Prairie View

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bird Sightings and More Miscellany

Andrew called tonight to tell me they (the birding buddies who are brothers and cousins) saw a Brown Creeper today--a new one for their list. Recently they saw a Warbling Vireo--a bird I've never identified. I never saw a Red-Eyed Vireo either, which they have seen.


Hiromi is pleased with how the baby guineas and Muscovy ducks performed today when he left open the gate to their shelter. They stayed inside a long time, then cautiously ventured out. He herded them toward the flower garden, up and down the rows, where they feasted on grasshoppers. They went through the fence and "grazed" on grasshoppers out there. Wherever they went, grasshoppers flew up in a panic. After a while, Hiromi rounded up the guineas and walked them back to their shelter again. The ducks had found their way back by themselves.

Hiromi is already anticipating the fun he's going to have tomorrow, marching the guineas around. He's amazed at how compliant and flock-oriented they seem to be. They stay together all the time.

Max did not enjoy the day. He was penned up in the kennel while the young birds were out. He is not trustworthy, we've decided, and it's costing him his freedom for now. We turn him loose at night.

He even had the nerve to chase the adult guineas tonight after he was out and before they had gone to roost. He felt very guilty however when Hiromi saw him and yelled at him--as evidenced by the proverbial head down, tail between the legs stance.


We harvested the first of our Zuchetta Rampicante summer squash today. These are Godzilla versions of zucchini. The one we ate on for supper was 21 inches long and as big around as a saucer. At this stage it has no seed cavity--solid flesh throughout--and the skin is very soft. The vines grow rampantly, and the squash grows fast too. The flesh has a little more firmness and texture than zucchini, but is very mild flavored.

I have a feeling we'll have to educate our farmer's market customers or no one will dare risk buying it.

I've had only one big problem with this crop. I planted them beside neck pumpkins, and when the first "fruits" set on the vine, I didn't know whether they were pumpkins or squash. What I saw first had a small "bulb" on the blossom end of the fruit, and those looked exactly like the internet pictures of Zucchetta Rampicante. But later, when the other kind started setting fruit, they had a male-patterned physique--broad shouldered and narrowed at the bottom--and I thought those were more likely to be the Zuccheta R., since I had grown them once before, and I didn't remember the bulb. Although I've never grown neck pumpkin, I've eaten them and I knew they did have a bulb. It was all very confusing, just like it sounds. By then also the vines had so thoroughly intertwined and clambered across their neighbors that I saw both kinds of fruit on all sides of the patch. The foliage looks exactly alike.

Today I trundled over to Dwights, who planted only neck pumpkins, and looked at what is growing in the patch. I was right; the internet pictures were wrong. The ones with the bulb at the end are neck pumpkins, and I will not pick them till they're mature--tan on the outside and orange on the inside--like a giant butternut squash. The Zucchetta R. are a little darker green and also striped.

Grant says they look like lethal weapons. He's got a point. Even the grasshoppers don't seem to be bothering them.

Ammendment: In the biggest squash, we found the barest beginnings of a swelling and seed formation at the blossom end. I don't know what the mature stage of this squash would be like, but obviously, seed formation would have to happen somehow or its propagation would be problematic. The point is that, even at very large sizes, these squash are still at the immature, tender stage.


Vincent (6?), Dwight's son, grew edible soybeans this year as his own personal gardening project. We had some for supper, eaten in the traditional Japanese way. They were cooked, pods and all, in salted water, for 10 minutes. Then I drained them and ran cold water over them. At the table, each of us popped the beans straight from the pods into our mouths, and discarded the pods.

In Japan this summer treat is often served with beer. I served ours with sloppy joes, sliced tomatoes, and Godzilla squash--sliced and fried and anointed with hot mustard and soy sauce.


Hiromi is trying to find the copyright holder of a book that was first published in London in 1934 by Christophers. It was reprinted by Harvard University Press in the 1950s. He wants to quote from it in a book he's writing, and needs permission if it's still copyrighted.

Harvard sent us a fax today saying they never had the copyright on this book, but were only the American printer and distributor. They don't have any information on Christophers.

We think Christophers is a publishing house no longer in business, and the book is probably in the public domain, but we've got to make sure somehow. Any ideas?


My parents plan to go to Iowa this weekend for a gathering of couples who were married there in 1950 or thereabouts.

They love being with this group of people, several of whom are my mother's cousins and my dad's CPS buddies. I'm glad they're able to do this traveling. They were planning to go alone, but Mom apparently had second thoughts recently and prefers that Linda go along.


The crew resurfacing the road past our place works four ten hour days each week--Monday through Thursday.

On Monday when we had an early morning shower, there was a lot of standing around at the end of our drive waiting for the road surface to dry. Max took advantage of the situation and raced around in delighted circles, stopping by the tall skinny guy occasionally to be petted and fussed over.

When I grumbled about the wasting of our tax dollars out there, Hiromi said, "That's what they said." He had stopped to talk to the crew when he returned from an errand, and they explained that they can't put down asphalt on a wet surface or it won't bond well to its foundation. It makes sense of course, but it still seems like a shame. I think the work finally got underway about an hour and a half after they arrived on the scene.


I've been experimenting with making a version of Susanna's bread in my bread machine. I set it for the dough cycle, and then bake it in a regular bread pan in the oven. Even when I halve the recipe, it makes a very large loaf in the 9 x 5 pan.

I think I'll try baking it in two smaller pans. It will fit into the toaster more easily that way, and I can let it rise a little longer before it outgrows the pan.

I'm sacrificing some of the artistry and authenticity of the European-style bread by using the bread machine and regular bread pans, but I'm willing to do that in this case for the sake of convenience. Every loaf is painlessly kneaded for 20 minutes without my having to dirty my hands in the dough or wash the mixer bowl and beaters afterward. I think I agree with the baker who said, "the experience of hand kneading dough is vastly overrated." I have a shameless consumer mentality here, I know.

I tweaked the recipe by adding a higher percentage of whole wheat flour, and made a few other small changes. The bread is tender and fine grained, and has a wonderful flavor.


Last Sunday was Ollie and Emma's 50th wedding anniversary celebration. Emma is my youngest aunt on Dad's side. I think it's amazing that she is able to celebrate her 50th anniversary while all of her 11 older siblings are still living. Most of them have had a similar celebration in the past.

Their own mother died at the age of 58--a year older than I am now. I'm a little fuzzy on this right now, but I think she died on Easter morning earlier in the year that Emma got married.

Ollie and Emma's wedding was the first to take place after Center church was organized. The building must not have been finished, however, because the wedding happened at the Elreka gym, as I recall.

My aunts were important to me as I was growing up. Besides Emma, Lizzie and Esther figured big among my heroes. They often babysat us and helped out when there was a new baby at our house.

We didn't know Ollie in his growing up years, since he lived in Plain City, OH then. However, he had many first cousins in this area since his mother grew up here, and after he had completed a term of voluntary service in Canada, he came here to work. My grandfather hired him, and eventually turned over the farm to him after he and Emma were married.

I can't imagine the family or the community without Ollie. He knows how to fix almost anything, and is good at organizing work projects. He managed his own affairs admirably and has often helped others in need. He is the kind of stable, supporting brother that people in every community and church need.

