Prairie View

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Lullaby and Vulnerabilitiy

My mother used to sing a lullaby that I have never heard sung by anyone else.  Tonight after listening to the Dwight Gingrich family sing their own family lullaby on youtube, I went looking for an online recording of what we used to call "Sleep My Bonnie."  I didn't find it, but I found the words and music here, with two verses that I never heard before.  My mother sang only verses one and two.

I used to think "Bonnie" was a name.  Later, I realized it was used as an adjective for "treasure."  It means attractive or beautiful.  Bonnie can also be a form of address for one's beloved, or a baby.

Who knew that the lullaby I heard was a Lithuanian folk or dance song?  I'm not sure how a song can be appropriate for both dancing and going to sleep, but what do I know?

I have no idea where my mother learned the song , since she did not sight-read music or listen to recorded music.  Here are the words as I remember them:

Sleep, my bonny, blue-eyed little treasure. [For some of us, she sang "brown-eyed" little treasure]
Sleep till the rosy dawning of the day.
Bring the happy hours of pleasure,
Dream the starry night away.
Sleep little treasure.

May the angels hover ever near thee.
Loving watch forever o'er thee keep
Fairest visions come to cheer thee
Sleep my little treasure, sleep.
Sleep, little treasure.

The online version is slightly different in the second line of verse two.

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Today, for the second time in as many weeks, I listened to this TED Talk by Brene' Brown on The Power of Vulnerability.  The first time I heard it was under less than optimal conditions.  It was part of the day's Leadership Reno County class, but no one could get the laptop sound to connect to the room's sound system, so finally the laptop got plopped into the middle of the room with the sound turned way up.  On the screen we could see the speaker, and her words appeared in text on the screen, but the sound from the laptop barely reached around the room.  I promise that no one trying to make things work had imbibed anything they found in the cavernous storage warehouse of the City Beverage building where the class was held.

The most memorable part of the events connected with the TED Talk was the discussion that followed.  That discussion was very hard work.  We were supposed to talk about vulnerability, and no one really had much to say--except Nancy, whom I saw crying in the restroom later.  She had spoken up, and the facilitator then asked the rest of us if we're going to let Nancy's words fill the space, implying that the rest of us should be speaking up instead of remaining silent.  Nancy took it as a rebuke though--for talking too much, all the while ruing the sensitivity that had resulted in tears.

Another person who had a very difficult childhood said that she knows that she has focused most of her life as an adult on moving on from that difficulty. She was processing what vulnerability looked like in her situation.  She mused that perhaps she should be more willing to talk about the hard things she has experienced in life.

I really didn't know what to say.  I like to think that I am fairly transparent.  Is that the same thing as vulnerability?  Or maybe I am more of an enigma than I realize.

As I looked around the people in the room, almost none of whom I had much in common with, I felt honestly like I would be happy to answer any question anyone might think of asking me.  On the other hand, what would be the point of "spilling my guts" right there, right then.  Should I comment on being vulnerable?  Is that what was being solicited?

Anything else seemed silly, since a recital of any shameful truths about me would seem like little more than me-centered drama, of no use to anyone else in that particular setting.  Finally I said that I like time to reflect on ideas like the ones expressed in Brene' Brown's TED talk.  At some later time I would feel more ready to talk about the topic.  Afterward, the person in charge of the discussion (everyone in Hutchinson knows her husband because of his former job and his current office) told me that she feels exactly the same way.  Whew.  I'm not the only one.

Thoughts of vulnerability kept resurfacing over the next few days.  I'm not a powerhouse of self-confidence.  Does that make me suitably vulnerable--or overly reticent?  Neither am I in the habit of chronic self-evaluation.  Does that make me suitably confident--or insufferably arrogant, or just clueless?

I kept returning to what I knew from having been exposed all my life to fundamental truths of Christian faith and the Word of God.  An awareness of sin keeps me feeling needy and willing to admit failure.  That's the vulnerability-reinforcing side.  Knowing of Jesus' sacrifice reminds me that I have great value in God's eyes.  Being in a relationship with the all-powerful God of the Universe is incredibly empowering.  In this relationship, I have access to wisdom and resources that I can't begin to drum up by my own volition and effort.  Love can be offered freely to others from the store that I have received.  Gratitude helps keep things in perspective.  I'm richly blessed, but no paragon of virtue and accomplishment.

I wonder how things would be different with me, however, if I had not had a mother who kept singing to me that I was her "bonny, brown-eyed little treasure" while cradling me in her arms.   Without that "skin-on" reassurance from before my earliest memory, I'm afraid that the vulnerability that I sometimes feel might more frequently gain the upper hand. 

God bless every mother who offers her children security and love and time.  Like me, sometime in the future, those children may fail to meet their obligations in a timely manner or act more lazy and less generous and more harsh than they should.  If they have been loved well and taught well, however, they just may have the self-awareness and resilience to try again in hopes of doing better the next time.  Repeated effort over the course of a lifetime can result in an upward trajectory, and good can be accomplished along the way.  Joy is a side benefit.  Or is that the main benefit?




Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sunday Wrap Up--April 14, 2019

Blogging has taken a backseat to many other events and occupations, of late.  With no particular plan for where this is going, I'm getting launched again.

My last post was on white privilege.  In the Leadership Reno County class that followed the one where white privilege was discussed, one student recounted her experience after the class discussion--which she had discounted as being largely irrelevant to her world.

