Prairie View

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Quote for the Day 2/21/2009

Emily: Was Albert Einstein actually a freaky person?

Me: Not that I know of.

Tim: You're thinking of Frankenstein.

Emily: Oh yeah.

I found a record of this conversation on a sticky note when I cleaned out my purse yesterday. It must have happened last year during school.

No wonder the fourth of four purse handle attachments broke last week--the only one I had not yet stitched in place with a big needle and string-like thread. It's my only complaint about my brightly-adorned "rooster" purse. Otherwise it works fine for toting around even things like records of last year's school conversations. But I like that it's lighter since yesterday. And now that I've recorded the conversation here for posterity, I can throw away the sticky note.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Quote for the Day 2/19/2009

Grant: I really kind of wish Max would figure out what's worth barking about and what isn't.

From our perspective, the newspaper being delivered at 2:30 A. M. does not qualify as a 30-minute barking excuse. When Hiromi tells him to be quiet, the noise subsides for about 30 seconds.

A baby calf, which Max had come to a point on right before it jumped up and bounded away, is probably not sufficient cause for a frantic round of barking, while racing back to Grant for safety or reassurance.

Max barked at my minivan this morning when I returned from having taken Hiromi to work. This is not necessary, Max.

Barking loudly at the approaching UPS driver from the front porch does not endear you to him. One prudent bark would be enough, and then stepping aside politely would be better. The UPS man looked around at the assorted small well-chewed items on the front porch and said, "If I have to leave anything, I'll try to put it up high."

Yesterday, from inside the house, Grant and I heard a thunk at the front door. No Max. Off.

When Grant went to the front door to reinforce the No-Assaulting-the-Front-Door policy, Max had his toy in his mouth, then quickly backed down the steps and stood looking expectantly at Grant. You wanna go play?
Did he throw that toy against the front door to get my attention? He's never done that before.

This toddler dog still has a lot to learn, but his enthusiasm in the interim is fun to watch, at least when it does not involve 2:30 A. M. barking and front porch litter.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quote for the Day 2/15/2009 & Random Snippets

Dorcas: We don't really have that many expenses, except for food and snowboarding. (Sidewise look at Shane here. Dorcas does not snowboard.)

Shane and Dorcas were home for the weekend, after six weeks into their assignment with Choice Books of CO. They came for a choice books meeting.

Shane does enjoy the snowboarding, and they both enjoy the mountains. They do not particularly enjoy being the new kids on the block, especially in a place where new kids on the block circulate in and out of the population with greater- than-average frequency. I think they are also formulating a private list of things to remember in case they ever need to look out for other VS-ers.

Shane reports that the way to do snowboarding on the cheap is to get two-for-one lift tickets, digging them out of filling station trash cans if necessary, and stock up on Ramen noodles. Then you go to Starbucks and get a cup of hot water and go back to your hotel room to fix your Ramen noodle meal.


Heidi Kuepfer and John (Jon?) Overholt are engaged. This is to be the "Third John" among Lorne and Grace's sons-in-law. The other two have Brenneman and Yoder as surnames. I'm afraid Frieda (younger sister) will not know whether to run for cover or take special notice if she ever encounters an eligible young man named John.


My mother went to church today for the first time since last fall.


Several weeks ago we acquired a dog which Grant named Max. I thought we should name him Gene-O after the man who owned him previously, especially after Hiromi reported that the dog has a face like his former owner. I don't know the man. The dog has Black Lab coloring, except for his underside (including the inside of his legs), where the color is white, spotted with gray. The dog is part German Shorthair, and his head shape and lean body reflect this parentage.

Grant is training him as a hunting dog. He reports that he learns quickly and is following instructions to fetch and to find his toy. Max is also finding and retrieving, one by one, the dead possums Grant threw out back as they were dispatched earlier. Sigh.

I do not praise Max for collecting various items from the barnyard for exhibition on the front porch. Aged cowpies and dried weed stalks to trip over are not my idea of appropriate entrance displays.

I do praise Max profusely for not jumping up to plant his paws on my going-away dresses. Another thing I like about him is that he barks when strangers come--sometimes at least. I always thought that was a great way for a farm dog to make himself useful. When we first got him, I wondered what would happen the next time Steven came and sneaked through the open garage (where Max lives) into the house via the side door close to Grant's room. I could imagine that a black shape woofing out of the dark might give even laid-back Steven a start. I like Steven, but the thought still gave me some pleasure.

