Prairie View

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Forward Steps

Yesterday I was with my parents when the health nurse came for her eleventh visit. She had not seen Mom for several weeks (Another nurse filled in.), and was impressed with Mom's progress. Her heartbeat is regular and her blood oxygen levels are good. All of us agreed that no further visits were necessary. As Lois put it, "we're well beyond the two-steps-forward-and-one-step-backward stage. All the steps are forward steps now."

When I got there around 11:00, I saw that Mom had put away the bathrobes she has been wearing nearly all the time since the middle of November in favor of a dress. The dress was a size or two too big, since her weight loss, but it was a shimmery deep royal blue and made her gray-blue eyes look perky. She was navigating entirely without a walker while I was there. A week and half ago, the hospital bed went back to its storage spot in the mini-barn at Cedar Crest.

I noticed another change during meal time. Mom took a serving of green beans and salad without prompting. For some reason, vegetables, which she has always been very fond of, have been especially difficult for her to enjoy since her health crisis. She is no longer taking the appetite stimulant that was prescribed several weeks ago.

She also trundled out to the cupboard in the garage to look for the green beans she had canned last summer and told me she was hungry for. She did this right after she said Dad had forbidden her to go to the garage. (She obviously perceived some flexibility in the admonition.) I followed her to make sure everything went OK. It did.

After lunch, I combed her silver spun-silk hair into a single slender braid. Then she looked as pretty as ever. While I did so she reminisced about the time her own mother was at this stage of life--when her daughters combed her hair for her. I don't have daughters who will ever comb my hair, but I wonder if I will someday need someone else's help to comb my hair. It's not a cheering thought, although I have no particular fondness for the job, and have often wished it weren't necessary.

My sister Linda is taking a one-day respite each week from working for my parents. It was on her day off that I filled in before and after lunch. Lois had done so after breakfast, and was planning to bring in supper. Judy had brought a meal on Monday, and Rhoda will provide Sunday dinner.

Linda will probably go back to work at Golden Rule when Mom is able to do all the cooking again.

My brother Myron read and forwarded to the rest of us a New York Times article he found that resonated with us regarding Mom's experience. It lists some of the perplexing after effects people seem to suffer from having spent time in the intensive care unit of a hospital. I'll put it here, with no guarantees that the link will be live. (I am so not smart about these things.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Have you ever been so preoccupied with a subject that you can't talk about it, even though it's not the slightest bit embarrassing or hurtful? The subject is simply too overwhelming. You're not sure how to make sense of all that you know, and you for sure wouldn't know where to start in talking to someone else about what you know. It's an important subject, but you can't even find a label that fits.

Then you read something relevant that is so absolutely brilliant you know that you must understand this viewpoint if you hope to ever be able to corral the fragmented thoughts racing around inside your mind. So you read and observe and think and review. And finally, one day, it comes together and spills itself out in words. From that point on, minor adjustments may be necessary, but you feel a sense of certainty about the subject that no one can ever take away. It's as if what you've been absorbing and observing for years--all of it has waited for this moment, when it fits together.

Ever since I wrote about Monsanto and then subsequently watched an online 8-part documentary about the company, I've been waking up early. But I've not really been thinking about Monsanto (although it's probably good I wrote about Monsanto before I saw the documentary. It might not have been printable afterward.).

Instead I've been thinking about food security--not really worried about my situation, which seems as secure as anyone's can be. But I recognize that, for some, desperation is a constant companion, and for many, it waits just on the other side of a thin curtain. I'm concerned about such people.

In our part of the world, I ponder how it is that many people consume a surfeit of calories and are still undernourished.

Why can American farmers who grow enough to feed 140 people often not make a decent living doing so, unless they rely heavily on government subsidies?

Why is the countryside emptying out, while congestion grows in the cities?

Why did we ever think it made sense to remove limits to trade across national borders, but we've put barriers in place to make it impossible for a farmer to legally smoke a ham from a pig he's grown and butchered, and sell it to his neighbor?

How does a Christian farmer or homemaker or gardener think about food security? Is it all about maximizing production? More about treading lightly on our land so it will still be productive in the future? Giving up on getting our nutrients from real food in favor of scientifically calibrated supplements?

Is the process of growing our own food important, beyond our immediate need for what is produced? For example, is it important to do it so that we remember how, in case some day other ways of eating well are not available to us? Japan heavily subsidizes the production of rice, even though they could import it for less money than it takes to grow it. They do so because the memory of WWII is still fresh in their minds, when trade was impossible, and people suffered from food shortages. Like Scarlet O'Hara, they're not planning to be hungry (for rice) ever again. Are they being wise or ridiculous?

How should a nutrition class teacher teach the class? Is cooking the place to start? Smart shopping? Growing food and preserving it? Learning about how food affects health? How transportation, growing conditions, timing of harvest, and processing and preparation affect nutrients in food?

What kind of growing, processing, and distribution systems make possible the production, delivery, and consumption of nutritious food? Does government have a role in assuring that people are well nourished? Do individual companies have a responsibility? Communities? What about church groups? Individuals? Me, specifically.

I'm sure it's obvious that I'm still waiting for my epiphany on the subject of food security. I've found a piece of writing that is absolutely brilliant and I'm trying to absorb it. Parts of the picture are coming into focus. And I know that life will go on much as it always has whether or not I ever figure some of these things out. But for now, for reasons I don't fully understand, I'm driven to seek insight and a clear path ahead, for myself and for those I care about and am responsible for.

I fully expect that the experience of heaven will be one eternally satisfying epiphany--when all sorts of things will become clear. For now, I'd be willing to settle for the epiphany window to open just a crack on this food security issue. If you have something to shout or whisper through the crack--I'm all ears.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The San Bartoleme Story

Several weeks ago I read the book Under His Wings by Urie Sharp and Dorcas Sharp Hoover. Most of this true story takes place in San Bartoleme, Guatamala in the 70's and early 80's, and includes events during the guerrilla insurgency in the country.

Since Christians' involvement with politics has occupied my thoughts recently, I took special note of how that issue played out in the context of Christian living in guerrilla-targeted populations.

Mennonite Air Missions workers taught people in their churches that political involvement was unacceptable at every level. This unyielding position was severely tested. Some of their members were forcibly taken for induction into the military. These young men refused to carry guns and carried their Bibles instead. One pastor, Carlos, whose leadership abilities were apparent, was appointed a leiutenant. He explained that as a pastor and a Christian he could not carry out the duties of a leiutenant. After several temporary releases and appeals, Carlos ran out of legal options and ended up abandoning his home and livelihood to go into hiding rather than serve in the armed forces.

Bartolo, who was the first person in his village to become a Christian, eventually turned away from following Christ. On the day he was shot after being identified among a group of travelers on a passenger truck, his assailants told him, in the hearing of the other passengers "We are going to kill you. You are like Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. You betrayed Jesus too. You were once a member of the church, but you turned your back on the Lord. Now you are involved in politics. We are going to kill you." Several men who were once brothers of Bartolo in the same church fellowship, crept off the truck and retrieved his body for burial in the village cemetery.

