Prairie View

Friday, February 29, 2008

A Girly Hideaway

Last night when I was on the land line phone here at home, Grant got a call on his cell phone. I heard him say, "Yeah, she's here, but she's on the other phone." In our household "she" always means me.

As soon as I hung up he said, "The high school girls want to know if they can have a slumber party tomorrow night in the shop at school."

"I don't see any reason why that would be a problem," I said, but I thought: Why would they choose a cavernous place like that with a concrete floor? (This is our makeshift gym, with a basketball court taking up the length of the main room.) Little did I know.

Heidi stopped by my classroom this morning and mentioned in passing that they were planning to sleep upstairs in the loft-like storage area of the shop over the old Choice Books rooms. "Oh," I said. "That sounds more cozy than sleeping on the concrete." But I still couldn't quite imagine that it would be a very welcoming place. Again, little did I know.

When I told Wes what the plans were, he said, "Did you see how they fixed it up out there?"


"You ought to go look. It looks real girly. I looked up there the other day and saw blinking Christmas lights and a lava lamp and cushy chairs and red--or pink strings of some kind of lights."

"When did they do that?" I asked.

"I don't know. I was afraid to ask," he said. "I thought maybe it's been there for a long time, and I didn't want to look clueless."

I went and looked.

A small area of the upstairs was covered with carpet remnants. They had appropriated some of the spare desks stored up there as lamp tables and end tables. One had an attractive arrangement of a book with a tea cup and saucer. Another had a small boom box, and a third had an electronic keyboard. A very large stuffed toy, which I took to be Claudia (the one the girls had a birthday lunch for one day) was nestled into a bean bag. I followed the cords from the overhead light strings. lamps, and music machines till I found the end of the extension cord that snaked downstairs to a receptacle. It was ready to receive the plug that would bring everything to life. I pushed the ends together. AH-h-h-h-h. Beautiful. Little miniature red-pink paper lantern strings looped across two sides. Clear-glass lighted strings adorned a third side. The lava lamp glowed serenely blue--too cold to move. A large decorative living-room lamp lit up one corner, and a pole lamp with red, blue, and yellow shades illuminated another part of the area. It was perfect.

Except that I wasn't sure that the network of extension cords linking all that electrical equipment was heavy enough to carry its load safely. Wes pointed out a safer alternative in one of the power strips our school owns. I called Heidi and relayed my concerns, made my suggestion about the power strip and wished them well.

It's 10:00, and the night has just begun. For the first time in its 20 years of life, the shop at school is providing a cozy sleeping place for a happy group of girls--at least if any of that can be expected to happen at a girls' slumber party.

Weird Hair Day

Yesterday anyone who wished showed up at school with weird hair and clashing-colored clothes. It had been two years since we had planned such a time.

Seth, who was overdue for a haircut, arrived sans the hair on the left side of his head (except for stubble) with the hair on the other half of his head several inches long. He started the day with a comb-over to hide the "fuzz," and then must have gathered courage as the day progressed. By typing class, he had the long half piled as well as long straight soft hair can be piled. The two Tims each sported a well-defined part ("Padeley", in Pennsylvania Dutch)--with dramatic poufs to accentuate it. Arlyn, whose hair is completely "un-straighten-able" had the curls all lumped together as high as possible on top of his head. David took the cake. He's the biggest hulk in school, and he sported the daintiest little pigtails protruding from his front hairline--three or four of them, sticking straight out in front, and secured with colorful little dread locks bands.

The girls braided and plaited and parted and twisted and swooped their hair in all sorts of imaginative arrangements. I had thought I would appear as my staid and boring self, but decided while I was getting dressed that, if something came together fast, I would join the party. It did, so I did. If I had given it more forethought, I would have tried for a Caroline Ingalls /schoolmarm-type impersonation. As it was, I hastily parted my hair in the middle and combed it down on either side and then looped it over the top of my ears and tied it up in a bun that fit almost normally under my covering. Over-the-ears is the Caroline Ingalls look I didn't think fast enough to manage, but I tried out the glasses-down-the-nose look in front of the mirror at home, and thought I looked respectably severe. I further distinguished myself by being the only one who could change hair color without adding anything to my hair. Underneath all that white exterior, I still have surprisingly dark brown hair, and combing it from the part toward the temples exposed it.

On the way to school, I hoped that the fire extinguisher inspectors would not choose Weird Hair Day to show up. I even hoped the UPS man would stay away.

During typing class LeRoy arrived to pick up his niece Holli to go to Missouri with others of their family, and I took the opportunity to talk to him about something I needed to arrange with him. I was trying to talk fast so I would not detain him unnecessarily when I suddenly remembered how strange I looked, and hurried to explain the designation for the day. He grinned, looked over the class, and said, "Well, it looks like you're off to a good start."

The fire extinguisher people showed up today, on teacher's work day. Mr. Schrock looked professional and distinguished as always, and I looked boring as always, and it was all good.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Quote for the Day 2/26/08

In an Anabaptist History quiz, the correct answer for the following fill-in question was "eschatology."

