Prairie View

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Windy Friday

Go Hutchinson! Site of the highest wind gust in the area today--59 MPH.

Right through all that huffing and puffing, the weather service continued to predict wind gusts as high as 34 MPH. Waaaaay off.

I noticed that our our gas grill got blown over.


We had weird hair day at school. Mr. Schrock, whose hair never looks the slightest bit weird, had an emergency with his bees this morning, and couldn't come to school till late. At lunch, he apologized for forgetting all about the special event of the day, being so busy with the bees and all. He said he guesses he could stick his head under the faucet and then go out and stand in the wind, and get weird hair in a hurry. But he said it without much intention or enthusiasm, and no one held him to trying it.

Some of the rest of us, on the other hand, worked hard to look weird. Normal is a lot faster and easier.

I did the middle part, comb toward the temples, hook over the ears number. This revealed quite a lot more dark brown hair than usually shows, and the students were delighted with the result. At least they cheered and flocked around when I arrived, while I tried my best to scuttle off to my desk quietly. They followed me to my desk and stood around in an admiring circle. I don't think for a moment that anyone really was smitten with the result--only delighted to be able to laugh at a teacher's looks without fear of recrimination. I hate to think how disruptive it might have been if I had done what I briefly contemplated doing--start braids just above each ear and then lift them to the top of my head and tie them together in a bow. I just couldn't think how to wear a covering with any semblance of respect behind such a clownish hairdo. As it was, I wore my covering sort of clinging desperately to the "back 40" of my head, over a fat round bun worn low on my neck. It felt horrible. One of the girls couldn't resist trying to help it into a more respectable position when she walked by near the end of the day.

I combed my hair properly after I got home, but not before I went through the bank drive-through, and not before a siding and window salesman stopped in to push his product. Poor guy. He had to pretend I looked perfectly fine.

I concluded that it's really hard to hang on to a feeling of authority when you know you look ridiculous.


Our newspaper last week had a front page article about the suicide of a 17-year old boy who seemed to have everything going for him. The young man was active in a local church, and he was well-liked and successful in athletics.

Hiromi had a sinking feeling of recognition when he read the article.

Remember the customer in his lane who made a major case out of a coupon irregularity Hiromi had a hard time figuring out? Suffice it to say that that customer undoubtedly knows now that a coupon "emergency" is a nothing--compared to the death of a child by suicide.

Hiromi was originally mistaken about the customer's identity. He heard her name correctly, but her husband was not who he thought. He got it all sorted out the next day, and what he learned added some drama to the mix.


Several days ago, I promised my typing students a party if they raised their class typing speed average by two words per minute by the end of the school year. Today they reached that goal. I was pleased, but it happened a lot faster than I was expecting, and I hope the momentum can be sustained till the end of the year.


Kristi is taking action to try to provide safe drinking water to two individuals in a developing country for a certain period of time (Is it a month or a year?). She's collecting $40.00--the amount required to accomplish this. The money is channeled through a charity which she learned about while she was doing research on water crises.

I think it's a great idea to take decisive action like this--to go beyond learning about problems to doing something to address the problems.


Each of the typing students prepared and presented a slide show based on the material they gathered for their oral or written report for the current issues study of the month. I gave several minimal requirements, and showed them some of the basic ways to put things together. Then they experimented and came up with something to present to the others in the class. I was impressed. They're already ahead of me.


Three seniors gave presentations today on a subject of their choice during the Friday activity time--something that tells us about their interests, skills, or abilities. Euni talked about ceramics, Emily showed us an origami trick with a one-dollar bill, and Seth, who talked about photography, handed out poster board and assignments for each of us to create a page-sized numeral--something between 1 and 31. Then he took a picture of each of us with our numeral. With these photos, he plans to create a picture calendar page. I'm looking forward to continuing the series next year.

Favorite Toys

Several weeks ago Ervin Stutzman showed me a toy that he received as a child. It was new then, and is probably about 77 years old now. It's still around because it was made of cast metal. It represented a car made before 1920. Some of the wooden wheels had been replaced, but otherwise, there wasn't much that could wear out.

I look at toys like that and admire their sturdiness, and I'm wistful about the throwaway toys that many children are most familiar with. Wouldn't it be better if they were more durable?

"If you're lucky, your kids' toys will break and you can throw them away." When my children were small, I read that statement referring to the other side of the toy issue. Endless accumulation is a real pain, and being able to throw old damaged toys away with a clear conscience is good too.

I remember several toys the boys used to have and enjoy--none of which currently clutter up our space:

A toy shopping cart--great for a toddler to push around and carry things in
A small plastic pail with a shovel, hoe and rake
A workbench with pegs, screws, bolts, a hammer, a wrench, and a screw driver
A small wheelbarrow--We have a picture of Shane with a giant head of cabbage in his when he was about five. He loved that little red wheelbarrow.
A mower--Grant did a lot of mowing, complete with appropriate grunts while pulling on the imaginary starter rope.
A chainsaw--Another favorite of Grant's toys. (All Grant's practice with these toys may have paid off for him literally. Cutting wood and doing yard work have helped him earn money since he was about ten years old.)
A vinyl floor mat with roads, fields, and a farmstead printed on it--The boys used vehicles and farm equipment to move from place to place and to work in the fields.
Riding toys--I remember only two--both of which are long gone, but were fun while they lasted

A few toys that we still have somewhere:
Scrap wood--My cabinet maker brother-in-law got really nice oak scraps from the shop where he worked--actually ends of boards--very useful for laying out roads and building structures.
A John Deere combine--probably the most expensive toy we ever bought
Fischertechnik--This name is not complete, but it refers to a set of very nicely designed gears, rods, wheels, pulleys, propellers, etc. with which real working toys can be constructed--things like cars, and helicopters, and cranes, etc.
Cuisenaire Rods--Technically, these are math manipulatives, but they're great toys, and children learn a lot by playing with them.

