Prairie View

Monday, January 21, 2019

Renting an Idea

I believe I made a passing reference to "renting" an idea in a post where I mentioned Shane having spoken at church on a Wednesday evening around New Year Day.  He suggested that we consider this in connection with New Year Resolutions.*

When we rent an idea rather than owning it, we are acknowledging that committing to the idea may need to be reconsidered at some point.  This may be needed because of new evidence, changing circumstances, or different priorities, etc.  In other words, we go into a situation already knowing that we may need to move at some point to a new place in our thinking.

If we own an idea, parting with it becomes difficult.  We've made a big investment in it, for one thing.  We might feel a sense of failure at not having been able to maintain the responsibilities of ownership.  We might feel that we've betrayed a cause by forsaking it.  We might have to admit that we made a poor choice in "buying" the idea to start with.  At this point--when parting with an idea seems necessary, humility,  confession, and apology are in order, but doubling down in ownership of the idea is the most instinctive response.   

I suspect that being German (and Amish Mennonite?) nudges us toward trying to own every idea that occurs to us--at least if we think it's been properly vetted and if it seems logical.  We lean toward wanting more than enough, in plenty of time. This allows us to feel good about such virtuous-sounding things as being prepared and exercising good stewardship.  Nevertheless, this tendency can probably sometimes be a detriment to us. We would do well to balance this German "owning" tendency with other wise approaches--like the Japanese "renting" one (just enough, just in time). 

To be sure, some ideas really do call for ownership from the beginning.  I see almost all of the commitments involved in a life of faith as being in this category.  For the sake of working well with others, most other commitments should probably be rented rather than owned--initially at least. 


If you've reflected enough on the above ideas to ponder what they mean for you, you're probably already making some kind of owning/renting decision--regarding how you will engage ideas, going forward.  Just so you know, it's OK with me if you choose to rent for now.  As long as you understand the terms of the rental agreement and have signed on the dotted line, you're good to go.  If you decide to buy later, you can do so, using money that you're collecting now in your "experience bank."

*I can never figure out how to write this properly.  What we usually say is New Years Resolutions, but neither plural nor possessive seems right.  Any help?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Leadership and Politics

Nothing in the Leadership Reno County (LRC) class was even remotely suggestive of political advocacy, but I snagged one insight on politics and leadership that made me want to say "Yes!  Exactly!"  (See the previous post for a longer explanation of LRC.)

In explaining the differences between adaptive and technical approaches to problem-solving, Lynette said something like this: "The promises you hear in political campaigns almost always reflect a technical approach to problem-solving." So  what was so insightful about that? 

Just this:  Every time a politician does this, she or he is demonstrating that s/he is not remotely prepared to lead effectively.  Offering technical solutions in situations that call for adaptive approaches is predicative of chaos-in-the-making, with that sand-in-the-gears problem grinding on interminably.  Political grandstanding just got even more distasteful to me. 

I hate it that on the rare occasions when a political figure attempts to lead "adaptively" s/he is inviting accusations of being detached or cerebral or indecisive--just not able to get anything done.  Coalition-building is adaptive work involving very tough, slow going, but the results are more lasting, more peaceable, more orderly, and better all around for the stakeholders than would be the case with alternative ways of working.  Once elected, an office holder using positional authority to force technical solutions is offering something inferior and ineffective. 

One of the authors of the slim little volume that serves as a textbook for the LRC class is Ed O'Malley.  His name sounded vaguely familiar, but I didn't know why till I read the Wikipedia entry under his name.  It turns out that he was a candidate for Kansas governor in the 2018 election.  He dropped out fairly early in the race, however, when he determined that funds were not adequate to continue.

I wondered where a person with O'Malley's understanding of how leadership works would fall on the political spectrum.  Centrist Republican it is.   That sounds about right--or at least as right as Centrist Democrat. 

I'm a little sorry that we didn't get a chance to see what a governor of O'Malley's sensibilities would do for the people of Kansas.  But then, he might have learned what many principled individuals before him discovered when they pursued political office:  1)  Winning an election is almost impossible.  2)  Leading effectively, once elected, is almost impossible.


 Only those who knew Steve Graber will understand why I'm reminded of him right now.  I learned just now (from Hiromi's dentist!) that he died about a year and a half ago in Manhattan, where the family had moved when they left our area.  Steve had cancer. 

Steve was a Christian homeschool dad who practiced law.  At one point he unsuccessfully sought political office.  Our paths first crossed because of 4H, and our family and others spent a good bit of time with their family. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

First Tidbits From LRC

Last week's two-day retreat with the Leadership Reno County (LRC) class was as stretching and interesting as I hoped it would be, and, at times, as awkward as I was afraid it would be.  I'm not sure how much I'm really supposed to share outside the group about what happens inside the group.  I do know that confidentiality is in order in relation to others in the group--not their identity though.  Otherwise they would not have backed each of us up to a plain door in the meeting room and come in close for a cell phone picture--with the explanation that this is for the paper.  Sigh. I'd rather fly under the radar on this venture.

Also, the organization I'm officially associated with for LRC purposes is Pilgrim Christian School--which is slightly awkward since I no longer am hired there.  Nevertheless, no other official entity made sense as fill-in information for some of the blanks on the application.  I do still serve on the curriculum committee as a volunteer, so it was not entirely a fabricated connection.  I did make clear that my main interest was really most closely tied to making life better for my neighbors in the rural area of Reno County where I live.  Being too tightly tethered to the education sector of community life would actually feel limiting to me rather than advantageous.