Hiromi laughs at Max for approaching the combine near the shed with what appears to be a warning bark--as though, if there's anything hiding in its bowels, it better not come out and surprise him.


I'm plotting my vegetable and cutflower gardens for next summer--literally, using my GardenMaster CD, with its accompanying database on planting dates and spacing of plants. I regret only that it does not include information on flowers, so all that data has to be entered manually.

The maps are ready, but I still need to place some of my seed orders. Each year I wonder whether there isn't a way to make this process less arduous. One thing I do know is that if I had no frugal instincts and money was plentiful, some of the decisions would be easier. I'd order plants in lots of 50 or 275, which are nearly the same price, instead of starting plants from seed. I'd order everything from the one wholesale supplier that carries almost everything I need, but the minimum prices there are a dollar higher than the other major wholesaler charges. The cheaper wholesaler offers the minimum order for a reasonable price, which is still a dollar more than the typical retail price, but the seed count from the retailer is 50 and the wholesaler is 1,000. See what I mean? Frugality interferes. When we're talking about several hundred dollars in seed costs alone, prudence is in order.

I'm thinking of doing some retailing myself, selling extra seeds and plants of those I grow. I know from experience that plants to grow for cutflowers are very scarce in the typical garden center trade. For landscaping, compactness is often considered a plant virtue, but for cutflowers, long stems are needed.

The Department of Homeland Security requires everyone who sells plants to apply for a plant seller's lisence. I did so the other day.


Tomorrow, at Hiromi's workplace, another employee meeting is on the schedule. At the meeting, everyone will learn whether they will continue to work four days a week, or whether they will be cut back to three days. There may be some variation among different departments.

Cutting back to less than three days would jeopardize the partial unemployment compensation the workers are eligible for now.


I hear that Norma is coming back next year to teach at the high school. Yaaaaaayyyyyyyy! We'll be back to a three-person staff, and I can think again of teaching with a life outside of school besides.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Centrally Located

I didn't know whether to giggle or gag or snort, so I did none of the above, and went right on quietly eating my pancakes and sausage at the Custom Mills/Midwest Farm and Dairy Supply annual customer appreciation event.

I didn't hear it clearly, but one person near me had apparently just made a pleased comment about the new school site that 75% of the people in our Beachy churches had voted for. The response from the person across the table was what got to me.

"Oh, I'm so glad too. It's so much more centrally located."

Yeah right.

Some time ago, when preliminary work was being done to select a building site, someone studied a map and located the residences of our church families, and determined that the center point, when all the extremities are plotted, comes out at the West Center Amish Cemetery. "The cemetery is where you end up," the moderator in a public meeting replied when someone asked where the center point is. (Very punny.) Obviously, to be centrally located, a building site should be near the cemetery.

I was pretty sure that the chosen site is no closer to the cemetery than the other options. The salient point in the comment I overheard, of course, is that the chosen location was much closer to the home of the person speaking than the others were. She is one of the many people who live between Pleasantview and Hutchinson. To many like her, who probably seldom travel west of Pleasantview, the area outside of Hutchinson beyond Pleasantview seems to them like the hinterlands. It's hard for them to believe that we who live here live as close to the center of the community as they do.

So tonight, with a ruler and the Reno County Farm and Home Plat Directory in hand, I checked it out. The selected site (which I will call option A) is, in fact .26 mile--one-fourth mile--closer to the cemetery than option B. It is closer by .7--less than 3/4 mile--than option C. So, technically, yes, the selected site is more centrally located. But so much more centrally located? Nah. Only seven tenths of a mile closer than the farthest-away option would have been, and one-fourth of a mile closer than the nearer location.

The person I heard talking was not showing ill will in the comment I overheard. Just ignorance, and revealing the tendency we all have to think that the part of the world most familiar to us is the most important.

I noticed the same thing in the maps in some of Hiromi's Japanese books. Guess what's right in the middle of the page on those maps. Asia, which includes Japan. The Americas are split vertically and appear at the left and right edges of the map.

After all the fussing I've done here, I should make clear that I am quite content with the school site 75% of the voters chose, and have no plans to circumvent the decision in any way. Even if it's not so much more centrally located than the alternatives, I believe it can serve the community well.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Birdwatchers' Alert

On Friday of this week, Feb. 13, the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) for 2009 begins. It lasts for four days, through Monday, Feb. 16. The details are available here: (Sorry. I'll try again later to make the link work.)

This annual project is a joint effort by the Audobon Society and the Ornithology Lab at Cornell University--a school known far and wide for outstanding research on birds.

