Prairie View

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Memories of Edna

Whenever someone dies, I find myself dredging up all the memories of my interactions with that person. It is usually a bittersweet experience. The memories are almost always good, but the finality of being separated from them for the rest of my earthly life makes me feel sober. Edna was buried yesterday, but memories of her are still present during most of my waking hours.

Edna told me once, perhaps in response to something I said: "I think my mind works more like a man's mind." As I recall, she said this in the context of being able to visualize how things work, and how to put them together. She could organize well and work efficiently. Remembering this blesses me. I have thought the same thing about myself, although my abilities and disabilities lie in very different areas than Edna's did. I'm especially glad to see that Edna could think like a man and be a godly woman as well.

I remember also a time when Edna decided it was time to adopt a new stance toward the task of teaching adult Sunday School classes. She believed she was unable to teach because she didn't know how to study. The prospect was so daunting for her that she had trouble eating and sleeping normally when she had to do it occasionally. But there came a time when she said yes to teaching Sunday School regularly because she thought the Lord wanted her to be willing. She studied a lot. By pre-arrangement, Hiromi and I stopped in one evening when the house was quiet. Everyone was in bed except Edna, who was up late studying her Sunday School lesson.

When Hiromi was new to our church, Edna cooked Sunday dinner for him most Sundays. He had a standing invitation to be there for their 1:00-sharp noon meal. Being prompt was a family habit.

Before we got married, Hiromi had trouble finding someone to prepare a wedding suit for him. Although she did not really want to make a practice of custom suit-making, she agreed to do it for Hiromi, and made him a very neat, nicely fitting suit that he still wears. She had just made one for her son Arthur, and used that suit pattern as a guide for Hiromi's suit.

Edna took it upon herself to keep in touch with people who were in Christian service away from home. Nearly every week, each one got a letter from her. As the number of people away from home increased and the process of using carbon paper became more cumbersome, Menno bought a photocopy machine for her when they were still not in common use elsewhere so that she could manage more easily.

In recent years Menno and Edna set up a thrift store in a metal building they constructed for that purpose. Items are not priced, and people leave donations as they wish. The proceeds go to support our church's Christian schools. I don't have clear memories of dollar amounts donated to the school, but I remember a figure over $1,000, and I'm thinking that size donation may have been made several times a year. Since the family business is refuse disposal, they find treasures among other people's castoffs, and the items can be recycled in the best sense of the word--by being used "as is" by a new owner.

When they moved into their retirement home, Edna and one of her sons enrolled in a landscaping class offered by the country extension service so that they could create an attractive landscape.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing Edna did is acquire a ham radio license so that she could communicate with her son in Central America, who lived where regular phone service was unavailable. Studying for the licensing exams was hard work, and sometimes she wondered if she could pass. But she did, and she learned to use the radio lingo like a pro.

Edna had regrets, and she talked about them sometimes, believing that maybe doing so would help another person avoid them. In our Sunday School class she told us one day several decades ago that she didn't want to wear any masks ever again. "I want to be open about who I really am," she said. "I'd better get started now because I don't have much time left." Heart problems may have brought this home to her.

One of my favorite memories is the time when Edna's widowed father married Lucy, a grandmother in the church that was home to me when I taught school in Ohio. I was privileged to be one of the few non-family members invited to the small wedding, which was held in the basement of Lucy's daughter's home. Edna was there, probably with Menno, and after the service, she presented her father and his new bride with matching jackets which she had made for them. They happily wore them during the reception and when they left for their honeymoon. That wedding blended two families of adult children that came to genuinely enjoy each other, and they had regular family reunions for many years. Perhaps they still do.

My mother considered Edna a wonderful close friend. The time Edna came to visit after my mother's heart surgery was eagerly anticipated and recalled fondly afterward. "Edna's a real prayer warrior," she confided to me once, when she talked about something that concerned both Edna and my mother.

At Edna's funeral, people talked about how well Edna used her time and abilities to bless others, especially to support others in their ministries. That neatly sums up much of what I want to remember about Edna. I don't expect to ever leave a legacy like hers. But I'd like to do as well with the gifts and opportunities I have as she did with hers. I'd like to live without masks, and show hospitality to those "Hiromis" who come to our church. I'd like to be able to be a godly woman, even if I can't help sometimes thinking like a man. I want to be willing to try jobs that I don't feel competent doing, if I sense the Lord directing me to proceed in faith. I'd really like to be organized and punctual too, but perhaps that would be asking too much of the Lord. I'm pretty sure that making a quilt for each of my children and grandchildren would be too much to expect too. Oh, and facing the end calmly, at home, with my family enjoying their time together around me and the expectation of heaven very real--that would be truly wonderful. I'm glad Edna could experience that.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Things I Learned at Farmer's Market 5/22/2010

John M., who called me last week to ask about sleeves for flower bunches, was on his way to Wichita this morning to sell peonies at the Farmer's Market there when he had a nasty encounter with a train at Elmer, the tiny little burg with several residences and a railroad. The accident left John unscathed, but his van totaled.

So he came around to the Hutchinson market to see if he could set up there. No luck. Every stall was full. Three other people were also turned away. I don't know what John did with his peonies. I hope they went back into the cooler and will be OK for selling next week on Memorial Day weekend.

I suspect this day will live in John's memory as a horrible, no-good, very-bad day.


Another vendor who set up outside gave up when the fierce south wind promptly dismantled his signs, etc.


Someone who surveyed our offering of leaf, butterhead, French crisp, and crisphead lettuces asked, "Which one would make the best wilted lettuce salad?"

"I don't know," I had to tell her. "I don't make wilted lettuce salads."

"What do you do with lettuce?" she asked.

"I use it for salads and sandwiches."


