Prairie View

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Wrapup 2/27/2011

Grace has finished teaching her half of the Sunday School year, and I'm slated to start my half next Sunday. We have only one chapter left in Job, and then we'll move on to I and II Peter. It's not what I voted for, but I am relieved that the Song of Solomon nomination did not get the majority of votes.

The mostly over-80 crowd in my SS class is a rather fragile bunch. Many of these people were active participants in SS in their earlier years, but they are content, for the most part, to sit now and listen. We do, of course, have a few people my age or younger to keep the discussions alive.


Kathy T. reports that a local court case last week involving a homeschooling family was decided against the family. I don't know details, but would be sorry if this would set a precedent that would make it difficult for other families to homeschool.


A new group of Conservative Anabaptist Service Program (CASP) volunteers was introduced in church today. They stay for six weeks at a time, and work on rehabilitating housing in Hutchinson, under the auspices of Interfaith Housing. They're living in Partridge, in the home formerly occupied by the Marvin Mast family. This is the second and last group for the year.

This group of 14 volunteers comes from PA, OH, AR, KS, NC, and VA. They're working on renovating a large house in Hutchinson that eventually will likely become the unit house for a permanent CASP facility.

Choice Books also brings volunteers into the community, and, of late, most of those people end up attending church at Cedar Crest. Those terms are of a longer duration, but involve fewer people at a time.

If CASP becomes a year-round effort here, we'd better get used to having longer-term "guests" at Center too. I think everyone would see that as a welcome development.


We had another icy trip home after school on Thursday. The most dramatic result was a semi that jack-knifed in the middle of the overpass by the cemetery. Someone from CASP also reported seeing a car ahead of theirs on the way home from work doing three revolutions in the roadway.


I've decided that politics and food have something in common. Individual opinions about both of them are usually of minimal interest to others, and not worth a lot of discourse.

When positive impressions are shared, good feelings can spread and make life a little more pleasant for everyone. But negative impressions are usually best kept to oneself. In any case, polite and humble language is a plus.


We had a brief shower of small hail today, accompanied by thunder. Most of the nastier stuff happened south and east of us. We had dense fog into the afternoon, and it was damp and dreary all day--not typical weather here.


Joel and Hilda went to Topeka today to participate in an MCC fellowship meal. This is a voluntary exchange between hosts and guests who are matched for a meal and, usually, attendance in the host's church. A financial donation from the guests benefits MCC, and is added to the total for the spring relief sale.


I planted lots of tomatoes and peppers yesterday, and some eggplant--indoors. It was later than usual, and I'm not nearly done with all that needs to be planted, but I'm glad to have gotten started.


Hiromi reported that he found a 3-ft. snake in the basement last week. This was just before I needed to go down there and do a lot of rooting around to find the planting supplies that we store down there. Rest assured that I peered about very carefully before putting my feet or hands anywhere.

When I asked him what he did with the snake, I found out that he grabbed it with gloved hands and carried it out, and then, right close to the house, he "hit it against the wood"--whatever that means, and LET IT GO!

"Why didn't you take it farther away?" I asked.

"Well, I decided it probably wouldn't come back inside since I punished it. And we do like if it kills mice around the house."

Oh my. He is much more confident about his understanding of snake logic than I am.

It's downright disconcerting that a snake in the basement keeps "happening."

Shane did not approve of Hiromi's lenient treatment of the snake. He's even more ruthless than I would tend to be. "Far away" is OK by me. "Dead" is better, as far as Shane is concerned. Joel and Grant would leave them alone if they were outside.


The roads were icy again late on Friday night when we returned from Yoder where we had gone for the Mennonite Manor fundraiser supper of fried mush, liverwurst and sausage, and tomato or cream gravy, and syrup, with several other liverwurst toppings as options.

I don't claim to have any liverwurst expertise, and am sure that people like it fixed in many different ways. I think with the addition of cream, the liverwurst the other night would have tasted quite a lot like my Mom's used to. She cooked it together and it had a consistency similar to gravy.

I liked it so well, I came home and cooked mush the next morning. We had it with sausage for today's lunch. No liverwurst in the house.

The fundraiser grossed about $11,000.00, having served over 760 people. The money goes to the Continuing Care Fund, which helps offset the $800,000.00 the Manor "wrote off" last year for the expense of caring for people who have outlived their financial resources.


County-wide zoning is being proposed again for Reno County. Most rural residents would find this an inconvenience, at best. Enactment would almost certainly create more hoops to jump through for choosing where to build residences, and locate businesses and agricultural installations. The justification, of course, is that our country needs orderly growth, and this is the way to make sure it happens.

Vernon Miller plans to meet tomorrow with Dan Deming to discuss his (and presumably our) concerns.


Hiromi gets a charge out of catching the eye of sober-faced children who come through his WalMart checkout line with their parents. He smiles at them, and they usually are caught off guard and crack a smile in return.

He's pretty sure they're trying to figure him out. At least they can add "friendly" to their list of conclusions after they've soberly considered the matter.


Shane and Hiromi are making headway on renovating the kitchen and bathroom at the Trail West house. I'm pleased to see things improving.

Hiromi is not always impressed with my ideas for how things could be further improved. They have to do with "luxuries" like heating and ventilation for the bathroom, cooling for the entire house, and more natural light in the kitchen. His reflexive response is to promptly and patiently explain to me why my ideas wouldn't work. But then he often ends up making them work after all.


Hiromi thinks Mara, the old ewe, will soon have a lamb. I'm not so sure that she's still capable of producing young, and I'm not seeing incontrovertible evidence that a birth is imminent. But I keep wishing she would produce at least one more ewe lamb that we could raise as a replacement when Mara retires.

I worried briefly about her the other night when the temps were dropping, with a fine mist, and Hiromi had reported that she didn't come to eat when he fed the sheep. That was very untypical, and I was afraid she would give birth outside the straw-bedded hutch, since the ram was almost certain to take up residence inside the hutch.

No need to worry, as it turned out.


We had a very welcome teacher's work day on Friday. Students came to school to take tests, as needed, and to have choir. The rest of the day was ours to concentrate on getting grading done and grades figured for the quarter.

At the grade school, they've had to take more days off because of funerals, etc. and they didn't have the day off.


Judith turned 60 today. Two weeks from now, she and Perry will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.


