Prairie View

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Quotes for the Day 3/29/2009

Shane: Grant, have you figured out whose suit you're going to borrow to wear at Joel's wedding?

Grant: Nooooo. Let's see. Someone short and fat. Short and fat.

(I doubt that this description is what would leap first into a person's mind if he/she were describing Grant. He is broad-shouldered and hard-muscled, but "short and fat," "short and fat" is a lot faster to say.)


Me: We used a push broom to sweep the snow off the tarp that covered the greenhouse roof.

Hiromi: We? You got a frog in your pocket?

Me: Hiromi used a push broom to sweep the snow off the tarp.


Me (to Hilda): When did your dad get home?

Hilda: At about 1:30. Everyone's luggage had stayed behind in Atlanta. They figured that out while they were still in Minneapolis.

Me: I guess there were several good reasons for not having church at regular time this morning.


Joel: I was going home on Trail West Road when I came to a four-foot wall of snow. It looked like there were tracks right up to it, but nothing had gone through. So I turned around and went back to 14 and drove a mile north and then west and back south and came into town by dirt roads. They had been plowed, and I got home that way.


Me (last night, talking on the phone to Grant) : When are you coming home?

Grant: We'll probably work through the night yet. This parking lot at Loewen's is terrible. There are ten-foot drifts up against the south side of the building.

He finally got home about 1:30 this afternoon. He was hungry and tired, and his face was snow-burned. Before he got here, Shane recalled how he had hated that particular parking lot when he worked at snow removal in past winters. There are about ten loading docks, and the slope downward to the building in that area traps lots of snow. Bringing the snow up the incline to dispose of it can be nearly impossible if gaining traction becomes an issue, as it often does.


Joseph (who appeared in our driveway on a tractor after 9:00 last night) : I thought I had to clear the parking lot at church, but when I got there it was all done, so I decided to do a good deed for someone else instead.

He scooped and dumped enough snow so that our vehicles can come and go between their parking spaces and the road. Yaaayyyyy! And God bless Joseph. Earlier in the day he had tried to leave their place and couldn't get through by the usual route, even with a big tractor.

Snowplows are getting stuck on some of the township roads, and the round top shed belonging to Nathanael and Gloria collapsed under the weight of wet snow. He had been in the shed earlier yesterday morning and heard some unfamiliar creaking, popping sounds, so he moved his pickup, camper, smoker, etc. outside. The snow-moving equipment had already been moved out. About 30 minutes after he went back into the house, he heard a bigger noise and the next time he looked, the roof had a V-shape instead of a round top.


Post from Marcus' Facebook: I am a big boy. My truck is a really big truck. The drift was bigger. I am suffering from an inferiority complex. (I'm quoting Joel from memory.)

He was part of the snow-clearing crew Grant was working with. After his unsuccessful attempt to get going, he called Danny to pull him out with the tractor. Danny got stuck with the tractor. And so it went. Which is why their planned early morning start did not get underway till 10:00. They were all working for Nathanael, who was having his own disasters to deal with. See above.


Shane (at our dining room table) : After we decided to have breakfast here at 9:00, we found out that LaVernes are planning to have all the Kuepfers at their place for an 11:00 noon meal. So I guess we'll have plenty to eat this morning.

I think Dorcas felt like a veteran at Sunday morning Japanese breakfasts, compared to Hilda, who is game, but still a little cautious. The natto looked daunting, with its naturally stringy texture. Joel recalled that we've never tried very hard to get dubious people to like natto, given the fact that it comes in small quantities, and when everyone wants a share, the individual portions are minuscule. But all in our family are fond of it, despite none of us having liked it very well on the first try. (It's "cultured"--not "moldy" as Hiromi says--a soybean product.)


Me (to Shane) : Is your recording ready yet? I haven't heard anything for a while.

Shane: It's really close, but not quite done.

Dorcas: The guy that's doing it doesn't seem to be in a big hurry.

Shane: Part of my marketing plan is to have you advertise it on your blog. It's payback time. After the hundreds of people who've told me what they've heard about me on your blog, you owe me.

Me: Well, give me the details when it's ready, and I'll let people know.


Telephone Message (David's voice) : This is One Call Now with a message for you.

Good Morning. This message is to outline the schedule of the commissioning service for Craig and Rachel. We will begin at 6:30 this evening, and expect the service to be over around 8:00. We will lift the regular Sunday morning offering. Today it will be for the building fund. The carry-in that follows can include finger foods, as well as regular foods. We want to use this opportunity to bless and encourage Craig and Rachel as they embark on this challenging endeavor. God's blessings to each of you today.

Rescue Operation

If you had awakened at 4:30 on a Sunday morning to find the electricity off and the thermometer reading from the remote sensor in the greenhouse registering 32 degrees, what would you have done?

Hiromi knew just what to do. Bring all those flats inside, through the frigid night air, wading through deep snowdrifts while doing so. I knew enough to find a big tub in which to carry each individual flat, the tub covered by an old folded terry tablecloth. I also moved the plants away from the dining room windows so the flats could be passed through the window to the warmth of the house. The forecast low was 17 degrees, which was precisely the temperature at 7:00 A.M., as it turned out. "I'm glad I shoveled away the snow from the gate," Hiromi said, as he bundled up.

When everything was ready, Hiromi trudged out to the greenhouse, pulled back the cattle-panel gate he's placed there to deter Max and began to unzip the greenhouse door. Right then the power came back on.

What would you have done then? Would you have gone ahead and unzipped the door, walked inside to check the other thermometer hanging there, to see if the remote sensor was accurate? Would you have lifted the plastic covering the plants to see if they were alright? Would you have cheerfully announced that the reading on the other thermometer was 28 degrees?

Or would you have thanked the Lord audibly and hurried indoors where it was warm, happy to trust the Lord and the electric heater to work their magic on the frigid temperatures--not flooding the interior of the greenhouse with freezing night air, waiting to check on things in the warm light of a sunny day? That's what I would have done.

Today the remote sensor has registered temperatures as high as 96 degrees. I am not hurrying out to ventilate or investigate. Let the warmth sink deep into the soil those plants are growing in, and warm the water in those black barrels we've put there to function as heat sinks. I am being patient. Good news or bad news--either one can wait till tomorrow.

An average temperature of 75 degrees for the day sounds just right.

This morning we discovered that the electricity had been off for about three hours. We rested comfortably during nearly all of that time. And the desperate action during the last few minutes of those three hours did absolutely nothing to affect the welfare of our plants--except for Hiromi's curiosity-prompted actions. The jury is still out on that one.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Favorite Multi-Use Outdoor Items

Several of the things we have bought or have access to have begun to feel almost indispensable. The money we paid for them was money well-spent.

1. Dog kennel. Ours is 10 x 10 x 6. Besides containing dogs, ours has housed sheep, goats, and calves. We've had rabbit hutches inside it to protect the rabbits from dogs or predators, and right now, the panels are protecting the greenhouse plastic from Max.