Robin (not her real name) had joined a group of people who all traveled together in a party bus to a ball game at the University of Kansas  (KU).  After they arrived, with tickets in hand, they stood in a long line to enter the building.  Out of perhaps 300 people in the line, only one was non-white.  With no disturbance whatsoever having taken place, several security people approached the only black person and told him they could smell alcohol on his breath and he needed to step out of the line.  He stayed in line.  Soon law enforcement officers arrived and handcuffed him and escorted him outside where his tickets were taken away, as were those of the family members with him.

Robin pointed out that he was not underage for legal alcohol consumption, and he had a right to be where he was.  I don't know enough of the details involved to make a definitive judgement about whether racial profiling or blatant racism were involved, or if it was something else entirely.  Robin felt though that about 299 people in that ticket line benefited from the whiteness of their skin.

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I'm exulting in the explosion of natural beauty that is part of Spring.  True, we've had to tote the seedlings in the unheated greenhouse inside to the insulated and minimally heated seedhouse to protect them from several nights of freezing temperatures.  But today they went back to the greenhouse, and I hope they've had the last trip indoors.

Today Great White Pelicans landed on the marshy area near LaVerne and Rebecca's place and later moved to Salt Creek in LaVon's pasture.  We're on their migration route.  I've seen them in the past, but didn't make the trip over there today to see them.  Their wingspan is truly impressive--about nine feet, as I recall. A week ago we saw migrating ducks.  Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged teal, Mallards, and perhaps Common Merganser were spotted on their creek.

In the landscape, Forsythia and Flowering Quince are sporting their bright yellow and red-orange blossoms. Ornamental pears are in full bloom, and seem to have made it through the cold weather relatively unscathed.  This is the best time of year to spot those that have been planted by the birds.  West of Partridge, along Trail West Road a number of them have spread into unmowed areas.  Along the railroad near our house the black currants and wild plums are in bloom as well.

Underfoot are some of the dearest wildflowers.  At Betty Schrag's funeral last Sunday, I saw two patches of Small Bluets,  one in the parking lot at church (near the pasture fence), and one at the edge of the cemetery where her body was laid to rest.  I was tempted to sneak back some time and transplant some of them beside my parents' headstone.  Then it occurred to me that digging in a cemetery might arouse suspicion.  Judy saw wild Anemones in bloom at the cemetery also.

Henbit is in full bloom.  If it weren't so aggressive, it would be easier to enjoy these flowers in the  mint family.  Ditto for Dandelions.  On our nature walk on Friday we identified Corn Gromwell,  and Shepherd's Purse--both tiny white flowers.  Yellow mustard was abundant.  We couldn't figure out one pink-lavender flower, but the next day at the MCC relief sale, I spied Filaree, lovely tiny trumpet-shaped pink-lavender flowers with ferny basal leaves.

A mocking bird flitted busily from post to branch to the ground along the far west edge of the pasture fence at  Shane's place, where I grew up.  Even the children could catch it in their binoculars field of view.  I knew there used to be wild Anemones in the pasture, but it's inhabited now by several Angus bulls, and we didn't walk there, for safety's sake.

Last week on Wednesday I saw the brilliantly-colored yellow-headed blackbirds up close, on the ground by the bird feeders.  A day or so later I heard a Wren singing near the house.

We've had one meal of asparagus from the garden.  Soooo good.  We also had a dandelion gravy one evening for supper.  I really like this spring treat, but i usually don't get it made more than about once a year.

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My picture landed in today's paper.  It was mercifully a tiny picture.  I was working the HCC Demonstration garden, and the pose looks as unflattering as you might imagine--bent over, skirt spread wide (thanks to the stiff wind on that day), shovel in hand.  I'm always the only one gardening in a skirt, and I get the feeling that makes me a camera target.  I spent my time working on preparing a plot for planting cut flowers.  Linda F. and Barb H. and a number of others provided lots of good help.  The plot had been overrun by Larkspur, which reseeded from plants in the Thomas Jefferson garden that used to be in that spot.  We saved the Maltese Cross and the Butterfly Milkweed, along with one plant each of Blackberry Lily and Money Plant.  We saved Larkspur plants along the back of the plot.

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Paul, the man my sister Clara married last June, has had the third heart surgery since the wedding.  Two of them were major, and the one in the middle was more minor.  In the latest surgery, two valves were replaced.  One of them was replaced earlier and promptly failed, for unknown reasons.  It was temporarily repaired using a minimally invasive technique.  The hope is that before these natural-tissue valves need to be replaced (usually in seven years or so), those replacements can be done with minimally invasive means also.  They are already being done that way in some cases.  Paul was doing well after the surgery, although I haven't heard a recent report.

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Betty Schrag was born exactly one week after my mother, although they did not meet until they were both well into middle age.  I shared a birthday with Betty and I have wonderful memories of walking with her along W. Mills Avenue where Pilgrim High used to be.  She lived along the same road, and would come by during a break in my classes and we'd set off to walk to the intersection west of the school and back.  We had good conversations, and I often hoped I would be just like Betty when I reached my seventies.  Betty was 90 when she died peacefully at home.  Her daughter Ann was her main caregiver.  She did so with great respect and skill.

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Our curriculum committee is preparing a government course.  Melody and Arlyn are doing the lion's share of the work, with Harry and I providing some input.  This week we're getting a boost from a writer from Virginia who works with Faith Builders' curriculum development projects.  An early meeting before church on Good Friday is planned.

