Prairie View

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Quote for the Day 8/30/2009

In Denver--

Hiromi: Tell me where to go.

Me: I have no idea.

Hiromi: Well. Look on the map.

Me: I am looking on the map.

Hiromi: So where do I go?

Me: I don't know. Some of these are one-way streets and I can't tell which ones.

Hiromi: Just calm down and tell me where to go.

Me: I AM calm, and I still don't know where to go.

As you can tell, we aren't really good at helping each other figure out city driving. To begin with, neither of us care much for driving. Period. If it's nighttime driving, as it was the night we traveled from Denver to Penrose where Shane and Dorcas live, we both have vision issues. Signs regularly disappear in the glare of oncoming vehicle lights. Heavy high speed traffic complicates matters. We're not sure where we're going, but we're going there fast.

Unfamiliarity with how the outer lanes peel off the interstate onto connecting roads have us repeatedly departing involuntarily from our planned route. We know that slower traffic should keep to the right (that's us), but those right lanes are the peel-off lanes. Can't win.

Add to this, Hiromi's sudden worries that the transmission is going out, the car is overheating, and since the gas tank registers now at the halfway mark, we've got to find a gas station, and you decide you'd better just not say a word and pray instead. It's hot inside the vehicle since Hiromi is worried about overheating if we run the air conditioner. If we open the windows, it's noisy, the wind is tiring, and the fumes are smelly.

We get to Shane and Dorcas' house safe and sound, and we both relax. A few days later we're back home in Kansas and really relax. Next week we plan to have the cooling system checked out since we still occasionally smell antifreeze and see steam, but the temperature gauge has never registered a problem, even when we run the air conditioner. The transmission is fine, and, thanks to Hiromi's vigilance, we've never come close to running out of gas.


Downtown Denver streets run at a 45 degree angle to the rest of the city streets. Most of them are one-way streets. I don't know which sections were planned first, but I have a typical Midwestern appreciation for streets being straight with the world, and I do not appreciate odd angles. Downtown Denver looks cockeyed to me.

I do have a fondness, however, for 16th street, which was on our walking route between the hotel and convention center while we were there. No vehicles travel that section of 16th street. Instead, seating areas spill out from restaurants and cafes along the sidewalks, kiosks offer wares in the middle of the streets, groupings of benches invite relaxation and conversation, musicians perform, and well-groomed beautiful horses pull carriages up and down the streets, offering rides. The street surface is paved with brick, or something that looks like it.

Japanese restaurants are plentiful in Denver, and we ate wonderful soup and sushi in one of them. We also ate at Casa Bonita, a Mexican restaurant with one-of-a-kind ambiance--drama, divers, tropical decor, etc.

Eating sushi in Denver, and eating at Casa Bonita were both things we had done in Denver on our honeymoon a little more than 28 years ago, so it was special to be able to do them again.

On our honeymoon we had also shopped at the Pacific Mercantile Company, which is a large Japanese grocery store. When we saw this time that it was only about six blocks from our hotel, we decided to go there before we left town on Saturday evening. Hiromi's version of this has me insisting that we go there. I recall only pointing out that since we had not been within 400 miles of this place for more than two decades, and we were now six blocks away, it seemed to make sense to make the effort to find it. We arrived at 6:20, without a lot of problems, except that the car blew off lots of steam when we stopped, and we smelled antifreeze. Surprisingly we didn't have trouble finding a parking spot, and Hiromi hoisted the hood and looked at the motor. The reservoir for the radiator still had fluid in it, so we obviously weren't in big trouble yet with the engine's cooling system.

Unfortunately, the store had closed at 6:00, which explained our parking ease. And all the dark way south on I25, Hiromi was quite sure that things would be better if we had not "wasted all that time going to the grocery store." Sigh.


I thought of my cousin Duane W. when we drove through Colorado Springs. He works as a copy editor for the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Shane tells me he reads this blog, occasionally at least. I'm glad for the connection with Duane, but I'd rather not think about what a copy editor might notice when he reads what appears here.

All the same, I'm sure we would have had a good time with Duane if we had had time to make contact while we were in the area.

The evening at Flying W was a pleasant diversion from our typical activities. Hiromi had gone on a Choice Books run with Shane, while Dorcas and I played thrifty housewife and canned pumpkin and hot pepper relish, and froze eggplant and green beans. So we had to shift gears a bit to spend the evening being entertained.

I didn't remember all the museum-like displays from before. It reminded me of Cowtown in Wichita--a recreated village with residences, shops of all kinds, a school, a church, and a library.

We shared our table with a family from California. The husband and father works for a defense contractor and travels to the area regularly on business with many of the military installations nearby. Once a year he brings his family along and they spend time vacationing too. Shane and he visit some of the same military bases for very different purposes. The guy seemed intrigued with what Shane and Dorcas are doing--working for Choice Books, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't impressed with the idea of earning a combined household wage below minimum wage while doing it.

I wonder if a pleasant professional family man like this defense contractor person seemed to be ever has misgivings about his livelihood. I do hope that the next time he goes to the bases in the area, he notices a Choice Books rack there and reads something from it.

I forgot how enthusiastic an audience member Shane can be. If only Hiromi and I and Dorcas had been there, I'm pretty sure our corner would have been a little quieter. It was all part of the fun though. Grant would have really loved it.

I was surprised at how many of the Western songs were familiar--none of which I would have known before I married Hiromi.


