Prairie View

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Update on Dad

A C-T scan late yesterday revealed the underlying cause of Dad's intestinal problems.  He has colon cancer.  A roughly doughnut-shaped tumor is creating a constriction, which eventually resulted in a shutdown of normal function.

Surgery is planned for tomorrow, in Hutchinson.   The surgeon is a med school friend of my cousin Leon. Because of the tumor's fortunate location, the surgery will be fairly straightforward.  A section of the colon will be removed, after which it will be spliced back together, and recovery can begin, if all goes well.  The cancer has apparently not spread to the liver or lungs.

An anointing service took place last night.

Transfer from Lyons to Hutchinson will take happen this morning by private vehicle.  

Continued prayers are appreciated.

Late morning (Tuesday):  Surgery is taking place late this forenoon and is expected to last about an hour and a half.  The timing of surgery reflects the surgeon's wish.  He explained that sooner is better than later.

Early afternoon (Tuesday):  Dad came through surgery OK.  The simple splice of the large intestine where a section was removed, however, will have to wait on a second surgery, perhaps in several months. Everyone is glad the surgery happened today since the danger of rupture was very real--which is what the surgeon saw when he looked at the C-T scan.  A few weak places in the intestinal wall needed suturing.  There was no indication during surgery that the cancer had spread beyond the site where it was discovered.

The surgeon our family wanted to request was not the first one available, so proceeding with Plan B seemed wise.  Those family members who were there seemed comfortable with the doctor who did the surgery.


Yesterday we processed 94 1/2 quarts of corn from our patch.  It was a big job, with imperfect ears of corn.  (If you grow corn in Kansas, you know all about every ear having a worm-eaten upper end--unless you've sprayed the daylights out of it--or anointed with oil every silk tuft, or shaken insecticide dust on the silks.)  Shane helped Hiromi and me pick it--or we helped him--till he had to leave for work. Dorcas, Clarissa and her sister Angeliese arrived soon and helped for the duration.  Shane got home from work early and provided a wonderful boost to the process, but Hiromi had to leave for his job long before the work got done. Rhoda helped husk for a while and Diana and Rhoda provided babysitting for Tristan.  I'm very grateful for the help of our extended family.

We're grateful for a corn crop.  Pollination happened during a narrow window of lower-temperature days sandwiched between very hot days.  (Pollen dies when it's too hot.)  We know from last year's experience that we could have worked as hard as we did yesterday with a far lower yield.  Others in the Miller family could attest to this.  They processed the second half of the crop last year while the Iwashiges were off in Washington for Grant and Clarissa's wedding.


We had .3 inch of rain this morning.  It was worth getting out of bed to watch it rain.  Not a drought breaker by any means, but these splashes of rain are so much better than last year when there was no precipitation at all for a very long time.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dad in the Hospital

My father was admitted to Lyons hospital this morning after not being able to keep anything down yesterday.  He is being treated for dehydration, and has been diagnosed with an illeus.  This medical term refers to an intestinal "paralysis" resulting in a digestive shutdown beyond that point.  Food cannot move normally out of the stomach and through the intestines because peristalsis, the normal rhythmic contractions of the intestinal walls--which pushes food along, has ceased.

Through a nasal tube, his stomach is being pumped out.   This, along with the morphine they're giving him, has provided significant pain relief.  Everyone hopes that normal peristalsis will soon resume, as it often does.  Tomorrow, if there is still a problem, there will be a CAT scan, and further treatment options will be considered.   He will probably be in the hospital for several days at least, even if all goes well from now on.

Marvin and Lois had been keeping tabs on Dad since yesterday and were the ones to decide he needed to go the the emergency room this morning.  They took him and stayed with him today after he was admitted.  We're all really glad for their help.

Dad slept a lot today--a good thing, after not having been in bed at all last night, and sleeping only fitfully on the recliner, between episodes of vomiting.

He is the only patient in the hospital, except for some long-term care patients in another part of the hospital.  Marvin and Lois are giving glowing reports of the outstanding care they're witnessing.  Dr. Decker says the timing was just right for bringing Dad to the hospital.  I suppose he means that things were far enough along to get a clear diagnosis, but not so far along that irreversible damage had occurred.  That's good to know.  It's often hard for caregivers to figure these things out.

Dad has his cellphone and made several calls on it today, and he asked Lois to bring his Bible back when she left to go home temporarily.  With those two supplies at hand, he'll probably be ready to face the day again tomorrow.  His normal sociability and optimism are unlikely to be waylaid for long, if he has any choice in the matter.

We all would appreciate your prayers for him, especially that the illeus would be resolved without surgery..

Levi and Clara--Life Span--Installment 1

The "Tribe of Levi" we sometimes call ourselves--those of us who were descended from my Miller grandparents, Levi D. and Clara.

This post will be a written form of some of the information on the life of Levi and Clara that was shared publicly at our reunion on July 13, 14, & 15 at Cedar Crest Church in 2012.  It is, for me, a way to preserve and provide access to specifics I may want to reference in the future.  That explains some of the details included.  It will also enable family members who could not be present at the reunion a chance at sharing part of our experience together.  For the rest of this blog's readers, I hope it's a prompt for you to make sure your own family's stories are preserved--on paper or in the ether--somewhere other than only in the memories of people who will die someday.  Knowing our family stories helps us know our ancestors, but also helps us know ourselves, and helps our children learn to know us.