Outdoors they used boards, ropes, miniature garden tools, bricks, rocks, tin cans, buckets, short and flat metal rods, straw bales, grass clippings (for hay), and hoses. They played with kittens and puppies, and fought off bossy geese and cocky roosters. They raised broilers from chicks and gathered eggs from laying hens. They fed rabbits, and 4H sheep and pigs, and drove or led the sheep and pigs round and round in the sheep pen. Joel had fancy chickens like Japanese Bantams--one of which he rescued when a hawk was just about to fly off with it.

Looking back, I marvel that, with our limited means, we could actually provide all these things for our boys to play with and learn by, and I thank God. I hope they can provide a rich environment for their children some day--perhaps different from that of their own childhood, but full of opportunities to explore, imagine, create, discover, nurture, and conquer.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Wrapup--4/25/2011

The biggest news of the weekend is that we have an 80% chance of rain tonight. If you think that's no big deal, you obviously aren't watching the year's wheat crop struggle to survive, and you aren't worried about your expensive seed in the ground not having enough moisture to germinate.

Repeatedly over the past few weeks, we've had a string of cloudy days, but no significant moisture. This 80% we're hearing about now has fluctuated in per cent chances for rain from 40 to 60 and then 80 and back to 60 and now back to 80.

Yesterday at the Horticulture Club's annual plant sale, one of my faithful flower customers from market stopped to chat, and talked about the need for rain, finishing with "Well, we'll just have to keep praying for rain." I agreed, and this morning in Sunday School class we did just that.


Our Sunday School class also prayed for Tim M., who is to have a court hearing tomorrow. He is a friend of my brother's family, and others who have worked in Central American missions. Tim was arrested when he entered the US, and is facing charges of having aided someone who was in violation of a child custody order. The woman involved--and her child--traveled to the country where Tim was working, and they had contact with Tim there. They are elsewhere now, in an unknown location. The birth mother of the child is now a Christian, but the other "mother" is not a Christian, never adopted the child she now claims as her own, has not forsaken her immoral lifestyle, and has been awarded full custody of the child. What a mess.

I find comfort in knowing that the situation doesn't look nearly as tangled and impossible to God as it does to us.


LeRoy told Joel in church today that he's still hoping that some speaker goes overtime in church during the time Lester T. is here. Lester is a mentally handicapped adult whose tolerance is so severely tried during long services that he's been known to sob openly when things go on too long for him. I think that would have a remarkable braking effect on long-windedness, and LeRoy perversely wishes to witness it.

Lester is still eager to shake hands with everyone after church, although he's less able to remember names than he used to be.

Lester has been loved and cared for by his family all his life, and he has many friends among his family's friends.


My dad and Ollie and Emma were in church this morning as usual. What was unusual was that they had just arrived home from a straight-through drive from Harrisonburg, VA, arriving here around 9:30 A. M.

It was a great help to everyone in that load that my "young" cousins (in their 50s) , Omar and Orville, were along and did most of the driving.

Emma reported that she and Martha and Fannie got closer to being caught up on their visiting than had happened for a long time. They routinely sat together in the back seat of the van. The siblings and in-laws apparently really enjoyed being together on this long trip. Phone calls home from the van were accompanied by lively visiting in the background.


Clare and I worked together on planting a garden for them this weekend. The planting of a modest sized normal garden almost feels like playing. When the soil and breezes are soft and the sun is warm, and you're in good company, what could be more fun and hopeful than planting a garden?


We have only two weeks of school left. Ahhhhh. I can almost taste summer.


Last week I overheard a comment from a student who habitually turned in late written reports this year on the literature and current events selection of the month. He bemoaned the serious grade penalties incurred, and said he really ought to get his report in on time this time.

I let that comment pass, but later, when he was making another vague "I ought to . . . " comment about his written report, I seized the moment and told him he ought to consider gluing himself to his chair until it was done. "I'm not in an encouraging mode here," I continued. "I'm in a scolding mode."

He got his report in on time--at which time I lavished on him praise and "air" pats on the back, and urged the boy next to him to give him a real pat on the back.

If I had known scolding worked so well, I would have tried it sooner.


I did another scolding thing last week, come to think of it. This followed a comment about people not signing up for the food production class--because some students had warned others that it would be a lot of work.

"That's what I suspected," I said, "and frankly it makes me a little mad." (Notice the precise, mature language.) "I think it sounds really whiney. It's hard work. So what? Waaaa-waaaaa."

I did allow that there would probably be ways to streamline the class, but that if you were going to get a food garden planted, there was really no way to accomplish that without quite a bit of planning and preparation and hard work.

If students could look ahead and realize that the hard work now of learning how to grow food efficiently is really easy compared to facing the necessity at some future time of having a garden with very little knowledge of how to do what is necessary--and experiencing failure as a result. That would be hard--to fail when there's a family depending on the garden to make money reach, or to provide nutrition that is hard to come by otherwise, or to avoid toxins that someone in the family might be very allergic to. Failure then/hard work now--what's so hard about this choice?

Caveat: Learning how to garden can happen without taking a class. That's how I learned gardening. I maintain, however, that it's not likely to ever be a source of much pleasure, or be pursued with any passion if a person does not at some point in life work closely with someone who is a passionate gardener. The same is true in many other subject areas--academic and practical, and is another good reason for taking a class in something you might actually be able to learn about on your own--because being able to learn from a passionate teacher is a gift. Exactly how do people expect to learn about something in the course of meeting the many obligations of adult life if they can't take time to learn about it when learning is part of their job description--while they're in school?

Looking for an easy route through school is probably an understandable student preference, but that doesn't make it noble. That's why there ought to be adults involved in the process--to save students from the hazards of their lazy tendencies.


