Prairie View

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Aunt Mary's Death

Victor's grandmother died in Kalona, Iowa, so he and I and my parents are going there for the funeral on Friday. She was my aunt by marriage--Mary, Mrs. Earl Beachy.

I feel wistful about not having known Mary better. My mother always spoke well of her as a very capable and creative woman. Ervin R. Stutzman, who spent time in Earl and Mary's home while researching his father's life for writing the book Tobias of the Amish, described her and her husband as very gracious people. That's how I remember both Earl and Mary.

My mother spoke also of Mary's mother, Sybil "Sippy" Bender. I vaguely remember seeing her when we visited Uncle Earl's family. Sippy was a widow who had lived in Oklahoma earlier. I don't know what all I heard about her, but I got the impression she was a "survivor" and an interesting character.

Morris is Earl and Mary's youngest child. He has Down Syndrome. I wonder how he will adjust to his mother's absence. I'm told that recently his family moved him to an upstairs bedroom, perhaps because his mother needed to be cared for in a separate room on the main floor, and his room was re-purposed. During the night his parents woke to unusual noises and discovered Morris moving his things back downstairs. Change is often especially difficult for individuals with Down Syndrome. I sympathize with Morris and his caregivers.

I checked the weather prediction for Kalona on the day of the funeral: 80% chance of heavy rain, following a night of 90% chance of heavy rain. I'm packing an umbrella, although I'll probably be too embarrassed to unfurl it if it ends up being the only bright spot in a crowd of black hats and bonnets. I'm also taking along my old Sunday shoes in case the terrain looks too formidably muddy to risk my newer pair at the cemetery.

I'm taking along two editing projects to work on en route--the church history project my students have been working on, and one for Hiromi. I'm also taking a CD by David Bercot and a book for educators on principles of design for educational institutions, with a focus on encouraging students to interact with the natural environment.

My parents and I plan to stay at the home of Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary. Mary is my dad's sister and Joe is my mom's brother.

I'm not a worrier by nature, but when I undertake a trip by myself I always wonder fleetingly what if I don't return--because of a car accident, for example. But I usually end up acting as though I will return as usual, and so far I always have. These thoughts are a reminder that our times are in God's hand, and we do well to commit our ways to him, living mindfully each day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I've been tagged, so here goes with five things about me that most people don't know.

1. When I was in 7th grade, I hit more home runs in softball games against other schools than any other team member.

2. My entire private college tuition amount was paid by scholarships or grants.

3. My dad was the first (perhaps only) Old Order Amish young man to attend college and subsequently to be ordained as a minister in the O. O. Amish church.

4. When I was 17 or 18 I flipped my dad's recently purchased car after I lost control because of trying to avoid hitting a dog that ran out in front of me on a dirt (river gravel) road. The car was totaled, but my sister Carol and I were unhurt, even though we were not wearing seat belts. No one scolded me.

5. Altogether I have been in school as a student or teacher for 45.5 years. I did not attend kindergarten, and I was in high school for three years and in college for three and one-half. I included the years of homeschooling from the time our oldest child learned to read at three to the time I began teaching again at Pilgrim--while I was still homeschooling our youngest.

Don't Save the Cream

Last week's grocery list contained what is for us an unusual item: cream. Hiromi brought home Heavy Whipping Cream. I wanted it so that I could make something wonderful my mother always made at this time of year-- leaf lettuce salad with a creamy dressing. Almost always the salad also contained radishes and green onions which were harvested from the garden at the same time as the leaf lettuce. My family likes it as a topping for baked potatoes.

My mother did not get her cream from a waxed cardboard carton. Hers was skimmed off the top of the wide-mouthed glass gallon milk jars in the refrigerator, either from our own cow's milk or from my uncle's dairy, less than two miles away.

I am rediscovering the pleasure of cream. Last night I made strawberry shortcake and we all topped that wonderful shortcake with bright berries and an anointing of cream. This morning I brewed mint tea and added sugar and cream. I watched them both sink to the bottom of the cup. Straight back to childhood with this act. Then I stirred it up and drank it. I have long ago opted to have my hot drinks unadorned, except on rare occasions. This morning, before I ate anything remotely resembling healthful food, I had a portion of rhubarb crunch, again with cream. Three portions of cream since last night. Can you tell that I occasionally over-focus?

This cream is so thick it almost drapes itself over a dessert. I know, of course, that cream is the fat of the milk--saturated fat, at that. But at least it does not contain lots of added sugar, preservatives, and other unpronouncibles as ice cream does. I like that the addition of cream makes a very sweet dessert taste less sweet overall.

When I was quite young, but old enough to read, I saw a column title in one of the periodicals we subscribed to--Capper's Weekly, perhaps--"Don't Save the Cream." I must have asked about it, and my mother explained that people often try hard to hang on to something good (like cream). But because they are too focused on preserving the good thing, they often find that it has gone bad (or sour) while they were saving it. It would have been better to enjoy it while it was still good, even if it was entirely consumed in the process.

I'd like to think that my enjoyment of cream has more to do with my mother's wisdom than any compulsive over-focusing tendencies I may have. Who knew that a conversation almost 50 years ago could stand me in such good stead now?

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Last night's storm turned out to be a doozie. We headed for the fruit room in the basement after Joel called around 10:45 from the office where he had decided to spend the night and told us we were under a tornado warning. We live in central Reno County. Rotation in the clouds had been observed in SW Reno County and the storm was tracking NE.

While we were in the fruit room we heard hail smacking on the roof two stories overhead, but we never got a look at the size of the hailstones. It's a little hard to see, in the dark, in a windowless basement room. We also heard high winds lashing everything outside, and we heard pouring rain. Seated on chairs with our knees pointed toward the center of the room, some of us read, Shane followed events on his laptop and advised Dorcas by phone about what to do, we worried out loud about Grant, who was not at home, and we passed around the laptop to take a look at the latest developments. Eventually Victor and Hiromi began to doze off, and when we heard that the storm had passed into the Hutchinson vicinity, we went to bed. Hiromi and I took the precaution of sleeping in Joel's basement bedroom. It was close to 1:00 before we were ready to turn in. We had learned by then that Grant was in the basement of a friend's house.