Some of what is written here will be plopped in from my notes in preparation for the presentation, and part of it will include things I learned or put together since the reunion.  Part of it will be from my sister Linda's notes on what was shared by members of the audience.  I had asked several people outside the family for their memories before the reunion and then created a presentation framework from that and what I already knew about Levi and Clara or could find from sources I had access to.  Throughout the presentation, my uncles and aunts and others provided affirmation, clarification, and additions to what I had prepared.  We talked about Levi and Clara's Life Span, Appearance, Challenges, Personality and Character, and Legacy of Faith.

I welcome any additions or corrections to this record--either in comments, in conversation, or in an email to me at


First, some data on the 12 children born to Levi and Clara:

Name and Month and Year of Birth

Edwin–August, 1921
Willis–September, 1922
Elizabeth (Lizzie)–July, 1924
Harry and Perry–August, 1925    Harry died on May 3, 2012 at age 86..
David–October, 1927
Mary–May, 1929
Mahlon–September, 1930
Daniel–March, 1932   Daniel died on April 19, 2011 at age 79.
Paul–January, 1934
Fred–July, 1935
Emma–January, 1937

Notes:  (Most of the information in this section on Levi and Clara's children was not shared at the reunion.)

--All 12 children were born in the span of less than 15 1/2 years--from August, 1921 to January, 1927
--Most of the boys in the family used "L" (for Levi) as a middle initial.  Only Daniel used "C" (for Clara).  None of the children had middle names.
--Note this gender pattern among the children:  Two boys and a girl, three boys and a girl, four boys and a girl--just enough girls to keep hope alive that Clara would not forever be stuck with doing all the housework herself.
--Final gender count:  9 boys and 3 girls.  (It sounds impressive at first if you say "each of the three girls had nine brothers.")
--The Center Church property is carved out of the Northwest corner of what was the original Levi D. Miller farm.  Current address at the residence on that property is 7411 W. Morgan Ave., Hutchinson.   Oliver and Emma Troyer and Dwight and Karen Miller live now on the farm "out west" which they moved to in the 1940s.  The address there is 12205 W. Illinois Ave., Partridge.  The second farm was about 4 miles west and one mile north of the first farm.  The oldest child took over the first farm, and the youngest child's family eventually took over the second farm.
--While they lived at the first farm, the children attended Poplar School, located at the intersection of Whiteside Road and Illinois Avenue.  This school was still in operation until about 1962.  A few of the next generation of Millers attended there before it closed and the one-room school district was consolidated with others to become Elreka (now Pleasantview Academy on Dean Road just north of its intersection with US 50 and K61).
At the second farm, the children still in school attended at West Eureka, which was located along the west side of the same section as the Miller farmstead.  It was across the road from where Gene and Doris Miller live now at 3811 S. High Point Rd., Partridge.  My father, David, was his sister Emma's 8th grade teacher at this school.  He must have been the last teacher before the school closed and the students went then to East Eureka, where Willard Masts live now at the corner of Illinois Ave. and Riverton Road.
--Baldness is a strong family characteristic among the men in the Miller family.  Levi was very bald from my earliest memories.  All the sons except Fred became bald relatively early in life--Daniel perhaps later than some of the others.
--Daniel was blond as a child.  All the rest had red or black hair.  Five of the boys had red hair and many freckles as children.  All three girls and three of the boys had black hair.  Daniel got tired of being told he didn't look like the rest of the family--perhaps taking it as doubtfulness about whether he really belonged in the family.  One time when he was herding cattle along the road, someone stopped to talk to him and asked whose boy he was.  "Ich bin dah datt sie boo," he said.  "I'm Dad's boy."  Emma said she thinks, in his mind, he was setting the matter straight once and for all with that comment.
--Many of Levi and Clara's children were apparently named for relatives.  Here are the ones I could think of:
Elizabeth "Lizzie"--Clara's mother's name and Clara's sister's name
David--Levi's father's name, also his youngest brother's name
Mary--Levi's mother's name, also his younger sister's name
Daniel--Clara's father's name, also her brother's name, also Levi's brother's name.  In each case, the name       was shortened to Dan at some point.  Levi and Clara's son Daniel was usually called by his full name within his parental family--at least until later years.
Fred--Clara's brother's name
Emma--Clara's sister's name
--Levi and Clara's children had 62 children born to them.  Stepchildren and adoptions swelled the number of grandchildren to 70.  

Life Span

Levi and Clara were both born in 1901.  Clara was about six months older than Levi.  She was born on June 22 and he was born on December 30.  They were both 19 when they married on Feb. 10, 1921.

Levi.  Levi was the oldest of the children born to David J. and Mary (Yutzy) Miller.  Other children (going from memory here) were (Kid) Dan, Andy (Fritz), John (Hans), David M. (Davy), Fannie (Mrs. Val Headings and then Mrs. Roman Kauffman), Mary (Mrs. Alvin Helmuth).  I still remember Levi's father, Davy Dawdy, who died when I was in my lower twenties.  He was a deacon in the Old Order Amish church and died long after retirement--at the age of 96, I believe.

Levi died at Sunnyside nursing home in Florida on September 8, 1985, at the age of 83.  He was buried beside Clara in the West Center Cemetery along US 50 near Partridge, KS.  Levi married Orpha Miller from Indiana after Clara's death.  During much of their marriage, they lived in Florida, where they had  met--at first, only during the winter, then year-round. Orpha became a Licensed Practical Nurse after they married, and she was working at Sunnyside as a nurse while Levi was a patient there.  Orpha was much younger than Levi.

So far, seven of Levi's children lived to be older than Levi was at the time of his death.  No one seems to know of a specific diagnosis that caused Levi's death.  "Died of old age" is about as specific as we got at the reunion.