2. Large pet carrier. We have the largest size, and it has been used for kids (the hairy, bleating kind), lambs, ducklings, goslings, and chicks. Some of them were housed in the dining room temporarily, but confined as they were, it worked out fine. We've also used it as a dog house by putting straw in the bottom and a tarp over the top.

3. Fiberglass calf hutch. At various times, we have used it to house calves, goats, sheep, poultry, and dogs and cats. It stays dry inside, and warm in the winter. I have also used it as a temporary greenhouse. The calf hutches still belong to Dad, but if he ever sells them, I want one or more of them.

4. Small stock tank. Empty ones are perfect for young poultry. Good ones make a fun splashing pool, or a fish tank, or a "rain barrel" for catching irrigation water on the side of the house where we have plants but no water hydrant or faucet. Leaky tanks can also become impromptu compost bins or planters. We bought ours originally to use for water storage in a gravity-flow system of chicken waterers--when we were raising several hundred chickens for a friend.

5. Feed and water pans made from recycled tires. They don't blow away very easily. They absorb heat in the winter sunshine and melt any ice inside. If you have to dump out the ice, the tapered sides make it possible to do so. Max can drag them around, but not destroy them. We use ours for grain and water for pets and small farm animals.

6. Heat lamp. This can keep lots of things from freezing--the water in the chicken house, plants in the greenhouse, the water line at the well, and it can keep animal babies warm when necessary.

7. Straw bales. These are obviously not durable goods as the other things in the list are. But they are wonderful nonetheless. With the addition of a tarp, they can be used to create a temporary insulated structure to protect animals or plants. They're used sometimes around the outside perimeter of an old house to keep it warmer in the winter. Taken apart, the bales serve their most common purposes well, for animal bedding and garden mulch.

8. Tarp. I've already mentioned using this in combination with some of the above items. Keeping things dry, protecting from wind damage (especially insulating materials), providing shade are all ways we've used tarps.

Not all of these things would be useful in a city backyard, but for a country home, or an animal-loving or self-sufficiency-oriented family, these are good things, and worth acquiring.

Overnighting All Over the Country

Last night our ministers and mission board members, some with their spouse, were scattered out in a number of different cities for the night. They probably should have stayed in Florida another day.

Lorne and Grace were in Houston, Gary and Rosanna in Dallas, Dad in Atlanta, David, Amos, and Oren and Jo in Minneapolis. Julian and Bertha were still in Florida, as far as I know, and LaVerne and Rebecca had scooted home just ahead of the worst of the the blizzard. All of them traveled by air, courtesy of a travel-agent church member.

Dad is scheduled to arrive in Wichita around 9:00 P.M. and the Minneapolis bunch around 11:00.

Church is canceled for tomorrow morning, and plans are still being formed for a commissioning service in the afternoon or evening. The sun is shining and the wind has died down. The temperature is up to 41 degrees, so the plowed roads are emerging nicely out of the snow. But our driveway is not navigable.

Shane and Dorcas showed up here around 3:00. They had fairly clear sailing between here and Colorado by taking a more northerly and less direct route--on I-70 rather than US 50. At Ellsworth, KS they headed south on K-14, which passes through the area five miles west of us. However, they had to turn back on this side of Sterling, when they reached some impassable drifts. They threaded their way east to Nickerson, and came by here from the north. They parked their car at the road and walked in by stepping high and wide in the tracks Hiromi had made earlier.

Dorcas' parents are still en route here by car from Virginia--headed here for tomorrow's commissioning service. They encountered freezing rain around Kansas City and were progressing very slowly part of the time.

In our front yard, a drift several feet high creates a barrier between the porch steps and the drive. Grant seems to have made off with our best snow-moving shovel--not a great one, at that, so Hiromi did his best at clearing snow from the porch with a push broom. He made one foray outside after the snow quit around noon to see that the dog, cats, birds, and sheep are all taken care of.

He came in exhausted, with his boots full of snow and his pant legs wet past his knees. When he fed the sheep and called them, they answered from the hog barn where they had gone for the night. A deep drift blocked their exit, and they weren't about to plow through it, so Hiromi took their feed to them. That was especially awkward, trying to carry the feed pan and all. He looked very short and slightly disabled.

I handed him a measuring stick, and Hiromi trekked to the middle of the front yard (walking right over the place where the irises were coming up, I noted) to plunge it into the snow for a measurement. "Sixteen or seventeen inches," he announced.

Max, with all his "toys" buried under snow or confiscated last week and deposited in the trash, made the best of the situation by chewing off the rubber coating on the broom handle Hiromi had propped up next to the front door. He also dragged his blanket out of the garage and left it on the driveway drift by the porch. Anything to make the place feel like home, I guess.

This morning he went charging around, breaking through the snow, or sliding over the top. He came by the picnic table where Hiromi spreads bird feed, and since the surface was at nose level anyway, he sniffed it well and tried a bit of the bird seed for taste.

The black iron kettle in which Mom used to heat her wash water has been used for a planter for several decades now. This morning only the rim was visible, the rest buried under snow. It sported a lovely "whipped cream" dollop of topping.

Lowell's children made a snow cave in a drift so high that Lowell, who is 6 feet tall, could just see over the top.

The snow plow that went through around 1:30 must have nailed our mailbox. It's now headed south instead of east.

The latest prediction for tonight's low is 17 degrees. That is about 17 degrees too cold for the fruit trees that were in bloom. The miniature daffodils I enjoyed last week while we constructed the greenhouse are tucked away out of sight. I wonder what more than a foot of snow does to daffodils.

We haven't heard from Grant since his triumphant and cheeky declaration after having arrived at Kenny's place. He's probably intoxicated with making money from all the snow-pushing he gets to do. It's a good antidote for the heebie-jeebies built up after a week of hardly working at all, except here at home in the yard, and in the kitchen, when I pressed him into service.

Several others were at Kenny's house for the evening and ended up staying for the night, David and Ida after getting stuck once on the way home. They got out finally and headed back to Kenny's house. Today when Shane and Dorcas came by close to their home, the 4WD truck was stuck again. David was babysitting it while he waited for help to dig or pull it out. Ida had walked home, about a mile away. I wonder if she could still feel her feet by the time she got there.

A day of rest tomorrow will be welcome this week for many reasons, especially for those who will wake up in their own bed, after having spent the previous night in an airport. A beauty-feast for the eyes will be part of the pleasure, especially from inside the house. For the children or child-like, the enchanted playground outdoors will call for celebration. For dogs like Max, it will be time to look for something new to chew on or drag out for display. As for Grant--we're counting on him to figure out what to do about this snow-clogged driveway. For him, it may not be a day of rest.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Praying for Rain

We are nearly one month into daylight savings time and my alarm clock still does not know it. It faithfully rings at 5:30, which is actually 6:30, but that's OK since I don't need to get up that early anyway since Hiromi got laid off and does not have a job to go to. It's annoying though to have to go back to the bedroom from wherever I am in the house to shut off that bleeping alarm.

