Prairie View

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Comic Strip Characters in the Farmyard

Everything about guineas looks exaggerated. Their backs are too humped, their heads too peaked, their feathers too spotty, their noises too loud, their running too impulsive and too aimless, their parenting too casual. I wonder what God was thinking when he made guineas.

By all appearances their brain is too small. When we first bought keets (baby guineas), we got about twice as many as we hoped to end up with. That turns out to have been about right. We initially bought twelve, and now have seven. Except that before we bought twelve, we were given three, and Hiromi bought three more in November. So the ratio is more nearly one live to every two dead. Our revised rule: Buy three times as many as you hope to end up with.

The three that Hiromi bought most recently were adults. And No sir. We do not want to share our space with any newcomers. The oldsters pecked and chased and intimidated the new ones ruthlessly. Hiromi let the old ones out every morning and didn't let them back in until evening, after the new ones had had time to eat and flee to roost on the upper shelves in the greenhouse.

More recently, sometimes Hiromi lets them all out. When he does, we regularly see a group of four chasing the new group of three till the new ones take refuge on a tree branch. Pitter pitter --feet pumping up and down, those pith-helmet-shaped bodies glide along in a beeline till the tiny brain signals an abrupt change in direction. The helmet pivots, and, head down, they make another beeline.

Hiromi claims the old ones and he have a good understanding, that he is now a master of guinea psychology. The guineas follow him around when he's outdoors, even when he's tricking them into doing something they wouldn't want to do if they knew his intention--like when he goes to feed the sheep, and they follow him in hopes of getting some stray grain. Meanwhile the new guineas dart inside the greenhouse to tank up on feed while their molesters are away. After a suitable interval, Hiromi walks toward the greenhouse and they follow him right in through the door where he shuts them in for the night.

We're hoping that next spring's breeding season replenishes our guinea supply. Someone told Hiromi that the males are the ones that incubate guinea eggs. "No wonder they don't have any sense about taking care of their babies," I said. Frankly, I doubt the wisdom of Hiromi's informant. I can't find that information anywhere else. But everyone agrees that, left to themselves, guineas are likely to successfully raise only a very small percentage of their offspring to adulthood. Given the fact that they are very furtive about the location of their nests, any guineas that are allowed to roam are unlikely to have their egg clutches discovered. While they incubate them, the mate may stand guard, but he (that's what I think the guard is) abandons his post to go roost in the henhouse overnight when the hen needs his protection the most. They're not only poor parents; they're negligent mates too.

Grasshopper eating is the one saving grace of guineas. And for that service, we tolerate all their foibles. That, and their entertainment value. Maybe that's what God had in mind when he made these comic birds.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Inter-Departmental Medical Cooperation

One of the funny stories I heard on Christmas Day was a story from the delivery room of a Florida hospital. Here's the story:

A woman who was to be sedated and unconscious during delivery requested that her baby's first cry be recorded so that she could listen to it afterward. A recording device was set up, and all went according to plan, until one person, who apparently did not know about the recording, or had forgotten, said, "It's a boy, and he's just as ugly as his mother."

Ohhhhhh. AWWWKWARD! Urgent damage control needed.

Before the mother was given the recording, someone hurried to the nursery to record a baby crying, and the original recording was deleted. The doctor who told us the story summed it up by saying it was a rare and shining example of inter-departmental medical cooperation.

A False Dichotomy Examined

This is in response to the second comment on an earlier post: Healthcare Reform Essay.

Can you show me statistics or other information on infant mortality, life expectancy, etc. in Bible times, compared to our times? I’m not convinced that your assumption is correct–that it was much worse then than it is now.

My impression is that the people in Bible times, early on at least, had very long life spans, and the record tells us that the Hebrew women in Egypt were so lively that the midwives couldn't get to them in time to assist with their births. These facts don’t suggest an ailing population. I concluded that in Bible times, “physical healers were needed, but wellness aids in the Bible did not require expensive potions concocted in chemical laboratories.” You seem to be saying that Bible-times people were NOT well off under these conditions.