Emma knew how to milk cows and work in the fields as well as anyone. But she proved to have good domestic skills as well. She's a good cook and gardener. She has a great sense of humor--very convenient for someone who loves to tease and joke as much as Ollie does.

Their oldest son died of pneumonia at the age of five months. Later, they lost their house and nearly all their belongings in a house fire. Life was not always easy for them.

They raised the four children who were born to them and the two they chose from an orphanage in El Salvador--three boys and three girls, in all. The two middle children, Karen and Marjorie, are the only ones who live now in Kansas.

For as long as I can remember, Emma has been the backup Mom when our own Mother was on a trip or unavailable for some reason. She helped us decide when the corn was ready to harvest and invited us over for a meal to help clean up leftovers from the singing.

Within the past year, Ollie and Emma moved into their retirement home on their own farm. Their son-in-law has the dairy herd now, just as Ollie once took over dairying there from his own father-in-law. The younger family lives in the house that replaced the one that burned.

Life moves on, and things will not always be this way, but for now, it's good to have Ollie and Emma part of our lives, just as they have been for more than 50 years.

Laudate and Miscellaneous

Shane is singing this week with Laudate, an ensemble singing under the direction of Ken Nafziger, a music professor at Eastern Mennonite University. Here is a link to the group and to their scheduled performances:

While Shane is singing, Dorcas is staying with her parents, who live nearby.

John Miller, the tenor prodigy from here, in the wee hours of last Friday morning, boarded Shane and Dorcas' vehicle traveling east from CO to VA. He is also singing with the group.

Shane and Dorcas had traveled here in two cars, one destined for sale and delivery to the Joe Yoder family.

Shane is awed by the acoustics in the church in which they are practicing and in which they will later perform and make a recording. He thinks church building committees should take note of this element when they plan church buildings.

I have almost no knowledge of how to create a structure with good acoustics, and I suspect that is also true of many builders. However, some people study this, and know exactly what works and what doesn't. When we're spending many hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new structure, it seems to me that paying a bit of that money for professional advice or design services might be a very good long-term investment.


The funeral for Stephanie Wingard is underway in Oklahoma right now.

One of the things I like about how this event is being handled is the way various neighboring communities are contributing to the effort of feeding the large crowd that is descending on this tiny church community for the event.

From the Kansas churches: 50 loaves of homemade bread, from Lott, Texas: 5? electric roasters of prepared food, from Illinois and/or Arkansas: meat and cheese (can't remember which, but both are helping), and food from other Mennonite churches in the Thomas, OK area. Food gifts are small offerings, but it's one brotherhood ritual that helps spread the burden of logistics that sometimes adds to the burden of grief that is already being borne.

My sister Lois remembers that when they had a funeral in their small VA church a number of years ago, the ladies on the food committee labored through the funeral to prepare for feeding the crowd. Some of these ladies were age mates and close friends of the deceased, and should not have had to miss the funeral. For them it was a lesson to remember for another time.

Ironically, within 12 hours travel of that VA community are many, many similar church groups, who would have no doubt helped if they had been asked. But here, where our numbers are small, we know that, if we don't help, no one will, so we make ourselves responsible, even if we live 12 hours away, as the Illinois people do.


I don't claim to have extracted a lot of deep meaning from the tragedy that took Stephanie's life, except a sober reminder that we live without guarantees that we will be spared misfortune, pain, or death. We have only the guarantee of God's presence throughout. But I am persuaded about a few things related to motorcycle use:

1) Every rider should always wear protective gear. A helmet is the minimum. Leather jackets are not just fashion statements. On a motorcycle rider, they can be important protection from scrapes, etc.

2) A second rider necessitates reduced speed. Even an experienced handler will find the dynamics very different from handling a machine with one rider only.

3) Bad things can happen even at reduced speeds on a motorcycle. The lack of physical insulation from surrounding objects is inherently fraught with hazards. Hiromi recently visited with a former co-worker who spent 90 days in a hospital after an accident that happened on a motorcycle when he was going 20 MPH. He looked around to check on nearby traffic, and accidentally rode up on a curb and then fell over, breaking two vertabrae, one at either end of his spine. He had no medical insurance, lost his home, has taken bankruptcy, and is still partially disabled, after a number of months have gone by.

4) Thrill-seeking is not a good enough reason to do something. (My boys would disagree, I'm afraid.) I am not risk-averse, in general, but where physical safety is unusually precarious, I think the reason to proceed must be morally compelling or it just doesn't make sense. I have survived just fine for 57 years without a single motorcycle ride--not because I've resolved never to ride one, but because there's never been a sufficiently compelling reason to do so. I am aware that compelling reasons may exist for some people, but I don't count thrill-seeking as being among them.

Having said all that, I have no wish to add to the grief of anyone involved in the events that ended in Stephanie's death. I am all too aware that I have done things that could have resulted in harm to me or someone else, and so far, I have mercifully escaped the most dire consequences. At the same time, and at the risk of belaboring the obvious, I can't help sounding a warning to those that I love: Be careful with motorcycles. If you must ride, take appropriate precautions. Never combine thrill-seeking and motorcycle riding.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Things I Learned at Farmer's Market 7/25/2009

1) Levi thinks people might not want to buy his sausage if I tell people he feeds them snakes. I asked him how many farmer's market customers he thought would read my blog. (I can't think of anyone that would.)

I didn't say it, but I suspect that anyone who knows anything about raising hogs knows that Levi is just letting his pigs be happy pigs--eating with gusto almost anything that holds still. He does not confine these intelligent animals in miserable quarters, with nothing more exciting to do than try to bite off each other's tails. He lets them root and grunt and chase and bicker, and yes, occasionally eat a snake.

Just for the record, we have donated the equivalent of several large buckets full of overgrown and tired zucchini and other summer squash for Levi's pigs. That pig menu item should reassure even the most squeamish among Levi's potential customers.

2) Charles Schollenberger recognizes a novel and lovely bouquet item when he sees it. He stops and asks what it is. I told him it's "Frosted Explosion"--a Panicum new to the floral trade this year. I told him too that our native grass, Switchgrass, is also a Panicum, but the native one is a perennial that blooms in the fall. Frosted Explosion is an annual that starts blooming in the spring and blooms all summer long. He seemed to know all about Switchgrass. (He gets Brownie points for this, in my estimation.)

He told me he used to live in Amish country in Ohio, and attended Wooster College. I told him I lived in the same general area for five years in the 70's when I taught school there. "Beautiful country" we agreed.

Then I asked him if he's a farmer's market "regular." He said, "No. I'm actually from the Kansas City area, and I'm here in town for a political campaign." At this point he whipped out his card and gave it to me. (I guess I walked right into that trap, didn't I?) According to the card, he has formed an exploratory committee, floating the possibility of a Democratic candidacy for the U. S. Senate race that Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahart (both current U.S. Representatives from Kansas) have already entered as Republicans. No other Democratic candidate has emerged.

On his website, I learned that he is a former teacher, newspaper editor (of the Topeka Capital Journal), and representative for an animal pharmaceuticals supplier. I learned pretty quickly on his website that he and I would not find as much agreement on other matters as we did no Holmes County being "God's country"--and on Frosted Explosion being a beautiful addition to bouquets.

3) Someone else reported that they have beautiful flowers now on plants they bought from us last spring. "Next spring we'll buy more. You'll have them, won't you?"

I let Hiromi answer that one. "I think so," he said.

