Prairie View

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Another Side

After having held forth on the limits forced upon parents in a classroom schooling environment, it's time to address some companion truths.  Doing this runs the risk, of course, of offending three-fourths of my readers, instead of only half of them, as may have been the case with the first post.  I plead forbearance.  If you think parents "make or break the school" you were probably not in agreement with the earlier post.  If you think teachers make or break the school, you will likely not be in agreement with this one.

First, a review of one salient point from the first post on this subject:  Rights and responsibilities should always go together.   That truth is reflected in this post as well as in previous ones.

This post will focus on the rights teachers give up in a classroom school setting.

--They give up the right to create the kind of atmosphere they desire.  It's largely impossible because of what the students bring with them from home when they enter the classroom.

--They give up the right to determine how long they work each day.  As determined by state laws, parental expectations, school administration, and personal goals, a certain body of work must be accomplished, no matter how long it takes.

--They give up the right to fair representation.  Those who observe the teacher's actions most closely are immature, and their report of what goes on is skewed toward an immature evaluation.

--They give up the right to speak forthrightly.  Even if  this is true:  "Your child comes across as being self-centered, insolent, rude, and manipulative," they must say something like this: "I'm uncomfortable with what I'm seeing.  How can we work on this?"

--They give up the right to an idealized version of school.  The reality sometimes stinks.

--They give up the right to determine the charges for their services.  They get whatever the administrators decide to pay them.  Sometimes they're informed of the amount ahead of when the services are rendered and sometimes they aren't.

--They give up the right to adult company throughout the work day.  The company is always immature.

Just as is true for parents, teachers also appear to have very few rights in the classroom.  Heavy responsibility though.  That much most people agree on.  It's lamentable, but how can things change so that the rights more nearly approximate the responsibility?

More later.

Good News

It's been a while since I've been able to post good news about my parents' health.  Many of you know that my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer late last summer and subsequently underwent surgery to remove an obstructing tumor.  He decided not to undergo chemotherapy or radiation at that time, which was one of the options the doctor offered him.  The 5-year survival rate without treatment was only slightly better than the survival rate with treatment, and we were mostly OK with the decision.

After that, just before he was to undergo a colostomy reversal, a second tumor was discovered in the colon "stump."  It had likely been missed during the first surgery.  This discovery changed the picture.  Until then, he was thought to have been cancer-free, and the presence of the tumor contradicted that.  The doctor's recommendation changed at this point, and, before Christmas, oral chemo and radiation were both recommended.  In general, the family concurred with the doctor's recommendation.

Dad wasn't sure he was ready to go the conventional treatment route, and he was interested in informing himself about other options.  He was hoping for a miracle and was also trying some alternative treatments he could do at home.  Meanwhile there were multiple unavoidable delays in starting with treatment.  During this time we investigated some options for treatment elsewhere, and, one by one, those doors closed.

Dad was not unhappy with the delays.  In one more effort to avoid treatment if it was possible, he asked for a second investigation to see if the tumor was still present and posing a threat.  It was.

In preparation for doing the radiation,  he had a PET scan yesterday, to see if any other place needed radiation besides the one tumor they already knew about.  Here's where the good news surfaced.  Dad has no evidence of any cancer elsewhere.

His lymph nodes were noted earlier to be swollen, and one lung had a dark spot.  Both of these symptoms may also be attributable to other causes, but they can indicate cancer as well.  Now we know that there is no cancer in those places, and it's a huge relief.  

Dad is taking a Xeloda pill twice a day.  It works to sensitize the cancer cells to radiation.  His first radiation treatment happens today.  It takes only 15 minutes or so, but it will mean a daily trip to town five days a week for the next six weeks or so.

Perhaps one of the best features of how all this has developed is that everyone is on board with what happens next.  It's true, of course, that nothing can be perfect when dealing with cancer, but it's wonderful to see the hand of God in how everything has come together.

Lowell and Judy's family is going to Nicaragua and Costa Rica shortly, leaving in about three hitches over the next week or so.  This news offers them a much more worry-free trip than would have been possible otherwise.

My mom has improved from having had, over the past few weeks, a UTI, the flu, and subsequent dehydration.  She's still sleeping on a hospital bed because keeping her head elevated while sleeping seems to help alleviate her cough somewhat.

Mom is 84 and Dad is 85.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Followup to "Giving Up Rights" Comment

This post is written in response to a comment in a previous post.  I do appreciate the comment, the mild tone especially, although I wish it were not anonymous, so I could better understand the context of the comment.  I had originally written this as a second comment below the previous post, and then decided it was too long to fit well there. Also, many of the sentiments below had at first been included with the "rights" post, but I eliminated them in the interest of leaving my main concern easier to focus on.  I'm not sure if it worked.  (You need to read the reader's comment now, if you haven't.)  Here's my response:

I'm not sure if I understand your comment.  Do you understand me to say that I think the parents make or break the school?  If so, I didn't make myself clear.  If you think parents make or break the school, I think we have a simple disagreement--although I recognize some validity in that position.