Modesto was a trusted Christian brother and deacon when guerrilla activity in the region accelerated and the town people organized civil patrols to stand guard at night when most of the raids occurred. Modesto believed that Christians, as well as others, ought to take part in the patrols. Shortly after this he was elected mayor of the village where he lived. His fellow-pastor and other church people mourned this shift in his loyalties, and he was relieved of his church responsibilities, although he continued to attend church with his family. Modesto died when the truck he was riding in was blown apart by dynamite planted and detonated by guerrillas who had noted his leadership position and his known opposition to the guerrilla cause. Ten others died with him.

On the truck with Modesto was Jose, a pastor who had steadfastly refused to become involved in the political conflicts of the time. He was injured, but his life was spared, and he recovered. This pattern was repeated several times. Another Christian brother, whose name was also Bartolo, was shot and left for dead, but he recovered eventually. No faithful Guatamalan member of the Mennonite church was killed during the guerrilla uprising or the military crackdown that followed. But the church had at least four widows whose husbands were former members.

John Troyer, a missionary, died at Palama during this time period, and his fellow missionary, Gary Miller was also shot and left for dead. This was a sobering reminder that the dangers were real, and no one's safety was guaranteed. Those men who separated themselves from political controversy did so at the risk of their lives. But, as became obvious over time, those who compromised also risked their lives.

When our boys were young, I remember talking to them about the hard choices many Christians have had to make in the crucible of human suffering. I told them that it was always better to make the right choices early on, even if it looked like doing so would put them in danger, because doing so might help them avoid harder choices and perhaps even more dangerous situations later on. I should perhaps have emphasized more strongly the cost and benefits of obedience to God that were involved in such choices. Now that they are older, I hope those matters are clear to them, as they ought to be for all of us.

I'm glad that the story of the San Bartoleme Christians has been written. Reading it has allowed me to add another entry to my mental "Christians in Politics" file, with cross-references to "Nonresistance," "Discipleship," and "Church Planting Among Indigenous Peoples." Although I'm not sure that the right course of action would have been as clear to me as it was to the missionary leaders in that situation, it's certainly helpful to be able to examine their choices and see how it worked out for them.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Singing and Sermons in My Dining Room

Within the past week, our tech-savvy recording committee members at church have put in place an online source for access to recordings made during events at our church.

This morning I looked at the site for the first time. I was delighted to see that I could listen to the Pilgrim High School program while I cooked breakfast. While I did so I thought of Andrea's parents in El Salvador and wondered if they would like to hear Andrea's class sing their Spanish songs at the program. It's there, and as easy as clicking on the link and making sure the speakers on the computer are turned on.

People who know Lyle can listen to the high school singing group he directs. These students are not hand picked and auditioned. All the students help sing. Maybe other people who plan high school programs can pick up ideas.

The wonderful presentation on the heavens by Morris Yoder from Georgia is there too, but without the stunning visuals that were part of the live program.

I looked in vain for last Sunday's sermon by David, our bishop. I think it was a wonderful sermon--at least the parts I heard were--but I had failed to take one of the medications that helps turn my food into energy (Metformin), and I missed out on my regular Sunday morning cup of coffee. So I was waaaay too sleepy to get the full benefit of the sermon. I hoped to be able to listen to it later, and I think I will soon be able to do so.

It's amazing to me how much more accessible some things seem when only a few layers of effort in making use of them are eliminated. Blogging is like that, in comparison to writing, printing, mailing a manuscript, etc. And now--no need to ask for a taped copy of a sermon. It's as easy as sitting down to the computer, clicking away for a few seconds, and listening. I'm impressed and grateful.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Animal Tales

Last night when Mom moved from conversing in the men's group to the women's group, she explained that they were still including her, but it wasn't so interesting any more. They were talking about cattle. Linda observed that that's where the conversation usually goes eventually. She has a point. Cattle or goats.

Before this, at the table we had heard about an all-day seminar on goats coming up within the next few months. Myron, who has a registered Gelbvieh herd, considers goats a bit of come-down, but thinks he'll probably attend the goat meeting because his boys want goats as a 4H project. He noted that while he was living/teaching/working in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, things changed in Kansas. "It used to be that no one would admit to having goats, but after I came back, you almost weren't 'with it' if you didn't have a few goats."

We also heard about Myron's very-ill heifer, which he discovered the other day lying down, with a grotesquely swollen head, and its tongue hanging out. The vet came out and offered his professional opinion that she would probably be dead by morning. But she was up and elsewhere the next morning--still looking very sad, however. At some point, Myron became convinced that she could not see because of her eyes being swollen shut, and she could not hear, at least out of one ear. She also could not eat or drink. But the vet came out again and they did what they could to save her. Anti-toxin and antibiotic shots, along with a nutritional drench and water via a tube down her throat were things they tried. The vet is puzzled about her symptoms, although he believes she has somehow been infected with a toxin. Spider bite? Snake bite? Rabies? Several of these possibilities seem less likely in January than they might have been in warmer months.

Judy told the story of how Christy recently came in after having been outside and reported that she heard a goat that sounded like it was in trouble. Judy sent Joey out to look. He couldn't hear or find any such goat. However, about 30 minutes later when he went out to do chores, he soon came racing back in to get Judy.

"Mama, come quick, there's a goat in the stock tank." There was ice in the tank, and the young kid must have jumped onto it and then broken through. So it was partially submerged in the icy water. No wonder Joey couldn't find it.

Like any good farm wife/animal nurse/midwife, Judy hurried out and scooped up the kid and carried it into the bathroom. Holding it in the tub, which they filled with warm water, they tried to get its body temperature back to normal. Then Christy and Joey wrapped it in old towels, carried it to a spot in front of the space heater, and dried it off by rubbing its coat. The kid had obviously begun to recover by this time and was hard to hang on to. Eventually it escaped their grasp and slipped behind the sofa. Apparently the attempt to capture it there was unsuccessful because it was soon racing madly around the house. In the master bedroom it leaped onto the bed and JOY JOY saw something familiar in the full-length mirror propped against the wall behind the bed. It lunged toward the goat in the mirror and crashed harmlessly into the glass, except for knocking the glass from its frame. There or elsewhere, someone grabbed the goat and took it to the utility room where it also made quite a mess. When Lowell came home he made a quick executive decision and took that goat back to the flock where it belonged. It's been fine ever since.


Rhoda recalled with a shudder the time she had a sick calf penned in her kitchen overnight. This one had scours (diarrhea). It too had begun to recover by morning, and the scene in the kitchen was not pretty. Rhoda scrubbed and disinfected that place repeatedly, probably gritting her teeth the whole time, or doing as I've learned to do when I'm really grossed out. I breathe through my mouth so I can't smell anything, deeply, because I don't want to pass out from lack of oxygen. These would be poor times to go into a faint.

Hiromi finds my avoidance tactics highly amusing. I am not so amused when he imitates me. How would he like it if I refused to do the nasty jobs because of how bad they smelled? Or what if I passed out from forgetting to breathe? Then he'd have to deal with the nasty job himself and revive a passed-out wife. The least he could do when I am being grossed out is to make sympathetic and supportive noises.


I'm relieved. For the past week or so, I've seen only one Eurasian Collared Dove come to the bird feeder. Earlier, there were always two. I feared that one had met an untimely end. This morning they were both back, and I'm glad that the cats, owl, hawks, or whatever have not yet put an end to their trusting, companionable ways.


