Prairie View

Saturday, December 31, 2011

All I Want for Christmas

"What do you want for Christmas?" I asked Hiromi the other day.

"Nothing." And then by way of lavish explanation he added, "Save money." I wasn't surprised. He wasn't surprised either with my question actually coming after Christmas. I had suggested earlier that we host our children's families sometime around New Year's Day and do our gift giving to them at that time. If our children objected, they kept it to themselves, so we're planning for them to be here for Sunday dinner and then to stay throughout the afternoon and evening. Well ahead of 5:00, we'll haul out the many veggies that need preparation for sukiyaki and gyoza and prepare the meat for those dishes. At some point we'll defrost the mochi and set up an assembly line for filling and pinching the gyoza wrappers (for dumplings). It will be New Year's Day, after all, and Hiromi's sister and family are coming for the annual New Year's Day feast of Japanese food. Chee is making and bringing the maki sushi.

Hiromi's sister has announced that she's too old to host these events. We've been taking turns, but no more, apparently. It's OK. She's twelve years older than Hiromi, but is not as fortunate as we are to have three helpful sons, each with a very helpful spouse. She also had three children, but none of them have ever helped with food preparation for these events. Her son, the only one who really loved all the Japanese foods, died in his late 40s.


Hiromi is actually a generous gift giver. While I'm still looking for a band to fix my old watch, he comes home with a new watch for me. If, while I'm looking at a large used and reasonably priced set of Ecko Eterna Bastille flatware on ebay, I make wistful noises about the old and mismatched flatware we've always used for everyday, he says, "Get it." (I knew I liked that kind because my mom had given me a few pieces, and I noticed that they felt good in my hand--balanced, comfortable handles, no sharp edges--except on the knife blade where it was supposed to be that way. They were also very heavy and sturdy--no danger of bent fork tines and spoon handles as sometimes happens with cheap stamped flatware.)

Hiromi usually does not particularly associate gift giving with special occasions. That is where we differ. I'm not overly generous at any time, or attuned to what others need, and I really benefit from a special event to jog my memory into pondering the needs of others. Having grown up learning to do without, I often have a hard time identifying and acting on supplying my own needs, let alone those of others.

The controversies about exactly how gift giving commercializes Christmas largely pass me by. Memory jogs are not fraught with moral implications, as I see it.

I'm not above handing out a few memory jogs of my own, so I spelled it out for Hiromi the other day. All I want for Christmas is for someone to move the treadmill up from the downstairs into Grant's old bedroom. Then I'd like equipment set up in there so that I can listen to CDs and watch DVDs from The Teaching Company. We already have everything needed to make that happen, except manpower and vision--and wide enough doorways to allow the treadmill behemoth to pass through intact. Two courses on writing are begging for my attention. I also have stored calories in the form of adipose tissue begging for attention. My proposal is the perfect solution to both.

Another thing I want for Christmas is the chance to play a proper game of Scrabble. Dig or Take One are not the same for me--too focused on speed and five-and-ten-cent words--not contemplation and interesting words. Hiromi's generosity does not extend to playing Scrabble with me. I understand. I wouldn't do so well in a Japanese-language crossword game, so he gets a pass on an English one.


Today we're off on a shopping trip to Wichita. Not to Kohl's or Sam's Club or thrift stores, as others talk of doing. We're hitting Asian grocery stores, and perhaps finishing up at one of the Dillons deli/cafes that sell sushi. I'm still finishing up the hand stitching on the binding of the small comforter-style playmat I'm giving Tristan, so I'll take that along to do on the way. And I'll take the Rural Roots booklet and a highlighter to mark corrections that need to be made before we print the second edition. As always, an embarrassing number of such things shows up--several in the introduction, which I wrote. "Progress--not perfection." (Flylady)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Travels and Babies

I've been thinking about traveling. No, not like that. I'm not in the process of going from here to anyplace else. I'm thinking about the idea of traveling. And what I'm thinking is probably not a smart thing to write about, given the fact that I have beloved family members in the travel industry. I am not upset at them, or jealous, or anything like that. Definitely not.

For a number of months I've been wondering if traveling has become for many up and coming young Mennonites an unexamined value. It sometimes seems as though people have stopped asking if it's a good idea. It appears that they assume that if the money is there and the collateral damage left behind at the point of departure is minimal . . . why would anyone question its value? Cheap tickets? Off and away!

Disclaimer: Hiromi can talk himself out of traveling even before the idea occurs to him. When taking a trip together occurs to me first, he reflexively tries to talk both of us out of it. That often leaves me looking for a way to be happy without traveling. Sometimes, though, we end up going somewhere together and having a good time. Money is always an issue, so even if we'd like to do it again soon, it doesn't happen because we can't afford it. Most of the time that doesn't bother us.