In my mind, there's an unresolvable conflict between assuming that parents are responsible for school culture and recognizing that they have very few rights--which the structure of our classroom schooling system seems to reflect.  Rights and responsibilities should always go together, and in the Christian school classroom system the responsibilities of parents seem to be verbally affirmed, but the rights aren't--and I understand why they can't be . . . because the "efficiencies" of group schooling will not allow it.  

You are also right in recognizing that parents DO have influence on their own children, but that is more limited than any of us wish it were if children go away to school, given the limitations of the classroom model of instruction--which requires a lot of time away from parents, and a lot of time under the influence of peers and teachers.

In summary, I believe that parents  have the right and responsibility to teach their own children any time, anywhere. If however, they choose to delegate this responsibility (i.e. give it away, in measure), they also give away much of their influence, and many of their rights.  I think this is lamentable, but probably unavoidable, if delegation is chosen.

At our parent-teacher's meeting the other evening, I did not hear heavy-handed laying on of parental guilt, or impassioned pleas to support school staff. There was instead an appeal to work together toward kingdom building through discipling students. If there was an additional fundamental concern, it was that everyone recognize that the task is primarily an adult task rather than a student task.  When students are given too much responsibility or free reign, the discipling process can be circumvented.

If the above comment is not from a local person, perhaps this explanation is not needed, but I did want to clarify that I am not registering a complaint about irresponsible or unsupportive parents.  I am instead registering sympathy for what I consider a very difficult role--being the parent of a child in a classroom school situation.  This role is made more difficult when parents are told how great their responsibility is, while they are, at the same time, given very little room to exercise their responsibility.

I will say also that how this stacks up has become ever clearer to me from having experienced many roles in the educational world and in the family.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Rights Given Up or Kept

Since the parent-teacher's meeting at the end of last week I've been thinking about school purposes and school culture.  In many of the perplexities about school, I see no ideal solutions.  Who is responsible for carrying out school purposes and establishing school culture?  Even the cautious "this is at least part of the picture" propositions are a little unsatisfactory, although I realize that such ideas are often the best that any of us can offer.

Rather than pursuing these questions to a final resolution, I've been thinking about how differently these questions must be handled in a group school setting than in a homeschool setting.  This process has been instructive, and I'm passing along a list of what has come to mind about rights parents give up when they send their children to a particular classroom school.  I'm not wishing to discredit the group schooling effort, but to promote understanding about what is possible and what is impossible in that setting.

First, a disclaimer:  I haven't thought through how all the implications of sending children to public school differ from the private Christian school setting I'm most familiar with.

Rights Parents Give Up in a Group School Setting

--The right to choose curriculum

--The right to determine the best learning environment for one's child

--The right to determine what company a child keeps

--The right to choose the child's teacher

--The right to decide how much the child's education will cost

--The right to decide what consequences the child will suffer for wrongdoing

--The right to determine what encouragement the child will receive

--The right to have special needs accommodated (unless you're content to have the child labeled so that he or she fits into a category mandated by law for accommodation)

--The right to determine the child's daily schedule (except for a few hours before and after school)

--The right to create a particular atmosphere

Having created this list, I'm impressed with how little choice is left for parents, and how much "power" is ceded to school personnel.  I'm not sure that this is as it should be, but I don't know how to change it, except incrementally perhaps.

For an exercise in visualization, consider each point in the list, and you will see that, with some qualification perhaps, a homeschool environment guarantees that parents keep each of these rights.  Parents keeping these rights seems ideal to me, but it I don't see it happening in a classroom environment.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Red Book Story

The other evening in our little snack-eating circle after the parent-teacher's meeting, Judith told us about a dream my father had.  He told it at the monthly gathering of his siblings and one of them told Judith.  I had never heard it.  You probably ought to know my dad to get the full benefit of this story.  He loves to make connections between people--genealogical and otherwise.  One of his favorite books is "The Red Book," a directory of people in Beachy Amish Mennonite churches.  The Red Book is the informal title it's widely known by, and it serves up information on everyone who is or ever was Beachy--and their families, provided they are connected by one degree to a current member.

The dream must have occurred in a late80s-early 90s setting, when the elder George Bush was president.  My dad had gone to see him.  When it came his turn to greet the president, he told him his name.  Bush promptly picked up his own copy of The Red Book and looked up Dad's name.  

I love how this story mingles the familiar and the absurd--David L. on a political quest and George Bush on an "Amish Freundschaft" quest, and a single event where the two intersect.  That's what usually happens in the dreams that are the most fun to tell afterward.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


I knew when the day began yesterday that it would be a long day because of the parent-teacher meeting in the evening.  Since Hiromi was coming home early and could take care of the few animal chores one of us does each evening, I decided to go to school dressed in parent-teacher's meeting clothes--not that different from the usual dress, but slightly.

It was a good day, but I was ever-so-glad to come home and relax after the end of the meeting and the socializing afterward. I sat on the couch and stretched out my legs in front of me.  It was then that I first saw it.  I was wearing one blue shoe and one black shoe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Singspiration and Unwinding Afterward

We had the best singspiration ever at church tonight.  I wish everyone I know could enjoy such wonderful times of worship.

