Prairie View

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

All Together Now . . .

Hannah called me today to say that the boys (Bryant, Joey, and Andrew) wanted to tell me about something they saw, but since they couldn't decide who should do it, they all wanted to say it together. Hannah paused, and I heard GREATER PRAIRIE CHICKEN.

Just the other day Joey and I had talked about never having seen one of those.

The boys were walking along the road near Lowell's place (and Joey's) when something flew out of a tree at the edge of the wheat field next to the road. They thought it was a Bobwhite at first, but something didn't look quite right. So Joey walked into the field toward where they had seen it land, and scared it up again. This time they got a better look, and saw more of its markings. They also noticed how it flew. Later they looked it up on the internet and listened to how it sounds. Everything matched for a Greater Prairie Chicken identification. My bird book lists it as "uncommon and very local."

Prairie Chickens are grassland birds. They were far more abundant earlier than they are now. Ring-necked pheasants, which are an Asian import, have filled the biological niche that Prairie Chickens used to fill.

Perched in a tree is not the first place most people would think of finding a Prairie Chicken. However, Bobwhites and Pheasants are both known to do that, occasionally, at least, so it seems logical that Prairie Chickens would also do so.

Today my nephews also saw an Upland Sandpiper, which is listed too as "local and uncommon in grass country."

Megadoses of curiosity, sharp eyes, summer, research resources, and time are wonderful assets these boys are using to learn about the delightful world God provided for its diverse inhabitants.

Walking the Dog

Where Max and Hiromi and me are concerned, walking the dog is entirely a euphemistic term. Max does not walk. Hiromi and I walk. Max runs ahead to the corner and around it onto Illinois Avenue while we're still hitting our stride, hoofing along a quarter mile behind him. Or he ranges out into the fields beside the road, pausing only to relieve himself and mark his territory in one easy application--or three or four easy applications in the first quarter mile. He romps through any standing water he encounters, mouth open, tongue hanging out, sometimes showing his teeth in an exuberant smile. When we reach the cottonwood trees by the draw that crosses Illinois Ave., he often crosses from one side of the road to the other, via the culvert, splashing noisily as he goes.

He chases after birds, even when they're flying yards above or in front of him. I don't know who was more surprised yesterday--Max or us, but he caught two birds in mid-air--one in Tim's field, and one in Morris's. I alternately scolded and called him--anything to divert him from eating those birds--blackbirds, I think. I didn't want him to develop any longings for the young guineas we have here at home, and I didn't think Grant would find bird eating a useful fascination in a hunting dog. Hiromi thought I was wasting my time. I don't think Max ate the birds though. However, I noticed a few feathers dangling from his chin after the first encounter, so I know he had the bird in his mouth.

Only rarely does Max walk sedately with us, usually after we've called him to us from the other side of the road when we notice a vehicle approaching. If he has good vehicle avoidance instincts, they aren't immediately apparent. Sometimes we hang onto his collar till the vehicle passes. Walking sedately is probably a stretch for describing how he acts when we do this, but it's as close as it gets.

We live along a blacktop county road. These roads are about five miles apart in these parts, with well-packed sand/gravel roads bissecting the area at one-mile intervals in between the asphalt roads. State and US highways, of course, do not follow these regular patterns, criss-crossing the area willy-nilly, and at odd angles. The road past our place is nice for walkers, except that there is more traffic than on the "dirt" roads, so we usually head off onto a dirt road as soon as we reach it. Occasionally we do an entire two-mile walk at 6:30 A. M. with not a single vehicle passing anywhere on our walking route, so when I say "more traffic" on the blacktop, this is a relative term. I'm throwing in these details in case anyone is mentally condemning us for not keeping our dog on a leash. It might be a good idea, but most of the time it would seem more compulsive than prudent.

When Max races to and fro on our walks, we keep hoping that all the energy he's expending in covering five (?) miles while we cover two will pay off in more calm behavior "back at the ranch." I think maybe it's almost working, although why he felt the need to carry his stainless steel water dish from the garage to the front yard yesterday is anybody's guess.


Yesterday while Hiromi and I were cleaning up part of the outback, Hiromi dumped a container with a small amount of fertilizer in the bottom. It had accumulated water after the lid of the container blew off. "It stinks," Hiromi informed me as he did so. "I guess the weeds here will either grow big or die."

Soon after, Max discovered the damp spot and carefully scraped away the vegetation with his claws, and hollowed out the spot, then plopped down belly first and then legs-in-the-air, and on his sides, and every which way to get every spot on his body nice and cool.

"Max, you'll need a bath. Don't you know that stinks?" Hiromi told him.

We left him to his own devices, and went on working.

The next time we noticed Max, he was indeed taking a bath. A half-barrel storing used potting soil had also accumulated water, probably about 6 inches above the surface of the soil. While we weren't looking, Max had climbed into the barrel, and was twisting and turning and trying to lie down in the barrel to get every spot wet--just as industriously as he had earlier done in the dirt. He didn't fit very well. Only by curving his length into a "C" shape could he come close to lying down, but that didn't keep him from trying.

I don't know if the water in the barrel stank or not, but Hiromi must have suspected it did. Which is why on this morning's walk, Hiromi again told Max, "Go take a bath."

He obligingly raced rhough the next puddle he came to. They're a little harder to find since last week's sunshine and 100 degree temperatures dried things out.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Quote for the Day 6/26/2009

Hiromi (referring to the guineas we were watching eat grain from below the bird feeders) : I think they're vegetarians.

Both before and after that, they had displayed a disturbing unawareness of all the baby grasshoppers leaping out of their way as they walked carefully around the yard.

Then I remembered my mother describing to me how the one guinea they still had when we moved here had accompanied her one day to the flower garden during one of her daily walks through the garden. Mom spied a very large grasshopper on a stem, and hoped the guinea would find it.

The guinea happened by the same spot, and stood and stared for a minute at the grasshopper on the stalk, then pecked swiftly at it and devoured it. I'm thinking maybe guineas are better at seeing insects when they are holding still than when they are on the move. If so, I hope they figure out really quickly how grasshoppers look when they're holding still.

The guineas seem quite tame, and, so far, they and the dog seem to be coexisting peaceably. Well, sort of. We spied Max in mid-chase the other evening, and rushed out to scold him. That is, Hiromi rushed out. I opened the kitchen window and yelled at Max. Hiromi tied him to give the guineas some peace and give Max an opportunity to ponder his sins. Since then we've seen them together with Max making no move to chase them.

On the evening we let the guineas out for the first time, we had decided to do so when we could be there to watch. In my mind, part of the plan was to be very purposeful about directing them toward the veggie garden where many grasshoppers awaited. After doing some work in the house, I went to join Hiromi in the garden, expecting to be on hand to help when the guineas were let out. To my surprise, the guineas were free when I arrived, and Hiromi was watching them alright. That's all he was doing. They crossed in a leisurely fashion from one side of the garden to the other, went through the fence, and meandered toward the hog barn. Then they started circling back toward the garden, but the dog, who was tied at the time, chose that moment to whine and protest loudly, so the guineas stopped abruptly and headed toward the nether regions of the farmstead. We didn't see them again for two days. When they reappeared, one was missing. We've seen only two together since then. But they're keeping close to the yard and gardens most of the time.

I've heard guinea tales about Myron and Ilene's experience since we've had our guineas. Ilene used to love her guineas, but not of late. They had somehow become very destructive in the garden, and she decided she had to get rid of the guineas if she was to have any garden at all. They tried in vain to catch them. So she finally sicced her young sons on them with their guns. But when she saw the guineas dead, she couldn't stand the waste, and quickly gathered them and dressed them. After all, meat is expensive, and with many mouths to feed, she couldn't afford to miss the opportunity for free meat. Then she tried to cook the meat till it was soft. That didn't go so well. All in all, she considers the guinea chapter of their lives history.

I take it that guineas have not read all the literature that says they are insect eaters--not plant eaters. At the very least, I plan to follow Janette Ferguson's advice (author of Gardening with Guineas) who says that if you don't want them to eat things from your garden, never give them scraps from the garden to eat. They'll soon figure out how to bypass the middleman and harvest their own garden goodies.

I think all pets and farm animals live in something of a no-man's-land between wildness and domestication, a reminder that we have only limited ability to alter to our liking that which God has created and declared good. By turns, we observe and intervene, and, either way, life is more interesting because man and plants are not alone on the earth. I'm glad to share this space with animals--except for grasshoppers and tomato worms in the garden, and snakes in the basement, and mosquitoes everywhere . . . . At least I like the idea of having animals around me. And when they're a pain, then I'm glad for the wisdom God gives to know how to deal with them--or how to let one animal deal with another, as is hopefully the case with guineas and grasshoppers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mecca for the Disgruntled

I have an idea for all those church groups that do not wish to become known as a "Mecca for the Disgruntled: " Establish a policy declaring that you will not encourage membership or regular attendance at your church for all those young people who have Christian families in another local congregation. I would keep this policy in place for everyone under 21 years of age.