From Ryan's paper: Another word for "last things" is omega objects.

In parentheses, he added this little reminder for my benefit: Bonus points for alliteration.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Involuntary Sacrifice

Yesterday in church, one of our visitors, in responding publicly to something David said in the sermon, revealed that his family has become an involuntary military family since their oldest daughter joined the army. She has married a military man who is presently serving in Iraq.

Our visitor, along with generations of his ancestors, has held dear the nonresistant position that Mennonites are known for. He did not lapse into melodrama when he spoke, but I'm sure every parent there felt keenly the pain of his family's disappointment. Many of our faith ancestors died rather than take up arms to defend themselves. In the face of such sacrifice, for Mennonite children to go to war voluntarily seems unthinkably ungrateful, besides the blatant disregard it shows for Jesus' "Love your enemies" injunction.

I felt similar pangs the evening before when Hiromi and I and many others attended a performance of "Fiddler on the Roof," the story of a Jewish family who lived in a Jewish neighborhood in Russia in 1906. The father, Tevye, wanted a good future for each of his daughters. Especially he wanted them to marry in the good tradition of years gone by, to someone appropriate chosen by the village matchmaker. One by one his three oldest daughters bypassed tradition in their marriage plans. Tevye grudgingly adjusted to the circumstances in each of his two oldest daughters' marriages, but the third daughter crossed a line he could not countenance when she married a non-Jewish soldier.

Tevye concludes that in matters of faith, standing strong must trump adjusting to changing times. He disowns his daughter, and then, in spite of himself, chokes out a blessing when she returns to say goodbye and inform the family that she and her new husband are leaving the village--voluntarily, to show solidarity with the Jews who were forced to leave as a result of the pogroms that preceded the Russian Revolution.

It's the bittersweetness that gets to audiences who see "Fiddler on the Roof" if my experience is any gauge, at least. It's all too familiar. Children who disappoint still have so much to love about them. Parents can't turn off their love, even if a child's behavior triggers revulsion. How does one reconcile those two emotions? When a faith practice is involved, the stakes seem impossibly high--not worth gambling with for any prize. And yet children blithely roll the dice and shake off the "burdens" of their upbringing, only to take on heavier burdens of their own choosing. For parents who see this reality before it happens, the pain of this foresight is excrutiating.

Others have far more experience with this hard aspect of parenting than I have. I sympathize, and from what I've tasted of it personally, I know how precious encouragement is, but I have no wise words.

One of my friends is in such a position right now. She agonizes as her child's situation gets worse, repeatedly, when no one can see how things can deteriorate further. Yet, in surprising ways, here and there, a disaster is averted in the nick of time. She rejoices when that happens, and clings resolutely to a sovereign God, Who is able to intervene when human intervention is impossible. Occasionally, she is nearly overwhelmed with grief and fear, and then we talk, and cry a bit, and pray a lot, and courage returns.

Hope is a wonderful thing, and when it's placed in God, even anguished parents can go on with life and keep their faith. I'm seeing it happen.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken heart. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." Heart-crushing involuntary sacrifice, when followed by voluntarily offering God one's broken heart, is precious to God. Broken hearts are not wasted things in God's hands, whether they break in the process of standing strong or of adjusting to present realities.

Someone should tell Tevye. But then again, maybe he already knows.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cleaning Lip Prints on Glass

Today, in the course of yet another student-planned Friday afternoon team activity, as Ryan and Tim S. instructed us on paper, we kissed the big office window, (Good thing cleaning that window is on the Friday jobs list.) and whirled Holli around on the desk chair ten times and then had her "walk the line." Steven and Jacob carried Seth around the outside of the school building--this, after an unfortunate lack of coordination at the beginning of the process resulted in Seth's feet in Jacob's hands heading for the door faster than his head and shoulders in Steven's hands. Steven lost his grip on poor Seth's head!--on a concrete floor, only thinly cushioned with carpet! We all blew our noses in concert, TeePeed the scoring station, shot basketballs till we each made a goal (I made it on my first attempt--shocking myself and almost certainly all my student team mates.), folded and unfolded chairs around the learning center, tied our shoes together by the laces and did a "Ring around the Rosie" and traversed the width of the learning center on hands and knees--except for me. (I made an executive decision that everyone over 50 on our team was exempt from this requirement.) We also had to draw a heart in the sand of the parking lot and put our name inside, along with a question mark, or, in the case of married persons, our spouse's name--nice to receive this kind of consideration. . . .

After all that exertion we were "rewarded" with having to do things like eat a teaspoon of ketchup, a slice of hot pepper, or spend 30 seconds telling everyone why we were going to refuse to do so. I saw right away that what was represented as jalepeno peppers was actually something much milder (These were yellow, and jalepenos go from green to red.) so I happily opted for the hot peppers.