We just got new songbooks--Hymns of the Church, compiled by John D. Martin.  John was a teacher at a 3-week summer teacher's institute I attended in Hartville, OH in the 1970s, so I've known him for a long time--not that we've kept in contact particularly, or anything.  His wife was a dear friend of my sister Carol when all of us were young and single.  Oh yes . . .  he once accompanied a young man who came to visit me in Ohio.  They lived in the same area in PA--many moons ago, with the details probably best consigned to obscurity.

Lyle S. led the singing at church.  One of his songs is included in the book, and we sang it tonight.  We also sang a choral number from the section in the back.  A handful of people had helped sing it at weddings, etc. and the rest of us "winged" it.   Lyle told us he never dreamed that he would get to lead that song at Center Church "just like that."  Oh my.  I think I'll have to unwind before I can go to sleep tonight.


The other day I spilled the few chocolate covered coffee beans I had left in my snack bag at school, and they rolled around on the floor.  I looked at them there on the floor and had a disturbing thought.  I'm not sure that anyone that keeps sheep or goats should consider eating this.  Too many unfortunate associations.  I ate them anyway.  (I'm a little ashamed of this, but not too ashamed.)


Wes had to leave school yesterday to take his parents to the funeral of Henry's last sister.  Henry is the youngest of 13, and he and only one brother are left.  Today things were a little less productive than yesterday, and I'm glad our principal will be back tomorrow.  A few wild oats are beginning to sprout.


Shane is somewhere between here and Dallas tonight, with plans to come home tomorrow.  Tristan and Dorcas were in church, and Tristan had nearly reached the end of his tolerance before the service was over. I'm sure life will seem all-better when Shane gets home.  He had a nightmarish time of it yesterday driving an overloaded truck through Dallas.  Among other things, he got his drive wheels hung up on a curb and had to call a tow truck.  Then he had to wend his way--twice--through long stretches of road construction with narrow lanes between "walls" and other barriers.  One person who lived in Dallas for a time observed on Facebook that driving a car in Dallas is a challenge and driving an overloaded truck is insane.

Shane's summary of the day was this:  Sometimes you get to be the pigeon, and at other times you have to be the statue.  It was a statue kind of day.


Joel, Hilda, and Arwen are headed to IN for a weekend meeting in southern IN.  They're hoping that driving through the night will suit Arwen.  They'll spend time in northern IN after the weekend.  Hilda's parents are also planning to make the same stops.


My dad is scheduled for another appointment tomorrow, and the chemo and radiation is about to begin.  His cancer has not subsided since the last appointment, despite the alternative things he's been trying, and he's resigned to conventional treatment.

Mom has her own health issues right now.  Late last week she spent most of a day in the emergency room at Hutch Regional, getting 2 liters of IV treatment.  She apparently had contracted the flu and was getting dehydrated and "out of it" and unable to move on her own and respond or eat or drink or any of the normal activities of life.  She returned home much improved, but she is still house-bound.

Marvin stayed with her tonight and reported by text to Lois after church that he had just prayed with her and tucked her in.  Thanks Marvin.


Tucking myself in is my next order of business.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Not Gunshots, But Explosive Nonetheless

One hundred twenty-five.  That's how many comments there are at last count in an active thread on Facebook on the subject of vaccinations.  Joel started it by posting the story of an unvaccinated child who contracted tetanus.  Hans reposted it and the minions promptly came swarming out of the woodwork to weigh in on the yea or nay side.  I had seen about a half dozen of the comments before I went to bed last night.  When I woke up early I reread those few comments and decided to add my two bits.  Right after I did so I spied a whole host of fairly rabid intervening comments, mostly on the "nay" side.  I'm not sure how I missed them at first, but my lack of appetite for controversy would have prompted me to scuttle back into hiding before anyone saw me if I had known what a minefield the thread had become.

Here's what I said:

All our children were fully vaccinated with no apparent long-lasting harm done, and presumably some (or a lot of) good done. I still would caution every parent who chooses vaccination to be alert for abnormal reactions and discontinue the shots if this happens. I know two children personally whose mothers had concerns about the reaction after the first vaccinations, but those concerns were dismissed by the doctor who administered the second vaccination without further ado or parental consent. Both children nearly died immediately afterward and were severely multiply handicapped since then. In one of those cases, that's 40 years and counting--of parents having to "pay" for a doctor's arrogance or ignorance. These "character qualities" don't look any better in a medical professional than in a parent. Two other things I think I would pay attention to if I had young children now are these: 1) Don't have a child vaccinated who is not completely healthy at the time of vaccination. 2) Spread out the shots over more time so that children's little bodies can deal with fewer introduced "pathogens" at once. I have an uncle in his 80s who has been handicapped since he suffered polio at one year of age. Can you imagine the relief with which polio vaccine was greeted in our extended family? I remember the "whole community" flocking to Elreka school one evening when Sabin polio vaccine was offered in a pink drop on a sugar cube. Such a simple salvation from such a dreaded alternative.

Fortunately no one attacked me on Facebook, and I remain fairly unscarred by my involvement.

Hiromi reminded me over breakfast that in the past some vaccines have been contaminated with mercury, which is a vaccination  hazard I hadn't been thinking about.  I have some confidence that this is less of a problem than it was in the past.