Clara.  Clara was fourth--about in the middle--of the family born to Daniel A. and Elizabeth "Lizzie" (Mast) Nisly.  Others in the family--from memory again--were Edward (Ed), Daniel D. (Junior Dan), Fred (moved to Iowa), Levi ("Noee Mowtie's"--Noah Mary's--first husband), Rebecca (Becky--married to Will Miller), Emma (married to William Edward Miller--his first of three wives), Edna (married to Jake Yoder).

Clara was 16 when her mother died of cancer.  The youngest in the family, Edna, was only three years old.  Dan Nisly then married a widow, Katie (Headings) Helmuth.  Her first husband was Eli.  My dad referred to this woman as "Mommie Nissley" (Grandma Nisly).   I still faintly remember her.  She used to live in the house now occupied by Vera Mae Nisly on the Julian Nisly farm at the old Dan A. Nisly farmstead at 4311 South Herren Road, Hutchinson.

(Trivia:  It was in Kansas where the European name pronounced Nissley (It means "little nut."  Oh  my.) was first shortened to Nisly and given a more English pronunciation, with a long "i."  The shortening of the name was done to get rid of the "extravagance" of unnecessary letters, as I've heard it told.  In Pennsylvania Dutch, Nisly is still pronounced Nissley.  Abraham may have been the first to make the change.  He was Clara's grandfather.  If anyone anywhere has the Nisly spelling, you can be sure that person had ancestors in Kansas).

Clara's father was a minister, and two of her brothers, Levi and Fred, were ministers.  Her Mast grandfather was the famous "Dawdy Mosht," Grandpa Mast, Daniel E. Mast, the much-loved and influential spiritual patriarch of the Amish of Reno County. He was a deacon, who moved here from Holmes County, OH.  He wrote extensively.  His book, Salvation Full and Free, translated and compiled after his death, is still available.

At the time of her youngest daughter's wedding (Emma) in August of 1959, Clara was already ill with cancer, but was still mobile and able to help with wedding preparations.   She died at home on Easter morning, April 17, 1960, at age 58.  I always thought she had stomach cancer.  At the reunion someone else mentioned pancreatic cancer as the cause of her death. She did not seek treatment.  Her main caretaker was her oldest daughter, Elizabeth (Lizzie), who was still single at that time.  There are now 13 grandchildren older than Clara was when she died.  All of Clara's children far outlived her.  The youngest child is now 75--17 years older than her mother was at the time of her death.

A family picture taken at the time of Emma's wedding in the only family picture I know of that includes all twelve children and their parents.  It was taken outside Levi and Clara's home--the house which burned down later, while Ollie and Emma were living there.

As I read over the "life span" section, I realize that much of this was not mentioned at the reunion either.  The need for brevity was more obvious there than here.

(To be continued)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Wrapup--July 23, 2012

It's been quite a week, and the week before that was quite a week.  Right in the middle was the reunion of my grandparents' descendants, Levi D. and Clara Miller.  Since the DLM family was in charge this year, we did a lot of food preparation ahead of time, and a lot of work during the event, especially at the beginning of the weekend.  Afterward, when some of my siblings were still here, we did more family events, and ate up more of the leftover food.  Time at home was at a minimum.

While Caleb and Kara were still here on Monday we got word that Hiromi's mother had died.

On Wednesday evening, my cousin Norman from Iowa was here for the evening with his family of nine children.  They were traveling home from a Western trip.

The next day we heard that my uncle, Earl Beachy, had died in Iowa.  He was 91.  My parents would have gone in time for the funeral tomorrow if someone (a driver and a caretaker for Mom) had been able to go, but no one could quite make it happen.

Continued hot and dry weather makes watering garden things a big chore, and the tomatoes are going great guns right now, which means a lot of time harvesting and getting them ready for market.  I canned 40 quarts last week--of leftover market tomatoes and seconds that never went to market.  Flowers are abundant, and time-consuming to pick and get ready for market as well.  Today I sent home big fistfuls of flowers with eight children in the primary Sunday School class at church.  Doing everything outside on days when the temps rise to over 100 degrees adds to the exhaustion of the gardening work.


Before last week's reunion, my local siblings and I had finally settled on focusing our reunion reminiscing time on Levi and Clara, the two people whose roots intertwined with each of ours who are their descendants.  I was planning to talk about Clara, and Lowell would talk about Levi, each of us asking people for memories of both of them ahead of time, and then talking about it and dividing things appropriately before the event.  It was a great plan, but Lowell somehow did not get the memo that he was to do part of it--maybe because he thought all along I should do it all.  Soooooo, the evening before this was to happen, when Lowell and I talked, it became evident that if someone were to make the plan happen, it would have to be me.  Lowell agreed to do the setup in the church sanctuary.  Getting a microphone operational proved to be one of the hurdles.  Jeff to the rescue.  

It was not a lecture, but a guided discussion.  Fortunately, people chipped in with their personal memories, and made it worthwhile.  I think everyone there learned something.  I know I did.  I hope to write up what was shared and post it here at some point.  Linda took notes during the event, and Dad filled me in a bit later on more of Levi's character and personality--the part of the reminiscing that got short shrift because of my abbreviated preparation time.

Thinking about the challenges that my grandparents faced put my own challenges into perspective.  I think, to some extent, that happened for all of us who heard their stories at the reunion.  Profound admiration for how they "pulled it all off" grew as we thought together about their lives.  I'll give just two examples:  The year they both turned 26, their sixth child (my father) was born between Levi and Clara's birthdays.  The family had 2-year-old twins at that time.  As a comparison . . . Shane is less than a month away from his 26th birthday.   In 1929, when the Great Depression hit, they had seven children, with the oldest being eight years old.


