveled many places including Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, all around the United States, Mexico, Belize, Europe, the Bahamas, and more. Sorting through all of those photographs and looking at images of my parents in places where I was not along for the trip prompted a lot of memories for me. I’ve been telling a lot of stories about my parents recently. And I have a ready audience in our grandchildren.

My father died the fall before our son was born. Our children never got to know him face to face. They both have plenty of first-had memories of their other grandparents, but they got to know my father through stories that were told by others. Still, our children have a good sense of who my father was. Our son enjoys wearing his jackets with the John Deere logo and knows where they came from. Our daughter understands when I buy John Deere toys for her son and appreciates the gesture.

Yesterday while they were eating lunch, our grandchildren enjoyed a story about my father that I told them. My father had four brothers and one sister. Their sister was the oldest child in their family and often worked alongside our grandmother as another parent for the little boys. The boys were given chores on the farm, mostly care of animals. One of the chores was to lead the cows out of the barn to pasture after milking. This was a twice-a-day chore and the boys were always trying to figure out different ways to get the job done. One day they decided to let the dog into the barn before they opened the big barn doors. In when the dog while my father ran around the barn to open the big doors. As he started to push the big doors on their overhead rollers, the cows were so eager to leave the barn that they rushed through the opening, knocking him off his feet. One cow stepped on his side as he lay in the mud, skinning a large area and leaving him tender and sore for several days. The boys decided that their technique was not very good and didn’t try the dog in the barn with the cows trick again.

After dinner, our grandson asked for more stories and I remembered the story of the boys spending an entire day packing snow into the bleachers at the fairgrounds to make a ski slope. They only had one pair of skis and those were not really intended for downhill racing, but the idea of becoming downhill skiers appealed to them. They finally got enough snow packed around the bleachers to make the first run, which resulted in a broken ski and a broken leg, ending their great ski hill. Telling the story now, after all of the players in the story have passed away, made us all laugh at their ingenuity and resourcefulness. We could see how a pretty risky idea had seemed like a good idea to those boys growing up on a North Dakota farm in the winter.

That story prompted a request for another and I told a story that I often hear from my father, my uncles, my aunt and my grandmother about the time when the boys were charged with painting the windmill tower. They rigged a rope over part of the structure to pull up the bucket of paint, planting the youngest boy at the bottom to pull the rope and hoist the paint to where the others could grab it and paint the top of the tower. Uncle George pulled the rope until the edge of the paint can got hung up on a cross brace. Then, looking straight up at the bucket he gave the rope a big jerk that caused the can to turn over and dump out all of the paint. All of the boys tried to scrub all of that red paint off of George’s face and out of his hair, but he wouldn’t come clean. They had to take him home red faced and he remained that way for quite a while before there were no more traces of red paint.

“Tell us more stories, Grandpa!” was the cry, but it was time for the children and their father to head for their farm. They all needed to get home in time for bed to be ready for a busy week. Christmas is coming and there is no shortage of excitement among the children. And grandpa needs to save some of his stories for other occasions. Some of the stories I know need to wait for a later time, when our grandchildren are older, to be told.

One of the things that interested me is that our son reported that he had never heard any of the three stories I told yesterday. They are stories that I knew when he was a child, but somehow telling them never occurred when he was growing up. We had plenty of other stories to tell and while there were no shortage of stories about my father, those particular ones didn’t get told.

The process made me think of the stories that our people have told over the years. These days we have an entire Bible of the stories of our people. Our stories are thousands of years old. And the Bible doesn’t contain all of the stories. Some have been lost because there were too many to be told over and over again and treasured. No matter how many times you read the Bible, you won’t find any stories about Jesus’ teenage years. No matter how many times you read, you won’t hear how Abraham met Sarah. Some stories have been lost to the passage of years.

Who knows which stories will be the treasures of future generations? It isn’t for me to say, but it is important that I pass on the stories I know so that my grandchildren will have a full compliment from which to choose when it becomes their time to tell the stories.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Advent love

David James Duncan once wrote, “People often don’t know what they’re talking about, but when they talk about love they really don’t know what they’re talking about.” In his humorous way, he was acknowledging a challenge that has faced teachers in the church for millennia. Like hope, peace, and joy, love is a deeply challenging concept. Talking more doesn’t always mean that more is communicated. Love is an essential part of learning about the life of a Christian, however. The Bible puts it directly: God is love. To fail to understand love is to fail to understand God. Love is also a behavioral and emotional mandate for Christians: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God , and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Love is so much more than the powerful surge of emotion that sweeps over an adolescent the first time their hormones kick in, but that doesn’t mean that adolescents don’t experience love. Like many other parts of life, love is something that is known at many different levels. Layer upon layer of experience and knowledge add up over a lifetime. After 47 years of marriage, we know more of love than we did when we first took our vows, but our love was as genuine then as it now is.

Love is so much more than romance.

When teaching about love, church leaders often speak of unconditional love. God’s love is given without any limits or conditions. You are loved by God simply because you exist. You don’t have to earn that love. You don’t have to do anything to be loved. You are simply loved. You are always loved. There is nothing that can separate you from God’s love.

We also teach about sacrificial love. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Love is putting the needs of the other ahead of one’s own needs.

The story of our faith is that love came to us in the form of a particular human being. God’s love was expressed in a unique way in Jesus. In Jesus, that love became human with all of the qualities of human nature, including mortality. Unlike many other religious leaders, we speak of the death of Jesus as an expression of that love. Still, we also teach and believe that love never dies.

It is a confusing concept.

Because we cannot fully describe love in words, we often resort to analogies. “Love is like . . .” And analogies can be helpful for our learning, but there is no substitute for actual lived experience. We know love because we are loved. We can love others because we have been loved.

And, since God is love, it is impossible to be fully Christian all by yourself. Ours is a communal religion, learned best in community and expressed in community.

We have tied to live love in our lives. We grew up in loving families. We have been faithfully committed to each other for over 47 years. We served as ordained ministers for 42 years. But we are still learning. When it comes to being grandparents, we are relative newbies. Our oldest grandchild is just nine years old. We believe that teaching about the core values and concepts of our faith is a responsibility of grandparents. We take the commandments about teaching our children and our children’s children about God seriously. We are still learning, however, how best do do that job.

When we lived far away from our grandchildren, we made up packets for Advent and mailed them. Each week there was an activity and resources to engage in that activity. Now that we live close to three of our grandchildren, we have the joy of spending time with them every week. During Advent, we have been hosting them in our house on Sundays and we plan each Sunday around the theme of the week. We have our advent wreath, of course, and light the candles each week, but we have tried to also plan fun and games and crafts that engage them in exploring the multi-dimensional ideas of our faith. We know that all of us learn best by experience and words are not the only tools of teaching learning. Words, however, are important. We are learning that lesson once again as we help with other schooling lessons with our grandchildren. Recently our grandson complained about his weekly spelling words. “I don’t need to know how to spell. I can already read.” Of course he will learn, as I did, that spelling actually is important and that clear communication depends on known how to use words effectively. Despite the challenges of spelling drills and weekly tests, there is real learning going on and he will be grateful for having endured the frustration one day. I know it because I can remember rebelling against spelling when I was his age. I can also remember the hard work I had to invest to catch up when I entered college, a place where misspelling wasn’t tolerated.

Today we speak and engage in experiences of love. It is something our people have been doing on the forth Sunday of Advent for thousands of years. Each generation has succeeded in passing on the core concepts to the next. It is now our turn and the fruits of our efforts will be known decades from now when our grandchildren teach their grandchildren about love.

Of course, our faith is not just something that we teach to our own children. Just as God’s love is not restricted to any single group of people, our mandate to love is to love all of the people of the world, even those whom we have identified as enemies. Our faith specifically teaches about loving our enemies. Extending love to those who seek to do us harm is a challenge. Loving one’s enemies is not a popular political position. So today, as has been the case in other years, we will be engaging in acts of love for strangers. We’ll be making up lunches for the food distribution program of the United Church of Christ congregation in the town where our grandchildren live. We’ll be delivering those lunches together and talking about how we express love to people who we will never meet.

Best of all, our grandchildren are teaching us as much as we are teaching them. God’s unconditional love flows in both directions. Advent is about learning together.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Essential communications

When we made our move to Washington, we decided to keep the same cell phone numbers that we had in South Dakota. There were many factors in our choice. Since we have decided to rent for a year, we decided to also experiment with not having a land line for that year. We know many others who have gone to using only their cell phones for communication, and it seemed like a good time for us to test to see if we needed the expense of having a land line. So far that test has gone well. We have not felt out of communication and have not felt the need to have a land line.

With nearly everything else changing and with the change in our email addresses, we decided that it would be good to have some means of communication that didn’t change with the move. Keeping in touch with friends and family is very important to us and we decided that since people don’t use phone books and keep phone numbers in the memory of their phones, it would make sense to have this channel open to communication just as it was before.

Area codes don’t designate location in the same way that once was the case. In our church directory, there are several members and friends of the church whose cell phone area codes don’t match the geography of their present address. Out here, where there is denser population most people have the 360 area code of this region, but there are plenty of folks with 206, 425, or 253 codes from the greater Seattle area. With no additional charge for long distance calls in wireless networks, area codes don’t affect the cost of making a call.

So we have the same cell phone numbers that we had during our time in South Dakota.

For the most part this has worked well for us. Businesses don’t mind the 605 area code. Our friends and family still can contact us the way that they used to and we have the added bonus of knowing that a call from an unknown part of South Dakota is probably a telemarketer. The spam phone callers have no way of knowing we’ve changed our geographical location. I discovered this when a follow-up call for our new Internet service came from Sioux Falls, South Dakota instead of from a local number.

There has been one glitch in our transition communication that I haven’t yet been able to solve. Until June 30, I was the LOSS team response coordinator for our community. This meant that every time a law enforcement agency in our area called for a suicide response, I received a text message and an email informing me of the call, the message, and who received it. This allowed me to follow up to make sure that we were getting a response team to survivors whenever a suicide occurred in our community. After a couple of years in this position, I discovered that there is a pretty high emotional cost to knowing right away even time a suicide occurs. I began to sense the rise and fall of the suicide rate with the seasons. I couldn’t avoid a silver of pain because I have been with so many who have experienced this tragedy. I found that I was really looking forward to taking a break from being a suicide first responder.

However, the answering service that manages the calls for the LOSS team can’t seem to get my phone number removed from the list. I no longer get the emails because I have changed my email address, but the text messages still appear on my phone every time there is a call for a suicide response in Pennington, Meade, Lawrence or Custer counties of South Dakota. I don’t have to do anything to respond, but I can’t help but be informed. Repeated requests by me and by the staff of the Front Porch Coalition have failed to get my phone number off of the automated reply system. I’m sure that if we could get to the right person, someone knows how to correct the problem, but so far we have only spoken to those who either say that my name and phone number are not on the list or those who say they will refer the problem to a supervisor because that person can’t correct the issue. There are many things in life that have taught me patience. I guess this is another one. I’m sure we’ll get the problem solved soon, but I thought that nearly six months ago, too.

