Prairie View

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quotes for the Day 9/29/2008

Me: The baby has six names besides the last name--Dalanie Jane Sparkle Mei Mei Alana.

Ronald (my brother) : I think they should have just planned to have more children. (Presumably to use up all the name ideas in a more moderate manner.)

Me: I suspect there wasn't unanimous agreement on what the name should be so they ended up using all the possibilities.

The baby was born in the hospital parking lot, and the name had not been finalized before the paper carried a picture and article featuring the event.

Have I written before about the twins I know who were born to an orchard family? They were named Jonathan and Pippen--both apple varieties. The same family had daughters named Willow and Betony--a tree and a herb name.

I also know a woman named Sparkle Strawberry, whose parents grew produce. Sparkle is a particularly cold-tolerant strawberry variety.

If a watermelon grower ever names a pink-skinned baby daughter Crimson Sweet, or a pumpkin grower names a child Sugar Baby, I hope I never hear about it.


Mark (from Labette Co.) : Everyone needs an RSS feed.

Upon this pronouncement his mother and I looked at each other registering question marks and a hint of eye-rolling. I had just said that I sometimes go back to an old blog post and change something, either to correct it or make it more complete, and Mark said he always knows when this happens because he has an RSS feed, to my blog, as I understood it. He usually can't tell what is changed though. He informed his mother that she has an RSS feed, despite not having a clue what it is or does.


Many decades ago one of my best friends (I'll call her Mary) confided to me that she could hardly stand another girl we both knew. Mary, who was conscientious, felt guilty about this of course, but felt even worse that she was hearing from lots of other people that the disliked girl reminded them of my friend Mary. What does one do with information like that? I must look to to other people like that girl I can't stand looks to me.

I remember a time when, in the same teacher's convention weekend, two people told me who one of the speakers reminded them of. One of them said the speaker reminded her of me. The other said the speaker reminded him of someone else--someone I knew he found quite trying. When I processed a conflation of the two comments I thought Oh dear. Does he find me as trying as he thinks she is?

Usually when people tell me they've met someone who reminds them of me, I believe they intend it as a compliment, or at least not a slam.

When I first heard from two of my former housemates that Elisabeth Elliot reminded them of me, I felt really honored, since she is one of my favorite authors. I never met her till a number of years later, and after that, I felt even more honored, but I still think my kind friends overestimated me.

Recently one of those same friends told me they heard Sarah Palin speak, and my friend thinks I am a lot like her. The reasons she thought so thankfully did not include Palin's credits as a beauty queen, moose hunter, or NRA member. I can't wait to hear what Hiromi says about this comparison. He heard one of Palin's first candidate speeches at work during the noon hour and was primarily impressed with her strong personality, voice, and stance. (He is not politically involved in any way.)

I do remember that Hiromi once told me he always wanted to marry a strong woman, but I can't quite imagine that he thinks I am on par with Sarah Palin on the "strength" issue. He knows for sure that I am a wimp when it comes to killing animals or using a gun for any reason, and when pressed for words to describe me, one of the only ones he can seem to come up with is "kind." So maybe he'll give me a pass on the Sarah Palin-strong characterization.

Joel guffawed loudly when I told him about my friend's comparison. (Now, was that nice?) I told him what attributes were not referred to in her comments, and when I told him what my friend actually said, he responded by saying diplomatically "I'm not sure that she's that intellectual." (Just for the record, I decided a long time ago that I am not intellectual, based on how quickly I get bored by some of the deep discussions I have overheard among true intellectuals. Ideas divorced from people and real life are not easy for me to contemplate.)

What a hoot!

Joel suggested that I go to youtube and type in Couric Palin to watch an interview Couric conducted. I'm not sure I have the courage. I think the "family-centered, intellectual, and having the courage of conviction" characterizations might be more to my liking than some of the things I would personally observe in a recorded interview.

On to better things. . . .Today I want to think about what God says is true of me--to "think soberly" of myself, as Romans 12 tells me I ought to do. Other people may be right or wrong, and we ourselves assuredly are often wrong in our estimation of ourselves, but God is never wrong. Studying our supposed likenesses in other people is probably no more helpful than studying our faces in a mirror and then going our way and forgetting what kind of persons we are. Always, the mirror of God's Word is accurate, and we do well to covet only the likeness of our perfect example, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quote for the Day 9/25/2008

Dad (peering intently at his own notes last night while conducting devotions at church) : Sometimes I have trouble reading this man's writing.

He is 81 and still in good health and sound of mind, and capable of eloquence. But that handwriting--Well, it was never great and hasn't improved with age.

I reflected afterward on some of the recurring themes in Dad's speaking and writing:

"God has not sentenced us to failure."
"We don't have a monopoly on truth."
"History would teach us. . . ."
"Truth is bigger than we are."
"It is not up to us to decide what the Bible means. We are to discover what it means."
"The person who is truly free has become the slave of a Perfect Master."

He also has thought and spoken often on--

The Centrality of Christ
Christian Liberty
Giving a Witness (With regard to the government, in addition to praying, paying, and obeying)

Many of my readers have often heard "David L." speak. What would you add to the list?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Conversation Potpourri

Around 11:30 in church this morning I had an unsettling thought. Did anyone put that roaster full of baking potatoes in the oven.

I had scrubbed them individually and piled them into the blue enamel roaster, but the lid had fallen behind something on an upper shelf in the pantry and I couldn't reach it. Joel to the rescue. He obligingly retrieved the lid and put it on the roaster.

While he was doing this, Hiromi was busy figuring out the oven setting so it would come on at 10:30 and bake for two hours. I was putting the finishing touches on the sloppy joe mixture.

Hiromi saw how things were stacking up and decided to ride to church with Joel since he needed to be there to start up the sound system.

I finished the sloppy joe stuff and hurried off.

