Prairie View

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Onto Something? Fat Chance--Part 1

Hiromi and I have both listened to a nine-installment documentary series recently called The Real Skinny on Fat.  Billed as a weight-loss series, it was very wide-ranging, but consistently lauded the merits of high consumption of fats. The line-up of presenters was truly impressive.  Most of them were from the medical field, but a sprinkling of individuals from other disciplines and trades were also interviewed. 

I have often felt overwhelmed with the plethora of viewpoints and the abundance of information on healthful diets--some of them in conflict with each other.  Being reasonably well-informed on the dietary guidelines from official sources has not always been reassuring.  I have often felt like following that advice has saddled many of us with excess baggage.  The Trim Healthy Mama approach to eating has reportedly worked wonders for some of the people I know.  I've resisted jumping onto that bandwagon, knowing that simply eating without putting a lot of thought into what I was eating wasn't working very well, but not having time or energy to learn what I needed to know to engineer and maintain dietary changes. 

I wasn't very far into this series before I told Hiromi that I felt like we really needed the Lord's wisdom to sift through all the information we were being exposed to.  We needed to know what was worth trying, and what really didn't make sense, in our situation at least.  I've been praying to that end.  This is my effort to distill this information.  I believe it will come out in bits and pieces in multiple posts--probably in a less well-organized format than would be ideal.

I saw early on that some of the defense of the Ketogenic and Paleolithic diets, in the vocabulary at least, borrowed heavily from presuppositions about the origin of man--evolutionary origins, in the view of many of the presenters.  Seeing this did not prompt me to automatically discount what they were saying about diet, but--thank-you-very-much--I'll need something beyond "this is the way cavemen ate" to be prompted to jump on this particular bandwagon.  Thankfully, many of the presenters did a good job of defending this way of eating from a scientific viewpoint. 

I heard the name of Ancel Keyes repeatedly.  He was the "villain" who tricked America into forsaking animal fats and expellar-pressed vegetable oils in favor of heavily processed vegetable oils.  Adding hydrogen to these oils created trans fats, which means they can be solid at room temperature.  These oils are usually chemically extracted with solvents.  His evidence was cherry-picked, and woefully misguided.  A corresponding emphasis on high consumption of carbohydrates (and probably other factors as well) has propelled our population into an obesity epidemic.  Correcting Ancel Keyes' errors is one thing that offers us a better way forward. The fact that ingesting animal fats and minimally processed oils from vegetable sources can actually affect our health in a positive way is the new understanding.

One of the most exciting topics in the docu-series was fasting.  What an elegant answer to the complications of many laborious and limiting plans out there!  Calorie-counting, specific food combinations, careful food choices with strict exclusions, timing regimens--so very many diet plans require intensive attention to detail.  This one is simple:  abstinence for a period of time.  I find it reassuring that Scripture references fasting in a good light for the most part, although the Pharisee was not commended for advertising his piety by announcing that he fasts "twice a week."  Jesus fasted 40 days just before the momentous events that led to his crucifixion.  Fasting clearly has a credible precedent. 

And now, on this Circadian-rhythm-disrupting first day of daylight savings time, I'm off to begin to get my equilibrium readjusted by going to bed in a timely manner.  And of course, I'm way past the two-hours-before-bedtime deadline for screen time abstinence.  We'll see if the speaker who touted this was onto something or not. 


Or maybe not just yet . . . Several unrelated tidbits--

Last week three vehicle gas tanks were drilled into behind Shane's business building on West 4th.  It's a wonder that happened without an explosion.  Two vehicles were owned by the Rock Group and the other was a Ramsey Oil pickup.  A battery was stolen from a trailer, but not much else seemed disturbed.  The vehicle and the thief were both visible on a security camera, but not that visible. 


Uncle Perry is now at the Wheaton House at Mennonite Friendship Communities for rehab after a short hospital stay in which he was discovered to have pneumonia, and probably a kidney stone, which had been causing intense abdominal pain. 


Our long-standing drought is now the longest period without rain ever since records were kept.  In northern Oklahoma, right next to Kansas, the drought has reached "exceptional status." It's expected shortly to extend north into south central Kansas where we live.


Our church is having a "comfort blitz" on Thursday of this week.  Many comfort[er?] tops have been pieced, and Christian Aid Ministries is in need of these "blankets" to distribute to needy people, so we're making an effort to assemble and finish a bunch of them to help meet the need.  Usually it's a women's sewing day project, but this involves the whole-church, and we'll plan to eat together in the evening. 


Yesterday was the Gathering for Gardeners.  Hiromi and I were both present the entire day.  I had given my Food Production class students a one-day vacation from class in exchange for their presence for the first session.  They left then to prepare to attend Ben and Beverly's wedding.

I had the pleasure of introducing my students to Allen Hirst, my high school biology teacher.  He's a Master Gardener, and apparently belongs to the Hutchinson Horticulture Club as well.  To my surprise, he launched into a short story about what happened at Partridge High School when the Amish students invaded the place after Kansas law changed to require attendance till the age of 16.  "They were great students," he said.  "The other kids accused them of cheating. 'They study,' they said."   Mr. Hirst grew up on the farm where Al Millers are developing a private park--just south of where Ken Schrocks live. 


Hint:  If you're starting spinach and lettuce indoors under lights, don't leave your lights on for 16 hours as I've often heard recommended.  I learned this when I observed the little spinach plants developing a seed stalk and did some research on what triggers bolting.  Apparently temperature and day-length are both involved.  We were getting the temperature right, but the day length needed to be shortened to something less than 14 hours.  The lettuce still looks fine, but I understand a delayed effect can occur.  I hate when that happens.


