Rabbit trap

When I was a grade school student, our cub scout den met at The Dugout. The Dugout was a kind of community center. It was a simple log building across the street from the city park. It was also right next to where my friend Davy lived, which was convenient, because Davy’s Mom was our Den Mother. A short time later, Davy’s family moved into their own log building a couple of blocks from the Dugout, on the other side of Main Street, but this memory is from when they lived across from the park.

We did Cub Scouts by the book, mostly. While there were some Cub Scouts who had full uniforms, our uniforms consisted of a Cub Scout shirt, a kerchief and clasp, and a cap. I think that one of our friends had an official belt, but I never had one. We were allowed to wear our scout uniforms to school on the day when the den met. On those days, we scouts would salute the flag with two fingers when we said the pledge in school. Other days, we held our hands over our hearts, but on scout day, we saluted. I felt very official, and was confident that people were paying attention to my progress through the ranks. Bobcat and Lion were earned the same school year. That was the year we attended a half day kindergarten in the basement of a house that also was across form the park. Tiger, Wolf, and Bear ranks followed. I know that when this story took place, I had not yet earned my Webelos or Arrow of Light.

Sitting around the Dugout in my uniform before or after a den meeting one day I discovered that over in the corner of the room was an old manual of some kind. I think it might have been for one of the boy scout ranks, or perhaps it was from some other source. I can’t even remember what the cover looked like. There was a stack of old Boys’ Life Magazines in that corner and an assortment of other books. Whatever the book was, it fascinated me. It has instructions about how to survive in the wilderness without regular supplies. There was an illustration in the book of someone roasting a rabbit on a spit over a campfire. And, as I paged back from that illustration, there were instructions for how to build a rabbit trap with a cardboard box, a forked stick and some string. I looked at all of those pictures and memorized the construction guidelines.

I knew where there were lots of rabbits - at the airport where my dad worked. One Saturday, I described my plan to him as we drove up the hill to the airport. He offered a couple of suggestions. First of all, he said that he didn’t think a carrot was a very good bait for the trap. He suggested some fresh alfalfa hay instead. Secondly, he said, simply, “Your mother is not going to cook the rabbit.” That didn’t deter me. I proceeded with my plan. I set up an empty box from a case of motor oil with my forted stick, sharpened with my pocket knife and driven in the ground with a rock. I attached a string to the stick and ran it around the corner of the building where I could hide and observe. I placed the hay in the box and waited. And waited. And waited. No rabbits came the first day.

The next week I was armed with real rabbit food, salvaged from my father’s feed warehouse where a bag of pellets had been nicked and spilled a few onto the floor. It was my job to sweep the warehouse, so I filled a paper bag with the pellets which I had carefully separated from other sweepings.

This worked. A small cottontail smelled those pellets and crawled under the box to investigate. I pulled the string and the box fell exactly as illustrated in the article I had read.

I had absolutely no plan for what was to come next. I don’t even think I even read beyond trapping the rabbit in the book at the Dugout, and, since the book was not mine, I never removed it from the building, so didn’t have access to it up at the airport. In triumph, and flush with adrenalin, I ran to the box. I could hear the rabbit scratching at the box. I put my hands on it to hold it down to the ground as I formulated my plan. I could see the rabbit through a small hole in the top of the box, so I formulated my plan. I could enlarge that hole enough to slip one of my hands through it by bending the cardboard. I thrust my right hand into the box. Actually grabbing the rabbit proved to be a lot harder than I imagined. I tried again and again. Once I got ahold of the creature enough to feel its heart rate. That little heart was thumping so fast I couldn’t count it. After several attempts, I had a firm grasp of a back leg. My hand was starting to cramp as I carefully tore away the rest of the box with my left hand so I could lift the rabbit and leave the box around.

There I was, with the rabbit pinned to the ground, held by both hands. I thought that perhaps I should get my pocket knife out of my pants pocked and use it to skin the rabbit, but I had never skinned a rabbit before and this one was sill pretty much alive. I had no plan to dispatch it. I just let go.

The little creature just lay there for a few minutes, panting. It didn’t jump up or run away. I was afraid I had killed it. Finally it stood tentatively and soon ran out into the middle of the field out of sight. That was the end of my experience as a trapper. I resorted to beans and weenies for camp fare as I grew older.

I thought of that experience yesterday when there was a small cottontail sitting at the edge of our lawn. When I approached it, it didn’t run away. I could see that it was breathing. Its eyes were open. There were no obvious injuries, but it didn’t seem to have the energy to leave. I decided to leave it untouched and see what would happen while we took our walk. Fortunately for me, when we returned a half hour later, the rabbit was no longer visible. I sighed in relief.

I prefer rabbits in the wild who run away before I am within six feet.

"To Do" lists

I suppose that I have always had energy for starting new projects. But these days, I seem to be a bit short of energy for finishing them. Yesterday, I was thinking of all of the partially finished projects I have going. It is a long list. I identified one project that I am capable of finishing today. I’ll make that a priority. One less project on the list. The trick, however, is to avoid starting another new project before I complete a few more projects. After all, I am retired. Theoretically I have time for projects.

Part of my story, as is true with many others, is that there are many tasks that simply take me more time these days than once was the case. It is part of growing older. I sometimes forget where I am in the process. I am more aware of potential mistakes and slow down to avoid them. I feel less pressure to meet arbitrary deadlines.

When I was working, caring for children and later for aging parents, involved in many community activities, serving on volunteer boards, and more, I used to occasionally comment to colleagues or family members about how some people seem to have capacity for only one meeting or activity in a day. I would speak with someone lingering for conversation after a meeting and realize that the meeting was that person’s only activity for the day. I didn’t have days like that. I rarely had a day in which there was only one meeting. An appointment was just part of my responsibility for the day.

Now, somehow, I’ve become a person who often has only one major commitment in a day. Nonetheless, my days seem to be filled.

I have frequently recalled a conversation I had with a church member years ago. I was speaking of my work as pastor of an exciting and mission-oriented congregation. I said that part of adjusting to the work in this position was learning the art of going home for the day with work undone on my desk. There were plenty of times when putting in more hours resulted in less work efficiency and the way to accomplish the most was to walk away from my work even though there were undone tasks. The person with whom I was speaking looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, “I never did that in my entire career. I never left work with undone tasks. I finished up each day’s work before I left the office.”

I didn’t respond much at the time, but I have always felt that that person and I have such different lives. She apparently couldn’t imagine leaving work with undone tasks. I couldn’t imagine a job so simple that each day’s tasks could be completed before day’s end. In the first place, there are so many things in the work of a pastor where the results don’t appear for years - even generations. There are ministry jobs that are never done. The work I did as pastor was following in the footsteps of those who went before and leaving a legacy to those who followed. Some things require more than a lifetime to accomplish. Part of the joy of the work I did was that I as often engaged in work that was too big for any individual.

I guess I have carried that way of looking at work into retirement with me. I am, frankly, not afraid of going to bed with undone tasks. More threatening to me would be running out of things to do. I am not, however, likely to ever find myself in that position.

Sometimes I will take a little walk around our house, garage, and yard. I’ll make a mental list of undone tasks. There are shelves in the garage in need of sorting and organization. There are planters under construction in the back yard. We have emptied and disconnected the hot tub that we purchased with this house, but I have not yet hauled it away. I have beeswax from this year’s honey harvest that needs to be melted and poured into a mold. A couple of honey harvesting tools need to be cleaned and stored for next year. There is a set of plans for making some new bee hives for next year on my desk. I have a few invoices to file. I need to sort, scan, and organize a lot of collected photographs. My bookshelves could use a bit of dusting and organizing. The front porch should be swept. The list goes on and on.

Some people, I am sure, might be frustrated by the length of the list. They might conclude that I have too many projects going. I suppose they are right. On the other hand, Taking a journey around the house and looking at all of the tasks to be accomplished will almost always yield at least one task that I can complete. After taking inventory, I usually recognize one thing that is nearly finished and get it done.

When I was working, I would occasionally tackle the stack of paper on my desk. As I worked my way down the piles, I found more and more items that could be easily recycled because they had become obsolete while awaiting my attention in stacks on my desk. The more recent papers demanded my attention and required action. Those that had shifted down in the piles might not have ever been a priority for me. Some involved decisions that were no longer necessary because deadlines had passed. Others represented decisions that were made and options that were intentionally eliminated.

I’m willing to accept that I may leave undone tasks when I come to the end of my life. I have completed my share of projects that were started by others. I have a few things in my possession that my mother intended to deal with in her life, but didn’t ever get them done. I hope to deal with them soon. And I suppose that my children will discover a few things that I started that they will attempt to complete.

I wonder about that person who so long ago claimed to have never left work undone. Does she now have a very boring life because she no longer has tasks to accomplish? I hope she is happy. I don’t think I would be were our situations and attitudes reversed.

Along with that mental list of tasks to accomplish, I’ve got a mental list of new things to try and new projects to initiate. Boredom won’t be a problem.

Choir rehearsal

One of the turns of good fortune was that my years in high school were the last years that Paul Nelson was the band and choir director at that school. He was, for our small town, a quirky man. His instrument was the tuba. His wife was the principal oboist in the symphony. Our small town, of course, didn’t have a symphony orchestra. They played in the orchestra of a community that was a sixty mile one-way drive from our community. That involvement was a factor in my third year of high school when he supported my taking private trumpet lessons in that town from the symphony’s principal trumpeter. Mr. Nelson told my father that music can demand extra efforts and sacrifice and noted that they made the trips to the other town for every rehearsal and performance of the symphony.

Mr. Nelson built a harpsichord from a kit in his garage and tuned it to be played in orchestra and band concerts at our school. He carved double reeds as a hobby and made all of the reeds his wife used playing her oboe as well as all of the reeds used by the oboe and bassoon players in our high school band, which was two players, one oboe and one bassoon, though I’m not sure we even had that many. I can only remember the same classmate playing the oboe and switching to the bassoon.

In a town where virtually every one either drove Chevys or Fords because those were the brands that had dealers, with a small number who drove International, Jeep, or Chrysler cars, Mr. Nelson had a mid-1960’s Rambler Ambassador station wagon. He needed the wagon. He was, after all, a tuba player.

I helped him move to the town where the symphony orchestra played during the summer following my junior year in high school. He had obtained a job as the band director of a high school in that town and wouldn’t have to make the commute to play in the symphony. We moved his harpsichord. I didn’t mind helping him move. I was moving on that summer, too. I had been accepted to college on academic probation without being required to complete my high school diploma. I was also infatuated with a brilliant and beautiful entering freshman student at that college who turned out to be the salutatorian of the class four years later. By then we were married. That infatuation has remained as strong today as it was back then.

Mr. Nelson was, for years, my model of what a choir director should be. Since those days, I have sung in church choirs in many different places and participated in a few community choruses as well. One year, I sang with the Dakota Choral Union when we lived in Rapid City. We performed Verdi’s Requiem with the Symphony Orchestra and the opportunity to be a part of such a monumental undertaking was worth the effort of adding rehearsals to an already overfilled schedule.

Each time I have sung in a choir, I have tried to remember what Mr. Nelson taught me about the responsibilities of a chorister: how to behave in rehearsal, how to practice music between rehearsals, how to sight read, how to listen to those around me, how and when to offer my opinions about music selection and artistic interpretation. I was a bit saddened yesterday, when I was thinking of Mr. Nelson, that I can no longer call up how his voice sounded from my memory. For years, I could hear his voice when I rehearsed with various choirs.

There is a slight tension when a pastor sings in a church choir. Many church members, including many church choir directors, consider the pastor to be the boss of the choir director. I was always careful, however, to be very clear that when I attended a rehearsal, the choir director was in charge. If another member of the choir questioned the choice of an anthem, its pace or other elements of interpretation, I would simply say, “I’m glad to discuss that with you, but not at choir rehearsal. This time is to rehearse, not discuss.” In my mind, I was hearing Mr. Nelson who refused to allow any discussion of choice of music or how it should be presented during rehearsals. He welcomed students and their parents to come and talk with him about those topics, but never during a rehearsal. Rehearsals were for becoming a choir. That meant singing with one voice and to do so meant that he was in charge and ruled without discussion of authority. In a rehearsal, we were quiet except when singing, we followed his direction, and we didn’t complain. I’ve followed those rehearsal rules for my life.

And now, as I travel through my seventies and am well aware that my voice is not as strong or as reliable as it once was, that my breath control has slipped and that my phrasing requires more work, I have the pleasure of singing in a church choir simply as a member of the choir. I didn’t sing in the choir when I was an employee of the congregation. I had duties with conflicting schedules. Now, I can volunteer for the choir.

A lot has changed. We have very few anthems that are commercially printed music. Most of our anthems are reproduced on the copy machine with a copyright notice specifying the date of permission, the number of copies authorized, and the name of our choir director. Our choir director doesn’t pull many anthems from the church music library. Most come from online research. Many come with available rehearsal sound tracks that we can use for rehearsal at home. We receive an email with a link to an online file that we can play on our phones or computers to assist with rehearsal, which is convenient for me because we no longer have a piano in our home.

At each rehearsal, however, I am a bit quieter and a bit more formal than other members of the choir. I don’t chit chat. I listen as carefully as I can. I make notes with my pencil. I turn over authority to our director. And somehow I imagine that Mr. Nelson is pleased that he taught me well more than a half century ago even if I can no longer recall the tone of his voice.


For 25 years, when we lived in South Dakota, we were members of a Homeowner’s Association. The HOA had been created when the subdivision was formed before it was annexed into the city limits. Its basic job was to enforce the neighborhood covenants. There were covenants about exterior finishes of houses, fencing, storage of junk vehicles and recreational vehicles, and other items designed to keep the neighborhood open and neat. The HOA board met monthly on the same night as the Board of the church I served, so for those 25 years, I never attended a single meeting of the HOA. For the most part, I ignored it. I was aware that the HOA had lost a few battles with neighbors basically because while the covenants did list some prohibitions, they did not specify the punishments for infractions. The original documents of the HOA did not grant the HOA board the authority to levy fines, so they didn’t have a mechanism to exercise authority. In one case, they send a nasty letter to an attorney, threatening to sue if he did not remove a fence. The attorney, however, was not intimidated by the threat of a suit and so he told the board to go ahead. A lawsuit was filed and lost and all the HOA board accomplished was the spending of legal fees which they did not have and a general sense of their lack of authority.

After we had lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade, and had complied with covenants, submitting plans for a shed and a deck extension to architectural review, and generally getting along well with our neighbors, there was a summer when I left our pickup camper in my pickup. We were using it regularly and it made sense to just carry it around rather than unloading and reloading it each week. I was using the pickup as my daily driver, so it was gone from the house during the day. However, I got a nasty letter from the HOA board complaining that I was violating the covenant by parking my recreational vehicle within sight of my neighbors. Because of the location of my parking area alongside my garage, there were only two neighbors who could see the camper from their homes, I checked with both and neither had submitted a complaint to the HOA board. I’m sure that a HOA board member had simply been driving around the neighborhood looking for violations and seen the camper.

Since I had access to a storage area for the camper that was away from our house, I simply complied with the letter and stopped parking it alongside the garage on a regular basis. I still brought it home before trips and it spent an occasional overnight in the spot. No further action was taken and I had no problems. I did do a bit of checking and found that no member of the HOA board had lived in the neighborhood for as long as I had. Essentially, people new to the neighborhood had gone to meetings, run for positions on the board and since very few homeowners ever attended the board meetings were easily elected. Then with there new, albeit limited, authority, had set about writing letters. A few years later the membership of the board changed and the issues that bothered them changed. Meanwhile neighbors replaced the original siding on their homes with types that had not been approved by the architectural review committee. A couple of neighbors put metal roofs on their homes, expressly prohibited by the covenants. A few fenced their yards. Some started to park recreational vehicles in their yards without sheltering fences. It all seemed rather silly from my point of view.