I didn't suck this idea out of my own thumb, although I don't actually know any church with this official policy. I'm remembering something I heard that transpired within the last decade (?) when a local young man spoke to someone on our leadership team about becoming a member in our church. Whoever he talked to urged him to keep on attending his parents' church and become a member there for the time being. The church was considerably more conservative than ours, and I'm sure the inconvenience of the arrangement rankled sometimes for this young man. He did, however, eventually become a member at our church, and has been supportive ever since. From this perspective, it seems that no harm was done by the wait.

I know of a case in another state where the leaders gave a young man similar counsel: stay in your parents' church for now. In recent years, the pastor's wife told me her husband has agonized over whether his advice was sound, given the fact that this young man has never truly found a church home. But my hunch is that if they had offered membership when it was sought, they would have simply been the first in what is by now a very long chain of tried-and-found-wanting churches in this person's history. Observation suggests that the best churches, in his mind, have always been the ones that required absolutely nothing from him.

I think the kind of policy I'm suggesting would help churches in their endeavor to establish a strong, healthy, Christ-representing body. This is the stated desire of most of the churches I'm familiar with. No church I've ever heard of wants to be a Mecca for the Disgruntled.

But it's hard to turn away a person who arrives, convinced that your church is exactly what he's looking for. However, if the main thing he's looking for is a less restrictive environment--and I am cynical enough to believe that this is often the case--what kind of church building material will he bring with him? Hangups and self-will transfer easily, but wholehearted loyalty and humility would be much more useful qualities for a new arrival to bring with him. Sadly, these things are often not notably present in a person who is looking for a less restrictive environment. It's possible, of course, for older people to arrive for wrong reasons and young people to arrive for right reasons, but greater age will hopefully also mean greater maturity, and more resources to contribute to a church body.

It's very likely that the emphasis we all want to maintain on evangelism and nurturing of believers prompts a wide-open-doors stance toward all who come seeking. But we would do well to make sure that we're not short-circuiting the seeker's chances to continue to learn from other Christians in their original family and church setting. It seems reasonable to me too to recognize that those who have loved a young person and invested in his life till now would appreciate some return on their investment.

As a teacher, I am keenly conscious of my obligation to work at turning the hearts of my students toward their Christian parents--not toward me, primarily. That is perhaps a worthy goal for every church leader to aspire to as well--to turn a young person's heart toward his parents.

Blessedly Boring

Yesterday's little weather icons on the NOAA page for Partridge, KS put a smile on my face. (Hiromi would probably say "You're easily amused.")

In perfect symmetry they marched across the top of the page toward Friday, every other one bright orange, with the word "hot" underneath, and the numerals 100 or 99 (the expected high for the day). In between the orange squares were black ones with a pale moon in the picture. Underneath it said "clear" and had either a 72, 73, or 74--the overnight low.

This "Harvest Halloween" bodes well for all those people still chomping at the bit to get all the wheat into the bins.

For me, the forecast prompts thankfulness for our whole-house air conditioner. This is the very first time in my life I have lived in such a house, and I love love love it. (I love, love, love easily too.) Hiromi and I have always had a window air conditioner, but I'm very happy to do without the blast of cold air in its vicinity, and the noise, and the network of fans strategically located throughout the house to get the cool air to our sleeping places, etc. Even then, some parts of the house were so hot that you avoided doing certain kinds of work if it had to be done in the "hot" room. Ironing, for example, which happened in the farthest away corner from the air conditioner. Or at least you ironed before your shower so you could still feel clean when you slipped into your freshly ironed garment.

Our electricity bill always spikes during air conditioning season, but less with this whole house unit than the window one, if the first electricity bill of the season is any indication. The spike was only half as high as last year's seasonal spike, when all we had was a window unit.

Bring on the hot weather. You'll find me out early and late, but not in the middle of the day, unless necessity forces me to be there.

Last night I ran a plate full of food to Grant, who was helping haul wheat to the elevator. On the way back I met schoolteacher Betty, who was driving a grain truck out west toward her dad's field. With her was a young person--her niece, I presumed, although I was concentrating mostly on navigating past her on the muddy road.

All sorts of vehicles and people come out of the woodwork during this season, to keep things humming along. Besides the grannys and chipper young teachers, driving the trucks are Moms and teenagers and grandpas and vacationing friends and family--people who grew up here, most likely, and have returned for the event, even people who just might have volunteered to help if they hadn't been asked.

And the trucks. The Terrill family's red cab, red bed truck with the neatly done lettering on the side is cruising back and forth past our place again, between the farm and the elevator. I've been seeing that truck for decades, probably only during harvest. I'm not sure who is driving it, but it's undoubtedly either the second or third generation descendant or relative of the person who originally purchased it.

I feel sorry for the people who never live in the same place long enough to learn the rhythms of the seasons in that place, or who are too unobservant or disconnected to notice. Both the rhythms of nature and the rhythms of community and family life are noteworthy, and help make life good. Like the weather in the forecast, those rhythms are blessedly boring.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Quote for the day 6/22/2009

Me: Hiromi, you've gotta see these clouds (Last night when they were spectacular in the east--layered in multicolored masses, with frothy and billowy and wispy textures, lit by the setting sun, against a blue sky. . . .) They're amazing.

Hiromi (after looking at the sky for a bit) : You're pretty easily amazed.

Can you believe it?

I think I need children or students or someone around who is as "easily amazed" as I. Being amazed is a lot more fun when someone shares it with you.

I'm glad there are lots of other things to love about Hiromi.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Does This Permethrin Make Me Look Fat?

I understand that some people think by being quiet, and circulating ideas inside their head. Others think by talking. I think by writing.

Right now I have several conflicting/confusing trains of thought coursing through my cerebral neurotransmitter juices. We'll see if they arrange themselves in any semblance of order.

I mentioned the grasshopper plague in the garden earlier, and the difficulty we faced in dealing with them in a way that didn't harm other kinds of life. Guineas seemed like ideal grasshopper vacuums, except that we didn't have any, and weren't sure how to get some right away and how to keep them in the garden and protect them from the dog.

My guinea search took a surprising and heartwarming turn suddenly last week when I called Linda, who is married to Phil, after a mutual friend told me they might have guineas to sell. They didn't really have any to sell, but within a matter of hours, Phil and Linda were here, delivering three guineas--exactly half of their own flock. They are on loan, given "because in this economy we really need to help each other." This is the love of Christ being made really practical. Unknown to me, they started doing market gardening this year too, after their farming operation was downsized in a major way--related to the settlement of an estate, I gathered--and they couldn't stand to see our market gardening endeavor fall victim to the grasshoppers.

Dorcas (cousin) told me that they had gotten guineas themselves recently, and they all flew out of whatever they came home in from the poultry auction, roosted in the cedar trees, and haven't been caught since. But they're doing a good job of going after insects. I offered her my extra copy of Gardening with Guineas, which I discovered was my second copy when I went to check my shelf for a book on ducks, and found Gardening with Guineas there. An identical book was on the coffee table. Forgetfulness is a real trial sometimes. $13.45 spent needlessly.

After the county horticulture agent told us that Permethrin was the insecticide to use for grasshoppers, we actually bought Eight, which contains Permethrin. It sat here unused, while we debated further what to do and while the grasshoppers kept gnawing and hopping and growing. We kept the "blend 'em up and spray 'em on the crops" option in reserve for the time being--one reason was that the grasshoppers are still fairly small and it would take a looooong time to gather a cup full of them. (Can't you just see me stalking and pouncing and stuffing grasshoppers into a jar?) It would have been me, Hiromi utterly lacking the patience for this kind of effort.

When we got the guineas, we were a little worried about turning them out right away, for fear they'd have no sense of where they belonged and where their safety and grain and water were, and would range everywhere except in the garden. So for the moment, they're in a shaded calf hutch in one corner of the veggie garden, getting used to that as their home area. We did feed them some tomato worms, which Phil and Linda helped us pick off the Nicotiana and tomatoes. (Phil is amazing. He doesn't mind carrying them bare-handed. Shuddddddder.) The guineas were not immediately certain what to do with the tomato worms, but inside the hutch, they were at least rendered innocuous to the garden crops. I hope they ate them while we weren't looking. I didn't really want to watch anyway.

