Prairie View

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Known in the Gates

After the third farmer's market of the season yesterday, Hiromi said, "I really enjoy being at the market. I get to meet lots of people I haven't seen for a long time." He wondered aloud about Bill, his old barber, who was a frequent market shopper in years past, but has not showed up so far this year. And Amos, the large craggy old gentleman with the soft voice who used to sit on the bench near my booth and chat with me while I put together bouquets. "I wonder if something happened to them," Hiromi said. I wonder too.

Every time I'm in town with Hiromi, I marvel at all the people he knows and greets as friends. All except LaVon remember his name and greet him warmly. LaVon, who was one of the teachers in the many classes Hiromi has taken over the years at Hutchinson Community College, always called him Sam. He could never remember "Hiromi." Yesterday at the market Hiromi asked LaVon's wife and son about him. The grown son couldn't bring himself to answer forthrightly, but LaVon's wife explained to Hiromi that LaVon is now on disability from diabetes-related dementia. She told Hiromi that he would appreciate company, and Hiromi plans to go visit him soon.

A former co-worker from Hutch Hospital stopped by--so much skinnier that Hiromi at first did not recognize him. Another Hutch Hospital co-worker's wife is a vendor, and has a friendly cheerful greeting every week.

At TSW, where Hiromi worked until several months ago, the person who did "Hiromi's job" during the night shift was Al. He was the first person in the department to be laid off. Al and his wife came by yesterday. Al is also a pastor, something I had forgotten till Hiromi reminded me of that after I commented on how gentle and well-spoken he seems.

Wayne, who still works at TSW bought some lettuce from us. He was from a horse and buggy Mennonite family from PA. Somehow he ended up in Hutchinson, at one time estranged from God, but now a committed Christian.

Earlier, Hiromi met Larry, the father of a young lady Hiromi liked at one time. These random contacts reveal some interesting details about Hiromi's life before I knew him. At least the square dance leader and the bowling and pool partners have not shown up yet this year.

Last week, the wife of one of the doctors who practice at the Sterling Medical Center where our records are, bought some plants from us. Hiromi knew her because she is a fellow volunteer worker for Hutchinson Community Concerts, an organization Hiromi is associated with. And Grant had helped install a landscape at their house.

Another man with Partridge connections who Hiromi calls his former "banker" has retired to Missouri and was back this weekend for a visit. He greeted Hiromi like an old friend.

And so it goes.

Proverbs 31 says that a virtuous woman's husband is "known in the city gates." I'm not sure what all that means, and I'm not sure how that fact relates to a wife's virtue, but I'm happy to see how comfortable Hiromi is in public places like the farmer's market. While I also have friends there, many of the people who stop by our stall do so because Hiromi is there, not because I'm there. Virtuous or not, I have a husband who is "known in the city gates."

A Very Late-Term Abortion?*

While Dr. George Tiller's wife was singing in the choir this morning at their family's church in Wichita, the doctor was handing out bulletins to late arrivals for the worship service. One of the people who came through the church doors had a gun and shot Dr. Tiller dead. He was 67 years old.

The doctor had been shot once before. He was injured in both arms, but recovered and continued his practice. His clinic had been bombed, and, earlier this year vandals had chopped holes in the roof, and stopped up the gutters during a rainy spell.

Why did so many people direct violent acts toward Tiller? Why did his death prompt statements by President Obama and former president Clinton? Dr. Tiller was one of only three doctors in the U.S. who performed late-term abortions--right up to within days of the delivery due date. For these acts he was an enormously polarizing figure, vilified by some and lauded as a hero by others. Although some of his actions were being challenged in the courts and in the healing arts regulatory agencies, for the most part, he practiced his "art" as a law-abiding citizen.

The person who is suspected of killing Tiller is a 51-year old man from the Kansas City area, about three hours NE of Wichita. He was taken into custody on his way home from Wichita, when officers spotted the car that had been seen leaving the parking lot of the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita after the shooting.

To their considerable credit, many leaders in the pro-life movement have issued statements deploring the doctor's murder, and extending sympathy to his family. Among the comments following online news stories about the event are a few on-target zingers, along with some pro life rants--embarrassing for their stridency or for being poorly spelled and written, and some shameless "This man was a true hero" proclamations.

I'm remembering that Dr. Tiller was a distant cousin of Joel's thoroughly Christian, pro life employer. That reminds me that Dr. Tiller was a human being, despite, in my opinion, having done many inhumane and wrong acts. He was a husband, father, and grandfather, and his family loved him. I feel sympathy for them.

Dr. Tiller's family pointed out the cruel irony of his being gunned down in a church--a place of peace. I'm thinking about a few related ironies regarding how Dr. Tiller's Sunday and weekday activities meshed peacefully--or didn't. I feel sympathy too for those people whose lives were terminated at Dr. Tiller's hand, and for the people who sought his services, for whatever reason.

I feel sympathy for the pro life people who are human-life-affirming in all its manifestations. It doesn't seem fair that some in the media and among the public will lump all those good people with the the likes of Dr. Tiller's murderer--likely a misguided soul who thought he did God service by killing "the enemy," although no motives have yet been publicly identified.

For Satan, I feel no sympathy. Death was his idea, and wherever he has his way, there is suffering and sorrow--by whoever's hand, or whatever circumstances it is delivered.

I wonder what the minister will say at Dr. Tiller's funeral. I certainly hope he resists the temptation to speak of the doctor's medical specialty in the "in heaven as it is on earth" terms that others often invoke at such a time. (See earlier post.) I can hardly imagine anything more jarring.

*Words borrowed from a comment posted on an internet news site.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hurrying out of Hardee's

This morning in church Marvin Y. told about a memorable event last week during their family's trip home from a relative's wedding in Pennsylvania. They stopped in East St. Louis to refuel, and their son Justin led the way to a Hardee's restaurant across the street. The rest of the family followed.

When Justin stepped inside the restaurant, it was empty, except for one person, who was leaning over a counter, with his back toward the door. Strangely, he was leaning so far over that his feet hung suspended in the air. What was happening became clear to Justin when he saw a pistol lying on the counter, and the figure on the counter began struggling to right himself, while hanging on to a cash register he had just been able to reach.