Mr. Schrock wound up the activity by telling everyone a story he remembered when we did the "kiss the office window" activity. Here's the story:

In a school girls' restroom, the girls persisted in kissing the mirror to leave their lipstick prints on the glass. The custodians wearied of cleaning the lipstick off the mirror and tried various methods of persuading the girls to stop leaving their lip marks there. Nothing worked. Then one day they gathered a large group of girls in the restroom for a demonstration of the inconvenience the custodians are subjected to every time they have to clean the mirrors. After the custodian had everyone's attention, he dipped the toilet brush in his hand into a nearby toilet and then set to work scrubbing the mirror with his brush.

Problem solved.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Singing That Smells Like Roses

Yesterday I overheard Mr. Schrock muse out loud to the members of his Bible class that a life lived as Evie lived it–with a helpless body, and unable to communicate verbally–leaves us wondering about what happens in the spirit and soul while the body has life and breath. I couldn’t listen long enough to hear how he developed that thought, but today, after the funeral, he and I talked about it again.

I understand better now than I did before that when God gives life, it is always a gift to be treasured. No matter how poor the quality of life may seem outwardly, it is a life to be celebrated, especially when its prospect of heaven is as sure as Evie’s was and is. In matters of the spirit and soul, things may be proceeding undisturbed and tranquilly, blossoming and growing even, while physical life hangs on by a more and more slender thread. We fear the end, and yet find it always, in some sense at least, satisfactory, for, when the thread breaks, we discover it to have been a tether forbidding free flight, and we’re glad to see it gone for good. The real world of heaven is a far more welcoming place than even a devoted and loving family could ever provide for Evie in this world.

At her funeral today, I learned that Evie, who never spoke a word in her 22 years of life, loved to go to church. She also loved ice cream.

One day when she was unhappy in her uncle’s home while her parents were elsewhere, her tall and strong boy cousin held her and sang for her some of the few Spanish songs he knew, and she relaxed. Hearing one’s heart language affects all of us that way. (Evie was born in El Salvador and lived there nearly all her life.)

Stephen Hawking, a world-renowned British physicist, has Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS. It began to affect him when he was 21 years old and has steadily progressed. Now in his upper 60's, he has had a stellar career and reputation, but his body is nearly as helpless as Evie’s was. He is still able to communicate with the aid of advanced technology, but he no longer has speech capability. Some of what he “says” with great effort is so forward thinking that he is constantly revising his former conclusions, many of which others are only now catching up to.

What if someday Stephen Hawking could no longer communicate anything to anyone? What if, in that silent condition, his mind remained as cogent as it is today? He might have insights that no one has yet imagined, and no one would ever know, this side of heaven.

That’s the glimpse I had today of Evie–possessed of insights that no one will ever know until heaven reveals them. In fact, that’s what I see in all of us, potential that will forever be limited by our earthiness, and locked away until heaven commands it to life.

I doubt that Evie would want to tell us of big bangs and expanding universes and black holes as Stephen Hawking might. More likely, she would tell us how it feels to be cradled in the arms of her Creator, to have her sensitive ears filled with the sound of angelic singing, to be transported instantly, to know unmixed joy and unmarred beauty. Perhaps, in the imagery of the world as a person with synesthesia perceives it, she would say incomprehensible things like my father’s voice was blue and my mother’s was pink. My sister’s singing smelled like roses and my brother’s laughter was red. Who knows all the dimensions of reality and the synthesis of sense we may yet know, when sin is vanquished, and we are restored to the perfection God created us for? Who knows how many of these things Evie may have known, even before she left this world physically, in the sanctity of her innocent soul, enlivened by the spirit of God? Someday I’d like to ask her.

Quote for the Day 2/19/08

Hiromi (Early on Tuesday morning when he came in from feeding my sheep.): Mara has a baby. (Mara is the Katahdin ewe I bought six years ago after I started getting regular paychecks from teaching school.)

Me: Is everything alright?

Hiromi: Yes. The lamb looks dry and comfortable.

What a treat!--on the morning after the parakeet died.

On a related subject--

Hiromi came home last night with a new parakeet. The nameless bird introduced himself by rocketing out of the box he came home in and sinking his hooked beak into Shane's hand when he recaptured him. He seems wild, and I'm still not sure he deserves to occupy Magog's "house." He is less handsome than Magog, and I have yet to see evidence of the sweet nature Magog displayed. But he is young and male, two prerequisites for tameness and willingness to talk, according to what we've heard and experienced with parakeets we've had in the past.

If you're contemplating drawing some parallels between humans and birds regarding gender, age, intelligence, and likeableness--hold it right there. I've already heard it, and I'm not convinced that any of it applies.

Unless, of course, you have a really remarkable insight or just want to let me know what you're thinking, then, by all means, don't hold your comment. Sign your name though. I guarantee the warm, fuzzy feeling meter will ratchet right up if you do that.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Quote for the Day 2/18/08

Dad, on Sat. eve. as he and Mom were heading home following a taffy pull we had here for my extended family: I have a question for the rest of you before we go home.

Myron: Do you want me to ask it for you? (Then, without waiting for an answer) What shall I do tomorrow if I see any of you sleeping in church?

Dad: Exactly.