4) We sold some lavender peppers--the first ones to reach marketable size. "How did you get them to do that?" someone asked, tongue in cheek, about the surprising color.

One person told us her dog loves bell peppers. She bought a pepper, and Hiromi gave her an extra for good measure.

5) Hannah, who we've known for many years, has battled cancer for 18 years. She's facing another surgery soon. I do not envy her.

6) The lady who bought the $18.00 sunflower bouquet last week told us that the person she gave it to was overwhelmed with its beauty. She told us that the recipient paints, and could appreciate the design of the arrangement. Our efforts to pack it well paid off, and the flowers arrived safely.

On a related note, I told someone today that if I could make money on compliments and smiles in my direction when I sell flowers, I'd be a lot richer than I am this way.

7) Merlin, the melon man, arrived after every single stall in the market pavilion was full, so he set up outside at the south end, under the wide roof overhang. The shelter was welcome when it started raining. I thought he wasn't coming back this year, and was surprised to see him.

8) Sweet corn is still selling for $5.50 a dozen.

9) Roman uses products from Morgan County Seeds for pests on his cucumbers, squash, and melons. That, and Sevin. I couldn't find the stuff he described, and will have to check back for more specifics. I learned that the striped cucumber beetle appears very early in the season, and the plants need protection long before they begin to bear. The spotted cucumber beetles arrive later. Both of them are vectors for bacterial diseases that bring down a plant in a single day when the disease finally reaches critical mass inside the vascular system.

For next year, I think our strategy will include setting out plants instead of direct seeding--just to give the plants a little more beetle-free time. Then we will cover them with a floating row cover or provide protection for individual plants, until they begin to bloom and need pollination from insects--buying a little more beetle-free time.

My pickling cucumbers are history. I got exactly two cucumbers from them. The slicing cucumber plants look better than ever (which is not outstanding, even yet), and they finally have begun to set fruit. The Oriental cucumbers have produced fairly well, and are bitter-free and sweet, but they are not marketable because of their cosmetic defects. Sigh. I have never in my whole life grown lovely cucumbers.

10) People look dubiously at okra that is more than two or three inches long. I think that's because grocery store okra is tough when it's bigger than that. I hope the people who bought our okra (some of which was as much as four inches long) will discover what we know: when it's fresh, and comes easily off the plant at harvest, it's tender, even at larger sizes.

11) Swiss chard is a surprisingly hot market item. At least some people in the world know what's good for them.

12) Cathy, my market friend who just recently moved to a retirement home in Hutchinson, told me that they sit on their patio every evening to watch the sunset. They used to be farmers and love the fact that their patio faces a milo field, with no other apartments in their retirement complex visible from their patio. She misses her flowers, and can't resist deadheading every landscape flower planting she encounters at the retirement home. She's a lovely Christian lady.

13) I like the hot peanuts from New Mexico better than the ones from Virginia. (No offense to Virginians. . . .) I really like them best though after they've cooled off sufficiently to not be soft and chewy anymore--presumably because of the steam generated while they're roasting.

14) I love every pasta sample that Jan brings to market. She sells Pappardelles, a brand I highly recommend.

15) During the years we've hosted exchange students, we worked with Cathy F., who was the local coordinator for the exchange program. She told us yesterday that her son just got married to a girl from China, whose parental family now lives in Chinatown in NYC. He met her at a Christian college. She loves Kansas and "never wants to go back to live in New York City." No doubt his family's openness to people from other cultures has helped prepare him for this cross-cultural marriage.

16) The man Hiromi "credits" most directly with his layoff stopped by our booth. I didn't notice him, and when I asked Hiromi what he said, Hiromi answered, "Just the usual--what people usually say."
(You've probably figured out by now that Hiromi is anything but loquacious.)

17) People are far more likely to buy sunflowers when they are ready to go in slender sleeves--three stems to each. One person who bought five told us we should charge more for them. She might be right, but getting a dollar is better than composting them.

Sons of Privilege

Hiromi told me today about a political encounter that just went viral in Japan. The son of a former Prime Minister is running for office against a man with no political connections. However, the "commoner" has a degree from Tokyo University, which makes him something of an educational elite. Being admitted is enormously competitive--something even my star-student husband never wanted to try for.

Recently someone recorded on video the second candidate greeting the Prime Minister's son. He was given a swift brush-off. The Prime Minister's son's popularity is waning fast. Even the sons of privilege don't get a pass when common courtesy and respect for others is called for.

This "son of privilege" dynamic reminds me of something similar I first read in Farm Journal. On creating orderly and healthy transitions from father to son in a farming operation, the author recommended that sons work for a significant period of time for someone other than their own parent. While a son can certainly benefit from a father's mentoring, the dynamic of the working relationship changes when the son reaches adulthood. At that point, it becomes important for the son to transition to a position of increased responsibility, and for the father to relinquish it gradually. This can be very difficult to manage well if things go on indefinitely without the kind of distance that employment for the son elsewhere could provide.

A time apart has several possible benefits.

1) The father is less likely to take the son's work for granted, without sufficient appreciation for his contribution.

2) The father is less likely to hamper the son's maturity and productivity by coddling him.

3) By working for someone else, the son has an opportunity to learn new and perhaps better ways of doing things. At the very least, he will learn that the way his father did things is not the only option.

4) The son may develop new appreciation for his father's competence and superior ideas and methods.

5) The son is unlikely to be coddled as an employee in another business. If he comes aboard again in his father's business, he will have developed sympathy for every employee who does not have the benefit of family connections.

6) The son gains confidence in his own competence when he has a chance to develop it outside the protective environment of a family business.

7) The father is forced to acknowledge the son's competence if he has proven it elsewhere. It lifts the "novice" label that fathers may forget to lift otherwise.

8) Other employees gain confidence in the son's competence if he has proven it elsewhere.

I love to see a farm or business stay in the same family for many years. That is most likely to happen without undue cost in terms of stressful relationships if a planned timely and temporary separation between father and son(s) is part of the strategy. It's part of giving one's children both roots and wings--a place to grow and a place to launch away from. In due time, the son can come home again, and put down more roots, and provide a good place for his own sons to grow and fly from. And so, in an ideal scenario at least, the cycle continues, and the family business thrives.

Just as living in a Prime Minister's home may not be the best preparation for political office, so being the son of privilege may not be the best preparation for running a family business. Some lessons are best learned in a different capacity.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Feathered Adolescents

This year, for the first time, we're keeping our bird feeders stocked through the summer. One of the benefits of this is that we're meeting the offspring of the birds that visit faithfully throughout the winter, and continue to come throughout the summer.

In years past, we've enjoyed watching the fledgling Barn Swallows teetering and begging while perched on the clotheslines just beyond our windows. This year we've seen a family of house finches, with the young fluttering their wings desperately until the female stuffed something into their mouths. A drably colored cardinal visits at the feeder, his crest giving away his parentage, and his shape looking right. But he's still small. Yesterday for the first time we saw a juvenile Red Bellied Woodpecker. He/she looks just like the parents, except for being smaller and lacking any red coloration on the head. There's only a dark fuzz where the red will appear someday.

The Red Bellied Woodpecker has an ill-concealed sense of superiority. It's as if he feels any bird with a bill smaller and weaker than his can not be tolerated in the same feeding vicinity. Meanwhile, this young upstart travels back and forth between the feeder and his pounding tree repeatedly, gobbling greedily one more seed morsel at each feeding opportunity.