Justin exited hastily and quietly, and hurried the rest of the family ahead of him back across the street. Within an instant, the man with the cash register emerged from the building and got into a vehicle and spun out of the parking lot and down the street into the dark. He apparently never saw or heard Justin.

Marvin thanked the Lord publicly for Justin's and the rest of the family's protection. All of us who heard the story echoed his thanks.

In Heaven, As It Is On Earth?

Several weeks ago, when a 20-year-old local man died by drowning, I looked up the story online and read through the comments on the story. The young man was a rancher/cowboy, and mysteriously died, along with his horse, in a farm pond. He was working with others, and was out of sight a relatively short time, after he had ridden off to pursue a straying calf.

People said kind things about Chance, and I have no reason to believe that he wasn't a fine young man. They noted how much he loved working cattle, and assumed that he must be doing that in heaven.

I gulp when I read or hear this kind of sentiment. I've heard it at funerals for those who never ever made a profession of Christian faith, or a pretense of it. No matter. The assumption is always that the deceased are in heaven, and always that they are engaged with whatever pleasures or competencies occupied their lives while they were on earth.

When I attended the funeral of a builder, the minister assumed that the Lord needed the deceased person's help with some buildings that were to be constructed in heaven. What of those many mansions, and a prepared place for God's people--that Jesus spoke of more than 2,000 years ago? I really have trouble believing that any new arrival in heaven is handed a set of blueprints and ordered to get to work. That's what earth is for--toil and labor in preparation for rest in eternity.

I think what's going on here is that people simply start with an earthly mindset and try to project earthly understandings into a heavenly environment. They also are trying to deal with the finality and harshness of death by imagining the deceased in a nice home somewhere else.
I understand why thoughts of eternal torment are not welcome at such a time or any time.

All of us, of course, are limited in our ability to imagine heaven. When God says that heavenly realities have "never entered into the heart of man" I believe it. That's why I'm sure that easy-to-visualize things like working cattle or building houses isn't going to be in heaven as it is on earth.

We've probably all wished guiltily that heaven could wait for us at least until after we've experienced some long-anticipated pleasurable event, like seeing the tulips bloom, or taking a vacation, or getting married. I think we do that because we can't imagine anything more pleasurable than the thing that seems almost within reach. When I've caught myself thinking these kinds of thoughts, I let myself thoroughly relish the pleasure of the moment, and then try to imagine that pleasurable feeling multiplied and intensified many times in its heavenly manifestation. I try not to demand of God that He give me this particular pleasure in heaven, but to remember that what He will give is something even more pleasurable.

Thinking of heaven is best done with humility and reverence. In my ears, confident assertions about another's eternal destiny--unless the evidence is very clear--or the heavenly pastimes that person enjoys--all of this sounds the wrong note, at a time when it's especially important to be hitting exactly the right tone according to Scripture. Those who survive need truthful words by which to prepare for their own eternal destiny.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Overeating: A Weighty Matter

The title is the same as the title of last night's topic at church. The presenter was Marvin, a young man from Cedar Crest with a bachelor's degree in nursing.

I admit to not having many expectations beyond hearing the usual "eat less and exercise more." And that was indeed what we heard--but that was not all we heard.

The first surprise was that the presenter had had a weight problem earlier. I have known him ever since he moved here from Paraguay with his parental family. But I did not know that his weight soon escalated from 165 pounds to 220 pounds. He attributed that to drinking a lot of pop (soda). Over a three-year period of time, he lost the 55 lb. gain, and is now back to an ideal 165 pounds.

We learned little tidbits of information like this:

Unless your wrist measures more than 7 inches in circumference (for men) and more than 6 inches (for women), you're not "big-boned."

Here's how to establish your ideal weight: The first five feet of your height should count for 105 lbs. of body weight (for men) and 100 pounds (for women). For every inch above 5 feet in height, men should add 6 pounds of weight, and women should add 5.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is another benchmark number to look at when determining a healthy weight. To calculate this, first take your height in inches and square it (take it times itself). Make this number the bottom number of a fraction (or the divisor--outside number-- in a division problem). Then take your weight in pounds times 703. Make this the top number in the fraction (or the dividend--inside number--in a division problem). The answer equals your BMI. Normal range is 18.5-24.9. Between 25 and 30 is overweight and over 30 is obese.

We all chuckled when Marvin itemized the calorie count of the ingredients in Underground Ham Casserole from one of his mother's cookbooks. The ingredients included ham, sour cream, butter, Velveeta cheese, potatoes, and cream of mushroom soup, with crumbled bacon on top. The casserole, without the bacon topping, totaled well over 4000 calories. Divided into six servings, one serving of that dish made up about a third of the ideal daily calorie intake for an adult.

Marvin appealed to us to find alternatives to soft drinks and fruit juices, processed foods in general, and high fat foods--especially saturated fats. Eating whole foods, and lots of fruits and vegetables is preferable. In the recipe he analyzed, he noted that, although he's not an experienced cook, substitutions are possible for many of the highest-fat ingredients, or they can simply be eliminated. I thought privately that I could enjoy the ham and potatoes with nothing more than seasonings and a flour-thickened chicken broth "gravy" to bind it together. I think that's what my mother would have done--that, or perhaps used whole milk instead of chicken broth for the "gravy."

I told someone afterward that I thought that the way most people cook and eat, it's a wonder anyone is at a reasonable weight if they routinely use recipes like the Underground Ham Casserole one. I already eliminate most of those kinds of ingredients in my cooking for my family. I serve lots of vegetables, and seldom serve dessert of any kind. My family does not miss it. My main challenge is finding healthful foods to prepare when I do it for company or a carry-in.

