Prairie View

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Scrabble Fixation

At long last, my appetite for Scrabble is beginning to be satisfied.  I've discovered Words with Friends--a Facebook application.  Playing it is a vacation indulgence.  Lorene M. invited me, and then I played also with Rhoda M. and Dorcas B.  So far, I've lost every game.

I have a hard time finding anyone willing to play a proper Scrabble game with me.  Others in my extended family prefer "Dig" or "Take One" or whatever that individual crossword game is.  I'm not fond of how that game prioritizes speed over thoughtfulness, and fast little words over slower, longer words.  You can probably tell that my brain is about 60 years old, and I'm not the fastest sled on the hill.

I'd really like to find someone willing to play Words with Friends in a way that combines this game with a few computer-modified old Scrabble rules.  My ideal game would use the online Merriam-Webster dictionary as the reference.  Only words present in this dictionary would be played, and the entry in the dictionary could not be listed as--

--an abbreviation
--a proper noun
--a slang word

Playing like this would depend on the honor of the game participants, since Words with Friends (WWF) accepts all kinds of strange words, including many that aren't in Merriam-Webster, or that appear there with one of the above designations.  WWF can become a game of chance, which isn't necessarily bad, but it's not primarily what I'm looking for in a word game.  I suspect those most willing to play the way I'm proposing are people who have not already become accustomed to the convenience of the WWF largesse or the Scrabble Help site's "corruptions."

You see where I'm going with this.  I want a King's English game.  Using Scrabble Help would be fine, but only words that also appear in the M-W would be legal.  Since there's no way of challenging another player, looking up words ahead of time to see if they're legitimate would be needed, unlike in the Scrabble rules.


Lest you conclude from the above prim-sounding word game preferences that I'm hopelessly stuffy, you should know that at our Christmas Day family gathering, I was christened "Giggler in Chief."  No one actually said those words, but Ronald remarked that he had almost forgotten how gratifyingly I responded to funny stories, and Rhoda said she wanted to be sure I was around whenever she attempted a joke.


I'm excited about the prospect of snow tomorrow.  The weather site now says we have 100% chance of a wintry mix and snow.  True, it will likely stay under the 3-inch mark, and possibly not rise much over the 1-inch mark, but moisture in any form is very welcome.  I do sympathize with those who must travel, and I'm already not looking forward to Hiromi coming home from work at 8:00.  Weather like this feels best when everyone is home and the electricity stays on.


Talk of wintry weather reminds me of that other annoyance I have--people in skirts not wearing socks when the weather is frigid--and then complaining that it's too cold in a fully heated room.  Wear socks, ladies.  Knee socks.  As far as I'm concerned you can wear long johns too.  Under an ankle-length skirt you can tuck them into your knee socks and no one will ever know.


Any takers on WWF--according to my exacting specifications?  Email me at or communicate via Facebook if you're interested.  I'll not make any promises about playing beyond the end of Christmas vacation, which ends in eight days--next Monday.  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Atypical Year-End Post

Kathleen Parker, whose column I read whenever I get a chance, wrote a slightly different year-end column than usual.  Instead of a mea culpa (acknowledgement of personal fault or error) column, or a predictions or a resolutions column, she wrote a "this is what annoys me most" column. You can read it here.  Just so you know why I'm feeling justified in doing the same.  

Parker concentrated on speech patterns she finds annoying.  She doesn't like the following:  The use of the word "hot" to refer to people instead of to temperature, the use of the "man up" command in the political arena, ending statements with verbal question marks, and the substitution of "no problem" for "you're welcome"--in response to "thank you."  I concur with Parker on every count, although I am more fortunate than she in that I don't often hear some of the things that annoy her.  Parker, on the other hand is not likely to affirm everything on my list--which you'll soon agree she probably doesn't encounter very often.

First on my list is coverings worn in such a way that they appear to be ready to take leave of their moorings and either ride off into the sunset all by themselves or slide down the backside of the wearer.  

If we all had studied engineering, we'd know something about the need for attaching one thing to another thing in such a way that everything is supported adequately.  Architects, for example, don't usually design buildings with downward-angled eaves if the roof is flat.  The eaves would look unsupported, even if the side wall of the building somehow kept the eaves from falling off.  Such eaves would be an affront to common sensibilities about how things look when they are well supported, as when the eaves are an extension of the rafters or trusses that rest firmly on all the sidewalls of the building.  That's what I see in far-back-on-the-head coverings--an affront to common sensibilities about how things look when they are well supported.  

Because they are light, coverings can be made to stay in place with a few pins, but that doesn't mean they look right supported only by pins.  I find myself inhaling sharply involuntarily sometimes when I see such a covering, and I'm not naturally a fearful person.  I'd like to see a portion of the covering resting securely on the crown of the head.  It would look supported and sensible there.  

Lots of hair is exposed when coverings are worn to cover only a portion of the back of the head.  This presents a secondary dilemma--how to make the exposed part look interesting and keep it under control.  Ornamentation is one way, with bands or bejeweled clips or pins, for example, which probably serve also to keep it under control.  Elaborate styling is another way--with imaginatively placed parts and hair sliding or swooping away from them, or hair twisted or braided, or dangling loosely in front at the sides.  Ostentation is the offending factor here to me personally.  I affirm simplicity and modesty on all fronts, and I don't see it expressed in the hairstyles described above.  Hair worn simply serves as a frame for the face--where character and Spirit shine.  Elaborate hairstyles and excessive ornamentation draw attention to the hair itself rather than to the face.  