Ken, who is my cousin Gary's son, is the pastor of the church Shane and Dorcas attend in Colorado. On Sunday evening, after a drive and a walk in Phantom Canyon, we visited at their home, and had a wonderful time. They used to live here, but I learned to know them better in that one evening at their house than I ever did in Kansas.

They live on a 40-acre property, and have a private well, which is a highly coveted amenity in that part of the country. Everything looked lush and green, and someone had obviously taken a lot of care with the landscape around the house. The one-story tan stucco house fit perfectly into its setting. A flourishing garden was visible from the picture window in the living room. From the deck out back we saw deer in the pasture, and trees along the edge, where a creek flowed through the property. The mountains in the west were beautiful and decidedly un-Kansas-like. It seemed like a perfect place to raise six children.

Two days later this place looked very different after a major hail storm hit. The sky lights in the living room shattered and showered glass all over the carpet below. The garden, which had just begun producing tomatoes, was nearly destroyed. Several hours after the storm, when people were helping clean the place up, someone found a hail stone in the back yard that measured two and one-half inches across. I'm familiar with the sickening effects of a summer hail storm, and feel a lot of sympathy for Ken and his family.

On our last morning in Colorado, Shane and Dorcas had to leave very early--something like 4:30 AM, so we were the last to leave their place.

We decided to visit their next door neighbors yet, since they had been gone on a trip during most of the time we were nearby. They've been wonderful neighbors to Shane and Dorcas and we hated to leave without getting acquainted.

To our surprise, the wife in the household told us she is the sister-in-law of my cousin Edith. Shane had never made this connection. We had a brief but pleasant visit.

Since we left, this family has also experienced hard times. Their son Michael was injured in an accident. The first sketchy reports sounded fairly grave--unconsciousness, transportation by LifeWatch, etc., but later reports sounded better. He was alert, and apparently had no paralysis.


On our way home from Colorado, we stopped to buy melons at a farm market near Rocky Ford. My mother always considered Rocky Ford melons the cream of the crop, so we didn't want to miss the opportunity to get them there. We also got some for my parents, who had helped keep the garden alive while we were gone.


Most of the way home rain clouds lingered just ahead of us, in the east. Soon after we arrived in Reno County, we finally caught up with those clouds, and we got dumped on before we got home. Our rain gauge showed .9 inch of rain. It had fallen in several showers while we were gone--perfect for the soil being able to absorb a maximum amount of moisture.


Today I taught my last Sunday School class for the year. It was a good teaching experience, but I'm happy right now for one less weekly obligation. The girls I taught are in their mid-teens and are unlikely to all be in the same class next year, so they're feeling a little uncertain about the changes coming up.

As it is, with Farmer's Market and school teaching, I've been getting up seven days a week with an away-from-home "job" awaiting me that day. I could not sustain this indefinitely. It's a pity that good things conflict so often with other good things.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Things I Learned at Farmer's Market 8/29/09

One lady who bought zinnias from me last spring was so proud of how beautiful they are that she brought pictures to show me. They were lovely--a lot nicer than my grasshopper decimated ones grown from the same seed packet.


From the pepper vendor across the aisle, I learned how to know when a Poblano pepper is ready to pick. I assume the same method can be used for other larger hot peppers as well. He squeezes them lightly. If they're flexible, he says they're not quite ready. This is because they should be picked when the pepper wall is as thick as it will get--just before it begins to change color, in other words. A thick wall equals a firm pepper which won't flex when the pepper is squeezed. This was very helpful information, since I never quite know when to pick a green hot pepper.

He also told me that some peppers--Jalapeno for example--have nearly all their heat in the seeds and membranes, but the Poblano is different in that it has heat in the walls. I decided that must be the case with the Volcano and Hungarian Wax Peppers I'm growing this year, instead of the Anaheims, which usually are my standby medium hot pepper. Despite removing the biggest glob of seeds at the stem end, these medium hot peppers are still amazingly spicy. With the Anaheims, I was used to leaving all the seeds intact, but these peppers, even without seeds, are hotter than the Anaheims were with seeds.

I also got a clue from him on how to prepare chili rellenos (I don't know how to do the "enya" in that word.) I've never eaten any prepared by someone else, but heard that they are usually stuffed with cheese. So last week I made a stab at it. It was OK, but I felt like there must be an easier way. He said you cut the peppers in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, stuff (fill) them, and either bake them or cook them on the grill. You can stuff them with cheese, rice and meat, or anything you want. Ahhh. It's basically like stuffed sweet peppers--different mainly in the spiciness of the "container" and the ease of grilling--which is not so great with stuffed bell peppers. No more trying to stuff cheese into a slit in the side and then turning it on the grill without the cheese draining out.


On a related note, one Latino customer told me several years ago that the best time to harvest Anaheims is just as they begin to turn red. This makes sense to me now that I know about aiming for a thick-walled pepper.

Banana Squash is one of the few vegetables James Taylor's mother never got her children to eat. Also James' wife Betty doesn't care for zucchini because it's too watery.

I perked up my ears at the mention of banana squash since Dr. Mittleider of the Mittleider Gardening Method fame, recommends growing banana squash. I wasn't familiar with it, and wondered if it was worth trying to find it. I'm thinking maybe not.

Does anyone have any experience with this? If you like it, how should it be prepared?


People love colored peppers. The lavender Islander peppers we grow, and the creamy colored Ivory Charm are winners in the looks department. These are great because they are colored in their immature stage, and can liven up a display when mixed with green peppers. In other words, lavender and cream are the "green" stage. Peppers that end up red, yellow, or orange may start out green or lavender or cream. Yellow, orange, and red appear later in the season than the other colors.