I know that when I take food to a carry-in, I often prepare food that is less healthful than that which I usually feed my family. I'm looking for convenience when I put together Tater Tot casserole, for example, but I almost never make it for my family because I know all those things about processed foods and high calories in canned cream soups and cheese, etc. Even then, I always add vegetables to the casserole, and don't worry if I don't have a lot of cheese to add. I use deer meat for some of the hamburger, and add liquids like broth or milk instead of the full amount of cream soup. For a dish that already has plenty of protein, the cheese is not nutritionally necessary, and if it can be good without it I don't feel obligated to add it. If I have shredded potatoes on hand, I mix them in and use the Tater Tots only on top. Marvin is absolutely right to recommend that recipes routinely be altered to make them more healthful.

If we can work toward creating a more healthful-eating culture, that would help take care of the "company and carry-in" dilemma for people who want to eat healthfully. Hearing the same "overeating" information when we're gathered for a midweek service is one way to begin creating that kind of culture.

I still had a few questions after the meeting was over. Marvin told us that not everyone that overeats is overweight. He didn't explain this, and I'm not sure what that means. I wondered if he could also assert its counterpart--that not everyone that is overweight overeats.

Last week I read an article written by an endocrinologist who said that two hormones, Reverse T3 (a thyroid hormone--but not the one that is usually tested) and Leptin are often abnormal in people whose eating and exercise habits should make a healthy weight possible, and they still become or remain overweight. Read more here. Articles like this tell me that more is often going on than inactivity or a failure of will power. Obviously Marvin did not have time to address all that might have been said about remaining at or regaining a healthy weight. Instead he focused on what applies to the vast majority of people, and is within reach for many of us.

My "unbiased opinion" is that to reduce calories sufficiently for weight loss often almost guarantees that the nutrient intake will be inadequate according to government-recommended guidelines. IMHO, food supplements are the most logical way to fill in the gaps. I believe the right kind of supplements can also help the body's many systems work together efficiently. I note, for example, that the Reverse T3 and Leptin issues are basically not a glandular malfunction problem initially, but a problem with cells processing the hormones effectively. The Leptin problem triggers a Reverse T3 problem, and the merry-go-round picks up speed (and weight). Good communication between cells is the underlying mechanism that has gone awry, and it takes the right kind of nutrient intake to create/rebuild the body's cellular communication system.

Another thing Marvin did not address at all is the role of genetics in metabolism. That's an area I often wonder about.

It's usually misguided to fault a speaker for what he did not say--since saying all that could be said is always an impossibility. I certainly don't fault how Marvin handled the topic. In fact, it was unusually informative and interesting. Perhaps he or someone else will delve into some of these other "weighty" perplexities, and clear up the mysteries for the rest of us. In the meantime, doing what we know to do--eating moderately and exercising regularly--is a good place to begin.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Gardening Partner

I have a partner who helps with my flower gardening--besides Hiromi, I mean. Her name is Phoebe. She stays nearby while I work, and observes what I'm doing. I try not to alarm her by moving suddenly or threateningly toward her. She sits on the fence, leaving it only to swoop down on a flying insect, snatching it out of midair. Then she returns to her vigil on the fence.

Phoebe seems to know that she's welcome in my garden. Better yet, with no prompting from me, she quietly eliminates creatures that aren't so welcome there.

That leaves just Phoebe and me, working together in companionable silence.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Happy List

This morning, without meaning to, I made a mental list of what I was feeling happy about. Here's what made the list and what got added as the day went on:

--A Lazuli Bunting came to the bird feeder yesterday and today. This is the Western counterpart of the Indigo Bunting that visited last week. It was the first time I ever saw a Lazuli Bunting. I should have been more convinced last week when Bryant, Andrew, and Joey told me they saw one. That'll teach me. Chalk up one more advantage of living in central USA. Both eastern and western species overlap here. I doubt that one particular section of Irish Creek has ever before been as heavily birded as my three nephews are doing this year. It's been very rewarding for them, and I love hearing reports on what they're seeing--from the tiny Yellowthroat to the bigger Yellow-breasted Chat to the large Long-eared owlet that was on the ground and close enough to touch. White-faced Ibis and Northern Phalarope are new for them this year, as is the Black and White Warbler they saw at LaVerne's placethe other day.

--The tall bearded irises are blooming in all their extravagance right now. I love the pink Georgia Romance, and the periwinkle Skywalker, and the frilly yellow and white one that Freddie Nisly Mary got from her daughter to give me.

--The Miller Meltdown is underway. This is a group of my siblings, offspring, inlaws, and nieces on an 8-week girth diminishing mission. It's a fun group to be part of. Heidi thinks it sounds like fun; Shane thinks it sounds like torture. I think it sounds like encouragement.

--Daughter-in-law Dorcas was here this weekend from Colorado. She drove the 7 1/2 hours by herself to get here--for Rosene's farewell, and to get Hans to fix her computer so she can continue to do the occasional job for Golden Rule Communications, along with her Choice Books volunteer job.

--The Farmer's Market season began yesterday, and Hiromi and I were able to get a season reservation for the stall we had our sights set on. We sold a bunch of plants, although I think it was a little difficult for people to get into a gardening mood because of the bone-chilling, windy, cloudy weather. (My tall vase of irises only blew over once, but the signs blew off/down repeatedly, and the man across the aisle with the cleverly painted penguin gourds had a few casualties among his flock.)
After a one-year absence from the market, it was great to be back and to see how the market is growing. As a former market board member, I know how much behind-the-scenes work goes into making the market a success, and I appreciate what others are doing. I have never seen such a big crowd of vendors and customers on opening day as we had yesterday--or such an opening hoopla, complete with speeches by local dignitaries, live music, and a flag day ceremony by a group of army staff people to kick things off. As the retiring market manager, my dad received a certificate of recognition. The market bought a PA system with grant money, and last summer a local artist painted a colorful mural at the restroom-and-office end of the open-sided market shelter. The other end has new bead board covering the darkened wood studs and siding that made that place dingier-looking than necessary. So we're all set for making the market a destination--as Downtown Development loves to call it.

--We finally finished planting nearly all of our produce and flower garden plants and seeds on Saturday afternoon. Some of it was done while the ground was too wet. Act in haste, repent at leisure probably will apply all summer long here, but we finally decided that would be the lesser of two evils, the other evil being a very late start on having saleable products.