In defense of your statement saying that my conclusions are “vastly untrue in the absolute/ historical sense” you could have cited the many sick people in Jesus’ time. Multitudes of people needed healing, and Jesus healed them. We have no details on many of them, and only sketchy details on others. We know about the lunatic, the palsied, the leper, the hemorrhaging woman, for example, in the sketchy-details category.

Under current medical practice, some of these conditions would, in fact, be addressed with pharmaceuticals or surgery, and a “cure” could be claimed. But mental illness, cerebral palsy or epilepsy, and leprosy continue to be challenging to treat, even with all that we know. In some ways, people are still in much the same kinds of difficulty as people were then, if these conditions are present. People in this condition could still justifiably feel that their only hope of complete healing resides in a miracle from Jesus. Even people who have access to all that modern medicine offers have come to this conclusion. Medical practice then and medical practice now seem to have similar outcomes in these difficult-to-treat cases: people with these conditions experience on–going health challenges. In these cases, Bible-times treatment methods may not, in fact, have been much inferior to ours. If theirs had no deleterious side effects (unlike chemical pharmaceuticals, which always do), perhaps in some ways theirs were better.

There was, indeed, a time between now and then (during the Middle Ages, for example) when life expectancy was much shorter, and infant mortality was higher. During this time it’s likely that Jewish dietary and hygiene laws were not being followed, and modern treatment methods certainly had not been developed. Under the feudal system, many people lived in extreme poverty and did not eat well by anyone’s definition. Mass starvation occurred sometimes. “Treatments” like bloodletting and using leaches to draw out “bad blood” may have arisen during this time, and continued through the time America’s West was settled. The role of bacteria in disease was not known until long after the Middle Ages, beginning in the 1680's with Van Leeuwenhoek, and continuing with Lister and Pasteur into the mid-late 1800's.. Herbs were still probably used to address what ailed people throughout this time, although their mechanism was apparently not well understood. Not much has changed in this regard. With only a few exceptions, modern science has largely disregarded this treatment approach rather than investigating it thoroughly. As you probably know, it’s illegal right now in America to claim that any of them have any efficacy in treating, curing, or mitigating any disease.

I’ve been reading over my essay and your comments, and I don’t see that I proposed in the essay that people in Bible times WERE BETTER OFF without “expensive chemical potions concocted in laboratories.” What I did imply was that they are not present in the Biblical record, and it is wrong to suppose that they should be considered the foundation of good health and medical practice now. Good nutrition makes more sense as a foundation for good health. This is probably where your “false dichotomy” “separate issue” assertion comes from. My sense is that the “chemicals versus foods dichotomy” is only marginally present in my essay, if it is present at all. Your extrapolation of my position did not adequately take into account the other factors I mentioned as being present in the Bible-times health picture: hygiene laws, Jesus’ healing of people, prayer, anointing with oil, practicing physicians, the use of herbs, the use of wine, moderation, and proscribing gluttony.

I’m glad to know you basically agreed with my essay, and I thank you for writing, especially because you probably knew I would write back publicly. Other people probably wouldn’t believe that we’ve never argued at a family event, but it’s true. We really don’t argue much, do we? We just disagree vigorously sometimes in writing, in public.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sister Jay

Thirty-seven years ago, when I was twenty years old, Harry Wenger, who was a Holdeman bishop from Hesston, and a friend of my father's, brought our family a guest, whom he introduced as Sister Jay. She was a tiny young woman, vivacious and lovely, who looked as though she had stepped right out of our gray-covered fourth grade Old World geography book. She wore a white sari, with a wide flowing cape-like collar, edged in blue, with blue crosses in each corner. She dressed like this because it was as close as she could come to dressing like the angels she had seen. Sister Jay was from India.

While she was in our area, she ate at our family's table, and later spoke to a small group of people at our church in an impromptu meeting. During that time she gave her testimony. After that she didn't look so much any more like a geography book figure come to life. She seemed like an angel prophetess. It was 1972.