Essentially, the focus of this group is to develop an approach to problem solving that is skillful, inclusive, courageous, humble, and honest.  These are my words.  I can't tell you how reassuring it was to see these Biblical topics featured in the class content.  If the focus had been on "getting others to do what you want them to do,"  featuring tricky and manipulative (and disrespectful) schemes, this class would have held no appeal to me. I have no fondness for this perception of what leadership means.

What I really want to do here is just to be transparent about what I've been up to, with the freedom to share what I'm learning.  Knowing that all who read this have entered this blog space at their own initiative is reassuring to my vulnerable self, and I believe that readers do not usually come here to find something to use as ammunition against me.  Nevertheless, I'm cognizant of the fact that for an Amish Mennonite female to be enrolled in a leadership class and writing about it is not risk-free. 


For me, probably the most helpful insight to come out of interacting with the material and the facilitators and other class members was clarity about two different approaches to problem solving: 1) technical and 2) adaptive. Individual cases often call for both approaches to come into play, but being able to sort out which approach is best for which piece of a challenge is useful.  This understanding was helpful to me both in making sense of some of my past frustrations and in finding a possible path forward in the challenges that I still face. 

It's probably revealing that, although the LRC class began less than a week ago, I have already made reference to this distinction twice in communicating with others--both of them in relation to Sunday School.  Once was during class when we were talking about people in the church who "slip through the cracks" and the other was when I was working with others to find a good solution to a logistics problem that had come up.  In both of these situations, I found it helpful to recognize early on that the challenges called for adaptive approaches rather than technical ones. 

Having talked about this matter recently and the fact that I am writing about it here is probably also related to how I best internalize information--by "teaching" it to others. 


Technical challenges call for technical solutions.  Such challenges usually involve situations where everyone involved knows what is needed and a clear structure is in place for doing what is necessary.  Positional authority (which can be bestowed or acquired in various ways--by vote, appointment, manipulation, or strong-armed coercion, for example) is often incorporated into structures for dealing with technical challenges (i. e. solving the problems).  As I see it, this is as it should be, although some routes to positional authority certainly seem more commendable than others. 

The big problems occur when adaptive problems are addressed solely with technical approaches.  To quote a concept (from memory) that I heard in class:  Technical solutions may be involved in helpfully addressing adaptive challenges, but they are always insufficient.  In plain language, here's the rub:  When people with positional authority apply only technical solutions to adaptive problems, the results are not pretty.  Besides throwing sand in the gears (which limits smooth, orderly, forward motion), this way of "doing business" is predictive of fractured relationships, loss of commitment to a common purpose, and loss of peace.  In other words, the cost of this way of operating is very high. 

Let's use maintenance of a church building to illustrate how technical challenges can be helpfully addressed by technical solutions.  As an example, I'll use some details from what Grace (the wife of Lorne, our head trustee) told me on the day of the sewing last week--without a guarantee that all of them are completely factual.  As I recall, someone had noticed a problem in the plumbing system (a leak in one of bathrooms?) and had called Harold, who lives nearby and is often involved in matters related to the operation of the building.  Harold swiftly passed on the information he'd been given to Lorne, since he knew that Lorne was in the head trustee position, and dealing with matters like plumbing problems falls under Lorne's job description. 

I think Lorne must have called next on Joe, who was involved when the plumbing was originally installed for the new kitchen.  That was also when our church for the first time had a reverse osmosis (RO) system installed.  Joe went to work to address the problem, but had to turn off the RO system and could not restore its function by sewing day.  He (or someone, at least) filled several big thermos jugs with water from the RO so the sewing ladies would have this good water to drink.  I presume that he came back later to finish the repairs and restore the plumbing system to full function.  I also assume that Joe worked without pay and certainly without positional authority.  No additional church votes, elections, or appointments were needed throughout this process.  Because things got fixed by Sunday, I assume this process worked smoothly with no fractured relationships, no loss of commitment to a common purpose, and no loss of peace.   Everyone involved knew what was needed and who was in charge of seeing to getting it done, and most of the church people never even knew the problem had occurred.   Lorne's exercise of leadership through positional authority was exactly the right approach for this technical problem. 


I'll refer to Plainview Church as an example of using an adaptive approach.  Construction is underway on a new church building.  I don't know many details of how the decision was made to do this, but I do know from Grant and Clare, who attend there, that a great deal of discussion preceded the decision, and that in the end, this seemed like the best path forward.  Ellis is the one in charge of the building process at Plainview.  Without his permission, I'm going to dissect his suitability for the role he has--strictly my personal viewpoint, of course--by overlaying my thinking with the adaptive leadership approach template.

His past experience as a public school principal is undoubtedly useful.  I've never heard anyone speak of him in critical terms for how he carried out this role.  He is 67 I believe.  I know that because he was my classmate in school and everyone knew who was older and who was younger than oneself.  He was older than I.  I am extrapolating partly from having known Ellis best before we both graduated from high school, and I can no longer recall how I formed some of these impressions, but I know him personally to be a man of principle and competence, with humility, personal discipline, initiative, and moderation in evidence.  He has a great sense of humor and he used to have a contrary streak.  These characteristics undoubtedly played into his being given positional authority in a church building project (with the exception of the contrariness perhaps), no matter whether it was acquired by appointment or vote--or volunteering, for that matter. 