--The copier at church works again, sort of. At least I could hand out the papers I routinely prepare for my Sunday School class, and I could copy the announcements for stuffing the mailboxes of people older than 80 and assorted other qualifying individuals. (BTW, I heard recently that our church has 22? people who are 80 or older.)

--The lettuce in the garden is picture-perfect, as are the cole crops. I especially love the variety in the leaf lettuce mix I planted--freckled green and red and ruby red and blushing red, and dark green and pale green, pointy-leafed, lobed-leafed, and frilly-leafed, buttery and crispy. We've escaped most of the disfiguring hail damage that has plagued some gardens, and the insects haven't started munching on these crops. So every carefully-spaced lettuce plant is arguably as pretty as a giant rose.

--We're eating fresh asparagus. It's especially good salted, sprinkled with flour, and fried in butter.

--The Roundup I sprayed on some of my weeds worked. (Note to Monsanto: Don't say I never did anything for you. That stuff is expensive.)

--Max doesn't jump up on me and soil my going-away clothes. He is full of vices, but mercifully is not guilty of this one. He also does not venture into the veggie garden. I think his one tangle with the electric fence around it must have been convincing and memorable. Another thing to be happy about.

--Today was another good church service. I so love being part of this brotherhood. I like the interaction with my Sunday School girls too.

--The weather today was perfect--Sunny, a light breeze, and a high of 68.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Close Encounters of the Clattering Kind

Last night on our way home from LaVon and Mamie's house we "did in" an armored tank--a little one on four legs.

Neither of us saw the armadillo till it was squarely in the center of our lane, and we were set to straddle it neatly. But as everyone knows who has encountered armadillos or heard about their behavior when threatened, this one did not hunker down till the "beast" passed safely overhead. Instead there was a brief noisy clatter as it tangled either with the grill and bumper or the vehicle's undercarriage. We checked out the front of the minivan after we turned onto Partridge Road, and there was no massive hole there or a deceased armadillo, so I suspect it was the undercarriage that took the brunt of the impact.

Armadillos instinctively jump several feet straight up into the air when they sense danger. That might really startle a fox, but it doesn't intimidate a vehicle. The habit usually guarantees a fatality when armadillos encounter a vehicle, but otherwise they generally snuffle along, oblivious to the danger on roadways.

Armadillos are comparatively recent arrivals to this area. This is the first live one I've seen, and I saw the first armadillo roadkill near Hutchinson perhaps 15 years ago. I recall seeing only one dead on the road since then.

They mostly frequent areas with more moisture and warmer winters than we have, so they have moved in from the south. I learned, however, that armadillos have been sighted in several counties in Nebraska, so they've apparently snuffled all the way to the northern part of Kansas and beyond.

Did you know armadillo meat tastes like finely-grained pork? I'll take others' word for this. But if there's not a dead armadillo this morning close to the intersection of US 50 and High Point Road, someone or something else may have been a lot more desperate and curious than I am.

Why did the armadillo cross the road? I'll never know, but it was the last bad decision of his life.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Matthew 12:15

Adam and Stacey and their family began attending our church a number of months ago. Some time before that, they had moved into our community from Illinois. At first they attended another Mennonite church in the area. Now they are in the process of pursuing membership in our congregation.

Last week a prayer call went out for their family. Their son, Scottie (6?), who is severely affected by autism, had had a long and frightening seizure. The family was worried and exhausted. As I recall, the prayer request was for healing for Scottie and comfort and strength for the family. Praying against whatever destructive spiritual forces might be involved was also requested.

This morning in our worship/audience participation time Adam told us what transpired after we got the prayer request.

That evening Scottie, who most of us have never heard converse meaningfully with anyone, called out Matthew 12:15 repeatedly, presumably in the distracted and disconnected way he talks, if he talks at all. His parents have no knowledge of his ever having heard this reference or the verse found there, and they don't know that Daniel, who teaches Scottie in a Sunday School class of one, ever talked about it either. But Scottie had the reference down pat. When his parents looked up the verse they read:
But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all;

Adam and Stacey drew courage from this verse and felt confident that Scottie had been healed from whatever was causing his seizures. Peace settled over the household.

Later that evening, Adam asked Scottie to tell him who gave him that reference. He would not answer his father, but when Stacey asked him the same question later, he said "Father." Since Adam knew that Scottie could not have been referring to him, he concluded that Scottie had been ministered to directly by his Heavenly Father. And Scottie, without the words to process or convey an explanation, had been a channel of ministry to his parents. The Heavenly Father ministered to all of them.

The evening before the events Adam told us about, Adam and Stacey had met with several of our ministers to study Scripture together and discuss the matter of church membership. The last time Scottie had a seizure (perhaps the only other time), it also occurred right after a similar meeting involving the same people. The proximity of these events alerted the adults to the possibility of a spiritual attack in progress.

In sharing this story, the newest family in our midst blessed us all, and gave us one more reason to trust and worship the God Who cares for us all. And one more reason to intercede on behalf of any brother or sister in need.


This evening at 5:00 our ministers and their spouses began a retreat at Cottonwood Lane--Marvin and Lois' spacious and temporarily vacant house on Nickerson Road. They plan to spend the night there, and the day tomorrow. Various families are helping provide food throughout the retreat. It is to be a time of fellowship and discussion and seeking the Lord together. I suspect they're going to have a lot of fun as well. (Four of those men were in my class in school, and they are not strangers to a good time.) I'm glad to see this kind of camaraderie in a ministerial team.

Graduation "Poem"

Thanks to Angela for pointing me in the right direction for finding the words to the verse Arlyn read at graduation. It was actually a portion of the song "The Sunrise of Your Smile," by Michael Card.

The words of the portion he read are:

Reject the worldly lie that says,

That life lies always up ahead,

Let power go before control becomes a crust around your soul,

Escape the hunger to possess,

And soul-diminishing success,

This world is full of narrow lives,

I pray by grace your smile survives.