Right after the guineas arrived, Hiromi went out and bought them white millet and scratch grain. He is pampering them and talking to them, and tomorrow, when we're out there to keep an eye on things, we'll let them out to forage in the garden. So far, the dog does not go into the garden, which is surrounded by an electric fence. The fence is really to keep the sheep out, but it's a bonus that it keeps the dog out too. The guineas will be relatively safe there.

Late on Friday night, after Hiromi had worked in the flower garden, clearing the paths of all the weeds, and experienced again the overwhelming presence of all the grasshoppers, he announced that he was going to spray the Permethrin. We had decided earlier that since we weren't going to eat the flowers, maybe that was a logical place to test the spray. I strung together all the needed hoses and connected them to the insecticide container fitted with a hose-end spray device. After all the tilling was done, I fed Hiromi hose length and he operated the spray trigger and we covered that area in short order. Tonight there were very few grasshoppers left in the flower garden.

So everything's good. Right? We'll just spray the veggie garden tomorrow, and then turn out the guineas to clean up the escapees, and all will be well.

Not quite.

See, it's like this. I've been reading Jillian Michaels' book Master Your Metabolism, and, among other things, I've been learning about the fact that many chemicals act as endocrine disruptors. That means that they affect how human hormones are produced and used. This action of pesticides is not as widely known as the fact that some of them are carcinogens (meaning they cause cancer), but more and more researchers are convinced that this effect is at the root of the rising obesity epidemic.

Hormones have an enormous effect on how food is metabolised. Most of us know that insulin is a metabolism hormone. But there are also many others that are less well-known. One hormone out of whack often has a cascading effect, causing others to go awry also, because the various parts of the endocrine system are inextricably linked.

All energy-producing foods eventually turn into glucose, which circulates in the bloodstream and energizes body processes. If glucose is not metabolized (used) immediately, it is stored. It is hormones that direct whether or not glucose is stored. Stored glucose becomes fat. (I'm sure this is an over-simplification.) Soooooo, if hormones are misguided--perhaps by endocrine disruptors--they may store way too much of the food that is ingested, instead of allowing it to be metabolized immediately. This is one of Jillian Michaels' emphases--that messed up endocrine systems are helping to make people fat. If permethrin is an endocrine disruptor, and I ingest it by spraying it on something I eat, it might make me fat(ter). Not good.

I read about Permethrin online. It is a synthetic pyrethroid. I think the natural form is pyrethrum, which is a natural insecticide I am familiar with. The botanical name for Painted Daisy is Pyrethrum. I like the idea of killing grasshoppers with Painted Daisies a lot better than using something from a chemical lab. While we were doing the spraying deed in the flower garden, I smelled the chemical odor, and mentally lamented the incongruity of a stinky flower garden. I had, of course, already picked all the flowers to be taken to market the next day.

Some of what I read online was reassuring; some of it wasn't. Apparently Permethrin either is not a known endocrine system disruptor, or it is. It is either a known carcinogen, or it isn't. It either is safe to eat plants sprayed with it in a matter of days, or it stays on your spinach and ends up in your body tissues, where it stays for many months. It is either nontoxic to birds or it affects their nervous system and results in chickens becoming agitated and having difficulty walking. You get the idea. One source says one thing; another says the opposite.

Permethrin kills insects by direct contact, or when they ingest it, presumably by chewing on plant material that has been sprayed. It also has some repellent effect. The morning after we sprayed the stuff, we had over an inch of rain. I wondered if that nearly $17.00 worth of spray was all going to waste. Apparently not. At least the rain washed the stink out of the air.

Tonight Hilda and Joel walked through the gardens with us. The insect population difference between the veggie and flower garden was very noticeable.

I wonder how God sees it. Does the flower garden look deader to Him than the veggie garden? Is He who created all living things grieved by the deadness? Have we violated His principles, to say nothing of the first tenet of the Hippocratic oath (First, do no harm.)--a sensible sentiment, even though we are not medical professionals? Does "saving the crop" and "protecting our livelihood" justify the use of substances that may be damaging to human life over the long term? I really wish we didn't have to make these difficult choices.

Right beside the Eight on the shelf at Stutzmans was a Pyrethrum/Rotenone blend. Both of those are used by organic gardeners. Maybe that will be our answer for the veggie garden. I know I have owned some of that in the past, and I was surprised to find it missing from my stash when I checked. I wonder if that's labeled for grasshoppers. Even if it isn't, maybe it would work for baby grasshoppers, which is what we have right now.

This natural Pyrethrum possibility is making sense to me. This "semblance of order" is good enough for me for now.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Things I Learned at Farmer's Market--6/20/2009

A chef from the Blue Duck restaurant demonstrated several wonderful dishes and gave out samples--

Creme Brulee (like a thick custard with flavors of chocolate, caramel, and coffee and a crisp crust of caramelized sugar on top)
Gazpacho (a cold summer soup made of blended tomato, peppers, onions, and garlic with flavorings)
Orzo and stir-fried vegetables: (Black and white orzo with garlic, onion, zucchini and yellow squash, fried in olive oil, and seasoned with freshly ground salt, fresh herbs, tomatoes, and wine vinegar) The tomatoes were added near the end of the cooking time, and the wine vinegar was added last. The orzo was precooked and then combined with the fried vegetables.

The black orzo is colored with squid eggs--something which the chef assured me is flavorless--a trick the Italians apparently discovered and shared with the world. I had never seen this small, flat, oval-shaped pasta in black before.

The chef also told me he hated all vegetables as a child. He grew up in a small Georgia town and ate meat and potatoes. But sometime in his 20s he decided to try anything he was offered. By tasting a lot of different things repeatedly, he learned to like almost everything. And now his favorite time of year is summer, when he has all sorts of fresh vegetables and herbs to cook with.

The chef told me too that during the summer he buys 30 lbs. of fresh tomatoes from Roman twice a week and uses them for cooking in his restaurant. I'm told the Blue Duck is one of Hutchinson's finest restaurants. I'd go there in a heartbeat if I could feel good about spending the money, and if I wouldn't be afraid I'd feel out of my element with the rest of the dining crowd.

On the bright side, I think I could easily approximate at home the kind of food he served there. with home-grown or farm-produced ingredients.


My dear market friend Cathy was back today, for the first time this season. She and her husband just moved into an apartment at a local nursing home complex. She misses her backyard. I saw it once. It was very tiny, and exquisite.

Cathy and her husband Stan were farmers in an area about an hour north of here. When they retired, they bought a house in Hutchinson. They are now in their upper 80's.

Stan gets up every morning and reads his Bible. Then he goes for a 13-mile bike ride. Sometime in May of this year, he passed the 24,900 mile mark in miles covered, which equals the distance around the world. When he came back, his extended family and a news reporter were on hand for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Cathy told me that they had an estate sale yesterday, and now their house is on the market. If I know anyone who needs a nice house, I should send them their way. She's not exaggerating. The house is indeed a nice one.


Ron and Judy from the Partridge area stopped by and admired the grasses I was using in my arrangements: Panicum--Switchgrass--Frosted Explosion, and Stipa--Silky thread grass--Pony Tails. I learned also that they live in a former schoolhouse, and we conversed a bit about other schools-turned-homes.

They told me that Mrs. Ghormley, the teacher at East Eureka, the school a mile east of us, was a wonderful teacher, but she wasn't much of a housekeeper. (She was my older sister Linda's first grade teacher.) Judy and I both confessed that after we were dead and gone, no one was likely to speak of us as wonderful housekeepers, although Judy and Ron both agreed that Ron's Mom had formidable housekeeping skills. I invited Ron and/or Judy to stop by and I would give them some of the grasses I'm growing.

I've known these people casually for some time, but never had such fun visiting with them before. Judy, who worked at that time for the city of Hutchinson, had stopped by my booth several years ago and told me that our board was welcome to print fliers for her to make available at a large upcoming RV rally in Hutchinson. With the rest of the board's approval, I put something together and dropped it off at her office. We had lots of RV customers, thanks to her efforts.


At the Farmer's Market, Clinton sells homeopathic remedies made from locally gathered herbs. He's a thoughtful gentleman and a retired farmer. He and I have had many conversations in the past, and, afterward, I'm always left with a mixture of admiration and concern.

He's more knowledgeable about local flora than almost everyone I know. For that I admire him. He's also very careful about treading lightly on the earth, and recycles nutrients and promotes sustainability to a degree few people are willing to undertake. I like that about him.

Today he told me he had had a herb walk on his farm last Sunday, and the people who came cooked some wild-gathered food afterward. It sounded like my kind of fun, and I told him so. Then he told me that the last thing he had people do last Sunday is go on top of the house ? and meditate, to draw energy from all that is around them. He told me he didn't know if that would be my style. Oh my. I don't think so. I told him that I see value in meditation but I feel a lot of caution about opening myself to whatever is out there. I believe having a focus for our meditation is important, and for me, the focus ought to be God. He responded by saying he doesn't think our theology is that far apart.

