Prairie View

Monday, November 05, 2018

Not a Big Plobrem

Hiromi is the best--for me!  I can't imagine a more willing shopper for the household.  As long as an item makes it to the list, he'll  bring it home or have a really good reason for not doing so.

Both of us add items to the list as we think of them, and I don't always see the final version that goes to work at Walmart with him.  This morning, however, I added the last item (at the top of the list), and smiled to  myself at some of what I saw there.  These items tell a story about who Hiromi is--an excellent planner and organizer, in possession of stellar maintenance instincts, an eager provider, an efficient list maker (which is why we always start at the bottom of the paper--so we can tear off only as much of the notepad sheet as needed--without wasting the whole sheet), and a Japanese immigrant for whom English is a second language.

I wrote only the top item on the list below according to his dictation, and I dictated the second for him.  He needed it repeated several times and had trouble getting what I meant when I explained that I needed a "marker."  I knew he got it when he said, "Oh.  Permanent Marker,"  as though I should have said what I really meant a long time ago.  So much for trying not to make it too complicated.

Hiromi plans to stop for a haircut before he leaves town.  

The last three lines are my Hiro's notes on which replacement belt to buy for the vacuum sweeper.

Here's the list:

Omega 3 (Fish Pills)
Extra sharp fine  Sharpy
hair cut

Bissel Powerforce
Model 6596
07089 00097

Not being able to hear the difference between "r" and "l" is in evidence here--a problem for many Japanese and Chinese people.  Another thing that is a predictable problem for a Japanese speaker of English is problems with plurals, as in "Blueberry" and "Eyedrop."  I assure you that he is not planning to bring home one blueberry or one Eyedrop, but he wrote it that way because the Japanese language does not distinguish between singular and plural forms of words.  He got it right when he wrote "mushrooms."  A novel spelling (like parcely) is sensible phonetically, but gives me a bit of a jolt nonetheless.

Hiromi knows more than most of us will ever learn about languages.  Right now his big project is producing a "concordance" for the Hammurabi Code, which is written in Akkadian (Abraham's language).  My eyes glaze over in a hurry when I try to wade through the English text and do the editing for it, but he has patiently plodded along for several years to create this tool for others who study Akkadian.

He goes after the occasional help he needs from the world's finest experts in the field, people who themselves have written some of the materials Hiromi consults.  One of them lives in Norway and the other in Israel (Dr. Tov).  He met the latter at a conference he attended in Philadelphia a number of years ago, and the reference librarians at the Hutchinson Public Library have offered a great deal of assistance as well.

Last week Hiromi asked me to edit an email to Dr. Tov, and I did my best to help him create a document fitting for a person of his academic stature.  Hiromi laughed as he finished up making the needed changes and said, "I don't think Dr. Tov is that good with English, so he probably wouldn't notice if I make a lot of mistakes." After he got the reply, Hiromi showed me Dr. Tov's letter.  "No capital letters anywhere," he observed.  He was right.

"I guess when a person has accomplished all that Dr. Tov has, he can do anything he wants in his writing," I said.  I feel the same way about Hiromi--at least when he's writing the grocery list.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


That title seems both painfully presumptuous and distastefully bland--as though I would have anything at all worthwhile to say on this topic, or as though I thought it a boring topic, unworthy of the effort of crafting an interesting title.  The fact of the matter is that the curriculum committee that I am a part of is working on this area of curriculum development and I'm spending a lot of time thinking about art.

In the committee work, the first part of the process involves developing a philosophy statement, but those of us who are working on this are not trained philosophers, and although all of us have college degrees, we are unanimous in feeling under-equipped for this task.  So we're doing what we all know is necessary in such cases, praying a lot and reaching out for resources outside our committee.  Right now we're individually reading the book Art in Action by Nicholas Wolterstorff.  Although a blurb on the cover assures us that it is "remarkably clear and entertaining" I find reading it a tough slog.

Developing a vocabulary is the first order of business in reading Art and Action, so I am learning about culture-avoiders and aesthetic conservatives, reconsideration and theological interpretation, a functional approach, objects of action and instruments of action, causal generation and count generation,  non-idiosyncratic normalities, abstractive contemplation, expropriation, avant-garde art, immensity of repertoire, high art, critic/evaluator.  I've only read to page 35 so far, and really haven't hit the "remarkably clear and entertaining" part yet.  I do understand general ideas suggested by the above terms, but this author does what many writers must do when they treat a subject in depth.  They must use a vocabulary specific to their topic and they take great pains to define their language as narrowly as needed to serve their purpose.

The author of Art in Action uses the words of Dorothy Sayers to describe his purpose for writing:  " . . . to relate my 'aesthetic to the central Christian dogmas.'"  Our committee has a similar goal, with the application being an effective expression of it in our Pilgrim School curriculum.

My personal list of questions going into this study of art is no doubt different than the lists of others on the committee, and will probably seem remarkably elementary to those who have given more thought to this topic than I have.  Posting them here is a crowd-sourcing effort.  In other words, I'd like help from  my readers--both in any perspectives you're willing to share and in your recommendations for resources.