(No one had a smart answer.)

My parents are pretty sure that a Saturday evening spent in something other than getting ready for church the next day is misspent, to some degree at least. They've got a point.

But we had no time to spare on the taffy cooking project. The cream I bought way back around Christmas for making it expired on the very day we used it.

I'm pleased to say also that the taffy was cooked just right. I'm on a roll. That was two times in a row--after many more unsuccessful, barely manageable results in a row before that.

From Grandpa all the way down to Andrew, everyone had a chance to get in on the taffy pulling act, and we had a good time. The taffy, of course, was almost to-die-for good, as it almost always is, even when it's not cooked right.

Daily Balance Sheet

Good things that happened today:

1. My sister Lois brought her two youngest children and her guest Merry Yoder from VA to visit school and have lunch with us. She shared her Indian lentils and rice with me.

2. The list of immigrant ancestors of class members grew by about 12 names today.

3. An unnamed procrastinating student got his written report handed in on January's current events study: Private Lives of Public Figures--and he had a few percentage points left after the late points and the errors points were subtracted.

4. Mr. Schrock stayed ungrouchy (as usual) even though he was not feeling well at all.

5. Merry loaned me a book by George MacDonald, and gave me a list of other books to read from an author she knows I would love. I've wanted to read MacDonald ever since I heard Elizabeth Elliot refer to him as one of her favorite authors. Elliot is one of mine.

6. Several people put nice comments on my blog.

Bad things that happened today:

1. The bank was closed for President's Day when I hurried over there, even though I was almost late for school, to deposit my latest paycheck and make all the transactions I always see to when I get paid.

2. The beaker we keep the praying hands in at school to pass along as a marker to identify whose turn it is to lead in the lunchtime prayer jumped off the top of Frieda's desk and shattered on her desk top.

3. My oven poured out smoke when I turned it on tonight. Apparently a tiny bit of the taffy that spilled in there on Sat. night had to carbonize. One pan I put in there to keep it from cooling too fast tipped over. . . .

4. I read Arthur Nisly's account of their daughter Evie's death on Saturday when they were gone briefly to El Salvador while their children stayed here at their Sabbatical home. I can't imagine how difficult that would be for them, but understand also that God's hand was in the timing of her passing. The funeral is to be on Wednesday. It's wonderful to think of Evie being pain-free in a safe place, so her death is not bad for her, but I grieve with her family at this parting, and it would not feel right to put her death in the "good things" list. Evie was about 20 and had cerebral palsy, requiring total care.

5. I burned my hand twice over cooking supper tonight. I know. There's no excuse. And it's no big deal.

6. After I cooked supper for six, only three showed up, including me. I had forgotten about Joel's plans, and Shane and Grant neglected to inform me ahead of time. To their credit, they usually do better than this.

7. The Kansas House of Representatives passed the bill today that passed earlier in the Senate allowing the unrestricted construction of two new coal-fired power plants in Kansas, thereby kissing Kansas' comparatively pristine atmosphere goodbye for all of us. The only legal reprieve now would have to come from a governor's veto and the legislature's inability to mount a successful override.

8. Our beloved parakeet, Magog, met an untimely end at school. Unaccountably, and without anyone having any idea how it happened, he must have gotten outside somehow and fallen prey to the cat that hangs out on the property. Several perceptive and persistent students searched the tree row around the buildings until they found feathers that matched Magog's. No wild bird in this vicinity has coloration like that.

He was all one could ever wish for in a parakeet--tame, affectionate, beautiful, and verbal. He had a cheerful "How are you?" that sometimes came out with impeccable timing--like just after I walked into the classroom in the morning.

Except for David and Frieda who declared today that they did not like Magog (thereby coming under suspicion when he first went missing), the students liked him and often had him at their office or on their shoulder.

On balance, much is still right with the world, but today's losses will make me glad to start with a clean slate tomorrow morning.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's a Girl!

Today Shane's engagement to Dorcas Kuepfer was announced. A wedding is planned for this summer.

Shane is all smiles and is given to singing "I'm getting married in the morning. . . " and saying he needs to get the sound track for "My Fair Lady."

He's working on his house in Abbyville, two-and-one-half miles west of our Trail West house, now that his labors in the hedge row are finished. He blew insulation into the attic on Thursday and sanded sheet rock its final time on Friday. The house he purchased is not fancy, but it has three new rooms added on, along with a new roof, siding, windows and doors, sheet rock, heating and air conditioning, plumbing, and wiring. He needs to install cupboards, interior doors and trim, lighting fixtures, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, floor coverings throughout, and do painting. Outside the house, the yard needs landscaping. The seller was interested only in recouping his original purchase price plus the money for the materials he had purchased in the process of doing all the remodeling he nearly finished. It was a great deal for Shane, who has the skills to finish out most of what still needs doing--which is really the fun part of remodeling.

Dorcas is a sweet girl--as feminine and blond as he is dark and masculine. Their personalities seem well-matched for a minimum of conflicts. I hope her years in Kenya with her missionary family have helped prepare her for the irregular family she is marrying into.

