Prairie View

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Educational Myths

"Parents who teach their own children in a classroom setting with other children must realize that doing so is traveling through a minefield. It's better to avoid this situation than to risk the hazards involved." I don't think I've ever heard it in exactly those words, but, by all appearances, these sentiments are common.

Fathers in the classroom quit before their children get there. If that can't be avoided, they make such a diligent effort to avoid favoritism that the reverse happens: their children don't get the same privileges other students enjoy. I've seen both, and I think the problem is based on a common educational myth: It's risky for parents to teach their own children.

Children need social contact with other children their age to develop normally.
It's true, of course, that interacting with other people is an essential part of a child's development. But to imply that an age-segregated group is a necessity is the myth here.

If you teach your children at home, it's best to maintain a school-like atmosphere. This myth presupposes that an institutional setting is superior to a home-like setting.

Is there a truthful counterpart to each of the above myths? I'm glad you asked. Several decades ago, when I was most desperate to latch onto the truth in each of these areas, I found them in Scripture and in nature, in very familiar territory.

First, I noticed that commands in the Bible to teach children are always directed to parents. Period. No hint anywhere that it was inadvisable to have parents teaching their own children. While people often separate academics from other kinds of learning, and apply different standards, I found no evidence that this kind of compartmentalizing is necessary or ideal.

Furthermore, I found no commands in Scripture for parents to delegate their teaching responsibility. To be sure, it happened sometimes in Bible times, as in the case of Esther, who was orphaned and then grew up in her cousin's household, and in the case of Joash, another orphan, who grew up in hiding inside the temple because his life would have been in danger otherwise. Both of these children grew up to become Godly saviors to their nation, so it's clear that God's blessing can reach to those who have had an "abnormal" way of being taught. But the "abnormal" is not to be confused with the "normal," no matter how long-standing or widespread the confusion is. It is especially not to be recommended as the better practice for everyone always.

In Kingman County, right next to ours, is a family with sextuplets. They are among the very few people I have even the remotest connection to that I would give a pass on if they missed the next observation: Children normally arrive in their families one at a time. Only rarely do they arrive in "litters." This tells me something about whether or not God saw it as a necessity that children be raised with their age mates. It might even give us a hint about what is ideal. Here again, "abnormal" does not necessarily equate to failure, but it's important not to confuse the normal and abnormal or to make the abnormal normative.

I think old people are usually better off in nursing homes than anywhere else. And all children should have the opportunity to go to daycare as soon as their mother's six-weeks of maternity leave is up, and then preschool at three, and kindergarten at five. . . . This is how the myth of the institutional ideal might look when it's gone to seed.

To be sure, most of us instinctively operate within certain boundaries when we view an institutional setting as the ideal. Young children definitely need to be in the care of their mothers. Old people should not be routinely shoved aside to be cared for by strangers. In acknowledging these boundaries, we are tacitly acknowledging the model Scripture and nature provide: The God-designed family is the social structure best able to meet people's needs at every stage of life. What logic is there in deciding that between the ages of six and eighteen, an institutional setting is always better for everyone? None that I can see.

In practical terms, exploding these myths means at least this to me:

1. In a Christian community, parents ought never have to apologize for or defend their interest in taking their teaching responsibility rather than delegating it. They ought to be encouraged and supported when they choose to do so.

2. It's more nearly right to make schools as home-like as possible than it is to make homes as school-like as possible.

3. An emphasis on compartmentalizing matters of faith and learning is counterproductive, at best. To do so denies one of the foundational insights the Anabaptist reformers held dear--that every area of life is encompassed by and informed by our faith.

4. A family functioning within a community is the most "normal" setting for teaching children. While other models may be needed occasionally, they should never be considered primary, normative, or superior.

5. The parent-child relationship is the proper model for teacher-student dynamics throughout childhood. (Teachers of older students can find a model also in the teacher-disciple relationship.) Parent-teachers do not have to affect an abnormal relationship to do well at teaching their own children, even in a classroom setting. Instead, people should be willing to put aside normal classroom expectations if they do not allow a teacher to treat all the students as they would beloved offspring.

People who have known me for a long time or have read my writing for some time know that educational philosophy is one of my passions, and, no matter how far afield I range sometimes, I circle back to this subject eventually. Perhaps as soon as I perceive a widespread willingness throughout the faith community I interact with to lay aside the educational conventions of popular culture in favor of an abiding loyalty to the commands and models of Scripture, I can let the matter rest.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pilgrim Perspective Preview

The school newspaper staff asked Mr. Schrock and me to each write an article telling about ourselves for the next issue of the Pilgrim Perspective.

Mr. Schrock confided to me that his article is not very serious and asked me if that would be inappropriate. I said I hoped not, because mine was pretty silly too.

Here's what I've submitted:

For this article about myself, the editors did not ask me specifically for a list of my medical conditions and disabilities. It's a shame because some of them are really a lot of fun to say and spell--less fun to deal with though. Neither did they ask for a list of exactly what niche I occupy on the birth order-temperment-spiritual gift-love language-learning style scales and categorizations. Again, a shame, because I really do enjoy this type of slicing and dicing.

I could talk about all the different ways my last name can be mangled, about the 49 different immigrant ancestors I have identified recently, what committees I have served on, what titles I have held, the latest numbers on my blog hit counter, my dear family, and the things I care about. If I did this, I suspect that the acronym-happy crowd would respond with a TMI (Too Much Information) utterance, spoken with a deep sigh. I feel their pain and will refrain.

I am blessed in that the plethora of details and demands that are part of my life have combined to touch many of my passions, sometimes brushing lightly by, sometimes resting heavily and long on my awareness and time commitments. I could not have orchestrated these diverse and fascinating forays, but I rejoice that the God I serve has chosen to do so.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Writing Road to Peace

Are there any writer types out there, or other types, that can cry over what you yourself have written--even the second or third or fifth time you read over it? Can you make yourself laugh out loud?

Every time this happens to me I feel a little foolish. I don't aim to take myself too seriously. I don't try to take my writing too seriously either. But those words I've flung from my brain through my fingers onto the screen or the paper can get to me, coming and going.