Can you believe it? A lady that is apparently unfamiliar with the use of fresh lettuce for salads? She had no noticeable foreign accent, so I assume she is a bona fide American midwesterner. How this could escape her is beyond me.


Harvey told me today that last year his greenhouse tomatoes produced about ten times the volume of his outdoor-grown tomatoes.

He plants Jetsetter, and still had some beautiful plants to sell today. However, he said he's going to quit watering them. "You know what happens when you do that," he said.


Last week Mark R. was one of the city dignitaries who spoke on the occasion of the market's opening for the season. He's the arts guy whose title I can never remember. Today he came back and bought all the Uproar Rose and Wine zinnia plants I had left for sale--8 six-packs.

Hiromi waited on him. "Did he buy some last year? Did he know what they were like?" I plied Hiromi with these questions.

"I don't know. I don't ask questions like that. He looked like he was in a hurry." Hiromi couldn't imagine why this was important to me.

Just curious. Incurably.

Last week two people asked if I would be selling these zinnias, and I said yes. I'm afraid they'll be disappointed to have missed out on them.


Frieda had sold out of her hydroponic tomatoes before the morning was half over. She told me she had fewer tomatoes this week because in last week's cloudy weather they had ripened slowly, but I'm sure she didn't mind being able to close up shop with half the morning left to be at home.


Dave has a new grandson, born this week in Japan. His wife is going there to help take care of the new baby for a week or two. During this time Dave's market stall in Hutchinson will be empty while he works the Wichita market.


Sheila's son, the youngest of eight children, suffered a concussion several weeks ago when he was hit by a speeding baseball.

He had an indentation on the side of his head where the bone showed a rock-on-a-windshield breakage pattern. Sheila has had EMT training, and by the time she arrived at school after she got the call saying he had been hurt, she caught on quickly that he was fading fast when he was unable to answer simple questions. She had someone call for an ambulance, and things went downhill fast. By the time he arrived at the hospital in Hutchinson, he was unresponsive, so he was quickly transferred to Wichita.

Apparently the bleeding that caused all the dramatic symptoms early on subsided fairly quickly, and he improved fast without surgery. He missed only one day of school, with a weekend of recovery time right after it happened. He still has short-term memory problems. Two or three items on a list is all he is capable of hanging onto right now, apparently. All in all, everyone is glad is wasn't worse. The school, however, is acting to prevent a recurrence by putting new protocols in place for indoor batting practice. Helmets are now required.


Sheila works as a substitute teacher.

She takes a dim view of the school district's decision to leave the school year at 187 days rather than move it back to 180 days at a savings of $70,000. Their way of dealing with funding shortfalls was to not renew the contracts of three teachers.

Sheila admits to having an Irish temper. She's worked hard at learning not to get mad and yell, and had a chance recently to share her acquired wisdom with a student who responded with anger when other students teased and baited him to see his reaction.

"Do you need to sit down for a while?" she asked him during P.E. He did.

She told him she saw that the others were teasing him, and that, whenever she was teaching, he was welcome to sit down for a while if the teasing made him feel angry. She knew what it was like to struggle with a quick temper, and hoped this would help him find a way to deal with his. Smart woman.

Sheila catches on to the fact that some of the students in special ed stay there because the expectations are too low, and the extra state monies for needy students are too alluring.

One kid's mother was sure a particular worksheet called for way too much writing for her darling to manage, and she begged Sheila for mercy. Sheila was happy to inform the mother that the student was already 3/4 of the way through the worksheet and was doing fine.

Another time Sheila helped a student get a math paper done, and told him afterward that she thinks he's a lot better at math than people think he is. She told him she's a math nerd, and it looks like he's like that too. He got the paper done perfectly in ten minutes. "Don't tell Mrs. _________," the boy said. This illusion of ignorance has some good things going for it, he's apparently discovered.

That same kid, or another one she helped with math, came back with a paper that had all the right answers, but something Sheila had helped him do was not acceptable to the classroom teacher, and he had to do the paper over. Sheila was as upset as the student (It involved a shortcut--crossing out the quantity that equaled zero on one side of an algebraic equation during the problem solving process. ) and offered to recopy the paper for the student. Every answer was right, but the route to the answer was not "right" apparently. Sheila considered it an unnecessary encumbrance for the student.

Hearing the story made me wonder what we're doing at school that constitutes unnecessary encumbrances. I do know that some students do very well with mental calculations, and can actually multiply mistakes when every detail has to be written out--because every written digit or sign is another potential error. If a person has more skill with concepts than details, this kind of requirement can be very frustrating. "Show your work"--the mantra of many math teachers--may be due for examination. For example, could the rule apply perhaps only to problems that need correction? Or to students for a limited time, when a succession of lower scores surfaces? How much of this show your work requirement is based on a student's need, and how much is based on a teacher's idea of what is proper--whether or not it has proven merit?


Rosalyn told me at market today that she wants to be there as many times as she can before she gets married in June and moves to Oregon.

She has often helped at their family's very busy market stand, and a lot of people will notice her absence and miss her.

I hope those Oregonians appreciate having her there, because it's costing us something to have her leave, and we'd be miffed if they didn't recognize it.


Jan, the herb lady at the market, was not familiar with Shiso when Hiromi asked her about it.

"Go explain to her what it's called in English," Hiromi told me after he got back from talking to her.

This is more complicated than it might be. Shiso is the Japanese name for what is variously called Perilla, Beefsteak Plant, and Oriental Basil. Like culinary basil, it comes in purple and green varieties. We have both growing in our small greenhouse.

Hiromi has plans of trying it in salsa, ever since he thought he tasted it in the salsa at Chilli's. We've always eaten it in traditional Japanese foods, and don't have a lot of knowledge of how Americans use it.

I've grown the purple variety in the past, and used it as a colorful filler in bouquets. I gave plants to my mother, and it comes up every year in her flower bed. I've long since lost it in mine.


