Prairie View

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Quote for the Day 4/1/2012

Grant (tonight when the Iwashiges were together at their place): Well, Clare and I thought that since we're all together here tonight this would be a good time to tell you something we've known for a little while. (We're all waiting with bated breath. This is how Shane started out when we first learned about Tristan's impending arrival.)

Grant (finishing) : It's April Fool's Day!

Baby Tristan, who was very tired, found the loud burst of laughter quite offensive.

Cruel. That's what it was.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

For Your (Local) Flower Garden

I've been cleaning up the dead stalks, etc. in the flower beds out front for the past few days and see that a lot of stuff needs digging out. Here's a list of what I've got in abundance:

Maximillian Sunflower (tall perennial, fall blooming)

Artemisia (all very drought tolerant)
Powis Castle (very soft white ferny foliage--about 18" tall)
Silver King (about 3 feet tall, deeply cut gray foliage)
Green and Gold (like Silver King except the foliage is green splashed with gold)

Pampas Grass--two big clumps that must go

Perennial Bachelor's Buttons--Centaurea dealbata--Knapweed--pinkish purple flowers

Hardy Aster--White, fall-blooming "Frost Flowers" or Michealmas Daisy, about 15 inches tall

Tall Sedum--Autumn Joy

Vinca major--variegated leaf

Garlic chives--Oriental chives or nira

Larkspur (re-seeded)

Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua)--I use this a lot in bouquets as a green filler. Reseeding annual.

Moonflower (Datura??)

In smaller amounts I have a number of kinds of Daylilies, Spiderwort, Boltonia, and probably a number of other things I'm not remembering at the moment.

Email or call me if you're interested. I'll be especially glad to hear from you if you're willing to dig up what you want. Bring boxes and possibly a shovel. I'll be home on spring break next week. If you have something to offer in trade, fine. If not, that's OK too. I'm a sucker for tough stuff and herbs and generally any plant I don't already have.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

All the News

I wonder how many ladies who are pushing 60 get invited to a high school girls' slumber party. I am counting my blessings. I am certainly not the life of parties like this or any other kind of party, but it's nice to be included in these girls' lives.

I'll have to admit that I didn't persevere through the whole night. I came home and slept in my very own bed after the planned evening activities were past. Norma braved it the whole night. It's wonderful to have a young and chipper female staff member.

At the beginning of the evening there was lots of volleyball and basketball. I don't watch a lot of basketball, and I was surprised at the girls' fast-paced game. I found myself mentally doing some refereeing from the sidelines, so I think it's probably just as well if I don't get too involved in a spectator role. More precision probably doesn't automatically translate to more fun.

Ken and Gina invited us to take over their basement for the night. I hope the firecrackers someone felt free to detonate outside didn't disturb the younger Schrock children who were already sound asleep.


Last Thursday we had night school. After a normal school day we met again at 6:00 for our "Friday." Choir happened at a decent hour of the evening, and cleaning started around 12:30 AM. Before that the students had played Whistle, Wink, or Wave in the dark. We all agreed that it would have worked better with only one person being "it." With two, one could always stand guard over the prisoners, and there wasn't enough chance to escape. After the game-in-the-dark activity, we all gathered in a circle in the learning center and Mr. Schrock turned off the lights, and we sat on the floor and sang around an imaginary campfire. By then it was raining again outside. It was a great feel-good moment after a normal day's worth of classes.

During accounting class Miss Miller had turned off the classroom lights. This wasn't as chaotic as it sounds since they were having a QuickBooks day and each of the 11 students was sitting in front of a brightly lit computer screen.

Having a limit on caffeine consumption was an improvement over some past night school events. We still had plenty of sugar, provided by the impromptu snack the students brought in for our "lunch hour." The main dish was cereal--the kind that I never bought for our children, but Hiromi did--things like Fruit Loops and Fruity Pebbles and some kind of brightly colored "berry" cereal. (Contented quote by Nathan: What could be better than night school and Fruity Pebbles?) One dad who came in bearing several bags full of snacks, which he carefully lined up on his daughter's desk while she was in choir said, "I know it's over the top, but it was so much fun . . . I wish I could see her when she sees this." That's the spirit.

Former students came in during break to provide more goodies, which we were almost too full to consume--but their presence added cheer and novelty.

Students had worked hard to earn "E" privilege so as to be able to take full advantage of night school, but it still actually seemed to be a fairly productive "day." I'm hoping, though, that no parents are under the illusion that we kept those students' noses to the grindstone right up until 3:00 in the morning when I heard that some finally got home. I got home at 1:45, and I didn't hurry home after school was over. But then I didn't play in a basketball marathon either. Tsk. Tsk.

Sleeping late the next morning and having the rest of the day off was the best part of having had night school.


My brother Lowell was ordained in our church on Sunday. For this event, my sister Carol and her husband Roberto came from Shawnee (KC area) and my brother Ronald and his family came from Oswego (Labette County). Ronald and Roberto are both pastors.

Having these non-local family members here called for some family gatherings. We were at Linda's house on Saturday evening for pizza and strawberry shortcake and some other accompaniments, and then those of us who were still here on Sunday evening got together at Lowells. I really treasure these family times. There's no one I'd rather spend time with than my family.


My typing students were inordinately amused, and carefully recorded for posterity a comment I made in class, during break. They had been talking about the $300.00 a day that someone we all knew had gotten for babysitting a dog. One of the students thought it would be just the thing to do to tie the dog to a tree for the day and then go off and do whatever one wished.

"I doubt that the owner would be too impressed if she came home and discovered dear little FiFi tied to a tree," I said. That was the source of the hilarity. Can you believe it? They wrote it on the "quotes" page for the Pilgrim Perspective.