I've spent a number of hours the past few days during spring break writing a story about a recently deceased sister from our church. It's for a book that a friend of mine is writing/compiling. I've spent time talking to her children, reading over things she's written, and reflecting on what life dished out for her and how she responded. I don't know if she cried while she lived it, but I cried reliving it.

Perhaps this happens because writing forces me to be thoughtful like almost nothing else does. If I'm going to write about something, I have to think about what is worth noticing and worth saying. In doing so, I evaluate constantly and make judgments about what is banal and what is significant, what is trite and what is insightful. I discover things that are common and delightful at the same time. I look for patterns and try to understand how things fit together. I'm awed sometimes by what emerges. In doing so, the realities of my own experience thrust themselves to the fore, and I'm forced to consider their significance, their patterns, their delights, and how I'm dealing with them.

When I'm thinking about the life of a godly woman, I can't help being shamed or inspired by what I find. Doubly so when I contemplate the personal cost of living life faithfully as another has done, and count its cost in my own life. I'd like though, to dial back the intensity right now without contemplating this any further.

But life doesn't come with a "Pause" button. Certainly we don't have to live it all at 90 miles an hour, and times of intentional quiet waiting are possible. But neither can we push the "Play" and "Stop" buttons at will and expect the events of life to come to us only when we're totally ready for the experience. Nor can we exit when we don't want to "hear" or "see" any more.

God has his finger on the buttons. To let Him press them as He wills, and to learn to be at peace with his right to do that will probably occupy me for the rest of my days.

Bear with me. It may take a lot of writing to arrive at that place of peace.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Wedding Suit

With no prior arrangement or premeditation, I got in on Shane's shopping for wedding clothes. After Hiromi and I and Shane and Dorcas enjoyed Asian food together, Hiromi went to a Remnant of Israel service in Wichita, and I caught a ride home with Shane and Dorcas. They hadn't quite gotten all their shopping done ahead of mealtime, so I tagged along with them afterwards. He bought a suit on Friday since Easter sales are a great time for finding good prices on dress up clothes.

He showed me two he had looked at earlier and asked my opinion. That was nice of him.

"I like this one better. It's less sheckich [patterned]. More Amish." He looked at me sideways.

Shane's commentary on the suit went something like this:

"This is a three-button one. I thought maybe it came together high enough up in the front that no one would notice if we didn't neuter it." Another sideways look.

"It's a crime to ruin perfectly good suits like that. Who does that anyway, and how much does it cost? None of these suits have the same material on the underside of the collar like you said I should get. Does that make it too hard to do?"

"I tried on the pants. They were 32's, and that's my size, but they didn't look so good over the backside. The 34's are just right. I guess I'm still growing." (Affected voice on the last sentence.)

Neutering. I can't believe I never thought of calling suit conversions that.

Quote for the Day 3/24/08

Over supper tonight, Lowell chatted while he was waiting for a ride home. He had brought a big round hay bale from home with the tractor for the cattle who live here right now.


Lowell: Have you seen the pasture lane? It's so full of branches (from last winter's ice storm) that you can hardly pick your way through it. And when you're having to step high, and you're about 50, you get about an inch near as high as you needed to. I went splat tonight out there.

The calving is in full swing, so I'll probably be checking the cattle about twice a day. We've got five on the ground.

Hiromi (puzzled): On the ground?

Me: Calves already born.

Hiromi: Oh. How many parents do you have out there?

Lowell: 18, but one of them is the bull. He doesn't know he's a parent. I think we'll be getting about 12 more calves.


Lowell: My fishing expedition in Costa Rica turned out about like mine usually do. No one had any trouble getting caught up on the cleaning when we brought in the catch.

Hey did you hear about the big one Joey (his eight-year-old son, my nephew) caught in Salt Creek after we got home? He got a 23-inch catfish–by far the biggest one he’s ever caught. It spit out the hook just as he landed it, but it didn't get back to the water.

Lowell (later, on the phone, with Joey coaching him): Don’t tell anyone where Joey caught that big fish. We don’t need 17 little boys with fishing poles lined up there the next time we want to go fishing there.

(I honestly don’t know where he caught that fish. Salt Creek crosses nearly all of Reno County. It could have been anywhere along its length.)


Shane: So did you get a look around at my house? (On Sunday a bunch of the family saw his place in Abbyville for the first time. Shane wasn't along.)

Lowell: Yeah. Looks like a nice little place. Too bad though about that red paint in the kitchen. I guess you don't have much choice though. Just have to live with it I suppose.

Me: Hannah (his daughter) thought it was lovely.

Lowell: Well, teenage girls. . . . You won't have any teenage girls in the family anytime soon, but if you did, you'd see that they can get some really far out ideas.

Me: We're not having teenage girls. They're going to be older than that. But, before the summer is over, we'll have one in the family. And she likes that red paint in the kitchen. She and Shane both. That's why they picked it.

(Lowell knew that very well, of course--that Shane and Dorcas chose that red paint and Shane did the painting.)


Lowell: Hobbs (Nathan) is going to Lancaster to work this summer, so I’ll have to get someone else to work for me.

Shane: I’ve been there and I have some friends there, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Lowell: Harry Shenk’s Mom said once “Why would anyone want to live in Kansas, unless they were born there and just never got around to moving away?" But I’m thinking about Lancaster that people living on top of each other and traffic piled up on the roads. . . .they can just have it. I think probably a lot of them were born there and just never got around to moving away.

Shane: I used to get a little defensive when someone dissed Kansas, but anymore, I keep my thoughts to myself and really don’t try to persuade anyone it’s a great place. I kinda like keeping our little secret.

Lowell: We especially don’t need people here with attitudes like that. Right?

All of us: Right.


Yesterday, after Easter dinner at Myron and Rhoda’s house:

Lowell: Myron, remember the time you were going to show Kenneth or Lloyd or someone (Iowa cousins) how fast you could back that old green pickup? The barn was still standing after the demonstration, but one corner of it didn’t look too good. And the pickup door got bashed in enough that it never opened again–not until the guy from the junk yard came to pick it up. He got inside it and braced both feet against it and pushed till it popped open.

What was that deal though where you didn’t quite keep the truck on the road and left some pretty impressive tracks in the ditch up near the Hill place?

