Prairie View

Friday, April 30, 2010

Simultaneous Thunderstorms and Drought

I woke during the night to a dreadful reality--wind-driven hail. I heard it first cracking loudly on the metal garage roof near our bedroom. Then there was a great roar of many hailstones, or was it partly the roar of wind and rain? "No no no," I said aloud, railing uselessly against the "attack." My beautiful lettuce rosettes, the irises in bloom, those flower plants I set out last week at school. . . .

Today I'm bringing my food production class here to see the garden and show them what they might do in their own garden. Maybe we'll have a lesson on recovering from hail damage. I postponed the field trip one day because of the ridiculous winds we've had for the past two days. There just "ain't no graceful way," or at least no modest way, for girls in long full skirts and teenage guys to walk around together outside on days like that, even for the benign purpose of learning gardening skills.

The internet weather site tells me that in the next county north, last night hail one and three fourths inch in diameter was driven by a 60 MPH wind. I wonder if any windows are left on the north and west sides of all the houses.

The day is just beginning to lighten outside and I haven't seen what kind of damage occurred here. I can tell there's no wind--like a teenager putting on an innocent face after a wild night.

The weather site has a bit of bright news--the announcement of a tornado drought. Kansas had no tornadoes between August 2 and April 22. It's been 20 years since we've suffered a drought of this magnitude. Even the good news sounds like bad news.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Sad, Glad Waiting

Our church family and the extended family of Menno Edna are waiting for her to die. No one is being macabre in talking about this. This is a sad time, and already there are tears when we think about what is ahead. But at the same time, we have a sense of God being in control and His people saying "yes" to His will. Heaven awaits, and Edna is about to go there.

Edna has had cancer for some time. She is 82. After a surgery within the past year, and discovery that her earlier cancer had returned, she continued to take oral chemo. Much earlier she also had multiple bypasses during heart surgery. She suffered from Chron's Disease. After the most recent surgery she decided that it would be the last one. No matter what went wrong, surgery would not be considered. She would stay at home rather than go to the hospital. At some point, the family contacted Hospice, and a plan of action was decided on for when the inevitable occurred. Meanwhile, life continued in the new normal.

The family knew what signs to look for. Sudden abdominal pain would likely signal that internal bleeding had developed, after which an elevated temperature would set in. Pain medication would be administered to keep her as comfortable as possible for the next number of days. Edna has already outlived the few days the nurse estimated to be her limit after the fever set in.

Her family had time to gather, some of them from outside the US, and, with the help of some powerful steroids administered for the purpose, she rallied for several days, and had wonderful times of sharing and interacting with her family. She was up and about part of the time.

She had given each married grandchild a specially-made quilt on the occasion of their wedding, but only a few had gotten married. On Thursday evening of this week, she passed out all the remaining prepared quilts to the unmarried grandchildren. There are probably 25-30 grandchildren. These quilts are not just any old quilts, or just any new quilts, for that matter. Edna is the premier quilt maker in this community. She has the artistic sense and the craftsmanship ability to do stellar work. She loved quilt work. Many of her wallhangings have been sold in local shops, and she has often been involved in creating the masterpieces that sold for many hundreds (thousands?) of dollars at benefit sales.

Last Sunday Edna came to church as usual. Two days before that she had gone to hear her grandson Jacob present his senior challenge. Wes noted that she seemed bright-eyed and involved. Her stomach pain began on Sunday afternoon. Yesterday in church her family sent word that Edna continues to decline. In a reassuring part of the message, we heard that she says that "the sting of death has been removed" and she wants to go "home."

A number of Edna's grandchildren are still in school. Two of them attend our high school, and at least four are at the grade school. I think often of how it must be to come to school every day, with the awareness of Grandma's imminent death.

I really appreciate the openness Edna and those close to her are demonstrating. The awareness of what is transpiring in that family's experience keeps their names on our lips in prayer. And, as always, seeing a child of God face death with courage helps us see the marvel of God's grace poured out on all who receive Him. So, besides prayers of entreaty, we are also praying prayers of thanksgiving and praise. If Edna can do that, we can too.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Quote for the Day 4/25/2010

To my mother, who had cataract surgery 2 days earlier, and sported a black eye--

Suzie O. : A little heavy on the eye shadow this morning . . .


From Steven's Facebook posts yesterday--

First post:
Of all the days to have a wedding in kansas! It is too nice, we need to have them when it is hot to deter any visitors who might be thinking of moving here!
Second post:

Praise the Lord! We got a very hard rain!


Have you ever heard the like? I'm thinking it's a convoluted way of bragging on our good weather. Let's sit on our good secret; make 'em think the weather is always bad in Kansas. That way we'll be able to keep this good place to ourselves.