One couple came by to buy colored peppers for gazpacho, the mention of which made the lady's mouth water. I understand. I love it too. I make it as a salad instead of a cold soup. It's the perfect late summer combination of cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, optional black olives, and garlic and onions, with a simple dressing of oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper, as I recall. It's fresh tasting and beautiful.


People are fascinated with giants in the veggie world. Today we took some of the behemoths that developed on our Zucchetta Rampicante vines while we were on vacation and otherwise occupied since then. The specimen we had on the table at market was about a yard long and 6-8 inches in diameter.

When we were picking things yesterday, Hiromi heaved the first few giant zucchetta squash across the garden fence into the sheep pen. Then he had second thoughts, so he slaughtered one of them, cutting a slice right out of the middle of a squash that was 8 inches or more in diameter. We couldn't believe it. It was solid flesh all the way through, with no seeds visible. So we reconsidered, and washed the rest instead of heaving them. No one was brave enough to buy one at market, which is why I'm stepping around three monsters on my kitchen floor. What to do with them? They are very mildly flavored, and have a more meaty texture than zucchini--less watery, in other words. At this large size, the flesh is light orange, like the flesh of a pumpkin. That gives me an idea. Maybe I'll have to see how it works as the main ingredient in pumpkin custard--or pumpkin soup, which I loved the first time I tried it several years ago.

If I get brave and industrious, and my students get brave at the same time, maybe I can cook up a batch for them.

If they can be happy with after-school cereal parties, maybe they could be talked into a pumpkin party some time.


Customers also like oddly-shaped veggies. On our table was a neck pumpkin, which is like a very long-necked butternut squash. The neck of one we harvested yesterday had looped around to form a complete circle. Someone walked by our booth, looked at it, and said "looks like a snake," which may have been what the lady who bought it had in mind. She cooks for a daycare and thought the children would like that "snakey" squash.


Farmer's Market traffic falls off after the start of school. People with children in school have had extra expenses at the beginning of the school year, and extra stress from a more harried daily schedule. So they stay home on Saturdays.


Adorable little Alice was at market with her parents for a short while today, but then she went to stay with her Aunt Maria. Her mother explained that Alice hasn't learned yet to not lie on the floor when she's unhappy, and one such episode this morning with Alice plunking down on the rough and unswept asphalt was enough to look for an alternative. It must not have been a very dramatic tantrum, because I never saw or heard anything, despite her being directly in my line of vision and hearing.

I can see why Alice was a very bright spot in her grandfather's life during his recent battle with cancer. Knowing that she has good and wise parents who will train and protect her must be reassuring too.

I hope Alice comes back to market. I think a cute kid can help sell sausage without saying a word.


Our Farmer's Market board occasionally prepares baskets of produce and delivers them to downtown merchants that support the Market. Today one of my bouquets went to the State Fair office. They have invited us to sell there for the ten days the fair is in session in September--a very nice marketing opportunity.


When I began to select cucumbers from Roman's supply, he obligingly added several Asian ones to the mix, remembering that I especially liked those. He commented that people are a little scared of them, but he tells them "These are the best ones." He's right. They are slightly ridged lengthwise, which gives them a bit of a ruffled appearance when left unpeeled and sliced crosswise. Maybe people worry about not being able to peel them cleanly. Their loss is my gain. I like having access to Roman's, now that our vines have succumbed to whatever was attacking them.

Orient Express and Suyo Long are two Asian cucumber variety names I'm familiar with. The flesh is crisp, bitterfree, and mild.

Asian cucumbers are the genetic parents of the familiar Burpless cucumber, and have a similar shape.


One lady told me today that she can eat vegetables by the wagon load, except for eggplant. The only time she tried it, it was horrible. I explained to her that over-mature eggplants develop a bitter flavor. Also, some varieties, and even individual plants in a variety, may have a genetic tendency toward bitterness. (I was remembering the awful one everyone in this eggplant-loving household spit out on the first bite. We still don't know why it was so bad.)

I told her that any eggplant with a shiny skin will probably not be over-mature. In general, however, after she cuts it open, she will be able to tell how mature the seeds are by their size and color. Light colored and small seeds are immature. Dark and large are more mature--perhaps over-mature. She recalled that the one she tried was very large--a likely candidate for being over-mature.

I also recommended that if she decides to try eggplant again, she prepares it like my mother taught us--peeled, sliced, and cooked in salt water till soft. Then drained and mashed, with crushed crackers and eggs added to the mix, then dropped into a greased skillet and fried in patties. In my opinion, this is the best way to introduce people to eggplant because it is a diluted version of the eggplant flavor. Once people learn to like the flavor, other ways of preparing it are easier to appreciate.


Last week, the chairman of our Farmer's Market board overheard me tell someone we like eggplant patties with tomato gravy, which is an ethnic food, but basically made like creamed tomatoes.

He told me afterwards that he loves tomato gravy. I had no idea he would know what it was. But his last name is Neujahr, which people pronounce "New Year," a literal translation of its German meaning.

It made me wonder if tomato gravy is common throughout Germany, or perhaps among the descendants of German immigrants--not only among Mennonites, as I had assumed it might be.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My Writing Story

As an introduction to the composition class I teach, I always tell my writing story. I also ask the students to tell me their writing stories on paper. I suggest they think about what their experiences with reading have been, and how that enters into their writing experience. I want to know about memorable writing experiences they've had, honors they've received, pieces they enjoyed writing or felt good about afterward.