The result is that I continue to think about suicide more than I want to. And I’m a bit anxious, as I have been for many years, about the holidays. I know that the next two weeks will bring a spike in the number of suicides. It always does. And I know that there will be people whose feelings about the holiday will be permanently changed by the depth of their loss and grief. The joy of the season will forever be tinged with sadness and sorrow.

The conjunction of joy and sorrow is a fixture of life. The birth narrative is followed by a story of infanticide in the Bible. The holy family moves from the joy of birth to fear for the life of their child in just a few verses.

My response, as was the case when I was actively responding to suicide loss in our community, is to increase my time for prayer and contemplation. I know first hand the feeling of falling on your knees to pray, reduced to a state of no words, when it feels like you are merely talking to your hands. It is at those moments, when you have no words for your prayers, when you need to know that you aren’t the only one praying. For those who are being crushed under the weight of unfathomable grief, I can at least add my prayers for healing and hope. It is a small thing, but a far better use of my energy and time than yelling at a customer service representative who can’t get my phone number out of their auto texting program.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

New trails

Yesterday we stopped in Bellingham on our way back from the farm. We haven’t spent much time in Bellingham, but are interested in the city, in part because we have been connecting with a United Church of Christ congregation there since we retired. With the pandemic, the congregation is still not meeting face-to-face, so our connection has been through social media and online worship, but there are several things about the congregation that are attractive to us, including a well-developed music program and an organist who is not afraid to pull out all of the stops. We did worship in-person with the congregation during our 2018 sabbatical and have made connections with the pastors as well. However, with online-only worship, we haven’t had a reason to go to Bellingham during the time we have lived here, except to drive by the city on the Interstate on our way to and from the farm.

Yesterday, however, we wanted to look for a gift and there is an REI store in Bellingham. We have been members of the recreational equipment cooperative since 1978, but have mostly shopped through the mail and later online. Picking up a gift at the last minute, however, required being able to see and touch the merchandise, so we made the stop. Our stop was successful and we found the gift we were seeking.

It was the middle of the afternoon and we wanted to get in a walk before the early sunset, so we decided to look for a place to walk in Bellingham. We knew were near the campus of Western Washington University and thought that we could walk around the campus. I used my smartphone to google “hiking trails near me” and found out that Sehome Hill Arboretum was very near to our location. We quickly found a parking lot at the arboretum and started to walk on the trail. Most of the intersections of trails in the park have trail maps that made it easy to plan a loop of the distance we are used to walking. As is often the case with maps, it is not easy to determine the steeples of the trails, so I selected a trail that headed up the hill. In my defense, the arboretum is located on a hill (check out its official name) and the parking lot is at the bottom of the hill. A mile up a steep and winding path with a wet and sometimes muddy path beneath our feed turned out to be a pretty good workout. By the time we reached the top of the hill, where there are beautiful views of Bellingham, Bellingham Bay and the surrounding area, we were ready to hike downhill for a while. We found a paved trail that made our descent much easier than the trip up the hill.

The arboretum is a real treasure. Like the rest of the area, including Mount Vernon where we live, it is located on the ancestral homelands of the Coast Salish Peoples, who have lived in the Salish Sea basin, all throughout the San Juan Islands and the North Cascades watershed from time immemorial. The arboretum was a large private tract of land and home to a quarry from which stone was taken for use in building many of the historic buildings. Much of the tract of land is covered in old growth forest and it provides an excellent natural classroom for university students studying biology and botany. The arboretum forms the eastern side of the university campus with Bellingham bay to the west.

Our walk yesterday brought to mind how different the place where we find ourselves is from where we were just a year ago. After being hospitalized in October, Susan was working hard to build up her stamina by walking every day. By early December, most of the walks were laps in the church parking lot which is regularly plowed and provides stable footing in the winter. Occasionally we would park our car downtown and walk a one mile loop through downtown Rapid City. On the first days of that loop, we planned our walks so that we could stop in a coffeeshop for a cup of tea and sometimes for lunch mid way through our walk. These days we don’t need a break to walk a mile. Our usual is around 2 1/2 miles and we often only stop once in a hike of that length to take a sip of water.

The arboretum, with its 150-foot tall cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir trees and its lush undergrowth of fungi and ferns, is a very different place from the Black Hills of South Dakota. The dense forest dampens the sounds of the city and we were free to walk at our own pace without worries about coming into close contact with other people. After our hike, I noticed one other thing about the arboretum. Bicycles are not permitted on the trails in the park. Most of the places we have hiked in recent years are trails that are shared by bicycles and hikers. It is a natural connection, and we haven’t minded occasionally stepping aide to allow a bicycle to pass. Most mountain bikers are responsible trail users and the collective body of mountain bikers provides a good volunteer base for trail development and maintenance. We have appreciated the bikers and felt privileged to share their trails. In the arboretum, however, we had trails that were reserved for walkers. Given the steepness of the trails, I am sure that it helps keep the trails from excessive erosion and I’m sure that bikes would be coming down the trails at high speed occasionally making a challenge for bikers and walkers. As it is, we were able to take our walk as if we had exclusive use of the park, meeting only one other group of hikers who were going the opposite direction from us.

We’ll soon go back to the arboretum to further explore its trails. One of the joys of our life right now is that of discovering new trails. Some give us incredible vistas to view.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!


The past couple of days have brought another new experience for us. Our daughter in Japan has been sending us photos and videos of our grandson playing in the snow. It is a delight to see him all bundled up - so much that when he laid down in the snow, he had trouble getting up because of all of the layers of clothes. He really is enjoying the snow, but only has energy for being out in the weather in short bursts. After a few minutes the cold on his cheeks gets to him or he takes off a mitten and plunges a bare hand into the snow or a blast of winter wind makes him ready to go back inside the house to warm up.

A friend in Virginia posted pictures of the winter storm raging on the East Coast. His slow motion video of giant snowflakes falling and adding to the accumulation in their back yard was beautiful, but blizzard warnings are out in 14 states, affecting 60 million people. New York City is forecast to get more snow in this single storm than they got in all of last winter. Parts of Pennsylvania could see two feet of the white stuff.

That’s not the new experience. We’ve seen winter before. What is new is living in a place where “winter” isn’t like that at all. Our next door neighbor mowed their lawn yesterday.

To be fair, our former home, in South Dakota, has been free from snow with the high temperatures reaching into the forties during the day. Were we still living there we would still be experiencing snow-free weather while friends and family sent us pictures of the snowfall in their areas. And we had at least two storms with significant snowfall there in the fall before we moved. During one of the storms the man who purchased our snowblower graciously came over to our house and cleared the driveway and deck of snow.

We won’t be needing that snowblower this winter.

Thinking of blizzards and snowstorms got me to thinking about winter foods. Somehow we got to remembering and talking about winter camping trips. When I was growing up we would have occasional picnics during the winter. Sometimes we’d have one in conjunction with our family’s hunt for a Christmas tree. Other years, we had a camping adventure between Christmas and New Year’s. One of the staple meals for a family winter picnic was chili and hot chocolate, prepared in advance and then warmed up on our two burner Coleman white gas stove. I remember that chili as being so good. I don’t think it was anything special and, in our family, I doubt that it was very spicy. It was probably filled with lots of ground meat, often deer or antelope burger.

We also had some pretty hearty stews in my growing up years. It seemed that there was nearly always a few packages of stew meat in our freezer. Most of our meat was obtained locally, either from hunting or from purchasing animals at the fair in the fall. The freezer was well stocked by the time the harshest winter weather set in.

The talk and thoughts of winter soups and stews inspired me to explore a bit of the local cuisine as I prepared our dinner last night. We have enjoyed steaming hot bowls of chowder on several occasions in the past, but it wasn’t one of the soups of my childhood home. I decided that since we now live in an area where there are plenty of clams, it is time for me to learn how to make chowder. We didn’t got the step of harvesting our own clams. I know nothing of coastal fishing and shellfish gathering regulations or processes. There will be time to learn those things in the future. Our local market has a supply of fresh clams available and I even avoided some of the work by purchasing clam meat that was already cooked and removed from the shells. Nonetheless I felt pretty good about the soup I was making because the recipe I found called for canned clams and I was able to use fresh.

Seafood chowders go way back in history. It is possible that clam chowder was on the menu for the thanksgiving celebration of the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. They probably didn’t have milk or butter, but they could have made a hearty chowder with vegetable or meat broth. It is believed that clams were used in chowder because of the relative ease of harvesting them.

The recipe I used was a rich broth made of milk and butter and cream, thickened with just a bit of flour. It contained potatoes and onions and a bit of garlic and thyme along with salt and pepper for seasoning. I diced and fried four strips of bacon and we garnished our bowls of soup with bacon and parsley. The result was a tasty soup that was very easy to prepare. Next time I think I’ll add a bit of celery, but I was pleased with the result and the pot of soup I made yielded a enough for leftovers for the next couple of days. I’m pretty sure that saltines or oyster crackers are traditional, but I served the chowder with some rolls and a bit more butter. I don’t think it was a low fat meal, but we’ve been walking quite a bit each day and indulging from time to time doesn’t seem to be out of line.

I don’t expect this move to yield a major change in our diet. We are fairly set in our ways and when I’m a bit tired it is easier to go to recipes that we’ve tried before and that I keep in my head instead of having to look up and find ingredients for something new. The foods we like, even buffalo meat, are readily available in the local stores. We do, however, love seafood and there is a fresh seafood market in our town that has food fresh off of the boats that fish the Puget Sound.

I’m pretty sure that my fake New England accent wouldn’t fool anyone. I hope, however, that I can perfect a chowder recipe that would delight a person who had grown up near the coast. I’m sure we’ll be having more chowder in the future.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Holy Ground

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

The third chapter of the book of Exodus is a story of a story. In the story we have the characters Moses and God. God gives Moses the instruction to remove his sandals before the introduction is made. Once God reminds Moses of his identity and place in the family story, he tells Moses of the plight of the people of Israel in Egyptian slavery and of the divine plan for their freedom. God reveals the divine name and gives Moses the information he needs to make a change in his life and become the leader of God’s people.

First, however, Moses has to take off his shoes.

I have heard it said that the instruction to remove his shoes was to get Moses’ attention, as if a burning bush wasn’t enough. Moses takes off his shoes as a sign that he is ready to hear God’s story. You might want to take off your shoes, because I’ve got a story to tell.

I grew up in a household where we wore our shoes inside. We had rugs by every door. We were taught to wipe our feet. We wore overshoes in the winter that were removed at the door. And we wore shoes inside our home. For the most part that practice has continued in our home. However, we have good friends who have the practice of removing their shoes when they come inside their house. The practice is very simple and as a pastor, I learned to observe the entryway and the footwear of my host when I visited families. I removed my shoes when visiting a house where that was the custom and left them on when visiting a house where leaving them on was the usual practice.