I took only one bouquet to market today. A faithful customer was ready for it, and exchanged the last vase of last year's season for the first vase of the season this year. I give a $2.00 refund on vases of the sort that I regularly purchase for the bouquets I sell at market.

My lonely vase had already blown over once in the stiff wind before the customer arrived, so I was OK with selling it, even though I had thought maybe I would just keep it there to make our booth more attractive. Calling attention to our booth by periodically putting on a damage control show wasn't my idea of good publicity. Other acts in the show involved chasing after a flying foam-core sign board, its affixed signs having already scattered when their map-pin moorings came undone.


Hiromi experiences great insecurity whenever he has to back into the market stall area so we can unload our wares. At his request, I get out and wave and point to direct him, standing precisely where he can see me in his rear view mirror. So today when he returned from making a trip to the grocery store to buy more of the bags we use to package our lettuce, he cheated by parking at the stall nose-in. I wasn't impressed.

"You're welcome to back in," he offered generously. So I did, and was happy with the convenience of having supplies at the ready the rest of the morning.

We're still getting used to having our stalls extend partway outside the perimeter of the building. The stall lines were re-drawn this year to accommodate a double row in the center of the building rather than a single row. Moving the outer stalls farther out was necessary to leave a wide aisle for shoppers.


I overheard the herb guy Dave tell someone that anytime you plant different kinds of mints together, as soon as the roots run together, everything begins to taste like spearmint.

I have never heard this anywhere else, and wonder if it's true, and if so, why. As I said, incurably curious.


My bouquet today included Clustered Bellflower, Snapdragon, Orlaya, Daisy, Dame's Rocket, Lysimachia, and Silver King Artemisia. Everything except the Snapdragons was from perennials, or reseeding annuals in the landscape.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Things I Learned at Farmer's Market 5/15/2010

From Earl Polk:

Earl's grandfather was a Stoughton--a name associated in this area with apple orchards. Today Earl told Hiromi and me stories about this grandfather of his.

When he (Earl's grandpa) was 13, his father was in the hospital most of one summer. There was a large orchard and market garden to take care of, and only the 13-year old and his mother were left to do the work. Every week the boy made two trips to McPherson, an all-day trip, given the 1914-era transportation they had. But when the husband/father got out of the hospital, the farm was paid off and there was enough money to pay the hospital bill.

Earl bragged on his grandfather's extraordinary knowledge of how to grow produce. He had only an eighth grade education. At one time, someone from one of the state universities wished to recruit him as a teacher, but decided that they couldn't offer him a position since he didn't have a high school education. Flexibility was possible, but not enough flexibility to offer a teaching position to an eighth grade graduate.

Stoughton Orchards once provided a lot of the produce sold at local Dillons stores. (Dillons became a grocery chain in this region and later was bought out by Kroger.) Earl remembers Ray Dillon, the grandaddy of the grocery stores, coming out to Stoughton's to help with the produce operation. He would lay aside his suit and tie, roll up his sleeves and go to work in the packing shed. When he was done, he'd wash his hands, get dressed again in his business suit, and head back to town.

Earl has told me before that Ray Dillon gave him a scolding one day. "I was real arrogant," Earl said, by way of explanation, clearly convinced Mr. Dillon knew what he was doing. "I learned all I know about marketing from Ray Dillon," Earl told me another time, after I had complimented him on his attractive handwritten signs.

Earl also told about a lecture he had heard by someone who lived in Arkansas and grew lettuce outdoors all summer long, on a huge scale. Furthermore, he did it no-till. He wouldn't tell the audience what lettuce variety he used, and he must have kept some other details to himself as well. At least Earl and I still wonder how that's possible in the heat of summer.


I learned that one cilantro variety looks more like dill than like flat-leaf parsley.

Don and Donna had a very attractive display of herb plants, with one dill-like row labeled cilantro. I expressed doubt about the accuracy of that label, and later Brady also did so. But Donna knew what she was doing. She showed me the listing and picture in the Berlin Seed catalog. Later, from the Neffs, who grow dozens (hundreds?) of different kinds of herbs, I got a flier listing all their varieties, and found one kind of cilantro listed that said it looks like dill, and offers new garnishing possibilities. Furthermore, the description said it is slower to bolt than the more common kind of cilantro--something that makes it almost impossible to grow during the season when other wonderful salsa ingredients are being harvested locally.

I stand corrected.


Roman had cucumbers for sale today--grown in his unheated greenhouse. Lovely.


Mr. Neff has an uncanny list of things in common with Hiromi: 1) He was stationed in Japan with the military, so he is familiar with Japan. His daughter lives there now. 2) He worked as a biomedical technician at Wesley Hospital for many years. Hiromi had the same job at both Halstead and Hutchinson Hospitals. 3) He is a potter--something Hiromi aspires to, and has prepared for. 4) They are vendors at the same farmer's market.


Ron is the president of the Market board. For the past two years, his tiny little wife sang the national anthem on the opening day of the market. She is retired, and still has a strong and true voice, with the kind of range our national anthem melody calls for.

I commented afterward that she must have many varied talents, and asked if she had special voice training. She said she participated in music groups in high school and college, but I gathered that it was not a major commitment of hers. (She worked for law enforcement as a dispatcher till her retirement.) Then her husband interjected something interesting: "She grew up in a church where there was only a capella singing, so she learned to sing from little up," he said. We had an interesting discussion then, on how that affects people's knowledge and experience of music.


One of the vendors across the aisle is experimenting with growing shiitake (shee-ee-tahk-ee) mushrooms at his farm near Sylvia. Hiromi and I once traveled to Minnesota for a workshop on this, but decided it probably wasn't a viable option for us because of our typically hot, dry summers. Also, we would have to find an inexpensive source for oak logs, unless some local hardwood would be a workable substitute. Oak trees around here are valuable landscape plantings--not waste forestry products. Seeing what this man finds will be interesting.