I don't hear Michael Card music very often since my two oldest boys are gone from home.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Graduation 2009

One of the pleasures of how Pilgrim does graduations is hearing the fathers of the homeschoolers talk about a positive character quality they see in their graduating son or daughter. The counterpart to that is that the principal of the high school and the principal of the grade school tell about the graduating class in their respective schools, although usually not naming individual students or their characteristics.

What the fathers' speeches show me is that these students have a significant and productive life outside of academics. Often, fathers speak of a strong sense of responsibility in their children, especially with regard to getting their schoolwork done in a timely manner. I know personally that one graduating homeschool senior is an accomplished seamstress. She has been sewing for other people for several years. Yet she accomplished high school in three years, took voice lessons, coaches me on growing African violets, and scored very high on her college entrance exams. One eighth grader loves to draw, another often cooks delicious meals for her family, and yet another is predictably cheerful and sparkly. She loves growing things. A young man who displays a lot of initiative, often fixes things on the farm that need fixing. I rejoice with these parents whose considerable efforts are rewarded by seeing their children's development up close, in the context of many shared hours.

Another thing I liked about last night's graduation was how Zachary's graduation was handled. He did not fit into either of the tidy categories the other graduates fit into. All the others were either enrolled in Pilgrim Christian High School, Pilgrim Christian Grade School, or were in a family that is a member of Pilgrim Christian Home Educators--an accountability/support group with an elected administrator who represents this group to a school board charged with taking oversight and making provisions for all three organizations. Zachary's family homeschools their children, but they do not attend any of the churches that support Pilgrim's educational programs financially (although I believe they make private donations to Pilgrim programs, as agreed upon with the board treasurer). As do many other homeschooling families, they sent Zachary and his sister to the high school for individual classes that they felt unable to teach well at home. I had Zachary as a student in typing, accounting, composition, and Anabaptist history. I know that he also took music classes, and I presume he took speech.

When Zachary's diploma was given, the high school principal was in charge. He made a brief explanation, saying that, although Zack was not an enrolled student at Pilgrim High School, he took a number of classes there. Since his parents affirm that he has met the requirements for graduation, he will be awarded a diploma. Zack's relatives from New York were there to witness the occasion. Nothing was said about how Zack works with their beef herd and helps his father trim the hooves of diary cows, but everyone who knows Zack knows that these kinds of hard physical labor have been a great benefit to a child who had energy to spare and a quick, restless mind with which to attack and devour his schoolwork. One year he bagged three deer, and processed them all himself for the family's food supply.

And now, about those Pilgrim High graduates. . . . That class made a big happy splash coming into school four (or three) years ago, and they'll leave a big wake going out--all twelve of them.
Last night I couldn't help feeling regret at not having been there for their final year. It would have been a good time. But they were well-cared for in my absence, I'm sure. I contented myself with looking at each one of them, knowing something about how they struggled and labored, and excelled or just "got it done." I went through the greeting/congratulations line and hugged the girls and shook hands with the guys. They're a dear bunch. I don't know if the world is ready for them, but I hope it is kind to them.

Arlyn N. had a wonderful commencement address. He is a former Pilgrim student, a former Pilgrim teacher, a former NYC school principal, and a current Pilgrim board member. He has substituted several times in the past few years, and the students were involved in choosing the speaker. He talked about success--his own hunger for it, and the soul-diminishing cost of pursing success according to "worldly" definitions. Without belaboring the point, he made a compelling case for selfless service, offered with excellence and humility as a reliable route to important kinds of success--far more effective than seeking success itself. He read a poem that encapsulated these ideas, but I did not hear the title or poet's name, and I can't remember much of the content--only that it was profound and on-target. (The sound system is due for replacement, and last night I found myself wishing heartily that it had already been done.) I remember a line about a "soul-encrusting shell." I'm going to ask Arlyn about the poem.

Twenty-seven people's names were on Pilgrim's graduation bulletin, and 500 people were invited to a party afterward. A good time was had by all.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Water Issues

In our part of the country, we make sure we pronounce the "kansas" when we use the full name of the Arkansas River, which comes here from Colorado and then threads its way into Oklahoma, through Arkansas, and empties eventually into the Mississippi.

Within the past decades Kansas and Colorado have been sparring in the courts over who has rights to the water in the "Ark." People in Kansas were indignant that the riverbed often had no water in it in the western part of the state, due to massive withdrawals for irrigation in the dry eastern plains of Colorado, where areas within the rain shadow of the Rockies receive as little as seven inches of rain a year. Kansas now has won rights to more of the river water than before.

When Shane and Dorcas were here last weekend, Shane reported that there's a lot of bitterness in Colorado, where they live, over the water that goes to Kansas in the Ark River. Their strategy is to harvest all they can before it reaches the Ark, and they lose their rights to it.

In Canon City, near where Shane and Dorcas live, water is distributed via irrigation ditches every 16 days. Everyone knows that you use up all the water in the ditches, whether you need it or not, because if you don't, once it gets to the Ark, "It's going to Kansas."

I'm not sure if we Kansans should feel guilty or not.


This spring has been too wet most of the time to work in fields or gardens. A few of the drier times coincided with events that made it impossible to spend time in the garden--weddings and plant sales, etc. So yesterday we willfully ignored the still-too-wet conditions and staged a massive planting effort and got most of our veggie transplants in the ground--just in time for an overnight storm that dumped lots of rain and wind and large hail on everything. This was all accompanied by electrically charged pyrotechnics and thunderous drum rolls.

I really don't want to go look at the garden this morning, although I think we may have escaped some of the worst hail. Just before 4:00 when the fun began, I got up and checked the online weather report to learn that we had a severe thunderstorm warning and a flood warning, due to a line of severe storms that stretched from Partridge to four miles east of Hutchinson. It was moving southeast. At our house, we may have been on the edge of the worst of that activity.

Grant just now got an SOS call from Jared, his employer, who said the water is rising near his house and vehicle dealership just outside of Partridge. The siding on the house and dealership shop have hail dents. I can't imagine that the vehicles escaped damage.