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My niece, Kristi, and her mother Lois are expected home tonight from having  visited Sattler College in Boston, as a potential destination for Kristi for the next school year.  My nephew Bryant is already a student there.  Sterling College is another option for Kristi.

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Another niece, Hannah, is happy to have found a source for A2 milk on a dairy farm in Yoder, which she seems to tolerate much better than most other milk.  Most cow's milk has a type of protein designated as  A1 protein.  Some people are unable to digest A1 proteins.  The kind of protein a cow produces is genetically determined, with some breeds having a higher proportion of A2 producers than others.

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The pine trees along Trail West Road at my sister Linda's place are apparently infected with Pine Wilt.  Since there is no treatment, they are being removed gradually, with all tree parts needing to be burned, chipped, or buried before the first of May.  If left standing, the disease will likely spread to other pines, being carried there by beetles.  Scots Pines are the most susceptible, but Austrian Pines and perhaps a few others can also be infected.  Hiromi cut down and burned a dead pine tree from our windbreak row last week.  Anthony is doing the work at Linda's place.

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Yesterday, for the first time in a number of years, Hiromi and I went to the MCC Relief sale at the fairgrounds in Hutchinson.  Also for the first time, we ate at the "Feeding the Multitudes" building and had some of the traditional Russian and German Mennonite Foods.  We tried the Bona Berrogi for the first time.  I thought it was quite good, but very different from anything I've ever eaten.  It was pleasantly sweet--a bean-filled pastry deep-fat fried? and served with sweetened cream poured over it.  We also ate verenika (cottage cheese-filled dumplings with a creamy ham gravy) and borscht (soup).  Folks from the Beachy churches baked about 1275 dozen cookies, all of which were sold by 12:30.  Sooooo many other food choices were available, but we mostly looked (and inhaled) without buying.  I baked three cherry pies for the sale.

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I've been working for a number of weeks to see what can be done to "save" the Partridge Grade School building for community use.  It's a daunting process.  This country mouse is not that comfortable skittering about in the district office at Haven for board meetings and a meeting with the superintendent.  When the stakes are high though, you "do what you gotta do" in pursuit of a good outcome.  I'm not alone in seeking a solution, and some wonderful help has emerged from some surprising quarters.  Right now the building is probably headed for the auction block, unless a buyer comes forward before the auction prep process gets underway.  Desperation threatens to gain the upper hand inside my head, and would almost certainly reign if I did not experience the daily quiet assurance before the Father that I need only do what He shows me to do.  When the "instructions" stop coming I'll know that it's OK to back off without guilt.  In the meantime, as long as the next step becomes clear, I'm in--for the sake of justice for the people of Partridge, and for the stewardship obligation that accompanies having already invested money and time in that place.

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For the first time ever, Hiromi is interested in fasting for its medical benefits.  I'm happy for company on this stuttering journey, but sometimes my enthusiasm lags behind his. Fortunately he's not offended if I veer off on a course slightly different from his.  Lowered blood sugar without medication is his immediate goal.

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Shane's family spent the weekend at a Choice Books retreat in Hesston.

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Lowell and Judy traveled to Haiti today, along with James and Janet Shetler, for a week-long event, a pastor's seminar, I believe.

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Tomorrow evening, Ronald and Brenda plan to come from Labette County to finish up the settlement of my parents' estate.  Ronald was the executor.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

Do You Experience White Privilege?

Last week, for the second time, I read this article on white privilege.  Since everyone else in the Leadership Reno County class also read the article at the same time, I had the benefit of listening to others' response to the article.  Unfortunately this was the first time the class member who is a native Kenyan was absent, although I'm not sure how his presence would have changed the conversation.  Nothing in the perspectives that he has shared so far suggests that he carries a chip on his shoulder.  Nevertheless, I think having had him in the room would have forced all of us to consider carefully how our words and attitudes affect those among us whose stakes in such discussions are very different from our own.  The article itself highlighted this.

My own family consists of an assortment of racial and ethnic backgrounds, although the Caucasians of Anabaptist heritage definitely predominate.  While I can't claim to speak for others, I can speak for myself as a member of the majority when I say that all are equally welcome in the family. I think if no variety were present, we'd feel a little cheated for being so bland.

Both inside and outside of our family, I've noted that most of the people around us tend to cut Hiromi a lot more slack than they do for me.  In other words, he gets by with many more social faux pas and many more idiosyncrasies than I would.  In turn, I am probably the easily-excused one when I am the only Amish Mennonite in the crowd.  We all usually get a lot more generosity than we deserve.

I've always thought that for American Caucasians to deny that they benefit because they have white skin is disingenuous, at best.  While I can imagine circumstances and places where this is not the case, I believe that the vast majority of white Americans benefit by being Caucasian.  When white people deny their privileged status, I suspect that one or more of the following applies:

1.  They feel that their achievements and advancements have been won fair and square by their own diligence and effort--not because they enjoy an unfair advantage. 

2. They feel that they are not racist, and thus do not deserve the suspicion implied in the white privilege label.

3.  They feel that they have made wholesome efforts to be generous, affirming and inclusive, and this is not being recognized.

4.  They have felt the sting of reverse discrimination.  In other words, they feel disadvantaged in situations where racial diversity is prioritized over competence.

