Prairie View

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Afterthoughts

Fancy this: Two days of Miller Family gatherings and time to write about them the day after--if I can think of something to write about.

The Soapberries
Lowell and Judy hosted the family on Christmas Day. The creative and nature-loving members of the family did what I love to see in decorating for Christmas. They used ubiquitous Redcedar greenery, but chose carefully to feature the small branches loaded with blue berries . Among the green cedar, they positioned clusters of textured gold Soapberries harvested from a fencerow several miles from their house. Candles and festive tablecloths created a celebratory ambiance.

Not many people seem to know about soapberries. They grow on small, very tough trees that grow in the wild here. The leaves are compound, like a miniature Walnut tree. The berries grow in clusters of marble-shaped inedible fruit. Each fruit has a black seed in the center. Around the seed is a firm transparent layer of clear gold, at this time of year shrunken just enough to create a glossy bubbled-paint surface.

I'm pleased to say that more than a decade ago I had the foresight to dig out some soapberry seedlings from a fencerow about a half mile south of our place. I replanted them at the Trail West house after reading in literature from the state extension service that the tree was well-suited for Kansas landscapes but was not readily available in the trade. They're thriving and multiplying in that location.

Within only a few years, the landowner in the field adjacent to the soapberry fencerow did the mega-farmer number on the Soapberries--dozing them out, as he did the trees growing in the grassy waterway through the field. The place was just beginning to be ideal wildlife habitat, and now the often-dry waterway has reverted to a comparatively unproductive, erosion-prone "ditch" in an otherwise featureless flat field. From my perspective, this was a shameful waste of perfectly good resources, but--what do I know?

Long ago, people used to use Soapberries to work up a lather when they did laundry. I don't know how it worked.


The Plan to Be More Organized

I suspect that this does not happen in every family, but in ours we do a great deal of unproductive talking and wondering aloud and asking each other about the holiday plans. This usually happens well in advance of an event, but the actual planning happens in a narrow window of time just before the event transpires, in a flurry of emails, phone calls, duplication of efforts, and miscommunications. We're at least vaguely aware of turns, but mainly thinking hard (and frantically?) about what we can contribute to the gathering. I think we're finally catching on that Mom is not able to be the "Spear-header of Family Events." Since this is the case, in the absence of a natural and universally acclaimed event-planning leader in the family, we sort of bumble along, and in the nick of time, someone invites the crew to their house, and we all go there and eat lots of good food while we're together, with everyone having contributed a share.

Linda reports that once when Mom still did most of this work, she urged Mom to do something simple the next time. Mom captured what we all know now when she said: "Nothing is simple when you're planning for 40 people." Our clan is bigger than that, but that's how many were together this Christmas.

We have resolved to be more organized. It's probably not a hopeful sign that we left the last late night Christmas gathering without a firm plan in place for how to do this. Maybe Linda will be in charge of the next event and we'll all contact her for marching orders and then hasten to do her bidding (like that has ever happened before, without comment, in this opinionated family). We'll go down the line in order of age, and every time, everyone will know who to ask about the plans. It's a good thing we're blessed with some in-laws with stellar organizing/coordinating skills.

I wonder how other families do these things.



Besides the Christ-child's birthday we all celebrate at this time of year, our family celebrates Bryant's birthday. He turns 12 today, on the 26th.

Rhoda tells us that Marvin and Lois, who were in Kansas to visit over Christmas, went to see the new baby Bryant in the hospital when he was newborn. Lois was using the teachable moment to explain some things to her very young children, and mentioned a "small door" as the means of entrance from tummy to terra firma. Someone took a video of the visit, and after/during the explanation, Myron (the slightly stressed new father) was heard to mutter in the background "a very small door."



One of my younger sisters confessed over the time we were together that she always thought all her older sisters were good at something, but she wasn't really good at anything. The older girls could cook, or clean, or they were smart, but she wasn't above average in anything. Then an in-law confessed that she felt below average when she joined the family.

