Moving on to 2018

Dear friends who read my blog: 2017 is now complete and I will not be posting additional entries in my 2017 journal. If you have your bookmark set to this page, please go to the "Journal 2018" item on my menu to keep up with my latest posts. If you have problems, send me an email.—Ted

New Years 2018

Happy New Year! I’m posting this entry to my 2017 journal and will copy it to the 2018 journal when I get that set up. I’m traveling today, so I am not sure how soon I will get to the job of setting up my web site for 2018. If you are a regular reader of the blog, you may have to check your bookmarks after I get things reconfigured.

I start the new year incredibly grateful for having had a week with our son and his family in Washington. It has been a wonderful time.

I was listening as our daughter-in-law picked up her 7 month-old daughter from her car seat. The baby was fussing a little bit. Mom said, “I know. It isn’t that much fun having someone disrupt your sleep. You just get to sleep and then I come and wake you up. I don’t think I’d like it if someone was waking me up when I was trying to sleep.”

It was about all I could do to giggle. For the past seven months, and probably for a while before that, the baby has been disrupting mother’s sleep and waking her when she wanted to be sleeping. I think that mom doesn’t really need to apologize for waking the baby to take her into the house after a ride in the car.

I see an hear things as a grandfather that I probably missed when our children were little. I remember the stage of having a new born and a two-year-old as a time when I was constantly short of sleep. I learned to take a quick nap whenever the children were both sleeping at the same time. I got used to getting up in the middle of the night to help the baby. I used to joke that our son, the first born, was an excellent sleeper. Besides that, I couldn’t feed the baby, so when I got up with him, I’d just change him and give him to his mother to feed. I used to attribute his good bedtime habits and his tendency to sleep through the night from and early age to superior parenting technique. Then we adopted our daughter. She was fed formula and I could feed her and didn’t need to wake her mom. And she slept all the way through the night once when she was six years old I think. She really woke us up in the middle of the night a lot.

So I have sympathy for parents who have to get up with their children in the middle of the night and who are feeling short of sleep because of it.

There are all kinds of other moments from our trip that I will remember for quite a while. Our grandson went into his bedroom to get into his pajamas one evening. Shortly afterward there was a cry from the bedroom: “Can somebody help me? I’ve got my head stuck in my shirt and I can’t get it out.” I rushed in to help. He usually wears t-shirts and pullover tops. That day he was wearing a shirt that buttons up the front. He had tried to pull it off by pulling it over his head with all of the buttons fastened. It didn’t work. I helped him pull it back on and unbutton the buttons. Problem solved.

“Why are there dirty socks on the kitchen counter?” our daughter-in-law asked. “I don’t know. Probably because someone left them there,” our 3 year-old granddaughter replied, as if she wasn’t the someone who had just left them there.

Being the grandpa gives me a good perspective to appreciate all of the action of a busy household with three children. I can watch and listen and appreciate all of the action while knowing that the parents are responsible for their children and I don’t have to assume responsibility in the same way that I did when I was the father. We are blessed with exceptionally competent children to take care of our grandchildren, so our role is to appreciate them and enjoy being with them. We try to help out as much as possible. we can help with dishes, play with the baby, and do a few tasks that make life a little bit easier for our children when we come to visit, but we don’t have to do the whole job for very long at a time.

We did take care of all three children for a little more than three hours yesterday so our son and daughter-in-law could go to a movie. We had a ball and there were no problems, but both of us had no other tasks to accomplish. We could just play with our grandchildren and enjoy them. Their parents have to take care of all three solo on a regular basis while the mate is working. And they have other tasks to accomplish. Both parents are capable of taking care of all three children single handedly while cooking supper for the family and picking up the house. It is amazing. We only had two children so we have that down. I can pick up the baby in one hand and pick up the three-year-old in the other, no worries. But if the six year old falls down, or needs to hold a hand crossing a parking lot, I’ve completely run out of hands. I see parents with four or more children in the grocery store from time to time. I have a lot more admiration for them now that I’ve spent some time with three grandchildren.