We're also seeing some adult birds that spend only the summer months here. The Red Headed Woodpecker was one such recent visitor. Earlier this spring, the two species of Buntings were other such birds.

I have heard back about my Bronzed Cowbird report. The Rare Bird Report official who lives in Kansas wrote me that this bird has never before been reported in Kansas, but it is moving north of its earlier range, and they are expected to arrive here someday.

At the end of August, a group will meet to decide whether or not to allow this sighting to have official status. A photograph would be welcome, and I could not provide that. I saw it only once--also perhaps not very convincing. However, Hiromi also saw it, and the red eye was obvious and remarkable to both of us; it's the defining characteristic of this bird. The fact that we didn't know any bird that fit this description and then found it in the bird book should make the sighting seem valid. And it often travels in the company of grackles, blackbirds, and other cowbirds. That fit, since the other birds in the vicinity were Grackles.

Being home to see the birds is a good thing about being on Sabbatical.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Quote for the Day 7/20/2009

Grant: How did I do that? (After he put down a saucepan lid that spun around and bounced for a very long time. He tries to duplicate the effect several times.)

Hiromi: I guess you're just like Mom--easily amazed.


Earlier this evening:

Hiromi: There's a huge cloud in the south.

He almost sounded amazed--for good reason. That cloud was a classic anvil shape, puffing up visibly every minute.

It moved on to the east, and the rain that apparently fell elsewhere missed us entirely.

We're pinning our hopes now on showers that are to move across this area from the Northwest. We're in a tornado watch (along with about 47 other counties in Kansas) till 2:00 A.M., and the chance of hail and high winds is significant.

Bummer. I'd really like drama-free precipitation. Please?


Me: I guess that makes two guineas that committed suicide today.

One drowned in the ducks' swimming pool, placed there by Hiromi, who also treats both guineas and ducks periodically to "an Amazon shower."

The other apparently escaped its safe shelter through a hole big enough to squeeze through high up on the cattle panel door across the greenhouse opening, and Max couldn't resist picking it up. He proudly showed Grant the lifeless bird when he got home, and got a royal scolding and several swats for his pains. He was quite penitent for a long time. He had not torn or eaten the guinea--just carried it around, a little too roughly, by all appearances.

The other morning he had a blackbird in his mouth several times, but it was still alive and fairly chipper when we got him distracted enough to leave it alone. His bird acquisitions are definitely not about satisfying hunger--except for excitement. That hunger, with him, is insatiable.

All I Ever Wanted to Know About Grasshoppers I Learned in my Own Garden

One of the things I learned is that when they’re really intent on eating, I can sometimes cut them in half with my flower-harvesting scissors. But I always have to squeal in disgust when I do this, and I don’t like myself very well afterward.

I also learned that they like molasses, and an old fashioned remedy for killing them is to put molasses-flavored water into something like a dishpan in hopes that the grasshoppers will investigate and drown. We had only six grasshoppers yesterday that were curious enough to do that, despite Hiromi dumping all the rest of the molasses into the water early in the morning.

Grasshoppers love Gomphrena. The buggers ate the top out of every one of the purple and Bicolor Rose ones–a 15-ft. row full of flowers at the end of the garden where the grasshoppers are moving in from the surrounding vegetation outside the garden.

On some of the sunflowers at the other end of the garden, only stems and a few leaf stalks are left. The grasshoppers have wings now, which means they’ve gone through all the instar stages, and are in the adult, egg-laying stage. I am so not impressed.

Most insecticides are not very effective anymore against grasshoppers of the size these are. And with their mobility, any grasshoppers we kill with insecticide is quickly replaced by more that fly over or through the fence. Killing them early is important, but it only buys time without really solving the problem for the season. We used Eight, which contains Permethrin, in the flower garden. In the other garden, we used a Rotenone/Pyrethrin blend. Neither are really sustainable over the long term because of cost alone.

One fascinating document, published in 1912 by Kansas State University had lots of the kind of information an insecticide-averse gardener appreciates. While not applicable in the garden, they explained how to use a hopper dozer, which is like a giant tray with three tall sides. The whole thing is on skids and can be dragged over the ground, open side in the lead. The hoppers jump up and fall down into the water-and-oil-filled trays. I suspect it was used mostly on pastures and hay fields.

I found there also a recipe for mixing up a bait using arsenic, wheat bran, ground-up citrus fruits, and water. That’s another remedy I’m not too likely to try.

Poultry of all kinds are good grasshopper predators. Chickens, ducks, guineas, and turkeys were mentioned the most often. Even very young poultry will snarf up the young grasshoppers early in the season. This helped me see the wisdom of letting hens raise their own chicks because that’s the only way chicks could range safely while they’re still very small. Even this has its hazards, of course, but I’m looking wistfully at having poultry again that has females smart enough to be good mothers. I think the Muscovey Ducks fill the bill there, but I’m told the guineas don’t do quite as well in this department. They take their keets for strolls through wet grass and are a little too indifferent about keeping them close by.

Besides grasshoppers, poultry feeds on sowbugs, ticks and flies, and all other kinds of insects. They will even kill mice and snakes–chickens, guineas, and turkeys, at least. One person reported watching a pair of ducks play with a live mouse by tossing it back and forth. When one of them apparently tired of the game, it caught the mouse in mid air and sent it down the hatch in one giant gulp.

Grasshoppers hatch around the time of the last spring frost. While they are still on the hatching grounds, if the vegetation there is dry and brown, burning can kill them off. I wish we had tried this around the veggie garden. It’s got a driveway on one side, and sheep and goat pens on the other three sides. The goat pen was not used last summer and neither was it grazed down by Lowell’s cows, so there was an abundance of dry vegetation there, although the cheat grass also furnished a green carpet underneath. I’m not sure if a fire could have been very easily sustained, but I wish we had tried it earlier this spring..

In the flower garden, the vegetation outside the fence on two sides is part of the cattle grazing area–which has not been grazed recently. This is a grasshopper factory, and the moist, succulent growth of my irrigated, fertilized flowers are a huge attraction. When the cats that keep me company while I’m harvesting flowers walk through this overgrown area, the disturbed grasshoppers create a drumbeat of activity.

Egg laying commences for grasshoppers in July and August. Tilling after the eggs are laid can expose them to drying out, and to predation. Poultry and wild birds love any upturned egg clusters they find. For this reason, I’m determined this year to till at least our garden areas.

The reports of how peacefully poultry and gardens coexist vary a lot. But I do know that having them range all over the farm will help in the long run. So far the two remaining guineas have stayed out of sight most of the time, although we see them on most days. I don’t know where they are, but I’m sure they’re finding something to eat there, and I hope it’s grasshoppers.

I hatched my own plan last night. Hiromi was dubious, and, at 5:30 this morning he informed me that we can’t carry it out because there’s thunder and lightening out there. I sensed a little too much relief in the pronouncement. Or maybe it was of the lion-in-the-street variety.

