Prairie View

Monday, October 05, 2015

Canning Concord Grapes

This year, for the first time in my memory, I canned Concord grapes for juice.  I have usually not had access to grapes at an economical price, but this year someone in the community had them shipped in from New York, and sold them for $11.00 per half bushel.  They were delicious.  If only we could have eaten them fresh a little faster there would have been none left to can.  Partly because my canning jars were nearly all full, I decided to attempt to can a grape juice concentrate, rather than go by the recipe I found online, which called for 1 1/3 cups grapes to each jar and 1/3 cup sugar.  The jars were to be filled with boiling water.  By multiplying that by three, I came up with a recipe that called for 4 cups grapes and 1 cup sugar per jar.  I reasoned that when I open the jar I can simply add two jars of water and have just the right concentration of fruit  juice and sugar in the final beverage.  the sugar ended up taking up so much space that I probably didn't quite get 4 cups of grapes into the jar.

Something I did not anticipate happened, however, and I need help figuring out why.  The contents seemed to expand during processing, and, besides bubbling over enough to color the canner water purple, they continued to bubble after I took them out of the canner.  The tea towel and counter on which I placed the jars are both stained purple.  What's up with this?  Thankfully the jars all sealed.

The sugar did not all dissolve either.  Each jar has a layer of sugar on the bottom.

I need help from grape canning veterans?  Do you use a syrup?  Do you cook the grapes before putting them in the jars?  Is the sugar layer on the bottom normal?  Is my recipe at fault?  Is trying for a concentrate not a good idea?

I thought I was being smarter than my mom (who thought she was also being smarter than her mom) by making a concentrate.  My mother said that her mother used to put one cup of grapes and one cup of sugar in each quart jar before filling it with boiling water.  My mom halved the sugar and still put in one cup of grapes.  My recipe calls for even less sugar than my mom's, and calls also for more grapes per jar.  Does anyone from grape growing country wish to share their methods and recipe?

I hope that some time in the future we'll have grapes from our own vines.  In the meantime, I'll be a customer if the Troyers on Red Rock Road bring in New York grapes again next year--and if I can figure out how to do the canning right.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sunday Wrapup--10/4/2015

We got several bits of unwelcome news in the past few days--about friends and family who are facing crises.

John and Renita Y.'s family are leaving E. S. because of having unwittingly become targets for threatened gang violence.  It started with their innocent young daughter's having spied several men with evil intent and telling her mother what she saw.  After the information passed through various "hands" and the intended target escaped with his life, guess who is being blamed for enabling his escape?  The threat to the family from here was delivered by means of trashing their house and then apparently calling emergency services to report the incident.  Local citizens recognize this as typical "threat language."

Twila Y., has been diagnosed with cancer--less than a week after having first noticed a new lump.  She is the mother of a high school student ( the youngest) and the grandmother of her oldest son's four children, with five others in between. Our family has lived alongside theirs for many years, with our children finding age mates among theirs.  In her husband Joe's family, two siblings and three of the siblings' spouses have died of cancer.  We all think that's quite enough cancer for one family.  My dear friend Marian was Joe's sister.

Closer home for our family, we're hearing alarming news from our oldest son's adopted country.  The fearsome terrorist/military group based in the Middle East has taken responsibility for the killing of two foreigners whose countries are aligned with the "crusader coalition."  One was from my husband's homeland, and the other was from the country in which the Apostle Paul was martyred.  One was killed in our son's city of residence, and the other killing happened in another district. Both were apparently working with a non-government organization.  Foreign embassies have recently given some guidelines for appropriate precautions for their in-country citizens.

All of these situations call for intercession and faith in God's goodness and power.  All of them also involve family members of David and Susanna, our bishop's family.


My youngest brother was released from HCF on Friday of last week.  He's staying with Dad for now, based on his own request.  If an opening develops at Oxford House in Hutchinson and his application is accepted, he will likely transfer there.  After two years of him not being within hugging distance, it's very good to have him around again.  He's pleasant and helpful, and openly speaks of the "out-of-control" situation that characterized his life before his incarceration.  Substance abuse treatment is part of his release arrangement. The first order of business for him is to air up the tires on his vehicle and see if it still runs, get the tags current, and renew his driver's license.  For  many others, release also means finding a place to live, and finding a job.  Those two things are taken care of in Marcus' case.

In the lead-in to Marcus' release, I attended a court hearing, and was duly impressed there with the power in the hands of a judge.  Of those who entered the court room in prison garb, cuffed and shackled, some were back on the street within an hour.  Others were not granted that freedom.  To have a responsible, fair judge is a great blessing.  Thankfully, Judge Rose appeared to be that kind of judge.  Marcus' appointed attorney was the same one who represented the infamous BTK murderer from Wichita a number of years ago.  I presume that was also a court-ordered appointment.


