Prairie View

Monday, January 30, 2012

Senior Social

Six days ago, the over-70 crowd at Center had an evening social. Hiromi and I and the Joe Yoder family planned the event and worked together to make it happen. My sister Linda, Joel and Hilda, and LeRoy H. were others outside our immediate households who helped that evening. Three Center students from my composition class, Stephen, Christy, and Anja also helped with the entertainment.

Based partly on what we had learned during the Rural Roots project about the fond food memories the elderly among us have, and partly on the cornmeal mush cooking skills and experience Joe and Twila have, I suggested, and Joe and Twila agreed, to serve a fried mush supper, with tomato gravy, sausage gravy, and syrup as topping options. We also served applesauce and some fresh fruit.

Last year, in preparation for the Mennonite Manor fundraiser, Joe and LeRoy had worked together to make several mush fryers. The mush slices are placed on a grate with a long handle rising out of the middle. After the grate is lowered into a fairly shallow steel pan containing hot oil, the burners underneath kick in to keep it at 400 degrees, powered by propane from a portable bottle. After precisely six minutes at 400 degrees, the mush is lifted out and served promptly or kept warm for later serving.

Twila had helped cook the mush last year for the fundraiser, so she had recipes and procedures down pat. She also had a handle on the sausage gravy. We used Shane's sausage and the same delicious and simple cream gravy mix that restaurants use--purchased from the bulk food section at Wal-Mart. I experimented and formulated a recipe for the tomato gravy and cooked it.

The mush frying didn't quite happen as soon as expected because there did not seem to be any matches or lighters at church which could be used to light the burners for the fryers. So, to keep the people from having to wait interminably for their meal, I began the entertainment I had planned to do after supper.

I read excerpts from several books that my neighbor Chris Terrill had had a hand in getting printed--stories told 15 or more years ago by people in the Partridge area, about their life experiences. Not a single person at the social owned the books, so it was even newer to them than I thought it would be. Many of the story authors have died, but they were well-known to the elderly people from our church, and the life experiences they shared contained familiar themes as well. They really seemed to enjoy the stories. A big thanks to Joel for suggesting it, and Chris, for selling me the books the evening before when I couldn't find ours. (I was looking for the wrong kind of binding, based on my faulty memory.)

After supper, my students, with a bit of help from Jonny and Euni, did a dramatic presentation of some children's stories they had written in dialog form: The Garden by Arnold Lobel, Best Friends for Frances by Russel Hoban and Lillian Hoban, and Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss. I had a few second thoughts before I decided to go ahead and use the children's stories, but none after they were presented. Those oldsters liked them as well as any crowd of youngsters would have. I wouldn't be surprised if they're saying to themselves things like "Growing a garden is hard work," or when they're trying to do the right thing, I want to be "faithful, 100 percent," or perhaps "nothing much" when anyone asks them about what is hidden away inside a container (as first Albert and then Frances described the huge lunch each had packed).

We finished off with a few more Partridge stories and then dismissed everyone around 9:00.

My friend Lizzie, who lives alone, and has no parents or siblings alive, and no children, thanked me heartily for the good evening. "This was a short evening," she said. For people like her, this kind of event would be welcome more often.


My family likes tomato gravy, but I am in the habit of making it without a recipe. For this event, and in this amount, I didn't dare "wing it" quite like I do for my family, so I set about finding or creating a recipe. Joe and Twila, and Wesley S., at school, rhapsodized about the wonderful tomato gravy Rose Nissley had made for the Manor fundraiser, so I called her after I had created a recipe I thought would work. She didn't have it written down--just goes by the color and flavor to get it right.

I also had searched the internet for "tomato gravy." All I found there was a very tomato-y sauce thickened with a bit of water and cornstarch. It's used in Cajun cooking. "Creamed tomatoes" produced something closer to what I was looking for, but it was still too tomato-y and too thin. I did pick up the idea of adding some butter to the juice while I was heating it, which I've never done before. I had learned that Rose added cream to hers, and reasoned that adding butter would likely give the gravy a similar mouth feel and flavor.

The recipe I came up with was this:

Tomato Gravy (Midwestern Style)

2 cups home canned tomato juice or peeled, diced tomatoes
1 T. butter
1 1/2 cups cold whole milk
1/2 cup flour
1/4 t. salt (or to taste--will vary, depending on how much salt the canned tomatoes have)

Bring tomato juice and butter to a boil. Meanwhile, blend the cold milk and flour into a smooth paste. When the juice is boiling, add the milk and flour mixture, stirring constantly. Continue stirring till the gravy comes to a boil again. Cook briefly and then add salt as desired.

Notes: For the seniors, I did add 2 cups cream at the last minute--to a batch ten times the size of the recipe above. It tasted good and creamy, but I would have liked it without too. For the recipe above, that would be equivalent to less than 1/4 cup cream per batch. I understand that some people add sugar to tomato gravy--a good way to ruin it, in my opinion.

For this recipe, when I stirred and then spooned the flour into the measuring cup, it was a little too thin, and when I scooped my measuring cup into the flour canister without stirring it first, it was a little too thick. Go figure. It was acceptable both ways though.

By the way, I won't ever use commercially canned tomato juice to make gravy. It ends up looking chalky pink, and does not have the right flavor. It think it's because commercially canned tomato juice is made by pureeing whole tomatoes--peelings, seeds, cores, and all. Since last summer we had such a paltry tomato crop, I used commercially canned peeled, diced tomatoes and blended them a bit, then pressed them through my cone/strainer--whatever you call it. It worked fine, but I did add one quart of home canned juice because there were only four quarts of juice left from ten Aldi cans of commercial tomatoes.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

About Having "Had It"

Last night, to an empty house, I announced "I have just had it with OpenOffice." It felt so good to say it out loud that I said it again, with more emphasis. I wrote it later to Joel and said it to Hiromi after he got home, and this morning I said it to Judith.

I did have second thoughts during the sermon this morning when I realized I was not rejoicing the slightest bit in my trials. I'm still trying to figure out what further action is needed, either in the attitude adjustment department or in the software purchasing department.

I've whined before about the trials of getting a presentable booklet in print with the limitations of the software that all the students have access to at school--the free OpenOffice one. Because I knew that I could never hope to have them learn to do such a project on their own, I was determined to figure it out for myself and then teach them how to do it. After a month of working at it, and learning how to solve many problems along the way, I have reached the conclusion that it's really NOT WORTH IT for such a complex project. It's better to use a more sophisticated program to start with.