Hiromi reports that it looks like we may have had several inches of rain, judging by the amount of water in the sheep's feed pan. We're not able to be very precise about this since Max uprooted and carried off our stake-type rain guage.

More rain is forecast for this morning. "Some of these storms may be severe." I'm so excited.

Pleasure in Primary Colors

Yesterday, in the middle of morning family devotions, I saw an Indigo Bunting at the bird feeder. I have never seen this bird on our farm, although I've seen it rarely in this area. I had no idea they ever frequented feeders, but this one returned repeatedly, and I saw him at three different feeding stations--on a tabletop, a tray feeder, and a covered house-shaped feeder. I saw him over a period of several hours, busily pecking away at the feed, or hovering in the Arborvitae tree nearby. That brilliant blue bird made my day.

Also yesterday, two more common visitors appeared: Cardinals and a Goldfinches. The Cardinal was as bright red as ever, and one of the Goldfinches was as brilliant as the shocking yellow plastic parts of the tube-shaped thistle feeder he perched on.

So there they were, bright blue, red, and yellow, animated and musical and all in primary colors.


Hiromi has always enjoyed watching the few squirrels that visit our bird feeders, but one particular squirrel has almost worn out his welcome. This past winter he ate often from the tabletop, and sometimes from the hanging tray feeder. He was more discriminating in his feeding habits than we had hoped. In the mix of whole corn, peanuts, and sunflower seeds, he avoided the corn, for the most part--the least expensive ingredient in the mix.

Of late, the squirrel has figured out how to remove the roof of the "house" feeder and reach inside for whatever sunflower seeds are present in the all-purpose bird seed mix. He's rather untidy in the process, and brushes aside a lot of milo and millet. It falls on the ground, and goes to waste unless a sufficient number of ground-feeding birds happen upon it.

Hiromi has stopped refilling the "house" feeder. We can't encourage such unreasonable behavior.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Waaaaa Waaaaaaaaaa

The material in this post references a short article in Rural Papers (Mar.-Apr. 2009), the publication for the Kansas Rural Center. This article, in turn, cites an article in The Nation (May 4, 2009) which quoted from a document produced by the Mid American CropLife Association (MACA). MACA represents Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Crop Protection, and Monsanto. If you're tuned in at all to the state of affairs in agricultural chemical companies, seeing that list of names provokes a hackle-rising response. (Read a synopsis of the Nation article at )

I'm too cheap to subscribe to Nation magazine and too suspicious to sign in to read the free article in its entirety, but the gist of it is that MACA sent Michelle Obama a letter asking her to re-think the decision to plant an organic garden on the White House lawn. The prospect of this happening causes them to "shudder."

"Americans are juggling jobs with the needs of children and aging parents. The time needed to tend a garden is not there for the majority of our citizens, certainly not a garden of sufficient productivity to supply much of a family's year-round food needs. "

Can't you feel MACA's pain? They really care about all the nation's overworked parents.

What's obvious to people without an agri-chemical sales agenda is that a significant resurgence of interest in food quality and economy has unleashed a home gardening movement that leaves MACA companies out of the loop. These out-in-the-open shenanigans to try to interfere with a perfectly sensible idea-that of growing one's own food--don't look any more reassuring than the behind-closed-doors ones do.

If they're willing to take on the first lady of the United States of America, what chance does a poor farmer in India have?--whose former seed supply has been eaten-up by the likes of MACA companies, and who now must buy expensive seed from these same companies. The seed he buys does not produce well without expensive chemical inputs--fertilizers and pesticides--products these same companies are the sole source for. Suicides among farmers in India are up significantly.

Thinking about the chemical fallout of gardening gives me one more good reason for planting a big food garden this year. Not that any agri-chemical company will know about my garden. But they are smart enough to know that Michelle Obama's symbolic gesture is significant, and marks a trend that will challenge any company's sights on establishing a food production monopoly.

My little garden is really for us--not for Michelle Obama or against Monsanto and the like. But if some of the pain these companies have inflicted on others comes back to haunt them, than I consider home food gardening a well-directed effort for more reasons than I was aware of initially. And if it makes Michelle Obama happy, that's OK too. Kudos to her for having part of the White House lawn dug up for a garden. And kudos to MACA for publicizing the letter to Mrs. Obama--in all its reprehensible glory. In the light of day, the small-mindedness (at best) of their position will be obvious to sensible people everywhere. I can't believe they don't see this, and hide their maneuvering as they have often done in the past.

Several months ago I lay awake nights pondering food security issues. I think it's genetically programmed into wives and mothers to think seriously about this. Then, I concluded that productive home gardens utilizing locally adapted open-pollinated varieties and on-site fertility sources are as close as we can get to food security. If we can't grow a garden, we should actively support those living near us who do so, buying from them whenever possible.

I haven't gotten there yet on the on-site fertility sources, although I've done some of each of the things that I know to do to bring this about. Cover cropping, animal manures, and massive composting projects seem necessary for this to work well. But for now, I'm depending more on fertility in a bag than may be most ideal.

Seed companies in the US are becoming more consolidated all the time, some of them, as in foreign countries, bought out by Monsanto and its allies. I'm not sure that we will always have access to affordably-priced, suitable seed varieties. Hence the emphasis on open pollinated varieties from which to save seed.

Seed saving looks like a Herculean effort to me, and I am making only a small beginning this year by planting Super Sioux, an open pollinated tomato variety that sets fruit well in hot, dry weather. It seems like a good start for developing a locally-adapted tomato. My plan is to save seeds from the best of the Super Sioux tomatoes in several categories--earliness, size, flavor, resistance to disease, etc. and replant them next year. If a person does this repeatedly, eventually, the variety should be progressively better adapted to our local climate. I've chosen tomatoes because they have self-fertile flowers, unlike flowers in the cucurbit (vining crops) family that have separate male and female flowers and are pollinated by insects. In this process, all sorts of cross-pollination occurs, so that the following year's crops may produce some strange specimens combining the characteristics of a summer squash and a pumpkin, for example.