1.  What is the difference between arts and crafts?

2.  Is there equal justification for arts and crafts in a Christian elementary and high school?

3.  What all is included in art?  Walsterstorff lists eight categories:  visual depiction, sculpture, music, poetry, literary fiction, drama, dance, and film.  He acknowledges that others such as architecture are sometimes added, but he believes that currently the eight constitute a widely agreed upon list.

4.  Is there equal justification for every one of the eight categories in our schools and in our life?  Just yesterday I listened again to the first TED talk I ever heard, and was surprised that it included as much on art as it did.  Here's the link.  Put on your British ears and enjoy the 20-minute talk.  Robinson says that in our schools an arts hierarchy exists, with some of the arts almost never included. I can't imagine broad support for all of the arts having equal emphasis at Pilgrim, and I'm trying to decide if I feel OK about that.

5.  When does appreciation of art cross over into hedonism?  Is it a problem if it does?


Yesterday evening  Hiromi and I attended a Community Concert for a performance by the Sons of Serendip, a group of young men who had met a number of years ago when each was a graduate student at Boston University.  The concert was a real listening pleasure, even though, as usually happens, the music that others found familiar was not familiar to me. Not watching TV or movies or listening to the radio has that effect.  Very few of the songs had Christian content, but somehow the performance exuded a pervasive wholesomeness. Instrumentalists for a cello, harp, and keyboard accompanied a single vocalist with an amazing versatile voice.

The vocalist did all the talking for the group.  He was engaging, with just the right mix of warmth, humility, genuineness, gratitude, humor, and delight in the moment.  His graduate degree was in theology, and he had worked as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher.  The keyboardist was a lawyer, the cellist taught cello, and the harpist was a middle school teacher almost tall enough to be a basketball player.  They had a delightful mix of honest-to-goodness careers beyond music.  All of the performers were African American, with the exception of one who had a Latino-sounding name.

Hints of spirituality appeared in the concert flier.  One of the musicians chose to attend Boston University after he awoke one morning with a sunbeam on his face and heard a peaceful voice uttering the school's name.  This followed an evening of prayer about the matter.  On one of their online videos, one image appears to be the group praying together.  They are standing with bowed heads, arms across their neighbor's shoulders. These hints lead me to suspect that this is a Christian group, although their music is not overtly Christian.

Maybe after a good night's sleep I'll be able to articulate what is right about excellent art by Christians even if they do not articulate a Christian message in their work. I'd love to have readers beat me to it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Answered Prayer

During the past few weeks, we have experienced a flurry of light bulbs burning out. In addition, on Saturday, one of two breakers in a fuse box on the meter pole tripped, and about half of the lights in the house were affected.

When Hiromi took down the recessed light fixture in the bathroom ceiling to change the bulb, he found the old bulb shattered, its litter scattered across the glass "bottom" of the fixture.

Hiromi is no ignoramus when it comes to electrical matters.  He once worked as the foreman of an electrical crew that did the needed work on a six-story building, so he knows something about how these systems work.  He could not figure out what the problem might be with our electricity, however, but clearly something was amiss.

I worried only briefly about fire danger from an electrical short somewhere before I remembered to pray that God would show us what was wrong.  Ignorant as I am about electricity, I think I may have discovered the answer today.

Lots of big equipment descended today on the soybean field surrounding our property--so many pieces that at first I did not notice the "cherry-picker" truck parked on the road.  When the collection of trucks and tractors thinned out enough, I decided to collect the mail from the box.  I got out just in time to see the driver of the truck on the road finishing the process of tucking his equipment inside the truck in preparation for leaving.  On a sudden impulse, I marched up to the truck just as he was ready to get in and drive off.

"Was there a problem with the power line?"  I asked. He told me that he had just re-fastened the lightening arrestor that had come loose from the pole.

"Could that have affected our power supply in the house?"  I asked.  I went on to tell him about the light bulbs burning out and the breaker at the pole tripping, and our unsuccessful efforts to pinpoint the cause of the problems.

"I suppose it's possible that this might have caused power surges that created those problems,"  he observed.  Then he suggested that we might take note if the problem seems to be fixed after this.

I told him we had prayed for an answer to our electrical problem, and I thanked him for answering my questions.  I went back to the house with the mail and the lineman drove off, after turning around in our driveway.

Tonight at the supper table, Hiromi asked me if this is what I'm thankful for today*, and I said yes.  It was an answer not only to the prayer about the electrical puzzle, but for my prayer that the Lord would send me encouragement today.  The Father's care shone brightly in the "all in a days work" actions of one lineman.  Thank you God.

*As part of developing good sleep habits (by reducing stress) we've begun the habit of reflecting each day on what we are thankful for.  We share at the supper table what we've thought of.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Magisterial Reformation

This post has been in the making for several weeks, so the time references are no longer current.