My niece, Heidi, once hit a possum on the road when she had girlfriends riding with her. Not sure if they had actually killed the possum, and not wishing to leave it to die a slow death, they backed up to check on it. Horrors. A whole family of baby possums was crawling over the apparently dead body of the mother. There was only one thing to do. Drive over it again to kill the babies. And again. And again. It took three times to do the ghastly deed. After that the carload of girls proceeded on their not-so-merry way.

When Grant picks off yet another possum at the cat dish, I don't think he has quite the same array of emotions involved in Heidi's scenario. At least I hope not. I'd hate to think how calloused a person would have to be if killing wild animal babies provided pleasure.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Party

Do you know any other 80-year-old Amish Mennonite women who are planning Inauguration Parties for tonight? I didn't think so. Only my mother.

We're all chuckling over this one--Mom, along with everyone else. Not that we can claim any credit or blame for who is being inaugurated. But when you need an excuse for a party, an inauguration will do.

Mom is still feeling deprived for having missed out on all the holiday festivities. She spent Thanksgiving in ICU and Christmas almost alone at home, very nauseated. Now that she's feeling better, she has added the "Amish church peanut butter"* phase to her "mush and liverwurst" phase. She's dreaming of cranberry tea (A.K.A. known as wassail) and hot custard--two of her holiday traditions that no one picked up on this year. While she was casting about for a possible time to get the family together, and Tuesday the 20th emerged as an option, someone pointed out that that was inauguration day, and she could give her party that name. So that's what we started calling it.

With help from Judy for preparing the church peanut butter, and help from Lois in purchasing the needed groceries, we're all planning to gather at Dad/Grandpa's house tonight for an after-supper snack.

One other family in our community might be able to claim some legitimate credit for Obama's election. Their son was a paid campaign staffer and was asked to stay on to serve as part of the transition team. He was at our Christmas morning church service. I haven't heard his parents brag or apologize about their son's role and don't know that anyone else has. I suspect they'd chuckle just like we did if they got an invitation to an inauguration party.

The real celebration, of course, is that Mom is still with us, and is recovering her health and zest for living. For that, putting together a combination of Amish church peanut butter and an inauguration will serve just fine.

*For the uninitiated--a mixture of marshmallow creme and peanut butter is served as a spread for bread, and, in midwestern groups at least, is traditionally consumed in the Sunday noon meal after Amish church services in the home. It's another comfort food from Mom's childhood.

How to Have the Singing

On Sunday nights, the young people from our church gather in someone's home for supper, socializing, and an hour of singing--a carry-over from our Amish background. Church families take turns serving as hosts. Last Sunday night it was our turn. This is how it happened.

Pre-existing conditions:

--The house has small rooms. A wide opening between the living room and dining room provides the only space bigger than 12 x 15.

--Side rooms in need of de-cluttering--an uncompleted Sabbatical task.

--Obligations to be at Dad and Mom's house a night and an afternoon in preceding weeks, plus providing one meal.

--Winter Bible School the week before the singing.

--Feeling unwell every day until Thursday with the sniffles and a headache.

--Hiromi and Grant occupied all week with work and their own projects until Saturday afternoon.

--A Sunday School class to teach.

--A temporary brain freeze on menu ideas.

--Hiromi's project for washing up all the shirts still remaining after Joel and Shane moved out--to donate--on Saturday afternoon, before the house was cleaned and ready. It turned out that Joel was still planning to take a bunch of them.

--Grant spending Friday night at Kenny's house and helping him clean up outside at his house on Saturday morning instead of helping clean up here. I am not impressed.


--Consent to having the singing, first on Jan. 11, then change immediately to Jan. 18 when I realize that the tenth is Joel's moving day.

--Wonder repeatedly over the next weeks what possessed me to think I could pull this off.

--Work all the preceding week on extra cleaning jobs, leaving the final cleaning till later in the week.

--Inquire about how many young people to plan for. I settle on planning for food for 40, then panic, when I realize that we will have a hard time finding a place for that many people to sit, let alone moving around a bit and eating.

--Counter Hiromi's repeated suggestions to "just have it at the church." I realize that we may not always have any other option, but now it seems like it might work to have it at home, if we plan just right. The young people have a decided preference for having the singing in homes.

--Settle on an easy menu: Pakastani Kima--to be eaten over rice (a hamburger curry from More with Less cookbook), hot rolls made from Rhodes frozen dough, a lemon-lime-cottage cheese-pineapple jello, a fresh veggies relish plate, and Mocha pudding for dessert. Write out the grocery list for Hiromi's regular Friday evening shopping trip. Plan to use deer burger for the "hamburger" in the curry--along with a bit of sausage. Order ready-made diced potatoes for the curry. Order disposable paper and plastic ware.

--Hiromi goes to the men's meeting at church on Saturday morning. He goes to Glenns afterwards to buy plates, wonders why his bill is so high, and discovers after he gets home that he was charged for two bags of 125 plates, but they only contained 12 each. He goes back to get this corrected. I lament the time wasted.

--Grant comes home in the afternoon from helping Kenney and cleans one bathroom. He leaves in a hurry and stays at Kenny's house for the night. I am not impressed.

--Start with the food preparation after supper on Saturday. Put out meat to thaw before I go to bed.

--Go to bed after midnight, even though the cleaning is not done.

--Get up at 5:30 the next morning. Finish preparing for Sunday School.

--Come home from church and eat a simple lunch.

--Hiromi needs a nap and tells me I need one. I tell him I don't have time. We both lie down for about 20 minutes. He sleeps.

--Grant goes to pick up benches at the church. I do not realize he has gone till he gets back. He did not get the big water jug and the electric roaster I planned to ask for when the trip is made. Hiromi assures me he is willing to make another trip. I lament the time wasted.

--Grant cleans the other bathroom. Hiromi washes up the dishes. I work on the food and the remaining cleaning. I engage in self-flagellation for not being done yet with the cleaning. I decide that the door to the study must remain closed at all costs. Ditto the dressing room. No one will have any reason to go into the basement, which is good, because I don't have time to clean it. I put a room-divider screen in the sewing room in front of the clutter along the south wall. With the light off it doesn't look too bad. I keep the lights dim in the bedroom where people will put their coats. More self-flagellation for these cover-ups.

--We plan to move out the living and dining room chairs to make room for more space-efficient seating on benches. Then we realize there is no place for these chairs to go, so we decide they'll have to stay. We shrink the dining room table to the smallest possible size by taking out the leaves and dropping the two "arm" leaves. It gets shoved to the corner of the dining room in front of the computer desk. We move one of the sofas away from its spot as a room divider between the living room and dining room. The coffee table gets shoved toward the other sofa, leaving just enough room for the feet of people seated on the sofa. The rocker goes in front of the study door. The other big living room chair is backed up to the lamp table. The dining room and desk chairs line the north and south walls in that room. We fill up the middle with benches, and bring in the sewing chair, and two hassocks that are about chair height and can be used for seating in small odd corners. I eye the low turtle hassock and decide that no one is likely to be desperate enough to sit on that. We count, and decide we have seating for 40 people--maybe a few more if the people are small enough to crowd one more person on several of the benches.