I wish I could remember where I got the "FiFi" mental prompt for the dog's name. A James Herriot book maybe? My family knows that when I'm reading and emitting belly laughs at regular (or irregular) intervals, I'm probably reading a James Herriot book. It's true, of course, that I've probably read all of those funny stories multiple times in the past, but forgetful people are easily amused. That's me.


I have quite had my fill of chasing black female bovines--in the evening when I'm here by myself, and in the morning when Hiromi's here and gives the distress call.

Shane is letting his cattle do some intensive grazing now that the pastures have finally had enough moisture and warmth to put on generous growth. It takes the cattle a while, apparently, to adjust to the new fence locations, and they have no qualms about barreling right through the electric fences.

Right after Shane had set up the new fences, it happened three times, one time right after the other. Fortunately he hadn't left yet and could take care of the problems himself. I didn't witness the incidents or any choice words that might have accompanied them.

The first time this happened when I was here alone, I looked out the dining room window in time to see the cows stepping smartly across the very well-soaked front lawn on their way to the roadside flower bed. I rushed out, making incoherent noises, and they got my message and hightailed it for the far corners of the back yard where they could commune across the fence with their more staid companions. I had to go get milk and hoped they'd stay there till Shane could come help put them in. When I got home, Oren had parked his pickup in the drive, pointed toward the road, with several very large hogs in the trailer. I suspected that, on his way home from doing hog chores, he might have parked and exited the truck abruptly upon sighting one of the afore-mentioned cows in an unseemly place--like the front lawn. I was insufficiently motivated to go looking for Oren and the cows to get the details.

When Shane got here shortly after, Oren was still here, and Shane looked up to see one of the offending animals hurrying around the corner of the house where she had gone, presumably with Oren in pursuit.

On Facebook, if you look up Home Place Quality Meats, you can see portraits of these cows. On those pictures, they look deceptively placid though. By the way, if you're so inclined, you might click on the like button and help spread the word about the high quality meats being produced right here on the home place.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

John Mast Stories

Gotta pass on several good John Mast stories while they're fresh on my mind--from a family gathering last night, full of lots of good stories.

John is a regular customer at the Dutch Kitchen, and loves to grouse about the practice of tipping. A while back, when he arrived, he told the hostess seating the guests that he would like to sit in the "no tipping" section.

"Follow me," she said crisply and led the way while John followed--all the way to the back, in front of the men's restroom.

"Here it is," she said. "And you can stay as long as you want."

It's probably a good sign that the story made its rounds with John doing the telling.


John once went to the train station early on a very cold morning to meet someone. From his tractor seat, he saw a rabbit huddling beside the road out of the wind next to a post. He must have made a mental note of its whereabouts.

After having picked up his passenger in town, he headed back out to the country, and asked his guest along the way if he smelled a rabbit. The passenger wasn't sure that he did, but John declared that he had gotten a whiff of rabbit. As they drove along, the smell got stronger and stronger, till they reached the post where John was pretty sure the rabbit would still be huddled. It was, and John pointed it out as the likely source of all the rabbit smells he was picking up. Predictably, the smell faded as they got farther away from the sheltering post.


Locals know John Mast as the tall retired Old Order Amish bishop of the Partridge area church. He is past 90, and his hearing and eyesight are failing, but he can still tell a good story and is a community treasure for that reason--and many others.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Smiles From Kansas Farmers

If you met any Kansas farmers this week they were probably smiling. Last week's sumptuous warm sunny weather was followed this week by deeply satisfying piddley, puddley rains. I've dumped an inch of water out of our rain gauge so far. All of it has fallen gently, with hardly a rumble of thunder to punctuate it. No hideous winds either.

This means that our creeks and rivers aren't rising yet because the rain is mostly soaking where it falls. The wheat fields are getting more and more impossibly green, and the alfalfa is growing marvelously.

I heard today that when LaVon Bontrager's grave was dug several weeks ago, after several nice rains, the ground was moist down to about six feet. Below that, the soil was rock-hard. The cemetery is very nearly at the geographic center of our community, and is a likely indicator of subsoil moisture conditions over the wider area.

The prevailing optimism is tempered slightly by uncertainty about the safety of the far-ahead-of -usual spring growth. If severe cold should arrive now, the damage could be significant.


There's a new Dexter calf in the barn--another reason for farmer Shane to smile.

Shane and Dorcas' baby, meanwhile, has gone with his mother to visit Dad/Grandpa Kuepfer and the aunt and uncles in Virginia--a reason for them to smile.

Life has been difficult for Mark of late. Esther died in early January, and this stage of the grieving process seems especially difficult.


Hiromi is ever so pleased that our resident cardinal has found and fed on the safflower seed he put on the screen-bottomed tray feeder. Hiromi had stopped putting out the mixed birdseed on that feeder after flocks of red-winged blackbirds descended on it and gobbled down all the feed. The cardinal, however, usually feeds there rather than on the tube feeders or the "house" feeder, so Hiromi was afraid he felt unwelcome. Cardinals are one of the few kinds of birds that eat safflower.


The "cute lammie" was safely ensconced inside the calf hutch tonight with its parents. The adults wouldn't bestir themselves, even to come out for grain, so Hiromi carried the feed pan to them inside the hutch. The lamb was up and about before he arrived, jumping back and forth across its mother's considerable bulk while she rested lazily on the straw in the hutch. Irresistible little thing.


We have night school tomorrow night, after a full day of regular school. The perk happens the next day, on Friday, when we can all stay home instead of going to school.

Students are agreeing to act sensibly about their caffeine consumption. Significant intemperance last year on a variety of fronts made the need for this quite clear.