Today we travel back home. It will be cold when we arrive and there will be plenty of work with which to catch up. We’ll begin the new year with the usual tasks of producing an annual report, and preparing for another busy year in the life of the church. It is a real blessing to have begun with such a wonderful visit with our family.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

A few New Years Resolutions

So here we are. We have arrived at the last day of 2017. It hasn’t been the worst year and it hasn’t been the best. Like the other years of my life, I don’t wish it hadn’t happened. Topping the year for me has to be the birth of our granddaughter Eliza. We had the good fortune of being with her family when she was born and she has continued a healthy life in a loving family and she brings so much joy to the world. Not that she doesn’t also bring challenges. As I write, I can hear her in the other room and know that she has interrupted her parents’ sleep again - a skill that she has highly developed since her arrival on the scene. Like other young parents, they are learning to go through life just a little bit sleep deprived. It hasn’t kept them from being joyous people, deeply grateful for the gift of their children.

On the more challenging side, I will remember 2017 as a year in which people came to me with some of the really big questions of life. Questions of meaning and purpose came up often. I don’t remember another year when so many people came to me confronting a sense of loss of the will to continue, unless it was during the farm crisis of the 1980’s when we were serving people who faced the loss of multi-generational family farms and adjusted to big changes that included moving off of the land and leaving rural communities that they loved. There are a lot of hurting people in our community and being a pastor has brought me into contact with that hurt in significant ways.

2017 has, however, also been a good year of making some significant new contacts. We have developed friendships beyond our normal circle, connecting with people of other faiths and members of our community who we had not previously known.

It has become a tradition to begin the new year with resolutions and although today isn’t January 1 here, I have a few resolutions worth noting. Since we have a daughter in Japan, where it is nearly bedtime on New Year’s Eve, and since we will be traveling on New Year’s Day and I won’t be investing too much energy in my journal tomorrow, it seems like a good time to note a few resolutions for the new year.

I resolve that in the year to come I will push myself to speak out with more courage when I encounter irrational fears that turn into unkind words. I am not one to cause trouble and I’m slow to confront others, but I resolve not to sit in silence when I hear people express fears in ways that are harmful. Examples of those fears include the fear of those who are different. When I hear people speaking in ignorance, cruelty and shamelessness about Muslims, for example, I resolve to stand with those being attacked by ignorance. I am not a Muslim, and will never be, but I am grateful to live in a world with many different religious perspectives and, as a Christian, I am called to stand with those who are pushed aside from the mainstream of society. I resolve to speak out when I hear people attacking recent immigrants as well. Hospitality is at the heart of our faith and we, who live a life of luxury when others are driven from their homes through no fault of their own have a responsibility to extend hospitality to them. I will not be silent when others make ignorant comments expressing their fear of otherness when no danger exists. I will not succumb to popular media that puts others down and expresses fear that has no basis in fact.

That brings me to another resolution. I resolve to be a champion of the truth. Objective truth does exist. Even though there are those who seem to believe that if you repeat a lie often enough it makes it the truth, they are wrong. In the big picture truth will prevail. Even more so, it is the truth that leads to freedom. Jesus promised his followers that they would know the truth and that the truth would set them free. Knowing that the truth matters, I will not accept lies from public figures, nor will I accept it from those who propose “alternate facts.” I will study before I speak and seek the truth in my words and my actions.

In the year to come, I also resolve to be more vocal in my support of education, especially K-12 public education. We have suffered nonstop attacks on K-12 teachers and public schools. Those who are leading the attacks are blaming schools and teachers for problems that are not caused by the schools, such as nearly one fourth of all students arriving to school so hungry that their brains won’t work well. Blaming teachers for the failure of students to learn and attacking schools that try to serve all children by diverting funds to exclusive schools that work only with the most privileged children harms the most vulnerable. It is time to shout, “Enough!” We all share the burden of providing education to all of our students. We pay dearly in the end when we evade the real issues that prevent teachers from teaching and students from learning. This must be a priority for all of our citizens and I will not be silent as demonic forces seek to destroy a fair system of public education for all.

There are more resolutions that I need to make, like resolving to set aside the fantasy that a few of the world’s people can live secure private lives while ignoring our complicity in conditions that put others at risk and resolving to speak out for prevention of suicide in a society that often tries to ignore the mortal threat to too many of our people.

For this New Year’s Eve, however, I acknowledge that I cannot solve all of the world’s problems, but that won’t keep me from trying to live a better and more responsible life.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

The Sixth Day of Christmas

According to Ducks. org, we have several types of geese that frequent South Dakota: Snow goose, Ross's goose, Greater white-fronted goose, Brant, Cackling goose, and the Canada goose. Canadian geese, of course, are the one that we see most often and are easiest to recognize.