When Dad picked up Marcus, another young man who had just been released asked if he could have a ride home.  He said his family was to have been there to pick him up, but no one was there to do so.  Dad agreed, and introduced him to the Lord en route.  The young man was very open and very grateful.  His parents both have a drug problem, just as he does.  "No one ever cared enough to talk to  me like this," he told Dad, while thanking him.

I couldn't help wondering what Marcus was thinking while the conversation was taking place in his hearing.    Some things about their situation were very similar, and some things were markedly different.


Three Catholic women from the Kansas City area attended our church service this morning as the guests of William and Elizabeth Hershberger.  They have been friends for at least 20 years.  The visiting women are sisters to each other and are all teachers in Catholic schools.  One was a sister in the other Catholic sense of the word for ten years, leaving before taking her final vows.  I learned by listening to her speak to someone else this morning that only cloistered sisters are normally referred to as nuns.  Those who serve in the public are called sisters.

I've heard lots of "Catholic" talk since I started to attend the Master Gardener classes.  Three of the people with whom I make the ride back and forth to Newton are Catholics, and I hear them talk among themselves about their religious life.

One lady informed another in my hearing that she was not raised Catholic, and it took her four tries to "make it" into the Catholic church.  I'm not sure what that meant.  I also learned that those two women attended the same parish services, but didn't know each other because they normally attend Mass at two different times.  They also really wished that "Father"would add a more convenient confession time--either before or after Mass, rather than having to make a special trip for confession.
When we met a priest at the restaurant where we ate lunch, he turned out to have been stationed earlier in our area, and was now on another assignment.  He told the ones in our group who knew him that he was "making people mad" again.  The ladies with me explained later that right after he came to St. Teresa, he was ordered by the bishop to close the school, and when he followed those instructions, the action met with a great deal of disfavor among the patrons.

One of the ladies told me that she only once in her life attended a Protestant service--in Kansas City.  It was a Mennonite church, and she was with dear friends from nursing school at Bethel College.

I've heard that "Father" has terrible eating habits, and the diocese eventually hired a cook so that he'd get some decent food.

The only man in our van load is also Catholic.  He's "an officer and a gentleman."  Actually, I don't know that he's like that film character at all.  I'm not familiar with the movie except by title.  What I do know is that he was the school resource officer for more than 30 years with the local country sheriff's department.  He's courteous, and every week I learn more about his varied interests.  First I heard about irises.  He's a member of the local iris club.  Last week I learned that he is a published author, and we had a lively conversation about writing.  I also learned that his wife is an artist--whose name I now recall having seen often on paintings.  Recently she has taken up sculpture, and in an interesting twist on their interests as a couple, she created sculptures of the main characters in a novel he is in the process of writing.  These sculptures "live" in the house with them.  Next Thursday evening both of them plan to go to Salina to hear Anne Lamott speak.  She's a well-known writer.

Just now, from the Amazon site that lists his book, Cop in the Classroom:  Lessons I've Learned, Tales I've Told,  I found that he was also a teacher and coach in public schools, a store security officer, and a substance abuse counselor,

In addition to the above book, I'd like to read a play he wrote:  Under the Radar:  Race at School.  It's about racism.

In speaking of his retirement, Jim stated how it is, and it matches my experience on sabbatical.  He said, "I do a lot more of what I want to do--when I want to do it, but I'm no less busy than I was before."


A few nights ago, when the forecast sounded chilly, I carefully placed cucumbers from the garden inside a grocery bag and put them on a chair on the patio--my way of compensating for limited refrigerator space.  The next morning the bag was gone, and I was sure the cat hadn't moved it.  I spied the bag several yards away, with several cucumbers half in and half out of the bag.  More cucumbers had dropped near the chair and along the way.  I didn't know whether to blame a raccoon or a possum.

On the way to church this morning I saw several vultures gathered around a dead 'coon on the road.  I hope the cucumber thief is gone for good.


The afternoon session for Master Gardeners last week was about dealing with nuisance animals.  I was a little amused by the polite reference to euthanasia as one of the appropriate solutions in some cases.

I had never given much thought to hazards associated with relocation of nuisance animals.  I had thought about the ethical problem of making the nuisance animal on your property someone else's problem, but I had not thought of how the animal may be carrying pests and diseases that infect a distant population when an animal is moved.  Voles, moles, deer, and  armadillos were among the nuisances covered.

I learned that armadillos are native to Central America, and have steadily moved northward over a period of many years.  The first ones were found in Kansas in about 1911? and now they are found also in Nebraska.  People who should know believe that there must surely be a northern limit to their range, but no one knows what that is.

I learned also that it's now proven beyond any doubt that some armadillos carry the leprosy bacterium.  Eating the flesh is not the only way for the bacterium to pass from animal to human.  Handling the animal can do so as well.  On the positive side, leprosy is now fairly easy to treat.

Bait or electronic vibrations do nothing to help kill or frighten away moles.  Moles feed only on living, moving creatures, and do not rely on their sense of smell at all.  They seem to thrive in some areas that are regularly assaulted by vibrations from passing vehicles, right next to a busy street, for example.  A vicious-looking mechanical trap, placed strategically to extend into a busy tunnel is the recommended way to euthanize a mole.