So, when we bought this house, I asked the realtor to check on the status of an HOA. She did and said that there had been one, and there were still dues, but that the board had been inactive. There were a few common areas that were still being maintained, so the modest HOA dues made sense. I didn’t give it another thought. And I didn’t hear anything from the HOA board. Then, sometime last year we received a letter sent to all of the residents of our neighborhood, inviting us to a meeting set to revive the HOA. The meeting was not at a convenient time and I really had no interest in getting involved. I read the letter, but ignored it. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I received a bill for unpaid HOA dues. The itemized statement showed that previous invoices had been issued each year that we had lived in the house and that we were in arrears. It also said that our HOA dues for 2024 would be due to be paid in advance at the end of December. A quick reading of the bill showed that the amount due was correct and I paid the bill, but wrote a brief note on it saying that we had received none of the previous statements. Since I had read the letter about the HOA being reorganized, I knew that there was chaos and confusion on the HOA board had resulted in their being budget problems due, I suspected, from simply not notifying members that it was time to pay dues. The previous owner of our home had not paid dues at all during the time they live in the home, and brought the bill current at the sale of the house.

We’ve got it lucky. Our HOA dues are a fraction of what is typical in the US. Our board has limited authority. Approximately 80% of all home sales in the US today involve HOAs and some have surprising power and authority. Some can foreclose on homes without notice. Some can add interest and fees to unpaid dues increasing the amount owed by huge percentages. One article I read about HOAs said that they are almost universally disliked by home owners. The boards tend not to be representative of the majority of homeowners and there are several notable cases where HOA boats have violated fair housing regulations and even practiced racial discrimination without consequences from regulators.

I have no desire for a fight with my neighbors. Our HOA doesn’t have covenants in place. It is simply a volunteer board with responsibility for care of common areas. I don’t begrudge them a budget for mowing and trimming. Going forward, however, I don’t think that simply ignoring the HOA board is a good practice. I’ll try to keep up with what is going on and make sure that my dues are paid on time. I do not, however, have any intention of going to meetings or running for the board. I have my limits.


I don’t know if other men talk about shaving, but it isn’t a topic about which I have had very many conversations. Because I have worn a beard for almost all of my adult life, some people may assume that I don’t shave, but I prefer to have my beard trimmed and so I shave my cheeks, neck and the space below my lips. Over the years I have tried a lot of different shaving systems. I’ve had electric razors a couple of times. I’ve used inexpensive disposable razors. I’ve tried the common, multi-blade razors that are easily found.

When I was growing up, the barber shops performed shaving for men. I’ve never been shaved at a barber shop, except for the back of my neck, but I remember well the hot towels, the leather razor strop, the shaving brush, and the straight edge razor. I never attempted to shave with a straight edge razor myself, however.

Like my father, I have pretty sensitive skin on my face. He used an electric shaver, and I got one around the time I moved out of our family home. I used it for years. Somewhere along the way, I started to use inexpensive razors. I’d purchase shaving cream in pressurized cans, dispense it into my hands, rub it on my face, and shave with the lightweight plastic-handled razors. I remember the progression from two blades to three to four and on to five blades in a simple razor. It seems like most brands have a unique system for mating the shaving head to the handle, so you have to purchase the right brand of blades to make the system work.

Over the years I am sure that I have spent more than was necessary in various shaving systems. At one point I had one brand of razor at home for everyday use, another brand in our camper for camper trips and a third brand in a travel kit for when I traveled by airlines or another means.

When we moved from South Dakota, I threw a bunch of toiletries into a plastic bin and moved them without sorting. It was, I know, a silly thing to do, but that bin has been stuffed under the sink in our bathroom ever since. When we moved from the house we rented to our current house, I just moved the bin. And now it has been under the sink for two years. The time has come to sort out the mess. First of all, there were several things in the bin that could be easily thrown out. There were a few razor blades for handles that I no longer own. There were some small travel sizes of shaving cream and shaving gel that have lost their pressure over time. There were a couple of old toothbrushes that had been kept for cleaning razors. There are, however, at least three different razors with spare blades. I hate to throw them away because they are good.

However, I have to admit that I doubt that I will ever use them. I already have a razor in our camper with spare blades. And at home, I’ve settled on a razor that is a take on an old tried and true model. It is a simple aluminum handle that holds a single double-edged blade. The blades are very inexpensive. I can purchase a hundred for the cost of ten cartridges for other razors. The razor is very sharp and very gentle on sensitive skin, though there is a bit of technique involved to avoid accidentally nicking one’s skin. I’ve pretty much given up on cans of aerosol shaving cream in favor of a simple bar of shaving soap and a badger-hair brush.

I have discovered another trick of the barber shop that works for me. A warm wash cloth applied to the area I’m about to shave for a few minutes before shaving seems to soften uptake skin and prepare me for the process of shaving. Furthermore, it simply feels good.

I know, however, by having looked around a bit on the Internet, that there are other men who must be seeking shaving solutions. There are online subscription clubs for shaving supplies, suppliers who claim to have the “best razor” you will ever own, or the “last razor” you will ever own. There are lots of ways to spend a lot of money on shaving supplies and, I suspect, for each of those various options there are a lot of customers who are eager to try the products. Over the years, I admit, I have given into the temptation to try various products.

All the while, there are plenty of people who think that I simply don’t have because I have a beard. I’m sure that there are men with beards who don’t shave, but I don’t think I’d be pleased with my appearance if I simply quit shaving. My beard would be uneven. I’m not much for long hair in the first place and an unruly beard and mustache is not my style. As a trumpet player, I like to keep my mustache trimmed to keep it out of my mouthpiece. Think Doc Severinsen, though he is 25 years older than I and probably still plays the trumpet much better. I’ve heard that he can do more pushups than I can, too. I haven’t got a clue about how he shaves.

I suppose one could speculate about how other famous people accomplish the task of shaving. Someone has probably done research about the topic. I once read that Alexander the Great was clean shaven and encouraged his soldiers to shave before battle so that their beards could not be grabbed by enemies in close combat. Men have been shaving for a long time. Fortunately, we’ve gotten beyond scraping our faces with sea shells and sharpened stones.

It simply is not a topic that I’ve discussed with many people though I can see no particular reason not to talk about it. After all, I’ve managed to write an entire journal entry on the topic.

Then again, I do have an ability to go on and on about a topic that interests me alone.


We’ve never been much for resorts. When we were younger, we made a few visits to ski resorts in the west. Big Sky, Montana isn’t far from where I grew up and we once had a few days at the resort compliments of the radio station for which I worked. The station traded advertising for rooms in the hotel and meals in the restaurant and we had a lovely time. At the time we had only one child. Susan isn’t much for downhill skiing, so she took care of our son while I skied and then we enjoyed a dinner that would have cost more than we would have been comfortable paying were it not for the radio station trade out.

Having lived most of our lives in places that experience a significant amount of winter weather, we have had friends and known of people who saved up to visit Mexican resorts in the winter. Having never visited any of those places, Cancun, Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta all sounded exotic and fun with their luxury hotels, restaurants, and a host of water front activities from parasailing to diving to swimming with dolphins. However, making such a trip never became a priority for us.

I suppose that it is something we might re-think as we grow older. There are times when the gray weather and rain around here seem a bit oppressive. However, the truth is that we have a wonderful and exciting grandson who lives with our daughter and her husband in South Carolina, which has plenty of sunny weather for us. A vacation in a warm place where we have a grandson seems a lot more attractive than a few days spent at a resort. I guess we just aren’t resort people.

Not every vacation in a resort community is a dream come true. The news coming out of Acapulco following the devastation of Hurricane Otis sounds pretty bad. Many of the beachfront hotels are shattered hulks. The hurricane blew out hundreds - possibly thousands - of hotel windows. One report that I read said that the hurricane was the most powerful storm ever to hit the pacific coast of Mexico. The resort is a scene of chaos, with thousands of people engaging in massive looting. Streets are choked with mud and debris. Many visitors received no warning of the coming storm and were offered no safe shelter during the terrifying night of record winds, rain, and flooding. Acapulco’s Diamond Zone, an oceanfront area of hotels, restaurants, and other tourist attractions looked to be mostly under water with streets, and bridges completely hidden by an enormous lake of muddy brown water. Many large buildings had walls and roof partially or completely ripped off. Some visitors were wandering in water up to their waists.

It is a mess.

Like I said, I’ve never visited the resort, so I don’t know what it was like before. And I’m not there, so I don’t really know what it is like now.

What I do know is that the storm shares its name with a great nephew of ours. Based on our experience with that particular four year old, I think that the storm may be appropriately named. Our Otis is the third child in his family, with two older sisters. Coming from a large family, I often say that parents simply grow more tired as each child comes into the family, so the youngest ones get away with things that the older children would never have been able to do. I don’t know how true that thought is, but our Otis is certainly capable of making a mess when he puts his mind to it.

He is strong, and that doesn’t only apply to his physical strength - the boy is strong-willed as well. He is creative and thinks of things that never enter my mind. When we have been involved in caring for him for short periods of time, it demands close attention. I’m not confident leaving the child unattended. There are too many ways for him to get in trouble.

Of course, comparing a child to a devastating storm isn’t fair to the child. Otis the child isn’t responsible for death and destruction. I suppose, however, that there are times when he has been a bit of a terror between 1 and 3 am, when the worst part of the storm blew through Acapulco. Children do have a way of disrupting their parents’ sleep.

I think that our great nephew was named in part as a nod of respect and admiration for the soul singer and song writer Otis Redding. His maternal grandfather was a radio disc jockey who has a great collection of rhythm and blues records and is a fan of many different kinds of music.

As far as I know, his name has no connection to the company that makes elevators, escalators, and moving walkways. That company has been around for a long time, tracing its origins to the installation of the first safety passenger elevator at the Crystal Palace Convention in New York City in 1853.

We all share our names with other people, companies, events, and more. Part of the adventure of each human life is to claim our name and make it our own through unique thoughts, actions, and intentions. I’m pretty sure that someone has already played some of the music of Otis Redding for our great nephew. It is entirely possible that he has on some occasion ridden in an Otis elevator. Though his family lives in a small town in Montana, they frequently travel. I know that they were not in Acapulco this week when the hurricane slammed ashore. I won’t stick him with labels associated with any of those other things that share his name. I’m content with him being his own person and making his own way.

On the other hand, I may not be able to completely refrain from hurricane references when we are with the family and he gets himself into a bit of trouble.

Learning Patience

Last evening the leader of a group with whom I was meeting asked each participant to speak of one thing for which we are thankful. I was a bit surprised at how slow the group was on the uptake. Some of the members rambled around a bit but didn’t really speak of gratitude. Rather they expressed concern or worry. The war between Israel and Hamas came up. Genuine grief over the loss of loved ones was expressed. When it was my turn, I said that I am so grateful for the many things I continue to learn from neighbors, both human and non-human. Specifically, I was thinking of what I have been learning from the bees in the colonies I tend. The colonies have been buttoned up for winter. I’ll remove the tops from time to time to check on the health of the colony. I may feed them a bit if they show signs of stress. I’ll make sure they have access to water, especially on days when it is warm enough for an outside water dish to be liquid. I’ve worked hard to provide insulated space for the bees and believe that my preparations have been adequate. But this is my first year of being responsible for bees and nothing is certain, except that I continue to learn.

It was a gray, rainy day and I spent most of the day inside, as did the bees. When I checked on the colonies, there were just a couple of bees coming and going from the entrances. We do have good rain gear. We’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for three years now. We walked down to the beach in the rain and looked out at the gray waters and cloudy skies. Then we came home and spent the rest of the day indoors.

One of the chores to which I have been attending is the extraction of honey from the honey combs I have harvested from the colonies. I started by filling half-pint jars that we will use as gifts and later filled a couple of pint jars. I took one pint to our son and his family, observing the tradition to taking the first honey of the harvest to the owners of the land where the colonies are located. I harvested another pint jar for our use. We had clam chowder and warm biscuits with honey for dinner.

The day before I though I had separated honey from wax and placed the wax in a container with the plan of taking it to the colonies for the bees to harvest the remaining wax. However, when I got up yesterday morning, it was apparent that I had not removed a sufficient quantity of honey from the wax. I placed the waxy material in a sieve and allowed it to drip. Over the course of the day, I extracted more than a pint from that wax. Extracted isn’t quite the right word. I allowed gravity to do its work and separate the honey from the wax.

In the big honey box where I have the frames hanging, I can hear the drip, drip, drip of honey falling into the chamber. Some of the wax makes its way through the grates, while some remains above. The wax that is in the honey chamber floats so I will be able to separate it with the technique of running the liquid through a sieve.

I thought I would complete the process in a day. What I am learning is that just allowing the honey to separate from the wax takes at least 24 hours. That is after it took my bees 48 hours to move out of the honey supers after I removed them from the colony and placed a one-way cover over them. The bees could get out, but they could not return. However there was a substantial number of bees who remained, steadfastly dedicated to their chores of tending the honeycomb. Next year, I need to pick warmer days to remove the honey from the colonies. And I need to allow more time. Yesterday’s rain forced me to go ahead and I ended up brushing quite a few bees out of the honey boxes near the entrance of the hive.

The bees are teaching me a great deal about timing and patience. I need to learn to pay even closer attention to them and how they go about their lives. And once the honeycomb is separated from the bees and uncapped, I need to learn to be patient with the honey extraction process. I though sure that I could extract all of the honey in a day. I expected to be cleaning equipment with all of the honey in jars by last evening. Now I know that I’ll be transferring honey to jars for at least the rest of this week.

Patience, Ted, patience. I thought that I might have learned a bit about patience by the time I entered my seventies, but it is clear that I still have a lot more to learn. And the bees are excellent teachers if I take time to observe and wait. After all, there is no rush. Hopefully we will have enough honey to last for months. We don’t need it all in the jars today.

I have long felt grateful for the non human neighbors that have graced my life. When we lived in South Dakota I learned to pay attention to the deer and turkeys. It took me a while to be able to recognize individual animals. I had to learn to look for the first fawns of the spring. They can hide very well when they are very close. The turkeys definitely had a pattern to their neighborhood wanderings. They would be at the same place at the same time of day for weeks. They kept their chicks hidden until they were pullets with significant amounts of feathers.

Our non-human neighbors have tended to be much quieter than our human ones. Of course we don’t live next to a field where the trumpeter swans come to rest each night. There are non-humans who can be incredibly loud.

The bees will go into a much quieter state for the winter. They’ll stay close to the hive and tend to the life of the colony, with births and deaths just as is the case in the summer. However, forage bees will not be traveling far from the colonies. They are relying on the honey they’ve stored from a summer’s work. I’m counting on them having stored enough to share. I will be paying close attention to make sure that I haven’t taken more than my share. I’ve still much to learn, and I need to be patient as I take time to observe and learn. It is a lesson they continue to teach me.

And, I’m also learning that gravity is a friend. I guess I knew it before, but I still had to learn a bit more.

Looking for someone smarter than I

There is a quote from Wendell Berry that has been bouncing around in my head for a few days:

“Some things you just raise hell about and hope somebody smarter than you can fix it.”

I am not, in general, the kind of person who raises hell about things. In fact, I’m not the kind of person who uses that kind of language in my everyday speech. And my problem as I think of the quote is that I have no idea to whom I might complain or how I might raise hell. But there are some things in this world that I certainly hope that somebody smarter than I can fix. The quote almost sounds like raising hell might be part of the solution to intractable problems. If so, I wonder if I am somehow being remiss by not raising hell. It is a kind of thought loop for which I have not found a solution.

One of the things that I hope somebody smarter than I could fix are situations when large numbers of people persist in believing something despite a lack of evidence to support their belief. Two examples come to mind.

There are a lot of people in the United States who apparently believe that the results of the 2020 presidential election are invalid. They continue to believe that their candidate should have become President. The candidate is encouraging that belief. He refused to concede defeat and engaged in all kinds of efforts to have the results overturned. In each lawsuit filed, however, the courts have found no evidence that the claim is true. Despite having a large number of people who voted for that candidate, the other candidate not only won the popular vote, as was the case in the previous election as well, but also the electoral college vote - the vote that matters in US presidential elections. In fact, the candidate, along with a group of his supporters have been indicted on felony charges of attempting to win by cheating and manipulating the vote.

To be fair an indictment is not a conviction. In our system a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. On the other hand, several of those indicted have pled guilty to the charges. Time will tell how that trial will go, but there is certainly plenty of evidence being given to dispute the false claims of electoral victory and so far, no credible evidence has been given to support those claims.

There are, however, a lot of people who believe those claims. And those people are not stupid, or uniformed, or evil. Somehow they persist in their belief without anything that seems to me to be credible evidence. I wish that the truth could prevail. But I do not know how to have the truth presented in a way that will change all of those minds. I certainly wish someone smarter than I could fix it, but I have no idea of how to raise hell in these circumstances.