I recently read a fascinating article on how toxoplasmosis can affect animal (and human?) behavior.  It's a protozoan-induced disease that can be passed from cats to humans.  Here's the link.  I don't know many people who have had toxoplasmosis, but it's probably often simply not been diagnosed.  What if it could explain some of the otherwise puzzling behaviors that sometimes appear?

Monday, February 05, 2018

What Would it Take?

On Tuesday of this past week I attended the funeral of Ervin J. Stutzman.  He died at the age of 96, after nearly 75 years of marriage to Emma.  He was the founder of Stutzman’s Greenhouse in Pleasantview, and my first employer.  Stutzman’s now has 11 Kansas locations, and is well-known outside of Kansas for its quality plants. 

In recent years I had a wonderful opportunity to interact with Ervin again when our composition class created a booklet telling the life story of Ervin and Emma.  The minister who spoke at the funeral mentioned that booklet as a source of information that helped compensate for his having learned to know Ervin only relatively late in Ervin’s life. 

I typed some of Ervin’s last Christmas letters for him, doing some minor editing as he asked me to do. 

I treasure a letter that Ervin wrote me from Haiti, after he read an article of mine in Keepers at Home magazine.  He liked the article–on picky eating.  He had as little use for it as I do. 

Ervin’s funeral was truly inspiring.  The first speaker was Joel B., who grew up in Haiti, came to college at Hesston, and then later worked for Ervin for a short time.  Joel linked Ervin to the people in his home area in Labaliene.  For ten years, this is where Ervin and Emma lived after selling the greenhouse business. 

Hearing Joel speak created a vivid picture of the other world that captured Ervin’s heart.  In that community, Ervin’s investment brought hope and a greatly improved standard of living.  He would be quick to say that he did not do the work alone.  A board eventually was created to oversee the work, but everyone would agree that Ervin was the on-the-ground catalyst for all that followed. 

At the very same time the funeral here was in progress, a service in Haiti was also taking place.  There, the funeral included children from the school that Ervin established–probably several hundred students.  No doubt, people also came who were associated with the church, the sewing center, the shop, and the clinic that Ervin helped build.  Whoever is currently on the mission staff surely also honored Ervin by attending his funeral.  Translating from French, Joel read a letter from the people of Labaliene to the audience at the funeral.  Their love and gratitude clearly runs deep. 

Joel told a story at the funeral that is very illustrative of the down-to-earth, practical way Ervin went about meeting the people’s needs. 

The people of Labaliene used to travel for about three hours to the closest market town.   In conversation, Joel told Ervin that it would be a great help to the village people if they had a more direct route to town.  Ervin responded by asking “What would it take?”  Joel didn’t tell us how he answered–only that before long 175 people worked for three months to build a road to the market town, and Ervin and his helpers provided the means to complete the project.  It wasn’t quite clear to me, but it sounded as though the workers might have been paid in corn, which was donated by American farmers.

I never heard much about this project, but I remember hearing Ervin tell about a tree seedling project that was begun.   The need for firewood has resulted in deforestation of the surrounding area, and re-planting trees seemed necessary.  Ervin certainly knew a thing or two about growing plants, and I hope the project prospered. 

At the sewing center, women from the community could come to use the sewing machines that Ervin had collected and shipped to Haiti.  I don’t know all the ways the sewing center was used, but I do know about one program that I admire.  Women use the sewing machines to make quilts, using squares that have been pre-cut from fabric scraps by women in the U.S., either during the regular monthly church sewing day or by people who do the work at home.  Squares of the same size are bundled, and each seamstress gets enough squares to make two quilts.  One quilt stays at the sewing center, to be distributed as needed.  The other goes home with the seamstress.  She can either use it for her own household or sell it for a bit of income.  Joel’s sister used to be in charge of the sewing center. 

Emma told me once that Ervin often repaired sewing machines when that was needed.  He felt that the Lord had gifted him on-the-spot with that ability.  He certainly had no prior training or experience.

The shop functioned as a repair service.  I presume it contained some of the basic tools one would typically find in a welding shop, a mechanic shop, and a carpenter shop. 

Haiti has been in the news recently in connection with some of the president’s dismissive, foul-language labels for countries from which he does not wish to welcome immigrants.  I think if he had been at Ervin’s funeral, those words might have died before they were uttered.  I certainly hope so. 

No one mentioned this at the funeral, but Ervin was well-known by friends for his harmonica-playing ability.  In his youth he had also played the accordion, but put it aside, presumably when he joined the Amish church in Kansas.  I learned this over the time the composition class was  working on the booklet about Ervin and Emma.  At that time I suggested that he might be able to take up accordion playing again, since the church he was part of  had a different stance on musical instruments than was the case earlier. 

He explained that it wasn’t that simple since he had learned to play on an accordion with buttons that were replaced in modern accordions with keys–like piano keys.  I didn’t pursue it further, but I learned recently that Ervin had bought an accordion with keys and learned to play it some time in his 90s.  In recent years, he often played for other residents at MFC (Mennonite Friendship Communities), where he lived. 


Since the funeral, I’ve thought more about Ervin’s employment of foreigners, among them students (Joel), trainees (with Mennonite Central Committee’s exchange program), refugees (from Laos and Cambodia–resettled in the US), and at least one illegal immigrant. 

I know a lot about the last one’s situation since he lived at first with my parental family.  He was from El Salvador, and left during the civil war in the 1980s. Relatives of his were friends of my sister, who had lived and worked in El Salvador earlier.  No one here knew anything about his coming here until he was en route and needed someone to pick him up at the airport in Wichita.  He had a passport, but let’s just say it had not been acquired through the proper channels.  He feared for his life when he fled* and was eventually granted political asylum in Canada.  In that country’s system, he was regarded as a refugee rather than an illegal immigrant. 