On the bright side, one former student from the food production class is planning to do some market gardening this year. He contributed to the food production class discussion by saying he liked the class. That seemed like a revelation to the students who had heard only about the hard work involved.


Yesterday I got a look at the almost-completed playscape at the Dillon Nature Center. It looks exactly like the kind of place children could enjoy for hours. There's a small man-made stream through the area, and a large area of piled up loose dirt for digging in. Trees surround the place and new trees are planted within it. I'm sure any young child would discover a lot that I missed.

It also makes me feel good about having had our children grow up where they had access to many of those same play opportunities while they were growing up--because they lived where there was an out-back that was OK for digging in. They made their own lakes and streams and roads and bridges outdoors, in the sheep pen.

If I had to choose between a nice house and an interesting outdoors, I'd go with the interesting outdoors--especially if I was raising boys.


My mom is having a bout with shingles. Since this has happened before, Linda knows some tricks to alleviate the pain and speed recovery. Avoiding shingles entirely would be preferable, of course. Joel wonders whether she has considered getting the shingles shot. I didn't know such a thing was available.

Clare says she has had shingles twice. I've never had it, and I'm happy to leave it that way.


Clare has accidentally ingested some of the foods she's had allergic reactions to in the past, without adverse results this time. We're all hopeful that this means she is gradually becoming more tolerant of these things.

Twice in recent weeks I have cooked a beef roast for Sunday lunch, with vegetables in the same crockpot--although no potatoes, which is her main allergy food. I added no seasonings at all, and we added it at the table, except that today I tasted the beef and decided it didn't need anything more. It was quite flavorful. Then we checked the package and saw that it already contained beef broth, salt, and natural flavorings. None of those things are on Clare's approved list, except in her own potato-free versions. And the peas I cooked had added salt--straight from the package. Last week she ate frozen peaches that Yolie gave her. They had ascorbic acid--another no-no. The good part is that she did not react with digestive upset or a migraine to any of these things.

While it would seem easy to avoid eating potatoes, the starch is added as an anti-caking agent to many, many dry foods, including salt and spices. And when it's processed in the same facility as foods containing potato starch, even supposedly potato-free foods can be a problem. So we are all very happy to have hope that the rigid food restrictions may be slowly lifting. She has experienced much better health in general since she learned to avoid the foods that trigger bad reactions.


I'm sure it's not hard to see why Clare is very motivated to produce as much of her own food as possible. This really is the best way to know exactly what you're eating. Who would have thought that frozen peas contain anything except frozen peas, and roast beef anything but muscle meat from a beef animal?


The time period has passed when rainfall was most likely tonight, and I didn't hear any rainfall. I'm going to pray about it again before I go to sleep.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Uncle Dan

My uncle Dan died at midnight on Tuesday morning. He was 79, and the ninth in a family of 12 children, all of whom survived Dan. He and his wife Ann had moved to Harrisonburg, VA from Columbus, OH less than ten years ago after he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He was still doing fairly well at that time, and could participate in the decision making process and in making the move. Harrisonburg was the town in which both Dan and Ann attended college, and where they met. Although none of their children lived in Virginia (PA and MA and WA), they were closer to two of them than if they had stayed in Ohio.

Dan had a career in public education, although he taught first in a Christian school in the Belleville, PA area. They lived in Kansas for a while, and he taught sixth grade at a public school in Hutchinson. Then Dan won a fellowship (whatever that is) and went back to school in Ohio to become a guidance counselor. He stayed in that profession and in that state till after he retired.

Dan was very witty and mild-mannered, although I'm sure he adhered fairly firmly to his opinions. Most Millers do the wit and the opinion thing effortlessly. Some are far less mild-mannered than Dan was.

Uncle Fred is providing a ride to the funeral for many of his siblings. He owns a 13-passenger van and provides transportation for people in the area who don't own cars. I hope this over-70 crowd has the good sense to stop for the night en route to VA. I think they will. (Later: They plan to drive straight through on the way home though.)

While they were growing up, Dad's family never called their brother Dan, but Daniel. He was Daniel C. Miller, with his middle initial honoring his mother Clara. Most (or all) his brothers had their father Levi's initial: "L". Dan's wife was similarly known as Anna Mae in Kalona, Iowa, where she grew up. Her sister is the "Amish stories" author, Clara Bernice Miller--The Crying Heart. Ann is an artist, although I'm not sure whether she has ever worked professionally as such.

My cousin, Edith Bacher, posted a picture on Facebook today in memory of Uncle Dan. Ann is on the picture also, along with my sister Clara, and our principal Wesley Schrock, and his wife Jean Ann.

Later: My sister Linda shared a link to Dan's obituary here. I learned several things from the obituary: Ann spells her name "Anne." I learned where each of the children lives now. I also remembered something I had been trying to figure out. Where were Dan and Anne between Belleville, PA and Kansas? I was almost sure there was some space between those two teaching stints. They were in Alberta. I think their two oldest children were born there.

Reading the obituary reminded me of something else. Apparently he loved sports. I didn't know that, but I remembered a conversation with Dan while I was in college at Sterling. Dan had attended there too, and he asked me if Clair Gleason was still a coach and PE teacher. He was. Dan spoke highly of him, so I'm sure he had contact with him through athletics during his time at Sterling. I don't know how long Dan attended Sterling, but I'm sure he did not graduate there.


Paul is just younger than Dan in the Miller family. He is the Bible teacher for the freshmen and sophomores at our high school. On Tuesday morning he had just gotten the message of Dan's death, and he hurried to inform Mr. Schrock before the bell rang for class to begin. Euni overheard a bit of what he said, but inquired further to get the whole story. After she heard, she marveled, "His brother just died, and he's hurrying off to teach Bible class."