The storm tracked along K61 highway from west of Arlington to Pleasantview, then angled more nearly straight east, passing very near to where Shane's girlfriend Dorcas lives in a trailer with her brother and sister. They had taken cover in the basement of a nearby school.

News is still quite sketchy, since much of the action happened shortly before press time, and the morning paper didn't include extensive information. However, here's what we know, either from reports we got, or our own observation:

1. We had lots of leaf clusters and small branches from the trees on the the ground this morning. A few larger branches that survived last winter's ice storm did not survive this wind storm.

2. We had 2.2 inches of rain.

3. The tornado(es) that passed by very close apparently did not touch down in our area, except very briefly, near Hutchinson.

4. In Stafford County, just west of Reno, at least one home was destroyed, and there were injuries. No further details so far.

5. Greensburg, which was almost entirely destroyed last year by a tornado, once again had tornadoes in the area, including one that destroyed a farm outside of town. However, the town was spared this time. Some people left their FEMA trailers to go to underground shelters also provided by FEMA.

6. Baseball and tennis ball size hail fell in nearby areas.

7. High winds blew out windows in Hutchinson, and uprooted trees in some areas. Eighty to ninety MPH winds were reported.

8. Water covered the roadway on K14 several miles west from where my brother Lowell lives.
Flood warnings were issued for this area.

A very moist air mass is parked over us, with a dry line just to the west of us. I don't understand weather factors as well as I might, but it seems to me that what is happening is that each day, as heating occurs, this moist air mass interacts with the cooler, drier air nearby, and triggers massive turbulence at the intersection. For some reason, the dry line is more nearly stationary than usual, apparently, leaving us with similar weather scenarios from last Thursday through next Tuesday. The most dramatic weather seems to be shifting very gradually eastward, however. On Thursday it was west of us, and today, on Saturday, it will likely be east of us. On Friday it was here.

Yesterday my farmer neighbor Dwight asked me if I thought we'd get rain, as we both looked at the darkening western skies. He said he hoped so. I said I wasn't sure whether or not to hope for it because I really didn't want what I was afraid would come with it.

"Oh, is it going to get stormy?" he asked.

"It sounds likely," I said.

"What? I haven't heard."

"High winds, hail, possibly tornadoes."

Last night I worried about Dwight and his family. They live in a trailer and I didn't know if they had a weather radio or any way of keeping tabs on what was happening. I said a prayer for them and opted not to wake them with an 11:00 phone call. By then the wind was high enough that I figured they were aware of it inside their trailer, and would be vigilant.

I'm wishing for an auditory dangerous weather alarm for those of us who live outside the range of city warning sirens. Even something like the phone call we got last winter from law enforcement, warning us about the approaching ice storm would be welcome. I think some people forget that not everyone in the world is glued to their TV or radio, and I'd be happy if we could depend on emergency preparedness services to give us warnings.

My irises looked very sad this morning. It's a little depressing, but, in the big picture, this is a small thing. Most of the wheat is still standing, our homes are intact, and our families are safe. God heard our prayers last night and answered by preserving us and our possessions. If He had answered differently, He would still have heard us, and walked with us through whatever we faced. Nature's fury cannot separate us from the good hand of God.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tornadoes--Inside and Out

It's one of those nights when the weather is so unsettled that it doesn't seem prudent to go to bed and leave the elements unobserved. We're under a tornado watch for the second night in a row. Tomorrow (Saturday) promises more of the same. And Sunday and Monday.

Last night the tornadoes stayed west of here and were on the ground mostly in unpopulated areas. They merited scant mention in today's newspaper.

When the weather is this dramatic, I always think of praying first for protection for ourselves, but I can't ever quit there. For our family, or church friends, our neighbors, for all the people depending on crops for income, and even for those poor souls in forsaken territory whose lone set of farm buildings doesn't stand much chance in the path of tornadic winds.

I've been reading the chapter on interrogation in the book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), and my emotions on that subject began to churn again into a veritable inner tornado. It has to do with how investigators for law enforcement routinely lie to people to coerce them into making confessions that make life easy for investigators--never mind the havoc they leave behind in the victims of interrogation, or the innocent people who are punished as a result of "confessions" arising from this kind of questioning. Why is it that everyone in a court case must swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, while many of the people most directly responsible for accumulating evidence to bring a person to trial routinely violate truth-telling standards? It's all laid out in the manual used for training investigators.

The fact that most responsible citizens cultivate respect for law enforcement personnel makes the dishonesty seem even more despicable. Why should citizens routinely have to maintain an unhealthy degree of suspicion when they're in a conversation with an officer of the law?

My first exposure to this lack of straightforwardness was a mild case. When my brother Marcus was a suspect in an incident of vandalism, Anthony, another brother of ours, was questioned by police. He was told that if he didn't tell what he knew, things could be bad for him. They specifically asked him if Marcus had done what he was suspected of doing. Anthony said no, based on what Marcus had told him. It turned out that Marcus was lying, and, when Anthony found out, he was very worried that the trouble the interrogator had hinted at would rain down on his own head. The reality is that Anthony had absolutely nothing to do with the vandalism, and the investigator's threat carried no legal weight. But to a young boy, this threat seemed real and frightening. I think it was entirely uncalled for. Anthony was already accustomed to telling the truth and did not need to be threatened to do so. I wondered then what standards investigators operate by.

A number of years later our family learned to know the family of Jeff, an investigator for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Jeff was in our home one evening, and we had a nice visit while his son and my husband and others talked of electricity or rockets or some such thing--a 4H project. He was handsome, personable, and, even off duty, quite professional. I toyed with the idea of asking him about what ethics he observes in doing his job, but I didn't do it. I think it would have seemed too intrusive. Later I asked his wife how her husband got started in this line of work. She told me that he had always had a strong motivation for helping other people. Even in high school he sought out opportunities to serve others. He chose a career in law enforcement because of its potential for being of service. Knowing Jeff helped quiet my indignation about my brother's experience more than 20 years ago. Only occasionally, when I heard about information that law enforcement gained by trickery did the issue bother me.