Rather than protesting the "white privilege"  label, or trying hard to prove its misapplication,  I believe the one thing that all American Caucasians must do is cultivate gratitude for every good thing that comes their way, without getting hung up on the route by which these good things arrive.  This includes being thankful for being able to run their "races" in lanes without the hurdles that have been erected in other lanes.

Meanwhile, it's a great idea to go on working hard to accomplish something worthwhile, and to be generous, affirming, and inclusive of all others. 

To  my knowledge, certain levels of melanin concentration in the skin have never been positively correlated with strength of character.  Whether privileged or not, having a lot or a little malanin--gratitude for the good that is present universally elevates one's character.  This is always worth pursuing and celebrating.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Did You Grow Up in the Middle Class?

In the most recent Leadership Reno County (LRC) class, we were asked the question in the title.  I couldn't think whether I should raise my hand or not, so I lifted my hand off the table belatedly and half-heartedly.  Afterward, I realized that even a half-hearted hand-raise was probably too much affirmative assent.  By most measures, I grew up in a family too poor to be in the middle class.  Why wasn't that more clear to me?

The question was posed in the middle of an exercise in which we had all read the same news account of a family with two children who were receiving public assistance (welfare).  We noted the facts in the case, and then listed possible interpretations of the facts.  All of the interpretations were measured, polite, and full of understanding--until one of the facilitators urged us to consider some more difficult interpretations.  She pointed out that not all of us raised our hands in response to the "Middle Class" question, implying that some of us might have a perspective on this family's experience that the rest should hear.  Then the visceral reactions began pouring out.

One person said she never knew her father, and had not been cared for by her mother, because she was on drugs.  As a result, she had spent time in foster care, just as the woman in the story had.  The woman in our class was furious at the way the couple in the story was "milking" the public assistance system.

Another person described trying to help his mother-in-law, whose furnace had quit during cold weather.  The family had brought in space heaters and had begun to check into getting assistance for her to pay for a new furnace--so that she wouldn't have to take out a loan to pay for it.  They knew that her limited income would make it difficult to pay back a loan.  As soon as it became clear that the assistance was forthcoming, the woman took out a loan and scheduled the installation of a new furnace.  The son-in-law saw in her actions an unappealing mix of negative attitudes and actions, probably centered on pride.  Pride was probably driving both the reluctance to seek help and the desire to pay for it with borrowed money rather than "gifted" money.

In one of the above stories, the point being made by the storyteller was that some people are far too quick to take money from others, and the other storyteller was saying in effect that some people shouldn't be too proud to accept help from others when they need it.  

Even before the class was over, my mind was churning with questions: How is "middle class" defined?  What if those who define "middle class" have very different values from mine?  Am I still obligated to accept another's definition of middle class?  Is it important to know our socio-economic class?  Are we capable of identifying our own class status?  What is poverty?  Is being  poor and proud a good thing or a bad thing?  Is poverty with shame better than poverty with pride?

When I visited Lincoln school recently, I heard statistics that placed most of the students in the poverty category.  Seventy per cent qualified for free lunches.  So did my family, although we didn't know it until the principal quietly informed my parents and urged them to use the benefit.  Forty per cent at Lincoln qualified for free breakfast and weekend meals too.  If the program had already existed, I suspect that my parental family might have qualified for that too.  True, the food was often simple, with little variety.  Bread and milk soup for supper--hot in the winter--with the bread toasted, and cold in the summer, with sugar and fruit added.  Eggs and hot cereal for breakfast, summer and winter.  Repeat ad infinitum.  Much of our food was produced on our farm, and some of the baked goods we ate came from a big pile on the floor of Nisly Brothers' shed.

In the house, we had water piped to two spigots, one in the bathroom sink and one in the kitchen sink.  We could "skin the cat" (a gymnastics move) on the pipe that drained the kitchen sink and protruded from the side of the house.  The bathroom drain pipe was too low to the ground to hang from by our hands or feet--as required for skinning the cat.  Four bedrooms held beds for twelve people.  The upstairs bedrooms were frigid during the winter and sometimes so hot in the summer that we used a fine water mist from a spray bottle in order to cool off enough to sleep. 

My paternal grandparents (Kansas) had twelve children born to them between 1921 and 1937.  The Great Depression hit smack in the middle of those years, and the Dust Bowl marked the end of that time period.  A "mawt" (maid) who worked in their home described them as being "so poor."  Yet, when I asked the group of siblings in my dad's family (during a memories-sharing time at a reunion) if they felt poor while growing up, they said "not really; we were much like the people around us." I guess their economic status wasn't clear to them either.

I remember that in high school another girl once liked something I was wearing and asked where I got it.  I answered honestly, "Salvation Army," at which point she promptly apologized for asking.  I thought that was strange. 

I also remember the year when our neighbor Johnny Davies showed up at our door during the Christmas season with a big box of wonderful food.  Even before he left, we exclaimed happily over it as we lifted each item out of the box.  When my dad asked "Where did you get this?" Johnny said, "I thought you weren't supposed to ask about things like that." 

Dad thanked him for reminding him of that.  We children never suspected what my parents must have known--that we were one of the recipients of the Partridge Church people's efforts to remember the poor during the Christmas season. 