I love to read their stories. But I find it very exhausting, depressing even, to tell mine. I'm glad "the story" is behind me for this year. I do it because I think the students will remember things in the context of a story that would be all too forgettable if issued in the form of do's and don'ts. I tell this story without names, for the most part, except for those I am giving tribute to.

No, I won't tell the story here--too long and too personal--just poke around the edges of it a bit.

On the one hand, I realize how incredibly blessed I have been to have had good teachers and affirming family members throughout. Not one of these people ever told me women couldn't do this or that. They welcomed vigorous debate and sharply focused exchanges. They challenged me to assert only what I could defend rationally and courteously. No one ever told me my writing would be better if it was less passionate.

I had my first Calvary Messenger article published when I was 16. I won writing prizes in writing contests in college and had pieces published in the Great Plains Review--the annual publication produced by a consortium of Christian colleges in Kansas. I won a prize in a national poetry contest right after college and was published in an anthology. I've written regular columns for a Mennonite women's magazine, and been well paid for it. A market gardening magazine published a short article and paid me well too. Those were the good parts of the story--certainly not extraordinary, but satisfying nonetheless.

But the dark times were darker than the good times were bright. I was vilified in terms and to an extent I didn't know Christian people could unleash on each other--because I wrote what seemed threatening to familiar ways of thinking on education. My loyalty was questioned. Motives were assigned to me that I did not feel guilty of. I was talked about without being talked to--in the curious position of being the subject of "meetings"--not knowing about the meetings till afterward--after others had decided what to do with me. People wrote about me and circulated it to others--three pages in one case, single spaced, in 8-pt. type--all of it critical--by someone who did not know me--based entirely on what I had written. An article that had already been accepted for publication, with one installment printed, literally had the final two installments censored--banned. I could. not. believe. this was happening.

It was a long time before I emerged from the disillusionment and disappointment of that experience.

I don't think about it very often any more, but when I do, I wonder if this is how people feel when, years later, they remember a death. For a time, the raw emotion comes back, and I feel very vulnerable. Then, finally, the good memories I have from before and after the dark time can take center stage again and I go on with life.

Is there any point in re-visiting painful experiences like this? Or telling others about them? Does it trigger catharsis or sepsis?

This is where people usually tell what lessons they've learned from their experience. I could do that, and, to my students, I usually do. But would I choose that route to get to this place? Were the lessons worth it? I don't know.

What I do know is this: Heaven is worth it. Serving Christ is worth it. Sacrifices are worth it, when they are offered to God as an act of devotion.

Living with integrity is worth it, and that involves doing the right thing, no matter what. Being honest is worth it. What do we gain by it? Certainty that we have a place in the family of God, meaningful and rewarding work to do, true friends to walk with us. Sometimes, affirmations along the way. Heaven at the end of the way. For that, even that route to get to this place would be worth it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Checking In

I'm breaking the silence long enough to let you know that we're alive and well--just too busy to spend time blogging.

We returned from Colorado on Monday. I rushed right over to school where the before-school work night was in progress. I've spent every day since then at school, and gone away every evening except Tuesday.

School started on Friday. I love being back at school, but it feels pretty topsy turvy to go off to work while Hiromi stays home. He is a man of many skills, and right now he's certainly doing his share to keep the household running smoothly.

I'm putting together a current events study on Health Care Reform legislation. I like doing this kind of thing, but it's required a lot of computer time during the past week. Does anyone know of some extraordinarily good sources, or have some insightful personal viewpoints? I'm keeping the tone non-partisan and courteous, and including both the viewpoints of Christians who support and oppose the legislation. Besides that, we're trying to keep the study manageable by having the students look at the issue through the concerns of various groups or individuals--insurance companies, health care professionals, business owners, taxpayers, people with pre-existing health conditions, the uninsured working middle class, the well-insured, etc. Overall, identifying relevant Scriptural principles will be emphasized.

I hope to tell more later about our Colorado trip. Except for driving in downtown Denver and driving from there to Penrose in the dark, it was a good trip. Shane and Dorcas were wonderful hosts.

I concluded that Hiromi and I are the bumpiest of country bumpkins when it comes to navigating big city traffic, and our marriage and our lives will be prolonged if we limit these experiences to daylight hours and times when we are well-rested and alert.

It's 11:00, and Hiromi and I decided that we'd aim for a 6:00 rising time during this part of the school year, so I'd better get to bed. 6:00 is later than I've been getting up most of the summer, but we're shifting our walking time to after breakfast with Grant rather than before, so I think this will work well as the early morning daylight diminishes.

Oyasuminasai (Good night).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Off and Away

Hiromi and I are planning to leave tomorrow (Wed, the 12th) for Colorado. We will be gone till Monday, the 17th.

Roughly in the middle of that time we plan to attend a one-evening plus one-day Mannatech meeting in Denver. We're brave enough to withstand Joel's disapproving noises in order to do this.

The main reason for going to Colorado, of course, is to spend time with Shane and Dorcas in their "home" area.

Hiromi is always quick to think of reasons why a trip is not a good idea "now." And it is always "now." "We can't afford it. Who will take care of things here at home?" I like being at home too, but I think if we can't manage a trip while I'm on Sabbatical and he is unemployed, we have a 20-year old living at home who can keep an eye on things, we can stay at Shane and Dorcas' instead of paying hotel or cabin fees--if we can't manage it now, then we are in pretty sad straits. Even Hiromi was convinced after listening to this unimpeachable logic--or at least he agreed to the trip.