Grant comes home around midnight on Tuesday night. I think it's a bummer that I have to leave early the next morning for staff meeting at school and then leave early again in the evening for church. I'm looking for a way to at least get a meal together that evening.

A large box of his belongings that he had shipped from Washington arrived last week.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Communication on Education

This post was written at least five years ago as an email exchange.  I
have omitted a few paragraphs and sentences, and added one substitution
for omitted material. Ellipses indicate the sentence omissions and the
paragraph omissions are not indicated. The omitted material contains
personal references that were relevant to the exchange but are not
relevant to the basic premises of the material.

Dear Brother Brubaker,

I just read your article in the FB newsletter and thoroughly enjoyed
it. . . . With some personal experience and observations interspersed,
I would like to comment primarily on two things your article suggested
to me. One has to do with identifying a worthy model for our educational
efforts, and the other concerns the preschool baseline you referred to.
This is long. I apologize in advance.

Our oldest child will graduate from college this spring and our youngest
is finishing high school. The oldest was homeschooled through high
school and the others through grade school. I am 54 years old.

One of the insights that has guided my classroom teaching at Pilgrim is
the realization that the best Bible model for teaching children is the
parenting model, and the best environment for teaching children is a
home that is actively involved in the life of the church and community.
When I talk to people immersed in the work of Christian classroom
schools I'm always compelled to add quickly that this is not to say that
every child ought to stay home to acquire their education. But, in the
absence of school models in Scripture, we ought to pay close attention
to the models that are there and extrapolate from those rather than do
the easy thing, which, as you have noted, is to copy what the people
around us are doing and try to force our schools into a shape that does
not compromise our Christian and Anabaptist sensibilities.

In practical terms, this means to me that our schools ought to be as
home-like as possible, and teacher-student relationships ought to be
patterned after parent-child relationships. What may be less obvious to
people who are passionate about teaching is that "institution building"
is not the first priority of having classroom schools--however noble the
aspirations of those involved may be. Rather, people involved in
classroom schools ought to profoundly respect and honor the Biblical
institutions under whose mandates and funding they operate. Teachers
ought to constantly be giving their students and their accomplishments
back to their parents and to their church and community. While regular
attendance is necessary if students are enrolled in classroom schools,
school obligations ought not to reach too far into home-time or
church-time outside of school hours.

I know that in our school we have not mastered this balancing act. I
have been a parent of a high school student during the entire time that
I have also been a teacher at the high school. I have grieved at seeing
our son's heart turn from home to school when his attendance at school
and his homework in the evening dominated all his waking hours. The
energy and vision he used to invest in making our home a place he wanted
to be was missing after he enrolled in high school away from home. This
is not a family-friendly way to be training the future fathers and
mothers in our churches--with the sense that all the fun and important
things happen away from home. I don't see "school-building" as a
Scriptural mandate as is "family-building" and "church-building."

One of the guidelines that seems reasonable to me is to require of
students about 40 hours a week on their "job"--school. While there's no
magic in this number, this ratio of work to home, church, and community
life is a standard that can be maintained as a goal throughout one's
active life.


In your section on developing a base-line for student readiness, you
refer to the problem of having widely divergent abilities in students
who show up for first grade. I am of the opinion that the most useful
baseline standard would be this one: Classroom schools accept only
students who already know how to read. Before you choke on this radical
idea, consider how many problems this would solve. (I should probably
also insert here that we have three sons who learned to read at the
ages, of 3, 7, and 5--oldest to youngest. The one who learned to read
at the age of 5--the most proper age--was the only one who did not
become a voracious reader early on. We did not discover until he was in
high school and struggling for the first time in his school work that he
had a significant vision problem that made reading very difficult and
tiresome for him.)

Back to the problems this would solve--1) Every parent would be
genuinely grateful for the work any of their child's future teachers do
because they have done enough of it themselves to "feel the pain." 2)
No child would go through the experience of feeling "dumb" in the
presence of more capable students--at least not until they have
experienced a measure of academic success and have acquired a sense of
satisfaction from having acquired a significant skill. Also, no
extra-capable child would have an inflated idea of their abilities
because the real world of the home tends to call for a more balanced set
of skills, i. e. not all one's responsibilities are in academic areas,
and not all tasks can be done well even if academics come easily. 3)
No classroom teacher would have to scramble to find busy work for
non-reading students to do while she/he works with other individual
students who need help 4) Parents would not have to compete with a
child's peers or teacher for loyalty--at an age when that loyalty is
easy to maintain, but less easy to regain, once lost. 5) Each child
could be taught by whatever method is most productive for him or her
without concerns about partiality or neglect of other needy students.
6) Classroom procedures could be learned when a child's physical and
neurological development is more suited to some of the necessities of
learning in groups. 7) Children would have more time to be children,
and more time to learn to love to learn. In my opinion, the latter is
the most important "lesson" of education.

Backtracking now, if schools would accept only students who already know
how to read, I think someone would have to stand ready to assist parents
who need help in knowing how to teach their children. This could be
someone who does not have a classroom teaching job . . . [--preferably a mother
with some experience both in the classroom and homeschooling. The goal
would be to have expectations will suited for a home environment where
other young children are often present.] Parents who try to do "school
at home" rather than to have a 'home that includes school" sometimes
get very frustrated in the attempt. I can understand why. Learning
should be the goal, above learning to fit into a conventional classroom.

This kind of assistance to parents who do not wish to delegate to others
their child training responsibility ought to be incorporated into the
Christian school effort of every local church, in my opinion. I have
found no Scriptural support for the idea that delegation is the default
value where child training is concerned. The teaching ministry of the
church, where it is mentioned in the Bible seems always to be referring
to the teaching of people of accountable age. Equipping parents to teach
well fits beautifully into this Biblical model. Jesus Himself, when he
interacted with children, received them, touched them, blessed them, and
TAUGHT the disciples.

Thank you for articulating a vision for education and for doing some of
the hard work it takes to keep the issues before the eyes and hearts of
people who need to think about them. I have been praying for many years
about some of the concerns your article presents, and I am deeply
grateful that these ideas are not mine alone. You are blessed to have a
venue for publicizing and promoting these concepts, and I am blessed to
see you using it well.