Besides me, three men who all have plenty of other things to do, have invested a number of hours to help get things figured out--Harold N., Wesley S., and Joel I. Some or all of them could have earned enough money in the hours they spent on this to have bought one of the better word processing programs. I have used a good bit of paper and ink to print online instructions for some of the workarounds it took to solve problems. I suspect, furthermore, that most of the students have a better option at home than OpenOffice. If that is the case, why are we wasting their time at school by teaching them the intricacies of a version they may never use again?

The crowning insult on the Rural Roots booklet project was that after everything finally looked good, it printed only in a miniaturized format. The suggested workaround for that was so ridiculous, I gave up in despair. The print area was to fit on an 8 1/2" x 5 1/2" sheet, so I set the paper size to that. Apparently I should have made the 8 1/2 measurement something like 13 inches so that it would spread out over the sheet properly. That's what I mean by ridiculous. At his invitation (after I announced my complaint) I emailed the manuscript to Joel in an attachment and he transferred it to Microsoft Word and cleaned it up for about another 3 1/2 hours and then printed a nice copy.

To be fair, I should add that OpenOffice does work fairly well for most of what the students do at school--writing study notes for themselves or completing written assignments. At other times, when it doesn't work so well, I agree to accept something that is clearly second best, because I feel it's unfair to ask them to go through the contortions it would take to do what I think would be better. Case in point: For footnotes on the research papers, I saw that the superscript numbers in the text and the endnote numbers where the sources were listed . . . both were in lower case Roman numerals. Arabic numerals would clearly have been preferable, and I checked to see how it could be changed. There might be a way, but I couldn't find it, and they couldn't either, so I said to leave it the Roman numerals way. No teacher I know will want it that way, but that's what they've done, because of the way the program works.

I wonder what other small private schools do for word processing software, or more importantly, what we should do. Any ideas? Needless expense is to be avoided, of course.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Siemens Generates Enthusiasm and Electricity

Yesterday three people from Siemens presented a program at our school. This wind generator manufacturer has been in operation in Hutchinson for one year. In two daily shifts, they are now producing two generators a day. The local factory specializes in manufacturing the nacelle, which is the "body" of the wind generator "airplane." The fan blades come from Iowa, and the hub into which the blades are fastened comes from China. Plans are underway to begin manufacturing the hub in Hutchinson in the future--in a new factory to be built near Siemens. The tower is also built elsewhere.

Each generator sells for $5 million, and powers 690 households. With better efficiencies, they hope to eventually use the same model to power up to 900 households.

Several distinctives in Siemens' generators:

1) No other manufacturer uses one-piece blades. All others are made up of glued-together pieces. The finish on the blades is applied as though it were being applied to fine furniture. Running a hand across the surface to check for irregularities that would result in undesirable friction or imbalance is part of the process.

2) No other manufacturer offers a ten-year warranty. Some offer no warranty, and others only a one-year warranty.

3) They didn't make a point of this, but Siemens is probably unique in their countries of origin being both Germany and Denmark. The company was formed in Germany and later sold to someone from Denmark. I associate Germans with second-to-none expertise in engineering, and Scandanavians with elegant design. That sounds like a winning combination to me. Siemens' spokespersons yesterday alluded to wind generators owing their design origins to traditional Dutch windmills, so Holland perhaps needs its own place in the countries-of-origin list.

The enormity of these generator "beasts" is truly impressive. The towers are nearly 400 feet tall. The blades are over 90 feet long, making the circumference of the fan sweep close to 200 feet. The hub is shipped overland by semi, but its size presents a formidable load even for a semi. The nacelle can only be shipped by rail car. I assume that is true also of the fan blades. The whole assembly at the top of the tower weighs at least 150 tons, and is put in place by three cranes.

Wind generators are touted as a way to produce environmentally friendly energy. I've wondered, though, how the energy output of a generator compares with the energy required to manufacture the generator in the first place. Siemens answered that question by saying that in one year of operation, a Siemens machine produces as much energy as it took to bring it online for generating electricity in the first place.

Siemens hopes to bring their program to every school in our county. Pilgrim was the first school to be so favored. They're asking us for feedback on the presentation. I will provide some suggestions for improvement, but it was very good as it was. It was certainly a worthwhile Friday afternoon activity.

Hutchinson has the potential for becoming as much a hub (Ha. Accidental pun.) of wind generator production as Wichita is for airplane manufacturing. If Siemens' professed commitment to Reno County proves to be more durable than Boeing's commitment to Sedgwick County (They recently announced plans to move much of their manufacturing west to Washington.), we're on a very good economic course. Wages there are better than any jobs I know of requiring comparable skills.

Our school now owns its very own wind generator. True, it's only 15 inches tall, and the fan blades are about three inches long. But the Siemens name fits on the nacelle. and I think I know exactly what we should do with it, along with the chunk of salt that came from the mine in Hutchinson. I plan to tell the Home Environment class about it next week.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

An Act of Kindness at Wal-Mart

Last week an elderly lady came through Hiromi's checkout lane. "80-ish" Hiromi judged her to be. She had boarded the Reno County Area Transit (R-cat) "bus" in Turon, a tiny town in the southwestern part of the county, and traveled about 40 miles to Hutchinson to do her shopping. She had picked up a lot of groceries--$120.00 worth.

When her total was figured up--that's when she discovered that she had no checks in her checkbook. She already knew that she had no cash. Despair.

"I'll pay for it," the woman in line behind her offered. She did just that.

The cart and the ladies moved off.

Later Hiromi saw the elderly lady sitting alone on one of the "waiting" benches. "Where are your groceries?" he asked.

"They're at the service desk," she said. "I didn't have any checks and couldn't pay for them, so they'll have to put them back."

"Oh, but they're paid for. The lady behind you paid for them. Let's go get your groceries." They walked together to the service desk and retrieved the cart--still mercifully full. Hiromi pushed it back to the bench for her, and she sat companionably with her groceries till the R-cat came for her.

"That's such a heartwarming story," I told Hiromi.

"Well, the lady said she hadn't paid her tithes for a long time, and this was her chance to catch up a little."

Whatever the reason, I'm glad that lady from Turon didn't have to go that long way home without her groceries. People like her need able-bodied adults to look out for them just as surely as young children do. I guess God already knew that and sent help when she needed it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Unaffordable Status Quo

In commenting on the "Nothing Here" post Danny referred to dwellings created inside circular steel grain bins. I've seen articles on such makeovers, and can see that it makes sense for some situations. I've thought for a long time that after we move back to our Trail West place, Hiromi ought to set up his pottery kiln inside a steel bin. That wouldn't be a dwelling, of course, but it would be a shelter, and it would be fireproof--not bad features for a setup with corrosion-prone parts and a target heat of over 1000 degrees.