I learned a new term,  Magisterial Reformation, yesterday morning on my way to finding information on a question prompted by a Facebook conversation, coupled with studying in preparation to teach 2 Peter 3: 11-18 in Sunday School class.  Here's what came up when I googled something incoherent like "view of government Zwingli Anabaptists."The Magisterial Reformation is a phrase that "draws attention to the manner in which the Lutheran and Calvinist reformers related to secular authorities, such as princes, magistrates, or city councils", i.e. "the magistracy".[1] While the Radical Reformation rejected any secular authority over the Church,[2] the Magisterial Reformation argued for the interdependence of the church and secular authorities, i.e. "The magistrate had a right to authority within the church, just as the church could rely on the authority of the magistrate to enforce discipline, suppress heresy, or maintain order."[1] (Wikipedia)

I was excited, because I had found someone else's words to draw a fine line that I had attempted to draw in the Facebook conversation--with some outraged (and, from  my perspective, outrageous) responses.  I did not draw historical parallels there, but rather tried to defend being discerning and willing to give a Christian witness (which the early Anabaptists of the 1500s did)--while at the same time staying clear of political entanglements (which they also did).  I should probably have learned from past experience that I am almost never believed (especially by politically active or opinionated Anabaptists) when I say that this is what I desire and try to do. What usually happens is that I am pegged as being on the opposite side (read:  promoting the "wrong" party) of whoever is commenting, and I am reproved in some fashion.  Digression:  I wonder what it means when a person uses parentheses or dashes to excess in writing as I just did.  Scatterbrainedness probably, and an inability to think of simple alternative constructions.  And laziness.

In the past few decades most of the Conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian world has been walking lockstep with the Magisterial Reformers, and I think it's a big mistake, just as the Anabaptist reformers believed. Specifically, the error of the Magisterial Reformers was that they insisted on staying involved in government machinery, using it to accomplish their own purposes. They wanted to have freedom of religion--in Zwingli's case, freedom to be Protestant instead of Catholic.  Their way of acquiring their version of religious freedom was to get the Council of their canton to rule that the Protestant religion was to be the only one practiced in their Canton (political entity, ruled by a council), and, of course, to enforce the rule.  Protestants kept the Catholic practice of infant baptism, and required it of all who lived in the Canton Zurich in Switzerland.

Precisely at this point, the Anabaptists parted company with Zwingli.  Conrad Grebel had been a Catholic priest, and then a gifted student and admirer of Zwingli, but believer's baptism was what Grebel and other Anabaptist leaders began to see as being taught in Scripture--in opposition to infant baptism.  They understood baptism as the symbol of a deliberate choice--to repent from the old life (the previous sinful/selfish life) to live a new life as a follower of Jesus, empowered by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The symbol of baptism simply did not seem appropriately applied to infants.

In a series of public disputations, the Anabaptists tried valiantly to explain their position, hoping to influence the Zurich Council to allow them to baptize only believing adults instead of infants, but the Council ruled against them, and adult baptism eventually earned its practitioners a death sentence, as did failure to baptize their infants.  A host of Anabaptists subsequently became martyrs. In Zurich it was the Protestants who tortured and killed Anabaptists.  In other cantons that had stayed Catholic, Catholics were the persecutors of Anabaptists.

Sorting out some names of people and places might be necessary here, depending on a person's familiarity with this part of the historical record.*

Decades passed with Anabaptist individuals and groups forced ever farther to the fringes of society and settled areas.  In time, however, one principle of their lived-out faith penetrated Western society. In the late 1700s the principle found its way into the United States Constitution, a fact which explains how the world has the Anabaptists to thank for a government that codifies the separation of church and state. This was a new concept in government.

A curious dismantling of this separation has been underway of late, with many conservative Anabaptists joining the magisterial call to arms sounded by other Christian individuals and groups. Effort is being invested in changing the system by becoming part of the system as Zwingli did.  In contrast to Conrad Grebel's bold challenge to the Council, the current effort involves "joining the council" by advocating for political parties and candidates, and voting for favorite candidates.  This approach does not honor the 500-year-old Anabaptist tradition that was largely preserved among them in America until the last few decades of the 1900s.

As a full-on Magisterial Reformer, Zwingli's end serves as a warning for how untenable this position can become in Christian practice.  He died while leading a military charge into a neighboring canton that had refused to become Protestant.  For Zwingli, participation in a government that espoused the use of force ultimately cost his life.  By that time, in Zwingli's life, other aspects of Christian faith and the practice of following Christ in life had become casualties as well.

Jacob Grebel, Conrad Grebel's father, was one person whose experience during this era is particularly poignant.  He desperately tried to act with integrity in his position as a highly respected council member in the canton of Zurich.  Although he never became an Anabaptist, he, along with several other councilmen, advocated leniency for the Anabaptists.  This site says:   " . . . he [Grebel] disapproved of Zwingli's interference in political matters and use of civil government to establish his creed and suppress all dissent. Jacob Grebel believed that a church should not, through the state or otherwise, exercise jurisdiction over those who do not voluntarily unite with it."  Although he and Zwingli had a history of close friendship, Grebel's position infuriated Zwingli, and he sought to have  Grebel punished.  On charges that he had accepted payments for recruiting mercenary soldiers, Jacob Grebel was convicted and sentenced to death by beheading, a sentence that was swiftly carried out, Grebel protesting all the way from the courtroom to the execution site.  