Here's a quick rundown of what is required:

1) Keep watch for birds in one specific location for at least 15 minutes and record the highest number of individuals of each species you see at one time during that interval. You can watch for much longer than this, but don't count any group that is smaller than what you've already counted. Example: You see three groups of Goldfinches. One has eight; one has seven; and one has four. You will report only the group that has eight.

2) You may count birds at various locations, but each location must be reported separately.

3) You may report data from the same location on all four days if you wish. Just remember to send in the count only for the largest group of individuals.

4) Report all your data accurately on the website.

I suggest you print out one copy of the reporting form. That way your observation effort will certainly be directed toward the things you will need to report.

Have fun making your contribution to natural science research!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quote for the Day 2/11/2009

Trippy: (Eyes momentarily glued on a romantic scene from the movie Wes was previewing for Anabaptist History class) : I sure hope that is a mother and son.

It wasn't. It was the characters who impersonated Michael Sattler and his wife Margaretha.

Wes is gone for several days to a funeral in PA, and I am standing in for him during Anabaptist History class. We've spent two days watching The Radicals, which is based on Myron Augsburger's book Pilgrim Aflame, Michael Sattler's story.

Watching a movie is a painless way to conduct class, except for the painful long, slow kissing scenes and the gory persecution scenes. If you've done this in a room full of teenagers, you know that no one in the audience moves during the kissing scenes. As though, if you hold still enough, it'll be over quicker. You close your eyes during the bloody scenes. I do, at least.

Movie makers, one and all, seem to think everyone loves romance in movies. I suppose that is true. We all love it in real life, at least. But, up close and personal, as an observer, in the presence of a group? Not so much. Where are all the hormones supposed to retreat to at such times? What goes through the minds of the actors while they're exchanging passionate-looking endearments with people they may have nothing in common with except their acting profession?

I hope someday some Christian who is passionate about drama and acting finds a way to convey the emotion of a story without subjecting the audience to embarrassment, or to grist for the nightmare mill.

Let me explain. I've noticed that being forced to participate as an onlooker in any highly charged situation makes me uncomfortable. It's not just when romance is involved. For example, when a child is being spanked, even if I know the punishment is reasonable, and the parent is loving, it usually appears almost abusive to me. Yet I have spanked children and been spanked, and don't believe I was abused or handed out abuse. Ditto a person who is photographed in tears. I hate it. It seems wretchedly intrusive of that photographer. But I often cry, and other people see me. No, I don't really like it, but I don't feel that they are horrible for seeing me, and I certainly don't view other people's tears with disgust. The point is that I am not afraid of strong emotions, but I prefer to avoid encountering them when I can do so only as a spectator. Is this typical or reasonable? I haven't a clue.

Obviously, my viewpoint on this will not likely carry the day anywhere except right here where I'm declaring it. But I'm with Trippy. If that's not a mother and son, it better have another good reason for being there in that movie. If it's just there because it's what movie makers think they have to do. . . . As far as I'm concerned, stop it. Right now.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Job Insecurity Comes Home

The downturn in the economy has reached into our home and touched Hiromi's employment.

The signs have been stacking up over the past few weeks. Early in January everyone at Hiromi's workplace was told there would be work force reductions or a cutback in hours in the near future.

The parts on which Hiromi usually performs the final pre-shipment polishing and rust-inhibiting treatments were being manufactured in very limited quantities because there had been no orders coming in. Caterpillar, one of the main customers for the hydraulic pistons the company makes, is reducing its workforce by 20,000 people because of a major slump in equipment sales.

Hiromi has had trouble finding enough to do at work. He caught up first on all the peripheral tasks that get done only sporadically--like cleaning out the water treatment pit where liquid wastes from the manufacturing process go before discharge into the city sewage system. Then he began a major cleaning mission. Because a lot of oil is used in the metal- milling process, everything in the building eventually acquires an oily coat.

First, armed with rubber gloves and a powerful degreaser, Hiromi scrubbed the lift used in his work area for moving heavy "buckets" of pistons. Then he scrubbed the wall in the work area. Next he tackled the overhead doors in the building, going up and down a ladder all day long with brushes and buckets and rags. After that, he cleaned the windows in the quality control and purchasing areas. Earlier this week he created order in the storage room. It's a good thing he has varied skills, and does not consider cleaning jobs beneath his dignity. It's also a good thing he's in the top wage-earning category (of three possible rankings) and gets paid accordingly even when he does jobs like this.