Shiitake grows on dead hardwood, with the bark still intact. When shiitake is "farmed," oak logs are inoculated with spawn by stuffing the spawn/sawdust mixture into holes that have been drilled into logs. The plug is sealed over with beeswax, and the logs are stacked in log-cabin square formations to allow air circulation. During this time, they need to stay fairly moist and cool.

Shiitake is a delicacy in Japan. Most people are used to eating re-hydrated dried mushrooms. Only a few people routinely eat them fresh, although they are delicious when eaten fresh. They have always been considered to have medicinal value. Recently, glyconutrients were discovered to be present in shiitake. One of the researchers from the Minnesota project told me that she has always believed that food is the best medicine, and she valued shiitake because of that. That was before most people had ever heard of glyconutrients, and she certainly did not mention them to me.

We brought one shiitake-inoculated log home from the workshop in Minnesota and kept it in our bathroom till it fruited. This was the only room in the house we thought would be moist enough to keep the spawn alive. It worked, but growing them in the bathroom had obvious limitations--not the least of which was that it was a small bathroom, and the only one in the house.


Sheila's youngest son, Jon, got hit in the head with a baseball recently and was airlifted to Wichita with a head injury. Earl thinks he's doing OK now, but Sheila was not present today on the opening day for the market. She probably was attending a graduation in the family. This is likely when people have eight children as Sheila does, with only the oldest one or two graduated from college. One of her daughters wants to be a veterinarian, and is in graduate school now, I believe.

"Make the younger kids stay in 4H," the oldest son told his mother after he had landed his first job out of college. "When they hired me, they didn't look at my college grades. What got me the job was all those things I did in 4H for all those years." Interesting. About 20 years ago, I saw the potential in 4H--especially as a counterpart to homeschooling, and with LaVerne's help and leadership, we got a local club organized for our children to be part of, and the club has thrived ever since. LaVerne and Rebecca have stayed involved all these years, and many local children have benefited.


The balloon man was back at market today, making balloon animals for any children he could find and please. He also juggles. Today I say him catch a toddler's eye. Hand firmly clamped in his chatting parent's hand, the toddler's eyes stayed glued to the juggler. I don't know if the toddler can talk, but even if he can't beg to go back there, he'll know that the market is a cool place because of what he saw there today.


Mr. and Mrs. Schultz raise buffaloes and sell their meat. Today Mrs. Schultz stopped by and, in our visiting, she told us that they have ten "pumpkins" on the ground. I guessed immediately that she was talking about the rusty-orange colored buffalo calves.

She said her husband sometimes sings "one little, two little, three little pumpkins . . ."

"You're not going to call them Indians, are you?" his wife asks him.

Mr. Schultz obviously knows better than that. His wife is Indian. From what I've overheard, I think Mr. Schultz is wise to avoid antagonizing her. A subtle approach is definitely healthier.

They have a herd of 110 buffaloes, with prospects for many more calves this spring. Mrs. Schultz says buffalo meat is becoming very popular, given the fact that buffalo are never grain-fed, and the meat is lean and healthful, and very much like beef in flavor. It's offered for sale every week at Farmer's Market.

Our state song says "Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam. . . " That would be Reno Co., Kansas--and McPherson County, at the Maxwell Game Preserve.


Several people asked whether we'll be selling zinnias again like we did last year. One of them was Pam, the county horticulture extension agent. I said we would. But my plants aren't very big yet. For some reason, the first planting did not do well. The second planting looks good, but the plants are still small. Maybe next week.

I'm proud of those people who tried them last year, even though they looked overgrown, and they had no blooms in the pack. Several people stopped by later in the year to tell me how lovely the flowers were. One woman even brought me pictures to prove it.


We sold every one of the tomato plants we took to sell today. One woman was delighted to get 6 plants of Carolina Gold--a variety I thought I would have to educate someone about before they would consider them.

They were tall, but not spindly, as evidenced by the fact that we had high winds the day after we planted ours out, and they fared just fine.


I mustered only one bouquet of flowers today, mostly gathered from landscape plantings. Catmint was very pretty in the bouquet, but it doesn't smell great. Maybe it does to a cat. Orlaya has volunteered in one bed near where it grew last year, and the bouquet also contained snapdragons and daisies. I made a mental note to be sure to grow Sweet Williams for next year. I think those would be blooming now, or very soon, at least.


Harvey had nice big strawberries today, which he was selling for about $4.00 a quart. I didn't buy any at that price, but I don't blame him for asking that for them. Growing and picking them is hard work.

A Silver Anniversary

At the opening of the 2010 Farmer's Market season today in Hutchinson, the chairman of the Market board announced that this year is the 25th year of operation for the Reno County Producer's Market. A lot of the city dignitaries spoke--Mayor Cindy Proett, City Council Member Frances Garcia, Downtown Development Director Jim Seitnater, Marci Penner from the Kansas Sampler Festival, and one other downtown promoter whose name I was not familiar with and can't remember.

Also speaking was Earl Polk, who was on the very first board of directors and is currently on the board again. He is the only vendor who has been there every year since the beginning. Earl gave a brief history of the market, naming those who served with him on that first board. My father, David L. Miller, was among them. Another key individual, Bruce Shultz, died of cancer several decades ago, and Wes Boese and Kerry Goetz were also board members.

Earl got emotional talking about the wonderful gift that Max Ontjes presented the community when he donated a building for use as a farmer's market. This happened four years after the market had begun operating on the ground level of the First National Bank parking garage. Max was a downtown businessman with a generous heart. He used to operate the Pegues store. When he approached the city with his proposal for a new building that would be constructed at his expense, the city offered property in a paved parking lot downtown for the building's location.