--Grant moves our vehicles to the area near the shed to leave room for other vehicles nearer the house.

--People arrive before I expect them. I'm still mopping the kitchen. It's OK because it's family. More people arrive. I catch on belatedly that they're used to having a voluntary prayer meeting before the 6:30 supper. When they ask where they might go for that, the only possibility I can think of is Joel's vacated room, which now has a weight bench and other exercise equiment Grant moved into it. There is no place to sit, but they head down there, and I wince at not having cleaned it. Grant apparently gets there before they do but is still not quite done sweeping when they arrive. Grant has worked diligently all afternoon. Bless his heart.

--Heidi and Trippy get the veggie tray ready. Hannah offers to help, but I tell her I think things are under control. Hilda helps with the hot rolls. Supper is served nearly on time. We thank people for putting up with the crowded conditions, and give directions for how to proceed through the food line, taking a U-shaped path through the kitchen to get their food and then stopping by the shrunken dining room table for tableware, napkins and a drink. They cooperate and it goes fairly smoothly. Afterward, most of the dishes go into the trash. I carry the rest to the sewing room sink to be washed up later.

--At 7:30 the singing starts. Grant and a few late-comer boys stand around in the kitchen eating, etc. till one group of people scoots down the line onto the next bench, leaving a place for them to slip into the dining room without clambering over others to get to an empty seat. ("Too cuddly" was Grant's explanation earlier for not heading for the empty spots.) Grant gets his songbook, gives it to Hiromi and me to use, and stands in the hall looking at the book over our shoulders and helping sing. At some point, I remember that we have one more unused chair--a bar stool at the laundry folding table in the dressing room. I suggest he gets that to sit on, and he does. Every spot is full. There are 42 people, plus Hiromi and me. Two of them are guests, and I later count 14 people who are gone on trips, or who must have had some conflict and did not come.

--The singing is enjoyable and sounds nice. The songs are interspersed with spontaneous testimonies and comments, and then there is a time for prayer, after people give prayer requests in rapid succession. Andrea seems to be the only one familiar with one of the songs they decide to sing. They tackle it gamely and it's lovely.

--I note that there is a place in this group for a wide variety of people--from those who did not attend high school to those who are college graduates, from those who take voice lessons to those who can't read music at all, from those whose families have lived here for generations to those who have moved in recently, from the socially adept to the socially unaware, from the garrulous to the introspective, from farm laborers, woodworkers, bank tellers, housekeepers, and waitresses to students, medical field workers, teachers, and computer programmers, from 16-year-olds to 30-somethings.

--Afterward, I leave leftovers out for people to graze on. Quite a lot of food disappears. I realize that I feel less possessive about leftovers now that my household has shrunk, and cooking is a less daunting task.

--While I'm working in the kitchen, I overhear a conversation there between two young men. They talk about leadership and marriage. (One of them is open to marriage, the other is not at the moment; he loves everyone. I think the parents of the two are probably happy with each of their sentiments, given the variation in their age. One offers to pray about the other's openness to marriage.) The leadership subject relates to the workplace most specifically, in this conversation.

--I visit with Tresa and Rachel about growing flowers and herbs. I show them my gardening library in the bedroom and they each borrow several books. They both moved here within the past year and feel like they know Belguim and Kentucky gardening much better than Kansas gardening. A group "song" game is underway in the living room. Others have gone on walks. The weather is mild and lovely.

--People are gracious in thanking us for hosting the group and providing the meal. I run out of ideas for original and appropriate responses, and settle for same and boring.

--At 11:30 Hiromi brings out the remaining coats on the bed and occupies the bed himself. I putter around in the kitchen, dealing with leftovers; the remaining people head for home. I go to bed without looking at the clock.

--The next morning I set about putting the house back to rights. It takes all morning to get the furniture moved, and putting the things we use in the places we expect to find them.

--I marvel that we made it, and wonder at the same time why we bothered to stress over it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Brotherhood Offerings

Last night's Bible school sessions produced another gem I would like to pass on.

The object lesson this time involved measuring devices from Susanna's kitchen, plus a white enamel pitcher and a ceramic-like serving bowl. One by one, Ernest lined them up on the table on the platform--a glass two-cup measure, a plastic two-cup measure, smaller cup measures in plastic and stainless steel, then an aluminum tablespoon measure. With input from the audience, he listed what is similar about each of the measuring containers, after noting that they have differences--in size, in what they are made of, in beauty, in shape, etc. but all of them started out empty and, after he carefully poured water from the pitcher into each one, they were filled.

From Romans 12:3, we learned about the measure of faith, which comes to people by hearing, which comes by the Word of God. The object lesson, the Scripture, and the suggested truths all related to how the Spirit of God speaks to the church--one of the themes related to "Growing by the Word"--the overall subject for this Bible school term.

People acquire a measure of faith by hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God. Each person in a brotherhood receives "water" from the Word, and each, in turn, will bring this "water" in whatever measure it was received, and offer it for the good of the whole. To illustrate this, Ernest emptied the water from each of the containers into the bowl. Then he asked if there was a volunteer who would come up and retrieve the same water that was originally contained in one of the measuring vessels. The impossibility was obvious, just as is true when people bring their own "offerings" of Spiritual insight into the context of brotherhood. Each individual offering melds together into a whole that contains a wealth of insight. The blending softens the lines between varying opinions, and after the process is complete, no one can retrieve intact their own original offering, for it has been changed (moderated or enhanced, perhaps) by the offerings of others.

Ernest referenced briefly the fact that the concept of brotherhood in a body of believers was one of the defining characteristics of early Anabaptism. This contrasted sharply with the top-down heirarchy of authority present in the organized church the Anabaptists came out of.

One illustration we heard last night provided a picture for how brotherhood offerings can work. Ernest was in Nicaragua recently when a group of Omar's brothers gathered on the eve of his meeting with a US investigator who was coming into the country to interview Omar. I wrote about Omar's story (I used another name.) in an earlier blog post with the title "Most Wanted Christian Brother." Omar had made himself known as the person who committed a murder years ago in California, and a lot of uncertainty surrounded upcoming events, especially since his willingness to talk had the potential of implicating others who did not wish to be exposed.

In the meeting with Omar, each of the Christian brothers provided input on what they believed was the right course of action. Widely divergent opinions emerged. Late in the process, one quiet brother, Marcelino, said simply that he had come across a Scripture that morning that he thought might help Omar. He gave the Scripture. The group disbanded without a consensus having been reached. Pablo, the pastor, told Omar that he would have to arrive at a decision himself.

That night Omar wrestled mightily with his decision. (The decision to follow through with restitution was not in question, but the particulars of how to do it were not clear, especially because of a threat on his life if he met with the investigator.) Then he recalled the Scripture humble Marcelino had shared, and he found clarity.

Ernest told us that he has, on occasions when an issue was being discussed that involved a lot of emotion, told individuals that they are welcome to share their thoughts, but that they should quiet their hearts before they do so. Insuring a good outcome when testiness (pride?) lies just beneath the surface of brotherhood interactions, sometimes requires that kind of leadership.