Many of us idealize a church environment where people's outward appearance reflects inner personal values aligned with Scripture and common sense--without the need for painfully specific directives about how this should be done.  When the outward appearance seems to reflect a lack of common sense or a departure from a Scriptural principle, in the absence of such standards being forced upon everyone, I'd like to think the corollary is possible--members calling each other to an appropriate personal standard.  That's why, although I lack the stature and gravitas of Parker in the literary world, I'm risking the fallout of speaking up about the "shameful" way coverings are sometimes worn.  Best of all, I'd wish for personal piety to prevail without the need for speaking of it.  

I'll talk about that other thing (which I'm unable to recall at the moment) in a later post.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Idea of Education

More than a decade ago LeRoy H. told  Hiromi  about some firewood he had for sale.  It came from a huge elm tree that had died at the corner of Aunt Lizzie's house, where Eldon and Jane live now.  LeRoy was boarding there and had taken on the task of cleaning up the dead tree.  After assuring Hiromi that this was good hard wood from American or Chinese elm instead of the soft, light wood we had used before from Siberian elms, he said, "I like cutting wood--or at least I like the idea of cutting wood."  The afterthought probably came on the heels of remembering that cutting wood is actually pretty hard work, and sometimes is not all that much fun.

If my observations are accurate, a lot of people like education in the same way that LeRoy liked cutting wood.  They are much in love with the idea of education, and not so much in love with the hard work of acquiring it.  As an educator, I am, of course, distressed when I encounter the former coupled with disdain for the latter.

I've written before about what I consider an unholy reverence for the wisdom of those who are formally educated.  If I see it right, there's a lot of foolishness and ignorance intact inside the heads of some people who have degrees.  It's possible, in fact, that those whose study has been highly specialized are more ignorant than most people about most things, although probably not in their narrow area of study.

On the other hand, I believe it's possible also to not be properly respectful of the knowledge of those who have studied a  matter thoroughly.  This is especially distressing when people proceed confidently to operate out of their own ignorance, even in matters that affect others significantly far into the future, rather than seeking to learn from those who already have deep knowledge of the matter.  This is based not at all on whether the input from those who are educated is wise or foolish, but instead on whether the less educated person is proud or humble.

I really admire people who are willing to learn from those who are wiser.  I also admire people who have acquired wisdom by exerting personal effort--through formal education or otherwise.  I hope I always have the sense to--

--differentiate between wisdom and formal education
--exert the necessary effort to acquire deep knowledge when it's needed
--learn humbly from others who have acquired deep knowledge
--discern the limitations of knowledge
--treasure Godly wisdom above all else

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

It's almost the day after Christmas, but here's our family wishing everyone a blessed Christmas season.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Third Christmas Song

I'm sure I'll soon run out of songs to add to this unintentional series of less-well-known Christmas songs, but the conversational aspects of "Good King Wenceslas" reminded me of this one, which is a conversation between a watchman and a traveler.  Their speech alternates in two-line parts.

Watchman, Tell Us Of The Night

Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.
Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height,
See that glory beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes—it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.

Watchman, tell us of the night;
Higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
Peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
Gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
See, it bursts o’er all the earth.

Watchman, tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight,
Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease;
Hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveler, lo! the Prince of Peace,
Lo! the Son of God is come!

Here is very simple notation and sound for the tune I'm familiar with.  A  public domain copy of words and music for the above tune can be accessed here. The words were written by John Bowring and the music by Lowell Mason.

Another common tune called Aberystwyth (Parry) can be heard here.  

I've seen references to the song being associated with Songs of the Church, although I'm not sure that it's a reference to the song book of that title I'm familiar with.

An internet site contains this uncredited quote:  This hymn evokes a vi­vid child­hood mem­o­ry. Two men with deep, so­nor­ous voic­es sang this song at the Christ­mas Eve mid­night ser­vice each year as long as we can re­mem­ber. The church was dark, the watch­man’s and tra­vel­er’s two lan­terns giv­ing the on­ly light in a hushed sanc­tu­a­ry. The watch­man stood at the al­tar, and the tra­vel­er slow­ly made his way down the aisle, as the two sang the quest­ion-re­ply vers­es to each other. It was hard to miss the sym­bol­ism of the lone­ly tra­vel­er mak­ing his way to the One Who sheds light on a dark world.

This quote captures my feelings about the song "Watchman Tell Us of the Night."  I hear in it the fulfillment of a searching heart, gently guided to Jesus by one who has already found Him and felt the peace that He provides.

Friday, December 21, 2012


A year ago I was seriously stressed out after having wrestled with the composition class' community writing project and had been disappointed with some of the errors that occurred during printing at a shop in the back of an office supply store. Oh. My.  That covers both the initials of the business and the way I felt.  Some of the responses I got from helpful people who read my rant made the ride smoother this year.  The biggest change was that I transferred uploaded student files in OpenOffice to Word immediately--into a pre-made document of the same type--the student handbook, in this case.

In this year's experience, some stresses remained, however.  I'm looking for help again to see what might have been the problem.  Before I go into what happened, I should say that I'm more convinced than ever that many of our problems are attributable to our programs and equipment being too old, limited, or unsuitable.  Our lack of "connection" is a hindrance too.  Yet our equipment works fine for most of our needs at school.  Without big bucks for big upgrades, what do you suggest--you who have some knowledge of how the print shops operate, especially?  Publisher?  PageMaker?  It should be simple enough to use that a 60-ish lady can learn it.