Here is another example. The majority of people in the Arab Middle East and a whole lot of people in other parts of the world persist in believing that the explosion in a parking area of al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City on October 17 was caused by an Israeli Air Strike. The huge tragedy and high death toll has horrified people all around the world. Initially, news outlets published information that seemed to point the figure on the Israeli Defense Forces, but the evidence points elsewhere. Credible news sources around the world have failed to present evidence that the blast was caused by Israel. The New York Times has admitted that its initial coverage of the blast was wrong and that it was incorrect for the reporters to rely on claims by Hamas. Israel has presented credible evidence that the attack did not come from their forces. Those who point the finger at Israel have not presented any evidence. Yet millions of people around the world continue to believe what certainly appears to be false.

I am not a military strategist. I am not a political figure. I have no idea of what might be said or done to bring the truth to the light. I don’t know how to get millions of people to change their minds or at least open their minds to the possibility that what they believe might not be the truth. I hope that somebody smarter than I would help change minds. I suppose that the editors and owners of the New York Times are smarter than I and that it was important for them to publicly admit the error of their early reporting, but that doesn’t seem to be enough. Writing letters to the editor seems to bring no chance that millions, many of whom do not read the New York Times and don’t speak the language in which the Times is written, to open themselves to the possibility that what they believe is false. I have no idea how to raise hell to get someone smarter than I to come up with a solution.

I first noted the Wendell Berry quote because it seemed hopeful in the context in which I first read it. It seemed to imply that even when one is not smart enough to envision the solution to a problem, one might take action - raise hell - in such a way that those who are smart enough to solve the problem would be motivated to do so. Too often, however, it seems to me that I feel powerless to do anything. I guess that I might consider raising hell if I knew how to do so but I find myself wishing that someone smarter than I would tell me how do even that.

Despite having kept Wendell Berry’s quote on my mind and having mentioned it in my journal, I doubt that it will be the inspiration I need to go forward. I find myself again turning to other sources. The laments of Biblical poets come to my mind. I lift my eyes to the hills in search of the source of the help of the people and I pray that now as in the past that God will neither slumber nor sleep in the face of human tragedy.

Fall chores

There is just a little over a week left in October and the talk around the neighborhood has been the prediction of frost coming this week. I am a relative newcomer here. We have only been in this house for two years and have only been away from South Dakota for three years. I am not an expert in local weather. However, I’m not convinced that it is going to get quite that cold here.A skim of frost on the windshield after a night of heavy dew is quite a bit different from a killing frost on the plants, and so far the forecast isn’t calling for temperatures to descend below about 34 degrees. Our neighbors north of the border use Celsius and their forecasts are for low temperatures in the 2 - 3 degree range, which isn’t quite zero.

Some things about approaching frost are similar here to our old home. Some things are different. We’ve had a really good tomato run. While we would almost definitely cover our tomatoes for the first few frosts when we lived in South Dakota, we’ve just picked all of the green tomatoes. It was quite entertaining for our youngest grandson, who enjoyed filling the watering can with the green fruit. Most of the time he isn’t allowed to harvest anything at grandma’s and grandpa’s place. I’ve got enough for fried green tomatoes for breakfast today, and some of them will ripen on the window sill. We have tomatoes in the freezer for use later in the year and it looks like BLT sandwiches should be on the menu this week.

One difference between our home here and our home in South Dakota is that impending frost means that we’ve got a bouquet of fresh flowers on the dining table and I’ll probably make another big bouquet sometime today. We have way more blossoms in our yard here than was the case of South Dakota Octobers. The dahlias are really putting out the flowers. After a good frost, it will be time to dig up, wash off, dry, and divide the tubers for next spring’s planting, but we don’t have to worry about that chore this week. I won’t cut all of the blossoms. We don’t have that many vases. Besides it might not freeze hard enough, so I’ll leave plenty outside to enjoy for as long as we can.

Another difference is that I’ll need to mow the lawn this week. The grass is really taking off again after being pretty dormant in August and September.

A big change for us is that the days are much shorter here on the 49th parallel and those days are much grayer. We’ll probably get some rain most days this week and when we don’t get rain it will be cloudy most days. We’ve found that we really miss clear blue skies. I love the lush green that is a gift of the wet weather, but this is the first time we’ve lived in a place where we have to go for weeks without sunshine.

Among the chores of this week will be getting honey into bottles. The bees are all bundled up for winter, with additional insulation wrapped around the hives. I’ve removed the honey supers, and I’ve left them near the hives for a couple of days for the remaining bees in those boxes to exit and return to the main hive, but they need to come inside this morning in anticipation of rain, so I’ll gently brush off the remaining bees and bring the frames inside to be uncapped and allow the rich, delicious harvest to drip into the tank for filtering. This will be my first honey harvest as a steward of bees, so I don’t know for sure what to expect. It is another opportunity to translate what I have read into action. I love honey, so I’ve been anticipating this activity for months. It will be an adventure probably worthy of an entire journal entry after I’ve completed the task.

Also on the list for this week is a trip to Skagit, the rich valley south of our area to purchase tulip bulbs to plant for next year. There are over 1,000 acres in Skagit County dedicated to producing tulips and daffodil bulbs. Late October and early November are excellent times to plant the bulbs here. Unlike our South Dakota home, where the deer ate all of our bulb plants except the Iris, we don’t have deer in our yard here. We miss those gentle neighbors, but we still get to see plenty in the fields not far from home and our tiny fenced yard isn’t big enough for the deer and the antelope to play. Actually we don’t have antelope around here and no buffalo roaming, either. I guess that song doesn’t quite line up with my retirement, another surprise about the way my life has turned out.

Of course the big adjustment for me has nothing to do with the weather or the yard chores. It has to do with the simple fact that I don’t have any responsibilities for Advent planning. I’m not responsible for scheduling and Advent Fair, a Christmas Pageant, Candlelight services, and the like. This year is one of those bonus years for church leaders with Reign of Christ Sunday falling after Thanksgiving, giving one additional Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I used to relish those years as a church leader because there was just a little more time to organize and carry out all of the holiday concerts and other events. I guess it really doesn’t make a big difference to me in my retirement mode. Others are scheduling which Sundays the bell choir will ring and which anthems the vocal choir will sing. In some ways I’m just along for the ride. Since the congregation where we now belong is using the Narrative Lectionary, I’m not familiar with the flow of texts and frankly have not been reading texts in advance. I don’t really have to prepare for Sundays these days, which is a real change for me.

Still, the seasons are flowing. The weather is changing. I am a part of cycles that are bigger than my one life. A few fall chores are very welcome. I haven’t stopped praying for peace and grieving with the victims of war, but a little distraction from the flood of news is welcome and the bees and flowers give that gift without any effort.


We lived in Chicago during the era when the city had two great newspapers. The Chicago Tribune was published in the morning and the Chicago Sun Times was an afternoon newspaper. We moved to Chicago when we had been married for just one year and our finances were tight. We had to pay attention to each expenditure. One of the luxuries of that phase of our life was Sunday morning when I would often get up early and walk down to the corner newsstand and purchase a copy of the Sunday Tribune. The newspaper would last us all week with its extensive coverage of local and international news, color comics, book reviews, and a features magazine. When there was a major event in the news we might purchase a copy of one of the newspapers’ daily editions, but that wasn’t a frequent occurrence for us.

When we graduated from seminary and moved to North Dakota one of the things I did was to subscribe to the local weekly newspaper and as soon as we felt we were able we subscribed to the Bismarck Tribune, a daily newspaper that was published in the State Capitol, 150 miles away. The luxury of a daily newspaper was something that we took for granted for the next few decades, switching to the Idaho Statesman when we moved to Boise and the Rapid City Journal when we moved to that place.

During our years in Idaho, I started to do a bit of part-time work for two weekly newspapers, The Kuna-Melba News and the Meridian Standard. After setting up the database of subscribers and printing the mailing labels for quite a while, I began to do a bit of page layout and ad design. When the owner and editor of the papers became seriously ill, I took over a host of other duties and I served as editor and publisher for a few weeks after her death until her family found a customer and sold the newspapers. I helped with the transition to the new owners, but didn’t continue the part-time position after that.

There were columnists who I followed, and news that I felt was important for me to know as a pastor. I remember once saying to someone that I would always receive a daily newspaper because I needed to have the obituaries of those in my congregation who died. When we moved to South Dakota our neighborhood had matching mailboxes that had a box for US mail and a box for the daily newspaper on the same matching posts in each yard.

Over the years, however, we noticed that the newspaper mailboxes started to disappear from our neighborhood. I started to get more and more information from the Internet. At some point, I found that funeral home websites were a better source for obituaries than newspapers. The newspapers began to charge to print obituaries and people began to put shortened versions in the paper while having a more extensive obituary on the Internet. The Internet provided me with the obituaries much quicker than the newspaper giving me more time to prepare eulogies.

Then one year we suspended newspaper delivery during a vacation and never restarted our subscription. For some time we had been able to access the entire print edition online and I found we no longer needed to have all of that paper pile up in our house for a weekly trip to a recycling center.

Over the years, I observed the decline of newspapers. As more and more newspapers went online, i began to read online versions of the New York Times, Washington Post, The Portland Oregonian, and the Seattle Times. I’d check out other newspapers as well. Then newspapers erected paywalls and I decided not to spend the money subscribing to online editions. National Public Radio news, BBC news, and CBC news were all available without paying and became my go-to news sources, supplemented by local news sources.

When we found our home here in Birch Bay and moved in, we began to receive a weekly local newspaper once again. We didn’t subscribe. We just started to receive the Northern Light in our mailbox each week. After a bit of investigation, I found that the newspaper had come up with a very different approach to economic survival in an era of failing newspapers. Instead of continuing to raise subscription fees with the accompanying loss of subscribers as economic pressures mounted, the Northern Light decided to drop subscription fees entirely. They began to mail the paper to every residence in their service area without charge. This meant that their readership far exceeded any other small town weekly newspapers. With larger circulation came larger fees for advertisers. The increased circulation also helped the newspaper to attract some pretty good writers.

Recently our small town paper received 43 awards at the annual Washington Newspaper Publishers Association’s 2023 Better Newspaper Contest at the state conference. Awards were received for Community Service, General Excellence, Advertising, Special Sections, and Lifestyle. Eleven different writers received recognition for their contributions to the newspaper.

I’ve learned to look forward to Thursdays when our paper arrives and most weeks I read everything except a few ads and legal notices. I usually even scan the police reports, not because I need the news, but because it makes me feel pretty good to live in a place with so few police calls, most of which are not in regards to serious crimes.

I realize that I am old school, a fan or radio and newspapers in part because they are so much a part of my past. But I have also noticed that our son, who lives just outside of the coverage area of the Northern Light, picks up and reads the paper most weeks when he stops by our home for a visit. Both he and we point out articles in the paper to our grandchildren who are also starting to pick up the paper without being prompted.

I don’t know what the future will hold. The Northern Light has a good website in addition to the print edition and articles often appear on the web site before the paper reaches our mailbox. You can also get the solution to the crossword puzzle from the website without waiting for the next weeks’ paper. But I almost never visit their website. I appreciate the print edition and the pacing of a good high quality small-town weekly paper. I hope the publishers will continue to figure out how to bring it to us each week for years to come.

Under the influence

Hippocrates of Kos lived from around 460 to 370 BC. He has been referred to as the “Father of Medicine.” He is credited with the use of prognosis, clinical observation, and the systematic categorization of diseases. the Hippocratic school of medicine was a dramatic influence on the development of ancient Greek medicine, establishing a medical discipline distinct from other fields of studies and professions. Whether it was Hippocrates or others in the school of medical practice that he founded who created the Hippocratic Oath, the medical commitment, still relevant and in use today is credited to him.

While almost all modern medical schools administer a professional oath, a variety of different words are used. The original oath has been modified several times throughout history and a modern version, developed following the Second World War is used in about half of the medical schools in the United States. This version is based on the 1948 Declaration of Geneva drafted to establish ethical guidelines for the world’s physicians.

It wasn’t the oath, however, that had me doing a bit of Internet research on Hippocrates. I was wondering about the origin of the word “Influenza” to describe the malady that has affected so many around the globe, has spread as epidemic and pandemics over the centuries and for which many of us receive an annual vaccine in attempt to limit its spread and effects. I got my annual influenza shot back in September this year. It has become part of my autumn routine. Although various forms of the vaccine, often in the form of a live virus incubated in eggs, have been available for most of my life, the practice of receiving an annual shot of the vaccine wasn’t routine for me until the last 20 or 25 years.

Why, I wondered, do we call the illness and the vaccine to prevent its most severe effects “influenza.” The word is Italian and you don’t have to speak Italian or be an etymologist to guess that it is related to the English word, “influence.” I found that people have been using the term to describe a variety of maladies that are spread from person to person. In 412 in the “Book of Epidemics,” Hippocrates described an influenza-like illness called “fever of Perinthus.” He didn’t use the word influenza, but some scholars claim this is the first historical description of influenza.

There is considerable debate over the actual viruses involved in historic pandemics. Over the centuries pandemics have been described in a variety of ways and the symptoms have indicated upper respiratory infections in many of those events. The use of the word influenza to describe an illness originated in the 15th century. It has sometimes been used in reference to illnesses that are probably not the common upper respiratory tract infection. It may have been used to describe outbreaks of scarlet fever and other diseases.

The belief was that illnesses were caused by intangible fluids that originated in the stars and were transmitted to humans causing illness. Those who were sick were identified as being “under the influence” of the stars. Of course all of this was before modern science identified germs and viruses as causes and paths of transmission of disease. When people didn’t understand why some people got sick while others remained healthy, their imaginations gave rise to a wide variety of explanations and theories.

I’m not much for astrology. I don’t believe that the motion of various planets and stars in the night sky are affecting mood and illness of humans. I’m more inclined to believe the findings of scientific research. Although not medically trained, I have paid a lot of attention to the contributions of physicians and psychiatrists and my understandings of illness come from their work. Sometimes it does seem, however, that there is a certain randomness about illness that lends itself to a variety of different speculations. In the case of influenza, the association with the influence of stars doesn’t seem all that far from human experience.

I have had years when I received a vaccination and remained symptom free all year. There have also been years when I have developed significant symptoms even after receiving the vaccination. I’ve had my share of coughs and other symptoms. There have been a few days when I’ve remained in bed, laid low by my symptoms. Like many others my age, I probably have gone to work and potentially shared illness with others, when I should have stayed home. And prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I rarely wore a face mask even when I was experiencing bouts of sneezing and coughing. I continue to learn a lot about how to protect myself and others from illness and I hope that I am improving my behavior to reduce risk for others.

So far, since the pandemic, I haven’t contracted influenza. I haven’t even had to have a test for the virus. I have had a few colds, and developed coughs a couple of times. These were not severe and I treated them with over the counter medications. I have been very careful to keep up with my vaccinations. In recent weeks I’ve received vaccinations for Influenza and RSV as well as the newest bivalent Covid vaccination. I think that wearing masks whenever symptoms are present and when sharing small spaces with crowds, such as flying on airplanes, has helped limit the spread of colds and influenza as well as Covid.

For millennia, humans have wondered about illness and worked to remain healthy. The names we have given to various illnesses and diseases reflect our fascination will them. Although Hippocrates is not credited with the first use of the word influenza, he is often cited as the first to use cancer or “carcinoma” to describe a tumor with a central body and extensions that appear as legs. He didn’t use the Greek word “diabetes,” meaning siphon to describe any illness. The first documented use of that word to describe an illness wasn’t used until after his death, though ancient physicians described symptoms of the disease as early as 1550 BC.

As far as I know there is no medical term to describe the addictive fascination with language and the origin of words.

Unconventional learning

My cousin Russ was a remarkable man in many ways. Had he been born today, I think that he would have been diagnosed as dyslexic, given an independent educational plan, and perhaps been taught to read. As it was, even though his mother was a school teacher, he never became comfortable with reading even though he succeeded in completing high school and a couple of years of college. He became educated far beyond the formal confines of his education.

Russ was an unconditional farmer who embraced organic farming on his Montana acreage when none of his neighbors employed such tactics. He recycled machines purchased at auction sales that most considered to be junk. He invented and welded and modified and experimented all of his life.

In her book about alternatives to industrial farming, Lentil Underground, Liz Carlisle cites him as a pioneer and a leader not only in his own farming practices, but in forming alliances and cooperatives with other farmers for growing, harvesting and marketing organic food products.