I believe that our family's economic status was not clear to me for several reasons.  Primarily, we simply didn't spend a lot of time comparing ourselves with others.  Also, since we lived in a fairly tightly-knit community among people whose lifestyle was similar to ours,  no huge and obvious differences existed.  Others also wore tennis shoes to school even after they had developed a few holes.  Certainly, most others had an indoor toilet, and we didn't, and some of our friends routinely got money to spend at the concession stand at ball games, and we usually didn't.  If we did, we never failed to choose the items carefully so that we could easily divide some of it among our younger siblings after we got home (shoestring licorice was perfect for this). 

We never saw possessions as a measure of worth.  I'm not sure how this happened, but I wonder if we didn't actually have a slightly negative impression of being wealthy--as though it revealed misplaced priorities or character flaws.  Maybe it was partly because so little of what my parents invested their time in resulted in a prompt economic benefit.  Yet we knew that what they did had value.  My dad never was a salaried minister, but he spent a great deal of time in pastoral work.  My mother extended hospitality to others far beyond the call of duty, with no financial reward.  On the farm, none of the crops brought in money until they could be harvested and sold.  Animals had to be fed a long time before they could be taken to market.  Delayed or intangible as they were, these responsible behaviors did produce rewards--as we came gradually to understand. 

I don't know how this happened either, but somehow we were able to view things that came into our possession with gratitude for God's provision, whether it came through a great find at Salvation Army or a box of food at Christmas.  Too proud to receive these good gifts?  That would have been unthinkably ungrateful to our Great Provider.  The perspective of gratitude made it possible to receive help without shame.

Everything I'm remembering here elevates my parents' roles in our family life another notch.  I marvel at the resourcefulness and wisdom and strength with which they met their challenges. Among the gifts they gave us was leading by example in staying curious and engaged in the world of books, nature, and people.  Consequently we faced the world outside our home with what I think was a healthy measure of confidence and enthusiasm.  If we chased anything, it was knowledge, mastery of skills, and opportunities to serve--not money.  These were priceless habits we learned from our parents. 

Our household was not particularly well-organized and our relationships were not always without friction, but by and large, our home was happy, and dysfunction was held at bay.  What we did have was a bedrock of faith in a loving, merciful, and just God, and we had an Instruction Book and a faith community to help us learn how to live.  This surely carried all of us in ways that we will never understand on this side of heaven.  Measured against the wealth of being part of the kingdom of God, being part of the middle class looks like a diminished and meager status. 



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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Building a Better Case for Being Present in Nature

After my blog post last night, my sister Linda sent me an email with a number of links and a few notes about the contents.  With her permission, I'm sharing some of the content here.  Her notes:

I looked at a bunch of sites. One mentioned that the combination of green 
and blue is especially therapeutic. Another mentioned the benefit of 
sunshine. But mostly it was green--even green plants in the house...

     [Seeing] both green and blue is especially helpful.

     Even five minutes a day outside is very beneficial.

     Being outdoors is therapeutic for those with ADHD, addictions, 
depression, insomnia...

     Nature improves classroom behavior and speeds healing in hospitals.

     As increasing research shows benefits of spending time in nature, 
especially in sunlight, people are spending generally less and less time 
outside.

     Some side benefits [of being outdoors] are fresh air, exercise...

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I've included the links below, along with minimal comments.

Learn about phytoncides here, and about the beneficial effects of a view of living things and natural beauty, even when confined indoors.  Lots of other good information and tips here.

I especially like Frank Lloyd Wright's quote at the end of this article (except that I would like to add a caveat to the last phrase).  Although he is known for his Prairie Style of architecture, I don't think he's thinking of prairie-style drought, blizzards, floods, high winds and tornadoes when he says "nature never fails you."

Reading this article makes me wonder (again!) why we are prioritizing play space (especially for competitive games) over green space on our school grounds.

This article lists specific medical diagnoses that are often helped by spending time in natural environments.,

Ohhhh, this last paragraph is gold.  I also love this "prescription" for being in nature:  "Go outside, go often, go with friends, or not."  It borrows from the format of Micheal Pollan's sage words on eating well:  "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

This article appears on a site that suggests it's written by a mother concerned about wellness.  You'll find the term ecotherapy introduced here.   This also has the simplest explanation that I've read about how negative ions are beneficial.  It's because our bodies have a tendency to build up a positive charge, and negative ions restore "electrical" balance.

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Before I spoke yesterday, I read an abstract of a journal article that spoke to a question already present in my mind.  What is the benefit of being outdoors in an environment like the one I usually walk in these days--on a paved road, alongside ditches that have been freshly dug out and are thus devoid of vegetation (let alone, plant diversity), in winter, when "green" is hard to find, and the wind can be hard and cold?  In brief, though exercise and fresh air are beneficial, the answer to this question is still elusive, and more research is needed.  I'll copy parts of the abstract below:

"There is mounting empirical evidence that interacting with nature delivers measurable benefits to people. Reviews of this topic have generally focused on a specific type of benefit, been limited to a single discipline, or covered the benefits delivered from a particular type of interaction. . . . We discover that evidence for the benefits of interacting with nature is geographically biased towards high latitudes and Western societies, potentially contributing to a focus on certain types of settings and benefits. . . .  The evidence for most benefits is correlational, and although there are several experimental studies, little as yet is known about the mechanisms that are important for delivering these benefits. For example, we do not know which characteristics of natural settings (e.g., biodiversity, level of disturbance, proximity, accessibility) are most important for triggering a beneficial interaction, . . . These are key directions for future research if we are to design landscapes that promote high quality interactions between people and nature in a rapidly urbanising world."