Sister Jay first met Jesus in a vision when she was six years old. She was traveling with her parents. While waiting for a bus on a very hot day, those who were waiting sought shade inside a nearby church. As children do, she was playing with other children when a suffering man on a cross appeared before her. He had wonderfully kind eyes, and told her that he was Jesus, and that he loves her and died for her. She had never heard of this person before, but she was very moved, and a crowd soon gathered around her to find out what was wrong. She told everyone what she was seeing, and others in the crowd were moved also, and believed in Jesus. They were the first of many who came to Jesus through this child's witness.

Throughout the next few years, the little witness often awoke at night when an angel appeared to her, asking her to follow him. She went with the angel wherever he took her--usually to a nearby village. She talked to people the angel directed her to, and said what the angel told her to say. Kind people fed her, many times after she asked Jesus for food or water. After some time, her father would discover her whereabouts and retrieve her. Her parents punished her severely, hoping to restore their daughter to a normal childhood. But it was not to be. Finally, after three or four years, the parents came to Christian faith also.

Those of us who met Sister Jay in America never heard her speak through an interpreter. She always spoke English. When she spoke in our church she told us that she had never learned English. She simply began speaking it the first time she stood before an English-speaking crowd. The ability to speak English is a gift God gave her.

Sister Jay's real name is Jayaprada, a name we soon learned and always called her by. I haven't heard her called Sister Jay since that first time we met her. Those who know her well often call her Jaya.

Jaya was here for our family Christmas this year, along with her oldest son, John Raja. John is a neurosurgeon in his fourth year of residency. He has three more years to go. The family lives in Florida.


In the years between that first meeting and now, Jayaprada visited my parents several times. The second time, my brave mother cooked rice and curry for her, a dish she had learned to make from my father's Uncle Dan's wife, who served as a host for MCC missionaries when they landed at Elkhart headquarters for debriefing after returning from the field. Another time Jayaprada cooked rice and curry for us.

After Jayaprada married, she returned with her young Indian husband, Emanuel. It was several months before John Raja's birth. This past weekend my mother produced a picture of Emanuel and Jayaprada from that visit. It was taken in the living room of the house where we live now. Jayapradah looked at the picture and exclaimed, "That was my honeymoon sari!"

Emanuel died in India, when his two sons were only two and three years old. He had a brain tumor. Israel had joined the family by then. For seven years Jayaprada was a widow.

Jayaprada then married an American engineer named John. John and Jayaprada paid my parents a visit together. They lived in Florida.

Within the past decade (perhaps six years or so ago?) Jayaprada was back with John Raja when my sister Lois happened to be here visiting from Virginia. Lois told Jayaprada how memorable her first visit was, and how her testimony helped shape Lois' life. This reconnection blossomed into a solid friendship, and they've stayed connected through many phone calls and visits.

On the first of December, when Lois turned 50, Jayaprada surprised Lois with a visit, the first time in Kansas since Lois and Marvin and their family moved here. The Miller clan gathered to renew acquaintances on the Sunday of that visit. On Tuesday before Christmas she was back, this time with John Raja. They leave for home in Florida today.

The Millers were at Marvins again yesterday, and we all learned to know John Raja. He's animated and intelligent and funny and personable, and as generally wonderful as his mother has always believed him to be. At 28 years old, he has never dated. He's trusting his parents to find a spouse for him when the time is right. He is unapologetically Christian--an American who understands Telugu. Hans says he scored 1600 on his SAT. I don't think I know anyone else who's done that.

Before we had our family gift exchange, John shared with us what he had told the Masts the evening before at their family's gift exchange. It was a meditation "In Defense of the Innkeeper." During his medical training, John delivered about 20 babies. He spoke from that perspective, telling about why the innkeeper was wise to send Mary and Joseph to the stable to have their baby. The innkeeper must have been a down-to-earth person who knew that birthing involves three things: 1) Extra-space requirements 2) Noise 3) Messiness. Every one of those factors would have made delivery in a crowded inn disastrous.