Sigh. A knowledgeable onlooker would not for a minute consider any in-laws below average, or any family members devoid of some outstanding ability. Not nearly everything, however, transpires in the realm of average-to above-average. We have visible warts, and the longer we live together, the more obvious some of them become. But we love each other and wish each other complete freedom from any toxic complexes that entered the psyche in the past.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vacation Begins

Louise, Jenni, Sharon, and I had a little celebration today after all the "Ervin and Emma Stutzman" booklets were stapled and folded (see previous post). I couldn't think of a better use for the sparkling red grape juice Marvin and Lois' family gave us. We sat around our dining room table and marveled at the head of foam the bright juice generated, and then let it all slide down deliciously while we talked and looked at the books (and cited a few overlooked mistakes--sigh. We had an offer for help with proofreading and no time to take advantage of it.)

I feel now as though Christmas vacation has started for me, although our last day of school was on Friday.

Oh, I also hope everyone buys a book and reads the story of Ervin and Emma's life. Unless you're over 65 you don't remember some of the more exciting events in their lives. If you know them as we do, you probably see them as successful in business and selfless in service, but unless you read the book you might not know about their musical, academic, and career goals--all thwarted, either through lack of opportunity or hardship. Not everyone lives long enough to see how everything "works together for good" as Ervin and Emma have been able to do. Nor does everyone who lives long have the humility to be softened by hard experiences, as they were softened.


This farm has become the hub of various kinds of activity. Lowell comes and goes in the process of taking care of his beef cattle--running water and feeding hay. James and others from Oren and Jo's family check in on the hogs twice a day. Shane pops in often to work on fixing up/cleaning up this and that on the farm (which he now owns). The dogs come along and romp happily. Someone hauls water regularly to the horses and cattle across the road. When I hear the rumble of equipment or a vehicle, I can't always tell if it's the 4020 John Deere, the skid steer, or Shane's diesel pickup or another diesel truck bringing water to the tank across the road. Today the blast of a chainsaw added to the sounds of the place.

I rather like the feeling of living in a lively environment, especially among creatures that I can observe without being responsible for.


After the holiday season last year Grant obliged me and threaded the two 18-ft. lengths of icicle lights we had hung around the edge of the porch onto a large "cord" spool. I had protested the previous year when he and Hiromi decided to throw them away rather than store them. This year the students borrowed them to use in decorating for the nutrition banquet. With just a bit of coaxing, the whole string of lights worked.

Such was not the case, however, when I uncoiled them once more from the spool and hung them up. After the first attempt, I rehung them so that all the "dark" bulbs would hang unnoticed along the wall at the back of the porch. They looked just right for a few nights, except for the leftover lighted length puddled on one porch chair, which looked a little strange.

Then I noticed that a section near one corner of the porch had gone out. Last night another section along the front had joined the dark corner section. For at least the fourth time this week, I stood on chairs and clutched any nearby support I could reach, and I rehung those lights so that the lighted sections would be arranged continuously, and it would look good in the dark, from a distance.

I will beg Hiromi to throw those lights away this year if he doesn't think of it first.


I love to read Christmas letters from families in our church, or from friends who live elsewhere. This year I noticed especially how well the mothers who wrote described each of their children's unique characteristics and interests. I know Christmas letters don't recount all of what transpires between a mother and her children, but I'm glad to see how each one of these mothers invests in her children's lives and takes time to enjoy the rewards of mothering.


Next semester's schedule has been finalized. I will have a much lighter teaching load than I had first semester. Composition and Nutrition class have ended and I will have only typing left. I have a number of other responsibilities too, of course, but I'm not sure how all those will be distributed.

Wes is offering a literature class for upperclassmen. This is something I've dreamed of for a long time--enough flexibility in our offerings that every teacher on staff has the opportunity to teach in their area of expertise. Literature was Wes' major in college, and offering only an ACE literature course with Wes on staff seemed to be a great waste of resources.


The new standards advocated by representatives from the state's regents schools have gone into effect. They call for one additional math credit for high school graduates who wish to attend a regents school. I haven't heard how this will affect our school's graduation requirements. I don't think I want to know.