We are one week into spring and in the middle of a blizzard, after a winter with very little snow or rain. The brave little greenhouse that withstood wind gusts to 60 MPH last week is covered with a snow load it was not designed to carry, even after Hiromi took the push broom out and dragged the snow off. ("Bring in the canopy if heavy snow is expected.") The plants are huddled under a second layer of plastic which I covered them with, thinking it might go down to 28 degrees as predicted. A little electric space heater valiantly pushes back against the cold and the temperature has stayed at 39 degrees or higher so far. Solar gain is nil during a blizzard though, and I'm praying hard over those plants.

This time of year I'm tempted to feel angry about the weather, which seems ruthless and unfair sometimes when the wind is wild and the temperatures are brutal. All that is mixed in with perfectly lovely balmy and sunny days when all seems right with the world, and we are easily tricked into trusting the elements too far.

The temperature is to go down to 22 degrees tonight, and the wind is to stay at about 25-30 MPH, with gusts to 39 through tomorrow forenoon. Visibility is poor and US 50 2 miles away is closed. My father and his fellow ministers are stranded in Atlanta en route home from the minister's meetings in Florida. Dad is concerned about Lowell's cows calving during this blizzard. When he's home, he faithfully keeps tabs on them. They're here on the farm where we live.

Spring Celebration in Pleasantview is canceled for the first time in history. And Pilgrim students didn't get an extra day off from school because they were already on spring break.

Shane and Dorcas finished their day's work on Thursday and drove home in snow, checked the weather and road conditions between Penrose, CO and here, threw their clothes together, and headed out for the weekend. It looked like they might be able to outrun the storm moving this way from CO within the first hour or so. They were coming for the commissioning of Dorcas' sister and husband, who plan to leave for a new home in Thailand this week. About five miles from home, when they got to US 50, the road had been closed to traffic, due to a five-car pileup. It was just as well, since they could hardly see to drive because of blowing snow. They went back home and are still there, hoping to leave again tomorrow morning, with hopes that the storm will have exited this area before they enter it. Skies are blue in Penrose.

Hiromi and I transplanted tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc. at the dining room table this afternoon. We had planned to do that inside the greenhouse. I've run out of space under the grow lights, so these poor plants will sit somewhere in the semi-dark till next Tuesday or so when it gets warm enough to move them into the light of the greenhouse. Every night and every day till then will be too cold. Dark will hurt them less than cold.

Predictions are for the snow to be as deep as 15 inches before it quits. It's hard to tell how much has fallen because the surface is either bare or under drifts--none of the nice even layers I hear they get in some places.

Grant, who is sure that his mother does not know much about these things, headed out tonight for Kenney's house where Marc will pick him up early tomorrow morning to go clear snow off parking lots in Hutchinson. In my opinion, that is not Grant's responsibility (Who in their right mind will be out in those parking lots anyway?), and he had no business going anywhere tonight. He spun and slid in the driveway before he made it to the road. I don't think there are roads open all the way between here and Kenny's house. (P.S. Hiromi just now called him to see where he was. He was at Kenny's house. "Tell Mom I stayed on the road the whole time. Neener.")

Blizzards are fine by me if no one has to go anywhere, and if we have electricity throughout. They are far less disastrous than last winter's ice storm. But someone always does have to go out to meet obligations somewhere, and doing regular farm chores can be hideously complicated by a blizzard, so I could not, in good conscience, wish for a blizzard. But if God thinks of it, what can I say?

We've been praying for rain. Silly us. It was snow we needed, and only God knew.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vocabulary Words

Grant works for Jared, who has a 2-year old son, Dale. Grant gets a charge out of hearing Dale talk, and reports some of his more interesting creations.

Breakfast=Freckus (not to be confused with fracas. I don't think Jared and Yolie's meals are quite that chaotic.)

Grandpa=Pum (No one can figure out where this comes from.)

Grandpa David=Chicken Pum (He has chickens and makes and sells a neat chicken tractor--the Egg Cart'n.)

Grandpa Brent=Cow Pum (He is a dairyman. The pattern here obviously is identification according to most important possessions.)

Forklift=Fork Flip (I hope this is not a commentary on what happens every time the forklift is in use.)

Someday Dale will grow up and have a vocabulary as boring as ours. Sigh.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Talking About Trouble

I’ve noticed that people seem to have varying tolerances for talking about their own troubles or listening sympathetically to others talk about their problems. Often these matters also involve other family members, and this is where things get more tricky fast. I’ve tried to figure out if I’m too close-lipped or too loose-lipped in this regard. I haven’t succeeded.

One thing I’ve settled in my mind long ago is that I would be foolish to try to control what other people say or think about me and my family. The energy expended in that regard is largely wasted, in my opinion. Information control is an occupation I have no interest in, and little vision for enabling in others. In general, I think the best help and the best decisions can happen when openness is more in evidence than tight control of information.

I have a close friend who has undergone a metamorphosis since I’ve first known her. She used to speak freely about what she experienced, what she feared, and how she and her family had failed. Then she came to see that talking about how bad things were could make it harder for people she loved to find acceptance again when their troubles had begun to be resolved, and they sought restored relationships. Now she is quite reserved about what she reveals, even when things are seriously wrong, and others’ prayers are needed. I hardly know whether it’s better to ask, to let her know I’m not forgetting about the need, and am still praying, or to wait till she talks to me if she wants to. I recognize, however, that she has grown by leaps and bounds in her desire and ability to trust God in difficult times, so I’m not ready to conclude that she is making a mistake now by being more reserved.

I’ve also seen the opposite—where people talk more freely than seems appropriate to me about the details of their own lives and the lives of those close to them. The accounts are rich in drama and desperation, replete sometimes with details I’d just as soon not know. Frequent, similar, and urgent requests come from some of these people. I wish I were more like Jesus–never tiring of hearing about people’s needs–no matter how often or in what way they are expressed. Usually I remember Jesus’ way quickly enough not to take offense at what people say about their own or others’ needs.

How about prayer calls? Is it possible to overdo the spreading of information regarding the needs of people neither you nor the recipient of the information is closely associated with? This disaster or that threatens someone. Serious illness is suspected. A crisis looms. Oh my. I don’t know about this either. I reason that my most important responsibility in such cases is to pray, but maybe it’s not the same for everyone. Maybe it is important for some people to be diligent in spreading the word about needs, especially when they carry responsibility for the welfare of the people involved.

Can people request prayer out of self-centered motives? I think I’ve seen that. They do not seem interested in praying for others nearly as much as they are in others praying for them.

I do know that, when I know a person will pray, I’ve never yet been offended if someone asked me about a need of mine or within my family. I cry sometimes–not out of shame, but in gratitude that someone else is willing to help carry my burden. Or maybe the situation simply begs for some release, and I find it when someone is willing to listen.

Because I tend to think by talking or writing, I am more likely to err on the side of saying too much rather than too little. I have my limits though, and will not say to everyone some things that I feel free to share with others who are close to me.

