Prairie View

Monday, May 02, 2016

Flora and Fauna and Fungus in the House

The Gray Doves in the dining room are lovely.  They have been quietly growing for about a month and will soon be big enough to eat.

They are confined to a plastic bag labeled Gray Dove Oyster [Mushroom].  Inside the bag is straw which has been colonized by threads of white mycelium.  The exquisite little gray-crowned mushrooms erupted just a few days ago, after I noticed that the straw looked white throughout.  Then I took off the two clothespins that had been clamped over the folds of the closed plastic at the top of the bag.  I allowed the top of the bag to mostly stand open, except that I used the clothespins to clip together both sides of the open bag.  This leaves plenty of room for oxygen to circulate inside the bag, but helps keep it from drying out too fast.  I'm spraying it several times a day with a mist from a spray bottle.

I attended a mushroom growing workshop taught by Pam Paulsen, our extension horticulture agent.  She had boiled a whole bale of straw, a big kettle full at a time on the stove top in her home kitchen.  Then she stuffed it into trash bags and each class participant sanitized their hands and grabbed several hands full and stuffed it into a jumbo-sized clear plastic bag--big enough for two loaves of bread side by side.  Next we got a handful of the spores embedded in a media of some kind--the texture of cold refried beans.  We "kneaded" the spore mixture into the straw till it was well distributed and then added a bit more straw and worked it around till it was spread throughout.

I also prepared and brought home an oak log inoculated with shiitake mushroom spawn.  It has many holes drilled into the log and stuffed with spawn-filled "sawdust." The plugs are sealed over with wax which has been brushed on after being melted.  That log is living in the seed house for the time being.  It needs to be watered periodically.  It won't produce "fruit" till this fall.

I brought the Gray Dove bag home and perched it on the lid of my worm bin.  That's the fauna part of my dining room population.  Eisenia foetida inhabit the plastic tub with holes drilled along the sides near the top.  I give them treasures from my kitchen, although they're not hungry enough to consume all the waste goodies produced there.

I had one creature in the house last week that was uninvited.  I was headed to the kitchen from the dining room when I saw that it was already inhabited by a furry little gray rodent that seemed utterly confused.  It ran in circles, bumping occasionally into the toe space trim under the base cabinets. Its behavior reminded me of the rabid skunk that I saw once, stumbling and circling stupidly and falling occasionally.  This mouse made no effort to run away and hide.  What to do?

I wasn't brave enough to squash it, but I didn't want to let it get away either.  I was glad when I thought of trapping it under a heavy kettle or a lid.  I had to get close to the circling mouse (wearing sandals!) to find a lid.  When I got close I spied the plate cover that usually lives inside the microwave.  That was perfect, so I dropped it right on top of the mouse.  It was plastic and almost clear.  Then I quickly perched a 3 lb. shortening container on top of the cover.

The mouse sat still part of the time and circled part of the time.  Every time I had to be in the kitchen throughout the rest of the day I gave the mouse a wide berth.  I did put a heavy, stiff piece of cardboard nearby so that Hiromi could slide it under the mouse and the lid after he got home.  I opened the doors for him as he gingerly carried the imprisoned critter out.  I did not inquire what he did with it.  Maybe he took my suggestion to make use of the shovel propped against the outside of the utility room.

Plants reside in each of the main rooms of the house--violets in the living room, a fern, a clivia, and a rubber plant in the dining room, and rooted ornamental amaranth cuttings on the kitchen window sill.  I rooted those cuttings on a whim after I had to reduce the plants in the cell packs to one in each cell.  Since I had direct-seeded the amaranth and the germination was good, I ended up with lots of extra plants.  They rooted in a hurry.  That's the flora part of what I have in my house.

I love a house with lots of living things in it besides the people.  Except for spiders and mice, they're all welcome.  

In Search of a Model

No.  Not that kind of model.  A model for the education of children.  I keep circling back to this topic because I keep learning of new possibilities and keep noticing flaws in existing models.  This search for a defensible and workable one just might take the rest of my life.

I'm glad I don't need a perfect plan before I broach the subject again.  Each investigation helps clarify my mental picture of what a stellar system might look like.  Viewing the picture from various angles reveals strategies and specific actions that can actually be implemented, given general agreement on the goals, and given the will to make it happen.

Duane W. asked me last week where I get the ideas for blog posts.  I couldn't give a very coherent answer.  What I read, hear, and observe all provide raw material.  Usually, however, on the more substantive topics, input from many disparate sources has to click and connect (more like twist and churn and tumble) inside  my head before anything rational emerges.  On the topic of education, there's already quite a sizable glob of raw material residing inside my cranium, accumulated over years of training, experience, observing, and thinking.  The integration of anything new is complicated, but ever so necessary if it's all to do any good.

My thinking recently has been stimulated by two things primarily:

1.  Ongoing work on our school's curriculum committee, a multi-year project in which every subject area will be scrutinized.  Resulting documents will likely include for each subject area a Philosophy Statement, a Purpose Statement, Implementation Guidelines, and Curriculum Materials list.  Every committee meeting and "goalpost" prompts me to read, listen, observe, and think.
2.  Exposure to the system in current use in Finland.  I learned recently about a documentary by Michael Moore which contained a segment on schools in Finland.  All I saw of it was a three-minute clip.  Further searching turned up some really excellent writing by an American educator who spent five months in Finland's schools under the auspices of a Fulbright research assignment.  Earlier she had traveled to seven countries in Asia on another educational research assignment.  I am far more trusting of this writer's perspective than I am of Michael Moore's, although I don't really know enough about him to critique his work credibly.  The teacher's name is Kelly.  I urge you to follow her blog.  Go here to sign up.  Read these two posts (in this order) and the comments following, even if you can't get to anything else right away:  11Ways Finland's Educational System Shows Us That Less is More, and I Can't Find the "Less" in the Middle of So Much "More."