Myron: I think one of Joe’s boys was with me then too (same Iowa cousins) and I was going to show him how close I could get to John Griffin’s mailbox without hitting it. I didn’t hit the mailbox, but I got into the other ditch when I pulled away from the mailbox–just drove right out though.

The funny thing was that several days later, I was riding past that place with Dad and he said “Looks like someone took a little trip into the ditch there.” I said “Yeah. Sure does.”

Dad (Grinning): I think this confession was pretty long in coming.

(Ruefully) It sounds like parental discipline was lacking a little.

Myron: No. No, I think that time it was just the right amount.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hyperactive Houdini

The new parakeet was nameless for the first while after we got him. Before long, however, he showed us what his name ought to be: Houdini, the name of a legendary escape artist.

Houdini's wings had been clipped before we brought him home from the pet shop. I don't think he even missed his biggest wing feathers. His flight patterns were in good shape, thank you very much. He outmaneuvered us time after time when we tried to catch him.

We've had birds before that played with their three slide-up cage doors. We always reassured ourselves by saying that it would be impossible for a bird to hook his beak around the door and keep it in the "up" position while maneuvering out through the opening at the same time. We were under this illusion until about three days after we got this bird.

We first tried to interfere with Houdini's willfulness by fastening down the cage doors with twisties. This worked, but was a huge inconvenience when we wanted to give him food or water or get him out of the cage to gentle him. Next, we put weights on the feed and water doors--a hook with a sliding latch that closes the "eye" around the metal "bars" of the door. We could open the doors easily when necessary, but the extra weight would deter Houdini. This worked for a while.

This week, however, Houdini was again on a home tour schedule of his own making, and yesterday Hiromi decided it was time for some corrective action. After another escape and subsequent capture, Hiromi and Shane clipped some more of his wing feathers. Feeling smug, Hiromi opened his hand to show Houdini the new reality of his flight limitations, and Houdini soared off as if nothing had changed. Big mistake. More determined now, Hiromi and Shane took him back to the barbershop and removed another layer of wing feathers. The next flight attempt was more satisfactory from their perspective and less so from Houdini's.

Last night, however, Joel and I were chatting in the dining room when I heard a familiar whirring sound from the living room. I looked at Joel. "Did I just hear what I'm afraid I heard?"

Joel laughed. "I think so," he said, already on a search for the errant bird. He found him on the floor next to the coffee table. Before Joel caught him, Houdini slipped under the sofa where the skirt reaching all the way to the floor safely hid him in the dark. We tried to stir him out by sliding a yardstick underneath. He protested loudly but did not show himself till we propped up the skirt at one end and corralled him toward it with the yardstick. With a rag in hand to drape over him, Joel caught him and held him for a bit before putting him back in his cage. Houdini retaliated by biting his hand, hard.

We talked about what we could do next and Joel went rummaging in the catchall drawer. "These should help at least temporarily," he said, returning with a small screwdriver with a pocket clip on the handle, and picking up a large pen with a clip on his way through the dining room. He hooked the pen and screwdriver onto the clips already hanging on the cage doors.

Today Houdini is very busy with his doors again. Do you suppose he's engaged in a muscle-building effort? someone wondered aloud this morning. We add weights and he takes on the challenge of using them to strengthen his neck muscles.

"Turd bird," Shane has taken to calling him. Then, darkly: "I have an idea for taking care of this escape problem. We could do it with one more trip to the barbershop and one clip right around the neck." Naughty Shane.

This morning I heard rhythmic thumping sounds from the cage, different from the door-banging sounds. Houdini was repeatedly going back and forth from his perch to the floor of the cage, thumping onto the cage floor each time--all this at a dizzying speed. Between rounds of this he attacked the clips on the cage doors. By all appearances, his next plan is to gnaw through the plastic.

I think Houdini is hyperactive. I'm afraid we're on our way to discovering what many a parent of a hyperactive child has found. Long after the whole family is worn out with the antics of the high-energy individual among them, he'll still be going strong, by turns endearing himself to others with his spontaneity and zest for life, and regularly pushing them to the limits of exasperation. At least this hyperactive individual can be confined to a cage with no pangs of conscience or threatened charges of abuse.

For some reason I'm not sure I should have written that can be confined to a cage just that way. Make that a maybe.

P.S. I just heard the whir again. Hiromi is looking for Houdini.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Happy WHAT?

Yesterday Mr. Schrock announced that he was providing doughnuts and milk before school today for anyone who wanted them. He also offered coffee, provided someone prepared it. So it was that the kitchen was full of cheerful students when I arrived this morning 15 minutes before school was to begin at 8:30. The coffee pot was already half empty.

"Do you know what that is?" someone asked me, gesturing toward the cover of the white doughnut box. In Mr. Schrock's handwriting a message on the cover said "Happy (C2 H5)2O!" He had told everyone that they could start eating the doughnuts as soon as they figured out the message. He obviously wasn't very serious since everyone had already been enjoying the doughnuts and no one had figured it out, and no one was in trouble.

"Isn't that sugar?" I said, revealing the dearth of chemistry classes in my academic career. (Oh yeah. I think there are numbers like 6 or 10 or 11 or 12 in the sugar formula.)

"It's not sugar," someone reported back almost instantly after checking with Mr. Schrock. Bummer. No brownie points for me there.

Meanwhile Sheila wandered in for her share of the goodies. "Now, Sheila, don't be pigging out. Some of us haven't had our 18th yet," Jared admonished promptly. Unperturbed, she helped herself to a single doughnut.

The commentary continued.

"Maybe we could mix it up in the lab and see how it turns out."

"Steven'll probably show up early today--maybe even by 8:28," someone said. (I heard him arrive at 8:31).

Unabridged dictionary in hand, Mr. Schrock entered the kitchen and laid the book on the counter, open to the "e"s." Several of the boys crowded around, looking down the columns for clues. "Here it is. Ether? Oh. I get it. Happy Ether. Hahaha."

"We guessed it all by ourselves. All it took was for Mr. Schrock to open the dictionary to the right page." This from Jared.

"I knew it. I just didn't say it because I wanted to see if anyone else knew it," Jacob added unconvincingly.