In jest, Mr. Schrock said today that the teachers will provide a meal during the night around 10:30. Groans erupted immediately. The poverty meals we served last Friday are still fresh in students' minds, and teachers' offers to provide meals are likely to be viewed with a bit of suspicion for a while.

No one will be providing a meal tomorrow night. We're all supposed to eat between 3:45 when the first day of school dismisses and the next "day" takes up at 6:30 in the evening.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Good Words from an Occupier

Writings like the quotation below (from someone who has been there) help me see the Occupy movement in nuanced terms. I know very well that this is not all there is to "Occupy." It's not even all there is to the article or to the organization this chaplain represents. This expresses very noble sentiments, however, and I applaud the writer's words.

". . . at its heart, the Occupy movement is about creating a democratic society in which everyone matters, there is dignity in working together across differences, and there is enough for everyone. Is this vision tantamount to socialism? No. Once upon a time, we called this “American.”

It also sounds pretty Christian to me. What the early Apostles called “The Way” was a vision for peaceful living that built on Christ’s teaching, life, death and resurrection. The Way repudiates the pursuit of individual wealth in favor of building communities that care for the marginalized, the desperate and the powerless. Jesus demonstrated this by healing lepers and dining with prostitutes and tax collectors.

This is not to say that American democracy is synonymous with Christianity, nor to argue that it should be. Understanding what’s happening in these protests, though, requires that we quit impatiently insisting on a list of demands and listen for what the Occupy movement is saying."

I find the next paragraph particularly poignant, especially the last two sentences.

Critics have derided the protesters with the usual rehearsal of slurs: spoiled kids, lazy hippies and so on. But the occupiers don’t want your money or your stuff. In this entitled era of “Have it Your Way” and overwhelming consumer choice, spend any time listening to people speaking about their grief and hope, and you hear a groan of longing for a different way of living. “I want less,” a friend told me once. “Less of everything.” She wasn’t talking about wanting to be poor. She just wants real life. Jesus teaches that in return for having less, we get more. More life, not more stuff. The little experiments in community arising in cities across the United States in the Occupy movement are revealing how much there is in “less.” For many, “less” is not a choice. The Boston camp is full of people who have lost homes to foreclosure, whose unemployment applications have gone unprocessed for weeks and whose retirements have been absorbed by the banks.

Entire article here. (CNN Belief blog: "My Take: Occupy Wall Street Looks Like Church to Me" by Marisa Egerstrom)

Good Words from a US Senator

Two notes from US Senator Jerry Moran (R--KS):

On intrusive regulation of farm tasks done by farm kids--

On Wednesday morning, I had an opportunity to question U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis about her Department’s proposal to ban youth under the age of 16 from participating in many common farm-related activities during a Labor/HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. I’ve been continually working to show the Department of Labor (DOL) that its proposal is not only an unprecedented overreach by the federal government, but will fundamentally alter rural America. As currently drafted, the proposal would prohibit our youth from operating the most basic tools like a battery-powered screwdriver or a pressurized garden hose. A major concern that I have, and a question that I continually find myself asking is: “if the federal government can regulate what youth can do on their own family farm, what can’t they regulate?”

On Thursday morning, I spoke about this ridiculous federal overreach with Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” morning show. In the weeks ahead, I will continue to work with my colleagues to try to stop this destructive rule. If you are also concerned about the DOL’s proposed rules, you can share your concerns at Click here to watch my comments on Fox.

On extending the Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC)--

Strengthening our Nation’s Domestic Energy Supply

This week, Gov. Brownback and I co-authored an op-ed to explain our support for a temporary extension of the wind production tax credit (PTC) and its importance to Kansans. Government policies are hurting our country’s ability to compete within the global economy, limiting our domestic energy supply and driving up the cost of energy for consumers. To ensure Kansans have access to a reliable and affordable supply of energy, we must develop more of our nation’s natural resources.

Rather than make it more difficult for the private sector to develop energy sources, we should lower taxes, reduce regulations, and allow the private sector to succeed in the free market. In turn, the wind industry will grow and become fully competitive – no longer needing the wind PTC. Click here to read our op-ed.

Please note that I am not going to bat for Jerry Moran. I do, however, appreciate his stance on the farm labor matter, and read in today's paper and mostly agreed with the op-ed piece referred to in the "Domestic Energy Supply" report. The op-ed piece makes the PTC case more explicitly than does the abbreviated version above.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Triumph of Cynicism

In looking for what Christian people are saying about the public resignation of Greg Smith from Goldman Sachs, I found this:

"The letter landed like a bomb within the firm yesterday. The reaction on the Internet and in other media has been intense. But here is the interesting thing to me–no, not interesting, but infuriating, disturbing, disgusting–most of the reaction I have read or heard has been: yes, this is bad, this is seedy–but hey, what do you expect? Hasn’t it always been this way? Isn’t it this way everywhere?

I don’t want to have to believe this, but maybe it is time to say: cynicism now reigns. It has settled into our culture like a life-threatening hypothermia. People are numb. They’re ready to give up.

The ultimate triumph of cynicism is that people are cynical and they don’t even know it.

When trust of leaders of government is below 20%, when education has become more a trade than a calling, when the court system is a roll of the dice–all that is bad enough. But when people shrug their shoulders with a “what did you expect?” attitude, we have to wonder who is left to step forward and offer that rare thing today: an ideal." Read the entire post here . It was written by Mel Lawrenz on The Brook Network. (I know nothing about the author or any organization with which he may be connected beyond what is written on the page in the link.)