One machine at school has Publisher installed.  It's the "yearbook" computer.  We've never used it for projects that consist primarily of text, and I'm not familiar with it.

When I talked to the person employed at the print shop (a Main Street business this time), and told him that I was using Word to do the word processing, he told me he thought it should be alright, although he mentioned PageMaker as being more likely to work seamlessly with their equipment.  He suggested that I save it as a PDF when I have it in the right format.  (He said this when I asked about emailing it.)

Unfortunately we don't have email at school and we didn't have a PDF program on any of the computers--and no internet connection to download such a program.  Since the final corrections had to be made at school, I simply couldn't do a PDF and get it in on time.    I delivered it in person on my flash drive, and the lady who took my order said that they would be working with it in the 2010 version.  I looked at the proof today and it looked good.  Unfortunately they had forgotten to call me from the print shop as they said they would, as soon as it was ready, and it can't be printed till next Wednesday because they're closed till then.

My Word program at home is a 2010 version.  At school I used the 2003 version.  Every time I saved the booklet document to my flash drive and transported it between here and school, I had to do many formatting corrections when I opened it.  I'm sure this must have been because of some incompatibility between the two versions.  If I had known this ahead of time, I might have made sure that I did the final work here at home, where my version was compatible with theirs, where I could do a PDF and where I could email.

All of the above is not that big a mystery, but what happened at school between my computer and the printer is a mystery.  Every time, after everything looked right on my screen and I saved the document  and then printed it, the formatting got messed up between the "save" and the "print" function.  It all looked good in the print preview also.  When it came out of the printer, charts that started out all on one page got split and spread over two pages, and stories started halfway down the page instead of at the top of the page.  WHY?
Very frustrating.

All the above problems caused our booklet project to not be ready for sale to the holiday visitors--unless they're sticking around for New Year's Day.

The booklets will be available in the local churches as soon as they're ready.  Contacting me or another student directly is an option also if you'd like a book.  The students are Kristyne A., Kristi M., Carolyn M., Carol N., Michael Jon N., Marsha R., Andrew S., Jonny Y., Nathan Y.  The price is $5.00 and the stories are basically about each set of parents with a student in the class.  It's a mixture of family records, stories, and reflections.

P.S.  My computer is spending Christmas vacation at Sanford's shop because it might have a virus.  At least my thumb drive apparently picked one up somewhere, and we've had such problems at school recently.  I mention this in case it would be more relevant to the above subject than I think it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Page and I

Who was Good King Wenceslas?  And what is the feast of Stephen?

Writing recently about "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"  sparked memories of another old Christmas song that I suspect is also less well-known than some.  I learned this one from my mother, which is rather surprising, given the fact that she never fancied herself a gifted singer or took an unusual interest in music.  How then did she learn the "Good King Wenceslas" Christmas song and pass it on?  I don't know.

If you're already familiar with this song, you might want to skip straight to the end of the post.  For the rest, getting acquainted with the song will happen more easily if you understand its setting on a cold, windy, snowy night in Bohemia (Modern Czechoslovakia) in the tenth century.  No one vouches for the historical accuracy of every detail in the story song, but it's based on fact.  The man who later came to be called King Wenceslas was, in fact, a good and kind man, also known as Svaty Vaclav, although he was only a duke--not a king.  He probably had a page, or errand boy, as the King in this song story had, and there were almost certainly poor peasants around, who needed mercy from the wealthy people among whom they lived.  The song refers to such a peasant.  In the lyrics below, I've taken the liberty to change the font to show how this song can be sung with a chorus and two male solo parts.  I've designated the singing parts by identifying them with each of the following "script characters":  Narrator(chorus), King Wenceslas,  and Page .  The words below are taken from the website in the center line of the middle stanza below:

Good King Wenceslas looked outon the feast of Stephen,when the snow lay round about,deep and crisp and even.Brightly shown the moon that night,though the frost was cruel,when a poor man came in sight,gathering winter fuel.

Hither, page, and stand by me.If thou know'st it telling:yonder peasant, who is he?Where and what his dwelling?Sire, he lives a good league hence,underneath the mountain,right against the forest fenceby Saint Agnes fountain.

Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.Bring me pine logs hither.Thou and I will see him dinewhen we bear them thither.[ From: ]Page and monarch, forth they went,forth they went togetherthrough the rude wind's wild lamentand the bitter weather.

Sire, the night is darker now,and the wind blows stronger.Fails my heart, I know not how.I can go no longer.Mark my footsteps my good page,tread thou in them boldly:Thou shalt find the winter's ragefreeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master's steps he trod,where the snow lay de[i]nted.Heat was in the very sodwhich the saint had printed.Therefore, Christian men, be sure,wealth or rank possessing,ye who now will bless the poorshall yourselves find blessing

Poor King Wenceslas was murdered by his brother, who obviously did not share his brother's piety.  When KIng Wenceslas was killed through treachery, his page later retaliated against the killers and was then also killed by hanging.  His body was reportedly never removed from the noose in which he died.

Click here for a rousing rendition of "Good King Wenceslas" in male voices with very British accents.  And here's a copy of the music.

One more detail:  The Feast of Stephen is celebrated on December 26.  It's counted among the twelve days of Christmas which begin with December 25 and end with Epiphany on January 6.  "Old Christmas" is the Pennsylvania German term I'm familiar with for Epiphany (the celebration of the visit of the Wise Men), as commemorated in the Western--largely Catholic--church.  The Eastern Orthodox church celebrates Jesus' baptism at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas instead of the Wise Men's visit, as the Western church does.  