All this reflection on openness/guardedness would certainly be out of order if it resulted in less needful sharing or praying than would happen otherwise. I hope people always feel free to ask me about things they wonder about in my situation–if they will pray, that is. In turn, I promise to listen without condemnation if others share their needs and ask me to pray.

And I will probably go back to trying to be discerning about how and when I volunteer information about my own needs and ask others to pray.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Canopies Make Excellent Kites

The threat of severe spring weather brings a new concern this year.

Even before Hiromi's layoff, we had decided that we would put extra efforts into our gardening, with plans to offer surplus plants and produce for sale. "Don't try to keep any seeds over till next year," Hiromi told me. So we planted lots of seeds. (I wrote earlier how the difference between 30 seeds at retail price or 100-1000 seeds at wholesale price is often negligible.)

Last week Hiromi finished putting together a small metal-framed, plastic-covered greenhouse we had ordered, after considering various other temporary homemade designs. For under $300.00, the cost seemed reasonable. The plastic is sturdy, with stronger cords woven into it.

However, some of the instructions and disclaimers that came with the canopy (the plastic cover) were not particularly reassuring. "[The company] does not guarantee these canopies in snow or ice under any circumstances. These are designed to protect against damages caused by the sun, rain, tree sap, birds, etc. . . . . If your canopy is not anchored securely, it will fly away. Canopies made excellent kites. If your canopy takes flight we will not send free replacements. Anchoring is your responsibility. . . . .If you know that a strong weather front is coming--remove the cover. The cover is designed to be quickly and easily removed." (Just for the record, the cover at first would not fit over the frame at all. Only after we took it all apart and hack-sawed off a piece at the end of nearly all the pipes, could we put it back together and have the canopy fit. Let's not talk about having discovered that the canopy was inside out after it was finally wrestled into place.)

We've moved more than a dozen flats of plants into the greenhouse, and, as soon as we've done more transplanting, that number will grow fast. The plants looks happy and I'm happy to have room under the grow lights for some of the heat-loving, newly sprouted plants that are coming along.

But the weather forecast causes consternation. Here's the general one:

"A strong storm system will move across the Central Plains Monday and Monday Night. Gulf moisture will gradually return northward ahead of this system with the help of strong southerly winds. Severe thunderstorms will be possible ahead of the dryline and cold front passage Monday Afternoon into Monday Night."

A more specific one for our county says:

"Showers and thunderstorms likely, mainly after 1pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 77. Windy, with a south wind between 29 and 34 mph, with gusts as high as 45 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%."

The low temperature for Tuesday night is predicted to be 34 degrees. That's too cold for comfort--for me, and for my warmth-loving plants. I do hope for the greenhouse to provide some protection from the cold, and we have a small electric heater we can put in there if needed.

But all that will be contingent upon the canopy not making like a kite and flying away. We have screwed anchors into the ground and passed ropes up and over the greenhouse to hold the canopy onto the frame. To that effort we are adding our prayers. Depending on how things go during the day tomorrow we may decide to pass a rope around the corner post and water-filled barrel at each corner of the greenhouse. Those barrels would be no match for a tornado, but might stand up to a 45 MPH wind. They were installed to serve as heat sinks and support for shelves to increase the greenhouse's capacity, but adding a third function to their duties would not overtax them.

The idea of bringing in the canopy if a weather front is coming. . . . That obviously has a lot more to do with liability protection than common sense. Can't you just see my carefully nurtured plants beaten by wind, rain, and possibly hail and tornadoes, and near-freezing temperatures while the canopy purchased and installed to protect them is safely folded away inside the house? I'll take my chances with the canopy in place on the greenhouse frame where it is right now. It it's done in by a tornado, the greenhouse and the plants will probably be the least of our worries.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


For the fourth time in his life, Hiromi has been laid off. This time it was after nearly 12 years of working for the same company.

While we understand that when demand for the company's products dries up things can not continue as before, we lament the specifics of this situation.

The politics of the workplace have been a thorn in Hiromi's side in several of the large companies he has worked for. This company was no exception, except that here it seemed to center almost entirely on "Jim," who was one of the two men in the room when Hiromi was interviewed for a job. The other person was the company president, John.

Hiromi noticed Jim's body language during the interview and was puzzled by it. He kept his eyes closed part of the time and would not look directly at Hiromi. It all made sense when he realized that only John really wanted to hire him, and "Jim" saw him as a threat to his job and his brother's job.

The company is owned by someone in Japan. Its manufacturing equipment comes from there, and Hiromi would have been perfectly suited for maintaining those machines. He has a degree in electronics, he is trained as a computerized numeric control (CNC) operator (most of the machines are CNC machines), he has worked as a computer repairman, and he has a diverse maintenance background. Most significantly for this situation, he can read and understand the Japanese manuals for the machines. But "Jim's" brother was the maintenance person, and Jim was not about to see his brother edged out. So Hiromi never got to do the job John wanted him to do. Instead, he tumbled parts to give them the final polish before they went out the door. It was a category C job, but because he had been hired for a category B job--equipment maintenance--he always was paid according to the B scale.

Hiromi did outstanding work, as he always does. He is precise and organized, and figured out various inexpensive improvements for the tumbling process. The quality control department honored him publicly for these improvements. Before Hiromi came, whole "buckets" of parts sometimes rusted from being tumbled in the abrasive liquid too long. When that happened, thousands of dollars worth of parts had to be discarded. Because this was the final step in the manufacturing process, discarding parts at this stage represented lots of expensive manufacturing input.

Hiromi was reasonably happy with his job, reasoning that as long as he gets paid well for it, he'll do whatever they give him to do. However, from time to time, when a CNC job opened up, he applied for it, and was never hired. In spite of the company policy requiring that applicants from within the company be considered first, others were always hired, sometimes from outside the company. Jim was involved in these decisions.

For the past several months, Hiromi has known that "Jim" plans to retire in late March. He told me, "I'm afraid Jim will do one last dirty trick before he retires--fire me. If I can just survive longer than he, I think I've got a good chance of hanging on to my job as long as the company survives."

Five people were laid off at the same time as Hiromi. All of them were fairly recent hires.

From the company's side, I don't suppose there is a comfortable way to handle the lay-off process. But, from where I sit, it seems that calling the unlucky few into a meeting after afternoon break, giving them the news and handing them an information packet, and then immediately escorting them out of the building sounds too much like a teacher isolating a trouble-maker student who might "poison" the classroom atmosphere. Is this common protocol? Am I missing a redeeming feature in this approach?

At least "Jim" did not display the same grim-mouthed, angry-eyed, punch-stepping body language Hiromi saw after the meeting in which a fellow-employee's wage was cut by $12.00 an hour. Like Hiromi, this person was also doing a job below his official classification. Unlike Hiromi, however, he had actually done the CNC job he was hired for, quitting only when he was injured on the job and needed back surgery. When he returned to work about six months later, his job had been given to someone else. This act was justified because he had overstayed his "vacation" by several days. That person worked very hard too in the new job he was given.