The writer nails what I've been feeling. Way too much apathy exists when things are not as they ought to be, and precious few people have the intestinal fortitude to risk calling outrageous things by their ever-so-accurate but politically incorrect or morally reprehensible names. As Lawrenz points out, a greater tragedy occurs when, not only do people with power "get by" without being challenged when they misuse it, continuing heedlessly on a course of destruction and ultimate judgement, no one holds high the banner of a better way--thereby offering a reminder that the slide toward ruin can be interrupted and repented of. A new course and a new destination are possible. It's easier, however, to give a ho-hum sigh and to simply live and let live . . . and most people choose the easier way.

The Occupiers have been soundly condemned in some Christian circles. I wonder if those who felt free to condemn the Occupiers will have a similar response to Greg Smith's actions, which essentially focus on the same message: common people are victimized by greed inside powerful financial institutions. I suspect those previously condemning Christians will not condemn Greg Smith, (although I recognize that this might be an assumption more generous than accurate) but they will be silent, because they will see his protest as somehow more honorable than that of the Occupiers. After all, he had a good job and has pretty much lived according to society's expectations so far. Hasn't he earned the right to complain? (Since when is truth telling only recommended or allowed for the well-placed?)

Some of the Occupiers, however, were perhaps a step above Smith on the moral ladder by speaking out before their own jobs or reputations were threatened by the actions of a powerful elite. Perhaps they were speaking out on behalf of others. Perhaps they even gave up their own jobs to give a public witness (before they had twelve years of $500.000.00 salaries under their belt, as Smith had), and to call to account people who were behaving badly and causing suffering for others in the process. Perhaps they saw that acting now might prevent a cascade of future disasters that would spread and multiply the suffering.

Couldn't Christians reasonably agree that things inside some powerful financial institutions seem to have gone very wrong, and people are not wrong to notice and make mention of it--privately or publicly--whether they are inside Wall Street or outside of it, whether they are nobodies or somebodies? Couldn't we leave off, for a moment at least, debate on the intricacies of the precisely proper way to go about "bearing witness" and just applaud people who have had the courage to speak truth to power?

To be sure, if we were contemplating such actions ourselves, we would need to consider carefully the principles taught in Scripture and act accordingly. The danger, however, is that we never get to the "considering carefully" part for ourselves. We're too busy pointing out what is wrong with how others are doing it, and never formulate a personal position that might call for action. Shame on us.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Quote for the Day 3/17/2012

Marvin (after a wall-jolting door slam): Oh, no. There goes the exit.

Mr. Schrock has several signs at the ready this time of year: NO EXIT. On days when the wind blows hard from the south, these signs are posted on the outside door to the kitchen, and on the door between the kitchen and the learning center. When the inside door is open and the outside door opens to admit a blast of wind, the inside door slams shut with a peace-destroying crash. The best option is to simply use only the doors on the east and west sides of the learning center.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Very Public Resignation

I'm fascinated by the story of Greg Smith, who resigned very publicly this week from Goldman Sachs (one of the biggest Wall Street investment banks) because he could no longer in good conscience tolerate the in-house condescending attitude he witnessed toward investors. When he sent in his resignation email, he also sent a copy to the New York Times (NYT). NYT promptly printed it. Not surprisingly, Goldman Sachs is not amused. They were prompt in issuing disavowals and affirmations of their company's good faith policies, etc.

Comments following a separate NYT article on the matter take varied positions, but by far the majority hail Mr. Smith as a hero for standing up to Wall Street. He is, in effect, saying exactly what the Occupiers are saying--that an unchecked culture of greed exists inside Wall Street, and it's time those people are called to account and made to own up to their misdeeds and take their just punishment. Ordinary folks are suffering at their hands.

In 2008, when the nation's financial institutions were coming unglued at a frightening pace, Henry Paulsen, who was secretary of the US treasury, helped engineer the bailout of Goldman Sachs (and others), after having allowed Lehman Brothers to collapse without a bailout. The fact that Henry Paulsen was a former chairman and CEO at Goldman Sachs did not escape public notice. During all that turmoil, Greg Smith was working at Goldman Sachs (GS), and observing what was going on.

I'm pleased to hear what one person says who has known Smith from the time before he worked for GS. He describes him as a person of impeccable integrity. He began work at GS believing that his personal standards meshed perfectly with that of GS. He often bragged on GS as a wonderful place to work when he talked to prospective employees. At some point, however, he realized that he could no longer look these people in the eye and say what he had said honestly at first--that the company culture was compassionate and operated according to high ethical standards.

The implications of taking actions such as Smith's are still not entirely clear to me. Perhaps the mental disarray I feel right now will someday untangle itself enough to allow some coherent thinking and writing on the matter.

Alongside Smith's actions, I weigh the actions of the Old Testament prophetess Huldah, who we heard about on Wednesday evening in the study by Oren on the book of Nehemiah. I also consider what I know of authority structures outlined in Scripture, and what I know of living life with integrity, charity, and honesty. Smith is Jewish. I don't know how or whether he considers any of the issues I consider alongside his actions.

Does anyone who reads this have an impression to share on how you would untangle matters like this? Maybe you have an observation, even if it's not all clear to you.

Memorable Hot Lunch

Friday at school is usually hot lunch day. One of the mothers prepares and serves it to everyone. Today was the one day on the calendar left after all the mothers had their allotted number of turns scheduled or completed, and one more slot needed filling. The teachers volunteered to take that slot. In the back of our mind, we thought there might be a Friday earlier in the year when a funeral or a snow day bumped off someone else's turn and that person might be able to fill in on March 16. We have not had a single snow day however, and no Friday funeral days. So we teachers planned a memorable meal--so memorable perhaps that no one will ever trust the teachers again to provide hot lunch.