If you're thinking of moving here, I think you'll find a warmer welcome than these posts indicate. Even Steven, who is sillier than some, would be nice to you. I'm sure.

Steven speaks for me, however, when he zeroes in on our spread-out population as a plus--something we are not desperate to change. Elbow room and breathing space is a very good thing.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Quote for the Day 4/23/1010

During hot lunch today, over pizza provided by Twila--the second time this year--

Twila: It was really windy too the other time I had hot lunch. It almost blew the pepperoni off the pizza. [Only in Kansas!]


Kelly Y. is getting married tomorrow to a guy from Montana. His family was in the church kitchen this afternoon making preparations for the rehearsal dinner. Every time the kitchen door opened, the wind whooshed in most obnoxiously. I wonder if other Kansans felt the impulse to apologize today as I did. (I resisted it.)

I can imagine that the groom's family feels like they're performing a rescue by taking Kelly back to Montana to live.


I took advantage of Stutzmans' half price full flat sale and bought some flowers to plant at school. They went into very wet soil, but they looked as sorrowful as I felt as the day wore on and the sun and wind battered them. I hope they recover overnight.


Arlyn M. did a great job today on his senior challenge. He talked about change, and used lots of meaningful examples, personal experiences, quotes, and Scriptures in the course of leading us to consider resisting change when it's not helpful, or embracing it when it is (or when there's no other option). The one thing that is not helpful is to ignore it.

He recapped his father's "beauty from ashes" life story, enumerating the many changes he faced. Listed briefly, they included: 1) Moving to Missouri from Michigan when he was 18--because his father desired a stricter Amish setting for his family 2) Adjusting to his mother's death shortly after they arrived in MO. Roman was the oldest son and assumed a lot of responsibility in providing for the family of 14 children because of his father's inability to do so. 3) Having his father move the family again--this time to the Chaco in Paraguay while Roman was away in 1W service 4) Following his family later to live in Paraguay, again helping provide for his father and siblings 5) Moving from the Chaco to East Paraguay 6) Carving a farm and home for himself from the jungle 7) Marrying an American nurse who had an adopted Paraguayan son 8) Burying his wife when she died of cancer, after having given birth to a son 9) Caring for two small boys as a single parent 10) Remarrying and having three more children 11) Moving his family to Kansas . Arlyn is the youngest child in the family, having lived in Kansas ever since he was five years old.

Arlyn spoke too of changes in his own life, especially in having chosen to turn from being a rebellious young man to wanting to serve Christ. He noted that he has a friend who has chosen very differently, and Arlyn feels sadness at his friend's choice.


Heidi and Jacob gave their senior challenge earlier--both of them also very well-prepared and delivered, thought-provoking speeches. I must have been too busy at the time to blog about them, but I am always impressed with what these students are capable of.

Being intentional about teaching organizing and speaking skills pays handsome rewards when students learn from it and use the skills to communicate truth that inspires reflection and positive change.


We ended the school day with a fun student-planned activity that involved a scavenger hunt of sorts. The organizers had snapped photos of random objects found on the school-church grounds, and then isolated and expanded small sections of the photos. They printed these pictures, and divided all of us into three teams and gave each team a camera. We were to find and photograph as many of the objects as we could, after identifying them from the pictures. We were told only that none of the objects were inside the main building.

It was great--just at the right difficulty level--challenging, but not impossible. No one identified the silver tiger whiskers on a purple background that are part of the K-State "wildcat" plate on my minivan--the plate I removed once and Grant put back on. And no one found the spot on Susanna's car where the paint was chipped off. But we did find the hinge for the flag on the mailbox, and the stamp on the pallet out behind the shop. We also found the tiny grid-patterned reflector on the Nisly trash bin, and the latch on the utility meter. It was amazing how varied the size of the actual objects was, and how hard it was to think of what they might be when 2-inch square objects and four foot tall objects all looked the same size in the picture.

I recommend the game to anyone who needs to plan a fun group activity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

All That Jazz

I listened to a whole evening of jazz music the other night. It was a live band presentation by renowned singers, players, and performers. While I admired the skill of the musicians, I now have a renewed certainty that I don't like jazz. In my opinion it's far too loud and brassy. Besides that, any melodies that sneak out between the drumbeats and cymbal crashes and trumpet blasts and saxophone blares are not very pleasing and/or singable. Jazz bends the tones in ways that seem too much like trying and failing to hit the notes head on--or sliding lazily off them after they've managed a direct hit.

I recognized only one piece--testimony to my musically sheltered upbringing and to the inroads of my public high school music education. The song I recognized went like this (the parts I remember) :

What a day this has been
What a rare mood I'm in.
Why it's almost like being in love.

There's a smile on my face
For the whole human race.
Why it's almost like being in love.