So what's the guideline?

When the money is not there and/or our absence inconveniences others to an unseemly degree, we probably ought to stay home--unless someone away from home is in dire need of our presence, or it's very clear that we can be a bigger blessing by going away than staying home. Beyond that, going or staying ought both to be considered by first having a conversation with God. He might have an opinion, and if He did, we ought to want to know.


I've been noticing babies a lot recently, and I've come to agree with my sister-in-law, Rhoda, who says she thinks they're always cute. I wasn't so very sure at first, but I think she's right. A baby really can't be ugly. The innocence, the eyes, the soft skin and hair, the chubby cheeks, and oftentimes the ready smiles are really irresistible. I don't care for the distraction of big bows and flowers and whatever-it-is that often gets stuck on the heads of baby girls. Then, all I can see is the artificial stuff--unless I really concentrate. I'd rather see the God-made little face--the gateway to the personality--without distractions. Anything so beautiful needs no further decoration.

Granted, a hyperactive mind and an aversion to ostentation are not everyone's lot in life, as they are mine, so probably not everyone agrees with me. Perhaps another consensus would be easier to achieve: Simplicity and modesty always create a suitable "frame" for an intricate work of art; an ornate frame draws attention to itself and detracts from the "painting."


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What Not to Do to a Buggy Driver

This story made it to the Miller Christmas gathering via my brother Ronald, who heard it from his friend in Plain City. The Plain City friend has a wife from Holmes County where this story allegedly happened. I don't know for sure, but I think Ronald must have told Bill when he and Dorcas and Maria stopped at Ron's house in Labette County on their way from North Carolina to Kansas. Ronald was not present at our Christmas gathering, but Bill was.

As I heard and remember the story, two brothers were taking turns "test driving" a buggy horse, possibly just being broke. When the first brother was out on the road, he encountered a vehicle with two people in it. While one of them drove, the other "mooned" the buggy driver.

Before the next brother took his turn on the road with the horse and buggy, the first one told him about what had happened. While the second brother was taking his turn he saw an identical situation developing--same vehicle, two people, passing him, then turning around and coming back. With the advantage of being forewarned, the buggy driver made a few preparations for what he was pretty sure would happen next.

Just as the vehicle came abreast and the unwelcome sight presented itself, he brought the business end of his buggy whip down smartly on the exposed portion of that person's anatomy. The two conveyances were traveling in opposite directions at the time, but he saw that the "mooney" vehicle turned around and prepared to come up behind him again. The buggy driver found it prudent at that moment to turn off the road into the driveway of his friends' home. The car followed the buggy part way into the driveway and sat there for a time, with its occupants probably fuming or smarting or both. Then it left.

Afterward, when the story circulated at Schrock's, where a lot of Amish men are employed, someone thought to ask a respected Amish preacher whether that was a nonresistant thing to do--with the buggy whip.

His answer was priceless: "Vell . . . von 's gadue wa in dee leevee." (Well . . . if it was done in love.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Help Needed on Printing Problem

I need someone more tech savvy and more business savvy to help me figure something out. I'm appealing to my reading audience for help. I'm not sure if all the details below are necessary, but since I don't know which ones are necessary, I'll try to include what I recall.

Yesterday I said here that there were some unfortunate printing glitches in the booklet published by our composition class. I did not name the printer, but it was a well-known office supply store with a printing shop--part of a chain. We paid $275.00 for the printing.

This morning, when Stephen was here to get a few things for finishing setting up the sales displays, he saw a sheaf of clipped-together papers with the booklet cover on top. "What's that?" he asked.

"It's the booklet--what I printed out at school before we got the copies back from _________." (I had done this just in case something terrible happened with the electronic copy.) Then something clicked for me--something I had never thought of in the hulabaloo of getting things done yesterday. "Hey, let's look at that and see if the numbering is right on that copy." It was. Perfect. The perfect copy was printed directly from my thumb drive--the same file I had emailed the printer. I had not changed anything on that file after I got to school except adding leader lines on one line in the Table of Contents. I suddenly felt vindicated and wanted all the students to know that WE had done our part in getting this right. The picture of the cutter barge in Stephen's "Farm" section was there too--perfect.

I had emailed the print shop the files from home before they opened in the morning. Then I called after they opened and talked to someone in the copy shop to see if the file could be read, etc. __________ affirmed that it looked good. It was in OpenOffice format--the only word processing program the students have access to on the school's computers.