I also learned from him that the tender new leaves at the growing tip of pokeweed stems are edible. After they are harvested, they are boiled ever-so-briefly in a kettle of boiling water. Lamb's Quarter, which we learned to eat from Blanche, our neighbor lady, can be prepared in a similar way.

Clinton makes his medicines by stuffing a quart jar with the leaves of his chosen plants and then adding a half and half mixture of water and vodka (for the alcohol, which dissolves some substances that water can't dissolve--although he didn't say this). The jar sits on his window sill for a week and he shakes it periodically. Then he strains the liquid and dilutes it further to sell or give away. I think he gives away everything he brings to market. He sees this as a service he wants to provide for the community.

Clinton believes that God put plants in every locality that can be used to cure the ills of the people who live in that locality. That meshes well with what I understand about the mercy of God in giving people ways to deal with the curses of living in a fallen world. But when Clinton talks about a third force (coming from nature), in addition to the Good (coming from God), and the Evil (coming from Satan), I feel that our theology is far apart, or at least the terms that we use to describe what is real are very different.

God bless Clinton in every way in which he follows God.


Harvey had a large tub of green tomatoes for sale today. He was not being wasteful. He was trying to salvage the tomatoes that had popped off the vine during Monday night's windstorm. He has his tomatoes in a hoop house with the structure made of PVC pipe. His tomatoes are trellised, with the upper end of the strings tied to the overhead structure. Apparently, the wind made the structure shake and quiver and bounce up and down so violently that not all the tomatoes were able to hang on. Some of them were large. He also had ripe tomatoes to sell today.

Harvey was gone during the storm. When he returned, he was "just glad the buildings were still standing."

For three years in a row, Harvey's tomatoes had been hailed on. That's why he started growing them under plastic. And sure enough, not one of those green tomatoes looked hailed on.


Duane and Norma, the Amish couple from Yoder who always bring baked goods and sell them right next to us, must have had a wet ride coming and going today in/on their tractor and stock trailer. It rained almost all morning at market. It was a very gentle rain--perfect for everything except the standing-ripe wheat. Even then, the absence of wind was a blessing for preventing the lodging of the wheat.

Rain today had two benefits. Farm families who were invited to the wedding in the community (Leon and Andrea's) could do so without remorse about missing a good harvesting day, because it was not a good harvesting day. Also, people can go to church tomorrow with no sense of regret about not tending to the harvest. The grain will still be far too wet.

Next week, temperatures are predicted to be near 100 every day, with clear skies. This should cheer the heart of lots of local farmers. Navigating through the mud will still be a challenge, but the straw and grain should dry fairly quickly.

Tonight there was a tornado warning for Nickerson, nine miles north of us. Lowell reported that the clouds that slipped by just north of them looked green. We had a severe thunderstorm warning here, and got about .4 inch of rain, but no high winds or hail. Lowell was helping replace shingles at the church where water had leaked through to the ceiling during the last storm, and the work went right on, with very little precipitation dampening the efforts of the men on the roof.

This looks like the final notable weather event for at least a week.

I've added another term to my weather glossary: heat burst. This is rarer than the derecho I wrote about earlier. When this happens, the air temperature rises very quickly when a thunderstorm collapses, and the air within it sinks, and compresses and heats the air below it. Earlier this week, in McPherson, where the effect was especially pronounced, the temperature rose from 84 to 100 degrees within 45 minutes, between10:42 and 11:31 pm. During that same time frame, the wind accelerated from 10 mph to 29 mph, with gusts from 30 to 52 mph.

The high winds from the earlier microbrust phenomenon occurred because of evaporation and cooling air. The heat burst was because of sinking and warming air, but the effect was the same--high winds at the surface.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Quote for the Day 6/17/2009

Hans: I take it this is the first entry for the Miller Meltdown cookbook.

(In an email to me after I had posted the requested Frozen Mocha Dessert recipe to our Miller family yahoo group.)

The decadent dessert has irresponsible and perfectly delicious ingredients like sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese, frozen whipped topping, chocolate syrup, etc.--all totally inappropriate for the Miller Meltdown crowd.

The Miller Meltdown is how we refer to the efforts of a group of us in the DLM clan who are trying to do a disappearing act. We're about halfway through the eight-week project. Everyone reports the relevant data each week, on Saturday morning usually. We apologize, and cheer for each other, or complain, or make up corny poetry or "blessings" or whatever.

At an undisclosed location, we also have a web page where Hiromi posts all the data that's reported.

Credit Dorcas for this idea. All the participants had to opt in. So if you happen to know a skinny member of our tribe, it's probably safe to assume that they did not pick up on the Miller Meltdown opportunity. On the other hand, if you meet a skinny Miller family member in the future, perhaps it's because they were part of the Miller Meltdown.

Ah. The things families do for each other. . . .

Followup on the Plagues

It’s late afternoon and I’ve just made a round in the gardens. I am not encouraged. All the little tomatoes have many dings or cutouts on the west side, where the wind-driven hail attacked them. I counted 10 "divots" on the west side of a golf-ball-sized tomato. Even cherry-sized tomatoes have half a dozen dings. The corn is laying flat with the root end at the west end. All the leaves in the garden have many holes, and many upright stems on vining crops are broken. The onion tops look sandblasted and crippled. All the colorful stems of the Bright Lights Chard are visible, no longer hidden by the leaves. The developing potatoes are exposed to the sunshine, the vines no longer protecting and shading them, and the soil partially beaten or washed away.

The grasshoppers are thriving though. Our county horticulture agent said to spray them with Permethrin. I've put aside my principles and bought some. It's an ingredient in Eight.

On the tomatoes, one fat green worm had the audacity to feed sumptiously on the battered foliage. I hate pinky-finger-sized tomato worms with a passion, and find the process of disposing of them very distasteful. Nevertheless, I tried to knock this one to the ground with a steel rod fence post so I could dispatch it. Wouldn’t you know, that worm defied me? He whipped his tail or his head (couldn't tell which) back and forth in the air so ferociously that it made an audible snapping sound, and the plant he was on shook violently. He was not dislodged, even with three sharp raps on the tomato stalk he was attached to. In the face of such resistance, I decided to leave him for Hiromi to deal with. He’s on the Fabulous tomatoes, on the fifth plant from the south end of the east row. I miss the ducks I once had in a pen right beside the garden. They happily gobbled every tomato worm I tossed in their direction. They loved me so much at that time of year, they immediately came quacking to the fence every time I showed up in the tomato patch.

When the UPS man delivered a package today, he asked, “Are you in the dark?”

“No. Only for about two hours last night.”

“There’s a pole down about a mile and a half north of here,” he told me.

“Our power comes from Partridge,” I said. Partridge is south of here.

“Oh. You’re lucky.”

This morning, Lowells and Myrons still had no electricity. I don’t know how it is now. Lowell also told me that the wheat is significantly compromised. Whatever that means, it can’t be good.

I learned a bit more about Joe’s barn. He had put new steel on the roof, and concreted the floor. He had also purchased steel to cover the walls. The entire west side of the barn was open, as part of the refurbishing process. So when the wind howled in from the west, it filled up the barn cavity and apparently exerted such force that the structure failed, and sort of imploded. Joe’s been dreaming about what that barn will become for a long time, but I’m sure a pile of rubble wasn’t part of the picture in his mind’s eye. People were gathering there today to help clean it up.

My friend Marian, who grew up on the place where Joe’s barn stood, once told me “I love ordinary days. My girls wish so much for excitement. But I’m happy without excitement. Boring is good.” Marian is in the hospital right now, recovering from surgery for cancer. The barn’s collapse is an example of the kind of excitement Marian is probably glad to have avoided. But a hospital room in Wichita is hardly the kind of boring environment she longs for. Peaceful days at home are more like what she had in mind. Many of us would echo Marian’s sentiments. When it comes to weather, boring is good.


Later. . . .Internet service was unavailable yesterday afternoon and evening, so I didn’t get this posted when I intended to.

Today’s paper had an article on Joe’s barn here.


This morning I found ten tomato worms in a five-foot long double row of Nicotiana, plus some potato beetle larvae. Which is why I kept circling the Nicotiana bed and peering venomously into the leafy, flowery canopy. The nerve! I collected the specimens in an old dishpan and notified Hiromi of its whereabouts. He informed me later that he put water in the dishpan and they're all drowned. I hope he's right.