Kelly faithfully records what she sees as strengths in both the Finnish and the American systems, and and the collision that resulted when she tried to integrate Finnish strengths into the American system.  Her words and the words of teachers who commented echo the words that sort themselves out occasionally inside my head.  Reading this blog gives me the sense that Kelly really "gets it" as do some of the people who comment--all the yearning for something better, all the frustration in continuing to reach for it, the loneliness of the pursuit, the weariness of trying to steer clear of inferior pursuits while others seem intent on rushing after it, bumping into walls of all kinds, working at preserving relationships in the process, etc.   She concludes, as have I, that a fundamental and widespread shift in values is needed before alternatives can take hold in America.

In my case personally, the integration effort that Kelly attempted would need to take into account also Biblical values and values consistent with an Anabaptist lifestyle.  Small wonder that this seems like a gargantuan task.  Chipping away at it feels too slow and too inefficient, but it also seems like the only option open to me--except for advocating homeschooling (augmented by participation in group efforts), in which these strengths can all be swiftly incorporated in some measure at least.  For me, pursuing that only would mean basically "checking out" of the system in common use, rather than continuing to participate in the process of bringing about change in group education efforts--which will always be needed in some form.  I'm not positive that optimism for changing "the system" is warranted, but I want to make the effort to try by staying involved.

I believe that what Anabaptist schools routinely have now is an almost-unexamined and slavish copy of the American system with some added Christian content.  In many ways I don't believe it is serving us well.  We can do so very much better, but we won't do so if we expend all our energies in beefing up and "enthroning" the business-as-usual system.  At some point, we must back off far enough to examine the whole system, not just individual curriculum pieces of the system.  I pray this happens before that system collapses from its own weight, as it almost certainly will eventually.  We do some things better than public schools around us can manage, so theirs will likely collapse before ours, but I don't call outlasting them a resounding success if we stay on a collapsing trajectory.  Being tardy to the collapse is far inferior to avoiding the collapse entirely by changing course early in the journey.  So let the examination process begin.
                                                                                                                                                                    In the American system which we  have adopted, I see several major flaws.  

1.  It bears too much of the stamp of Social Darwinism.  (Google definition of Social Darwinism:  the theory that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals. Now largely discredited, social Darwinism was advocated by Herbert Spencer and others in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was used to justify political conservatism, imperialism, and racism and to discourage intervention and reform) In plain words, there is too much emphasis on competition that allows only the fittest to survive--because they deserve it, you know.  My introduction to Social Darwinism and its influence on education first occurred in History of Education classes at Sterling College.  (Side note:  I did not then make the connection between Social Darwinism and political conservatism, but just last week I "saw" it in a flash and explained it to Hiromi, before I saw it in print anywhere.  Very interesting.  I love such affirmations.)

2.  It borrows too heavily from the harsh efficiency of the high-performance German industrial machine and too little from the kinder, more moderate traditions of other groups.   My first introduction to the effect of German industrialism occurred through the research and writing of John Taylor Gatto, highly acclaimed educator in New York City during the late Twentieth Century.  The route by which it came to influence American education threads right through the exploits of American industrialists who were influenced by Social Darwinism.  My exposure to the ideas below came from a variety of sources.

A.  I see the influence of our pastoral  Swiss ancestors calling for a different emphasis--one of gentle ways, meticulous craftsmanship, and quiet, hard work with the good of the family and community held high.  In our schools, this would mean a shift in emphasis--not begging for the family, church, and community to accept whatever is determined to be good by school standards and rally in support of it, but having the school actively engaged in supporting the purposes of the family, church, and community.  This would elevate learning of practical craftsmanship to the same level of importance in school as the learning of academic skills.

B.  I see in Japan's Toyota manufacturing model a highly efficient system that still values and develops each underling in the system, allowing change to occur from the bottom up--not the top down, as is likely to happen in Germany.  The Japanese system is also more compatible with the Swiss values of community and craftsmanship, as opposed to the assembly line, cog-in-the-machine industrial system of Germany, which was compatible with Nazi goals and complicit in it.  Efficiency coupled with placing a high value on the well-being of every individual in the system ought to be in evidence in our schools.  Our schools largely subsume individual needs under the blanket of efficiency required for a group setting.

C.  In Finland's system I see a deep understanding of childhood as God designed it.  There is no effort to circumvent natural, gentle learning processes, and certainly no imposition of burdensome "canned" curriculum on every individual.  Our schools need more flexibility to accommodate childhood in its God-created splendor.  While children need training, they do not need to act like adults in a factory, beginning in kindergarten.   Finland has done better than we have at striking a balance that preserves the wonder of childhood with the need for training during childhood.

D.  In the kingdom of Christ I see a culture of humble servanthood as opposed to competition and visible, quantifiable high performance.  Not so much in our schools.  Many of our lessons and much of our grading system rewards individual student effort only--not cooperative efforts or one-on-one help from one student to another.  Children are being too often asked to show what they can do (performance), not to show how they can help others (servanthood).

3.  It costs too much.   Money. Time. Stress (sleep deprivation, weariness, compromised health).  Lost opportunity (gaining knowledge and skill in non-academic areas, building relationships outside of school, being producers rather than consumers only).  

4.  It shows too little recognition of the rights and responsibilities of parents.   I've run out of energy and time to expand on this one.  Maybe another time.

Obviously, the work is only begun when problems have been identified.  Most of the hard work remains.

Join the Conversation.  Report for Duty.  All Hands on Deck.