My plan is very simple. Armed with gloves and a bucket of water, I plan to patrol the rows of flowers, and pluck and drown every grasshopper I can capture. This isn’t quite as hopelessly futile a prospect as it sounds, since grasshoppers tend to climb up high on any nearby stalk late at night, presumably the better to warm up and dry out the following morning. They move about and feed only after they’re dry and warm. So while they’re still slow and satisfied, I’ll be the Jenny-on-the-spot and dispatch them. While I know very well that I can’t get them all, and more will move in throughout the day, letting them feed for only half of one day looks a lot better to me than letting them feel for many days and many nights, and then, to add insult to the whole assault, leaving them there to lay their eggs.

The thunder and lightening has moved off to the east, without our getting any rain. Excuse me while I go look for gloves and a bucket.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Things I Learned at Farmer's Market--7/19/2009

1) One customer who bought plants from us this spring reported that they're producing beautiful flowers, and that, next year, they'll buy more.

Last week, another customer said something similar. This was especially sweet since she is the county horticulture agent, and knows a thing or two about plants.

Both of these people had bought cutflower Zinnia varieties.

2) In a most astonishing encounter, I met the birth mother of an adopted child I have known all her life. She told me her daughter's name now, and I did a double-take of recognition inside, but did not reveal that I knew who she was talking about. I just listened. There was no striking physical resemblance, but an uncanny likeness between the mother and child in their manner of talking. The child was separated from her mother at birth.

3) The food sample I really enjoyed was a mixture of diced tomato, cucumber, and red onion, with a few capers. I have a little trouble recalling the dressing ingredients, but I think it was olive oil, balsamic vinegar ?, fresh-ground pepper, salt, and a small shot of hot sauce.

I've learned to really like capers in other dishes. The zing and crunch give wonderful accents to chicken served with a sauce.

4) Norma's raspberry pie has just the right balance of tart and sweet, and the crust is tender and flaky.

5) Several customers are craving the Bright Lights Chard we sold at market several weeks ago. We'll have more to harvest next week. Sauteed in olive oil, with garlic, is one favorite way of preparing it.

6) Hiromi sold one huge Sunflower bouquet for $18.00, but the customer almost freaked out when she went to her car and tried to figure out how she was going to transport it for the next hour on her way to the friend she was visiting. She brought it back, and I set about wedging it into a large low box, with smaller boxes and newspapers keeping it firmly lodged in an upright position. I didn't know till afterward that Hiromi thought she was bringing it back for a refund. He didn't say a word while I proceeded to set things right. He and I are glad I didn't know, and I think the customer is glad for the help we gave her in solving her problem.

7) One of Hiromi's friends who was a chef at one of the private clubs in town shared this bit of insight: "I don't care how much money you've got, when you're drunk, you act just as stupid as a poor person."

He described one incident when he had labored for several hours early in the afternoon to prepare twice-baked potatoes for the evening meal. (I think this involved scooping out the flesh of baked potatoes and mashing the pulp, then putting it back in the shells after it was seasoned.) After the meal was served, one lady tottered into the kitchen to complain about having been served instant mashed potatoes. He showed her the pile of potato skins and asked where she thought those had come from. "Oh," she said, and tottered back out.

Even without being drunk, rich people can act very strangely. One man, who ordered a cheeseburger, had an unconventional request. He wanted everything prepared in the usual way, but before it was served, everything but the bun was to be run through a blender and piled back onto the bun to be served. I think the chef took that as a personal insult--akin to a cabinet maker being forced to mismatch the corners of the cabinet.

8) Arlyn's guitar playing and singing was a whole lot more enjoyable than the performance that followed. I especially enjoyed "This Land is Your Land." He played last week in Hutchinson's once-a-month downtown food and art celebration on Third Thursday.

I'm sure the next players were good, but they did not play the kind of music I can understand or appreciate. It all seemed like muted sounds that weren't going anywhere, except when the trombone player kicked in and did his thing. However, I noted that the player whose music seemed to have trouble getting airborne had a very pleasant expression on his face, and he was nattily dressed in black pants and shoes and a white shirt. I guess I need an interpreter for his kind of music, and that didn't come with the package.

9) A slice of Wisconsin cheese (brought recently by cousin Katrina's family) on a slice of Susanna's bread, with a slice each of tomato and cucumber on top, makes a wonderful midmorning market snack, and drives off the cravings I would develop otherwise for Norma's cinnamon rolls.

10) This is the time of year to transplant irises. For that reason, the iris club was there, selling all sorts of wonderful kinds to try. I wanted a frilly white one, and a nearly black one. They didn't have bright orange, which I also wanted. (You can tell that for me it was all about the drama this year.) I got a few dwarf bearded kinds, which bloom very early, and always cheer my winter-jaded heart when they do so.

The annual iris sale funds the iris show that is normally held on Mother's Day.

11) A customer who stopped to admire my flowers went on to tell me about the market she had recently visited in Seattle. Nearly half the vendors there were flower vendors. Almost all of them had masses of sweet peas, along with many other lovely offerings I could only imagine. Sweet peas are hardly grown here. They love cool weather, which is in short supply during our growing season.

But I can grow lovely flowers too. What I really need is an abundance of customers who want to buy flowers. In a practical, mostly working-class Midwestern population, especially in a struggling economy, flowers are a tough sell, no matter how lovely. I get lots of compliments, but I can't take them to the bank.

12) Frieda told me her son Jonathan (8?) loved the salsa jar full of leftover flowers I gave him and every other member of the Primary II Sunday School class last week. She told me they were still nice yesterday, nearly a week later. Frieda's husband John, who showed up after having sold out of tomatoes by 10:00 at the Wichita market, told me he doesn't know anything about arranging flowers, but Jonathan's flowers were beautifully arranged.

I didn't set out to arrange the flowers I stuffed into those salsa jars, but I found myself unable to be completely random about the process, so I did put the tall stuff in the middle and the filler around it, and poked snapdragons and ageratum and zinnias and Rudbeckia in wherever I thought they looked good. They actually did look almost arranged when I was done. I did eight bouquets to give to the members of that Sunday School class.

This week I sent lots of leftover flowers to Lowell's house when he stopped in to listen online to the national champion auctioneer for the year--a fellow Lowell has auctioneered with. I passed out big sunflowers to the Primary I Sunday School class.

13) Levi, who was there selling sausage and eggs, believes that his hogs' varied diet makes the meat taste better than the meat of "factory farm" hogs. He says he goes to the elevator and scoops up the screenings from grain cleaning to feed his hogs. "It's a lot of work, but it doesn't cost much," he said.

I tried not to visualize too thoroughly something Andrew had told me about Levi's pigs, when Levi still worked on a concrete crew that installed basements under existing houses. When they dismantled old stone basement walls, sometimes they found many snakes. Levi would kill them and collect them in buckets for his pigs. They relished them, but the report of the partially consumed snakes dangling from their mouths is the image I'd like to forget. This is a little more diet variation than I want to think about when I smell the good scents of Levi's frying sausage samples.

Cute and feminine toddler Alice must be one of the reasons people want to buy something from Levi and Angie. She's a heart-warming sight.

14) Sweet corn sells for $5.50 a dozen. That seems like a lot of money, but I doubt the growers are getting filthy rich. Their inputs are probably high, and just getting it out of the field and to market involves lots of manual labor. I'll be sure to calculate the dollar value of our corn when it gets ready in a few weeks. Hiromi needs a reminder about now that his hard work does produce gain.