I think it's useful also to think about what Ellis is not, especially in relation to his adult roles.  He is not a builder.  He is not a businessman.  He is not a first-born (he is fourth in a family of five boys).  He does not have a forceful manner.  He does not flaunt whatever wealth he has. 

More on what Ellis is.  He is a farmer and landowner.  He has coached grade school sports teams.  Recently he chaired a committee that planned the first ever reunion of those who attended Elreka at any time since its beginning in 1958.  I know for a fact that he was able to bring about agreement on at least one issue that another committee member initially objected to.  He grew up in this community and married Joye, who also grew up here.  Their parental families both were both supportive members at Plainview church, but they were dissimilar in some ways. 

I think I'm right that Ellis' father was "in the lot" five times when Plainview ordained a minister (this means simply that church members nominated him--and at least one other person--five times to serve on their ministerial team, but each time someone else actually was chosen by the drawing of lots). His father also served for many years as a school board member, some of them through some tumultuous processes.  I think Ellis' father's record is relevant because it reveals the family atmosphere in which he grew up--one where his father had a public record revealing trust by his peers.  Ellis was privileged to observe how such a person behaves.

My main takeaway from all this obsession over who Ellis is or is not is that personal integrity and the ability to work well with others are absolutely primary qualifications for addressing adaptive challenges like directing a million dollar building project using donated funds.  Yet, my observation suggests that building and business experience are often mistakenly thought to be primary qualifiers for positional authority holders in a big building project.  If a building project were only a technical challenge, then granting positional authority to people who are skilled in applying technical solutions would make sense.  But a building project is so much more.  It is, in fact, in all but its final stages,  mostly an adaptive challenge that calls for adaptive approaches.

I'm still learning about adaptive approaches, and don't have a concise way of describing what is involved.  Stakeholders is one useful term that I recall.  It's another way of referring to the people who are involved in a project or are affected by it.  Stakeholders will either benefit or suffer from outcomes.  They will see in the outcomes things that reflect or betray their values.  They will feel included in the decision-making process or excluded.  They will feel affirmed or degraded.  If stakeholders have serious misgivings, they will either remain silent (or fall silent) or they will speak up and risk being ostracized for it.  Stakeholders often struggle with knowing when/how to provide input, and it can be discouraging to hear both "it's too early to decide that" and then later "it's too late to change that." 

Working across factions is another useful term related to adaptive work.  It means that no one gets to isolate themselves inside an echo chamber.  People with a variety of viewpoints will be admitted into the chamber and treated with respect while they are there.  Outcomes will be better on many fronts when this happens. 


Doing a blog post about LRC may be foolhardy because of how early we still are in the class cycle.  What this means is that I may well look back and see that what I've written here reflects a too-limited perspective.  For those kinds of inadequacies--and others, I ask for forbearance. 

Having some newly-acquired vocabulary is a real turn-on for me.  Something deep inside me responds with delight when previously dimly-sensed feelings and undefined dynamics finally stumble onto words that match them, and they can be dragged into the light of day--and examination of them can be purposeful and productive.     

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The Main Thing

I read a blog post today written by a mother of six children age eight and younger.  In it she confessed that she does things she likes--like sewing, even if her house is not orderly.  She does see to it that her children are well-fed, and she does laundry regularly.  Her children help a good bit with regular housekeeping chores.  Nothing in those revelations was the slightest bit shocking to me.  It's exactly how I lived life when I had young children.

Because I could never manage doing everything well (or even adequately at times), I remember creating a very simple mental list of priorities:  people, other living things, things.  That God and a life of faith trumped all other priorities was the understood Ultimate Priority.

When I felt the most overwhelmed, priorities needed to be determined within each main category.  For example, in the "people" category, I concentrated most on the people that I was most directly responsible for--husband and children.  Since the children were the most helpless and needy, and the most in need of nurture and training, they were at the top of the time priority list.  I don't think Hiromi felt neglected, but we didn't spend a lot of "just us" time.  On my part, I was ever so glad when he could be at home with me and our children.  I don't remember wishing to escape from my children, and he felt the same way, although his means of supporting us financially always meant working at away-from-home jobs. 

In the "other living things" category, I prioritized animals over plants. If I couldn't get water to everything, the animals came first.  If I had time for plants, I prioritized keeping them alive over making them beautiful.  Food plants generally came ahead of ornamental plants. 

Things.  Necessities over frivolities.  Simple over elaborate.  Convenience over appearance.  Inexpensive over costly.  Maintenance and repair over replacement.  Make do with what is readily available rather than reflexively acquiring something new. 

This all sounds spartan and severe, but it was also a vast canvas that invited creativity, nurtured trust in a loving Father, and rewarded me with many reminders that God is a wonderful provider.  I genuinely loved spending time at home with my children, or going away together. 


I was awarded a bachelor's degree with a major in education ten months after our wedding, but working outside our home was never the plan for me.  Having a family was the priority.  I never pined for the academic life I had left.  In many ways I wasn't a "natural" homemaker and mother, but I wanted to do both well, and I found fulfillment in delving deeply into various aspects of these roles.

If my natural instincts had been stronger, I would have had less need to read books about every homemaking and mothering task that I needed to tackle.  As it was, I amassed a library of books on a host of diverse topics and borrowed many books from the public library.   I'm sure that sharing what I was learning with my children helped cement the "lessons" in my own mind, and working and learning together brought us all pleasure.  Although the process did not always follow a smooth upward trajectory, it also had the natural effect of building competence and confidence in our boys. 

