Prairie View

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Wrapup 9/26/2010

It's the end of a lovely day--clear skies after a thunderstorm swept through yesterday, depositing another half inch of rain--after a similar amount a day or so earlier. Tonight the temperature is slated to dip into the upper 40's. I wonder when we last had temps like this.


Did you know that September is National Chicken Month? (I'm sure you've been on pins and needles wondering about this.) I learned that from the Berridge's (Nickerson grocery store) ad. The other good thing I learned from their ad is that SmartChicken is on sale this week. I love to buy it when the price is right. The birds are antibiotic-free, with no added hormones in the feed. Also, the meat is air-cooled rather than water cooled. This prevents the meat from having in-soaked the multiple chlorine water baths most chicken meat is immersed in to kill harmful bacteria. I've heard nightmarish tales about the thickness of the sludge layers in the bottom of the cooling/disinfecting tanks. Air-cooling is a European tradition that has caught on in a small way here.

Irene told me recently that SmartChicken comes from a Mennonite-owned processing facility in Nebraska. I didn't verify this from other sources, but have no reason to doubt this information. I do know that the brand and the processing method were present in the European market before the same was true here.


Today I saw in an auction listing that 2 very nice "choral" wing-back chairs will be sold. I saw a picture of them. They were not occupied by members of a choir. They were a salmon-orange color (coral).


The freshmen at school have announced a "Celebrate the Freshmen" day for Friday of this week. The rest of the school is either muttering about their conceit or admiring their optimism and chutzpah. ("So if you want to give us gifts or anything, that would be fine.") They're very busy planning the activities of this special day during the typing class break times, so I am privy to their plots. I haven't had to head off anything inappropriate so far.


Kudos to Will who taught this year's freshmen how to write well-organized essays while they were in eighth grade. I started in with my usual introduction before the first written report of the year (current events), when I quickly saw that they already knew what I was going to say. So we had a brief review instead of a teaching session. I was impressed.


At school our literature selection for the month is The Chosen by Chaim Potok. It's a great story set in the Orthodox Jewish community. One of the fun things about this selection is being able to make lots of comparisons between Hasidic Jewish life and Amish life. I think my college English prof saw this when she recommended the book to me outside of class one day years ago.


I did some shopping yesterday--a very rare event in my life. I downgraded my cell phone service to a prepaid calling plan. Since I'm next to a phone most of the time at home and at school, I don't feel a need for a cell phone except for emergency use. With 80 minutes a month for $15.00, I think I'm good to go. I had to change my number though, so if you've ever happened upon my number, don't count on it working now. It won't.


One of the other things I learned while shopping was something I had often suspected. A sales lady told me that all the jackets in the store were on sale. "But we have to watch out because some of these are blouses and not jackets, so we have to be careful." She was saying in effect that jackets and blouses look the same, but I think the jackets are more roomy--to fit over other clothing.

I see a lot of closely fitted tops worn over cape dresses and wonder exactly how what I'm seeing qualifies as a jacket--an outer garment. It's an added layer, but it clearly does not make an outfit more modest. It effectively negates the modesty of the cape underneath. I suspect that what I'm seeing is a blouse--not made to be worn over a dress. The tight fit is my clue.


The Pilgrim Perspective staff has handed out assignments for the fall issue of the school newspaper. I was informed that they have decided "with much deliberation but no hesitation" that I would be the perfect person to write an ironic essay. Sigh. Irony is hard to do well, and I'm afraid that the things I could write most passionately on would also be the most risky. Lyle (music teacher) also got an assignment. These matters provoked some discussion at the staff lunch table one day last week. It turns out that teachers aren't all that impressed when the "assignment" tables are turned and the teachers end up following the students' instructions. We're not sure we should put up with it. I'm sure the students are enjoying it.


The oven did not fire up when I turned it on last night. Hiromi thinks he knows what's wrong with it. Tomorrow he plans to call the Maytag dealer cousins in Iowa to check out his diagnosis and get their advice. I had already started a batch of bread in the bread machine, intending to bake it in the oven this morning before church. Judy to the rescue. She happened to stop in last night shortly after I had discovered the problem and I sent the whole machine home with her and she returned two freshly baked loaves this morning, along with the machine.


We're on a food preservation roll. Yesterday we bought a vacuum sealing machine to help extend the good quality storage possibilities for various kinds of food. We have lots of peppers to harvest right now, and Hiromi got tired of dealing with the ice crystals inside the packages when we use conventional plastic freezer boxes to freeze them. If there has been any melting, or if all the juice accumulated during the preparation process is included, it can turn into a hard block that hinders our typical use of frozen peppers--to add a small amount to scrambled eggs, stir-frys, or various other kinds of foods.

The peppers we have ready for processing are so pretty, it seems a shame to cut them up. Seeing their glossy bright colors is a good reason to garden, and the high price of fresh peppers during the winter is a good reason to preserve what grows during the summer.


The cooler weather is accompanied by an influx of mice. Fortunately we have some trigger-happy traps, and Hiromi is diligently emptying and re-setting them. Grant is grousing about Shane having killed a bullsnake here last summer, saying he'd rather have bullsnakes outside the house than mice inside. Grant's logic is that the worst that a bullsnake can do is scare you, but mice can destroy property with their gnawing. I hope both of them stay far away from the house. Cats seem far more innocuous than either snakes or mice, but we aren't seeing any cats around recently.