The doughnuts were delicious and the camaraderie around the doughnut box was a delightful beginning to the day.

Everyone feels more than the usual pressure this week to get lessons done since it's a short school week because of Good Friday. Oral and written reports on the current issue of the month (Changing Demographics) are both due this week for everyone, sending people scrambling for information and a vacant computer on which to hammer out the essay due today. But thanks to Mr. Schrock, for a few minutes this morning, all the frenzy was suspended in favor of a jovial and contemplative session around a box of doughnuts.

Happy Ether everyone!

Monday, March 17, 2008


Tonight when I went to pick up Victor after work I saw Miriam, the little girl I am tentatively claiming as a namesake. I never actually have been told that she is my namesake, and I've never had the courage to ask, but I reason that it can't hurt to consider it a possibility unless I'm told otherwise. Her older siblings have been my students and, when she was born, her father was the principal where I taught.

The matter of name choices fascinates me. Other people's preferences sometimes prompts in me a What were they thinking? response. But, for all I know, they feel the same about mine. I am especially averse to name spellings so creative that hardly anyone instinctively knows how to do it right. Intentionally chosen with this in mind, Joel, Shane, and Grant--our boys' names-- are hard to mangle--in spelling or pronunciation. We reasoned that with a last name like ours, we'd better give them one name that others will not routinely corrupt.

I'm pleased to have been named for one of my mother's dear young-adult friends. My middle name is the same as my grandmother Beachy's first name. I can't say that I've always been in love with my name, but I don't hate it. The Miriam in the Bible has various faces--the responsible big sister who watched to see that her baby brother Moses stayed safe, the charismatic prophetess who led the women of Israel in singing and dancing, and, in the greatest blot on her character, the rebellious woman who murmured against Moses, the leader God had chosen for His people. The mantle of precedent hangs heavy when you have a name like Miriam.

The popularity of names is clearly cyclical. I always know multiple people with the names published in the top ten names lists each year. In the six years I've been teaching at the high school, our highest enrollment has been in the low twenties, but we've always had at least two students with the same first name. The duplicates have been Sherilyn, Sheila, Ryan, and Timothy.

Among the male immigrant ancestors I've been able to identify, the names John (9), Christian (8), and Jacob (5) occur the most frequently. Daniel, Abraham, and Peter each occur twice, and the ones occurring once are Ulrich, Stephen, Benedict, Samuel, Michael, and Yost. Among the women who were immigrant ancestors, the names Barbara and Anna each occur three times. Catherine occurs twice, and the ones occurring once are Magdalena, Veronica, Elizabeth, and Mary.

The women's names are a shorter list because too many times, the immigrant female's name has been lost completely, with only the first name of one of her descendants several generations down the line remembered. I mourn for these lost women, who no doubt lived as vigorously and well as their husbands, but whom history has forgotten. They show up on my immigrant fan chart as the beginning of a widening fan sector that stays blank all the way to the edge of the chart. No name, regardless how overused or common, deserves that fate.

The Bible speaks of God calling us by name and of Him recording in the Book of Life the name of each person who belongs to Him. Could it be that Hunter and Piper are names as precious to God as Abraham and Sarah--as fit for the Book of Life? Will even names like John and Paul be put aside in heaven in favor of the new name Revelation speaks of for those who live there?

I can't imagine ever being called anything but Miriam or Mrs. I. But I'm sure that if God Himself calls me by another name I will know when He means me. The name He uses will fit me perfectly, and I will find it eternally fascinating.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Male Bonding in the Kitchen

Shane, who plans to get married this summer, recently realized that if he wants to continue our family's Japanese Sunday breakfast tradition in his own home, he'd better learn how to cook miso soup and tamagoyaki. So he made plans to shadow Hiromi in the kitchen this morning while breakfast preparations were underway. I think he's already got the rice cooking down pat, thanks to the convenience of an electric rice cooker (Soak it ahead of time and let it steam for ten minutes after it's done cooking.).

Hiromi is big on making real ceremonies of such occasions, and I overheard him say "Welcome to Hiromi's Cooking School" when Shane showed up sleepy-eyed. I couldn't see either of them, but I could imagine Hiromi making an elaborate bow, just as he used to do as he welcomed his sons to "Hiromi's Barber Shop" in the past.

"Start by heating plain water--nothing in it. Then put in the Chinese cabbage, onions, and the dried seaweed because they take the longest to cook. Get your green onions chopped." After this was underway, he pulled miso paste, tofu, and bean sprouts out of the refrigerator. "Tofu can go in any time," Hiromi said, deftly cutting it into cubes after draining it, "but I always put in the bean sprouts at the very end, just before the miso paste. We don't cook the soup after the miso paste is added."

"I think I knew that, but why not?" Shane asked.

"I think it's because it's still alive," Hiromi answered.

"You mean the culture is still active?"

"I think so. I always put in plenty of salt. If I don't, I have to add lots more miso paste* to give it a good flavor. That stuff is expensive. I always use aji-no-moto [monosodium glutamate] too. If it gives Dorcas a headache, you'll have to use something else to add flavor. Some people are allergic to it. If you have leftover tofu,** put it back in the fridge with fresh water. Change it several times during the week if you're going to try to save it to use the next Sunday."

"In Japan, they make really simple miso soup--maybe only four pieces of tofu in it and not many vegetables, but we enjoy the vegetables, and the tofu is part of the protein in this meal, so I like to use plenty."

"The green onions go in after you turn off the heat, so they don't lose their flavor." Hiromi finished. "Now for the tamagoyaki."

"I'm going to use only four eggs this morning, but I usually use seven or eight." He broke them into a bowl and whisked them briefly with a fork. "A little sugar and a little salt" he said as he added them. "Here's the secret: Heat the pan good before you put any oil in it. Then heat it again after you add the oil. Be sure to get the oil up the sides so the eggs don't stick there." I knew he was doing the elaborate wrist action maneuvers he always does to turn the pan so the oil coats the sides. The eggs sizzled as he poured them into the pan, and I heard the sounds of the metal spatula as he folded his "omelet" into compact little packages. "You'd be surprised. This just doesn't taste right if you don't put in the right amounts of sugar and salt. Even adding soy sauce at the table doesn't cover up for the lack of salt when you cooked it, and if you don't add the sugar it's too salty."