Nicotiana is also called Flowering Tobacco, which explains why the name is reminiscent of nicotine. It is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, as are tomatoes and potatoes. That's why some of the same pests find them attractive. It's also why the tobacco mosaic virus can be spread to tomatoes by people who smoke in the vicinity of the plants.


Some people in the county apparently weren't getting electric power restored till today. Poor souls. Doing without air conditioning would be one good reason to avoid a power outage.

A number of poles are broken, and in town, branches and trees have come to rest on power lines.


Have I mentioned Freecycle here? Most areas have a local Freecycle group. On this site, you will find listed messages with one of several types of headings, each related to the exchange of free goods. The heading may be offer, wanted, pending, or taken. A subscriber is asked to post one offer before posting any wanted messages. In the past we have given away a built-in dishwasher and gotten a portable dishwasher through Freecycle.

Last week we posted a wanted ad for an evaporative cooler, and someone promptly called us saying they had one to give away. Hiromi has been getting it all up to snuff. With it we're making an effort to get a shed cool enough so that the large display fridge we have inside can function to cool its contents--part of our flowers and produce gardening operation. The fridge works fine until the ambient temperatures are too high for the "radiator" to release its gathered heat into the air. Blowing cooled air across the radiator is supposed to help.

Do a search for Freecycle if you're interested. Then you should be able to locate the closest group by scrolling through your state's listings. This probably doesn't apply to readers who do not live in North America.


Brian and Sherilyn are doing a Mittleider garden this year, so we've been exchanging some information occasionally. They invited us over for supper last night, and we had a wonderful meal and time of visiting about gardens and education and tracking rainfall data, etc. Brian has a Big Mama of a rain guage, accurate to hundredths of an inch. (One 6-8 inch callibrated tube holds one inch of rainfall, with the hundredths clearly marked.) He reports all rainfall amounts to a website set up in Colorado after a disastrous event when two weather-tracking stations completely missed data on significant rainfall between them that resulted in flooding, with the weather service not providing any warning. Maybe Brian will post the website address in a comment here. I asked him to send it to me some time, but this would work too.


Apparently my incorrect use of the term "tornado" (See comment in previous post.) is a widespread error. Writers of articles in today's paper used it a number of times just like I did--when "funnel cloud" would have been more accurate.

In one of the weather broadcasts on Monday evening at the height of the local storm activity, one official observer in Arlington reported "torrential winds." That provided some welcome mirth for the fruit room crowd in our basement.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How's the Weather?

Everyone here has been on edge about the weather--except perhaps those who are too disconnected from agriculture to care, or those who are too cavalier about their own safety or that of their property. The wheat is very nearly ripe, and it's grown well, although the drowned out spots from heavy rains earlier this spring show up now as bare spots. With the "right" kind of weather (hot and dry), harvest would probably kick in before the end of the week.

But, although we've got some temperatures in the upper 90's forecast for this week, we also have more of what we've been having for the past several weeks--repeated chances of severe weather, including heavy rain, high wind, hail, and tornadoes. Last night all four were in the area. A fairly stationary frontal boundary is draped across our part of the state. The weather mischief is focused at this intersection of differing-temperature air masses.

We headed for the fruit room in the basement with our supper, lantern in hand, when the National Weather Service data finally reappeared on the computer screen (after a prolonged, and very inconvenient "data not accessible" message) and we saw the dreaded red coloring (tornado warning) covering western Reno County, which includes the homes of all my local family members except Marcus, who lives in Hutchinson, in the NE part of the county. The accompanying message said tornadoes had been sighted between Plevna and Abbyville (where Joel and Hilda live in Shane and Dorcas's house), and it was heading east toward Abbyville. I called my parents in Partridge before we headed downstairs, to make sure they were seeking refuge.

We were barely halfway through our supper when Lowell's family joined us in the basement. They have only a small hole of a cellar, which always floods when it rains, and I understand perfectly why they aren't eager to sit down there. "The sky looks awful," they reported. The girls arrived with tote bags in hand, full of the most necessary things--mostly books apparently, and perhaps some clothes. They carried pillows. Hannah was wearing a yellow hard hat and reading A Tale of Two Cities. She commented out loud that it wasn't the most comforting book to be reading right then, but at least it just involved worries about guillotines in France in the 1700's--not an imminent tornado. The hard hat was donned on impulse. "When Joey offered it, I thought it seemed like a good idea."

From the fruit room, I couldn't very well keep track of the storm, but Grant and Lowell, who demonstrated the disturbing male propensity to keep roving around to look out the basement windows reported that it was raining horizontally and the trees were all stretching and leaning in one direction. We heard the hail, and Lowell said, "Everyone just keep on praying." The electricity went off and stayed off for about 2 hours.

After the storm passed, our rain gauge registered 1.6 inches of rain. Hiromi, who had worked all day in the garden, went out to check and reported that the vining crops and the tall sunflowers didn't look good--all blown crooked by a strong west wind. This morning, after another round of rain during the night, the rainfall measurement is 2 1/2 inches total. Not good for combine and grain truck navigation in the wheat fields, and all of it wrong for the preservation of a good wheat crop. Wind and rain makes it lodge (the stalks bend over and perhaps break) and the hail is always bad news--breaking off heads, and threshing the grain when it's dead ripe. In our county, some of the hail was the size of golf balls.

Still, what I can see from the house doesn't look too bad. The wheat is still there, and our trees look mostly unscathed. Even the big branch that's been dangling ominously over our driveway ever since the December 2007 ice storm is still dangling.

As always, though, it could have been very different not too far away. We learned from Cody, who came over last night, that where they live at the old Enos Miller farm, almost half of the barn roof is gone. And worse, the enormous old barn on the Melvin Yoder farm is reportedly reduced to a 10 foot tall pile of wreckage. This makes me especially sad. Joe and his boys were working on restoring/remodeling it to see it remain useful for many more years. The weather service was reporting large branches and trees down all over Hutchinson, with about half the city without power. Winds at the airport were clocked at 90 mph. And the same kind of weather is forecast for Thursday of this week and again over the weekend. This we could do without.

I couldn't reach Joel when I tried, and when he called back later he asked, "Do you have a place for us to stay?"

"Do you need one?" I asked.

"No." (Just looking for a reaction from a worried Mom.) They were fine--rode out the storm in their basement, which is all concrete-gray, and not cozy or cheerful. And Joel reported that Hilda did not let him go upstairs to watch the storm. Smart woman--that Hilda. They had electricity throughout, except for a very brief interval. The tornadoes apparently passed by overhead without touching down. (The rotation was visible on radar and from on-the-ground observers in the area.)

I'm sure that daylight and time will reveal more of what transpired last night. Already the sun is bright and the sky is blue, and some of us could almost believe that last night's drama was overblown inside our heads. But for others, dashed hopes for a good wheat harvest, and the prospect of massive cleanup or repair forces acceptance of a harsher reality.

As Lowell said, "Everyone just keep on praying."

Quote for the Day 6/16/2009

My Dad: I'm going to have to stop somewhere along the road and bite into a kernel of wheat. Just one kernel.

Mom: Why?

Dad: Oh, to see if it's ripe. We wouldn't want it to get overripe now, would we?

(Yesterday when I rode along with them to do grocery shopping.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Plague of Grasshoppers

I walk by the roses and hardy hibiscus in the landscape, almost hidden among the larkspur and clustered bellflower, and I hear a peppering of startled small grasshoppers finding a new location. I walk by the Chinese Cabbage in the garden and hear the same raindrop-like drumming, and shudder. There must be hundreds of them disturbed in each yard of progress down the row. They're eating happily of course when I'm not disturbing them--eating and growing through about five instar stages till they reach the really menacing stage in late summer. Then, they'll be several inches long and even more voracious. Besides, they will have functioning wings, and can move about by flying. No more being restricted to the distance they can travel one hop at a time.

I thought grasshoppers thrived in hot dry weather, and we have had very little of that so far this spring. What's the deal?

Hiromi is concerned about the grasshoppers' effect on the garden, for the first time I can remember, and is casting about for remedies. He keeps saying we need to do something, and asking me what we can do.

I've mentioned guineas, which are death on insects. He liked the idea and inquired of Jerry whether they have any for sale. They don't, but they had gotten some at the monthly poultry auction at Yoder just the week before. If we hope to get any there, we'll have to wait. Also, if we get them as keets--the best way to make sure they're trainable to roost in a shelter overnight--we'll need to keep them confined for at least six weeks, meanwhile giving them all the babying that baby chicks need. By the time we can let them out, the grasshoppers will have morphed into adults since they can do that within a 30-40 day time span.