In the fall of 2006, we spent some time studying at the Sandy-Saulteau Spiritual Center near Winnipeg, Manitoba. The cross-cultural educational institution uses traditional indigenous teaching and learning methods. In the late fall there was snow on the ground and we walked on snowy paths between buildings. It was the custom in that place to have two sets of shoes - one to wear outside and a different pair to wear inside. Many of the people who were regular visitors to the center had soft moccasins for wearing inside. I hadn’t brought a spare pare of shoes for inside wear and often went with my stocking feet when indoors. After our time at the center we visited a store in Winnipeg before boarding our flight home. I purchased a pair of moccasins. They didn’t get much use for many years, sitting in my closet and occasionally being worn as bedroom slippers.

I thought of our time at the Sandy-Saulteau Center when, in 2018, we visited Japan, where it is common practice to remove shoes when entering a home. Hotels provide disposable sandals to wear upon entering the room. We removed our shoes before visiting temples and shrines. I developed a new appreciation for the practice of removing one’s shoes when entering a home.

Then, this fall, we moved from our home in South Dakota to a rental home in Washington. Our rental has relatively new flooring on the main level and we are trying to protect the floors and be gentle on the house where we will live for just one year. Our grandchildren, who have always lived in a home where shoes are removed at the entryway are used to taking off their shoes and we have adopted their practice. We didn’t talk about making this change, it has just become our habit to remove our shoes as we come through the door. Those moccasins I bought in Canada are getting good use this winter. I wear them when I am inside.

When our grandchildren come to visit, the front hall closet and the rug that sits by the front door are cluttered with a jumble of shoes and boots. Our grandchildren wear muck boots most of the time. they are waterproof for walking around their farm and they slip on and off easily. They are so practical that I’ve adopted a new practice of trading my regular shoes for a pair of muck boots when I am out at the farm. I’ll switch shoes at the pickup, wear my boots for working in the shop and around the farm, and then slip out of my boots when entering their house. They have a mudroom at the back door It seems that I’m changing my shoes a lot these days.

We are also sharing a lot of stories now that we are able to spend more time with our grandchildren. There is something about that pile of shoes and boots in the entryway of our house within easy sight of the jumble of kids and books in front of the fireplace that makes me think of Moses’ long ago conversation with God. “Take off your shoes, I’ve got a story to tell you.”

We’ve been telling our grandchildren stories of Japan and stories of our indigenous friends in the United States and Canada. Our stories are becoming the stories of a new generation. God began his story for Moses by asking him to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Then God reminded Moses of the generations of his ancestors: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Indeed we are on holy ground when we tell our stories to our grandchildren.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Our journey through time

The Seattle World’s Fair was held in the summer of 1962. A group of visionary risk-takers had been promoting the idea for at least a decade. Their vision came to fruition that summer with nearly 10 million people visiting the 75-acre fairgrounds. The space had been prepared with a number of futuristic buildings and public works projects. Most famous of them all was the Space Needle, a 600 ft observation tower that features an observation deck 500 ft above the surrounding neighborhood. The tower, once the tallest structure west of the Mississippi in the United States, used to house two restaurants. After a renovation in 2000 a single larger restaurant remains.

We didn’t make it to the World’s Fair in 1962. My parents were committed to family travel and invested in some pretty big family trips. We all loaded into our twin Beech, a converted military C45, and flew from our home in Montana to Washington DC in 1959. In 1961 our family trip included stops in Salt Lake City and San Francisco. With the pattern of taking a big trip every other year, we didn’t have a big family trip in 1962, but we did make it to Seattle in 1963. We landed our airplane at Boeing Field just four miles south of downtown Seattle. At the time it was the center of Boeing airliner production prior to the opening of the larger facility at Everett.

I was just a year older than our oldest grandson is today as we wandered around the fairgrounds, eating at the International cafes in the large pavilion and riding monorail and the elevators to the observation deck of the space needle. One of the details I remember from that long ago trip is that the elevators traveled at 10 mph, a very fast rate. It all seemed very futuristic to me. The Seattle World’s Fair was also known as the 21st Century Exposition. I imagined that some day in the distant future, in the 21st Century, there would be lots and lots of towers like the space needle, that people would live in them and have flying cars that could zoom to and from the structures.

It was, of course, impossible for me to imagine what the 21st Century would really be like. the years have gone by, however, and somehow they have found me living an hour north of the Space Needle. Roughly half way between our home and downtown Seattle is the Boeing Everett Factory that includes the largest building in the world. It isn’t tall like the Space Needle, but the roof of the plant covers more acres than the entire 1962 World’s Fair grounds. Just under 100 acres of roof cover the giant building.

We don’t have any flying cars. We don’t live in 600 ft towers. The Space Needle, however, still can draw a crowd. With the pandemic, the number of people allowed in the Needle has been reduced to 25% of capacity. Visitors must wear face coverings and the lines waiting to ascend are spaced out. We haven’t visited the Needle or ridden its elevators for several years, but it is something I plan to do after the pandemic has eased and we feel it is safe to go to more crowded places once again. Maybe I’ll also take the factory tour at the Boeing plant one day as well.

I have been thinking of that phase of my life, when I was 10 years old, quite a bit lately. The key inspiration for my memories is our grandson whose nine-year-old enthusiasm and energy inspire us. This has been reinforced by my project of going through family photos. I’ve discovered a few pictures of myself from those days. I thought those pictures would be especially interesting to our grandson and he was polite when looking at them, but he was far more interested in the pictures of his father when his father was a baby. It was amazing to our grandchildren to think that their father once looked like the baby in that picture.

As I looked at the pictures with our grandchildren, I had to admit that it is an amazing thing to remember when he was a baby. We had no clue at that time that he would grow up to be a father of three, be a respected professional in his field, and live in Northwest Washington. All of that seemed a very long way from the North Dakota town where he was born. We couldn’t have imagined how things turned out now that we are living in the 21st Century.

Sitting there, surrounded by three of our grandchildren, I realized that we can’t imagine what their future holds. They are likely to live into the 22nd Century.

I wonder if they will get to have flying cars. By that time the Space Needle might not look at all futuristic. The big Boeing factory in Everett may no longer be needed. We just don’t know.

I wonder where they will live, how they will travel, who they will meet, what kind of parents they will be. There are so many things about the future that are beyond my capacity to imagine, but it doesn’t keep me from thinking about that future.

The lives of my grandparents spanned from horse and buggy days to a moon landing. The pace of change has accelerated in our generation. The changes won’t just be in the form of transportation. A lot of other changes will occur as well. The planet will continue to be more crowded and new systems will need to be developed to keep the air and water clean enough to support human life and health. There will be plenty of really difficult challenges that require visionary imagination, creative thinking and capable engineering.

It is an awesome responsibility to be the link between my grandparents and my grandchildren. The collective memory of our people depends on sharing the stories from generation to generation. There are stories that will survive only if we take the time to tell them.

It makes me very grateful for the time I have with our grandchildren and the stories they are learning right now.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

E pluibus unum

One of the luxuries of aging is that I am learning to allow myself a bit of nostalgia. As we have sifted and sorted through possessions in preparation for this year’s move, we’ve been engaging in a much wider process of sifting and sorting through memories. Trying to manage the volume of photographs and organize them into forms that make them accessible to others has been a huge challenge. At some point, we simply boxed up photos to be sorted later. Now, after a month of settling into our new home, the time has come to take those boxes one by one and go through their contents. We have the advantage of computers with access to the Internet and scanners to transfer images to digital storage. Of course not every photograph needs to be stored. We have photos that I cannot identify the subjects. There are others that are blurry and poorly framed. There are duplicates.

Sorting through the old photographs is a fun trip down memory lane for me. I’ve found photos of our children when they were the ages of our grandchildren. I’ve even found a few photos of ourselves when we were that age. I don’t know how interesting these are to our grandchildren, but it has been fun for me to show them some of the pictures and tell them some of the stories.

The job would be overwhelming if I had to do it all at once. Instead, I’m going through the pictures little by little, scanning and organizing a few when I have a little extra time and then leaving the task to pursue other chores during the day. I try to make a little progress each week so that I can tell I’m going forward, but I don’t have any set timeline for the process. There are plenty of other things to occupy my time and I’ve long been a person who likes to have several jobs going at the same time.

On the other hand, retirement has meant a huge change in schedule for me. Retirement in the seasons of Covid means I’m spending a lot more time at home. I do go to our son’s farm and work in the shop some days, but those days are not like the 12 and 14 hour marathons that were a part of my working life. I have time in the evening to sit and read a book. And I have time to sort a few photographs each day.

Looking back, I am struck by the number of photographs of my family in which we are wearing “family shirts.” I don’t know where the idea began, but I do remember that we often were told which shirts to wear on which days. We had several sets of matching shirts - enough that we could wear different matching shirts for every day of family camp. Our mother sewed a lot of our shirts and I suppose that it was simply cost effective to purchase large amounts of fabric. But there was a certain family pride and family identity that went with the shirts. We also had shirts that were sewn in factories and purchased at the store that matched. One photo I found has the whole family in matching striped shirts except for me. I have on a striped shirt, but the colors are different. I don’t know if the store simply didn’t have my size in the right color or if I was rebelling that day.

Family identity was important to use. We learned that it was important for us to play a role in our family. Being a part of our family was a privilege and a responsibility. We had to stick up for each other. I had to be a role model for little brothers. We had to watch out for each other. Family shirts were often a part of family travel - it made it easier to identify which children belonged to our family.

Somewhere in that process I learned the values of unity and diversity. We were not the same. That was made very clear to me as the first boy in a family that already had three sisters. But we belonged together. Over and over again, my father would answer our “why” questions with “because you are a part of this family - and you can’t resign from a family.”

When we went to school and learned that the motto of our nation was “e pluribus unum.” Out of many, one. It was, to us, more than a quaint Latin saying. It was a moral imperative in our family. Learning to live together as brothers and sisters meant respecting our differences, but always having to deal with those differences to be one family. I believed then and still believe that this is critical not just for families, but for our country as well. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “We will either learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools.” I believe that it is bigger than family. It is even bigger than one nation. I believe that it is God’s plan for humanity - that we learn to live together with all of our differences as one human family. We don’t become the same. We don’t lose our integrities. We learn to live in significant relationship with one another as children of God, made in God’s image, with all kinds of differences and varieties.

Part of growing up is learning that we don’t always get our own way. Other opinions and view points are important. We don’t always agree. But disagreeing doesn’t meant that we can discount the importance of the other person. We can’t discard those who are different. “You can’t resign from a family.” We are all part of the same human family. Learning to live with difference is called maturity. The apostle Paul, in his letters to congregations of the early Christian church, wrote of God’s call to maturity in Christ. “When I became an adult, I laid aside childish ways.”

We aren’t going to all get into our family shirts, hold hands and sing Kumbaya any time soon. But we can work at growing in maturity and learning to live together with those who are different from ourselves.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Advent joy

Yesterday it was foggy when we woke. The fog is different here than it is in the hills. In western South Dakota there are foggy days and plenty of foggy mornings. Those days occur when the cloud layer is lower than our elevation. It might be sunny at a higher elevation, but the fog layer gets trapped beneath the upper level of the atmosphere. Sometimes it stays foggy all day, but most of the time the temperature eventually rises to the point where the fog dissipates. Coastal fog is different. Yesterday the fog would blow in and then go out. We went for a walk on a sunny, foggy, sunny, foggy, sunny, foggy day. When we were in the fog, it was hard to see across the street, then a half block later we’d be scrambling for our sunglasses because it was so bright it was hard to look toward the sun. Then we’d be back in the fog. Later in the morning, we drove up to the farm and our drive was in and out of the sun. The temperature held in the upper 30’s for much of the day. It probably didn’t ever get to 45 degrees.