Our extended family had planned an after-church picnic at the Partridge Park in honor of my brother Marcus' birthday and in honor of Sanford and Martha from Costa Rica, parents of Judy, my sister-in-law.

I confided my fears about the potatoes to Hiromi on the way home and realized they were well founded the minute I stepped inside the door at home and saw the roaster on the counter. Three people worked on this potato project and the potatoes still didn't make it into the oven. Sigh. Two hours at 350 degrees for an empty oven. Another sigh. I hurried to put them on to boil while I did a few other things and reasoned that as soon as everything else was ready I'd take the kettle to my parents' place and let them finish cooking there while we got started with the rest of the meal at the nearby park.

When we got to Mom and Dad's house, Myron was there performing a salvage operation on a bowl full of diced cantaloupe. His young son had accidentally dropped the bowl and spilled the cantaloupe onto the mulch around the play structure in the park. Myron couldn't stand to see it all go to waste, so he carefully washed each piece individually and kept them in a bowl separate from the unspilled cantaloupe. He notified everyone about the cantaloupe's history and let people decide what risks they were willing to take. Most of it disappeared.

Back in Mom's kitchen, Myron suggested we finish the potatoes in the microwave. Good idea. Five minutes in the microwave, and we were off to the park, baked potatoes in hand.

As usual, the afternoon was full of good visiting, much of which I've already forgotten. We talked briefly at least about the dust bowl days, about the current earthquakes in the financial sector, about the presidential candidates, about the 600 bushels of apples Lowell got shipped in from Missouri last week, about the well-known atheist who now concludes that intelligent design is evident in the universe, about the attitudes toward education Hilda encountered when she taught school in Copeland among German-Russian-Mexican-American Mennonites, and about when life begins.


Myron told the story of how they got the large decorative rock in their yard with "Miller" carved into it. Myron worked for years for "Pack," and his family claims Myron as one of their own. Pack's son-in-law works for a bank, and when the bank he works for foreclosed on a property, and bank personnel arrived to take possession, there was a "Miller" rock in the yard. "I'll just take that to Myron," he announced, and apparently no one objected. So he did.


Lowell: Psst. Bryant, your epidermis is showing.

Bryant: What? Where?

Lowell: Right there between your collar and your hairline.

Bryant (Beginning to reach for the spot, and then grinning) : It's supposed to be showing.


Sanford, in a prelude to the sermon he preached this morning, talked about roots. He was born in this community, and moved with his parents to Nowatta, Oklahoma when he was a year and a half old. (This afternoon we heard that Sanford's mother said of him that "he was the prettiest baby in either of the two church districts" in Kansas--something she probably would have been too modest to say out loud at the time.) He credits his mother's Kansas upbringing for insisting that her children make learning well in school a high priority.

Growing up, he often heard "Da Dawdy Mosht hoh-ut ksawt. . . . " (Grandpa Mast said . . . .) Dawdy Mosht is the Amish equivalent of Kansas' patron saint. His given name was Daniel E. Mast, and, because he did a lot of writing, as well as being a warm human being and a preacher who spoke in a memorable and engaging way, he was widely known, loved, and quoted. He was a pioneer in introducing Sunday School to the Amish in Kansas, and he is indeed a grandfather of many who live here--my great, great grandfather. He authored the book Salvation Full and Free.

Sanford also repeated a story his father often told about how he came to Kansas to live. His father, Ben, married a Kansas girl, and then moved to Oklahoma for several months right after the wedding to take care of an ailing parent. When they were ready to move to Kansas they set out with a covered wagon, pulled by a team of green (barely broke) mares. Public roadways traveled through farm and grazing land, and he had to stop periodically to open and close gates as he passed through. The weather turned bitterly cold, and his mares got sore feet and traveled very slowly. Ben coped as best he could by stowing his bride inside the snugged-tight covered wagon, and he himself walked, perhaps to lighten the load for the horses pulling the wagon. He got frostbite, but he kept on going and eventually arrived in this community.

I heard Ben tell much of this story in 1983 when our community celebrated its hundredth anniversary. I don't remember any dates I heard, but my guess is that Ben came to Kansas around 1920.


One of the stories Joel and I pieced together scantily and told the others today was about an event in Washington (in 1936?) when Hugh Bennett, who had worked for the US Department of Agriculture doing soil surveys, made a presentation to Congress which he hoped would influence them to enact soil conservation measures. His alarm at what was happening on the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl days hardly registered on the consciousness of eastern politicians, and Bennett had become frustrated. On April 19, after having postponed his presentation for a few days, he finally had his opportunity to address Congress. Bennett had been in touch with weather stations to the west, and he was banking hard on an object lesson he hoped would coincide with his presentation. Aides kept him posted throughout his talk, and he dallied for about an hour, going into detail about the terraces advocated by Pliny of Rome, contour plowing practiced by Jefferson, and about his father's soil conservation measures in South Carolina, adding details about his own experience with working the soil. Then a bored senator who had been looking outside said, "It's getting dark outside." It was early afternoon in April, and it was getting dark outside. Just as Bennett had known it would, a duster that had gathered up its dirt load 2,000 miles away in the Midwest had arrived in Washington. The sun vanished and the air turned brown. Dirt rained on the Capitol. "This, gentlemen, is what I'm talking about," said Bennett. "There goes Oklahoma."

According to the the book The Worst Hard Time, "within a day Bennett had his money and a permanent agency to restore and sustain the health of the soil."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Willard Took a Market Lamb

The title works well sung to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

Willard took a market lamb, market lamb, market lamb.
Willard took a market lamb,
'Twas good to see it go.

It happened tonight when the lonely only lamb in this year's crop (I keep only one ewe and one ram year round.) got loaded onto a trailer in preparation for the sheep sale tomorrow in town. Willard has faithfully hauled my few lambs to town, often along with his, when I wanted to sell them.