Miriam Iwashige

Here is most of the reply:

What an incredible response! . . . I will seriously consider the ideas
you have so thoroughly developed and probably work them over with my
Foundations of Education students this Spring. I most certainly agree
with your assessment of the school as a spin-off of home-church rather
than a life of its own - more of a positive virus than an organism.
Your case for a starting threshold is also very compelling - it would
take considerable effort to cast vision and equip some parents - but
the problems it might solve would be worth considerable effort.

Thanks so much for taking the time to write.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quote for the Day 2/15/2011

Shane (after having spent time in Japan with his uncle Saiji, whom he had just met for the first time), to Hiromi: I think I'm more like Saiji than you.

Hiromi: I know. Worries me.

We all laughed.

Saiji is irrepressible and sociable--glad-handing with the best of them. He also does things vigorously, with large gestures and broad strokes. As a young man, he was often at odds with those in authority, and got in trouble because of it.

Hiromi, in contrast, loves quiet and solitary things like painstaking research. He's very safety-conscious and drives slowly and carefully. As a child he was a model student.

Comments I've heard from Hiromi's extended family members suggest that Hiromi is much like his father was in temperament.

In another conversation Shane recounted, he told Saiji while he was riding with Saiji at the wheel, "I can hardly believe you're my dad's brother. He always drives slowly."


Glimpses of the kind Shane and Dorcas got into Japanese culture and our extended Japanese family's personalities are wonderful treasures--ordinary in some ways, to be sure, but valuable nonetheless, for the way they help us understand ourselves and form strong ties that bind all of us together.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Breaking News

Grant is engaged to Clarissa Prettyman. I held off announcing it here, hoping Shane and Dorcas might find out from an email I sent them before the whole world hears it on Facebook.

When I saw it on Facebook before I heard confirmation from Shane and Dorcas, I decided the wait was over. Grant and Clarissa gave us permission to tell people rather than wait on them to spread the word. Not much waiting involved, as it turned out.

They hope to get married on the first or second weekend in August and live here afterward, at least for the time being. That makes me happy.

Grant described his way of posing the question and sent pictures of what he described. Those pictures are posted on Facebook now.

He went back into the woods on the Prettyman property and harvested some Cyprus greenery which he used to create letters and words in the snow. He decorated the question with roses and other flowers he had arranged in a tall vase or stuck separately into the snow. He had thoughtfully provided answer options: yes and no. Then he took Clare on a walk to show her what he'd done. The pictures show a rose stuck in the "yes" box--presumably the one Clarissa is holding in an earlier picture.

This all sounds like a fitting getting-engaged strategy for the outdoorsman/landscaper/hunter guy Grant is.

This business of having temporarily been empty-nesters this winter will soon become a permanent situation. I'm glad we've got some time to get used to it.

Sunday Wrapup 2/13/2011

After I heard more of the details of Casey Gingerich's death, I was a little embarrassed about how targeted my comments on dangerous behavior seemed in the previous post. It was unintentional.

Here's some background. As far as I knew, the death occurred during a swimming outing at the beach. That's how Floyd Miller from here drowned in El Salvador some decades ago. I didn't know that Casey had fallen from a 100-foot high cliff and drowned in the ocean below, when some of the rock shale he was standing on crumbled away.

Earlier in the day yesterday, however, in a conversation with a local friend, she mentioned that her husband worries about how people sometimes behave at the bluffs near Calvary Bible School. He's afraid people aren't properly cognizant of the danger. That's what made me think of mentioning "teetering too close to the edge of a bluff." That's something I've actually seen there and reacted to in the past--with gritted teeth and a knot in my stomach. Although my friend may have known more of the details about the drowning in Puerto Rico than I did, we didn't discuss it in the phone call.

Before I wrote the post, we had received a call chain message with a few details, but I missed part of the message. I understood David to have said something about drowning in the "surf." When I listened to the recorded message again later, I heard "cliff" but my post had already been published.

I certainly did not mean to rub salt in anyone's wounds.


Hiromi and I sometimes trade "pessimist" accusations. He's fond of the expression "What can happen, will happen." I think that's overly pessimistic. But whenever I express a caution, he's pretty sure I've finally seen the light and am becoming reasonably pessimistic. "Are you a pessimist?" he asks hopefully.

It's true that I'm far more likely than Hiromi is to think that people's common sense can be relied on in most cases. As a result, I am less likely than he is to issue verbal warnings.. However, I doubt that my children and my students would believe this.


Right on the heels of a disaster seems like a tasteless time to give safety warnings, but most of us don't do it at all unless we do it when the subject is fresh on our minds--unless we're slightly obsessive about it and think and talk about it constantly.

I'm thinking that maybe doing this isn't so different from what Jesus did when he told parables. Usually he told a story and then gave its meaning--often a warning.

Other stories in the Bible are told without accompanying commentary. That can be powerful too.

I think it's when we are most aware of our responsibility to teach that we give verbal warnings. This seems reasonable to me. It's part of the job description of being a parent or a teacher.


Today we had a baptism service in our church. Nine people were baptized. Six of them are enrolled in our high school. Another one is homeschooled but attends some classes there.

I fully intended to go through the line to talk to each of the members of the class, but I began to feel light-headed and shaky and in desperate need of a blood sugar boost soon after church was over. I looked at the long line in dismay and gave up. We headed for the food line in the basement instead.

When I mentioned to the person next to me in line how I was feeling, that person suggested maybe the depleted oxygen in the building might be another factor. I hadn't thought of that.

At school or at home, I keep nuts handy as a protein snack to avoid a blood sugar slump before mealtime. I don't make any such provision for church, and this morning I had a near meltdown as a result. I couldn't think of anything in particular I had done differently than usual. I had the usual Japanese breakfast which includes rice, miso soup with miso paste and tofu and vegetables, eggs, and natto, a fermented soybean product--a special treat. That should have been plenty of protein to offset the pure starch in the white Asian rice. No coffee either to give me caffeine jitters.


In the past year or so I've gotten a lot better at figuring out how to fix popcorn problems. Recently when my beloved Lady Finger popcorn produced a batch of tough, low-volume kernels, I knew it needed more moisture. So I put some water in the unpopped corn container and shook it up and left it set for a few days.

Yesterday I tried it again. It popped up beautifully, with no unpopped kernels left over.