More than 37 years ago, before Hiromi came to America, he had an epiphany similar to Shane's. He realized that if he wanted to continue to enjoy Japanese foods, he'd better learn to cook them himself. So he took cooking classes, the only male among scores of girls. He learned well and has taught me most of what he knows. I have cooked many a Japanese breakfast for my family, but not on Sunday mornings. Then, I always preferred taking whatever shortcuts I could think of. Getting small children ready for church, starting something for our Sunday noon meal, or cramming for teaching a Sunday School class seemed to make shortcuts a necessity. Hiromi started cooking Sunday breakfasts in self-defense against boxed cereals.

Shane and Grant went through stages of skipping breakfast on Sundays in favor of sleeping longer, and for a while they even turned up their noses a bit at the food. But now, usually whoever gets home from church first ends up sniffing around the kitchen to see if there are any leftovers from breakfast. If so, eating that provides their prelude to Sunday dinner.

Only rarely does it occur to me to ponder the strangeness of this Sunday ritual at our house--a ritual that thankfully has promise of continuing in other homes as our boys establish their own family traditions.

*Miso paste has an appearance similar to grainy peanut butter. It is made from ground soybeans and perhaps other grains, and cultured over a long period of time (months, at least) with a specific bacteria. At the end of that time, it lends a rich, almost meaty, flavor to soups when it's dissolved in the hot liquid.

**Medium tofu is like a soft, bland "cheese" made from soy milk. The milk forms curds when a coagulating agent is added. The curds are then scooped into a mold to be pressed into soft cakes. Firm tofu is pressed more rigorously to expel more of the liquid. Firm tofu is sometimes fried like meat and used in sandwiches, etc. Silken tofu is made differently, almost like the process of using rennet to "jell" milk into a semi-solid smooth substance. All of them combine well with other flavors.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hobnobbing with Emporers and Do-It-Yourself Surgeons

Today each student in my Anabaptist History class told stories about their relatives--ancestors in particular. The stories ran the gamut from family members being in the presence of some of the most powerful and respected people in the world to being so infamously misguided and unbalanced as to claim divinity.

Tim's Great Great Grandfather Noah had the misfortune one day of sawing into his finger while he and his son Jacob were working together in the shop. When Jacob saw that the finger was hanging only by the skin, he urged his father to go the house to get it bandaged up. "No," Noah said. "This piece will always be in the way, even if it heals back on." So saying, he laid his finger on the workbench and proceeded to sever the remaining attachment between the two segments of his finger. Then he wrapped it in a rag, stuck the whole assembly into a can of kerosene till it was soaked, and went back to work.

Kevin's ancestor, a Blankenburg (now Plank) from Holland, became an inadvertent immigrant when he and his young wife went aboard a ship to tell some dear emigrant friends goodbye. The captain assured them that they had plenty of time. While they were on board, the ship departed, and they could not disembark till they came to America. The passage was paid for by an American who then had the rights to Mr. Blankenship's labor for five years. This was a way for unscrupulous ship captains to make extra money.

A similar thing happened to Zachary's Riehl ancestor, except that his misfortune took him away from his parents when he was only ten years old, and he was obligated to work as an indentured servant until he was 21 years old. Because he was the child of Anabaptists, he was drawn to the Amish men he saw for the first time after a number of years of being in America. After he turned 21, he accepted the invitation the men gave him when they had first met, and sought out the community where they lived in Berks County, PA.

Sheila G. told the story of the Hochstetler deaths and injuries when they were attacked by Indians. Sheila R. told some funny stories about how her grandparents some distance back first got acquainted when a certain young man walked nervously past a long row of seated girls, and one of them unaccountably stuck out her foot and tripped him. (I hope it wasn't quite as crass as it sounds.) This close encounter must have triggered some good vibrations and they ended up getting married.

Ida told about how a relative of hers died suddenly in Indiana while threshing. His brother, Peter Wagler, who lived in Kansas, got word that one of his brothers had died. He packed up and went to the funeral, but did not know till he arrived which brother it was. Another relative was involved in a horrific car-buggy accident while his wife was with him. Rescuers took him to the hospital, and when he revived and asked about his wife, no one had a clue what had become of her. Everyone thought he was the only person in the buggy. Her body was later discovered in a nearby field.

Jared told about an ancestor who felt the need to relieve himself during the night while he was visiting in someone else's home. Rather than stumble downstairs in the dark in a strange place, he developed a plan that involved opening the window and stepping onto the metal roof outside it. The roof was wet and very slippery and he made a swift unplanned descent over the edge and onto the ground below. The conclusion to this story is a bit sketchy, but it's likely that his original mission was accomplished, minus the stealth he anticipated.

Ryan's great great uncle renamed himself John Peace Dove instead of the pedestrian-sounding Jonas Beiler name he was born with, moved to the West Coast and declared himself the Son of God. He kept mailing literature back to his sister Delila, who promptly and sensibly disposed of it. Ryan's Grandma Edna (the one from Kansas--the other Edna grandmother lives in Ohio) is really rad, we heard today. One of her claims to fame is that she is a licensed HAM radio operator--the first Amish Mennonite woman with that distinction, and now, nearly 30 years after she got her license at 50, she may still be the only such person.

Frieda regaled us with tales about Andrew Kuepfer, Jr. who had to eat soft and sticky rye bread on the voyage to America. The bread was so damp that if you squeezed it into a ball and threw it against the wall it would stick to the wall. Andrew must really have been desperate for entertainment on his long trip. Either that, or he was really sick of overly soft rye bread. "But just think, if he hadn't stuck it out, right now there would be no Frieda to grace this place," Frieda finished triumphantly, tongue in cheek. Everyone laughed in delight, keenly aware that it's a very good thing we have avoided that tragedy.