The more major problem with guineas is the presence of Max, who has a predatory view of birds. We'll have to keep them well-separated if the young guineas are to have any chance of survival. Or Max will have to learn an absolutely convincing lesson about leaving birds alone. As it is now, Max thinks it's great fun to bound through the tall wheat across the road, fruitlessly pursuing any birds flying over the field. What a silly, exuberant, and potentially naughty dog.

Hiromi wondered aloud today if finding a new home for Max for the rest of the summer would be a good idea. Grant doesn't think so. Sigh. Does anyone know how to pre-emtively cure a dog whose live animal retrieval instinct functions only in overdrive? (We're putting aside for the moment the retrieval instinct regarding dead things. The latest porch decoration he dreamed up was a very large and well-bleached bovine skull that was about as big as Max's torso, according to Grant. I saw him proudly carry it into the yard from who knows where, and the next morning it was on the porch, along with several branches and a tumbleweed. I had just cleared and neatly swept the porch, and he couldn't stand the clean spot, I guess.)

To Hiromi, on the grasshopper problem, I also mentioned Nolo Bait. It is a mixture of bran and Nosema locustae spores, a protozoan pathogen specific to grasshoppers. You spread the bait and the grasshoppers that ingest it get sick and die. If other grasshoppers cannibalize the dead or dying grasshoppers, the grisly party continues as the disease spreads. Once treated, any area that harbors the protozoan has the same effect on grasshoppers in succeeding years. There are several problems with this approach to grasshopper control. As is the case with the guinea solution, the process is relatively slow. Also, as large, winged grasshoppers fly in, they can do a lot of chomping before they encounter the bait and succumb to the disease.

"Just spray them," Grant said. "You're not doing everything organically anyway." I'm thinking he has a point, although I still bristle at the prospect of putting anything on my plants that has the capability of assaulting a human body.

Grant doesn't know about my "glory and shame" box of potions from Gardens Alive!--a supplier of environmentally safe pesticides. I've bought quite a few products, and seldom, if ever, used any of them--evidence of my tendency to prepare well and follow through poorly. Now is the time for the products from Gardens Alive! to shine. I will show them to Hiromi, who is strong on follow-through, and I believe those grasshoppers may be terminated shortly--by means of Pyola, or Bullseye bioinsecticide, or Neem oil, or whatever is right for doing in baby grasshoppers. Adults are impervious to most of the more environmentally benign insecticides.

I will read the book we just got from Amazon: Gardening with Guineas. I first read it several years ago, from the library. And I think we'll track down some Nolo bait. These long term solutions are worth pursuing, but, in the meantime, there's that Gardens Alive! box, which I hope translates into a "grasshoppers dead" result, and eventually a garden alive.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Fancy Weather

I'm getting an education in several meteorological terms. Both of the new words have entered my vocabulary because of events associated with recent severe thunderstorm activity in the area. To put the terms in perspective, you should know that they are found at opposite ends of a certain weather pattern continuum that includes these terms--highest to lowest, referring to territory covered: derecho (a family of down burst clusters), down burst cluster, down burst, micro burst.

On Sunday South Hutchinson had a micro burst, with 120 mph winds coming straight down from the sky, with a destructive outflow in all directions at ground level-like sauce on a pile of spaghetti. For those who are familiar with this locality, this occurred in a relatively small area near the intersection of Blanchard (old 61) and K17, at the "Doskocil" corner. Down burst winds can reach 150 mph, but they usually last for less than five minutes. According to our daily paper, this occurs in a three-step sequence. 1) Dry air enters a thunderstorm 2) Rain evaporates, cooling the dry air 3) Cooled, heavier air plunges down. The micro burst destroyed parts of buildings and churned trees into broken heaps of brush. Micro bursts can not be predicted in advance. They can occasionally be spotted on radar while they are in progress, but common sense and severe thunderstorm warnings are all the "heads-up" information people can expect.

About a month ago, our area had a derecho, which is a straight-line wind at least 58 mph and at least 240 miles long. This one originated in Harvey County, just east of Reno, where we live. A derecho is comparatively rare, but this one went on a long rampage, traveling east, through adjacent states, all the way to the east coast, according to the National Weather Service. Derechos are usually widespread, fast-moving, long-lived and violent, producing heavy rain and hail, along with the powerful straight-line winds. They are associated with a bow-shaped line of thunderstorm activity. On May 8, there was a strong air flow aloft, and moist, unstable air overhead. Thunderstorms that developed in NW Kansas intensified fast when they reached South Central Kansas. The derecho formed under these conditions.

Tornadoes are high-wind events associated with super cells, with a roving eggbeater wind pattern. As I understand it, the sequence goes something like this. 1) Warm air rises from the surface and bumps into a river of fast moving (cooler?) air aloft 2) The horizontal flow cuts across the vertical flow, creating wind shear. 3) The wind shear sets in motion a horizontal spiral of air movement. 4) Continuous updraft gradually turns the horizontal spiral into a vertical one 5) The updraft, which originally flowed upward, gets sucked into the rotating motion of the wind-shear generated spiral, and a tornado is born. Tornadoes are more predictable than a micro burst, and generally cover a smaller area than a derecho. (We're looking for bright spots here in a tornado scenario.)

Me? I could do with a little less weather-generated excitement. I love knowing what words mean, but I could even remain happily ignorant about derechos and micro bursts.

On Sunday night, we got wind, over an inch of rain, and some dime-sized hail. The storm evidence we saw the next morning was golf-ball-sized hedge balls on the ground, leaf litter on the ground and tears in the leaves of garden crops, along with several broken-off tips on the well-pruned tomato vines.

Today looks like another weather doozy. Severe thunderstorms are on deck, with the possibility of hail up to baseball size. Watching that kind of show would not be my idea of a great spectator sport. A front is slated to stall out along a line from Hutchinson to Marion, which puts Partridge roughly along that line, extending to the west. The most intense activity is likely to occur along that line.

I'm in a quandary. I still have some plants to get in the ground. Do I hurry to do that ahead of the next rain, and risk the chance of seeing them shredded, or do I leave them in the greenhouse, where they're less likely to see the shredding fate, but more likely to deteriorate and then finally be planted in hot, windy, dehydrating weather.

For now, I'm headed out to pull weeds. That, at least, is safe, no matter what kind of weather is in the future.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Comments on Comments

The "Monkey in the Middle" who commented on the last post obviously knows the family I wrote about. He inserted a very punny little reference to the family name in his comments. Also, he is number six in a family of twelve children, so that's why he is Monkey in the Middle.

The above is all true, unless my powers of deduction have failed me.


FavoringCurry also left an additional comment that I read and thought about, but didn't have time to respond to because I was furiously getting ready for Farmer's Market on Friday, and going to market on Saturday. While it wasn't the first market day of the season, it was the first day I had flowers to take, so I did the annual "dig everything out from its storage places" maneuver and the "get-the-routines-established" procedure, and, lo and behold, we got to market with tasty and beautiful lettuce, alien-spaceship-like purple kohlrabi, and lots of lovely flowers. Unfortunately, the Chinese Cabbage we had prepared to take stayed behind in the cooler--an oversight probably prompted by the fact that I was muttering complaints to myself while I loaded everything--because "Why didn't Hiromi do this while he was out doing the pet chores this morning? And why does the lady have to do the heavy lifting here? And why wasn't he hurrying more with eating his breakfast?" "Furiously getting ready for market" is a more pregnant phrase than you thought. Nevertheless we arrived in good spirits and had a productive day at market.

I had to ask Hiromi at least four times "Who was that?" after he had finished visiting with some old friend of his who had come by our stall. Three times, the person was someone I used to know, and once, someone I've seen fairly recently. I concluded that Hiromi is much better at remembering faces than I am. As soon as he told me the name, I immediately remembered lots of things I knew about that person. The memories for me are not triggered by seeing the face, but by hearing the name. I think reading it would have the same effect. I think I must be slightly brain injured in this department. That, or Hiromi is better than most people at things that require visual memory.


Back to FavoringCurry's comments. . . . He advocated running schools like a business. Perhaps he has read some of the same articles I have on this subject. Or perhaps he knows about some of the experimentation that has been done in this regard. I don't recall details, but I believe that some public school systems have actually hired private contractors for major parts of their education obligations. Simply put, the goal is to get the job done without losing money, or perhaps even while generating some profit.

At my alma mater, within the past few years, the board of directors hired a president who had become wealthy in a business career. During his tenure as president, he actually refused a salary. I gathered that he was brought on board precisely because the school needed its finances whipped back into shape, and they needed an astute businessman to do it. They cut some staff positions and adjusted the salary schedule somewhat, but, most significantly, grew the student numbers, and got back on track. I think most people felt fairly positive about the changes, overall.