One such incident was when $300.00 had been stolen. The detective who interviewed the suspect routinely referred to the amount stolen as $400.00. According to testimony in court, the suspect slipped up and referred to the stolen amount as $300.00. The information was used to convict her. This seems like a fairly harmless use of untruthful investigative techniques. But it does nothing to restore my faith in the integrity of the process.

Far more alarming is that this compromise on the part of investigators often leads to a chain reaction of compromises that may involve ignoring exonerating evidence, asking questions in such a way that children or other highly suggestible individuals feel prompted to produce what the investigator wants, prolonging the questioning session long past the point of exhaustion, and editing responses and presenting in court only the sound bites that are most likely to lead to a conviction.

In one example from the book Mistakes. . . , an investigator who talked to a murder suspect asked him, "If you had killed her, how would you have done it?" The suspect, who was innocent, thought he was helping law enforcement figure out who the real killer might be by giving the hypothetical situation his best shot. In court, his answer was repeated verbatim, without the prompting question. What was merely spinning a yarn in the suspect's mind sounded like a confession when presented in court.

My sister once talked for a long time with an investigator, in the presence of a lawyer representing her side of the conflict. (It happened while she was working at FMH and involved a case against that institution.) She was a little confused by what seemed like a very repetitive pattern--the same questions. Finally, "her" lawyer interrupted and said, "She's already answered that question three times." The investigator backed off.

All this leads me to believe that talking to anyone in law enforcement is best done very cautiously. Certainly resolving to always tell the truth is primary. Also, asking for the Lord's direction in such a situation is important. In addition, the author of Mistakes. . . makes it very clear that people ought to feel very free to interrupt the questioner at any point to utter four words I want a lawyer and then refuse to answer any further questions until that request is granted.

I hope never to be in trouble with the law, but if an investigator ever finds me, even if he's as charming as Jeff, I plan to be on guard.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Who Needs Orchids?

Several days ago when Joel and I were both at the dining room table looking at the irises in a vase I had prepared for an event my parents helped plan, he asked, "Who needs orchids?"

He went on to observe that each kind of iris has its own characteristic. Royal, frilly, elegant, dainty. Each bloom has enormous flower power. I talked about their wonderful suitableness for Kansas growing conditions. They love hot summers and don't need a lot of water. The dry air does not encourage the proliferation of fungus diseases that attack irises in some places. They multiply readily and can be shared or spread around on one's own property.

I'm especially enjoying the irises this year since last year was almost a total washout for irises. Then, nearly all the buds froze on Easter weekend in April after an unusually warm March. Even so, for the second year in a row, the local iris club's annual show was canceled this year. An unusually late season meant that hardly any irises had begun blooming by Mother's Day, the traditional show day. A week later, however, they were in full glory.

In the years since I've been a member of the iris club, I've learned some helpful terminology. The parts that stick up are called standards. The parts that hang down are called falls. On the shoulder of the falls are beards, which may be the same color as the falls or a contrasting color.

Irises may be dwarf, intermediate, or tall. The size correlates with the bloom time, with the dwarf ones blooming first. In each category, however, there are early, mid-season, and late bloomers, so the iris season can actually be drawn out quite a while.

Louisiana Irises have less dramatic flowers but have the distinction of being able to grow in standing water or dry land. I have Louisiana Irises in blue and yellow, clustered beneath the window air conditioner where the condensed moisture drips all summer long.

At one of the Mother's Day iris shows, a long-time member of the iris club pointed out to me a noted iris breeder, Adam Mueller. He was there to see some of his own varieties on display, one of which was named for his wife. His specialty was irises that had a special structure growing out from between the standards and the falls. They were roughly spoon shaped, with the bowl of the spoon held away from the rest of the flower. He was a retired professor at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas and was in his 90s when I saw him. He has died since then.

Among the irises I grow, my favorite irises are Skywalker, a large, frilly, lavender/blue with a white blush on the falls, Georgia Romance, a solid pink, also large and frilly, and another yellow and white variety whose name I don't know.

I first saw the latter about ten years ago when my brother Myron was bringing his new bride Rhoda to live in Kansas. Martha, who was there with our family and other friends to help get their house ready, brought a bouquet of those voluptuous, extravagant irises. I never forgot them.

Several years ago when I had enough Georgia Romance to share, I talked to Martha's mother, Mary, about those irises and said I'd like to see if she wants to trade a start of her yellow and white ones for a start of my pink ones. Mary promised to ask Martha about them. I didn't even know if she still had them since she had moved at least once since I had first seen them. Mary kept her word, and through her and her husband Fred, we made the switch.

The iris didn't bloom last year, and I almost forgot I had it, but this year it all came back when I saw those lovely blossoms. Mary has died since I got those irises, but I have an exquisite reminder of her kindness.

Hiromi thinks irises are "too much." Dainty Lilies of the Valley are more to his taste.

I think any plant that grows a huge luxurious flower in our harsh climate without my fussing over it deserves all the accolades anyone can think of offering. I won't badmouth Lilies of the Valley, but I'll reserve my rhapsodizing for irises.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Power Struggles

A number of weeks ago I wrote about the proposal for building coal-fired plants for generating electricity in Kansas. Eighty-five per cent of the electricity was to be exported to other states. The coal for the plants was to be imported from Wyoming. It did not seem like a good trade-off to some of us to import the coal in order to export electricity, with Kansas keeping all of the 12 million tons of heavy metals and other toxins produced by the power plants each year.

The chief environmental officer for Kansas had denied a permit for building the coal plants because of air quality concerns. Proponents of the plants responded by making it a legislative issue, and proposed three bills to override the regulator's denial of a permit. Three times the governor vetoed the bills. The Kansas Senate had sufficient votes to override the veto, but the House of Representatives never had quite enough to override it, so the bills all failed.

The final bill included some economic stimulus funding for other locations in Kansas. The Speaker of the House and others apparently believed legislators and the governor would be forced to support those other parts of the bill even if they did not support the building of the coal plants, providing momentum for the bill to become law.