I can think of a few people who might like letting those words roll off their tongue--if they could get the tune right, that is. I tried to sing it to Hiromi and it didn't sound nice. Those are words you really don't want to mess up on when you're singing them to your sweetheart.

When I learned that song I didn't know I was singing a jazz number. Or maybe it wasn't originally written in that style and this band and vocalist simply adapted it to fit their music preference.

The program I listened to was part of the Community Concert series we usually get tickets for. Hiromi, in fact, is the person to see if you want season tickets. He's one of the community workers who are active for several weeks only. The organization provides a free-ticket incentive for him if he signs up enough ticket purchasers. They are available only for several weeks around this time of year, and tickets can not be purchased later for individual concerts. HCC students can attend free, as can children under 5. Youth tickets, family tickets, individual tickets, and grandparent/grandchild tickets are all available, at varying prices. Five concerts are scheduled for the upcoming season. Concerts usually begin in the fall, with several concerts before the holidays, and the rest during the winter and early spring. One bonus for ticket purchasers is that they get to attend the last concert of the previous season free.

Despite my less-than-glowing report of the recent concert, I hope local people do consider buying tickets. Many of the performances are really stellar, and you'll find that hearing extremely well-done live music is often an amazing experience. It's hard for frugal Mennonites to decide to purchase tickets if they're not absolutely sure that every concert will be to their liking. The key to overcoming that objection is to recognize that even if you skip several concerts, the cost of the remaining performances is still a very reasonable cost when compared to other similar presentations.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why I'm Smiling

On the sofa in the living room and at the table in the dining room, with every breath I inhale the heady scent of lilacs. In a pitcher on the coffee table and in a footed white "vase" on the dining room table are lavish bouquets of those graceful flowers. Long ago we dug up and planted here lilac sprouts we got at the Keith Anderson place where Josh is building his "claim shanty," as I heard it called recently.

Last week I walked around outside checking out what was blooming and gathering enough flowers for five different bouquets of tulips. The week before it was peach blossoms, gathered from the prunings. This week it was the lilacs.

Last week when someone I knew passed by on the road while I was out there gathering flowers, I suddenly realized that I was wearing a big smile before anyone was there to see me smile. I can't help it. I'm just really pleased that these flowers are back, and that they've been hardy enough to put on a show again, with minimal effort on my part.

Yesterday at the garden center I saw rhododendrons in full bloom, and pitied the poor suckers that will take those home and try to grow them in Kansas. It won't work, just as azealeas and dogwoods won't work, because the soil is too alkaline. But with lilacs, redbuds, forsythia, spirea, flowering quince, and many fruiting trees and shrubs putting on a fine show, who needs azaleas, dogwoods, and rhododendrons?

God does not leave Himself without a witness in nature, even in climates that are not always hospitable to plant life. Knowing this puts a smile on my face.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

An Ordination in the Family

We heard today that my sister Dorcas' husband Bill is to be ordained as a deacon tomorrow evening in a BMA church in the Hendersonville, NC area.

Several family members from here hope to attend, and at least one of Bill's brothers will be there also. None of either of their extended families live close by.

Bill and Dorcas have lived there for less than two years, after spending the years since their marriage first in VA, then in SC, back to VA, and then to NC. We didn't doubt that God wanted them in NC, but we didn't foresee all that God had in mind for them in that place.

Bill has been a teacher in the past, and is now a nurse in a cardiac care unit. He joins a ministry team that already includes a medical doctor. I suppose that could present some interesting preaching schedule challenges. But it's clear that these people have a heart for healing and helping, and that is certainly an asset in church work.

We wish God's blessing on Bill and his family and church.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Quote for the Day 4/15/2010

This morning our food production class went to Alvins to prune their raspberries. Near the patch was a large-leaved plant.

Brandon: What's that?

Student: Rhubarb.

Brandon: We put that in our concrete. (????)

Student (who connected the dots faster than some of us) : Not re-bar. Rhubarb.


At lunch--

Male Student: We figured out why women talk so much more than men. Men just say what they mean. Women don't say things very clearly, then they have to go into all kinds of explanations to say what they really mean, and so they go on and on and don't really say anything, but they keep on explaining and talking and don't say much of anything and yada yada yada . . . (or something like that)

Me: And you are typical of most men in this regard?

Only Keri got the joke.


Student: Mr. Schrock, How do you say neck in German?

Mr. Schrock: Hulz

Student: Brandon, du bisht un rota hulz. You are a redneck.

I don't think this translates very well, but he wears the label proudly.

The German students were to use conversational German outside of class this week.

Nice try.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Gale of Scattered Impressions

Grant is right. This wind tests the limits of ordinary endurance. The forecast this morning called for gusts to 44 mph. The forecast seems to have been on target.