Zwingli himself had done exactly what Grebel did, at the same time, five years earlier, and many among the populace saw Zwingli's act against Grebel for what it was, an effort to solidify his own power by means of an unjust accusation and a wrongful death. Jacob Grebel obviously felt conflict in his Magisterial Reformer role.  In the end, while trying to operate with integrity within the system, he became a victim of it rather than being able to influence it toward more noble ends.  The possibility of this happening in our time should not be lost on modern day Anabaptists.

My gentle brother-in-law Roberto, who is a non-Anabaptist pastor, saw a dark side of Magisterial Power first hand in his homeland of Nicaragua.  He lamented the fact that Christians (and other champions of freedom for the oppressed) who are embroiled in political upheavals often experience a dramatic role reversal when the existing political power collapses, and the formerly oppressed become the new oppressors. In this scenario, all credibility for the "freedom cause" is lost in the eyes of those who come under the heel of the new authorities.

Today, many politically active Christians see themselves as an oppressed people engaged in a struggle for freedom.  What will happen if they ever gain the upper hand in the political entities where they reside?  We know from Scripture that the result will not be a kingdom of God on earth.  Jesus decisively repudiated that method of establishing His kingdom. Having arrived in a position of power by force does not bode well for the prospects of Christians in power becoming gentle rulers. Many would-be immigrants to America no doubt feel that this has already materialized. 
My takeaways:

1. Anabaptists have historically opposed becoming involved in Magisterial Reformation.

2. The teachings of Jesus and examples from history demonstrate the wisdom of this historic position.

3.  The kingdom of God never expands by human force or power.  

4.  Assuming a political identity in order to influence government by political means is always a difficult position to maintain with integrity.    

5.  "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  This is not original with me, but it rings true, in my estimation.  Christians in pursuit of power seek what is actually a corrupting status.  

6.  Nationalism is not a Christian virtue.  Christians must never forget that "stranger and pilgrim" are basic elements of their identity as followers of Jesus. (Today, on what would have been  my father's 91st birthday, I remember how clearly he understood and taught this.)

7.  In its formative era, Anabaptist leaders spoke truth to power at great cost to themselves.  Then they followed up with leading quiet lives of witness to these truths, often in hiding or living as refugees.  By a combination of these means, the kingdom of God was extended to one person, one martyr at a time.   

8.  Those who claim the Anabaptist name today while holding to a position that rejects magisterial involvement need not apologize for this stance.  A great weight of effective, history-altering, God-honoring, tradition is on their side.


*The term Anabaptist means "another baptism."  Those of us who understand Pennsylvania German say "ahnah" for  "another," so we understand where this term came from--common language.  In the 1520s, Anabaptist was a derogatory term.  Scholars in our time usually use the term "radical reformers" for the Anabaptists who came out of the Reformation period.  Swiss Brethren is the term that was used in Switzerland for the Anabaptists.  Zurich was one of many city-states in the confederation of Switzerland.  

One Swiss Brethren minister by the name of Jacob Amman led in an effort to purify the church.  Those who looked to him as their leader eventually were known as Amish--after Jacob Amman.  All of the Amish eventually emigrated to America.

Mennonites are named after Menno Simons, who was a reformer from Holland.  He was never one of the Swiss Brethren, but when he decided to leave the Catholic priesthood, it was the beliefs of the Swiss Brethren that he aligned himself with.  Some Mennonites came to America and others stayed behind in Europe.

Martin Luther was German and his followers eventually became known as Lutherans.  Luther himself was very anti-Anabaptist, a fact that the biographer Roland Bainton refers to as the biggest blot on Luther's record.  Anglicans and Presbyterians descend from the Lutheran line of religious tradition.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Hiromi is the consummate food adventurer.  Since he works in a store that sells groceries, he notices when new fruits and vegetables are offered for sale, usually only seasonally.  This week he brought home Rambutan, a fruit that is related to the Lychee and Longan. It's native to Indonesia and Malaysia, according to Wikipedia.  Mexico was the supplier for the fruit available at Walmart.

Rambutan one of the strangest fruits I've ever seen.  The outside of the golf-ball-sized fruit is covered with long but very soft spines.  The color is dark red, with touches of green. When the outer shell is broken or cut off, a layer of edible white fruit is revealed, surrounding a hard seed which must be discarded.  The fruit is perhaps best described as having a very firm gel-like consistency.  It is mildly flavored and slightly sweet.