I have thought of myself as an academic. I thrived in college and graduate school and enjoyed the challenges of learning through traditional academic institutions. I am an avid reader and learn in conventional ways. However, I also recognize that I have learned a great deal from sources outside the academy. One of the great teachers of my life has been my cousin Russ.

Perhaps because he struggled with reading, Russ became a powerful listener. Fairly early in his life, he connected with audio books before they were called audio books. He learned to check out books on tape from the state library for the blind. He kept a rugged cassette player nearby and listened to books as he went about his farm chores. His listening skills, however, were not only for recordings. He was a great listener to a wide variety of people. When he was alive, I looked forward to every opportunity to spend time with him because he listened carefully to what I said. Even when I was young and full of myself, he would let me ramble on knowing that he was paying attention to what I was saying.

It wasn’t just me. He listened to others as well. He went to farm sales and listened to the farmers who were selling out and those who came by to make a purchase and support their neighbors. He listened to auctioneers. He listened to politicians. He listened to people with whom he disagreed. He listened to those whose ideas and values were similar to his. He listened to his indigenous Blackfoot neighbors. He listened to the organizers of the alternative energy movement.

There is a difference between someone who is present and silent, but not paying attention, and a good listener. Russ was genuinely a good listener. I was always amazed at how much he knew and how much information he could gain, organize, and retain without using the tools with which I was familiar. I read and write. I keep notes in notebooks and on my computer. I surround myself with stacks of paper. Russ listened. He organized ideas and concepts in his brain. Then he applied what he had learned.

One of the things he learned was to trust the land he farmed and the animals in his care. He observed what grew and what did not. He paid attention to the places that were not intensely farmed. He walked through conservation reserve land, looked closely, and learned. Once he told me that he had become convinced that the best organic farming practice was to do nothing. The earth produces food without human intervention and though human actions can increase food production short term, the most sustainable practices come from allowing plants and animals to grow naturally.

I think often of my conversations with my cousin and I miss them now that he has died. If we were able to have a conversation these days, I would ask him about bees. I thought about becoming a bee keeper a lot before I became steward of a couple of hives. I spent a year planning and learning after I had a place and the time to care for bees. I purchased a couple of hives and prepared a place for them before I brought two nuclear colonies and installed them on our son’s farm. In my usual manner, I read books, took notes, did Internet research, joined a beekeeper’s association and took classes. I obtained my certification from the Washington Department of Agriculture.

What I have discovered, however, is that I am not a bee keeper. That is my relationship with the bees is not keeping them. They pretty much do what they will. I did provide the hives where the colonies live and I have decided that next year I will build slightly different hives to house bees. I do know about mixing sugar and water to supplement the bees food sources during the season when plants are not blooming. I have learned to inspect my hives, locate the queen, check for Verroa mites, and notice the difference between brood cells and honey cells. I have learned to harvest honey.

But the more I watch these incredible creatures the more I realize that they do better with less intervention. Unlike the advice of many of the books I have read and many of the bee keepers who are focused on honey production, I have learned to inspect my hives less and disrupt my bees less. I harvest less honey and allow the bees to keep more. One of my guides to this process has been the book, The Idle Beekeeper by Bill Anderson. The most important guide, however, has been the bees themselves. They don’t like it when I disassemble their hives, remove frames and inspect them. They don’t bother me when I simply observe.

For now, I am laying aside earlier plans of expanding the number of colonies in my care. I want to learn both from the bees that live in my colonies and the native bees that visit the farm and live in other places. I’ll leave intensive honey production and commercial crop pollination to others. And as I am doing less and observing more, I’ll remember my cousin Russ and his incredible intelligence. Even though his life on this earth has ended and his body has been buried in the land that he loved, his presence with me is real and there is much I can learn from him.


Last evening I vacuumed out the cold air return and changed the filter on our furnace. It is one of those small homeowner chores that I don’t mind. For 25 years, I didn’t have that chore. Our home in Rapid City was heated with electric baseboard units and had no central system for forced air. But changing the filter is one of those autumn chores that is necessary in a system with circulating air. During those 25 years, I paid attention to the annual changing of filters in the heating system of the church where I served as pastor, so it makes sense to have putting a new filter in the furnace be one of my autumn chores.

It definitely feels like autumn here even though it is different from other places where we have lived. The days are shorter, and the change is more dramatic here on the 49th parallel than it was when we lived in more southerly places. The trees are changing color, though I’m guessing that the peak of the color is still ahead of us. There will be more yellow in the birches in a week or so. The ornamental bushes in our front yard have lost their leaves and the wind keeps blowing them onto our front porch. I sweep them off and the wind blows them back. It is a little competition that so far the wind is winning.

One thing is different from other places where we have lived. After having been dormant for a month or more, fall rains have rejuvenated our lawn. When I mowed it on Tuesday it was longer than I usually allow it to grow between mowings. The challenge is finding a time when the rains let up enough to allow the lawn to dry enough to mow. Although some of my neighbors and several professional lawn services that work in the neighborhood mow in the rain, that is something I just haven’t begun to do. I don’t need a day with no rain, just a few hours with a little sunlight and a little wind to make the grass dry enough to be picked up with the bagging attachment on the mower.

The combination of returning from South Carolina and cooler temperatures has meant that I grab a jacket before heading outside. The strangeness of that is that I seem to be a bit more chilly than was the case in other places we have lived. When temperatures are in the low 60s, I feel the need for a jacket, something that I rarely did when we lived in drier climates. High humidity seems to put a chill in the air that even has me reaching for a stocking cap and gloves while temperatures are still in the 50s.

Two years have passed since we purchased this home and moved in. The landmarks on the drive to our home are familiar. I know where to expect that deer might be on the road, where the curves demand slowing a bit as I drive, where the 4-way stop signs are located, and where the speed limit changes on the drive between home and the church. The neighborhood was decorated for Halloween when we moved into our home and it is similarly decorated these days. We know more about local celebrations and should be adequately prepared for the number of trick or treaters who will cross our front porch this year. Despite warnings by neighbors, we fell a bit short the first year we were in this house.

As I drove the very familiar route from our son’s farm to our house yesterday I got to thinking about the concept of home. A scan of my journal archives reveals that I have often written about home. Most of the entries about home have come as I returned from a trip. When I started this journal, I traveled quite a bit more than I currently do.

I am not sure that being a resident of northwestern Washington quite feels like home for me. At least it seems to be taking me a while to feel like a local resident. I’ve got Washington license plates on my vehicles and a Washington Driver’s license in my pocket. I gave the right answer when someone in South Carolina said, “You’re not from around here are you.” I’ve started to say that my home is a 15 minute walk from the beach and a 10 minute drive from Canada when describing where I live to folks who have never been here. There is a part of me that still thinks a bit like a South Dakotan. I know the stories of our indigenous neighbors in South Dakota far better than I know the stories of the Lumi and Nooksack peoples. And even though I lived in South Dakota for 25 years, sometimes I still think of myself as a Montanan. I moved away from Montana when I was 21 years old and haven’t lived there since, but there is something about the place of my birth that sticks with me.

Perhaps I am just a bit less anchored in a single place than was the case when I was younger. I have had several homes where I have enjoyed living. I am aware that I am unlikely to live in this particular house as long as we lived in our South Dakota house. Folks tend to move quite a bit as they age, and I suppose that we’ll one day come to the point in our lives where we will want a place where we don’t have to climb stairs to get to our bedroom.

Still, I am happy where I live. I feel very content and comfortable in this place. I have a deep sense of gratitude that I have such a comfortable place to live. And I still appreciate having a few chores like changing furnace filters and mowing the lawn that are signs of home ownership for me. I am home even as I acknowledge that there are other places that have been my home. I’m even getting used to grabbing my rain jacket as I head for the door.

Clean air to breathe

Earlier this year there were quite a few stories on the Internet about a potential ban of gas stoves in kitchens in the USA. More than a few of them contained factual errors, including that the Consumer Product Safety Commission was set to ban all gas stoves. People have passion about how they cook and are committed to particular appliances. Gas cook tops are popular among some people because they heat quickly and evenly, making certain cooking chores easier for experienced chefs. While some states, including New York and California, have placed restrictions on the installation of stoves in new construction, there has been no move to remove the appliances from existing homes or to ban the sale of gas appliances.

The thing about the controversy over gas cooking appliances is that issues of air quality and carbon pollution are not new. Scientists have known for a long time about potential health risks associated with cooking with Gas. In a closed environment, cooking with gas releases nitrogen dioxide when burned at high temperatures. While the Environmental Protection Agency has standards for safe exposure to nitrogen dioxide emissions for industrial polluters, there is no standard set for indoor exposure to the gas. There are, however, studies dating back decades that have shown harmful effects from the nitrogen dioxide emitted from gas appliances. The other appliances that emit nitrogen dioxide include gas water heaters and gas furnaces, but these may pose less danger to those who live in houses because of their location within the structure.

Studies have shown that individual homes can be made safe from nitrogen dioxide through the use of ducted fans over cooking appliances. Health experts recommend using a fan whenever using a gas stove and replacing filters every three months. When a ducted range hood is not available, opening a window and using a fan to exhaust room air can also be effective.

I’m not a scientist and I am not an expert in public policy. But I am an observer of culture and I am interested in safety. Earlier this year we decided to replace the gas cooking range in our house with an electric unit with an induction cooktop. There were several factors that influenced our decision. First of all, the gas range that we purchased with our home was an older model in need of significant repairs. The broiler in the oven no longer worked and although the part to repair it was not too expansive, the fact that we have owned electric stoves for most of our time as homeowners and have more experience cooking with them also influenced our decision. The choice, however, was far from simple. Our home was planned for a gas cooking stove. There was no dedicated circuit for an electric range and no plug for one in our kitchen. Installing the new stove required having an electrician install new wiring in our home and using the final remaining place for a new circuit breaker in our electrical panel. We might not have made the same decision were it not for the availability of a rebate provided by the Inflation Reduction Act for part of the costs of wiring and the new stove.

The choice is part of a larger decision-making process. We are intentionally moving toward changing out the gas appliances in our home to electric appliances as part of a move to using solar energy produced by the system we have installed in our home. This will reduce our overall utility bills and help us lower our carbon footprint. As part of the solar panel installation, also made possible in part by tax incentives, we upgraded our electrical panel which will allow for future replacement of our gas water heater and furnace with electric models.

The choices we have made, however, are choices that are available only to a small and very privileged group of the world’s population. We could not use tax incentives if we did not earn enough money to pay federal income taxes. We could not afford the costs of an induction stove and solar panels had we not been able to supplement our retirement income with a temporary job that came easily for us. There are plenty of people for whom what we have done is simply not an option. And when you consider the choices available to many of the world’s people, what we have done is beyond imagination for the majority.

The bottom line is that clean breathing air is a privilege of wealth. Those who suffer the most from air pollution are the ones who are the most impoverished. Those worst hit by unhealthy air are the ones least able to protect themselves or escape pollution.

Delhi, in India, is the world’s second largest megacity and has some of the lowest air quality in the world. A University of Chicago study warned that lives of residents of India’s capital are being shortened by up to 11.9 years compared to if air pollution was reduced to levels recommended by the World Health Organization. In that city thousands of people experience dangerous pollution every time they cook. Residents in the slums of Delhi often cook on traditional chulhas - metal combustion stoves fueled by firewood. Problems with breathing and burning eyes often are caused by the smoke that fills the homes of those people when cooking. Health experts recommend using liquid petroleum gas cooking appliances to reduce indoor air pollution, but LPG cylinders are expensive and out of reach for many residents of certain neighborhoods in Delhi.

A stove as safe as the one we replaced is clearly out of reach of many of this world’s citizens. Being poor results in having fewer options. It is estimated that 2.4 billion people in this world use inefficient fuels such as kerosene, wood, dung, charcoal and coal for preparing food. Although deaths from indoor air pollution are estimated to have declined in recent years, that decline is directly related to limited success in reducing extreme poverty in the world. It is estimated that millions of people continue to die prematurely as the result of indoor air pollution.

Recent studies have shown that there is a relationship between air pollution and the ways human brains work. Chronic long-term health issues include lung and blood stream disorders, cancers, and several different mental illnesses.

It is clear that working towards economic justice is a critical part of addressing the world’s climate crisis. As I try to become more informed and aware, I am continually confronted with the simple truth of the privilege I enjoy that is not available to the majority of the world’s citizens. Cleaning up the air in my own home is only part of my responsibility.

Last night we heard a speaker at our church who stated that greed and selfishness are the leading causes of the world climate crisis. The words ring true and I pray will influence my decision-making in the years to come.

Halloween preparations

On the list of things that I am planning to do this week is get to a store to purchase Halloween candy. Trick or treat is a big deal in our neighborhood and I enjoy sitting on our front porch looking at all of the children in costume and handing out candy. I know some of our neighbors put out a bowl of candy with a sign that says, “Please take only one piece,” and pretty much ignore the rest of the holiday. I also know that the children take more than one piece and the bowl empties quicker than is the case in homes where a person helps to distribute the candy. I guess those folks don’t find the joy that I find in watching the children going around the neighborhood, visiting with those who come to our door, and hearing the cheerful “Happy Halloween!” and “Thank you!” from children.

I don’t know how much money I will spend. I don’t buy much candy and am not familiar with the price. I do know that I will go to a big box retailer and purchase bargain priced candy in a large bag. I also know that our grandchildren will come to our house for dinner and will go out afterwards to collect candy from our neighbors. Halloween is on a Tuesday this year, so it is a school night and the activities will have to be conducted in a timely manner to get children to bed in time to keep from disrupting the next day’s activities. I also know that the excitement over the holiday and the increased consumption of sugary treats by children who are not used to such extravagance will affect the children’s ability to go to sleep and to focus on their studies the next morning.

Still, I enjoy the mood of our neighborhood on Halloween and spending a bit on treats seems like a good use of our resources.

However, a quick walk around our neighborhood reveals that once again we don’t even come close to the big spenders of the area. There are houses on our street where there has already been some big spending on decorations. One house has giant webs of rope with huge artificial spiders crawling all over them. Another one has a fake cemetery complete with a lot of skeletons, including animal skeletons and fake headboards. They’ve even put up a crumbling fence around their yard that isn’t part of their usual landscaping. Popular among several houses are inflatable figures including monsters and ghosts. They look rather strange during the day, all deflated and lying on the grass, waiting for someone to turn on the fans and lights that complete the displays when evening comes. A day or so ago when we were walking around the neighborhood a neighbor came out onto their front porch and momentarily surprised us to see an actual live human being in the middle of the life sized skeletons displayed on the porch.

We’re not into that level of decoration. We’ll probably put out a few pumpkins and squash from the farm in a few days. It was raining too hard to pick them up yesterday. We may even have a few bundles of corn stalks and sunflowers if our grandchildren get into participating in the decorating.

When our children were young we’d make a few decorations out of construction paper and put them in the windows with tape. We’ve never gotten into going to the Halloween specialty stores or other places that sell all of the fancy decorations. And we’re not into costume parties and other adult events.

It appears that we are on the conservative side when it comes to Halloween spending. The economic impact in our country is staggering. The National Retail Foundation projects that 2023 Halloween spending will hit a record $12.2 billion, exceeding last year’s record of 10.6 billion. That is an average of $108 for each person. With our son’s family of six over to dinner plus the two of us, we’d have to spend $864 to be average. We live close to Canada and are perhaps influenced by our neighbors to the north where the median spending is about $50 Canadian ($37 US). My personal budget will probably be closer to that number for total household spending.

Homemade costumes are fine for our grandchildren. I still enjoy seeing children in homemade costumes. They tend to be more interesting than the commercially prepared ones. I even get a kick out of the classic one that is an old sheet with a couple of holes cut for eyes. I don’t believe in ghosts, so don’t have a reference for what one might look like, but I doubt that it would be much like someone who appears to have failed at folding a fitted sheet and given up and cut a couple of holes so they could see. Still improvised costumes bring a smile to my face. And they are no more of a trip hazard than the giant inflatable costumes worn by some of the children of big spenders. Carrying around a battery operated fan to keep the costume inflated seems like over kill for me.