Evolutionist's Dilemma--Part 2

Near the end of Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, he describes what happened when he and his family and a group of friends sat down to eat a hunted and foraged meal that Pollan had prepared. Most of the people around the table had assisted him in some way in acquiring the food, so Pollan took a few minutes to honor each person's contribution and thank them. He wanted to continue offering thanks, even after he had thanked his guests, and suddenly realized that this is what other people do when they say grace before a meal. But he quickly shoved aside the temptation to lapse into foolish "sentimentality" and raised a toast instead.

I feel sorry for the person who experiences surprising generosity and good gifts from the natural world and does not know Who to thank.

A conversation of thanks with a Father and Friend offers release for the welling of gratitude that rises inside us upon experiencing a special outpouring of abundance. Furthermore, we go forward with humility and watchfulness for the next evidence of extended grace. In the act of thanking God, we're nurturing a relationship that will sustain us in times of want and need as well.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Early Graduation

Over the time of our recent 40th year high school class reunion, I had a chance to reflect on a decision my parents and I made 41 years ago--to graduate from high school after my third year.

As I recall, it happened like this: We showed up on enrollment day, prepared to enroll for my junior year. At some point, when I looked over the list of required credits, I realized I already had completed all but six of them. Since I had already routinely been earning six credits per year, it seemed like a simple matter to fit the right courses into the available slots and I could graduate at the end of the year. So I did. Three fellows did the same thing. All of them had been part of my class all the way though grade school. One of them confessed at the reunion that he had sort of slacked off the first two years, so he really had to work hard to finish, but he did so in fine shape.

I've known this for a long time, of course, but I didn't put things together till reunion weekend: Three of the four of us who did that high-school-in-three-years thing ended up getting education degrees. The other two are career teachers. The fourth is a minister.

Several conclusions:

1. An accelerated passage through high school did not, in our case, indicate a lifelong aversion to school and learning. Otherwise we would not have gone to college and become teachers.

2. Having all decided on the spur of the moment to graduate early meant that we had not spent our first two years cutting corners to make early graduation possible. We were "normal" students for two out of our three high school years.

3. We took some of the classes in college that we didn't have time for in high school. Nevin, for example, said he had not taken chemistry or upper level math classes in high school, but he did take them in college. I never did take the physiology, chemistry, or economics classes I missed out on in high school, but I did take world history classes in college. I steered clear of math as much as possible throughout, but had to take an algebra class in college that I could have taken in high school. In summary, all of us who went to college got what we wanted or needed there.

4. With one possible exception, those of us who went to college did not do so immediately after high school. The guys all lived on farms and helped their dads. I helped at home except for several days a week when I did housecleaning. Later I worked at a garden center for several years during their busy season. We did other things too like teaching vacation Bible school and Sunday School, traveling, and Voluntary Service. We lived at home till we were 21. Early graduation did not mean early college or leaving home early for other reasons. I had a full four years between high school graduation and leaving home for the first year of school teaching. When we hurried through high school, we were hurrying home, not hurrying away from home.

5. Although our principal allowed us to graduate in three years, I don't think he liked it much. To deter us, he informed us that none of us would be eligible for valedictorian or salutatorian honors. The disincentive wasn't persuasive enough to keep any of us from pursuing early graduation. I, at least, didn't think any of us were headed for those honors anyway. (The threat had teeth, as it turned out. The official salutatorian did, in fact, have a slightly lower GPA than several (?) of the early graduates.) Oh well. No big deal. We'd been fairly warned, and it was true that the four-year-graduates had maintained their GPA over a longer time period than we had. It seemed fair enough.

Would I do the same thing again? Would I recommend early graduation for others?

I'm fairly ambivalent on the matter. We allowed Joel to graduate early. We've had a number of students at our high school do the same. I've always felt OK about my own decision and our decision for Joel. When students at the school where I teach choose to graduate early, I have, for the most part, not felt like objecting. With perhaps a few exceptions, usually they have been students who were self-disciplined and capable of doing good work fast. There were probably more slackers among the four-year graduates than the three-year graduates.

I do find it disturbing when I sense a lack of industriousness and intellectual curiosity. I'm not impressed by students who summarily lop off from their schedule any class deemed to offer too little credit for the time involved. I would be reassured if they could base their decisions on what they might gain for the long term from a specific class, rather than how much work it involves in the short term.

I have heard from some early graduates that they wondered afterward why they had felt so compelled to hurry through school. While in some cases, there may have been a parental preference for the accelerated pace, I think in most cases, it was the students themselves who chose it. Others, like me, have few regrets. I suspect that those who lament the hurried trip, realize now that they sacrificed long term benefits for short term comfort.

Parents ought to be well-informed enough to help guide their children to a good decision on graduation goals. This assumes, of course, that they will want what is best for their child, and they will weigh many factors to reach a decision. The decision is best not left alone to a student who can hardly wait to stop working and start partying. It's likely that such people will find themselves all dressed up with no place to go. That would be a lot sadder than one more year of school would be.

Little Boy Passions

Right now the road past our house is being resurfaced. We're seeing a parade of sweepers, dump trucks, tanker trucks, asphalt-laying machines and packers go by, and hearing the beep beep beep of trucks moving backwards. I'm thinking it's a real shame not to have little boys living here to watch all this activity. When our boys were little, they would have spent days like this camped out in the front yard so as not to miss any of it.

I remembered something similar recently when we got a family update letter from the people who live now in our Trail West house where we raised our family. Just across the road from the house, and across a very narrow field, runs the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail line. The mother who lives there now said that their toddler son, Dothan, loves trains. I'm sure he does just what our boys used to do--run to the window every time he hears a whistle from one of the nearby crossings. Our boys also eagerly noted any maintenance and repairs to the tracks because they brought out a whole new set of machines to watch.

I suspect things that go are nearly a universal fascination for boys. Even Joel, who turned out to be less mechanically inclined than either of his brothers, had a special sound for such things when he still had no speaking vocabulary otherwise: BahPOO. (And no, we did not use those sounds as single words in our routine conversation.) He usually made the same sign-language-like gesture with his right hand when he said it--rotating his hand from the palm-down to the palm-up position. Go figure.

My next turn at first hand observation of this little boy things that go obssession will probably not happen till there are grandsons. Now that's a thought to brighten my day. . . .

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Evolutionist's Dilemma

I'm two-thirds of the way through the book by Michael Pollan: The Omnivore's Dilemma. In the part I'm reading right now, the author wrestles with the ethics of meat eating. Although he has always been a meat eater, as part of his desire to be well-informed about many peripheral issues related to food, he immerses himself for a time in the writings of people with ties to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Some of their ideas make sense to him, and he decides to adopt a vegetarian diet, at least temporarily, the better to focus on the problem.

In the process of trying to sort through the issues, he reflects on the concept of equality, which he wholeheartedly espouses where humans are concerned. But he is not entirely convinced that animals also belong in this sphere of beings who are to be treated with equality. In an effort to find resolution, and perhaps to counter what seems illogical to him in the PETA philosophy, he tries to get to the bottom of what makes humans and animals fundamentally different. Given that animals also possess intelligence and experience pain, he searches for other key differences to bolster his feeling that a true difference exists.

The author's professional background is in journalism. He teaches it at the university level. His philosophical background is apparently not very much informed by religion, although there are hints of at least ethnic Jewishness. He observes that when Joel Salatin (sustainable agriculture guru) prays before a meal, he says a "rambling and strikingly non-generic version of grace, offering a fairly detailed summary of the day's doings to a Lord who, to judge by Joel's tone of easy familiarity, was present and keenly interested." (p. 203) I suspect that "present" and "keenly interested" is not how Pollan usually thinks of God.