This year's lamb loading project was less smooth and orderly than most. I should have recognized the omen when Hiromi and I had a very long, frustrating, and unproductive conversation at the supper table early in the week about what should be done right then to facilitate the loading process at the end of the week.

Hiromi usually feeds the sheep, so I suggested that maybe it would be good if he started feeding them inside the dog kennel where their shelter is, and where they could be confined easily, rather than right across the fence from where he keeps their grain barrel. The across-the-fence spot is within a large grazing area, and we couldn't capture the sheep easily there for loading. My plan was to get them used to going into the kennel for grain so that on loading day they would go there as usual and then I would quietly shut the gates and all would be well.

Hiromi thought I was saying they should be confined in the kennel all week, and so he argued against what he thought was a very silly idea. Of course it was silly and I would not have dreamed of suggesting it. This was not clear to Hiromi, however, and he kept right on trying to show me the error of my ways and I kept right on telling him what I really meant, and the conversation went from bad to worse. Joel rolled his eyes and Victor giggled and I sighed patiently but raised my voice impatiently and Hiromi looked puzzled, and we finally got everything cleared up and went back to eating our supper.

Tonight Hiromi was still gone when Willard arrived, so I went out to lure the sheep into the kennel by feeding them. I was pretty sure it would work because they had begged me for grain earlier when I was outside. I really didn't want to pen them up early because I thought I would need to lure them onto the trailer with grain--something that was unlikely to work if they had their fill earlier.

In hindsight, it would have been far better to do the feeding and catching early because Willard's plan was to manhandle the lamb onto the trailer. That possibility had occurred to me but I thought it would be presumptuous to assume that he would want to do that. Other years, we'd set up panels to guide them and then I had simply walked onto the trailer with the feed pan and they had all followed me. Then we sorted out and released the ones that were to stay behind.

I began to realize that not all had gone according to plan when I arrived at the fence and saw the feed pan next to the fence on the other side. Hmmm. I thought Hiromi was going to be feeding them inside the kennel this week. . . . But I got grain and carried it and the pan inside the kennel. The sheep followed me eagerly and set about eating. Then I went to close the two gates into the kennel.

Weeds had grown tall in the gate-swing area, and it was hard to swing the gates across them to close the openings. The commotion from trying to close the first gate spooked two of the sheep, and they dashed out of the pen through the other opening and hightailed it for distant parts. Mara, the first sheep I owned and the tamest one, stood there placidly and kept on eating grain. At that point Hiromi arrived home and came over to help.

"I thought you were going to feed them inside the kennel this week," I said, rather undiplomatically.

"I forgot."

"Let's leave this gate closed and try to get them to come back through that gate they escaped from," I went on.

He walked through the kennel into the grazing area and made inviting noises. The errant sheep noticed and were interested, but very wary. Eventually, however, they both came into the kennel and ate grain until Willard tried to catch the lamb by a hind leg. Then they beelined for the gate Hiromi had just closed--rather poorly, as became apparent when the smaller lamb dashed through it by ducking into the space where the tall weeds kept the gate from fitting snugly against the post. So now they were doubly wary and farther away from the kennel than ever.

"Call them," Hiromi urged me. So I did my sing-song Heeeere lammy, lammy, lammEE call. They anwered me every time, but kept their distance.

"Maybe you'd better go pick up Arlyn's lambs and come back later for this one," I finally suggested to Willard. So Willard left with Victor to help him load the lambs Arlyn was sending along.

"You're the one that usually feeds them," I told Hiromi. "Why don't you walk toward them with the feed pan until they see what you've got, and they'll probably follow you right back into the pen."

Before they were a quarter mile down the road, Hiromi had led the straying sheep into the kennel and gotten the door closed behind them. He left them there eating grain and we both went to the house.

Some time later Victor and Willard showed up at the house with the lamb already loaded into the trailer. Things had gone well this time.

Hiromi is a smart man. I am not a man and not as smart, but I am better than he is at thinking like a sheep. It's a small talent, to be sure, but if it were possible, I would be willing to share what I've got with anyone who lives here and would be interested. Lowered stress levels at lamb shipping time would make it worthwhile for everyone.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Out Spot

This post may be completely irrelevant to those of you who live in far flung places, (I'm thinking of the people who check in frequently from places like Bangladesh, Kenya, and El Salvador.) and those who don't pay a lick of attention to taking care of their clothes, but I feel so good about this trivial pursuit that turned out well that I'm going to write it anyway.

I made a passing reference here to a patch of intractable grease spots which I discovered on my skirt at Shane's wedding. Shortly after that, something went very wrong on laundry day, when a pen or marker must have been washed and dried along with my best pastel dresses and some of Hiromi's shirts. Most of the best clothes had fairly insignificant spots, but one of my newest Sunday dresses had an ink spot as big as a grapefruit on the side of the skirt. It wasn't completely solid, but there were also other spots elsewhere. I remembered that hairspray dissolves ink, and tried that on the spot. The major effect seemed to be making the ink easier to smear into a solid stain.

The grease spots didn't budge any more when I tried to remove them here at home than they did when friends tried to help me at the wedding. Even Goo Gone didn't work. I had read up on what to do for each of these kinds of problems and knew that the dress that came out of the dryer with ink stains had the disadvantage of being being heat set. My hopes were fading fast.

Then I remembered professional dry cleaners. I have so seldom used their services that I was slow in thinking of them. I wrote a note to pin to each dress describing what I thought the stains were and what I had already done to them. Hiromi dropped them off. The lady who took them said she didn't know if it would be possible to clean them.

About a week later, Hiromi picked them up and brought them home, perfectly cleaned and pressed. I was so relieved I acted completely giddy.