I also agree with Danny that steel bins look right in our environment. I thought of this tonight on my way home from school when I passed a farm south of us with a family of steel bins right out by the road--Mama and Papa and four babies. I can see it already: one big bin for the kitchen/dining room/living room, a little bin attached for the laundry area and a half bath, and the other three little bins for bedroom suites. The second big bin could be self-contained guest quarters. I think getting Jack R. on board with these plans for his bins could be a challenge though. He would be likely to prefer to continue the boring practice of filling them with grain at harvest time.


I'm told that the ancient desert temples at Karnak in Egypt were built by pouring "concrete" around and on top of great piles of sand. After the concrete was hardened, the sand was removed. That's a pretty creative way to form up concrete in an area devoid of trees. I don't know why Arkansas River sand wouldn't work the same way here. Cave cellar/tornado shelter, anyone?


In the process of preparing the Rural Roots book for publication, I reviewed what I recalled of Amos Nisly's springhouse, and marveled again at how appropriate the setup was for the many purposes it served in a day when there was no electricity on the farm. I believe variations of this setup were present on many farms. Lillian E. wrote all about it.

A windmill pumped water into the first of three large cement vats, lined up along one wall of the springhouse. The first vat was kept very clean, and had a lid to cover it. A tin cup hung on a bent wire nearby, and anyone who needed a drink could dip the cup into the water and get a cold drink. The next vat was shallow. It was filled by overflow from the first one. Jars of milk or deep bowls of other foods in need of cooling were stored here. The third vat was very deep. Five or ten gallon cans of cream or milk could be immersed here. From this last vat, an overflow pipe or channel carried water outdoors to water the garden via trenches alongside the rows of vegetables. Some farms routed this water to the stock tank first, and then to the garden.

Such a setup would still make a great deal of sense for some of the things we do on our farm. Watering is often needed for Kansas gardens. Pumping it can consume a lot of electricity. What if, with or without a windmill, we could first run water for the garden through a produce house, where veggies would be cooled by water circulating around the tubs they're stored in? Flowers in buckets and vases would love the moist environment as well. From the produce house, the water would be routed to the garden. Saving the cost of refrigeration could be even more significant than saving the cost of pumping water.

At the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve (a National Park in eastern Kansas) a historic limestone house on the premises had a natural refrigerator that operated along the same lines. A partially earth-sheltered stone structure had a shallow trough all around the edge of the room. Water constantly ran through the trough, and cooled the foods that were set into it.


I'm thinking that building houses and accessing healthcare have some things in common. In both cases the current prevailing practices are fast becoming unaffordable for people of modest means. The answers can't be found entirely in higher income, creative financing, careful saving, redistributing the costs over a larger population, or a windfall of an inheritance. New approaches are needed. Looking to the past, looking around at what is already available, and being willing to try things that aren't status quo approaches might all play a part in providing for some of our most basic physical needs.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Hiromi thinks I should tell my readers about a disgusting Facebook event that happened recently. My troubles began when I clicked on a video link posted by a trusted friend from another state. I soon saw that it was inappropriate and got out before the video finished. I was sure that my friend had not intentionally posted the video, and felt sorry for her that someone invaded her account to post it on her wall. The next morning I saw it on another local friend's wall. When I called it to her attention--again, someone who I knew would never post such a thing--she told me she had clicked on the link when she saw it posted on my wall the night before. Grrrrrr. Now I was feeling sorry for myself and my local friend.

Apparently, whenever anyone clicks on it, the video immediately reposts on the "clicker's" wall. I'm giving you the thumbnail details here so you won't blunder into this mess. It says "Caution Wet Paint, Very very funny LOL. (No. Very very unfunny.) The thumbnail picture isn't really clear (or I would have known not to click on it), but there is an article of blue clothing on the right and red clothing on the left. Two people are wearing the clothing, but it looks confusing because it's not a full-length picture by any means.

I went to my wall and removed the post. Then I changed by password. That is apparently what it takes to protect oneself from this happening again by the same source.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A "Nothing Here" Place

"There's nothing here," Rhonda's son said as they drove into Kansas. Rhonda is a native Kansan who has lived for a decade or two in another state. She knew what her son meant, but knew also that he was missing a lot of what is important about Kansas. The people, in particular.

Earlier this week, in the Home Environment class I'm teaching this semester, I had talked about the principle of "inhabiting the site," as explained in the book Patterns of Home. Homes feel best to people when they fit into the surrounding natural features rather than starkly standing apart from them. In class I pointed out that our flat landscape may seem to be lacking in features to blend in with. We have no rock formations or forests or mountains or even slopes to let our houses grow among or out of. So what are we to do to make our homes "inhabit the site?"
I'm not sure if anyone has completely figured that out, but my mind has gone to some interesting places in puzzling over this.

I thought of the house on the banks of Plum Creek, a dugout home described in the Laura Ingalls Wilder book carrying that name. That home fit so thoroughly into the environment that a person could have walked over the top of it without knowing it was there. Building like that required a creek bank, however. We do have creeks nearby, but no spots that I know of that would be safe to build a dugout in. Other settlers in this area built sod houses. I can't imagine a more "inhabiting the site" thing to do than to build a house out of materials found on the site. That, of course, is also what people have done by building log cabins in forested areas and stone houses in rocky places.

I told my students that I thought in Kansas we should think of the sky scape--not only the landscape--when we explore the ideal siting of a house on a piece of land. It's one of the most notable features of the outdoor world because none of it is obscured by trees and hills or mountains. When do we especially wish to see the sky? Sunrise and sunset? If that's the case, we ought to make sure that the places in our homes that are occupied at those times have a good view to the east and west.

Another common feature of our place is wind. On featureless land, we don't have a lot of options for wind protection, but we can at least minimize the glass openings on the north sides of the house, where the coldest winds usually strike. If we decide to build along an east-west road, if we have a choice, a building site on the south side of the road would be preferred, to keep the road dust from billowing over the house when traffic passes while a south wind blows. This would especially be a benefit during a dry summer when the windows might be open to admit breezes--at a time when the prevailing winds are from the south.

Abundant sunshine nearly all year suggests that we cash in on its winter benefits, with wide windows on the south, and deep roof overhangs so that no scorching heat is admitted during the summer.

Visually, though, what kind of house design fits in best on a prairie landscape? A long, low structure. Like a ranch style house, which is just like that--a low-profile house, most at home on a wide, grassy ranch. Or perhaps a monolithic dome, like a bubble resting on the flat surface of the water in a dishpan.