At noon at school Norma and I decided to declare use of the south kitchen door off limits, since the last time it opened, it bowed out the closed heavy folding "curtains" in the serving window and created such a whoosh of air in the crack underneath that it rattled papers on the supervisor's desk ten feet away in the next room.

Before our Food Production class members walked across the road to the check the growth stage of the neighbor's lilacs (our phenology project), I specified that the ladies would walk at the back of the group. A previous walk outside to look at the flower beds had convinced me that this would be necessary if any kind of modesty was to be preserved, long skirts notwithstanding. While I was out there I remembered that a class was in session behind the window in front of me. Bummer.

Jacob lamented the assault on his newly planted and carefully tended seedlings. I sympathize. I have often pitied the defenseless plants trying to grow in my spring garden. Too many times plant protectors I had placed them in blew away and ended up in a fence row.

I looked at the pie cherry tree and the apple tree in bloom in our yard and wondered if the pollen was moist enough to stick where it belonged. Bees are more active in dry sunny weather, but if the pollen dies too soon, the bees can't do much about it. As I understand it, that's why grapes don't ripen here in nice uniform clusters. Green ones and ripe ones appear in the same bunch because of scattered pollination.


Shane and Dorcas were here last weekend. They, along with Lisa, arrived around 1:00 AM on Friday, and quietly put themselves to bed in the places we had prepared for them. Lisa left the next morning without my having met her. I had been up for some time, but must have been in the back part of the house when Randall arrived to pick her up. I was sorry to miss learning to know her.

Dorcas left again around noon to fly to PA for a wedding. Some friends of hers had bought a ticket for her.

Meanwhile Shane worked furiously to tile a bathroom in his rental house, load three cords of firewood on the humongous trailer he was pulling on this trip, load a large riding mower and a large piece of heirloom furniture to take back to CO, and take down a large tree that was growing next to and over the top of Loren's house. Does that sound like a two day job to you? Even Shane, who has lots of INITIATIVE, couldn't get it all done. One complication was that the big machine (Telehandler???) that he was using on the tree removal job had the misfortune of sinking one of its wheels through the lid covering the septic tank. So Shane had to repair/replace the lid as part of the project. Joseph came to the rescue with some spare "parts" he had left over from a previous project.

I think Shane is coming back this weekend again. He's hoping to get the house ready for the next renters very soon.

The previous ones got freaked out when someone broke in while they were gone, and they started looking for another place to live.

Dorcas' flight back to CO was delayed about 24 hours, and she ended up spending the night in Chicago. It's a good thing they had decided to delay the start of their work week by one day.


Dad saw the neurologist again today. He did not diagnose TGA. He did not diagnose anything. He says he doesn't know what was wrong. At least he did not prescribe something for the "nothing" that he found. Kudos to him for that.

He did deliver a bit of a sermon on diagnosis by internet. Well yes. But I notice that he didn't have a diagnosis without the internet either. He says Dad's symptoms are a little different than typical TGA. I say that the stories I read of people's experience (many of them diagnosed by doctors as having had TGA) show a great deal of variation in episodes. I daresay that the 3 TGA cases a year Dad's neurologist sees are about 1/20 of the number of "cases" whose stories were recorded on one particular internet site I saw.

I feel about the doctor the way I think my students would feel if they asked me for help with solving a problem, and I answered by saying, "I have no idea how to help you with your problem. I don't know what causes it. Under no circumstances, however, should you go ahead and try to solve this problem on your own. No one else out there is likely to be able to help you. In fact, to protect yourself from misinformation, you should believe only what I tell you." Lame.


My "highly refined" aesthetic tastes are unsettled, offended even, whenever I observe a fairly recent phenomenon among the veiling wearing crowd. Granted, we're not talking about sin and sanctification here, but, ohhhhh, I never did think those wide skirts spread over 19th century bustles created by wire hoops were a becoming style. I don't like the style any better on the neck than elsewhere.

Caboose. That's another image that comes to mind. Even the upbeat "I think I can, I think I can" tones that ring in my ears with this image don't quite right this "wrong" image of a trailing, partially concealed appendage, struggling to stay attached. I'm still expecting that someday I might walk past someone and hear a faint I think I can, I think I can.


I find myself wishing I knew more about French history. We're reading Les Miserables at school, and I'm having trouble piecing together what I know about the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Louis xv (or was it the xvi), who had the Versailles Palace built. I'm recalling fragments that I learned when we read A Tale of Two Cities, a smattering of other history studies, and a humanities class I took in college. Wes gave me a crash course today, and I think he plans to do it for everyone tomorrow.

Along with that he showed me where Les Miserables fits into the various literature styles. This is another of those times when I wish I had had a chance to learn in high school what our students have a chance to learn.