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While I am as eager as ever to incorporate natural prairie plants into our landscapes, I see more clearly than before that trees should also be incorporated, even though not many grew here prior to settlement by people of European ancestry.  I even find some limited justification for watered and mowed lawns, because that's the most reliable way to ensure that access to green is possible during the growing season, even if severe drought descends.  

I have a growing vision for developing walking or running paths that are lined with a diverse plant community that includes trees.  Since we can't all do this at our homes, we should consider doing this in places that all have easy access to.  On school and church grounds, and in small-town parks would seem like good places to begin.  Maybe some people who have space and the vision to develop their own properties could be generous enough to open it for use by other members of the community.  Or perhaps landowners with adjacent properties could stretch walking paths across boundary lines.  I'm guessing that some people are wondering why we can't just all use our country roads for walking.  There's some validity to that.  Safety, however, is more assured if pedestrian traffic does not mix with motor vehicle traffic, as happens when walking happens on public roadways.  Also, women walking alone would feel less vulnerable--to human predators at least, away from public roads.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Devotions at the Sewing

I spoke today during the devotional time to the ladies from Center and Cedar Crest who had gathered for the monthly sewing day.  It was a typical day in that comforters and quilts were being churned out as fast as such projects can happen.  Anyone who has helped with such projects knows that knotted comforters can be finished much much faster than quilts.  Once a year, usually in February, we have a potluck (or carry-in, as it's usually called), and we did that today.

I agreed afterward to helping with the cleanup after the sewing for the next seven months. 

One of these times, I'm going to have to start saying no again when I'm asked to do things.  No one asked when I was teaching (and I would have said no if they had), but now that I'm retired, I'm apparently "fair game" when volunteers are being solicited.  I guess that's OK, because so far I'm really happy for the switch in activities.  I think I can trust Hiromi to gently intervene if he sees things getting out of hand.  He's done so before. 

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I used my students' response to my teaching-the-wrong-Sunday School-lesson story as an example of their choosing an adaptive response to the situation.  After a bit more explanation about the difference between adaptive and technical situations and responses, I observed that most of the women "here" seem to me to face many adaptive challenges. 

I had no illusions about being able to offer anything that would magically make adaptive challenges easier to navigate, but I attempted to point out that God's provision is sufficient for facing these challenges.  I think I probably talked too long, but they were an attentive audience.  They're kind that way.

I'm plopping my notes into the remainder of this post.  They're pretty rough in places, and the content might be too sketchy to be helpful.  In brackets I added some explanations--some of which I included when I spoke, and I crossed out at least one thing that I think I did not say.  Even so, the notes aren't that great.  If the notes need interpretation, just ask.  And please bear with me.

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 Sewing Devotions Notes

God’s Provision for Adaptive Work

Story about teaching the wrong lesson.

Adaptive challenge: No clear path forward.  Various things to consider.  Involves discomfort and uncertainty.  All options involve some risk.  [Adaptive work is what it sounds like--requiring many adaptations.  Technical solutions often involve an authority figure and unquestioned and invariable processes and actions.]

[I read the next two paragraphs aloud.]
Most of life calls for being able to meet adaptive challenges.  Often the thing we would like most to do is to find a technical solution so we won’t have to muddle through a situation like this repeatedly. The problem then often becomes dealing with the situations that don’t fit a tidy system.  In such situations, we have a new adaptive challenge.  If we don’t recognize this, or perhaps if we don’t have the time to invest in finding adaptive solutions, we end up investing too much energy in maintaining the system.  The sweet spot seems to me to be a system that has enough structure to relieve the stress of having to constantly reinvent things, but is flexible enough to incorporate variables as they arise.  There probably are times when the systems themselves need to change.  On the other hand, often what we need to do is to take better notice of the options we do have within an existing system. 

God’s provision for us is adequate for our tasks. I’m thinking especially of women in our setting.  I will be speaking largely out of my own experience, but partly also about my aspirations.  I hope that in listening you might be able to find something that you can apply in your own situation.  Specifically, I hope that you can begin to employ some practices that are simple enough to provide some easy structure, and flexible enough to be workable in varied situations.

God provides for us--

–Through our biology–better connections between the two sides of our brain
–hormonal cycle (more energy at certain points in the cycle–because of different hormone mix) 

–Through rhythms in the created world–
–day and night (earth’s rotation on its axis)–Markers: sunrise and sunset–witness this!  Day and night–day is for work/night is for rest–going to bed at a regular time
–moon phases (moon orbiting around the earth)–Markers: Full moon and new moon–Seedstarting
–solar cycle (earth orbiting around the sun)–Long days and short days–Equinox and solstice–markers [All of the above can serve as prompts for accomplishing certain tasks.  E.g., if we do spring cleaning, use the vernal equinox as the deadline–or the starting time, etc.]