Frank Lloyd Wright is famous for the Prairie Style of architecture. Low, flat roofs are part of this signature style. They echo the unwaveringly horizontal boundary of our landscape where it meets the sky in a circle all around us. True, the low flat roof line looks stunning in "Falling Water," one of Wright's most famous buildings, which isn't part of a prairie landscape at all. It's built in a bluff along a rocky creek. The building echoes its surroundings by being constructed partly of stone, and having a waterfall cascading off some of the roof edges. "Falling Water" steps up the slope by the creek in wide, flat steps, just as a prairie house could hunker down under a wide flat roof among the tall grasses that grow naturally here. The pronounced horizontal lines of Prairie Style architecture turn out to be very versatile architectural features.

Besides Kansas' pronounced horizon line, our natural landscape is loaded with texture--a fundamental element of design. Grasses lie on the earth in soft waves, the taller ones slipping away and rising again in response to the wind that lifts and lays them down. I'm not sure how to incorporate this feature into a home design, but I'd love to see someone try. Flapping shingles wouldn't cut it, I'm sure. Perhaps light and shadow playing across a sandy colored textured wall surface would be evocative of prairie vegetation showing its glistening blooms and duller stems by turns. Somewhere in the landscape, a native Cottonwood tree, rustling pleasantly, and showing its shiny top leaf surfaces and duller undersides would create its own light and shadow show, just as the grasses do.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder why people here so often copy home and landscape designs that could just as well be found in Ohio or Arkansas as Kansas. We could be so much more interesting if we dared to think and then live outside the "box" that is home for all the people who live in less interesting places than ours.

We'll never have enough money to build a sand colored monolithic dome with cottonwood trees growing nearby--but not directly to the east or west, so as to leave the sunrise and sunset visible. But I'm pretty sure if we did, living in it would feel just right. The winds would lift over the house without slamming into the exterior walls. We'd be as snug as the Ingalls family was in their dugout or the settlers were in their sod houses. Wes Jackson would say it would be a good way of "becoming native to this place." Traditional builders would shudder, but only until the first tornado came along and our house was the only one left standing. Then it would look like a sensible and abundant way of living in a place with nothing here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Leona's Kansas Family

Today I finished reading Will Leona Find a Family by Susan Huber. Not since I read Ervin R. Stutzman's books Tobias of the Amish and Emma, A Widow Among the Amish have I read a book with so many bursts of recognition: I know these people!

The book is the true story of Leona, who grew up to marry Jonathan Kuepfer from Canada--one of many young men lured to Kansas by the money and adventure awaiting participants in the annual wheat harvest.

Leona and Jonathan lived for a number of years here in Kansas, around the corner to the east and north from my grandparents, Levi and Clara Miller. Kansas was at its worst during some of the years they lived here, and survival was a struggle, especially during the dust bowl days of the 1930s. Like several other local Amish families, the Kuepfers butchered farm animals and peddled the meat in Hutchinson, as part of their effort to make ends meet. Eventually, however, they gave up the fight and moved away.

Some of the others named in the story were Delilah Nisly (mother of Menno, Melvin, and others in our church), and every member of the Headings family, with whom Leona lived from the time she was ten until her marriage to Jonathan when she was 18 years old. The baby of the Headings family was Mary, married to Fred Nisly. Mary has died now, but Fred is still a faithful member of our church. Most of their children live in Kansas but Maynard lives in Indiana and Ruth Yoder lives in Florida.

Leona was left motherless in Ohio when she was 15 months old. Eventually she was sent to live at a Mennonite orphanage, and then at the age of ten came to Kansas to be part of the Valentine Headings household. She never relinquished her Follas last name, and, in fact, kept in contact with her father and her two brothers in Ohio throughout her lifetime. In every way possible, the Headings family accepted her as one of their own and made her feel welcome.

Jonathan and Leona were Amish until they moved to Ontario after some of their children were nearly grown. Both of them died in their late sixties. At that time they were part of the Bethel Conservative Mennonite Church.

The Kuepfer family eventually grew to include 15 children who grew to adulthood. Several grandchildren also joined the household later, after the family had moved to Canada.

The Kansas part of the story contains many stories of childhood escapades. The children were blessed with mega-doses of inquisitiveness and innovation--often to the dismay of the adults trying to keep them safe and healthy--once even to the dismay of many residents of Hutchinson, who saw a strange light in the night sky at the height of fear during World War II. Enemy activity was suspected. It was a flare "pot" the children had found discarded along the railroad. They had lit it and attached it to the tail of a kite, which they then launched and watched for a long time. The light swung back and forth on its tail, then finally went out. The next day someone from the law enforcement department in Hutchinson came out to investigate. Mostly he was asking if anyone else saw the light and knew what it was. The experiment was not repeated.

It's probably understandable that the context part of the story is fairly minimal, since the author of the book is the youngest member of the family, and was born in Canada. No dates are given throughout the book. I miss them, and could provide some of my own context if they were present.

Mention is made of neighbor Delilah Nisly who made herself responsible for reporting the dangerous exploits of some of the Kuepfer boys who were known to cavort on top of the barn roof out of sight of their parents. Those of us who knew Delilah have no trouble imagining her taking seriously her responsibility to look out for all the children of the neighborhood.

Perhaps Delilah never heard the story I heard within the past month of her own son, Melvin, when he was surely old enough to know better--21 perhaps, who stood on his head at the peak of their barn roof, during the process of repairing it after the 1948 wind storm that tore through the community.

What I know of the Kuepfer family is the occasional visitors in church on a Sunday morning--visitors from Canada who my father would introduce to us as his childhood friends. A more recent connection is my daughter-in-law Dorcas, whose dad was a Kuepfer from Canada. I haven't learned yet whether she has any connection to the Kansas Kuepfers from all those years ago. I understand that Kuepfers in Canada are very numerous and often not closely related to the few that any one of us happens to know.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Market/Kitchen Notes

At our annual organizational meeting for the Farmer's Market today, I got asked unexpectedly to provide input on what people need to know about equipping a commercial kitchen. I surprised myself by advocating for anyone on a building committee involving construction of new kitchen facilities to make sure the necessary features are built in. I even stuck my neck out so far as to say that it's unconscionable not to do the few extra things it takes to make a kitchen certifiable for preparation of food that is to be sold. This would make it possible for someone who wishes to sell a processed food item to make the necessary preparations in a church kitchen and sell it legally to consumers. Even for fund-raising food events, a certified kitchen is technically required. Usually this requirement is not enforced, however.

I think I've referred to some of these things before, but here goes again.