I've also learned to leave the top partially ajar as much as I can while I'm actually popping it so steam can escape as it's released during the popping process. This helps keep the popcorn from being tough. I leave the top completely open till the popping starts and again near the end when the popped corn on top keeps everything under control. In between I can usually put a wooden spoon across the top between the lid flap and the kettle part of the popper, leaving it partially open, but not allowing many kernels to escape. (The popper we have has a lid clipped to the kettle and hinged in the middle.)


At 6:30 this morning we did a Skype call to Hiromi's brother's house in Japan. Shane and Dorcas were there, as well as Hiromi's two nephews who are 28 and 30. I hadn't seen them since they were six and eight. Yoshinori talked too. He looked great--like the young Japanese professional he is. He talked English, so I could understand him.

Getting ready for a Skype webcam call requires a different level of preparedness than another call. Saiji actually called first around 6:22 while we were still in bed. We made some fast tracks to get ready for church and then called back when we were ready. It was 9:30 PM there, so we didn't want to keep them waiting long.


Today was a balmy 60 degrees. The fresh spring-like air was distinctly scented by hog barn vapors by the time we came home from church--clear evidence of a SW wind.

Note to anyone in Kansas contemplating the ideal placement of a hog barn in relation to the house: Avoid putting the hog barn SW of the house. That's where the warmest breezes come from, so you're most likely to want to be outside at those times--at least in the spring and fall when the weather is most beautiful. And you'd like the air to smell good while you're out there. Putting anything smelly NW of a dwelling seems like a better idea. When the winds are in that direction, they're probably cold or blowing at a stormy time, when you're seeking cover indoors anyway, and the smells won't annoy you. Better yet, look for ways to keep the barn from getting smelly. (I know there are limitations to how much of this is possible.)

I think my dad had the hog barn built in that spot because it was on a nice little rise, and there was good access for bringing in feed or other necessary things for the hogs. Also, it was closer to the water source for this farm than it would have been on the other side of the house. But if it could easily be moved, I'd certainly vote in favor of doing so. It's impossible, of course, so we'll live with it.


I'm bracing for a lot of inquiries from students tomorrow. Written reports on "hotspot" countries are due on Tuesday, and I have the suspicion that very few people have been doing reading and research. I'm all ready with a response to anyone who says something like "I have no idea where to start."

"What have you done so far?" I'll ask. If the answer is "nothing," I'll ask them to come back if they still need help after they've looked through the materials I've been collecting and have made available to them.

I'm not averse to discussing the subject or their papers, but I don't appreciate working hard to get material together for them, only to have them ignore it in favor of a quick summary from me. Doing "quick summaries" on at least 23 different country/subject combinations takes too much time to be a realistic expectation for anyone. Each student chose two combinations, so there are potentially many more than 23 combinations. Would anyone out there volunteer for this issuing-a-quick-summary job? I doubt it. Let me know if I'm wrong.

The only way this can work is if students take personal initiative to do research. That's precisely what we had in mind when we initiated this project.


"Being on time is over-rated," I overheard one student say last month about his written report. He went on to say that he handed it in on time, but there were so many mistakes that he would have been better off to hand it in a day late, with good proofreading beforehand, and get only an automatic 5-point dock. The obvious third alternative would have been to start early enough to hand it in on time, with enough time allowed for careful proofreading before the due date.


We've made being late on the current events and literature reports increasingly costly for students, and some people still can't be prodded to get them in within a reasonable time frame. At least one report from last month is not in yet, and this month's are due on Tuesday. Any suggestions?

We're already giving a 5-point grade reduction for each late day--bottoming out at 20 points, however, to give some incentive for still doing it. Now we're not allowing anyone who's late on their own report to listen to other oral reports being given. Instead they go off to the typing lab to work on their own report. We're assigning homework for each day on which they still have outstanding assignments, and we're depriving such students of recess time. Shaking fingers under their nose, using menacing words, and adopting threatening postures don't seem like good options. Maybe we should organize a prayer meeting. From my perspective it looks like a matter of students deciding to get the "rear in gear"--far simpler than suffering through all the consequences of failing to do so. But then, what do I know?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Snow Sculptures and Miscellaneous

Yesterday at school our students played in the snow. True, not everyone had boots or gloves, but everyone participated. Students had a choice: build something or have a snowball fight. Creativity prevailed over violence for about half the students, so after the fighters faced off, the rest went on to demonstrate their imaginative and artistic abilities.

One group made a mammoth snow man--with the bottom section perhaps 3 feet in diameter. They piled three more big sections on top before they ran out of time. (I thought snowmen always had three sections, but what do I know?) Another group made a different sort of snowman. This one was a skinny fellow with snow-sculptured legs and a snow arm crooked at the elbow. He wore a stocking cap and had a proper snowman face made of small rocks. Another group made a pickup truck carrying a cargo of snowballs. It had hollowed-out wheel wells and snow tires. The fourth group made a castle--its bulk formed in a squarish mop bucket, by packing it with snow, then inverting it and lifting it off. Water glasses served as a mold for forming turret-topped lookout towers at the corners on top. A moat around it, a bridge to the arched doorway, and windows in the towers and on the sides finished it off. The students voted the castle as the best creation, but the sculptures all made me smile. I found the snowball fight far less entertaining.


Shane and Dorcas are in Japan. Hiromi talked to Shane briefly this morning--at 6:00 AM our time, 9:00 PM, their time. They were with Hiroshi , a former employer and friend of Hiromi's, in Tokyo. He owns an electrical contracting business. Since we've seen him last, his wife and young married daughter have both died, and life must be altered in unhappy ways for him.

Shane and Dorcas also met Hitoshi, Hiromi's cousin, and Hitoshi's daughter Maki. They did some sightseeing together. Hitoshi is from a family of three boys. They are the children of Hiromi's only aunt on his father's side. The aunt and Hiromi's father were orphaned when they were still quite young (Tuberculosis claimed the lives of the parents.), and were raised by their grandparents. Hiromi and Hitoshi's family were close when they were growing up, and I have pleasant memories of meeting all of them when we were in Japan in 1984.

Tomorrow morning (tonight for us), after one more night's sleep in Tokyo, Shane and Dorcas head for southern Japan, Kyushu Island, where Hiromi grew up and where his mother and brother still live. Shane's step-cousin, Yoshinori, who lived with us for several months while Grant was in high school, will be home from his job in Tokyo over a three-day weekend, and will no doubt help ease the complications of the language barrier significantly.