My adventurous Beachy Great Grandparents moved from Ohio to Southwest Texas to make a living with produce farming. The irrigation well they were promised was 1200 feet deep and was located 2 miles away from their fields. By the time the water arrived at the field after having run through an above-ground pipe, it was scalding hot, but, after the mesquite was cleared and the soil irrigated, they could grow wonderful crops--in freight-car-load quantities. Unfortunately, by the time they paid freight charges to Austin, Dallas, Houston, or even St. Louis, they realized very little profit for their produce growing. Once they had a train car load of onions returned with freight due. They responded by informing the railroad that they had no money to pay the freight, but they had more onions they would offer instead. The railroad never collected. The Beachys returned to Ohio and later went on to Illinois, then Iowa, where better times awaited them.

Kenneth's story topped them all. His great grandfather, Clayton Keener, along with his wife, responded to a direct request from Heilie Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, to come to Ethiopia to care for blind children and teach them a trade. The initial request was for people who knew how to teach the blind. When the sending organization responded by saying they had no one with those qualifications to send, the Emperor asked instead for "someone who will love my people." For ten years, the Keeners loved his people and worked among them.

The emperor visited in their home several times, and once brought them American chocolate, some of it made in Lititz, PA, the Keeners' hometown. They conversed in French and English through an interpreter, something the Keeners realized late in the game would not have been necessary when the Emperor apparently forgot himself and spoke to Mrs. Keener in English in response to something she had said in English. Inexplicably, for royalty, using an interpreter must have seemed more proper.

Before the Keeners left Ethiopia, Hailie Selassie gave Mr. and Mrs. Keener each a large solid gold medal. They packed it with their things and declared it when they went through customs in America. The agent who inspected their belongings knew very well the law in effect at that time in the United States, that private citizens were not allowed to own gold in that quantity. That was a privilege only for the government. He asked specifically if the medals were solid gold. Mr. Keener said "Yes."

"Well, it's obvious you won't want to melt those down," he said, and gave their medals back without penalty.

Later, when the Keeners' belongings were divided, those medals went to the two family members who had in subsequent years also served in Ethiopia.

Hailie Selassie was, in his day, widely admired for his competence and eloquence. He ruled Ethiopia for 45 years and was once named by Time magazine as the Person of the Year. But somewhere in Pennsylvania, a humble Mennonite family knew him as a friend who brought candy for everyone when he came to visit. That, and large, solid gold medals.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


The new buzzword at school has a variety of possible uses.

Jared: The girls were all by themselves on the softball field, so Arlyn and I just went down and mingled with them.

Jacob: Mrs. I is mingling with us down here (at the lunch table).

The word "mingling" became fashionable today after Mr. Schrock urged the students to avoid behaving as though there were an invisible gender-separation line at the lunch table. He said it in response to some of the sentiments expressed several weeks ago in the surveys the students filled out in preparation for segregated chapel.

As can be expected with teenagers who by all means don't want to appear too interested in the opposite sex, making a joke about intentional togetherness is clearly the safest way to handle such things.

It's nice to have a ringside seat when the intricate dance of cross-gender relationships is being performed. Far nicer than struggling to learn the proper steps yourself.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Gox Box Falls on Hard Times

I remember the time soon after Joel started working at Software Builders when he told me about the chat program they used at work to communicate with David, their deaf fellow-programmer. "It's called Gox Box," he told me soberly.

I giggled. What program writer out there knows the silly way Pennsylvania-Dutch-speaking people refer to chatterboxes? Surely no one else uses the term Gox Box.

I asked Joel if he knew what a Gox Box is. He didn't have a clue. When I explained, he explained that his Amish fellow programmers had written the program. Then it all made sense. That's what comes of having Amish programmers. They write fancy code and then come up with a quirky-plain name like Gox Box for what they've produced.

Some time in my early years of teaching at Pilgrim, the local gurus installed Gox Box on all the teachers' computers, which were networked. We had many a merry electronic discussion with messages flying from desk to desk, each of us in a room full of students who were not privy to the conversation, unless one of us giggled and they begged to know what was funny. Sometimes we told them.

Last year, and again this year, Gox Box was installed on all the computers at school. Through the school-wide wireless network a student at his own computer could "Gox" a teacher and ask a question. Grant, who spent much too much time on zero privilege would sometimes ask me via Gox Box "May I go potty?" or just "Gotta go potty" or simply "GGP" or some other juvenile expression he should have been embarrassed to say out loud, even to his Mom, at school.

This year Gox Box has been used and occasionally abused at school. In response to its misuse, Mr. Schrock, being a sensible and fearless man, deleted Gox Box from all the school computers the students have access to. It may be reinstalled at some future time if it seems wise.

And that is how Gox Box has fallen on hard times. The chattering gene is alive and well among our students--Pennsylvania Dutch and otherwise. But for now all the Gox Box types will have to exercise their quirky-plain talents without the benefit of electronic assistance.

Mr. Schrock, who is certainly no Gox Box, can still communicate sedately with me and I with him whenever we click on that little coffee cup icon in the lower right hand corner of the computer screen. A tiny ding will announce the communication, and we can peruse it at our leisure. We are the favored few for whom Gox Box will go right on being as sociable as we want it to be, and not one whit more. Nice.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Anabaptist Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is a field of study that concerns itself with how a text (especially the Bible) is understood and interpreted.

In a thread last fall on MennoDiscuss I found this link to an article on Anabaptist Hermeneutics. I have referenced this article many times since, and am working through its main points with my Anabaptist History class. The more I explore the implications of what the author Stuart Murray Williams says, the more I appreciate the Biblical interpretation heritage that has come down to us. This way of interpreting Scripture feels as comfortable as a ratty old bathrobe, probably because its what I've seen all my life. Yet it is profound enough to file away for discussion with seminarians--if you count such people among your conversation partners.

If you look at the article and read heavy material in the same way that I do, you may want to skip directly to the main points, which are listed at the beginning of part B. After you see where he's going with it, the introduction makes a lot more sense. Most of the remainder of the article is a discussion of the main points.

I am listing the main points below with the material following the dash in each numbered point providing a very brief off-the-top-of-my-head summary of that point as I understood it.

(1) The Bible as Self-interpreting--Any specific Scripture can be better understood through knowledge of and reference to other Scriptures. Each part harmonizes with the whole.

(2) Christocentrism--Christ is at the center of Scripture. The Old Testament points forward to Him, and the New Testament reveals Him.

(3) The Two Testaments--We understand the Old Testament through the lens of the New.