In general, when issues are being considered in a group context, I am all for getting things "on the table" where they can be examined, challenged, argued, supported, dissected, clarified, etc.
I'm not worried about it being a hurly-burly process if I feel assured that there is an underlying unity of commitment to finding the Lord's will, underlying humility before all, and respect for others. But I know the feeling too of wishing that a particularly outrageous contribution would be promptly countered--by someone who has more authority than I do.

Ernest's "measure-of-faith offering" picture is compelling. Now if I can just figure out what this means for a Beachy woman whose husband is not likely to speak his own mind, or even less likely, his wife's mind, in a public gathering. . . . The unity of commitment, the humility, the respect--those are clear. But my individual offering--when to speak what I understand God to be saying--for that I'll have to continue to rely on the Spirit's promptings in each individual situation. He knows a safe route through the minefield of Proper Gender Roles. I don't always.

When I think about it, that really isn't second-best at all. Perhaps the willingness to live with ambiguity can be one of my brotherhood offerings. The measure of faith I have been given so far allows for that.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tricycle Christianity

Last night, as part of our winter Bible school, Ernest S. from Oklahoma, gave a memorable illustration about the essence of Christianity. A tricycle served as his teaching tool. He assured us early on that many church controversies could be eliminated if the principles he set out to illustrate could be understood. Furthermore, many restorationist movements err when they fail to take these principles into account. (Restorationists focus on a return to apostolic church life.)

He spoke from the text in John 14:6 where Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by me."

First he pointed out that a three-wheeled object like a tricycle is much more stable than a one or two-wheeled object like a unicycle or a bicycle.

With a small tricycle perched on a table on the platform, Ernest pointed to the drive wheel--the largest wheel--as the "way" wheel. He defined the "way" as living like Christ, or walking in the way of Christ. He read many Scriptures about "the way." With that as the first focus, the drive, of a Christian life, the two smaller wheels (truth and life)--or lesser emphases in the Christian life--provide balance.

Ernest went on to say that when people try to live by "truth" as the drive wheel, a rigid fundamentalism results, where proper creed and proclamations prevail, over and above living a Christ-like life. He identified his own background as being heavily influenced by this imbalance. (He grew up in a "Non-conference Conservative" church, for those to whom this term is meaningful.) He identified the Beachys as having been less influenced by the fundamentalist view.

When people emphasize the "life" of a Christian, they tend to look for emotion and excitement, perhaps neglecting in the process, Christ-likeness and adherence to Scripture. He noted that a heavy emphasis on gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, such as are present in groups known as Charismatics, fall into this category.

Restorationist groups always have both vision and reaction in their makeup. Here's where he didn't let the Beachys off the hook. He asked us if we were honest enough to admit that. He likened it to a child riding a tricycle headlong down the center aisle in church from front to back, all the while looking back over his shoulder to someone standing at the front of the church. Such is the nature of reaction--an almost certain veering off course--without eyes firmly fixed on the goal of our journey--Christ, Whom we must imitate.

The first Anabaptists were a restorationist group. As such, they also suffered from some reactionary imbalances. However, more than most of the others of their time, they understood the importance of walking in "the way." They rejected the creeds and forms of the established church, and formed a group of Christ-followers who didn't spell things out in writing in great detail. Neither did they form an elaborate set of rules for how to live as Christ did. They did not worship like present day Charismatics, but their worship contained elements of spontaneity that were missing in the Catholic church. The defining characteristic of their Christian life was that every day, they tried to follow Christ in every detail of their lives. The "way" was the drive wheel of their tricycle, and truth and life were the two supporting wheels.

Ernest asked whether the commandments of the apostles held equal authority with the example of the apostles. Many in the group shook their heads no. He agreed, reminding us that the early Christians, as all Christians must, lived out their Christian lives in a specific time and place, and they brought to the effort a specific set of traditions and cultural norms. In an insightful comment, Ernest noted that many church controversies have developed in the area of apostolic example--an area best regarded with an openness to various alternatives appropriate to the specific time and place in which we live.

In working through disagreements in church life, Ernest suggested that we ask two questions: 1) Is it important that we agree? (Are we striving about words to no profit? How will this contribute to our ultimate purpose?) 2) If we settle the controversy and lose our Christ-likeness, what have we gained? (Even failure to reach consensus is not ultimate failure if Christ-likeness is developed in the lives of those who engage in the struggle.)

Listening to Ernest speaking last night recalled for me many Anabaptist history class discussions. Knowing just a bit about Ernest's personal history gave some credibility to his analyses, especially as he views restorationist movements.

Many decades ago his grandparents, who were in the same Nisly family as many of us in Kansas are, left the Amish and moved to Iowa and then to Oregon. I don't know a lot of details about his personal life, except that he is no longer associated organizationally with the church group that originally ordained him. I know also that how he views our particular church group has changed dramatically. For the past eight years or so, at his request, our churches here have provided organizational help and regular preaching input for the fledgling congregation he is part of in Oklahoma. He expressed gratitude for that last night.

What I like best about teaching like Ernest gave us is that it helps us be thoughtful about our personal walk with Christ without becoming self-centered in the process. We give thought also to the basic essence of Christianity (living like Christ), and what He asks of us in this time in history, in this cultural context, with our particular background and set of cultural traditions. To be sure, that task is big enough to occupy our thinking and efforts for a long time. But last night we had a chance to point our tricycles in the right direction, and feel a new inner resolve to place our feet firmly on the pedals that power us along the way of Christ.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Mushy Story

A number of weeks ago when my mother was being released from the hospital for the second time, I wrote that she was eating well, she was taking initiative to exercise, and she was interested again in the events going on in the world around her. Then followed several bad weeks in which she lost more weight because of severe digestive upset. More than once she promptly threw up the pills she had just swallowed.

She apparently had a staph infection around the site where tubes had drained her chest cavity after the surgery. For this infection she was given a "big gun" antibiotic. The antibiotic seemed to upset her stomach. It got rid of the staph infection but presented her with a new problem: a clostridium overgrowth, which prolonged the digestive upset, for a different reason this time. Another antibiotic to knock back the clostridium, plus diligent use of yogurt and over-the-counter probiotics, gradually set things right again.

So now we're back to where we were when Mom left the hospital. She's eating well, taking exercise initiative, reading the paper, opening the front door at 5:30 AM to check on the new snow, sleeping in her own bed rather than in the hospital bed in the living room, and puttering around in the kitchen. Yesterday the cardiologist authorized the use again of the chi machine, which Mom had used faithfully for exercise before the heart problem was diagnosed. She's been itching to get back to that exercise. She talks about hoping to be able to go to Florida for the Beachy minister's meetings before Easter. She could visit her sister who lives there and she really likes attending the sessions.

We've all been smiling over one of the proofs that sick people often long for "comfort foods" they remember from childhood.

When Mom was hardly able to eat, my sister Carol tried to tempt her by suggesting she might like to try fried mush. No, she wasn't hungry for fried mush. But the following week, when Rhoda stayed with her for the night, at 4:00 AM Mom was awake and wanted to go to the kitchen with Rhoda to cook cornmeal mush. Rhoda suggested a compromise. She would put out the bread pans in which the cooked mush was to solidify in preparation for frying--this so that Mom would not forget to have Linda cook the mush later.

