The Year is Complete

2023 has now ended. There will be no further entries in my journal for this year. If you would like to follow my journal in 2024, follow this link to the new page for the new year.

Presentation of the Holy Child

PLEASE NOTE: This is my last entry in my 2023 Journal. Tomorrow's post will appear in a new page on my website. Here is a link to that page. You might want to bookmark it for future reference.

One thing about having lived my life inside the church is that I’ve seen the days of Christmas land on every day of the week. When Christmas Eve lands on a Sunday, Epiphany will be on a Saturday. Epiphany is always January 6, after 12 days of Christmas. The first Sunday after Epiphany, which this year is January 7, is observed as the Baptism of Jesus. The flow is confusing for many because most congregations want to have some kind of Epiphany observance on a Sunday. In the congregation where we are now active, the focus of worship on January 7 will be on Epiphany. This congregation has a tradition of “Star Words” which is something that is new to us, but is an important part of the congregation’s observances of Epiphany. From my point of view, star words are a blending of a recognition of Epiphany with the star that the magi followed to find their way to Bethlehem and New Years Day. My sense of the tradition is that New Year’s Day in the Christian Calendar is the First Sunday of Advent rather than the secular holiday on January 1, but the church exists in the midst of secular culture and our society definitely celebrates New Years at midnight as the clock turns from December 31 to January 1.

So regardless of the cycle of readings and the flow of worship in the church, most church members think of today as New Year’s Eve and think of the day in terms of the Rose Bowl Parade in the morning and New Year’s Eve in Times Square in the evening. As a lifelong morning person it has long suited me to celebrate New Year’s Eve on Eastern Standard Time, so I generally don’t stay up late on the holiday. I’m not much for New Year’s Eve parties, and generally go to bed at the same time as other days. Having moved from the Mountain Time Zone to the Pacific Time Zone makes that easy for me. When it is midnight in New York City, it is 9 pm where I live - a good time for me to begin thinking about heading for bed.

Over the years, however, I have learned to make at least some nod to the secular holiday of New Years in the midst of Christmas recognition in the church. To make matters even a bit more confusing, the Revised Common Lectionary has a companion cycle of Bible readings for every day and most years I have used that cycle as a guide for my personal study and meditation. So I haven’t been big on New Year’s resolutions or other activities.

As a practical matter, church leaders can’t ignore the flow of the calendar in the lives of the folks in the pews, however. Most folks think in terms of New Years on the week after Christmas and while Christmas Eve services are among the largest in terms of attendance, New Year’s Eve is among the lightest in terms of the number of people in church. As a pastor one learns to go with those cycles. During my active career I was often pretty exhausted by the time the Christmas Eve services were concluded and I generally took the following weeks as a time of rest. When our children were in school, we often took a bit of vacation during the week following Christmas so I often was not in the pulpit the next week.

The Gospel for today is the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple where he was recognized as the Messiah by two elders of the temple, Simeon and Anna. Simeon’s age is not reported, but the Gospel of Luke refers to Anna as a prophet who was a widow and eighty-four years old. Were it to fall on me to preach, which it does not this year, I would probably comment on the power of the relationship between those of us who are elders and the very young in our midst. I remember well a Christmas early in the years I served in Rapid City, when I walked into the congregation on the Sunday after Christmas and picked up an infant from his mother’s arms and held him for the entire congregation to see and commented that every child is a Holy Child and that part of the recognition of Christmas is the recognition of the holiness of the children in our midst. I’m not active on FaceBook, but I look at the site for news of friends and relatives and it has become a practice for me to check out the page of the man who was less than a month old when I held him in front of the congregation during Christmas many years ago. Since I proclaimed him as a holy child, it makes sense for me to follow his life for continuing signs of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel, however, does not speak of an ongoing relationship between Jesus and the elders in the temple. In fact it implies that both Simeon and Anna died shortly after meeting Jesus. Simeon, upon meeting Jesus, said, “Master, you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Those words, usually slightly modified, are frequently read at the funeral of an elder. I’ve read them at many funerals over the years and so associate them with end of life. By giving Anna’s age the implication is that her life is nearly over, though there are Biblical stories of people who have lived longer than Anna’s eighty-four years.

The season of Christmas is an opportunity for faithful people of all ages to recognize the presence of the sacred in children. The church is a community that provides a safe place for elders and children to come together. Now that I have become an elder, I am deeply grateful for the presence of children in my life and in the community of the church. And sometimes, as was the case so many years ago, parents trust me to hold their children for a few minutes and experience the holiness that Simeon and Anna knew on the day of Jesus’ presentation in the temple.