(4) Spirit and Word--The Spirit brings the Word to life. Lacking a proper respect for the Word, people can justify all kinds of excess by claiming the motivation of the Spirit. Lacking the work of the Spirit, the Word has little more life than any words on any paper.

(5) Congregational Hermeneutics--Understanding of Scripture comes by active participation in a brotherhood of believers--with strong relationships a prerequisite. This also provides the "staging area" for the practical outworkings of Scriptural norms.

(6) Hermeneutics of Obedience--People grow in their understanding of truth by being obedient to the truth they already understand.

There. Isn't that sensible and balanced?

Perhaps it is cold and calculating of me to reduce it to these terms, but (Challenge me if you wish.) I think most people from other backgrounds who don't make it in Anabaptist congregations either don't get some part of the Anabaptist hermeneutic, or the other members of their congregation don't get it.

Although I know almost nothing of Williams, the author I'm quoting here, I take him to be a careful observer rather than an "authorized articulator" of the tenets of Anabaptism. That too is a good Anabaptist tradition--connecting deeply with what is and what it means rather than operating from a position of lofty academic or ecclesiastical authority.

All of us who are ordinary Anabaptists can celebrate the presence of those among us who use their gifts to illuminate truth and help unite us in affirming it. God bless Stuart Murray Williams for doing so.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Quote for the Day 3/7/2008

Steven did not come to school today, and Frieda was still sick. Heidi lasted only half a day when she decided to go home since her eyes were watering so badly that she had trouble seeing when she tried to read. The following conversation took place in typing class in response to Heidi's absence.

Emily: Who's going to take Heidi's place in talking today? I guess it'll have to be me.

Me: We never thought of asking that kind of question yesterday when Seth was gone.

Seth: Yeah. I'm really quiet.

Emily: I can't type because my mouth hurts and typing goes with talking and when I talk my mouth hurts.

Jared (in the room to work on another project): Why does your mouth hurt, or is that a personal question?

Emily: Because I went to the orthodontist this morning and they took out this big thing. And now I won't be able to eat and so I'll go on a diet. That's OK though. Dieting would be good for me.

Jared: I can see you have a real need for dieting.
It seems to me that taking a big thing out of your mouth should have made things better.

Emily: It didn't. It makes it hurt.

Suffice it to say, we had no long, awkward silences today, even though we had typing class without Heidi.

P.S. Emily is unusually tall and thin.

Little Red Hen Builds a Chopper

If you were modernizing the story of the Little Red Hen and acting it out for your classmates with a limited number of props, how would you do it? This is how Ida, Jared, Elaine, and Jacob did it.

With about 2 minutes of planning--from the point in the 15?-minute planning process when the idea clicked till the end of the time--they decided that they would build a custom chopper (which I discerned at some point was not a helicopter but a motorcycle. Silly me.). No wimpy bread baking projects here. Jared would be the builder and the others would be the naughty chick children, except that they were very specific kinds of unhelpful children. Ida was German, Elaine was a lazy American, and Jacob was Amish.

Jared began by setting to work on a rolling desk chair he confiscated from one of the offices. "Would someone please help me with putting this frame together? "Nicht ich," spouted Ida. "Not I," from Elaine. "Ich vill net," Jacob said.

"Then I guess I'll do it myself."

"Would someone bring me those chrome handlebars over there?"

"Nicht ich."

"Not I."

"Ich vill net."

"I need help with these wheels," Jared said. "Will someone please help me?"

"Nicht ich. Not I. "Ich vill net."

When Jared's busyness subsided and he stood back to survey the project, he said "Who wants a ride in this new chopper?"

"Ich, I, Ich"

Jared pointedly ignored all of them and stalked over to where one of the girls' leather jackets was waiting. He put it on with as much aplomb as he could muster, given the fact that it was rather too small for him and getting into it was a bit awkward. Then he hopped onto the "chopper" and sped away behind the nearest row of offices.

It was another Friday afternoon at Pilgrim.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Quotes for the Day 3/6/08

Frieda, at lunchtime today: My ear hurts and I wonder if I should go home. I'm not getting anything done.

Me: Are you taking anything? A decongestant? Ibuprofen?

Frieda: No. I wonder if I shouldn't go to the doctor.

Me: I think going home is the right thing to do for now.

Later, Frieda, calling back to school to cancel plans for preparing food with her friends for the box social tonight: I went to the doctor and I have an ear infection, a sinus infection, and tonsilitis.

No wonder she wasn't getting any schoolwork done.


Steven: Can you check if I have a fever?

Me: Do you want me to feel your forehead?*

Steven: Yes.

Me: I think it's a little warmer than normal. Do you have a headache?

Steven: Yes.

Me: Have you taken anything for it?

Steven: Not since this morning.

Me: Why don't you take either Tylenol or Ibuprofen?

I hope he gets lots of sleep tonight and gives his body a chance to fight off whatever ailment is threatening him.

*I wouldn't have asked any other boy in school this question, but he's asked me specifically to do this before. I think it must remind him of his mother who died when he was in 7th grade. So I'm happy to oblige. He's a senior and much taller than I, but, like all young people, he still needs a little mothering. I won't tuck him in, but I'll pray for him tonight, like his mother surely would have.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Quote for the Day 3/4/08

Hiromi (about one of our sons who won't take vitamins): I wish he wouldn't resist. . .

Me: I wish so too.

Me (after a pause): I can think of a few things I wish you wouldn't resist too.

Hiromi (Laughing): That's exactly what I was thinking. He's my son. No wonder.


After a strange new ring on the phone in Grant's pocket--

Shane: What was that? Intestinal burblings? Most people try to camouflage noises like that.


Grant (to Shane): You're getting fat, and you're not even married yet.

Shane: Just think how much better it will be then.


Me (After checking my recently installed Hit Counter): 304 different people have read my blog since the middle of February. 847 hits.

Hiromi (to the boys): She likes checking that thing.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hammering Out Sabbatical Details

I have vaguely alluded on this blog to the possibility of my taking a sabbatical next year. Slightly over a week ago, the plan became official. I will not be teaching next year, but plan to return the following year.