Much earlier in the year our principal, Mr. Schrock, had said he'd like to do some activity to help students be more thoughtful about those who suffer hunger, and their own choices and attitudes in light of this. We kept returning to the subject occasionally, trying to think how we might accomplish this. Finally, two days ago, we agreed on offering two poverty meal menus. They would be identified regionally, and students would be assigned to the meal option listed on a slip of paper which they drew randomly.

One menu option was "Latin America," and the other was "Pleasantview Area." (That's where we live.) The menus were further described on mini-posters in the serving line. The Latin America one was a "present day" poverty food, and the Pleasantview Area one was "Depression Era" poverty food. The Latin America one had beans and tortillas, and the Pleasantview Area one had wheat berries and milk.

We had assumed earlier that rice and beans was the appropriate poverty food choice for Latin America, but when I called Sharon, a former missionary to El Salvador, she told me that very poor people eat only tortillas with salt. If times are a bit better, they eat beans with tortillas, and if they can have rice, they think they're doing pretty well. So we backtracked a bit and swapped out the rice plan for tortillas--to be eaten with beans--for the less grim poverty meal choice.

The Depression Era food plan resulted from an idea that surfaced during the Rural Roots project the composition class did. This involved interviewing 17 people from our churches who are over 80 years old and grew up here. "What did you eat?" we asked them, in general terms and specifically about the time during the Depression.

Melvin Nisly's answer was the most memorable to me: "We learned to eat wheat," he said. I assumed it was Graham cereal (cracked wheat), like we often ate while I was growing up. Somewhere though I picked up that often it was whole wheat berries, so I called Dad and asked him what the wheat cereal was like.

"It was soaked whole wheat," he said.

"Soaked and cooked, or just soaked?" I asked.

"Just soaked, I think," he said. "Sister Lizzie would know for sure."

I started looking around online and found recipes right away for soaked wheat, most of it covered with boiling water and soaked overnight. When I described to Wes (Mr. Schrock) what I found, he recognized it right away as something his mother used to talk about. He knew she could tell him how to prepare it. He went home and experimented. During the night he got up and boiled water, then put a cup of dry whole wheat into a one-quart thermos. He added about 3 1/2 cups of boiling water and put on the lid. The next morning it was just right for eating as a cereal.

Yesterday when we talked about it at school, he decided it would be simpler to add salt to the soaking water than to try to mix it in at the end of the soaking time. That made sense to all of us--until this morning while I was getting ready for school. Then it occurred to me that adding salt might inhibit the uptake of water by the wheat berries--a dim memory from some high school lab experiment demonstrating osmosis.

All of us teachers happened to draw the wheat berries and milk menu option. When Wes took the first bite, he said, "This is not as soft as it was when I did it earlier."

"I wonder if adding salt to the water made a difference," I said.

"Oh, that's right," he said. "Basic biology. I never thought of that. I'll have to make a note for another time." No part of the kernel was hard, but it was a little chewier than usual. We served the milk in a glass and the students didn't quite catch on that it was to be eaten as a cereal--till they saw us teachers finishing up our cereal, so they ate wheat and drank milk. That was another small glitch.

Early this morning, during choir, Wes had posted signs in various places. "Sugar and Fat-free Zone. Only water for drinks." Later he posted other signs saying that no snacks were allowed without permission. Unsweetened coffee and tea without cream were allowed. At lunch he told students they weren't allowed to trade foods.

While we teachers were still trying to decide on a meal plan, Wes remembered a story he had read or heard years ago about James Bucher, a non-ethnic Mennonite who became a revival preacher in the mid 1900s. In one home in the deep South, he was invited to stay for the noon meal after he had made a call there in the morning. He accepted the invitation and, along with everyone else at the table, he was served a single piece of cornbread. Just that, nothing more--no butter or honey or milk or sugar to eat with it. No one complained and no one apologized. Mr. Schrock read that story to the students today.

Norma remembered a time when her dad lost his job when the place where he had worked for more than 20 years closed down. They ate lots of beans and rice after that--none of it embellished with condiments familiar to people with exposure to Latin American food. They had very little meat.

I didn't say it, but I remembered suppers of cornmeal mush and milk, without sugar. Dad was a farmer, so we never knew what "being out of work" meant--but we knew what not having a harvest meant. I also remember that, although we raised and sold hogs as part of the farming operation, we hardly ever ate pork. We needed the cash from selling the hogs and could not afford to spend that cash on expensive meat.

Throughout the day today, there was an invitation to think about the merits of choosing thankfulness even if one's food is very plain. Gluttony is one item on the list of seven deadly sins--not a list found in the Bible in that form, but taught against in the Bible. Mr. Schrock also put in a plea for people who fast for any reason not to compromise the physical and spiritual benefits by gorging immediately afterward.

Near the end of the day we served a simple snack of popcorn and milk. Students seemed very grateful for that simple snack.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mystery Menu Item

Seemed brollie. In a list of otherwise intelligible menu items prepared for a Home Environment assignment, this mystery appeared. Ethnic food? A fancy-name recipe making the rounds, but not yet having reached me? I checked with Norma. She tried to decipher it with me for language/spelling or other clues.

After the students came in from break I asked the person who wrote it. "Oh. That's supposed to be steamed broccoli. I think I was outside when I wrote it and couldn't see very well. Sorry."


Yesterday's gorgeous, calm, and sunny 80-degree day had students on "E" privilege studying outside at the picnic tables. As is often the case, bright sunshine reflecting off white picnic tables created an almost insufferable glare. Moving to the shade would of course negate any possibility of sun tanning benefits, so the bright sunshine had to be endured--even when it blanked out a laptop computer screen and resulted in such absurdities as "seemed brollie."