Throughout the book, Pollan examines and explains many issues in their evolutionary context. For example, the digestive system of cows and the growth patterns of grasses evolved together to make grass-eating by bovines a beneficial relationship for both cows and grasses. In the sense Pollan uses it, Evolution is clearly of the sort that should begin with a capital letter. It encompasses explanations for how all earthly things came to be and how they continue to change.

In the PETA section of the book, I keep wishing that someone would tell Pollan that Genesis provides a solid basis for confidence that humans and animals are, in fact, fundamentally different, and the moral issues that apply to humans do not universally apply to animals. I was thinking of a diagram I once saw in a Francis Schaeffer book that I have found very helpful. It was in a section that addressed the nature of God, man, and the rest of creation. (Bear with me here. I've cited this before.)

In one diagram, the word "God" appeared above the line, and "man" and "the rest of creation" appeared below the line. This diagram represented the truth that the Creator is distinct and separate from everything He made. As an object of worship, nothing below the line qualifies. Only God is to be worshipped. Note that in this way of looking at truth, man and animals are on the same plane. That's what is apparently giving Pollan pause. He sees that animals are like man in some ways (intelligence and the experience of pain, for example), and he's not sure what it means for morals and ethics.

It's the truth in the other part of the diagram that Pollan doesn't seem to have a clue about. In this representation of how things are, Schaeffer has both God and man above the line, and "the rest of creation" below the line. The issue here is "created in the image of God." In all of creation, only man qualifies as being in the same sphere as God, because he was created in God's image. No other created thing or being has this distinction. It is for this reason that, while many ethical standards do apply to the treatment of animals, eating them for meat does not constitute a moral "equality" dilemma. A stewardship or health dilemma? Perhaps. But not an intrinsically moral one based on equality.

Joel Salatin comes to the rescue here in explaining things to Pollan. Pollan asks him how he could bring himself to kill a chicken. He replies, "That's an easy one. People have a soul, animals don't. It's a bedrock belief of mine. Animals are not created in God's image, so when they die, they just die." (p. 331)

A professor told me once that he objects to Christian people "putting a lid down over everything." In the context, he was clearly referring to how people who believe the Bible reference it in their understanding of all sorts of issues, sometimes perhaps failing to deal honestly with complexity. I agree that Christians are sometimes guilty of using the Bible as a smothering lid. But I have found the first eleven chapters of Genesis as being more like a sturdy bubbling pot than a smothering lid. The pot comfortably holds all sorts of knotty issues, and they simmer there alongside similarly knotty issues, blending, but not being obliterated in the process. Neither do they repel whatever else is in the pot, as oil repels water. The Genesis pot is admirably suited as a foundational document, and what comes out of it is serviceable and savory--not cooked to mush under the lid. I credit Ken Ham's writings for illuminating Genesis as an inspired revelation for how to make sense of all kinds of earthly puzzles.

For people who are in the throes of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," Genesis provides answers that help show the way. The Evolution paradigm simply comes up short. Michael Pollan needs to know this.


I highly recommend the book, The Ominvore's Dilemma. While I see origins differently than Pollan does, he does very well what he sets out to do--examine the question What should you eat? He does this by tracing several kinds of meals all the way back to their origins, following primarily three different delivery routes-- the Industrial, the Pastoral, and the Personal. In the Industrial section, he examines both conventional and large scale organic food systems. In the Pastoral section, he looks at locally produced and consumed food. (Here is where he encounters Salatin.) In the Personal section, he looks at hunting and foraging.

Some of what I find in this book is unsettling. I feel even more disillusioned than before with the interactions between government, farmers, and industry, and I started from a far-from-enamored beginning point. It's too early to tell exactly where Pollan is going with his conclusions, but I, for one, see the pastoral approach as having much to recommend it.

Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Some Like it Hot

Today when I groped among the condiments on the bottom shelf in the refrigerator door for the tube of wasabi, I realized that our refrigerator might contain more than the typical supply of hot food. No, the refrigerator had not turned itself into an oven. It was working as it should. Food hotness here is a gustatory term.

Also on the bottom shelf were a tube of hot mustard, and a metal spice tin of hot curry powder (hot because it contains more than the usual amount of hot pepper in the spice mix). The horseradish sauce took up space on another shelf in the door, and in the cabinet itself was a jar of pickled jalapeno peppers. A number of other items also contained hot peppers.

We eat the wasabi with somen (an Asian noodle dish). The hot mustard goes with sliced and fried zucchini, along with an anointing of soy sauce, eaten with rice. The horseradish is spread on sausage, and the pickled hot peppers appear on the table whenever the other food is bland, such as when we have macaroni and cheese, ham and potatoes, or chicken and noodles. Hot sauces are dribbled over any south-of-the-border foods, and salsa tops scrambled eggs.

I didn't grow up eating all of these condiments. We had horseradish occasionally and, after my Salvadoran brothers joined the family, we learned to eat hot sauce and pickled hot peppers. But Hiromi knew all about hot foods from childhood on, and so we incorporated them into our family's food habits early on. All our boys love these foods.

Harry (co-teacher) used to say he thought that it didn't make sense to torture yourself [with hot foods] while you were eating. I thought he wasn't very open-minded on this subject. What I wish now I could have thought of saying then was that closing your mind to what might eventually turn into a very enjoyable experience didn't make much sense either.

I don't know much about the nutritional makeup of most hot foods. But hot peppers have powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients and lots of vitamin C.

My philosophy is that it's worthwhile to learn to eat these lively foods, both for the sake of your own health and the convenience of being able to enjoy them when you sample other cuisines. The inconvenience of determined abstinence seems worse to me than any misery that might accompany cautious sampling and subsequent acquired toleration--or enjoyment--of these foods.


I'm told that Spanish has different words for spicy hotness and temperature hotness. I wish English had similarly differentiating words.

Today the temperature was still 105 degrees at 5:00. And no, I was not out there trying to get used to the hotness. I was inside, in air conditioned comfort. At the extremes, learning to tolerate hotness definitely has its limits. But in moderation, hotness is a good thing. If it's 105 degree temperatures or habaneros eaten straight, I will politely just say no. But wasabi on somen or hot mustard on fried zucchini? Yum.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Citizenship, Celebration, and Conscience

On Wednesday evening in church, Mike R. spoke. He had been given wide latitude in subject matter, under the general heading "What the Lord Has Been Doing in my Life." While we often have opportunity for spontaneous expression in our church services, I always enjoy these times of learning more about each person's faith journey. Invariably, such times draw us together.

We first learned to know Mike after he was in college, so we know only what he's told us of his earlier life. I didn't know that his family was very opposed to his choice of a church when he joined us. Our nonresistant stance was the major sticking point. They saw pacifism as dishonoring to the memory of Mike's uncle who had died in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.

Mike's story coming on the heels of the patriotic fervor surrounding the 4th of July festivities, and, over that weekend, being in the presence of friends whose families are or have been in harm's way in military service leaves me thoughtful about the implications of our nonresistant position.