Substitute your own cliche--whatever it takes to inspire and promote an education model that improves on the traditional American system.                                                                                                                                    

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Dealing with Difficulty and Hubris

Last Sunday afternoon at the cemetery where  my aunt Elizabeth Wagler had just been buried, Phil W. looked at the tombstones of his parents, grandparents and others in his family and spoke of one ancestor who was not buried there.  The man was his great grandfather, the father of Peter Wagler, Phil's grandfather.

Peter (Pete) had been born in Daviess County, Indiana.  He was the oldest in his family, and at the age of six had a number of younger siblings.

One day Peter's father set off walking with his gun in hand.  As he left, he told little Peter that when he hears a shot, he is to come looking for his dad.  When Peter did so, he found his father dead by his own hand.

Because he died by suicide, he was buried outside the fence of the cemetery.  However, since the cemetery needed to be expanded later, the fence was moved, and Great Grandpa Wagler's grave now is located inside the fence.

The last part of this story is identical to the one Dorcas Smucker recently told about her Miller ancestor--the suicide, the burial outside the fence, and now inside the fence.  Her lament included reflection on the sadness of depression not having been understood then and often not being understood now.  

Surely Father Wagler was not thinking rationally when he arranged for his six-year-old son to find him dead.  Having that image seared into the child's memory as it had to have been was a great injustice to Peter.  His descendants speculated that moving to Kansas as an adult may have been an effort to put distance between himself and his traumatic Indiana memories.

Here in Kansas Pete was ordained as a deacon in the Old Order Amish church.  He was well loved by his church people and had a reputation for great kindness and concern for those who struggled.  Two of his sons, Willie and Mahlon, were later part of the team of ministers in our church.  Redemption came eventually to this family.

Whether depression was involved in the Wagler man's death might never be known.

In any case, what we do know now about depression should prompt in us compassion and a desire to help instead of condemnation and separation--as if it deserves only ostracization, even in death.


Wrong as those actions of the past seem to us now, perhaps something I heard said about a community that experienced a rash of suicides a long time ago can help us make sense of it.  While this was happening, a church leader announced that henceforth there would be no funeral for anyone who died by suicide.  Reportedly the suicides stopped.  Perhaps burial outside the fence of the cemetery was a decision in the same vein as the "no-funeral" one.

I'm guessing that the minister who made this decree felt that "de-glorifying" death by suicide would lessen its appeal to people in desperate straits.  He may have been right, although even acknowledging that seems crass and insensitive.

If anyone can provide more specific details about this, I'd love to see them in the comments.  I don't know any names or places involved, or even the approximate dates.


My non-professional, personal-experience observations on depression suggest that it's a mistake to assign the causes routinely to spiritual, emotional, or physical realms.  It may, in fact, be a combination of all of them, with one or another of them predominating at different times and in different individuals.

I do have some reservations about the use of medication for depression, just as I do about other kinds of drugs.  I have used medication for depression myself, however, and found it a wonderful help.  When I hear about people who will not consider taking medicine for depression, I wonder why.  Surely side effects of medication are not worse than the primary effects of continued depression.  Surely medication for depression is no more morally problematic than medication for high blood pressure or any other physiological ailment.

I eventually no longer needed  medication.  No great spiritual breakthroughs occurred and no big emotional vacuums surfaced throughout.  I did take steps to fill gaps in my nutrition habits while I was also taking medication.  I have continued with supplementation ever since.  In the emotional realm, I learned some self-care and boundary-setting strategies.  I continued to cultivate spiritual disciplines and explored new ways of private reading of scripture and prayer.

I can't say for sure what all helped, but the medication and the food supplements were the two things that were introduced for the first time during the "depression era."  I believe they both helped in my recovery and wellness since then.


The whole matter of taking food supplements, selling food supplements, and promoting food supplements has generated controversy for years.  I hate the controversy.

What I love is having access to credible information and a variety of options.  I love using supplements manufactured according to current good manufacturing practices (CGMP) , using certifiably safe substances (signified by a white NSF on the background of a dark circle--look for it on your supplements), and not having to pay an exorbitant amount for anything.  I love buying from someone who is personally educated about the product they're selling.  Especially I love the idea of not needing any supplements because of always eating healthful food, living in a healthful environment, and being entirely free of stress.  Throw in freedom from genetic disorders, autoimmune system dysfunctions, injury, pathogens, toxins and aging processes for good measure.  Not possible, of course, until we get to heaven.

To me, supplementation is a way of attempting to compensate for a host of strikes against our health, many of them beyond our control.  I see this as being like what God did in creation--as an act of love and provision for living in a world spoiled by sin and its effects.  He provided substances and strategies for our use so that we could survive and thrive in a compromised world.  We accept these from him as a gift and use them for ourselves and share them with each other.

While randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled tests "justifying" supplement use may seem ideal, I do not insist on this standard for food supplements--for what I consider impeccable reasons.  Nutritional testing involving humans is heavily burdened by ethical difficulties and controlling-for-variables difficulties.  That's why I consider these "gold standard" tests an unsatisfactory standard.  The information gained is often simply not worth the cost of acquiring it.  Humans are not lab rats.  I'll leave to you whatever elaboration on that truth you wish to explore.  I believe you will find in it solid facts explaining why you should not be unreasonably enamored with randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutritional testing.  Google any terms that are not clear to you.

Anecdotal evidence is often considered a poor substitute for rigorous scientific testing.  I recognize that anecdotal evidence has limitations.  Stories can be tainted by personal bias, even when they're told as honestly as is humanly possible.  Variables that influence results may not be obvious to the teller or the hearer of these anecdotes.  Greed and dishonesty introduce a great many more problems to anecdotal "evidence."  That isn't the same as saying anecdotal evidence has no value at all.

I believe anecdotal evidence can have great value. Stories of others' experiences are another part of God's provision for our learning and benefit. When we've prayed for answers and God sends us story tellers, to despise them is to reveal shameful hubris.  Stories of other people's health journey should be no more off-limits to our ears than stories of their international travel journeys.  Most Bible stories are a kind of anecdotal evidence--not for nutritional mysteries primarily of course, but for getting at other kinds of truth.