I have been traumatized several times, however, with hearing a trap trip and then hearing way too much squeaking going on far too long. One trap was completely gone this morning, and neither Hiromi nor Grant could see or stir it out from under the stove where we thought the caught mouse may have dragged it. I heard all the accompanying noises from this episode last night after Hiromi had gone to bed and before Grant got home. Ugh. I used to be able to deal with mice without much ado. Not so anymore.


Earlier I had said on this blog that we would be moving back to our house on Trail West Road later this year. Those plans have changed. We will probably stay here on the farm for the next two years yet.

Shane is in the process of buying about 20 acres of the farm--all of the area around the buildings, plus several small patches and a pasture. He is resurrecting the hog facility Dad built and used as part of a farrow-to-finish operation. The hogs he will raise here will be sold as naturally raised pork--a marketing setup that Caleb Y. has been using and is helping him with. At least at first, he plans to bring in feeder pigs and sell them at market weight.

The plan is for Shane and Dorcas to move here at the end of two years--after the financial picture has improved somewhat, hopefully, and they can put their Abbyville house on the market and expect a fair return on their investment. They want to do fairly extensive remodeling on this house before they move in, and spreading out the costs and work of setting up the hog facility again and the house remodel seem like a good idea, with the first part of the process being a potential money-maker rather than a money-pit.

Our Trail West house will be rented out again for this time, with Shane in charge of managing it. We're doing some remodeling there now too in the kitchen and bathroom, with Shane leading the effort. This will enable our move and remodel to be spread out a bit too, and it gives us a little more time to move into our family's next stage--the empty nest one. We're happy that Grant's being here has saved us from this fate so far.

I'm not positive that we'll like everything about living on a hog farm, but I'm delighted that Shane is seeing an opportunity here that no one has been taking advantage of for some time. With his energy and skills, I think things around here will soon take giant leaps forward in terms of tidiness, efficiency, and productivity. I hope that it will be a home for family members for another 55 years or so. I think my parents moved here about 55 years ago.


I missed a chance to hear Wendell Berry speak yesterday in Salina at The Land Institute's Prairie Festival. I would have gone the 80 miles in a heartbeat if I had found someone to go along, or someone I could have gone with, but I didn't want to go alone. Berry is probably the most well-known contemporary sustainable agriculture practitioner and writer, and I've read and liked his essays and some of his poetry. I would have liked to hear Kent Whealy (Seed Savers Exchange) and Wes Jackson (The Land Institute) too, but they both had speaking parts today and I would not have gone to hear them instead of going to church.

Berry writes about community building, fine craftsmanship, building social capital, and many other fine concepts for the idealistic or those who are simply thoughtful and discerning. I don't know that I am any of those, but I like Berry's writing on these subjects.


Hiromi says that Japan and China are engaged in a tiff regarding ownership of a small island. Japan claims it--has done so since some time many decades ago when they announced ownership and China did not contest it. Now it seems that the island may have valuable mineral stores, and ownership is a prize, so China claims it too. Recently a Chinese fishing vessel was found in the waters near the island, and a Japanese coast guard ship tried to chase it off. The fishing vessel ended up ramming the coast guard vessel and the fight was on. The captain of the fishing vessel was taken into Japanese custody and subsequently released, but the Chinese government retaliated by suing for damages. The Japanese refused to respond to the suit, saying that such action is unlawful since the Chinese vessel was an invader in Japanese territory. Furthermore, they sent China a bill for repairs to the Coast Guard ship. Oh my. Trade is being affected, and the newly elected Japanese government is up to its ears in controversy with no time to catch their breath.

I hope things simmer down soon. Things aren't pretty when Japan and China get "into it" with each other.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fermented Foods

I recently purchased the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. A number of years ago I had borrowed the book from the library, upon my friend Brenda's recommendation. I found the information interesting, but did not in any major way follow up on what I learned. The basic premise of the book is that many of the food traditions of the past bestowed health benefits that are missing now, chiefly because very few of the foods we eat are naturally fermented and few of the grains are sprouted.

Most Americans are familiar with sauerkraut, which is a naturally fermented food. The process of making it is simple. Basically, cabbage is shredded and salt is added to draw out the liquid in the cabbage. It's packed into crocks or jars and the mixture is left at room temperature to develop the characteristic sauerkraut flavor. When that has happened, it means that lactic acid is present. It forms when lacto bacillus bacteria have done their good work. Lactic acid acts as a preservative. It will continue to multiply as long as the cabbage is not moved to a cooler place or its growth is halted by heating. People who do this at home often can the sauerkraut as soon as enough lactic acid is present to create the desired flavor.

Dill pickles used to be done with the same basic method as the method for making sauerkraut described above, except they were left whole and covered with a salt brine. Flavorings such as garlic and dill and perhaps hot peppers were added. The pickles were eaten only after the pickles had fermented properly. Nowadays, cucumbers are almost always pickled with vinegar, which generally does not contain live lacto bacillus bacteria, as I understand it. These pickles taste more sour than naturally fermented ones, and make the body's internal environment more acid--therefore less healthful, according to Fallon.