One of the aspects of the Master Gardener class that turns the tables on this teacher is that I now take a quiz at every class period.  It covers the content of the previous class period's lectures.  A final test will be based on the quizzes.  Students must score at least an average of 70% to pass the class.

I give the test-makers high marks for creating good tests.  The answers are not obvious, even though they're always multiple choice.  On the first two tests I missed the extra-credit question both times.  I think the graders are being a little over-dramatic by boldly  marking such papers with a -1, when it's followed by a 100% notation.  The papers are all laid out on a table after they're graded, and students go there and pick out their own quiz, with all other papers in full view.  Protecting students' privacy is apparently not a high priority, but I'm pleased to report that I have been able to scrupulously avoid peering at the scores of other test takers.    

My table-mate, who retired recently from a position as director of a county health department, was thoroughly dismayed after the first test.  The next time she reported to me, "Miriam, I studied for hours.  This [previous test score] is entirely unacceptable.  I was a straight-A student and valedictorian of my class.  I can't keep on flunking these tests."   After the last class, she happily informed me that she now had a passing average.


At the gathering where the "old" master gardeners and the new ones were introduced to each other, my high school science teacher was present.  I learned later that he had talked about me behind my back, and that he saddled me with a reputation to live up to.  I was frankly dismayed.   It was kind of him, of course, but directly interfered with my wish to stay under the radar, and be able to network with other class members as one of the "learning" crowd.  I determined to take some decisive action to be helpful and supportive wherever I could, in order not to be seen as being aloof in any way.  I thought immediately of the elderly lady in the class from our county who is a caregiver for her 92-year-old sister dealing with dementia.  She had been fishing for ideas or help with the final presentation that each person (or team) is to give to the class, and no one had offered her much.  I couldn't think of much at the time.

Later, at home, I thought of an idea that might interest her, and emailed her the suggestion and offered her help in getting started and in doing the presentation if she wished.  She was very pleased.  I remembered hearing her say that she's re-doing her yard and wants especially to make it welcoming to birds and butterflies.  I suggested that she give a presentation on how she plans to do that.  My recent involvement with the pocket prairie planting at school covered a lot of the same territory, since we had similar goals for our plantings there.  Now I'm beginning to feel more comfortable again.


Fresh green beans and fresh beets from the garden are part of our meals this week.  Starting about now, we could also eat various types of greens often--kale, chard, spinach, beet greens, and mustard (the mustard is actually destined to be pickled--for Japanese takana pickles).  Broccoli heads are sizing up, as are the Chinese Cabbage heads.  The cauliflower and cabbage aren't as far along as I wish they were.  Planting time lesson is being noted--earlier next year.

Rhoda Y. told me recently that she got 80 quarts of tomatoes from the 4-bushel picking of tomatoes she got here.  I'm very happy that she could use them.

Rhoda inquired about how I did my fall garden.  I should have told her how I planted the cole crops that grow into large plants.    I direct-seeded them inside carefully-spaced No. 10 cans with the ends removed.  The cans were placed on either side of a 12-inch-wide trench bounded by long ridges on the sides.  At first, I watered daily inside the cans with very gentle spray, and after they germinated and grew to some size, I watered by filling the trench and allowing the water to seep into the root zone from below.

To people in more hospitable growing climates, this probably all seems like going to needless pains, but the bit of shade and wind protection those cans offer is very valuable.  I really hate thinning, so this widely-spaced method also offers me the advantage of being able to avoid that.

Other crops direct-seeded in rows were beets, green beans, red radishes, daikon radishes, mustard, carrots, kohlrabi, shungiku, and spinach.  The last four germinated very poorly for some reason, but the others did well.

In a different area, and planted much later, I have another collection of greens coming along.  I hope that many of these will winter over under a row cover.  I can't wait to taste these first-time greens:  tyfon, claytonia (miner's lettuce), and mache (corn salad).  I've grown or tasted these before:  arugula, radicchio, and sorrel.  I'll plant warm-season greens next spring.  Amaranth, perilla (shiso), New Zealand spinach, and spreen (looks like lamb's quarter) are on that list.  I hope to let all of these go to seed next summer, thus providing a perpetual greens supply in the future.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Plants--Opinions, Offerings, and Blessings

You're in for a treat if you follow this link.  I've written about this Memorial Rose Garden here before, and here's another person's perspective--on the front page of our local newspaper.  This article illustrates just one of the ways in which plants are a blessing.


I have several plants I'd like to offer an interested local person.

First, the comfrey.  I have two fairly large clumps I'm willing to part with.  I'd like $4.00 for each, since that's what the baby plants cost me originally, including having them shipped from a herbalist in Pennsylvania.  This plant is a perennial in the medicinal herb category.