No one should need to apologize for learning or conveying truth via anecdotes (stories) on any subject.  The fact that it is against the law to do this in any ways that link health matters and food supplements is a great travesty.  Since it is the law, however, I always cringe when I see this law violated.  It happens a lot.  Prosecution sometimes occurs, and when it does, a good company and a good product can be utterly destroyed.

If you're in the nutritional supplement selling business and you're promoting it publicly, you need to be very careful how you do it.  If you're involved in selling, even citing those "gold standard" tests in connection with benefits from nutritional supplements runs afoul of these laws.  Consider yourself warned.

Marketing.  I've explored network marketing in previous posts and don't feel like rehashing it all.  Suffice it to say that I see no halos or horns above the heads of everyone engaged in any specific kind of marketing endeavors--as though some methods originate in heaven and some in hell.  Greed is alive and well in many marketing methods as is generosity and a desire to serve.  The marketing model is a non-issue as long as people operate with integrity and fairness in it.  Any kind of selling assumes that every person makes a profit in every cog of the line between producer or manufacturer and consumer.  Deal with it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Sleepy Bike Ride

Here's how I remember Leroy's story, told at Duane's urging after Lizzie's funeral to a few of us standing in a group visiting.

Leroy was sleepily biking to work on a cold morning, headed north on Herren Road when he reached the fence along the south ditch by US50.  He found the spot in the fence where he had earlier carefully clipped the barbs on the underside of the lowest wire,  and maneuvered his bike under the fence.  Crossing here would save him three extra miles of biking.

Safely on the other side of the fence he checked for traffic before crossing the road.

To the left, at the crest of the nearby viaduct was an RV.  He was sure he had time to cross safely.  Halfway across the road he had a horrible shock when a semi came barreling along from the right in the lane right in front of him.  Instinctively, Leroy popped a wheelie.  He caught a glimpse of the semi driver's big-as-a-saucer eyes as he swerved nearly off the road in an attempt to avoid Leroy and the bike, both vertical in the middle of the road.  A small car, being drawn along in the vacuum behind the semi performed a similar maneuver having had almost no warning.  The semi and car must have materialized from beyond the curve to the right of Leroy's crossing point.

Before Leroy could move from the spot, the RV came whistling down off the viaduct in the lane behind him, but very close.

Leroy was wide awake now and warm through and through.

Any time he crosses at that spot on US50 now he looks "at least eight times" before he crosses.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

I hope someday to be proud again of Kansas.  Right now I feel embarrassed about its government.

I just learned that the governor has notified the Obama administration that Kansas will not participate in the president's proposed resettlement of 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S.  Most of the Kansans I know are far more welcoming of those displaced by war than this decision suggests.  The governor's decision certainly does not represent my sentiments, but is probably a predictable outcome of the fear-mongering rhetoric emanating from various places these days.  

Kansas currently has 2/3 of its newly-registered voters in limbo, with no permission to vote in Kansas  as things stand now, although they are approved by the federal voter registration system.  They must also be approved by the Kansas state system.  If no further action is taken on the part of the voter, the more-arduous-than-necessary application will be purged from the files after 90 days.  Applicants would have to start over then.  Only three other states have similar requirements--all designed along the same lines as the one originated by Secretary of State Kris Kobach in Kansas.  Numerous legal challenges are being mounted by organizations promoting voter participation.

In other news, Kobach has now gained the second conviction in his zealous anti-voter-fraud campaign.  Two convictions.  Many years and dollars devoted to this prosecution, and not a single undocumented alien turns up--which was announced at the outset as the driving factor for the necessity of the stringent registration requirements.  The two convicted so far are white Republicans.

Twenty-five of the state's highway projects scheduled through 2019 have been postponed because of shortfalls in the state highway funds.  The $522 million already approved for those projects would be diverted into the state's general fund to compensate for massive shortfalls there.  In the past few years, the highway fund has been depleted by $1.4 billion because of heavy borrowing for other state obligations.  Kansas has long been known for its excellent highway system.  That won't be the case for long, at this rate.

Financial troubles surfaced on many fronts after our governor and conservative legislature redesigned taxation policies.  Under the current policies, individuals pay taxes (high taxes, actually), while businesses largely get a free pass.  The promised resulting economic boom has simply not materialized, and state coffers are depleted all around.  No tax reform is considered, but further cuts in spending are promised as a way to make the state's money reach.

Spending cuts have had schools scrambling to find ways to do more with less for the past number of years.  Because the state  Constitution specifies that schools must be funded adequately, and because the state Supreme Court has ruled that this is not happening now, unless the legislature acts before then, state schools will not be funded beyond June 30, 2016.  Read all about it here.  This situation developed after a ruling in 2014 forced changes to make funding equitable for all districts.  In response, the legislature in March of this year introduced the block grant system.  Four of the state's school districts (Kansas City, Wichita and Hutchinson among them) did not find this an acceptable solution and sued the state over the block grant system, resulting in the recent ruling by the state Supreme Court--which the Brownback administration finds objectionable.  This case is about how state funds are allocated.

As I understand it, the state Supreme Court has still not ruled on a separate but related matter alleging that the amount of the funding is inadequate.  If the court ruling finds in favor of the allegation, and needs to cough up more money for schools--well, I hate to begin imagining that scenario, but it won't be pretty.

Did I mention that the governor is also attempting to change the state Supreme Court system, making it possible to impeach judges, for example?  He calls it an "activist" court.  Never mind that the checks and balances system crafted in America's founding documents was precisely designed so that even if two of the branches went "rogue," the excesses could be reined in by the third--which, IMO, is exactly how the Kansas state supreme court is functioning now.