Christmas day six

If you have been following my journal entries during this Christmas season, you probably expect me to write something clever about the gift of six geese a laying. It isn’t as if I haven’t considered the possibility of just that gift for our son’s farm. They raise chickens. Some years they raise chickens for meat, but they did not do so last year. The years that they have they joined together with two other families, each raising a third of a hundred chicks and processing all of the birds in a single day that requires the help of all of the families. I’ve had a bit of an aversion to processing chickens that dates back to my childhood and young adult years. When I was a college freshman I waited until I was sure that all of the chickens were in the freezer before going home to visit for the first time. I was convinced that otherwise they might butcher on the weekend I went home and I would have to participate in the process, which is not something I enjoy. When our children raise meat chickens, I quickly volunteer for childcare duty, preferring that to direct involvement in processing the birds despite the fact that I do eat chicken.

That, however, is not really a Christmas story. And our family mostly raises chickens for eggs. Egg production slows in the winter with shorter days, but they have enough chickens to have sufficient supply in winter and an excess in the summer.

I enjoy the eggs that I might consider making the gift of six geese a laying to the farm at some point in the future. Goose eggs are a delicious alternative to chicken eggs. They are much larger and a single egg can be substituted for two chicken eggs in most recipes. Eating a goose egg for breakfast provides richer flavor. It is, however, hard to find a carton for goose eggs.

Goose eggs, however, will remain in the future of the farm as long as they have young children. Geese can be intimidating. As much as we loved to hear my father and his siblings tell about how Aunt Phoebe got trapped in the outhouse because she was afraid of the goose and the goose would chase her whenever she appeared outside, I don’t really want to have aggressive animals around my grandchildren.

Of course it might be possible to engage in a bit of silliness over the various meanings of goose eggs. A couple of hundred years ago, British slang used the term “duck’s egg” to mean zero. That somehow morphed into goose egg for a “big fat zero.” In current slang, goose egg means the score of zero in a contest. It is also used to indicate a venture that produces no profit. My income from writing this year was goose egg. It really was. I didn’t get paid for any of my writing this year. Free lance writing gigs are harder to find each year and although I’ll keep looking and probably will find a few in the future income from writing will not be a big part of our family’s economic future. I’m also likely to earn goose egg in tennis, a game at which I am not a skilled player.

A goose egg is also the swelling that comes from a bump on the head and I have no desire to earn one of those, either. I don’t mind, however, being called a silly goose by my grandchildren, though I’d prefer not to have my goose cooked when it comes to their grandmother, which generally means I am in big trouble.

But I said I wasn’t going to write about six geese a laying and I’ve already completed more than half of this journal entry.

What I did do yesterday and hope to get back to today is build bee boxes. My plan is to expand my apiary by two colonies next year and there are few things in life that give me as much pleasure as building something instead of buying it. My bees, though generous with their honey, earned goose egg last year. The investment in start up supplies exceeded the value of honey produced, something that is very common in any agricultural venture. I should break even by the end of the coming year and be in positive territory after that. However, reaching that goal means carefully controlling expenditures on bee equipment. Making bee boxes just makes sense to me. In addition, I intend to switch my bee operation from Langstroth hives to Warre hives, something that probably only makes sense to bee keepers and doesn’t make sense to the majority of bee keepers for whom Langstroth hives are perfectly sensible. I prefer, however the smaller boxes and the style of beekeeping that is done with less intervention, fewer inspections, and more natural processes for the bees. I have read of bee keepers who put out Warre boxes and simply wait for wild bees to move in, though I will start my hives with purchased nuclear colonies as I did with the colonies in my Langstroth boxes. The distinction is not very interesting except to a few bee keepers and I won’t go into an explanation of why I am switching to top bar hives from using frames which has been shown to decrease honey production even though the switch makes sense to me as a strategy for long term bee keeping for an aging keeper.

Building things out of wood in the shop is a kind of Christmas present I give to myself. I love the smell of sawdust and the precision of making tight joints in wood. I am proud of the way the boxes are all exactly the same size and stack neatly with no gaps. I enjoy the feel of hand tools and the skill of driving home finishing nails with a hammer instead of using an air gun.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me time to pursue my hobbies. And that is a deeply appreciated gift. I wouldn’t be nearly as happy having responsibility to care for all of the birds the song promises.