One of the things that can go wrong in the process of making sauerkraut or pickles is that bacteria other than the desired lacto bacillus bacteria invade and cause rotting and decay instead of healthful and tasty fermenting. For this reason, common-sense cleanliness is necessary. However, as I've learned recently, salting the vegetables serves the important function of preventing spoilage until the lacto bacillus can crank up its multiplication rate sufficiently to act as a preservative. So, forget about low-salt versions of naturally fermented vegetables--unless you use a small amount of whey as an inoculant. Whey revs up the rate of lactic acid production sufficiently to prevent putrefication without salt--to preserve the food initially.

Hiromi has for years made various kinds of traditional Japanese pickles using processes similar to the one described for making sauerkraut and/or dill pickles. He uses mustard leaves for a very spicy pickle--unless it has been left too long and the mustard oils have evaporated. Then it's still well-preserved, but not as lively as before. He starts with whole leaves and a brine made with 1 cup of salt to one gallon of water, using enough to cover whatever quantity of leaves he's accumulated. The leaves go into a plastic five-gallon bucket. Years ago Hiromi cut a 2-inch thick piece of wood into a circular shape that fits inside the five gallon bucket. The round block goes on top of the mustard leaves and a full three-gallon water jug goes on top of the wood to weight it down sufficiently to keep the leaves submerged under the brine.

Chinese cabbage is done in a similar way to make kim-chee, a Korean pickle which is popular also in Japan. Garlic, ginger root, and hot peppers are added for kim-chee.

Turnip pickles have only hot peppers added for flavoring (besides the salt used for preservation).

Hiromi also pickles cucumbers and daikon (Japanese winter radishes) with lacto-fermentation. The daikon is first dried by tying the tops together on the clothesline. After they're limp they go into the pickle bucket. We eat them after they're cultured, with no further seasonings--only sliced into rounds. The cucumbers are treated differently. After a few days of fermenting, they are sliced and pressed in a small Japanese pickle maker to extract as much liquid as possible. This pickle maker uses a screw-down press built into the lid of a plastic container to press out the water. After the water is extracted and drained, the cucumbers are mixed with soy sauce and minced fresh ginger root. Our whole family loves these pickles.

Reading about all the benefits of eating fermented foods makes me feel better than ever about including them regularly in our diet. Besides the pickles we eat with rice, we also often consume naturally fermented soy sauce and miso, which is a fermented soybean paste. Another fermented food we enjoy is natto, which is cultured cooked soybeans. We have never successfully cultured them ourselves, and eat them only in small quantities on top of rice. Many who encounter it for the first time are completely put off by the smell and the texture, which is so slimy a dishcloth underwater slides around on a bowl that has held natto. I didn't especially care for it the first time I tasted it, but that food is now a family favorite too. It reportedly has amazing health benefits, and we want to try making it again, this time with access to more information on how it is done.

Cultured milk products are more common in our diets than fermented fruits, vegetables, or grain. Everyone knows about buttermilk, cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and harder cheeses. Many of these, when commercially produced, however, have been pasteurized after fermentation, and no longer contain any live lacto bacillus bacteria. Therefore they contribute very little to the internal flora that helps us readily extract nutrients from our food and keeps our digestive system itself in good shape.

Sally Fallon's book is actually a recipe book with an abundance of related information in the introduction, in a small section that introduces each category of food, and in many sidebar quotations from other sources.

I'm primed now to try a raft of home-cultured foods. We have several kitchen tools on order to make this easier. One of them is a gallon glass jar with a special fluid-filled glass tubing apparatus attached to the vented lid to serve as an air lock. This allows the escape of gas bubbles formed during fermentation, but prevents gnats or other bugs or bacteria access to the fermenting food. Another utensil on order is a larger pickle press than our small plastic one--this one utilizing a weight instead of a screw-down press built into the lid.

I know Brenda has been quietly going about using soaked grains for bread baking, etc. for a number of years. I may have to ask her some questions--or better yet, let her share her wisdom and experience by way of comments on this blog.


I've often heard the words "cucumber" and "pickle" used interchangeably. Perhaps this overview of what we call "pickles" at our house will explain why I find this terminology very peculiar. A cucumber is just a garden vegetable, as is cabbage or turnip or radish. Mustard leaves are just greens. Unless, of course, these garden vegetables have been elevated to the status of condiments by the tradition of fermenting them into a pickle. Then, even bestowing the "pickle" title on these vegetables hardly does justice to their fine qualities--both for their health benefits and delectable flavors.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Wrapup

Seth Miggiani's funeral on Friday saw Cedar Crest packed out all the way to the back of the learning center, with people also seated in the library behind the sanctuary and in the anteroom. We arrived at the right place and time to sit in the anteroom.

Sitting on backless benches was no trouble at all, especially when it became clear that we were to have ringside seats to the Miggiani family's music production. Papa Wolf had half apologized for being the strange Kansas Miggianis who were going to do some non-traditional things during the funeral. I'm sure no one minded, and all of it helped everyone feel resolution in what was quite a traumatic week. Wolf and Lori both shared in giving a tribute to Seth, thus helping everyone to learn to know Seth as his family knew him. A slide show traced milestones and ordinary days in the family's life, and the two songs "Amazing Grace" and "I'll Fly Away" played by the four remaining sixth graders and Wolf, plus their music teacher (who played Seth's guitar part) were very nice additions to the service. Even Hadassah, who suffered a broken pelvis in the accident, played a cello (or viola?) from her wheelchair. They all played a stringed instrument--from a giant bass to a tiny violin. Eight vocalists sang the words of the songs. Seth's grandfather on the Martin side read the obituary.