Yesterday he took the minivan to town for an oil change and a lube job, and got it cleaned thoroughly inside and out. This was possible because he had first unloaded all the farmer's market shelving and other paraphanalia that lives in the vehicle during the summer.

Dad will water the garden, Grant will ride herd on the animals, and Hilda and Mom will divvy up the produce from the garden. I'm still waiting to hear if Marijane will teach my S.S. class or if I need to find someone else.

I've begun working at school and will need to jump right back into the saddle when we get back. In some ways it felt like I was never gone. I've spent all my time so far on organizing the cleaning jobs, and I'm not done yet. This process needs to start from scratch every year because we always have the same jobs that need doing, but the number of people to do the jobs varies from year to year. So there's a lot of juggling to get the jobs sliced up just right so each person has a task roughly equivalent to every other person. I chose this job over doing the bulletin boards, which was fine with Norma, who preferred the bulletin boards.

Hiromi and I were in Colorado on our honeymoon, and once since then, with Joel when he was about 5 months old. The boys and I were there once with my parents, but for as close as it is, we don't go there often. "Close" is a relative term. It's about 7 1/2 hours to Shane's place.

We'll see how things go.


Monday, August 10, 2009

My Dilemma

This is a guest post, dictated by my 7-year old nephew to his sister Megan, who then sent it as a letter from Chadwin to his friend Jack. Chadwin chose the title.

Dear Jack,
Here's another story from my early childhood. We were fishing at a neighbor's pond, I was merrily fishing. Melissa had caught a fish When she caught it, she yelled, "Guys, I have a biggie". We went back home and I butchered the fish and put in a container. But before we came home, then I was fishing, I felt a nibble, and jerked with all my muscles could afford. (Which was a lot of strength). It came flying out of the water, and hit me in the face. It hurt. Then I discovered the bad news. It was hooked in the flap of skin that holds up the eyebrow (my eyelid). So I said, "I have a hook in my eye"! The others didn't hear me, so I screamed, "I have a hook in my eye".Then the others looked up from their laughing, which they were doing a lot of. Because Melissa caught the fish. They looked at me and Megan said "Huh". Then she rushed down to my side and said "don't move your head. It might get in deeper." We have walkie talkies now, so we told Mom to come down in the van 'cause she wasn't there. She came zooming down after about three or four minutes. By that time we had cut the line. I climbed into the van while the others loaded up the stuff. Then we went zooming back home and into the lane, not into the neighbor's lane. Me and Mom went into the office while the others put the stuff away. When Sandy saw me she covered her face with her hands. Dad thought that he could get it out so we all went inside, except Christopher who was at work. Dad got the tip out with his hands, but it was through in two places, and since the hook had a barb on it, they didn't want to just pull it through the second place. So Dad got out a knife and a fingernail clippers. There wasn't much skin on the hook, so they thought maybe they could just cut it through. First he tried the fingernail clippers. He had barely had it in his hands and it had touched my eye, then he said it wouldn't work. So he grabbed the knife. Then he tried with the knife. But then he discovered it wouldn't work, so he gave the knife to Mom while he held my eye so I wouldn't blink to much. And Mom started sawing away on the skin. It took a while, and it hurt, but I didn't cry. Then Mom said, "this is kind of dangerous". And with courage I spoke up in a brave voice: "It is much more dangerous fighting with a buffalo, or a bull". She sawed and sawed and finally cut it, and the hook came out!!! I was extremely disappointed that I didn't get to go the emergency room, but I didn't cry because I was so brave. But, it all went well :) . And I'm not blind.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Runaway Princesses

Yesterday was Heidi and John's wedding. Her father referred to this newest son-in-law as the Third John, since two of his other three sons-in-law are also named John (or Jon).

One of the fun things about this wedding was that all of the girls in high school when Heidi was a senior wore the same kind of red dresses to the wedding. They sang "An Irish Blessing" together at the reception. Frieda, who is Heidi's sister, served as the spokesperson for the group, and said that there's a story behind the name they came to call themselves (Runaway Princesses or RP's), but she suggested that everyone just use their imaginations to figure out what that story might be. I wish I knew.

I was at school during the whole time they were there, and those girls felt like my girls, but I never heard the RP story. Sheila G., Sheila R., Ida, Frieda, Karen, and Rosalyn made up the group. They were a close-knit group, partly because Heidi, as the oldest among them, and the only senior, reached out to them and helped mold them into a loyal and supportive bunch.

When Heidi started dating John, he was duly inspected and approved by this group of girls. I suddenly understood better what was happening several weeks ago when that bunch of girls, minus only a few of them, showed up at Farmer's Market to meet David, Rosalyn's new boyfriend. It must have been the same kind of inspection John was subjected to. Afterward they came back by my booth and reported that he passed. Any prospective spouse of one of these fine young ladies should take note and begin to study now for this test.

The Anonymous Somebodies--the quartet made up of Heidi, Crystal, John M., and Shane--sang Heidi a funny farewell song at the reception, with Dorcas singing instead of Heidi. They parodied "Honey in the Rock," to say "There's a honey in Calico Rock for you"--a reference to Heidi and John having met at Calvary Bible School in Calico Rock, AR. The song also poked gentle fun at Heidi's habit of showing up late to quartet practices, always with a sweet apology: "Sorry guys"--as she gave her stray hank of hair a nervous little twist. Good clean fun for everyone.