If I hadn't married Hiromi I might never have tasted many foods that I enjoy:

Kumquats (tiny "oranges")
Asian persimmons (larger and sweeter than the American version)
Asian pears (round and firm like an apple)
Pomelo (looks like a giant grapefruit)
Goumi (tiny fruit that grows on Autumn-Olive-like shrubs)

Several different kinds of sea vegetables, kelp among them
Greens:  shungiku, smooth leaf mustard, garlic chives
Daikon (Long Japanese radish)
Snow peas
Fiddle head ferns
Artichokes (fresh)
White sweet potatoes
Baby corn
Shishito peppers
Gobo (related to salsify)
Kanpyo (dried gourd)
Bamboo shoots

Wood Ear
Others that I never learned the names of

Sea Food
Sashimi (raw fish of various kinds--e. g. salmon, tuna, yellowtail)
Octopus (very chewy)
Eel (the barbecued version is good)
Lobster (still alive when we walked into the restaurant)
Bonito (harvested when small and dried whole--used to flavor soup broth)

Fresh ginger root
Natto (fermented soybeans)
Tofu (soybean curd--like a bland soft cheese)
Miso (fermented soybean paste)
Oil made from toasted sesame seeds
Sansho (spice)
Wasabi (like green horseradish)
Konyaku (the noodle-like form is called shirataki--both made from the konjac potato or voodoo lily bulb--the plant Lizzie Irene used to grow in her garden)
Macha (green tea--powdered and drunk with the steeping water--used for tea ceremony)
Genmaicha (green tea mixed in its dry state with roasted rice grains, some of which pop, hence called popcorn tea--my favorite version of green tea)
Calpis (or Calpico, essentially a yogurt drink that I have been able to duplicate for the first time just recently)
Amazaki (cultured drink made from sweet rice)


I tasted guava and tamarind first in Bangladesh and papaya and mango first in Central America when Hiromi was not with me.

I also enjoyed nigella seed as a flavoring in Bangladesh and plantains as a fried vegetable in Central America.  I ate vegetable amaranth in Bangladesh, and another vegetable that I can't remember the name of.  The cook for the river cruise prepared it because the person who arranged the tour requested it.  That was also the first time that I drank coconut water through a straw stuck straight into the cavity of a green coconut.

I'm sure that  I'm not remembering everything right now that fits into these categories, but recalling them has been fun.

Remind me if you know of something I should have mentioned?  

Friday, September 28, 2018

Shenanigans Like This

The confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh who was nominated by President Trump to serve on the Supreme Court has been difficult to watch.  Most recently Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified publicly, alleging that the nominee sexually assaulted her when both were high school age.  Mr. Kavanaugh vociferously denied the allegations, also in a public testimony.

Senators will soon vote whether to confirm or reject the president's nomination, now that the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to submit the nominee for the full Senate's approval.  The committee, however, is asking for one more step to be inserted before the Senate votes:  investigation by the FBI.  The outcome when the Senate votes is quite uncertain.

I will not venture an opinion about what should happen regarding Kavanaugh's confirmation.  I do have several observations related to the matter.

1.  I relate to Ford's actions in a small way--not as a victim of sexual assault, but in another way.  It has to do with being honest when I'm asked by an employer what I know about a potential employee.
Occasionally, someone who is considering hiring one of my former students will ask for my input on the student's suitability for the job being considered.  Although I couldn't imagine many (or any) other circumstances under which I would reveal any dishonesty or lack of integrity that I've personally observed in a student, I will do so when a potential employer inquires about a specific person--only if it applies, of course.  I remember also adding a "big caveat" in one such case, saying that I have hope that the former student no longer lives like that, but what I know would give me pause about employing that person.

I believe Ford had a very similar experience after Kavanaugh was nominated.  She was privy to negative information regarding the nominee that was not public knowledge.  Under these extraordinary circumstances, she felt compelled to share that information for the sake of those who were considering Kavanaugh as an "employee."

2.  It's fair to consider the possibility that a person who once made serious mistakes has made better choices since then, and may have in the interim become a trustworthy individual.  See "big caveat" sentence above.

I think it's very possible that Ford, who ascribes despicable behavior to Kavanaugh, and the people who speak now of Kavanaugh as a person of great courtesy and integrity may all be truthful. I'm not sure how long a person's old sins should be held against them.  I do know that forgiveness is a Christian principle, but also, when the stakes are especially high, great caution is in order when decisions are being made that affect multitudes.

3.   A person who drinks freely, as Kavanaugh apparently did, is in a poor position to claim honorable behavior while inebriated.

In Japan, people who wish to save face for having behaved badly often pass if off by saying "I was drunk, and don't remember what I did/said."  It's notable that this may not have actually been the case, but it's so commonly understood that being drunk interferes with both memory and good behavior that it "works" as a pseudo-apology for what is too shameful to admit.

Kavanaugh would do well to acknowledge that drinking may have affected both his behavior and his memory.  If he had dealt with this a long time ago and gone as far as possible in making things right, I can't imagine that Ford would have had anything to bring up now.

4.  Kavanaugh was the only child of two lawyers.  He attended an elite private school.  It doesn't stretch my imagination in the slightest to visualize Kavanaugh as an arrogant young man with a strong sense of entitlement.  I don't know that for sure, of course, but his public presentation in his own defense certainly did nothing to discredit what I'm visualizing.  He still comes across like that.

5.  As a matter of personal integrity, it's a bad idea to reflexively defend someone whose life you really don't know, especially political figures whose image-stoking activity is well-known.  I find it incredibly embarrassing when I see otherwise good people (my people!) do this.