We're studying "water" as this month's current issue. Early on, when we watched an informative DVD on the subject, I got a taste of what was to come when a picture of a toilet flushing lever appeared on the screen. A titter swept over the student crowd. Why is bathroom stuff so hilarious?

I'll have to admit that there was one more shared joke among the students. I opened my eyes at one point to see several pairs of student eyes turned my way. Big grins everywhere. "You and Mr. Schrock were sleeping at the same time!" a student jubilantly informed me afterward.

"I had already seen the movie," I answered. I'm afraid it sounded defensive and ignoble.

Both yesterday and today the bathroom aspect of water use came up again. Jonny told us his brother is not putting in a septic system at his "claim shanty." Instead he's going to make use of sawdust and a bucket, which, after filling up in alternating layers, then gets emptied onto a compost pile. I think I surprised everyone by being very familiar with this method of human waste disposal, and I proceeded to quote some things I remembered from having read The Humanure Handbook. I didn't quote everything I remembered. I was trying to maintain some sense of decorum. MJ earlier had pointedly refrained from saying something he was thinking and I commended him for his discretion. If he could be discrete, surely I could too.

There was further talk about the impracticality of using perfectly good drinking water to mix with human wastes. And then a senior came up with the bright idea that next year, in order to do our part for the school and the planet, we could switch to outhouses instead of using our water-wasting restrooms. Someone else suggested that using the outdoor facilities be available only to those on "E" privilege. Another person speculated that a certain student (Mr. Distractable) would go astray regularly if he ever headed for the outhouse.

Someone quoted Mr. Schmucker who had apparently described in some detail how the sewage was handled at Faith Builders. There was lots of talk of "fingers" being used to filter out the solids. "It's all recycled," they informed Holli, who plans to attend there next year.

"You mean they drink it then?" (Worried question from Holli.)

"No. It just ends up in a pond." This reminded me of a story Mr. S. told. He claimed someone had gone fishing in that pond. When someone asked him what he caught, he said all he got was a couple of crappies. (In Kansas, we say Crah-peas. Not so in PA.) I refrained from adding this story to the mix in the typing room today. It would no doubt have been appreciated, but . . . that decorum thing, you know.

Earlier today Brandon had asked me if the water problem with concentrated livestock facilities was mostly with waste disposal or the volume of water the animals consumed. I told him I thought it was mostly the waste disposal, which often results in pollution of surface water. Then, while I was scanning the newspaper for worthwhile news, I read that a dairy cow usually consumes 30 to 40 gallons of water a day. I read it out loud, and the students within earshot were duly impressed. I told them that the cattle on our farm drink several 300-gallon tanks full of water every day. We talked about how a cow's diet would make a difference. Eating hay and grain would call for a lot more water consumption than a forage diet.

One more bathroom statistic: By law, new toilets must not use more than about 1.6 gallons per flush. Older toilets usually use about twice that much water.

With that final bit of inspiring trivia, I think I'll sign off.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Blowin' in the Wind

This wind is downright worrisome. I just read on the NOAA weather site that Hutchinson recorded wind gusts at 60 MPH today. Outside my window the wind is whipping the trees with such fury that I fear some of the branches will twist right off and go sailing downwind. It's probably good that the trees are not leafed out yet.

I wonder what else is blowing around out there. Thankfully we had just enough rainfall to keep the topsoil from taking flight. (In the middle of the last sentence I saw the chimney cap from the housetop flung onto the driveway.)

Yesterday it was almost as fiercely windy from the south, and then the wind shifted around to the northwest late in the day, and now everything that blew into Nebraska yesterday can head for Oklahoma today.

Today, on the tax filing deadline, is our average frost-free date. Stutzmans is having their annual Frost Free celebration with an offer of a free tomato plant with each purchase. Ironically, the predicted overnight low here is 31 degrees. We looked ahead at the forecast earlier this week and decided to hold off on planting our tomatoes. Stutzmans might have a better-than-average season if a lot of tomatoes get frozen tonight. I'm hopeful, though, that, with some plant protection, tomatoes can survive the night outdoors--that is, if the plant protectors don't blow away. Nevertheless, we've taken the precaution of bringing all of our tomato plants in from the greenhouse. They're in trays, laid out in ranks on the living and dining room floor. Tomorrow, however, a warming trend begins, and we'll move outside most of the things that have lived under lights indoors so far. It's time to start another round of seeds.

One experiment this year is planting strawberries from seed. Tresa got the seeds from a European friend who thought she should try these wonderful strawberries. She asked me to start them for her. I couldn't read a word on the seed packet label, so I didn't know if they needed to germinate in light or dark, in warm or cold temperatures. I did not cover them, and I kept them on a heat mat. Some of the seeds germinated, but the plants are sitting there, seemingly paralyzed. For several weeks, the leaves have been half the size of a pinhead. The Nicotiana, which germinated at about the same time, also with very fine leaves at the beginning, now has leaves the diameter of a pea.

I'm still waiting to get my asparagus, strawberry, rhubarb, and cane fruit plants into the ground. If Grant gets the volunteer mulberry tree cut down in the cane fruits planting area, I'm going to work hard on getting at least those things planted tomorrow. The biggest hurdle before that can happen will be to get the organic matter (polite term for manure pile) from the large mound by the hog barn to the Trail West garden. It will likely be either by shovel full, hauled in tubs, or, if the men in the family get involved, perhaps by skid steer scoops, hauled by the pickup load. Or maybe someone else will come up with an idea smarter than either of those. I'm praying about this.

I've just returned to this post after more than an hour's interruption when the power went out. I'm glad to hear the aquarium pump burbling away, and the furnace fan running again. I do wonder about the fire truck that just wailed its way toward Partridge, and I feel sorry for the lineman that worked to restore power under such wild conditions. I think I'll be glad to go to bed soon and wake up tomorrow to a calmer world.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Signs of School Term End

You know school is nearly over when--

--The student offering the lunch time prayer thanks the Lord that school is nearly over.