In further support of vaccinations, I thought today of how little control we have over situations where our children may contract a serious infectious disease.  If they become ill, it happens because pathogens have invaded their body and have overwhelmed their natural defenses.  Having contracted the disease normally confers immunity, provided the child survives, of course--and they usually do.  Why is it irresponsible to introduce those pathogens at the time of the parents' choosing, when conditions for the child are more optimal for dealing with the pathogens, and when the particular strain of disease has been selected for its immunity-conferring benefits, and weakened or killed so that the symptoms are largely bypassed?  Granted, vaccinations might result in exposure to a greater variety of disease pathogens than would occur over a lifetime otherwise, but that's the nature of almost every preventive measure we undertake.  We seek to leave a margin of safety around the most dangerous possibilities.  In the process, we often over-protect, because we can never be sure which hazards will present themselves.

Has anyone heard of a child who became permanently handicapped after only one dose of vaccine?  If so, under what conditions was the child vaccinated--age, number of vaccines received at the same time, health at time of vaccination, family history of severe reactions, etc.?  If I had ever heard of permanent handicaps after one dose of vaccine, I would likely reconsider the approach that makes the most sense to me now:  re-evaluation after one dose.  My impression is that, when the first exposure is problematic, the long-term consequences are usually not severe.  Repeated exposures can be devastating, however.

All I've said so far sounds like I'm an enthusiastic proponent of vaccinations.  Almost, but not quite.  Actually, our decision to have our children vaccinated was almost entirely Hiromi's.  I followed along because that's what I thought I was supposed to do, and I didn't have any solid reasons to object.  I'm very grateful that it worked out well in our family, and I realize that our good experience is not everyone's experience.

I am not extraordinarily trusting of the pharmaceutical industry.  I believe the bottom line for these businesses is profit, and that goal sometimes circumvents proper caution about making sure ingredients are safe and pure.  Neither am I confident that the regulatory agencies are capable of protecting consumers from harmful pharmaceutical products.  Forceful lobbying from the industry side of medicine is a fact of life, and employment records for people on both the regulatory and the manufacturing side reveal way too much overlap to guarantee objectivity.  My opinion, of course, but not mine alone.  For these reasons, I'm  not overly inclined to swallow whole what comes to me from these sectors.

The plethora of information on vaccination hazards is overwhelming to me--and I'm far more inclined to delve into such matters than most people are who are not medical professionals--and more used to sifting through volumes of information than most people are.  (I think this is an accurate evaluation.  Correct me if you know me and you disagree.)  How can it help being overwhelming to almost everyone else around me who tries to sort through it?  It's far too tempting to buy into something--anything--rather than to continue for too long with the dissonance that that results from the din coming from everywhere.

I've concluded that, for any individual person, the answer is not nearly always more information, although I am in favor of being as knowledgeable as necessary.  The answer is not to place blind trust in professionals either.  Neither does the answer always lie in being as scientific as possible, although being unscientific is hazardous also.  Scientific research is never useful unless it undergoes a lot of interpretation, and I can't vouch for the integrity of everyone who does the research or interprets the data before it reaches me.  I want to preserve a sense of optimism about the good intentions of those around me, so I will choose not to dig up and sling around every piece of dirt that might exist.  I will choose to leave some of it undisturbed.

I must, first and always, rely on God to show me what to do when a decision must be made.  He alone is big enough to cut through all the confusion and guide me aright.  Sometimes that might be through Hiromi.  At other times, it might be through something I read or hear.

I don't feel a need to try to dissuade those who choose not to vaccinate their children.  My own experience gives me a bias toward vaccination being OK in most cases, but I am not in the habit of arguing the point.
I've had students do research papers on the dangers of vaccination--their choice of subject.  I've pointed out how their research could benefit from consulting more sources.  Just this week a mother who was present in the child development class said they have chosen not to vaccinate.  She told us what her pediatrician's response was to that:  "I respect that decision, but I would recommend vaccination."  My students could verify that I said nothing to challenge the mother's decision.  Hiromi probably would have, but not me.

If you care at all about this subject I've probably made you a little unhappy because it's unlikely that I come out exactly where you do.  I'm hereby offering to extend grace to you for your "blind spots."  I hope you will do the same for mine.

How a Car Works

The paragraph below is about a five-year old boy who lives near us.  With his mother Rosina's permission, here's a quote from a family letter in our inbox yesterday:

Elijah is keenly interested in how things work, and often asks Will for explanations. One morning when I was feeling blue, Elijah came up to me and said, “Do you know how a car works? Ask me how a car works.” I asked him, and as he started explaining, I started laughing! I chuckled over it all day. Later, I got him to repeat his explanation again and I copied it down word for word. (First he said, “Do you want to know how a diesel engine works or a how a gas engine works?” I said, “A gas engine.”)