My brother Ronald preached one of the best sermons I've ever heard--in my unbiased opinion, of course--last Sunday, July 14, at Center.  Duane W. confessed to having been "blown away" by the sermon.  When the recording committee gets caught up on their sermon posting (Josh and Hans--we miss you.  The older guys have trouble figuring things out.) it should be available online at  Afterward, Ronald told me that our cousin Lloyd B., who was visiting, suggested a word he wished he would have thought of using in all the places where he used the word "extremes."  "Polarities" would have worked well.  I think having painted a more detailed word picture of a tightrope walker's use of a balance bar might have made some things clearer for people who have never seen a tightrope walker perform.  All critiques aside, (I guess we Millers can't help ourselves.) the message brought eloquent clarity in areas in which I've heard some confused and confusing discussion.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Getting the Drift

This year, for the first time, I've noticed mowing of wheat stubble.  In several nearby fields, I've observed spraying before the mowing.  I've thought of asking a farmer for an explanation, but never at the right time.  Internet to the rescue.

Mowing wheat stubble is apparently a strategy for controlling annual weeds and keeping them from producing seeds by chopping them off very close to the ground. The mulch will likely keep weeds on the surface from germinating,  and existing weeds will regrow, and will then be in perfect condition for a Glyphosate application, probably in September.  This "Roundup" application will also help control perennials that sprout in the fall (dandelion), and hardy annuals like cheat and henbit.

It all sounds like a neat strategy, except for one thing.  All that spraying causes collateral damage.  In our own garden, one entire row of previously healthy looking tomato plants sickened overnight and then died.  Another row had only three survivors out of 15.  Jason, the horticulture expert at our local garden center, has seen multiple instances of the same problem.  I know a handful of people personally whose gardens are scattered in various places in the community who have had their garden problems diagnosed as spray drift.  Jason says that in very hot conditions, with wind currents just right, the spray can both drift a long way and linger to cause damage  for a long time.  In our own garden, on a day when the wind speed was at least 16 MPH (no open burning is allowed when the wind is above 15 MPH) and Hiromi was working in the garden, he sought cover out of the wind behind the big round bales every time he smelled the herbicide while he was out there.  The garden plants, unfortunately, could not move to a safe place.

"Isn't there anything anyone can do about this?" I heard someone ask last night.  Suing individual farmers or the makers of Roundup are probably not good options--the farmers because they're also your friends, and the Roundup manufacturer because "it" would grind you to powder with its nearly unlimited finances and powerful legal machine.  Besides, there's the teaching in Scripture against suing someone.

My strategy is to simply give public witness to what's happening, and hope that awareness grows and people who choose to use herbicides in their fields are very conscientious about doing so.   A good start would be for farmers who use herbicides to become exceptionally knowledgeable about what wind and weather conditions are most likely to cause collateral damage and to religiously avoid spraying under those conditions.

I think there are probably a lot of people that would appreciate some compensation for their gardens' lost productivity, and it would be nice if people who use herbicides would take the initiative to inquire of people who have gardens in the vicinity of fields that are sprayed.  To desire integrity more than to desire profit is an important underlying principle.


Our hot, dry weather is all too reminiscent of last summer.  We're in a multiple-week streak of temps over 100, and often over 105.  A few very localized thunderstorms tantalize and then don't materialize in moisture on this farm.  Last night on the way home from church, I saw lightening in the northwest and the northeast, but it was dry here this morning.  On the way home from Fairview today, I saw rain to the Northwest and had hopes for rain on our farm.  Nope.  It went by to the south.  We beg the Lord for rain, spontaneously, out loud, in the hearing of others.

This year, more of our eastern friends seem to understand our plight than was the case last year--not that they didn't try, but they didn't know it from experience.  This year many of them do, and we pray for them as well as for ourselves.

I'm not going into a yea or nay climate change discussion.  I do wonder, however, if the "naysayers" are having second thoughts this year.  Or perhaps they have never heard of the predicted effect of climate change:  many more extreme weather conditions and events.  Cloudbursts instead of gentle rains.  Excruciating multiple-year drought instead of a midsummer dry spell.  Unusually warm winters, or unusually cold ones.  Lots of snow or hardly any.  Blistering summers or too cool for normal plant growth.

In this matter also, whether or not climate change is happening, and whether or not man's activities are making a difference, integrity calls for the kind of restraint and caution that sees beyond a desire for profitability and weighs carefully the probable effect of our activities.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mother Iwashige

I have lost the second mother I gained almost 31 years ago.  Hiromi's mother, Kimiko, died yesterday in Japan at the age of 97.  The funeral is tomorrow.  Neither Hiromi or his sister will attend.  Their brother in Japan is making the necessary arrangements.

She had declined very gradually over the past several months and faded away in a "nursing home."  ("Hospital" is the word they use, but it describes something different than what we know by that name.)  She was living in her own home across the sidewalk from her oldest son's home until recently.  She has been a widow since August 18, 1968--44 years ago.  Hiromi's father, Ayami, was 54 years old when he died of lung cancer.  Hiromi was 23.

I have met Mother Iwashige only twice--once when she visited in Kansas before we were married, and once  when our oldest child was a baby and we visited Japan.  She was a tiny, artistic woman with a gentle nature and warm heart.  How do I know all that without ever having had a conversation with her, except through an interpreter?  By what Hiromi has told me, by her lovely handmade gifts, and by what I observed when I was with her.  She could write poetry, arrange flowers, play the shamisen, dance gracefully to Japanese music (fan in hand), knit sweaters, and create carefully crafted, beautifully-done home decor items.  Her spunk and eagerness to learn prompted her to try to learn English when she was in her seventies.  She hired a private tutor to teach her. Hiromi has always spoken highly of her as a good mother.