In the middle of the afternoon when we pulled out of the driveway at the farm we were greeted with a magnificent view of Mount Baker, about 30 miles straight east from our son’s place. It is hard to describe how dramatic the Northern Cascade mountains are in this region. Our son’s place is only 4 1/2 miles east of a large bay of the Puget Sound. It is about 90 feet above sea level in rolling countryside. Just 30 miles away is a mountain that rises to 10,781 feet, the third-highest mountain in Washington. Mount Baker is the second most thermally active volcano in the Cascade range after Mount St. Helens. The Lummi People call it Nooksack, and the river that runs from the mountain to the sea carries the same name. The mountain is also known as Kulshan. The name Mount Baker was given by the British explorer George Vancouver.

Yesterday, with the sun directly on the mountain the view was breathtakingly beautiful. I thought to myself, “I know why people want to live in this place.”

It brings to mind the third major theme of Advent, Joy. The concept is difficult to teach, in part because Christians have long claimed that joy is not something in the future, but a present reality. Despite the contemporary aversion to waiting for anything, we rarely speak of or acknowledge a deep, present, joy. This seems to be especially true this year. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “when this pandemic is over” in phone calls or text exchanges with friends. Right now it seems especially popular for people to speak of how much they want this year to end.

Teaching the concept of joy in the present has been a challenge from very near the beginning of Christianity. Advent was a second season of fasting and preparation for membership in the church that was added to the Christian Calendar when a single day each year for joining the church, Easter, proved to be simply inadequate for the rapid influx of members after Christianity became a legal religion in Rome in the time of Constantine. Originally, the season was a six-week period of prayer, fasting and study in preparation for becoming a member of the church. It was as solemn and grim as Lent. Right in the middle of that season, church leaders inserted a feast day. Fasting was suspended for a day. Solemnity was dropped. A day of joy was declared. Based on a commandment that appears in Philippians 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice,” the day became known as Gaudete after the Latin word for Rejoice. The feast day mirrored Laetare Sunday in Lent, a counterpart feast day in the midst of a solemn season. When Advent was shortened to four weeks, the third of the weeks became Gaudete Sunday.

Often Gaudete Sunday is taught as a day of anticipation. We pause in the midst of Advent waiting for a day to remember the joy that lies ahead with the coming of Christ. Such teaching, however, misses the depth that is a part of this holy day. Christians believe that the promises of God are not just about the future - they are gifts present right now. Gaudete Sunday is a day in which we recognize the joy that is ours.

Like a glorious mountain revealed from the midst of a foggy day, the joy has always been a present gift of God. You don’t have to wait to experience joy. You can experience joy in the midst of even the hardest of moments.

I often have glimpsed that joy when meeting with families to plan funerals. In the midst of some of the most painful moments of grief and loss, a story will emerge and everyone will smile and often laugh at a particularly wonderful memory. That memory is on its way to becoming a lifelong companion that will brighten other dark days in the future. Often those who have suffered the most are the best teachers of the true nature of joy.

In our church in Rapid City, we started a tradition of having a night of blues music as part of Holy Week. This unique music form grew out of the horrors of human slavery. Many blues tunes have their roots in African-American spirituals. And yet there is a powerful beauty and joy that radiates through some of those songs. It is joy that cannot be suppressed, beauty that cannot be hidden, a gift for which you do not have to wait. “I got shoes, you got shoes, All of God’s children got shoes! When I get to heaven, gonna put on my shoes and walk all over God’s heaven!” The song doesn’t say, I’m going to get shoes some day later after I die. It declares boldly, “All of God’s children got shoes!”

May the joy of this day be a bright moment in your life that shines forever. That is the joy that is available right now.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Afterschool stories

The story they told about my father, when he was in elementary school is that he used to read a book while riding home from school. They lived on a farm. I don’t know exactly how far away the school was from their house, but I think it was about a mile. They used to ride horses to school. The school had a barn where their horses were kept and fed during the day and then they would ride them home. My father’s horse was a gentle animal who knew the routine and so didn’t require input from the rider. At the end of a school day, my dad would climb up on the horse and the animal knew exactly where to go. Dad would read a book as he rode along and soon they’d be at their home barn, where there were chores to be done before dinner. On at least one occasion, my father was reading when the horse walked under a tree. Dad didn’t see the tree branches coming because he was reading. The branches brushed him right off the back of the horse. The horse wouldn’t stop walking because it was headed home. Dad had to walk the rest of the way home because he couldn’t catch his ride. I don’t know if this was a single occasion, or if it happened multiple times, but I heard the story from my dad, from my grandma, from my aunt and from at least one of my uncles, all who told it with great relish.

I thought it might be fun to have a story like that tell my kids and grandkids, but I don’t have any story of particular note about the adventures of going to and from school. We lived exactly one block from the school. That part of our town was laid out in a grid, 16 blocks to the mile, and we didn’t have 16 blocks from our house in any direction before you ran out of town. That meant that each block was a bit over 300 feet long. It was 150 feet to the alley and another 150 feet to the school. We were more likely to have the wind at our back going to school and in our faces coming home. Even if it was snowing, the trip wasn’t much of an adventure. We usually ran to and from school.

For a couple of years, we became obsessed with a kickball game that we played like baseball. The pitcher rolled the kickball towards the batter, who kicked it as hard as possible and then ran the bases while the defense ran to get the ball and tried to throw the runner out. Like baseball, if the kick was caught, it was an out. The number of players determined the size of each team, so some days, there were a lot of outfielders and advancing all the way around the bases was a challenge. Dodgeball was banned from our playground before school and during recess because some of the older kids got a bit rough with the game, but they continued to make the kickball game seem a lot like dodgeball for us smaller players.

I’ve been looking for stories about school to tell to our grandchildren in part because they don’t have school to go to at the moment. The pandemic means that they are doing their classes at home. We try to help out with the teaching one day a week, but most of the time it is their mother who arranges the classes, checks the workbooks, gives the spelling tests, listens to the reading, and plans the day. Until the pandemic eases and Washington returns to in-person learning in public schools, the kids don’t go anywhere to go to school. The classroom is the same room where they eat their meals. Their desks are their usual places at the same table where they have their breakfast. Fortunately for our grandchildren, they live on a farm. There are outdoor chores every day. There is firewood to be fetched and brought in from the woodshed. There are chickens to be fed and watered. There are acres of pasture for running off a bit of steam. But for this school year there are no cub scouts, no group games at recess, no after school sports, no bus rides and no walking to and from school.

It looks like our grandson won’t have any stories to tell his grandchildren about having to walk two miles to school uphill into the wind in a blizzard. And so far their mother won’t let me buy them a horse, but that is a different story.

We didn’t have a horse when I was a kid, either, but we did have a donkey. Most years we had several donkeys. We didn’t get to take our donkeys to school, except on special days when our dad brought a colt to the school yard for the other kids to see. I think that our donkey, however, had some connection with the horse my dad had when he was a kid. At least she went wherever she wanted to go and totally ignored any input from me. If I was told to hold her lead, I would do so, but she went wherever she wanted and ate whatever she wanted regardless of how hard I pulled on the lead. On the occasions when I got to ride her, she usually simply stood still until I got bored and got off. If she did go anywhere, it certainly wasn’t in the direction I wanted to go and not at the pace I thought she could carry me. It was way easer and a lot faster to simply walk than to ride the donkey. It wouldn’t be hard to let go of the lead and read a book while sitting on her back, and if you did fall off and had to walk home, you wouldn’t have far to go.

Despite the hardships of school during the pandemic, I have no intention of getting a donkey for our grandchildren to ride. Maybe I’ll try to find a good kickball.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

At the movies

This picture has nothing to do with today's journal entry. It is just a bit of beauty we saw on our walk yesterday.

One of the things we have talked of doing in our retirement is catching up on movies. We haven’t been very big on watching movies over the years. We used to go to the theatre on rare occasions, but as students our lives were busy. Then we moved to a town that didn’t have a movie theatre. In those days it was a big treat to catch a movie in a theatre when we traveled to a larger town. Later, when our children were growing up, we lived in places where there were theaters, and we occasionally got to see a movie with our children. When our children were in their early teens, VCR machines became popular. At first we used to rent a machine from Blockbuster for special movie nights. Then we purchased our own machine. We watched movie with our children through their teenage years and bought a DVD player when they became available.

Then our children became adults and our parents came to live with us and we got out of the habit of watching movies. When the television set failed, we never bothered to get another one. We were busy and it just didn’t seem to be a priority for our lives. Reading books was such an enjoyable pastime that we didn’t seem to miss the movies. My friends would ask me about my reaction to popular movies, and I would admit that I hadn’t gotten around to seeing them.

So, we thought that retirement would be a good time to catch up on movies and enjoy this complex, bug budget art form. Covid, of course, has meant that the theatre just isn’t a good place for us to go. And we don’t have a television set, though we intend to purchase one before too long. When we signed up for Internet service for our home, the service provider offered a “free” home entertainment streaming device that allowed us to watch movies over our Internet connection. I figured out how to connect the device to a large computer monitor at my desk and we thought we were set.

There is a learning curve to watching movies in today’s environment, and I haven’t been keeping up. The device we have requires using a remote to scroll through on screen menus. Just setting it up took a rather lengthy process of entering a user name and password and account number over and over again. Without being able to use a keyboard, scrolling through the alphabet with a remote device is time consuming. I did, however, get it set up. Now we have to scroll through all of the different channels and figure out which movies are on which channels. We also have found out that most of the channels are not free. So far we are only looking at free content, but that means there aren’t many movies available.

At the end of the day when I’m ready for some entertainment, it seems a bit too complex for my mood and so far, I haven’t really watched a movie. I scroll through the various listings, don’t find anything that suits me and eventually turn it off, hook the monitor to the computer, watch a couple of YouTube videos, pick up a book and call it a night. I keep saying that it will be easier when we get a television, but haven’t been motivated to go get one yet.

In preparation, however, I have been reading a few movie reviews. It is something that I started to do so that I would have some level of intelligence when talking with my friends, who watch movies. What I have found is that the movie series that we used to enjoy are having a new life with new movies being added to the series. When I had last paid attention, there were nine star wars movies. I’ve read, however, that there are now 19: 11 famous live action films, three made for tv films, two Lego movies, five animated shows and a couple of cartoons. Just catching up on them might be a couple of months of movies for us. In the meantime, Disney has announced that there are at least ten more Star Wars films in the pipeline, so we might be watching them for a long time.

