Another year completed

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

New Year's Eve, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the DMV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living in community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Model Airplane

2020-12-28
Like a whole lot of other people, I really enjoyed the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons drawn by Bill Watterson. I loved the flights of fancy spurred by the creative mind of the six-year-old Calvin. He seemed to get into the kinds of trouble I experienced when I was a child. I didn’t have any imaginary friends, but was charmed by the relationship between the boy and the tiger in the comic strip. The timing of the strip matched the growing up years of our son, so I saw some of his experiences reflected by the strip as well. I loved the choice of the names of two theologians for the characters and saw a bit of amateur theology in many of the strips Watterson drew. I also admired Watterson for refusing the syndicate’s attempts to market merchandise with the strip’s characters. And, though I was sad to see the strip go and still miss it, I understand and salute Watterson’s decision to retire while the strip was at the height of its popularity. He has left a wonderful memory in our minds and the collections of strips that we own are treasures to which we return time after time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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