She graciously accepted me as her son's wife, although it's certainly safe to say that I was not the kind of woman she pictured if she ever dreamed of how her son's wife would look.  Instead, when he told her that we were getting married, she told him that it was probably good for him to marry an American if he wanted to live here.  While we were in Japan, she told her sister, who then told Hiromi, that she feels very comfortable to have me raising her grandchildren.  She never did anything to interfere with our relationship or the way we chose to live.  What a gift!

I regret that Grant has never met his grandmother.  Joel and Shane have each visited her in Japan.

Daily life can go on for us much as it has in the past, but we grieve nonetheless.  A mother's life matters, and we feel the loss when it ends.


Here are the numbers of Mother Iwashige's descendants:

3 children (Hiromi)
8 grandchildren (Joel, Shane, Grant)
7 great grandchildren (Tristan )
7 great, great grandchildren

25 descendants

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dodging a Bullet

We're not talking about steers anymore.  We're talking about me, and speaking of dodging bullets is excessively dramatic, but I feel like I escaped a grim prospect nonetheless.

A little over a week ago I had an A1C test, which gives an indication of whether a person's blood sugar has been under control over the past few months.  Normal numbers should be below seven.  Mine came back at 13, indicating that my blood sugar has ranged between 200 and 300 over the past few months.  (Below 100 is the goal.)  When the doctor called me, she gave me instructions to increase my dosage of Metformin (generic Glucophage) by one additional daily dose.  She also wanted me to take diabetes education classes, monitor my numbers with a daily finger stick and blood test,  and redo the A1C test in several months.  She would call in a new prescription to begin after the current meds are all gone.

I was surprised at this turn of events, not having noted major changes of late, but I supposed this was just part of aging and my luck having run out.

Today I got another phone call from the doctor.  "I have good news and bad news," she said.  "The lab made a mistake, and your A1C was actually six instead of 13.  The new number is the good news.  The bad news is that the lab made a mistake, and we apologize. We'll go on just as we've been doing with the medication, and you don't need to take the diabetes education classes."

Whew.  Now if that heart murmur she heard would just go away . . . 

Steer Roping Event

No one took up my invitation to join the Iwashige Parents and Sons Steer Roping Event this morning.  It's only in retrospect, of course, that we know the proper name for the event.

This morning at 7:00 the outlaw steer was lurking in a hedge row west of the pen and barn.  Shane opened the fence panels at strategic points to funnel him into the pen where he belonged, then appointed Hiromi and Grant to watch so that he didn't go out through any of the electric fences enroute to the pen.  I was stationed on the outside of the wooden panels the two steers had scaled last night.  My job was to look and act menacing.  Shane headed around him to drive him east toward us.

Lots of activity ensued, with the steer, the four-wheeler, and Brandi making many north-south trips up and down the tree row.  Going east was not part of the steer's travel itinerary.  Finally, the steer got away toward the south, never having come any closer to the pen than when we first saw him this morning.

When Shane first arrived, he searched the shed and the garage for the lariat he knew he had bought when he had Rambo, the berserk steer he fed as a 4H project.  After a phone call to Grant to ask him where the rope  was, he found it on a shelf in the garage.  He looked for a place to leave it easily accessible and lamented that he forgot most of what he ever knew about roping.  He hoped that if this steer ever got as exhausted as he had the last time, maybe he could slip a rope over his neck and pull him in that way.

After the steer disappeared from the hedgerow and went south, Shane, whose conveyance didn't negotiate the fences as easily as the steer did, drove around a bit looking for him, then found him in the alfalfa field south of the buildings.  He was headed west.  Shane must have thought he noted some weariness, so he called Grant and asked him to bring the rope.  Grant left in the truck.  I eventually trailed out there and couldn't seen any sign of the men or the steer.  I took up the hose to water my flowers by the house.  Hiromi followed in the car after a bit and told me later what happened.

I don't know all the details, but eventually they got the steer tied to a tree along Centennial Road (Before it had a name, we always called it the Salt Creek road.), a mile west of here, and south of Illinois Ave.  On the way Shane roared across part of Jamie's property, feeling very apologetic for doing so, but knowing that he was doing less damage than the steer surely would if he couldn't keep him off.

After the steer was anchored to a hedge tree, Shane or Grant left with the truck to get a trailer, and then they tried the tricky part:  getting the rope unwound from the tree and pulling the steer onto the trailer.  This did not go as planned, and the men proved to be no match for the big steer.  He ran off, dragging his rope.

Dwight's heifers in the pasture were the next distraction, and the steer plowed through the pasture fence to join them.  At this point Dwight got involved and they brought all the heifers back across the road into the holding pen by the dairy barn, the steer happy to follow the crowd.  In the holding pen, Shane got the steer tied up again.  Back across the road the heifers went, leaving the steer behind.  Then the trailer got backed into place, and the steer thought he spied a new escape route via the open back end of the trailer.  In your dreams, buddy.

He's back in the small pen by the barn now.  No more gestures of goodwill are likely to come his way. Shane thinks he will take extraordinary delight in seeing that steer all done up in neat plastic packages.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Not Again

If you're on the road in the vicinity of our place tonight, drive carefully and watch out for a nearly invisible Angus on the loose in the dark.  The good news is that his partner in crime is caught, presently cooling his heels in solitary confinement.  The on-the-loose steer is actually inside an area encircled by an electric fence, but, with his level of disrespect for such fences, he might as well be on the loose.