When we had children at home, we enjoyed the Indiana Jones movies, starring Harrison Ford, who also acted in the original Star Wars series. I’ve long been a Harrison Ford fan in part because in his real life, he is a pilot and aviation fan who owns a wonderful Dehavilland Beaver as well as several other aircraft. Ford is the only actor to have played the iconic adventurer Indiana Jones, a character who has aged along with the actor. The first Indiana Jones movie came out in 1981, the year our son was born. Since our son is now 39, it follows that Indiana Jones is now 39 years older than when he went on the Raiders of the Lost Ark adventure. I’m thinking that I will enjoy a movie with a 78 year-old actor. He probably won’t be doing as many of the physical stunts, but Indiana Jones was a character that was mostly courage and wit. He was constantly finding himself in situations where he was afraid, but in which he prevailed anyway. It seems appropriate for our times. After all Harrison Ford and the president elect of the United States were born the same year.

The age of those two, of course, is of interest to me because they have a decade on me. Perhaps I could make a comeback as a preacher in a few years. It seems like I have some time to think about it.

In the meantime, I’m not bored with retirement yet. I’ve got a shop to set up and fence to build on our son’s farm. I’ve got chairs that need the cane seats replace in the garage. I’ve been working on repairs for a couple of doll houses that I made for our daughter and now are being enjoyed by our granddaughters. There are new pieces of furniture for the doll houses in the works at a table. I’ve started scanning slides and organizing photographs. Then there are the normal tasks of living, shopping, cooking, cleaning, banking. Add in a few volunteer opportunities and I may not have time to stage my comeback for a few years.

In the meantime, I need to figure out how to work the movie streaming device so I will be ready when the new Indiana Jones movie comes out in 2022. By then, Ford will be 80.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Wearing my mask

It seems strange by today’s standards, but I can remember when Wyoming did not have an open container law. People routinely opened a can of beer on the street and sipped from the can as they drove down the highway. Living not far from the border between Wyoming and Montana, where the daytime speed limit was “prudent and reasonable,” it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be drinking a beer while driving 80 miles per hour on a two-lane highway, occasionally passing a semi truck against a solid yellow line uphill with oncoming traffic in sight. It was dangerous and there were some pretty dramatic accidents, but it happened. For the most part, people wouldn’t think of doing that today. The times have changed. Wyoming, like other states, has an open container law. It is illegal both to consume alcohol and to have an open alcohol container in a vehicle in Wyoming. Getting caught driving while intoxicated results in heavy fines and jail time. Not only have the laws changed, but people have changed their behavior. There are still some terrible drunk driving accidents, but they are less common than once was the case.

When I was growing up, people smoked cigarettes everywhere. There were ash trays in cars. Some models had ash trays in the back seat as well as the front. The ash tray in the break room at my dad’s shop often had smoldering remains of cigarettes hours after coffee break time. I’ve ridden a lot of miles with smoking drivers in a car with all of the windows rolled up. It was accepted as common behavior. People smoked in airplanes, in restaurants and in their homes. The times have changed. You’ll still occasionally see someone smoking in a car, but most of the time there is an open window. People no longer smoke in offices or public buildings. Most states ban smoking in restaurants. Even smokers don’t like to have someone smoke in their homes.

I grew up in a household where there was no alcohol consumption and no smoking. Neither of our parents smoked or drank alcohol. It was expected that we would do the same. As adults some of my siblings took up smoking and nearly all of us will consume a bit of alcohol on occasion. But open container laws and smoking bans in public places didn’t impact our lifestyles at all. I haven’t felt any particular restrictions on my behavior because of those laws.

I now live in a state where there is a statewide mask mandate. Face coverings are required, by state law in all public buildings. There are signs in all businesses indicating that faces must be covered. I don’t know if there are penalties for failure to comply, but people are following the order. We have hooks by the door of our house where we keep clean masks so that we are reminded to always take one with us when we are leaving home. Even outside, when walking near others, we all wear our masks. If I forget (and I have) and arrive in a parking lot without a mask, seeing the other customers reminds me to go back home and get a mask before entering a store.

We were wearing masks regularly before we moved to this state. Both of us are considered by our age and prior health conditions to be at risk for serious complications should we contract the coronavirus. With all of the stresses of moving and traveling, we were very careful to do what we could to avoid the possibility that we might spread the disease to others should be become infected and not show symptoms.

I’m pretty sure that just like open container laws and bans on smoking in public places, mask wearing is here to stay. After the vaccine becomes widely available and the pandemic eases, things are not going to go back to the way they were.

When the laws about open containers changed, there were people who complained about the loss of freedom. I’ve heard some pretty strong, and in my opinion insane, defenses of drinking and driving. The same thing happened when states passed bans on smoking in public places. There were folks who argued and complained and cried out loud about the ill effects of this restriction on their freedom. In both cases it is abundantly clear now that the benefits of such laws far outweighed the costs and those who argue against them today are considered to be outliers and their arguments are quickly dismissed. The freedom to not be killed by a drunk driver or die of secondhand smoke seem to be essential parts of life these days. It isn’t hard to imagine a day when it is considered common sense to not share diseases that are borne on droplets with others.

In the meantime, we have to put up with the arguments of those who simply don’t like change. Change, however, is inevitable. In the case of this pandemic it is hard to argue that change hasn’t already occurred. The county where we used to live, where there is no mask mandate, is reported to have 98% of all available hospital beds in use. There county where I now reside, where there is a mask mandate has only 26% of available hospital beds in use. That is a huge difference if you have an emergency and need to be treated.

Masks are only part of the changes that have already begun. Curbside service, automatic check out machines, plastic shields at check out stations, people who sanitize surfaces between customers, and more are becoming a way of life. The businesses that survive this pandemic will be the ones that are able to adapt and change in the face of changing circumstances.

Change is hard. People will continue to complain. But complaining doesn’t stop the change. It is frustrating when those elected to offices fail to show leadership, but many of them are not used to leading at all. They got where they are by following trends and adapting to the whims of polls and donors.

My advice is to keep your eyes out for a mask that doesn’t hurt your ears and doesn’t fog your glasses. When you find one, buy several. You’ll use them.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Stories of food

I’ve been writing quite a bit lately about the changes we are experiencing as we move from South Dakota to Washington. While there are regional differences, there are a lot of similarities between the two places. Although we have made some dramatic moves in our adult lives, we have never lived anywhere in the south. We’re pretty much temperate people, with virtually no experience with warmer climates. We’ve always lived in a place with four seasons, though the coastal region where we currently live definitely has a shorter and less severe winter than other places we’ve lived.

In the part of the world we’ve known, the local fruit becomes ripe in the late summer. In the days before widespread refrigeration, people ate more fruit in the summer and less in the winter. There was an annual cycle to the availability of many foods. In the mountains the chokecherries and blueberries are most prevalent in August and September. Apples, though not a native plant in many of the places I’ve lived, grow well in the north and their fruit also becomes ripe in the fall.

This is not true of every part of the world. Oranges, for example, become ripe in the winter. It’s hard to think in the terms of a place that really doesn’t have a winter by the standards we apply, but even up north, we knew that oranges start to become available in November and December.

I knew this in part because of a family tradition. In the home where I grew up, there was a navel orange in our Christmas stocking every year. That tradition began when my father was growing up on a farm in North Dakota. Every year there would be a shipment of citrus fruit that made its way on the railroad to the town nearest their farm. My grandparents would make sure that they went to town to meet the train that came just before Christmas to purchase oranges for holiday eating. The sweet fruit was a special treat and a stark contrast to the usual winter fare. There is even a family story about the time a really big blizzard trapped my grandparents in town over Christmas and the celebration was delayed with the kids on the farm and the parents in town on the actual day of Christmas.

These days we are much less seasonal in our eating. You can purchase good eating apples in the grocery store in every season of the year. Special techniques for storing fruit make it possible to have fresh fruit year round. We’ve gotten used to being able to buy small mandarin oranges nearly year round. The clementine oranges show up in early November and when they are starting to complete their course murcott mandarines become available. The two types of oranges are often sold under the same brand name and many consumers are not aware that they are actually buying two different types of oranges. Those little easy to peel, nearly seedless oranges have become favorites in our house. This week when I made our trip to the grocery store, I picked up a bag and I’ve been enjoying them with my lunch.

Having moved out here from South Dakota our diet hasn’t changed in any significant way, though we are hoping to learn the local fishing market and eat more seafood.

Before settlement, the indigenous people of this continent definitely had regional diets. On the plains the main source of protein was the American Bison, an animal that we called Buffalo. Semi-nomadic tribes followed the heard and harvested animals for food. The hides were used for shelter. Every part of the animal was used with very little waste.

In the mountain regions deer and elk were more common sources of protein. One of the nicknames for the Shoshone people is “sheep eaters” from their hunting of big horn sheep as part of their diet. Out here on the coast, the Salmon was as essential to the way of life of the tribes that lived here as the buffalo was to those on the plains. The foods became not only essential parts of the diets of people, but also central to their religious practices, stories and traditions.

During the pandemic one of the fields of employment that is considered essential is driving truck. We are used to a huge regular flow of semi trucks that haul food across the nation and make foods raised in distant places regular parts of our diets. There were days when it was hard to find toilet paper in the stores, but you could buy a tomato on every day of the pandemic so far. The climate may be milder here than back in South Dakota, but there isn’t anyone around here still harvesting tomatoes from their backyard gardens.

I’ve been thinking about picking up some fancy navel oranges just before Christmas and being that one gets slipped into the Christmas stocking of each of my grandchildren. I’m pretty sure that it would come as a surprise and leave them wondering why such a common item turned up in a place where they expected to find toys and sweet treats. It might be an opportunity to tell an old, old story, something that they get on a family regular basis from their grandfather. Of course to them something that happened in the 1990’s is part of the distant past and they make little distinction between those “old” days and the stories of the 1930’s that I grew up hearing.

One of the privileges of being the senior generation is that people expect us to tell stories and share memories of the past. Our grandchildren were at least temporarily entertained by pictures of their father when he was a baby. I’ve shown them a baby picture of me, but they can’t think of me ever being a baby. From their perspective, I’ve always been old. They expect me to be a bit quirky and strange and I never fail to live up to those expectations.

On the other hand, I’m having to learn to adjust to their ways as well. Just the other day, my granddaughter suggested that we should have crab for Christmas dinner. It sounds like a pretty good idea.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Into the sunset

I have long thought of myself as a sunrise person. When I was a child, my father would go off to the airport in the predawn hours so that he could take advantage of the cooler temperatures and lower density altitude to fly in the high country with a light airplane. I loved to go with him and learned to wake up and get out of the house quickly in the predawn hours. When I was a student, I learned that I could obtain hours of quiet work time by rising before other students. My first college work study job was opening the campus library. Most days I had the library to myself for nearly an hour before someone drifted in and then, it would only be an occasional visitor, usually a panicked student who had forgotten to pick up a needed bit of research the night before. Susan and I made it through college and graduate school with a single typewriter. The arrangement worked because I typed in the morning and she typed late at night. We rarely needed the machine at the same time of day.

I grew up on the east slope of the Rocky Mountains, where the sunrises were dramatic because we could see much farther in that direction than we could see at sunset. The sunsets were beautiful, but shorter lived and often a bit less dramatic than the sunrises. Chicago is definitely sunrise country. With Lake Michigan to the east, sunrises over the lake are dramatic and gorgeous. They were easily accessible to those of us fortunate enough to live within walking distance of the lakeshore. It was my one piece of wilderness that made living in the city bearable for me.