Before the final bill was voted on, Joel wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper. It was published in the Western Front, the reader's write section. A later editorial for the Hutchinson News reiterated some of what Joel said, especially regarding the behavior of the Speaker of the House. Here's Joel's letter:

House Speaker Neufeld and others have made their stance abundantly clear: they intend to write Sunflower’s construction project into law, and to steamroll anyone who objects. They have introduced numerous bills to enable construction of Sunflower's coal plants, none of which has gained sufficient votes to become law. They ignore the majority of Kansans, who recognize Kansas's potential for economic leadership in the wind industry. They ignore the setback--in lost incentives for innovation, in commitment to Wyoming coal, and in damage to the legislative process--that their headstrong effort represents. They work to legislate reversal of Secretary Bremby’s decision, while considering suing the Governor for interference with other branches of government.

They consult free copies of Fred Singer’s debunked ( book, while ignoring KU climate scientist Johannes Feddema’s testimony of danger to Kansas agriculture. They warn of rate increases without new coal, while taxing all Kansans to fund Sunflower’s research. They claim wind farms need the coal plants’ transmission lines, while newspapers tell us of competition to build already-approved new transmission. It seems the question is more about power than it is about electricity—and that the Speaker and his allies are willing to sacrifice much that’s admirable in its pursuit.

Our legislators have done enough damage to the state’s reputation and legislative process for one session, and yet language to build the coal plants is again included in a “package” bill to be considered on Monday. The bill contains other important issues, held hostage to the
thrice-rejected construction of Mr. Neufeld’s coal plants. Please encourage your legislators—today, at—to vote for our state’s economic future, saying no to Mr. Neufeld; and thank those who stand for progress. In November, remember their votes, for Wyoming coal or for a comprehensive energy policy and Kansas's economic future.

Monday, May 19, 2008


A number of years ago I told my sister-in-law about a mutual acquaintance that "I think the more she talks about it, the more convinced she is that whatever she's talking about is a BIG THING. I don't think it's in her best interests to give her a chance to make the situation look bigger, so I don't bring it up." As I said it, I knew that what I was saying flew in the face of the oft-stated recommendation to let people "get it out--don't bottle it up." My sister-in-law thought about it a bit and then said, "I think you're right. My sisters and I do that a lot--talk about everything, and it's not always a good thing. It's just a bigger thing when we're done than before."

Today, my private theory got a professional boost when I read in the book by Tavris and Aronson Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) about an experiment done by a clinical psychologist. He believed it would reveal the benefits of venting or catharsis--basically, getting it out and not bottling it up.

In the experiment, he treated two groups of students (each person individually) rather badly in the same kind of way--by showing annoyance and making insulting remarks. While he was doing this, he measured their physiological responses, blood pressure in particular. One group, however, was told that they had the option of reporting to the experimenter's superior anything negative they experienced during the experiment. The group that had the option of reporting had higher blood pressure readings than the other group, and it stayed higher longer. His hypothesis flopped. Catharsis or venting did not help people get over it quicker. Decades of further experimentation have shown similar results.

One of the reasons this behavior is such a problem is that it is often followed by an effort to justify the aggressive response.

I once asked a student how he had broken the bone in his foot. "I made a bad play in basketball so I kicked the wall, and I broke my foot." I don't remember exactly what words he used, but he went on to make it clear that he thought his action was completely justifiable in light of his disappointment and his need for venting. I doubt that his parents, who paid the bill for his medical care, were impressed with his method of choice for dealing with disappointment.

Those weeks on crutches may have done him some good though. He might even be able now to say that the venting was not worth it and it was in fact very foolish, and bottling it up, or just continuing to play hard without acting angry would have been a wiser course of action. (He shows signs of growing up, so I can imagine this positive response.)

I think that letting off steam is highly overrated. Granted, built-up tension begs for relief. The trick is to find it in constructive ways.

Hard physical exercise is one possible release. Entering a serene and relaxing environment might be another. Even conversation with a friend might prove helpful. But I seriously question the value of forceful, loud, or angry words, sounds, or actions for defusing a tense situation.

I suppose that I might continue to give permission for students to go outside to scream after they've handed in their research papers, as long as they do it out of earshot. But it will be because I want them to feel that I am sympathetic--not because I think it will actually do them any real good.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Teaching and Sabbaticals--How and Why

Today I felt a little lost–unused to having a whole day with no obligation to go away or meet someone else’s deadline. I didn’t get much of anything done. Obviously, this is not how I hope each day of my Sabbatical goes. I’m going to have to get into the groove again of planning my days at home, rather than simply fitting into the form of each school day’s demands.

Tonight I put together two large bouquets of flowers for an event my parents are helping organize tomorrow–a gathering for Offender-Victim Ministries volunteers.

Today was the first Farmer’s Market day of the season, and I was not there. I feel a twinge of loss every time I think about my decision not to go to market with flowers this year, but gathering and putting together those two bouquets reminded me how time consuming it is to grow, gather, transport, arrange, and sell flowers. I know it’s the right choice to be skipping that this year.

My sister Linda suggested that I tell my reading audience what I said in my last-day-of-school speech about my sabbatical–specifically why teaching has worked for me for six years, and why it’s time now to take a break.

On why it has worked–

1. Hiromi has always been very much in favor of my teaching. He helps in many practical ways to make it possible. For example, he does all the grocery shopping and always takes charge of the dishwashing. He’s very good at kitchen cleanup after supper.

2. All my boys do their own laundry, and they know their way around in the kitchen.

3. I hire housecleaning help four hours a week.

4. Because I have never been a full time teacher I have some flexibility on arrival time.

On why it’s time to take a break–

1. It’s a transition time for our family. I didn’t elaborate on all this, but Shane is getting married in August. Depending on what all else happens within the next year and a half, our household may have shrunk enough for us to fit back into the little house we own on Trail West Road. So a move is a possibility.

2. There’s a limit to how long a homemaker can get by with taking shortcuts. I think I’ve found that limit. Too many things that are lost will stay lost until I plow through the boxes that are hiding them. (I didn’t say all this.)