Now I smile whenever I look at those dresses, instead of frowning. It was money well-spent.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Neighborhood Full Moon Gathering

Last evening Dwight called and invited us to an impromptu bonfire-and-popcorn gathering. Joel and I arrived after most of the other neighbors were already there. The five people from Tanya's house were there. And Gene and Doris, and Ollie and Emma and Andrea, and Rosina and Elijah (glad for something to do while Will was at a school board meeting). The Miller Seed crowd was absent--probably still loading out trucks or recovering from having done so.

It was a perfect occasion to gather with people we often see but don't often sit down to chat with. The moon was full and gorgeous, the sky was clear, and the air was nippy. The fire felt wonderful.

"Did any of you see the semi in the ditch by the Miller Seed sign?" I asked. Emma said the truck was blocking the road when she was on her way home. I had come by when the young driver was standing back to observe the mess. The tractor was lodged in the muddy ditch right next to the sign, facing west, and tipped alarmingly. The trailer was still attached, although at a very sharp angle to the tractor. The driver had apparently taken a very wide corner and didn't get it reined in in time to keep everything tracking right. "Are you getting help?" I called out from Partridge Road.

"Someone's coming," he answered. I waved and went on. Times have changed. Troubles of this nature used to necessitate a walk or ride to someone's residence where help could be summoned in person or by telephone.

Around the fire, Dwight popped popcorn over the coals while Karen held the baby, the adults nursed cups of hot chocolate or mint tea, the children dashed about in the big area outside the ring of lawn chairs and blankets near the fire, the dog nuzzled a few of the guests, and all was peaceful and well.

Going away on a weekday evening is so much more welcome when I haven't been gone all day and have to think of getting to bed promptly so I can rush off the next morning.

I like this sabbatical perk.

Grasshopper Tales

I performed a test today and know now that one large yellow and black adult grasshopper can withstand 55 MPH winds without being carried away.

Today when I drove to Lowell's garden to pick their tomatoes and peppers, I noticed him hunkered down on the windshield and decided to see how long he could hang on. Granted, I didn't see much of the passing scenery on this trip. I did notice that the grasshopper's antennae streamed back over his head, nearly flattened by the "wind." He started out to my right, facing me and then shifted around so that his head pointed downward. He shifted yet again so that his head pointed to the right, and I had a good view of his strong hind legs. He was quite handsome, I thought. And he was dexterous enough to move around without letting go of his moorings.

Lowell's family will be proud of me for transporting this grasshopper to their farm I thought ruefully as I turned off the blacktop onto the dirt road where they live, with the grasshopper still gamely riding along. Then I looked down and gritted my teeth at the sight of an ugly brown grasshopper calmly sitting there on my skirted knee. I braked to a halt, opened the door and swooshed him out. This must have been the same beast that scared me to distraction yesterday when I felt something on my leg and closed my hand over a very large insect body on the other side of my skirt fabric. A mad flapping of fabric followed. It was a good thing West 4th was nearly traffic-free at that moment. I don't think I was driving very straight there for a few moments. Experiences like this rank high on my list of undesirables. I had never gotten a good look at whatever-it-was that rocketed off to my right, but assumed it was a grasshopper because of its size. So he was back again today, more circumspect this time, but no more welcome. I wonder if he was disappointed at the relative absence of theatrics in our encounter today.

With the brown grasshopper gone, I checked again on the yellow and black one. He was still there, and we took off again together. The gravel on this road must have just been hauled in. Some of it has no tracks across it. Oops. This is as far as it reached. I'm glad I wasn't on this road right after we had our three-inch rain. It must have been a ribbon of mud. There's still water standing at the edge of the road here, and the gravel has all washed away. Is the grasshopper still there? Sure enough.

I slowed to turn into Lowell's drive. Still there. I pulled into the shade of a tree near the garden. Then I looked around at the garden and the flowers and the cats (three white kittys, and that long-haired gray and white one they got from us) and forgot all about the grasshopper.

Tomorrow when Lowell's family has returned from their North Carolina trip and someone goes to check the tomatoes in the garden, they may find a handsome yellow and black grasshopper parked on one of their tomato vines. They will not know that it is a very special grasshopper-- that he was escorted to the premises, that he participated in a "grasshopper tenacity" study enroute, and that he witnessed the expulsion of an ugly brown grasshopper from my minivan. They will think they're seeeing an ordinary grasshopper.

On the other hand, Joey lives there, and, if he sees him first, he may capture the grasshopper and carry him inside to show his mother. His mother will admire him obligingly and admonish him to carry him back outside before he turns him loose, and that self-same grasshopper may end up being the most admired yellow and black grasshopper in Reno County.

As long as he doesn't behave disgracefully like the brown one did, I say let him live--as long as no one from their house trasports him back over here. The study is done. Case closed. No more grasshoppers needed here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quote for the Day 9/14/2008

Rhoda: I didn't know there was a problem till I saw your stomach shaking. Then I caught on what was happening. I was glad that you were laughing though instead of getting upset.

Rhoda was obviously peeping during the lunchtime prayer at noon today during my brother-in-law Marvin's 51st birthday party. And, I'm sorry to say, she could tell what the problem was by following my eyes, (Honest, I usually close my eyes.) which were fastened on the group of four boys in the opposite corner of the room. Two of them were Rhoda's boys.

Something unrelated to Dad's birthday blessing prayer was clearly very funny, but they all knew it was a poor time to laugh, so they pinched it back as best they could, which was not very well, and small snorts of laughter escaped periodically. Valiant efforts ensued till the next hapless boy caved in.

I know the feeling. In my young and foolish days, I had quite a reputation for being afflicted with giggling fits. So inconvenient and humiliating. Three of those boys today were my nephews, and the fourth was my cousin's boy. Poor boys. Like me, afflicted with the giggling gene.