Friday, March 09, 2012

School Protest

Well, that didn't work out so well. We spent a whole month learning about protest--its hazards and limitations and occasional triumphs, (Isn't it awful--about Syria? That country needs our prayers.) and what happened at school today? The students had caught a whiff that the Friday afternoon activity was related to the literature selections of the month. During lunch they staged a march around the teachers' lunch table--homemade signs on broomsticks held aloft, and improvised placards tucked into the covers of view binder notebooks, held high.

"We are the 99%." (You Occupiers, you . . . )
"We Need Sunshine. Not Literature."
"Volleyball. Not Literature"
"Give me liberty or give me death." (Not original. Overly dramatic.)

No, no. Wrong take-away lesson. Better than riots or sedition, but still wrong.

"Aren't Friday afternoon activities supposed to be fun? Aren't they supposed to be student planned?" This from a sophomore.

"I have a history lesson for you," I informed him. "When I came, Friday afternoon activities consisted of films. I got a catalog to choose from. They all looked boring and the scheduling looked impossible and I never got into it. (How did I get by with this under-par performance?) So we did other things--PE every other week, etc. Then we started doing Literature and Current Events stuff on Friday afternoons--till Harry and Wendell both left and Andrew came and the two of us eventually ran out of ideas and steam. So we got the students to help us. We assigned two of them every week to come up with something for everyone to do. Later, when Mr. Schrock came, we did some student-planned activities and some teacher-planned ones. Last year we started another series, asking specifically that students share/demonstrate something about their life outside of school--skills, passions, talents, etc. So you see, it's never been really focused on having fun. It's just happened sometimes along the way." (I actually can't quite remember what I said, but something like this.)

"Oh. That makes sense."

Later, on Gox Box (our Amish-crafted instant messaging system between teachers), I told Wes about the conversation with the student. "I hope he evangelizes his neighbors," he answered.

The whole protest was [almost] all in good spirits, and not a real problem.


I wish the students knew how lucky they are. Today the unflappable Mr. Schrock continued his introduction of A Tale of Two Cities. He had prepared some terrific study helps and read excerpts from the book, and added tidbits of history and things to watch for, asked leading questions, and in a dozen ways helped prepare the students for a good reading experience. His college major was literature, and he's really good at making literature memorable and interesting. Mutiny is a totally inappropriate response to such generous offerings.

There was more inappropriate behavior, now that I think of it. Inattention and intentional diversions during the literature session, ignoring my request for help on assembling Rural Roots booklets "because I don't feel like it," sneaking off to McDonalds after school without the benefit of parental permission. . . Yessir. A weekend for cooling the jets and stoking the revival fires--out of the classrooms and into their homes. Good timing.

On the other hand, Kristyne sweetly offered to set up the Rural Roots display tonight at their church, and she's not even in the composition class. Lillian diligently scrubbed and mopped the typing room till it shone. Several of the comp students came to help of their own volition--without having to be summoned. Matthew and Ruth brought a wonderful hot lunch. The school choir is sounding better all the time--so good I could cry. I learned about tomorrow's "Gathering for Gardeners" today, in time to go tomorrow. I don't know how I missed all the advance notices. Hiromi wants to go too--a first.

Dan Schrag, a 90-year old brother from church fell and broke his hip, and the surgery to insert three screws could be done with incisions small enough not to need stitches. He ate a good breakfast this morning. He also has dementia, so his care could be a real challenge, but the surgery he had sounds so much better than the initial report we heard: he needs a partial hip replacement.

Marian was here so I came home to a clean house. Hiromi had put the chicken for supper into the oven and it was roasted to perfection when I got home. He had put away the groceries too.

I took a few snatches of time during the day to read A Tale of Two Cities, and savored the words Dickens uses so masterfully. And now that I've almost run out of things to protest, I'm taking the book to bed with me--so as to end the day with a good thing. I'll leave the protest to the Syrians--and the Pilgrim students.

It's All Easy

Some word spellings seem perpetually confusing to people. The latest evidence of the prophecy/prophesy confusion came this morning when I read an email from the director of a Mennonite seminary. Here's part of one sentence in the email: " . . . the practice of prophesy . . . " (When used as a noun, the word is "prophecy"--with a "c." The professor erred.)

How about this as a nonsensical mnemonic device for remembering that prophesy is always a verb: "It's easy to prophesy." (Get it? Both words end in "sy.")

The other perpetually confusing pair is "affect" and "effect." Part of the problem here is that both words have a very common and a more rare useage. In the common useage, "affect" is always a verb and "effect" is always a noun. But it's not quite that simple. A person can effect (verb) change and experience an affect (a noun meaning emotion or desire). I've always assumed that my high school students will not feel a need to use the rare useages, and have little need to learn them now.

My struggles to create a memorable mnemonic device for the common useage of "affect" and "effect" have not been memorable so far. Adding another layer to the previous nonsensical mnemonic device might work: "It's easy to get the right effect." ("Easy" and "effect" in this common useage both start with an "e.")

It's all really very EASY.


I read the lament recently of another writer who is distressed by the pervasive insertion of "eks" or "eggs" ("ex") sounds in words that have none of the above spellings. The writer gave two examples: "Egg cetera" instead of "ET cetera" and "Eks-presso" instead of ESS-presso." The dictionary at my desk at school actually lists "Eks-presso" as one of the pronunciations for espresso --not surprising from a dictionary publisher that has adopted the "descriptive" rather than the "prescriptive" approach to pronunciation.

My former co-teacher, Wendell N., hated this approach so much that he made sure he always had a "prescriptive" dictionary at his desk. I would guess that only "ESS-presso" was present in Wendell's dictionary.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Quote for the Day 3/8/2012

MJ: I think Mrs. I is thinking about getting annoyed by our noise.