I read the book mostly in one day last week, and then promptly started re-reading it. I don't really think it's the best way to read, but I find myself racing along to get the big picture in a story, after which I'm prepared to slow down and absorb more of the details on the second reading.


At school Marvin regaled us over lunch yesterday with stories of his spring break activities. He painstakingly planted radishes and carrots in his food production garden--one seed at a time. To hear him tell it, this was a Herculean task.

Arlyn suggested that this would have been a good time to strike a bargain with his little brother Wesley, who might have agreed to help him if he had asked.

Further explanations followed. Marvin had stayed outside all he could, because he knew if he went inside his Mom would find a job for him. He even shared this strategy with Wesley, who several times threatened to quit helping Marvin and go inside. But each time, all it took to get him to return to the gardening tasks was a reminder to Wesley that if he goes inside, his mom will find a job for him in there. Sneaky. No positive rewards for Wesley--just the avoidance of undesirable consequences. It was cheaper for Marvin this way, of course.


Hiromi is on a quest to extend his voice range upwards. He wants to be able to sing some of the songs people sing to shamisen accompaniment. He has to learn to play the shamisen too, of course.

He ordered and received a tape and textbook in Japanese that tells exactly how to do this. So several times a day he goes downstairs to Victor's old room and sings just like the guy on the tape sings--alternating between falsetto and natural voice singing, and learning to integrate the two ways of making sounds. At least he tells me that this is the strategy.

Tonight he's comparing the notes in his lesson book and the notes in Pavarotti's "O Sole Mio" and rejoicing that if he learns his lessons well he can sing "O Sole Mio" like Pavarotti. He says this tongue in cheek of course. He's got his sights set on a high "F." He's dubbed Victor's room My Studio--Pavarotti Studio.


I saw an ad today in the Bee from Tea Celebrations for tea ceremony instruction on the 24th of April--for 3 hours. I read it aloud to Hiromi. He hadn't seen it, but he already knew all about it. He's the tea master giving the instruction.

Can you tell he's really enjoying retirement?


Hilda is getting into a quilting project in Bangladesh, despite feeling under-prepared for such a task. She's the answer to another lady's prayers--someone who desperately needed someone to help the 70 or so girls who she oversees in a youth hostel while they attend college. When she spied a Mennonite at the American club in Dahka on Easter Sunday when the place was open to non-members, she latched onto the opportunity--someone who surely was born knowing how to quilt. Not quite, Hilda informed her. The hostel keeper sees this as a way of helping them earn money to pay their way now, and later also, when they need to make their own living. Hilda's giving herself a crash course, and hoping for the best.


Today we got the poetry anthology from Creative Communications--the contest sponsors who published seven poems submitted by my composition class of eight students. (Lest you feel too sorry for the one whose poem was not selected, you should know that he was one of only two winners from the class in another contest.) I haven't had time to read through many of the poems, but it's really nice to see these familiar poems in print. The poet's name is published, along with the school name and state. This copy was free to the school because we had at least five students with published poems from our school .


There's a chance for rain tonight. I hope the roof is on on Lowell's house. I haven't heard.


I'd better go do some more planting before I go to bed. Last night I soaked the peat pots. Tonight the seeds need to be poked in. Tomorrow I need to be at staff meeting at 7:30. This is shaping up to be a short night.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pharoahs and Cliff Dwellings

I hung out at my brother Lowell's family's house today where a crew of church people were working together to frame an addition to their house. Using this term seems like a misnomer since the addition dwarfs the original house.

Several boys near Joey's age accompanied their dad to the work day, occupying themselves with whatever 10-year-olds and younger boys find to do on days like this. I don't know who all gets the credit for this, but about halfway up one side of one of the huge dirt piles from the basement excavation, a village of miniature cliff dwellings emerged. They were charming little structures built into the face of the "mountain," laid up with little adobe bricks, and roofed with tiny slabs of wood covered with more dirt. Doors and windows created openings into the dark interior.

In their digging, they discovered a mud turtle, which they transported to a safer location. They returned from that relocation foray with mud up to their shoulders--a result of having tried to reach a crayfish whose "chimney" they spied.

Hannah told me later about "Pharoah," a figure cut out of a piece of scrap wood. Someone painted a face for Pharoah, and Joey buried him in a pyramid--in a secret chamber. Pharoah was discovered by archeologists many times and re-buried each time in a new pyramid. But poor Pharoah is lost now, apparently permanently interred under the fill dirt that raised the grade around the new structure.

Several days ago, our local newspaper carried news about a new kind of play area being built at the Dillon Nature Center. In this area, children will be able to play in dirt, sand, and water. Picture that. It's being carefully designed by someone hired from another state. I don't begrudge children being able to play in that place, but I'm glad that not every child has to go to such a park to play imaginatively.