--Students in typing class do almost as much giggling as typing.

--The freshmen spring a "Senior Day" surprise, in which they pamper the seniors in many ways--cinnamon rolls at first break, taco salad at lunch, and root beer floats for the whole school after dismissal. Another student decorates posters for each student, and the non-seniors and teachers write affirmations and memories and blessings on the posters.

--Fierce warm spring winds drive the "lunchtime outdoors" crowd indoors.

--The party the seniors offer anyone who finishes on "C" or "E" privilege at the end of the year proves to be more motivating than anything the teachers could dream up.

--Individual seniors have samples and signup sheets for people who want to request a photo.

--The demands of preparing a senior challenge speech trump attendance at regular youth group activities.

--The girls and the boys from the high school have a teacher-planned slumber party--two separate ones, that is.

--Eighth graders have spent a day and a half at the high school to finish their freshman testing--to determine where they start in the ACE paces. I'm working on grading the English portion, and couldn't resist sharing with the typing class one tidbit I came across today. Did you know that the comparitive form of quickly is "quicklier?" Two students thought so. (I didn't tell the typing students WHO thought so.)

--The daffodils in the school flower beds are past, but the creeping phlox, candytuft, and perennial yellow alyssum are blooming in bright and beautiful concert.

--The typing room windows are open every day, because it's too warm in there otherwise. Sometimes it's still too warm.

--The spring edition of the Pilgrim Perspective and the yearbook are both still under wraps, but eagerly anticipated.

--No more choir classes, since the programs are past, and there were extra classes just ahead of the programs.

--Students break into song while doing cleaning jobs or working in the computer lab, usually singing one of the program songs.

--Mr. Schrock closes the door to the computer lab when the noise level escalates to disturbing levels, and I have not kept up with reining things in.

--The seventh and eighth graders present us with a mini-concert as a final practice for the little spring program they're presenting to a small audience of parents and other interested people.

--The seniors each have a homemade chart in their office, on which they check off the remaining tasks before graduation.

--Teachers keep their thoughts to themselves, but they too feel the excitement of transitioning into the summer schedule.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Advice and Observations

I am full of fire preparedness advice now. Some of this I have acquired by listening, and some of it by pondering what I already knew.

1) Keep a cell phone close if you're going to set a fire. This is one thing I did right--grabbed the cell phone off the end table right by the front door at home, on my way out. Oh yeah. Have a few numbers memorized if you're too inept to input them or access them on your cell phone.

2) Wet the area around the spot you intend to burn. Do it with a hose. That way you'll know if the hose reaches, if it has leaks, if you need a nozzle, etc. Tilling a perimeter is another option.

3) Have a shovel handy.

4) Fill a water bucket and soak some old jeans or other large rags in it. Park it near the fire.

5) Consider doing a bit of back burning. That is, deliberately set a small fire close to any area you wish to protect from burning. You will, of course, take precautions to see that the small fire is put out very quickly, usually by previously wetting down or plowing up a perimeter near the no-burn area.

6) Call 911 before you set a fire. I was a little fuzzy about the rules here, but I knew that the wind speed was in the safe category, and, of course, my fire was going to be so small and insignificant that it was no use bothering anyone by announcing my intentions. Shane informed me that the guys that responded to my fire were a lot nicer than most firefighters would have been if they knew I didn't call it in ahead of setting it.

7) Don't wear Crocs or sandals. Leather shoes, or better yet, leather boots work much better for stomping flames. Your feet will stay a lot cleaner too.

8) Don't be deceived by the innocuous appearance of short dry grass, interspersed with green vegetation. Fire can creep pretty quickly through that short dry grass, even while dodging the green spots as it goes.

9) Be a pessimist. Assume that Murphy's Law will be in effect and anything that can happen will happen. (It pains me to take on Hiromi's role and rules here.)

Since Friday, I've been thinking about the importance of maintaining all the little fire departments in small towns. Being able to call on them and expect a prompt response is a real blessing.

On Dwight and Karen's farm, where my grandparents used to live, all the farm buildings are spaced widely apart. I'm told this was a deliberate choice on the part of Mr. MacArthur, who used to own the farm. He did it to minimize the chance of fire spreading from one building to the next. In a time when water was pumped by hand or with a windmill, and fire departments operated with horse power (literally) there was little hope of saving a burning structure out in the country, and the best that could be hoped for was to keep the fire from spreading. Although fire insurance policies still give some recognition to the wisdom of this wide spacing between buildings, the fear is lessened considerably by much better access now to fire-fighting assistance through local fire departments with mechanized equipment.


Last night Grant informed me that Jared's sprayer on the four-wheeler is ready to go now, and he'll slip over to the Trail West place to spray the dandelions with that some time soon. That's a great relief.


Grant also inquired about how the big bindweed patch fared in the burned over area. I was pleased to say that it was completely obliterated for the moment. This year's growth had not appeared yet, however, so I'm not sure that it will have gone away for good. I doubt it. Part of the reason for starting new asparagus is that I was not confident that the bindweed could be eliminated in the old asparagus bed without killing the asparagus too.


Clarissa's family calls her Clare. I'm beginning to like using the shortened form. It sounds un-fussy and seems very familiar because I have a sister Clara--who was named after my dear grandmother.


One of the things I fuss about occasionally is that some people in Kansas choose to plant evergreens on the south side of their property. Deciduous trees and shrubs are a much better choice there. Blocking all the breeze during the summer when the prevailing winds are from the south is a recipe for baking in the heat. Contrast this with the benefits of having the south wind not only slowed down by deciduous plantings, but also cooled by passing through shady areas, with the cooling effect of transpiration (evaporation of moisture) from the leaves aiding the comfort level.

On the other hand, blocking thoroughly the west and north winds is a really good move in the winter when our coldest winds come from there.