John retired as company president within the past year, and the new president is a Japanese man about Hiromi's age, who has become a good friend. Hiromi was always conscious of not cozying up to him in any unprofessional way, but "Sam" felt free to seek Hiromi out and talk shop with him. He obviously felt comfortable with Hiromi in a way he didn't with others in the company. Hiromi had hoped maybe Sam could run interference if his job ever was in danger of being axed. Sam understood instinctively, in a way that no American is ever likely to, that Hiromi is valuable to a company because he has a company loyalty ethic that is very rare among American employees. He has always helped by befriending new people and showing them the ropes, and helping in any department that needs help, if his own work is done. That others have not understood his motivations has been another thorn in Hiromi's side during all his years in the American workplace.

For now, Hiromi is throwing his energies into projects we're working on together here at home. I love having him home.

We're grateful for God's watchful care, and for the unemployment check he is eligible for.

We're mindful too that the company of the unemployed is populated by people who all have their own "lamentable specifics" stories. It's an especially good time to lend a listening ear and a heartfelt prayer in their behalf. For those who have no safety net as we do, opening our hands and our checking accounts might be called for as well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quote for the Day 3/17/2009

Louisa was here yesterday to get some help with planning a landscaping project.

Louisa: Have you been getting some sewing done while you're on sabbatical?

Me: Not yet. But I still need a new dress for Joel and Hilda's wedding, and I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to tackle it, or see if I want to pay Hannah to do it.

Louisa: You really don't like to sew, do you? If you did, you'd find a way to get it done.

Me: Well. . . I've always thought I liked it. I did a lot of sewing when I was pretty young. And I sewed for my boys when they were young. But I think it's harder to do when you don't do much of it. And the last years, I haven't had to do much of it, so I'm out of practice.
Actually the main thing that keeps me from sewing right now is that my sewing machine is in the repair shop. I dumped potting soil over it, and it needs cleaning.

Louisa (laughing) : Now that sounds like Mrs. I for sure.

I think Louisa's final comment was an analysis of priorities--not clumsiness or dexterity.

The potting soil incident was not deliberate. Really. I had a potted plant on the shelf behind and above the sewing machine. I don't remember how it happened, but I was there, doing something, when the plant tumbled forward right onto the sewing machine and made a colossal mess.

I do wonder, though, if I really and truly like sewing. Maybe not as much as I thought. Or maybe it's just that I'm always over-thinking things, and by the time I'm done figuring it all out, it feels like I've worked hard enough to deserve a rest before I tackle such an enormous job. It's a special affliction of ADD-prone individuals--thinking at the speed of light and working at the speed of molasses flow in January.

Sigh. Sometimes it's tough to be me.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Homemade Entertainment

Yesterday when we got home from church, our toddler dog Max had outdone himself with his yard and porch bedecking efforts. An old blanket trailed partway up the porch steps where Max apparently abandoned it on its way to a resting spot on the porch. A partially obliterated boot box, scrubbing brush, the hard hat that came with the chainsaw, a deflated soccer ball, a possum carcass, several flower pots, the floor mat he chewed up, and other bits and pieces adorned the area around the porch and parking area. Where does he find these things? Max was very happy to see us however, and it's really hard to stay mad at an eager smiling dog.

This morning, while I was still in bed, I heard a grating, creaking sound from the open garage where Max sleeps, and I knew he was playing with the punching bag suspended from the ceiling. He stands on his hind legs and places his paws on it till it swings away and his feet drop. The motion of the chain hanging from the rafters creates a distressing sound I mistakenly identified, the first time I heard it, as a cat with a serious attitude problem. I wonder why I didn't think of Max and the punching bag first.

Hiromi laughs about Max's habit of accelerating just before he rounds the southwest corner at the back of the house. The cat dish is there, and he's already anticipating the fun of chasing whatever innocent cats he finds.

Silly dog, but resourceful and always in-the-moment--a good way to stay entertained.


Yesterday after church my cousin Karen told me about the seven-year-old son who is giving her fits with his ravenous appetite for knowledge. He zips through his homeschool tasks, except when he is bored silly with doing reading lessons designed to teach slower students how to read, or math exercises he already knows cold. He reads very well and would like to be left alone so he can get on with the business. He wants to learn something new in math.

He dawdles with the dishes because he spends so much time experimenting with letting the soapy water drain "just so" from the strainer, and working the levers for the salad tongs. He regales the MCC Friendship Meals visitors with stories that embarrass his parents--running at the mouth, his mother calls it.

I didn't have a remedy for the running-at-the-mouth malady, but I urged Karen to do what I did with Joel when he was that age--introduce the new concepts in math, and let him skip the review, as long as he keeps getting 90% or higher on the tests he takes every five lessons. In reading, let him read, and skip the learning-to-read exercises. I recommended the same thing for my neice, Hannah, when she was that age, and her mother agrees that nothing much was lost in the process. The great gain was that she never lost her love for learning--something I think could happen easily with a bored seven-year-old.


Last night at our parents' place, where Myron's and Lowell's families and Linda and I had gathered, I noted six-year-old Diana's efforts to stay occupied. She arrived with a long silky magenta scarf around her neck. That scarf became her salvation when she needed diversion. First she put it over her face and tied it in the back. Then she went around to everyone in the room and identified them by touching them. Even Fred, the elderly widower who was visiting--Noah, Rachel, and Jacob's grandpa--was inspected and identified. (I don't think that scarf was as opaque as it looked.)

Tiring of that, she tied one end around her mother's foot, elevated as it was on the recliner tongue, circled the other foot beside it with a knot and crossed the void in the middle of the living room to tie the other end to her dad's shoe, lofted in a manly, open crossing of his legs. This apparently pleased her, and it stayed there for a while. I visually isolated it as if seen through a camera lens, and was amused. Rhoda accused me of plotting a blog post when she saw me eyeing it. She's a perceptive woman.


And now, on to working on that little greenhouse that arrived in a box last week by UPS. The frame is assembled and sits squarely in the lead-up to Max's cat-chasing corner. I can only imagine how he might amuse himself with the greenhouse plastic as soon as it appears--annoyed as he undoubtedly will be at his cat-access being obstructed by it.

I delight in the resourcefulness of children and overgrown puppies, but not that much. If he destroys my greenhouse, any blog posts about it will not be as cheerful and forgiving as this one. Homemade entertainment has its limits, and Max is about to learn about some of them. Dog kennel panels and water-filled barrels on the outside perimeter of the greenhouse--here we come.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wildlife in the Parlor

Several days ago when Grant was pulling milkers apart in Brent's milking parlor, he looked up to see a strange little animal tootling in through the open exit door. He thought at first it was an enormous rat, and called out to Brent, "What in the world is that thing?" Not in a hurry, the animal was making its way along the wall toward the entrance. (Obviously he did not have the milking traffic flow patterns down pat, coming in the "out" door like that--and out the "in" door.) He moseyed on out into the catch pen and disappeared.