"KIng Wenceslas was probably richer than I and the peasant was poorer than I, but the page--he's the one I can identify with.  In the presence of the King, common people like him and me can go forth with courage, warmed and energized for the task at hand.  Walking in His steps lets blessings happen while we're concentrating on something else.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Family Council on Cancer

On Sunday evening when our family gathered to talk about treatment options for Dad's colon cancer, we prayed, talked, listened, rolled our eyes, peered at pathology reports and interior anatomy pictures, and laughed by turns--with some real-time overlap.  This subject lends itself to some really good--or bad--puns (accidental and intentional), double entendres, and ruminations.  (See what I mean?  Ruminations.  That's one of the less visually disturbing images suggested  by our word choices the other evening.)  Semi-colons, bottom lines, and hindsight--oh my!   Don't ask.  Even Doctors' names can sound like bad words when inserted strategically with just the right tone of voice.

Some of us are biased in favor of conventional treatments and some are biased in favor of alternative measures.  For me, several things gradually became clear before, during, and after our meeting.  

1.  Killing cancer is a good thing.  Sometimes acting directly on the cancer by cutting, burning, or poisoning is necessary.  More refined terms for these processes are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.  Conventional medicine shines here.  The refined terms do not render the processes any less innocuous.  Doing only this is like trying to grow a garden solely by destroying the weeds that grow there naturally.

2.  Building up the body's natural ability to fight cancer is a necessary part of the treatment approach.  This involves minimizing exposure to stress and toxins, while ingesting stellar nutrition and perhaps herbal or other natural, non-pharmaceutical products. This is the forte of alternative approaches to health.  I think both eating nutritious food and taking broad-spectrum food supplements are important--the supplements mostly because I think it's almost impossible to pay for, prepare, and eat enough good food to cover the necessary bases.  So far, I've suspended judgement on whether certain foods actually "feed" cancer or interfere with apoptosis (normal and desirable cell death--of cancer cells, in this case).

3.  An integrative treatment approach has value.  I think of it as combining the best of conventional and alternative treatments.  Gaining access to credible advice and effective treatment with integrative approaches can be a real challenge in the legal, business, and medical environment in America--a situation I feel like raging against.  Europe is far ahead of us in this field.  In recent years, this situation has improved here slightly.

4.  Natural factors no one understands can influence how a person responds to any given measures.  The most recent issue of Time carries a feature article on genetic decoding with reference to what it reveals about predispositions to diseases, including certain types of cancer.  This is an example of a little-understood, but very significant part of the picture.  This explains a lot about why results of both alternative and conventional treatments are often highly variable.  This picture will likely become much clearer in the future.

5.  Getting rid of a tumor is not the ultimate goal of cancer treatment.  Getting rid of all abnormal cells, and equipping the body to create new healthy cells is a more basic and useful focus than getting rid of a tumor.  Correcting whatever was wrong that allowed tumor growth in the body in the first place is important.

6.  How early detection affects cure rates for cancer involves some semantic shenanigans, but is not limited to this. Basically, what's being measured here is the length of life between diagnosis and death.  If a cancer tumor is small or the number of cancer cells is limited,  killing them off can be simpler than if tumors are large or the number of cancer cells is large.  In this respect, early detection may, in fact, improve treatment outcomes.  On the other hand, this may simply mean that the outcome looks better statistically.  If the patient eventually dies, the time of death may, in fact, not have been affected by discovery of cancer in its early stages.  The main difference may be that the person died with a long awareness of their cancer rather than a short awareness.  The intervening treatment or lack of it may have had no effect on the duration or progress of the disease.

7.  Divine healing is possible without expending efforts focused on killing cancer or improving the body's condition.  Asking humbly for this can be exactly the right thing to do.  Demanding it is probably always the wrong thing to do because of our limited view of the big picture.  Dad is asking for anointing in obedience to the Scripture that tells what to do in case of illness.  For him, I'm sure this is also an act of faith and submission.

8.  In the final analysis, education, time expenditure, or sheer force of will are insufficient for discerning rightly among the available treatment options, or outsmarting the cancer.  Personal commitment in all of these areas can be helpful, but what is ultimately required is openness to the guiding Holy Spirit.  He can show us who to trust and what to do.

9.  Of the whole-body cancer killing treatments, hyperthermia therapy is far less damaging to normal cells than chemotherapy and radiation.  Granted, in our time, radiation is carefully targeted, and chemotherapy is more so than it used to be, but both of these methods destroy many good cells along with the bad.  Hyperthermia involves raising body temperature several degrees, at which temperature, cancer cells reportedly die off.  This treatment has been used in Germany and perhaps elsewhere, and is now available in a very few places in the US.

10.   I have a deep and abiding distrust of much of what goes on between drug manufacturers and their regulating agencies.  The employment history of numerous individuals ("foxes") reveals a pattern of spending a lot of time "working" both in the fox den and the hen house.  Such flagrant conflicts of interest are not in the best interests of anyone except drug companies who heavily influence regulations to their own advantage.  Even the most skilled and principled doctors cannot completely compensate for regulations so restrictive that only very high-priced and sometimes toxic drugs can legitimately be prescribed by a medical practitioner.  Doctors who base their recommendations on scientific investigation performed according to the highest standards can be criminally prosecuted for recommending a natural product--not because it's harmful or it doesn't work, but because it isn't a drug.  Don't even think about suggesting a natural product as a treatment for anything if you're not a doctor--especially if you've used or sold any such product.