Hiromi and I have waited a long time for daughters, but our wait is almost over. I don't dare focus on the fact that the arrival of a daughter is coupled with the leaving of a son. The plan all along has been to savor the time we have together with our children and then be able to let them go with a blessing. We're getting close to putting that plan in action.

When a son leaves, I hope to avoid brooding unproductively ahead of time , grieve briefly if necessary when the time arrives, and then move on. It works for unpleasantries like going to the dentist, and someday I will let you know if it works with bigger things like the emptying of a nest.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Randomness in Febrary

I can't believe neither Mr. Schrock or I have never thought of this. No. Wait. Actually I can't believe anyone thought of this. Let's do something different--like have school at a different time of day--meet at 2:00 in the morning and go home after six hours, or meet at 9:00 at night and go home at three. . . .

I can't believe either that we're actually considering this student suggestion. It does not sound like a rational thing for 45 and 55 year old staff members to agree to. But, if the parents say yea instead of nay, I think we may be on track for a Friday night/Saturday morning school day at the end of next week. The big payoff, of course, would be no school on the following Monday.

The February school doldrums must have been particularly unbearable this year. Witness the extent we all seem willing to go to for relief.


On Valentine's Day Mr. Schrock brought delicious cupcakes adorned with red and pink sugared frosting for everyone to snack on. He also had a "Help Yourself" bowl of heart candy with barely legible messages on his desk. The testing table sported pitchers of icy pink lemonade, a huge bowl of popcorn, and bars that Ida (and others?) had baked. It was a very nice casual celebrating kind of day.


Yesterday Jared stood at the teacher's desk when I was on learning center duty, methodically tasting one heart candy after another. "I'm trying to figure out which color tastes like laundry detergent. Not that I've ever really tasted laundry detergent, but something I had yesterday tasted how I imagine it tastes."

Jared, later: "I think it's the orange ones. Must be the Tide brand that tastes like that." (Tide comes in an orange box.)


Ida and Emily gave me a red-foil-wrapped hollow chocolate apple for Valentine's Day. This morning when I bit into it I discovered a very large green and yellow gummy worm inside. I love gummy bears, but this gummy worm was a little bit too lifelike for me to anticipate eating with any relish. I let Victor eat the worm.

But I loved the thoughtfulness of the gift--and the humor hidden deep inside.


Yesterday's student-planned before-dismissal activity included handing out pared-down props to be used in impromptu skits. One memorable performance was the David and Goliath story acted out by the group that was issued one slightly limp bean bag. The biggest guy in the group (Matthew) stood haughtily in front of everyone, backed by female "Philistines," until "David (Ryan)" appeared clutching the bean bag like a giant gunny sack draped over his shoulder. He shouted something like "How dare you defy the armies of the Lord?" and whopped Goliath with the bean bag, who obligingly feel over "dead." The other Philistines fled in fear.


I also liked the story where Timmy (Tim S.) begged for a puppy. (Their only prop was a stuffed, floppy-eared dog.) His mother (Heidi) kept reminding him that she wasn't going to agree to getting any puppy whose poopy messes she would have to clean up. The obnoxious wheedling continued until Heidi, like good mothers everywhere, saw the light and struck a bargain about the messes and let little Timmy have his puppy.


Earlier in the day, we had a segregated chapel, also student-planned. The guys went over the responses from girls on a questionnaire about how the guys are doing in being courteous, taking leadership, providing a wholesome atmosphere, etc. Meanwhile, the girls discussed what the guys said about them and their attitudes and behaviors.

I don't have a report on the guys' session. But I do know from their input for the girls that they were very affirming of their female fellow-students, but not so syrupy that they had no suggestions for improvement. They do not appreciate girls standing in giggling groups while someone tries to organize a game. They also do not like cliquishness and reluctance to let old hurts go. What they do like is relationships unencumbered with talk of "coupling" and slams (even in jest), patience with attempts to be responsible (even fumbling ones), and verbal affirmation when given honestly and even-handedly. They also appreciate the spice and life girls add to the scene. One student surmised that everyone would die of boredom within a few days if there were no girls in school.

For the first time in our collective memory, the girls' segregated chapel ended before the guys'. For them, the subject matter must have been unusually absorbing, or they were being extraordinarily thoughtful and attentive to duty.


Either the wild goose population has exploded this year in many places, or Reno County is unusually favored. The other morning on my way to school, when I turned off Hiway 50 onto Dean Road at the Stutzman Greenhouse corner, I saw for the first time the extent of the flock overhead that I had been seeing out of the corner of my eye all along. A single flock of geese extended across the south, almost from directly east of me, to a point directly west of me. When I hurriedly counted off ten geese, it came out proportionately to seeing a penny on a dining room table. There must have been tens of thousands of Canada and Snow Geese in this flock.

I hear them late at night from inside the house, or early in the morning before I get out of bed, or sitting at my desk at school, at any time of day. They land sometimes among milo stubble in fields, presumably gleaning leftover grain. That works out well unless the grain and fodder were intended for use as cattle feed.