The two steers have been locked into a small pen for three weeks, with tall steel panels all around and a sizzling hot electric fence several feet inside the panels, to discourage any thoughts of taking a running leap over the panels.  The rest of the herd is grazing several miles away in LaVerne's pasture.  Shane reasoned that the two steers being fattened here know now that they are alone in the world and will not try to get to the other cattle that used to tempt them on this farm.  So he carefully fenced (with double strand electric wire, with another fence outside that) a slightly larger area adjacent to the small pen, and let them out into the larger pen tonight.

On cue, 45 minutes later, I spied them in the neighbor's milo field across the road.  For these outlaws, that seems to be the typical time lapse between entering and exiting a new area.  I called Shane, delivered the bad news, and left for about a half hour, as I had planned to do.

Shane recruited Grant, and somewhere along the line they picked up a four wheeler at LaVernes.  When I got home, I changed into running shoes (Ha.  I know how ridiculous that sounds--just wanted to let you know that I wasn't wearing sandals or Crocs this time.), grabbed the broom handle that broke off the brush last week, and headed out to help, feeling more invincible than usual, with that long white stick in my hand.  I got an assignment right away:  "Go around the back of the house and bring them east along the north side."  It was getting quite dark by now, and after the steers ran into the cedar trees, I had a hard time seeing which way they were facing, but I eventually got them stirred out of there, and joy, joy, they headed for the small pen we were trying to put them into.

But they never quite got there.  They both, one by one, jumped over a wooden fence panel along the side of their route toward the pen, splintering the top board as they went.  That put them back on the north side of the house where they first were when I got home.  Grant ran around the south and then west side of the house, covering the same tracks I had covered earlier, and I took up Grant's post at the east end of the house where they were supposed to head north and then west.  Shane was to my right, guarding the area beside the machine shed that opens onto the road  This time we planned that as soon as they were headed west toward the pen, Shane and Grant would follow them and I would race to the outside of the wood panel they had jumped over earlier to deter them from doing a repeat.

One of them made a break for it past Shane and headed for the road again, but we managed to get the other one caught in the pen.  Actually he ran into the small barn that opens into the pen, and Shane quickly closed the barn doors.  Then Shane, on the four wheeler, went looking for the rogue steer.  He found him in the alfalfa field south of the farm buildings.  The steer headed west and got into the pasture--the same maneuver he had carried  out repeatedly a number of weeks ago when the rest of the cattle were still there.  By then it was too dark to see much of anything, and Shane announced that we were giving up for the night.  He was going to  let the captive steer out into the small pen by the barn again, in hopes that the wayward steer would come looking for his buddy.

It was 9:45 when I got back to the house.  Shane called just now to say that he and Grant will be over at 7:00 tomorrow to try again to get the steer in.  He's recruiting Hiromi and me to help.  If anyone living in the vicinity wants to compress your morning exercise into a short period of time, feel free to sign up for the next act in the Partridge Road rodeo.  7:00 sharp.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Revisiting a Minefield--Part 6

My voluble critic of several decades ago carefully distinguished between the things parents should and should not do by stating that they were responsible for moral training but should not teach academics.  He didn't clarify the role of classroom teachers this carefully.  Reading between the lines, however, I wondered if consistency would demand that classroom teachers should guard against venturing into the area of moral instruction, in the same way parents apparently were expected to guard against venturing into the academic areas.

It didn't take long for this line of reasoning to run aground.  Knowledge is best viewed as a unified whole and cordoning certain areas off with attendant prohibitions is ridiculous, unless the content of that knowledge is itself harmful.  I could not, in fact, observe such  boundaries within my own person.  Before I had children I had been a classroom teacher for five years and had earned a degree in elementary education. After I became a parent, was I then suddenly an unfit academic teacher?  I could teach anyone else's children.  Why not my own?  As a classroom teacher, I had always regarded moral training as an important and sacred duty.  If my children had a classroom teacher, I certainly hoped they would include moral instruction in their teaching.  Closely examined, the ridiculous dichotomy turned out to be impossible practically as well.

The whole line of reasoning began to look chauvinistic--as though mothers must do all the "grunt" work of raising children, maintaining saintliness throughout and bestowing it upon their children,  but they can not be trusted with anything that requires a brain.  A spirit and body?  Yes.  A mind?  Don't go there.

Recognizing the unity of all knowledge proved helpful in fleshing out understandings about child training.  If parents are primarily responsible for training their own children, and if training is essentially inculcating knowledge (wisdom--when embraced and applied), and knowledge is a seamless whole, then parents are absolutely legitimately involved in teaching their children academics, as well as truth in any other area of life.

Prospects began to look very bright for a rewarding motherhood.

Monday, July 02, 2012

A Birding Stint

My nephew Joey called me this morning after all other efforts to find a ride to Quivira had failed.  On a Kansas birding communication site he had found that the marsh manager at Quivira had sighted a Red-Necked Stint yesterday, the first one reported for the state of Kansas.  This bird is a Eurasian species, and so far, has been found only rarely along both US coasts and sighted at least once in Nevada, Texas, and Virginia.  (This is information from the Sibley field guide, and may be slightly outdated.)  It's a shore bird, and hangs out with other shore birds.

I happened to have an appointment in Sterling this afternoon, so I bargained with Joey.  If I could use someone else's vehicle, and if he and Bryant and Andrew wanted to wait in Sterling while I do what I have to do, I'd take them up there this afternoon to see the Stint.  Everything got arranged, and so I gathered up those three boys and Dietrich and Christy, and we all trundled first to Sterling.  They waited at the lake and then we headed for Quivira.