The students had saved their documents in a folder called Composition 2011 on the school's server. They were formatted in their final form but still needed some editing. (The document format called for landscape orientation, two columns, a one-inch trough in the middle, and 1/2 inch margins otherwise.)

I saved the Composition 2011 folder to my thumb drive and brought it home to work on here. That evening, I made some editing changes on the individual files. After all the editing changes were made I copied the individual files to a new one called Rural Roots--the title of the booklet. The Table of Contents had been formatted also--by a student, so I followed the "story" order on the Table of Contents in transferring the individual files to the Rural Roots folder.

After everything was in one file (the Rural Roots one) I started at the beginning and added page numbers to the bottom of each column. (Each column was to be a page in the assembled booklet.) This necessitated making some more changes because I needed to move the bottom line of text so that I had a blank line for entering the number. I kept shoving lines out ahead of me--to the next column or page--as I went, making sure to not leave orphan lines at the bottom of each page. Automated numbering did not work because if I had added a footer to contain the number, it would have spanned both columns, with a number precisely in the middle--right where the booklet fold was happening.

I checked and double-checked the page numbering to make sure they were still all properly aligned after I had entered the "indexed" page numbers on the Table of Contents page--something that had not been possible till I had actually entered the numbers in the Rural Roots document. Previous to this I had added several other pages--an introduction, an inside title page also listing the student authors, and two section title pages between several of the stories. I started the numbering after those pages were in place in the Rural Roots document. Those front pages were not included in the numbering sequence.

Two students picked up the copies from the printer and came back disappointed because of the problems they had discovered. They talked to the copy shop person on duty about what they saw, and he said " ___________ printed them just the way 'she' (referring to me) sent them in." I figured it was, in fact, a result of my not having caught a little change that happened at the beginning of the document before I sent it in--which would have knocked all the number alignments off by one or more lines. Discovery of the "perfect" copy makes me wonder. . . . Did the copy shop worker do what I blamed myself for doing--making a small, unnoticed change at the beginning of the document, throwing off the alignment?

I have several questions:

Could different versions of OpenOffice account for the differences in my printed version and theirs?

Is it reasonable to pursue getting any compensation from them for what looks like their mess-up?

How can we avoid this happening in the future?

Friday, December 23, 2011


That whooshing sound you hear is me exhaling in a long sigh. It's over. The semester. I got home from school a little before dark--in time to feed the sheep and check the mail and lug everything in from the van--taffy cooking supplies, some delicious food treats, my book bag containing stacks of unchecked papers. But I'm going to bed tonight without setting an alarm for tomorrow. We have a two-week vacation ahead.

My comp students and I have been working madly to finish up the book we have dubbed Rural Roots: Life in the Pleasantview Area from 1920-1945. We stapled it together today and folded the booklets and are prepared to make them available on Sunday, Christmas Day. We're letting people take booklets without paying since it's on a Sunday. People should also sign their name and take an envelope for making their payment later. The booklet has over 50 pages.

We were disappointed with some of the glitches in the printing process. One of the pictures we had included was missing. Also, the page numbers . . . (Doing this is a nightmare in OpenOffice--just so you know.) moved around after I had repeatedly checked to see that they were NOT moved, resulting in some pages having text lines below the page number at the bottom of the page. ARRRRGGGHH. Christy's nicely done Table of Contents had a crooked lineup at the right margin after I inserted the numbers, and in the process of experimenting with correcting it, I seriously messed up the first page number entry. We're still gamely presenting the book, despite its flaws, but we did insert an apology for the glitches on the publicity signs.

Our long-reach stapler did not seem up to the task today when we were working together to get the stapling job done. We finally all stopped what we were doing and prayed about it together. Shortly thereafter Stephen and Brandon figured out that the long stapling arm was shifting slightly on the down stroke and causing staples to go awry instead of straight through the sheets as they were intended to do. After that, one strong young man immobilized the back end of the stapler arm while the other smashed those staples through where they were supposed to go.

You'll want to buy the booklet for the stories anyway--not for the chance to inspect the staples and the page numbers. And those stories are good! Just to whet your appetite, here are some of the titles: The Harness That Made History, A Badger Evens the Score, Tracks of a Forgotten Trail, Beef Rings--A Community Project, Forays Off the Farm, Highways and Byways From the Past, Memorable Tragic Happenings, A Peddler's Buggy.

In the section that deals with memories organized by topic, the titles are: Bookshelves and Bishops, China Dolls and Yellow Roses, CPS/FDR/WPA spells HOPE, The Diversity of Self-Sufficient Farms, Going Places, A Lively Labor-Filled Life, Peddlers and Shippers, Transporting Farm Products, Jackrabbits, and Dust.