As a preliminary step, and with Hiromi and I planning together, I asked the school board to clarify (formulate and articulate might have been more proper terms) its sabbatical policy. While it was surely obvious where this inquiry might be heading, I was still surprised when I was told I had been granted the sabbatical.

Despite the awkwardness, I tried to back-pedal and said to the board representative who contacted me that I felt I needed answers to several specific questions before I decided for sure whether I wanted to ask for a sabbatical. He kindly invited me to submit those questions.

Feeling a little crass and materialistic for doing so, I asked these questions:

1. Can I be assured of a job in the year after my sabbatical?

2. When/if I return, will I be paid at least the same wage as I'm getting now, assuming the job requirements are the same?

3. When/if I return, will I be offered a contract that I can accept or reject?

Yes, yes, and yes.

The school board members are working on drafting a policy which I hope will streamline this process if any future teacher wants to take a sabbatical.

I am not so naive as to believe this is the beginning of a radical shift in the way Mennonite schools do business, or even the way our school does it. But I think beginning to think in terms of six-year teaching blocks could have a markedly improved effect on the quality of instruction in our schools, generally. If the practice ever gains traction, maybe some insightful person will even figure out a way to set in store funds during each of the first six years of a teacher's service so that year seven could be a year of drawing at least partial wages out of the accumulated funds.

If I take regular sabbaticals, maybe I'll live long enough to find out what happens if groups of godly individuals apply their collective insights to figuring out how the Biblical principle can best be applied in our time.

Jaded Gardener

Yesterday my sister Lois and I attended the annual all-day Gathering for Gardeners organized by the Hutchinson Horticulture Club. In years past, I have passed many enthralled hours at these events, and learned a wealth of useful things to apply in my gardens and teach to my students. But yesterday I made a disconcerting discovery. I am becoming a slightly jaded gardening seminar participant.

I've been going to these things long enough that I recognized every one of the six speakers (except one) in the crowd, before they spoke. I have had conversations in the past with some of them, and know their names and each of their specialties in the state research and extension hierarchy or the academic field of horticulture. I even know some of the retired state "head honchos" in the state extension service. Some of the organizers of the event are old friends from the time I gave a presentation on growing cut flowers at one of the Horticulture Club's monthly meetings. I have the suspicion and conceited-sounding feeling none of them know so very much that I have a need to learn. That's not a very good humble-Mennonite-lady sentiment.

Maybe my jaded feeling is a result of the learned helplessness phenomenon. I've expended a lot of energy trying to survive a long winter with an unusually regular reappearance of snow, sleet, freezing rain, or any combination of the above. I'm more tired than usual of thinking about gardening and not being able to do a thing about it.

Sometimes people plant peas here in February. Today, on Mar. 2 we're expecting snow overnight. We've had so much rain today that it will be a long time before things dry out enough to work our gardens.

When I actually get my fingers into the soil again, I suspect I'll think of lots of things I wish I knew and don't--which will be good for restoring a more proper view of my own expertise. Maybe I'll even have to call on one of those experts I re-connected with at the Gathering for Gardeners. With the knowledge those people have gained from their years of studying, researching, and teaching, I sure that James, Debbie, Pam, Jerry, Ted, Pat, and Alan would have lots of help for me.

I think a few balmy spring days and a glimpse of green shoots where we planted all those daffodils at school last fall would effect an automatic positive attitude adjustment for me.

I wonder how humility and optimism in exactly the right amounts would feel.

When Old People Make Music

This morning it was our turn to participate in the service at Mennonite Manor. While I stood up front and sang along with others from our churches, I mused on how some of the feeble elderly participate in and love music after many of their other capabilities have been stolen from them.

When it was time for people in the audience to choose songs for the group to sing, one elderly gentleman in a wheelchair chose "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." His wife, after her husband had repeated the number for her and she found it, held a songbook with the words. He never looked at it. He threw back his head and sang with a strong, clear resonant voice, even inserting some of the echoing words in the versions that are not dumbed down for old people. He closed his eyes part of the time, and moved his head slightly with the emotion of the moment. Watching him, my heart listened closely to the words of the song, and I was blessed to "hear" them through that man's experience, even though he was a stranger to me, and I did not know his past. His evident yearning became my prayer as well.

I thought of another resident of the Manor who we first met when she was 96 years old. As a wife and mother many years earlier, Lida welcomed into their home her son's college friend who was a student from Japan. The student had returned to Japan after college, apparently did well financially, and never forgot his "family" in America. He visited them every year. The son who had befriended him was tragically killed in a car/pedestrian accident shortly before we learned to know Lida, but Hideyo kept coming back to visit Lida at the nursing home. Mutual friends introduced us, and we invited both of them to our house for Sunday dinner.

Somewhere along the line we learned that Lida played piano beautifully and often played in the chapel at the nursing home. She had taught piano students for many years. When we saw how much she had enjoyed the drive we took on the Sunday afternoon she was at our house, we invited her to accompany us to a piano and voice recital event at which our son Shane sang.
She was ever-so-grateful, but ruefully remarked about the piano teacher "I was a lot harder on my students than she was. I made them memorize their pieces." Lida moved later to Indiana where another of her sons lived and we've lost track of her. But the memory of that gracious, intelligent, musically accomplished lady puts a smile on my face every time I think of her.

Another friend, Yvonne, tells about her mother, who lost her speech and the use of her one arm as the result of a stroke. But with her good hand, she could still pick out a tune on the keyboard and sing along with her playing. She often repeated the hymns she had heard most recently in church.

It must be that the the ability to make music is buried so deep in our personhood that it survives ravages fatal to many other more peripheral skills.

When Winnie-the-Pooh was stuck in the door to rabbit's home (from eating too much of rabbit's food) and had to stay there until he shrank down enough to be able to push on through, he requested that those who read to him to help pass the time would read "sustaining" kinds of stories.

I do not play a musical instrument, and I do not distinguish myself by my singing ability. But I like to think of the music "stories" I'm filing away now as having a reading-to-Winnie-the-Pooh kind of quality. In the future, when I feel a great need for "sustaining" kinds of experiences, I believe that sung stories will come to my aid. Yvonne's mother, Lida, and the unnamed man at Mennonite Manor all show me that it has happened for others.