Here are the things you need to have in a kitchen--beyond the normal and expected things--if you want a kitchen to be certified (Disclaimer: Some variation in local laws is possible) :

1. A three-sectioned sink (to allow for dishes to go through a sanitizing solution after washing and rinsing)
2. A floor drain (to dispose of mop water without the temptation of pouring it into a sink used for food prep)
3. A separate hand washing sink (so as not to mix germs from hands with food preparation areas)
4. An entrance directly into the kitchen area from the outside (so as not to schlep food items through areas that might introduce contamination)
5. A separate storage room for supplies and extra equipment (Not sure of the logic here.)

Last year a lot of vendors of Mexican foods had to stop coming to the market because they did not have access to commercial kitchens for food preparation. We missed them, and revenues for the market were down this year--partly also because it was a year when produce growers struggled because of the incessant heat and drought.

Sales amounted to a quarter of a million dollars. On one market day, about 3,000 customers passed through the building. The last week in July and the first week in August were the highest volume days for market sales--about $15,000.00 on one day.

In 2012, the midweek market will be on Wednesday from 10:00-2:00--different hours than before, and a very welcome change to a cooler time of day. Last year it was from 11:00-3:30.

For the first time ever--in 27 years, no one from the Amish-Mennonite community is on the market board.

We all agreed that the weekly 1/2 hour radio program every Saturday morning was a great way to get customers to the market, even though many of us felt like rank amateurs while we were on the air--often impromptu.

Our market is the only covered market in Kansas--a gift many years ago from the Ontjes family, who used to own the downtown Pegues store.

Someone noted today that a lot of the "saving money" advice columns advocate going to farmer's markets near the end of the market day when people are willing to sell food cheap because they don't want to take it home. Not at our market. Most of us have families or friends who can use extra produce, and we all agree that if we start selling things cheap at the end of every market day, we will inadvertently train people to show up only at that time, and we won't be able to make enough money to stay in business.

As always, the annual meeting is a great "feel good" event--the only time in the year when vendors actually have nothing more pressing to do than to sit down to talk. During the market season, usually conversation happens in between waiting on customers or getting set up to sell. If you're local, stop in to see us next summer. If you're not, find a farmer's market near you and patronize it as much as you can. It's one way of loving your neighbor as yourself.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bright and Dark Places

On the flight home from Virginia, we stopped off in Chicago. Almost all of the first flight was over a dreary landscape--obscured by gray clouds beneath us. We had left behind a wintry mix of sleet, snow and rain in Mission Home and Richmond. Darkness arrived about the time we landed in Chicago. In the air again, west of Chicago, the skies were clear and every light below looked cheery and sparkling. I leaned my head against the side of the cabin and looked out all the way home, ignoring my seatmate entirely, except for a brief greeting when he arrived.

I knew I must be seeing Illinois and Iowa and Missouri and then Kansas, but I couldn't tell which was which. Too lazy to keep track of the time, the approach to Wichita was announced long before I was expecting it.

The past week and a half has seemed too full of gray and dark. I think all of us who knew Esther felt that her death meant way too much loss--she herself missing out on the years of her life that could have brought reward for all that she had invested in her children and in others. Her tiny grandchildren someday feeling cheated for not having learned to know her. All of us feeling that our time with her was too short.

Before we had left Virginia we got word of yet another death--Marvin's dad, Elmer Mast. Marvin and Lois rerouted their trip home to Kansas and went instead from Chicago to Tennessee. The only two children still at home met them in Chicago. Benji and Heidi were to fly in from Mexico where they had gone for a six-week Spanish language course. Hans could not come from India.

Linda and I flew home as planned. Elmer had died very suddenly from a heart attack. He had planned to come to Galichia Hospital in Wichita next week to have his heart problems investigated. He never made it, despite his cardiologist earlier having told him that his problems weren't urgent. Out of time. Again. Elmer was 76.

The first full day that I was home, Shane's dog, Lexi, got hit and killed on the road by our house. In the overall picture, this wasn't such a big deal, but she was a great little friend, and I miss her. Shane feels the financial loss. She was a registered bitch, and was to pay her own way in life by producing salable puppies. He's raised her from a pup. We don't have a kennel here in which to confine the dogs, but they usually stay here when Shane is gone.

Tonight when I left school a conversation was in progress that called forth a mixture of emotions on my part--a little disgust, a little pity, and a lot of relief that it wasn't my problem to deal with. Also, after school I had to fulfill a promise to withhold privilege from a student who failed to hand in a simple little paper--the first assignment for the Home Environment class I'm teaching this semester. That didn't feel good.

My grading has not advanced much this week. I was too busy with getting the new class underway. I've also spent time on the Rural Roots project--correcting the electronic file, gathering and recording the income from sales, going to the bank with the small bills and coins to exchange them for less bulky money.

We've had ever-so-windy and cold, cloudy weather during the middle of the week.

It's Shane and Dorcas' turn to clean the church this weekend. They came home from Virginia on Thursday morning, after driving most of the previous day and night. A stop-off in Tennessee for the calling hours for Elmer Mast took some time out of the long drive. Shane left again this morning on a two-day trucking run. (So much unexpected time away from work--spending money instead of making it takes a toll.) Danny went along to help drive. I'm not sure how Dorcas feels about this much time alone except for the baby. Understandably, all of us were oblivious to the cleaning obligation and did not plan for it.

Hiromi's car has a problem in its cooling system. He changed a leaking radiator hose in the biting cold yesterday, but it still has a problem. We took it to the repair shop before school this morning.

Mom and Dad's next-door neighbor died night before last of a heart attack. He was 72. They were babysitting someone's dog, and on that cold night he had taken the dog outside and died there. Hiromi had worked with him earlier--at Collins Industries perhaps.

Marian's 95-year old mother is sick, although she seems a bit improved today over yesterday. I called Marian this morning and told her she needn't come today to help with cleaning if she's needed at home. She took me up on the offer.

Quite enough dark and dreary stuff.


The ladies in Dorcas' Sunday School class made plans to do the church cleaning for her. After the plan was made, some of the ladies ended up traveling to Tennessee for Elmer Mast's funeral. I can't imagine that cleaning works very well for them this week after all. However, the gesture is greatly appreciated by all of us who know that kindness and mercy is being extended. That's a bright spot in how the world looks right now.

Lois says that she wonders if Elmer would have survived his surgery if he had come to Galichia and had surgery as "planned." It was so much better for him to die at home than hundreds of miles away here in Kansas--possibly after having endured more pain and expense in the process. Another thing to be thankful for.