How a car works (by Elijah): You fill it up with gas, then you hop in and turn the key. When you turn on the key, it flips a little switch and that little switch turns on a big solenoid and then the solenoid turns on very strong current and turns on the starter motor. The starter motor turns a little gear then the little gear makes a big gear go round and round. The big gear turns the engine over. Then the fuel pump pumps a little fuel over into the engine and then the intake valve opens. And then the fuel injectors put a pretty fine squirt of fuel into the pistons. Then the intake valve closes and the piston goes up. The pistons have been sucking air into the cylinders. Then here come the strokes: the intake stroke, compression stroke, power stroke, and then the exhaust stroke. The piston compresses the gas down to a little bit. The piston goes up and then at the top the spark plug fires and it ignites the fuel and air which goes into the combustion chamber and it burns really rapidly. That pushes the piston down and then the piston starts coming back up. That pushes the exhaust valve open, and pushes the exhaust out of the engine. The exhaust goes through the exhaust pipe a little ways then it goes to a catalytic converter. And then the catalytic converter burns up a little gas. And then it goes through the exhaust pipe a little more and then it goes to another catalytic converter. The exhaust goes through the exhaust pipe a little more then it goes through another catalytic converter! And then it goes out the tail pipe. And then it starts over!

I know less than Elijah Schmucker about how a car with a gas engine works, but I know just enough to know that he's got a lot of details down pat.  Can you tell that the child's dad is a veteran teacher?--or did you guess him to be a mechanic?  As far as I know, high school auto mechanics and plenty of home-based puttering opportunities produced this knowledge.  I suspect Elijah is way ahead of where his dad was at the age of five.  Elijah's wide-ranging attentions can apparently be focused laser-like if the subject is as riveting as How a Car Works.  Perhaps he's on his way to becoming a teacher.  His first lesson plan looks to me to have resulted in an outstanding class session.  It niggled in his mother's head all day and, if you're still reading this, you've perhaps learned from the little teacher as well.

Curious children and engaged parents living life together is the best learning situation of all.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Interferences and Indignation

To get one important thing out of the way--Here's a link to a lovely work of art that will be given away on February 14.  Full disclosure:  posting the link here gives me one chance at winning the drawing.  I saw the painting earlier and loved it.  I don't know the artist, but know people who do know her.  I'm happy to see her using her talent, and this giveaway announces the launch of a new website featuring her art.  If you go there and follow instructions, you can have a chance too at winning the painting.


As an educator, I believe one of my foremost obligations is to help students learn to love to learn--not just learning for the sake of cramming bit after bit of information inside their heads--but for the sake of becoming thoughtful about things that matter.  As a Christian, I have additional goals in relating to students--maturity in Christ, chief among them.  My indignation is aroused when I encounter interferences to these purposes.  They mostly come from outside the school, but come into the school by way of students who bring with them  influences that I see as counter-productive to learning and becoming thoughtful.

1.  Movies.  I purposely did not say "violent movies" or "sexually explicit movies," or "movies with bad language," or "movies romanticizing the occult"  Those off-limits categories are obvious.  Even if they don''t fit in any of those categories, I won't be promoting "just plain old movies" either.  For the most part, I think they're a waste of time and a needless distraction from more profitable things.  Occasionally perhaps a movie can serve as a conversation starter or a "thinking" starter, but I think they usually deaden both conversation and thinking.  Almost nothing is left to the imagination, and conversation is experienced vicariously while the movie is playing.  Actual conversation is almost certainly an annoyance to at least one person if more than one are watching the movie together.

2.  Video games.  Definitely in the childish category--something to be outgrown by about age 12.   Violence is a problem in some of these games, and the mind-and-body corrosion involved in a preoccupation with video games is a crying shame.

3.  Pre-digested "news."  I understand that reporting can never be perfect, but give me the imperfect reporting any day, over the "spun" version of the news.  I'd much rather apply my own biases than have to swallow someone else's biases whole, especially if the biases are disguised as news.  I don't enjoy having to explain this difference to high schoolers, but someone has to do it.

4.  Music addictions.  I'm not slamming music, per se, or any kind of music in particular.  The "gotta have it at any cost at any time" is what I object to.  No distance too great to travel to hear a favorite musician or group, no time too inconvenient . . . no instrument too expensive to buy or too time-consuming to learn to play--everything else takes second place behind the Music Experience. . . that's what I object to, and I hardly ever hear cautions in this regard.


I went to a Farmer's Market board meeting today as an observer.  Sigh.  Challenging times ahead . . .    A new board member must be elected or appointed, due to a resignation.  Before then, however, someone has to find a copy of the bylaws so that everyone knows what to do in this situation.

On the bright side, I think we have some good things on the horizon also, in terms of social media exposure.  One vendor has a degree in this field and may be hired to develop this.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Quote for the Day 1/18/2013

Student #1:  Who's bringing hot lunch today?

Wendall:  My mom.

Student #2:  What are we having?

Wendall:  Poor Man's Steak.

Student #3:  Once when I was in grade school we had Poor Man's Steak for hot lunch and when my mom asked me later what we had I couldn't remember what it was called, so I guessed and said "Dead Man's Meat."

We all thought that was a very bad guess, including the person who was a good sport about having us all laugh at her.


When I told Hiromi over supper, he thought it sounded like something from the "Tundra" comic strip.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Quote for the Day 1/15/2013

True or False question on the Gun Violence quiz the students took today, in preparation for the current events reports they're preparing later:

Quiz question:  "NRA, with respect to guns, stands for No Retail Allowance."