I also have two hanging baskets available that used to hang in the Learning Center at Pilgrim/Cedar Crest.  One contains a heart-leaf philodendron plant and the other has a Hoya vine.  Neither is large or overpowering or particularly fast-growing.  I'd like first dibs on the baskets themselves at some future time when I might have a use for them, since the watering opening on the side makes these baskets rather expensive to replace and very convenient.  There's a reservoir in the bottom of the pot, and filling the reservoir with water allows the water to wick up as needed, preventing over-watering or drying out--as long as there's water present.  For now, if you want it you can take it--free.  I don't have room to hang them in my house.

Email, call, or message me on Facebook if you're interested in any of these plants.


The "opinion" part is what I would have said to my Home Environment class students if I had thought far enough when we talked about the various landscaping principles our text introduced.   In the class, we talked mostly about planning and planting landscapes.  We should probably have talked more about maintaining them.  Here are some of the specific things I wish they knew.

When you plant a row or a patch of the same plant, the goal usually is for that area to be perceived as a single unit.  Individual plants hopefully will lose their identity in the whole when the plants are mature.  In order for this to happen, the outer margins of each plant should intermingle with the outer margins (usually branches or foliage) of the adjacent plants.  The function of such plantings usually is to create a background for showcasing other plants, to provide contrast or harmony with other kinds of plants, to make hard surfaces feel less forbidding (by obscuring them with soft plant material), to simplify maintenance and limit expense (e. g. groundcovers instead of mulch), or simply to increase the impact of the special features of the plants--interesting leaves or flowers, for example,  In such a scenario, proper maintenance calls for basically leaving the mass alone.

The only good reasons I can think of for shearing background plants or digging up plants in a ground-cover-like mass are these:

Background plants:

1.  The plants are encroaching on other valuable plants.
2.  The density makes them susceptible to disease.
3.  They interfere with maintenance or use of a structure.
4.  They obscure a desirable view from a window.
5.  They shut off light to interior rooms.
6.  They interfere with opening windows.

To be avoided is trimming such background plantings so that each plant is isolated from its neighbors.  The only plants that deserve such isolation are accent plants.  These are placed strategically to draw attention to themselves, marking something important nearby--such as an entrance or doorway, etc., or to help create structure and "architecture" in a large planting.  Accent plants should be used very sparingly.

Here's an example from our own place.  More than 25 years ago Hiromi brought home some yews to plant on the north side of the house, along the walkway leading to the front door.  I was not particularly pleased with the selection, since I saw that the mature size was a lot bigger than the space, and I knew we'd have to do a lot of trimming to keep them from overwhelming the sidewalk and the window on the wall behind the planting.  But I did like yews and the north side of the house was the best place for yews, so we planted them.  They were pretty and easy to keep within bounds for the first number of years.  Then we moved away.

When we got back, those yews were enormous.  They obscured about a third of the window, and we had to keep hacking away at them to have any walking space left on the sidewalk.  Finally, early this summer, Hiromi hacked away at them till they were gone.

In their place we planted three plants.  Near the front door we planted a Nandina, or Heavenly Bamboo.  It grows tall and skinny and has attractive leaves and scarlet fruit.  It's our accent plant.  Beside the single Nandina we planted two low-growing boxwoods.  They have small shiny leaves, and boxwoods do well on the north side of a building.  Right now they're not very big, and the plants are clearly separate, but eventually we hope they grow into a short "row" leading to the Nandina.  They will also function as background for the flowers we have on the other side of the sidewalk.

Groundcover Plants

When a mass of low-growing plants completely fills in the space between them, they've accomplished their purpose--covering the ground.  The only reasons some of them might need to be dug up are these:

1.  They're diseased and ugly and you don't like them anymore and want to get rid of them altogether.
2.  You want to propagate the plants in order to plant some in another area.
3.  You really want to display beautiful  mulch between the plants (just kidding--I can't imagine wanting this, but that is the result sometimes--simply having to buy more mulch or do more weeding)
4.  They're encroaching on other plants around the perimeter of the planting.


The corners of a a building call for special plant treatment--the use of softening plants.  These are plants whose function is to soften harsh architectural lines.  Corners of a building are always harsh architectural lines and the building looks best when these lines are softened with plant material.  In practical terms, what this means is that any plants that are preserving this function should usually be left alone to do their job--filling in inside corners and providing background for what is planted in front of it, or spreading around outside corners.  They are usually bushy spreading plants--shrubs or small trees, and they look best if their height is maintained in a pleasing proportion to the building.  Either one-third the height of the distance to the eaves, or two-thirds the distance looks good--varying somewhat according to the surrounding plantings and the height of the building.  Corners should never be accented.

Trimming of corner plants should be limited to times when building maintenance can't be performed otherwise, when the plant gets too tall, or when it overwhelms other valuable plants.  If it's unhealthy, trimming may be part of helping to restore its health.  Visually exposing the corner of the building is never a good reason for trimming or removing a corner plant.