When adults work at something worthwhile and allow children to work or play alongside them, many wonderful opportunities develop naturally, especially in an outdoor setting. I can't imagine a more charmed and blessed childhood than this kind of childhood.

Quote for the Day 4/10/2010

From Grant, on Facebook, describing part of his day's work: *smashes running spider with shovel while prepping flower beds* "Good job, Grant! You're a big tough guy and you can kill alot of spiders there!" -Dale :)
Dale is 3 or 4 years old, and gaining fast in the verbal and relational skills department. Grant works for his dad at the car dealership, on the farm, and in the landscape.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A Little Mental Vacation

Several times over the past three or four years, my father has had an episode of extreme forgetfulness lasting several hours or more. Twice we took him to a doctor, fearing a stroke or some other serious malady. This happened again last week. This time he saw a neurologist who did extensive testing. He stayed in the hospital overnight.

So now we know a number of things he does not have. No stroke, no brain tumor, no cardiac problems, no lung problems, no infections, no seizures--generally in good shape. That's what his family doctor had said after the first event. He had also assured us that this is not characteristic of impending dementia. This doctor asked him to come back in two weeks.

Earlier I had searched the internet for clues to the strange manifestations of amnesia. Transient Global Amnesia (TGA) seemed to fit. Since it is a diagnosis of exclusion (meaning it is usually not considered till a number of other things have been ruled out), it's perhaps not surprising that no doctor has ever mentioned this possibility to Dad. But I still wonder why not. Maybe a TGA diagnosis would seem too much like a cop-out, since the cause is unknown, and there is no treatment known to be helpful.

Such events are largely unpredictable, but they nearly always follow some event or circumstance that is emotionally or physically exhausting. They usually happen to people older than 65, but some people in their 30's have experienced them. Some people can feel them coming on, and have time to tell someone they feel strange. That's usually the last thing they remember till things are back to normal. Sometimes the incidents are associated with migraines.

For my dad, the first incident came at the end of a week when he had taken three out of state road trips--to Illinois, Colorado, and Oklahoma, driving several thousand miles, part of it alone and at night--a schedule that would exhaust anyone one-fourth his age. No wonder it was too much for an 80-year old. (He's going on 83 now.)

The single most defining characteristic of TGA is an inability to form new memories. For that reason, everything that happened during the episode is a complete blank to the person it happened to. Only a portion of old memories can be accessed. A person experiencing TGA will not usually act totally out of character, and will not endanger himself or others, even while driving. He might get hopelessly lost, and not know how it happened, but he will usually observe normal traffic laws--at least if that has been his habit otherwise. The person usually recognizes people who are familiar, but may not be able to say any names. Afterward, extreme fatigue is usually in evidence. No permanent loss of memory occurs, and the ability to form new memories comes back promptly.

In extreme cases, TGA can be very frightening to those looking on. Some people repeat the same questions incessantly. Sometimes they say the same little jokes over and over, always with the same voice inflections, and laughing in the same way at the same place in the story each time. My dad's symptoms seem fairly mild. At these times, he can't track what is happening around him, he repeats himself more than usual, and he has no memory of any of it afterward.

The very first incident was a little different than subsequent incidents in that he was more self-aware than in recent times. He was leading in a public prayer, and suddenly he heard himself talking without making any sense at all. His listeners realized it too. My brother Lowell was there and stepped up to help him off the stage. He was back to normal very quickly that time.

The other day after Dad was home from the hospital, I stopped in and chatted with him and Mom for a while. I asked him if the doctor had suggested the possibility of his amnesia being TGA. Dad was very interested in learning about this condition, and seemed quite relieved to have a name to use when thinking and speaking of his recent episode--whatever it was. I think it was a very helpful conversation in terms of making good plans for the future. It's possible, for example, to decide together now what Dad wants us to do if it happens again.

This week Dad and Mom had planned to drive to Indiana for minister's meetings. The doctor's orders not to drive for two weeks put a speedy end to those plans. Fortunately they were able to ride with others who were also going. Dad knows now that, while he might be able to drive safely, even if he suffered from amnesia, it would be very stressful for Mom if the two of them were alone, far from home, if such a thing were to happen. Everyone understands that they should probably not plan long trips by themselves.

Dad has had a very public role for many years. He has laid aside some of his responsibilities, but really enjoys some of the remaining ones. He does still have much to offer that is of value. So we will need to determine together how best to accommodate his needs, treat him with respect, and allow him to make a contribution while maintaining his dignity.

Our church has a lot of old people--more than 20 of them over 80, as I recall. Some of them are the parents of my friends and age mates. I see what some of them are dealing with, and wonder if our family will face similar challenges in the future. I feel good though when I think how gladly I make whatever allowances are necessary to accommodate the needs of the aged, and hope for the same kind of willingness on the part of others if patience from everyone is required as my parents age.