The seed saving effort seems made to order for a cooperative community effort. For example, one family might plant summer squash for two families, and share the produce and the seeds, while another family does the same for winter squash or pumpkins.

Meanwhile, because many good hybrid varieties are still readily available and reasonably priced (debatable, perhaps) I plant a lot of those varieties as well.

Think about it, and let me know if you have additional ideas or interest in a cooperative seed-saving effort. Seeing such an effort thrive would be sweeter than revenge.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Accepted in the Beloved

Last Sunday's lesson for the intermediate girls' class I teach was titled "Accepted in the Beloved." For reasons I won't go into here, I had been thinking a great deal about adoption in the previous week and had discussed it with others on several occasions. So it was a real pleasure to get down to studying for my class on Saturday and contemplate again from Scripture the marvel of our adoption into the family of God.

Adoption, in the natural sense, is close to my heart--not because I am an adoptive parent, but because I have adopted siblings, and friends who have adopted or been adopted. I have often felt conflicted about adoption though, knowing it was absolutely a good thing, but grieving at the heartache that sometimes involves adopted children.

In the situations I'm familiar with, where every child was truly loved and wanted, I think the heartache centers on one or more of several issues.

Sometimes the child simply cannot process the realities of being separated from their birth parents without feeling overwhelming rejection. I don't think this is an easy thing to fix. The fallenness in which our world churns along involves a lot of things that are not as they ought to be, and parents not always being able or willing to care well for their own offspring is one of the ways brokenness shows up. Even if they were perfect, adoptive parents could not fix this--but they can and usually do offer unconditional love and acceptance.

Sometimes brain damage has occurred in a child because of his or her mother having abused some substance while her child was in utero. In other situations, malnutrition has taken its toll on a child. In cases like this, everything is complicated--relationships, personal choices, learning of all kinds, self-discipline, even physical health.

The third issue is not always a source of heartache. Sometimes it's a great delight. But it's usually a mystery. "Where did that come from?" is how I've heard parents express it--utter puzzlement at something they've just seen in their adopted child. It's true, of course, that every child is different from their birth parents and their birth siblings, but, along with the differentness, many characteristics of one's own offspring seem thoroughly familiar. This is less so when one's children arrive by some means that does not involve a direct transfer of chromosomes. Understanding each other simply takes extra effort, and sometimes seems like a Herculean task. While the adults I've known have always wanted to affirm their adopted children, doing so requires a more conscious effort than when it's as simple as seeing our child enjoy the same things we enjoy.

On the other hand, parents can delight at seeing their child accomplish effortlessly something that they have always found difficult. In our family, one of my adopted brothers had a lovely singing voice as a child and adolescent. He could draw, and none of my birth siblings were much good at that. Another adopted brother was mechanically inclined, and knew how to fix things and see how they should fit together. That was not a strength of any of my parents' birth children.

I've heard of people who wanted to adopt rather than build a family through having children born to them, perhaps because of the risk of passing on some genetic abnormality. Others wanted both birth and adopted children. Still others chose to remain childless when having children by birth was impossible, because adoption "often doesn't work out well." And some people prefer childlessness, while others wanted children, but have acquiesced to childlessness.

Just today I heard a heartwarming story from my cousin, who lives in a country where children are apparently highly valued. Because my cousin (I'll call him Loren.) and his wife ("Jane") are childless, one of their Christian friends--parents who dearly loved their children, nevertheless offered one of their own for "Loren" and his wife to adopt, because they felt so sorry about their childless condition. When Loren and Jane conveyed their heartfelt thanks at this kind gesture, and then told their friends that they felt though that the birth parents themselves would be the best parents for this child, everyone was happy. Still, Loren and Jane feel a special bond with this child who was almost their own. Every time they see him, they remember his parents' kindness and the gift they were able to give back to those parents by letting him stay in their home--like Abraham who was willing to offer Isaac, and then God gave him back to Abraham.

It's not my business to figure out who should or should not have children either by birth or adoption, but this week I've settled a few things in my own mind about adoption.

I've come to understand that whether or not adoption should be undertaken should never be determined solely, or even mainly, on the basis of whether or not this is likely to work out well. That is simply impossible to know ahead of time, for birth or adopted children. Adoption, as all other steps taken in faith, must be undertaken as an act of obedience to God's prompting. It's not so the parents can be fulfilled. It's not to prove how accepting a family can be. It's not to make something wonderful out of a child that would otherwise be an unlikely candidate for recognition. It's not to round out the shape of a lopsided family.

Adoption can accomplish all those things perhaps, but even if not one of the above things happens, if adoption was undertaken in an act of obedience to God, it was the right thing to do. God loves every needy child far more than any of us ever will, and every needy child needs someone to show them God's love. It doesn't follow, though, that everyone ought to adopt a needy child. Only those whom God prompts.

In the grief-laden adoption situations I know about, I am comforted by several things: 1) The story is not complete. As long as life remains, there is hope for better days. I have lived long enough to see some of these situations resolved, even though it took decades to find resolution. 2) God is a righteous judge. The One who made us all knows exactly what we are responsible for, and what is beyond the limits of our own choices. He judges according to His Own knowledge and righteousness--not our ideas of how things ought to work. 3) Intercessory prayer moves the hand of God on behalf of a needy child, even when he is beyond the reach of his family.

I am blessed beyond words when I reflect on how good it is to know some of the adopted grownups that are my brothers and sisters in Christ. If not for their godly adoptive parents and their own right choices, the kingdom of God would be smaller and our church would be poorer. My path and theirs would not likely have crossed, and I would understand less of what God did for me in inviting me to be His child while I was utterly unable to improve my own condition. He did that because He loved me--something I understand better because of the adoptive parents I've known.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Good Morels

The other evening David Y. popped in here carrying a milk jug with a hole cut into it above the shoulder. "I brought you some mushrooms," he said. The morels were sliced open and floating in salt water.

"I never even thought of this being mushroom time," I exclaimed.

"This is getting toward the end of the season," he informed me, "and they're getting bigger. We've been eating a lot and we still have some in the refrigerator."