Several weeks ago all the "temp" workers were dismissed. These employees had been hired through an agency that supplies temporary workers. Although in the past many such workers have transitioned into full-time employment, in an economic climate like this, the built-in job insecurity of the "temps" made them an easy first target in the employee reduction process.

Last week 11 regular employees got their "pink slips."

On Wednesday of this week, an all-employee meeting was announced for the end of the workday on Thursday. Everyone knew this meeting would not be for handing out bonuses as such meetings usually are. The mood was somber.

Today everyone knows what is planned for the immediate future, and it could be much, much worse. The bad news is that everyone is limited to a four-day work week.

On the positive side, health insurance benefits are staying intact, with coverage continuing as before. Also, apparently due to changes in how the funds are administered, unemployment benefits are available on a pro-rated basis to people whose work hours have been reduced. It used to be that they were available only to people who had no job. Now, a four-day work week means that the employee is eligible for 1/5 of the weekly amount of benefits for unemployed people. We're not talking about stellar wages here, but it helps.

Hiromi is two years and three months from being eligible for full social security benefits. Obviously, having to look for a new job between now and then would be a very unwelcome prospect, since social security benefits are based on the income for the last years of employment.

Hiromi is not a job hopper, but he has looked for a new job often enough to know that anyone past 50 is not in an enviable position when he goes job shopping. I'm aware of the following reasons for this:

1) From an employer's standpoint, an older person is more likely than younger people to consume funds granted through a health insurance policy. High consumption of services results in high fees assessed to the company by the insurance supplier.

2) If training the employee takes time and money, why shouldn't the company be investing it in someone who can work for the company's benefit for 30 more years instead of half that length of time?

3) If the employee comes in with high wage expectations due to his previous earning levels, experience, and skills, the hiring company sees several threats in this scenario:

a) If they can meet the pay expectations of the employee (i.e. pay him what he's worth), they're taking on a major financial obligation for an "unproven" worker.
b) If they ask a highly qualified employee to perform menial tasks for meager pay (i.e. pay him less than he's worth), everyone understands that the employee will jump ship at the first better opportunity.
c) Paying money into a retirement fund for someone who won't work long before drawing out of that fund looks unattractive to the employer.

From an employee's standpoint, taking "any old job" has risks too. I know this goes counter to the instinct many of us have about any kind of work being honorable--far more so than waiting idly for the perfect job. However, I've come to understand a few dynamics I didn't understand earlier. Among them are:

1) A low-pay or unskilled job on your record puts you in a poor bargaining position if you wish to apply for a higher-pay job.
2) Leaving unsavory jobs out of your resume is not an option. That would be dishonest. So every piddling job needs to be listed. If you have a lot of these, you begin to look like an unstable employee.
3) If you are committed to one (low-paying?) job, you are limited in how much time you can devote to looking for a better job. For example, how will you be able to take time off for a job interview during regular business hours if you are a new employee with no vacation time and little accumulated "favor" capital?

I have always felt apologetic when our family has received unemployment benefits. Hiromi doesn't relish the situation, but he has no qualms about applying for benefits. I've been paying unemployment taxes for years. That's what those funds are for--for cases like this when my job gets taken away. I find resolution in focusing on gratitude for God's provision rather than obsessing about the acceptableness of every channel through which it comes.

Here in the middle of the country, we often come late to the drama playing out first on the left and right coasts and in heavily urbanized areas. When the drama involves an economic downturn, coming late is a good thing. It's also a good thing to have a fairly diversified local economy, especially one not heavily dependant on the manufacture of luxury items. Here, we never fly quite so high financially as many elsewhere in the country do, but we often don't fall quite so low either. What we're experiencing now is quite enough drama, however, to notch up my sympathy level for all those whose financial future looks precarious because of job insecurity.

Who knew that so many besides me would be taking a "sabbatical" this year? Lucky me for having been able to plan for it in advance. My way doesn't provide any "unemployment compensation" in monetary terms. But the "peace of mind" income is significant. Many besides me will have to rely on this kind of compensation. Fortunately all can "take it to the bank" in the form of trust in the One Who is Jehovah-Jireh (God sees; God provides).

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Teacher Evaluations, Grouchiness, and Rigor

Will, the grade school principal, asked me today if I would be willing to spend time observing each of the teachers at the grade school and evaluate what I observe. I joked about having to be in a grouchy mood to do that. What I really meant was that I'd have to be stern with myself to work up the gumption to say anything negative even if I thought it was necessary.

Somewhere I'm sure there is a checklist that professional evaluators use in such cases. I wonder what is on those lists. I wonder if a person with my renegade ideas on education is qualified to critique a traditional and normal classroom teacher.