Nathan: No. I don't think so, because she's a teacher, and teachers don't get annoyed.

After school this evening, about three students were engaged in a very animated conversation in the typing room where I was still working at the computer. I knew they had come there in order to get lined up for test taking the next day by taking notes on the material, and I suspected that their preparation efforts were being sabotaged by the conversation. It didn't interfere with what I was doing though.

"I'm wondering if there's any work getting done," I finally said without looking up. There was only a short break in the activity before MJ offered his conjecture about what I was feeling. He was wrong, of course, but hearing him say it was worth it because of hearing Nathan's confident followup pronouncement of teachers' predictable equanimity.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Quote for the Day 3/7/2012

Quote: We got a cute lammie.

When I got home from school today, on my computer keyboard, I found the above note in Hiromi's writing.

As Hiromi knew very well, that's the kind of news that puts an ear to ear smile on my face. In this case, the element of surprise added to the pleasure. Mara, our old ewe, was wide from side to side, but then so was the ram, and he sure wasn't carrying a lamb.

I hurried out to see. There was Mara, with a tiny lamb who latched on and nursed with its tail whirring at windmill speed. Cute lammie for sure.

Last year Mara didn't have a lamb, and we guessed that her mothering days were over. In fact, within the past few weeks, trudging out to feed them their pellets and sweet feed in the evening on days Hiromi comes home late from work, I've wondered if it's worth keeping Mara and the ram, Major, around just for their summertime mowing services.

Mara is a Katahdin hair sheep at least ten years old. I hope this is a ewe lamb, so we have one more chance to perpetuate the lineage. Major, who now walks stiffly, is registered, but Mara isn't. She has the kind of mothering record and history of fecundity, however, that leaves no question about her value as a member of our always-small flock.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sunday Wrap Up 3/4/2012

I woke up from my nap this afternoon to find that Hiromi had been entertaining Tristan for several hours while Shane and Dorcas acted like farmers on a lazy Sunday afternoon--walking around outside and doing I-don't-know-what-else. Hiromi must have done a good job because I didn't wake up for a very long time.

After I did wake up, Shane wanted me to walk out to help him try to figure out how close one of his cows is to calving. Pretty close, we decided, although she was still walking around quite normally, despite being uncommonly wide. Shane hopes that means she's having twins, and he hopes the cow lives up to the Dexter reputation for easy calving. She's an experienced mother.

Perfect calm and 61 degrees made it a lovely evening. It promises to be a good night for birthing a calf.


People here are wondering whether this will be remembered as the year we almost skipped winter. We continue to have a lot of warm weather, and our precipitation has been more rain than snow. This kind of weather is apparently typical of the La Nina weather pattern. We're all hoping that the warm dry pattern doesn't extend indefinitely into the summer.


If you live within five miles of Partridge, you can get help hauling, planting, and paying for a $50.00 Pairiefire Crabapple tree (2-inch caliper, 8-10 feet tall), courtesy of the Partridge Community Association. Our neighbors, Chris Terrill and Jamie Funke are the contact people for those interested. Call or email before March 14.


Plans are moving forward for Lowell M. and Paul Y.'s ordination--Paul for local outreach ministries and Lowell for international ministries. There was some discussion about whether "commissioning" might be a better term for what is happening here, rather than "ordination." The ministers decided that "ordination" would more accurately convey (perhaps especially to those most directly affected by the men's ministry) what is meant in terms of empowerment to carry out common ministerial duties. Because they will not preach regularly locally or be involved in local church administration, the term "ordination" probably sounds a little strange in the ears of some home folks who have come to expect ordination to accompany a different set of expectations.


Unlike the ordinations plans, plans are not moving forward for Home Environment students to undertake a project in one of the high school classrooms. They have come to a permanent halt.


On Tuesday of this past week, we had some wild weather romping through our county. During the worst of it I sat ignorantly in my parents' living room waiting out the drama till it was safe to head on over to Joel and Hilda's for a birthday supper for Joel. When I arrived at Joel and Hilda's a few blocks away, I was very happy to be able to drive right up to the garage door to park. The door was open just enough so I could see that both of their cars were home. I knew Hilda had been out and about so I didn't want to obstruct her passage into the garage if she wasn't home yet.

As soon as I got inside, they called me to the basement because of a tornado warning for Partridge. They had tried to call me and were worried when I didn't answer. People on the edge of town had indeed spotted funnel clouds, and several farms about five or six miles southeast of Partridge had significant tornado damage. The storm moved very fast--about 60 miles per hour--so things were soon relatively calm here. In the northeastern quadrant of the state, a small town named Harveyville was almost half destroyed the same night. My parents got over an inch of rain. Three miles north, at our house, we apparently got less than half that much.

Now that Hiromi got a new rain gauge to replace our cracked one, we're all set to get an accurate measurement of the next precipitation.


For Joel's 29th birthday, Hilda planned and I helped cook a variety of Japanese food. Hiromi joined us after he got off work.

For the first time ever, I helped make okonomiyaki, which people sometimes refer to as Japanese pizza, although I think its only resemblance is its flat, round shape. I think it's more accurately described as a flat crustless quiche--or a giant fritter--made in a frying pan. I think I'll make it often, once I develop a simplified way of making it. I think I'll start with chopped vegetables (We used mostly cabbage.), into which I'll mix eggs, stirring to combine. Then I'll add something similar to pancake batter and pour it into a hot pan to fry. Strips of bacon can be laid over the top and the "pancake" is flipped after the first side is done. After both sides are done, it's served with a sauce a little like barbecue sauce. The sauce is available commercially, but not in Partridge, so we also made the sauce from an online recipe. Hilda had bought a pack of the "pancake" mix earlier, but needed Hiromi to translate the instructions into English so she could prepare it.