"That's a muskrat!"

Grant had never seen one before. Although they live in Kansas, this far away from major waterways or lakes, they're a rare sight. I remember seeing a muskrat house only once--at Cheyenne Bottoms, the famous marshland about an hour and a half's drive northwest of here. That time I saw a small form swimming nearby.

How this particular creature ended up in the barnyard, and then in the milking parlor is anyone's guess.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

How to Grow Plants from Seed Indoors


1. No outdoor potting shed or greenhouse
2. A patient husband
3. A need for hundreds of baby plants not locally available elsewhere
4. Some professional experience and many more years of trial and error experience
5. Tolerance for tedious work
6. Limited finances, but not too limited
7. Bird feeders outside the windows--for diversion and relief of eye-strain
8. Time
9. Room in the house
10. A love for gardening


1. Flats (plant trays)--some with drainage holes, and some without
2. Poly packs (inserts for the plant trays)
3. Jiffy-7s (cookie-shaped dried, compressed peat moss that expands into a small plantable pot)
4. Potting soil from Stutzmans, or something similar--several 40-lb bags for starters
5. Seeds
6. Labeling material--plastic or wooden stakes, fade-proof, water-proof marking pens, weather-proof stick-on labels
7. Filing system for seeds--gallon-size zip-lock bags for corralling all the seeds to be planted each week--inserted into a regular folder which is then dropped into a hanging file--in a small plastic table-top filing basket
8. A potting tub--about six inches deep, except for the cut-away front, which is only two inches
9. Another tub--big enough to accommodate an entire filled flat, for bottom watering
10. Milled sphagnum moss--naturally anti-fungal, for covering planted seeds
11. A library of books on starting plants from seeds. I have Park's Success with Seed by Karen Park Jennings, From Seed to Bloom by Eileen Powell, The Seed Starter's Handbook by Nancy Bubel, and Plant Propagation A-Z: Growing Plants for Free by Geoff Bryant.
12. Dibblers, dibbers, or dibbles--depending on what you call those pencil-shaped things you poke into the soil to make a hole. Hiromi is making a multi-pronged one like we used to use at Stutzmans.
13. Heating mat--(or plant propagation mat) for raising the planted seeds to the proper germinating temperature
14. Plastic wrap--for preserving the moisture in planted, but unsprouted seedling packs
15. Florescent lights--four-foot shop light fixtures with ordinary bulbs
16. Chick grit--to cover anything you're going to stratify (cold treat) outdoors--so rainfall doesn't splash out your seeds.
17. A small refrigerator downstairs to store your seeds from one year to the next.
18. Chamomile tea--to use as a fungicide if mold starts growing somewhere on the surface of planted packs
19. Spray bottles--to moisten the tops of planted packs when the seeds are surface-sown and germinate too slowly to stay moist from the initial bottom watering
20. Watering can--to use after seeds are germinated and growing well
21. Shelves or tabletops--to hold flats
22. A spiral notebook--to use as a diary
23. A loose-leaf notebook to collect records--seed orders, germinating requirements, etc.
24. A small notebook to use for writing down daily "to-do" tasks
25. A sifter/screen--hardware cloth forming the bottom of a wooden "box"--when finer soil is needed
26. Fertilizer--liquid, preferably
27. Scoops--various sizes, for moving soil and filling containers (Tin cans to the rescue here.)
28. A big sink--for washing containers that are being reused. I don't have this.
29. Scrub brush
30. Bleach--to mix with water in a 1:9 ratio for disinfecting reused containers
31. Timers--to control the grow lights automatically to come on for 16 hours a day
32. Extra chains--for suspending the grow lights and making the height adjustable
33. A place for filing receipts--to document expenses
34. Small soil tampers and row-makers--Hiromi is making these for me.
35. Salt shaker--for distributing fine seeds
36. Extension cords and power strips--for connecting all the lights to a receptacle


1. Choose varieties of seeds to order. I base this on information from our state extension service, lectures I've heard, reading I've done, tolerance to heat and drought, suitability for my purposes, and my own experience. Obsess over this till you're sure you've got the best value for your money. Wish you could afford to order plugs for everything--plants already growing, and ready to pot on into bigger containers.

2. Make sure funds are available, swallow hard, and place the orders.

3. Wait on pins and needles till the seeds arrive. Plan to be home when the UPS man comes so the dog doesn't open the seed packages before you see them.

4. File them immediately when they arrive--by the week in which they should be planted. Everything hinges on the Average Frost Free Date (AFFD)--April 15 here. If transplants go into the garden then, and they need 8 weeks to grow to that size, the seed packet goes into the folder marked Week 8, which, in my case, gives it a Feb. 18 sowing date. Onions need to be planted 12 weeks before setting out--on Jan. 1. This gets them ready for the garden 2 weeks before the AFFD, when they should be planted outdoors. (That's why I don't do onions from seed.)

5. Collect all the above supplies from their scattered storage or landing places. (Sigh. That dedicated potting shed would really be nice--as would built-in organizing powers.)

6. Hyperfocus on planting one or more days each week. Decide if the seeds should be direct-seeded outdoors. If the answer is no, proceed to the next step. First you empty the seed packet into a tiny flat, preferably white, dish--like the Japanese dipping sauce dishes we have an abundance of. Place each seed individually, in rows, unless they're so fine that breathing hard on them would scatter them into oblivion. Then you pinch as few as you can and drop them as precisely as possible, planning to thin later. Or you mix them with sugar or fine sand and spread them with a salt shaker--giving up on the rows. Don't cover any of the seeds that need light to germinate. You will need to research this, if you're planting flowers. Also, use the Jiffy-7s for any plants that do not tolerate transplanting. You will need to research this also. Figure out if there are special germination temperature requirements--like alternating day/night temps, cold treatment, extra warmth, etc. More research required. Pray that you don't get lots of seeds like pansies which require surface sowing and darkness to germinate. If the seeds cost 75 cents each, don't waste a single seed. Think Crambe (Sea Kale) or Purple Majesty Millet.

7. Label every single kind of thing you plant. Otherwise, you will forget. Don't use any writing method the sun will fade or the water will wash away. Wish you had enough money to buy all the ready-made labels you need. They even have a picture.

8. Set all the planted packs into the watering tub to absorb water till the surface of the soil is wet. Drain the excess water, and find an empty spot in the dining room for the flat, unless it needs the heating mat in the basement. Appropriate all your baking pans to catch drips, until the flats are dry enough to move to newspapers. Have plastic wrap ready to cover the flats if they've gone more than five days or so without sprouting. Tell then, they'll likely stay fairly moist.

9. Multiple times a day, check the planted packs in the dining room for signs of sprouting. At the first sign, hurry them to a spot under the lights. If you don't do this, the stem will elongate disgustingly and you'll end up with leggy plants. If you don't keep them in the dining room, you'll forget to check them, and they'll dry out and all the previous expense and effort will be wasted. The lights should be within inches of the sprouts.