Heidi will be moving to Ohio. There's talk too of her two unmarried sisters and her parents moving again to Kenya, where all of them have left part of their hearts during past years of service there. I'd love to have them all stay here, but I can't think of their leaving as a tragedy, because I believe God's hand is in it.


Shane and Dorcas' first anniversary is today, and today is Shane's birthday. They have been in Kansas since Wednesday, when they arrived here from Virginia where Shane sang with Laudate. Shane worked at his old job on Thursday and Friday and Shane and Dorcas both helped sing at Heidi's wedding. This morning they sang again with several others at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Hutchinson--a last minute deal planned since they're here. After a carry-in dinner at church, they headed out for Colorado, in time to get back into their Choice Books saddle early tomorrow morning. While they were here, they stayed at their Abbyville house where Joel and Hilda live.

We had one meal with them here. The best part of that day was spending the afternoon with Hilda and Dorcas here cooking the evening meal. I can't believe it took us all afternoon, but when the goal is doing something together it really doesn't matter how long it takes. It was all a pleasure. We baked European-style bread and a birthday/anniversary cake, cleaned and Frenched green beans, made meatloaf and gazpacho salad and a fancy pasta salad. But Joel and Hilda had a birthday celebration to attend later that evening and Shane and Dorcas had a singing practice, so we couldn't linger long around the supper table.

We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we'll see them again this Wednesday, if all goes according to plan. Hiromi and I plan to visit them in Colorado, slipping away for Friday evening and Saturday to attend a Mannatech meeting in Denver, and then returning to their house for Sunday. Hiromi hopes to make a Choice Books run with Shane on Thursday, while Dorcas gets a day off and I get to spend it with her.

We plan to go to the Flying W on Thursday evening--something Hiromi and I did on our honeymoon. That should put us all in touch with our inner cowboy in a dose large enough to last for another 28 years. Going to the Flying W is Exhibit A in my "submissive wife" museum--or maybe I should just hang a "Not My Idea" label on it. I don't hate such things, but I fit the solid farm wife mold much better than the "Ride 'em cowgirl" one. I'm sure that's obvious to everyone who sees me in such surprising places as the Flying W.


Does anyone need zucchini, or yellow crookneck summer squash, or Patty Pan (Scallop) squash? We have an abundance, and haven't resorted so far to stuffing them into unlocked cars, but we're considering it.


The water pump quit working this morning during church. Several of the men labored throughout the service to find and replace the broken wire responsible for the failure, and got everything put together just about the time of the benediction. Meanwhile, a large insulated water jug was placed in the foyer, and someone from Nislys drove home one mile and towed back the porta-pots they rent out as part of their waste disposal service.


We've had triple digit temperatures this weekend again. Thank God for air conditioning, especially when dressing up two days in a row is called for.


Max has escaped his confines in the garage each of the past two days. Tonight we feared the worst when we couldn't find the guineas or ducks and saw feathers scattered in the greenhouse where we've set up the living quarters for the young poultry.

But they were safe and sound, and Max escaped our worst fury. Like Clifford, he is the diggingest dog.


Yesterday's paper had a nice article about Angelo, and his work in Sudan.

Today's paper pictured my nephew Bryant, with his grand champion 4H meat goat.

There was also the death announcement of Jay, who was our neighbor at one time, and helped Shane with feeding his 4H steer, Rambo.


Tomorrow morning most of our youth group members plan to leave for a work project in Mexico, at the Shining Light children's home. Marvin's family and Lowell's family will accompany them. None of the donations and fundraising has gone to purchase airline tickets, but toward buying materials for the projects they're working on, etc.


Willis N. got kicked by a horse yesterday. He has trained horses for years, and trusted the two horses he was working with, but there was tension between them and one lashed out with both hind hoofs and caught Willis in the midsection. He had excruciating pain, and underwent exploratory surgery today.


Norma planned a gathering this afternoon for her and me and the girls who will be together at the high school this year. We ate ice cream and talked about our summer and the upcoming school year, and had a nice time.

I plan to work at school tomorrow. I guess this marks the official end of my sabbatical.

It almost feels like I was never away from school, but I know that I would feel much less ready to go back if I had not had a whole year off.

Picky Picky

Hiromi came in from the garden the other day bearing a large bucket with mostly green tomatoes in the bottom of it. "Well, if we want to get the tomatoes before the guineas pick them, we'll have to pick them when they're green. Take your pick, green or guinea-picked."

"Sounds like an awful lot of picky activity," I answered.

"Yeah. Picky. Picky."

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Right Prescription

Oh dear. I hate political machinations. But today I happily advocated in support of two bills introduced by Ron Paul, who was a visible figure in the last presidential election. They were apparently introduced today in the U. S. House of Representatives.

While Ron Paul does not represent my district (Jerry Moran does.), his bills represent exactly what I have been praying would be possible--freedom of speech on the benefits of non-pharmaceutical health products. Check out for further information.

Here is a summary of the two bills I asked Moran to support:

HR 3395: The Health Freedom Act. This bill removes FDA’s power of prior restraint over all nutrient-disease relationship claims. Under the bill, the FDA may not prohibit any statement concerning a nutrient affecting a disease (including treatment effects) from being made in the market and may only act against a statement once made if it possesses clear and convincing evidence that the statement is false. Presently the FDA blocks an enormous quantity of truthful information concerning the effects of nutrients and foods on disease from reaching consumers. That barrier is removed by the Health Freedom Act, but the Act preserves the power of the government to prosecute those who communicate falsehood. The essential purpose of the First Amendment is to disarm the federal government of the power to impose a prior restraint on speech. The FDA has imposed a prior restraint for decades to the health detriment of the public. Passage of the Health Freedom Act will restore constitutional governance by reasserting the supremacy of the First Amendment over the Food and Drug Administration.