All sorts of amazing connections emerged when we heard the stories, investigated further, and retold them. John Mast had a hilarious story about an ill-fated get-rich-quick plan he and his brothers hatched during the Depression. Read all about it in "A Badger Evens the Score." It involved employment on the farm of a man who turned out to be the father-in-law of my sixth grade teacher.

One little Headings boy who used to live at the Ed Conkling farm (1 1/4 mile south of our place) died during an illness he had at the same time my grandfather Levi was also very sick. Ed Nisly was the third little boy in the community who was visited by Dr. McCoy from Partridge on the same night. On his way home from these evening visits the doctor drove his horse and buggy in front of a train at the crossing on Herren Road and was killed. That happened before the time period targeted in our booklet, but we included it anyway in a section that dealt with health, home remedies, etc. The son of that doctor was an eye doctor whom some of my siblings had seen in Hutchinson when they needed their eyes checked. (My mom liked to take her children there as soon as she figured out that he was slower to prescribe glasses than most eye doctors.) He lived in the "Plantation House" on West Fourth at one time.

Vernon Yoder, who was so fast at ciphering that he usually had the answer as soon as he was finished writing the problem was the deceased husband of Marilyn, who Paul and Edith and I visited in Indiana after Susanna's dad's funeral. Vernon was Paul's older brother, and Marilyn was his sister-in-law.

I learned about the accidental shooting of Albert Helmuth, who was my grandmother's step brother. She was pregnant with my twin uncles at the time, and needed bed rest to avoid a miscarriage, the threat thought to have been triggered by the stress surrounding the accident. I heard about Amos Nisly's childhood sorrow upon hearing of the death of his dear friend and cousin, little Roman Nisly, who died in a lightening strike while he was taking a bath in a metal tub at the base of the windmill over the washhouse, and I thought of Shane when his friend Andrew died.

Over and over we heard about truly hard times. I thought of that today when I heard some of my typing students talking about the Christmas gifts they were giving or had gotten in the past. They weren't talking about a little candy and an orange . . .


The taffy tradition at school would certainly be doomed if it never went better than it did today. The simple fact was that I was trying to do too many things at once and it got cooked too hard. Some of the minor ingredients that get added near the end of the cooking time didn't get added at all because the taffy was overdone as soon as typing class was over. I don't know how this happened. I had written in notes from previous years that in order to get the taffy done by dismissal time it should be started cooking at 12:30. We did that, but it got done far sooner than I expected. Since there was no one free to hover over it as it was cooking, the problem went undiscovered till it was too late.

While some were pulling taffy, some of the rest of us were still obssessing over getting the booklets stapled together, so I was not present to witness all the distresses with the project. Not a proud moment.

Next year we definitely need to have someone come in to help cook the taffy if we have a similar class schedule as this year.


I would vote for dismissing school at noon without keeping on right up until Christmas weekend. I'd much rather return to school in the week following New Year's Day than having that whole week off and no time off before Christmas. At least, the high school and grade school ought to be able to get on the same page with dismissal time before vacation. As it was, four high school students had absconded before dismissal time today--one of them more than a week ago. The rigidity of the ACE privilege system based on a full five-day week is a powerful driving force for not trimming off any days or hours from a standard school week. What to do?


Norma looked at me at the end of the day today and said, "We're survivors." Exactly. I'm sure the students feel the same way--the ones that worked extra hard, at least.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Storytelling and Memories Event

Oh my. These are interesting times. Stories of the 1920s, 30s and 40s are cartwheeling through my brain, fresh from the lips and pens of the senior citizens of our church community--17 of them who were invited to a Memories and Storytelling event Joe Y.'s, Lowells, and I organized. It was held at Center this past Monday evening. Before they came the seniors had filled out questionnaires, or, in some cases, their capable children had listened for answers and then written them down.

All of the storytellers were over 80 and had spent most or all their life living here. Many had been identified by the students in my composition class as being someone with whom they had a connection, either as a relative or friend. Others were invited because we believed their family should be represented or because they are known to have a good memory or good storytelling skills. John Mast, who is about 95 years old, was the star storyteller. He is nearly blind and deaf, but far from being mute. After someone went home to retrieve the hearing aids he had forgotten, he followed the prompts he needed, and provided great amusement for everyone, telling stories with gusto and aplomb. It's an interesting role for a retired Old Order Amish bishop.

I was proud of my students, who listened attentively, and wrote busily when they needed to be doing so.