10. Let the seedlings grow for several weeks, till they have several true leaves (as opposed to seedling leaves--which are usually quite different). Then transplant them into individual cells to grow on to planting-out size.

11. Water daily and fertilize weekly.

12. Find a way to grow them in a protected place outdoors when you run out of indoor space. I've used fiberglass calf hutches successfully, but I hate crawling into and stumbling out of them. Wish fervently for a proper greenhouse.

13. Move plants to the garden, or sell the plants to other gardeners who will never go to all this bother, but would like to have flowers for cutting, vegetable novelties--for beautiful colors or shapes, popping-good flavor, stellar nutritional qualities, well-adapted to local conditions, extraordinary keeping quality, etc.

14. Thank God for Hiromi's help this year, and pray for God's blessing on the project.

15. Pray that people will be understanding when you price your plants and seeds so that all this hard work will do more than pay for the materials cost.

If you're trying to figure out if growing from seeds is for you, and if you're not close enough to buy your plants from me, go ahead and try something--anything--and you will learn from it, and might even have wonderfully sturdy little plants to put in the garden when the time comes. Growing vegetables is relatively simple because nearly all of the seeds are reasonably large, most will germinate fairly quickly at room temperature, and they don't need light to germinate.

No matter what you do, rejoice in the miracle of life in a seed, and worship the God who created all life.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Taking What He Takes

Last week one day we got a call from someone whose husband takes the nutritional products we sell. The husband is a minister in one of the Beachy churches in our area. He is being treated for colon cancer. So far, he has had two surgeries. He had no chemotherapy after the first surgery, but the cancer returned and he then had chemotherapy, followed by a 12-hour surgery in another state, and followup chemo. He is still taking chemo. The phone call came because an acquaintance of theirs from the town where they live thought he looked so well, she wanted to know what he was taking so she could take the same thing. Unless I've been misinformed, that is not what people on chemo usually hear.

The nutritional products have been part of his personally selected regimen ever since shortly after the first surgery, except for a brief lapse, during which time the cancer returned.

The cancer patient's oncologist is very happy with his progress and test results. Recently he asked, "Did you say you're taking something else--vitamins or something?" He had, of course, told him earlier about the glyconutrients, and so he helpfully refreshed the doctor's memory.

Meanwhile, the preacher-friend is continuing to work at his cabinet-making job most of the time. He has a few days of feeling less well in connection with the chemo, but he spends other days working hard and loving it.

On a recent Saturday evening, the community where he lives organized a benefit supper to help compensate for his expenses. About 600 people attended. If all of them are praying people, the help they gave is far greater than the sum of dollars accummulated that evening.

The doctor in Nebraska who did the long surgery does only a limited number of them--one or two a week, as I recall. His method involves seeking out and removing all the little gel-like structures scattered in the abdominal cavity--places where cancer cells often reside. Then he floods the area with a dose of chemo drugs. Securing an appointment with this doctor was a good thing.


On the evening we met with the lady who wanted to take whatever the cancer patient was taking, the lady looked straight at me across the table and asked, "Do you take these products?"

"Yes. I take eight scoops a day." (of the glyconutrient powder)

"You have the most beautiful complexion."

I proceeded to tell her about the skin care products the company has. I use the products very sporadically (I told her that.), but I had used them that evening before I left home. They are paraben-free, water-based moisturizers, and clear, and they do make my skin feel soft.

I wondered if she thought that I'm much older than I really am. Maybe she thought my skin looked younger than my hair. In any case, I've never looked in the mirror and thought I have "the most beautiful complexion." Maybe the teenage acne memories are still too vivid. And I suppose if I had used paraben-preserved makeup all these years, I could blame them for whatever wrinkles the Kansas sun and wind are not responsible for.


When part of the colon is removed during surgery, you do know that what is left is a semi-colon? My brother Lowell told us that after his friend and age-mate's first cancer surgery.


I liked the way our friend summed up his experience with cancer and the good prognosis he has now. "It's always the Lord Who heals, but He uses different ways to accomplish that."


If our friend expresses as much gratitude to his oncologist and surgeons for what they did as he has to us for what we did, they're probably feeling the same warm fuzzies we are.


Disclaimer: Food supplements are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or mitigate any disease.

(Only pharmaceutical drugs can legally claim such powers.)

Teacher Evaluations Done

On Wednesday of last week, I spent most of the day at the grade school doing teacher evaluations. It was a good day, and fun to see all that is going on in the classrooms. I saw lots of things being done right, and I gave out many fours and fives on my five-point rating scale.

The teachers had planned a schedule for me, with visits during a time of the teacher's choosing. Before I left each classroom, I gave the teacher a blank copy of the evaluation form. I took the filled-out one with me and gave all of them together to the principal. All the sheets had added comments--some of them continued on the back of the sheet.

Here's my homemade evaluation form:



Activities during observation_______________________________________________


Scale: 5–Notable 3–Moderately in Evidence 1–Not Present ND--No Determination Possible

_____Students’ facial expressions are innocent/enlightened/interested?

_____Pleasant physical surroundings?

_____Orderly and relaxed atmosphere?

_____Evidence of preparation for classes?

_____Effective presentation of new material?

_____Effective answering of questions?

_____Smooth transitions between activities?

_____Good rapport between students and teacher?

_____Teacher models good handwriting?

_____Teacher models clear pronunciation?

_____Teacher treats students respectfully?

_____Teacher is appropriately enthusiastic about subject matter?

_____Teacher is knowledgeable about the subject matter?

_____Teacher functions under the authority of parents and others in the church and school?


Disclaimer: I realize that some of what appears here does not directly reflect the teacher’s role and responsibility. Other things are not easy to observe or measure in one hour of observation. My hope is that it will help focus attention on some of the things that are necessary for an effective educational program. Also, many of these observations are not easily quantifiable, and I don’t claim them to be anything but subjective impressions.


Grace and Accountability

I've been thinking a lot recently about church life and how difficult it is sometimes to find the balance between extending grace to each other as freely as God extends it to us, and holding each other as accountable as God holds us. I wonder sometimes if that is even possible or appropriate. Would it please God more if we let Him be responsible for all of the juggling between grace and accountability?

Probably not.

When we take on the mind of Christ, we see the need for both grace and accountability attitudes/actions. Ideally we each seek a deep understanding of how this kind of Christ-likeness looks, and we open ourselves for God's bringing it about in ourselves. Then we act on it, one to one, in our church body. We also expect to see it demonstrated in our leaders. We trust God to ultimately settle all the accounts and restore balance where it is lacking.

The least useful approach is to assume that perfect balance can be imposed from the top down--that if something is amiss in the church, the leaders can and should correct it. That is as unrealistic as assuming that if something is right in the church, the leaders should get all the credit. If a church functions well together, it is always because the Lord has built it, and people have cooperated with Him--not because the leaders have been skilled puppeteers.

I treasure the memory of times when grace has been extended to me and those I love. I'm grateful too for times when we've been held accountable. Having experienced both of these in our church life makes me slow to take up the cause of people who trumpet the lack of one or the other as a call for action. I see both as being present.