John wrapped up his meditation by talking about how when Jesus takes up residence in our heart, He requires space there, crowding out other things that we may want also--things like financial security or prestige. Jesus' call on our life is loud, trumping all other summons. Life is messy sometimes, requiring the carrying out of soiled straw, and the spreading of bright clean straw after Jesus renews our hearts.


My brother Marcus visited with Jayaprada privately for more than an hour on Christmas afternoon, while the rest of us prayed privately for them both. We have new hope that he is close to the kingdom.

Last week he brought Lowell's family a DVD he had rented after viewing it first at the home of a neighbor. It was Mel Gibson's The Passion. Marcus wanted them to watch it, saying he couldn't see how anyone could see it without being moved. He added that he understood some things he never saw before.

But Marcus still couldn't sing Christmas carols when the rest of us sang together last night. He just sat quietly and wiped tears occasionally. When he can sing again, I'll know that his spirit is free.

Please pray for him.


Jayaprada told Joel he has a very sweet wife, and told me I have a very good husband. We both said, "I know."

She watched Grant, Heidi, Kristi, and Dietrich play on the Wii that Hans gave Dietrich for Christmas, marveling at how they probably wouldn't otherwise be likely to exercise like that, even for ten dollars an hour. She teased and laughed and presented gifts to each family and individual in the big circle at gift-giving time, and gave special honor to "Pastor Miller and his wife." She looked at Mom's picture of her with her young husband, and wept, remembering the difficult times after his death.

She saw the picture of her young family on Marvin's refrigerator, taken just before her first husband died, and said that she remembers how they bought the boys their first little suits and went to have the picture taken. I found the picture on a Christmas card in Elmer Nisly's scrapbook when they let us look through it and collect items for Center's 50th Anniversary celebration. I photocopied the picture and sent it home with Heidi from school before we gave the scrapbook back.

One biographer calls Jayaprada the Maiden Mystic of India, noting that she interacts with angels as naturally as others interact with other people. The biographer obviously knew the same Jayaprada we know. She is that, and still regularly sees and knows things that she learns apart from normal ways of seeing and knowing. God reveals them to her. When she speaks of these things, she's quick to tell her hearers that it is always God who does good things and gives good gifts. So Jaya is a mystic, but she's also the family friend who shared Christmas 2009 with the Masts and the Millers. It was a wonderful Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Proper Start to Christmas Vacation

The less frequently I post on this blog, the harder it is to return to it. So many events have gone by unrecorded and so many worthy(?) thoughts have not been verbalized. . . It's hard to know where to start. At least I'm not struggling with guilt. I decided long ago that I would never regard blogging as an obligation. I would do it at my convenience or not at all.

The first semester has ended at school, and I have just finished the first day of unwinding. The first order of the day was sleeping late. My plan almost worked. I stayed in bed till 6:00 instead of 5:30. Hiromi, who was already in bed when I got home from Christmas caroling and the requisite snack/party afterward, was the one who slept respectably late.

I got up and laid out the Christmas treats still crammed into the bag in which I carried them home from school, reading and savoring each card and gift. I also enjoyed way more candy and salty snacks than any sensible person would normally enjoy before 8:00 in the morning.

I checked my email, and recklessly deleted many of them. I studiously ignored the several-inches thick pile of papers I need to grade during vacation.

I spent the next hour or so following my nose to a link (I found it in a letter to a gardening group I'm part of.) with very fascinating information on how to grow produce in a way that boosts nutrient density. I printed out some information to share with the students in next semester's food production class. I love times like this, when the facts that have lodged in my brain from many past bunny trails suddenly all rearrange themselves into a more complete picture--agreeing with what I've learned elsewhere, but enlarging and illuminating everything at the same time.