I've labeled this section the opinion section, but I'm really quoting what I've learned from people who are a lot more knowledgeable than I am about such matters.  A class Hiromi and I took more than 30 years ago from the county horticulture agent was my introduction to landscaping principles.  The textbook we used then is the same one used in the Home Environment class I've taught at Pilgrim.  Doing it differently than the experts recommend is not a sin of course, but I consider it a shame because it diminishes beauty.  In this case avoiding the shame is often very easy:  Leave healthy plants alone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

In the Dark and Out of Luck

Julie Doll's columns have recently begun to appear occasionally in our local newspaper, The Hutchinson News.  She is apparently a retired journalist who is originally from Kansas and now lives again in Kansas (Garden City/Wichita).  In the intervening years she has worked in states ranging from California to New York, as well as many areas of Kansas.  This post will highlight a column which appeared on September 13 of this year.  "Keeping the Public in the Dark" is the title of the column.

First, a quote from the beginning of the column:

" Much of the public's business is conducted in secret.

That's no surprise to anyone who has served in government or tried to cover government as a journalist.

I don't mean to be cynical about the lack of transparency and accountability.  Nor do I intend to demonize government officials and employees who would rather conduct business outside the glare of public scrutiny.

It is admittedly easier to get things done when reporters and critics aren't second-guessing decisions--decisions that have not even been made but are being contemplated.  And most of us prefer the easy way when we set upon a task.

But as in so many things in life, the easy way is often not the best way."

Doll goes on to elaborate on three incidents in government that highlight the  topic of the column.

One was the matter of Hillary Clinton's private email server on which she apparently conducted official business as Secretary of State, thus putting the correspondence out of reach of the public sphere.  The Associated Press sued for access to those records in 2010, based on the Freedom of Information Act.  When the records were not produced at all until late in 2014 and then not in their entirety, in March of this year the AP sued the federal government for access, based on its failure to comply with the federal open records law.   Doll notes that the public's past experience with the Clintons warrants skepticism about what was deleted before the records were turned over in 2014.

The second incident involves a business department building on the University of Kansas campus.  It was built with donations from the Koch  Foundation and is named the Center for Applied Economics.  The director of the Center, Arthur Hall, worked in the past for the Public Sector Group of Koch Industries, Inc.  Doll didn't say it in her column, but people all over the country (thanks partly to media coverage from Time, for example) know that the Koch brothers--Charles and David--of Koch Industries are a powerhouse of funding for conservative causes, including support of conservative candidates for public office.  Forbes lists Charles as #4 among the richest people in America.  Back to the story.  The leader of a KU student group asked for records of Hall's email correspondence with Koch Industries, in order to determine whether influence from the Koch Brothers was affecting the operation of the Center they founded.  After the student group paid the requested $1800 to cover the costs of collecting the material (it must have been a surprise that they were able to pay), Hall sued the group in order to stop the process of releasing the emails.  His defense was based on two conflicting contentions:  1.  His salary was paid by private donations, so he wasn't really part of the public university.  2.  Because he worked for the university, he was entitled to academic freedom (which protected him from "intrusive" inquiries such as the one he didn't wish to comply with).  In a private settlement, Hall released a few innocuous emails--the ones he deemed to be public records.  Doll notes here that people often look for loopholes in open records laws and when they fail to find one, they make one up.

The third incident involves the Kansas governor's dissemination of budget decisions to lobbyists via private email.  When the Wichita Eagle's reporting challenged the legality of this action, the state attorney general weighed in, essentially saying disingenuously that "state officials' emails about state business aren't public if they're sent using personal email accounts."  (Doll)  He justified this by using a convoluted and dictionary-discredited definition of "entity," arguing that a person can't be an entity. Nonsense.  

In a sense, all this hoopla about what happens in government is old hat and hardly worth commenting on.  Emails are a small slice of open records law, so why make a big deal of them? That's just how it is, and we might as well acknowledge that it's largely beyond our control and move on with our lives.  Or maybe not.  Maybe we ought also to recognize that openness in matters (even emails) that involve "the public" is not merely a legal matter; it is also an ethical matter.  As such, it applies to activities other than government activities.  Perhaps the very minimum of what is expected sensibly in government matters should also apply to other situations (e. g. board and committee deliberations) that involve "the public."

Several decades ago, when many far-reaching decisions were being made regarding our church's involvement in Christian education, Hiromi inquired of chairman Melvin H. N. whether school board meetings were open meetings.  Hiromi and I were grateful for Melvin's response.  He assured Hiromi that "yes," the meetings were open and Hiromi was welcome to attend.  When he did so, Melvin asked if he wanted to say something.  Hiromi declined.  I think he attended several meetings and then quit going.

More recently, in a time of upheaval regarding the administration of the local farmer's market, one of the changes that occurred is that board meetings became open meetings.  In this case also, I assume that meetings have become less widely attended, although information is still announced ahead of the meetings about where and when they will take place.  They are still open meetings, and that is reassuring.