After my boys were all nearly grown, I realized one day that I could actually help others learn a great variety of skills by simply leading others in the same paths that I had followed while parenting and homeschooling.  I did just that when I taught high school classes in sewing, nutrition, food production, home environment, etc.  While I also taught more academic classes, they involved a lot more slogging on my part and on the part of the students than did these hands-on classes. 


At this stage of life, I have no regrets about having invested almost exclusively in being a parent and homemaker for about 20 years.  A job or ministry outside my home would have been second-best on a number of fronts.  Among the benefits I see are these: 

1.  I gained a deep knowledge of many segments of ordinary life that add a great deal of richness to my life now.  In retirement, I'm spending a lot of time at home again, and I love it, but I'm also free to pursue interests outside my home.

2.  When the child rearing, homeschooling days were past, I had much more to offer others outside our home than I would have if I had been locked inside a classroom, teaching for the same duration.  I was a more well-rounded person for having stayed home to engage the world from there.

3.  While I fall far short of my mother's hospitality accomplishments, I've tasted what a powerful ministry this home-based way of reaching out to others can be.  The simple act of inviting others into your living space and sharing food and friendship is focused on benefiting guests, but it's also inevitably a learning, growing experience for the host family. 

4.  Being at home together during the day made going away as a family in the evening far more doable and attractive than if the children or I had been gone all day and come home just in time to eat and get ready to go away again.  In this way, we benefited from many learning opportunities in the community.  Among them were Partridge Community Association events, Community Concerts at Memorial Hall, 4H events, involvement in a large, diverse extended family, special meetings at church--often with rich learning opportunities from speakers who had seen slices of life elsewhere or in other times--blending it with deep conviction and compassion and humility. 

5.  Our children had time to pursue individual interests and passions with fewer uniformity-inducing (and mind-numbing?) hours in a conventional classroom.  They were hardly out of grade school before they were doing a lot of real work for real income, at their own initiative, with only limited guidance and assistance from us.  They swapped out car engines, cut, sold, and delivered firewood, developed software, and did farm work, etc.  I don't see how this could have happened in a less home-centered lifestyle.  Maturity was not hurried, but neither was immaturity prolonged unnecessarily. 

6.  I didn't know then as much as I know now about the physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits of spending time in nature, but playing and working outdoors a great deal benefited all of our children enormously.  While I had some knowledge of the "dumbing down" effect on children when they spend time mostly with similar-in-age peers, I appreciate this more fully now. 

7.  For everyone in our family, making a contribution outside our home did eventually become possible.  When it did, it seemed like exactly the right thing at the right time, with the right preparation. 

8.  Our adult children have each others' backs--and ours.  They use their disparate skills and resources to benefit each of the rest of us, although their own families come first.  We're friends who love to be together.  I do not take this privilege lightly.


Perhaps one artless way to summarize what I feel that worked for me in parenting and homemaking is "keeping the main thing the main thing."  Home and family were truly the main responsibility at that stage of life, so keeping it at the center of my investment and commitment made sense. 

When the mother of six children age eight and under (one set of twins is part of this number, as is a newborn) says she sometimes ignores other duties to sew, I still see her keeping the main thing the main thing.  She does that for her family, at home with her family.  She is not sending her children away to be cared for or invested in by others while she escapes to take a job in a sewing factory.  Big difference.


The succinct language of Biblical commands* can also be applied to homemaking and child-rearing:

1.  Keep yourselves from idols (don't worship what is unworthy of your adulation, investment, or commitment)

2.  Love others as yourself and serve others before yourself.

3.  Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (KJV)

4.  Esteem others more highly than yourself.

5.  Pray without ceasing (and remember that the Good Shepherd gently leads those who are with young).

*All given here by memory, some in paraphrase.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Ailments, Failures, and Foibles

First, I'd like to ask you the favor of praying for my brother Myron, who is struggling with serious health issues, for perhaps the first time in his life.  After feeling abdominal discomfort for some time, he was diagnosed with an aneurysm in the artery that supplies blood to the left side of the body below the waist.  In a surgical procedure, a stent was placed about 1 1/2 weeks ago, which took the pressure off the ballooned area of the main artery.  Unfortunately, the blood supply being cut off to the left leg during the surgery necessitated a slower-than-ideal recovery because the blood pathways needed to be re-established.  Full recovery is anticipated, but it will take some time for the blood supply to muscles to become optimal again.  In the meantime, the left leg tires very quickly, and mobility is compromised.

This morning a new problem became serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room--according to the surgeon's instructions--and subsequent admittance to the hospital.  This time the right leg had gone numb and the muscles didn't seem to work.  Another surgery is apparently needed to remove a blood clot that has developed in a different "branch" of the major artery.  With both legs barely functioning due to inadequate blood supply, he can hardly walk.  For now, medication  is being given in an attempt to dissolve the blood clot, and waiting out the holiday is the next order of business.

Added later:  Several of the above details seem less clear to me than earlier--about exactly how the stent surgery affected blood flow initially, and where the most recent effects occurred, so some of the above information may need amending.  I know now that the clot has formed inside the stent, so that is new information to me

It's a blessing that Bryant is home from college and Andrew is on vacation from high school.  Otherwise someone outside the family would need to see to the cattle.  Having downsized the herd at auction on Thanksgiving weekend seems now like a good move at the right time.  Also, although there might never be a good time for Myron to be away from his travel office, this tends to be a slower time than most, so the timing for work isn't too bad either.