Lois and Marvin almost went to India for this week. Lois said that if they had gone when they planned, they would have just arrived there when Elmer died. If they had gone, Elmer would almost certainly not have come to Galichia till after they got home, and the delay would surely have gone beyond next week. They're very thankful that he didn't die while waiting for them to come home from India so he could plan for his surgery.

The story of their decision not to go to India is another bright spot. Earlier they had hoped the whole family could go there together for Vacation Bible School. Then Benji felt that he should spend his winter break from FB studying Spanish, and Heidi wanted to share that experience, so it became clear that the whole family would not go to India together. They all decided to give it up, except for Hans, who was able to go. Their would-be hosts in India were disappointed.

When Marvin and Lois heard how much extra work and responsibility their absence was costing their friends in India, they reconsidered, and decided that only Marvin and Lois would go. They called India to tell their friends they were coming. That afternoon Lois talked to Jayapradah, who is a dear Christian friend from India--now living in Florida. Lois told her that they were planning a trip to India--and could hardly believe Jaya's response. "No. You do not go to India. Not now. Later you can go, but not now."

Jaya could not say why, although she did mention vaguely that their family needs them, their business needs them . . . "In the states, you can go where you're needed, but not if you're in India."

Jaya has often spoken prophetically, with knowledge of things no one but God could have told her, and Marvin and Lois both knew after hearing from Jaya that the door had just slammed shut for going to India. They called Sam and Becca and told them they weren't coming after all. They went to Esther's funeral instead, and after Marvin's Dad's death, everything became abundantly clear. That bright word from the Lord had come just in time.

The weather was sunny and calm today, and promises to warm into the upper 50s and 60s over the weekend.

Lexi at least won't be having mongrel puppies, courtesy of Bandit, who sneaks over here whenever he gets a chance. His amorous intent is understandable but not welcome.

We have the use of Joel's car while ours is ailing. A Mitsubishi Eclipse is quite a step up from the old and klunky Chevy Caprice Hiromi drives. If image matters, Hiromi's just got a nice burnishing in the rides department.

The day after Esther's funeral, the Faith Mission Home church service was meaningful and beautiful. A men's group sang about three songs, each of them with words that went straight to the heart, sent there with as much joy as an aching heart can feel.

On this trip I met Sheila, a former student who works now at Faith Mission Home. She loves the work, and if her co-workers are smart they love having her there. I'm almost sorry I never had a chance to write a letter of reference for her. It would have been a good one.

I also met Phil S., who along with LaVerne M. and me made up the group of three 17 year-olds who were on the very first Calvary Clarion staff at Calvary Bible School. We haven't seen each other for at least 30 years and did not recognize each other. (Yvonne was a year or two older, also on the Clarion staff.) Phil's wife Ida was a childhood acquaintance from Iowa and then Arkansas and then Costa Rica. She and Phil were busy and capable food committee members over the time of Esther's funeral. Ida told us that their children have fits at how young CBS students used to be, and how young they let them do things like putting together the Clarion.

I ate among several couples from Canada one evening--Jantzis and Gerbers. One of the men preached the next morning in church. Over supper the evening before, I had learned about a book written about the "Kuepfers in Kansas," as they put it. I bought the book today at Glenns--Will Leona Find a Home. They asked if I knew about the book when I inquired about the Kuepfer family my dad's family had grown up with. The Kuepfer and Miller children lived around the corner from each other and used to ride together to Poplar school.

That same evening I had a good conversation with Sharon Schnupp Kuepfer, who does a lot of writing, much of it right now focused on telling the story of her parents' lives--Clair and Clara. Sharon's husband is married to Mark Kuepfer's brother Steve.

Another writer friend, Verda Glick, was at Esther's funeral. I found myself eating lunch beside her, although separated by about half an empty bench before I looked over and saw who was there, and then scooted over next to her. Verda was in the states to help her mother celebrate her 105th birthday. Verda's family had been in Kenya for a few months and lived across the wall from the Kuepfer family--close enough to hear Esther's hearty and contagious laugh.

One more writer friend, Marie Yoder, shared her home, her time, a packed lunch, and her latest book with us. Sue Ann Miller had served us supper the evening before and took us to David and Marie's house and then to meet Marvin and Lois in Ruckersville. In all these people, the light of Christ shines brightly and I loved spending time with them.

The very first night we stayed with David and Michelle Beachy. Michelle is another author--one whom I had never met, although I've known both her parents for years. They both lived in Holmes County when I taught school there. Good people, preparing to leave the house they built and planned to spend a lifetime in--for voluntary service at Allegheny Boy's Camp in Maryland.

At Mim's house on Sunday afternoon, I learned to know her daughter, who has Down Syndrome. She is very sweet. She and I ended up sort of snuggling down on the couch and taking a little nap after Mary Zook (who has nephews in our school) had gone for a walk and Linda and Mim were chatting away.

We stopped in for a bit at Mark's house and saw where Dorcas had grown up--when she wasn't in Kenya. Mark had built the house. Mark showed us where Esther's bed had been in her last days and pointed out the view through big windows near her bed and across the room from there. Craig and Rachel's twin baby girls and Tristan were all there in the living room nearby--so much life and health and promise wrapped up in their being. Mark asked about Hiromi and Mom and Dad and asked us to take greetings for them.

The upstairs guest quarters at FMH where we stayed for two nights were idyllic. From there I saw the man who lives downstairs enter the bell tower to ring the bell on Sunday morning. I spread out at the table to do some grading or arranged the cushions "just so" and graded papers on the sofa. The bed was comfortable, and the names of each of the three guest rooms and the decor were perfect examples of "inhabiting the site"--an architectural principle we're learning about in home environment class. References to the bell tower, the old post office and St. Anne's gable were included in the names. Those places were visible from the windows in those rooms at one time--the post office gone now, and St. Anne's now called Faith Mission Home. The bell tower still stands--well-crafted and sturdy. The church is right across the drive from the guest house.


While I was in the lunch line after the funeral, a boy 10-12 years old was in line behind me. He was friendly and courteous, apologizing heartily when he realized he had accidentally almost cut in front of me. So I engaged him in conversation.

"Do you live here?" I asked first.

"No. I live in Tensey."

"Is that a town in Virginia?" I asked.

"No. Tensey."

"Where's that?" (I'm sure he thought I was a hopeless case in the geography department.)

"Tensey," he said one more time.

"Oh. Tennessee!" (Finally.)

This called for an effort to redeem myself. "What town is nearby?"

"Dixon." (Finally something I understood the first time.)

"Do you know Paul and Darlene?" (Darlene is Marvin's sister.)