Last night his mother told me that David and Walter and perhaps others had found almost a garbage bag full yesterday afternoon. In this community, I think David is probably on his way to earning the title of Kansas Mushroom Hunting King.

When David's parental family moved here from Missouri, others told them that morels don't grow here. It's a good thing they didn't believe those people. I first learned that David was on the prowl for mushrooms when he brought me some huge mushrooms to identify so he could figure out if they were edible or not. I had never seen the like, but found out what they were, and told him. (I can't remember the name, unfortunately.) We couldn't confirm that they were edible, so out they went. The good part was that David learned then that I grew to love eating mushrooms when I lived in Ohio, and others took me into the woods to look for them. Dale, one of the local Ohio mushroom kings, used to share some with us teachers, and his mother told us how to prepare them. Slice them open and soak them in salt water to float out the bugs. Then drain and rinse them, salt them again, dredge them in flour and fry them in butter.

Morels are a woodland mushroom, so it's no wonder that generations of prairie-landers here are ignorant of the presence and pleasures of morels among us. Those who know where to look for them are understandably not eager to divulge their whereabouts, and those of us who know a bit about mushrooming protocol are respectful enough not to badger them.

I have never found a morel in Kansas. I'm obviously not as resourceful and observant as David, but neither do I routinely tromp over wild places in the course of hunting game and fishing as he does. Frequenting wooded areas reveals a different population of both plants and animals than plains dwelling flora and fauna. But these forested places, by and large, are found along waterways and in a few overgrown pastures.

Ungrazed pastures used to grow only grass, but several invasive trees have begun to populate these neglected places--Siberian Elm, Osage Orange, Black Locust, Catalpa, Russian Olive, Mulberry, and Eastern Redcedar are the most common. Cottonwood and willow are native and have grown along waterways for centuries. All this to say that our natural landscape, and even our climate is slowly changing. The air is often more humid than it was earlier. Trees draw far more moisture out of the ground and release it into the air than grasses do. And more water is pumped onto the surface through large-scale field irrigation. Some years, like this one, we have so much rain that it would be a crying shame to miss out on the mushroom-growing benefits of this changing scene.

Old timers can be forgiven for thinking this isn't a likely mushroom growing place. That's because it didn't used to be that. But I, for one, am glad that Missouri imports know a mushroom hunting paradise when they find it. Since then, once a year at least, they and we have been eating rich.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Aunt Fannie

My sister Linda and my mother just returned from Uncle Glen's funeral in Iowa. Uncle Glen was 90 years old.

My aunt Fannie was there from Florida. She is my mother's older sister. I don't claim to know Fannie very well. Yet she has always seemed familiar, partly because I see her resemblance to my mother, and partly through what my mother has told me about her.

Fannie must have been quite a live wire in her younger days. She spent some time in Kansas before she was married. Once while I was looking through old pictures at Freddie Nislys, I stumbled onto a picture of her with a young man I did not know. Mary Nisly told me that Fannie had been a friend of hers. She told me too who the young man was. I've forgotten his name.

As a child, Fannie once hid in the cornfield along the road where a tramp was passing by. She called out "tramp, tramp, tramp. . . . ," probably in time to his footsteps. As my mother told it, the tramp was angered and tried to find her, but she was safely hidden away. Fannie had five brothers before she had any sisters. That might explain why she was inclined to hatch unladylike pranks like this.

When my father started dating Fannie's sister, more than one Kansan was surprised. To people who knew only my dad and Fannie, I doubt that Fannie's sister Mary seemed like a likely match for David.

Fannie married Eli C., who was a good and sensible man. Together they raised a family of four boys and a tag-along daughter. All of her boys have served as pastors--some of them after having made quite a name for themselves for youthful unpastorly activities. I'm sure I never heard most of them, but somehow "Harry" stories from Rosedale filtered all the way out to Kansas during his days there. I wonder if the stories survived until the years when my brother Myron taught there. He was Harold's age, and probably an occasional "partner in crime."

Linda reported that Mom and her remaining siblings had an evening gathering at Joe and Mary's house in the evening after Glen's funeral. The group was considerably enlivened by Fannie's presence. Mind you, this is largely an 80-and-older crowd, so liveliness is a bit of a relative term, but it sounded like a lot of fun.

Uncle Joe, who is very bald, explained his condition by saying something like "No grass grows on a busy street." Actually, I think he elaborated a bit on this by saying that all the activity underneath the skull interferes with the growth of vegetation on the surface of it. "Ay lobe shtinkt," (Self praise stinks.) was Fannie's big-sisterly comment--an effort, no doubt, to nip in the bud any tendency toward pride.

Another time, after someone told Fannie she looks just the same as she always has, she said, "Ich binn da same eppah." (I am the same somebody.) When the people who overheard this chuckled, she said, "Well, what should I have said?"

My brother Ronald said, [You should have said] "Thank you."

So she said it right then and there: "Thank you."

Fannie thought my mother looked well, and expressed great surprise at this. I suppose this is understandable, since she knew how sick Mom was last fall and winter. Fannie also kept marveling at how much my mother looks like their mother used to. "You look just like Mom," she told her.


My dad could not be present at Glen's funeral. He regretted this a great deal, but he was scheduled to be at a meeting in Harrisonburg, VA the next day, and his tickets to fly there and back had already been purchased--provided, actually by Ervin R. Stutzman, who asked him to come.

Ervin is writing a book on how the Mennonite church is moving or has moved from a nonresistant position to a pacifist position. The manuscript has been sent to reviewers, my father among them. As I understand it, Ervin gathered 20 of these reviewers for a day of discussing these issues, presumably in an effort to gain further insight for his writing project.

Dad was one of Ervin's pastors in his growing-up years, and my uncle Glen and Ervin's father lived in the same community in Iowa at one time, so the funeral and the reviewer's gathering had intertwining threads.

Ervin is now vice president of Eastern Mennonite University and academic dean of the seminary there.

This morning Dad attended church where Wendell and Jeanene worship. I'm sure that was a pleasure. It would have been that for me, at least. I was Wendell's co-teacher for three years.