From six different papers:  "True."  

Me, grading the papers (under  my breath):  "AAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!"


I figured that was one question everyone would get right, given the fact that the handout had this statement:

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a powerful gun rights organization.

I even laughed when I wrote the question, figuring most of the students would get my private, if slightly lame, joke.

I sometimes second-guess what I expect of students, but at other times I conclude there's really no reasonable amount of help I could offer that would head off mistakes like solemn affirmations that NRA stands for No Retail Allowance.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Wrapup--1/13/2013

You know you heard a provocative sermon when one person testifies afterward that he felt like dancing in the aisle and another testifies to being uncomfortable with the sermon's emphasis.

The visiting minister in church today received both of the above responses, as well as several others from our home ministers and other laymen, with grace and openness.

The sermon was on The Kingdom of God.  The preacher  made a case for the coming of the kingdom being the central emphasis of Christ's ministry, as it should be for us, Christ's followers.  While he did not discount the importance of salvation, (It is, after all, the entrance into the kingdom.) the minister saw a primary emphasis on salvation as being more self-focused than is warranted.  A focus on staying in the kingdom, living according to kingdom principles, and building and extending the kingdom keeps the focus more God-centered and less self-centered.  That's a very condensed version of what was said.

Perhaps another thing you know after having been present for the above incidents is that diversity is alive and well in the group, as is a willingness for people with differing views to speak up and be counted.

For me, the highlight of the service was praying the Lord's Prayer in unison during the sermon:
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.  THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN . . .  "  Those words had meaning for me as never before.


The whole Conservative Anabaptist Service Program (CASP) crowd was present in church this morning.  Two of the ten or so are local young men, but all the others came from places like TN, PA, IA, and OH. Two married couples serve as crew leaders and house parents.  This group is one week into a 4-week term of working for Interfaith Housing in Hutchinson.  Two other terms are planned for this winter and early spring.

The group lives together in a big house in Hutchinson.  It was purchased for use by volunteers to Interfaith Housing, and crews from past years did the remodeling necessary to make it suitable for the purpose it's being used for.

The entire CASP board is coming here next week for a meeting and to become familiar with their flagship project.  Dad is on the board.


Last week Shane's whole family went trucking--to Oklahoma and Texas.  When I asked Shane how Tristan did on the trip, he said, "Well, let's just say Dorcas and Tristan are staying home next week."  Last year as a 3-month old, Tristan apparently didn't protest as vociferously at being cooped up as he did this year as a toddler.  Dorcas is not too enamored with the prospect of days and nights alone.

Trucking is one of the ways Shane works to provide an income during the winter months when his basement construction job is on hold.


Freeman Yoder was ordained tonight at Arlington.  Freeman grew up in Eastern Kansas and then moved to Indiana and married a girl from there.  Later, he and Retha moved here with their family.  He and Retha already each had a brother living here, and in the meantime, his parents had also moved here.  Freeman is a dairy farmer living in the Arlington area.


We're having several single-digit nights here at the beginning of the week.  A warm-up is on the way by the middle of the week.  We've had almost no snow, but we got about a half inch of rain last week.


My Dad's cancer treatment has been subjected to scheduling delays.  He's not complaining.  The rest of us are trying to keep from succumbing to our complaining urges. We might as well since there's not a whole lot else to be done.  The latest problem was that the radiologist got the flu and couldn't see Dad as scheduled.

Quote for the Day 1/13/2013

After waking up one morning recently--

Me:  I have hardly any covers left over here.

Hiromi:  You must have been pushing them my way all night.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Rowdy Saturday and an Ordination Sunday

Shane told me afterward that he thought today's Farmer's Market Annual Meeting worked a lot like Congress.  I did not hear hearty enthusiasm in the observation.

I always come to these understandings too late, but I wish now I had had the insight and courage to say something like this at the meeting:  I thought the purpose of this meeting was to elect a new board and to provide input for the board to consider in making decisions for the upcoming market season.  I am uncomfortable with this group making budget decisions at this meeting today, and uncomfortable also with exacting a mandatory "donation" from every unsuspecting person who paid their membership dues.  

While I am fully in favor of reevaluating the financial picture--a necessity, given the fact that we ended the year with a deficit--I still can't believe we categorically decided to slash $4,000 from the advertising money and didn't raise stall fees by a dollar or two.  How is that supposed to "grow" the market?  All I can say is that all those ideas for free advertising had better produce results.

I am also fully in favor of improving the floor of the outdoor facility and installing overhead fans, but I find it hard to believe that we almost decided that every member should be made to pay $100 as a donation toward the project--just the 25 of us members who were there today though.  I hate to think how things might have turned out if no one had prayed for the meeting, as I know some of us did.

Shane was elected to the board.  I wasn't sure whether congratulations or an expression of sympathy was more appropriate.    