The old Newton railroad depot was being dismantled at that time, and the iron supports reminiscent of rails for train tracks were destined for the scrap heap when some enterprising person saw their potential for use in the new market building. Painted black, and with curving "Y" arms as supports at the top, they're perfect for use as pillars for a building serving a purpose so earthy as the marketing of farm and garden products. Wire mesh netting serves as a ceiling, preventing birds from nesting in the attic of the building.

The market pavilion was the first permanent structure in the state of Kansas dedicated to Farmer's Market use. The building has a wide sheltering roof with the sides open and the ends enclosed. One end has double doors and the other end has restrooms and a storage area that also serves as headquarters for the market manager.

Two years ago a local artist painted a colorful mural on the walls at one end of the market building. In the center a family sits around a table loaded with good food. On one side, a gardener plants seeds, and on the other, a farmer harvests grain. The space in front of that is the performance area. Nearly every week someone plays and/or sings there. Today it was a group of accordian players. Our own Pilgrim student, Arlyn Miller, has played guitar and sung in the past.

Best of all, the market now is crowded with vendors and shoppers. I talked to a vendor today who said she is number 9 on the waiting list for reserved stalls along the perimeter of the building. Hiromi and I are very glad to have reserved a stall last year, which gave us first chance at the same stall this year. Even on this first-of-the-season, miserably cold, rainy market day, nearly every space was taken. Plans are being made to extend the vendor area out to the east by means of portable structures--like a series of carports, I imagine them to be. I remember first day vendor numbers of about six, so this increase is remarkable.

Every year the market board and manager make improvements to make the marketing experience better for everyone. Benches located strategically allow people to sit and listen to the music or wait for the free coffee to finish perking or visit with other people for whom the Saturday market is an important social event. People on food assistance programs now have a way to use those funds for fresh, locally-grown produce. More close-up parking and more entrance points are other changes for the convenience of customers. Wednesday hours have been changed to accommodate the downtown lunchtime crowd--a good thing for vendors as well who suffered through the hottest hours of the day when the market was open from early afternoon to early evening.

This spring several members of my food production class, as well as one former student, talked to me about the possibility of offering produce and baked goods for sale at Farmer's Market. I'm grateful for the visionaries of the past who made this direct marketing venue possible. And I'm grateful that young visionaries recognize this for the opportunity that it is.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mother's Day Reverbrations

Today I read a blog post by Jewel at A Thousand Gems (Wordpress), and it sparked a rerun of mental rant I have rehearsed a number of times over the past 25 years or so. I agree wholeheartedly with Jewel's take on "liberated women." My own take on it elaborates on something she mentioned briefly.

My first rant on this subject materialized about 25 years ago when our oldest child was a preschooler. By then I had several years of intense mothering behind me.

Before that, while I was in college, I remember doing a report on Raymond Moore's philosophy which promoted delayed academics and home education. I didn't have a pronounced opinion on the subject, but found it interesting. Still without a firm persuasion on the matter, Hiromi and I left our boys with their grandparents and went to hear Raymond Moore speak in Wichita. Before we went, I asked Hiromi what he thought we would do when our children reached school age. "Send them to school, of course," was his prompt answer.

After the meeting, while we were visiting with friends we had carpooled with, someone else asked him the same question. That time Hiromi said, "We don't know yet." We really didn't know--either of us.

I don't know where I had heard these sentiments, but I knew that a common perception was that a mother is not usually the best "school" teacher for her own children. I think I believed that--until one day when that all changed.

I knew that in our church circle no one would suggest that someone besides a baby's mother (or parent, at least) should routinely change a baby's diapers, feed the baby, bathe the baby, get up at night with the baby. What's with the claim that when it comes to something that actually takes brains and creativity, the mother can't be trusted? I wondered. Thinking about that low view of the capability of women stirred my indignation. Custodial care? Absolutely. Beyond that? Not qualified. Gag.

At that time I had a current teacher's certificate, and I saw the absurdity of the idea that I was legally considered competent to teach any child--except my own.

Mentally I challenged the line of demarcation that separated social, moral, and academic training. Who decided that all these should exist in separate camps? Didn't that run directly counter to the Christian understanding of faith impacting all of life--that compartmentalizing of various aspects of life was not advisable? Why must child training be compartmentalized, with some of it mandatory for mothers and some of it off-limits for mothers?

I also challenged the line of demarcation by age: Before six? Parents are basically responsible for child training. After six? Most of their waking hours should be spent with "professionals." The St. Louis school administrator that came up with that idea of six-year-olds being first graders wasn't really God. He was just on a mission to bring order to the classroom education process. Along these lines of thinking, I once heard a father say sarcastically that he thinks our church should appoint a professional child disciplinarian. Then whenever any of our children need discipline, we should call on the appointed person to do the job.

I looked at Scripture again, and saw that all of the injunctions to parents on child training focused on taking responsibility, and delegating that responsibility was not mentioned. Why did most people seem to think that delegating responsibility was the logical first recourse? I saw that bearing one another's burdens was commanded in the same passage as bearing one's own burden. Why did it make sense to think of teaching children as a burden in the first place? And why should it be foisted off on others if we have not even considered first carrying it ourselves?

What Jewel idealizes is intentional, thoughtful, intelligent, creative mothering. While that can happen within the framework of various educational choices, I wish we could all agree that homeschooling is one valid way to do all of the above. Agreeing that it's the best way may not be necessary, but a good case can certainly be made for that assertion as well.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Clever Mediations--Part 2

My sister Linda reminded me last night of a story we both heard at Sunnyside last fall when we attended church there the day before my Uncle Henry's funeral in Iowa. The minister who preached was from Fairview, a neighboring church.