Ervin did not pay wages to Ricardo because of the laws that forbade it (he didn’t have a green card–a work permit).  Instead he provided for him in other ways.  I know that he bought a car for him. 

In Kansas and in Haiti, Ervin clearly had compassion on needy foreigners.   His example shines brightly in this era of fractious and harsh rhetoric on the subject of displacement and immigration.  I pray that Ervin's passing could call forth such compassion in all who mourn his absence. 


*Ricardo’s story parallels a complaint that is often heard regarding refugees who are fleeing war-torn countries in this way: He was an able-bodied young man, and not a helpless woman or child.  Today this is often cited as evidence that such refugees are not truly in need of help, but instead are intent on causing harm in whatever country they are allowed to enter.  Canada having granted Ricardo political asylum suggests that their stance was very different from the suspicious and condemning one I sometimes hear voiced today.

Ricardo had served at one time in the El Salvador military, during a more peaceful time.  It’s likely that he was originally drafted in the haphazard way that the El Salvador military functioned at that time.  Essentially, officers boarded public buses and seized young men who looked like likely soldiers.  He had served his time and been honorably discharged. When the resistance movement gained traction later, the military began to call back its former soldiers.  Ricardo did not immediately join.  He had been married, had a child, and was divorced in the meantime. 

Before long, Ricardo  began to receive death threats.  I recall that he said that the death threats came from the side he would most likely have wished to support.  Some of the details are fuzzy now more than 30 years later, but reconstructing what I remember leads me to believe that he sympathized most strongly with the resistance movement, and he was also feeling pressure to join them as a soldier.  With both sides in the conflict vying for his loyalty and commitment, he could not choose either one without risking his life.  I have no trouble at all believing that this is exactly the same situation that many young men face today in war-torn countries. If escape is possible, it’s easy to see why that might seem like the best option.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Medical Care

On Wednesday evening Joe Schmucker presented information at church on Center Aid Plan (CAP), the systematic way our members help each other pay medical expenses.  It was engaging and informative, and gave a reassuring picture of how creating the position that Joe now fills is benefiting us all. 

Several ways of lowering costs were outlined:  1.  Taking advantage of pre-negotiated group price breaks with local providers.  2. Paying promptly for services provided.  3.  Being willing to travel when significantly less expensive services are available elsewhere.  4.  Being at peace with our mortality (especially related to avoiding heroic and expensive measures to prolong life when recovery is not expected).  5.  Being vaccinated against communicable diseases. 

Many of these cost-lowering measures come with "teeth"  designed to encourage compliance.  Mainly, failure to take advantage of them will result in individuals paying out-of-pocket the charges that could have been avoided by choosing one of the less expensive options or by simply asking for the discounts or making payments promptly.  Out-of-pocket payment for complications resulting from failure to immunize is not yet reflected in CAP policy, but it is being discussed.  No end-of-life treatment policy was referenced in the presentation, except to credit the wisdom of those in a recent case who chose not to pursue any life-prolonging measures after a cancer diagnosis. 

People who are no longer members in any of the churches with a CAP policy will not be kept on the plan. 

Overall, I feel much better about what this new Center Aid Plan approach includes than I did the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare), from which Center Aid Plan exempts us.  Nevertheless, I have a few of the same misgivings--none of which I had the presence of mind to articulate on Wednesday evening, even if there had been time to do so.  Incidents from my own and my family's medical treatment in the past ten years make me wonder how the new policies would have applied in our circumstances--and, of course, if that would have felt good and right or "wrong" in some of the ways that often feel wrong to people with more typical commercial insurance policies. 

Some people like getting their health care needs taken care of locally for the same reasons some people always "buy local" if they can--to contribute to the local economy and to help their neighbors and friends earn a living.  Some people find travel extremely onerous, and do very little of it for any reason.  Poor vision, limited mobility, and slowed mental processes that interfere with perception and decision-making are all possible factors.  Traveling during illness and recovery would look doubly unappealing to such people.  Deciding whether an aged or ill individual should be further treated is not always as easy as one might wish. Vaccinations?  Not as simple as one would wish either. 

When the ACA was being discussed and then finally passed, I remember saying that I believed the good part about that whole endeavor was that out-of-control medical costs were being recognized, along with the inability of people with ordinary means to pay for it.  The bad part of the ACA was that the proposed solutions did very little to address inadequacies in the traditional medical system  (for the moment, I'm not addressing the role of government in health care per se).  Also, some of those who most stand to financially profit from the traditional system were so carefully protected in the ACA that I have very little hope that anything will change for the better in the traditional system.  I'm talking about lobbyists, insurers, malpractice lawyers, and pharmaceutical companies. It's probably true also that a few doctors belong in this category, but I believe it does not apply to most doctors. 

I wish that CAP could take steps to fill in gaps in the traditional medical system rather than focusing primarily on finding ways to pay whatever the traditional system offers or to find ways to avoid paying full price.  I know the shift in thinking would be messy, and I can't for sure see the end from the beginning, but I wish we could be trustful enough of the Lord to show the way that we could prayerfully begin to explore new directions.  I wish we had more collective wisdom about what God provided in the created world that has health benefits without needing high-tech processing first.  Specifically, I wish traditional medical practice could be regarded as a good starting point rather than as a boundary within which all the good options reside. 

Last week when I left the chiropractor's office, I commented to the receptionist that I'm glad Medicare considers chiropractic treatment an allowable expense.  I remember when that changed with typical health insurance plans.  Insurers realized eventually that for some kinds of problems, chiropractic care offered more effective treatment at lower cost than what was offered in traditional medical practice, so they began to cover it.  I'm not sure that CAP is as flexible as the insurance industry on matters like this.