If all of this looks like a mess, you're probably an astute observer.

Until now, legislators have largely ridden high on the wave of tea party fervor that swung state and many national elections far toward the right in the last several election cycles.  The few in Kansas who are not in that camp have recently filed a rare constitutional protest against legislative action.

In a bipartisan move, many legislators have criticized a recently announced Brownback plan to alleviate the current budget crisis by harvesting in one lump sum funds awarded during a tobacco settlement.  The original plan called for annual payments to be made to the states.  In Kansas these funds are being used to finance programs such as early childhood education.  The lump sum would lessen the total amount of money paid out, but would be useful for relieving the urgent budget situation now.

Lord, have mercy on Kansas . . .  

Delaying Real Work

First day of the past four days with no going-away obligations.  Check.  No car to go anywhere.  Check.  No food to prepare and no asparagus to harvest.  Check.  Wild weather in the forecast for today and tonight.  Hiromi gone to work.    Scared to set out plants today for fear they'll get hailed to smithereens with some of that <3 inches in diameter hail we're being warned about--or if the whole place blows away in those "long-track, strong tornadoes" we're also warned about.  Head full of ruminations because of having spent a lot of time talking and listening and reflecting over the past few days.  Checks on all counts.

If this doesn't sound like a blogging day to you, you must not be a blogger.  Or you might be a lot more responsible than I am.


Last night at Marvin and Lois' house our local extended family enjoyed a picnic supper with family members from distant places. My brother Ronald (SE Kansas) and his family had already gone home, but my sister Carol (KC area), and Dorcas (North Carolina) were still here.  Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary were here from Iowa, and their daughter Edith (South Carolina), and son Lloyd and his wife (Ontario) were part of several family gatherings throughout the weekend, including this one.  Duane W. stopped in after the stars were out and we had moved closer to the roaring bonfire that had morphed into a glowing heap.  We had all watched the sun sink--not in blazing colors, but in soft, tasteful brushstrokes.  Some of the family stayed long enough to hear the coyote chorus.  

My soul was restored in the calmness of an evening under a clear sky in a quiet country spot surrounded by green wheat fields and an unobstructed horizon.  Members of Joe and Mary's family always seem very near and dear, although we've often been separated by many miles and a lot of time.  All our genetics come from common ancestors, and it's surprising how much that makes us seem alike, even though our life experiences have been highly varied.  This old-shoe kind of comfort transcends differences like having lived for great swaths of time in the Middle East or Asia or Central America or the Canadian wilderness--all true of one or more people in that gathered group.

Uncle Joe, now well along on the high side of 85 and residing in a retirement community, puttered around the fire, tossing isolated pieces of ice-storm detritus into the fire.  "He loves a fire," someone told me.  "It's one of the reasons he hated to move into town--because he can't burn a brush pile there."  I know something about the allure of tending a fire, or just gazing into it, and I'm glad Joe had this small pleasure last night.


Winds on Sunday, the day of Aunt Lizzie's funeral, had been very strong.  At the cemetery, exposed to the full force of the south wind, those in charge urged the crowd to form a human wind barrier to shelter the family seated and huddled around the grave.  It helped, but even those of us ladies who were partly sheltered maintained an uneasy focus on what our skirts were doing in the wind.  Anyone primly coiffed before the burial looked as unkempt as the rest of us afterward.  Those who are bald and long past concern about hair arrangement looked better than most of us.  Our area was actually under a tornado watch all afternoon and evening, and large hail fell and funnels formed in counties northeast of ours.  We treasured yesterday's gentle breezes all the more because of Sunday's unsettledness.


I identify with Jack M., who told Andrew S. and me at school years ago that he has trouble with face-name memory, perhaps because he has adult ADD.  He had come to donate a printer to our school, one that was a big upgrade to the equipment we had.  Hiromi and I had introduced ourselves to him once before, since he was an old friend of my father's.  This time I told him again that I knew him mostly through my father's connection with him.  That's when he apologized for not remembering me.  No worries here, and a lot of empathy.

Hiromi is much better at remembering faces than I am.  Often he can tell me many things he remembers about the person the face belongs to, and then I can supply the name--which has escaped him.  We're a good team that way.

I needed Hiromi's help on Sunday morning, but, for various reasons his help was unavailable to me.  We had company in church, including a young lady who came with Jewel to the SS class I was teaching.  I assumed she was a college friend and welcomed her and the other visitors generally.  I don't know why I didn't take time for in-class introductions.  Later I saw a young man seated on the men's side who was a visitor, but he looked familiar.  I couldn't attach a name to the face, however.  On my way out of the sanctuary, I walked past a gentleman my age or a bit younger, and he looked familiar too.  No name there either.

Further along the path toward the exit, someone told me that Jewel's guests were from Sterling College.  That's when I remembered the older gentleman's name.  He was Dr. Watney, whose English class I had visited during the in-service day when our school staff members fanned out to area schools to learn from other educators.  Dr. Watney had kindly engaged me in conversation after class and escorted me to the administration building between classes, brought me coffee, and showed me some interesting reading material.  Then he retired to his office to do prep work for his classes.

Later, I took a group of students from our high school to Sterling College to see "The Great Divorce," a drama on C. S. Lewis' book.  Dr. Watney gave a lecture on C. S. Lewis and this story just prior to the play.  He is an authority on C. S. Lewis.  All that, and I still did not remember the name for the face I saw after church--till the "Sterling College" context illuminated me.