My sense is that all committees and boards that serve a group ought to operate their business in full view of the group they serve.  At a minimum, beyond publicly distributed minutes of past meetings, I believe that includes being willing to conduct open meetings.  Some closed sessions within those meetings may need to be conducted, especially when they involve sensitive personnel matters, but the general modus operandi ought to be open rather than closed.

Other ways to conduct business openly involve gathering public input by various  means.  Private conversations, organizing public meetings where people are invited to speak, receiving and considering written communication, and hearing input from individuals who attend meetings are among those other means.  Lack of openness on the part of any small group serving a larger group is a recipe for creating rifts, some of which would never happen if relevant information were freely shared in a timely manner.   No one likes to feel shut out, especially when the matters being considered have significant long-term consequences that affect everyone.

For the smaller group itself, some pitfalls could be avoided at the outset if public input were received in the course of deliberations.  Waiting to consider alternatives till a board decision is announced and "hits the fan" can result in lots of wasted time and energy--in laborious communication, backtracking, altering course, and making necessary explanations and/or apologies.   Openness is almost always a wise preemptive measure for building understanding, support, and consensus as opposed to acting preemptively by simply announcing and forging ahead with small-group decisions.

Julie Doll summarizes one of the government examples she cites by saying "The case is one of many examples of how the public is shut out of business that is supposed to be conducted on their behalf."  The same should never be true of any Christian organization, where ethical standards should supersede expectations for government entities.   As Doll says  ". . . the easy way is often not the best way."


Julie Doll's entire article can be read here.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Ahmed's Clock

As sometimes happens, I recently wrote a comment on Facebook and forgot to click "enter" afterward, insuring that the comment posted.  Consequently, when I tried to leave Facebook some time later, I got a message asking if I was sure I wanted to leave this page since my comment wasn't finished yet.  What comment? I couldn't remember.  So I left the page without finishing, and the Facebook world never heard my brilliant sentiment.  Much later I remembered that it was probably a comment on one of the first posts I saw about the 14-year-old in Irving, Texas who was arrested, handcuffed in front of his peers, and marched off to be questioned after he made a clock at home and brought it to school and showed several teachers.  The child  is part of a Sudanese Muslim immigrant family.  The family's last name is Mohamed and the child is Ahmed.

I was incensed at how the child was treated.  It turns out that a lot of other people were incensed too.  From Mark Zuckerberg to President Obama to MIT to the local Cosmosphere, invitations and awards were extended to Ahmed, all from people who were eager to make amends for what they saw as a big mistake. To my great surprise, however, hardly anyone was upset about the same thing I was most upset about.

Some people immediately saw in the authorities' response to Ahmed's act overt discrimination against Muslims.  Predictably, others saw in it a covert Muslim-designed provocation, useful as evidence that discrimination against Muslims is real.   Because Ahmed's father has been involved in public Muslim identity activities (I can't remember the details), this grows the "evidence pile" on the side of conspiratorial intention associated with Ahmed's clock.

Stupidity is what others saw in the event--not Ahmed's, but of the people who couldn't tell the difference between a bomb and a clock.

"Responsible vigilance" is how the teachers' reporting and the officers' show of force was characterized by others.  Everyone should take school violence seriously, after all, and we can't be too careful.

One writer labeled Ahmed's clock a fraud because he used parts from an old clock in making his clock--so it wasn't really his invention at all.  Puh-leese.  He must not have gotten the memo that everything man creates is made from what God provided when He created the world originally, and that one person's invention always builds in some way on the provision of parts or forces in nature or on the inventions of those who have gone before.  It's true, of course, that Ahmed really made nothing so new as to be patent-able in putting together his clock, but it was nevertheless ingenious and creative and inventive,  It did what he said it would do--show the time of day or night.  It was a clock, as he said it was.

Someone else saw something sinister in the fact that Ahmed put the whole contraption into his pencil case to bring it to school.  Deadly weapons are often concealed, after all.  Fact checks are in order here. The parts were visible to anyone who opened the pencil case. It made a convenient carrier for the rather untidy assemblage of wires and other parts that comprised the clock.  Why would he have showed his trusted teachers his "invention" (with no accompanying threats) if he intended to blow up the school or harm other students?  Do most people feel a need to be furtive about the clocks in their possession?  No.  Do most people prize validation from the people around them when they have tried to do something good?  Of course.  In putting together his clock and then packaging it in a pencil case before shyly showing his teacher what he made, Ahmed acted sensibly in every way on the good side of normal.