The Arlington Church is planning for an ordination tomorrow evening.  Five people are in the lot:  Freeman Yoder, Jerry Yoder, Sam Miller, Greg Bontrager, and Brent Oatney.  Of those five, Greg is the only one whose parental family has a long, multi-generation history in the Beachy church.  None of this has any bearing on qualifications for church office, obviously, but is an interesting feature of the congregation's demographics.  This group of men represents roughly 1/3 of the men in the congregation who would commonly be considered eligible for ordination.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Guns and Safer Subjects

Have I mentioned how much I'm enjoying Words with Friends?  It's a Facebook application, and Susie B. and Dorcas B. are faithfully playing the game my way.  I'm pleased to say that I've broken my initial losing streak, but these two persistent players make me work hard for every game I win.  I'm not sure if I win half the time or not.  Dorcas is my sister and Susie is a co-teacher-housemate from the 1970s in Holmes County, OH.  I love them both, for reasons other than their WWF playing expertise, but for that too.


My head is fairly exploding with too much gun violence information.  (Sorry I went there.  Not a good picture.)  So far I've looked on as others have debated the matter on Facebook or in  blogs or opinion pieces or on MennoDiscuss, and I've mostly limited myself to saying amen or muttering less agreeable things under my breath.

The main thing I knew about gun violence at the beginning of this study was that I was against it.  Slowly a few other understandings are floating to the surface, but no clever, sure-shot ways of preventing gun violence, except for everyone to forget that there is such a thing as guns.  I think I'm about 300 years too late with that idea, so I'm back to round one in this consideration.  I do very much wish that everyone who needs a gun of any kind would quietly content themselves with a 22 and a nice all-around shotgun if need be, and a bow and arrow--for varmints and for hunting for food.  After all, how much "killing machine" capability does anyone need?  Not much, as I see it, which I'm sure immediately identifies me as one of the hopelessly clueless individuals referred to in a previous post.

I also wish that every tortured soul who needs help would find help before they lash out  in violent responses to their own pain.  Especially I wish for the light of Christ to shine in the dark places of our broken world and our sin-dirtied lives.

I'd like for Anabaptists to ponder the position of our 16th century Anabaptist forefathers, who were never the perpetrators of violence (except for those shameful Munsterites), although they suffered much violence at the hands of others.  Neither did they take up arms in their own defense.  Zwingli, on the other hand, who did not hesitate to use his authority against the Anabaptists, heroically ventured forth, sword in hand,  in a battle against others from a neighboring canton, and died in the battle.  So much for suffering love in evidence there.

I wish for everyone to exercise the utmost caution around firearms.  Guns, after all, are killing machines--"born and bred" for that very purpose.   Rocks and hammers and knives and cars can be lethal weapons too, of course, but none of them were made primarily--by God or by people--for killing.  I don't like the idea of "sporting" with killing machines at all. There's that cluelessness  again.

As for gun control legislation, I certainly don't foresee dire consequences of the reductio ad absurdum variety, if prudent legislation is enacted, but neither do I see great potential for significant improvement by legislative means.  I definitely think that fewer guns would mean fewer accidents, fewer suicides, and fewer lethal attacks in the heat of the moment, but I'm afraid the gains might be small.  I'm not sure, though, that we shouldn't try to do whatever is possible, even if we can't do things perfectly.  If the life of one of my loved ones were taken by gun violence, I might feel even more strongly that everything that could be done to save a life should have been done.

You won't hear me championing any of the "mystiques" on parade in some of the anti-gun control "noise."  They're not being brandished under that heading of course, but I see the Patriot, the Lone Ranger, and the Macho mystique all lifted high as a worthy standard.  Those aren't my target identities and I'm embarrassed for others  when those mystiques are obviously in their sights.  I do see provision, protection, and self-sacrifice as manly characteristics, but those can all be cultivated entirely apart from guns, and I believe preoccupation with guns actually can be a detriment to developing those characteristics.

And now I think I'll turn my thoughts to safer and less controversial matters--like Words with Friends and a good night's rest.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

An Angel Food Cake Baker in Heaven

Vacation is almost over.  I'm regretting it, but I'm sure that as soon as I'm in the vehicle headed for school tomorrow I'll be glad I'm going there.

I'm teaching Child Development next semester, beginning the "applications" part of the typing class, and preparing the materials for January's current events (C.E.) topic.  We're studying gun violence.  When I told my comp class about the next C.E. topic just before vacation, I think I saw some eager gleams in a few eyes.  I think that's a good sign that there's some spirited debate coming up.  As always, the goal is not to promote a particular position, but to encourage becoming informed, especially being able to identify defensible (Ha.  I made a pun.)  underlying principles that should inform any chosen positions.

In an environment filled with budding rednecks, philosophers, disdainfully-above-it-all academic individuals, and a certain number of fairly clueless or predictably agreeable souls,  seeing students produce good, solid, well-researched and thought-out presentations is always rewarding.  Thankfully, that is often how it turns out.  Many students grimace at the demands of doing these reports, but I suspect some of the best learning experiences of their high school career happen during these projects.   Correct me if I'm wrong--that is, if you're a current or former student.


We buried Fannie Helmuth today.  She was a widow from our church who died less than a month before her 89th birthday.