We have no plans for special lighting at our house, either. The porch light seems to be about right for the children to see the step up to the porch and parents to see what is going on from the sidewalk in front of our house. I don’t have outdoor speakers to project spooky sounds and I don’t have any plans to download special music from the Internet to play for the holiday. I’m thinking more in terms of a crock pot of spiced hamburger for sloppy Joes, a bowl of apple and vegetable slices, and candy to hand out as I sit on the porch watching the coming and going of children. It will be a good evening of entertainment for me and we’ll probably have the grandchildren on their way home and the lights out by 9 pm. The next morning’s clean up might involve picking up a few discarded candy wrappers on the lawn, but nothing more.

I won’t have any cumbersome decorations to take down and store in big boxes. And I won’t have a big credit card bill coming from spending. Maybe I’m not doing my part to keep the economy booming, but it will be enough for our family to emerge happy and satisfied and ready to focus our attention on giving thanks in November.

A place in the choir

I’ve sung in church choirs off and on for many years. I started singing in the church choir when I was a high school student. I sang in the chorus at school and I had learned to read music as a child when I was taking music lessons. When my voice changed, it wasn’t as dramatic as was the case with some of my peers and songs in the tenor range came easily for me. Our first call to the ministry was to congregations that didn’t have regular choirs. They were simply too small to have enough singers to support a regular choir. When we moved to the second call of our careers, I sang in the choir each week. The choir sat in the chancel and sang from the front of the church so it was easy for me to join with them as they sang. I found that I formed some strong relationships with choir members by joining their ranks. I enjoyed singing with the ensemble.

When we moved to Rapid City, the choir in that congregation had a strong tradition of singing from the balcony. The congregation had a very strong music program and there were members who could remember more than a half century of musical excellence. When the congregation had moved from a church building down town to its present location, the new building was designed with the choir at the rear of the congregation in a balcony. The conviction of church leaders at that time was that the choir could support the congregation’s singing by being behind the congregation. The anthem was considered to be less of a performance and more of a contributing part of the liturgy of the entire congregation.

Having the choir in the balcony meant that it was a difficult bit of logistics for me to join in when they sang the anthem. For many of the years that I served as pastor in that congregation I did not sing with the choir. However, there would be occasional occasions when I joined in to be another tenor in a fairly small choir where the extra voice helped the choir to sing some particularly beautiful anthems. I got pretty good at running back and forth and climbing the stairs to the balcony without disrupting the flow of worship. There were some times when serving that congregation when disagreements in the choir loft could be calmed by my presence. There were a few times when tensions in the choir seemed to threaten the peace of the congregation and part of my job as pastor was to help find resolution to disagreements.

Despite the challenges, I enjoyed singing in the choir and felt that the investment of time in choir rehearsals was valuable to my work as pastor as it brought me into regular contact with the members of the choir. Advocating for the church’s music programs was appreciated by both members of the choir and other folks in the congregation who continued the tradition of strong support for musical programs.

Before I retired I thought that part of retirement might be being able to sing in the church choir and I imagined that I might become a regular choir member. When we became members of our current congregation the pandemic meant that the church did not have an active vocal choir. We wore face masks to do what we were able to prevent the spread of the virus. Shortly after joining the congregation, I joined the church staff. My responsibilities for faith formation programs and small group facilitation meant that it did not work for me to participate in the choir. When the church was able to resume having a choir the ensemble experimented with a couple of different rehearsal times and finally settled on Sunday mornings before worship. That time slot did not work for me when I was an employee of the congregation, but now that I have completed that work and am once again fully retired, I am back singing with the choir. To be more accurate, I went to my first rehearsal and sang with the choir on the anthem for the first time yesterday and I intend to keep up the practice.

Our choir is fairly small, however. Yesterday I was the only tenor in the choir. There is a lot of church choral music that is arranged in three part harmony with all of the men singing in the baritone range. I can sing most of the notes in the bass range, though I don’t have a lot of volume at the bottom of my range and prefer to sing the tenor line. Yesterday, the anthem that was selected had split parts for male voices so I had to sing the tenor line alone. I’ve never considered myself to be a soloist and prefer to sing with others singing the same line, but I can sight read music fairly well and don’t mind singing harmony with the ensemble. I have not, however, taken private vocal lessons and don’t have as much confidence as I would like to have when I feel that my part is exposed.

Last year the choir had three section leaders who were college students and were paid a small stipend to sing with the choir. Their leadership helped fill out the sections of the choir. This year since I will be singing with the choir, the director is proposing to have four section leaders so there will be an additional tenor. Even with that additional strong voice, our section of the choir will be smaller than has been the case with other choirs in which I have participated. I guess I will need to practice a bit more and make sure that I am a bit more confident in my part each week. It is good to have some new skills to learn, but there are limitations to the aging human voice. Furthermore, one of the gifts of retirement is a bit of flexibility to travel and I expect that I will miss a few weeks when we travel and visit other congregations.

It is all a bit complex, as I suppose it is for every member of volunteer church choirs. For now, the song that keeps going through my head is “All God’s Critters God a Place in the Choir.” I’m one of God’s critters and it is good to know that there is a place in the choir for me.

Getting to church

When our children were in elementary school, one of their complaints about our family life was that on Sundays we were always the first to arrive at church and the last to leave. They were active participants in church, but they didn’t want the entire morning and part of the afternoon devoted to church activities every Sunday. At the time we lived about a mile from the church and when they were allowed to ride their bikes to and from church it was a great liberation for them to be able to ride home before we were ready to leave our church responsibilities. Not long afterward we moved to a new congregation. This time our house was ten miles from the church. They were once again stuck with their parents’ schedule on Sunday mornings. About a year later or son earned his driver’s license and once again they felt the liberation of being able to leave the church after worship.

Susan and I have worked together for the same congregations for all of our careers. There was a time when we were students and I interned at a church where she did not have responsibilities for leadership and another brief period of time when she was working part-time for a second congregation, but for most of the 44 years of our active careers, we worked together. In our first call of seven years we served two congregations. One was next door to the parsonage where we lived. We could walk back and forth. The other congregation was 16 miles away. We only had one car when we started that job and our Sunday morning routine was usually to ride together to the distant church and ride back to our home for the second service. During the summers, the congregations switched to worshipping at the same time and once of us went to one congregation and the other to the second congregation, switching congregations each week. By the end of our seven years in that call we had obtained a second car and occasionally we would be going in different directions, but we rarely ended up with both cars at the distant church at the same time.

Once we moved to our second call - the one where we lived a mile from the church - we quickly became a two-car family at church. We begin to arrive at different times in different vehicles. That practice persisted for the next 35 years of our lives. We used to say that we could share nearly everything. We could live in the same house, share the same toothpaste tube, eat our meals together, work together, and share family life. However, we needed two cars to get to church on Sunday mornings. When we added a third car when our children were young adults, it was common for us to have three cars in the church parking lot for Sunday worship. We needed to come and go at different times.

That changed when we retired. When we first retired, the Covid Pandemic meant that we were not physically present at worship. We worshipped from home over our computer. We even went through the ceremony of joining the congregation where we currently are members online. When we started a two-year interim at that church we were still living in Mount Vernon, so we had a 30 mile one way commute. We always rode together and for the first time in a long time we rode together to and from church. After a couple of months, we purchased the home where we now live, which is closer. Still the 19 miles to the church is enough and our schedules were close enough to the same that we nearly always rode to and from church together. There were only a few occasions when for some reason we ended up with both of our vehicles at church. The commute was a pleasant time to talk and visit about all kinds of things from family life to work concerns to making meal plans and grocery lists.

Then we retired once again. For the last couple of months we have worshiped in quite a few different congregations, making an outing of Sunday mornings to explore other congregations while creating a bit of distance from our work relationship with the church where we are members. We have also taken the opportunity of retirement to make a couple of trips, including our recent visit to South Carolina. The practice of traveling to worship together was natural and fun during this time.

Today we are returning to what may become a new schedule of church participation for us. We are returning to regular worship at the congregation where we are members and where we served as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation for two years. Now, however, we do not have an office at the church and we do not have official responsibilities. So it seemed at first that it would be natural for us to continue driving to and from the church together in the same car. That is our plan for this morning, but I can see a problem with that plan. I need to arrive at the church for an 8:30 am choir rehearsal. Worship is at 10 am. Then I have a bell choir rehearsal at 11:15, which usually lasts an hour or a bit longer. That means that a typical Sunday morning for me will be to arrive at the church at 8:30 am and stay for four hours until 12:30 pm. Susan, however, is not singing in the choir and she is not ringing with the bell choir. So if we ride together she has a lot of down time waiting for me. She can go to the church library and read. She can sit in the fellowship hall and visit with friends after worship. But the extended time commitment is a stretch for her. In addition, there will be some Sundays when the bell choir will ring at a second service at 2:30 pm. Our church building is also home to a United Methodist Congregation and our bell choir is a shared group that generally rings for both congregations when we ring in worship.

It isn’t hard for me to imagine that we might end up needing two cars for our Sunday morning routine once again. Right now this is all new to us and we are trying to figure out what works for us. It might end up that I drop the vocal choir for a while. I didn’t sing in the vocal choir during the time we served as interim ministers because I had other responsibilities before worship. Dropping that would shorten our Sunday morning commitments. We just don’t know for sure how it will work out.

It seems that retirement doesn’t end the need for planning. It may not even end the need for two vehicles for us.

My day yesterday

Today’s journal might be a bit boring. It is simply a report of my day yesterday. If you are reading for some fresh theological insight or a witty commentary on the state of our society, this might be one you want to skip.

Saying Good bye: After a fun morning of playing, we had an early lunch and prepared to head to the airport. Our grandson was kept home from school because he has a cough and that meant that we got a bit of bonus time with him. It probably also made it a bit easier to say good bye because it wasn’t rushed as he was leaving for school. Our son in law was able to get off of work at lunch to take us to the airport. The four year old, however, was in tears as we got into the pickup. I’m pretty sure I saw a few tears in grandma’s eyes, too. It was a bit challenging to drive off seeing him in his mother’s arms and sobbing. It is hard for the little ones. They don’t really know what it means for us to leave. It is hard for them to tell how long it will be before he sees us again. We’ll be sure to Skype with him sometime today, but that is not the same as being there.

The good bye reminded me of a trip we took to Tucson, Arizona when his mother was about the age he is now. We found some bargain rate tickets that got us to Arizona to visit my sister by traveling on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. After the late night Christmas Eve services, we got up early on Christmas Day and caught our flight to Tucson with a plane change in Las Vegas. We had a wonderful week. My mother was visiting my sister as well, so we had family Christmas celebrations, took a trip to Nogales and walked across the border to shop in the stalls and stands in Mexico, hiked among the saguaro cacti, and played with our children in the warm weather. Little did I realize that the mid-winter change in climate would have me feeling cold for a couple of weeks after we returned to Idaho. When it was time for us to return home, we said our good byes to my sister and her husband an my mother. Our daughter was heartbroken and sobbing as we checked in at the airport. It being New Year’s Day and the flight heading to Las Vegas, her tears were a contrast to the party crowd on the airplane. I think Elvis was on that flight, as well as a host of show girls and other revelers. She cried most of the way to Las Vegas.

A Concern: As we were driving to Charleston, which is about two hours from our daughter’s home in Dalzell, I received a text message from United Airlines: “Flight UA674 from Charleston to Denver is delayed because an earlier delay impacted your plane’s arrival. It now departs at 6:45pm.” That got me worried because the delay was 2 hours and 40 minutes. I didn’t think we would be able to make the connection in Denver. We decided to go ahead and get dropped off at the airport and go to the United Desk and see what rebooking would fit our schedule. It didn’t seem right to have our Son in Law, who had already committed to 4 hours of driving to get us to the airport to have to take us back and return the next day. We figured that the worst case scenario is that we would have to stay overnight in Denver.

An Unexpected Turn: As we were getting out of the pickup at the airport my phone rang. It was United Airlines who informed me that they had rebooked us on an Alaska flight that was scheduled to depart shortly after our original flight time. The Alaska flight was direct to SeaTac Airport, so we would arrive 3 hours earlier than our original schedule. I was delighted to accept the change. We proceeded to the Alaska counter to get our boarding passes and check our bags.

An Inconvenience: While we were delighted in the change, we discovered that the only seats that were available were not together and we both would have center seats. We are used to traveling together with one of us in a window seat and the one in the middle seat being able to lean towards the one in the window seat. However, on this flight, we would be 5 hours apart from each other and sitting straight in the middle hoping not to encroach on the space of our seat mates. It seemed to us that the inconvenience was minor compared to the convenience of getting to Seattle early.

A Surprise: It turned out that my window seat mate slept for most of the trip, leaning against the window with the shade closed. Although I couldn’t see out the window, which I enjoy when flying, I had plenty of space on that side. In the aisle seat was a 16 year old who was traveling with a group. I don’t know if it was a church group or a school group, but suspect a church group because there weren’t many teens in the group. He was so tall that he couldn’t sit straight in the seat without his knees bumping the seat in front of him. He was very polite, but every chance he got, he stretched his legs out into the aisle, where they easily reached to the other side. I’m at an age where sitting for five hours makes me a bit stiff and uncomfortable, but I didn’t have it as bad as that tall young man. At least he has youth on his side.

We have taken two airline trips since the pandemic. That isn’t much compared with many of our friends. But we have had exceptionally pleasant travel experiences. Although there are some hassles with travel that still bother us such as long lines at airport security, we have been able to travel across the country without undue delay and so far we have arrived earlier than scheduled on most legs of our journey.

Today we’ll head home and check in with our son and his family. We already know all is well with our house because our son has been checking on it. And who knows, it might not take us too many days to readjust our schedule to our usual time zone.

Heading home

Through the wonders of high speed airline travel and the simple fact that the United States has four time zones in the lower 48 states, today we are waking in South Carolina. We’ll be able to spend the morning with our daughter’s family and still have time in the afternoon to take a two hour drive to Charleston, where we’ll catch a flight to Denver. After a 3 hour layover in Denver, we’ll catch a late flight to Seattle, where we will arrive just before 11 pm. We should make it to our motel by midnight. That will be 3 am in the time zone where we woke up - a long day. I’m glad we decided to get a motel before driving the two hours from SeaTac airport home.

Years ago, I served on a committee that met in Baltimore, Maryland. I lived in South Dakota at the time, which was only 3 time zones to the west, but it still meant that I could attend meetings in the morning and still be home the same day. Of course the price one pays for this is that you have a very short travel window when traveling from West to East. When we came here on this trip, we left Seattle at 8 am and got into Charleston at 7 pm. Our grandson was waiting up at home when we got there two hours later, having stayed up and refused to go to bed until we arrived. That made a late night for him even though we weren’t all that tired because 9 pm here is 6 pm at home.

Of course the time zone and airline factor isn’t anywhere near as dramatic as when they lived in Japan and we would lose an entire day traveling west and arrive home at the same time we left when traveling east. What I do know is that we tend to adjust to the changes in time zones better when we have long days and go to bed tired.

Bigger than the adjustment to different time zones is the adjustment to once again being so far away from our grandson. We only have two children, but they live 3,000 miles from each other. We so thoroughly enjoy our grandchildren that we love being with the west coast grands and the east coast grands. And we really don’t have anything about which to complain. We live in the time of video chats over the computer and can see distant family members regularly. We can afford airline tickets to travel to be with our family. We have a flexible schedule now that we are retired. And, most importantly, our two children get along with each other and so they value getting together.

Still, there is a real sense that I will miss being able to play with our grandson every day, even though I will have access to the other grandchildren, whom I have missed while I have been here. I am eager to see them and hear about what is going on in their lives.

Knowing how I feel, I wonder what it is like for families who are forced by war and economics and other factors to split and travel to distant places without knowing whether or not they will ever get back together. Throughout history, people who have migrated have had to leave family behind. Some of the oldest stories of our bible are about how Abram and Sarai left the land where they grew up, the land of their ancestors and forebears and went to a place following God’s promise. They did not know where they were going for sure. They did not know if they would ever return. And their story has become part of the foundation of our faith. Our spiritual traditions are founded in a story of family extending beyond the space occupied by previous generations.

We raised our children knowing that they were not ours to keep forever. We wanted them to go out into the world and explore. We wanted them to form significant and lasting relationships and form families. When they were little, I don’t think I quite imagined what that would mean. We’ve had almost a decade of our life when our two children weren’t on the same continent. And now they are almost as far apart as they can get on the same continent. But they have wonderful and exciting lives and have formed family and home in places that they have found and learned to love. I am always a bit amazed at how they can adjust to new places, learn to drive in new neighborhoods, find new places to shop, discover new foods to prepare and eat, make new friends and form community.