I do have some sympathy for the adults involved in the debacle at Irving, Texas.  I wouldn't be too likely to know either if what I was looking at is a bomb or a clock if the main thing I could see is a jumble of electronic parts.  I'm just that ignorant.  I know what it's like to feel shackled by policies that I have no enthusiasm for.  The teacher who triggered the involvement of the authorities might have been in such a position.   The first teacher (his adviser, as I recall) to whom Ahmed showed his clock advised him not to show anyone else, no doubt foreseeing the possibility of such a scenario as the one that actually materialized later.  Ahmed could have avoided a lot of trouble if he had followed the first teacher's advice.  I'm guessing that the first teacher did not explain his recommendation (possibly wishing to spare Ahmed knowledge of the foolishness likely to be unleashed in such circumstances), and Ahmed simply did not understand the consequences.  He probably couldn't resist sharing his special secret with one more trusted adult, another teacher.  I may be wrong in some of the assumptions I'm making here, but I'll stand by them until I hear information that counters it.

My sympathy grinds to a halt, however, when I hear no apologies for the obvious mistakes made in the Irving events.  Ahmed was a good student who had never caused problems in school.   Under these circumstances, why a teacher immediately thought "bomb" when Ahmed said "clock" is beyond me.  Why authorities found it necessary to handcuff Ahmed when the clock (bomb?) was already in their possession is another incomprehensible act.  That had to do with shaming him, as I see it.  Inexcusable.  Public apologies are in order.

My brilliant Facebook sentiment said something like this:  "It's a sad day for students who are inventive and who have a life outside of school . . ."  It doesn't look so brilliant here, but that's the crux of what I was incensed about.  I saw a bright and conscientious young boy treated very unjustly.   My Mama Bear and Teacher Bear instincts were aroused.

I don't know what school was like for Ahmed, but I know what it's like for some students whom I perceive to be much like him.  It can feel stifling and full of trivial pursuits.   I also don't know exactly what life outside of school was like for Ahmed, but some students don't have  much of a life outside of school when it comes to learning independently, interacting with others constructively, and using time to acquire skills.

For Ahmed to be doing well in school, spending his time constructively at home, attempting to bring both worlds together by sharing in school a product of that productivity at home, and to be smacked down and humiliated for it is a huge offense to my sense of justice and my sense of how to treat children well.  It encapsulates much of what I feel is wrong with traditional education systems, especially in their sense of institutional self-importance and ignorance of and disregard for the value of life and learning outside of institutional schools.

Enough of that for now.  Since I have a life to live outside of school, I'd better get on with my day and wait till another day to elaborate.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sheep Barn--Past Tense (or Tense Passing)

I’m very fond of drama-free days.  Today was not this kind of day.  For the second time in two weeks, we had serious damage to one of our outbuildings.  This time it was the sheep barn, and the damage was from fire–not wind–not directly, at least.  It was already an old building when we moved here in 1984.  By the time we moved back here in 2013 it had aged further, and it was apparent that sheep would no longer be entirely protected from wind and rain inside it.  It still functioned as a wind break to the garden on the north side of it, however.

From the Labor Day wind storm, we lost a lot of tree branches.  Hiromi had piled them in an open area out  back, far away from any buildings or trees.  When the day dawned calm this morning and no high winds were predicted at any time of the day, he called 911 and reported that he wanted to start burning a brush pile.  Permission was granted and he started the fire, after first stringing a garden hose all the way out there and turning on the water.  The hose had a shut-off valve at the end.

He stayed next to the fire until it had burned down most of the way, and even sprayed through the smoke blowing toward the northwest where the sheep barn stood a good distance away.  When he started the fire the smoke blew southwest, but the wind shifted slightly during the morning.  After feeling assured that things were well under control, he went back to cleaning up around the demolished building.

I was working indoors and then around the back side of the house.  When I headed toward the west side of the house to clean up some buckets at the hydrant, I saw flames and smoke on the sheep barn roof.  I yelled to Hiromi, and had a hard time getting him to understand  “Fire!  Sheep barn!” Three repetitions  (which I’m sorry to say is fairly standard) finally got the message across and he sprinted toward the hose and the sheep barn, yelling back to call the fire department.  I did (I heard him just fine the first time).

Meanwhile Hiromi did all he could to keep the fire from spreading down the row of Eastern Redcedars running right past the end of the barn that was burning.  If that had happened, our entire windbreak would likely have been lost.  One thing in our favor was that the trees there had died of drought during 2012, so the volatile oils in the needles had long since dissipated, and the bare branches, while flammable, did not create nearly as explosively spreading fire as live trees would have.

Hiromi doused all the flames he could find on the south side and then brought the hose around to the north side of the building.  We heard the burned  ends of the roof purlins crash down one by one inside as they lost their moorings at the west end of the roof, but there was hardly anything flammable inside the barn, so this did not result in a great deal more damage.  There was still open flame when the first fire truck arrived.

When the first truck showed up, I guided the driver out back.  It was a tanker truck, and those big nozzles directed at the flames made short work of them.  I’m still not sure who all was here, but I suspect we had the Abbyville crew here instead of the Partridge one.  I didn’t know any of the guys except Michael N.  A pumper truck and the brush fire pickup came in the east drive and stayed there for a bit.  Then the pickup drove out back and the pumper truck drove in the field along the west side of the tree row.  I suspect that by this time they already had word from the guys that were here that the fire was largely under control.  They worked quite a while yet though to make sure that no hot spots remained.
Shane saw the Nickerson truck headed south past their place, siren blaring, and then, before long, it headed back north again with the siren silent.  It was about the time we were needing help, and we suspect that Partridge may have been out on anther call when ours came in, so Abbyville and Nickerson might both have been summoned.