Uncle Paul, who the Miggiani children refer to as Grandpa Paul, had the main message, with Seth's first grade teacher at Copeland having the devotional.

Wolf had finished medical school in Wichita, KS. At least one of his instructors there attended the funeral. Seth was born during the Wichita stint. He was their third child, born after older brother Sebastian and fetched-from-China AnnaMiriam. Later the Miggianis lived in Western Kansas where Wolf provided medical care in an area with a large immigrant population. The Old Colony Mennonite group near Copeland provided fellowship for them during this time, and a number of people from that area came for the funeral. Wolf and Lori's extended family lives mostly in New York, so people from there were present. The Miggianis had intended to set up a clinic in Pennsylvania, so they lived there also. I believe it was after they gave up that plan because of the difficulty of maintaining a completely pro-life practice that the family moved into our community. Since then Wolf has worked mostly in emergency room staffing where the pro-life issue does not present as many problems. I don't know how many people who are professional associates of Wolf's were at the funeral. By far the majority of those present were people who live here and are part of the church community.

During Wolf and Lori's earlier time in Kansas, I remember Wolf explaining the origin of his unusual name. His mother was German, and his first name, Wolfgang, is a perfectly good German name. His father was Italian, and Miggiani is, of course, a good Italian last name. He acknowledged that his name "labeled" him as a child, and growing up was not always easy because of it.

Later, Wolf joined the military, and, while there, became convinced of the rightness of a nonresistant position, in keeping with the claims of Christ on his life. After an arduous process, he was honorably released from his military obligation, and he then sought out a church fellowship that shared his view of nonresistance.


Today we had a number of visitors in church who had come for the Martin-Hobbs wedding in Harvey county. Among them was Dale H. from Costa Rica. He preached in our morning service.

I remembered first hearing of Dale's ministry while I was a young teacher in Holmes Co. The main thing I remember is a hilarious impersonation that my staid and sensible co-teacher Clara did of something he said at a Rod and Staff-sponsored teacher's meeting. It had been a dramatic presentation, apparently. I remembered that this morning when he recounted a phone conversation in which someone raised concerns about his "harsh" manner of speaking and operating. He responded defensively, assuring his caller that he knew where he stood and he intended to stay there and "hold the line." In his sermon today on "shepherding," he referred regretfully to his earlier manner, and outlined very memorably an entirely different leadership approach--one that reflects more accurately the meekness and gentleness of Christ. No defensiveness came through in this morning's sermon.

Having lost a 16-year old son by drowning, he was able to speak fittingly to the situation uppermost in our minds. He assured us that "great triumph" is possible in situations like this. Somehow he and his wife knew when their child was two years old that "this child we won't be able to keep." I don't know how they knew, but he spoke this morning of how their child prayed as soon as he could talk, and his parents marveled at what they heard him pray. It was after such a prayer that they talked about having to give him up some day.

Dale used Emma Lazarus' poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty as words that should guide how our church reaches out to others:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

With these words he urged us to take in those who have been rejected by others. He not only referred to those who won't make it otherwise financially, emotionally, or socially, but those who have been dis-fellowshipped elsewhere. I hope our ministers felt encouraged. They have heard from those who would seem to advocate some of what Dale's earlier stance would have espoused, and felt criticized by it--unfairly, it seems to me. In every church matter a spirit of humility and caring must always be present, Dale emphasized.

I recalled this morning a rather astonishing thing I observed one day at the lunch table at school. I was not involved in the conversation, but three students who sat across from me were comparing notes, and all of them were the child of a parent who had been excommunicated elsewhere. Now those families live here and are part of our Beachy churches. That's why I hope our ministers felt encouraged--because they have, in fact, reached out to welcome people who were desperate for a safe haven.

This has no particular reference to the people mentioned in the above paragraph, but I've noticed a curious thing: recent arrivals here are not always the first to welcome new arrivals. I first puzzled over this years ago when Hiromi expressed strong reservations about a foreigner who was seeking permission to come here. Why? He was one of the only foreigners in the congregation then, and presumably could be counted on to welcome another foreigner. Another person who was vehemently opposed to sponsoring the potential immigrant was someone who had come from a background very different from ours and had been married to a foreigner. I would think those who have found a welcome would be the most willing to extend a welcome to others. I must be missing something--or maybe they are.


Hands of Christ Ministries has given us contact with a number of local people recently who have needs of various kinds. Paul (who is employed by HOCM) told us about a few of these needs today and invited us to respond as we are able.


CASP is exploring the possibility of establishing a permanent presence in Hutchinson. This Tuesday CAM will consider whether they can provide a down payment on a property that could serve as unit headquarters, with Interfaith Housing presumably making the ongoing payments on the property. Dad, who is the local CASP board member, requested our prayers as this is being considered.


Our school week felt rather disjointed last week. We had only two and one-half days of school with having had off for Labor Day, a half-day on the day of calling hours on Thursday, and a full day off Friday for the funeral. The learning center had to be completely cleared out and some tear-down time figured into the mix.

Our students responded willingly to the disruption, and worked very quietly and quickly to clean and prepare the learning center for the family and callers who came around noon on Thursday.

During the regular school days we made various concessions to the abnormal circumstances, and tried to allow time for prayer and conversation and processing. We adjusted various deadlines and class schedules to accommodate the needs.

Tomorrow the Miggiani children are likely to be back in school for the first time since the accident. Mr. B requests prayer for this time. He is the 5th and 6th grade classroom teacher.