We had assigned eight specific stories to be told by members of the seniors group. Each member of the class is to retell one of these stories for the community writing project (CWP) the class is working on from now till the end of the semester. In addition, I had divided my questions for the seniors into eight categories, and each student is to write an essay covering one category for the CWP. During the public event, the seniors added to each others' memories as Lowell went down the list of questions and answers and commented on highlights, and solicited specifics where the answers had covered only generalities.

I'm afraid the stories will have to wait. It's time for bed--and the students and I really want you to buy the booklet. If all goes well, it will be available by Christmas, for $5.00. The pages are the size of a half sheet of paper, and the book will likely have 30-60 pages.

For those who care, I've listed the 16 seniors who were present. My uncle Edwin had answered some questions but was not able to attend.

Elizabeth "Lizzie"Schrock
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Wagler
Barbara Yoder
Vera Nisly
Sadie Nisly
Mary Yoder
Orpha Miller
Fannie Nisly
Melvin Nisly
William Nisly
Amos Nisly
Sam D. Nisly
Fred Nisly
David L. Miller
Perry Miller
John Mast

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Egg Roll Recipe

The egg rolls made from the recipe below were served at our house today and met with my family's approval. I'm posting this recipe at Carolyn's request. I did everything yesterday except wrap and fry the egg rolls.

Egg Rolls--Iwashige Version

1 1-lb. package egg roll wraps--about 21 count (Make sure they are the Asian rather than the Italian kind. The Italian ones are thicker.)

Main Ingredients for Filling:
1 lb. Ground pork or seasoned sausage (I used Shane's medium hot seasoned sausage.)
2 cups cabbage, finely chopped (about 1/2 head)
½ cup carrot, shredded (about 1 carrot)
1/4 lb. Bean sprouts, chopped coarsely (1-1 1/2 cup)
3 green onions, finely sliced, tops and all
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 Shiitake* mushrooms (If dried, rehydrate and chop, discarding stems. If sliced before drying, use 1 c.), optional
1 8 oz. Can bamboo shoots, optional (Cut the short strips into about 3 pieces)
1 8 oz. Can sliced water chestnuts, optional (Cut the slices into "matchsticks.")


Most of the following items can be purchased in the Asian foods section of a big grocery store.

½ t. monosodium glutamate (Some people avoid this as a matter of principle. Accent is an American brand name.)
1 t. sesame oil (Made from toasted sesame seeds)
1 t. grated fresh gingerroot (From the produce section.)
2 ½ t. soy sauce (Kikkoman brand is the authentic Japanese kind.)
1 T. Mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking)
2 T. Oyster sauce

If not using seasoned sausage, add:
1/4 t. red pepper
1/4 t. black pepper
Salt, to taste (May not need any with the soy sauce and the sausage seasoning.)

Binding Agent:

2 t. Mira-clear
3 T. Water

To seal wrappers:

2 T. Flour
enough water to make a paste

The general idea for this order of tasks is to get the little picky things done before tackling the bigger jobs.

Re-hydrate shiitake by soaking in warm water.
In a separate small bowl, combine water and Mira-clear.
In another bowl, combine all seasonings.
Drain bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Cut into smaller pieces as directed above.
Peel and grate gingerroot.
Mince garlic.
Chop cabbage, shred carrots, and slice green onions. Wash and coarsely chop bean sprouts.
Fry ground pork or sausage in crumbles. Put aside to drain.
Stir-fry all raw veggies together.
Remove a portion for those who have food allergies. (This is a necessity in our extended family.)
Add chopped mushrooms, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and browned sausage.
Drain cooked veggies very thoroughly.
Return to pan and add seasonings and binder. Cook together briefly. Taste for salt and adjust if needed.
Cool filling thoroughly before wrapping. (I refrigerated it overnight.)


Put 2 T. Filling in the bottom corner of each square wrapper. Fold up the bottom of the wrapper over the filling and fold over again. Then fold in the two corners at the side and give one more turn. With you finger, paint “sealer” around the remaining exposed edges and finish wrapping. The roll should be tight, with no big air pockets or open edges.

If egg rolls are to be wrapped ahead of time, the layers should be separated with parchment or waxed paper. They can also be frozen. They should be frozen in a single layer and then put together in a bag for freezing.


Preheat oil to 350 degrees. (The oil is ready if a bread cube fries to a golden brown in 10 seconds.) Fry 4-6 egg rolls at a time–about 1 ½ minutes. Drain.


May serve with sweet and sour sauce (commercial), hot mustard (commercial), or homemade dipping sauce. See recipe below:

½ c. soy sauce
1/4 c. rice vinegar
4 t. sesame oil
2-4 drops “hot” oil
2 cloves garlic, minced.

The hot mustard and homemade sauces are our favorites.