What if CAP could offer financial incentives for wellness initiatives?  I suspect that even without financial incentives, some people would willingly embark on wellness initiatives if some of the logistics could be arranged to fit our lifestyle in various ways. I wish CAP would assume leadership to facilitate such initiatives specifically for the benefit of CAP members.*

Women often like to exercise with other people--but not in mixed-gender groups, and not in ways that can't be done while wearing a skirt.  Could someone organize a women's exercise group?  Indoor walking spaces?  Most of us will not travel from Pleasantview or Partridge to walk at the mall, although I know a few who do.  Could the new activity center be opened for that? Could an outdoor walking path on the AC/school premises be created? 

How about opening a "clinic" once a week for CAP members where people could have help with various kinds of monitoring--blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse rate, weight, etc.  It would not serve as a treatment center, but could provide referrals when problems are observed, and it could perhaps help people with similar needs find each other to help and encourage each other.  If someone with some health care training were on hand, advice could be sought on other matters such as a skin condition, a sore throat, elevated temperature, etc.  All of these things could potentially help reduce medical expenses, both by eliminating charges for unnecessary office visits and by sending people for treatment before a serious condition becomes critical.  Maybe the birth center could set up a satellite location in the Pleasantview-Partridge area once a month or so to do blood draws or take other samples for lab work. Their standard charges could apply, but not having to drive to Yoder would be a benefit to CAP people who mostly live closer to Pleasantview-Partridge than Yoder. 

I wish for one more service, which I will mention in the next section.   


 I want to say something about vaccination, in hopes of shedding some light and minimizing heat.  I am especially interested in finding a way to deal with what I believe has too often been cast as a choice between only two alternatives:  1.  Get all the shots your doctor recommends--when he or she suggests.  2.  Don't allow any vaccinations.  Neither of these approaches seems wise to me. 

While I would like to see most people getting most vaccinations, I would like to see it happening under the following conditions--which I see as being more ideal than what is the common practice now:

1.  Mercury and aluminum are not present in any vaccines.

2.  Only one (or at least fewer) "toxins"  are injected at once.

3.  More vaccinations are delayed beyond infancy. 

4.  Mothers are believed when they report adverse reactions in a vaccinated child, and no pressure is applied to continue with further vaccinations.

5.  No vaccinations are given when a child does not seem well.

6.  Some parental discretion is allowed.  (In other words, if parents decide that they'd rather deal with chicken pox than one more vaccination, they could do so.  The possibility of contracting shingles later on though should be taken into account.) 

The one additional service that I would like to see offered to CAP  participants is low-cost vaccinations under the above conditions.  I do know that some of the conditions would be difficult or inconvenient or perhaps even impossible to arrange, but I wish we wouldn't give up before we start with trying to offer something better. 

As I understand it, while available vaccines have been individually approved by government regulatory agencies (Food and Drug Administration--FDA), none of them were required to have been tested in combination with other vaccines.  In other words, no tests were done on anyone who received the three vaccines given at once in the MMR (measles,  mumps, rubella) vaccination.  Common sense tells all of us that the combined vaccine increases the pathogen (toxin) load over single-disease vaccine, and that could prove problematic.  If mothers observe a problem in a vaccinated child, they may simply be doing the observations that should have done first during the testing of the products. 

Vaccinating toddlers rather than infants means that immune systems have had more time to mature.  I can't elaborate on exactly how this works, but it makes sense to me to wait till after infancy to undertake a vaccination regimen. 

Injecting mercury and aluminum?  Please just find another way to create vaccines. 


*I recognize that needs exist outside our CAP participants, and I know it sounds selfish to not offer to serve others who have these needs.  Nevertheless, I believe that starting by limiting it to CAP participants makes sense.  Maybe something else can develop later. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Aunt Orpha and Sunday Wrapup--January 21, 2018

Yesterday I attended the funeral of my aunt Orpha (Wagler) Miller.  Her husband, my father's brother Harry, died within the past 5-10 years.  Among her father and brothers, three were ordained men locally, and another brother was at one time the editor of Herald der Wahrheit, the German half of the magazine that was a precursor to the Calvary Messenger.  Orpha was the only surviving sibling for the past number of years.

Orpha herself had enrolled at Hesston College while she was a single Amish young woman, although she didn't stay long enough to graduate.  Taking on the role of a typical Amish farm wife eventually, she never stopped reading, studying, and learning.  All of her children pursued higher education and have served in a variety of professions and occupations, including medicine, law, education, business, and social work.  Jean Ann is married to Wesley, the high school principal under whom I have taught for the past number of years.  Throughout life, Orpha taught many Sunday School classes, and was a well-loved teacher.

 Jean Ann told me once that her mother used to say that when she can't go to church anymore, she wants to die.  That says something about how much she loved church.

Orpha suffered a stroke on New Year's Eve. Several milder strokes within the past year or two brought losses, especially loss of memory and mobility.  Another effect of these earlier strokes was to make her a very giggly lady.  I'm sure that it could get old, but for those of us who saw her only occasionally, the giggling seemed like evidence of cheerfulness.

A number of family members spoke of how much the singing added to Orpha's funeral service.  Jane said, "Everyone has many words, but singing words makes them so special."  Three congregational songs were included in the service.  Upon the family's request, Shane organized an ensemble "with lots of Millers."  They sang during the viewing and again at the cemetery.