At this time of year, I practice a gritting-of-the-teeth routine--whenever I hear some of the reasons students give for not enrolling in a class that I'm positive that, in a very few years, they would be glad to have taken. I'm distressed at their short-sightedness (and I wonder if their parents have thought the matter through, or if they're simply acquiescing to a student's convincing influence), but more than that, I'm not sure that our curriculum offerings and requirements accurately reflect what our students would stand to benefit from the most.


Hiromi and I are putting together a very large and expensive puzzle. We bought a set of used kitchen cabinets to replace the rather decrepit ones in our Trail West house. The puzzle is to configure them in our space in such a way that everything goes where it's needed, and no space is left over. It's working, but we're going to have to "smaller" the window slightly to fit in the upper cabinets, and we probably can't make use of the Corian countertops that came with the cabinets--because . . . well, it's complicated . . . , but the main problem is that where the hole is cut for the sink would not place the sink in front of the window, and the counter end would fall short of the corner at one end and extend over the stove at the other end, and the base cabinets would not fit the available space efficiently. Corian can be cut and spliced, of course, but it costs money--probably more than it would be worth to us to have all the alterations made.

I understand why custom cabinets make a lot of sense, but I also understand why these ready-made cabinets made sense for us--because we couldn't have afforded nice custom cabinets.


Joel and Hilda's house was evaluated today by someone who is trained to do energy audits. They report that is was a fascinating process, and they learned a lot--some of it not very welcome. Apparently the house has no insulation in the walls--upstairs or downstairs. The thin layer of insulation in the attic is easily remedied; the uninsulated walls, not so easily. The house is certainly not drafty or rickety, but I guess 40 years ago, people didn't all think as much about energy conservation as they do now.


Hiromi has transitioned from being a temporary Wal-Mart employee to being a permanent part time employee. He didn't have many choices on hours and days, and I'm afraid there are 3:00-11:00 shifts in store for him. He works till 8:00 tomorrow, on Christmas Eve. They close the store at 6:00, so I don't quite understand why they need employees there till 8:00.


Hutchinson is hosting some wild and woolly behavior of late. First there was the 71-year old lady that decked an attacker with a frying pan. After he lost consciousness, she called 911. He appeared in court with a neck brace and fresh stitches. Yesterday, a 61-year old paper carrier in Hutchinson was stabbed 10 times. He travels his route on a "tri-cycle" and was a dependable employee. Officers are trying to locate the attacker and have not identified a motive for the attack. The man who was stabbed survived the attack.


Two of our high school students--sisters--have a new baby brother as of Sunday morning. He is the second son in the family. There are also six girls. The other son is six. Marvin and Dorothy Eash's newborn has been named Austin Neil (if I understood correctly over the phone--unsure of spelling).

I think the timing of this birth was impeccable. Two weeks of vacation for industrious big sisters--just commencing when the baby arrives.


The food safety bill is apparently not likely to be passed during this session of Congress. Earlier, small-farm advocates voiced concerns about the burdensome regulations this would impose on many of the enterprises that have had very little to do with the most serious food safety problems of late. Then significant and helpful amendments were added to protect small farmers, and it looked like passing the bill might be a step in the right direction--giving the government some teeth in enforcing acceptable standards in food production and processing. I forget all the reasons why the bill is in trouble now, but small farm advocates are fearful that if it comes up again after the newly elected Congress takes office, if the bill passes in any form, it will likely be without the built-in protections the current bill contains.


A Catholic priest who used to work as a counselor wrote a thought provoking piece in the "Western Front" of today's Hutchinson News--the reader's write section. He reminded everyone that this season of "comfort and joy" is anything but that for those who are alone, depressed, ill, or facing some other serious crisis. He also directed people's thoughts to Jesus, Who does truly bring comfort and joy to those who seek Him.


Golden Rule Travel/Golden Rule Property Management had their company Christmas event at Stutzman Greenhouse in the area that was set up earlier for Evening Aglow. Not many people have done this, but Stutzmans was very welcoming, and the setting was warm and beautiful. I wasn't there, except to look in and help during setup.


One step outside on the porch floor tells me that the freezing drizzle has arrived and made things slippery. I'm wishing Hiromi was safely home from work. The temperature is only slightly below freezing, and perhaps the treated road surfaces are not accumulating ice. I hope not. A very light snow--less than an inch--is also predicted for tomorrow.