He told the story of a conflictive time in their church life when there was disagreement over whether their church building should be added onto or replaced entirely. Feelings were pretty strong on both sides--so much so that after church, people tended to visit in groups made up only of people who agreed with them.

In this congregation was a non-verbal person who had Down Syndrome. One Sunday after church, this young man went to someone in one of the groups and took him by the hand. Then he walked to the other group and took another person by the hand. He put the hands of the two other men together so they would shake hands. Then he repeated the process with two more people. He kept this up for some time.

It was the only time he ever did that. And after that, people began to be able to hear each other and work through to a united position.

Clever Mediations

Last night at my parents' place, I told them about an outstanding story by Janice Etter that I read in Family Life. Etter wrote from the perspective of a grandmother in her 90's whose capabilities were diminishing. However, she could still listen. The story told how her daughter brought food over, and then stopped to visit a bit. She talked about her good fortune in having been given some lovely flower plants that she wanted to plant at the end of the drive. Her husband opposed planting them in that spot. Instead he offered to work up a place by the fence along the drive. "Must I always submit to him?" was her question for Grandma.

"Yes," Grandma answered.

Later, Grandma's son-in-law came over to visit. He talked about lots of other things, then got onto the subject of his wife's plan for the flowers. He thought she already had so many flowers that she didn't have much time to enjoy them. Besides, that spot where she was determined to plant them was exactly where one of the farm delivery trucks always cut the corner short. He was sure the flowers would be ruined in a hurry if she planted them there. "Must I always be considerate of what she wants?" he asked as he finished.

"Always," Grandma answered.

The story ended aimiably, with Grandma looking on the scene of husband and wife out by the fence where the flowers were being planted. The wife was busy planting flowers. The husband was sitting there in a lawn chair, presumably to watch the children, keep his wife company, and do his bit to make sure someone takes time to smell the flowers.

I saved the story to read to my composition class next year. This story had everything--setting, interesting characters, conflict, climax, and resolution. The rhythm of language and the pacing of the story was great. And the resolution was just right--not too sweet and perfect--believable, in other words.


Etter's story reminded my dad of something he read or heard about Preacher Johns, who used to be a minister at the Clinton Frame church in Indiana.

When a new church was being built, a great controversy arose over the placement of the entrance to the building. Pastor Johns told everyone that he'd rather do without doors than have the kind of discord that he was seeing. "We could put ladders at all the windows and get into the building that way," he finished. The prospect of that ridiculous option seemed to break the impasse, and the issue was resolved.

Another time, the young people wanted to have a music school so they could learn to sing parts and create harmony. Many of the older people were opposed. Pastor Johns preached a sermon on submitting to one another. Then he asked all the young people to stand if they were willing to let the older people make this decision. All the young people stood. Next he asked the older people if they would be willing to let the young people have their music school. If so, they were to stand. All the old people stood. The young people got their music school.


The retired local Amish bishop, John Mast, has a reputation for being able to smooth troubled waters, as well.

One time a family approached him about a conflict they were having with another family. John heard them out, and then reminded them that they must remember that 51% of this problem is their own fault.

Later the other family told John their side of the story. "You must remember that 51% of the problem is your fault," John replied.


I have often thought that it's a shame to see only two options in a conflictive situation. Very often the third--or fourth--or fifth option is the right one. God bless leaders with the discernment to help people see that. And God bless us all with the insight and maturity not to get locked into an either/or mode of thinking. Only rarely is such a narrow view of the options warranted.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Humble Pie

I'm definitely ready for summer vacation--not that I'm desperately tired of school, but I'm ready to tear into some projects I need to do at home. Also, my brain seems ready for a punch to the the reset button. I know that because I've forgotten too many things recently. Most of them weren't disastrous--just embarrassing.

The other night we went to LaVernes to do our bit with the Minister's Appreciation activity our Wed. eve. committee planned. All of us were assigned to show up at one of our ministers' homes to help with whatever work project they wanted help with. The ladies were to bring snacks to eat together afterward. We bought chips to take--a totally stress-free contribution, right? Not quite. Hiromi bought two $4.00 bags of chips late the evening before, after he attended the last community concert of the season. (I stayed home to preserve my sanity during the hectic last week of school.) He bought the chips before we had gotten hold of the person who was organizing the snacks, but after I had tried to call her to inquire about what was needed. She caught up with me the next morning at school to say that chips would be fine--which was good, since that's what we had already bought. So that problem was taken care of. EXCEPT that we forgot to take the chips. I was too embarrassed to confess. We also forgot to take lawn chairs as we had been asked to do. I never even got that request conveyed to Hiromi--already out of mind when I jotted down the list of things to take.

Yesterday morning I was the first high school staff person to make my end of the year speech. Only after I listened to the other speeches did I remember that I should have made many more grateful expressions to other people--students, fellow-staff people, parents, etc. I had already conveyed some of those sentiments to students, and had said nice things about those other people TO my students, but, in front of the year-end crowd--nothing of the sort. Embarrassed again.

This morning I got prepared to record the announcements for the day as I do every other month at church. Only this was Linda's month to do so--not mine. This wasn't a very public mistake, but a reminder that my forgetter was still in good shape.

I did remember to take the chips to the school picnic, and I did remember to go visit my mother tonight, taking some of my loveliest irises, and a loaf of bread I had baked.


The German class from school, with Wes and Jean Ann at the helm, plans to leave tomorrow morning for Steinbach, Manitoba, to visit a German immigrant community to practice their language skills. They have about two days' driving to get there, two days to spend there, and two days to return home. I'm glad they have a chance to do this. Joel and Shane both got to make this trip when they were in high school.


Joel and Hilda went to CO for the weekend to visit Shane and Dorcas.