Since then, Mom has fried up a storm of mush. She likes it with syrup or tomato gravy. She thought the gravy I made was extra good. Later, from her chair where she sat to fry mush on the electric griddle, she directed Dad in the art of making tomato gravy, and that was good too. She also bargained with Lowell, who brought her liverwurst, in exchange for mush she had cooked for him.

The morning I ate with Mom and Dad I enjoyed the mush so much that I went home and cooked it that day for my family. Lois was going to make it for her family, after she had cooked a batch for Mom--in round two of the mush saga. So we're on our way to cementing the idea of mush-as- comfort-food in our family's minds also. Some of us had to eat it without liverwurst though. I served sausage with the tomato gravy instead, with syrup as an additional option.

I would love to know--and it's too late to ask my grandma--about how or when she served her family fried mush. I'll have to ask Mom about this, or maybe Aunt Fannie or Aunt Esther would know. Was it a common everyday breakfast dish, or was it cooked to tempt ailing appetites?

Who would have thought that fried mush was destined for a starring role in Mom's recovery drama? Surely not Grandma, who probably cooked it because it was economical and filling. But in doing so, she created a pleasant memory that could be brought out and put to good use in her 80-year-old daughter's journey to wellness. Thank God for that.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Marvin the Gallant

Miriam, the cell phone Goofus, has a hero for the day: Marvin the Gallant.

The other night I got a call on my cell phone. The electronic voice informed me that my cell phone bill was overdue in the amount of five. hundred. sixty. dollars. and ninety. seven. cents. With my mouth hanging open, I pressed the "end" button and went in search of my last bill. My first rifle through the bills basket skipped over the envelope with blue snowflakes on the outside and the cheerful admonition to "Share the Spirit." Then I saw it was the unopened Alltel bill.

Taking a deep breath, I ripped it open. No joking. There was the record of the payment for the previous month: $24.71. And then the current charges: $560.97. The detail for the billing included records of 1 3/4 pages worth of calls, all placed between Nov. 28 and Dec. 2, and all made or received in Wichita, KS. They were all subject to roaming charges and long distance charges. One call was over $20.00 for about the same number of minutes.

I promptly told Hiromi what I had just discovered. Can you believe he did not even remonstrate with me about it? He acted like things like this aren't anything to worry about. Of course, he does have this annoying habit at other times of speaking of our financial status in very sober tones, usually with worried noises lurking near the surface.

I interrupt this broadcast to say that I have always been a reluctant cell phone user. I don't initiate many phone contacts. Period. For sure not when I have to figure out all over every time I use the phone how it's supposed to work. On my old phone I had gotten beyond making and receiving calls and had actually learned how to retrieve messages, and add to and access my directory. Then I got a new phone and still haven't figured out any of that, even after Victor gave me his user's manual for his identical phone. "It's pretty intuitive," he told me when he explained that he didn't need it anymore. Right.

Hiromi has never paid a lick of attention to cell phones. When I added him to my plan, he hardly ever carried the phone, and usually was not pleased to be called on it. So when my first contract expired, I decided to get rid of the service and the $70+ a month bills and go to a prepaid plan for myself only. I thought that made sense since I'm usually near a phone here at home or at school, and I need a phone mostly when I'm in town or elsewhere away from home. I had gotten the phone after my boys prevailed on me so they could contact me during farmer's market days or shopping trips. I liked the convenience of having it in case of vehicle problems away from home.

The agent I talked to when I called to cancel offered me a plan for $19.95 a month. I could keep the same number and have a lot more flexibility than I would have had with a pre-paid plan. I decided to go for it. By November I had clearly forgotten a few key details of the new plan. It was a local plan--not a national plan. It was also limited to 50 anytime minutes instead of the 200 that I had in mind. Still, at the time I signed up, all that seemed reasonable, given my cell phone usage patterns.

Things changed dramatically when my Mom went to the hospital in Wichita. I enjoyed the convenience of my cell phone during that time, and even loaned it out to other family members who didn't have one. I knew that my own calls were still well under the 200 minute ceiling, and wasn't worried. I didn't take into account that incoming calls were being charged as well as calls I initiated, and that all were subject to roaming charges. I know. Silly me.

After I inspected the bill, I did what any posting-prone member of the DLMfamily Yahoo group would do. I asked if anyone else had had a similar experience and if anyone had advice for me.

My brother-in-law, Marvin, did. "Don't pay it," he said. "You should be able to negotiate it down. I'll help you if you want me to." Did I ever! . . .

Long story short--Marvin called Alltel and they agreed to sign me up for a 750-minute national plan retroactive to November, for $49.95. All the charges I accumulated for the month of November are covered with that amount. My savings amounts to $488.93. I'm sure the December bill, which I haven't seen yet, will stack up similarly, if not worse/better. I can go back to a cheaper plan after everything's cleared up if I so choose.

I am immensely relieved. Humbled and grateful too. A little wiser, but still not very smart about cell phone plans and usage, I'm afraid. When this contract expires, I think I'll just piggy-back on one of the boys' plans. That's what I should have done in the first place.

I'm glad both Marvin and Alltel saw fit to "Share the Spirit."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Quote for the Day 1/11/2009

Joel ( stuffing too many papers and other things into a tote in preparation for moving) : Hilda loves to sort and organize papers. I think that sounds like a marriage made in heaven.

Yesterday Hilda, Hiromi, and I helped move Joel into the house just vacated by Shane and Dorcas, who moved to Colorado for 18 months. Before they left, they had emptied the contents from the living area of the house, packing it into plastic tubs in the basement or taking it with them. The furniture was an exception.

Besides clothes from the laundry dressing room, most of what we moved for Joel had been packed in big totes--the four-foot-long ones that are about 18 inches wide and deep--real back- breakers when filled with heavy things like books and papers. Joel is a bibliophile (my word for the day), so there were a number of these big totes--maybe eight or ten. Besides the big totes, which we stacked in the guest room, we stowed two towers of stackable plastic drawer units in the closet.

A well- furnished "new" house, with the prospect of a wife to join him after April 11--life is good for Joel at the moment. Remembering that helps stave off the nostalgia I feel about him having left home for good.

All three of the basement bedrooms are empty now since Shane, Victor, and Joel have moved out. They weren't Better Homes and Gardens beautiful to begin with, and now they look downright desolate. I haven't had the gumption to clean any of them properly, which doesn't help their appearance a bit. j

I don't want to go back, but I think I'll need to gain just a little more mental and emotional traction before I can move forward very efficiently. I guess I need a "marriage made in heaven," to someone who's good at making left-behind emptiness seem OK. Wait. That person would be Hiromi and I'm already married to him. Good for us.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Spitting Nails

On a field trip with the high school students several years ago, we passed by a large business building near Halstead. I read aloud the name on the building: Monsanto. I didn't know we lived so close to enemy territory.

"You don't like Monsanto very much, do you?" one of the students said.

Understatement. No documentation, but I suspect my blood pressure rises when I read yet another account of their devious machinations. I know I feel like spitting nails. I lay sins like greed, dishonesty, cruelty, assault, and murder squarely at their door. Meanwhile, they nurture the public image of being a company focused on alleviating poverty and hunger, and working on behalf of farmers everywhere.