Walter and Frieda's wedding has brought my cousin and his wife here from Ohio, and we've been enjoying our time with them.  M and A were with Frieda in BD, while she cared for our oldest granddaughter there.

Last night though, when all my local siblings and M and A were invited to Linda's house for supper, we talked a lot more about life with my aunt FJ, M's mother, than M and A's time with our son's family.  (Please excuse my obfuscation by the use of initials.  I'm not sure that it's strictly necessary, but there is some logic to this decision--though I won't spell it out here.)

I had a rather startling revelation--that I share many more of Aunt FJ's characteristics than I realized.  I won't detail all of them here, more for the sake of her privacy than my own.  You see, I've always thought of her as the "wild card" in her parental family, a characterization that no one in the family would likely dispute, her offspring included.  At the age of 95, she's the nursing home resident whom the other residents speak of when they say that "We don't need a TV here; we've got FJ." 

I actually doubt that people think of me in the same dramatic terms as Aunt FJ (I don't.), but I learned last night that she loved the outdoors and that she was far more passionate about gardening than housekeeping.   She always had strong opinions and, even now, she does not hesitate to speak out on whatever is on her mind, especially when she has a captive audience like at a family reunion.  Mostly her mind is still clear, but her ability to accurately read and seamlessly fit in with social expectations has probably not improved in her old age.  The results can be quite entertaining.  For example, she has been known to appropriate for her own use in her assisted living apartment bits and pieces of the decor that she finds in the common areas of the facility--Christmas decorations, floor mats, etc.  I think M and A do a stellar job of running interference between FJ and those who run the facility.

FJ's sense of propriety is strong.  No one tries to make Sunday a laundry day if she finds out, as one poor soul discovered when he or she showed up to pick up her laundry basket. The employee abandoned the laundry basket and came back on Monday--a more proper day for doing laundry, as everyone should know.  She does her own bathing--quite capably, it seems--because modesty is important to her--but not in a shower, because she got burned one time when she tried to use a shower while she was in the hospital to give birth, and not in a tub, because she doesn't have a tub in her living quarters and she wouldn't be allowed to use it by herself if she went to the tub-bathroom part of the facility.  Sponge baths it is. 

Aunt FJ had five brothers before she had any sisters, and then she gave birth to four sons before she had her only daughter.  It's easy to see why she needed a fairly strong constitution to hold her own in the family, and why refinement and finesse weren't easy to develop.  M says that FJ speaks of my  mother as having been "weaker," so she usually worked indoors and got better at such things than FJ and Aunt Esther did.  I didn't know that.

I know that my mother was a "blue baby" (she waited alarmingly long to start breathing after birth), and that she likely suffered from a mild case of polio as an adolescent.  Nevertheless,  my mother birthed ten children and raised twelve of them--something neither of her "strong" sisters did.  (With M and A, we laughed about when Mom was in her final illness in the hospital and a nurse asked her how many children she had, and she answered "twelve."  The nurse was fishing for evidence of cognitive impairment and was sure that Mom's answer was the evidence she was seeking.)

FJ often accompanied her father on trips, since her mother (my grandmother) was far less interested in traveling than her husband and daughter were.

My brother Ronald's family recently visited Aunt FJ when they traveled through Ohio.  At our Christmas gathering, Ronald regaled the rest of us with a story she told then about a shoe mixup at the last communion service she attended--during the feetwashing part of the observance.  He told the story, complete with deep-voice sound effects and the deliberate pace of FJ's speech.  FJ went home with two shoes, but they didn't match, and she doesn't know if she'll ever again see that one shoe of hers.  How can such a doleful story provoke such hilarity?  That's FJ's modus operandi.

One more story:  On the day of my mom's funeral, her brother Jesse told a small family group that  the older brothers in the family used to speak of their three sisters as Mary (my mom) being the match, Esther, the fuse, and FJ, the dynamite.


Oh, one more gem from the Sunday night conversation:  When another doctor earlier had asked my mother to list words that start with "F," (cognitive test again) she said "Fannie."

When the doctor looked startled, my sister quickly explained, "She has a sister by that name."

"Oh," he said.  "So we're not talking about a body part."


While I was helping members of my Anabaptist History class do some genealogical research, I came across the fact that the German name Veronica was often abbreviated to V[F]eroney and then Froenie and then Fannie.  So the common name Fannie among Amish people actually started out being a fairly sophisticated-sounding German name:  Veronica.  Imagine that.  No doctor would ever be startled by a demure Amish Mennonite lady uttering "Veronica."


I marvel at how having common ancestors can produce a bond with people that we actually don't spend much time with.  One of the ways this surfaced again the other evening was when M described what kind of food they ate for supper.  It was always soup or brie.  Cold "broeckle"* soup in the summer time and hot milk soup of some kind in the winter--either rivvel** soup or tomato soup.  I confess that most of these soups are not high on  my "favorites" list, but I certainly learned to eat them without complaint, since I didn't really have a choice.

I had almost forgotten about brie, but my mom used to serve it as well. Few Kansas people knew about or ate brie.  It was made by combining sugar and cornstarch or flour with cold milk, and mixing the paste into a kettle of hot milk.  It would be stirred over heat till it had thickened and come to a boil.  At the table, a bit of brown sugar was added and stirred in.  Yummmm. The family bond with M felt strong while we talked about brie.


In Arthur's wedding sermon, he spoke of the pleasure of a marriage in which both are fully known and genuinely loved.  I think being with relatives is much the same.  Failures and foibles can be freely discussed without fear that bringing them into the light of day will jeopardize relationships or diminish love between relatives.  This is a gift and I am grateful when I experience it --like I did last night with M and A.