Hiromi and his sister connected again last night with their mother and brother in Japan via Skype. As always, Mother Iwashige fussed about Hiromi's beard. I can tell what she's saying, even if I can't understand her, because she strokes her chin when she sees Hiromi's image and talks to him. "It's her pet peeve," Hiromi's sister said last night. "It's no use explaining. She wouldn't understand." Beards are considered acceptable in Japan mostly for artists, retired men, and anyone important enough to not have to answer to anyone else. Other people are expected to fit into society by being clean shaven.

Mother Iwashige looked really good for 95, although her skin is wrinkled and her eyes are pale. She still speaks with a strong voice. It sounds like she doesn't get out of the house much anymore. She had apparently been to the hair dresser last week and gotten her hair dyed. It was neatly coiffed and black this time, but white when we saw her image several months ago.


During the last week of school, my food production class went to see Roman Miller's garden. Everyone was impressed with the sheer size of the market garden--probably close to 5 acres. Roman starts his transplants himself, and had done most of the outdoor planting himself as well, using only hand tools and a strange little motorized cultivator he bought once at an auction. I'm sure he works it at least once a year with his farm tractor too. I overheard one of the students say "This makes my garden look pretty manageable." My thoughts precisely.


One parent has a suggestion for a change for the food production class. "Give it more credit," he said.

"I'd love to," I said. "Do you know how state schools deal with credit for practical courses?"


"Basically, academic activities are awarded credit in a one-to-one ratio of credit to hours spent each day in class--on that subject. Labs are awarded only half the credit per hour--a 1:2 ratio, in other words. Our school follows the state schools' pattern in this regard. I wonder sometimes if this makes sense. Could we, for example, decide what we value most and award credits accordingly?"

"I think we could," he said.

I often feel frustrated that this question has never really been considered, as far as I know. It seems like the most logical of approaches to the administration of a school we have the freedom to run as we choose.

We do award practical classes credit in a 1:1.5 ratio, which is an effort to recognize that these classes are a mixture of lab and class time. But our reference point is always the state's assignment of value to each kind of activity--not a reflection of our community's needs and values.

One of the issues to be considered would certainly be whether a diploma from our high school would be considered valid for admission to good colleges. I seriously doubt that this would be an issue. I know, for example, that people with no high school education have attended Yale University, and people who were homeschooled often have no problem with college admission. The "monster" that people have made college admissions offices out to be seem to me to be almost as illusory as the Man of La Mancha's windmills.


This time of year I always have another rogue thought: Why couldn't our church education program plan to have one graduation ceremony a year, with each student participating only once--whenever they exit the system permanently? I suspect it would put a damper on the idea of sneaking out of school after tenth grade, and the occasional decision to check out after the completion of eighth grade--as though getting this far is a triumph to be celebrated. (I'm sorry. I know it's not a "nothing" to finish eighth grade. I just put it into the "reasonable service" category--not the star-in-your-crown category.)

If the decision to leave high school before completion seems warranted (and I think it is sometimes), I believe it would be appropriate then to celebrate what has been accomplished. Right now people who complete tenth grade have only an eighth grade diploma in hand to show for their efforts. The permanent records are buried inside the fire-proof file in the school office, of course. People who choose an early exit are obviously not expecting to go on to college, and the whole community could more actively support whatever alternative plans they hope to pursue, if they knew about it. I think doing so would encourage more purposeful planning when early exits are chosen.

In short, I'm proposing an honorable exit for everyone, and a minimizing of what I consider an outdated routine--an eighth grade graduation ceremony.


While I'm on the subject of school . . . I often wonder at something else. Why do we make people who don't intend to graduate from high school follow a course of study exactly the same as they would do if they did intend to graduate, and then abort the process halfway through? Why couldn't we make sure that those people especially get a chance at the parts of our program that will assuredly be the most useful to them after they leave? If they want to spend most of their time on electives, for example, instead of the more traditional academic courses, what compelling reasons can we give for insisting on the traditional courses--algebra instead of child development, for example?

I have the uneasy feeling that a lot of what we do boils down to convenience in running a program--a mass production model of education, in other words, invented and maintained by people who had/have underlying values very different from ours. With a servant stance for everyone involved in school administration and teaching, I think other possibilities could be considered.


I'm currently enamored with roses--especially the ones that can be grown outdoors, producing blossoms that last ten days in a vase. A series from Kordes, a German breeder, seems to fill the bill, according to an article in Growing for Market. The author also recommends some of the David Austin roses, which almost universally have an old-fashioned cabbage rose appearance and a delightful fragrance. However, they are less winter-hardy than the Kordes roses, which have less fragrance. None of the Kordes roses listed have a pretty pink color, and the David Austin ones include this color. The article lists about a dozen of the author's favorite varieties--winnowed from trials of over 300 varieties.

Hiromi and I have different tastes in roses, I've discovered. He likes the tea rose shape in pale, blushing colors. Those are OK, but I like the sweet-smelling voluptuous, colorful, and old-fashioned-looking roses too. Hiromi mistakenly believes that "my" kind has been excessively tampered with in breeding. I think the reality is that "his" kind is possible only because of breeding that has produced roses quite unlike their wild parents. None of this is really very important, of course, unless we actually decide to buy rose bushes and have trouble deciding what to buy.


I am not setting an alarm for tomorrow. I'll probably still wake up at 5:30, but if I decide to stay in bed to think, I can do so without guilt.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Sunday Wrapup

Tonight Hiromi and I went for a walk. When we turned toward home again after having walked away from it for precisely16 minutes, I gasped at how rainy/deep blue the western sky had become. "Oh that's amazing!" I said. (I obviously haven't learned my lesson with using that word in Hiromi's hearing.) "It's so beautiful--the blue and the green, and the calm and the cool." I can't imagine more perfect weather than we had today. It was sunny, with a high of about 70, and almost no wind. The wide fields are very green, and the wide sky smiles over it all.