I loved hearing some of the details of her life, like the fact that she donated 90% of her social security check, and how attending the monthly sewing was a carefully guarded priority for her.  I especially enjoyed the story about the time when she wasn't feeling well the day before the sewing and then had the horrifying thought that maybe if she went downstairs where the sewing was held she might not be able to get back up.  So she did a practice run on her own basement stairway at home the night before.  The effort exhausted her, but she didn't get stuck in the basement, so she forged ahead the next day and went to the sewing as usual.

With an invalid husband to care for (He had multiple sclerosis.), she worked incredibly hard to provide for their family, choosing money-making projects that her five children could help with.  They did some market gardening.  Keeping chickens fueled several enterprises:  an egg delivery route in town, raising and butchering fryers to sell, custom butchering chickens for others, and, most notably, baking tens of thousands of angel food cakes and making oodles of noodles to sell at Farmer's Market and elsewhere.  She baked four angel food cakes last week, before the sudden illness that took her life.  Two of them were served to the family in the meal following the funeral today.  During the obituary/eulogy, Richard Graber pulled out one of those cakes and placed it on the casket--a more fitting tribute than flowers, because of all it symbolized about Fannie's life:  cruel necessity met with resourcefulness, courage, excellence, and faith.

I remember one bleak day after Eli, Fannie's husband, became ill, but before they knew what was wrong, when Fannie stopped by our place. We children should probably have disappeared and given Fannie and my mother some privacy, but we didn't.  Fannie had one thing on her mind:  "I feel so weak," she told my mother tearfully.  "I need people to pray for me."   I don't remember what happened immediately after that, but I do know that people found ways to show care and compassion, and Fannie found ways to cope.  Mom would have told Dad about the conversation with Fannie, and Dad would have told the other ministers, and the ministers would have considered the matter and mobilized the church as needed.  By this means, and by the action of individuals, the needs were shared and met.

David, our bishop, said that they have frequently received anonymous money gifts from someone--from Fannie Helmuth, they suspect.  Susanna thought she recognized the handwriting.  Thinking of Fannie Helmuth giving  away money is profoundly moving.  She was the last person anyone around would have thought should feel obligated to do so.  She lived ever-so-frugally, and worked ever so hard, and even then, in the early years after her husband became ill, there was barely enough money to go around.   They sold the farm where they lived,  and, probably with that money, were able to pay for the materials for a new house that was built on land from the farm where Fannie grew up.  Church people provided the labor.

Two days after Christmas, Fannie had gone to Tennessee where her son lives, and had a pleasant evening with most of her gathered family.  The next morning she became ill with congestive heart failure and was taken to the hospital.  At one point she rallied enough to converse, but then lost out again and slipped into an unresponsive state.  She died late Wednesday night.


At the cemetery, I noted an unusual number of graves marked with wooden "stakes" with a handwritten name on each one.  They mark the location of future gravestones.  LaVon Bontrager's was placed about a year ago.  Quite a few have died in the past year.  One of them marked the grave of Barbara Nisly, Fannie's sister, who died only five weeks ago.

Elizabeth H., who was walking out of the cemetery with me, put it succinctly when she said, "Well, this means we'll all have to move up a notch [to fill the empty spaces].  I'm so glad we moved here in time to learn to know all these wonderful old people."

These wonderful old people.  Here today.  Gone tomorrow.  I can't feel happy about that prospect, but thinking again today about living and dying well gives me hope that future partings will not be entirely without underlying joy.  That's how it was today when we buried Fannie Helmuth.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Things That Please and Amuse

Joel offered to play a real game of Scrabble with me last night at the tail end of our traditional New Year's Day Japanese food extravaganza with Hiromi's sister and her family.

Shane and Hilda also joined the game.  Very nice.  Knowing the word "roux" from teaching nutrition (cooking) class at school came in very handy when I had an "x" to find a place for.


Dorcas says that Tristan is extraordinarily fond of the Japanese daikon pickles Shane made from the daikon radishes he grew this fall in the garden.  If Tristan sees them on the table, he wants a piece of daikon pickle in every bite of food.  There's an Asian toddler disguised under that blond hair of his . . . 

We used to make our daikon pickles with a naturally fermented process similar to that used in making sauerkraut (although the radishes were sliced in rounds instead of grated), and we liked those pickles.  Then Hiromi learned how good they are if one more step is added to the process.  After the liquid is drained off, finely chopped fresh ginger root and soy sauce are added and the pickles are allowed to absorb those flavors while being pressed.  They're amazing,  just as 14-month-old Tristan is, for already recognizing this.

We use a similar process for making cucumber pickles during the summer.  If Hiromi can't get the long skinny Asian cucumbers he loves for these pickles, he splits them lengthwise and scoops out the soft center.  He's that sure that he doesn't want that juicy stuff in the pickles.  Sometimes I can't watch (too wasteful), and sometimes I eat the stuff he cuts out.


Christmas vacation is an amazing gift for everyone subjected to the rigors of a school environment.  This length and timing for vacation is not quite unique to the academic world, but almost.  One of the few things I remember from my college commencement address is this (speaking of how things change after students enter the work force):  "Then, Christmas vacation will be a day in December."  Two weeks sounds so much better.