*I have no idea how to spell this, but broeckle soup is made by tearing bread into "cubes" and then adding sugar, cold milk, and fruit.  That was our standard summer supper as well.  Several of my siblings (Myron and Linda) still love this soup.

**Rivvel soup is made by making a paste of beaten egg and flour and then dropping this paste into hot milk, creating tiny, irregular dumplings.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

God's Good Provision

For some reason, my thoughts the past few days have been full of alternative building materials and methods.  Much of this information was acquired over several decades of time, most of it before the advent of the internet.  I read magazine articles from the mailbox and books from the public library.  We went on a tour of local energy-efficient homes organized by the local extension service and dreamed of living in an earth-sheltered home.  In tornado alley that had some obvious appeal, but not many places in the terrain offered a walk-out option for the south wall of such a house (for solar heat gain), and making a dirt pile over a house on flat terrain seemed awkward and strange.

Eventually, however, long before we had money for an earth-sheltered house, for $16,500 we bought a small, old single-story house without a basement on three acres of land.  We did about $10,000 worth of home improvement work ourselves and moved in before it was finished--about five months after the purchase.  We had one child, who was about 18 months old when we moved on November 4, 1984.  We have always been very grateful for how the Lord provided this place for us, although it took us a number of years to pay off our loan.

Today we live in that same house but for about 15 years we lived in a bigger house on the farm where my parents raised 12 children.  Each of our children had their own room there, and we had a guest room besides.  Tenants and then a newly married son lived here in the interim.  Again, before we moved in the second time, some improvements were made, but the house still occupies exactly the same footprint, and there is still no basement and no upstairs.

For us, being able to own our home was possible because we found a low-priced one.  We added a lot of insulation to make it more energy efficient, and we installed some new windows, but this house is definitely not a model of anything very innovative.  It's plain and small and actually not that well-built--of "sticks" and boards.  The extension service will never ask us to be part of a home tour event. We like it though, and, while we're bursting at the seams, we think we probably should get rid of things rather than build more storage space for our things.

We never did build an earth-sheltered home, or a rammed-earth one, or a straw-bale one, or an adobe brick one, or a cob-built one, or a house with walls made of 2 x 4 scraps (laid flat, end to end like bricks, each course nailed to the one below)--although we pored over many well-developed plans for such houses--whole books devoted to a single method in some cases.  All of them could have utilized local resources and family or community labor.  I believe they would have been more energy efficient than what we have.  I'm not sure that they could have been built for less money than what we spent for this house, but certainly for less money than people invest these days in new homes--or any homes.  I don't understand why people don't consider exploring such alternatives.

When we pray for God's provision, we'd best be prepared to follow where He leads,even if that means putting aside our cut and dried ideas about what is good.  Some have repurposed grain bins and silos for living quarters.  At the edge of Partridge stands an old feed mill converted into living quarters.  Dismantling existing structures and using the materials for new buildings might be possible in some cases.  Moving a house is often a good option here.

Sod houses were common here when the land was first settled by pioneers.  Wheat straw is plentiful.  With stucco applied to the outside (over wire mesh) and plaster on the inside, houses built of these materials need not look weird, or shed dirt.  Window and door frames are set in place as the walls rise, and windows and doors can be as modern as anyone desires.

I have a feeling that resistance to using the most earthy materials for building comes partly from our typical German (or European, at least) sense that permanence is virtuous, so building must always be undertaken with durability in mind.  I see some wisdom in that, but downsides are present also.  Ironically, stick-built homes (using 2 x 4's for framing) are actually less durable--and thus less permanent--than many of the older, more traditional methods, eg. timber-framing, post and beam, etc..  Their main advantage is convenience for materials transport and quick construction,.  This seems lost on many staunchly traditional builders and homeowners.

The downsides are perhaps most easily seen by contrasting the idea of permanence with something the Japanese do very well:  providing "just enough, just in time" in size and complexity, to meet the existing needs.  Certainly, this is not a completely short-sighted view, since thought is given to possible later expansion or alteration.  Avoiding overbuilding has many benefits.  Less up-front financial investment, more flexibility (changes are easier to justify and execute), lower property taxes,  and less waste are all advantages to the Japanese "just-enough, just-in-time" approach.

So far I haven't mentioned how well the Japanese sensibilities fit with traditional Amish values of modesty, simplicity, thrift, and restraint.  Many of us no longer bat an eye at what would not-so-long-ago have seemed ostentatious and extravagant in the extreme.  I'm all for being artistic and creative, with these characteristics expressed in a framework of excellence--but not at the expense of ignoring the constraints of personal discipline and humility.

So far I haven't figured out how to pull it off, but I'm trying to think how I could parlay that retirement gift money into an on-site classroom here.  It certainly can't be done by the most common means (like a portable "storage barn" classroom) because there isn't enough money for that.  I would especially like if something in what happens here could be replicated in many other locations as "neighborhood classrooms."  The goal would be to make learning truly a decentralized, age-integrated, small-group (and inexpensive, overall) community/neighborhood activity, with anyone who has a need for classroom space being able to create that space. Anyone who has a skill to share could do so as a mentor by inviting others to their own "classroom" --where the tools and other resources are likely already present, and they need not be dragged out of storage, transported, used, and then transported and stored again.  If a variety of building materials and methods could be incorporated and practiced in creating my space, maybe the building process itself could be a "class" of sorts. I presume a classroom building would have four walls.  Maybe each wall could feature different materials and methods.  (Are you snorting yet?)