Right now it's Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh who are in the limelight.  Years ago, under similar circumstances, it was Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill.   I remember learning that Clarence Thomas' wife has a sister living in Hutchinson, and hearing her impressions of her brother-in-law made it hard not to see Thomas as being trustworthy--but the same was true of Anita Hill, who had no in-laws living in Hutchinson.  I feel the same way about Ford and Kavanaugh.  I feel sympathy with each of them.  Nevertheless I will not come out swinging in defense of them--or in condemnation of them either--because I don't know them, and all that . . .

6.  Any obstructionism going on in the Senate now is a repeat of the obstructionism that took place under the Obama administration when Merrick Garland was nominated for the Supreme Court.  Obstructionism, it seems, is an equal-opportunity option for partisan politicians.  Shenanigans like this are one more piece of evidence that steering clear of it all is an eminently defensible position.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday Wrapup--September 23, 2018

Today my new computer is up and running and my Sunday is less busy than it has been for weeks.

The computer crash about a month ago was quite disorienting, and without Hiromi's help, I would still be in a very discombobulated state.


I started teaching an adult Sunday School class at the beginning of September, so a lot of preparation time has been focused on the book of 2 Peter.  I always start studying at the beginning of the week before, but still usually scramble a bit to get ready before time for SS class. Having time to study is a great freedom though, and it's far less stressful than the class preparation that has consumed much of my time during the past few years.  And there's no grading!!!!!!!!!!


Processing tomatoes and peppers has involved a lot of time over the past month or so.  I have given away bushels of tomatoes, some of them already canned, and our supply in the cave cellar is abundantly restored.  Peppers have been dried and frozen.  Naturally fermented sauerkraut and dill pickles are packed in jars in the little fridge in the cellar.  Hot peppers and red onions are pickling in vinegar solutions in the utility room refrigerator, and we've learned how to prepare and enjoy Shishito peppers.

We knew we wanted to try them when we first heard from a farmer's market customer about the "really good Japanese pepper."  Our first crop was puny, probably due to drift or volitilization from a neighbor's chemical assault on weeds in his wheat stubble.  They were only half as thick and long as  my thumb.  This year they are as big as my biggest finger.

At a Master Gardener's potluck meal, Mary Clark, retired from Dillon Nature Center, contributed a dish of cooked Shishito peppers, and I learned how she prepared them.  Now Hiromi and I agree that these are "really good Japanese peppers."  I leave them whole and "scorch" them in a hot, lightly oiled cast iron pan, and turn them over to repeat the process on the other side.  Then I anoint them with crushed garlic and soy sauce and stir to distribute the flavorings evenly.  That's it.  Delicious.  We eat them seeds and all, sometimes holding them by the stem and biting off the "meat."

Shishito peppers are distinctive in that they are only very slightly hot, with rare exceptions.  One writer says that about every ninth pepper is a hot one.  True story.  Even the hot ones are not fiery, but if a person has zero tolerance for pepper heat, and not a shred of enthusiasm for gastronomical adventures, the surprising ones might be enough to dissuade that person from eating Shishito peppers.


My smart phone is still not  cooperating very well with me at all times (because I'm still not very smart), but with both Shane's and Grant's help, it was synced with my computer's internet and email accounts just in time to keep me from being completely disconnected with these means of communication when my computer went AWOL.

One wonderful cell phone use though has me completely won over.  Taking pictures is easy, and I use it a lot on the weekly nature walks I have been leading for my grandchildren and one other neighborhood homeschool family.  Taking a picture is almost as good as collecting a specimen for later identification.  I can often give the name of what we see, but sometimes I can't give both the Latin and common name, or I can identify the family, but I don't know the specific species name, and, of course, sometimes, I simply don't know enough to even track down the name.  Past experience tells me that some day I'll come across the name of these mystery plants and I will know exactly where I saw that plant because my brain can't let go of such a mystery till it's solved.

Before we part company after our nature walks, we try to list everything interesting that we've found.  At Shane and Dorcas' house, Tristan dictates a story about our exploration which I write in his nature journal and he reads back to me immediately, and then later reads to his dad.  His mother helps him with ideas for drawings, inserting specimens, etc.  Here too the freedom of being able to do this in a small group without the constraints of a big-school-environment is a pure pleasure.  One caveat:  the chigger bites that we all got in Jamie and Chris' shelterbelt were a great misery--no pleasure on that score.  I was wary of mosquitoes, given the recent abundant rainfall, and I had my insect repellent at the ready, but we saw hardly any mosquitoes and I was happy not to need the repellent. I hadn't had chigger bites for years, and the threat of getting them had completely dropped off my radar.  Suffice it to say that a whole bunch of Iwashige people would have had a better night of sleep if this grandma had done a better job of watching out for her charges.