Hiromi did a lot of emailing and phoning to Japan in the past few weeks to try to make sure Shane and Dorcas have a good experience in Japan. Even then, I often wished he could simply be there to personally introduce his homeland and his people to his American family. I know that it was a wonderful experience when he did that for me.

On Monday evening, Shane and Dorcas expect to arrive home. On March 1, two weeks after that, Grant plans to return from Washington. And then this mother hen will go back to making contented clucking sounds.


The snowfall amount last Tuesday and Wednesday in Hutchinson was revised upward to an official 11.5 inches. We were back in school on Thursday, but the minivan I usually drive was still barricaded in its parking spot behind several snow drifts. So Hiromi took me to school in his car in the morning and I came home with Emily in the evening. I wore the shtiffle to the car in the morning, carrying my shoes, and carefully stomped a walking path through the lawn, avoiding the highest drifts, so that I could navigate it in the evening without boots.

Oren and one of his boys were in the process of clearing the driveway when Emily dropped me off, and by the next evening, the snow there was all melted. There's still a good snow blanket left where it wasn't plowed, but three days in a row of temperatures in the 50s will no doubt "disappear" it quickly. We've had brilliant sunshine ever since Thursday morning. Having the snow melt in the fields will provide welcome moisture there.

Since Hiromi, after dropping me off at school in the morning, took the shtiffle along in the car when he went to work, I didn't feed the sheep in the evening as I usually do when Hiromi has to work late. Besides, before I had discovered the missing shtiffle, I had filled a bucket with warm water from the bathtub (Mara loves warm water.), and spilled part of it onto my skirt, socks, and shoes on my way to the outside door. Discovering that there were no boots to wear made me decide in a hurry that this wasn't going to work, and I would simply have to inform Hiromi that the chores weren't done when he got home.

"Go buy yourself some boots," he instructed when he got home. " So I did--half price from the "Woman Within" catalog, with an additional 30% off when I entered the discount code. I'm now officially ready for any remaining snow storms this winter, or will be, as soon as they arrive.


There's an insanely cheap round-trip air fare from Miami to Tokyo right now (unless it's already been withdrawn), but Hiromi is too contented here at home to consider taking it. I think 330-some dollars would be a reasonable expense for such a trip. I wish Grant and Hiromi would go together, but I think Grant's too much like his dad to jump for the chance--and maybe too cash-short at the moment. He certainly would not go by himself. Hans alerted me to the fare on Facebook.

I've been mesmerized by the drama unfolding in Egypt, and am thrilled at the success of the peaceable young people's protest that has resulted in the dismantling of a very repressive regime.

It it will take lots of hard work, however, to restore economic opportunity and a stable, equitable government. I pray that people who want the good of the people will provide leadership. Another Iran in the Mideast would not seem like a positive development, and I hope it doesn't happen in Egypt.


By the way, do you know any other words besides Egypt that have three below-the-line loops in succession when written in cursive?


I heard about the drowning death of Casey Gingerich in Puerto Rico where he had just arrived with a group from Hillcrest Home. Although I barely know his family, I grieve with them at this loss of their only son and oldest child. I'm sure it's devastating for the Hillcrest family too, and others who knew him.

I don't know anything about the circumstances surrounding Casey's death, and have no condemnation for anyone involved at all.


Maybe it's because I raised boys and spend a lot of time around high school age people, but I do my share of shuddering at the dangerous things people undertake, either through ignorance, reluctance to appear overly cautious, or in search of a thrill.

Witnessing teetering too close to the edge of a bluff, venturing out when the roads are vile and the visibility is awful, and driving recklessly all make me feel a little angry. Disaster can strike even when everyone does their best to avoid it, and the sad results sometimes cause grief for a lifetime. Any thrill gained by flirting with disaster seems to me like ill-gotten gain of any kind--not worth having, even if acquiring it without significant loss is sometimes possible.

Staying safe is not the ultimate obligation of responsible living. Sometimes doing the right and necessary thing involves risk. But thrill-seeking for its own sake, and reckless disregard for safety both fall into the "irresponsible" category, as I see it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Snow Day--Not

I can't believe we had school all day today. Wait. Maybe what I can't believe is that we didn't have school last Tuesday. Today almost everything was the same except that a lot more snow was predicted, and there was just a bit less wind. Oh, and I guess we didn't have that thin glaze of ice first this time--that made all surfaces more slick than they were this time. Also, our local public schools were still on this morning. I suspect they're out of the extra days built into the calender for snow days. The temperature is six degrees and wind gusts are over 20 MPH. Not quite blizzard conditions--and apparently perfectly fine for normal daily activities.

We're out of extra days in our school calender too, mostly because we share facilities with churches, and sometimes need to take time off when there's a funeral. Having another day off would mean loss of a vacation day for students at the end of the quarter when we had a teacher's work day scheduled. Any days beyond this would mean fewer days off during spring break or having school on a Saturday. I wonder how parents would weigh these various options if they were asked for input. I also wonder what they would decide to do for their own families if they knew that they always had the option of staying at home with their family, even if school was on, if they felt that it was not safe to be out.

When I arrived at school this morning, I cased the scene to try to figure out how to get to one of the entrances. Students arriving for music faced a similar dilemma--only worse because there was more snow by then. Every route required wading snow, and I wasn't wearing boots--don't own any. (When I have to go out here at home I wear Hiromi's "shtiffle." This was Hiromi's solution last winter when I started looking for boots to buy. "You can wear mine any time you want.")

"I think someone needs to go out there and shovel snow," I told Wes before music class was over. I learned then that he had looked for a snow shovel and couldn't find one. Later someone produced one from the shop, and Marvin plowed paths from the front door to the kitchen door. He also plowed a path to Norma's car so she could go to the grade school to teach her literature class. The paths promptly blew shut again, and the snow continued unabated. Wes cleared paths again at the end of the school day.

It's still snowing. The NOAA site suggests we may have had around seven inches at 4:00. That would make the 9:00 forecast of an inch per hour exactly on target. We might get as much as twelve inches. It's a little hard to tell which areas are being described for some of the varying forecast amounts.

At school during break today Brandon didn't want to get his shoes and socks wet on his way to the shop to play basketball so he took them off and went barefoot. I'm sure his mother did not tell him to do this. This mother wouldn't have let him if she had seen him prepare to do it.