Years ago I attended a presentation on fruit growing in Kansas. The presenters were from Kansas State University. Frank Morrison was one of them. I "met" him again last week when I was helping a student do research on the big Armistice Day freeze of 1940, which nearly destroyed the apple industry in Kansas. He had the most succinct and helpful information I found anywhere. At the same presentation, someone talked about the brix test, which is a measurement of the carbohydrate content in plant material. This test is relevant for determining the proper time to harvest fruit--when the brix reading reaches its peak. At that point it will be at the optimum stage of ripeness and sweetness.

I learned this morning that when the brix reading in all kinds of edible plant materials is at its "sweet spot," many other nutrients have also reached their peak. I remember phytosterols being mentioned, which are the raw materials of the body's hormones. Minerals are at optimum levels at the same time. The dry matter (or "bulking substance") of the edible food is largest at the highest brix levels. The food tastes best at this time.

Brix readings correlate significantly with the availability of nutrients in the soil in which the food is grown. Lean soil equals low brix readings. Fertile soil and good cultural and harvesting practices equal high brix readings.

The United States Department of Agriculture has been tracking nutrient content of agricultural products for a long time. Not surprisingly, the numbers show a steady decline in nutrient values of most commercially grown produce. Online databases confirm this. I've examined some of these databases. I've heard the same thing in many nutrition lectures through Mannatech sources. I've read about it in news media, and in books from the public library.

The High Brix Gardens site quotes Hippocrites' dictum (which I have also heard through Mannatech sources) : "Let food be your medicine, and your medicine be food." In other words, overall health and nutritious food go hand in hand.

Last night during the conversation among the adults at the after-caroling party, someone wondered aloud if gluten intolerance (Celiac Disease) is more common now than it was earlier. I thought of a whole flood of things I wanted to say about the relationship between nutrition (especially glyconutrients, which are critical for regulating immune responses) and autoimmune disorders, which everyone agrees are on the rise. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder. What I've learned from many different sources tells me that there's a straight line between nutrient decline in produce, insufficient nutrition in the general population (even among--or perhaps especially among--people who have no calorie deficit), and higher incidence of many health disorders, especially autoimmune diseases. How can they possibly NOT be connected?

With more restraint than I'm demonstrating here, what I said aloud at the party was that I recalled hearing one of my college teachers (in the late 70's/early 80's) say that she had been recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease. For a long time, no one knew what was wrong, but she looks back now at her father's early death from an unidentified illness, and believes that he probably also had Celiac Disease and died from it.

Someone else said aloud what everyone was probably thinking by then: Earlier, people died from some diseases that we now have the knowledge to diagnose and cope with in a way that preserves well-being. I added that autoimmune diseases of all kinds are more common than they used to be. So Celiac Disease probably is not only more common than it used to be, but is often more readily identified when it occurs.

The Celiac-affected professor's conjecture about her father's illness seems to affirm something else I've heard from Mannatech sources and elsewhere: Many diseases involve both a genetic predisposition and a "health-stress trigger." I have no idea what the triggers were in the professor's family, but I do know what they were in several of the people in my family who have Celiac Disease. The relatively high incidence (Roughly one in ten among my parents' grandchildren.) in my family, and the father/daughter combination in the professor's family suggest a genetic component. I've been told that an adequate supply of glyconutrients in the diet helps regulate the trigger action. In other words, destructive genes can stay "turned off" if the body's cell-to-cell communication is working optimally, enabling the body's natural defenses to disarm what would otherwise become a health-stress trigger.

My early morning foray on the Internet marched right through many of my passions--teaching, nutrition, health, and gardening--then circled around, corralling everything into a neat bunch from which I will eventually sort out individual understandings. I might need them for a food production class lecture, for answering a food supplements inquiry, or for conversation at the next party.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fly Factory

After having enjoyed our usual winter hiatus from plaguing flies for lo, these many months, for some very odd reason, we are suddenly inundated with flies--inside the house--in mid-December--after single-digit temperatures outdoors.

Can anyone help us figure out where the fly factory might be?

We've peered into and sniffed out all the corners and can't smell or see anything bad.