Our family has not reached a final decision  about what to do, but it will likely be an integrative approach of some kind. We are exploring what might be offered at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA).  Tulsa, OK has such a facility.  That's three and one-half hours or 230 miles from here.  We were delighted to learn that some of the treatments formerly available only in places like Germany and Mexico are offered in these centers, along with state-of-the-art conventional equipment and strategies.  Having an integrative approach professionally coordinated looks a lot better to us than what seems like the next best alternative:  Trying to figure out such an approach ourselves.  We would hope that any ongoing, oft-repeated treatments could either be done at home or be administered locally.

To our surprise, the person on the Tulsa website who talks about his experience of being treated for colon cancer at the CTCA in Philadelphia is Tom Reese.  Tom is my sister Dorcas' brother-in-law (sister-in-law's husband, technically).

Our family would appreciate your prayers, for wisdom for all of us, and for faith and courage for Mom and Dad.  Cancer isn't a picnic at any age, but at age 85, the vigor of youth can not be applied to the fight, and prayer support is very much desired.  

Family Culture

My composition students are writing about their families for their community writing project.  As part of the assignment, they're giving some thought to their family culture.  This is proving to be a daunting process for some of them.

I've heard "Our family doesn't have a culture."

I've also heard, "My mom said their family was so busy working five times harder than anyone else that they didn't have time for any kind of culture."

"What is a family culture?" others asked.   What would you have said?

First I assured them that every family has a culture.  The fact that the family culture may not be immediately obvious  means that more thought and evaluation are necessary.  I even had the temerity to suggest to one student that perhaps the difficulty in identifying a family culture is suggestive of an action-oriented family tendency instead of a cautious-reflection tendency.  That, in itself, might be part of their family culture.

I suggested that students think about what is important to their family--possessions, activities, issues.  How is the family used to interacting with each other and others outside the family?  What attitudes prevail?  What do they value?  They should think about patterns that may have been repeated across several generations--what their family is and does, even when they're not giving thought to conscious choices.  I urged them to ask their family and friends for help in identifying things that they may never have noticed themselves.  Try to think what makes your family different from other families.

I teach some students who are the fourth generation descendants of long-gone people I knew personally.  From  my perspective, some of the same family characteristics shout from every generation.  Discretion demands that, for the most part, I keep my observations to myself.  I do what I can, however, to help students become self-aware.  Doing this, I believe, helps them feel that they belong in their family, and perhaps gives them new appreciation for what they have gained from life in their family.

On the other hand, becoming self-aware helps young people take the first step toward improving family characteristics and habits that might be irritating to others, off-balance, counter-productive, or downright wrong or destructive in some way.  The challenge is to foster respect for their family and a willingness to embrace their identity, without letting any part of it become a barrier to their own "progressive sanctification."


Pondering long-standing family "flavors" has made me thoughtful about the consequences of not dealing rightly with the unalterable circumstances we've been handed, the crises we encounter, or the sins we're tempted with.  When we shrug off a fault with "that's just the way I am," or we respond to correction with defensiveness, or we choose to run away from a less-than-ideal situation, we may not only be failing to do what's right for ourselves, but also creating a burden that will be heavy in our family for multiple generations.

In the context of a healthy marriage, individual extremes are often moderated, and the sum of the whole is greater than the contribution of its parts.  I have a fresh appreciation for this potential.  The same applies to being committed to a local church:  individual extremes are moderated and the sum of the whole is greater than the contribution of its parts.  I don't want any part of chafing against the processes that bring about becoming part of a healthy whole, but embracing the processes can be hard.

For us individually, for our generation, and for all generations, our watchful, loving God both orchestrates the unfolding story and allows people's choices to alter the story.  This is the mystery a study of family culture reveals.  I want to embrace the certainties and to be at peace with the remaining mysteries for this day of my life, and for the future.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Song Leading Failure

We always sing a song together at school at the end of the day--unless Mr. Schrock decides to lead a prayer instead.  The other day when he had to leave school a few minutes early, he asked me to take care of dismissal.  I made a few announcements and then said we'd sing "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" for dismissal.

When I confidently caroled out the first few words, I soon noticed a distinct lack of participation on the students' part.  Even Norma, my co-teacher was not helping out much.  I plowed through to the end of the first stanza before asking, "Don't you know that song?"  They didn't.  Not one of them.  I couldn't believe it.

I'm pretty sure I've known the song ever since I was about six years old, although I can't remember for sure when I learned it.  Maybe in poem form in the 1950's Childcraft, Volume one or two.  I looked online to see what I could learn about the words and  music.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words during the Civil War. His son had enlisted as a Union soldier, against his father's wishes.  Longfellow did not favor the South, but he simply wanted no part of war.   By Christmas of 1863, Longfellow's wife Frances had died recently in an accidental fire, and his son had been severely wounded in the war.  The words fairly ache with the poet's longing for peace--a longing anyone experiencing grief or strife in this season can identify with. Hope and affirmation appear just in time.

Here are the words most commonly sung:

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Written on Christmas Day, 1863

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

The music I'm familiar with can be found here.  Verses 4 & 5 were part of the original poem, but are not nearly as familiar as the above verses.

Andrew S. told me at school yesterday that his dad loves this song, so there's at least one other person close by who knows it.