For the past twenty-five years I have lived on the east slope of the Black Hills. Black Hills sunsets can be dramatic and beautiful, but the sunrises are even more dramatic. With a panoramic view of the plains and badlands to the east the sunrises stretch from horizon to horizon. During my time in the hills, I lived just ten miles from Sheridan Lake and one of my favorite adventures was to take a canoe to the lake in the predawn hours so that I could be out on the lake at sunrise. By paddling east to west, I could change the sun angle enough to prolong the sunrise. I have thousands of sunrise pictures from the lake and feature a few of them on my website.

But every life has its sunsets. I’ve been reminded of this as so many of my childhood heroes have come to the end of their lives. Yesterday it was Chuck Yeager. I read about his record-breaking flight to be the first to go faster than the speed of sound in the Bell X-1 rocket plane as a boy and dreamed of becoming a test pilot. I admired his life of adventure and his pursuit of speed. And now he, like so many others, is gone. He lived an incredibly full life and died only after reaching the age of 97, so the sadness of his passing is not unnatural. The time had come for him to die. It will come for each of us.

Riding off into the sunset is a cliche, born of the cowboy movies of my childhood and others before my time. The hero would conquer the forces of evil and then, at the end of the movie, a dramatic scene would show the cowboy riding off into the sunset. I’ve been told that the last scene was usually a low budget shot, with many movies being made in California, on the west coast, where sunsets were dramatic. The profile of the cowboy on the horse backlit by the bright son made the iconic shot easy and inexpensive to film.

So, it is interesting to note that my retirement has involved my literally driving off into the sunset. I’ve come to the most western residence of my life. We’re a whole hour later than the mountain time where I’ve lived most of my life. And I’ve moved more than an hour in actual time because Rapid City was at the eastern edge of the time zone. Adding to the drama is the season of the year when we moved. Late fall means that we are approaching the shortest day of the year. Add to that the fact that I moved not only west, but also north, where the days are even shorter, and sunset comes at 4:14 today - barely time for the kids to get off of the school bus, if there were buses running, which aren’t due to the pandemic.

Here I am, nearly on the west coast of the country, within a few miles of the northern border. I need to hone my appreciation for sunsets. This is sunset country.

Of course we have beautiful sunrises here. And you don’t have to get up all that early to watch the sun come up less than 10 minutes before 8 am. The problem, so far, is that we haven’t had many clear days and even when it is clear above, the fog seems to nest at the face of the Cascades to the east so that the first rays of sunlight are filtered through cloud almost every day. One of these days, I’m sure, I’ll catch a dramatic sunrise over the gorgeous peaks to the east, but I may have to wait until summer.

Learning to appreciate the sunset may be a theme for my learning to live in retirement. The pace is different. There are fewer deadlines. My days are busy and full and I have found a lot of things to do. I have a list of tasks for today that will keep me going until I’m good and tired at the end of the day. However, there will be plenty of time to take a walk and appreciate the sunset. Yesterday’s walk yielded a golden sunset over the Skagit River well before dinnertime.

Maybe old ministers, like the cowboys in the movies, occasionally get to ride off into the sunset. It’s not a bad direction to be heading.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

A giant social experiment

I recently read an article by BBC reporter Zoe Thomas about young adults living with their parents. The coronavirus pandemic has led millions of young Americans to move back in with their parents. According to the article the number of adults living with their parents in the U.S. is at its highest level since the Great Depression. Thomas’ focus was on young adults, mostly students, who were able to continue their schoolwork and, in many cases their employment from any location and who had chosen to move back to their parents’ home, sometimes bringing along a spouse or significant other with them.

There are, of course, financial benefits to moving back with parents. With many colleges and universities no longer offering year-round housing options, the marketplace is experiencing a shortage of inventory when it comes to rental housing. When we made our move here, we decided to rent for a year while we shop for a new home and make decision about what kind of house we want to have and exactly where we want to live. At first, when we started to look for rental housing we were struck by what seemed to us to be high prices. Then we found that there weren’t too many available houses for rent at any price. As it turned out we got lucky in part because we found a landlord who chose us over renting to another group of students. The house meets our needs very well and has just undergone a significant updating after being rented to multiple young adults.

Our being in the market, however, puts significant pressures on students and other young adults who are just entering the housing market.

There are other reasons, however, besides financial that induce young adults to move back in with their parents. With the need to keep the bubbles of contact small and to stay away from large social gatherings, one way to maintain relationships is to live in close proximity to family. After a couple of weeks of careful quarantine to make sure that no one has been infected, households can operate normally. Young adults who do not live at home may not be able to visit within the constraints of their time schedules.

There are, of course, costs to moving back home. There is a sense of the loss of independence and freedom. There are old patterns of relationship that need to be reexamined and, in many cases, altered in order to adjust to children having become adults. Homes that were comfortable for children growing up may not have adequate work space for adults working from home. Privacy can be an issue, depending on the layout of the physical space.

Until we began the process of making a move during the pandemic, I hadn’t particularly noticed the number of families and individuals who were on the move. After we had rented a truck and trailer to make our move, however, I started to notice the number of rental moving trailers and trucks that are on the roads. We were constantly seeing others who were moving household. We suspect that a fair number of those pulling trailers or driving smaller rental vans were young adults. We wondered how many of those who were making moves were, like us, heading off to a new adventure and making a joyous life change and how many were forced to move and trying to make the best choice from a field of less than desirable options.

Chances are good that the beginning of 2021 will see the number of people moving on the increase as millions of Americans face eviction as temporary unemployment and housing assistance programs expire and congress remains deadlocked in the process of trying to provide relief. A lot of those who will be left in a bind will not have the option that many young adults do of moving in with parents who have an established home. There will be many families who move in together with inadequate space because there is no other option for them.

We have been privileged all of our lives with reasonable housing options. After I moved out of home to go to college, I spent three summers back at my parents’ place. Those summers I not only had housing provided by my parents, I worked in my father’s business, so I also had a job provided. After that, we were able to live in housing provided by schools and after graduation by the church we served. I was 35 years old when we began the process of purchasing our first home. Interest rates were skyrocketing. We felt lucky to secure an adjustable rate mortgage that was under 10%. Fortunately for us mortgage rates were peaking at the time and each time the rate adjusted it adjusted down in our favor and after a few years we were able to refinance into a fixed rate mortgage. Income tax rates also favor clergy when it comes to housing, so owning our home has been supported by our employers and the rules of the federal tax code.

The world is so much different for young adults today than it was for us. Many colleges and universities are taking extended breaks over the holidays. During the regular school year they have been offering remote learning that does not require living on campus. They are discouraging community living in dormitories and in many cases no longer offering housing options for students. Once learning is not tied to a specific location, students are thrust into a housing market where they are competing with workers in many industries who are discovering that they can work remotely and no longer have to live near their employer’s facilities.

We feel very fortunate to have a comfortable home in these uncertain times. Furthermore, we’ve moved close to our son and grandchildren so we have the opportunity to participate in their lives and receive support from them. We weren’t forced to move into their house, but are able to live close enough to have their assistance when needed.

Hard times often give families the opportunity to reinvent relationships and discover new ways of living. Hopefully the young adults who are currently living with their parents will discover the advantages of the situation along with their parents. At any rate, we’re engaged in a huge social experiment and like all experiments, we don’t know how it will end. Surprises remain.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Advent peace

The second week of Advent is the week of peace. Peace is a challenging concept to teach, in part because it seems like a simple concept. Like hope, however, peace is a rich idea that took generations to develop and is challenging to understand in all of its aspects.

Plenty of Advent sermons have addressed peace as in inner quality. Traditions of prayer and contemplation have taught generations of faithful people to find peace in the midst of busy and often conflicted lives. To breathe deeply and cast your worries and cares on God gives a deep sense of peace and satisfaction. There are many stories of faithful Christians who have achieved a deep sense of inner peace even though they suffer persecution and pain. Coming to peace with grief is a long and difficult process, but one that allows us to go on despite deep loss.

The dream of peace is a vision of inner well being.

The Biblical concept of peace certainly does involve inner peace and well being. But it is a mistake to ignore the simple fact that it also refers to political peace. Peace between warring nations and conflicted parties is a very real meaning of Biblical peace. The Hebrew concept of Shalom is multi-dimensional. It refers to well-being and it also refers to the cessation of hostilities between conflicted parties.

The dream of peace is a vision of an end of war.

Simple solutions, however, are rarely the route to lasting peace. Over and over again, biblical leaders raise the issue of justice. Moses reminded Pharaoh that there could be no peace for him as long as the people of Israel suffered under the Egyptian system of slavery. Without justice there can be no peace. It takes more than a cessation of open warfare for peace to truly reign.

The dream of peace is a vision of justice for all.

Furthermore, armed conflict between nations is only part of the complex concept. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus speaks of anger that arises between people who are close to each other. He advises the faithful that if they have anger or a dispute between brothers and sisters, to resolve it. He even places this resolution ahead of the commandment to make offerings. When you are offering a gift and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, lay aside your gift and go and be reconciled before you offer that gift.

The dream of peace is a vision of reconciliation between conflicted parties.

It is all of these things and so much more.

Peace, like hope, is a challenging concept to teach. The most familiar seasons of the church year almost always present challenges. We repeat the process every year in part because the ideas are difficult to learn. Every concept that involves depth upon depth offers new ways to understand each time it is seriously considered.

It is the reality of the very difficult concepts of Advent that has made me very wary of our society’s rush to Christmas. All of the lights and marketing and Santa displays demonstrate well our desire for celebration. We love feasts and parties and gifts. And ours is an inpatient culture. Instead of giving time for preparation and dwelling with the season of Advent, we are quick to rush to Christmas, skipping over the preparations and going straight to the celebration. I noticed Christmas decorations in retail stores before Halloween this year.

The older I get the more I appreciate the season of Advent. I find it to be meaningful to dwell with the complex ideas that truly believing in the birth of new life brings.

This year, as we have the opportunity to share Advent with our grandchildren, we will tell the story of Sadako and the thousand paper cranes. We will fold paper cranes together and speak of her longing for healing. But we will also read the story of Shin’s tricycle and the deep tragedy of Hiroshima. We will look at a few pictures and tell our grandchildren of our visit to the Hiroshima Peace Museum, where Shinichi’s tricycle is displayed. We will talk about their cousin who lives in Japan and about the new baby of our exchange daughter Masami. We will speak of the connections we have with the people of Japan, who were, as recently as the time of our parents, considered to be our enemies.

We don’t expect our grandchildren to fully understand all of the mysteries of the complex history of our nation’s relationship with Japan. We do, however, expect them to understand that the people of Japan are human like them, with hopes and dreams like theirs. We do expect them to understand our deep connections with specific individuals in that far away country and how their lives and ours are intertwined.

Like the other themes of Advent, we have the luxury of being able to return to peace for many years as our grandchildren grow and mature. They will experience Advent as a season that repeats, with depth upon depth. Already they remember the Advent calendars and craft projects that we have sent in the mail in previous years. Now that we are together for Advent, we can reinforce the teaching that was begun long distance with face to face experiences.