Five Golden Rings

Please note: If you are one of the people who yesterday tried to find my journal entry and instead found yourself on a page that began with an entry from years ago, I am sorry. Each year I create a new page to house that year’s journal. That new page is placed at the top of the list. However, yesterday’s attempt at publishing the new page included a directory error, so the new page didn’t publish, and the result was a mis-direction to a page of Journal archives. Oops! I have now corrected that publishing error and the page for 2024 is now at the top of the list of journal entries on the website. 2023 is the next item down on the list in the index of pages. I’ll be posting here today and for two more days, and on New Year’s Day, the posts will begin to appear in 2024. If you bookmark the location of my journal, you will need to change your bookmark to the new page. You can navigate to 2024 from this page by clicking this link. I’m sorry for any confusion this has caused.

There are a lot of children’s books that feature the twelve days of Christmas and show the gift for the fifth day to be jewelry. After all the traditional song names the gift as 5 golden rings. For the most part, I don’t run in circles of people who have a lot of jewelry, however. I do have one ring and it is gold. I’ve been wearing the same ring for more than 50 years now and I’m neither inclined to remove it nor am I inclined to need another. So, I subscribe to the theory that the entire song detailing Christmas’ twelve days is about gifts of birds. That applies not only to the golden rings, but also to milking maids, dancing ladies, leaping lord, piping pipers and drumming drummers, but more on those items later if I decide to continue this theme for the rest of my Christmas journal entries. I don’t often work ahead on my journal, so topics for the next week aren’t clear in my mind yet.

Five golden rings, however, is, in my mind a reference to a gift of five ring-necked pheasants. I know a little bit about ring-necked pheasants because I lived for twenty-five years in South Dakota where the Ring-necked Pheasant is the state bird. I suppose there is an entire journal entry on how the state ended up choosing a bird that is not indigenous to the state as the official state bird. And there is probably another entry possible about the fact that in South Dakota it is legal to hunt and eat the state bird. I don’t think that the residents of many states hunt and eat their state bird, but South Dakota isn’t alone in that quality. Alaskans are rather fond of eating their state bird, the willow ptarmigan. Like the pheasant, the ptarmigan is a bird that spends more time walking on the ground than flying, which might contribute to making it a bit easier to successfully harvest the birds. I am not a hunter. I don’t own a shotgun. The only pheasants I’ve ever harvested became victims of the fast-moving grill of my pickup truck combined with my slow reactions.

I do, however, enjoy eating pheasant. When we lived in South Dakota I had friends who were avid hunters who generously shared their bounty with us. Pheasants aren’t like the chickens and turkeys that they sell in the grocery store. Like other members of the grouse family, the birds have powerful breast muscles that can deliver bursts of power allowing the birds to take to the air in a hurry. They flush nearly vertically, which makes them interesting to hunt. And they can quickly reach nearly 40 miles per hour in speed. This means that the meat from the birds is more lean and less tender than that of farm-raised turkeys and chickens. If you don’t prepare it properly it can be dry and a bit stringy. As a result, I’m fond of cooking the meat in the crock pot, which makes it quite tender. One of my favorite ways to prepare the birds is to make them into pot pies. Just writing about it makes me feel like making one soon.

Fortunately for us, South Dakota is a destination for avid pheasant hunters from out of state and we have a friend out here in Washington who makes an annual pilgrimage to South Dakota to hunt the birds. Like other pheasant hunters, he has overstocked their freezer and we were the recipients of two packages of frozen pheasant from their house. They are in our freezer waiting for me to take them out for pot pies. That is a good thing because these days we rarely cook an entire turkey, preferring to purchase just a breast with the somewhat smaller thanksgiving gatherings at our house. That means that our turkey bones and leftover meat go into soup not leaving enough for pot pies.

Christmas, however, is not the season of home made pot pie at our house. With a family feast on Christmas Day and another planned for New Year’s Day we have a refrigerator of other leftovers that need to be consumed this week to make room for New Year’s Day groceries and leftovers. The pheasants in our freezer will have to wait.

So, with no extra jewelry and the pheasants remaining in the freezer for another day we don’t have many big plans for the fifth day of Christmas at our house. I think we’ll catch up on a bit of house cleaning and end of the year record keeping. It is time to start gathering the numbers we will need to file our income tax return. I have a couple of projects going on over at the shop at the farm including a new kayak that needs my attention and the wood that I will use to make the boxes for two new bee colonies that I intend to add to the apiary this spring. I try to get over there to work on those projects when I have a bit of spare time, which is most days now that I’m retired, but I am a bit surprised that I seem to be as busy in retirement as I was before. I’m not sure how I found time to work back in the days when I was employed.

However you celebrate, I hope that you have a blessed fifth day and that you keep the observance of Christmas in your mind for the entire season. Epiphany begins a week from tomorrow and that is an entirely new season in the Christian year. Blessings!