I'm curious how many of you blog readers know "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day?"  If you know it, do you remember when or where you learned the song?

Quote for the Day 12/13/2012

From recent David L. Miller family email exchanges:

Lois (reporting on a recent visit to her doctor, as a followup after having her irregular heart rhythm repaired):  He pronounced me Normal! Completely normal! So there (Lowell or any of you others who ever doubted my mental capacity): I am NORMAL!!

Bill (brother-in-law) : 

Dear Lois, 

"Normal" is a fairly elastic term used to characterize a very wide variety of people.  Glad to hear you made the cut.


P.S.  we would have loved you regardless.

Ronald:  That's a great line Bill!  --one that bears filing away in the creases of my memory.  I shared it with the office here and they were likewise appreciative.  :-)  LOL
Lois:  Thanks much Bill for your kind reply! I'm so relieved I made the cut and also greatly comforted that I would be loved even if I wouldn't have. Stop laughing Ron!


The main subject of our emails was not nearly this amusing.  

Dad's colon cancer is not as nearly gone as we had hoped.  In fact, a tumor was discovered this week that was probably there when he had his first surgery in August, but it wasn't discovered at that time.  His doctor is suggesting oral chemo and daily targeted radiation for six weeks.  No decision has been made so far about what course of action to pursue.

As long as I can remember, our family has met periodically for Family Councils.  We didn't do this very often--maybe once or several times a year--whenever an important decision needed to be made.  Dad is calling a Family Council for this Sunday afternoon.  In the meantime, there's a flurry of discussion by email, and I'm sure, many prayers are ascending.  

Dad seemed to regain strength very well after his earlier surgery, and we didn't realize that an insidious problem remained.  At age 85, his mind is clear, although slowed a bit from its earlier agility, and he has a strong desire to offer what he can in service to others.   

All of us would appreciate your prayers as we try to sort through the options in a search for what would please the Lord.  We're committed to supporting Dad's decision, but he's asking for our input, so it won't do to simply check out of the decision-making process entirely. I don't fear interacting with any of my family on this matter, but, if the truth be told, we probably each have our own biases, and it's a challenge to navigate this unfamiliar territory without jostling each other along the way.  I'm very grateful, though, that none of us is alone to make these decisions.  

To see each other safely through to the end of life is both a family responsibility and blessing.  


One moment of levity occurred in the doctor's office when the doctor was talking about what to expect if  chemotherapy is pursued.  He assured Dad that he wouldn't lose his hair.  Then he glanced at Dad's very bald head and everyone smiled, realizing that this wasn't nearly as big a deal in this case as it is sometimes.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

For the Locals

If you're interested in buying a place ideal for growing produce for sale, with a long-lived cash crop already growing on the place and a working cooler--and a house with a history that gives some of us warm, fuzzy feelings, I have an idea for you.

The house used to belong to Frank Banyard, who was a well-liked music teacher in grade school--a true English gentleman, with gentle ways with elementary students.  He grew irises and peonies.  Five hundred to one thousand of the peonies remain and provide extra income each Memorial Day.  The cooler is for the flowers, which must be harvested in bud stage and kept cool till Memorial Day.

The house is owned by John and Darlene Miller, (Henry Miller's Jonny) and she called me this morning to tell me they're putting their house on the market.  It's on one acre of land, located in a secluded spot in South Hutch, near the river, but never having flooded--close to Tom and Dan's tire shop.

Darlene called to tell me about the house for sale and I told her I would help spread the word.  She didn't say this, but if I were her, I would dearly love for someone to  move there who would appreciate and care for the flowers as the Banyards and John and Darlene did.  I think that's why she called me--because she knew I would love the flowers.  The house is older (I was in it once when I was in 8th grade.), but has had some remodeling done since John and Darlene moved in.

Call John and Darlene yourself if you're interested, or call or email me.  I'll make a note of the phone number from which she called me--in case it's a cellphone number.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Quote for the Day 12/10/2012

The community writing project my comp students are working on has elicited some serious competition among the students.*

Student #1:  My dad was so intelligent that he got to skip the third grade.

Student #2:  Well, my dad was so intelligent that he dropped out of college because he decided he was wasting his money.

Student #3:  My mom got the highest score in the county on the achievement tests--in science.  Her teacher told her she could be a scientist.

Student #1:  My dad was always a teacher's pet.


*As is often the case with  my quotes, a disclaimer is in order.  The exact words above may or may not have been uttered.  All the facts are true, however, and a very similar dialog did take place.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A Boredom Emergency

Tristan, who is now 13 1/2 months old,  was getting ready for some diversion while he was here today, but did he really have to call 911 because of it?

I was cooking brunch and Hiromi was holding Tristan at the table while I put the last few things on.  Hiromi let him play with the phone, after listening to make sure that there was no dial tone.  All the beeps put a big smile on Tristan's face.  He was having fun.

We had prayer and started eating when the phone rang.  Hiromi read aloud from the caller ID:  "Reno County . . . "

 "I hope Tristan didn't call 911," I said as he picked up.

Vain hope.  It was someone from the dispatcher's office, checking to see if there was a problem at our house.  They had gotten a call but no message.  Hiromi was most apologetic.  He confessed to having let his grandson play with the phone and he guessed he must have hit the right combination of buttons to connect to the emergency number.  That was that.