When we visited Dad in the hospital, his good humor was obviously still intact. "I guess my mind went on a little vacation," he informed us cheerfully. That's essentially what I think the doctor will conclude, only his assessment will likely not be offered so cheerfully, and it will come with a price tag attached.


Friday, April 02, 2010

Night School 2010

This year's night school started at 2:30 AM. All students except one were on hand for the opening of the school day, as were all teachers except one. When I arrived at about 2:40, one student said, "You're early."

"I'm both early and late. How can that be?" I replied. I usually don't arrive till about an hour after school begins.

Everyone was standing around in the kitchen sipping hot drinks and nibbling on some wonderful bite-sized muffins Jean Ann (the principal's wife) made, and chattering animatedly. After about 15 minutes of this, school began in earnest, with several hours of nearly everyone being in the learning center except during breaks. Dialing the cell phone of the missing student did not produce an answer--until more than an hour after school started. She arrived, explaining that she had set two alarms and didn't know what happened. Either they didn't ring or she turned them off without waking up.

Two freshmen had decided to work on their frog dissection lab during the school day. However, the sight of those spread-eagled frogs in the lab dish was almost too much for Susanna at 2:45 AM. "Oh, I don't think I can do this this early in the morning," she said.

"You explain that to Mr. Schrock," was her lab partner Brandon's unsympathetic response. They forged ahead, but it must not have gone fast. They were still working on it when I left at the end of the school day.

The night was the warmest of the season so far, I believe. The doors and windows stood open from the start of school on. At break times I heard students milling around in the dark outside, and right outside my window, I heard the first toad croaks of the season. Others heard it too. Seth assumed a thoughtful air and asked rhetorically, "What does this mean for gardeners?" (I'm pleased to know that he was listening during those phenology lessons in food production class.)

I think Emily was listening too. "Let's find it and kill it so we don't have to plant anything in our gardens," she said. Wrong take-away lesson, Emily. Talk about killing the messenger. . . .


Marvin showed up early to recite Romans 12:1-16 to me. "Let me get a paper to mark errors," I said before he started.

"You probably won't need it," he said, grinning. He was right. Reciting early in the day gave him an elevated privilege for the remainder of the day--uh, night.


I heard a Killdeer call in the fields around the school, around 3:00 AM. What was he/she thinking or doing? I mean. . . . It was nearly full moon and everything, but seriously, why wasn't that bird asleep at that time of the night? Around 4:30 I heard a Robin singing.


When I entered the parking lot at school, a bunny fled out of the path of my headlights. I suspect this was a rude interruption to his usual privacy on nighttime forays.


The roads were largely forsaken on my way to school. Even on US 50/K61 I saw only three sets of headlights. At least two of them were semis.


The homeschoolers who come in for individual classes dutifully arrived at the unorthodox class times. Mr. Schrock had kindly scheduled those classes near the end of the school day, but they couldn't all be at the end because there were at least three of them.


For Bible/devotions, we had a sunrise service that included some singing and a time of talking to Jesus. People who wished could stand and say out loud, conversationally, what they wanted to say directly to Jesus. For me it was a good time of reflection on the suffering and death of Jesus. I wasn't sure I could get it said, but when I thought of the incident in the garden involving Malchus' ear, I wanted to say, "Thank you Jesus for showing us how to minister to others even when we are in anguish of spirit, and when physical suffering awaits." That's such an untypical human response to suffering, and I was awed by seeing it in Jesus.

This morning in our Good Friday service, Henry Schrock shared similar thoughts.


We wondered what the paper carrier thought when he or she arrived with the place all lit up.


The German class made potato pancakes during their class period. It was an experiment they wanted to do as part of their research on what they wanted to serve at their German class fundraiser breakfast. While they were all in the kitchen, Marvin, Heidi, and Louise got the bright idea to tie together the door knobs for the kitchen and typing room doors, which are adjacent to each other. It was April 1, after all, and very little of this day's potential had yet been explored. I heard the kitchen door unlatch before long, and Mr. Shrock's one hand deftly reached through the narrow opening and untied the rope on the doorknob.

"We're making food in there, and we're going to decide who gets to eat it," he said pointedly to Marvin, Heidi, and Louise after he emerged from the kitchen. He didn't look a bit stern, however.


Around 5:00 some of last year's seniors, Sheila R. and Sheila G., Ida, and Frieda showed up with hot lollipops--cream cheese enclosed in biscuit dough, and baked with a coating of brown sugar and butter or cream. They were gooey and good. Sheila R. asked me if I remembered that they served these for typing class parties. They used to call them lolliPLOPS.