The Eureka moment on the young man's identify didn't happen till that evening when Christy and Kristi and I were telling Benji about the visitors.  He wasn't at Center that morning, but was a close friend of Dr. Watney's son when they were both Sterling students.  One of the girls said the young man in church was Aaron and that he was a teacher at Sterling.  Now I knew!  I had met him in the writer's group at the Hutch library.  He had stopped in after the group had begun to gather, and said he couldn't stay for the meeting, but that he did want to begin to attend these meetings.  Aaron replaced Gentry Sutton at Sterling, whose class I had also attended the same day I sat in on Dr. Watney's class.
All that, and I missed the opportunity to re-connect with them again after church.


Lest you think me a hopeless recluse (I'm shocked by how much I act like this sometimes), I'll try to offer some reassurance.  

On Saturday I drove to Hesston for the Dyck Arboretum Native Plant Sale.  While I was there I spotted someone who I thought might be Brad Guhr, the man in charge of the Earth Partnership for Schools project.  I have enrolled in the EPS training that is to happen throughout the first week in June, and Arlyn N. and I had consulted with him by phone the week before regarding our own Pilgrim Pocket Prairie project.  When I heard him talk on Saturday, I knew for sure that I was seeing Brad because  I recognized his voice.  

I gathered my wits and my courage and decided to introduce myself (lots of Amish reticence going on here), reasoning that I would wish for that if our roles were reversed.  Then I waited till he was finished with the conversation he was engaged in.  And waited.  And waited.  And continued perusing the plant offerings.  And waited.  Finally I gave up.

I hope he doesn't see me next June and think I look familiar and then much later remember that I was the Amish lady in the aqua dress at the plant sale--and then wonder why I didn't talk to him then.  With a little luck he'll be a little more clueless than I am, and he'll think our EPS class meeting will be the very first time we've been in the same place.


If you had seen me on Saturday as I walked among the prairie plantings you would have seen a big smile on my face.  Dyck Arboretum provides a landscaping model that feels right to me down to the core of my person.  This exposure restores my soul too.  Although most plants are not blooming now, the varied shapes and textures of the plants nestle comfortably alongside each other, filling the space with growth and greenness.  The dead stalks from last year have been removed, so it's obvious that the plantings are not being neglected.  They're given just the right amount of tending--obviously with the intent of cooperating with nature as God created it rather than coercing it into man's "superior" ideas of what is proper.

I'm pleased to have found a name for my landscaping style preference:  Dyck Arboretum Style.


I'm not really done writing, but I can no longer delay doing the real work of the day--after I've plunked into this post two Facebook status posts that I put on my wall yesterday.

Most surprising phone call of the morning--From Ann Schrag at Nisly Brothers Trash Service, Inc.: " Congratulations! You are the first prize winner of the drawing for the adults [at the Nisly Brothers 60th anniversary celebration last Saturday]. The prize is one year of trash pickup service at the 1956 price." Made my day! Thanks Nisly Brothers.
[The 1956 price is $3.00 per month.]

Everyone should applaud the accuracy of this new measure of gun violence, regardless of their position on gun control. Everyone agrees that gun violence is a bad thing, and it can come from carelessness, ignorance or maliciousness. This records them all impartially.

Here's the link.  It's an article in the Washington Post.


I'll tell you later about the surefire way to stay awake while driving that I learned from Duane and Leroy while chatting after Lizzie's funeral.  If I can reconstruct it well enough, I might also tell you about the time Leroy popped a wheelie on his bike in the middle of US50 with a semi and an RV and a little car traveling in the semi's vacuum bearing down on him.  I want to tell you too about what Phil W. told me in the cemetery after his mother's funeral on Saturday.  And I want to write more about Aunt Lizzie.  Inshallah (if God wills it).  I heard this Arabic expression last night, without the translation, guessed at its meaning and thought it sounded like a useful word.  Google confirmed it just now.


One more thing:  Dorcas says that Lizzie told her once that "Leroy is not my son, but he's my boy." I love that example of Lizzie's ability to say things well and kindly and inclusively.  Leroy has lived in Lizzie's home for more than 30 years.

Another thing:  Dorcas says that Lizzie said she felt like she had "come home" when she was finally settled into the house that Harley built for her use as long as she lived.  She died in her bedroom in that house.  I hadn't heard her complain about having to leave the farm and live elsewhere in the country for a time, but being back on a working farm apparently felt right to her in a way that the interim residence had not.

Harley is still teaching in a university in Russia, but "Lizzie's house" will presumably be his primary residence at some point in the future.  


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prodigal Son

Don't ask me why I felt compelled today to find out what ever happened to Franky Schaeffer, son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer.  I've read many books by both Francis and Edith, and have watched several film series in which Francis and Franky collaborated.  My philosopher brother attributes his early interest in philosophy to Francis Schaeffer.  He and my father and other young people from here attended a Schaeffer seminar in Texas during the 1970s.

The Schaeffers lived in Switzerland for many years.  Their home became a hub for young students from Europe and elsewhere who had questions about life.  Francis and Edith engaged these students, shared their home and their faith, and many embraced Christianity through the Schaeffers' witness.  Reading their writing inspired me to think deeply about my own faith and made me grateful for the solid rock I found in Christ.

Franky is now known as Frank.  Many of the other ways in which he is known are disappointing to me.  He makes no profession of Christian faith, although he attends a Greek Orthodox church.  He disparages Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in strong terms.  He supports gay rights and is pro-choice.  The Christian right is a favorite target.

He vilifies both of his parents, claiming to be offering a truthful expose'.   He also admits that he faked his faith for a very long time while he was making big bucks on the Christian speakers' circuit.  Some of the novels he has written are apparently largely biographical, containing gratuitous sexual content.

Franky fathered a child when he was 17.  He eventually married the child's mother, to whom he is still married at age 59.  That last fact may be the most admirable behavior attributed to Frank that I came across today.

Os Guinness, Christian apologist and author, lived in the Schaeffer home for three years.  He was like a member of the family, and served as best man when Franky got married.  Guinness'  perspective seems credible to me.