–Through God-ordained rhythms–
[Nothing in the natural world suggests the 1 in 7 rhythm.  It exists only by God’s direct creation and command.] Very basic: (work and rest) 1 in 7, [applicable also to other tasks] traditional tasks on certain days (wash on Monday, ironing, mending, cleaning, baking) menu planning: different meats, different vegetables, different starches

–Through being present in nature–
–a good place to exercise
–a good time to get fresh air
[I meant to list below the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of being in nature.]
–a good time to be exposed to negative ions–not directly related to exercise and fresh air–most studied in relation to going barefoot outside on bare ground or waking in forested areas–here, the open sky and enormous plant diversity in a prairie ecosystem have been less studied [I admitted to some uncertainty about how this works and couldn’t explain it very well.]
--elevated mood
--greater calmness
--improved mental processing and memory
–a good time to notice plants that are valuable nutritionally and medicinally
–a good place to worship–Psalm 8 & 14–Romans 1--God is revealed in creation
–being easily amazed (If this does not come naturally to you, I think the way to acquire it is to cultivate the discipline of gratitude)

--Through God’s Word and Spirit–won’t attempt to say how this should look for you–for me, it [spending time in Scripture reading, meditation, and prayer] looks very different since Hiromi is retired and our children have left home [I’m able to take more time, more regularly.]

Through crying out to God –this is probably the only one that is the right thing to do every time when you face an adaptive challenge–because it’s probably the only way that you’ll be able to know which other approaches are the right ones for right now. 
God, the wonderful Provider, will never fail us. [I can’t imagine how very different my life would be if God had not responded, over and over, when I cried out to Him–often in uneloquent prayers like “O Lord, help!” or “Please show me what to do next.”]

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Here's a link to a well-documented article giving "11 scientific reasons you should be spending more time outside."

Several ladies were happy to hear that being barefoot outside has health benefits, and a few affirmed that they feel really well when they do this a lot. 

Sunday, February 03, 2019

SS Class Fail, Tragedy, and School

Have you ever taught an entire Sunday School lesson to adults and learned at the end of the class period that you were holding forth on the wrong lesson?  I did that this morning--after I had taken some pains early in the week to make sure that I was studying the right lesson.  The tittering at the beginning of class should have tipped me off, but a bit of fast thinking on the part of a few class members resulted in the conclusion that it was better to talk about what I had studied than what they had studied--possibly with less time investment.  So they just went with the flow and waited till the end of class to reveal what the merriment was about.

I still wish I had learned something though about the vine and the branches (John 15a), although the Shepherd seeking the lost sheep and the woman searching for the lost coin (Luke 15a) proved to be an interesting study as well.  I think my brain did a switch between reading my announcements sheet on the fridge where the lesson was listed (from John) and my devotions chair where I began to read the portion (from Luke).  Silly old brain.

In my own defense, I'll say that the way this lesson was chosen and assigned was highly unusual, so the confusion happened easily.  It was a fill-in lesson between finishing up the NT General Epistles and beginning the study of the three OT minor prophets who proclaimed truth to the nation of Israel.

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This morning's service included news and prayers about an unusual number of tragedies involving friends and family of people in our congregation. Julian told about the 41-year-old friend of Bertha's who died of a stroke, the 21-year-old young married woman who died in an accident on winter-hazardous roads (from Floyd and Dorcas' church--but also an inlaw to Bertha's brother), and he mentioned the death of a 61-year-old cousin to Marvin and Judy--both married to one of my siblings.  Norman (the cousin) was an age-mate and dear friend of Marvin's when they lived near each other from birth to age 9.  Marvin also mentioned Sam Swarey who is very ill with cancer in TN.  We heard about the death this morning of Daniel Yutzy and his wife, who were traveling to her grandmother's funeral in OH and died in an accident on the way there.  They lived in Iowa and had five children ages 5-21.  Apparently this Amish couple, presumably traveling in a vehicle with a hired driver, collided with a semi sitting crosswise in the road under very foggy conditions.  Then Lorne K. told us about the young man from IL who died when their home exploded from an apparent gas leak.  His sister is hospitalized in critical condition.  A young man on his way home to IL from working in Hutchinson on Interfaith Housing Projects with CASP aborted his planned trip home (via a wedding in GA) because his parents--who planned to pick him up at an airport en route--needed to return to IL.  The parents of the young people involved in the explosion were passengers in the vehicle originally headed to GA.    Kathy Garrett (local) is in hospice care, with a short life expectancy.  Oh my! Lord, have mercy.

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"School" seems to be a recurring theme in my world recently.  It's a very different school world, however, than the one that consumed nearly all my energies during the past several school years. 

Today's local newspaper had three "school" stories.  One was an opinion piece urging caution about charter schools.  Another was a news story about Christian schools.  I'm afraid this article is more accurate than I wish it were in some ways--particularly the ways that indoctrination there can promote political polarization. When they talk, however, about leaving kids "vulnerable on all kinds of levels" because of too-limited exposure, etc. I think they are revealing values that have too little in common with Christian values for their concern to be taken very seriously.  I take some comfort in what I heard several weeks ago from Wendy S., the Hutch News staffer who ended up in my carpool to Hesston for the LRC retreat.  She spoke of the Pilgrim students as their "favorite student group to work with by far" on the student-written section of the newspaper that is published once a month by one of the high schools in the area--with a lot of help offered by News staffers.

The front page had an article about how public schools in Reno County fared in recent testing on math, language arts, and science.  There's not a lot to brag about here, but scores weren't dismal either. 

Several days ago I saw the name and picture of one of my college classmates, Fred Dierksen, who was just appointed as a co-chair of a Governor's Council on Education.  He was the well-loved superintendent of the Sterling school district until recently when he transferred to Dodge City.  Fred is a good level-headed Christian guy (I remember him helping push my little Opel out of a snowy, slippery parking spot on campus one day), and I'm pleased to see him in a state education position. 