The boys knew exactly where to go in the huge wildlife refuge, based on reports of where it had been seen.  One other person was there looking for it, and then another showed up.  Before we left, four more people had come, some of them with powerful spotting scopes and cameras with lenses a foot long.  They shared the view with us.  Some of them were people whose names often appear on the Kansas birder's lists.

We saw it, every one of us.  The red neck was very clear, and we were delighted to have the opportunity to view this rare bird.

I'll Recycle These--for the Locals

I am in need of many used frozen whipped topping containers with lids.  I'd like the 8 oz. (regular) size.  I will use them soon for starting perennials to plant out this fall.  I'll explain the process (at the risk of seeing my options disappear if you decide to do it yourself).  I learned this from James Taylor, my friend who is a retired horticulture professor.

After labeling, either with a waterproof address label and sun-proof, water-proof marker or a plain old pencil, fill the container a little over half full of commercial potting soil.  I use Stutzman's brand, which is the same as Sunshine brand elsewhere.  Tamp the soil down just a bit with your bent fingers.

If the seeds need a chilling treatment, leave the lid intact.  This will keep your seeds from drying out while they are being chilled.  Chilling times usually last for three weeks or more.

Plant your seeds according to the directions on the packet, or, if your supplier is one of those that doesn't include this, look up the germination requirements on the internet or in a reference book.  I  have several favorites:  From Seed to Bloom by Eileen Powell and Park's Success with Seed by Karen Park Jennings.  The latter was produced by one of the former owners of Park Seed.  The Park book is in full color, and the other is in black and white.  A favorite internet source in the form of a chart is located here.  What you will especially need to know now is whether the seeds can tolerate being covered.  If not, you will simply spread the seeds on the surface and press them gently into the potting soil.  If the seeds need chilling, this is the time to put on the lid and tuck the planted seeds into a back corner of your refrigerator.

If your seeds are pansies (an annual), the above process will probably also work, since the seeds must germinate in cool temperatures, and they cannot be covered and they must have darkness.  James germinates his in ice chests.  I'll have to ask him how he keeps the temperatures right inside the ice chest.  The refrigerator might be too cool.  I am currently chilling the following seeds:  Columbine, Lady's Mantle, and Sea Holly.  Most seeds do not need pre-chilling, but you are wise to take note of those that do.

If the seeds cannot tolerate transplanting (because they resent root disturbance), you will need to place expanded Jiffy 7s into the Cool Whip-like container.  You will likely get 6-8 pots into one frozen whipped topping container.  These are marshmallow-shaped peat moss "balls" inside a netting.  All of the pot can be planted in the soil outdoors when the plant is ready.The peat moss "balls" come dry and compressed into a cookie shape.  They are expanded by adding water.  When they are fully expanded, the seeds are placed on the top of the expanded peat.  If the seeds need covering, I usually use milled sphagnum moss.  This has anti-fungal properties--a help in preventing damp-off, a disease that is the nemesis of seedlings.  The milled sphagnum moss comes from Stutzmans or from Amazon.  Chamomile tea is a natural remedy for damp-off, if it starts in spite of your preventive measures.

Seeds that don't need pre-chilling go into frozen whipped topping containers with a different kind of lid.  You will begin with the lid that originally came with the container.  Stab a pointed knife through the lid somewhere in the middle.  Then insert a sturdy scissors into the slit and start cutting out a circle in the center of the lid.  Leave only a rim on the top of the lid--perhaps just under 1/2 inch wide.  After the planting is done, stretch clear plastic wrap over the top of the container and snap the rim onto the container to hold the plastic taut.  Stab a few slits into the plastic and put the container somewhere where the temperature is in the right range for sprouting.  Most seeds sprout OK at room temperature.  Keep careful watch to see that the seeds and potting soil don't dry out.  If you  need to water, remove the lid carefully and use a turkey baster to dribble a little water around the inside edge of the container.  Replace the lid, and allow the moisture to distribute itself by wicking naturally throughout the potting soil.

Give the seedlings as much light as possible as soon as germination has taken place.  The plastic can probably be left in place for a bit while some of the slower seeds germinate, but the container can never be left in direct sun while the plastic is in place.  The seedlings will cook if you do that.  A likely location during the summer months is under florescent lights inside the house.  Place the containers only a few inches below the light fixture.  Watch carefully and water when necessary, but don't over-water.

The usual rule for knowing when to transplant seedlings is to wait till they have one or more sets of true leaves.  The seedling leaves, which will appear first, look different from the true leaves, which are smaller versions of the form on a mature plant.  The Park book has pictures of the plants in their seedling-leaf stage.  When ready for transplanting, prick out the seedlings and settle them neatly into  individual pots or compartmented plastic plant packs.  Let them grow there till they're big enough to plant in the garden.

In our plant hardiness zone (6b), fall planting of perennials is ideal.  To get the plants to garden size at the right time, it's necessary to start them in the first month following the solstice (the first day of summer).

Now, back to the original purpose of this post, if you're local, and you have no plans to use those frozen whipped topping containers you've accumulated, I'm your go-to disposal source.  Thank you very much.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Revisiting a Minefield--Part 5

Burnout.  It's one of the main concerns and hazards for both classroom teachers and homeschool parents.  How can it be prevented?

In homeschool situations, it's usually the mother who struggles with burnout.  I believe this is most effectively addressed when the children's other parent can be available at times throughout the day, and is actively involved in child training.  Keeping it a two-parent job is the key.