All the adults helped each other wrap the egg rolls, and we fried some before the meal started. Then we kept on frying them all during the meal, since they're best when freshly fried. We made two batches for 8 adults and had three left, plus a bit of filling that we had no wrappers for. We served it with plain rice and Egg Drop Soup and salad.

1. Make sure the filling is not too wet and not too warm. Either condition tends to make the egg rolls soggy.

2. Keep the wrapping tight to minimize seepage of oil into the filling, and to keep the filling from leaking out.

3. Make the preparation part of the party, and this process will seem less daunting.

*Shiitake is pronounced shee-ee-tahk-eh. It's usually sold dried, but may also be available fresh. The flavor is delectable, and it reportedly has many medicinal benefits.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Eggs Rolls, Eclipses, and Life and Death Matters

Not satisfied with the egg roll recipe I produced from the Meals and Memories cookbook our family produced for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary, Hiromi is poring over his Japanese cookbooks for a better one. He's on cookbook number 5 at the moment. He's sure there must be more veggie options for the filling than cabbage and onion. If I was as strongly of this persuasion as he is, I would substitute carrots for part of the cabbage in my recipe, and forge ahead. He is obviously more painstaking than I.

We're planning an Iwashige family meal here tomorrow, and egg rolls with rice is the main dish.


After many years of feeding birds here and often seeing Downy Woodpeckers in the trees, but never at the feeders, this past week I finally saw one at the feeder--several times. We've had an abundance of Red-Bellied Woodpeckers visiting for the past few years. I suspect that at most feeders the frequency of these visitors is reversed.


For the Friday afternoon activity yesterday, everyone at the high school went to the grade school to observe the displays for their Knowledge Fair--an expansion of the Science Fair they've done the past few years. Some of the displays I remember featured different kinds of foods--cultured milk products, other naturally fermented foods, and surprising food ingredients.

I did a double-take at Dietrich's samurai display when I spied what I was pretty sure used to reside in Joel's bedroom--a set of Japanese swords. I was right. They were borrowed from Joel. Also in the weapons department, Travis displayed a trebuchet that he had built with his Dad's help. Think of it as a catapult, for demonstration purposes, launching tennis balls, hedge balls, or softballs--all in lime green--waaaaay out into the ball field. Pity the person who's standing out there to catch, not knowing which of the three is flying toward him this time.

Someone demonstrated the fanciest marble rolling device I have ever seen. It was reminiscent of a small building in an Asian architecture style, with two possible routes to the bottom, each containing various nifty structures to traverse on the way down. The marbles automatically moved back to the top under the power of a small electric motor that forced each marble up through a tube to the spill-out location at the top.

Quite a few students chose to feature a specific country, perhaps a country that someone in their family had visited or lived in for a time.

The public Knowledge Fair event actually didn't happen till the evening, so a few displays were not quite fully functional in the afternoon.


I got up a little after 5:30 this morning and looked out windows on all sides of the house to see if I could spot the moon and see an eclipse. I hadn't ever seen exactly when it would be visible here, and when I finally found the moon in the west, through lots of tree branches, I wasn't desperate enough to get into warm clothes and troop outside to get an unobstructed view. I think I was probably several hours too late.


An email from Cold Stream Nursery and a look at their website reminded me that I wanted some time to locate a source for thornless hedge (Osage Orange) trees. I found it at Sunshine Nursery in Western Oklahoma. Along with this, there are also Elms with resistance to Dutch Elm Disease and Elm Leaf Beetles. This nursery specializes in trees, shrubs, and perennials that thrive in a harsh environment. They are either native plants from the dry southern prairies or from areas with a climate similar to that of Western Kansas and Oklahoma.


LaVon Bontrager was in very precarious shape one day last week when he needed surgery while his body was hosting an infection in his blood. Everyone was warned that his heart could stop during surgery under these conditions, and the surgery team had instructions from the family not to try to restart it if that happened.

The tumor on his liver is blocking the bile duct, and an external drain has not been able to keep up with getting rid of this toxic substance that a normal body disposes of harmlessly.

In what seems like strange terminology contortions, the tumor is apparently not considered cancerous--not malignant, but benign. It's clear, however, that he cannot survive long, outside of a miracle, because of how it interferes with normal liver function. Benign does not seem like the right word for this kind of tumor.