Hummingbirds.  For some people, I know hummingbird visitors are common, but not at our place--until this fall.  We have thoroughly enjoyed watching them at our feeder for the past few weeks.  We've never seen more than one at a time, the first one spotted by Wyatt, my four-year-old grandson.  Today, after church, when I arrived home and checked the Autumn Joy Sedum for butterflies, a very tame hummingbird was resting on the rebar that is part of the support for the grape vines that are trellised over the flower bed.  I believe it had been attracted to the red salvia that is in bloom in that bed.  I have high hopes for a lot of reseeding of that Salvia next year.  I've had it reseed before, but this year I bought the plants again at the Dillon Nature sale fundraiser in the spring.  Judy, my Master Gardener friend, says they reseed readily among her irises and she sees hummingbirds all summer long.  The flowers are dainty--nothing like the large, thick blooms of the flowers Stutzmans used to sell years ago when I worked there.  Lady in Red is the variety name.

The Dillon Nature Center newsletter says that the hummingbird migration is far more impressive here this year than usual.  People are seeing a variety of species--not only the most common one, the Ruby-throat.  I've never been able to see colors on the ones we've had at our feeder.  The feeder is in the shade, and my eyes aren't sharp enough to discriminate details very well, especially on a tiny, fast-moving creature like the hummingbirds.


Fannie Nisly died since I last blogged.  She was 91, and had declined gradually for the past several years, after contracting ALS  (Lou Gehrig's Disease).  I remember her best as a cheerful, good humored, self-deprecating, encouraging and articulate woman of faith and servanthood.  It was hard to see her having to come to terms with her limitations, but she had resolved to "live above it" as she heard the Lord instructing her to do when she asked Him what she should do with her uncooperative body.  When clear speech became increasingly impossible for her, she resorted to writing.  She lost even that ability as nerve damage continued its ravages.

The evening before she died, the women of our church had gathered to hear Marietta Yoder speak, beginning a series of talks she had given in other states, and we prayed that Fannie could be released from her suffering.  The Lord called her to Himself the next forenoon.

My brother Lowell, who helped with the burial, saw a little mouse scampering about outside the vault into which the casket was placed.  He thinks they got the lid put in place with the mouse excluded.  Thinking about how Fannie would have enjoyed the incongruity of that little mouse having inserted itself into the solemn occasion of a burial made us all laugh when Lowell shared the tidbit.  That was Fannie--never putting on airs, and never failing to take note of and enjoy the surprises and pleasures in life as it happened.


Hiromi and I took a short trip this past week to visit our friend Eunice Officer near Stover, Missouri.  For a number of years while our children were still at home, we went there every year.  She lives in the Ozarks, and when we visited, we usually helped her with some project connected with her developing the wilderness area on which she established her homesite.  This time we washed her windows in the  main living area.

Eunice had a long career in nursing, ending her career only when she became unable to work because of Multiple Sclerosis.  For the last few years she had worked as a state surveyor (inspector) of nursing homes, and then as a consultant to nursing homes.  I have a very high regard for her perspective on elder care.  In many ways, her perspective has informed my perspective of education matters.

Decades ago I remember noting, in writing, some of the similarities between how society had changed its ways of dealing with both the old and the young--largely having accepted a shift of responsibility for care to "specialists" outside the family.  The observation raised some hackles.

Eunice's mother died about a month ago, after having been in a nursing home for about two years.  For the two years before that, Eunice had brought her into her own home to care for her, placing her in a nursing home only when her own disabilities made caregiving difficult and her mother's dementia made it impossible for Eunice to keep her safe.  She was more mobile than Eunice and would sometimes go outside at night, looking for Eunice (who was sleeping in the next room).

Eunice said she always counseled other families to not attempt to care for anyone at home who needed complete care and suffered from dementia--because it was simply too difficult.  When it came to her own mother, however, she could not bear to "abandon" her in a nursing home.

When I asked her several days ago if the things she feared about subjecting her mother to nursing home care came true, she said "yes" and wept talking about it.  I'll spare you the details.  These things happened, even in a facility that she felt was a "good" facility in many ways.

Speaking generally, Eunice believes that the ones who actually deliver nursing home care are too often poorly trained. For example, they are not taught how dementia affects normal function, and they often initiate unnecessary conflict, and consequently elicit an uncooperative patient response.  The often-chaotic personal lives of caregivers bleed over into their jobs and mean that employment may be short-lived, and showing up for work may be inconsistent.  Besides, it's a low-paying job, so moving on as soon as something better appears is appealing.  Because of over-specialization in job expectations, meeting the most basic needs is sometimes ignored "because that's not my job."  Since patients are often quite helpless, and perhaps unable to communicate effectively, they are easily victimized.

Eunice's own prospects look daunting.  With great difficulty and with the aid of a walker, she can still move about slowly indoors, and she can still get into and out of her vehicle and drive.  She knows though that if she were confined to a wheelchair, she could not continue to live in the house that she planned and moved into when it was brand new--in the natural surroundings she fell in love with when she bought the property.  She carries a phone with her all the time because she knows that she can't get up if she falls.  Cell phone service is non-existent anywhere within five miles of her house, but she carries a portable phone connected to a land line.