Focusing on having a home school rather than plopping a school system into the home environment is another key.  Many necessities in a group schooling situation have developed because of the limitations of the environment and the group schooling approach.  Without those limitations you won't need all the same coping mechanisms.  Dispense with them when they don't serve your purposes.

Taking full advantage of the benefits of homeschooling is another key.  If it's a glorious-weather day, and you can't bear the thought of keeping yourself and your children cooped up inside, gather the children and their books and head for the picnic table in the backyard or a nearby park and have your school outside.  If you get a chance to host a missionary in your home, get a lot of education mileage out of the experience by studying the country they're working in ahead of time and inviting the missionary to share their world with you.  When you visit an elderly friend, have the children ready to recite a memorized poem or Scripture or sing a song.  Be prepared to take advantage of every educational opportunity available in the community--at libraries, museums, sponsored by community organizations and area churches.  Often these are things your whole family can participate in together.

Make peace with the idea of imperfection.  Homeschoolers fear that gaps in the children's learning will haunt them for life.  Those with more conventional schooling agendas seldom help to allay such fears.  While wanting to do a good job with education is a laudable goal, it's really quite ridiculous to think that anyone in any setting can do a complete job of educating a child.  The reality is that there will always be gaps, and this will not, in the grand scheme of things, be disastrous as long as students learn how to learn and as long as their curiosity is intact--something I contend is much easier to foster in a homeschool setting than in a group learning setting.  Meeting certain academic benchmarks helps keep things on track.  Noting the results of regular achievement testing served this purpose for us.

 For what it's worth, we always test incoming freshmen at our high school to see what "makeup" paces might be needed.  We don't come unglued when gaps show up, as they do regularly.  We just try to do something about it.  That's what homeschoolers need to do--plan well to keep big gaps from developing, address them when they do, and don't worry about it unduly.

Organized support from others is a help in avoiding burnout.  In our homeschooling experience, having regular visits with a homeschool assistance committee was a help.  These were elected fellow homeschoolers from our churches.  They looked over our Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) for each child, and handed out forms to fill out regularly to help us evaluate our children's progress in learning good work habits and developing good character.    This was a safe group with whom to discuss our homeschooling challenges.

Classroom teaching is inherently stressful, although many teachers also find it rewarding.  While having students age-matched seems like a stroke of genius when efficiency is the goal, it also keeps things more boring for the teacher than they would be otherwise.  If you're a mother, you know that having many children the same age would be the stuff of many nightmares--every child in the same kind of child training need roughly at the same time.  In a classroom, that's how it is, and it continues year after year, unless you move to teaching different age groups.  The curriculum doesn't change much, so the material is the same year after year too.  When you stop to think about it, you wonder how anyone survives this for long.

Regular sabbaticals for teachers seems to me to be a big part of the answer for avoiding burnout in classroom teachers.  I'd like to see every Christian school system make this an expectation for their teachers:  Six years on and one year off.  If people in administration in the system don't initiate this, then teachers individually can do so.  My observation tells me that most people with our cultural background wait too long to take time off.    They feel extraordinarily responsible, and fear that they are abdicating their responsibility if they "quit," even temporarily, while they can still function.  In reality, this is no more irresponsible than is stopping for gas along the interstate before one actually completely runs out of gas.

The exact ratio of time "on" to time "off" may not need to be exactly 6:1.  However, in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, I believe the Scriptural model of Sabbath keeping is worthy of following  in our church school systems.  It offers a great opportunity for both the teacher and the employer to re-evaluate and perhaps re-negotiate the terms of employment.  

I did some research earlier on how colleges handle sabbaticals.  Apparently two common models are in use. One model grants full pay for a half year for a professor on sabbatical.  The other offers half pay for a full year.  I don't know how they handle the time on/time off ratio, although I'm certain that professors usually teach at least six years before they get a sabbatical.

I've never heard of a small church school system that pays grade and high school teachers on sabbatical.  Imagine with me, however, what a game-changing thing it would be if they did so.  It would be a major incentive for teachers to stay at least six years.  (There goes the teacher-retention challenge.)  Worries about finding a job during the time off would ease, and the teacher could actually afford to further his own education during that time.  Preparing oneself mentally for a six-year stint, with the knowledge that a break is waiting at the end of that time is enormously freeing.  Agonizing over the timing is eliminated, and planning for a replacement can take place well in advance.

Another key in avoiding burnout, for women classroom teachers especially, is to be able to exercise a great deal of freedom to make the school a home away from home.  Learning can happen under a shade tree as well as inside the walls of a classroom, so, in one sense, the environment is not critical.  The feeling that you are in a welcoming space is critical, however, to a teacher's (and students') sense of well-being.  If your hands are tied so that you are unable to do what it takes to make the space around you inviting,  and no one else takes this initiative, you have my deepest sympathy.  Even a paid sabbatical at the end of six years might not be enough incentive to stay in such an environment.  

If you want to avoid burnout as a teacher, you must limit your work hours to reasonable levels.  Ask for more help if you can't do what you need to do in a decent day's work.  Easier said than done, I know.

I referred earlier to the blessing it is to teachers when they know they are appreciated for what they do and they do not feel that they are being taken advantage of unfairly (that is, they are not doing something that parents could just as well be doing if they were more willing to be inconvenienced).  In the absence of such conditions, again, even a paid sabbatical might not be enough incentive to stick around.  

All this writing about sabbaticals brings up a homeschooling possibility I have never seriously considered:  a sabbatical for homeschool families.  During that year, all the school-aged children in the family could attend a classroom school.  Or maybe the whole family goes temporarily to the mission field where a teacher is available.  Consider it with me, and tell me what you think.  (That's an invitation--not a command.)