One of the treats of this visit has been walking around the neighborhood and visiting with neighbors who know and appreciate our daughter and who watch out for our grandson when he rides his bike around the neighborhood. It is not our home. It is not our culture. We are not southerners and our only connection with the military has been our son in law. It is a place, however, where our daughter is at home and where their family is supported. And we are welcomed into this place even though we are very different from so many of the folks around here. We have a standing joke about some of the words we say that are not understood by the locals. We have to pause and remember how they pronounce “pecan” in the south. We say it differently, but we do want to enjoy the nuts and order dishes that feature them in cafes and restaurants. And when we are around true southerners, my name almost has two syllables, “Tay-ed.” Although I think of my self as grandpa and my grandson calls me “Papa,” the staff at this school all call me his granddaddy, which isn’t an unkind way to be known.

So today we shift gears once again. It is time for us to go home even though there is much we will miss. Part of that is that I don’t know at all what time I will post my journal tomorrow. It probably won’t be anywhere near as early as it has been for almost three weeks now.

Grateful for the ability to travel and explore, we are moving onward.

A typical evening in South Carolina

Our son-in-law began a new job in the Air Force yesterday. It is a position that he has been wanting and although it does not involve a change in rank at present, it seems like a promotion to him. One of the things about the new job is that for the next few months his work hours will be a normal daytime shift. After months of 12-hour shifts and frequent changes from night to day and back to night, he is looking forward to going to work at 7 am and returning home a little after 4 pm. The family celebrated with a nice dinner at home. As our meal was winding down, our grandson yelled “duck!” and headed for the door to the back patio. We weren’t too surprised because the neighbors have ducks and it seemed very possible that a duck could have flown over the six foot fence separating the two yards.

Sure enough, there was a duck in the yard. Within minutes there was a duck in the yard with an excited 4-year-old chasing it. It didn’t look like he had much of a chance of catching it. It was going back and forth along the fence that separates the two yards, walking, running, and occasionally flapping its wings. The flapping wings startled the boy enough that he didn’t ever attempt to catch the bird.

After watching for a few minutes, I decided to go get my shoes. Chasing a duck in the back yard in my stocking feet didn’t appeal to me. When I returned our daughter had opened the gate between the back yard and front yard, but the duck was having no part of it and wouldn’t go near the gate. She had joined her son in the chase. I suggested that they calm down, stop running and gently walk behind the duck towards me and I would pick it up and give it a boost over the fence. By then I could see that the bird had one wing clipped. Clipping a single wing is a common practice. Clipping the feathers doesn’t hurt the bird. They are made of a material similar to finger nails. Clipping only one wing throws the bird off balance when it attempts to fly and usually keeps it from leaving the designated area. However the neighbors have a very full back yard with chickens and a coop, pigs with a covered area, a trampoline, a back yard pool, which seems to have been given over to the ducks. The water in the pool is not clear and not inviting for human swimming. There is also a trailer, an assortment of furniture, and accumulations of other items in the yard. There are numerous things from which the duck could have jumped over the fence. No similar objects are in place on our daughter’s side of the fence.

Walking behind the duck, however, was simply too hard for the four-year old. Each time the duck sped up, so did the boy, accompanied with excited yells. When the duck got to me it was running full bore and when it realized that it wasn’t going to get around me it made a desperate leap and got to the top of the fence in an awkward imitation of flying. From there it glided back into its home territory, obviously relieved not to have the boy chasing it.

As we stood in the yard, laughing about the adventure, we felt the first drops of a light rain that has continued through the evening and into the night. The cool rain feels good in this land of what seems to us northerners to be perpetual summer. The locals are wearing sweatshirts and sweaters and jackets, but it seems quite unnecessary for us. We did bring our rain jackets with us, but haven’t felt a desire to put them on so far during our visit.

It was a gray day yesterday with a full overcast all day. Being a pilot and airport bum, I noticed the difference in the approach pattern of the F-16s at Shaw Air Force Base. The clear weather pattern involves a tight circling approach usually flown in pairs. The instrument approach is a wider approach flown in tandem with a lot more separation between the jets as they head in for their landing. Shaw has a lot of the fighter jets and they operate around the clock. I don’t know the specifics of Air Force requirements, but I’m sure that pilots need to remain current with instrument and night approaches, so they probably take advantage of cloudy days to make sure that the pilots are checked out to fly at all times in most weather conditions.

I’m surprised how quickly I adjusted to the round-the-clock aviation operations. I hear the jets when I am outside an awake, but they don’t wake me at night even though I’m used to sleeping with the window open next to the bed. I know that noise is an item of debate in neighborhoods near airports, but our daughter’s family home is well insulated and the sound of jets from the Air Force Base is not a problem. I doubt if the circling jets had any effect on the duck’s wanderings. I doubt that ducks make any association between their usual modes of transportation and the technologically advanced planes in the sky. After all these are domestic ducks and probably come from a long line of ducks that have never migrated.

Chasing the duck got me to wondering about the neighbor’s animals. I’m pretty sure they gather eggs from their chickens. They might also gather eggs from the ducks. I wondered if they butcher birds for the dinner table. They might also harvest pigs for meat, though their pigs are fairly small - more like mini or pygmy pigs. They might be Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. I’m no expert and really don’t know much about raising pigs, but I do know that there are several breeds that have been developed more for pets than for food production.

The neighbor’s pigs have not left their back yard, although some fence repairs have been required to keep them from digging under the fence. Our visit here will end in a couple of days but I do expect a full report from the four year old when pigs fly.

A prayer for peace

Like many other people around the world, I have been trying to craft a prayer for the Middle East, but the events of the past few days has left me without words. The level of violence, the ferocity of attacks, the targeting of civilians, the taking of hostages, the tactics of terrorists, the intensity of the response - all of these and so much more has left me with the sense that no words I could craft are equal to the horror of the circumstances in which individuals and families are trapped. I know that we are called to hope in the face of despair, but the temptation to desperation is intense at this moment of history.

Of course, in the face of the harsh realities of this world, we cannot begin with hope alone. To do so is to risk venturing away from reality into a realm of fantasy - a realm in which no one benefits and injustices are perpetuated. Our journey begins with truth telling in the face of ideology. The truth is that there is a long history of injustice in the region. Palestinian people were displaced in the initial formation of the modern state of Israel. The injustice of what occurred in the founding of Israel cannot be fully understood without telling the truth of the Holocaust. The attempted genocide of all Jewish people is a harsh reality of the history of the 20th century. No amount of avoidance or escapism can erase the truth of what happened. Like many other intense traumas, telling the story is immensely difficult. The reality caused so much pain and suffering that generations have been traumatized just by the recounting of the truths of what happened. Truth, however, is the only answer to fascist ideology. Telling that truth, however, does not erase the truth of the suffering of the Palestinian people. They have been forced to accept the reality of Israel through generations of refugee living. Their yearning for a nation of their own and full access to sacred sites have sometimes blossomed into realistic proposals for a two nation solution in Israel, but their cries for justice have not been fully supported by the international community and there are harsh ideologies in Israel who wish to deny their right to exist. To their ideology, truth must be told. These are not mere political positions or ideological rhetoric. These are human beings with hopes and aspirations of their own.

There is, of course more truth that must be told in the face of the recent attacks. Missiles hurled at civilians create victims of innocents. Attacks against unarmed noncombatants create intense suffering. The taking of hostages is a terror tactic, not a military maneuver. Torture and execution cannot bring justice. Violence is not the solution. Violence begets violence. And Israel is one of the best armed countries in the world. The violence that Hamas has brought upon Israel will be answered with greater force and greater violence. The suffering will only increase.

As the truth is told, there is a natural tendency to denial. People of faith bring grief to denial. Perhaps it is the grief that we are feeling most intensely at the moment. We are grieving the loss of a vision of two states living peacefully side by side. We are grieving the loss of peace. We are grieving the senseless loss of life. We are grieving the refusal of either side to take the moral high ground. We are grieving the loss of safety for family and friends who travel to Israel. We are grieving the destruction not only of property and of human lives, but also of possibilities for peace. We are grieving the kind of trauma that produces generations of suffering. There is much to grieve.

When we have found the courage to tell the truth and the faith to walk the journey of grief, we are called to genuine hope in the face of the despair of the world. I might more accurately say that we will be called to hope, for it seems that we are not yet ready for hope and false hope is no hope at all.

And so I pray, not finding the right words for my prayers. And I know, having learned from many other experiences of times when no words for my prayers have come that when this is the case, it is critical to be reminded that I am not the only one praying.

God of justice, God of shalom, God of hope,
We cry to you from the depths,
The clash of ideologies has resulted in a reign of terror,
The pain of generations is producing even more pain for future generations
The injustices of the past have burst forth in unimaginable violence.
We pray for peace.

The peace for which we pray is the peace that passes all understanding.
For we do not understand how peace can come in a world of such injustice.
We do not understand how peace can come when so many innocents are slaughtered.
We do not understand how peace can come in the face of generational trauma.
The only peace for which we can pray is the peace that passes all understanding.

We know this hurting world cannot wait until we are able to understand.
So we pray for peace. Peace for Israel. Peace for Palestine.
Peace for every individual whose lives have become swept up in war.

Peace that ends violence.
Peace that removes the hunger for retaliation and revenge.
Peace that emerges in the face of deep suffering and unimaginable grief.
Peace that passes all understanding.

God grant peace to this world.
God grant peace to the parents grieving the loss of children.
God grant peace to the devastated widows.
God grant peace to the irrationally angry.
God grant peace to the lost and lonely.
God grand peace that passes all understanding.

Long ago our people prayed for a messiah
Your answer was a baby in a manger
Your answer came in the midst of the messiness of human life.

Once again we pray for a savior, knowing that our prayers have already been granted.
Give us eyes to see the prince of peace in the midst of our broken world.
In your many names we pray, Amen.

Advance directives

Over the course of my career I had many opportunities to talk with people about end of life care. Sometimes those conversations centered around real world decisions that people faced. A family member was incapacitated and medical decisions needed to be made. I’ve sat in hospital conference rooms with doctors and family members as they discussed options and made plans. I’ve also had many opportunities to speak with people about their wishes in less crisis-oriented settings. Several times our church sponsored discussion sessions. We have, on occasion, provided various forms for creating advance directives that people could use to make their wishes known to family members.

Throughout the process, I have been careful not to give medical or legal advice. I am not qualified to give either. What I have done is to listen as carefully as possible to what people have said about their values and concerns. I have also invited palliative care doctors and attorneys to speak to groups in the church as they considered their options.

Through the process I have come to have a bit of skepticism about the various forms of advance directives that are prepared. The problem with advance directives is that they cannot imagine all possible scenarios. A Living Will seeks to address circumstances in which a person is terminally ill and unable to express their wishes, for example a person in a state of unconsciousness from which they are not expected to wake. Even in those circumstances, there are medical decisions that need to be made. Some forms of treatment can slow the process of dying and extend life without restoring consciousness. Many people have expressed a fear of being in an ongoing coma without hope of recovery. They would prefer, in such circumstances, not to have life-extending treatments such as cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, a ventilator, or IV feeding. In practical application, it is less common for there to be such a clear cut sense of what the future holds. A person may be temporarily unconscious but no one knows whether or not that condition will become permanent. A health crisis can occur unexpectedly and a person can go from being awake and alert to unresponsive in a matter of seconds. Sometimes the way things have been imagined when drawing up a living will are not the way things unfold.

In addition to or instead of a living will, some people prefer to have a POLST document. POLST stands for Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. POLST forms have a set of specific medical orders. POLST forms are filled out with a health care provider who signs the form as acknowledgement of the conversations held in preparing the form and understanding of the wishes of the patient. POLST forms are often created after diagnosis of a serious illness.

From my perspective, one of the most helpful advance directives is a durable power of attorney for health care decisions. Instead of stating what should happen in the event of incapacitation, it addresses the question of who should be in charge of decision-making. The durable power of attorney assumes that an individual will have conversations with family members in advance and make their general wishes known then trust that person or persons to make decisions in context when the situation arises. I am quite sure that I am not able to imagine all of the possible scenarios for the end of my life. I don’t know when it will come or what the circumstances might be. I do, however, know people I can trust to make decisions in context with love and care. I choose to have those difficult conversations with my family and trust them to make decisions. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by loving family members. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Not long ago a friend of mine, whom I have known since high school and who has retired from a career in nursing, posted a kind of advance directive on social media. It was not a legal document, but rather a sort of manifesto expressing his wishes. For this person, suppression of pain was a priority. He did not want life-extending treatment once his condition was determined to be terminal. He did, however, want maximum pain medication. He had no fear of being rendered unconscious by the medication. The statement was clear and easy to understand. I know, however, that he knows that posting such a statement on social media doesn’t establish a clear directive for medical providers. I hope that his loved ones have had conversations with him and are aware of his feelings.

I would not want a similar statement as a part of my personal advance directives. Having had an adverse reaction to pain medication in the past, I would prefer not to be rendered irrational or incapable of relationship with loved ones. My sense is that death is a singular experience. If possible, I’d like to be awake for it as much as possible. I have a fairly high tolerance of pain and it seems like enduring a bit of pain for the sake of a few more minutes of conversation with loved ones would be a good trade off. But I am not in chronic pain and I am imagining what it might be like. In the midst of a medical reality, I might change my mind.

I have been positively impressed by a set of physician orders for palliative care called Comfort Care Orders. My mother chose that course near the end of her life when she chose not to have a life-prolonging surgical procedure that was likely to leave her on a ventilator for the remainder of her life. The hospital setting where she died was very supportive of her and of us as family members who sat with her in the final stages of her life.

In the next few months, we will be reviewing our wills and advance directives as a bit of on-going updating and conversation with family members will be an important part of the process. I realize that I am now older than those giving me legal advice and providing medical treatment. My perspective is different than it was before Susan and I faced a very serious medical crisis. In our case we have been given full recovery and the opportunity to talk about what might happen in the future. It is a gift that not every family is given. I hope we can be responsible with that gift and choose wisely as we prepare advance directives that hold the possibility of easing the decision-making process when the time comes.

Dying, however, involves releasing control. I know that I will not be in charge of all of the decisions and giving orders to the end of my life. Realizing that I am surrounded by people I trust is important to me. Investing in and caring for those trusting relationships seems to me to be the most important bit of advance planning.

Fortunate to have good health

Since I have retired, I have had one relatively major health incident. I experienced atrial flutter and had to have a heart cauterization and ablation. The procedure was performed two weeks to the day that the flutter began and I have had no further complications from that procedure. Other than that, I did have a minor Achilles tendon injury that took a few weeks of physical therapy and have had a couple of colds. In general I have been blessed with very good health. We retired during the Covid-19 lock downs. We have taken a few trips by car and we’ve taken two trips by airline since Covid was a factor. So far we’ve avoided Covid. We have been inoculated with vaccines each time it is recommended and we have been careful to wear face masks when we are in close proximity with others. However, we have plenty of friends who have also kept up with their vaccines and have been careful and nonetheless have caught Covid, so I know that part of what has occurred for us is a simple matter of statistics. We’ve been lucky.

I have generally enjoyed good health and have benefitted from several different vaccines. The annual flu shots have helped me avoid serious bouts of that disease and generally when I get a cold, I am not laid up very much. Still, I think that I have not had as many colds since I retired. Although I did work half time for two years since retiring, my work life has not been as stressful as working full time as the senior pastor of a congregation. I think I’ve done a good job of managing stress in my life, and I have avoided some of the stressors that have been challenges for others. Again, I’ve been lucky.

Having children in school certainly means that a family comes into contact with more germs and viruses. Our children’s families have experienced more colds than we have. Several members of our son’s family have had strep throat in the past week and one of his children had scarlet fever. Modern antibiotics are a blessing, especially to those who don’t need to take them very often and the family is on the mend. Everyone in our daughter’s family has suffered from a cold. They suspect that the cold came home from school with their son, but it soon caused her husband to be uncomfortable around the time we arrived. We thought that she might avoid it, but yesterday she had all of the symptoms. And their son seems to have a few cold symptoms as well.

So far, however, we have avoided feeling bad. The family is very comfortable. Our daughter aired out the house and washed bedding and they are being very careful with keeping surfaces clean and keeping their distance from us. Still, I know that it is easy to catch a cold, especially if your immune system is suppressed. I believe that one of the reasons I haven’t gotten sick is that I have so little stress in my life right now.