The local public schools dismissed early, but we are more stable stock (I could think of other ways to say this--not synonyms, exactly.) and not carried along by the drift (!) around us. I think they've probably had five snow days by now. We've had one.

There was a lot less snow on the roads than around buildings and other more protected areas. The wind patterns somehow favored these conditions more than usual. On the roads, however, things could get scary pretty quickly, even if the surface seemed mostly clear. One parent told me that he met a semi on the overpass by the cemetery. Drifts had reached considerable size in the westbound land, and he met a semi while trying to avoid both the drifts and the semi--and then couldn't see anything at all part of that time when the "snow-wash" of the semi engulfed his vehicle.

At the 50/61 crossing, I stopped behind one of our students who was waiting to cross. She came back to my car and asked, "How do I do I know when it's safe to cross? I couldn't see those two semis that just now went by in front of me." She and I both had our window down to get a better view.

"I looked west and said, "If it's clear far enough that you know you have time to cross this land, just go quickly."

"It's clearer now," she said, and went back to her car. We both crossed safely. I think those two semis had kicked up such a huge cloud of light snow that they and everything around them were invisible.

Only one stretch on Partridge road seemed dangerous to me--down by Rexroads where the windbreak from the east left all the snow lying where it fell. The boundary between the ditch and the road disappeared, and I wasn't sure where I was driving. This worked out fine both times when I crossed this section since there was no oncoming traffic at the time and I simply drove as close to the middle as I could. I still have bad memories of navigating this spot when I was in college and met someone there who accused me afterward of trying to run him off the road. I remember looking at his big farm pickup approaching and feeling very vulnerable in my low-slung Opel (which threatened to bottom out even in the middle of the road), and deciding that I would be in trouble a lot quicker than he would if one of us got too close to the ditch dropoff. I didn't try to run him off the road though, but I apparently miscalculated where the edge of the road was and crowded him uncomfortably close to it. Embarrassing.

At school, during the afternoon break, Mr. Schrock took the lemons he was handed and made lemonade. I mean he scooped snow from the drift right outside the learning center door and made snow cream. He and several of the girls went to Shetlers for supplies, and he and Nathan and Kendra measured and mixed and offered the results to whoever wanted it. It was delicious and the texture was perfect--frosty, but soft and sweet--not soupy--melt in your mouth goodness.

When I got home (after we dismissed 15 minutes early), I sat at the end of the drive for a while, pondering whether I should make a run through the two big drifts across the drive. They both looked pretty daunting, but I remembered that Wes commented that the snow was light and easy to drive through, so I did. Besides, what if Hiromi didn't anticipate my vehicle stopped in the drive and rammed into it with his car when he came home after dark--and tried to juice it into the drive too. The next problem was wading the drifts between the vehicle and the house.

I carried warm water to the sheep and fed them after I donned a warmer coat and the shtiffle. Hiromi has to work till 7:00, and these chores fall to me at such times. I also inspected Brandi's makeshift doghouse and found snow coating the old jeans I had put on the floor inside. So I swapped them for dry ones and hoped she would stay comfortable. She insists on sleeping right outside the front door on the porch, so before the last storm I wrapped a plastic canvas around a large box which I turned on its side and have diligently turned wherever necessary to keep the open side pointed away from the wind. She has not been entirely respectful of my efforts and has shredded a few of the less sturdy plastic coverings I used to cover one box flap to create a swinging door at the top of the opening--and another covering at the back. But she seems to like her little house, and sleeps inside.

Brandi plows snow wherever she goes, with her short little Corgi legs not quite touching terra firma otherwise. But she seems quite undaunted by the challenge, and charges here and there with gusto.

Yesterday I heard some Chanticleer fans talk about their plans to attend a concert in Newton tonight. If they go, they will do so against the advice of the weather service which warns that "travel will be hazardous or impossible." No offense to Chanticleer, but as far as I'm concerned, their appeal doesn't hold a candle to the appeal of an evening at home.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sunday Wrapup 2/6/2011

Last year Joel and Hilda gave us a gift subscription to the Nutrition Action Health Letter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. I enjoy reading the small bi-monthly magazine.

The Jan./Feb. issue had an article on "Magnesium and Sudden Death." This accounts for more than half of all cardiac deaths, and roughly 55% of men and 68% of women who die from this cause have had no history of heart disease.

A study involving 88,000 women who were tracked for 26 years suggests that consuming higher amounts of magnesium offers some protection against sudden cardiac death. ". . . .women with the highest concentration of magnesium in their blood had a 77 percent lower risk than those with the lowest concentrations."

In animal tests, magnesium has been found to keep heartbeats regular.

Natural food sources of magnesium include leafy greens, beans, whole grains, and nuts.

Memo to nutrition class students: Those USDA Food Guide Pyramids got this covered. Pay attention. Sudden cardiac death is no laughing matter.


We had our annual parent-teacher fellowship on Friday evening. For the past number of years we've had one meeting that includes all the high school and grade school students' parents. I'm not sure if this is the best system, although I see the advantage of some parents having only one meeting to attend, rather than two. We have two attendance centers, with slight variations in the calender, a different daily schedule, very different curricula, and almost no staff overlap. All our students spend most (?) of their time in one "classroom" (the learning center), and all of our staff is involved with all of our students in some way--a very different setup from the age-segregated, self-contained classrooms at the grade school.

One board oversees both schools, however, and they operate out of one treasury. In favor of having only one meeting, I do think some grade school patrons rather enjoy hearing about what goes on at the high school, and I assume the reverse is also true. The staff used to provide the snack at the high school PTFs and now parents always provide them--a personal convenience for me and other staff members.

If I were voting, I'd vote in favor of separate meetings every other year. I think we'd get the best of both options that way. At some future time, if both schools were under one roof and had one principal and one schedule, and perhaps a more similar curriculum, separate meetings--even in alternate years--might not make sense any more.

I think an argument could be made for homeschoolers to also attend these PTF meetings, especially parents of high school-age students who attend some classes at the high school. I think they'll have to ask for the privilege if they want it. I hope they do.


Hiromi is weighing out half of the 1,000-tomato seed order we are sharing with Charlie Barden from K-State. I thought he might use a digital postal scale we have, but he wouldn't hear of it. Instead he scurried off to the basement, and promptly returned with a small rectangular box with Japanese writing on it. Inside was a balance scale.