Having this many days off early in the year will have us scrambling for makeup days if we have many more days off for funerals or inclement weather.


The state fair is underway in Hutchinson. We often have rain during state fair week. Although SE Kansas got part of the aftermath of the hurricane in the Gulf, we here in the central part of the state missed out on nearly all the precipitation, and rain would be welcome here again.


I think the FDA should consider hiring Hiromi whenever they have a food recall issue on their hands. Last week, in a stellar Mr. Mom performance, he canned eight quarts and four pints of okra pickles. But a problem developed. For some reason, one pint jar and one quart jar broke in the early stages of processing them (too big a temperature change, probably). Instead of discarding the contents of those jars, he salvaged them and placed the okra in new jars and sealed and processed them. I was a little surprised he did this, but I didn't say anything, assuming he had assured himself that it was safe. He's usually quick to discern a potential danger and proceed very cautiously.

But this time, the danger did not occur to him till some time during the following night. He woke up with a plan to dump all of those beautifully canned okra pickles because he didn't know which ones were the ones with potential glass shards. I protested, obviously with no authority or credibility in the matter, and the plan was resolutely carried out. He reminded me that the ingredients were not expensive, and the labor was not mine, and I should not mind. All true. But it still seems a shame.


Today I recalled my first meeting with Kelsey, who got married yesterday. I was at a farmer's market meeting in Wichita when a pleasant young lady in braids who saw my name tag asked me if I used to write for Keepers at Home. I said yes, and we had a nice visit. She was from a homeschooled marketing family.

Later we met again at a workshop in KC on setting up processing kitchens for farmer's marketers who wish to sell value-added products. By that time they had learned to know my brother Lowell's family through the camp meetings near Perkins, OK. They have remained close ever since.

Joel, who married Kelsey, is the daughter of Mildred, who came to teach at Maranatha School years ago right after I left. She moved into the living quarters I vacated, and lived with my former housemate.

The Hobbs family now fellowships in a church of about ten families--all of them homeschoolers, and all of them with large families. Among the four elders, they share 36 children.


Last week at school the members of the nutrition class each brought a loaf of bread they had baked at home, and a sample of jam or jelly they had prepared at home. It was quite a tasting party during class on Wednesday. All the bread looked beautiful and tasted good, and there was a variety of shapes, flavors, and textures--from bread sticks to cheese bread, to French bread, to some serious multi-grain bread to well-sprung loaves of wheat bread. It was to be yeast bread of a sort that would be served during a main course. The jam or jelly could be canned or frozen, with a ready-for-storage jar required, as well as a for-sampling jar. We rearranged the class schedule a bit to allow for the tasting party to come at the end of the school day instead of right after lunch, when 14 samples of bread and jelly might have been a little more difficult to enjoy.

I always ask the students to evaluate the others' products on a five-point scale for appearance, flavor, texture, and nutritional content. I do this partly to make them more aware of these factors in their own productions.

Another project for Wednesday involved the collection of a log sheet the students were supposed to fill out for the previous week. They tracked their whole-grain consumption, and their fruits and vegetables consumption. There were varying levels of compliance in the tracking tasks, but a universal impression seemed to be slight chagrin at how little of these foods they were eating. None of them came close to recording the suggested 21 servings of whole grains, with three each day, or the 35 fruits and vegetables, with the bare minimum of five a day being suggested. I suspected that this would be the case.

We're going to keep working on this one, with better planning and grading on compliance being part of the picture in the future.


Several weeks ago my Uncle Edwin and Matthew N. had a birthday on the same day. Edwin, who was born in 1921 turned 89. Matthew, who was born in 1989 turned 21. What are the odds of that happening?


At the carry-in after church today we sat across from Harold and Susanna Friesen. Their son Eugene is Shane's friend, and stayed in our home overnight while Shane was still at home. Susanna is my second cousin and lives now in Texas. I hadn't seen her in years--probably not since she was a teenager living in Ohio while I was teaching in a nearby community. It was nice to re-connect.


Justin Y. is leaving this week for a two year term of service at Fairplay at the Wilderness Boys' Camp. I wish him well, and am pleased at his willingness to serve in this way. His contribution here will be missed.


I taught our Sunday school class today. It's mostly an over-65 (over 75?) crowd. I substituted for Grace, who is off with Lorne on an extended trip north and east--to his family in eastern Ontario, all the way to the easternmost Canadian provinces, and then looping into the US to see their daughters in Ohio and Virginia. Mostly, she plans to teach the first six months and I the last six months, but we will substitute for each other throughout as needed.


I napped much too long today, so I'm thinking I'll try to get in an editing job Hiromi sent my way by email--something I promised him yesterday that I would look at "later."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Quote for the Day 9/11/2100

Overheard in typing class:

Nathan (to Kristi) : Christoph is a boys' name.

Kristi: I know.

Nathan: So why do you call yourself Christoph?

Kristi: Because I'm my cousin Hannah's knight.

Jonny: Knight in shining armor?

Carol: Jonny sounds wistful.

Jonny: I don't want to be a knight. I want to be a prince. It's his job to go after the knight in shining armor.

Regents, Rigor, and Ridiculousness

Last week when I told Wes (our principal) that officials from the Regents schools in our state were campaigning for additional math and civics requirements for students seeking admission to state colleges, he had a one word comment: "Idiots!" Coming from him, careful and cautious as he normally is, that's a devastating analysis. He further opined that the people pushing this are hoping for recognition in this election year for being pro-education.