Tristan chowed down on his pancake, all innocence.  I noted privately that Hiromi's habit of indulging the little ones hasn't abated with the passing of time, and for once, Hiromi must have had second thoughts about this habit.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Good Music and Lesser Details

Locals who missed the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols tonight missed a wonderful presentation.  Most of the songs were unfamiliar, but I thought to myself during the program and said aloud to Linda afterward, "There are so many lovely Christmas songs."  To hear them in a worshipful atmosphere in choral arrangements, with many familiar faces up front is a great pleasure.

Beachy folks dominated this Reno County Choral Society event, making up 30 of the 55 names on the roster of singers.  The director, Lyle S. is an additional member of this group.

I noted several other groups within the bigger group:

Golden Rule Travel--Hutchinson office:  David S., Jared S., Mary Beth R., Eldo M., Hannah M.
Shenk Family:  Harry, Edith, David, Tim, Andrew, Brenda, Anna
Shetler Family:  James, Anthony, Ryan, Jared,  Darren, Travis
Lowell M. Family:  Hannah, Christy, Joseph
Joe Y. Family: Twila, Eunice, Ruthie
Eldo M. Family:  Eldo, Caroline, Rachel, Matthew
Three generations:  Verna Mae M., daughter Doris, son Gene, Grandchildren Kristen and Jessica
Students from our high school:  Brenda, Darren, Andrew and at least four students who are homeschooled but attend at least one class at the high school.

Arlyn M.  accompanied one song on guitar, and LaVerne M. read one of the Scripture passages.

Hannah M. sang a soprano solo to begin the presentation.  There was no accompaniment--only her clear and lovely voice singing "Once in Royal David's City."  Eldo M. sang a tenor solo on "Holy is the Lord."  His daughter, Rachel was a flute accompanist on this song.


Plainview Mennonite Church gave three presentations of "A Cricket County Christmas Cruise" last week.  It was a fundraiser for the operation of King Street center activities.  Admission was by donation.

Hiromi and I attended one night, mostly to see Grant perform.  He was a country bumpkin pretending to be sophisticated, until his cover was blown.  Clarissa helped backstage.

Someone asked me afterward if I knew Grant could "do that" [act].  I don't remember what I said, but I thought:  of course I knew that.  I'm glad his abilities are being discovered, and I hope people keep asking him to contribute in ways that come easily for him.  I don't know if the Plainview people know yet that he sings well too, but  I know that.  He sings bass.  I'm sure he won't volunteer any such information.

The play was long on fun and shorter on inspiration, although not totally devoid of it--quite well-done all around, to a very appreciative audience.

Uncle Fred had brought a load of Amish people from Yoder and visited with Mom and Dad nearby while the play was underway.  By the looks of things, quite a few other people had also brought a load of Amish people.


David Y. led in the dedication prayer this morning at church for his newest grandchild (and ours, as well), Arwen Elizabeth.  If she made any crying noises during church, I didn't hear her.  She's a very placid child most of the time when I see her.  This was her first time in church.

One of Arwen's features is two "swirlies" at the back of her head.

The last time I heard anyone talk about a child of hers with that characteristic, it was Eli Edna from Ohio.  She told me that her daughter Mary Irene was that way, and someone told Edna that it meant that she would give birth to twins the next time.  She didn't take it seriously, but lo and behold, David and Daniel, the red-headed identical twins I taught later were her next children.

Hilda laughs about it too, but I think she might be a  little worried if she put any stock in the prediction.


The Center men had a "Spark" event at the Arlington school building Friday night and Saturday morning.  I don't know much about what transpired, but it was apparently a mix of recreation and inspiration.  Several men from our church spoke.


Lydia Yoder is home from the hospital again.  Hospice is helping provide care.


Mandy Nisly spoke up this morning in church (She's brave that way.) and talked of her sister's death last Sunday morning during church.  Today she is alone in a house that once also housed her father and two sisters--all of whom have gone on before Mandy.  She referred to the house as being "too big for one person" and asked others to pray for her.  That's a reasonable request.

Her brother Harvey was present in church for the first time since his knee replacement surgery.


Rosene Y. had to say goodbye this week to the little girl she has cared for in Thailand for almost 3 years.  The child went with her adoptive parents to the United States.  Rosene gets to come home before Christmas, and her family is eager to have her home.   It's a great blessing for the little girl to have had an English speaking "mother" during these first years, and to have had loving care and Christian training.


Grant shot a big doe yesterday.  They were eager for the meat.

Jeremy, one of the freshmen at our school, also had a successful hunt on Friday--a nice buck.

I saw on Facebook that Marvin Y. also got a big buck yesterday.

No one hunted deer here during my growing up years because there weren't any around.  Things have really changed, and hunting is necessary for limiting the population.


My sister Lois became quite ill yesterday, enough so that the plans for Marvin to "preach" at Zion in OK today had to be canceled.  Their son Benji went instead.  Kristi went along.


My sister Linda is going back to work tomorrow after having taken some time off to work on writing a narrative of an event in Kenya a number of years ago when people from the Beachy mission were attacked by a mob.

This is a slow time of year in the travel booking industry.  People's holiday travels are in place and they haven't started thinking much beyond the holidays for later travel, apparently.  That's my take, at least.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Balancing Act

An editorial by Michael Gerson in today's Hutchinson News, "Balancing Austerity and Morality" aroused some indignation here--not because I didn't like what he said, but because it reminded me of a whole jumble of problems that I keep puzzling over and not really finding resolution for.