3. I hope to further my education and renew my vision. This plan is still very sketchy. Reading pertinent books and articles is perhaps the easiest thing to do, and the thing I am most likely to accomplish. I’ve already begun reading a book I ordered before it was published, titled: Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators. This is an example of the kind of thing I hope to learn more about–how to visualize and make systemic changes to the way school happens. I’m open to suggestions for what to read or do along the lines of the classes I’m teaching–Writing, Anabaptist history, home environment, nutrition, and child development.

This really is one of those times when being an anomaly is an inconvenience. No script for a homemaker/high school teacher doing a Sabbatical is available, to my knowledge. I want it to be restful but invigorating, open-ended but focused. And I want all those things to balance themselves automatically without my having to obsess over them. That’s not asking for too much, is it?

Friday, May 16, 2008


Joy. Joy. The snake is gone. Shane found it under his bed, and Victor held it down with a mop while Shane came upstairs for reinforcements. Hiromi donned gloves and gallantly carried it outside.

"Take it far away," I begged as I saw it on its way out.

"Kill it," Shane said.

"Far away is OK."

"No. Kill it."

Hiromi killed it.

I can't believe I came that close to begging for its life.

Quote for the Day 5/16/2008b

The rogue cow-calf plot thickens.

Several hours after Lowell triumphantly hauled off the cow and calf that had spent a lonely night here while all their compatriots had gone off to the Salt Creek pasture over a mile away, I looked out the living room window in time to see an Angus cow cruising off the blacktop into our driveway. I promptly called Lowell.

She headed in the general direction of the stock tank which is roughly straight ahead of where she turned in, but when she veered to the side and began to take an interest in the rose bushes at the edge of the front lawn, I went out to greet her. I asked her what in the world she was doing here. She turned tail and shouldered her way through a narrow space beside the catch pen into the big cattle pen. I swung shut the catch pen gate through which the cattle had passed on their way onto the trailer, and looked for the electric fence wire gate that normally spans the entire opening when the cattle live here. It was unaccountably cut and couldn't be closed. So I rolled a barrel over to the space where the cow had entered the pen and set it in the gap.

Lowell soon came back with the big cattle trailer and shooed the cow inside it.

Later he called back to tell me what really happened. The cow and calf that stayed here overnight were apparently a mismatched pair, something which Dad figured out after they had been together for a little while and he noticed that the cow still had a very full udder. That meant that there was another mismatched pair in the Salt Creek pasture. So the errant cow that showed up here had come looking for her calf--the one that had stayed here all night with a cow that was not its mother. That was very sweet of her, but the calf had already been hauled off, so the cow's heroic effort was in vain.

Meanwhile, a very lonely calf spent the night in the Salt Creek pasture while its mother was confined to the trailer here. The two calves look very much alike, so the confusion happened easily.

The families are all happily united now, and we're expecting a quiet night here on the farm.

Quote for the Day 5/16/2008

Hiromi: You ought to collect owls instead of chickens.

Me: What? Why?

Hiromi: Aren't owls supposed to be smart? Chickens aren't smart.

After I took a phone call from someone I'd never met--from another state, but visiting here. . . . She was asking for my recommendation on a good Kansas wildflower book and where to buy it. Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas by Michael John Haddock. Buy it at Dillon Nature Center. (I have an autographed copy, which I remembered when I was checking the publication date and saw it.)

I stepped outside the front door and announced out loud, just in case anyone was within hearing range, that "There's a calf romping through the yard south of the house."

"I'm well aware of that, " Lowell said as he rounded the corner of the house stalking grimly after the flighty calf.


Lowell: So that's why I wasn't in the mood right then to tell a story.

Last night and earlier this morning we had heard both a lowing cow and a bawling calf. I knew Lowell and Dad had been moving cattle to pasture yesterday and couldn't figure out what they had done if we still had both a calf and cow here. I thought it seemed early for weaning, but usually that's when we hear unhappy cattle.

When they were herding the cattle toward the catch pen that funneled them onto the trailer, cow Number 58 had been the rogue individual, and her calf was almost as bad. Finally all the cattle were on the trailer except #58, so they left her behind in the catch pen so that she could later be reunited with her calf. The calf was unlikely to stray far if its mother was close by. When they returned from hauling the first load, four panels of the catch pen were flattened and neither #58 or her calf were in the vicinity. Then they spied them, a half mile away toward the east, grazing on Tim Ayers' wheat. They went after them, and after chasing her next through Morris Yoder's east field and then his west field (both of them south of here) and then through our field a half mile west of here, and all parts in between, she was back in the catch pen, and "escaped" it by running into the trailer. They penned her into the front section. The calf, unfortunately did not immediately join her in the trailer--still lofting its tail and gallavanting. So they left them both here overnight, #58 locked in the trailer, and her calf outside it. They obviously missed each other.

When Lowell arrived this morning, he first set up a trap for the calf and then tried to ease it toward the trap. I don't know where all it had gone first, but when I saw it in the yard near the house, it was very close to walking into the trap. Like its mother, this calf escaped the trap by running onto the trailer.

I've noticed many times that "headstrong" animals provide wonderful examples of the costs of high-minded, stubborn, and proud behavior. The "freedom" to thumb one's nose at authority is usually short-lived and the end result is usually more restriction than before. For cattle, it may result in a "final solution" with a trip to the meat packing plant. For people, retribution is not always this swift and final. But the cost is high nonetheless.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gender-Ratio Reversal Contemplated

A snake is on the loose in our basement. According to eye witness reports it is a beautiful snake, with red markings. It is about two feet long and 3/4 inch in diameter. It was first sighted in Victor's room (shudder), and then slithered away under the couch in the family room. We don't know how it gained entrance to the basement or how long it has resided there. Contemplating this is not comforting.

Shane calmly reported on the snake's presence when he came upstairs for a paper bag to put it in. I suggested instead a large plastic rectangular tote and a broom and/or dustpan for encouraging it to take up residence in the tipped over-tote. He dutifully rounded up what I suggested while Victor kept an eye on the snake. Then while they both equivocated over dropping a ten-pound bar bell weight on its head, it thought better of sticking around and made a hasty exit.