HR 3394: The Health Information Protection Act. This bill prevents the Federal Trade Commission from taking action against any advertiser that communicates a health benefit for a product unless the FTC first establishes based on clear and convincing evidence that the statement made is false and that its communication causes harm to the public. Presently, the FTC reverses the Fifth Amendment burden of proof on the government when it charges advertisers with deceptive advertising and then demands that they prove their speech true based on contemporaneously held documentation or be deemed to have advertised deceptively. The Fifth Amendment requires that FTC bear the burden of proving advertising deceptive. It may not constitutionally shift the burden to the advertiser to prove its statements not deceptive. The First Amendment requires that FTC not act against speech unless the speech is probably false. It may not constitutionally accuse a party of false advertising yet lack proof that the advertising is false and condemn advertising based on an absence of documentation concerning the truth of the statement rather than the presence of evidence establishing the falsity of the statement.

Here is the text of the note I sent to Jerry Moran:

Please vote to restore the right of free speech to those of us who have experienced very significant health improvements after taking nutritional supplements but are prohibited by law from speaking of it.

The current situation denies not only the right of free speech to many who simply have good news to share, but withholds from others the right to be fully informed of their health care options.

In this time of looking more carefully at health care options, this area urgently needs attention and "treatment." I wish to be a law abiding citizen AND be able to share freely with my loved ones and fellow citizens health information that could significantly improve their quality of life, and make their medical situation less fragile and less expensive to maintain.

For me the bottom line is that nutrition provides the body with the tools to defend, maintain, and repair itself. While these mechanisms are not completely understood, and are very difficult to test empirically, they are clearly present, by God's design, I believe. To be able to attribute positive health effects only to pharmaceutical drugs is just wrong. Yet this is all that is allowed presently. No one is pharmaceutical-drug-deficient, but many are nutrient deficient--which eventually creates symptoms that make pharmaceuticals seem necessary. (I do recognize that they are often needed in the short term, at least.)

I believe that citizens have the intelligence to discern wisely what is in the best interests of their health--if they have full access to all the facts. Currently this is not possible. I appeal to you to do all in your power to change this lamentable situation.

The above website makes it very easy to weigh in on this legislation by writing to your own representative. When you type in your zip code, your communication is automatically routed to your representative.

You may never have given much thought to the issues these bills suggest. Let me spell it out for you in the form of a hypothetical situation:

You have a seven year old daughter who began suffering from severe headaches. When you took her to a doctor, she was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumor. It could not safely be removed, and no medical treatment promised any hope of a cure. Your neighbor told you about a nutritional product that others have taken with good results. She could not promise you that your child would improve if she took the product, but she told you that taking the product is what she would do if she faced a similar diagnosis. She explained what she knew about how the product affected various body mechanisms. You decided to give your daughter the product. Within several weeks, your daughter went from nearly constant screaming with pain to playing happily. Further testing several weeks later revealed only a tiny knob where the tumor had been. You are overjoyed, but you must never, never, mention her "spontaneous remission" in connection with any nutritional product. To do so is a prosecutable offense because you are in violation of the law that prohibits making any health claim in connection with any non-pharmaceutical product. Speaking of the tumor and the nutritional product and the health change and virtual disappearance of the tumor in the same conversation implies a connection between the nutritional product and an improved state of health--making a health claim, in other words--which is illegal. If the doctors had given her chemotherapy or radiation or surgery, and she had recovered, You could proclaim it from the housetops. If she had failed to recover after such treatment, your only legal recourse would have been to file a malpractice lawsuit, which you would not have won, if the doctor was following typical "standard of care" procedures.

Ron Paul's bills seek to alleviate the kind of dilemmas that people face in situations like the one above.

Some may argue that allowing people to make health claims for non-pharmaceutical products opens the door to charlatans who wish to take unfair advantage of gullible people who pay money for products that don't work. That is a possibility, of course. It is a possibility in conventional medicine, as well, that some things that are tried don't work, and they are often very expensive and uncomfortable failed experiments.

I am not on a mission to discredit conventional medicine. Neither am I in favor of reckless promises being made in connection with any non-conventional approaches. It is always God Who heals, and humility about how He chooses to do so is the only reasonable stance. But I think the current legal situation is grossly unfair, and has a great deal more to do with backroom lobbying by pharmaceutical giants than real harm done by nutritional products.

The gold standard for health related research is randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. Think about it--How would you design such a study for a nutritional product? It is notoriously difficult to design such studies, primarily because nutrients often act in concert with other nutrients, and it's not easy to find research subjects whose entire nutritional intake can be controlled--for sure you can't give some people only the product being tested and give the others nothing at all(They would both die of malnutrition.)--to say nothing of other variables that may affect health--exposure to pathogens or toxins or stress or trauma, for example.