Over supper tonight I remembered a dream I had several years ago. I was near tears during part of the dream and woke up feeling exhausted. In my dream, I was facing a new school year, and I was the teacher for one of the grade school classrooms. I did not want the job, and all I could think was that I would have to find a way to make the school year tolerable for myself and the students.

Then I got an idea. I got the students to help me, and we shoved all the desks to the edges of the classroom, facing the wall. Then we brought in several large tables and set them up in the middle of the room. We put chairs around the table, one for each student and one for me. I set up camp at that table with my teaching supplies, and told my students that we would spend the year around that table, working together as much as possible. They would keep their supplies in their individual desks, and we would use their books when we needed them, but we were going to learn interesting things, and much of it would not be from their books.

In my dream, what I had done, in effect, was to transfer to school what I had done around the dining room table with my boys when they were school age. In the classroom in my dream we were going to act like a family, even though we were forced to be away from our homes.

It's a shame that my dream did not include all the details of how to implement such a classroom strategy, because I think it was actually quite a remarkable idea.


Since Will talked to me today I also remembered a recent conversation with Joel and Hilda about rigor in educational programs, and Joel disagreed with me. Imagine. I said I thought rigor was highly overrated. He thought it was a good thing. I usually think that when people disagree with me they just don't really understand my viewpoint or they would surely see the wisdom in my position, so I explained my position in a torrent of words, just as I will explain now.

It's not that I object to expecting a lot of students. I just think it's unwise to convey to students the idea that the most important commitment they have is to their school work. When educators take pride in their rigorous programs, I'm not much impressed by it. I suspect that sometimes it may be a smoke screen for what is actually empire building and consolidation of power in educational institutions--anything but a humble desire to serve for others' benefit.

How many times have you heard a teacher remind departing students to "remember to be available tonight for whatever your parents might need from you." Or "I hope this weekend all of you will find time to prepare well for your Sunday School class." Or even "I understand there's a youth group activity tonight. I hope you all will be able to make it."

Teachers and school administrators are usually very good people. They don't want to turn out unbalanced products, so they tweak here and add there to fortify weak areas wherever they appear. In the process they require an ever increasing time commitment from students. Why doesn't anyone think of just backing off on school demands and giving students time to participate in more outside-of-school learning and service opportunities? That would be a reasonable way to promote balance in the lives of students.


At least a dozen years ago when Arlyn was headed to NYC to teach, I remember telling him that I hoped he would remember that part of his job was to keep giving his students back to their parents at every opportunity. It wasn't a very fleshed-out admonition, and I don't know if he understood what I meant, but I suppose he does now. His fourth child was born last week.

I could have added that I don't mean to underestimate the importance of a teacher's contribution to a student's life. But students never really belong to teachers. They belong first of all to God, and then to their families. In time they will take their place in the church and community, and in the wider world. Teachers who forget this lose a sense for where they themselves fit into the bigger picture.

They tend to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think. They are, pure and simple, assisting with duties assigned by God to parents. Those parents, for some reason (perhaps a good and right reason), are looking to a teacher to do the job they can't or won't handle primarily by themselves.

In an ideal world, everyone would understand this, and parents would be ever-so-grateful for the help they get with carrying out their responsibility. Teachers would take care to be faithful to their parent-employers' agenda--not primarily concerned with how supportive the parents will be of the teacher's agenda.

The reality is that parents who don't embrace the demands of their own job are not likely to appreciate it very much when they get help with that job. Teachers who are party to the deception about who is primarily responsible for a child's training are not blameless. Parents who put teachers on a pedestal are not blameless either--as if teachers are astride white horses, doing a job not suited for lesser mortals. That's simply another way that parents sometimes excuse themselves from embracing their own responsibility.


If Will reads what I've written here, I wonder if he'll still want me to critique his teaching staff. He probably won't believe that bit about my having to muster up the gumption to say something critical. He'll read this and think it looks like it all comes naturally.

Really. I am much better at saying negative things when I don't have to do it to a real live person in front of me. And yes. I do love to share my opinions. Maybe when I do so on Teacher Evaluation Day I'll be able to refrain from detailing the whole load of my stellar insights. But this I will try to work in: "Remember that part of your job is to keep giving your students back to their parents at every opportunity." Someone should have told me that when I started teaching more than 35 years ago.

P.S. I do think highly of the teachers at the grade school, and I am not plotting to cut them down. I hope to be encouraging and helpful in every way.