Orpha died on the third anniversary of my mother's funeral.  Through Wesley at school, I kept tabs on what was happening with Orpha, and in the process, relived many of my mother's final days.  I was very happy that it was possible for Orpha to die at home, but I realized that my mother's death in the hospital was as good as death can be too, in many ways.  We had hoped to bring her home, and had, in fact, been able to tell her that that's what we planned to do. We began to set up a place for her and we contacted Hospice to make arrangements for their help.  Then her condition began to deteriorate, and we realized that she was in no condition to be moved.  The doctor tactfully told us at one point when we asked a question about the necessary arrangements at home, "I don't think you'll need to make that decision."

In the last two days of her life, many of us gathered in a large hospital room to which Mom had been moved and did hours of spontaneous singing around her bed.  She could not respond, but we trusted that she was somewhat aware of what was going on around her.  She seemed at rest, and we all formed lasting memories of being together in those precious hours.


Today's sermon by Gary was a continuation of an earlier sermon topic on spiritual gifts, probably including material that he prepared for a series of meetings some time ago in Texas.  Today he focused on the gift of prophecy (truth telling or forth telling, and sometimes foretelling).  He referred to those who have this motivation as "Perceivers." I had never heard that before.  I've studied this gift more than most, for reasons that I'll let you speculate on.

I could identify with the testimony of one person in the audience who puzzles over how some of these things are.  He mentioned particularly that he understands that we can benefit from what blunt prophets offer, but he wonders too if people who communicate that way would  not be more effective if they were less blunt.  I'm not quoting exactly here, but you get the idea. .  .  I've had some of the same thoughts, but my puzzlement is most often over the idea that we should calculate carefully the effectiveness of any course of action before we engage in it.  If the Lord has prompted us, the results are not really our problem.  As I see it, making it our problem veers too quickly into a desire to control, and could potentially result in devious manipulative behavior. 

I laughed to myself later when I realized that the dilemma that I heard articulated this morning is exactly the dilemma every one of us feels when we try to understand why people with other gifts think and do as they do.  In speaking of the dilemmas we encounter, we reveal a lot about which gifts we do not have.  If we did have those gifts, we'd understand why people with those gifts do what they do, and it would even seem to be the best way to do those things.

Yet, Christian graces are needed for all believers, and certainly being able to grow more Christlike will make the exercise of each gift more effective in accomplishing Kingdom purposes.


The CASP volunteers were in our service this morning--two couples and eight young men who are working for one month on improving housing in Hutchinson.  Another group arrives next month.


Cindy Sharpe, Gertie Troyer, and Pat Roy had come for Orpha's funeral and were present in church this morning too.  All of them were co-workers of Wesley and Jean Ann when they worked in Washington, D.C.

Cindy and Pat have been public school teachers for many years in D. C.  Hearing tales of teaching in inner-city schools makes our school seem idyllic.  I remember hearing Pat say once of Cindy's school:  "It's a pretty good school.  They have books."   Her school didn't.


My aunt and uncle, Joe and Mary,  came from Iowa for Orpha's funeral.  I'm not sure of their exact age, but they are close to 90.  Their son Ken and his wife brought them.


Northwest Kansas is experiencing a blizzard which has necessitated closing Interstate 70.  Once again, our part of Kansas is in the "dry slot" between areas of widespread precipitation.  I think I'm about to develop a complex about this repeating pattern.

The threat of wildfires again this spring is significant, given a heavy dry vegetation load, high winds in the forecast, and very low humidity and dry soil.


My cousin Leon is a surgeon who has made it a point to study trauma especially.  After his mother's funeral on Saturday, we had a conversation  in which we talked about my father's death.  The day before on my way home from school, I suddenly had a mental picture of my father already being in the presence of Jesus when his vehicle and his cast-off body were involved in a violent traffic accident.  Leon assured me that from what he heard, he believes that's exactly how it was.  If it wasn't that way, he believes that only seconds of consciousness followed the catastrophic aortic rupture that he apparently suffered.

I pass through the intersection where the accident occurred twice a day on school days.  I'm glad for a fresh and good image to think about when I remember Dad at that place.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An Elegant Design

We have an unexpected day off from school today because of dangerous windchills.  I'm hoping to get a lot of school work done later today, but for now I'm honoring the hard work of my night editor, who apparently kept churning along while my consciousness surfaced only at brief intervals--too often to suit me, always with nightmarish plant placement dilemmas occupying my half-awake moments. 

I will be sharing here thoughts formed over many years of time.  After a lot of hard work and discussion in a curriculum committee setting, some of them found their way into the documents outlining our school's course of study in science.  Part of the plan created at that time was to plant a pocket prairie on school grounds.  This was to serve as an outdoor learning laboratory that would be close at hand.  Arlyn suggested a spot for it where it's backed by a south-facing wall.  I loved the suggestion, but would never have dared to ask for it there.  The out-back places I visualized early on were needed for play space, were too visible to a drive-by public that would probably not understand their purpose, or were actually not on school property, so my first ideas for location did not work.

I'll spare you further details on why the implementation of that plan has been delayed so long.  Suffice it to say that I've needed more forbearance than I possessed at times.  And this:  significant funding opportunities were lost because no one with certain job/role descriptions agreed to serve on a committee to help develop the area.

I've loved observing the natural vegetation and wild creatures in our spot of the world as long as I can remember.    Others may keep tally of what countries they've visited, what prestigious singing groups they've heard or been part of, which sports figure shines most brightly, or which vehicle is best.  I keep lists of things I've identified locally--grasses, wildflowers, birds, butterflies.  That's part of the story of the formation of these thoughts  "over many years of time."