With food (or other nutritional products) you can't in good conscience meet the pharmaceutical standard of seeing how much of the substance the research subjects must ingest before half of them die--to arrive at the LD50 (LD=lethal dose). Neither can you empirically test each food's effects on each disease or health condition separately. (Drugs have a "one product/one claim" limitation.) You probably can't list the deleterious side effects of nutrient intake--another requirement before a pharmaceutical drug can be released. In short, the regulations for pharmaceuticals are very poorly suited for evaluating nutritional supplements. Yet, people (insurance companies included) often say, in effect, If the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) hasn't approved it, I can't trust it.

There are some regulations that do make sense for nutritional products. Some manufacturers of nutritional products agree voluntarily to GMP's (Good Manufacturing Practices). They make sure of several things:

1) There are no contaminants in the product.

2) The product contains what the label claims it contains.

3) Every pill (for example) contains the same amount of the stated contents as every other pill.

From that point on, the consumer is trusted to make an intelligent determination about whether or not to use the product. I think that's a reasonable approach. I personally commit myself to "due diligence" before I take any nutritional product. Checking to see if the manufacturer commits to GMP's is one of the things I will consider.

Will people sometimes take something they don't need? Probably so. Will they suffer harm or lose money because of it? Occasionally, but not usually (for long, at least). Might they benefit substantially? Perhaps, but not if they don't have a chance to learn about it and try it.

Does anyone really believe that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) functions only to protect the consumer from unscrupulous business practices--like false advertising? I don't doubt that the agency was established in good faith and that it has many times fulfilled its original mission. But I don't doubt either that it has at times been manipulated by clever lobbyists who are unscrupulous through and through.

Two new laws could not possibly set everything right that is wrong now in the regulatory environment regarding nutritional supplements. But I think the bills introduced by Ron Paul go some distance in the right direction.

Ron Paul is a physician. This is one prescription that he got exactly right. Taking the medicine exactly as prescribed offers our country hope of recovery from its current health care ills.
I urge you to add your voice in support of the bills.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A Chimney Swift Baby

On a roofing job the other day, Lowell and Marcus found some baby chimney swifts in a chimney they had been instructed to close off. Marcus took pity on the babies inside and rescued them with a makeshift sling which he lowered into the chimney. Then he wisely bequeathed them to Joey, who was overjoyed to be entrusted with their care.

Since one was quite small, they decided maybe that one needed a bird mother. So they put it into a barn swallow nest. Unfortunately, it had disappeared by the next day.

The other is being fed insects that Joey catches for him. At the last report the baby was doing fine. I presume the plan is to release him when he is able to fly. In the meantime, they're getting a rare chance to observe this bird at close range. Chimney swifts never perch anywhere except on vertical surfaces like the inside of chimneys. Even the twigs they use to build their nests are snapped off in mid-flight, and they drink by dipping their beaks in water as they fly over it. Their diet consists entirely of flying insects.

In flight, they look like a black cigar with long slender wings. They chatter a lot in flight.

I wonder where chimney swifts nested before brick chimneys were commonplace. If triple wall steel chimneys take the place of too many of the brick ones, they may have to go back to the older kinds of nesting sites.

I doubt that Joey will ever again see a chimney swift overhead without remembering the one he helped raise.


I was in the dining room this morning, precisely at 6:30, when my alarm rang and Hiromi turned it off. "I want to sleep just a little longer," he called out to me.

"Fine," I answered. And mentally shook my head. I had gotten up at 5:30, despite my alarm having been set for 6:30. By 6:30 my morning routine was well underway, and I was ready to set out on our morning walk. Not this morning apparently--not at the usual time, anyway. So I did a few extras. I'm very flexible that way.

I can't relate to people who know this precisely when they have had enough sleep. If at 6:30 it is not enough; at 7:00 it will probably be just right. A ten-minute lunchtime nap may be just right. Then again, 20 minutes might be the magic number. I never know. But Hiromi always knows.

For me, a 3-hour Sunday afternoon nap works just fine, or I can skip the nap entirely, if that's what the schedule calls for. Not Hiromi. He takes a short nap, whether we're in a feverish dash to get ready for company, or whether he has the whole afternoon and evening with no deadlines.

It's the same way with food. If there's a little food on the table, I get done eating when the food is gone. Hiromi knows when he needs yet a piece of toast, a bowl of Ramen noodles, or the leftover rice, or another of his comfort foods. He cheerfully rustles it up himself, so I don't complain--unless he's leaving more healthful food uneaten in favor of these high-carb diversions.

If there's a lot of food on the table, I know then too when I've had enough--when it's all gone. This is problematic in the waistline department. Hiromi can walk away from leftovers without regrets.

I think all Hiromi's hunger and sleep hormones stand at attention, ready to snap a salute and follow orders at a moment's notice. My hormones are the lazy kind--happy to lurk out of sight, responding only when compelled by convenience or necessity.

I could pride myself on my extraordinary flexibility. Or I could berate myself for my lack of attention to routines and orderly habits. I could rail at Hiromi for being so focused on his own wants and desires, irrespective of what would be helpful in any given situation. I've tried all three. What works best is indifference. When Hiromi says he needs more sleep or more food, I usually just say "Fine" and get on with my life--lots of routines and lots of diversions from routines.

I'm not giving up those three hour Sunday afternoon naps without a good reason. I had too many years when I had babies and could not sleep in the afternoon unless they all took naps at the same time. Hiromi could always sleep in those days, and now it's my turn. Of course, I can think of lots of good reasons for giving up those naps--mostly opportunities to interact with other people. But even then, Hiromi pines for his short afternoon nap.

Did I say it was a good thing we found each other? As long as we're both very quick to say "Fine," we'll be fine.