LaVon is 53. LaVon and Mamie's son Grant is still at home. Greg and Angelene are both married and have children. LaVon is a minister at the Arlington Amish Mennonite Church. He was first diagnosed with colon cancer perhaps five years ago. (Ironically, no matter the outcome, he will go down in statistics as being "cured" of cancer if he survives past the five year mark.) Several surgeries, chemotherapy, and making use of alternative approaches have given him some very good months, but also some very miserable times since then. He made a deliberate choice not to have any more chemotherapy when he was informed by his oncologist that chemotherapy for the rest of his life was the best option he could offer. LaVon concluded that there are some things worse than death, and for him chemotherapy was one of them.


Watching LaVon's journey inspires admiration for his acceptance of his own mortality. Understandably, it's harder for some of the rest of us to be at peace with what seems now to be inevitable.

I've been thinking in the past few days about how it is that fighting against disease can be a way to walk in obedience to God, and can result in God receiving glory, but giving up the fight and acquiescing to death can also be an act of obedience, and can also result in God receiving glory. Either choice, however, seems to have the potential for disobedience and selfishness.

For someone who has dependents or a surviving spouse, not being willing to have one more surgery that could result in many more years of good health--choosing death instead--is that a selfish choice? Or for the person without dependents, whose prospects for recovering health are dim, is it really best to pursue whatever medical interventions are offered as possibilities--at great cost in finances, stress, and discomfort? To choose an alternative route instead of more conventional treatment, or vice versa, to close one's mind to alternatives and pursue only conventional treatment? I don't know all the answers. Maybe I don't even know any answers.

I think I'll pray that God will make a course of action clear to me if I'm ever in a position where I need to make a life or death decision. I'll also continue to pray for others in that position now. Life and death are both too hard to face without God's help.


Oh yes. On the egg rolls-- We've decided to add green onions, bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, maybe carrots and water chestnuts, fresh ginger, and garlic to the filling. We'll also add oyster sauce, and maybe a smidgen of rice wine, besides the soy sauce and hot pepper flakes that are already in the recipe. This will call for combining about four internet recipes with the "Plain Jane" recipe I already have. Sigh. I ought to be grading research papers instead.

Trivial Question for the Local Women

About a week and a half ago, a commercial pattern appeared in our church mailbox. It was a Simplicity Babies' Layette pattern. I didn't recognize it as mine, so I left it in the mailbox for a while to see if someone else claimed it. No one did.

If it's mine, I loaned it out so long ago that I don't remember it. I know I haven't made any of the items in the pattern picture since before Joel was born, and I don't know if it was from this pattern or not. I'm sure I never made any of the cute girl dresses and bonnets pictured. If you're the person who put the pattern in my box I'd be glad to hear from you. If it was intended for someone else I'll be glad to pass it on.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Nesting Weather

Rain on the dining room windows tells me that the weather forecast was on target. With temperatures just above freezing, we're on track to dodge the freezing rain disaster that was predicted earlier and set also to welcome slippery mud instead of fluffy snow. This early in the season, snow is still exciting, but the memory of unremitting drought last summer makes the rain beautiful, even though it lacks the pizzazz of snow. At least it soaks in where it falls, without dragging down power lines and tree limbs in the process, or blowing off the fields, while clogging the ditches and roadways.


Shane's dog, Brandi, is supposed to have puppies soon. She doesn't look the slightest bit matronly to me--not even remotely ungainly or lethargic. We all hope she waits to do her thing till Shane gets back from Virginia, but, just in case, Hiromi has introduced her to the big pet carrier situated in the greenhouse, with an electric heating pad in the bottom. We locked her in there last night so she at least would get the idea that it's a good place to go to have puppies. Her preferred spot otherwise seems to be with Lexi, under the front porch. That would be decidedly inappropriate since there's no one in this household looking for an excuse to crawl under the porch to retrieve cold puppies.


Today at school Jonny showed us a glimpse into his farmer life during the summer. We all trooped outside at 2:30 for the featured Friday afternoon activity: learning all about making hay. The 4040 John Deere was hooked up to a New Holland baler which produces big round bales. The family's custom haying equipment includes another similar tractor-baler combination, a swather, and a hay rake. Because the wind was bitterly cold today, we cut the outdoor observation part short and trooped inside where Jonny commandeered Norma's lectern and regaled us with tales of nighttime baling. Jonny confessed that he's not really a morning person, so heading out at 9:00 at night to do the baling is perfect, if the humidity is high enough by then to keep the leaves from falling off the stems, especially if he has a pack of crackers and a stash of Mountain Dew to keep him energized and awake. Daytime baling almost never happens here.