Another part of the formation story is related to gardening and landscaping.  I've taught classes in both.  While I've seldom met a plant I didn't like (Goatheads--Rocky Mountain sandburs--excepted)  I've especially enjoyed creating various kinds of gardens--always first inside my head, with constantly developing sensibilities about which plants go with what other plants in a given location.  For example, herbs go in a herb garden.  Right?  But some herb combinations make no sense at all for planting in the same garden.  Some herbs need lots of water (irrigation water, in our case) and some die if overwatered.  Some should be close to the kitchen so the cook can dash out for a last-minute garnish or flavor addition to food.  But some kitchen herbs are so aggressive that they aren't safe in a bed with other herbs, so they should be confined to a separate location--probably away from the prized space near the kitchen.  Some are perennial plants.  Others are biennial or annual plants.  Herbs should probably be planted with plants with the same growth cycle.  Consideration of all these variables can be confounding. 

I've designed landscape areas according to traditional design principles, making a concerted effort to use plants that meet design and use criteria and thrive in our climate in the spot where they're placed. At times, I've pushed the boundaries of our climate's limitations, seizing the opportunity provided by a micro-climate created by building structures or neighboring vegetation.  Japanese maples and hydrangeas aren't great choices for our alkaline soils and dry winds, but some varieties, planted in a spot protected from hot south winds, in the shade on the north side of a building can stay reasonably happy and healthy. 

Usually though I don't choose plants for a landscape if I know they'll struggle to survive.  Instead, I choose plants that I know to be related to plants that grow wild in our section of the American prairie, or in similar ecoregions in other parts of the world.  According to one system of classification at least, our ecoregion is called the Great Plains Steppe Province  (synonyms for steppe--Eurasia:  prairie--N. America, pampas--S. America, veldt or velt--Africa).  All are inner-continent grasslands in temperate climates, at moderate elevations, with moderate rainfall.  Experiencing and growing various kinds of gardens is another part of my formation story.

 I've grown many cut flower and food gardens in areas designated for those purposes only.  These are the most high-maintenance garden projects of all--not because of design challenges, but because of the high need for maintenance.  That's another part of the story.

Enter awareness of the elegance of a God-designed prairie.  As is true also of other natural areas, this is the most simple, beautiful, efficient system imaginable.  It survives with zero maintenance.  No watering.  No weeding.  No fertilizing.  No cleanup.  No deciding what plants may come and what plants must go.  Sorting according to suitable soil and climate conditions occurs effortlessly.  Butterflies and birds native to the area find what they need in these natural areas.  Some of the plants have medicinal properties.  Some are simply beautiful.  Some produce nutritious seeds.  Annuals, biennials, and perennials co-exist peacefully.  No one kind of plant overwhelms all others if the prairie is healthy and non-native invaders are absent.  The show is constantly changing as one kind of plant after another comes into its season of glory. 

To anyone who takes time to observe them carefully, natural areas offer a wealth of knowledge and inspiration.  When we know the Creator Who made them, we desire to worship and magnify Him, and we become more like Him in the process.  I think that's a wonderful thing for a God-designed prairie to accomplish.

To be continued. 


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday Wrap Up--January 14, 2018

Blogging is seriously complicated when life gets more and more full of situations that can't be blogged about.  Maybe I need to take a cue from what I've begun to do in my language arts classes.  On one day each week, the students write in their journals a response to a quote which I have posted and spent some time talking about, inviting student discussion.  It's one of my efforts to highlight what I've come to understand as the most important language arts activity:  thinking.  On another day, the students write in their journals on a topic of their choice.  They do this in class for ten minutes.  The "free choice" day is what I'm thinking of incorporating into blogging activity.

What I am considering is adding a private blog--not open to the public.  It would serve as a record of the thoughts that I'm not ready to offer for public consumption.  The main concern is to protect the privacy of others, but other reasons enter in as well.  I'd have to figure out first how a private blog works, of course, and I probably need to figure out why I'm thinking of blogging privately as opposed to simply producing word documents.  I think it has something to do with blogging preserving the notion of writing as communication rather than simply writing as thinking.  It could contain the sort of material that might eventually find its way into publication in a better-organized, more carefully worded format.  I could paste email content into the blog, since that is often the form in which communication on some more sensitive topics takes place now.

And now I've gone a short ways down the rabbit trail of wondering how I could nurture among students the desire to communicate by way of writing.  Maybe they'd like a chance to share what they write about in their journals.  I've never offered them the opportunity.


Facebook has recently reminded me about something that I've blogged about in some far-off time--the unhealthy and impossible task of insisting on keeping control of a narrative involving actual events, some of which are not commendable.  I have no personal acquaintance with any of the people involved in the recent Facebook narrative, and certainly no desire to add to the pain that is already present.  What I would like to do is to point out some of the unintended results of seeking to "control the narrative" in hopes that people can avoid this pitfall.

1.  Scolding people for gossiping makes all people who hear the scolding but have not heard the "gossip" wonder what is being withheld in the "official" version.

2.  People who have been praying about the situation begin to feel less sympathy for all involved if they have reason to believe that those giving out information have not been entirely forthcoming.  "Frightened and sorrowful" is a lot easier to rally around than "self-protective and harsh."  I understand that not all the details of a person's failures need to be recounted on Facebook, but actively squelching what is accurate but not laudatory could conceivably interfere with a quick resolution in a missing person case.     

3.  A missing person situation usually benefits from the widest possible publicity.  I may not be typical, but I'm a lot more likely to read and act on a personal message from a trusted friend than to simply read and pass on a "poster" from an official source that I have no connection with.  It's counter-productive, I believe, to insist on only "official" information being passed on.  It might make sense if you're in law enforcement, but if you're part of a praying Christian community, personal messages have a place.