There are days at the lake when the geese are a nuisance. They hang out around the beach and boat ramp area at Sheridan Lake in big numbers and deposit their droppings everywhere. In the spring and summer it is nearly impossible to make it from the parking lot to the water without stepping in the stuff. The birds will, of course, scatter as I walk toward them, and then return as soon as I have passed. On the water, they make room for my boat. They don’t like it when I come too close and raise a noisy ruckus as they take to flight from the water. The South Dakota Department of Fish, Game and Parks have installed devices called ‘Away with Geese.” The unit automatically operates at night and produces a solar-powered amber beam of light directed at goose eye-level in a 360° radius. It recharges itself each day and has an effective area of 3.5 acres. According to the product’s web site, the device is based around a simple concept: At night, geese sleep in or near water areas where they feel secure from predators. Placing a unit into these secure areas makes the geese anxious and they will no longer consider the area “safe” and will simply move to another suitable habitat within a few days. If the geese feel insecure in an area at night, they won’t be back during the day, either. Geese, by necessity, have to be efficient. They tend to stay close to their secure areas during daylight hours in order to minimize the distance they travel each day. “Away With Geese is effective in deterring the geese, so that they find a different nighttime home.”

The Geese that frequent the lake, however, haven’t visited the “Away with Geese” website or read any of the literature about the product. As far as I can tell, they completely ignore the devices and the orange lights that flash from them. They seem to be perfectly capable of sleeping, feeding, and doing whatever else geese do with the devices installed at several points around the common area of the lake.

Canadian geese can lay up to one egg a day and their clutches normally contain 5 to 9 eggs, most of which hatch. Predation of the birds is most common when they are young. Eggs are among the favorite foods of several small mammals and the young geese often fall prey before they reach maturity. Still, a single goose can produce up to 25 eggs a year, and can live for as long as 20 years, so a pair of geese can produce a lot of birds. In captivity, egg production can be increased dramatically by taking the first few eggs and raising them in an incubator and then periodically allowing the goose to raise a clutch.

Six geese a laying would be enough to keep one in geese for the rest of one’s life, I might think. It is quite a gift, but the gift has to be taken where it occurs. Other than removing eggs to be raised in an incubator, it is nearly impossible to successfully move a clutch of eggs once the goose has started setting. The Christmas song doesn’t mention setting, just laying. Perhaps the song’s creators were particular fond of goose eggs.

Goose egg is another name for the knot that is raised on your head when you receive a blow. I have received several of these over the years. One that I particularly remember was a result of my own carelessness. I had been working on a ceiling, using a step ladder. I climbed down the ladder leaving a hammer on the top of the ladder. Then, I was down on my hands and knees cleaning up something from the floor. I bumped the ladder and the hammer fell, hitting me on the head and raising a sizable goose egg. It would have made a very funny video, had it been captured. It was just like a cartoon. Actually hitting myself that hard with a hammer was highly unlikely, but I did it. I even saw stars, just like they depict in the cartoons. Well, not exactly, but close enough that I got the idea. I haven’t ever recreated the event. Once in a lifetime is certainly enough.

That kind of goose egg certainly wouldn’t be a very nice Christmas present. I’m just saying . . .

So, even though today is the sixth day of Christmas, I guess I’ll take a pass on the geese a laying. We haven’t been much for live poultry as family gifts anyway. I suspect that I’ll get at least:

  • six hugs from grandkids
  • six turns at silly games
  • six songs for singing
  • six grins from the baby
  • six toys for playing
  • six silly jokes repeated

And likely a whole lot more. You can keep the geese a laying. We don’t really need them here.

Our children and grandchildren, do, however, live in a great place for waterfowl. There is a lake just a short distance from their home and yesterday, as the rain fell in amounts for which we’d certainly be grateful in South Dakota, there were six or seven ducks having a grand old time in the pond that formed in the field beside the neighbor’s house. We’re only about 50 feet above sea level here and there is a lot of water everywhere. The ducks and geese seem to be happy about it. It isn’t uncommon to see v’s of geese heading in every direction in this part of the world. Spending the winter here is no problem for the big, noisy birds.

The days of our visit have gone by quickly. And it will soon be time for us to head for home, where it is a lot colder and folks are trying to make good decisions about which events to cancel and how much to stay inside. Out here, we have good rain jackets and are waterproof for the most part, so haven’t been restrained in our adventures. And we’ve got a couple more wonderful days ahead before having to pack up and head home.

Happy sixth day of Christmas to all!