When I have observed geese closely, it has always been through the lens of my binoculars rather than through the scope over a gun barrel. But this year I can understand especially well the need for observers of geese in the gun barrel category.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Quote for the Day 2/14/08

During typing class break time, while Tim was working his way through a list of read-aloud jokes--

Emily: Let's all laugh at the same time so if someone doesn't get it no one will know.

(I thought this was the funniest thing I heard during the break.)


I should probably label this "Rant for the Day."

Kansas State Senator Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinell: We have to export to survive as a state. I see no difference with energy. (after comparing the Kansas generation of electricity for surrounding states to exporting cattle and crops.)

I nearly choked on this one. Each of the proposed coal-fired power plants will emit 11 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air every year. This is a power plant product that cannot be exported, and it cannot be utilized effectively by recycling--unlike the waste products of cattle and crop production. Along with other emissions like poisonous heavy metals and carcinogens, the waste products will all stay in Kansas to pollute our air, water, and soil. The coal used as fuel for the power plants has to be imported. Importing coal to export electricity, keeping all the pollutants and 15% of the electricity the imported coal generates does not look like a balanced equation to me. Ostmeyer's comparison lacks rationality.

Kansas needs only a small amount of additional energy-producing capability for our own use. I can't believe that anyone is saying it makes sense to foul our environment in this way for a product we do not need. All this in a state with one of the best wind energy (largely undeveloped) profiles in the country.

Unsurprisingly, Texas and Colorado, which will own 85% of the power generated in Kansas, think building these plants in Kansas is a great idea. The legislature is swallowing the rhetoric, hook, line, and sinker. Yesterday's paper informed us that legislation is now on a fast track to overturn Ron Bremby's (Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment) denial of building permits for the power plants--this, after all conciliatory provisions in past versions of the bill have been stripped out. Basically, the proposal lets the power plants be constructed with no accompanying efforts to address environmental concerns. Governor Sebelius will certainly veto the bill if it reaches her desk. But, in what has often been an issue polarized along political party lines, it's possible that the legislature may overturn the veto.

Although it crowds the outer limits of my generosity to excuse the behavior of our legislators, I have even more difficulty excusing the behavior of Christians who seem to have completely lost sight of the principle of stewardship where it applies to the environment. Take from it whatever you please however you wish, leave it unfit to support human health, and leave the mess for future residents to deal with is not my idea of rational thinking about stewardship of the earth. Neither does it demonstrate humility and gratefulness before the Creator Who has "given us richly all things to enjoy." I, for one, wish to treasure these gifts and use them wisely.

I think I will also contact SenatorTerry Bruce, and Representative Mark Treaster, to share part of this blog post with them.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Birds--Outside and In

The "Outdoors" section of today's paper announced the annual Backyard Bird Count on President's Day Weekend. Results can be posted online at after only fifteen minutes of observation some time during that weekend. I think I will enter, but I can predict now what my list will contain, at least if I do my observing of the feeders from the dining room or kitchen windows.

I will list House Sparrow, Harris' Sparrow, and Dark-Eyed Junco. These three are the most common visitors. Quite possibly, the Cardinal and Red-Bellied Woodpecker will drop in during my observation time. Goldfinches and House Finches may arrive. Field sparrows, and an occasional White-Crowned or White-Throated Sparrow might mingle with the more pedestrian members of the Sparrow family. What I will very likely not see are Chickadees, Blue Jays, and Tree Sparrows, all frequent visitors in years past. This is the first year I haven't seen Tree Sparrows. I wonder if these northern nesting birds have also succumbed to West Nile Virus, as Chickadees and Blue Jays seem to have done. Others in our community sometimes see Nuthatches and even a Tufted Titmouse. I have never seen these at our feeders. The Red-Shafted Flicker used to come to the feeder when we lived where my brother Lowell now lives. I sometimes see Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers in the trees around the house, but never yet at the feeder.

Bird life inside the house gets interesting too sometimes, as it did today when Grant got our very tame Parakeet, Magog, out of his cage to play with while Shane's girlfriend, Dorcas, was here. While he was heading back to his spot on the couch, he stepped past Dorcas. Magog chose this precise moment to deposit a dropping on Dorcas' leg. Bad timing, but good for very hearty laughter from all observers. Shane came to the rescue with a damp rag.

Then, like a stubborn two-year-old, Magog refused to perform his "How are you?" trick for our guests. He's inclined to mix it in with lots of unintelligible vocalizations--not on cue, to impress company.

As soon as the weather warms up a bit, I plan to take Magog to school to live there for a while. He has spent a good part of his life there, and has made lots of friends. He even appeared once in our spring program when the students sang "A Woodland Symphony." He fluttered so convincingly on Ida's finger (never leaving his perch though) that some in the audience thought he was battery-powered, and turned on for the performance.