Gerson's column was about the financial situation in America.  I especially liked what he said about what makes a good leader in lean times:

A sense of proportion (Focus on the things that matter most.)
The courage to take on large interests (Powerful voting blocs are not always right and may need reining in.)
A sense of humanity (Support programs that preserve human life--above building highways, for example.)

On the heels of the news coming out of Bangladesh about a garment factory fire that killed over 100 workers who had no way of escaping the blaze that began on the first floor of a multi-story building, I've been thinking again about the ethics of American companies doing business with companies that treat their employees with such disdain.  One business who does so is my husband's employer.  That same business has a very loyal following among cost-conscious shoppers, including most of the conservative Mennonites I know.

On the one side is the "hard place" of economic necessity (People like us finding a way to earn a living and needing to make every dollar stretch), and on the other hand is the rock of injustice (The human misery costs of insuring our access to cheap goods.)  I keep looking for wiggle room in this spot.  I'd like to take  my business where I know people in the supply chain are being treated right.  I also know that if we don't make some economical choices, we could become more financially dependent on others than we ever hope to be.

I'm convinced that examining our accumulation-driven impulses, being committed to community building by supporting local businesses, minimizing waste, and producing what we can on our own are part of the answer, but somehow it doesn't seem like quite enough.  Gerson says leaders need the courage to take on large interests.  All of us need courage, even if we are not political leaders.


Just above Gerson's column was an editorial by Jack Wempe, a retired teacher and legislator from Lyons.  In "The Overreaching Reality," he asked the question, Why does the accumulation of political power so often result in overreaching?  Cannot politicians learn from the past and avoid that trap?"  Among the examples he cited were Egypt's president Morsi, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, the Tea Party in the 2012 election, and especially Kansas Gov. Brownback.

Wempe notes that overreaching almost inevitably results in corrective reaction at a later time.  Speaking of the situation in our state, he writes, "Independence and moderation, once Kansas characteristics, may again become important to Kansans."

I'm weary of  overreaching and long for moderation on many levels.   I don't have a specific situation in mind at the moment, but know that the misuse of power can happen outside the political realm also.  When does necessary corrective action segue into overreaching on the opposite end of the spectrum of choices?  What personal choices can I make that will enable me to stay off the crazy cycle of overreaching and over-reaction?


Howard Buffet, son of financial guru Warren Buffet, is an Illinois farmer, of all things--in Decatur--the county name of the place where one set of Miller great-grandparents once lived.  In an article in Parade, an insert in our local newspaper, he writes optimistically about eliminating hunger in the United States.  He's got some good ideas, apparently, and is donating a lot of money toward solving the problem.

The feature article last week in Time was on how to get nutritious food at the grocery store.  The article was written by Mehmet Oz, a celebrity physician/media figure.

Oz and Buffet are probably both doing a good work, but I felt disappointment with both of their approaches.  

Oz didn't seem to have a handle on how chemical toxins ingested with food can create a new constellation of problems that  good nutrition can hardly overcome.  He also made no mention of nutrient decline because of green harvesting, decline during shipping or storage, and decline during processing.

Buffet apparently farms like all the "big guys" farm.  I consider these methods part of the food supply problem.

Growing your own food, which seems like a big part of the answer to the food supply problems, is not possible for everyone.  Neither is purchasing food from sources that insure a lighter toxin load.  Small steps, however, make a difference.  Andrew S.'s family kept track last summer of the dollar value of the harvest from their garden and came up with a net gain of $456.19.  That might not have been possible in Kansas last summer, but even here, gardening can make a big difference in getting nutritious food economically.

On this matter, I'm still hoping for paradigm shifts, but will celebrate small successes in the meantime.


"Fiscal cliff" news or "austerity crisis"  news as this informative site calls it, includes some dire figures for what the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) will cost.  Wal-Mart is dropping provision of health insurance for many of its workers (throwing these employees on the mercy of the AHCA), and a multitude of CEOs are publicizing complaints about the cost of providing health insurance to their employees--never mind that many of these companies have been very successful financially.

I consider health care another industry due for a paradigm shift.  For years, technology has improved things in this field, and there are likely more good things in store along these lines, but many simple and inexpensive things have been forgotten.  All that many people seem able to think to do is to try to find new revenue sources for paying what the allopathic-based system requires.

I wish for more confidence that the government regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are operating with integrity.

Check out this TED Talk to hear what one Multiple Sclerosis-afflicted physician tried and now recommends after having recovered from severely debilitating MS.  She eats three cups of each of the following each day:

--Leafy greens
--Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.)
--Brightly colored vegetables and fruits

In addition, she eats small amounts of legumes, fish, poultry, and lean red meats from grass-fed animals.

I think she's on to something good, but I probably would never be able to manage to do what she does.  I take food supplements instead.  And I take two teaspoons of vinegar and two teaspoons of honey in hot water twice a day.

On a side note, I mentioned this vinegar-honey drink at school the other day, and found out that our principal, Wesley, has been doing a more intense version of this for some time.  He said, "My parents did it for years, and it seems to have worked out pretty well for them, so I thought it was probably time I got started."  He takes two tablespoons of vinegar and only 1/2 teaspoon of honey.

Henry and Elizabeth S. and my Aunt Mary are good advertisements for the vinegar-honey tonic.  Aunt Mary credits this remedy for deliverance from miserable seasonal allergies.  She is remarkably youthful for being in her ninth decade of life.

Local honey and unpasteurized vinegar are reputedly necessary for the best results.  It makes sense to me, but as Hiromi would say, "What do I know?"  Check it out for yourself.