We can still hardly believe that our innocent brush pile fire set the sheep barn ablaze.  It wasn’t close to the sheep barn and the wind wasn’t blowing strongly  at any time today.  Nothing was burned anywhere between the original fire site and the sheep barn.  Apparently, however, a live ember landed on that old wood-shingled roof.  It was obviously fine kindling material, aided by the dry sunny weather recently.

We have one more old and largely unused building on the premises.  Judging by recent events, I don’t give it very good odds for long-term survival.  Clarissa has already put in her bid for the “barn boards” from that building, unless it does what neither of the others have done–self-destruct so thoroughly that no boards are left.

Over the noon meal, I told Hiromi that I think he needs to stop resisting the hearing aid idea because it’s really ridiculous when he can’t understand what I’m saying when there’s an emergency and he’s well within normal hearing range and I’m yelling till I’m hoarse and he still can’t hear me.   “You noticed,” he said (monumental understatement).  “Find out what that Amish cure is,” he suggested then.

“You find out,” I answered.  “I listened to that  spiel on Facebook, but I still don’t know what it is,” I said.  It didn’t sound very convincing to me.  Now I’m thinking though that maybe Hiromi and I could create our own little commercial for hearing remedies.  I think it might be as believable as that mountain lion attack story in use now by that Amish hearing remedy supplier.

I can hear it now (in Hiromi’s voice):  My hearing problem almost caused us to lose one of our farm buildings and the windbreak trees that had taken 30 years to establish.  Then I tried _________ and my hearing problems disappeared.  My wife loves not having to repeat things three times, and I’m not worried about ever again missing an important emergency message.

I’m afraid I’m not a very good ad writer, but since we can’t really go back now to not having the sheep barn catch fire, writing an ad is one of the few possibilities I can think of to redeem the situation.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Raising the Roof

I had a nasty surprise on my way to the car around 7:00 last night.  Glancing toward the south, I saw the remains of our biggest building on the place.  It was a shed-roofed structure, originally built to house hogs.  For more than 30 years the hogs have been gone.  When we lived on this place earlier,  the building was used to house poultry, especially a closed-off section at the west end.  After we left, a good cleaning made the larger section suitable for use as  a yard-equipment storage garage and workshop, and a storage area.  My nasty surprise involved seeing the building newly and very untidily roofless.

I haven't walked out to look, but Hiromi and our boys left the family cookout last night to move the riding mower, generator, and air compressor out of the area that had formerly been the interior of the building.  The roof had been ripped off by the powerful south wind and tipped up, with much of it caught by the massive old Siberian elm growing at the northeast corner of the building.  Some of it was high in the tree.  If the wind had shifted, that debris would likely have come back down on top of the equipment.

The old sheep barn (an open-sided shed), which was actually the most decrepit building on the place is still standing, apparently saved by the wind being able to pass through "age-related" openings in the sides and roof.

I'm very aware that if we were people of more means and more pride, we would have razed these buildings a long time ago and replaced them with something better.  They have both served a significant purpose beyond their aesthetic and shelter functions, however.  The hog barn/chicken house/garage/ storage area building provided a windbreak from the south for the house and the backyard.  I think it was about 80 feet long and maybe 40 feet wide.  The sheep barn did the same for the garden.  This is a significant service for a property situated where only windswept fields lie to the south, unbroken by trees for several miles in that direction.

I was in the kitchen when the wind hit, and watched from the window as debris blew across the backyard.  Most of it was roofing paper, and I was a little puzzled about where it was coming from.  Since the hog barn has been covered with tin roofing sheets ever since before we lived here, it didn't quite make sense that it was coming from there.  The wind didn't last long and I kept right on preparing food to take to Grant's place for a cookout--a change from the earlier plans to have it here.  Hiromi was at work.  Two window air conditioners were running (the temp reached 100 degrees again), and I did not hear any terrible noises except the noise of the terrible wind.

I was relieved that the wind had gone down and the rain had stopped before I needed to lug the big watermelon and the very heavy picnic basket to the car.  That's when I saw that the hog barn had been damaged.  Knowing there wasn't a thing to do about any of it anyway, I didn't even walk out to look.  I just kept on with getting myself and my food to Grant's place.

I already know that our property wasn't the only one that was harmed.  In the Pleasantview area, Nisly Trash Service, Stutzman Greenhouse, and Center Church all were affected.  Limbs broke off and entire trees did so, in some cases.  The tall new fence dividing Pilgrim School from Stutzmans is wrecked.  I'm sure much more devastation will be evident today.  If there were no injuries, that will be the best part of the news.