The recipe is easy: Evergreens on the north and west, and shade trees and shrubs to the south.


Wilma French died at the age of 92. She lived most of her adult life smack in the middle of the Wagler corner with Raymond to the south, Mahlon across the road north, and Orpha up the road to the west at the Pete Wagler farm. Willie was beyond Orpha, also to the west. Her youngest son, Jim, was in high school in my day. He is my sister Carol's age.


We turned on our air conditioner today. The weather site had warned of blowing dust, and opening the windows didn't seem like a great idea. The weather was actually cooler today than yesterday, when I resisted turning on the air conditioner because of the expense. But Hiromi was home today, and comfort indoors is a very high priority for him.

It was an NPS (No Pig Smell) day, though, unlike what I expected.


On my dining room table I have an extravagant bouquet of Redbud and Flowering Crabapple blossoms. They come from the Trail West place, and the Flowering Crab branches come from the trimmings where the branches overlapped the front walkway.

Their blooming patterns are very different. The Redbud blooms all along the branches, with no leaf sprouts showing at all. The Flowering Crab has squirrel-ear-sized leaves, with blooms interspersed. The variety, Sargent, is especially attractive with deep pink buds and petals opening to almost white. These two colors set off by the green leaves is one of spring's beautiful sights.

These lovely flowering trees bring to mind Gus Van Der Hooven's comment on Kansans who bemoan what they can't grow here. "No, you can't grow azaleas, but you can grow lovely lilacs. And when you can grow lilacs, why would you rather have azaleas?" He was born in Holland and worked in Australia before he came to Kansas State University to head up the horticulture division of the extension service. Fortunately for all of us, he had learned to appreciate the special characteristics of each region, and didn't waste time thinking about what we were missing out on here. I think he would say "Don't bemoan the fact that dogwoods don't grow well here. You've got beautiful Redbuds. And when you can grow Redbuds, why would you rather have Dogwoods?"

Dogwoods are lovely, though, and I don't blame Easterners who remember them with nostalgia. They have comparatively large blossoms, but sparsely held horizontally on bare branches. This gives them both an airy and substantial appearance, and the effect is very fetching. I associate Dogwoods with looking for mushrooms in the Ohio woods when I lived there while teaching school.

Hot winds, brilliant sunshine, and alkaline soils are Dogwood's enemies in Kansas.


I also have a bouquet of pink Darwin Hybrid tulips in a crystal vase on the dining room table, in the shadow of the blooming branches in a large black earthenware vase. On the low bookcase by the telephone, red and yellow tulips from the ones my parents brought back from Holland years ago add cheer to the spot. It's really true that tulips grow after they're in the vase. The red and yellow ones are noticeably taller than they were yesterday when I put them in the vase.


School is winding down, with four weeks left. I love having school end after the first week in May, but I keep wondering if we're being fair to our students by cramming a year's worth of school work into the shorter school year we have. I always thought private schools had some official exemption from the 180 or 185 days required of public schools, but lately I've heard that it may not be that official--only a gentleman's agreement with some state official years ago.

I favor a middle ground where only those who don't accomplish a year's worth of pace work and other credits at the high school get to come back as long as necessary during an additional two weeks at the end of the school year. I think that would provide a lot of motivation to get the required amount of work done in a timely manner.

I'm sure that any vote taken now would be overwhelmingly against extending the school year. The warmer weather and the end being in sight are giving everyone slightly wild impulses--the kind that would not be assuaged by a longer school year.

The other day Wes walked into the learning center, after all teachers were occupied elsewhere for a bit, and he compared the result to what happens when a hunter happens upon a covey of quail. Explosions of activity in all directions--in this case, students hurrying to do what they were supposed to be doing while the teachers were out.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Finishing With a Flair

I ended the day with quite a flair--a flare, that is. No. Many flares. So many that I called the fire department.

I was feeling just a trifle sorry for myself that all the men in my life were so decidedly unavailable when I needed them to help me get the garden ready at the Trail West place. I really need to get those 100 strawberry plants and those 75 asparagus plants, and the dozen or so rhubarb roots out of my refrigerator and into the ground, to say nothing of the 40 or so cane fruits that will arrive soon. I have been waiting my turn for several weeks. Corn planting and kiln firing have taken precedence.

The most daunting preparation challenge was a healthy stand of dandelions in the former/future garden spot. Having Paul come over with his tractor and tiller didn't seem like a great way to deal with them, given the fact that new plants start easily from root cuttings. So I gritted my teeth and followed Grant's directions and gathered the backpack sprayer and chemical and measuring cup and went to the Trail West place to spray glyphosate on the dandelions. (I would have had to grit my teeth even harder if it had been manufactured by that M--company that makes a glyphosate product that starts with R.) Also, it was nice and warm today--just right for the dandelion leaf pores to be wide open for drinking in a good dose of poison.

I remembered before I left that there was a small brush pile in the garden, and so I took along some newspapers and a lighter. It seemed like a good day to burn and get it gone, since there wasn't much wind. It's to be much windier the next few days.

I also thought of taking a garden hose to give myself some insurance, but Grant said there was one there. He did remind me that the pump was turned off and I would need to turn it back on at the utility box if I needed water--temporarily though since there was a leak near the pressure tank in the old well house.

The mowing was done regularly last summer around the little brush pile, and quite a bit of green growth had begun to come through the bit of dead grass that remained. I looked around and decided that there wasn't anywhere for a fire to go, and not enough fuel for it to burn if it wanted to go anywhere, so I confidently lit a few newspapers and watched the flames catch on the twigs. But at the same time the fire also burned back from the pile in all directions. Things feel apart very fast after that.