Interesting Fellow-Travelers

One our recent train trip, one of the pleasures was meeting interesting people. Twice I heard accounts of people who escaped Communist East Germany at great risk and sacrifice.

We heard one account from a couple we shared a table with in the dining car. I overheard them speak German and commented that I was hearing a few familiar words, and that I would love to know German as well as they obviously did. The lady, who did most of the talking, said, "We have lived in this country for over 40 years, but now that we're old, we're also lazy, so we often speak German to each other." She subsequently admonished her husband (speaking emphatically into his hearing aid) to "act nice and speak English to these wonderful people." Living in Albuquerque, she has had lots of exposure to other immigrants, and has a strong opinion about their need to learn English as soon as possible. She obviously has some personal credibility in expressing this opinion.

I asked a few questions about where in Germany they had lived, and got a passionate account of how terrible life became for them under Communism. Her husband's family owned a large furniture making business, which was nationalized. Perhaps because the family was wealthy, they were targeted, and the woman's father-in-law was imprisoned for three years. His health was broken and he died soon after he was released. In the late 60's permission was still granted sometimes to East Germans who wished to shop in West Berlin. This was allowed because there was a need for goods that were not available in the Eastern sector. So our woman storyteller, when she was young-married, crossed the border into West Berlin one day, leaving her husband behind. She never returned to East Germany until after the wall fell. Her husband attempted three days after her crossing to do the same, but he was detained, along with many others who had attempted the same thing. For three weeks he was held, and then one day he tried again, and this time he was allowed to cross. He joined his wife in West Berlin, and they asked for and were granted asylum in the United States.

This woman finished by saying, "Some people say 'Oh Communism is not so bad.' They don't know. It's horrible, except for a very few people at the top, for whom it's very good. Right now, what's going on in Georgia. . . That's terrible. I can't believe people don't see that."

Kay, a woman from Wichita, told us the other escape-from-East Germany story. Her father had family members in America. When one of them died, he inherited some of their ranch land in Montana. There was only one problem. He could not get permission to leave East Germany to come to America to claim his inheritance. Through working with international attorneys, he learned that all American assets owned by East Germans were about to be nationalized. (I understood that this meant that America was about to take possession of his inheritance. I can find no evidence that this actually ever happened.) But when he got that word, he set about to marry his girlfriend very quickly, and he and his new bride rented and furnished an apartment, knowing all the while that they must do this so as not to arouse suspicion regarding their plans. They told no one except their parents what they were about to do, and their parents did not know until just before they left East Germany. They used the method also of going to West Berlin to shop, except they did so on the same day, but separately. Things went smoothly and they immigrated and went straight to Montana to their relatives.

I asked Kay if she had encountered or noticed any stereotypes or common characteristics of Germans. (By this time she knew that I also claimed German background.) She said her husband says German women are domineering, and she acknowledged that her mother and grandmother were indeed domineering. She said she tries to be submissive to her husband as she believes Christian women ought to be, but she ruefully admitted that her husband considers her too much like other German women. I laughed to myself, remembering the German woman in the dining car who admonished her husband to "be nice" while she busily went on talking and expressing opinions right and left--delightfully so, in my opinion, but, granted, in a domineering fashion. I had never heard about this stereotype.

Kay also told us about some really heartbreaking things that her mother saw and experienced when the Russians overran the city where her mother lived. By this time a lot of hatred had built up because the Germans had once occupied Russia, and had treated the Russians contemptuously. Now the Russians were exacting revenge. Most of the German people knew that a terrible fate awaited them if they fell into Russian hands, and they resolved not to be victimized. Kay's mother's grandmother, to whom she was very close, committed suicide by hanging herself. As a 13-year-old girl, she saw a man fall to his death right in front of her on a city sidewalk. He had jumped out of a high window intentionally. Women were being raped--some repeatedly, and then a soldier came for Kay's mother. An older woman intervened and said, "Leave the children alone. Take me." So he did. He was the third one who had done so. Kay's mother put into her mouth the cyanide pill she had been given for just such a time. But she had second thoughts and spit it out. Almost everyone she knew had cyanide pills in their possession.

The third memorable person I met was riding the Chicago city transit system just as I was. She was obviously Asian and looked frightened and near tears. I sat beside her and finally asked if she was from Chicago. She said no and I told her I wasn't from there either. She was from China and had come to America to join her husband who was at a university in one of the Carolinas. She was touring the city during a long layover in her flight schedule. She was not fluent in English, but much more so than I am in Chinese. I learned that she has one child, a 14-year-old son who had stayed in China. "In China, we are allowed to have only one child."

Without thinking, I blurted, "I think that's so sad." I told her about my parental family of 12 children--ten homemade and two adopted, and about our three sons and our country home.

"That would be so much fun," she said.

She told me what her exit point was on the transit line, and I watched the signs and told her when we got to the right place.

"Goodbye. You are so kind," she said as she got off, turned around and waved once more.

Lord, please bring other kind people into her life, and help her to meet You in America.

Network Marketing--Part 3

How can friendships survive Network Marketing? Hiromi is my model for this one. Like many men, he simply takes nothing personally when he hears a “no” from a friend. Even when we have seen friends and relatives die who we believe could perhaps have survived, or at least had an improved quality of life at the end, if they had said “yes” instead of “no,” he doesn’t lose any sleep over it. I do. I agonize over whether more persistence on our part would have made a difference for them. I grieve when others experience loss of life or health. I sometimes get flat-out angry when a person is too closed-minded to even listen one time, a little bit. It looks as inexcusable and arrogant to me as it would if one of my students refused to read a textbook (that actually may have far less relevance to their lives than learning about health or safety or finances). Kick me if you ever find me guilty of that kind of arrogance–or at least bring it to my attention. Closed-mindedness regarding learning about evil is the only kind of closed-mindedness I can find in my heart to defend. Forgive? Yes. Defend? No.