Any church with diversity among its members is likely to have trumpeters proclaiming opposite messages simultaneously. What are leaders to do in such situations--except listen carefully and go forward in the fear of God?

What of the trumpeters? Should they stow the trumpets away in the closet?


While prophetic voices are needed at times, quiet prayers and loving affirmations and challenges can be effective too. The latter call for more patience and personal investment and risk. I suspect that often they have not been tried and found wanting. Instead they have been unwanted and left untried.*

What is really needed, all-around, is personal commitment to following Christ. That is a full time job--one which is in danger of being neglected if we spend too much time making sure everyone around us is doing as good a job with this as they should. On this point, extending grace toward others and requiring accountability of ourselves is perhaps the best way to find a balance.

*I've heard a similar sentiment expressed elsewhere, perhaps by G. K. Chesterton. If anyone knows the exact quote, I'd be grateful if you'd post it in a comment.

Reporting on Sunday School

Several weeks ago, after noting a disturbing pattern developing among some members of my intermediate girls' Sunday School class, I decided to do something to address it. Since the year was about half over, I geared up to have the new plan in place by the time the new CLP quarterlies came out.

First I told the girls that I realize that preparing for Sunday School class is not all they have to do, and that I sympathized with what I know is often a hectic schedule. I urged them to talk to their parents about what should be done if they feel overwhelmed about juggling all they have on their plate. After a reminder that learning how to determine priorities is part of what it takes to feel OK about life, I told them that I would be writing a note to their parents. They may have groaned inside, but they restrained themselves in my presence.

After the letters went home, the most notable change was that one of the students who struggled the most earlier came the first Sunday with everything done. She told me that they're reading the daily passages for family devotions. She has consistently done everything ever since. Today everyone had everything done.

I heard a few rumblings (grumblings?) about school methods being used in Sunday School. I checked my thinking on that subject and returned to something that I settled in my mind years ago when I heard someone say they thought not too many homeschooling methods should be used in school. I found the comment offensive, and determined that if a method facilitates reaching the goals of any endeavor, its most common association should not be considered a prohibition against using it elsewhere. Also, I'm a firm believer in conveying early on to students that school is not the only place where one should demonstrate self-discipline and a sense of responsibility. I resolved though to offer to skip the second phase of the plan for individual students if I heard from their parents a preference that I do so.

What I'm doing in Sunday School is what I'd love to be able to do more often in school--reporting without "labeling." Labeling is the word I'm using for having to assign a letter or percentage grade to students' work. That process adds enormously to the teacher's workload, and while I understand why it is often necessary, I think it is vastly overrated as a true measure of the learning that is actually taking place.

Here's a copy of the letter I put in the parents' church mailboxes (Some of the formatting didn't stay intact in this copy from WordPerfect.) :

To: Parents of Students in Miriam Iwashige’s Sunday School class.
From: Miriam
Subject: Update

Background: Since the beginning of the Sunday School year I have been handing out a photocopy of the material from the quarterly that calls for effort on the students’ part (beyond simply reading the text in the quarterly). This includes three things: 1) A verse to be memorized 2) A daily schedule of Scripture readings 3) Written activities. I have asked for these papers to be handed in each Sunday, and I check over them and make some response to what they have done. For the Bible verse, I look for the initials of the person who has listened to the recitation of the verse. For the Scripture readings, I look for a check mark beside the ones that were read. I also look for whether the blanks have been filled in correctly or appropriately.

The reason for making the photocopy is two-fold: 1) The spaces for writing in the quarterly are very small and not very satisfactory for written answers 2) The paper is more portable than the quarterly since it can be folded and kept in a Bible.

Report: The students’ participation in these voluntary activities varies from “almost always completely done” to “hardly ever handed in” (presumably not done). I’ve noticed also that the students most diligent about preparing are the ones most likely to participate in class discussion. I can’t say whether either or both of these result in better understanding and application of lesson content, but I suspect that might be the case. I keep a record of which students hand in their papers each week.

I understand that preparing for Sunday School is not all that is required of middle teenagers, and I really don’t have the right to demand that it happens. It may well be that they do have other commitments that are more important than Sunday School class preparation and participation. Living well calls for lots of choices, and the right ones are not always obvious or easy.

Last Sunday I urged the students to talk to their parents about their priorities and ask for help if things seem difficult to manage. You will know whether or not this has happened.

Plans: I presume that many of you depend on the students in your family to take initiative for their Sunday School class preparation. That seems appropriate to me. What I want to begin now to do is simply to report on what I know about what has been done. I will base my report on what appears on that paper that the students hand in and what happens in class.

I would love to hear what your goals are for your children, and how you see Sunday School class fitting into those goals. I also would appreciate hearing from you if you have ideas for how things could be improved in any way.

I consider myself an assistant to your training efforts, and want to be responsive to your wishes.

Possibilities: The daily Bible readings are the most time consuming and the least frequently done. Several possible ways of accomplishing this are: 1) The student incorporates it into private devotions. 2) The student incorporates it into the 5-minute Bible reading at the beginning of every period at school. 3) The passage is read in family devotions. 4) The student does it all in one marathon session. 5) The student reads it aloud to someone else, maybe over the phone to someone who needs contact with others or has vision difficulties. 6) The student listens to a younger sibling read it aloud as reading practice.

I have stapled to this sheet a copy of what I expect to put in your church mailbox each Sunday.


__________________ ____________________
Due Date for Lesson Name

1. Paper handed in? Yes No

2. Memory verse initialed? Yes No

3. Blanks filled in? Yes No

4. Daily readings checked? Yes No

5. Spoke up in class? Yes No

A Bill Hold

The other day I asked Hiromi if he had some cash for me. Since I don't have paychecks to cash during this Sabbatical year, I often have very little cash in my billfold. He always cheerfully complies with requests for cash, so the next morning, I found this note on the kitchen table:

"I put $18.00 in your bill hold."

I grinned to myself. Another lesson in linguistics.

Like other native Japanese speakers, he sometimes confuses the "f" and "h" sounds. That used to seem impossible to me. Then I noticed that both are unvoiced sounds made by air moving past the lips. The main difference is that the "f" sound involves first placing the top teeth lightly on the bottom lip. The lips are parted for the "h" sound. If you get just a trifle inattentive about the teeth and lip placement, billfold and bill hold have only a very minor pronunciation variation--so minor that if you're not a native-English speaker, they are easily confused.

I started thinking about what a useful thing a "bill hold" would be. I could call up Weststar and ask them to put a "bill hold" on the electricity charges for the month because "money is a little tight this month since the vehicle insurance comes due now." How about a "bill hold" at the dentist's office? This concept has some real possibilities.

The girl from Lancaster County I used to live with always said "wallet" for billfold. Maybe she was onto something I should have taught Hiromi. But then I would have missed this linguistics insight. And my imaginary triumph over Weststar and the dentist would have stayed unimagined.