Guinness says that Frank does not represent his parents accurately.  While he acknowledges failures on their part, he believes Frank's characterizations to be wildly exaggerated.  Guinness says furthermore that Franky was spoiled.  He came along far behind his three older sisters, when his parents were already busy in the work that they would become famous for.  Franky was not properly disciplined and trained.

Frank calls Guinness a clone of his father.  He is not offering a compliment.


I had one personal encounter with Frank Schaeffer.  At least I think I did.

I had attended an event in Pennsylvania where Francis Schaeffer was speaking.  During the intermission, when people were milling around in the foyer, a young man approached purposefully and asked me what I thought of Schaeffer's teaching.  I don't remember much of what I said, but I think I made approving noises and said also that I do not see eye to eye with him on Christians' involvement in government (Schaeffer saw it as a good thing).  I realized later that the man who had spoken to me looked like Franky Schaeffer.  I  knew he was there that evening, but he had not appeared on stage.

As I stated earlier, Frank Schaeffer now is highly critical of people following in the tradition of Reagan, George H. W. Bush and others with whom Frank and his father met and whom they tutored in how they might appeal to the Christian right.  It's an understatement to say that Frank does not see eye to eye with his father on Christians' involvement in government.  He makes fun of Christians who think it makes sense.  

I look back on my young self talking to Frank Schaeffer's young self and I marvel at my nerve--not because I'm ashamed of having thought or said what I did.  I marvel that I had enough confidence in that viewpoint to state "truth to power" (albeit small truth and small power) those 40 years ago.  I've learned a lot since then that has deepened my faith.  I'm sorry that what Schaeffer has learned since then has left him void of a personal relationship with God.  It's not likely that we'll ever meet again, but if we do, we might have to start out by talking about Christians and government.  On that point, we might find a bit of common ground.  Maybe that would open the door to sharing Christ with the prodigal son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

After the School Program

I've added many afterthoughts to what I posted originally last evening.  If you read only this post, you'll get all the updates and save yourself searching through other posts for changes.  This will be an issue only for people who are notified every time a post is published or updated.


My aunt Elizabeth "Lizzie" Wagler died this evening.  She was in her nineties and had been weakening noticeably during the past several weeks, and especially the past few days.

The death was announced near the end of the Pilgrim High School program at church this evening.

Added later--My sister Dorcas wrote this lovely message on Facebook about dear Aunt Lizzie:  Happy birthday to regal Queen Elizabeth!   My own dear regal Aunt Elizabeth was welcomed home by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords last evening. She was 91.


In other news, my brother Caleb was pictured on the front page of the New York Times yesterday--in an ad for the philosophy department at Messiah College where he teaches.  This may have appeared only in the electronic version, targeted to a select audience.  Caleb's colleague saw it and told him about it.

I can't provide a link to the NYT page, but here's a link to his page at the Messiah College site.

Caleb yesterday, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders today.  Yesterday's NYT paper holds more appeal for me.

Added later--My brother Myron had this comment in our family email group:  "You look like you belong in the Times.  Why don't you build on your fame and submit a few Op Eds and see what happens.  You never know . . ."


Those high school students are just dear . . . (not that all of them will appreciate being referred to in such terms).  I can't claim a lick of credit for anything good that happened with them this year, but they did a fine job tonight, and I loved watching and listening to them.  Hearing the program without hearing any of the practices was a new experience.    Forty-four students were part of the choir.  Probably about a dozen of those were homeschooled students.  Anthony "Tony" Shetler directed the choir and taught music again this year.

David's lament after Absalom's death "David's Lamentation" was a song I had helped our high school choir sing when I was a student in the late 1960s.  I always sing that mournful tune in my head when I read Absalom's story.  "Oh Absalom, my son, my son.  Would to God I had died for thee."

Added later:  This morning when I looked over the program again I was impressed with the theme and organization of the selections.  Credit goes to Tony for these selections.  Under the theme "Tell the Story" were Life Stories, Old Testament Stories of Death and Life, Stories of Jesus and More Stories of Jesus.  I'll email individual song titles to anyone who requests them in the comments--if you provide an email address.

This morning also I remembered the beauty of many of the songs--written and sung well.  Tony and the students all worked hard to master the singing part.  Thanks also to the lyricists and composers who wrote the songs--some from the 1600s, and some very recent.


Joel and Hilda and their family left yesterday for about three weeks of travels.  The first stop was at Yorkville, IL, the headquarters for a software company Joel works for.  Quite a number of states farther east and south are part of the itinerary.


Grandbaby number seven is expected before year's end, joining Grant and Clarissa and Wyatt's household.  Yaaaaaayyyyyy!

Among my dad's grandchildren who are parents, every family--all five of them--have children of only one gender.  In other words, they either have all boys or all girls.  Grant and Clare have the first chance at breaking this tradition.

Jeff and Joelle are expecting their fourth daughter,  Shane and Dorcas have three boys,  Joel and Hilda have two girls, Brandon and Andrea have two boys, and Grant and Clarissa have one boy.


Our recent rains and the calming of the wild winds we've had this spring have provided lots of motivation for working outdoors in the garden and landscape.  Limited time and energy are a bother in perfect weather like this.

Indecent Exposure

I saw it again the other day--a landscape with far too much mulch and naked brick wall exposed, when luxuriant plant material would have created a far more pleasing scene.  It was there earlier, but no more.  Some plants had been completely removed, exposing hard architectural lines that had earlier been well-concealed by healthy plant material.  Tall shrubs planted behind short ones had been lowered to the height of the short ones in front of them.  The tall ones would have concealed other harsh lines in the building.  Sun-loving plants had been planted on the shady side of the building.  Pointy-shaped shrubs had been centered between windows--a phenomenon which Gus van der Hooven, former Kansas state horticulturist, decried both in person and in print by saying "Don't ever do that.  It looks like a nose between two eyes."  It appeared in the textbook used in our high school class on landscaping.