What if I could build it myself, with materials close at hand and help from my students and the men in my family?  More likely, what if I made some preliminary explorations and preparations, and Hiromi saw that I wouldn't be able to manage it myself, so he would rescue the project with his far superior skills and organizing ability?  Actually, what if I just told the Lord that I'd really like an on-site classroom and would He kindly provide it by whatever means He chooses?  That seems like the best idea yet.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Tidbits on Christmas Day 2018

This is a perfect blogging opportunity, and I'm not sure what to blog about.  The problem is not a scarcity of material, but rather a surfeit.  Having spent lots of time with my extended family tends to have that effect.

Last Saturday after Smitty's funeral, while we were at Dominoes in Sterling for pizza, I executed one of the more dramatic moves of my life when I crashed on the concrete sidewalk in front of the building.  Clare was with me, so she saw it all go down, and apparently two people from inside the building saw it too.  They came rushing out to see if I was alright.  I thought I was, so I went on to the restroom where I had been headed.  I did feel incredibly lucky that my three-point landing didn't result in more damage.  Slight road rash on my hands, and a very tender area on my left knee was really all I noted.  Not until Thursday did I figure out that I should probably see my chiropractor, and it was a good thing I got an appointment before noon on Friday because he closed then till Wednesday of the following week.  My taciturn chiropractor observed that my alignment was "off by a mile."  Small wonder. 

I now have an opinion about sidewalk and entrance design that I never had before.  At this place, the outside door landing was cut out of the sidewalk on both sides of the doorway.  The door opened against a step up onto the sidewalks that accessed the restroom entrances.  When I exited from the inside, after the door closed and got out of my way,  I didn't see that step, and tripped over it.  While falling forward, I had the sense that there was a tremendous amount of preventive action going on that probably would end disastrously anyway.  It did, but not before I took several very fast steps forward in a mostly horizontal position.  I think Clare must have helped me up since I'm not much good at getting up unassisted.  She was kind enough not to mention what a spectacle I must have presented.

"Did you blog about it?" Brenda asked me yesterday after I told the above story.


"You should."  So I did.


Yesterday's paper reported on a lawsuit filed against a local personal injury lawyer--by his mother, through a Wichita attorney.  She had fallen while visiting her son, and had broken bones in at least three places.   She asked for $75,000.  I suppose some of us who heard the story were tempted with  schadenfreude, but I think we're probably too ignorant to know how little pain actually will result from this--except for the mother who no doubt suffered from the injuries. 

Our family and others in our church have been on the receiving end of legal action taken by this attorney, for what has often seemed like dubious reasons and frivolous claims.


My nephew, Bryant, is home from Sattler College in Boston.  It's the first year of operation for the school, and, to lure people in, tuition was free this year.  Bryant loves being there, for the good learning opportunities it provides.  Since Harvard is close by, some subjects will be covered by either hiring teachers from there to teach classes at Sattler, or providing the means for Sattler students to attend classes at Harvard.  This school is unabashedly Anabaptist. and is perhaps distinctive among such schools for its emphasis on seeking to effect change in society outside of political involvement.

Bryant's mother had told us about his "darling little goatee" several weeks ago, so we weren't shocked by his appearance although it's as fiery red as his hair.

I'm not sure whether Bryant has declared a major, but he has a lot of interest in math.  I think this is ironic, since he has also distinguished himself in both athletics and piano performance--as a homeschooled high school student.  That combination of interests and abilities might not be as rare as it seems, but I think it's remarkable.


My brother Myron had a stent placed last Thursday in the main artery that goes to the left lower extremities.  It was needed because of an aneurysm that was discovered recently.  The procedure was done without a major abdominal incision, so he was sufficiently recovered to join our family Christmas gathering yesterday. 

Myron explained that the stent looks like a tube, and functions like a culvert, with the ends of it extending past the balloon in the artery wall.  The culvert hooks into the artery wall and creates a way for blood flow to take place without stressing the weakened artery wall.  A break (rupture of the artery) usually results swiftly in death because of the great volume of "pressurized" flow in that area.

Myron would not appear to have any of the risk factors for circulatory system problems.  He has always been physically active, and is not overweight. 

My father had a similar diagnosis in his later years, but his aneurysm disappeared without surgery--after he had asked for and received anointing.  Nevertheless, I believe that it had recurred and actually ruptured right before he had a car accident which he did not survive.  I'm basing that conclusion on what the first responders observed about his upper body skin color (purple--not white or pink), minimal bleeding from injuries, and the experience of a nurse who lost a patient to that condition.  The autopsy was inconclusive.

I'm really happy that Myron's problem could be corrected, especially with a minimally invasive method.


On January 10 I plan to begin a series of classes that will last until May, with one all-day class every week or two till then.  The kickoff event is an overnight retreat.  It will be a very different kind of activity than simply returning to teaching the second semester of the school term as I have done for many years.  This class requires an approved application and a hefty admission fee.  I understand that the class is mostly "lab work."  That is, most of the time will be spent in group problem solving.  I'm particularly keen on learning more about operating effectively in the absence of positional authority--a term I've learned from Shane.

Shane has taken the class and told me I should do so too.  I was not interested initially, but after scolding myself a bit for momentarily veering aside from my lifelong modus operandi (seizing learning opportunities even if I'm not sure exactly how they might be useful), I reconsidered, and gave Shane permission to set things in motion where it required initiative on his part as a class graduate. 