The Fourth Day of Christmas

I learned the song about the twelve gifts of Christmas from a true love to include four calling birds for this day. Later, I found that the oldest known published version of the words, in 1780, likely after years of oral circulation, referred to the birds as “colly birds.” Later editions spelled the word as collie and also as colley. I persisted in singing calling, as it made more sense to me. I didn’t exactly know what a calling bird was, but assumed it must be a bird with a distinctive song. It turns out that however you sing it, it is likely that the referent is to the birds we call blackbirds. Think if the Beatles singing “Blackbird singing in the dead of night.” Black birds are not a specific species of birds, but rather a description of what may be several different types of common songbirds.

Colly, or collie or colley birds are probably named for the color black as well. Col is the Old English word for coal. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word’s use as an adjective to describe something covered in coal dust or the color of coal. Probably it doesn’t matter which words you choose to sing - you may be referring to the same bird.

Of course black bird can refer to quite a few different birds. I grew up on the ancestral lands of the Crow people. In their language the word is Apsáalooke, also spelled Absaroka. Even though early settlers translated that word into Crow and the name stuck and now is used by members of the tribe, it turns out that the original designation was likely to smaller black birds. The common blackbird is a species of true thrush and is also known as the Eurasian blackbird. Crows are bigger and have a hoarse, cawing voice. They are also known as common ravens.

It could all be quite confusing.

In our house we didn’t associate the day with gifts of birds of any type. We knew December 28 as our father’s birthday. The week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day was generally filled with family activities in our home. We were free from school obligations and our parents’ business was generally slow. The National Forest Service and National Park Service didn’t schedule many flights in that week. Service jobs at the farm machinery store were light. Aside from an occasional rancher seeking a last minute investment for a tax write-off, there weren’t many people making major purchase decisions. The shop was in full inventory mode, which didn’t require full staff. There might be a few end of year paperwork details that needed attention, but our father seemed free to take more time off from work that week. Family adventures included sleeping, skiing, trips to Yellowstone National Park to view wildlife and have winter picnics, and my favorite, swimming at hot springs pools. When we got older, we often would spend one or two nights at Chico Hot Springs in the paradise valley of the Yellowstone between Gardner and Livingston. Chico has a large outdoor pool where you can swim in the warm water. We loved getting warm in the water, climbing out of the pool and rolling in the snow then returning to the water, which made our bodies tingle.

As an adult, I now understand that gifts weren’t the focus of our father’s birthday wishes. I think what he wanted most is what I most enjoy - getting the family together. We often gathered together our immediate family, included whatever friends might be available, and frequently had a liberal dose of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Many extended family members were farmers and even if they also had a few animals to feed, their winter work days were also shorter than summer hours.

I wonder how many years I purchase my standard gift for my father. He loved orange slice jelly candies, which could be purchased by the bag at the local dime store and were generally within my rather limited post-Christmas budget. Some years he received two or three bags from his children as my younger brothers seemed quite prone to imitation in my assessment. At any rate, he always did the same thing with the candies. After opening the gift, he would eat a singe one and pass the bag around and we would each get one. Then the bag would disappear until dinner the following evening when it once again would be passed around with each person getting a single piece of candy. The bag would be empty by New Year’s Eve. It seemed to me like a gift that kept on giving, as I always received a benefit from having offered the gift. It probably wasn’t the best way of learning about true giving, but, as I said, our father didn’t seem to focus his attention on gifts, but rather on having the family all together.

The younger brother who is nearest to me in age and who now lives the closest to me of my siblings has a season of holidays this time of the year. His birthday is December 24, his wife’s birthday is December 25, and their wedding anniversary is December 28. He also isn’t big on celebration events and has been accused by his wife of forgetting the occasions, which seems very strange to me given their proximity to Christmas, though his observance of Christmas is not quite like ours. He isn’t much on church attendance, something that is a stark contrast from my life and very different from our growing up years.

At any rate, he and his wife are coming up from their home which is a little over an hour’s drive from ours, and will be staying at a resort near us this weekend to celebrate their various occasions. So tomorrow, we’re likely to celebrate the 5th day of Christmas with a big family dinner that includes four of our grandchildren, our son, and my brother and his wife. Having everyone gathered around the dinner table in our house is one of my most favorite experiences. We’ve been a little heavy on big meals, with a large Christmas dinner, and we’ll likely have another big meal on New Year’s Day as our son’s wife will be working and won’t be able to join us tomorrow. Last night involved cleaning up leftovers and putting a few choice items into the freezer to make room for a new round of leftovers.

We have plenty of crows in our neighborhood, but they are more frequent visitors to the neighbor’s garbage can than to the bird feeders in our yard. So we’ll celebrate with the gift of family, which to me is one of the greatest gifts of all. Merry, Merry!

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