When one of the breaks ended at about 6:30, I headed home to round up some tools I had forgotten to get ready the night before. It wasn't the first time I guiltily recalled telling my students before dismissal the day before. "Get everything ready for food production class right away after you get home from school. Put it in your vehicle so you don't forget to bring it--unless it's smelly. In that case, put it beside your vehicle in a spot where you'll have to bump into it before you leave. I guarantee you won't want to be scurrying around collecting compost materials at 2:00 in the morning."

After collecting a digging fork from the shed, a shovel and watering can by the greenhouse, I was ready to head out again. Then Hiromi called from the bedroom, "When are you having class?" When I told him it would be around 8:00, he said, "I'll come over about then and show them how I'm making my tomato cages. Put one of the cages into the van."

"Sounds good," I said. We had talked earlier about doing this some time, but I wouldn't have dared expect him to do it during night school.

During class we took a quiz first, which a lot of the students apparently forgot to study for. But Stephen, who studied the longest, only missed one, for the highest score in the class. I had fun writing the first-ever "multiple-guess" quiz for that class. I added some teeth to several on-going assignments due on the Tuesday after spring break--get something planted in your garden, get a fruit tree/bush/plant into the ground, and have your food animal on the premises. Completion of each of those tasks is worth 50 points apiece. Then we went outdoors to begin to build our compost pile.

Each student carried their 5-gallon bucket or garbage bag over to the appointed spot north of the shop where I had set up a compost bin. Their contributions were to contain a combination of high-carbon and high-nitrogen materials in roughly the right proportions--a ratio of 25-30:1. I had handed out a chart that listed the content of various compostable materials.

One by one, they dumped their buckets or bags, and told the rest of us about what they contained. Some of them were obvious. It was quite a collection. Animal bedding, manure, leaves from last fall, young weeds, and kitchen scraps. At the very end, Arlyn's contribution went on the pile. A whole bunch of very red little "potatoes" which he had scavenged from their own compost pile at home, rolled onto the pile and right out through the holes of the mesh sides of the bin. They were actually large radishes still left from the late fall garden. So I spent the last part of the demonstration trying to corral those radishes with my shovel and get them back on the pile. Stephen had forgotten his weeds, but I saw later that he had brought them, and spread them over the top of the pile. It looked a lot better with the garbage tucked away under the uprooted cheat grass he had brought. We'll need to do this several more times to fill the bin.

Hiromi was patiently waiting during this time, but he swung into action, demonstrating his tools and techniques. He had bought concrete reinforcement mesh in panels that were 42" by 84". With a one-foot overlap, he formed them into circles roughly 2 ft. in diameter. Instead of simply wiring them together, he used fasteners and a crimping tool that is often used to make rabbit cages from rolls of wire mesh. When he was finished, he had a nice cage sized for determinate tomatoes, having done no cutting, and leaving no sharp edges. He also showed the 4 ft. wide plastic he bought to wrap the cages in early in the season to provide extra warmth for the tomatoes. He's making 2 ft. x 2 ft. plywood covers for the cages to cover them on cold nights or when hail threatens. The breakfast bell rang before everyone had a chance to try the crimping tool, but it was a good introduction.


Ah, breakfast. With all our snacking and drinks, we were much better fed than we usually are early in the morning, but Jean Ann had a wonderful spread for us--a large and luscious-looking fruit platter, several kinds of breakfast casseroles, and coffee cake. Juice and hot tea were options as well.

After breakfast, the "Friday" cleaning commenced.

I graded my share of the pace tests for the week, gathered up my things, and headed home--except that Eunice had told me just before she left that Gene's house had arrived, and her mom said to tell me.

So I stopped by to see the house on my way home. The site had attracted a great cloud of witnesses. The lady was there who owned the house originally and who had stopped by our market booth last summer to tell us they'd like to see a Mennonite family buy their house. It had to be moved because of the danger of sink holes developing in the area. Finally, just before the deadline for getting the site in town cleared, that house rode out from town to its prepared basement, dug in what used to be Gene's dad's (Joe's) alfalfa field. All these months later, God had brought everything together, so that these people who had lovingly built their dream house could see it go to a young family who would cherish the house and create a lifetime of good memories in it.


I came home to go with Hiromi to Partridge to sign the petition for the school board. He had given up on me and gone by himself, so I went by myself too and did the signing. Then I came home and thought I would take a nap. But I really wasn't tired enough to sleep. I ate some leftovers around 2:00. Finally, at about 4:00 Hiromi told me to go take a nap, "so you won't be grouchy." I wonder why he said that--right after he had been grilling me about whether I wanted to save or throw away some stuff he had discovered in the shop at the Trail West place--stuff I could not picture, and certainly could not make a rational decision on what its fate should be, and I'm not going to make a decision on that right now.


Night school early in the morning was a fun experience, especially because it was the kickoff to spring break. I'm glad it worked out. . . and glad that it happens only once a year.