I had prayed about this, of course, and still felt quite unsure about the wisdom of undertaking something so very far beyond my safe and happy routines.  Hiromi thought it would be fine for me to to do so, but he stopped short of telling me what I should do.  I finally settled the matter in my mind by acknowledging the Lord's ability to direct through circumstances, and so every step in the application process became a fleece.  Since I'm retired, I wasn't sure that I was a good candidate for the class.  Also, I needed scholarship funds to pay the tuition, and I had no reason to expect that I would be awarded a scholarship.  I stated up front (in answer to a question) that I would not be able to take the class without a scholarship.

Long story short, my application was approved and I got a full scholarship.  So now you know how I became part of the Leadership Reno County Class of 2019. If you think about it, I'd love to have you pray about this venture. 


Grant and Clare and their family have gone to Washington state where they will stay for the next number of weeks--probably till early February.  Grant will work for his father-in-law for a while.  We're taking care of their dog and Clare's sister is taking care of their house.  They drove--something I'm sure involved some challenges with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old.  The trip probably took about 30 hours. 


Walter and Frieda's wedding is planned for this Saturday.  I will help with food preparation.  With an interesting menu and good people to work with, this should be fun. 

Cousin Marland and his wife, who lived near our oldest son overseas, plan to come for the wedding.  They will overlap only briefly with Joel and Hilda, who will soon leave here for FB in PA for winter term.  After that they plan to return to Kansas for several more weeks before returning to their home in Asia.


We had some rain and snow on Saturday night.  More rain is predicted from tonight through Thursday.  It's not quite cold enough for snow.


In our family group, some of the topics we discussed yesterday have continued to churn inside my head since then, but I don't yet have anything coherent to say as a result.  I do consider it a privilege though to have such wise and experienced family members to learn from and laugh with. 

We're still working at figuring out congregational identity and structure, mission board policy, best practices in gardening and farming, cautions about Christian leaders whose lives we can't observe personally, educational systems for Christian families, affordable and resource-wise building methods, how to reach out to strangers who need friends and other support, how to relieve foot and back pain, etc.  A surfeit, as I said earlier.


On Jan. 3, the Coffee Corner will open at the 5th and Adams intersection on the NE corner.  Plans are to be open from 7:00 to 10:00 M-F, at least through the coldest months of 2019.  The goal is to provide a pleasant atmosphere and a cup of coffee to any who need a place to be at that time of the morning or who simply wish to interact with others who are there. 

Noel Lodge is only a few blocks away, and some who stay there may especially be happy for what is offered at the Coffee Corner.  It will be staffed by volunteers. 

Marvin and Lois and Arthur and Lillian have taken a lot of initiative in making this happen.


Tristan inadvertently and instantly got a body piercing recently while trying to tighten a tension-loaded ping pong table net.  The opposite end came unmoored and a sharp little wire part pierced his "schniffly"  (what's the right English word?).  Upper lip isn't quite right, but almost.  There was a laceration on his gums on the inside of the little puncture visible on his skin.  His parents agonized for a bit about whether he needed medical care, and then Shane remembered that some people pay to have such things done for ornamentation purposes, and he thought it would likely heal just fine without emergency room treatment and expense.  Eating comfortably was a bit of a challenge at first, but it didn't seem to hurt him much otherwise. 


We gave Tristan an egg basket kit for Christmas, along with my promise to help him craft the basket.  Years ago, several of my boys learned how make egg baskets as part of a 4H project activity taught by Melanie Graber.  I learned alongside them, and know now how perfect the design is for gathering eggs and carrying them without having the eggs roll around and bump into each other, risking cracking them. 


On the day of the winter solstice, we had the last nature walk of 2018.  Our activities involved things like marking the location of the outer margin of the shadow cast on the north side of the house, and the length of our own shadows.  We hope to note how this changes as the seasons change.


Tonya is home from Ghana for about six months.  Her parental family plans to gather at Cottonwood for several days next week.


Nelson and Hannah recently made an unwelcome discovery.  It turns out that their moisture-wicking mattress was indeed doing its job, but not having the mattress and its foundation on a slatted bed frame resulted in that moisture collecting on the floor underneath.  When they discovered it, the mattress got a trip outside for airing out and drying out, while the floor underneath hopefully did the same.


My Aunt Ruth (Mrs. Jesse Beachy) from Virginia is fading fast from cancer.  She is probably in her upper eighties.

On Sunday was the funeral of my cousin Mary Sue's husband.  They lived near Kalona, IA.  Their four sons (ages 15-21) still lived at home.  He died suddenly in an accident while he was cutting firewood. 


At Christmas, our family is certainly not alone in especially missing family members who are no longer present with us.  Our comfort and joy is mixed with lament for other reasons also.

One of the new insights for me this year was thinking about others for whom the same thing was true at Jesus' first advent.  Think about the injustice the Jews suffered under Roman oppression.  About the ruthless murder of babies undertaken by Herod, who felt threatened by a baby born to be a king.  About Joseph and Mary having to travel at the most inconvenient time possible--and then having to flee for refuge in Egypt--until Herod's rampage was over.  Lament was certainly reasonable. 

If Hope and Light and Salvation had not come in the form of Jesus, lament is still the only thing that would be reasonable.  As it is, the comfort and joy are present in us, even while we acknowledge the reality of pain and loss. 

Emmanuel (God with us)!