Mentally, Eunice is as sharp as ever, and conversing with her is always a pleasure.  I look forward to being able to visit again, without waiting as long as we did before this time.  Driving there went OK, but Hiromi and I are less and less up for driving on trips.  Hiromi discovered some new vision issues (his eyes perceive conflicting images) on this trip that mess with his confidence, and I'm certainly not eager for driving challenges, for some of the same reasons.  Between here and Eunice's house, however, we can travel without passing through any large cities, and travel is comparatively easy.

We learned on this trip that train travel is possible to Sedalia, MO, which is close to Eunice's place.  She says picking us up at the train station would be no problem.  I think that travel option looks attractive.  Changing trains in KC is necessary, and I haven't checked out the schedule, but just maybe that way of visiting Eunice would prove to be workable and affordable.


One of the fun things we did in Missouri was to visit my cousin Ellen and her husband Don Gingerich.  Don's sister was a classmate of my mother's.  When Ellen and I both attended my Aunt Mary's funeral in Iowa, we discovered that they and Eunice live only a mile or so apart on Big Buffalo Road near Stover.  Since then we have visited Don and Ellen along with Eunice.  Over pumpkin pie that I had baked here at home, we had a snack in their home, and a great visit.  Being with relatives is special, no matter how divergent your lives have been at other times.

Don and Ellen told us that they have often repeated and chuckled over something that was included in the tribute they heard read at Mom's funeral.  As an example of how Mom used a more advanced vocabulary as her dementia advanced, we recounted how she spoke of a group of grandsons hunting after a holiday family meal.  As they walked past the window where she could see them, she noted that "there goes a contingent of marauders."  "Marauders" is such a good word, Don and Ellen noted, and you don't hear it very often. Exactly.


The visit in Missouri turned dramatic yesterday morning on the last morning we were there.  From upstairs where we slept, I heard a muscle truck pulling up to Eunice's house, and heard the driver greet Hiromi and respond to his "How are you?" inquiry with "Not too good."

I overheard him enter the house and ask Eunice to call 911.  In listening to Eunice's end of the conversation on the phone I learned that her neighbor (the visitor) had come home just prior to this (presumably from working at night) and found three vehicles burned and his mother handcuffed inside a trailer home.  He couldn't free his mother, and was calling for law enforcement.  We had heard one gunshot before dark the evening before, but had not seen fire or smoke or heard any disturbance at any other time.  Gunshots from that place are not unusual, and Eunice simply noted that "that's my neighbor" when it happened.  We had driven by slowly earlier the day before and looked in at the place, just because we were out driving--mostly to see the Big Buffalo conservation area and to look at wildflowers.

Later in the morning one of the investigating officers stopped in to talk to Eunice and leave a form with her to fill out as part of an ongoing investigation.  He also wanted to assure her that he didn't believe that anyone else in the neighborhood was in danger, but that there would probably be a heavy law enforcement presence in the next few days.

Oh. My.


Two inches of rain fell here while we were gone. It was a timely rain, accompanied by a cold front that has given us some gorgeous fall-like sunny days.  Night temperatures are expected to dip into the upper 40s near midweek--when a second cold front is expected.


Right now I'm delving deep into the world of healing plants  That is, plants that have healing properties.  I'm hopeful that planting a medicinal garden at Pilgrim School will be possible--this year, perhaps.  It's been discussed for several years, but the Pocket Prairie came first.  With that project well on its way, attention can perhaps be focused elsewhere now.

By far the most exciting recent personal discovery is the research being done on medicinal prairie plants at the University of Kansas (KU).  In particular, one plant shows very strong anti-cancer activity when tested in the laboratory.  To my knowledge, tests in humans are not finished.  The study was hampered when the funding abruptly dried up.  The plant is Physalis longifolia, which I believe we saw recently on one of our nature walks.  I know the plant was either the very same species, or a close relative.

The plant is also sometimes called Wild Groundcherry.  It's closely related to the Tomatillo and the ornamental Chinese Lantern.  I remember taking delight as a child in popping the balloon-like husk that surrounds a fruit shaped  like a pea.  Native Americans have used the Wild Groundcherry as a food source for decades or even centuries, so there's little concern about the cancer-killing properties being paired in the wild groundcherry with toxicity for other body tissues.  If anyone sees these plants growing wild this fall, please notify me--or collect fruits if they've turned yellow.  I'd love to collect seeds and start a planting in my garden.  The plants are perennial, but are in the nightshade family, as are many garden annuals--tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, etc.

One of the active compounds in Wild Groundcherry is in a class called Withanolides, which are present also in Ashwaganda, a herb well-known in Ayurvedic (Indian) herbal medicine.

You can read a news release form KU about Physalis longifolia here.


On a related note, anyone at Pilgrim who remembers the large bracket mushroom with a varnished look (it was displayed in the trophy case) that was found and harvested in Melvin Harold's shelterbelt should know that the mushroom might have been worth a small fortune if a person who knew its medicinal value had gotten there first.  It is the American version of the Reishi mushroom, which has notable medicinal qualities.  Ganoderma tsugae is the species that I believe we found, or perhaps Ganoderma lucidum.  The American version has the same active compounds as the Reishi that grows commonly in mountainous areas of Japan Korea, and China.