"I bought this when I was eleven years old," he said. "I saved all my spending money for this kind of stuff. I'm glad my mom didn't throw it away. I retrieved it when we went to Japan when Joel was a baby."

He carefully poured seeds into the little saucers atop the ends of each arm of the scale and then watched till they finally came to rest with the arrow pointing to zero in the center of the scale.

Who knew that an 11-year-old Japanese boy's treasure would someday reside in the basement of a modest Kansas farmhouse, and be used to weigh out tomato seeds rather than chemicals for experiments?


Another snowstorm is headed our way. The major action is to take place on Tuesday, with snow, high winds, and low temperatures combining to create a lot of nastiness. As in last week's storm, a light coat of freezing rain might precede the snow. Right now it looks as though we'll get more snow than the inch or two we had this past week--4-6 inches perhaps. We were on the southwestern edge of that system, and eastern and northern Kansas got a lot more snow than we did. The fields really need moisture, but when we have high winds, most of the snow gets stripped off the fields and piled in the fence rows, ditches, and roadways--exactly where it is least appreciated--unless perhaps you're a school kid wishing for a day off from school.

If we have to call off school, we'll lose the teacher's work day at the end of this quarter since we've used up the extra days we built into the calender at the beginning of the school year.


Hiromi went to the hog barn tonight to talk to Oren and James while they were here doing chores. He came in to report that all the farrowing crates are full in the farrowing wing. Each crate is occupied by a sow and a litter of pigs. The wood stove is keeping the temperature comfortable, and "everyone" looks happy. The piglets are also warmed by an electric heat mat.

On the day after Alvin's funeral, a number of men came to help finish up the work that still needed to be done to get the farrowing wing ready. The other two wings were occupied already.


Hiromi kept getting hog-barn whiffs tonight after he came to the house. He sniffed himself here and then to try to figure out where the smell lingered. On his sweater? He took it off, but still smelled pigs. Inside his nose? He blew his nose and lit a ginger-scented candle in the center of a miniature Japanese sand garden. On his beard--his hair? He finally gave up and took a bath and washed his hair and changed all his clothes. And now he's sitting contentedly in his rocking chair reading about Greek philosophy and listening to Japanese music.


Last night Hiromi brought home a bottle of prescription thyroid pills I needed. I took the usual dosage later that evening, and the bottle promptly disappeared. Both of us have looked everywhere we could think to look, and we haven't found it. I wonder if we can explain to the pharmacist and get another prescription right away.

Missed dosages don't have immediately apparent detrimental effects, but, over time, a variety of symptoms usually manifest themselves.

I rather like feeling like getting up in the morning and being able to stay awake most of the time during the day. Without this medication, I don't think I could do that.


Last night the Partridge Community Association had their annual meeting, accompanied by a free pancake and sausage supper. The Shalom quartet provided entertainment. John got home from Faith Builders just in time to help sing. His plane arrived a little late, so he couldn't be there in time to eat, but he got there in time to sing. Everyone really seemed to enjoy the singing. Not having sung together for a month didn't seem to be a huge handicap.

Joel and Hilda are serving on the board for the next two years.

Hiromi served on the board at one time. At the monthly potlucks we used to take along a high chair for whoever the youngest child in our family was at the time, so we're a whole generation farther along in community association participation than we were then.

Joel was approached earlier by someone who wanted to lead a campaign to vote him onto the city council. He declined, feeling that the community association involvement fit much better with his ideals of how best to serve others.

I attended by myself since Hiromi had to work till 7:00 and then he attended a community concert in Hutchinson following that. I didn't relish going alone, but I really enjoyed reconnecting with friends I don't see very often, and I enjoyed the singing.


The young marrieds and the 70-plus crowd in our church are planning a joint activity for this Thursday evening. I think that's a great idea.


I've been following developments in Egypt and am concerned about what is happening. I'm not sure if a really good outcome is possible, but I fervently wish for improved living conditions for everyone, and more freedom and safety for Christians. My cousin Jane, who is from Egypt, posted a message on Facebook, wondering if perhaps the Mubarak family might use some of their 70 billion dollar wealth to meet some of the country's needs. When laborers make perhaps only $2.00 a day, such wealth in a dictator's hands seems like an obscene inequity.


Hiromi noticed last night at Wal-Mart that people were stocking up in preparation for watching the Super Bowl. One customer grumbled about all the fuss, but admitted that when the NASCAR races are on, he'll be making appropriate preparations also.

Super Bowl and NASCAR--neither hold any fascination for me.


I enjoyed Arlyn's sermon today. I'm having trouble recalling a title, but the take-away message I got is that if we have appropriate humility we will be willing to learn from people who are different from us.

Josh's devotional was worthwhile too--on fear.


Our current events subject for the month is "Hotspots (Nations)." Tunisia, Sudan, Burma, and Egypt have all merited Time feature articles this year, but we also added Somalia, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Iran to the list of options. This did not include several obvious possibilities like Iraq and Afghanistan or other countries in the Middle East. For each country, we gave a choice of one of seven different questions/subjects students might report on. They may also choose other options, but they need to get them individually approved.

Friday, February 04, 2011


We are in the process of reprinting copies of some of the earlier composition class community writing project products. Several weeks ago we tackled the "Alvin" books. While we were working on this reprint, Alvin died, and we made sure the books about him were available before people gathered for the viewing and funeral. They were available for sale there for $5.00 each, with a sign on the box giving this information. The sign also said that the proceeds from the sale of the books would benefit Pilgrim High School.

Here's the mystery. We asked to have printed 100 books--the amount the family suggested. We paid Office Max to print that amount of copies. I folded and stapled all of them as I had time throughout the day after we got them and before Alvin's funeral. Right after this was finished, word came of Debra Troyer's death. She was the sister-in-law of Judith, the Mom who had actually picked up the printing job when it was finished. Judith and her family promptly left for Ohio to be with rest of the grieving family. I took the booklets to Center where the calling hours and the funeral were to be held--on Wednesday, the day before the calling hours.

On Saturday, some of the members of the composition class that had put up the money for the reprinting helped clean the church as a fundraiser for the Spanish class. One member of the class counted the books left in the box: 49. That meant that 51 books had sold--except that on Monday morning when I picked the remaining books and the money from the jar, it contained money for only about ten books--not nearly enough money to cover the printing costs. (Some of the money was for the "Ervin" books also, so we're doing a bit of estimating.)