Although less vehemently stated in public, many high school administrators agree with Wes. At a time when budget cuts are common, adding requirements that call for increased personnel looks unworkable.

If our school does as we have always done in the past, if public high schools add these requirements for graduation, we will do the same for those in our school on a college prep track.

I don't have anything against learning more math and civics. Well, I don't have anything against the civics anyway. The math--now that I'm glad I escaped having to learn. I do struggle more and more overall, though, with feeling good about a commitment to follow the state's program in our school.

Why do we do this? I suppose it's because we want to be sure we have a credible program, and we want our students to do well if/when they go on to college. But it's clear to me that students can do well in college even if they haven't had all the high school courses one might wish for. I know a lot of people who gained admission to college with a GED and finished school successfully. Some of them were outstanding college students.

We also want to be sure that our graduates are well-prepared for life outside of school. Let me ask you this: How many times, outside of school, have you needed to know how to do advanced math? Granted, I've never been in a math-intensive occupation, and I'm not much good for answering the high school students' math questions, but my simple algebra knowledge has sufficed for most of the life tasks I've attempted. Of course, I have the benefit of having married a man who never met a math problem he couldn't solve. Or so it seems to me, at least. I think it's possible for most people to be well-prepared for life without a knowledge of higher-level high school math. (Are my biases showing yet?)

What I'm afraid we sacrifice if we continue to stack up required courses like math and civics as requirements, is that the elective courses that most accurately reflect our faith and community values will rank lower and lower in our students' priorities. The time crunch will force some of these decisions. Parents will acquiesce to their children's preferences, knowing that if life is to reflect any kind of balance during the high school years, something has to be cut out, and it will most likely not be required courses or youth group activities.

I'm very ready to have finer minds than mine consider the implications of continuing to follow the course we're on. Asking some hard questions about our goals, taking a good look at what it takes to reach the goals we agree on, and making necessary course adjustments (Did you catch the accidental pun?) seems to be called for. I have a feeling that those who might agree are afraid to do so lest they appear to be soft on the notion of educational rigor. Or maybe they're afraid someone will put them to work to try to help figure things out. Both of those excuses make me feel tired. I think I'd better sign off on this subject before I succumb to the temptation to apply Wes' one-word analysis to this situation as well.

In My Father's House

While I was growing up, most parents did not allow their children to traipse out during a church service for trivial pursuits like getting a drink or using the restroom. Not that these matters were always inconsequential. In reality, sometimes going out meant going to the little building at the end of a path or near the margin of the property. In any case, we were expected to take care of such matters before or after church. In our family, the prohibitions were almost written in stone. Leaving the service without first seeking permission was unthinkable. Under extenuating circumstances a stopoff between Sunday school classes and the preaching service was permissible.

Such is apparently not the current understanding of proper conduct in church--at least not universally so. Either many more children are assailed with bladder incompetence than was the case in my childhood (Can this possibly run in families?), or parents are less tuned in to childish wiles, or less distressed by them. Am I missing something?

My father instructed us too in proper conduct in a cemetery. Under no circumstances were we to climb about on the grave markers or act disrespectful in other ways. He told us that if we always took care to walk in front of the row of markers we would be able to avoid treading on graves. Running and playing in general was not to happen in a cemetery, especially during or following a burial service.

I once heard of a boy named Jonah who suffered an injury while playing in a cemetery. I forget if he fell on a grave marker or if a marker fell on him. Either way, I was pretty sure his dad had not instructed him as my dad did us, or it wouldn't have happened.

David L. would be the first to say he didn't do everything right. We would probably all agree that teaching proper church and proper cemetery conduct were not his greatest legacies. But looking back, I think he was right in teaching us these things. The example is worth following.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Talking to the Media

Yesterday's Hutchinson News had a very nice article based on a visit to Pilgrim Grade School where Seth Miggiani was a student until his death, along with conversations with neighbors of the Miggiani family, and their pastor.

I often hear negative comments about media presence at times of stress or sorrow. But I, for one, am glad that not everyone refuses to talk to the media.

We'd probably be pretty sure that something is wrong with a person who races to be the first to spread any word of disaster. But I wonder if something is just as wrong with a person who runs to hide when the media comes calling.

Years ago I heard the mother of Chet Bitterman speak about her son's untimely death. He was a Wycliffe missionary who had been kidnapped in South America and held for ransom. When ransom was not paid (in keeping with Wycliffe policy against doing so), he was executed. She said that during the saga they felt duty-bound to speak to the press when they were asked, believing at first that it might help their son, and throughout, believing that it would further the cause of Christ by giving a Christian witness in the midst of tragedy. Mrs. Bitterman's view has helped shape mine.

I also remember that the Bittermans eventually defined limits in their availability to the press. As I recall, they informed everyone that they would be available at 9:00 every morning. That gave them more privacy than the "catch them coming and going" approach did. Mrs. Bitterman had kind words for the way the press honored their request. This example informs my view as well. Setting boundaries involving time and place for granting interviews may be necessary, and certainly has merit.

People differ in their ability and motivation to verbalize what they think and feel, and I sympathize with people who shrink from having their words go on record. I was misquoted in an article someone did on my farmer's market flower business. It was certainly not a sensitive issue and didn't involve an important detail, but it didn't make any sense, and I really would have preferred that my perfectly sensible comment would have appeared instead of the mangled version.