Ervin and Emma Stutzman's Story

Below is the introduction I wrote for my composition class's community writing project for the semester. Today we finally got the booklets printed and assembled. They will be available at church on Christmas Day and any time following. We're selling them for $5.00.

Student authors are Jenni Miller, Sharon Eash, Marvin Miller, and Louise Nisly.


The idea for the composition class to feature Ervin and Emma’s life story in our community writing project hatched several years ago when someone who had visited with the Stutzmans over Sunday dinner told me “Your class should write their story. It’s really interesting.” This year it worked out–just barely.

After some preliminary arrangements were made earlier in the semester, we began working on the writing project two weeks before Christmas vacation started. In the middle of the first week we learned that the subjects of the story were about to jet off to Haiti, and would not return till the class was over for the year. This called for some serious scrambling. They came to school on Thursday and talked to us for several hours, answering our questions and telling whatever stories the conversation shook out of their memories. Several students visited in their home to get more information, or called them.

A flurry of student writing commenced over the weekend. I did some proofreading on Monday, and Ervin and Emma departed on Tuesday, Priority Mail envelope containing the precious manuscript in hand. While on the plane, they read over it for accuracy and marked corrections, handing it off to a very helpful man at the information counter in the Miami airport. He promised to drop it off at a mailbox on his way home from work and gave them personal contact information in case they wanted to inquire about it later. It arrived at school on Thursday. Friday was the last day of school before Christmas break.

Several years ago Ervin had written a well-summarized chronological narrative of his life in preparation for sharing it at Cedar Crest. This proved invaluable. In this booklet, we preserved the general order of the story as Ervin originally wrote it.

Ervin is 89, and Emma is 87. In our exchanges with them we marveled at their vitality and the clarity of their thinking. Hearing about their youthful dreams reminded us that if they had made different choices along the way, we might not have needed to worry about their leaving for Haiti while our project was underway. Instead they might have long ago forsaken a simple lifestyle, ignored the needy in the world, and indulged in a luxurious retirement. But the story would have been greatly diminished, and the purpose of their lives would have been far less significant.

In a phone conversation with James Martin, who works now in the ministry in Haiti where Ervin and Emma took initiative 27 years ago, James told me that the day before (December 19, 2010), during the church service where Ervin and Emma were present, a Haitian pastor told all those gathered that Ervin was “Grandpa” to everyone there. James also told me that when Ervin and Emma first arrived in the village of Labaleine, almost no one could read or write. Now even young children can read, thanks to the school that was built in the community—a school that this year has over 500 students enrolled from kindergarten through high school.

Later James’s wife, Janie, gave other examples of how life is different now in Labaleine because of Ervin and Emma’s work, along with many others who have continued the ministry. Five-gallon plastic buckets have replaced the Calabas gourds that used to be used for carrying water. Six wells have been added to supply water—much more accessible and adequate than the single spring in the community earlier. Even simple hand tools were in very short supply, and no sewing machines were as advanced as the treadle machines Ervin and Emma provided. Wheels? None.

Making the most basic repairs to simple tools was difficult with no shop tools in the area. No one knew how to make quilts, and many women didn’t know how to use a scissors. A repair shop and a sewing center have addressed these needs. One old church building and a small toilet with a broken door have been replaced by a compound containing large and sturdy buildings. Many private homes in the community have been improved.

Janie also told me that people in Labaleine “refer to Ervin and Emmas as the founder[s] of Labaleine. . . the roots of Labaleine . . . as their Papa and Mama.”

Ervin and Emma’s journey is not over, and evidence that their lives have been spared for a purpose may continue to accumulate. But after you’ve read this story, you will see some of what Ervin and Emma saw unfolding as they lived life. At certain critical junctures, frightful and painful experiences redirected their focus away from the goal of financial success and the esteem of others, toward a life of gratitude for simple gifts and a desire to share those gifts with the poor. Genuine love motivated the giving.