In January, I attended the Haven district school board meeting.  Doing so was a requirement for the Leadership  Reno County class.  During the executive session in which the Superintendent's performance was being discussed, I mingled with him and the other excluded attendees and got acquainted with everyone and enjoyed a chat together.  At the beginning of the meeting I had hoped to sneak in quietly, but right after I entered, I was asked if I hoped to address the board.  "No," I said quickly.  Horrors. 

On Thursday of this past week, I showed up at Lincoln School in Hutch at 7:00 AM for a meeting with the principal and several other LRC class members.  Darla Fisher (wife of Ron) is the principal.  I was blown away by what is being attempted and accomplished in this school where 75% of the students qualify for free lunches, and 40% qualify for breakfasts and weekend meals.  Before I left I connected with Angeleise, the sister of my daughter-in-law Clare.  Angeleise is a paraprofessional in the special ed classroom at Lincoln. 

Darla knows the language of the LRC class (her husband--Shane's former employee and current consultant--helps facilitate the class), and she acknowledges that her job, where being hit and kicked is a workplace hazard, involves huge adaptive challenges.    For example, the students' issues are often linked to poor home situations, poverty, poor health, and even crime.  But inside the walls of the school, every child is shown love and offered help and taught skills.  Every school day begins with an all-school assembly, which is led by the principal, with students sitting on the gym floor.  This is part routine and part pep talk and part calming activity.  While there I observed on hallway charts, etc. a handful of  ever-so-sensible "school culture language" ways of describing things like voice volume (mouse to lion), apathy/alertness/agitation/violence levels (white? to red--green is good), and ways of defusing conflict by self-management (turn away or walk away before speaking angrily or fighting back).  Darla shines with the love of Jesus and praises her staff and the students highly for the effort they put forth to live well and make things better for others. 

Another recent conversation was with a homeschooling mom that I had met only once before, briefly.  This time we talked for several hours.  I admire so very much about how she approaches homeschooling.  When I asked her about how she got started with homeschooling, she told about having grown up in the home of a Christian school teacher, and having attended Christian schools herself.  This was the kind of school environment she pictured for her children--until something changed after they lost their first child to a miscarriage.  In the grief and searching that followed, she  promised the Lord that she would do anything He asked her to do in mothering any children He gave them.  Then, inexplicably, exposure to homeschooling began to come at her in waves, and the conviction grew that this was one thing the Lord was showing her that He wanted her to do.  All this happened before they had children. 

When the children began to arrive, the family quickly grew to include six children under the age of six.  She was privileged to be able to hire help with domestic chores, and the children's  grandparents were close by and offered help.  Also, at some point, her husband began to work from a home office (in a separate building, however), and one school desk is there for times when being with Dad is called for.  She is very aware that homeschooling can be an incredibly daunting undertaking, and she has been busy trying to offer connection and help to other homeschooling moms in the area.  Lots of warm fuzzies followed this conversation.

Another upcoming LRC project shoved me in a surprising direction while I was trying to formulate in my mind what might be done to meet one of my personal adaptive challenges.  I think I've written before here about desiring to see expanded options in the space between all-homeschooling and all-classroom schooling.  From this desire a one-room-school picture has gradually emerged--a de-consolidation model that stops short of one-family-alone education approaches .  No, not exactly the historical version of one-room schools.  What I envision is a space where all the school-age children of several homeschooling neighborhood families could gather one or more days a week.  Group size would have a predetermined upper limit, roughly coinciding with the size of one large family.  All the children would bring their schoolbooks from home and the teacher for the day would simply offer guidance and supervision for lessons planned by the parents.  The  teacher would presumably be one of the moms (taking turns), or it could be a hired teacher.  On the day that a mom of preschoolers is the teacher, her own preschoolers could come along.  Defending the rationale for this approach will have to wait for another time.

I had always pictured starting very small by providing such a space in a little classroom on our property, in hopes that it might prove duplicatable elsewhere.  However, when I tried to frame that desire in the language of an adaptive challenge that an LRC  group of peer consultants could help with, I soon saw that my vision was too limited.  I still don't remember how it all came together in my mind, but quite suddenly, I saw that many stakeholders in this community could benefit in multiple ways if they had access to the fairly-new, now-vacant Partridge Grade School facility 2 1/2 miles from our home.  One classroom could serve as my one-room school, and so very many other needed services could fit into other areas of the building and in the park/playground adjacent to it. 

Sigh.  Now my vision feels out of control--except that I know it's safe with the Lord, and He can dole out tasks in doable measures.  People around me have helped with astonishing understanding, encouragement, and generosity, and showed willingness to make connections and come together to explore options. Timing of various encounters seems providential. 

I'm OK with being a listener-to-and-recorder-of-ideas, and LRC class tells us that this is always the first step in working through an adaptive challenge, so that's what I'm doing now.  Looming large in everyone's mind, of course, is the challenge of establishing secure funding for ongoing operations.  Utility bills alone are staggering.  Even on that matter though, some surprising options are showing promise. Part of me is awed at the possibilities.  Another part of me wants to scurry into a hidey hole, waiting to emerge till after everything calms down. I'd be very happy to know that others are willing to pray about the future of the PGS building, and I'd be happy as well to hear from anyone who has insights or help to offer.