I hate in-your-face contacts with others, and it’s very hard for me to try to sell anything, but I’m not rich enough to give away the products I believe might help others. I wish I were. Ranting aside, what I have purposed to do is to serve others in whatever way I have opportunity. My friends and family are not primarily “prospects.” They are primarily friends and family, and if they are also customers or business partners, that’s OK too. My duty is to offer information and opportunity. My duty is not to try to make others well, and I must respect their choices, even if I’m pretty sure they’re making the wrong ones. On the other hand, because I do believe other people would agree with me if they knew what I know, I have a strong motivation to tell others what I’ve learned. It’s daunting though to know where to start if I’m sure my input is not welcome, and my courage sometimes fails me.

Even though Network Marketing is legal, isn’t it at least faintly unethical? It is only as ethical as the people who are in it. Being devious or selfish ruins things for everyone. Having a servant heart is essential. I personally don’t like being tricked into listening to a sales presentation, so I would not want to trick other people into such a thing. I want to know exactly how a compensation plan works–not be told simply that it’s a good way to make a lot of money. I want good value for my money, so I will try to help others get good value for theirs. I would never feel comfortable selling a product I knew almost nothing about.

Franchises are similar in some ways to Network Markets, although franchises are far more often limited to a certain territory. They are alike in that the product, business philosophy and methods of doing business are usually pre-determined. The way things work in the insurance industry are similar to Network Marketing also. Acquiring a new client usually means an up front payment to the recruiter. Monthly income from that person’s payments provide additional ongoing money to the recruiter. Have you heard vitriolic criticism of these two systems recently? Not I.

I guess for me the bottom line is this: Network Marketing is not perfect. In this way it is exactly like every other business model I have encountered. It can be done ethically or unethically, depending on the motives and methods of the people involved. If I need a product sold by a Network Marketer, I will not choke on the method of sale. I will not hold the absence of a bricks and mortar store front against anyone. I will make a decision regarding purchase based on value and need. I will not prejudge a Marketer or begrudge him or her the income they earn through that business model. I will personally promote only products that I believe to be efficacious or useful. And I will do my best to not take a “no” personally. So help me, God.

Network Marketing--Part 2

Why do a few people get so obscenely rich doing Network Marketing? And why do most people hardly make any money at all? All of the people I know who have acquired wealth through Network Marketing have worked very hard at building their business, exactly as is the case with any successful business person in a more traditional business model–retailing, manufacturing, or providing services, for example. They are doing what people in other similar businesses do–retailing, usually. They are actually independent business owners who handle a product supplied by a manufacturer or distributor. So far, this seems very ordinary and familiar. Furthermore, they have many satisfied customers. Otherwise, their business could not continue. They continually update their education regarding their products, and they work on refining their management and sales skills. They educate other people about their products. They earn rewards and bonuses through sales volume incentives. Still nothing remarkable here. That’s what most successful people in similar businesses do. Wealthy network marketers have made their money by selling products and finding other people who are interested in selling the same products. The same is usually true of wealthy people using other retail or manufacturing business models. The people who do not work hard, or who work hard in ineffective ways do not acquire wealth in a network marketing model or in a traditional business model.

It’s hard to swallow, but most people who work all their lives as wage-earners in someone else’s business may acquire enough income to live comfortably, but often, finances are a life-long struggle. It takes some kind of leverage to get beyond the struggle level. This leverage can take many forms. I’m not business-savvy-enough to know many of them. If you’re business-savvy, you already know them. If you’re like me, you know only about the obvious ones like compounding interest and investing in appreciating assets. Network Marketers sometimes employ leverage tools too–by duplicating themselves as sales people. If leverage is unethical, a lot of financially successful people in traditional businesses are in this unethical tent.

Aren’t the products often ridiculously overpriced? I honestly don’t know. If the exact same product is available elsewhere for less money, if the product does not do what the manufacturer or seller says it will do, if you do not need the product, or if you don’t need the services offered with the product, then yes, any product sold through network marketing could be over-priced–for your purposes at least. Bear in mind though that every value-added product you buy through traditional means has a huge markup that includes a cut for many people along the supply chain. You don’t escape this reality by avoiding the network marketing model. Specifically, network marketing companies depend on word-of-mouth educators and representatives to grow their market. More traditional businesses accomplish this through their advertising budget. Often they pay people in the printing or media world to advertise for them. Is it unethical for people in a network marketing company to receive payment as a reward when their “advertising” results in sales? Media outlets expect payment regardless whether or not their effort results in sales. Insight into these facts was my first clue that Network Marketing might be as ethical as the more familiar models.

What’s with the cult-like hype and high-drama meetings that are often involved? I have not been to many such meetings, and I could certainly do without the loud music and pumped-up, over-the-top rah rah expressions. Thoughtful and sincere and quiet people do a lot more for me. It’s true that in a conference, there is usually some variety, and part of it is much more to my liking than other parts. I’ve felt the same way at Christian School Conventions. Some Network Marketing companies have a strong Christian culture. This is certainly to be appreciated. However, an occasional worship service following a company convention is no substitute for consistent involvement with a local church body.

Network Marketing--Part 1

This subject opens a 30-lb. frozen-fruit can of worms. So have I lost my mind by writing about it? You decide. (I’m tentatively answering the question in the affirmative.)

People who become part of Network Marketing also often inadvertently join the NFL Club (No Friends Left). A visceral revulsion is the fairly common response of people who encounter a network marketer, especially among people who pride themselves in being hard, honest workers who do not have an unhealthy fixation on money. In polite company, this distaste is often somewhat concealed, but it’s there. How do I know? Because I’ve been there.