I worked for Ervin and Emma years ago in their greenhouse business, and absorbed some of their love for growing things. Many others found employment there as well, and no doubt also soaked up some of Ervin and Emma’s passion The business prospered, in response to lots of hard work. Now, every year national wholesalers list Stutzman Greenhouse among their plant suppliers, and Kansas State University specialists sometimes publicly cite Stutzmans as an excellent growing facility.

Ervin and Emma Stutzman’s last name has become well-known in the plant world. But when they speak of having been spared for a purpose, it’s undoubtedly names like “Grandpa” and “Papa” and “Mama” they associate most strongly with that purpose. Hundreds of Haitians whose lives have been remarkably changed through Ervin and Emma’s intervention and God’s blessing feel love and gratitude whenever they think of Grandpa, Papa, and Mama.

Let’s get on with the story of how it all happened.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How to Bake Pineapple Upside Down Cakes for the Nutrition Banquet

(Written from a student’s perspective–a true composite account.)

Several weeks before the banquet: Do a trial run.

Note that bringing a mixer would have been a good thing.

Try using the mixer you find in a drawer in the kitchen. Give up when you find that the beater stems are too large to be inserted into the mixer. Go home and get a mixer. Mix. Observe the chunky, crumbly batter. Confer briefly with Mrs. I Decide to add the milk all at once (instead of alternately with the dry ingredients–since they’re already all in the bowl) and beat thoroughly. Rejoice that the batter gradually assumes a normal appearance.

Observe that going straight from the “measure dry ingredients and set aside” to “add the remaining ingredients . . . alternating . . . ” was not a good idea. Note to self: Next time, note carefully the mixer-at-high-speed--butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla part between the two above directions.

In the bottom of the baking pan put brown sugar glaze, pineapple slices, and a marchino cherry in the middle of the slices. Pour the batter over the top.

Bake as instructed. Rejoice when it comes out looking nice, except for some of the cherries almost having been completely submerged in the cake batter. Learn from this and decide that next time you’ll wait to position the cherries till after the cake is baked.

During the trial meal, note that it tastes very good. Decide that it would probably be better yet if it could be served warm.

Tuesday (the week of the banquet):

Have older sister bring shopping list of needed ingredients from home–on the flash drive, after downloading from a computer document, because Mrs. I needs the list. Upload the list onto a computer at school. Print it out. Give it to Mrs. I. Save a copy for yourself.


All fourteen nutrition students and three drivers pile into vans and go shopping for ingredients. Carefully guard your envelope which contains $20.00 of grocery money. Do a quick count before you reach the checkout to see if you have enough money. Ask Mrs. I for more if you need it. If you forget the above step, and you don’t have enough money, frantically ask your classmate checking out at the next lane for five dollars from their envelope.

Buy one can of pineapple slices at Aldi for $.45, because that’s the only can they have left at this very special price, or at any price. Decide to have Kerri’s Mom get the other seven needed tomorrow at Aldi in Wichita–for the very special price. (She's going to Aldi in Wichita anyway.) In the meantime, various individuals will bring some from their supply at home so that the project can go on as planned on Thursday. Those who donate pineapple will be compensated after Kerri’s Mom gets hers from Wichita. Score one for frugality and cleverness.

Buy brown sugar and white sugar and butter at Aldi.

Go to Wal-Mart. Buy three jars of Marschino Cherries.

Ask Mrs. I to buy cake flour at Glenn’s Bulk Foods. She does so the next day.

Return your envelope to Mrs. I. Make sure it contains all the leftover money, and all the receipts.


Early in the Day: Discover that Mrs. I forgot to bring the three cans of pineapple rings she was going to bring. Sigh with relief when she offers to ask Hiromi to bring them over. He is willing also to pick up the one that Kerri forgot.

Cancel the request for Hiromi to pick up Kerri’s pineapple. Elaine and Alicia will bring it. They’re bringing the forgotten mixer from Susanna’s house anyway, plus several cans of pineapple slices. When they bring these things they’ll also unload the cooking oil that several other students forgot to retrieve from Alicia’s vehicle after the shopping trip yesterday.

At class time: Ask permission to do the baking in the lab at school, because the kitchen is too full with 11 other students doing their part of the meal preparation project. Permission granted.