"Yes. They're our neighbors."

By then it was our turn to enter the church and go down the stairs to eat lunch.

Later I asked Lois if it's common for people from Tennessee to drop a syllable from their state name when they use the name.

"Oh yeah," she said. "All the time."

Whew. So my hearing hadn't totally failed me after all.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Unholy Entertainment

I need Misa Inez-Nisly to contact me. I have a package for her from Thomas Scientific. It cost someone $8.00 to have it shipped by UPS to our address--the alleged business location for Fracas Entertainment, Inc. The Partridge phone number given for Fracas Entertainment, Inc. is no longer in service.

Thomas Scientific commands respect. I quote from the blurb that comes up on Google when the company name is inserted: Thomas Scientific has been providing the latest in laboratory equipment, instruments, supplies and chemicals to the science community since 1900. The originator of the Fracas Entertainment moniker is another matter.

The catalog inside the package was a hard-backed volume about three inches thick and very heavy--a notch bigger and heavier than the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary at my desk at school.

"Blogger, get a life," someone painted on our straw bales last summer. I'm thinking that someone out there hasn't yet figured out how to follow their own advice.

Let us pray--before a fracas develops that would provide unholy entertainment for anyone watching.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lost Book--For Locals

The first Home Environment class of the semester meets today, and one of my key source books is missing from my personal collection. I've frequently loaned out my books, with too little tracking of their whereabouts, so I'm begging for its prompt return if my book happens to reside in someone else's personal library at the moment.

Having just returned from a trip that ate up my last few days of doing school work during Christmas break, I'm slightly panicked about launching this class in a motivating way.

Here are the specs: Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design. Authors: Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein, Barbara Winslow.

The book refines and consolidates the principles found in another book A Pattern Language. That book is present and available in my personal collection. It's a seminal volume on applying organizational systems to complex tasks. I suppose I should be appreciating the irony of such a book benefiting from refinement and consolidation, and the further irony of having it in my collection with no noticeable effect on my library-tracking skills.

Patterns of Home is available in our local public library. If Hiromi can pick it up today, I'll use it to get by for the present.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Travel Plans

I now have plans to fly to Esther Kuepfer's funeral, along with my sisters Linda and Lois, and Lois' husband Marvin, who orchestrated the arrangements. Marvin attributes the success of the arrangements in large part to the extraordinary helpfulness of an agent for the airline we'll be flying with--AA. I attribute it to Marvin's generosity and hard work as well, and, most of all, to the blessing of God.

Hiromi was originally scheduled to go instead of Linda. He offered her his place, however, when he realized how much we would have to ask of others to fill in if we were both gone. We all realized that Linda had been a long time friend of Esther's while they both lived at Mission Home, and that it would mean a great deal to her to be able to attend.

Unexpectedly, Wal-Mart proved to be very helpful in Hiromi making arrangements to be excused from work. He just needed to make a phone call on both days he would have had to take off. If the death had been of an immediate family member, he would have had his scheduled work hours paid just as if he had showed up for work.

Clarissa, our newest daughter-in-law, is helping out at Mom and Dad's--seeing that Mom's meds are taken on schedule, etc. and other family members are helping otherwise as needed--all filling in for Linda.

Thanks to each one who is making this possible.

I understand that the following people from here also plan to attend: Norma Miller (my co-teacher, who is flying from Dallas today with Craig and Rachel), Lorne, Grace, and Frieda Kuepfer, Joe, Twila, and Daniel Yoder, and Trish Bontrager. Laverne and Rebecca Miller and Gary and Rosanna Miller both have children married to someone in Mark and Esther's family, but neither of them are in Kansas right now. I suspect they might find their way to the funeral as well.

We plan to leave Wichita at 10:30 AM Friday and return there at 8:30 PM Monday. The Virginia destination is Richmond.


After Shane and Dorcas (in Illinois) got word of Dorcas' mother's death, in consultation with the owner of the semi, they started heading toward home (Kansas) again via St. Louis. Near St. Louis, they picked up a load and continued to head west.

Around the same time they started heading for home, Eric G. headed east with Shane's car. Somewhere west of St. Louis they met, swapped vehicles and directions, and continued to drive. Shane and Dorcas were scheduled to arrive at Mission Home after 6:00 this morning. How much after 6:00 depended on how often and how long they had to stop. I haven't heard, but trust they arrived safely.

The two couples Shane and Dorcas were scheduled to meet in IN plan to attend Esther's funeral, and the three couples might try to arrange to spend a bit of time together early next week.


Esther's daughter Ruth posted on Facebook today:

I never believed there were holes in the floor of heaven before ...

I'm not sure what all she meant by that, but Shane told me last night that in the last few minutes of Esther's life she called out, "Mom!" Perhaps it's clearer to her family now than it was then, but Shane said that they didn't know whether it was an exclamation because of who she was seeing, or if it was a confused call for help. She had fallen and Ruth and Mark rushed to help her. She was gone within five minutes.

As Wes said when he called back to tell me that I should plan to go to the funeral with no worries about school: "God rest her soul."

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A Fresh Grief

Shane called this morning to tell us that Dorcas' mother, Esther Kuepfer, from Mission Home, VA died. She was about 58.

Later we got the church's call chain message saying that the death had occurred at 5:30 this morning. She was diagnosed in May with cancer. At that time its presence was confirmed in her lungs and spine. Since then, evidence showed that it had spread to her brain as well. No treatment was advised at any time, except for some initial radiation to shrink the tumor on her spine in hopes of retaining function below her waist. That had the desired effect.

Shane, Dorcas, and two-month-old Tristan are somewhere in Illinois en route to Indiana in a semi. The plan had been to meet this evening with Josh and Misty from here at the home of Shane's cousin, Kevin, who lives in the Goshen area with his wife and baby boy. The men were friends since their youth days and have decided to try to get together once a year. This year the reunion was to be at Kevin's house.

Shane is doing some trucking this winter while his basement construction job is on hold for the winter. All going together to Indiana in the semi was one way to make this trip pay instead of being a drain on finances.

Funeral plans have not been announced.

When we talked to Shane, they were still trying to decide how to proceed. We're all very glad that the little family is together. If Dorcas and the baby were here and Shane were on the road, all sorts of complications would be present that are eliminated this way.

Hiromi had said earlier that he thinks if Esther died, we would want to consider going to the funeral. This morning he was back to his reflexive travel stance. This is how our conversation went this morning:

Me: Do you think we should try to find a way to go to the funeral?

Hiromi: I don't think so.

Me (remembering Hiromi's earlier sentiments) : Why are you saying that?