The story of Christmas is the story of a baby that was born in inconvenient times. There was a major census taking place. Roman authorities had ordered everyone to travel to the city of their birth. Joseph had to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth and he had to take Mary with him despite the nearby arrival of their baby. The home of their relatives was crowded. There was no room for them in the guest quarters.

Christmas comes at an uncomfortable time for us this year. The pandemic is raging and infections, hospitalizations and deaths are spiking just at the time when we want to get together with others. We have to be very careful to do our part to help prevent the spread. These are inconvenient times.

These are the times when our people long for peace.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Uncle Ted

There are family stories that I know only in part. I know that my mother’s Uncle Ted moved to our town when I was a child. He and Aunt Florence came from California where he had worked as a machinist. I can remember the big Mayflower Moving Van that delivered their household items. They bought a small house a few blocks from our home. Uncle Ted went to work for my father as the parts manager of our farm supply store. He was very talented at sharpening knives, scissors, planes, chisels and other cutting tools. He would sit at the parts desk when business was slow and shaped blades. Not long after they made the move to our town Aunt Florence died suddenly of a heart attack. Uncle Ted was always included in our family events. Every birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and other occasions he would have dinner with our family. He was part of our lives. I learned a lot from him. We had a special bond because we shared the same name.

I do not know, however, the circumstances by which Uncle Ted was attracted back to Montana after living a large part of his adult life in California. He grew up in Montana and his siblings stayed in Montana, but he somehow ended up in California. Then he moved back, not to his home town, but to the town where my parents lived. My mother’s family was a close family and we got together with her sisters and their families and aunts and uncles and cousins were part of our gatherings. But as I have grown older, I realize that there are large pieces of the story that I don’t know.

Uncle Ted’s story interests me because he made the move and a major life adjustment fairly late in life. He must have been in his late 50’s or early 60’s when they moved back to Montana. The couldn’t have had many financial resources, as he didn’t formally retire, but went straight to work. He was a very frugal man and didn’t borrow money, and lived comfortably with little. His small house and several sheds he built in the back yard were filled with useful items that he had obtained at little or no cost. He saved things others discarded. An old license plate from a car was shaped and fitted with a handle and became a dustpan. A bit of scrap tin roofing became a funnel. He always meticulously maintained his car and had reliable transportation. His last car became my first car and saw us through college and graduate school without major problems.

Now that I’m at the age that he was when I was in my teenage years, I wonder about the dynamics of what must have been a major life change for him. Uncle Ted was a private person. He seemed to enjoy living alone and didn’t need to go out very much. He loved tinkering in his garage or in our father’s shop and he made a lot of the tools that he used.

I do not know the story behind the way he marked his tools. He etched, carved or otherwise marked each tool with the roman numeral 8. VIII is the mark on the wooden handled screwdrivers that are in my toolbox today. He didn’t buy many new things, but acquired used items and made them work.

Uncle Ted made his own version of “instant” coffee. He would take a pound of ground coffee, dump it into a large soup pot half full of water and boil the coffee until all that remained was a thick sludge in the bottom of the pot. He would transfer that sludge into a quart jar which he kept in the refrigerator. When he wanted a cup of coffee, or on the rare occasions when guests came to his house, he would take a teaspoon full of the coffee mixture, put it in a cup and fill the cup with boiling water. I tasted it on a couple of occasions. It must have been an acquired taste. I never acquired it.

Although he understood machinery and how things worked, he couldn’t have known the specifics of the John Deere parts system prior to having gone to work for our father. He quickly became very good at helping farmers and ranchers solve their problems. They would bring in the stories of what had broken and he would go through the manuals and help them determine what they needed. He learned to anticipate what parts would be requested and keep the inventory appropriate to the demand. In the days before computers and overnight delivery it was essential to have the items needed on hand. A combine broken down during harvest or a hay rake that wouldn’t work during haying season were real problems that needed to be solved quickly with what could be obtained from the local dealer. Uncle Ted became the “go to” guy when things broke. He could make up custom hydraulic lines, patch an inner tube, drill out and replace a rivet, and much more.

One winter he slipped on the ice. He took an old pair of shoes back into the shop, drilled the heels and installed studs designed for snow tires. He fashioned a pair of walking sticks with spikes on the ends and walked securely wherever he wanted even when it was icy outside. The shoes had to be left at the door when he came inside, but that was no problem. He hand sewed a couple of extra pockets inside of his coat that held his indoor shoes.

Uncle Ted had a grey upholstered stool upon which he sat behind the parts counter when he was sharpening tools. He could swivel the stool and access the parts manuals that sat on the counter. That stool moved from Montana to Idaho and from Idaho to South Dakota and from South Dakota to Washington and now sits in the shop I share with our son at his farm. I call it my pondering chair. It is where I sit when I need to pause my work and think of a new way to solve a problem. When a part doesn’t quite fit or a new way to get a piece of wood into just the right shape arises, I sit on the chair and ponder the solution.

The chair connects me to an ongoing story - one that I know only in part.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Refreshing a memory

As the years pass there are some memories that I retain and others that fade. I tell some stories more often than others. Parts of some stories fall by the wayside. Once in a while something stirs a memory and I am reminded of something that I forgot. The process of preparing to move this year has brought forth a lot of memories and details about past events that had slipped into the background.

If you had asked me to tell you about the year 1985, I would have told you that it was the year we received the call to serve Wright Community Congregational United Church of Christ in Boise, Idaho. We were living in Hettinger, North Dakota and serving the United Church of Christ congregations in Hettinger and Reeder, making the 17-mile commute between the two towns several times each week. When we had moved to Hettinger we were a couple with no children. Buy 1985 we had a 4-year-old and a two-year-old. We had decided to allow our profiles to circulate in a few conferences of the church to see if there was a possibility to make a move to a bit larger congregation where we could earn a bit more. I was had worked several jobs on the side, including driving school bus and hosting a radio show. We were hoping to figure out how to make a move from living in a parsonage to beginning to own our own home. Two children meant that we needed to start saving for college and other coming expenses. After consulting with our Conference Minister, we prepared our profiles and had them sent to states in the Northwest. I still held out hopes that we might find a call to Montana, the state where we grew up and where I expected that I would serve at some point in my ministry. In the spring of the year, we began serious conversations with the church in Boise and we ended up making two trips to that city, both times driving to Rapid City and then flying from Rapid City to Denver and from there to Boise. A call was issued and in the summer we made the move into a house with our own mortgage. We lived in Boise and served Wright Church for ten years before moving to Rapid City in 1995.

That much of the story is all true, but it isn’t all of the story. As we were preparing to move from Rapid City, I was cleaning out some old files in a file cabinet where I hadn’t looked for several years. It contained files of old sermons, notes from classes we had taken, some personal records and miscellaneous papers. Many things in the files could be discarded, but there were some important papers in the files, so I needed to go through them and sort carefully. Among the files was a file on the search for a call in 1984 and 1985. I thought that I could just throw out the entire file, but decided to leaf through it. There I found a hand-written spreadsheet with the congregations that had contacted us during our search for a call. Along with the spreadsheet were notes that I had made about each of the congregations. One of the congregations caught my eye: The United Church of Ferndale, Washington. Our son and daughter-in-law have just bought a small farm near Ferndale. At the time I found the file, they were considering the purchase and telling us about the community.

Among my notes on Ferndale were notes about recreation. I was doing quite a bit of skiing at the time, so I noted that it was 60 miles from Ferndale to Mount Baker Ski Area. That was a lot closer than the 170 miles from our North Dakota home to Terry Peak Ski Area in the Black Hills. I also noted the distance to several state parks and other camping areas, as camping was also high on the list of recreational activities we enjoy. One of my notes was that Ferndale was just 12 miles from Birch Bay State Park. A park with a beach was something we couldn’t find in North Dakota and a definite attraction.

The folks in Ferndale were quite a bit behind the folks in Boise in their search. By the time their committee had a chance to read our profiles, we were in conversation with the people in Boise. Soon we sent them a letter informing them that we were withdrawing our candidacy as we had accepted the call to serve the church in Boise.

Thirty-five years later, our son moved to the farm, just 4 1/2 miles from Birch Bay State Park. I wrote him a note, telling him of the file I found and informing him that had things worked out differently he might have moved to Ferndale at the age of 4 years rather than making the move at the age of 39.

Yesterday, after visiting our grandchildren, we went for a walk on the beach at Birch Bay State Park. It is a gravel beach and we walked about a mile north along the shore and returned to our car. It was a chilly day, but the walk was pleasant. Walking on a beach is slower going than following a trail. The sand and gravel present a challenge to walking quickly and there are lots of things to see on a beach, crabs and shells and seagulls and ducks were worth watching as we walked along.

I’m sure that when I was reading the information about the church in Ferndale and looking up information about living in the community, I imagined what it might be like to walk along that beach. It took me a bit longer than I imagined to have that experience. Now that we’ve done it, I’m sure we’ll go back again. Perhaps we’ll take our camper and stay in the campground for a while. We’ll want to check out some of the seafood restaurants in the area after pandemic restrictions ease.

Now, when I tell the story of 35 years ago, there is a new detail that I have remembered that I’m sure will be included in my story.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

At the feed store

Rapid City has been, for many years, a regional shopping center. When we lived in North Dakota, we would occasionally make the 300 mile round trip to Rapid City to purchase things that weren’t available in our small town. In those days, I enjoyed walking around the shopping mall, and going to Radio Shack and Target for items that you couldn’t get in our town. Sometimes we’d take in a movie, something that we couldn’t do at home. The world is changing, however, and these days people who live in small towns can buy whatever they want online and have it delivered to their homes. Big Box stores have begun to dominate retail shopping. Shopping malls are empty and looking for tenants. Rapid City is still a regional center, but many of the people who drive in to the city from the surrounding countryside have come for medical care.

Over the years as things changed, I learned to get most of the things we wanted and needed from the stores in Rapid City. I wasn’t a fan of the big box stores, but found myself shopping at Lowes and Menards for lumber and paint and sometimes for hardware. Their prices were lower than the hardware store. I used to joke that when Runnings moved to the old Sam’s Club warehouse that I only needed to go to two shops in Rapid City. Since Runnings sold clothes and food, I could get by with them and Harbor Freight. Of course that wasn’t true. The food selection at Runnings was pretty small, mostly snacks.

Our here the shopping patterns were different. The regional center is Seattle, a very large city with all kinds of offerings including shopping, dining, entertainment, sports and much more. The outlying communities developed regional specialties, including outlet malls, with discount prices on name brands. Mount Vernon focused mainly on small shops and main street businesses while just across the river Burlington sought to attract more chain and big name businesses.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered shopping and how people obtain goods. While local businesses are suffering from a lack of shoppers, online businesses are growing by leaps and bounds. We see the UPS, Amazon Prime, FedEx and USPS vans going up and down the streets and making their deliveries. Many local businesses offer curbside service. People order online or over the phone and drive by and pick up their purchases without going into the stores.