Having heard from my cousin Don today in a blog comment, I remembered a wry comment his Dad, my uncle Joe, once made in an effort to recall a particular parakeet their family had. He asked, "Iss sell da one us bissel aus shape gapressed is votta unich da shuckle shtool?" Is that the one that got pressed a little out of shape under the rocker? Oh my. We'll have to keep an eye on Magog whenever anyone's using the rocker during one of his forays.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Airplanes for Hunter

Mr. Schrock planned a really guy-fun activity for the last half hour of school today. It seems that a kindergartener named Hunter, from New York, who has a fast-growing cancer, is trying to set some kind of record for folding paper airplanes. He must have heard the story of Sadako and the paper cranes. Sadako was another child ill with radiation-induced cancer who set out to fold 1,000 paper cranes, Origami- style. People are mailing paper airplanes to Hunter to help him set the record. So we joined in and folded paper airplanes to send to Hunter. Combined, they filled a large barrel-type trash can more than half full. Mr. Shrock will mail them to Hunter.

We got lots of mileage out of the project by having various contests related to paper airplane construction. No one could be a winner unless the airplane(s) in the competition could actually be flown at least 12 feet as demonstrated by standing behind one masking-tape line and flying the plane to land on the far side of the other line 12 feet away. All the airplanes had to be made of folded paper. I silently thanked my six brothers for having taught me my airplane construction skills as I joined in on the project.

One was a contest to see who could make the most airplanes in three minutes. Tim seemed to be the first winner, until all ten of his airplanes flunked the test flights. Kevin, who had the next highest number of airplanes was then temporarily declared the winner (His flew nicely.) till he confessed, upon questioning, that he had not written Kansas on each airplane, as required. So he was disqualified. Then the next fastest aerospace manufacturers had to prove the airworthiness of their creations, and Arlyn and the other Tim tied, each at four airplanes that passed muster.

In the next contest, people competed for the "Most Innovative Design" award. I couldn't stop laughing while the lead-in for this contest was in progress (many unofficial on-the-side flight trials to calculate the risk level for entering the for-real contest). I watched while David, the biggest guy in school, tried out his crane-head specimen (my term). At the nose end, it had a short neck standing straight up with a "beak" protruding from the front. He heaved it with all his might, whereupon the aircraft disgraced itself by promptly crashing into the ceiling above him and then diving onto the floor right beside David. He didn't enter the design contest.

Ryan and Seth were the only people who submitted entries. They both passed the flight tests. Before we voted on our favorite designs, each of the inventors gave a campaign speech, Seth ending his with "If you vote for mine, your lives will be better." Ryan said, "If you vote for mine, your taxes will be lower." Seth made a tiny model with the most outstanding feature an eight? inch tail--very skinny, almost thread-like, but made of paper. Ryan's was a robust-looking plane with a tube-shaped appendage running lengthwise along the top. Seth's won.

We had to hurry with the final contest--trying for the longest flights. A disconcerting number veered off course and crashed into walls, desks, tables, etc. but some of them sailed nearly the full length of the learning center (50-60 ft.?). Then it was time to gather up all the airplanes, along with the notes for Hunter that some of the girls wrote, and dismiss for the day.

For our planes, maiden voyage and final voyage were very close together--just as Hunter's may be. It's sad, but less sad than otherwise because we got to do something nice for Hunter that was fun for us also.

Tonight I will do one more thing for Hunter. I will pray for him.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Blip on our School February Radar

Today shortly after the electricity went off at school, I heard a cheering, laughing outburst from the classroom where Mr. Schrock was teaching the German class. An intelligence report I got afterwards revealed that some wise student (demonstrating that amazing capacity for off-topic input that some students are really good at) had just rejoiced out loud that "Mrs. I probably hasn't run off our Anabaptist History quizzes yet, and that means we don't have to take it."

Wrong on both counts. I was so prepared for class, except that I had not yet printed out the study guide for the next day's assignment.

Ryan pled for extra minutes in the tiny window of time I always allow for looking up anything they want to look up during the quiz--usually only one minute, sometimes two--because "It's really dark and we can't see very well." I suggested he move over next to the window if he's having trouble.

All hope of special privileges evaporated when the electricity suddenly returned after about an hour's absence, and class resumed normally.

Back in the learning center, students had brought their lessons to the testing table where all the available candles were burning brightly--a concession to those students' plea to be allowed to "do something different" because the electricity was off. I still don't know what the girls' break time activity was, but it involved alternate shrieking and sneaking around the inside and outside edges of the sanctuary and learning center. As nearly as I could tell, they were scaring themselves silly.

On the radar of memorable days, this one registers as only a small blip, but on an undistinguished February-blahs screen, it was rather nice.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Parent-Teacher Fellowship 2008

Last night we had our annual meeting for school staff and parents of students. It was a good evening--not only, but partly, because of the wonderful array of snacks the parents provided afterward.

During my "teacher's report," after the usual references to classes I'm teaching, etc. I summarized some information from research I had done in preparation for the evening. I had compiled the data in response to the spoken and unspoken questions parents, teachers, and students all deal with, in a rising tide of uncertainty, it seems to me: "Why are the students so chronically overwhelmed with school work?" We're not all sure anymore that the adults are leading out in providing well-balanced expectations for high-school-aged students.