I think following business models has some merit in education systems, especially for goal setting, tracking whether what we do is productive, whether we are treating people fairly, and for promoting accountability. I'm sure it's obvious that more is involved in education than simply having good business sense, however. At Sterling College, for example, the financial wizard president was there for only two or three years and then moved on. I think that was probably long enough to make the necessary corrections, but, without the return of a president who was stronger in academics or Christian service areas, I'm not sure that the long term result would have been as good as it is this way. After all, even if the finances are in order, unless a degree from this place means something (i.e. the academics are in place according to commonly recognized standards), and students are being trained to serve effectively, the school is not accomplishing its purpose.

So yes. Let's think about running schools like a business. But let's think beyond that, as well.

At the risk of digressing further, I note that, as institutions, businesses and schools suffer from the same "Scriptural silence." We know from Scripture about the structure and lines of authority in families and churches and governments. But for businesses and schools, we have to apply general Christian living principles, and which ones to apply when is not always as clear as we might like. For that reason, I have often looked at the existing Scriptural models in an effort to see what I can learn about schools by extrapolating from them. Perhaps because I am a mother, I see my role in the classroom as a "mothering" role in some respects. That's an example of what I mean by extending the "family" model into the school environment. I'm thinking of some of these possible ways of looking at schools as being good companions for the "business model" approach to education.

I absolutely agree about the hazards of creating a sacred/secular dichotomy. FavoringCurry mentions schools, ministries, and businesses in this regard, emphasizing the need for deep and thorough integration of all of life under the Lordship of Christ. (I'm not quoting here, but conveying what I understood from the comments.) I once answered one of my critics with this line of reasoning. He had made some forceful assertions about how teaching secular subjects in school falls into a very different category from the training parents are required to do at home. I wondered why it was necessary to divide the transfer of knowledge into those two categories. All truth is God's truth, all work is God's work, all money is God's money, and all children are God's children, etc. We see this when we understand life with a transformed mind.

Living life without "great divides" is a substantial challenge, but certainly worthy of a Christian's attention and effort. Not least in our schools, businesses, and ministries, and not least either when we are thinking about responsibility and compensation.


Mary noted that summer jobs can be hard to come by. The men I've known well who were career teachers did a variety of things during the summer. Several of my uncles often were away in school during much of the summer while they worked on post graduate studies. One of them also worked at the grain elevator during wheat harvest, helping to collect samples for moisture testing, preparing weigh tickets, etc. Another uncle did custom hay baling. Both of these uncles had some physical limitations that ruled out strenuous physical labor. A cousin who is a public school principal in this area does farming. One of the principals I've taught under did construction during the summer. Another worked for a mini-barn business. I do think these summer activities serve some of the same functions as a Sabbatical can.

I'm sure Mary is right in saying that a person's job will not likely wait for the person who takes every seventh year off. In some cases, that might be a blessing. Here's how: If a person spends the Sabbatical time either acquiring a new skill or gaining additional experience, perhaps this will open the door to new employment opportunities. Nevertheless, taking a year off involves a significant exercise of faith, especially now, when unemployment is high. Perhaps it is naive of me to believe that if an employee explained things honestly to an employer, without asking for special favors, but making clear that the year off was purposeful, some employers would welcome the employee back after the Sabbatical, perhaps even without loss of seniority, benefits, or wages. At the very least, I hope Christian employers would do that.


Sigh. The alarm on the weather monitor has gone off four times while I was writing this post. The most recent warning includes Partridge. Hail up to quarter size and 60 mph winds are headed this way from Sylvia, in the western part of Reno County. We are not amused. We are worried. We could use some rain though. The gentle pitter-pattering kind would be welcome.

The wheat is more gold than green now, and the garden is lush and lovely. I sooooooo do not want hail or high winds, and I think this would be the unanimous sentiment of all the residents of Reno County. Please Lord.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Quote for the Day 6/6/2009

Child (from another room) : Come on Mom. That was only a five. You can do better than that.

"Mom" is a farmer's market vendor who is mother to eight children, the youngest of them about twelve years old.

She confessed today to having an Irish temper, which gets away from her occasionally--not very often anymore, because she works hard at keeping it under control. But her children somewhere along the line developed the annoying habit of rating the outbursts on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst ever.

She figures it's a good sign if they can joke about Mom's temper.

Recently, when one of her adolescent sons exhibited a temper of his own, and he came eyeball to eyeball with his mother, she responded in kind, and then took some cooling off measures before she talked again soberly to her son. "You have a real temper," she told him. "And you know what? You didn't get it from your dad."

"Dad" is an engineer who just got laid off after 32 years of working for the same company. If he has a temper it doesn't show. His employment termination would provide plenty of fodder for anger if he were so inclined. Another engineer made a costly design mistake and then left the company. "Dad" discovered it, and figured out how to make the necessary corrections. Unfortunately the company had already manufactured $18,000 worth of junk parts, and gearing up to make correctly designed parts would have cost a great deal in addition to the parts loss. Because the error discovery came on "Dad's" watch, and "someone has to take responsibility for this, "Dad's" superiors (who were newcomers each time it was evaluation time) looked at the problems, singled out "Dad,' and, for the first time ever, he was getting negative evaluations. After that happened twice, he got laid off.

It could be worse. All his children who are in college are already paying their own way. He got one year's wages as severance pay. His retirement funds are intact, except that they are devalued now because the investments have lost value. He gets unemployment compensation.


"Mom" shared her tactic for getting her youngest son to do his share of the work. She used to take her children to the garden to work for a specified length of time. At the end of that time, the youngest son would have about a half a row weeded to everyone else's two or three rows. So the rules changed. Everyone had to weed a certain number of rows. If the dawdler had only half a row weeded by lunchtime, when everyone else had finished their jobs, he worked on it after the rest went to the house for lunch.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Sabbaticals for Mechanics

This is an answer to a question in a comment for a previous post.

In my opinion, people in every kind of work would benefit from a year of regrouping and reevaluation every seven years. I'm not sure that it would always mean abandoning the job entirely for a whole year, but some effort to honor the sabbatical principle seems right to me.

I note that for Israel in Bible times, the weekly Sabbath was a rest from labor, the every-seven-years Sabbath was a rest for the land and for the people who worked the land--which I presume included everyone. The Year of Jubilee was a year for wiping the financial slate clean. Land was restored to the original owners, debts were canceled, etc. This effectively protected everyone from the hazards of generational poverty or wealth.

Imagine with me, what if--

1. Every employer told every new employee that he will begin planning immediately for a Sabbatical for the employee at the end of six years of employment. (The employee immediately begins to think in terms of at least a six-year commitment to the job, with commensurate rewards.)

2. Every missionary would be urged to take a Sabbatical after six years. (Fewer going-home-to-stay before then, and no pressure for the missionary to decide when he deserves a rest.)

3. Every businessman, farmer, mechanic, whatever. . . would plan his life's work in seven-year segments. (I think this would help with goal setting, which is an important part of maintaining perspective on both the immediate and the long term. And the reshuffling of roles would have benefits.)

I suspect that regular Sabbaticals would help everyone remember that work is not all there is to life. Neither is leisure all there is, of course. I think sometimes the benefits of a Sabbatical can happen without much leisure involved, if there is significant change in the usual "order of business" during the Sabbatical. One cabinet maker could perhaps arrange to trade locations and jobs with another in a different community, for example. Alternatively, perhaps the cabinet shop could simply be turned over mostly to the employees for a time, with the usual "boss" occupied in another line of work, making himself available when consultation is needed.

While not effecting a financial clean slate exactly, such reshuffling of roles reminds everyone too that no one is indispensable, and, on the contrary, in their absence, others may come to appreciate the role the person on Sabbatical has been filling during the previous time--perhaps while being under-appreciated.

I think mission projects would get a boost from the pool of available workers, if people were less tied to their jobs.

My theory is that most people are smart enough to figure out something that would work. In the absence of a will to do so, there's no end to the "insurmountables" involved. We all know of cases where burnout has been so marked that people have been lost entirely to a certain work, or had a forced absence because of debilitating symptoms. THEN people always figure something out, but there is much more loss than might have been the case if relief had been intentionally sought earlier.

Why are modern-day Sabbaticals traditionally associated with people in academia or people with pastoral responsibilities? I think it's because these jobs require a high level of creative effort (These people must always have something to share.), and often are intensely relational in nature (They work with lots of people). Both activities consume inordinate amounts of energy, and over time, the stores must simply be replenished, or there is nothing left to give. Being a student again instead of a teacher, or sitting under preaching instead of doing the preaching can help provide some of the needed replenishment. More training is sometimes sought during this time. If that involves additional expense, being paid by the parent institution can make this possible where it might not be an option otherwise.