When I asked him if they ever bale anything besides alfalfa hay and wheat straw, I was surprised by the variety of other crops they bale. He mentioned cornstalks, milo stalks, tall sorghum (like sudan), grass hay, and soybeans. Occasionally wheat and oats (I think I'm right on this.) are swathed when the grain is in the milk stage, and they're baled for feed. Jonny didn't mention this, but I've seen it done, unlike the grass hay baling. I'm sure they're around somewhere, but I've never seen a hay field seeded to grass in our immediate area--or a clover field. The soil ph is much better suited to alfalfa than clover, and most of the grass is native, and grazed during the summer, while cultivated fields are used for crops more profitable than grass.

The family rule during haying is that no music plays in any tractor pulling a baler. When a bale is complete, beeps inside the cab announce the fact, and a series of prompt responses is called for to release the bale and allow it to roll out the back. Music might compromise the concentration and perhaps obscure the signals. Music is allowed in the swather and during the raking operation.

Jonny says it's embarrassing to go to sleep while baling, especially if you're working in a field adjoining US 50, where daylight reveals the results to passersby. If you don't straddle the windrows squarely, the bales get lopsided, and if you're too nearly unconscious to respond promptly to the beeps, you might get some monster bales--neither of which are great advertisements for a custom haying operation. In your own field it's not a customer satisfaction problem, of course, but the motivation to move the bales off the field in a hurry kicks in nonetheless.


Hiromi met two elderly Japanese ladies who came separately through the WalMart checkout line today. He thought he knew all the old Japanese ladies in town, but he didn't know these. They initiated Japanese conversation, probably after recognizing the Japanese name on his name tag. The ladies he knows came to this area during the same time period when his sister Chee (Chizuko) came after the Korean war.


Hiromi also met Lynn yesterday, the brother-in-law of Hiromi's niece. He informed Hiromi that he is about to become a father again. Their youngest child is 18. Now that would take some mental adjustment. We learned to know Lynn a long time ago when he lived in Partridge, never dreaming at that time that we would someday have relatives in common. A sister in the family was a co-worker of Hiromi's at TSW--another surprising development.


The number of guests at our singing last Sunday was far more manageable than was the case last time: 19 this time; 40 last time. Some families were away from home, and others had family events that conflicted. If we had known how small the group would be, we wouldn't have bothered rearranging and moving out furniture, and we would have trucked home fewer benches from the church. But it was rather nice to have everyone fit into the dining room for singing, and the small room and compact arrangement made the singing sound good.

As usual, I spied several glaring oversights in the decluttering department after the evening was over, but I decided it hadn't mattered. Who says a naked refrigerator is better than a recipe, coupon, and photo-plastered one, anyway? And the bathroom towels? Hiromi's blue one and my green one belong right there on the shower curtain rod, after all.

Linda and especially Marian had helped a lot in getting ready, and Joel and Hilda helped late Sunday afternoon with hauling benches and preparing food. Heartfelt gratitude to them . . .


Comp students are working on their research papers. As soon as that is done, we'll launch right into the community writing project. If you notice any class members wandering around glassy-eyed, it may be a sleep-deprivation problem.


Hiromi wishes Shane's cattle would be a little more scared of him than they are. They're way too glad to see him when he appears with a grain bucket, and they crowd around with no regard for the significant size mismatch that puts Hiromi at a disadvantage. I worry about the bull in the herd, but Shane says he's more docile than some of the cows. I'm glad they cattle are Dexter-sized and not Gelbvieh-sized.


One of our guineas disappeared without a trace. I heard a big owl hooting in the trees near the house the other night. Maybe he's the culprit. Or maybe it was the coyote Brian saw heading for our place the other night. The guilty predator would be easier to identify if it was clear whether the deed was done in the dark or in the daylight. The guineas usually roost either in a tree or in the rafters of the hog barn, out of coyote reach during the night.


Wes has been bringing pheasant meat in his lunch during the past week. He was given the birds by someone who had more interest in hunting them than eating them. Everyone at school knows that our principal is the biggest healthful food champion in the place--not that he rants about it. He just very faithfully brings his food in small glass jars, and eats lots of vegetables and some whole grains and fruits and protein--usually eggs or cheese, and never too much of it, and never any junk food. I'm impressed.


Tomorrow I will bake bread for us and a cake for the rescue mission meal, but mostly I will grade papers. That prospect pleases me.

On Sunday we go to the Mennonite Manor for the morning service and to the rescue mission in Wichita for an evening service. Unfortunately, the evening plans mean that I'll miss Carolyn's baptism at Arlington. She handed out exquisite invitations today, typical of her sweet artistic self, and I know being there would be a blessing.


Clarissa's brother got married today. Congratulations to Garret and Marsela. Some time I'll have to ask someone to tell me Marsela's family's story. She was born in Serbia (Yugoslavia), and, like Garret, was a Mennonite for part of her life.