Essentially, I’ve been on vacation since the first of August and it is now October. We’ll be heading back home at the end of this week and I have some chores that need my attention. It is time to harvest honey and get my beehives ready for winter. I want to build a few raised beds in our back yard. We have an old hot tub that came with our home when we purchased it that needs to be removed from our back yard. Just figuring out how to do that will be a challenge, but there is no deadline, so I’m not loosing sleep over that project. I’ve got plenty of hobby projects waiting. I’m ready to mate the deck with the hull on a kayak I’m building and that phase of construction is a lot of fun. It will look like a boat soon. I have a couple of chairs that need to be re-glued, refinished, and get new cane woven. I enjoy that kind of work when I can do it at my own pace. And, if I get bored, there are always boxes that need to be sorted, household items that need to be given new homes, and photos to organize. I won’t be getting bored anytime soon.

The important thing, however, is that outside of the reality of my own mortality, I don’t have any deadlines looming. Some projects are more time sensitive than others, but I don’t have any deadlines on my calendar. I’ve agreed to a couple of volunteer jobs at church. I’m ringing in the bell choir and I’ll sing with the vocal choir. I’ve also agreed to serve as the church librarian and that includes working with a local independent bookstore for a book sale during Advent. We arranged the book sale the last two years as part of our job at the church, so we pretty much know what is needed to make it all work out. It should be fun.

So, for now, we are feeling heathy and very fortunate. As various viruses and infections seem to be going around, we are grateful that our health has remained good. We need to avoid the cold for another week. Traveling when you don’t feel good is no fun at all. And we’ll mask for the airline trips that will deliver us back to Washington next week. Other than that, the basics that we learned as kids and had reinforced during the pandemic are in play. Keep our distance. Cover coughs and sneezes. Wear masks when in close company. Wash our hands carefully. Clean surfaces frequently. Get plenty of sleep. Those practices will have to suffice, but staying healthy also involves a good deal of good fortune. I know that we aren’t magic and we aren’t immune to colds. However, feeling little stress in our lives seems to give us an advantage and we’re willing to take all of the advantages we can get.

It gives us more energy to pray for health and healing for those who need prayers.

So many Baptist churches


Somewhere I once heard that the average small town in Montana had the same number of bars as churches. If that was the case, I think our small town might have fallen short in the bar department. We have the Grand, which was the hangout for cattle ranchers and cattle buyers. The Court was the hangout of sheep ranchers and wool buyers. The Timber was . . . You can guess who hung out around there. There were a few other places that served alcohol. Fries Cafe had a bar, the Legion Club had a bar, the Moose Lodge had a bar. There were probably a few others. But when it came to churches we had Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Congregational, Brethren, Church of God, and quite a few others.

Then, when our children were in high school, we observed another measure of community life. When we went to Seattle on vacation one time we decided that Seattle must have some kind of a city ordinance that required each Starbucks to be built within sight of another Starbucks coffee shop. I don’t think there are quite as many espresso shops in Seattle these days, but there are still a lot. And all of the towns in the area have multiple espresso shops. In addition to the ones that have seating areas, there are countless kiosks that sell beverages through drive-up windows. In Blaine we have one that is shaped like a tugboat on dry land. A chain that is prominent in our area has shops that are constructed as hexagons with cupolas at the top of their high roofs.

Visiting the South, we have found another measure of culture around here and it isn’t the existence of Waffle House restaurants, which are definitely a sign of southern living. There is no such establishment anywhere up north. We are wondering, as we travel around the area whether there is a requirement that there be the same number of Dollar General stores as there are Baptist Churches.

I’m not including Methodist, Lutheran, AME, Episcopal, and Catholic Churches in my count, although those are pretty abundant around here as well. But this is definitely an area where there are a lot of Baptist Churches. From their names, I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of different brands of Baptists around here, but they all are pretty bold at including Baptist on their signs.

Some of the Baptist churches have their address as part of their name like Alice Drive Baptist Church and Wise Drive Baptist Church. There are several that claim to be first, like First Baptist Church and First Missionary Baptist Church. New Baptist churches seem to be popular, including New Baptist Church, New Fellowship Baptist Church, New Calvary Baptist Church, and New Salem Baptist Church. There is a Salem Baptist Church, but we didn’t find an Old Fellowship or Old Calvary Baptist Church. Mount Zion Baptist Church does not appear to be on a Mountain or even a hill for that matter. There are Northside and an Eastside churches, but we haven’t found a Westside church. There is a New Southern Baptist Church, however. I don’t know if it is a new South, a new Baptist, or a new church. A few are temples rather than churches.

Google “Sumpter SC Baptist Churches and you’ll get six pages of listings with plenty of entertaining names for churches.

OK, I’m pretty sure that Dollar General stores aren’t quite as prolific as Baptist churches in this region. Nonetheless, there are a lot of Dollar General stores around here. There are two of them right across the street from two different entrances to Shaw Air Force Base, and at least another three within a couple of miles. Go into the village of Sumpter, and you’ll see a lot more on the way and quite a few in the town.

Dollar General seems to be the most popular brand of Dollar Stores around here, but they aren’t the only ones. There are Family Dollar and Dollar Tree. I haven’t gone into any of the dollar stores around here, but I suspect that their inventory and prices are very similar to the many dollar stores around communities in Washington. Having shopped in a couple of them near our home I keep wondering how long they can keep their name now that they have so many items that cost more than a dollar. “Buck and a Half Stores” doesn’t have the same ring and there are plenty of things that cost $3 of $5 as well. Maybe they will go the way of dime stores. You don’t see any more dime stores these days and you have to be talking with someone my age or older to find anyone who even remembers dime stores. And the store in our town was a 5 and dime store. They had a few things that could be purchased for a nickel. Montana, where I grew up doesn’t hav sales tax, so the price of an item is the actual amount needed to take it home. I can remember when a nickel would buy 5 pieces of bubble gum. But that is just an expression of my age.

Another piece of southern culture is that I have to remember to say Washington State when answering the question, “Where are you from?” Most clerks in all stores ask me that question. I guess my southern accent isn’t convincing to natives. At any rate, when i just answer, “Washington,” they usually say, “Oh! Big city!” Since I am not from a big city, it took me a minute to realize that around here Washington means Washington DC. Our state is so far away that they don’t meet folks from there very often. And since we do have one big city in Washington, I originally thought that they might think I was from Seattle and I’d say, we live north of there, which confused them even more.

I live as far northwest of here as you can go in the lower 48 states. To get any farther northwest in the US, you have to drive through Canada. And if you did, you would go by a lot of Dollar General Stores, but you’d also notice that Baptist churches become fewer and farther apart as you traveled.

The neighbor's pigs

When I was about the age that our oldest grandson is now, we took a family trip that included a visit to the farm of my father’s brother in northern Colorado. The place was a fairly small scale hog operation. I was fascinated by the system of pens that were spaces delineated by a single electric wire. Once the pigs got used to the electric fencing, the power to the wire could be turned off because the pigs would not touch or cross the wire. My uncle claimed that once the pigs were trained he could maintain pens with string in place of the wire, but I don’t remember actually seeing any pens fashioned out of string. Another feature of the farm was that he rotated the pigs from area to area so that he could keep the pens clean. Manure was removed from the pens with a tractor. I don’t remember how he disposed of the manure. I was a kid and I didn’t pay attention to all of the details of the operation. And it has been a long time since that trip and my memory is not completely accurate.

I grew up around a lot of farm and ranch operations. My father provided agricultural air services and later added farm machinery sales to his business. We often visited farms and ranches as part of his business. We had friends who lived on ranches and spent time visiting them. Most of the operations in our area, however, were beef cattle ranches. I did have one friend who lived on a dairy farm and my father provided milking machines and cream separators for that farm. My uncle’s pig operation was something unique in my experience.

I remember at the time knowing that hog farming had a different odor than cattle ranching. Even a cattle feedlot smelled different from the pig farm. I was thinking about that last evening because one of the neighbors of our daughter has a few pigs in their back yard and in the 80-degree evening temperatures, the odor was distinctly porcine. The odor has been a point of some neighborhood contention in the past and I don’t know all of the dynamics, but I suspect that a family home on a half acre lot surrounded by a six food wooden privacy fence provides a space that is a bit too small for the number of pigs they keep. I don’t know how many that is, but from the sounds coming from the yard there are at least several. They don’t have a tractor, so I suspect that they don’t have a system for handling manure. I don’t know how the pig areas are maintained.

What I do know is that the pigs lie next to the fence, which has several boards that are rotting at the bottom. I’ve fashioned some fencing modifications on our daughter’s side of the fence to keep the pigs from rooting under the fence. They’ve managed to make a few holes that required action to keep the pigs contained in the neighbor’s yard and the neighbor doesn’t seem eager to take responsibility. The situation got me to thinking about my uncle’s electric fencing in his operation. Obviously, I don’t think investing in an electric fence is a good idea for our daughter, but it does seem that the neighbor will need to step up their game sometime in the future to keep their animals in their designated area.

There is a 400 pound pig living temporarily in an animal shelter in Aurora, Colorado. The animal, named Fred by the staff of the shelter is an unusual resident in the facility that usually houses only cats and dogs. Staff had to purchase straw and other supplies to keep the animal comfortable as they seek a farm to become a home for it. Fred was discovered wandering the streets of the community. Several homeowners complained of damage to their landscaping by the animal that roamed freely for several days. Fred was finally captured in a bit of grass near a strip mall. It took eight people five hours to corral the pig and transport him to the shelter. Fred is not a typical pot-bellied pig often kept as a pet. No one knows where he came from, but he’s been growing somewhere for some time to have reached his size. I wonder if he started life in a small backyard operation similar to that of our daughter’s neighbors. I can imagine them having a pig get out of their fence and wandering out of control for some time without the owners responding. On the other hand, if there was a pig roaming this neighborhood all of the other neighbors would point to the house with the pigs in the back yard as the probable source.

I’m thinking that there are a few kinds of animals that are not well suited to being kept as pets. My ideas, however, are not shared by everyone. Pet stores still sell ferrets, for example. I’m not sure why anyone would want a pet that is a species that has been known to fiercely attack humans and cause injury. I guess they are interesting to observe, but I think they are best suited to life in the wild rather than captivity. Buffalo and cattle require a lot of space and aren’t really suited to back yard locations. Pigs, in my opinion, are better suited to acreages much larger than a suburban back yard.

I don’t know whether the pigs across the fence are being raised as pets or as a food source for a family. I haven’t witnessed anyone caring for them. It’s hard to see what is happening on the other side of the privacy fence. Someone must be feeding them and they are likely growing. Perhaps, like Fred the Colorado pig, they have become much larger than they were when first adopted. It is possible that the neighbors are aware that they have a problem and simply haven’t discovered a solution. They may be like that animal shelter in Colorado. Finding a home for an adult pig is not an easy adventure and it takes a group of people and a lot of time to capture and transport the animals.

This adventure, I suspect, will have more chapters in the months to come.

Boys and bikes

I’ve always had friends who are sharing some of the same life adventures as I. When I was a father of very young children, I swapped stories with other fathers with similar-aged children. When our children were young adults, I enjoyed talking with other fathers of young adult children. I learned how to be a grandpa from my father and my father in law to be sure. I’ve had good role models in my life. But I also have relied heavily upon friends who are grandfathers of children who are slightly older than my own grandchildren. Before our first grandson was walking, I was hearing stories of Strider brand pedal less bikes. The bikes were invented by a person in our town, Rapid City, South Dakota, and a friend who also is a grandpa had bought one for his granddaughter who took to it immediately and quickly learned to ride it. I was fascinated in part because although I enjoyed teaching our children how to ride their bicycles, the process took longer than I had thought it might.

As soon as our grandson was old enough, we purchased a Strider bike for him. He quickly mastered it and really enjoyed it. We bought him a pedal bike for his fourth birthday and he learned to ride it without training wheels within the first half hour that he had it. I had to get my bicycle to keep up with him the first day. It was very different from the days and weeks of following our children around on their bikes when they were learning. I was sold. There have been Strider bikes in the lives of all of our grandchildren except the youngest, who is just learning to walk. He’ll have access to a Strider soon.

Our four-year-old is on his second strider. The original 12 inch bike gave way to a 14 inch bike that has an add-on pedal kit. After he made the transition to the 14 inch bike without pedals, his father installed the pedal kit and he was off and riding the pedal bike.

One of the routines of visiting him this trip has been an evening walk around their neighborhood. Well, we walk. He rides his bike, turning in circles and doubling back to us because he goes so much faster than we are walking. There is a half mile loop in the neighborhood that we walk around three or four times. On the loop is a three-year-old friend of our grandson who comes out with his pedal less Strider and joins us. His mother and our daughter walk and talk while all of the adults keep our eyes on the boys zooming around on their bikes. There isn’t much traffic and the boys are good at going to the edge of the road whenever a car is coming down the street.

Watching the three-year-old on his bike reminded me of another thing about kids and Strider bikes that I had forgotten. The bikes that don’t have pedals don’t have brakes, so the kids learn to drag their feet. Once they get the hang of riding fast, the toes of their shoes become worn through rather quickly. I’ve been told that there is a similar problem with children who ride skateboards and scooters. The three-year-old on his Strider has worn holes in his shoes in just a few weeks. The rapid destruction of footwear has been a topic of conversation among the adults as we walk around the neighborhood following the boys on their bikes. Our grandson’s bike with the pedals has coaster brakes and has learned not to drag his feet to slow and stop any more. His shoes seem to be lasting a lot longer than those of his friend who rides without pedals.

Being a regular customer of Strider bikes, I’m on their email list, so I was interested to receive an email in which Strider bike founder, Ryan McFarland, announced a partnership with a shoe company to promote special shoes designed to take the tough wear of children who use their feet as brakes. Ryan is a very practical guy. He invented the pedal less bikes when his son Bode was 2 years old. He just wanted to share his love of riding bikes with his son and the result was a company that has become his life’s work.

At first it appeared that the special shoes, manufactured by the partner company, Keen, were on the market at about half the price of a Strider bike. However, after talking with the parents of the three-year-old a little internet searching revealed a supplier that is selling the shoes at a less expensive price. If they last twice as long as regular shoes they will be a good investment for parents. There is a pair on its way to the family of the three-year-old and I’m excited to see what the results are. No one who loves children and witnesses the joy with which the boys ride their bikes every day would want to try to stop them from having that fun, even if it means that shoes are quickly worn out. Having a special shoe that is designed for the heavy wear of a strider bike rider might be a good investment. Because McFarland’s idea has proven to be so successful with our grandchildren, and we’ve felt good about all four of the Strider bikes we’ve bought so far, I am inclined to trust him with other matters and his endorsement of a shoe seems worth a closer look. In this case, I’m not fronting the funds for the experiment, but I’m very interested in seeing the shoes and observing how they work.

I don’t know the grandparents of the three-year-old, only his mom and dad, but I’m confident that the grandparents are also interested in the shoes. If they last for six months, the boy will be ready for a bike with pedals and the shoes will have been an enormous success.

In the meantime, I’m getting a lot of entertainment from following the bike riders around the neighborhood.

Fat Bear Week

One of the challenges of my adult life has been my tendency to put on too much weight. Although I have a fairly active lifestyle, I have never been one to go to a gym to work out. I prefer either physical labor such as gathering and splitting firewood, or outdoor sports such as biking or paddling. Since late fall in 2019, however, my wife and i have been faithful to walk nearly every day, which is a good regular exercise for us in our 70s. Being overweight, however, stems more from a lifetime of poor eating habits and decisions. I have a bit of a sweet tooth and I am prone to snacking. I have, however, been learning to be more mindful of my food choices and more careful with my eating. At present, I weight a little over 50 pounds less than I did at the heaviest point of my life. I’m not quite to my target weight, but I am avoiding dieting and trying to make lifestyle decisions that fit the other things going on in my life.

I’ve sometimes been called a teddy bear, which seems to fit because my name is Ted and I’m shaped a bit like some teddy bears. The other nickname that I used to hear when I was working as a sheriff’s chaplain and regularly visiting in the jail is “Santa Claus.” Some of the inmates called me Santa, which also fit because I have thinning white hair and a white beard and, once again, my figure is slightly porcine. No one, however, has labeled me a brown bear.