While the name Monsanto now is associated with biotechnology or "life science" products, they have simply renamed the part of their company that was responsible for producing Agent Orange, PCBs, and Dioxin--all highly toxic chemicals that have caused sickness and death on a massive scale. Some of the victims were fish downstream from Monsanto factories, (One researcher lowered 25 fish into polluted waters. In 10 seconds, they all turned over on their sides, and in 3 1/2 minutes they were all dead.) but the mischief did not stop there. Some of the damage occurred to employees who were exposed to chemicals during the manufacturing process. Other people lived in the vicinity of those factories, and swam in the creeks that served as the toilet for Monsanto factory wastes. Still others were soldiers who were exposed when they sprayed Agent Orange on Viet Nam jungles to defoliate the area so enemy soldiers had no place to hide.

In some cases Monsanto knew very well that the product they were offering for sale was highly toxic, and they deliberately withheld that information from the people who were being harmed. When investigative reporters inquired, through them, Monsanto reassured the public that there was nothing to fear. When lawsuits were filed later, Monsanto brought the full force of its considerable financial and legal resources into the fight, and made the conflict so distasteful for its opponents that they often "paid up" through counter-suits, or simply abandoned the challenge rather than be destroyed.

In recent years, the lengths that Monsanto has gone to to protect its patents on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) regularly triggers my revulsion mechanism.

Beginning in the early 1980s, for the first time, man made genetic materials could be patented in the United States. Monsanto began to insert new genes into the seeds of familiar crops and receive patents on the products. In the most familiar case, they inserted a gene that made crops grown from the seed impervious to the herbicide Roundup, which kills almost everything it's sprayed on. What this means is that people can plant a whole field to one Roundup-ready crop, and when weeds grow that compete with the intended crop, the whole field is sprayed and the crop survives while everything else dies. It's a tidy little arrangement since Monsanto manufactures and holds the patent on Roundup, as well as on the Roundup-ready seeds.

So far, this doesn't sound so different from what many business-savvy companies might do. But the similarities soon disappear. What Monsanto does is engage in all sorts of clandestine surveillance to "catch" people in violation of the terms of the patent. Once targeted by this wealthy and powerful company, even innocent people often give up the fight almost before it starts, or they work for years to comply with the terms of the legal process, and then give up after their resources are exhausted. Some of these cases involve sins like a farmer saving seed from a crop he has grown, and replanting it on his own land for an additional crop. (Not allowed. None of the yield may be saved for seed.)

Others have had the misfortune of having fields located near other fields where GMO crops were growing. Pollen drift has turned up some GMO organisms in the fields of someone who never purchased (or planted) GMO seed. Monsanto considers these people fair targets for legal action. Monsanto usually wins.

In cleaning, storing and shipping, it's difficult to keep GMO crops separate from non-GMO products, and some have tangled with the legal system for mix ups that occurred there.

Sometimes the fact that GMO grain passed through a company's facility is enough to become ensnared. A co-op in Missouri, for example, that cleaned grain for farmers that were later charged with patent violations, was charged along with the farmers, although they never sold any of the grain for replanting. Monsanto contended that by cleaning seeds—a service which it had provided for decades—the co-op was inducing farmers to violate Monsanto’s patents. In effect, Monsanto wanted the co-op to police its own customers. After complying with requests for thousands of pages of records, and years of time, and thousands of dollars in legal fees, the case continues to drag on. One of Monsanto's latest tactics is to ask for punitive damages, in an amount quadrupling the monetary damages they have claimed so far.

GMO crops are not welcome in European markets because of perceived threats to human health from consumption of these products. Monsanto apparently has a fairly cozy arrangement with people in US regulatory agencies, and the publicity on health implications of GMO products is minimal in America, by comparison with Europe. This was emphasized for me last summer when my cousin Erlis, who lives in England, asked in my hearing if people here are concerned with consumption of GMO foods. He had noticed that it's a very big issue overseas, and was surprised at the low level of concern here. Ahhhhh. Lobbying.

In our state right now, there's a controversy over the labeling of milk from cows that have not been given hormones made by Monsanto. The controversy is alive in many other states as well. Because some consumers prefer such milk, some producers labelled their milk accordingly, as being from non-rBGH-treated cows. Federal regulations supported by Monsanto now require such milk labelling to be accompanied by an additional label saying that “Government studies have shown no significant difference between milk derived from rBGH-treated and non-rBGH-treated cows.” Monsanto, however, wants more. They want to see the labelling outlawed entirely because it implies that milk from rBGH-treated cows may not be safe. I'm peeved that Monsanto wants to keep me from being able to identify the source of the milk I'm drinking. And I certainly do not trust them to know what's good for me. Monsanto looks very like "Big Brother" in the 1984 use of the term.

Read the article at the following site for more information:

If your reaction is similar to mine, before doing so, you may want to tape your mouth shut. I can't be held responsible for anyone around you suffering any nail wounds.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Elemental Insights

Despite being almost a total ignoramus regarding chemistry and physics, I won a prize yesterday for recognizing the significance of a set of numbers from the Periodic Table of the Elements. The prize was very nice--a gardening library on CD, which sells for $69.95. Not bad for someone whose accelerated trip through high school did not allow taking either a chemistry or advanced physics course. Ditto for college. These omissions suited me just fine at the time.

Here are the numbers: 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 15, 16, 17 ,19, 20, 25, 26, 29, 30, 42. The list appeared on the Mittleider Gardening email discussion group. The first person to email the list master with the full meaning of the numbers was to win the prize. After some time elapsed with no one coming forth with the correct answer, Jim Kennard sent out a hint, telling us that the numbers have something to do with fertilizer. In vain, I tried to fit the numbers into a formula of proportions for each kind of element in the recommended fertilizer mixture used in the Mittleider Gardening method. Then I hit paydirt with a new inspiration.

I googled the periodic table of the elements, and matched the first few numbers to elements I knew were part of the formula. Quickly scanning over the remaining numbers, I saw they matched, and fired off an email. Two emails, in fact, after I realized that I probably needed a little more detail than I had included in the first. Too late, I realized that I goofed a little bit by narrowing the elements to the ones appearing in the Weekly Feed Mix when some of them actually appeared in the Pre-Plant mix. I didn't correct it, figuring that it wouldn't do any good anyway.

This morning's inbox contained notification that I had won the gardening library for being the first one with the most complete answer. However, two other people also won the set, one for beating me by a few minutes, and another for having the most complete answer of all. (I think the last guy probably actually took physics and chemistry in high school or college, or both.) At least he was smart enough to recognize that the list represented all the elements necessary for good plant growth, several of which actually come from the air.

This post gives me an excellent opportunity to put in a plug for joining the Mittleider Method Gardening Group. To do so, go to the Food for Everyone Foundation (FFEF) home page, scroll down to the link on the right hand side of the page, and click on the "Join Yahoo Group" button. The Food for Everyone Foundation is a Mormon charity that promotes efficient food production methods. Their website says:

The Foundation’s purposes include encouraging and fostering the development, understanding, and distribution of the most efficient scientific non-polluting and ecologically sensitive food production procedures, by sponsoring and supporting the research, development, and dissemination of the best possible gardening methods and techniques, and the most effective information delivery systems and teaching methods throughout the world, with primary emphasis on the developing countries.