I thought the logical next step was to move the couch and ferret out the hideaway, but Shane had to leave, right then, to go stuff wedding invitations into church mailboxes. This was after a supper table, out-loud reflection that he thinks they should just elope. "The wedding is still three months away and I'm already tired of getting ready for a wedding." He went on to observe that if they were going to elope, it should be before the invitations go into the church mailboxes. (I was thinking it should also have been before the extended family helped for several hours to get the invitations ready.) That would have given him approximately 45 minutes to put the plan in action. Part of that time was spent thinking about a snake--not the most romantic pasttime, especially for Shane, who hates snakes.

Hiromi and Victor (Joel and Grant were not home yet.) took one look at the couch where the snake had sought refuge, loaded down with pillows and blankets as it is, and declared that it would not be easy to move. I thought privately that I could move it all by myself, except that I had no intention of going anywhere near it. Hiromi went back to finish getting dressed, and Victor went back to eating his bowl of cereal, a P.S. to the evening meal I had prepared. Hiromi also noted that he'd better put Houdini (the parakeet) back in his cage so the snake doesn't eat him.

Joel, Shane, and Victor, who all sleep in the basement, apparently went to bed with no qualms. This morning there were no accounts of alarming encounters during the night. Joel left the house for the airport around 5:00--on his way to Faith Builders for his girlfriend Hilda's graduation. (He wisely packed his suitcase upstairs.) Shane and Victor got up and went off to work as usual. Houdini is fine in his cage in the living room.

As for me, I got up in the dark at 4:00 to go to the bathroom. I did not think of the snake till I was at the entrance to the bathroom. Then I remembered, and did not trust the night light to reveal all that might be lurking there. So I turned on the overhead light, did a quick look around, and woke myself so thoroughly that I did not sleep after that.

I think the five male residents of this household would all think a little loss of sleep serves me right for getting all stirred up about a little thing like a snake under the couch in the family room downstairs. When throwing a girly fit might be useful, I really wish for all those girls we never had. What if the gender ratios were reversed? I doubt that a lonely male, for example, could stand the pressure of five females outraged over being asked to tolerate cohabiting with a snake.

But it's just me. And the five of them are quite capable of resisting whatever pressure I can muster. Even the parakeet gets more consideration than I.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Quote for the Day 5/11/2008

Judy: Dad, have I ever told you what Leanna [Hershberger] says about you?

Dad: No. I don't think so.

Judy: She says she wishes you would just live forever.

Dad: Tell her I've got plans. . . .


Leanna H. (to Betty, her daughter's single teacher): Happy Mother's Day!

She went on to explain that she had been reading the thoughts of a person who had traveled in Italy and observed the marked difference in the way adults there related to children, compared to the typical American way. There, all the adults take much more responsibility for all the children. The author concluded that what she saw in Italy was a good thing, and asserted that American children also need "many mothers." It was another way of saying that children benefit from non-parent help toward maturity. Leanna was wishing Betty "Happy Mother's Day" in that context, as one who fills a nurturing role in her daughter's life--one of the many "mothers" she needs.

I know there is a place for emphasizing parental responsibility, but I liked Leanna's perspective.


Joseph (age 9, on his way past the scene of the wedding invitation "operation" today) : That looks boring. Let's go get some pie.


Marvin: Diana, what kind of pie shall I get for you?

Diana (age 6) : Chocolate, because that's the only kind that's left.

Later, Marvin, who was waiting on Lois, came and retrieved the half piece of peanut butter pie she had said she was too full to eat. On his way back to the kitchen where he intended to sit down to eat this piece of pie--

Diana: You could put that pie over by the other pies. . . .

Rhoda (Diana's mother) : I apologize on her behalf.


Family member (over the noon meal): Rhoda, this is good bread. Did you bake it?

Rhoda: I brought it, but it came from Carolyn's [a restaurant]. I wanted to make hot rolls, but it's been a long time since I made them, so I prayed that they would be good. I forgot to pray though that they would look nice too. They are good, but they sure didn't look nice. I was too proud to bring those sorry looking hot rolls, so I quickly dashed to Carolyn's before she closed to get this bread.


Lois: I wish I had pictures here of Dorcas [our sister from Virginia who lost her hair while undergoing chemotherapy]. She looks so good now that her hair is coming back. It's not quite as gray as it was, and it's curly.

A Family Sunday

Today was a very nice day. The weather was nearly perfect and it was filled with warm fuzzy family times, in church and afterwards.

My sister Lois and her husband, and their three oldest children all were taken in as members in our church. Afterwards there was a special prayer of dedication for their oldest son, who is headed for the Middle East for about six months.

My brother Ronald's family, who lives about three hours away, also spent last night and today in this area. Ronald preached this morning.

My brother Myron's family attended our church today also. They usually attend a neighboring church.

We all got together for a family dinner at Marvin's roomy, empty-for-now house. After prayer, the wives all found a place at one of the tables, and the husbands all brought filled plates for their wives, and continued to wait on them hand and foot throughout the meal. I had hardly had time to think about it being Mother's Day, although Shane had remembered to wish me a Happy Mother's Day before he left for the service at Bob Johnson's (Detention Center). But, far worse, I had totally forgotten that it was Hiromi's birthday till someone started singing "Happy Birthday" for him after the noon time prayer. I apologized later to him for forgetting and I will certainly try to make amends. I think it's usually husbands who commit faux pas like this, and wives who have a hard time forgiving them. Hiromi seems unperturbed.

This evening Dorcas gave me a Mother's Day card. She said she knows I'm not quite her mother yet, but she expressed some warm sentiments anyway, looking ahead to good times together in the future. I love it!

The young people washed the dishes. I think they were having a good time, singing part of the time.

After the dishes were cleared away, we helped Shane and Dorcas get their wedding invitations ready to mail. That was quite a project! It took several hours of work for Dad, Linda, me, Judy, Hannah, Christy, Rhoda, Lois, Heidi, Kristi, Brenda, Megan, Melissa, and Shane and Dorcas. I can't imagine Shane and Dorcas having had to tackle that by themselves.

Hannah is 16 now and went to the young people's singing tonight for the first time. Her friend Eunice (after checking to see if I was Mrs. I or Miriam--Miriam is fine.) gave me a message for Grant. He was not under any circumstances to take Hannah home tonight because they were planning a special event to welcome her. I didn't quite catch what it was.