I couldn't believe how that fire traveled. At no time was it burning high except when it got to the dead tomato vines remaining from Brandon's garden, and to the dead asparagus fronds. Then it went back to creeping. The wind direction carried it away from the buildings, but very quickly I saw that it would end up in the Red Cedar tree row if no one intervened. That scared me. Those trees can burn like a torch, and the row surrounds two sides of the property--the 476 feet along the west edge of the property, and it wraps 200 or so feet around around the north edge. I didn't want to think about the loss of that winter wind protection and the care it had taken to get those trees started when we first moved there in 1984.

I turned on the water, and small fountains geysered along the length of the hose, leaving no water to come out the end of the hose. I called Joel and Grant, neither of whom were close by--although they both often work within two and a half miles from there. I moved the minivan out of danger and reluctantly called 911. Then I started stomping out the fire at the leading edge where it was closest to the trees. My Crocs were hardly ideal fire stomping equipment, but I was surprised with how well it worked. Eventually I got most of it stomped out, and I wondered if I should call off the fire trucks. Then Shane arrived, just before the fire department. He grabbed a stick and used it to help scrape and beat out the fire in several remaining hot spots. Joel had the presence of mind to call him, and he came over from Joseph's shop where he had been working. I figured he was on a distant job site somewhere, which is why I didn't call him myself.

Three trucks came from Pleasantview, since the Partridge crew was already out on another call. I knew all the guys in the crew--Calvin, James, Brian, and Marvin. They did their jobs in short order, hosing down some smoking spots, without chiding me for my numerous errors in judgment. (Hiromi and Grant took care of that department after they got home. "Try the hose before you start the fire." Yes. Yes.) Joel arrived then also, having driven out from town where he was working--about 30 minutes away. Six men all rushing to my aid. This was quite a turn of events.

I thought it would be nice if all the scorching going on would at least have taken care of my dandelion problem, but I decided it wasn't likely to have worked that way. After everyone left again, I set about mixing up the deadly potion for the dandelions, but things did not go well. I couldn't get the lid off the sprayer tank. I took it for a sign that I wasn't supposed to be doing the spraying, so I trundled over to Mom's house instead. Dad has been gone to PA this week, to ministers' meetings, and I've been wanting to stop in.

I found her dressed to go outdoors. "How did you know I was home?" she asked.

"I didn't, but you're usually home, unless Dad takes you somewhere," I answered.

"I've been staying at Marvin and Lois' and I just came home for a while today while Lois went to the Relief Sale. She's coming pretty soon to pick me up again, so I thought I'd better be ready." I didn't know any of that, and felt out of the loop for sure. Clueless all around. I ended up bringing Mom here and Lois picked her up later.

After the sheep were fed and the cattle watered and the greenhouse closed up for the night, I scrubbed my very black feet in the bath tub before slipping into my Birkenstock indoor sandals.

Later, Grant came home to clean up before going away again (with Clarissa, who arrived today--surprising Grant who thought she was coming tomorrow). "Did you say you had black feet?" Grant called from the bathroom. "I think the black stayed in the bathtub. You probably should have rinsed it down a little better."

So now I know one more thing I didn't do right today--rinsing the tub.

I'm going to bed. Tomorrow I'll take stock of what needs doing, and I'll start all over with planning my gardening tasks. I won't build any flair at all into the day's plans. Ordinary is fine by me.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sunday Wrapup 4/3/2011

"How much of this is going to make it into your blog?" someone asked me on the way home from Oklahoma yesterday.

"I have no idea," I answered. "I won't know till I'm in front of the keyboard." I still don't know.

I traveled to a "Women's Day" event in Boley, OK, along with several van loads of other women from our church. The four hour trip there and back was part of the pleasure of the day, as was the time among Christian women whose recent ethnic and cultural history is very different from ours. They are known among us as Kleine Gemeinde people, recently affiliated with the Biblical Mennonite Alliance (BMA) group. My father helped me understand where these people fit into the Mennonite family by describing the Kleine Gemeinde as a revivalist group among Old Colony Mennonites. They are of Russian German background.

For some of the people in the host congregation, English is clearly a second language, and speaking in the second language produces some surprising and rather delightful expressions. In a mealtime prayer we asked the Lord to bless the food ON our bodies. And all of us who know about a later-in-life biological milestone common to all women identified with the woman who referred to her mid-life crisis--a term I have usually heard associated with an identity crisis rather than a biological event.

We ate "restaurant soup" and wonderful chicken sandwiches for lunch. If I can find a recipe somewhere, I want to make restaurant soup some time. It's a kind of vegetable soup, with a distinctive mixture of spices, possibly including cilantro, if one of my dining companions was as discerning as I think she was. Hilda, who taught school in Copeland, KS, a community with similar roots as the Boley church community, is familiar with restaurant soup from that experience.

Dorcas Smucker regaled us with many stories, and hung deep truths on those story hooks. It's a pity my note-taking ardor faded as the day progressed, so my ability to pass on pithy quotes is compromised by a poor memory. But the stories keep coming back, and I am learning from them every time that happens.

I marvel at how each of us "hears" the same truths differently, depending on the needs of our hearts and the faithful promptings of the Spirit of God. Without being able to articulate it very well, I am conscious of new courage, and a sense that God is working His purposes in what sometimes seems to me to be a very circuitous route to becoming a woman of joy and influence. How can the less-than-ideal circumstances of my life and my faltering journey be imbued with holy purpose? Only when transformed by the wisdom, mercy, and providence of God. The certainty of the presence of God throughout the process is my reason for hope.


I just returned from the high school program. I'm always full of warm fuzzy feelings after these programs. Seeing the students sing with such joy and skill as they displayed again tonight puts a smile on my face every time. When all the former students who knew the song joined the current students to sing "Singabahambayo" the singing also put a tear in my eye. The sound filled every corner of the room and ohhhhh it was lovely.