We also encourage the development of education in gardening procedures and techniques in the USA by teaching and training the public in effective gardening methods.

And we encourage and assist in developing self-sufficiency in the production of food among people throughout the world by sponsoring, teaching and training classes and seminars; by providing financial assistance to worthy and needy students; and by assisting in providing materials, equipment, tools, seed, and fertilizers sufficient for trained students to achieve gardening success in their own communities.

The gardening method is named for Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider, who was an agronomist. He spent decades experimenting and perfecting his gardening methods. The method was proven in many different parts of the world. The claim to fame in this approach is that it will produce a good garden in any soil, in almost any climate. The keys are 1) Precise fertilizer mixes 2) Lots of water 3) Precise spacing of plants 4) Eliminating weed competition. No high-tech tools are required, and the production is phenomenal.

My last garden was mostly a Mittleider Garden. I say "mostly" because I was less diligent with the fertilizer and water applications than is proper. Still, it was a very good garden, and I'm sold on the method.

I own several products produced by FFEF. One is a single-volume gardening course, and another is software for laying out a Mittleider garden. I have also bought several 8-oz. packages of micronutrients from them to mix with other commonly available (and more bulky) fertilizers.

I have often wished that our international missions personnel could be more proactive with teaching families to produce their own food and have surplus to sell. The Mittleider Method offers a ready-made system that shows a lot of promise for such situations. While I understand that the people who are good at evangelism and church planting are not always also good at gardening, and the available personnel simply doesn't reach around, I hope our mission programs do not routinely turn their backs on this need. It would be a shame if the Mormons were the only people poised to do well at meeting this elemental challenge.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A New Villain

In the last post about Mom's condition I referred to a nurse's recommendation that we consider beginning to feed her through a stomach tube. I also mentioned that her problems with digestive upset might be a side effect of a powerful antibiotic she was taking.

On Sunday evening (a week ago) while my local siblings and I were together to discuss things, we decided to call our cousin, Leon, who is a general surgeon in Ohio, to seek some input. He mentioned several possibilities that proved to be prescient. He pointed out that if some of these other problems were present, a stomach tube would simply bypass the esophagus, and the problems would be as severe as before. He thought other things should be explored before a stomach tube would be considered.

When he asked what antibiotic she was taking, and we told him Clindamycin, he said that particular one is notorious for creating conditions that favor a clostridium overgrowth. While this is a normal gut bacteria, when an antibiotic such as Clindamycin kills off competing bacteria, and clostridium proliferates, it causes symptoms similar to what Mom was experiencing. It produces toxins that can rot the intestines if this bacteria grows unchecked too long.

Mom did indeed have a clostridium infection, for which she is now taking another antibiotic. The family doctor who saw her on Monday also prescribed an appetite stimulant and a medication to make her esophagus work better. He took her off the Clindamycin immediately. He was able to reassure us that her dehydration and malnutrition was reversible.

The next day was a good day for Mom. She enjoyed eating again--something that had not happened since immediately after she was dismissed from the hospital the second time. Not all the days and nights have been good since then, but she has been able to eat more, and the nausea is gone.

We keep hoping that when Mom gets over the next hump, her healing can accelerate.

I, for one, am weary of lurching from one drug-induced problem to another. It calls to mind what one doctor told my Dad at the hospital. All drugs are poisons. We continue to use them because they have helpful side effects. They obviously have some unhelpful ones as well. While I recognize that Mom needed many interventions beyond nutritional strategies, and I'm grateful that we had access to those options, I can hardly wait to get Mom started again with the good food and nutritional supplements that kept her healthy for 80 years. When taking medicines makes it impossible to do those other good things, my suspicion of them mounts fast.

Kara, my sister-in-law, says her mother, when she had a clostridium infection, had the same kind of confusion my mother exhibited during the night last night. After five rounds of antibiotics, without success in overcoming the problem, an infectious disease specialist recommended an over-the-counter intestinal flora product. When she began taking that, she was able to get ahead of the clostridium overgrowth.

I love it when professionals can look at health situations through more than one paradigm--in this case, not only killing off the bad as antibiotics do, but boosting the good, as probiotics do.

Incoherence in the Twilight Zone

The twilight zone between waking and sleeping can provide the setting for some strange goings- on. Last night, while I stayed with my mother during the night, I witnessed this phenomenon.

Around 11:00, after 2 hours of sleep--

Me (sensing Mom's restlessness) : What can I do for you?

Mom: I don't know. I need . . . I don't know what I need . . . Can you tell me what I need?

Me: Are you too hot?

Mom: No.

Me: Do you want to turn to the other side?

Mom: No.

Me: Do you want to go to the bathroom?

Mom: No.

Me: Do you need a drink?

Mom: No. I don't know why I'm so incoherent.

Mom: Maybe Dad could tell me what I want.

Me: (Awwww. Sweet.) Do you want me to call Dad?

Mom: Yes.

Dad: What do you need, Mom?

Mom: I want you to tell me what I need.

Dad (laughing) : I'm not sure how I'm supposed to do that.

Mom: Well . . . I think I need shaking. . .

Dad: Shaking? How about if we sit you up?

Mom: I think I need an egg. To shake up. To make batter. Oh my. I'm not making any sense. (She chuckles at herself.)

Dad: I think what you need is to go back to sleep.

We both get her all tucked in, with pillows arranged all around her, and the head of the bed elevated just right, and cover her with the top sheet and the down comforter.

Mom: I think what I need is to go to the bathroom.

Me: I'll take you.

We reverse the above process with the pillows and covers.

After we return from the bathroom, Mom rambles on a bit about the bathroom trip and finishes with--

Mom: . . . and I'm at least partly talking sense. (She chuckles again.)

We tuck her in again--

Mom (to Dad) : Maybe if you washed my face with a wet washcloth I could wake up right.

Dad: I think we don't want you to wake up right. We want you to go to sleep right.

Mom: OK. Are you sure you shouldn't get me a wet washcloth first? (More chuckles.)

Dad wisely ignores this, tells her goodnight again, and heads for bed.

Mom: I wonder if Lois couldn't tell me what I want. If that's not asking too much. . . Von 's net tsu feeuhl k'fohtet iss. . . (She lives in a neighboring house.)

Me: (I can't see myself calling Lois and saying "Mom wants you to come over here and tell her what she wants.") What would Lois guess you want?

Mom: Well. . . Maybe she'd check my blood sugar or my blood pressure . . . I wonder if I have high blood sugar.

Me: (My eyes narrow. This almost makes sense. I remember times in the hospital when she was restless like this, and her blood sugar was way out of whack.) Did you have Glyburide tonight?

Mom: I don't know.

Me: (Stalling) Let me check Linda's journal, and I'll see if you had it. You had such a good supper that I don't think your blood sugar should be too low or too high.

(I look in vain for information on Glyburide. I decide to suggest to Mom that we wait for 30 minutes before we call Lois. I walk to her bed to tell her what I decided.)

Me: (quietly) Mom?

No answer.

I tiptoe to Dad's recliner, lean back to go to sleep, and promptly get a giggling fit. Too incoherent to make sense, but coherent enough to refer to her own incoherence. What a hoot!