Hiromi has made a very simple version of this before on a Sunday evening, using only vegetables, eggs, and flour. We ate it with soy sauce.

On Joel's birthday we also had a great salad with a lime-ginger-sesame dressing, and wakame (or bracken--not yet unfurled fern fronds), which we ate like asparagus, and edamame (vegetable soybeans served in the pod, and squirted into the mouth at the table). Several kinds of sorbet finished off the meal in fine style.


Across the road we're seeing quite a few small calves among the herd of longhorned cattle. The calves are mostly solid-colored, in contrast to the mottled coloring of many of the adults. The calves are minus the horns too, of course, so they look fairly unremarkable, but adorable, nonetheless. Hedrick's Exotic Animal Farm owns the herd.


"Big" Josh, who moved into his self-built bachelor pad at the old Keith Anderson place nearby has had some weird things going on with his water. His brother Jonny told me at school that when he first turns on his hot water it looks foamy and smells bad. As as experiment, he touched a lighter to the stream and it burst into flames. He posted on Facebook a video of this happening.

He also called the Emergency Preparedness Office in our country to see what he could learn. The director told him it's likely hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of processing natural gas. He also told him it's toxic.

Later the same day our daughter-in-law Clarissa posted a Facebook message saying the water from the sink faucet in the bathroom smells like rotten eggs. The rotten-egg smell is one of the evidences of hydrogen sulfide, detectable even when it's present at very safe levels, like one part per million.

A little research online reveals that what has been happening locally is probably a natural phenomenon exacerbated by the use of hot water heaters with an anti-corrosion feature. Sulfur is found naturally in decaying plants, rocks, or soil, and will dissolve when it comes into contact with water. After it gets into the water supply, the sulfur can react with a magnesium rod inside most water heaters, thereby producing hydrogen sulfide, which volatilizes fairly quickly in air, lending its telltale rotten egg smell to the atmosphere. The solution might be as simple as to replace the magnesium rod with an aluminum one or remove the rod completely, although doing so will no doubt void any warranties, since the rods are inserted to help prevent corrosion. Read all about it here.


"Fracking," the shortened term for hydraulic fracturing, is often associated with a concern about contamination of fresh water supplies. People in the industry intensely dislike the "fracking" term because it has a slightly crude and obscene sound to it--thereby casting the practice in a negative light. Whatever-you-call-it is not going on in our county so far--only as close as neighboring Rice County. This method of extracting oil and gas from rock formations creates fissures in rocks deep underground by forcing fluids into the rock at high pressure. Doing this releases the stored energy in the form of oil and gas and allows it to be harvested. The problems occur when these products mix with underground water reservoirs.

Increased earthquake activity in some areas where fracking has gone on has made some people wonder whether the two are connected. I'm not aware of any conclusive evidence that it is.

Judging by the frenzy of activity at the county "deeds" office during the past year, a tremendous amount of interest exists in buying up mineral rights from landowners in the area. While the fracking industry has not developed any of these properties yet, it's likely that extracting minerals by means not previously utilized here is being considered.


We had a teacher's workday on Friday. This is a wonderful feature built into the calendar at the end of the first and third quarter. We've not had to take any school days off so far this year because of funerals or bad weather, so this "cushion day" could be utilized for this purpose. Very welcome.


I saw a Facebook picture today of the fiance of Jae (Jaeyoung Hwang). He was part of our family for ten months as an exchange student in 2001-2002--an ethnic Korean from Japan. Marriage in April will mean a relocation for him, to Hiroshima. For anyone who decides to check out his Facebook page, his is the one with the crazy profile picture of a Brooklyn, NY policeman. I have lots of warm, fuzzy feelings when I think of Jae. He was a lot of fun.

Hiromi peered carefully at the picture to see if he could tell if Jae's fiance is Korean or Japanese. Korean, he thinks--not that it matters, of course. I can't believe it's really possible to tell the difference. As is the case for most young Asians, she looks younger than she apparently is. At least I don't think he's getting married to someone still in junior high.


Today is my brother Anthony's birthday.

Yesterday was Girls' Day in Japan. Twenty-nine years ago it was the day we were expecting our first child. Hiromi had said that it would be neat if the baby was a girl born on Girls' Day.

We, of course, didn't have a girl, and the baby came on the 28th of February instead, and that was all so satisfactory that I'm not sure if I've ever thought of the missed coincidence any time since.

Yesterday was also LaVerne M.'s birthday. He turned 60--a little shocking. He's only a few months older than I, and we were among the younger members of our class at school. Somehow crossing the decade threshold is more jarring than the birthdays in between.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Quote for the Day 3/1/2012

As long as I've taken any notice, my mother has known and used lots of interesting words. I marvel at how her language facility survives, even while her mental acuity diminishes otherwise. Last night I stayed with her during the Wednesday evening church service because, as she puts it, her sitter has not recovered from the fall last week. While that is uppermost in her mind, the rest of us are cautious because she is still recovering from bronchitis and a UTI, and the doctor said it would be best to keep her out of crowds till the flu season is past in mid-March. We'll play it by ear on that last recommendation.

"We used to get frozen fish shipped in from Michigan [to NE Iowa where she grew up]," she told me last night. Talking about how they used up the fish quickly without the benefit of a freezer reminded me that I had read recently that quite a few Amish people are beginning to use solar power to run off-grid electric freezers, so I told Mom what I had heard.

Mom: Well, that's a good thing. More power to them.