Today was a comparatively mild day, but we're headed into the deep freezer again, with sub-zero temps predicted.  The very thin snow cover mostly melted today.  Children got lots of play mileage out of that inch or so of snow last week, with the assistance of howling winds that piled it up a bit in some places.  The snow had quit by mid-morning, but the morning trip to work and school was not without hazard.  In Hutchinson, a number of accidents were reported, with one particular problem highlighted in news reports.  Apparently a number of stop signs were broken off by vehicles that slid into them when they tried to stop at the crossings where the signs were posted.  Visibility was poor because of blowing snow during the morning commute.

This morning after church I had a little trouble getting enough traction to leave my parking spot when I was ready to go home.  It turns out that it doesn't take much snow at all to create travel challenges.  I always worry about teenage drivers and mothers with small children who drive to school on typical school mornings and probably must do so on snowy days as well.  For their sakes and for my own, I'd probably be more quick to cancel or delay school than the men around me are.  Nevertheless I'm glad it's not my responsibility to make such decisions, and I always end up trusting their judgement and venturing out, driving slowly and praying hard.  I presume that's what others are doing as well.


This morning at church two grandpas announced the birth of a new grandchild.  Joe Yoder announced that Danny and Kathy had a new daughter named Brooklyn Kate, and Marvin Yutzy announced that Justin and Jessica had a son named Samuel James, who was born in South Carolina where his parents live.  I recognized the "James" part of the name as a namesake for the baby's maternal grandfather, who was a student of mine when I taught school in Ohio. Grandpa James is a brother to our bishop Dwight.


 Flu keeps making its rounds here, although we haven't had great swaths of students missing school.  I heard that both teachers Glenda and Tony were sick over the weekend, and know now that Tony does not expect to be there tomorrow.


The Pleasantview Activity Center is nearing completion and plans are to have it ready for use at Hannah and Nelson's wedding reception on February 10.

I think this must be a record--two full-time Pilgrim staff members getting married during the same school term, plus one part-time teacher.


Kaylene Martin is spending several weeks at Pilgrim, helping with teaching in various ways.  She is a Faith Builders student.  I presume that she's in the teacher training program.


I feel at home already in my new classroom at school.  I especially like having a roomier space for the student desks.  A few of the old routines needed some tweaking to accommodate a different environment, but the needed adjustments are going fairly smoothly too.


My sister Clara's wedding to Paul Stoltzfus is scheduled for June 24.  My nephew Benji Mast plans to marry Janae Miller on June 2.

Benji is teaching speech at Pilgrim this semester.

Mark and Rose Nissley and some of their children returned from a trip to visit Mark's sister's family in Africa recently.  Mark told an interesting story this morning about his lost telephone which was found by a Muslim lady in desperate straits with a seriously ill child.  Mark got his phone back and the woman's son got prayed for in a miraculous series of events which we heard recounted.  Rose has some facial bruises that she acquired when an ocean wave slammed her onto the ocean floor, with her cheekbone bearing the brunt of the impact.

They had gone to the ocean near a fishing village.  The village people don't play in the water.  I think Rose has an idea now why that might be the case.  I know that I am far too ignorant about beaches and oceans to be aware of many of the dangers. I didn't even know it was possible to suffer injuries from waves making you collide with the ocean floor.  Isn't the sand supposed to be soft and fun to bury your toes in?

I do have an excuse for my ignorance about oceans.  Central Kansas is a long ways from an ocean.


Ruthie is about to head out for CBS, but will just miss her brother Jonny who will return from Faith Builders at about the same time she leaves.  Their sister Rosene plans to leave in about three weeks to serve as assistant dean of women.


More young men are needed to serve in the CASP program in February.

Shane reports that he learned in an Interfaith Housing board meeting recently just how significantly Hands of Christ and CASP has affected the work of Interfaith Housing in a good way.

Paul Yoder reports that a group of local Old Order Amish young people are planning a week-long "missions trip" to work in Hutchinson, working part of the time on Hands of Christ projects.

Shane's business is a housing business (arranging and managing rentals, renovations, and real estate transactions and investments) and he also serves on the Hands of Christ board.  He sees a lot of good working together among various agencies and entities in Hutchinson, addressing what has been identified as one of Hutchinson's significant challenges--access to good housing.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Images I Want to Remember

I haven't blogged for a long time--perhaps for the longest interval ever.  Many of my thoughts, words, and efforts have been directed toward people and situations close at hand, and time and energy for reflection and recording don't extend far beyond them.  This morning when I saw the pink in the western sky (this is not a mistake), I knew, however, that I wanted to write about some of the things I've been noticing that give me pleasure.

1.  Every morning and evening sky has color in connection with the rising or setting of the sun.  Always.  This color even shows up in the sky in the opposite direction from where the main color action happens.  My classroom windows at school face east.  When I see the pink in the eastern sky, I know it's time to head home (driving southwest) so that I won't miss the sunset.

My computer location at home gives me a view to the west.  When I see the pink there in the morning, I know it's time to check the progress of the sunrise from the east windows.  I love to catch the sun in its appearing or disappearing moments, but the brightest sky colors happen well ahead of the sun's appearance and well after its disappearance.

2.  For the first time ever, I saw two doves cuddled tight against each other for a long time on a bare branch of the locust tree outside our house.  It was a raw, windy day, but the sun was shining, and they quietly soaked up its rays in companionable fashion.  They were Eurasian Collared Doves.  They come in somber colors.

3.  Our cat has a morning routine I didn't know about till now.  She sits in a certain spot in the backyard every morning to wait for whatever small rodent might be cruising nearby under the canopy of last year's Vinca major foliage.  I've observed her laser-like focus and pointed ears, and after one such time, Hiromi found her soon afterward on the other side of the house with a mouse in her mouth.  I missed the capture.