Brown bears go through enormous variations in weight. Because of their long hibernations in northern climates, they consume all of their calories in just six months of the year. They emerge from hibernation as lean creatures and try to pack on as many calories as possible in the short summer season. The biggest brown bears put on 200 to 300 pounds during the summer and can weight up to 1,600 pounds when they go into hibernation, dropping more than 200 pounds during their winter sleep. Observers have recorded a single bear consuming 42 salmon in just 5 hours. That is roughly 189,000 calories - a lot more than my personal goal of 1,900 to 2,100 calories. Then again, I’m not a brown bear. I’ve never had the penchant for hibernation. In fact my poor sleep habits may be a contributor to my tendency to be overweight.

It is officially Fat Bear Week. From October 4 through October 10 people around the world will tune into the livestream cameras at Katmai, Alaska and vote for their favorite brown bear. The first Fat Bear Week in 2014 attracted a couple of thousand votes, but roughly 10 million people tuned into the livestreams in 2022.

You can watch the bears feeding by tuning into explore.org during daylight hours in Alaska. The days are still pretty long in Alaska, but growing shorter each day now that the equinox has passed. The current favorites are bear 480, known as Otis and bear 747, known as Colbert. Personally, I am less interested in the huge males like 480 and 747. I like to watch the females. Bear 435, known as Holly, raises cubs most years and has to put on enough calories to provide milk for her cubs and expend energy to protect them. She was the winner back in 2019. She can sometimes be seen catching fish with one or more cubs and sharing the food with them. She also teaches the young ones how to catch salmon. Her color is much lighter than other bears, which makes her easy to spot on the live camera.

Another bear to watch is known as 806 Jr, the bear named the 2023 Fat Bear Junior Champion. He weighed less than a pound when he was born less than a year ago and now is up to 70 pounds and growing quickly. He is a bit clumsy as a fish catcher, but he is learning fast and growing fast. In terms of percentage, he has far outpaced the largest of the bears. Of course that rapid growth is part of normal development for a first year cub. I suspect he’ll be a contender in another year or two. Brown bears can live into their 30s, so he has time to grow into the role of champion.

It is all in fun and watching the bears on the Internet is, I am sure, much less exciting than watching them in person. I’d love to have that opportunity some day, but in the meantime, I enjoy checking out Fat Bear Week each year.

Maybe reading about the up and down weight fluctuations of the bears gives me some solace in my own tendency to go up and down in my weight. I realize, however, that binge eating followed by fasting isn’t a healthy lifestyle choice for me. I’m much more interested in teaching myself and learning from others about how to develop healthy eating habits that help me maintain a healthy weight while still allowing me to go out for ice cream with my grandchildren and indulge in an occasional lemon bar. I was good last night, limiting myself to half of a lemon bar. And following my grandson around definitely encourages me to get more exercise. Not only do I get exercise by trying to keep up with him, I also have high motivation to care for my own health so I have energy to play with him at his pace. I am working on my flexibility getting up and down, climbing on play structures, riding bikes, jumping on the trampoline, and swinging “as high as the sky!”

In between all of those activities, I take a few breaks and check out Fat Bear Week. I also dream of one day making the trip to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, visiting Katmai National Park and Preserve, and seeing the Fat Bears from a safe distance. In the meantime, I’ll leave the extremes of weight gain and loss to the bears.

Christmas too soon


The season of Advent and the celebration of Christmas were added to the Christian calendar during Roman times. The early church was facing two problems that the change in the annual schedule of worship sought to address. The first problem was that the influx of new members after Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman empire was so great that the church couldn’t handle all of the new converts in the old tradition of only admitting new members once per year. Before Advent and Christmas were part of the annual calendar, new members engaged in a period of prayer, fasting, and study to learn about the religion and to prepare for membership during the season of Lent. New members were baptized into the faith on Easter morning after those six weeks of preparation. Advent was added as a second six-week period of preparation for the sacrament of baptism on Christmas morning.

The second problem the season sought to address was that the wider culture was deeply influenced by pre-Christian celebrations that centered around the winter solstice. This became a problem for the early church because its members tended to drift away from Christian worship and practice in the weeks leading up to the solstice as they reverted to participation in cultural celebrations based on sun worship. The season of Advent and the celebration of Christmas were ways to bring those celebrations into the church and keep those members actively engaged in Christian practice.

Although the observance of Advent was initially one of study, prayer, and fasting with a large feast day on Christmas, there was an additional feast day during the season to keep those preparing engaged and fed. The feast day, on the third Sunday of Advent was called Gaudete Sunday after the first words of the opening introit for the day, “Rejoice in the Lord Always! Again I say, ‘Rejoice.’” (Philippians 4:4)

Not long into the practice of observing Advent and Christmas the season was shortened for a variety of liturgical and practical reasons to the seasons now observed in most Christian communions today. Advent became a four-week season, retaining the observance of Gaudete Sunday on the third Sunday. It was determined that six weeks of prayer and fasting was a bit extreme to keep the stream of new converts coming. Although the observance of Lent continued to be a six-week period, mirroring the 40 days of Jesus’ fasting int he wilderness, in general the process of joining the church and preparing for baptism was shortened during that season as well.

I don’t know all of the dynamics that were involved in the decision to shorten the season of Advent from six to four weeks, but I was reflecting on that decision yesterday when we made a quick stop at a big box home improvement store to pick up some paint. I had made a modification to our grandson’s backyard play structure to lower the monkey bars so that the drop was more reasonable for a climber of his height. The new rails needed paint and he chose green as the color, so we needed a quart of exterior latex to paint the new wood. We were greeted at the entrance of the store by a large display of Christmas decorations, including many giant, inflatable items to be displayed in yards and on rooftops. There were lots of colored lights and animated figures of Santa Claus, plenty of fake snow. This is South Carolina after all and it was 80 degrees outside. Chances of actual snow are pretty slim.

Yesterday was the third of October. Most of the houses around here have not yet been decorated for Halloween. My reaction to the display included a rant that I’m sure has previously appeared in my journal. “Why are the stores so eager to push Christmas when it is not the season of Christmas?” Those same stores will remove every Christmas decoration on December 26, not even allowing for the traditional observance of Christmas that continues through January 6 in the Christian calendar. They are so eager for Christmas music that they cannot wait during the season of preparation and then they silence it after only one day of actual observance. It doesn’t make sense.

The thoughts of the shortening of the season of Advent came to my mind as I thought that even the early church leaders who were eager to impose strict disciplines on new converts decided that six weeks was too much. If six weeks is too long, surely 12 weeks is double too long. Christmas is actually a dozen weeks away on my calendar. I am of the conviction that twelve weeks of marketing is too much to foist on the public. I had no need of Christmas decorations. I came to the store for a quart of paint for my grandson’s play structure. I was, however, forced to walk through the store’s display and will be forced to walk through store displays for many weeks before I am ready to observe Advent. Even then, the decorations and marketing materials are not focused on the season of preparation, but rather the secular holiday that in some ways the early church sought to suppress through a more religious observance of the season.

Prayer and study and fasting are not parts of the marketing frenzy that the store display is attempting to stir. I didn’t see anything in the store display that brought to mind the themes of Advent preparation, even the mandate to rejoice in the Lord always. The mantra of the display seemed to be “decorate and over decorate ad nauseam.” I’m fairly confident that the store’s choice of songs for the season will not include “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” or “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “You’d Better Watch Out” don’t strike the same mood at all in my opinion.

Increasingly the observance of our faith is what it was in the early days: a countercultural movement. Society goes in one direction, but faithful Christians are called in a different direction. In the midst of marketing mayhem we are called to consider the awe and wonder of God’s deep love for all of humanity, how that love involves sacrifice, and how we are called to love one another as God loves us.

I’ll pass on the aisles of decorations.

Children's culture

My friends sometimes joke that I am culturally deprived because I am not very interested in television and movies. I rarely go to movies and do not subscribe to any of the media services such as Hulu, Netflix, or Disney. I do occasionally watch free videos on YouTube, and I am impressed with the artistry of movies. I have no particular objection to media, but simply have found so much to stir my imagination in books that I tend not to invest my time in watching television and movies.

You can’t, however, live in contemporary society and engage with other people without some awareness of movies and television. Our children are in their forties and grew up with the Star Wars movie franchise as part of the culture of their lives. A fan of the series can name all of the various movies, sequels, and prequels. I watched the first three movies before our children were born and the next three with our son. For one of the movies, we lined up to get tickets and watch the film on the opening weekend. It was, I think the only time I can remember actually watching a movie on the weekend it was released. Usually, I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who have seen movies and tell me I really should see them long before i get around to seeing them. And there are a lot of movies that are a part of popular culture that I simply have not watched.

But I was among the viewers who was in the theatre last Friday for the release of The Mighty Movie. Our grandson attends preschool in the mornings, but we were in the theatre for the 4 pm matinee of the movie on opening day.

Anyone who cares about and listens to children in Canada or the USA, and probably a lot of other countries, has to know a bit about Paw Patrol. The computer animated television series that originated in Canada and was picked up by the Nickelodeon Network in the US, is a series of stories about the adventures of a troop of extremely well-equipped dogs who perform rescues. Preschoolers can name all of the dogs and tell what kind of rescuer each is. I’m pretty sure that I’ll forget several if I try to list the characters, but here are a few of the main ones.

Ryder is a boy who is about 10 years old, but who can handle all kinds of technologies. He has a very fast ATV that can somehow transform into a snowmobile or a jet ski as needed. He directs the various dogs who can all talk and engage in heroic rescues.

Chase is a police dog who has a very high tech police car. Marshall is a fire dog with a super fire truck. Skye is a pilot with a jet that sometimes is also a helicopter. Rocky has the world’s fastest recycling truck. Rubble drives a bulldozer that transforms into a crane with a wrecking ball and an excavator with a jackhammer as needed. Zuma has a hovercraft with goes really well on land as well as water and snow.

There is a host of other human and canine characters that make appearances in the television shows and movies including a troop of cats that sometimes assist with rescues. Like many other imagination stories, the group of pups and their human child seem to have unlimited funding and their technology seems to always work. Each dog has a special backpack with tools of their profession. Marshall’s pack has a water cannon to put out fires. Other dogs have different tools. The dogs also have custom dog houses. Their joint headquarters is a tower in the middle of their city, but they also have a high tech boat that can carry all of their vehicles and dock at the edge of the city.

The television series and movies have produced millions of dollars worth of merchandising. Children’s clothing, backpacks, and toys are available in all kinds of different sizes and scales. Our grandson has all kinds of Paw Patrol toys in several different scales. There are pups, vehicles, and accessories. He even has a shower curtain that features the patrol.

Our daughter volunteers at an on-base thrift shop called Airman’s Attic that receives donations and offers merchandise to members of the Air Force without charge. It provides a way for service members to get rid of excess clothing and merchandise when they are transferred from base to base. They also can obtain everything from uniforms to sports equipment from the attic without charge. The shop is staffed by volunteers who sort and display merchandise so that it is available for airmen and their families to come and shop. As a result of her volunteering and the exchange system, there is a continual stream of toys that come into and go out of the playroom at their house. Our grandson doesn’t want for toys. Sometimes it is a challenge for his grandparents to purchase gifts because many of the things we see on display in stores or online merchants have already made it into their home.

Knowing the rough outline of the stories of Paw Patrol has served me not only in my relationship with my grandson, but also in conversations with children at church and in other settings. Imagination play is part of the development of children. Our four-year-old grandson says he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up. Sometimes he will say he wants to be a police officer. He may or may not end up in one of those jobs. Imagining himself in the role, however, helps him to become familiar with the professions and some of the equipment they use. That information could help him be less fearful and more cooperative with first responders if there should be an emergency in which he is involved. He knows that real firefighters and law enforcement officers are not talking dogs. Still he is impressed with their high tech vehicles and knows that they are dedicated to helping people.

I may be culturally deprived, but I know quite a bit about Paw Patrol. I’m also fairly fluent in Mario Kart and Spiderman, and can discuss Pokémon when the topic arises. I may not be much for movies, but I’m a big fan of children and am willing to learn what is required to have conversations with them.

Complex schedules

During my years as a Sheriff’s Chaplain I taught several classes in stress management for law enforcement officers. I was also frequently asked to address the families of newly-sworn officers about how having an officer in the family affected their family life. One might think that the biggest sources of stress for officers might be the danger inherent in the profession. I did often try to put that into perspective for family members, who often imagined that law enforcement was a particularly dangerous occupation. I would remind them that there are many career choices that carry with them higher risk of on the job injury and death, among them commercial fishing, roofing, and logging. Statistically, law enforcement is a relatively safe career choice. In our work with officers we discovered that one of the greatest sources of stress for officers was the different shifts that officers are required to serve. Law enforcement is a 24 hour a day, seven days a week profession. That means that all shifts have to be covered during the night, on holidays, and on weekends. Officers have to be alert and on the job when others are at home with their families. They also have to learn to work at night and sleep in the day. Even in a relatively large law enforcement agency such as the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, covering all of the shifts means that some officers have to switch from one shift to another, working days sometimes and nights at other times.

During my time, the Sheriff experimented with different staffing configurations, including having officers work four ten-hour shifts a week instead of five eight hour shifts. Sometimes we had different officers working different lengths of shifts. It made scheduling a real challenge. In addition, rank and length of service gave officers a bit of flexibility when it came to choice of shifts. Often the officers who were newest were working the least desired shifts.

It is a challenge that is not unique to law enforcement. Hospitals need to provide care 24/7. Fire departments and ambulance services need to be ready to respond regardless of what time it is. And the job of defending our nation from attack requires constant vigilance. Law enforcement operates as a paramilitary organization, adopting many policies and principles from the military. Since the various branches of the United States military have larger crews than law enforcement, more studies have been conducted about various staffing configurations and scheduling schemes in the military than in other organizations. Our Sheriff tried to learn from those many studies and adopted some practices from the military. However it was never as simple as simply copying schedules or adopting policies directly. Among other factors is that law enforcement agencies have to operate within limited budgets and overtime pay can be very expensive.

A certain amount of overtime was inevitable during my time at the Sheriff’s office. Officers might be called to respond at the end of a shift and a call could require them to continue working beyond the normal quitting time. Sometimes the paperwork associated with a specific action had to be done before the end of a shift regardless of how long that took. Seeking to minimize those challenges, shift changes were timed to correspond to levels of activity in the community. Experience taught that certain types of calls came in at certain times of day and shift changes were adjusted to be at what were commonly slack times in the flow of activity. To make scheduling more complex, a certain amount of overlap is required as a new shift needs to be briefed before going out into the field.

In my time our office did not regular schedule 12 hour workdays, so the families in my care as chaplain usually had time for family even if a second wage earner in the family was working full time. We had several families who had two officers in the same family. Even if they were working different shifts, something that some chose to limit childcare requirements, they had time when both were off duty and awake at the same time.

I have been thinking about shifts and scheduling as our son-in-law who often takes vacation time when we visit, returned to work last night after being off for the first few days of our visit. He is currently working 12 hour night shifts. It appears that in his particular area the work is covered by two shifts per day instead of three. There is still a challenge for schedulers as they are covering seven days a week. I don’t fully understand the entire schedule, but I know that it involves some times when there are three days off in a row and other times when there are four days off. Of course, in the event of a national crisis, military personnel have to defer days off and work more continuously, but the schedule is not currently based on that situation.

12 hours of work and eight hours of sleep leaves four hours a day for awake time with the family. However that four hours is more realistically three hours as it takes time to prepare for work and wind down after a shift. With a preschool attending school in the mornings and dad no night shifts that means that family time generally falls into the late afternoon. It also means that mealtimes don’t always align. Our daughter and her husband have many years of experience with military schedules and have learned to cope well with the challenges. Blackout curtains and a temperate climate that allows a lot of out of doors play for the preschooler help. Still, I know it is a challenge for the family to get the amount of time together they need. I also know that our visit poses additional challenges as we are around for family time and the couple might get less time alone together. On the other hand, we can care for their son to give them time that they would not otherwise have if we were not part of the team.

Their grace and flexibility makes everything work smoothly despite the challenges. Those qualities are not something that can be taught in a stress management workshop. I’ve learned a lot from observing their family that I did not know when I was teaching those classes, however. I suspect that those who make scheduling decisions continue to learn about what works best for families and what creates lower stress which in turn leads to better job performance. I’m certainly no expert, but I think our society still has much to learn about how to help families handle the constant juggling act of work, leisure, sleep and family time.

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