I’m proceeding from the assumption that good information is better than bad information or no information. By good information I mean information that matches reality. So what is the reality?

First, the nitty-gritty facts. Network Marketing is sometimes called Multi-Level Marketing (MLM). Although some people feel that the term Network Marketing is less offensive than MLM, they basically are equivalent and accurate terms. They are emphasizing different aspects of the same business model. This model is based on person-to-person direct selling (the network), and the direct-sellers can rise through various levels of achievement, responsibility, and income (This is the multi-level aspect.). Sales incentives and bonuses may also be part of the compensation plan.

Next, the illegal stuff. Network Marketing is also sometimes referred to as a Pyramid Scheme. Pyramid Schemes are illegal. They are like chain letters that promise that if you put in money, a lot of other people will put in money, and you’ll more than get your money back from the poor suckers that happen to be further down the line than you in the food chain. The difference is that in a Pyramid Scheme, no product changes hands (or a useless product is used as a smokescreen just to make the real activity look legal). Network Marketing or MLM models can be done in an ethically problematic way, but if they offer a legitimate product, they are not illegal. Pyramid Schemes are always illegal.

With the nitty-gritty facts and the illegal stuff covered, what’s left? Why do a few people get so obscenely rich doing Network Marketing? And why do most people hardly make any money at all? Aren’t the products often ridiculously overpriced? What’s with the cult-like hype and high-drama meetings that are often involved? How can friendships survive Network Marketing? Even though Network Marketing is legal, isn’t it at least faintly unethical? Here’s where the rubber meets the road.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Trip with the Chief

When I was three years old our family moved from Michigan to Kansas by train. This was not just any old train. I knew it by name. It was the Chief. This morning around 4:30 Hiromi and I returned on the Southwest Chief from an Amtrak trip to Chicago. This line runs from Los Angeles to Chicago. It was a fun trip.

We had boarded in Hutchinson around 2:30 on Thursday morning. The station was deserted when we arrived except for one other person who had driven there from Medicine Lodge. But the train was nearly full much of the way, and entirely filled as we approached and later left Chicago.

Tickets for Hiromi and me together cost $333.00. That included a small senior citizen discount for Hiromi. At that price, we figured that if we drove we would spend very nearly the same amount in fuel costs without allowing anything for wear and tear on the car. Airfare would have cost more than that, and we would have needed to drive an hour to the airport and back. We spent almost the same amount of time enroute on the train as we would have in the car. We're not good road warriors, so everything seemed like a good fit.

The ride was not as smooth as it would have been either on a good flight or in an average vehicle. This was the only aspect of the trip that did not compare favorably with other options. The train cars are as tall as a two story house, and they move on a comparatively narrow track. Our seats were in the second story, so the rocking motion was amplified at that height. Plus, we were near the front of the car, where the link to the next car probably transmitted more bumps than we would have felt in the middle.

Convenience and size of on-board restrooms were similar to air travel. But the train has many more other amenities. When we got the munchies, we could go to the snack bar and buy something to eat or drink. At mealtimes we walked to the dining car and ordered from the menu. Any food we brought from home would have been perfectly fine for eating as well. When we wanted to chat with friends we had made on the train, we headed for the lounge and staked out a table around which to visit. Others there sat in chairs facing the windows to watch the scenery or read. In our coach seats we had lots of leg room, enough so that our feet could hardly reach the seats in front of us even when we stretched our legs as far as possible. Our bags were with us all the time-- no delays while waiting in a baggage claim area, and no chance of our luggage not arriving with us. I never saw the "sleeper" areas, but for an extra fee we could have slept in beds on board, in private rooms. Family-sized rooms are also available.

More observations:

--We're blessed to live only 15 miles from a train station. In all of Kansas, I believe there are only six stops on this route, and Dodge City is the only one west of here. That means that for about 200 miles of its Kansas route, there is only one entry-and-exit point.

--No smoking is allowed on the train. This helps make the experience pleasant for non-smoking travelers, but apparently pains smokers considerably. When one man who had gone to the bathroom saw us preparing to detrain, he told us he was going to get off when we did to have a smoke. "They want me to wait till Dodge City, and that's too long." He joined the group waiting to get off.
His plan was thwarted, however, when the conductor spied him and told him again that he couldn't get off in Hutchinson or he would be left behind. He wasn't happy but he walked back toward his seat.

--Travelers have assigned seats, and the coach crews notify passengers when their stop is coming up if they are in their assigned seats. In other words, destinations are tracked by an association with a seat number. A public service announcement we heard made clear that if you are not in your assigned seat, you are responsible for detraining at the right time. If you are in your assigned seat, the crew is responsible.
While we were waiting to exit the train as we approached Hutchinson, the conductor felt some distress because one passenger was missing. Only five were present, and six people had bought tickets to Hutchinson. "He asked, and I told him directly that I would tell him when to get off if he was was in his seat. Then I made an announcement later. But he's not in his seat, and he's not in the lounge. I don't know where he is. He's not going to be happy when he wakes up in LaJunta [CO]."

--Hiromi is fond of giving voice to his yawns--claims it's not nearly as satisfying otherwise. But on a full train, in the wee hours of the morning, I heard it coming, and hurried to shush him before everyone else heard it in full voice. I didn't think a wake-everybody-up yawn would have been well received.
It's really strange when you think about it--a passenger coach at night is almost like a dormitory filled with people of all ages and both genders. I heard some soft snoring and realized that I had probably never before slept in the same "room" at night as a snoring male other than Hiromi (who hardly ever snores).