The same reporter who wrote my story did the great article in yesterday's paper. By now I know her to be a pleasant lady who would not intentionally misrepresent something. That kind of confidence in the integrity of a member of the press is not always possible, but a basic optimism regarding others' goodwill is probably a useful stance toward reporters, as well as others. A touch of that reporter's just-like-us humanity and goodwill, for example, was revealed on that long ago summer evening after I wished her a good evening and she told me "It's been a good evening so far."

"What makes it a good evening for a reporter?" I asked.

"When there are no accidents to report on," she answered.

I can't imagine that probing the aftermath of the accident that took Seth's life was a pleasure for her. I would like to think that, like us, she wanted to bring some redeeming value to the tragedy (and earn her paycheck too, of course). People being willing to speak to her helped make that happen.

In an early broadcast reporting on Sunday's accident, some KSN reporter had obviously flagged down several unsuspecting women in Partridge when he needed a sound bite. Ruth (our closest neighbor at the Trail West house) and her daughter Ernestine came through with some appropriate words, but I seriously doubt that either of them knew personally or perhaps had ever heard of anyone involved in the accident. Both of them live in the country a good distance away from where the accident happened four miles outside of the town of Partridge. "There's our truck," Grant exclaimed when he saw the KSN clip. It was an Oatney truck lumbering along on its way to or from the Partridge elevator. This is a good example of what can happen when the people who are most closely involved in an event are either unavailable or unwilling to speak. Some random person gets called on to speak, or a truck on a grain dumping mission is featured instead.

It doesn't take much to do better than that.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Losses and Riches

Today at our traditional church Labor Day picnic, we had a time of prayer and sharing ahead of the other scheduled activities because of the grief-filled turn our lives have taken since the accident yesterday that claimed the life of a 12-year old boy, and injured three other children. A TV station from Wichita (KAKE) had a cameraman and reporter on site at the church. I don't know how this happened. I do know that Cedar Crest had canceled their picnic, and there was no story to report on at their church site. Perhaps he stumbled upon the gathering and decided to capitalize on the opportunity to do this kind of story on an event he had set out to feature--the accident itself.

When we arrived I saw someone there in a white shirt and black pants who didn't look as though he was dressed for a picnic. David Y. talked to him briefly and then went in to open the service. During the service I saw out of the corner of my eye that a camera-man was filming from the overflow area. I tried to ignore him, which wasn't hard because he was also trying to be unobtrusive. The camera was pointed my way several times, however, as I saw when I viewed the footage, and many other familiar faces were identifiable also.

Shane led the group today in singing "Children of the Heavenly Father," a song that the children his age had sung 13 years ago at the funeral of Shane's best friend, Andrew, who died suddenly in an accident--also from having been caught under moving wheels. Shane spoke briefly about that earlier loss (Shane was 10 and his friend was 11.) , and how the song has been a comfort in the time since then. It reminds him that God is always there, even when hard things happen.

Children of the Heavenly Father
Safely in His bosom gather.
Nestling bird nor star in heaven--
Such a refuge e'er was given

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever.
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.

Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne'er forsaketh.
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.

Andrew's mother remembers that Shane suggested to her that the children sing "Children of the Heavenly Father" at Andrew's funeral. Shane does not remember this, but Jo still remembers his tearful request. A plan for the children to sing may have already been in place with the song not yet chosen.

Jo was sitting in front of me, and seeing her and seeing Shane relive some of his childhood pain and singing the song brought back a flood of memories. I remembered how Shane had cried most of the first night after Andrew died, and how helpless I felt to comfort him. I prayed with him repeatedly and went to his bedside and gathered him in my arms until his sobs subsided and he fell into an exhausted sleep--until he woke again and cried. I wondered today how many parents did the same for their child last night. The next day was Sunday and Lowell taught the class that Shane and Andrew were both part of, along with other boys their age. They all cried together during that class. I can imagine that having school again, with Seth missing forever, and his siblings not coming back till after the funeral will be as difficult as that first Sunday School class was after Andrew died. Six of them were in Mr. B.'s classroom.

I also remembered today how healing it was for us to be with Andrew's family the next evening after he died. Although there were many tears that night and the parade of people who came and went at their home did not allow for much one on one conversation, we left feeling comforted. I felt some of that same comfort today in the presence of others who were also grieving. Grief shared really is grief divided--not multiplied, as gladness is multiplied when shared.

The KAKE photographer obviously did not close his eyes during the special prayer during which all the grade school children and their parents and teachers and several of the ministers were gathered up front today. I loved the inclusiveness and the care conveyed in this prayer-time gesture of support for those in our church who were perhaps most traumatized by the accident, and most responsible for comforting those who were traumatized.

In the TV broadcast I learned the welcome news that the Reno County Sheriff's Department believes the event "was simply a tragic accident." While any filing of charges seemed unthinkable to us who knew the people involved, we also knew that the world doesn't automatically extend forgiveness just because that is the right thing to do. My brother Marcus, who first heard about the event through the media, also heard some of the comments that others made when they heard the news. Forgiveness was not uppermost in their minds. While the word from the sheriff's office doesn't undo all the damage that occurred, it feels like a vindication of Darren's integrity and carefulness--something we already knew, but weren't positive that others would see.