The whole idea of cutting something back just because it's there is repugnant to me.  Healthy luxurious growth is the whole point of planting and nurture.  If the plant has been selected wisely, its mature size has been taken into account, and the space allotted is adequate so that it does not obscure windows and obstruct walkways.  It's intended to gradually reduce the mulch needed, since the space will be filled in with plant material.  In some cases, a decision is made at planting time to use plant material that will eventually need pruning.  This is a trade-off made in favor of letting the space fill in faster in the meantime--partly so that less mulch and/or weeding is needed.

The natural texture, color, and form has also been considered if plants have been selected wisely.  Overly enthusiastic pruning diminishes the effect of each of these elements in the overall design.

Plants next to each other are expected to merge so that they eventually "read" as a single landscape element--not sliced apart, so that each stands off rigidly from its mates.  Natural shapes are somewhat irregular.  Shearing plants makes the "natural" plant expression problematic, setting up onerous maintenance chores for the duration of the plant's life.  Again, in a private landscape, if that's how people want to spend their time, far be it from me to protest.  The dynamics are different in a public space, because maintenance is usually a shared duty.

This morning, in an effort to learn the names of some of the delightful groundcover plants Linda M. gifted me with, I came across this paragraph from an article in Fine Gardening:

Every spring, crews spread thick piles of mulch around scattered shrubs, trees, and perennials. I think this practice creates landscapes bleaker than the Mojave Desert. I am not antimulch: On the contrary, I feel that organic, nutrient-balanced mulch is one key to a healthy and maintainable garden. I just don’t like to see it so exposed. A garden in which every square inch of ground is filled with plants is far more appealing than one dominated by chipped wood.

Read more: 

I couldn't have said it better myself.

I do know that a landscape can rightly be a very personal expression of one's own idea of beauty, just as is true of the interior of a person's residence.  In residential sites, I'm certainly in favor of granting anyone and everyone complete freedom to do exactly as they please.  

Different dynamics apply for public spaces.  For those areas, consulting experts in the field makes good sense, and operating by widely accepted principles can help avoid any pitfalls that imposition of an individual's personal style might expose.  

Note to self:  Make this distinction clear in the teaching of all future landscaping classes.  Do whatever pleases you in your own private landscape; consult and follow the advice of horticulture and landscape specialists in public spaces.  Hide the mulch and walls and harsh architectural lines with plant material if you can--always.

Second note to self:  Don't dwell unduly on landscaping sins.  It's better for your health and peace of mind.  


Last fall I wrote a post with landscaping advice here.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Coloring Eggs

I pointedly did not title this post Easter eggs.  I will confess readily, however, that our little family has a spring tradition centered on changing the color of the shells of naturally white eggs, hard-boiled.  This year, with ALL the children and grandchildren here on the Sunday after Easter, our usual fun time was delayed--to our great financial advantage.

We don't even try to connect this colored-egg event to the true meaning of Easter.  We do try to cover that truth in other ways.

All the Easter stuff was on clearance at Walmart, so Hiromi indulged in one of his favorite activities--ample provision.  I think I should capitalize and "bold" those "ample provision" words.

He came home with six large colorful baskets for gathering the eggs the dads always hide.  He also purchased six fuzzy little stuffed bunnies in a variety of colors.  Each item cost  less than a dollar.  Egg coloring kits had been purchased earlier.  There was even a set of supplies for Cedric who is too young to walk.

With each family providing hardboiled eggs, we set up the egg coloring operation on the plastic-covered dining room table.  In styrofoam cups we put either 1/2 cup of water or 1/2 cup of vinegar and one tablet of coloring.  After the tablet dissolved we were ready for children.  One grandma and three moms reached around to provide a one-to-one ratio of adults and children old enough to help.  Then we dipped eggs and oohhhhed and ahhhhed over the lovely eggs that emerged from the dye bath.  The eggs dried on the little cardboard drying racks we made from the dye boxes.  Since Hiromi had also bought some fancy decorating supplies (stickers and a "paint" roller), some of the eggs sported further embellishments--whatever the children wanted.

The hardest part was having to wait inside while the men hid the eggs.  Tristan is a veteran of several egg hunts and quickly gathered more than his share of eggs.  His dad counseled him to hide some of them again so that others could find them.  He obliged.

The littlest ones needed help finding the eggs.  So the adults did the delicate dance between helping and still letting the children think the finding happened because of their own astute powers of observation (I doubt that these were the exact words in their thought processes).  A little game soon evolved.  "I think I'm smelling some eggs over here." No.  They were perfectly fresh, but we all know that "smelling" things is the time-honored way of indicating nearness to hidden objects.

Our slightly unmanicured landscape provided many hiding places.  In the groundcovers,  under the honeysuckle vine on the cave cellar, in the "stumps" of the ornamental grasses from last year, in the crevices of the decaying railroad ties dividing the front yard and the driveway, at the base or in the low forks of trees--all these were perfect hiding places.

We never counted the eggs to make sure they were all found, but we quit when the dads couldn't think of any more places to look.  Then we lined up all the kiddos, seated on the grass in the back yard, baskets and eggs in hand, and we took pictures.  You'll have to imagine them, since it would take me too long to figure out how to post them.

As usual, Wyatt came through for us in the drama department during the picture taking.  "Juggle" he called out as he began to throw his eggs up in the air.  They rained down in his general vicinity, with one soundly thumping him on the head.  That put a temporary pause in the juggling activity while he rubbed the spot, but not in the picture taking, fortunately.

Coloring and hiding and finding eggs is a great family activity for young children.  I recommend it.