I compared four different school situations, focusing on the graduation requirements for each, and the hours spent in school at each location. Two were local public high schools, one in 1969 and one in 2008. The other two situations involved our school, both in 1975, when it started, and in 2008. Here's the breakdown:

School Hours Allowed per Required Credit Hour (General Prep):

Partridge High School (1969, when I graduated): 82.9
Pilgrim Christian High School (1975): 61.2
Haven High School (2008): 57.9
Pilgrim Christian High School (2008): 51.4

In 2008 our school day is the same length as it is for the public high school in our district. However, they have 20 more school days each year than we do. In 1969, at Partridge, our school day was an hour longer each day than our day now at Pilgrim. In addition, the school year was 20 days longer. And we thought we were busy with earning 17 credits instead of the 21 our students at Pilgrim do now.

Here's another telling comparison: To stay on track for graduating in four years with 21 credits, our students must complete 5.25 credits per year. The increase in required credits since 1975 is four--that nearly a full year's worth of work. (Our requirements have increased to keep pace with the state standards for public schools.)

It seems to me that we have the following options:

1. Continue as we are, and assume that students will continue to spend a great deal of time on schoolwork at home.

2. Alleviate the outside-of-school workload for students in one of two ways:

a. Adjust our school requirements downward.

b. Increase the time students spend in school.

In a related quest before the meeting, Mr. Schrock and I formed the opinion that we are not granting enough credit for our monthly all-school literature activity. Mr. S and I had talked about this last year when he brought it up. We decided that reading 16 books and doing 16 written projects and 16 oral reports deserves at least one credit instead of the half credit we have been giving it. We are also looking at our current events requirement, but are thinking the current amount of assigned credit for this may be close to right. This revelation obviously has not yet translated into a policy change, but I believe we will pursue that course of action. When we started the literature program we thought we were being generous by granting credit for something that had previously been required without credit (written and oral reports), although in a considerably minimized form.

Being responsible people in a changing environment requires more than research and considerations of fairness. It requires continual refocusing on goals and evaluation of progress toward those goals. To do it well requires Godly wisdom. For that we need the prayers of all who care about these things.

Quote for the Day 2/2/08

At school, after a loud crash from the lab, followed by muffled laughter, in the midst of a frog dissecting project:

Me, checking in at the lab door, where everyone was trying to focus again on their spread-eagled frogs in the wax-bed lab trays: Are all the frogs and people in here alright?

Seth??: Yeah.

Emily: I just fell off my chair. (Then, unconvincingly. . . ) I was just peacefully sitting here and I . . . fell off my chair.

Tim: You weren't peacefully sitting on your chair. You were tipping it back.

Me: Oh. Well, let's try to keep things under control a little better.


Tim: Can we have a party during the last half of typing class on Monday for Seth's birthday?

Me: No, but you can do something during break if you want to.

Tim: Not during class though?

Me: No.

Tim: Groan.

Listening to this, you'd think parties during class were an inalienable right, "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition. . . ."


Snowy, cold, windy, and otherwise disagreeable weather has driven students recently to more recess-time desperation than usual. They haven't yet discovered the clandestine activity one of my former co-teachers revealed that the teachers used to do in their school in the evening after the students left: playing volleyball across the top of the scoring station in the learning center. However, they have entertained themselves with some creative alternatives:

Water Skiing: This activity requires one person planting each foot firmly on a squashed facial tissues box while holding on to a sturdy rope. One or more fellow students grabs the other end of the rope, and the "boat" and skier go circling around the carpeted learning center.

Bowling: Boys substitute for bowling pins and stand in a triangular formation. The bowler stands an appropriate distance away and rolls a volleyball toward the "pins." All "pins" touched by the ball are obliged to fall over on the spot. The fun part is that this always results in a strike since they're standing so close together, and the falls are so ungainly that everyone ends up in a heap on the floor. For added effect, they spread their arms as they fall.

Go-Kart Riding: The special furniture dolly used to move the teacher's desks when necessary is pressed into service as a human-powered conveyance for thrill-seeking riders.

Shop volleyball: I heard about this underclassmen invention from a slightly disdainful upperclassman. Tables substitute for a net and the ball is batted back and forth over the table tops. I can't imagine this working very well on a typically-sized volleyball court (or for typically-sized students, for that matter).

Kansas Clean-em: This looks like a thinly veiled Poker game to me. I can't imagine that it benefits the mind or the body, and it doesn't look like a great way to strengthen social connections.

Lunchtime Pancake and Pizza Parties: Not on the same day. . . One day the girls at school provided and served to each other pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, juice, fruit, etc. that they had prepared in the kitchen with supplies they brought from home. Another day, a group of Kevin Nisly's cousins brought and baked a homemade pizza in the oven. It smelled wonderful, but was not for consumption by the "peons." Kevin was visiting school for the day.

Maybe we need to dust off those President's Challenge physical fitness papers and get the students started on working toward those goals.