There you have it. My long answer to your short question. Thanks for making it a practical and valid one.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

More Puzzles

One of the comments in the previous post piques my curiosity. The person who posted a comment (an office manager, unless I've misinterpreted the code name) made a case for teachers working 50 hours a week if their pay for 9 months of work is to suffice for a full year's wages. That makes sense.

The only hitch is that I don't think most Christian school teachers get paid like that. I have known only one such man who did not also seek a full time summer job to help pay for his teaching habit the other nine months of the year. In our schools, the pay checks arrive twice a month--on the first and 15th, beginning Aug. 15 and extending to May 15. I wonder how it is done elsewhere. While checks have occasionally been slightly delayed, in my years of teaching here, that never happened for lack of funds. The reasons were always minor glitches of other kinds--like someone being on a trip or vacation over paycheck time. Regrettably, this pay punctuality is not a given in every Christian school teaching job, as I understand it.

Another idea that came up in the comments was the idea of rewarding longevity. Amen and Amen. Experience is always valuable. At least two kinds of valuable experience can be identified--teaching experience anywhere, and teaching experience in a specific school, with its particular culture, practices, and expectations. Life experience of any kind is instructive too, of course.

I don't remember if I've ever floated the idea here, with specifics about payment scenarios, but it's no secret that I've been thinking for a number of years along the lines of seven-year teaching intervals, with a one-year sabbatical an expected, even encouraged, ending to the seven-year rotation. That practice can be shown to have a Scriptural precedent.

Besides a wage increase for every year of service at a certain school, I would like to see a monthly contribution to a sabbatical fund--to provide financial resources to pay teachers during their Sabbatical year--for those who have served for the previous six years. One seventh of each paycheck would be about the right amount, according to protocols I'm familiar with. My research reveals that most colleges who provide Sabbatical pay do one of two things--pay full wages for six months, or pay half-wages for 12 months. That seems like a reasonable target to me. (I note that for colleges, the pay is clearly spread out over the entire year, at least when Sabbaticals are considered.) I have no idea how colleges determine sabbatical eligibility, or how frequently they happen. I'm almost sure they don't typically happen every seven years.

One of my co-teachers in the past was the father of ten children. He took his first sabbatical after 13 years of teaching, but there was no compensation forthcoming from the school for his year off. He expected to work full time, with perhaps one short term period where their family would live in a mission setting. Various factors interfered with the original plan, and the sabbatical turned into a resignation, so the opportunity was lost for setting a meaningful sabbatical precedent.

I am not privy to the details of the pay scale in our schools or others, but I understand that here, teachers who have received specialized training enter the pay scale at a higher level than if they had no training. That seems reasonable, given the considerable investment of time and finances required to receive such training. Teaching experience also influences the entry point on the pay scale. In addition, our school board periodically assesses the average wage of the employees in our churches to determine what a reasonable teacher's salary amounts to. All of these things are to be appreciated.

The comment by FavoringCurry referred to teaching being a professional job. That concept is another source of conflict for me. I haven't figured out how to determine the monetary value of a service, except to see how it is perceived in the marketplace. I want the "fairness" principle to apply always, but I'm not sure how that is done best.

True, the training of children seems to have more significance for the future than mowing yards, or selling cars or tickets, or feeding cattle, or disposing of garbage, or any number of other necessary things. However, I'm not in favor of putting teachers on pedestals, where everyone all but feels obligated to make a bow in their direction, figuratively, if not literally. School is a human invention, and by some measures, teaching is just a job. To be sure, it can also be a calling, but that is also true of other necessary jobs. True, teachers work hard, but so do people who make their living in other ways. If God is in it, any job is ennobled--delivering porta potties, as well as professional jobs such as teaching and preaching or being a doctor or lawyer.

Hiromi cuts through the rhetoric on this matter by saying simply that he sees the education of children and the repair of a vehicle as being the same in this way: When there's a problem or a need for maintenance in one of his vehicles, if the job is within his skill range, he can assemble the tools and the parts, and invest the time to do it himself. If he can't manage this, or just doesn't want the hassle, he hires someone else to do it for him. Educating children is the parents' job. If they don't want to or can't do the job themselves, they ought to expect to give someone else fair compensation to do it for them. No lofty "opportunity-to-serve" or "this is how we can all work together" rhetoric needs to be invoked here. Teaching is one person making a living by offering a service for money--to someone who is able to earn money elsewhere because he is not doing the teaching job himself.

I have personally applied the "fairness" principle by letting the pay I'm receiving set the standard for the pay I offer the person who works for me four hours a week as a housekeeper. I saw that as a fair trade. Each of us is performing a service--she for me, and I for others. Her service directly affects my ability to serve. Obviously, not every parent need pay his child's teacher the same as he gets paid, so my specific application of the "fairness" policy isn't realistic for everyone. All the same, Hiromi is right in implying that it's ridiculous to think that anyone should be comfortable with having the teachers be the lowest paid people in the church. People who provide a service deserve fair compensation. Period.

I hope this post does not stifle any further comments people might want to offer. Some version of this discussion has no doubt taken place elsewhere. In any place where it has not happened, it is likely overdue. What can you add to the discussion?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Employment Puzzles

Yesterday when Wesley, Norma, and I met to map out class assignments for next year, one of the challenges was to figure out what constitutes a teacher's full time course load, and what is a 3/4 time course load. Wes and Norma are full time teachers, and I am presumably a 3/4 time teacher.

Wes started by identifying what Norma had taught last year, when she was hired as a full time teacher and clearly had a full load. She taught six semesters of classes, besides some additional duties (which they were both more aware of than I am). By that measure, I should be teaching about four semesters of classes, along with some additional duties.

Some time after I was home last night, I realized that, although I have never been considered a full time teacher, I have had a six-semester course workload in the past, plus about half of the learning center duties, and other duties such as job assignments, bulletin boards, and evaluations on current events and literature written assignments.

Over supper, Hiromi and I talked about some of the assumptions and observations that are common regarding a Christian school teacher's work situation.

1. The job description does not usually include a specified number of on-duty hours.

2. Wages (if an effort is being made to be equitable) are usually based on what other people earn in a 40-hour work week.

3. Most teachers spend far more than 40 hours a week actually at school or in school-related activity.

4. A lot of what passes for "a good understanding" regarding school board expectations and teacher duties and remuneration would be considered unprofessional in the American workplace. Some of it would prove to be illegal if it were ever tested in the courts. I'm thinking specifically of gender-based wage disparity, and the absence of formal contracts. (I'm conflicted personally about this. On the side of tradition, I affirm the idea that a man's full time job should provide adequately for his family, and a woman who is teaching often does not have that same responsibility to provide financially. But still. . . equal pay for equal work seems like a sound principle, and it is what the law requires. On contracts. . . . Is anything lost when the understandings are as clear as possible--in writing, in case not everyone involved has a perfect memory?)

Hiromi has never complained about my workload at school, and I have never felt that I worked harder than anyone else. On the contrary, I was often aware that my co-teacher was working very hard, and needed relief. I provided all I could while I was at school. Because I was not a full time teacher, I felt free to go home soon after school was over, and, for the most part, I did not take work home. But my co-teacher did not have the same luxury. He actually stayed till the paces were all graded for the week, etc. --several more hours, usually. I hated seeing him put in that position.

Hiromi sees this matter in black and white. "Full time teachers should be at school 40 hours a week. When that time is up, they should go home. If that doesn't allow enough time to finish what needs doing, they should ask for more help. Three-fourths time teachers should be there 30 hours a week, and so on."

"Most teachers--especially women--are over-achievers," I told Hiromi. "They'll always feel like they should be doing more. What I'm saying is that they could easily put in 40 hours a week and still routinely feel swamped, even if their workload seems reasonable to those who are looking on. And they often like what they're doing, and want to do more." Unlike Hiromi's, my viewpoint comes out a pasty shade of gray.

What do you think?

A Sly Neighbor

Yesterday around the quilt at the sewing my aunt Martha told me a story that made me grin today when I remembered it.

Several years ago Paul and Martha's son Eldo met someone at church they didn't know before, and they began to get acquainted. The other couple told Eldo and Dorcas that they lived "way out in the country. You wouldn't know where it is." But as they talked longer they learned that they actually lived quite close together--one of them along Trail West road and the other down the road another mile and a half, and around the corner.

While the new family was explaining where they lived, they said that they live right across the road from the "SLY" family. Eldo didn't know a family by that name, but he thought the description sounded like the location of the Nisly family home.

It turns out that when the flag was down on the Nisly's rural mailbox, it obscured all of the last name except the last three letters--S-L-Y.

That's how a very staid and straightforward, full-of-integrity local Mennonite minister got labelled as a "SLY" person.