--On the way to Chicago, I heard a lot of the conversation between the two people behind us, and just for fun, tried to guess how they looked and what they were like. Clues from their conversation made periodic adjustments to the mental picture necessary. Neither of them are very young, but not old and decrepit either. I could hear that by their voices. The guy sounds like a tree hugger and a do-gooder. The lady listened most of the time, but talked about how she handled her children when they were teenagers. She sent them to live with their dad. The guy seems thoughtful and intelligent, but fairly full of himself. There's talk of pretty girls he has helped and rich people who foolishly ignored his sound advice after they moved onto the ranch where he worked previously. He referred to his second divorce. I don't think he is religiously motivated. No, definitely not. He speaks disparagingly of Jesus returning to earth. When he detrains, I see that he is rather short, with gray hair tied into a pony tail.

--When we got near Chicago, we struck up a conversation with the mother and young daughter across the aisle from us. They were from Wichita and heading to the same convention we were. We ended up spending a lot of time together enroute and some time together in the Chicago area. She was born to German immigrants, was a tongues-speaking, home-church, homeschooling Christian Mom who was retired from the military. She had worked first as a mechanic and then in loading bombs onto aircraft. She also had not worn slacks in ten years prior to this trip and had uncut hair during the previous period. We had a good time together--seeming incongruities notwithstanding.
This woman, who I will call Kathy, grew up on a ranch in Montana. Her German father was once approached by people from a Hutterite colony who asked him to make a genetic donation to help diversify the gene pool that intermarriage among colony members had concentrated beyond healthy levels. He refused, believing that by such an act he would be fathering children which he had no intention of accepting responsibility for, and not merely making a biological donation. I doubt that I'll ever read about this in any articles on the Hutterites.

--The train whistle on the Chief, from inside the train, sounds no louder than it does here tonight beside an open window with the damp, light breeze bringing the sound of the trains three miles away in Partridge.

--Moving between the train cars is less scary than I remember it from more than 25 years ago. Now there are curtains on either side of the passageway, and the gaps between cars are not visible as they were earlier. The gap in the floor also seems narrower and less scary.

--The old part of Union Station in Chicago is ornate and beautiful. Huge Corinthian pillars are made of rosy-beige marble (or possibly granite), as are the walls and floors. Long wooden benches provide a place for travelers with layovers to wait. This place must have been intended to showcase the wealth of the railroad tycoons from the late 1800s.

--Children traveling with a parent pay half of the parent price for tickets.

--We drove through lots of rain on our way to Chicago. I wondered whether air travel was affected. The Chief kept chugging along, without missing a beat.

After all these years, it was good to reconnect with this old friend--the Chief. Thanks for letting me introduce you to him.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wedding Photos--Part 2

Look here for more pictures of Shane and Dorcas' wedding.

A Normal Childhood

During last school year Holli had a message for me one day from her uncle LeRoy--because he thought I would enjoy it. It was a saying that I learned yesterday has become his axiom for the year: If you can't be a good example, you can at least serve as a horrible warning.

At our traditional Labor Day church picnic, LeRoy prefaced a story-telling session on the general subject of Dynamite and his experiences with it by quoting the above axiom. He also noted that he's discovered that A Normal Childhood is defined very subjectively. He always thought he had a normal childhood.

His experience with dynamite began the summer between kindergarten and first grade when his father got a temporary job with a road building crew that was working near their home. Limestone lay under the surface of the surrounding countryside and, to make the limestone available for the building project, workmen drilled 50-ft. deep holes into which they dropped sticks of dynamite with blasting caps fastened to them and wires leading from them. LeRoy went to work with his dad and dropped the sticks into the holes. Then the holes were filled with anhydrous ammonia and diesel fuel. At the end of every day, the crew would gather off to the side and the person in charge of all this would send an electric charge through the bundle of wires connected to the blasting caps. An enormously gratifying boom and eruption of rocks and soil over the blasting area soon followed.

As a job perk his father got to keep some of the dynamite sticks after his employment ended. They used some of it to blast a drainage ditch through a low-lying field (although LeRoy is not sure the big holes ever quite got connected into a ditch), and later, when they encountered tough digging under their house in the process of installing a basement, they used dynamite to shake the dirt loose. True, the house above it shook when they did this, and a few pictures fell off the walls, but they got their basement dug.

Another time, when LeRoy was in third grade he and his little friend, when both sets of parents were gone, decided to experiment with some of the blasting caps LeRoy had discovered earlier in a small box in one of their outbuildings.They wisely dug a small hole and put the caps in the bottom of the hole. The first attempts to set off an explosion were not successful because the lighted matches kept going out and the friend had to go home before anything exciting had happened. (I'm confused now about why they were using matches instead of wires.) But LeRoy was persistent, and he decided that to solve the problem of the matches burning out while they waited some distance away, he needed to get that match to the cap fast, before it went out, so he stood nearly over it and threw the lighted match at the cap. There was a loud bang and he couldn't see anything except red and black for quite a while. He had numerous cuts on his forehead, and for weeks afterwards he had bits of black material embedded in his fingertips. That night he wasn't feeling so well, and he went to bed early. LeRoy finished by saying that he had almost been the horrible warning the axiom speaks of, and that if things in his head seem a little abnormal, perhaps we can understand why.

LeRoy's father and brothers were privy to the last incident. This involved a junk tractor that needed to be taken to the salvage yard. To make the job more manageable, they decided to disassemble the machine before taking it there, but not by the typical time-consuming, laborious means. They first took out the PTO apparatus and the shaft attached to it. Then they inserted dynamite into the hole left behind. After they had sheltered behind something nearby, they detonated the dynamite--except nothing happened. So they added more dynamite and tried again. This time it went off. LeRoy remembers peeking out from behind the tank where they were hiding, and the tractor was gone. But he didn't have long to marvel at this before tractor parts started raining out of the sky. It was a little scary there for a bit, dodging this shower of metal parts. But when things quieted down, all that was left was gathering up the small parts and loading them for the final trip to the salvage yard.

And that was part of LeRoy's normal childhood.