Hiromi: I don't know.

Me: Reflexive behavior?

Hiromi: Yeah.

I'm checking out possibilities for catching a ride with someone. We agree that we don't have a vehicle that should go, and we don't have money to fly. Meanwhile, Hiromi is noting that "You don't have school till Monday, so going would be no problem," and I'm saying that's an over-simplification. So you see how it goes: stellar communication and well-thought-out stances all around.

Joel and Hilda and David and Susanna, who all thought they would want to go to Esther's funeral, now have plans to have their son and brother Angelo and his wife Anna come for this weekend. They live in Boston and aren't often home, so it seems likely that they will stay home instead of making the trip. My co-teacher, Norma, is a dear friend of Rachel's and is considering making the trip, perhaps connecting with Craig and Rachel to fly out of Dallas, so that she can help care for the babies.


Dorcas has two siblings, Rachel (married to Craig Miller--LaVerne's) and Joe (married to Marilyn Miller--Gary's) who live here and attend our church. An older sister, Ruth, and two younger brothers, Tim and TJ, are presently at home with Mark in Virginia.

Craig and Rachel are in Texas on a family vacation with Craig's extended family. They have a one year old, and twin daughters who were born last summer. Craig and Rachel have spent most of their married life in Thailand, but came home in May to be with her family initially. Mark had asked that all the children come home at that time, believing that it would be a time when Esther could still enjoy having them there. Each of the children has gone home at least once since then--Craig and Rachel in October, Shane and Dorcas in late November and early December, and Joe and Marilyn over Christmas. Ruth returned home in mid-December after having been in Thailand at IGO for their 2012 term.

A special gift was the privilege Mark and Esther had to travel to Kansas to see their twin granddaughters while they were still tiny.

Esther also learned to know Tristan when he was about a month old. I saw a picture of her holding him. They were looking into each other's eyes and smiling broadly at each other. Two people, bound together by flesh and blood, one so recently entered into the land of the living, and the other, so soon leaving--but coming together briefly between eternity past and future, enjoying a tiny taste of the bliss that is now Esther's forever. . . . What a treasure.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Records and Names

That silly little story about one Amishman's creative use of the buggy whip garnered 547 hits on my blog on the day my nephew Hans linked to it on Facebook. That's a personal record. Hint: make friends with Hans, and tickle his funny bone if you're seeking to claim that 15 minutes of fame we're always hearing about and feeling entitled to.

One of the nicest bits of fallout from that flurry of blog activity was getting acquainted with Sherry Gore, author and magazine publisher from Pinecraft, FL. We have friends in common, it turns out, and her bishop's wife, Ruth, grew up in our church. She was best friends with my sister Clara. They made up one of the three sister-friend pairs between our family and Fred and Mary Nisly's: Martha and Lois, Esther and Dorcas, and Ruth and Clara. (Just noticed--all Bible names except for Clara, who was the namesake of my grandmother Miller.)


Family name patterns (or the lack thereof) are fascinating. I keep trying to discern motives or patterns or whatever. That's probably a bit obsessive of me, but it's cheap entertainment.

In the Nisly family, the other names were Mark, Mary Jane, Miriam, and Maynard, the oldest. I wonder if there was an epiphany after the firstborn had been named, and a resolve to be more Biblical thereafter. But maybe it just happened that way.

What about the family with six boys--Joshua, Jeffrey, Matthew, Jacob, Michael Jon, and Jordan? Was the plan at the beginning to stick with J's, then a reconsideration after Matthew seemed like a good choice? Maybe Michael Jon was named to keep Matthew from feeling singled out. Of course, it might have been much more random than that. I'm told that "Mom" had innocently suggested Michael Jordan at one point, but when her more knowledgeable older children howled with laughter in recognition of someone they knew whom she did not, "Jon" was substituted for "Jordan." The next baby boy got the leftover half of the first proposal.

I can still recite the amazing achievement of Melvin and Alma, who had a whole family of children whose initials were MMM: (I wonder how they marked their underwear.) Melvin Merle, Michael Morgan, Maynard Milton, and Myrna Marlene.

Did the Beachy Amish parents of James Dean and Lisa Marie know about their entertainment-industry counterparts?

People would no doubt have trouble finding a pattern in our name choices, for that matter. One Old Testament prophet (Joel), one Irish name echoed in a Western movie title featuring a star by the same name (Shane), and one last-name-of-a-president (Grant). Their middle names are David, Michael, and Nathan--all Bible names. (Whew! Finally a pattern.) The only intentional pattern was to have first names that are simple to understand, pronounce, and spell. With a last name like ours, that seemed prudent. I suppose we could have been a bit more creative, as some apparently love to be, and spelled the names Jowell, Shayne, and Grhant, which would, of course, have been as ridiculous and ostentatious as it looks.

Still, our children's names are reasonable, given who we are and what we value. Joel is a good sturdy name--not over-used, and carrying echoes of Hiromi's devotion to ferreting out the intricacies of Biblical history and languages. It has Hebrew origins, as does my name, Miriam, the Hebrew form of Mary in Greek and Maria in Latin.

Shane is the Irish form of John, the middle name Hiromi chose for himself when he became an American citizen. The name choice sounds a little less pious from here on. Hiromi chose John for himself because of John Wayne, a Western movie star he admired. And he also liked the movie "Shane," and can still quote the ending line, spoken by a little boy calling out to a cowboy riding off into the sunset: "Come back, Shane." I had a college classmate named Shane. All I really remember about him was that he was over seven feet tall and did not play basketball. "Shane" was the first name Hiromi and I thought of that we could both agree on--again, not over-used among our circle of friends, and with a connection to his father's name.

Grant's birth occurred while we were in the process of transitioning to a different phase of our purchase agreement on our three-acre home site west of Partridge. We went from land contract to mortgage, at which point we briefly were in possession of the title of the property and found that it had passed into private hands when it was purchased from Ulysses S. Grant, president of the United States. I read over the title shortly before Grant was born and looked up at Hiromi: "Grant. How would you like that for a first name?" He agreed--a great relief after the many suggestions of mine he had shot down in previous naming discussions. (Veto power in evidence; initiative, not so much, at those times--sparing me from the veto role, at least.)

Middle names? David, after my dad, because Joel was the first grandson. Michael, because "Andrew" would have had too many "N's" when paired with Shane. Nathan because it sounded OK and sort of went with Joel's OT prophet name.

This community now has a younger Joel, Shane, and Grant. I'm pleased that the names are still not overused, but at least three sets of parents have approved of one of our choices and used it for their own child, and that feels OK.