How does one reconcile the conviction that taking the life of another human being is wrong with the conviction that it is also wrong to disparage or take lightly the personal sacrifice others make in the service of their country? I cannot glibly dismiss the grief of Mike's extended family, or that of the classmate who grew up without her father because he died in the war when she was very young, or the concern of another classmate whose son in in Iraq now. Yet I believe that the way of peace is the better way, and for me, participation in military service would be antithetical to the way of peace.

When we looked at World War II films in high school, I remember Carol talking about scanning the faces in every crowd of soldiers, looking for her father. The mother of the soldier in Iraq often does not know where he is because of the sensitive nature of his job. She knows that somewhere he studied Arabic for 17 solid months, a tremendously challenging undertaking. When he was home last year, I talked to them both, and my friend spoke of her desire to trust her son's safety into God's hands. What mother would not struggle with this? Mike's family were farmers, and no doubt looked forward to their son and brother returning to the family farm some day.

This year, at Farmer's Market on July 4, when the opening bell rang, the president of our market board interrupted the busy vendor/shopper conversations to ask everyone to say the flag salute together, while looking at the flag on the end wall of the open-air shelter. After that, someone sang "The Star Spangled Banner." No one moved till it was over. I saluted the flag along with everyone else, (when I was not too choked up) remembering as I did so some of my friends who do not do that, as a matter of principle.

I say the flag salute because I am very grateful to be an American. I do not pledge my highest loyalty to the United States of America. That goes to God. But loyalty is a virtue I try to cultivate in many human relationships, my national identity among them. I do not pretend that our country is a Christian nation; I think that is possible only on an individual basis. Neither do I think our country always acts commendably toward its own citizens or toward the citizens of other countries. I grieve when our country's actions or policies cause harm to anyone.

In our country right now, the way of peace looks like the easy way, because our country's laws exempt from military service those who are conscientiously opposed. Alternative service is usually not physically dangerous, as military service often is. But this situation of favor toward conscientious objectors is rare on the world scene now, and it is historically very recent in this country. For most of Christian history, the way of peace has been an extraordinarily hard way, and many died rather than take up arms. Others were imprisoned and tortured. It is partly for our currently favorable conditions that I feel grateful to be an American in this time. I think of this when I say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I have three immediate family members who are naturalized American citizens. For each of them, becoming a citizen marked the beginning of new freedoms and opportunities. Some of my siblings have lived abroad for several years at a time. Each of them returned to this country very aware of the privilege that citizenship here entails. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance reminds me of the blessing that American citizenship has conferred on my family.

So are patriotic feelings OK for nonresistant Christians? How about unpatriotic feelings? Are they OK? Here's how I see it:

1. Showing disrespect toward our country or its leaders is wrong. Even when we disagree, we must be agreeable. I don't appreciate name-calling, and I can't see it as being consistent with nonresistance, or Christian virtue in general.

2. Gratitude and loyalty for what is good and right are commendable. If that comes out looking like patriotism, so be it. On the other hand, a determination to be patriotic at all costs could very easily involve compromise with Scriptural principles, and we could end up defending that which Scripture condemns. Patriotism works better as an incidentall than a goal.

3. Christians ought not shrink from speaking truth, even to powerful people. The Apostle Paul did this so well--apologizing when he inadvertently failed to show proper respect to a ruler whose rank he did not recognize at first. Yet he challenged rulers fearlessly, about their moral failure, and their personal responsibility to repent before God. He also cited the laws of the land when he saw them being violated to his hurt. He appealed when he had the legal recourse to do so.

4. Humility is always in order. In the absence of humility, even right actions do not honor God as they should. They don't help us make friends either. Being proudly nonresistant is an oxymoron.

5. Citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is our highest privilege. Citizenship in an earthly country can be problematic and fraught with dilemmas, even while conferring privileges. Our identity as heavenly citizens helps provide guidance for how to behave as earthly citizens.

6. Love and kindness to others should guide all our relationships. When others participate in military service, we will pray for them. We'll also pray for an end to hostilities so that all loss of life on both sides of a conflict can come to an end. We will care about the grief others feel when there is injury or death. We will live peaceably, and when the time is right, we will speak of our basis in faith for doing so.

I really could do without the noise and the faintly dangerous aspects of the Independence Day celebrations. But I love the colors and patterns of the fireworks. The occasion helps me feel grateful that I live here, right now. I offer these pleasures and this privilege of being an American back to God with an open hand. I will not clutch it desperately or wave it proudly. I will let it rest there, where God put it, recognizing that all the kingdoms of the world are also in His hand, and I can trust my citizenship into His care.


In my head, I've been busily blogging this week. In actuality, I have been busy with everything except blogging.

Last weekend was hectic.

Friday--Harvest the biggest batch of flowers ever for farmer's market.
Friday evening--Clean the church (Joel and Hilda helped, in exchange for our help when it's their turn)
Sat. A.M., 6:30--Leave for farmer's market, after loading the vehicle
Sat. P.M.--Arrive home about 1:30, eat, and leave for a reunion of those who graduated in my high school class 40 years ago.
Sat. eve.--Leave here about 5:30 for Smitty and Chee's place (Hiromi's sister and husband) in Sterling for the annual 4th of July family and friends cookout, with fireworks at the lake following. Leave as early as traffic allows, and arrive home shortly before 11:00.
Sun. A.M.--Get up early to prepare for teaching Sunday School
Sun. noon--Eat lunch at Mom and Dad's, with Linda cooking, and Uncle Henry and Aunt Esther from Iowa also present.
Sun. afternoon--Go to Uncle Paul and Aunt Martha's 50th wedding anniversary celebration.
Sun. evening--Go to Marvin and Lois' for a family meal with Henry and Esther and Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary--also visiting from Iowa.

A people-packed, action-packed weekend like this offers many quotable quotes and memorable events, but, unfortunately, no time to record and memorialize them. In the next few hours or days, I will probably snatch whatever emerges out of the memory ether and write about it, as I have opportunity.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bronzed Cowbird

Today over lunch Hiromi and I both saw a gray bird with strikingly red eyes. It was perched on the clothesline post near the house. The picture in the Golden Field Guide for the female Bronzed Cowbird exactly matched what we saw. No other similar bird has red eyes.

There was one problem however. They're not found in this area, according to the range maps.

I dutifully informed my birdwatching nephews about the sighting. Joey called back after a while and suggested I submit the information to a Rare Bird Alert site. He read aloud the contact information for me from his Kansas Birds Field Guide. His source confirmed that New Mexico is as close as Bronzed Cowbirds usually get to Kansas.

I printed out a form and some instructions on submitting a report. Along the way I did learn that at least one sighting was reported in Oklahoma. These accidentals are part of the mystery that makes nature observation such a fascinating activity.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Joel and Hilda's Official Wedding Pictures

Check for pictures taken by the official photographer for Joel and Hilda's wedding.

We got to look at all 652 of them. It won't take you as long as it did us.

The very first picture shows the Iwashige family crest on the Japanese lantern that hung to the side of the arch through which all the guests walked into the reception hall.

I wrote earlier about how I found the lantern at an estate sale in Hutchinson. While there are many family crest designs similar to this, this is exactly the version that belongs to Hiromi's family. The coincidence of having found this one in Hutchinson, Kansas is just too amazing. I'm sure the family that first owned the lantern thought of it only as an interesting Asian-looking design. (The wife had spent part of her childhood in China.)