So what happened? We don't know. We thought of three possibilities: 1) Maybe we never had 100 copies to start with. (How I wish now I would have counted them!) 2) Maybe people thought the books were a free "memory book" provided by the family for whoever wanted them, and they took them without paying 3) Maybe someone helped themselves to money from the jar. None of these possibilities suggest an easy fix.

I feel especially bad for the students who voted in good faith to use money they already had in hand for what has so far proven to be a drain on the fund they had accumulated. They were planning to use the money for purchasing something that I believe would be a great blessing to the students at school.

Does anyone have any suggestions about what we might do?

P.S. I want to make it clear that the original idea for reprinting these books did not come from Alvin's family, but was our (teacher and class) idea to fill orders that had already come in for these books, and to provide a small supply for future orders.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Faithful Friend

My friend and college classmate, Esther Yoder from Virginia, lived at Alvin Yoders while she was attending school in Kansas. That arrangement harked back to the CPS years of the 1940s when Esther's father and Alvin were working in the same mental institution in Pennsylvania and became lifelong friends.

Esther's father was Sam. I believe I met him only once. At that time he talked briefly about his longstanding friendship with Alvin. He also spoke of a very difficult time when Alvin needed institutional care for mental illness, and how the small group of friends they were both part of suffered along with Alvin. Alvin recovered, and went on to live a full and productive life. In all the years I knew him, he never had another incapacitating bout with that brand of illness.

In my one conversation with Sam I saw glimpses of what Alvin admired so deeply about Sam--his friendliness and his faithful Christian life.

I didn't know until the day of Alvin's funeral that the connection between Alvin and Sam included another chapter of Alvin's life. I can't quite put everything together chronologically, but apparently Sam and his wife Mattie lived at one time in Kalona, IA where Alvin grew up. During those years, Alvin worked for Sam. In the process of those day to day interactions, Alvin was deeply changed through Sam's example and encouragement to live the Christian life as an outgrowth of a personal relationship with Christ and a love for God's Word.

Before this, at the age of 16, Alvin had joined the church his parents belonged to. He had resolved at that time to do what was expected of people who were part of the church. For three years he "walked the walk," but he had little understanding of anything better than the set of do's and don'ts he was observing. At the age of 19 he set out on a new course, and thereafter he lived life with a passion for the things of God.

Alvin moved to Kansas when he married Barbara. Our family grew up with theirs. My older sister Linda is the same age as Oren, the second child in their family, although Oren was in my grade all the way through school. In school Ernest and Carol were in the same grade and Rachel and Caleb were in the same grade. Marietta was between Caleb and Lowell and Frieda was between Dorcas and Clara.

We shared many of the same growing up experiences, except for one--Rural Bible Crusade summer camp. Alvin's children, each in turn, got to go to camp during the summer. We were a bit envious of them, and in awe of what they did to earn that privilege. They memorized 300 Bible verses.

I learned this week that it was Barbara who had the vision for the Bible verse memorization project, but Alvin helped make the project happen, and it seems to fit perfectly with his practice and passion. He read, studied, and memorized more Scripture than anyone I know.

I wondered what had become of Rural Bible Crusade, and learned in an internet search that the name of the organization has changed to Bible Impact Ministries. The focus has changed somewhat and has expanded to include a fairly complete Bible curriculum offered for use in Bible club settings. A campground in Missouri is the site for summer camp these days. At one time the headquarters was in Salina, Kansas, and a native of Salina was the director. At least one of the summer camps was held near Hutchinson at Kansas Bible Camp.

A change in public education forced the change in focus for Rural Bible Crusade (RBC). Representatives of the organization used to visit every rural public school in the area to hand out leaflets with information on the Bible memorization program, with the verses themselves available on other handouts. Many teachers served as allies, encouraging the students and helping them get the memorizing done.

Then came legislation that outlawed public prayer in schools, and other accompanying restrictions to the promotion of Christianity in public schools. RBC reps were no longer welcome to hand out their leaflets, and with almost no publicity, the project foundered. It didn't die, however, partly because the widow of the founder was persistent in keeping the vision alive.

The man who founded the ministry, J. Lloyd Hunter, grieved for the wasted years of men who came to the Lord late in life, leaving behind them wreckage caused by sin. He believed that reaching children would help avoid this terrible waste.

Two rural Kansans, J. H. Kornelson and Bob J. Clark, each served for a time as director of the ministry after Hunter's death. Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas were states where the program was perhaps the most active.

I learned from reading the history of the organization that the original program called for memorizing 500 verses. Before it was phased out, the number had fallen to 200. The children in Alvin's family must have participated when the requirements were shrinking, but had not yet reached the low of 200.

One person who participated in the program for a number of years as a child was eight years old when she began memorizing her 500 verses. She eventually became a missionary in Iran. Mr. Clark, the director, said of her "She told me her missionary work began when she began memorizing those first 500 verses."

I have never heard the members of Alvin's family say where their interest in missions and Christian service began, but perhaps the memorization of those 300 verses was a step along the path that eventually took them to prison work in Alabama (Marietta and Frieda), caring for retarded children in Ohio (Ernest), caring for the elderly in Arkansas (Marietta), working as a midwife in El Salvador and in Paraguay, and now in rural Kansas (Lois); work in the inner city in Washington, D. C. , holding seminars in India, serving as a minister in our local church (Oren)--in an orphanage in Romania, and then in a university in the same country (R------), a community worker in El Salvador (Marietta), and an English language teacher in China (F---). I don't have an exact figure for how many years of combined service this involves, but I'm pretty sure it spans upward of 60 years. (Perhaps one of my readers will know the exact number.)

I have a feeling, though, that Sam Yoder gets part of the credit for the Alvin Yoder family's investment in the Lord's work. If that young Amish man had not served the Lord so joyfully and consistently, Alvin might not have become a Man of the Word as he did. If Alvin had not lived his Christian life as passionately as he did, his children might not have chosen paths that took them "into all the world." And if they had not gone, how many people would not have been introduced to Christ or been nurtured in living for God?

From this vantage point--perhaps 70 years after the friendship between Sam and Alvin began--I'm considering the potential of my friendships and my influence on others for good or ill. I think I'd better get started paying attention if they are ever to count remarkably in the kingdom of God as theirs did. And as for memorizing Scripture, I'd better get more serious about that as well.