Willard and Sharon were impressed with how kind all the emergency responders were. Lowell contrasted this with how things often are in Central America when there is an accident. If law enforcement shows up at all, it's not always clear whether they have come to help or to show their authority and make some extra cash.

I heard a few other details today that warmed my heart. One was something that Derek said. He said he felt a wheel go over his shoulder three times, but he was surprised each time how light the wheel felt. I have the mental picture of an angel lifting those wheels up as they passed over him. Derek was released from the hospital today, with no broken bones.

I also heard how carefully Darren had tried to cover his bases to make sure that the lever that controlled the bucket did not get jostled accidentally. That sounds like Darren. It seems that the very sensitive control stick may actually have been triggered when the tractor hit a bump in the road.

Some of the other details I heard today are the stuff of nightmares. I won't recount those here. I pray for a merciful blotting out of those memories, especially for the children who saw the details up close.


The speaker for our Labor Day program was Justina Neufeld, who was born in Ukraine in a Mennonite village. As a child during World War II, she fled with others in her family and village ahead of the retreating German army, coming eventually to a refugee camp in Poland. From there, her mother sent her away to France, to live with a brother who had found safety there. Peter Dyck personally rescued the entire household, and carried them off to Holland, to save them from being sent back to Russia as Stalin had bargained for at the Yalta conference--the return of all Russian citizens who had found refuge in other countries during the war.

Justina's family in Poland did not escape the deportation, and ended up in labor camps in Siberia. She never saw them again.

Meanwhile, an MCC worker arranged for Justina and her brother's family to go to live in Minnesota. While this meant safety for them, it was hard to enjoy the bounty and blessing, knowing that others in the family were starving, and suffering otherwise.

Justina has written a book of her life story. (So sorry I can't remember the title.) While she did not wish to recall and record all the painful details, her husband believed it was an important project. Somehow, processing the details as an adult, she found a new measure of forgiveness toward her mother especially, who she blamed at first for having sent her away, in what turned out to be a permanent separation. Her mother's suffering became real to her, and she knows now that her mother's suffering in the separation was greater than her own. She also came to believe again in the goodness of a God Who she believed earlier had never done anything good for her.

Having sat through the grief processing we did at the beginning of today's service, Justina got up and said some kind words about the loss we are experiencing, then said, "I know about losses too. I have experienced the loss of . . . ." The list went on and on, with just enough detail to make the story coherent, covering a number of years in less than an hour. The longer she talked, the more clearly we saw that our own experience of suffering is not unique or even particularly unusual. By the end of her talk, we knew that we have been spared a lot of losses, and are richly blessed, even at this time of sorrow.

Justina's talk helped make this a memorable Labor Day. Having been together to remember has been a good thing. I wish everyone such a rich Labor Day--minus the tragedy involved. But that is perhaps impossible. Richness always comes at a price.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


This has been a heartbreaking day because of an accident that took the life of one child from our sister church (Cedar Crest), and left three others injured. Two of the children who were injured were the sisters of the boy who died. I also grieve for the kind young man who was the driver of the tractor that had been used for a Sunday School outing involving a hayride. He was my student in years past, and he is certainly not a careless, risk-taking person by nature. I'm so sorry this happened on his watch. He's Shane's age.

Several of the children were apparently riding in a front end bucket when the bucket unaccountably tipped and dumped the children in front of the moving tractor. There were only children from two families present at that point because all the rest had been picked up by their parents. These children lived close to the driver's home and he had offered to drop them off on his own way home with the tractor.

All the children in Sunday School had a picnic at Brian and Sherilyn's place. I don't know for sure, but guess that they had driven to the picnic from church on the back of the hay wagon. This was a distance of perhaps six miles. They were only about a mile and a half from the picnic site, on their way home, when the accident happened.

The accident happened a mile directly east of our place. We caught on that something was amiss when a parade of emergency vehicles went past our place. Then we saw cars lining up on the north/south road (Herren) near the intersection. Later two helicopters flew in and then took off again.

Willard and Sharon live at the intersection near where the accident happened and were on the scene almost right away, having been alerted when a nearly incoherent sibling of the injured children burst into the house and said his brother had been run over. I'm sure they have a lot of difficult images to deal with too. Their daughter Andrea was the schoolteacher last year of one of the injured girls.

At this point, it appears that none of the three injured children have life-threatening injuries, but one of them has a broken pelvis, and several of them have bad bruises and scrapes--one of them on the arm near the shoulder, and the other about the face and neck.

The family with the death and two injuries has five children in one grade in school. The father is a doctor, and the family was built by birth and adoption. The child who died was born to them, as was one of the injured daughters. In the family, there were three homemade children and five who are African American or Asian.

The only other injured child was involved in another serious accident a year or two ago when he fell onto a welded wire cattle panel and was impaled on a thin rod that punctured his chest and came very close to piercing his heart. So this was his second emergency-vehicle transport to Wichita. The first time was by helicopter and this time by ambulance. He has a badly bruised upper arm/shoulder this time around. I'm thinking there's no need to explore and experience any other options for emergency transport to Wichita. Derek has been there, done that.

We spent the evening at Joel and Hilda's house with Shane and Dorcas and Grant present too. It was a very pleasant evening with our family, and I'm more aware than usual that this gift is not everyone's experience tonight. My heart aches for those who have sorrow and pain in their family tonight , and my prayers continue.