This is a quiet Sunday evening. At least it was till Hiromi announced that he couldn't stand the quiet and proceeded to play a recording of the Duttons of Branson. I don't think it was any improvement on silence. But that's just me, I suppose.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Final Day Reflections

Today was the last day of school. The last few days have been so intense that I have no idea how to act now that the pressure is off.

Last night was graduation, and Steven was entirely finished with his pace work and classes. Ever since last year when Grant was three paces shy of being done, I've worried about Steven. But he made it, and I'm proud of him. Matthew, the other senior, was done in good time and had the coveted senior privilege of popping in and out the last while, being there only for classes some days.

I am not going back to school next year, so it is goodbye in a different sense than has ever been the case the past six years. All day I was afraid I couldn't handle the emotion of the day, and would completely fall apart. When Mr. Schrock gave us a chance to say what we wanted to say this morning in our all-school devotions time, I didn't trust myself to speak because I was afraid I'd cry. I didn't say anything and cried anyway.

When I gave a speech at the awards assembly, I failed to say something I had in my notes, that I would miss not being part of the action next year. Also I did not give thanks and accolades to anyone (except my family, who made teaching possible for me) when I wanted to give them to everyone. After the class reports, tongue in cheek, I enumerated several matters of unfinished business, i.e. lessons the students have not yet learned, things like Risk taking is not an obligation, and Not everything left unattended on a horizontal surface is public property, and Talking can wait and Whispering involves lip movement, visible from the opposite end of the learning center, and The five-minute Bible reading time right before Anabaptist History class is not an appropriate time to begin reading the assignment, and Tidiness is a good thing. The students laughed appreciatively. They have generous hearts.

Then Larry, the administrator, got up and make a few remarks about the school, about next year, and about my sabbatical, and when he said nice things about my contribution, everyone clapped, and several former students got up and kept on clapping, and then all the current students got up and clapped. I felt very honored. Then, at the end of everything, the students realized they had not had a chance for a "thank you" applause for Mr. Schrock, so Steven went to the microphone and announced that this applause would be for Mr. Schrock. Loud and long and heartfelt it was. He deserved it.

After the awards assembly was over, the girls and I went outside for picture-taking--their request. What a sweet bunch of young ladies.

Wes and I had a tiny bit of time to talk this afternoon. I think I realized today for the first time just how stressful this year has been for him--not because of any single difficulty or trial, but because he worked ever-so-hard while he was there, and still needed to stay long hours and felt wistful about not being better prepared for his classes. I hope he speaks up and I hope people who can do something about this will. After a year of having done a really good job at everything he was asked to do, he has certainly earned the right to influence the direction of things for another year.

Our student numbers are still growing--21 this year, and probably 24 next year. When I started teaching, we had two full time and one 3/4 time teacher with the same number of students.

I do understand that the enrollment-numbers transition times are difficult for school administrators. The tipping point that necessitates adding staff is hard to identify, just as the tipping point for down-sizing was.

I will pray for everyone involved. They are close to my heart and I could not forget if I tried.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Roy's BBQ

Today for lunch, we fared sumptuously at school. With the proceeds from recycling our aluminum cans on Earth Day when the price was high, we bought sliced beef for sandwiches from Roy's Pit Barbecue, a wonderful local eatery. The students each brought a dollar and some food or drink item which they had agreed to on a signup sheet. A few brought extra cash instead of food. We had delicious homemade bread made in cute loaves and small slices by Jean Ann (Mr. Schrock's wife), applesauce, tossed salad, chips, ice cream and bars, and pop. The leftovers made good snacks later in the day.

It was a fun last-week-of-school event.

Quotes for the Day 5/7/2008

At the lunch table today--

Elaine: Here's a picture of my niece, Elizabeth Anne. Isn't she cute?

Jacob: She looks just like I did when I was a baby.

Me: I'm wondering about the pink sleeper. . . . Did you look like that?

Elaine: Your Mom probably had a lot of girl things on hand and was disappointed when you were a boy. (Jacob was the 4th son.)

Me (to Jacob): I never heard your mother complain about having boys.

Jacob: Really? She's always saying if we had girls, we'd have more interesting meal time conversations. She also thinks we'd have better table manners.

Girl student: That's probably true actually.

Jared: When I was there, she said whoever belches at the table has to wash the dishes. I thought that was a pretty high standard. Then she added that she'd give everyone chocolate if no one belched. But she must have forgotten. I don't think anyone belched, but we didn't get chocolate either.


Me (in the hearing of some of the Anabaptist History class students): What have I done? By doing the final test this way, I have to grade 40 essays. And those paragraphs--six of them from each of ten students--60 paragraphs. (Pause, while contemplating the students pecking away at the keyboards in front of them.) I don't suppose that inspires much sympathy.

Kenneth: I was just thinking--I didn't assign the essays or the paragraphs.


Frieda and Ida: Can we have a party on the last day in Anabaptist History class? It's the last class we'll have with you, ever.

Me: Well, I was going to give you the class period to write your last two paragraphs, but I guess if everyone came to class with the paragraphs already done, maybe we could have some of the discussions we never seemed to have enough class time for. We could have a snack while we talk.

Frieda and Ida: I'm sure everyone can get done ahead of class. So can we plan on it?

Me: If the other students agree.

They did, in class, today.

The Anabaptist History class party starts approximately 1 hour after the typing class party ends. I think I'd better begin planning strategies for restraint on food consumption.

An Anomaly

Josh ( to me): I guess you're sort of an anomaly.

He told me this in a good conversation about sabbaticals for teachers, almost restating something I had just said, and I took no offense at the characterization. But sometimes I feel that I am way too much of an anomaly. Sometimes the feeling is more weird than special, more disadvantaged than privileged.

A few minutes of reflection usually brings to the fore plenty of good reasons to feel thankful for my station in life, and it really doesn't matter much anymore whether I'm ever-so-ordinary or an anomaly, or a helplessly stirred-together mixture of both. I guess that probably makes me a lot like everyone else.

Congratualtions M. B.!