Copyright (c) 2017 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Life in Almost Canada

If you visit Mount Vernon, the estate of George Washington, in Virginia, it will cost you $20 per adult to tour. There is a 10% discount for booking your tickets online in advance. On the other hand, if you visit Mount Vernon, Washington, there is no charge to wander around the town and see the sights. In Virginia, you’ll see a mansion, gardens, tombs, a pioneer farm, distillery, gristmill, and a museum. Here in Washington, there are several very nice homes, gardens, a cemetery, fields of tulips, a couple of brew pubs and a very nice library. I know. My son is the director of the library.

Sometimes, I call this corner of the United States - and we are very close to the northwest corner of the continental states - “Almost Canada.” If you get in the car and drive 50 miles north, you’ll reach the border crossing to Canada. Perhaps more amazingly, if you were to travel 50 miles straight west, you’d also be in Canada. The city of Mount Vernon is actually north of Victoria, located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

We’ve come far enough north that the days are even shorter than they are in South Dakota in the winter. That means that when summer comes, the days are longer as well. Traveling by air, we really noticed the difference the first couple of days we were here. Of course, the longer we stay the more we adjust to the differences. Like other places where the sun sets early, people adjust by doing all kinds of things in the dark. Sunset is around 4:20 this time the year and it doesn’t rise until around 8 am. If you were to adjust your sleep to the daylight, the days would be pretty short, so people do a lot of things in the dark. It is typical for us to be up 3 or 4 hours after sunset and to rise before sunrise as well. I’ve noticed that my natural cycle of rising and sleeping has shifted more than the hour of the time zone. Even after adjusting my clock, I’m rising later and going to bed later than I would at home. And here I don’t have a work schedule to guide my day. It is just that daylight isn’t a good clue as to when to go to sleep.

Other parts of Almost Canada are also interesting to me as a visitor. The weather here is much milder than at home, due to the warm air blowing in from the ocean. Temperatures here have been 12 to 15 degrees warmer than at home during this visit, despite the decreased sunlight. The difference in temperature is less noticeable in the summer, but it tends to be a bit cooler here than at home. Despite Canada’s reputation for extreme cold, here in Almost Canada the weather is very mild.

Skagit County is marked by amazing geography. The mountains rising to the east are dramatic and rise over 10,000 feet, so are snow covered year round. The ocean to the west is filled with islands and is a fascinating place to watch whales and orcas. The Skagit River is a major watershed that has dramatic flood cycles and rises and falls throughout the year depending on rain and snow fall in the mountains.

A short visit makes it clear why people have been attracted to this area for millennia. It is a good place to live, with abundant resources including fish, wild game, forests and more.

It does, however, rain a lot in this place. The green hills and the verdant forests are supported by a lot of rain. The Pacific Northwest is categorized as a temperate rain forest. When we hike in the woods we see all kinds of ferns and mosses that aren’t a part of the ecology of our home. Out here you become familiar with banana slugs. The ones up here look more like overripe bananas, and are smaller than the fruit, but impressive nonetheless.

The past year has been momentous for our son and his family. In 2017, our son moved to a new job, they first moved into a rental home and from there into this home that they are purchasing. They had a new baby. Our grandson attended three different schools in 2017. He completed Kindergarten and entered the First Grade.

Through all of the changes and adjustments of a growing family, they have come to a wonderful place to call home. The yard is big enough to play all kinds of games and the adjacent farm field has plenty of room to fly kites. There is a lake nearby with a place for swimming and paddling small boats - something that is known to attract their grandpa. Visits to the mountains and the seashore are just minutes away. When there isn’t snow enough to sled here in town, a short drive will take you to great places to play in the snow. It certainly seems like a place where a family could settle and sings are pretty clear that the family won’t have as many dramatic changes in 2018 as they did in 2017.

Despite the lack of snow outside - though it did snow on Christmas day here - it is a wonderful place to celebrate Christmas. I guess any place where we were with our grandchildren would be a wonderful place to celebrate Christmas. Holding a baby every day is a good reminder of God’s presence in human form and the ways in which spirit infuses matter in everyday life. These spiritual beings who surround us are also spirit-filled and spirited. There is a lot of energy in this household when all three children are awake. I’m sleeping really well at night and I suspect that the parents are doing the same, though with the baby they get up a little bit more than grandpa has to.

It is just everyday life for their family and they’ve learned to live with it well. It is a special treat for the grandparents and we’re enjoying every minute of it.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!