4.  The New Year's Day supermoon was a phenomenon worth calling the grandchildren to see.  In spite of bitterly cold weather, they stood at the front door of their house (we were there that evening), opened it wide, and exclaimed over the huge golden circular sky ornament suspended just above the horizon. I hope to enjoy the blue moon when it shows up at the end of this month.

5.  Tristan is old enough to help make the food for our annual New Year Day Japanese food feast.  He pinches gyoza wrappers like a pro.   And Shane can roll sushi like a pro.  Hiromi has always been a pro at Sukiyaki.  And I finally have recipes that will help make preparation of all of these foods a smoother operation in the future.

6.  Pulling taffy at school as the last activity before dismissal for vacation was a success.  I got randomly paired with Beau who boasted that ours would be the best taffy ever.  I grinned at what was probably an effort to let everyone know that he would not be dismayed by having to team up with the oldest person there, and a teacher at that.  Beau was right though.  We finished first, had no problems with stickiness or stringiness or it getting overly hard to pull or so soft that it threatened to puddle on the floor.  It was white and not too hard to cut, and sooo delicious.

I think part of the genius of our success lay in the fact that while we were waiting for it to cool, and others were pushing theirs around in the pans to get it to cool faster, Beau simply took our pan and ran around the school building twice.  After the second round it was just right.  I assure you that I would never have thought of this way of perfecting the outcome.

7.  The candlelit Christmas Eve service at church was amazing, consisting of beautiful congregational singing of one lovely carol after another, interspersed with Scripture reading.

8.  Christmas dinner at my brother Ronald's place in Labette County with family and friends involved a short trip for Hiromi and me, Shane's family, and Linda and Anthony.  Hiromi and I went with Shane's family and I came back with Linda and Anthony the next day.  Ronald and Brenda had also invited several friends from the community.  In the afternoon we went to see the place that Christopher and Rachel have purchased recently, as well as the place that Aaron and Megan now own.  A good trip, good food, good reconnecting, and good conversation.  What's not to like about this?

9.  My long-time co-teacher Norma got married a week ago today.  She and her new husband will live in Partridge in the house just vacated by my sister Linda.  The wedding was a grand celebration, and much happiness and loveliness was in evidence.

10.  Our daughter-in-law Hilda was able to come for the wedding, having been a close friend of Norma's.  She arrived home safely, in good health, in spite of having been with all of us who had the flu before and after New Year Day when she spent most of the day with us.

11.  Grant's family gave Hiromi and me each a small pillow for Christmas--just the right size for a side-sleeper like me to cuddle with at night.  Wyatt had helped to stitch the words Grandma and Grandpa on the back of the pillows--one label for each.  That's quite an accomplishment for a restless, all-boy almost-four-year-old.

12.  Favorite quote from Carson (4) in the middle of the flu miseries at their house, after many refusals to answer when his mother asked what she can do for him--delivered in solemn deliberate emphatic tones:  "I'm quite rather uncomfortable."


I haven't been able to smile all the time in the past number of weeks, of course.  It's the season of the year between the death of each of my parents in recent years.  Mom died on January 12, 2015, after having entered the hospital at Christmas time just before then, and Dad on November 22, 2016.  The holiday season is filled with those memories for us since then.

Hiromi's sister Chee and her husband Smitty have had increasing health problems and will probably relocate soon to a facility where their needs can be met more adequately.  They're in their mid-80s and have so far lived in their own home.  This year, for the first time, they could not make it to our New Year Day celebration.  Chee has always helped prepare the food too.  Hiromi took food to them in Sterling so they could enjoy it nonetheless.  On Wed., when he didn't have to go to work, he took fresh ingredients, and cooked up a fresh meal in their home.  No appetite and too little eating has been one of their problems, but on that day they both ate well, with pleasure.

On the day Hiromi cooked for his sister and her husband I was at home sick with the flu and could not go, although I had helped make some preparations the day before.  The first day was the worst, and I felt almost completely recovered by noon the following day.  It must have been the same flu that kept Shane and Dorcas awake all night one night, while they and their three children took turns throwing up.  They estimated that they may have ratcheted up a record of 25 or so puking incidents.
Unfortunately this happened in the middle of the Christmas in Kansas for the Kuepfer family, so the sickness kept traveling to other family gatherings and other states afterward, in spite of their efforts to stay home to keep from exposing others.  Shane got a substitute to sing at the wedding in his place because of the flu.

The location of my classroom at school has changed.  I am now in Room 12, the second room from the front door, with windows facing north.  I lament having to give up the view from my former classroom, with its bright morning sunshine, and its view of trees and fields and Vernon and Lena's well-kept front yard--now Vernon's only since Lena died several weeks ago.  From there I also see the arrival of parents for the after-school pick-up of students.  What I see now is bad grass, bare ground, chain link fencing, business buildings, and highway and railroad traffic.  This time of year no sunshine reaches the windows, ever.  I'm  not sure how my window plants will fare.  The re-location is happening for good reasons, however, and I believe those good reasons will balance the negatives.  This location means that I will never be "locked out" of my classroom and work space as happens regularly  now.

Our winter weather has gotten very cold recently, with multiple days of lows in the single digits, and sub-zero temperatures several nights.  Ice skating is happening.  No snow has accumulated, and no significant rain has fallen recently.  We are in an extended drought.  The weather pattern looks likely to continue, with warmer weather on the way, but no significant moisture for the remainder of the month.

School starts again on Monday.  I have many miles to go today to get ready.