Discover that no one thought to bring salt or baking powder. Ask Mrs. I what to do. Call Janet (Kendra’s mom) and ask if you can borrow salt and baking powder. She says yes. Go pick it up.

Discover that no one brought vanilla. Ask Mrs. I if you can go home and get some. (Too embarrassing to ask Janet again.) Go home for vanilla.

Gird up your loins and forge ahead.

Add dry ingredients to creamed butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla–alternately with milk. Note the nice appearance of the batter and pour it into the pan. Discover afterward that the dry ingredients did not include the baking powder and salt . Ask Mrs. I if it would be OK to omit those two ingredients. Mrs. I says no. (You didn't think so either.) Make a suggestion, which Mrs. I agrees to. Scoop the cake batter off the nicely arranged pineapple slices and return it to the mixer bowl. Add the salt and baking powder, whip it into shape and pour it back into the pan. Observe to Mrs. I “Let’s just say this is not going too well.”

Carry out the above plan. The cake is now ready for the oven again, and Carolyn’s bread is occupying the upstairs oven, and no one has turned on the downstairs oven.

Preheat the downstairs oven. Wait for ten minutes. Bake the first cake. Let people drink the pineapple juice you drained from the eight cans of pineapple slices. Eat the remaining pineapple slices yourself. Work on washing up dishes.

After the cake is baked, let it set for ten minutes, then invert it onto one of Mrs. I’s fancy cake boards. Peel off the waxed paper you used to line the cake pan. Lament the fact that some of the glaze stubbornly adheres to the waxed paper instead of the cake. Watch while Mrs. I and others scrape off and eat the wonderful gooey brown sugar glaze that sticks to the waxed paper. Marvel and laugh.

Drain the Marschino cherries. Blot the red food coloring off the cherries with paper towels. Carefully place one cherry in the center of each pineapple ring. Push down on the cherry to seat it firmly into its nest.

Mix two more 12" x 18" cakes and bake them just like the first one–minus most of the glitches.

Go back to work in the learning center, until you remember something..

Ask Mrs. I if you can go to the kitchen. When she asks why, say “To push down the cherries.” When she asks why you need to push down the cherries, explain that they’re sticking up too far and you don’t want them to look like an “outie.”

Decide it doesn’t really matter if the cherries look like inflamed outies because the finished product is colorful, and your sampling from the edges tells you the cake tastes good.

When Kerri’s Mom brings the seven cans of pineapple rings, distribute them to all the people that brought theirs from home.


Try to figure out how to serve the cake warm. Decide to put the cakes into the oven after the twice-baked potatoes come out.

Cut the cake into uniform squares with the pineapple ring centered in the square.

When serving time comes, the potatoes are still in the oven to stay warm. Give up on serving warm cake.

Put one piece of cake on each china dessert plate. Serve it with aplomb.

Bask in the smiles and warm compliments. Smile back. Don’t go into detail about how it all happened.

P.S. from Miriam (added later): I wrote this story based entirely on what I observed, heard, or did. There were actually three students working together on the cake. In this story, I pretended it was only one person--thus the reference to a "composite" account. All the events really happened. The thoughts in response to those events? I guessed on those. I wasn't being coy about who was doing the writing--just slightly inept, I guess. Sorry.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sunday Wrapup 12/5/2010

Warm and fuzzy feelings here. Last night I put all the electric "candles" in the windows, and tonight I remembered to unplug them briefly just at dark and then promptly plug them in again. This ensures that they will come on automatically every evening at the same time and burn for six hours before automatically shutting themselves off until the next evening.

I also remembered to light a candle at 7:00 in memory of all the children (and others) who have died. I unintentionally let it burn past 8:00, long after the people in the Mountain Time Zone had likely lit their candles. Compassionate Friends, an organization that provides support to families whose child has died, coordinates this yearly remembrance. This year Seth's death is fresh in our minds, but I'm also remembering Andrew and Marvin. All of these were grade-school-aged boys who died in accidents in our church community. I did not only light a candle. I prayed for the boys' families.