Several weeks ago I promised my typing students a party if one of the following happened:

1. A student typed more than 100 adjusted words per minute.

2. Every student got a score higher than 60 awpm.

If you heard a din from the typing room today, that would have been cheers from the entire class when M.B., told me her typing score for the day, and it was 60!--with only one day left for typing. I felt a little sorry for MB the last while. When I announced the incentive, several had less than 60 awpm, but everyone was close. Then everyone else passed over the lower-end threshold and, in their efforts to be encouraging, M. B. had daily reminders from the other students that they hoped this would be the day. . . . She was very deserving of the encouragement and never has done anything to disappoint her classmates or me in any way.

The class was way too noisy with their celebration, but I didn't have the heart to throttle it back.

This and That

I wrote most of this post several days ago in a word processing program since the internet connection was abysmally slow, and it was a bit stormy and the connection a bit iffy. Then my computer died abruptly, and Hiromi discovered that the fan had locked up. It's a good thing the whole machine shut down before it overheated and fried itself. Tonight, for the first time since then, it's up and running, so I decided to retrieve the post although it's a little outdated now.


Joel is not buying the house next to the office where he works. After several weeks of negotiations, he made an offer. The owner accepted another offer. Joel mostly regrets all the time he spent on the negotiations. As for me, I don’t mind a bit having him home a little longer.


I hear thunder and I’m praying that we don’t get hail. We’re under a severe thunderstorm warning. We’ve already had one hail storm this spring, no one got a wheat crop here last year because of a very hard late freeze, and we just installed a landscape planting at school–all perfectly good reasons not to have a hail storm, IMHO.


Grant shot a turkey this morning. It is a very valuable turkey. I can tell because of how much the tag cost. It did have a beard over 9 inches long and spurs about 1 1/4 inch long, and a nice fan for a tail. The dressed carcass looks like a good-sized chicken.

Wild turkeys have proliferated here over the past five or six years. I never saw one in the wild in my growing-up years.


Within the past week I have seen the following birds here for the first time since last summer: House Wren, Northern Oriole, Brown Thrasher, Barn Swallow, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, and (surprise!) Blue Jay. There are very few of the latter around since West Nile Virus has been on the rampage.


We have only three more days of school for this year. Then a workday and graduation, followed the next day by the awards assembly and school picnic. I'm supposed to make a speech at the awards assembly. I have no idea what I'll say. By all means I want to stay away from anything emotional. I'm not up to that.


Dwight and Karen (our cousins and neighbors) have renovated the old milk house on their farm and created a produce market. I’m delighted at the convenience of this market and even more pleased at the resourcefulness of this young family on a mission to make a living with the family working together. The youngest is less than a year old, and not much help in the garden yet, but I think they’re off to a good start. Last year they planted an orchard and bought a dairy herd. This year they planted a huge garden. It’s not a plan for getting rich fast, but a good plan for their family’s welfare. Their family moved here from Tennessee when Dwight took a job as a teacher at our church grade school.

Years ago, when I taught school in Ohio, Dwight was a very blond little boy from a family of good students in our school. I taught his three oldest siblings.


The pancake breakfast fundraiser for the German class in our school netted about $2200.00. They plan to take a trip to a German-speaking area of Kansas City. They also plan to donate about 10% of the income to a charitable organization.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Reading Aloud

Mr. Schrock has a wonderful volume of stories written by O. Henry. He has read a number of these aloud for the students during the past weeks. I have only recently gotten around to telling him that one of them "The Last Leaf" is one of my favorite short stories. I first read it in a gardening magazine, Green Prints, one especially dedicated to the idea of gardening rather than the how to of gardening. The publisher's Christian sensibilities were a pleasant surprise. I highly recommend both The Last Leaf and Green Prints: The Weeder's Digest.

I wonder if principals in other high schools have a read-aloud-for-enjoyment tradition like our school does. I know that at least three of the four principals our school has had since 1975 have each had their trademark stories. Paul (Brother Miller) read Winnie the Pooh so memorably that former students have planned for him to read these stories at our Miller family reunions, for old time's sake, and for the benefit of those who are too young or too old to have heard them in high school. Phrases like "I'm feeling a little eleven o'clockish" and "Oh bother" and "I'm a bear of very little brain" and "My favorite size" and "Bonhomie. French word meaning bonhomie" and "expotition" all resonate with Winnie the Pooh aficionados.

Andrew (Mr. S) used to read about Archibald Brewster and his friends (Help me out here Andrew. I can't remember the name of the book.) It was a children's story about a group of boys in a small town, probably about mid-century. Their escapades and conversations provided lots of fodder for future conversations among the students. "I shall observe" was a particularly useful quotation from Archibald. Andrew also read some Patrick McManus stories, editing on the fly as necessary.

And now we're getting O. Henry stories from Wes (Mr. Schrock).

I frequently read aloud to students in my classes. One of the things I like about doing this is that often I come across words that are not part of our usual speaking vocabulary, and reading aloud gives my students a chance to hear them pronounced correctly in context.

Here at home, Joel and I frequently read aloud to each other, usually only in small snippets, an especially well-turned phrase or description, lively conversation, or incisive prose. We don't hesitate to correct each other's pronunciation during such times. I value the input from someone who is often more knowledgeable about these things than I am.

It's been a long time since my dad read aloud from Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories, translating into Pennsylvania Dutch as he went. But being read to still charms me now as it did then.

If you're reading this, chances are that someone in your past took the time to read to you.

Pass it on.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Quote for the Day 5/2/2008

Shane: If what we had today were spicy breezes, they were definitely of the habanero variety. We were happily working in 58 MPH gusts.

The youth group guys have a camp-out planned for tonight--one last time with Craig who is getting married before long. Of this prospect, Shane said:

"It's going to be miserably cold, and it's too windy to have a fire."

Me: Maybe you'll have to go to the shop at the high school and sleep where the girls did for their slumber party. But you'd have to get up early because of the fund raiser pancake breakfast that's going to be held there tomorrow.

Shane: I have to go there for breakfast anyway. I guess that'd be pretty convenient.

Me: Just be sure not to appear in your birthday suit or anything.

Shane: That would be a good surprise for everyone.

Overnight lows are predicted to be in the 30s.