Others on Facebook commented on our wonderful communion service. I agree.

I had one random thought (that is, one that I'm prepared to reveal): When the apostle Paul said that "as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come," I wonder if he was referring only to doing these things at a communion service. Is it possible that every act of mindful eating and drinking is somehow a testimony to the creative, redeeming, renewing, sustaining work of God? Viewing it this way puts it on par with the shema in Deut. 6 by linking thoughts of God to the most everyday activities, thus insuring that we live in a constant awareness of His presence.

Thinking about these things at communion is a blessing, certainly, but there's so much to be experienced in the presence of God at other times also.


In the office-turned-dressing-room at church during our footwashing service, Irene, Twila, and I talked briefly about what is involved for some of the older ladies at church to participate in the communion service. Some need help walking, and I'm sure they need help also with managing their shoes and stockings. I wonder if they're steady enough on their feet to bend over to wash another's feet. Lydia has to be pushed through the line to get her "cup" and bread, and Fannie needs to have it specially delivered. But this time is really special for them and they're willing to be inconvenienced to participate, and others are willing to be inconvenienced to make it possible for them to do so.

Edna and most of her family were absent from communion today. We missed them, but it's a comfort to know that Edna will soon be able to "drink [the cup] new in the kingdom of heaven." It brings perspective to this activity as a commemorative act--one that not only looks back to Jesus' example, but looks ahead to a future of fellowship and joy with Jesus in heaven.

Irene told us that she is so blessed by the old people in our church. Judy, who is more and more tottery, clings tightly to Perry's crutch when they walk together. It's not often that you see two people using one crutch at the same time. Barbara and Alvin lean on each other, both wobbly enough that you know that if one falls, they surely both will. Menno, who has spent all his life working very hard, and getting everything done with a lot of vigor, is content now to sit and hold Edna's hand, no doubt treasuring these final days. These people have grown old faithful to each other and to God, and they are beautiful--wrinkled and wobbly and bent and near to heaven as they are.

Recently I saw a video clip of the communion service we had the day my niece Megan was born sixteen years ago. I babysat her brother Christopher during the service. In that service the people who are feeble now were still walking smartly. The wobbly ones--Henry Mary and Lydia Stoltzfus--have died since then. Little toddler Alicia had pigtails, and made eyes at the camera. Shane, who was about seven, sat with his young-looking Dad and looked soberly at the camera, till his face cracked into a smile and he had to look away.

The footage was filmed by a crew from NHK--the Japanese equivalent of BBC or NBC. They did a show on the Amish of this community, and sent us some of the takeout scenes afterward, along with a copy of the show that was broadcast.

Sixteen years from now I'll be 73. Oh my.


We brought Joel and Hilda home from the airport last night, arriving here around midnight. Their trip went smoothly from start to finish. They flew the Emirates airline from Dhaka to New York, and have glowing words for that carrier. No good words however for the Bangladeshi airline they flew back and forth to Nepal. Two of their three airplanes were grounded, so Joel and Hilda and many others had their exit delayed by a day. The airline put them up in a hotel overnight. What looked like blood spatters on the wall was in fact beetlenut juice spittle, Joel's Bangladeshi coworkers told him when he showed them pictures.

Last night Joel and Hilda's luggage lagged behind, and was still in Chicago when we left the Wichita airport. It was to be delivered today, probably while they were here for Sunday dinner. We also invited Hilda's dad, since her mother is in Hawaii, helping her sister celebrate her 60th birthday. It was a shame that we didn't do this while she was home, but it made good sense to do it now too, while Joel and Hilda's stories were still fresh.


We are in the homestretch for this school year. This week will be our final week. I'm praying for Jacob, a senior who is probably not as close to panic as some of the rest of us are. He still has a bunch to do in the next four days. He's been cranking out a lot of work recently.


Hiromi reports that his tomato plants now are 24 inches across and 16 inches tall. They're thriving inside the plastic-sheathed cages he made for them.

We've had lettuce and radishes from the garden. Dwights have rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce, green onions, and spinach in their farm produce market.


Yesterday I brought home a bag of cotton bur compost in my minivan. Why does that stuff smell so much like the barnyard variety of uncomposted organic matter? Sheesh.


Our tenants are moving out the middle of this month. We're not poised to move back into the house immediately, but we'll probably make plans to do so before long. My head is full of dreams for the garden, the landscape, and the kitchen. Hiromi's head is full of plans for not spending a lot of money for anything, unless it's something that he recognizes as a necessity, of course--a gas-fired kiln, for example.


Lowells have moved into their shell of a house. They're hoping the plumbing "moves in" soon as well. They're one step closer since the county has approved plans to install a lagoon.

Twila reported that they joked recently with Lowells that people had better not leave their house unoccupied too long or Lowells will move in--a reference to the fact that they've stayed in three different vacant homes while their own house was under construction, and other people were on vacation, etc. They moved out of Joel's house hours before they returned from Bangladesh.

Hannah cheerfully refers to their circumstances as "an adventure." Now that's a healthy attitude.


Marian must have washed the dining room windows on Friday. I've been marveling all weekend at how clean they are.

She also cleaned the dressing room. It's wonderful to have a household helper who has a knack for seeing what needs doing and following through to make it happen, even when I'm absent most of the time and clueless when I'm present.

Quote for the Day 5/2/2010

From a Food Production class quiz--a fill-in-the-blank question:

"What does ATTRA stand for?"

Marvin's answer: A Time To Run Away

Correct answer: Appropriate Technology Transfer For Rural Areas

By the way, this is an outstanding source for information on all kinds of self-sufficiency topics. Consider going to the website to browse. Go there right now. This is not a good time to run away. Do not pass "go." Do not collect $200. Just go.