Still, I have discovered a few places to obtain the items we need. We have joined a local food coop that has a good grocery store in down town Mount Vernon. I’ve found two big box hardware, lumber and home improvement stores, Lowes and Home Depot. I refer to them as the blue store and the orange store. There is an Ace Hardware store near our house. And I’ve made one trip to Tractor Supply, a place that despite its name sells more clothing than parts for tractors. I went there to get a pair of waterproof boots for mucking about on our son’s farm and visiting the beach in the winter.

One of my favorite stores in the area, much like the Runnings Store in Rapid City, are called Country Stores. There is one near our home and I’ve found others in some of the other small towns in the area. The stores are retail outlets for farm cooperatives and sell everything from propane to hardware to clothing and toys. These kinds of stores remind me a bit of my father’s business. My father came to our home town to start a flying business and he became the airport manager and operated an airplane dealership and repair shop. He offered lessons and charter services and flew crop spraying. He did game counts for fish and game and contract work for the National Forest and Yellowstone National Park. He flew fire patrol and did anything else he could think of to make his business work. As his family grew and after a health scare, he decided to diversify and purchased a farm machinery dealership. Big Timber Farm Supply had a John Deere tractor franchise and sold Purina Chows in the feed warehouse. We sold tires and batteries and parts and supplies. About half of the business was repair and service work in the big shop behind the store.

Yesterday I ran across a picture of the front of the store as it was back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. You can see the signs for John Deere and Farmhand machinery. There is a General Tire sign as well and one for Purina Chows. If you look closely at the storefront, you can see that there are bicycles for sale in the showroom. I know from growing up around the business that there was a good display of toys another of knives and a huge stock of bolts, nuts and general hardware. We sold fencing supplies and farm chemicals and salt blocks and feed for any type of livestock. You could buy tools and shovels and rakes and gloves.

The modern general service farm stores remind me of that business. The one difference I notice is that all of those stores today sell a lot of clothing. We didn’t have anything except caps and gloves and the caps were generally given away, not sold.

I know that part of what touches my nostalgia about farm stores is the smell when you walk through the store. There is always a bit of dust from the feed sacks, which though more tightly sealed than the sacks in our warehouse decades ago, still occasionally develop a leak. The stores, like my father’s business, are kept clean, but there still is a distinct farm smell to the places.

Of course, I don’t need most of the things they sell in those stores. I have to think up an excuse to go to them. But occasionally I find some item of hardware or even a bit of clothing that I want and each trip is not just an opportunity to make a purchase, but also a trip down memory lane for me.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Sorting photos and memories

For most of our married life, I have owned single lens reflex cameras. I’ve had a string of different cameras, but have stuck with the same lens system throughout my adult life. When we lived in Chicago I had the opportunity to study photography with Life magazine photographer Archie Lieberman and learned, among other things, darkroom skills. In the class, we used black and white film. The class standard was an 11 x 14 print, mounted. We did not frame our classroom prints, but they were gallery displayed for the class. Class members quickly learned to purchase 35mm film in 100’ rolls, roll our own cassettes for our cameras, process our own negatives and make our own prints. The school had a darkroom that was available 24/7 and we could schedule darkroom times that fit our needs.

I enjoyed the darkroom work, but wanted to have color images as well. The natural next step for me was to learn to process color film. The processes involved were much more complex. Whereas developing black and white negatives was a three chemical process, color slides required a minimum of six chemical baths. The easiest color film to process was Kodak E-6, sold as Ektachrome. It was available in 100’ rolls, though the cost was much higher than black and white film.

Color slides were, however, a good way for us to have and display our pictures. We obtained a slide projector and would set up shows for friends and family. On rare occasions we would have a print made from a color slide, and I even did some color printing myself, but color prints were expensive and the slides worked well to share our photographs. It was natural to us because both of our parents had slide projectors as well as many aunts, uncles and cousins, so we were used to home slide shows.

The summer that I completed my doctorate my sister and her husband were also on an academic schedule. My father was exploring retirement at the time and he proposed that we all take a 6-week trip to Europe. He and my mother had many friends in Europe and there were some savings to traveling in a group of six. The lowest-cost plane tickets between my parents home and Europe were from Calgary, Alberta to Amsterdam. We drove to Calgary and flew to Holland, where we rented a Volkswagen van and drove around the continent, including traveling by ferry from France to England and back to Belgium. It was a wonderful trip and we have lots of memories.

For that trip, I planned that I would allow myself 72 pictures per day. That is a total of about 3,000 pictures. I didn’t take quite that many and I processed and mounted the slides myself. All said and done, I had about 1,200 images that were “keepers” to remind us of our trip. Those slides have lived in slide boxes for a little over 42 years now, coming out only occasionally for family viewing.

They are joined by all of the other slides we took in the years before we took up digital photography.

They are joined by a huge number of slides that my mother took.

They are joined by a huge number of slides that my father-in-law took.

Both my mother and Susan’s father kept a lot of their slides in carousels and both had two different projector brands and two different types of carousels.

When it came time to move the sheer volume of three different projectors and boxes and boxes of carousels was just too much, so we kept one projector and two carousels for that projector and boxed the slides into more compact boxes. Even so, the slides take up considerable space in our garage, where they are temporarily living.

Our goal now is to digitize the slides and sort them on the computer so that we can keep the images that are most valuable to us and organize the images into a format where they can be accessed by future generations.

That means that we have tens of thousands of slides that have to be scanned individually, files to copy to the computer and organize into “albums,” data to add to the images so that they can be identified, and indexes of slides to scan and save as well. It is a huge job. If I do it right, when I get done we will have transformed boxes and boxes of images that are rarely viewed into digital files that can be accessed by others and take up very little physical space.

I started yesterday. Working for a couple of hours on two evenings, I’ve scanned about 2,000 images. I wasn’t very organized in choosing where to start. I simply started in the box that had the scanner when we moved. It had about 5,000 slides in it as well. The first box I opened contained the slides from our 1978 trip to Europe. Since I look at each slide as it is scanned and am organizing them into albums, I have ready-made trips down nostalgia lane as I scan. Last night we enjoyed an impromptu slide show on the computer monitor and remembered stories from more than four decades ago.

The quality of some of the images is poor. This is due to a combination of the limitations of E-6 film, which tends towards the blue side of the spectrum, inconsistencies in the chemical and temperatures of processing, and the length of time the images have been stored. Most of them can be restored digitally, but that is another process that takes considerable amounts of time. My goal right now is to get the images digitized so they can be preserved. Editing will occur over time as we access the images.

It already has been a good exercise in memory. The images do pass the Marie Kondo test. They do delight me. It is just that I have a lot more years of living and have collected a lot more images than she. I am also the custodian of the images of previous generations, something that doesn’t fit into her organizational scheme at all.

For now, I prefer to keep my memories and preserve the records of the past. I’m unlikely to become a minimalist any time soon.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Exploring the coast

Living near the ocean is something new in our lives. We’ve always lived hundreds of miles from the ocean and most of the time our home has been more than a thousand miles from the nearest ocean. We’ve visited the ocean plenty of times and enjoyed playing in the ocean, but we are pretty much landlubbers. We don’t know much about the weather of coastal places. But now we are close to the ocean, or at least the Salish Sea, also known as the Puget Sound. If you go straight west from our home here in Washington, you will eventually reach Victoria, the city on the southern end of Vancouver Island, which is part of British Columbia.

Yesterday we decided to go for a walk along the coast. 20 miles from our home we were on an island. Fidalgo Island is connected to the mainland by a bridge. It is also connected to Whidbey Island by another bridge. At Washington Park on the northwest corner of the island you can look to the north to see Cypress and Guemes Islands and west to see Blakely, Decatur and Lopez Islands across the Rosario Straight.

The weather was clear and sunny, but there was a strong wind blowing from the west. Our hike, starting at the boat launch took us around a 2 1/2 mile loop passes Sunset Beach and rises up to beautiful views at Green Point and Fidalgo Head. The Park is heavily forested with tall trees that provided shelter from the wind and we passed a few other hearty hikers as we walked the trail. The park has plenty of other trails, so we will be returning to explore further in the future.

The part of the experience that I find hardest to describe is the way the air smelled and felt. I don’t know what the relative humidity was, but it must have been quite high. The wind was blowing mist from the ocean across the park. It smelled wonderful with the cedar trees dampened by the moist air. For folks who have lived most of our lives far away from the ocean it was a treat.

Actually, we are not unique in having moved close to the ocean. According to, 40 percent of the world’s people live within 37 miles of a coastline and 80 percent live within 62 miles of the coast. That’s roughly 2.4 billion people who live about as close to the ocean as we do.

Having moved from the Black Hills of South Dakota, however, we have a lot to learn about coastal living. As we drive around we see the signs for the tsunami evacuation routes. Our home here is above the 30 meter mark, which is considered to be safe high ground, but there are plenty of places that are lower. Our home is 187 feet, or 57 meters, above sea level, but downtown Mount Vernon is only 98 feet, or 30 meters. That means that in a worst case scenario, water surging up the Skagit River after a tsunami could reach downtown were it not for the protective flood walls that have been constructed. The flood walls are not tsunami preparations, however, but rather protection from flooding of the river caused by melting snow in the high country combined with heavy rains. We’ve hiked along the flood walls. They are impressive.

As we look for a home to buy, remembering the 30 meter rule will be important. Just as was the case when we bought our home in Rapid City, having witnessed the aftermath of the 1972 flash flood that devastated the city, we will be looking for a place on a hill just so we won’t worry about the water.

The water, however, does hold a great attraction for me. I’m sure that for seasoned mariners, the slight swell caused by the winds over the water yesterday wouldn’t be considered to be much of a challenge, but the 2 to 3 foot waves would be a bit intimidating in a canoe or kayak. I’ve boated off of the beach at Washington Park in the past, but haven’t launched any of my boats since we have moved as I try to sort out the boating regulations and registration requirements of our new state. Soon, however, I plan to learn more about paddling in the protected coastal waters. There are several tour operators in Anacortes who can give me a few lessons in how to paddle safely.

Water will be one of the themes of our retirement life. From our home here we have easy access to almost every kind of paddling from whitewater to flat lakes to big rivers to the ocean. There are a lot of boats around here. At the marinas on the island there are some truly impressive private yachts. I’ll be sticking to canoes and kayaks and an occasional row in my rowboat, but there are people who live aboard their boats in the harbors and boats that are in slips that function as vacation homes for their owners.

There is much for us to learn as we explore our new home, but exploring is part of the fun of this phase of our lives. As we walked together yesterday we talked about how each of us has benefitted from the other’s spirit of adventure. Going on adventures together has been something that we have enjoyed throughout our married life. We have a joke about our tendency to discover “long cuts” when we travel. Some people find short cuts, but we tend to find ourselves going the long way around. Finding ourselves in this new place is another of those long cuts.

I plan to return to the island one day when it is really stormy, just to see what the ocean looks like when things are wild. Weather here is very different from the other places we have lived, so it will be an adventure just to see what it is like.

So far there hasn’t been any snow to shovel. I think I was wise to sell my snowblower. We shall see.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

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