These former students' faces are, at once, deeply familiar, and a little strange. The young people have matured, and they're taking on more responsibility and more adult roles. I remember the hard work many of them accomplished during their school years, and I respect them profoundly. Most of them are still making good choices and their life is a blessing to others. What more could anyone ask of them?


After the program tonight I met Mildred, a sister to our principal, Wesley. She is my brother Lowell's age, and was probably about 13 when their family moved from here to Minnesota. She lives in Seattle, WA now, with her family, and is visiting her parents and brother here. I'm not sure that I had ever seen her since she's an adult, so it was nice to get reacquainted.


The temperature climbed today to at least 93 degrees. Right now, however, the wind is howling out of the north, and by tomorrow night we're expecting a low of 32 degrees. There's some lively weather in the eastern third of Kansas right now, but it looks like we might not get any rain out of this system.


We've started marking our calender with PS and NPS. The letters stand for "Pig Smell" and "No Pig Smell." When the wind is from the southwest, the calender contains a PS notation. Any other wind direction merits an NPS marking. Yesterday and today were PS days.

Shane's wife, Dorcas, thinks a pig smell is a seriously undesirable home site characteristic. Who would argue?

The calender notations are an effort to quantify the magnitude of the problem.

I keep remembering something Dale Love used to use in his confinement hog operation. As I recall, he regularly applied a bacteria-laden spray that neutralized the odor from pig wastes--probably through the mechanism of digestion. Myron was in Dale's hog barn at least once and claimed it didn't have much of an odor.

Maybe if Caleb started selling the bacteria product, he could more easily sell the idea of producing naturally raised pork. Because the processing plant for this premium-priced pork is in Missouri, transportation costs could be minimized if a semi-load could be shipped at a time, instead of a stock trailer load. Caleb is recruiting other hog producers to make the economy of scale work to everyone's advantage.

I think the idea of some production on many different farms with cooperation in marketing is a stellar idea--the kind we should commit some energy and resources to developing. Goat dairying is another venture that I think would lend itself to a similar model.


Yesterday during the meeting I heard Jewel laughing at one of the stories. She was sitting on the opposite side of the auditorium from me, and I smiled when I heard her laugh. She's a bubbly sort, and a lively time is had by all when she's around. So I told her afterward that I had heard her laugh, and, GET THIS: She replied by saying she had heard me laugh too. I was shocked.

"When I hear that throaty chuckle, I know it's you," she said.

I'm feeling quite un-self-aware at the moment. I could have declared I laugh very unobtrusively--certainly in a way that blends seamlessly into the general laughter around me when laughter spreads over an audience.

I'm not sure that easily-attributable throaty chuckles are a signature characteristic I wish to cultivate.


Twila was in our load on yesterday's trip, and several stories she told are still giving me some good belly laughs.

She has four-year old twins, and Bryce is full of running commentary on many and varied subjects at this stage of life. He visited the doctor for a well-child check last week and his verbal skills were on display during the visit.

"Mom has bad breath," he told the doctor. (Twila explained that she's been eating a garlic-rich soup and apparently her self-consciousness about her breath vapors sharpened Bryce's awareness also.)

Bryce also informed the doctor that "Jesus doesn't like when women wear pants." (He had asked Twila why she doesn't wear pants, and she tried to keep things appropriately simple by saying, "Jesus wants me to wear a dress." He apparently extrapolated and generalized and finally verbalized his slightly startling version of Twila's comment for the doctor's benefit.) The doctor grew up in our church and was probably not offended by this child's certainty about what God likes and doesn't like.


The other funny story Twila told was about her attempts to learn how to drive a stick shift car. Her family lived in Belgium at the time, and owned a car that was a little temperamental about how the accelerator should be depressed at the time the clutch was let out, and it died easily.

One day she was returning home from the farm the mission owned, and passed through a small village with a single main intersection. She stopped when she reached the intersection, and noticed that some kind of festival must be underway, and a band was marching down Main Street. She was happy to wait till the band had passed, and did what was necessary for keeping the car under control while she waited.

Then the man who was leading the parading band motioned for her to cross ahead of them. She was a bit surprised at this turn of events, but she tried to cooperate quickly. This was a mistake. The car died two or three times--probably because she was in second or third gear instead of first--while the band came ever closer. The leader raised his hand, signaling the band to march in place rather than advancing any further. Finally Twila got just enough acceleration going to overcome the wrong-gear disadvantage, and the car lurched forward. It traveled in fitful jerks and starts all the way across the intersection in front of the still marching-in-place band. (How's that for a stressful learning environment?)

After that, whenever Twila saw the parade leader in the village, she imagined that she saw a smile playing around the corners of his mouth.


I'm feeling frisky and free tonight because there's no school tomorrow. We're cashing in on having banked one school day when we had night school. Hence, a skipped school day tomorrow.


Grant's fiance, Clarissa (Clare) comes at the end of this week. She plans to stay for most of the summer.


Hiromi keeps making adjustments to his kiln and then retesting the firing process. Right now he has trouble getting the temperature to 1300 degrees where it needs to be to fuse the glaze onto the clay.

He also plans to try burning hedge wood in the kiln, along with gas, to create the special smoky effect he wants. This experimentation all pleases his science-loving heart a great deal.


Some of our ministers are heading to Lancaster County, PA this weekend to attend the Beachy minister's meeting. My dad has already begun his trip, and was at Plain City today. He traveled with his brother Paul (and Martha) and Eli Yoder. Dad and Paul are attending a publication board meeting ahead of the sessions for all the ministers.


Norma planned and supervised a sleep-over for all the high school girls on Friday evening. I knew I couldn't stay for the night because I needed to get up at 3:30 the next morning to go to Oklahoma. I hoped perhaps I could join them for supper, but gave up even that when I realized that there would be no time because of having to clean the church on Friday evening.

They spent the night in Marvin and Lois's Partridge house--unoccupied by renters at the moment.