We first noticed the uptick in the fly population two days ago. By this evening we had killed dozens of flies. Hiromi did his corralling maneuver several times. This consists of turning on the light in the bathroom and then systematically turning off all the other lights, starting with the ones farthest away from the bathroom. When the flies have congregated in the bathroom, Hiromi shuts the door and starts swatting. It's fairly effective, only after dark, of course.

During Sunday dinner and the dishwashing afterward, the favored fly landing spots were the dining room and kitchen windows. Bad move. Flies are easy to kill there. It didn't give us a huge feeling of satisfaction though. Low tech warfare is not very tidy, and I'd really prefer Sunday dinner without the drama and visual distastefulness of squashed flies.

I've been telling people I can't believe how December is flying by. I should have said I can't believe how flies are flying by in December. The ones we haven't gotten to with the swatters yet. Wish us luck.

I can't remember anything like this ever happening before.

A Gargantuan Vocabulary

"Look it up in the dictionary." This teacher's mantra took a new twist in my composition class this semester.

I offered extra credit to students who looked up new words they encountered in the course of their reading. (The dictionary itself was off-limits as a "mine" of new words. It was to be used only for information on words first encountered elsewhere.) To get extra credit, they had to fill out a form listing the word, its part of speech, a definition, and the word used in a sentence. If they shared their findings with the class they got an additional extra credit point.

The other students were to take notes on vocabulary words being introduced, in order to score well on a vocabulary quiz at the end of the quarter. Those who looked up the words originally will get only a proportionate number of extra credit points, based on their percentage score on the quiz. (They and I understand this. Don't worry if you don't.)

The students unofficially and unknowingly sorted themselves into groups: 1) Those who liked expanding their vocabulary for any reason, or none at all 2) Those who grasped desperately at the extra credit opportunity 3) Those who groaned at having to learn all those words 4) Those who took it all in stride, without much irritation or passion.

I wrote the quiz on all 102 words last week, and then took it myself without looking back at my notes. I divided all the words into seven segments of "matching" questions, with 16 words in each grouping. I missed only two answers, by switching the definition of two words with similar meanings, so I think it's a fair test for students who are expected to spend some time studying in preparation for the test.

Only a few were words I had never encountered before. Williwaw and cadge are two that come to mind, but I would not have been able to produce a definition for many of the other words. They fall into the "readily recognized in context" category for me.

The payoff came for the students in being able to use their-newly acquired vocabulary in writing assignments. I loved seeing this whenever it happened.

Last week I worked on grading their research papers, and found that three of them had used the word "gargantuan" in their papers. That vocabulary word must have made a gargantuan impression.


I got the feeling several times during the semester that some students were spending time trying to earn extra credit points while they should have been concentrating more on doing well on the routine assignments. But a bargain is a bargain, and I consoled myself with the knowledge that the expanded vocabulary might be as memorable and necessary as anything I might concoct and assign.

Letting students feel that they're pulling a "fast one" on a teacher probably doesn't hurt, as long as the "trick" results in solid learning.

"Fat" Title

David's report on "bad fats" made me laugh out loud. Here's how that happened.

David chose the subject "dietary fats" as his research topic--a sub-point of the "Problems in the American Food Supply" current events issue.

At the beginning he was fairly clueless about the Omega 6 and Omega 3 hoopla, but he set about researching it, uncovering and explaining several important findings. Omega 6 and Omega 3 are different kinds of fats that need to be properly balanced in our diet. Before industrial food became common, most people ate fairly nearly equal amount of these two kinds of fat. Recently, however, Omega 6 is often eaten at a rate about 10 times that of Omega 3. This results in higher incidences of cardiovascular problems.

Cattle fattened on forage do not produce high levels of Omega 6 fats. Corn-fed cattle do. Most cattle these days are corn-fed. The moral of the story is--if you don't want high levels of problematic Omega 6, avoid corn-fed beef or "up" your intake of Omega 3 phenomenally, to make the ratio come out right. David's paper soberly explained all this to my satisfaction.

The title he gave this methodical explanation is what made me laugh: Alfalfa and Omega. He probably had as much fun writing it as I had reading it.