Whether associated with joy or grief, any light in this dark and cold season of the year seems like a good thing.


Hiromi's project of constructing a gas pottery-firing kiln moved forward a bit last week. He spent one day making clay fasteners for the insulation that goes around the "oven." Shane walked in while he was shaping rows of the little cone shaped pieces, punctured through the bottom of the cone with a hole for threading fastening wires.

"Play Dough?" he asked, taking in the scene of Hiromi at work at the dining room table.

Hiromi's project explains why two of our dining room chairs bear large disks topped with clay in the process of drying before it can be fired in the electric kiln we've had for a number of years. With Grant gone, no one sits in those chairs anyway.

We've always gotten lots of mileage out of our dining room space and furniture--which might explain why they're often not in picture-perfect condition.


On Friday evening we went to hear a group of 15 harpists play at Stutzman's Greenhouse's annual Christmas event: Evening Aglow. Hundreds of chairs are set up in the middle of one of the greenhouses, and music groups perform in a gazebo at the front of that space. All around are colorful poinsettias, lights and other sparkly or green or "snowy" things. Refreshments are offered.

We did not attend the informative meeting the same evening for the Anabaptist Financial Lending/Borrowing project. We had listed all three of the events that would have been nice to go to, and Hiromi said, "Let's go to Stutzmans. That's as far as I'll go."

While we were at Stutzmans he changed his mind and suggested we go to hear "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" too. I looked a little dubiously at his blue jeans, but we went anyway, to the Main Street Baptist church where the concert was to be held.

It was a wonderful event. The Reno Choral Society presents this every year, with variations on the selection of songs, and the featured singing groups. This year our own Lyle Stutzman was the guest conductor, and 34 of the 59 choir members were people from the Partridge area. Nearly all of these were Beachy folks, quite a few of them from our high school. Six of the Shenks participated. That was the most from one family, but there were several from each of a number of other families. Shalom Quartet was one of the featured singing groups. Three of the four male singers are from our church. Others from our churches participated as readers of the lessons (Scriptures).

The regular conductor has the reputation of being a trifle temperamental, and I think singing under Lyle's leadership rather than the regular conductor's was appealing to people who know Lyle and are used to singing with him. Hence the huge number of participants from our area.


Last week I wrote about the influx of animals on our farm. Our neighbors are getting in on the act. Across the road is a huge field of milo stubble. It is populated now by horses, and something else.

I counted at least 16 horses one day last week as some of them exited a stock trailer, but I noticed yesterday that the count had grown. Right in the middle of getting an updated number I encountered animals that looked from a quarter mile away like rodeo bulls. I really saw only thick-front bovine bodies and horns, so I'm not sure what all is out there. Horses and rodeo bulls would sound like a Rumford Rodeo set of animals, but who knows? A lot of the time they're more than 1/2 mile away. (Did I mention that it's a big field--about 320 acres?)

I'm keeping an eye on them and hope they spend some time foraging near the road that separates us. I'd like to get a better look.


If anyone out there is not properly grateful for their state extension service--well, your experience must have been very different from mine.

Last week, after scouring many seed catalogs and the internet, I could not find any seeds of the tomato that was a great success for us last year. Last year's supplier is not carrying it this year.

SOS to the county extension horticulture agent. She replied that she was checking with someone at Manhattan, where our state's agricultural college is. Within hours, we had a seed source. The only catch was that we had to buy 1,000 seeds. However, the state specialist was planning to buy one order of those seeds for trialing in the state, and he would be happy to sell us some of that seed. Is that great service or what?

This is one tax supported agency you won't hear me grumbling about.


The "Cancer" current events topic for the month at school is proving to require careful previewing of materials and careful explanations of relevant terms and treatment approaches. We especially wish to provide as truthful, informative, balanced, and unbiased a picture as is possible. At the same time, we're not averse to some challenging of the status quo, especially if it arises from the students' study.

The subject is understandably freighted with emotion for a lot of people. Because the stakes are high, people really want to get cancer treatment right. But what is right doesn't seem the same to everyone, and it's hard to bear when it feels like someone you love is getting it wrong. Or someone seems to be getting it right and it doesn't fit with what you thought was right.

All kinds of humility-inducing potential is present in cancer situations, as is stubbornness and pride-producing potential. God help us.


Lorne K. told us today that Dorothy Grove died recently in southern Ontario. She was the widow of Merlin, who was stabbed to death in 1962 in Somalia by a fanatical Muslim. Dorothy had come to investigate when she heard a ruckus, and the assailant was leaving just as she arrived. So he stabbed her too. She survived, however, with some lifelong aftereffects.

At the funeral recently, eight Christian Somali men came to honor Merlin and Dorothy's service. One of them was a boy in the line of children who were being processed for school admission by Merlin Grove on the day he died. Another person in the line had a knife hidden in his clothing, and when he got to the head of the line, he did his evil deed.

We're studying Job in Sunday school and, in the context of that study and with the memory of the Groves' sacrifice, Lorne reminded us that suffering in the course of doing the Lord's work is never wasted.


Jonathan Y., who has lived in Ireland with his family for about ten years gave a report of the work there on Wed. eve. He went to Ireland first with his parental family and now lives there with his wife and children.

One particularly compelling aspect of the ministry to Irish people is reaching out to troubled boys in a wilderness camp setting. This project isn't quite up and running yet, although navigating the red tape has been in progress for a very long time. Finding wilderness was one of the first challenges. Most of Ireland is cleared of forests. Then, because the remaining forest was on public land, getting permission for access and use of it was very difficult--impossible, in fact, their lawyer said. Not so, however, as has been proven by now. Doors seemed to open miraculously time after time, and things continued to progress.

In the pictures Jonathan showed, the "Emerald Isle" moniker seemed on target. Ancient castles, waterfront pictures of picturesque seagoing vessels, rugged coasts, and thatch-roofed houses were also featured.

On one group picture of the 50 or so people who attend church regularly with Jonathan's family, he pointed out William McG--- and his wife and daughter. William has Irish ancestry, and has lived there now for a number of years. Years ago, however, before he was married, he used to visit here frequently. One of his daughters lives here now, married to my cousin Arlyn. William is elderly and sometimes confused, but it was good to see his familiar face.


My nephew Andrew told me at the Stutzman's event that they had seen a Pileated Woodpecker in MO earlier in the week. They had gone there to spend some vacation time with my brother Ronald's family and Davey and LuAnn's family.

I have never seen this big woodpecker.


Lowell and Judy returned safely after more than three weeks in India. They reported good connections and safe travels. I'm eager to hear more details of their time there.


The nutrition class students at school are churning out many loaves of fresh bread in preparation for the nutrition banquet at the end of this week. The baking bread smells wonderful, but not being able to eat it promptly is a little torturous for everyone.

We hope to go shopping for ingredients on Wed. and then cook in class time on Thursday and Friday. This has required some very creative shuffling of class schedules since nutrition classes usually happen at the beginning of the week. But it looks like the schedule should be workable, especially with a lot of willingness to be flexible on the part of teachers and students who come in for individual classes.


Last week Hiromi worked a number of evenings. At first, when I got home, Shane's dogs were here to welcome me. But after Shane and Dorcas returned from their trip, I came home each evening to a quiet, forsaken house. I missed both Hiromi and the dogs.


I checked five books out of the church library collection today. Three of them were books of Christmas stories and writings. I wished I could read everything that was placed on the "library focus" table in the foyer. Books by Michael Card, Joe Wheeler, and Patricia St. John caught my eye.

I decided to go downstairs then and checked out several of the St. John books.

I also welcomed the opportunity to make suggestions for books the library might purchase. I wrote down books by Ralph Moody and G. A. Henty. The books are the kind my boys did or would have enjoyed as adolescents--almost as much as I would have or did enjoy reading them aloud to them. You know books are good if adults and children enjoy them equally.


This past weekend I've been on a search again for some good drama scripts for high schoolers. The search was not very successful.

I concluded for the second time that being able to write a script from a good story would be a valuable skill and might be the best way to get a doable and suitable drama.

I am not solely responsible to find something, but I would be glad for suggestions. Authors? Stories? Ready-made plays?