Prairie View

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Last Sunday's sermon was about "enduring hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."  It was Brad N.'s first sermon at Center and for us it was a worthwhile listening experience.

Afterward, Arlyn N. (grade school principal) said publicly that he heard from a foreign missionary who observed that it's now more common than it used to be for short term missionaries to arrive on the field with a notable sense of entitlement. Arlyn was lamenting that fact and musing on why it is so.

Several months ago, I had written parenthetically here about this problem in the context of education.  Later, I read the writings of another teacher who wrote far more extensively and persuasively about this than I had.  This teacher also made a connection between students who feel entitled and eventually grow up unprepared for Christian ministry.  Suffice it to say that it's a phenomenon in evidence to more than one  teacher whom I know and respect.

I wondered how a sense of entitlement would look in a student.  Within one three-day span, I accumulated quite a list of how it might look, with each point below being something students sometimes do:

1.  Asking teachers to provide supplies that students are expected to supply.
2.  Frequent requests for privileges outside of normal classroom procedures.
3.  An expectation for exemption from whole-class assignments.
4.  An expectation for being excused from assigned jobs.
5.  Interrupting when a teacher is talking, or blurting out information without consideration of the disruption it may cause.
6.  Adjusting windows/ventilation to one's own comfort without inquiring about the preferences of others in the room.
7.  Appropriating for one's own use whatever is momentarily unattended.
8.  Expecting exemption from consequences for insufficient effort, carelessness, or lack of progress.
9.  Preoccupation with having fun, and campaigning for many diversions from the normal routines.
10. Frequent complaints about inconvenience or challenging requirements.
11.  Infrequent expressions of gratitude.
12.  Frequent disregard of deadlines.

I'm pleased to say that I also see many examples of behavior that is far more exemplary than the items on the above list.  Nevertheless, I grow weary sometimes of saying "no," issuing reminders, and teaching manners, when most of it would be unnecessary if there were no troublesome underlying sense of entitlement.  It's worthwhile noting that children always start out in life with a gargantuan sense of entitlement, and if they arrive at a mature age with that sense intact, it's probably because the adults responsible for their training have not done a very good job.  That's why I'll have to go right on saying "no," issuing reminders, and teaching manners, and why every parent needs the grace to do the same.

I've had a fresh object lesson on how it looks when aging adults operate out of a king-sized entitlement mentality, probably from lifelong habits.  Folks, it "aint" pretty, and, trust me, you don't want anyone you love to go there.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Conversations, Cars, Careers and Careening

Today is moving day for Grant and Clarissa.  They've been working hard to get ready, and the goal is in sight.


Last night the comp class met at Marvin Yutzy's house for our comp class party.  We had a wonderful time with the telling of many stories around our supper table.  And yes, with all the inevitable side trips, telling about our summer plans can take up most of an evening.  Everyone plans to start the summer with a trip to Guatemala--the destination for the Spanish class trip.  Sometime after that many of the students plan to participate in their youth group's mission trip--to Hutchinson again this summer.  Sleeping a lot, playing softball every Friday evening and driving around town, going swimming, and getting a tan came up a number of times--sometimes in jest, but also reading, working in the garden, and cooking.  Employment possibilities (or dreams perhaps) ranged from Starbucks and Absolutely Flowers to "working for my dad" or another employer in a Mennonite-owned business.  Family trips were mentioned.

The romances of friends and siblings got a bit of attention, as did prospects for new babies in the extended family.  One class member hopes to become an aunt this summer for the first time and I hope to welcome our third grandchild in August.

After one student lamented that "this is our last summer" [between years of school] and another student suggested that "next year is our last year of high school" sounded a lot better, a brief discussion of how girls should decide what to do after high school came up.  Planning for a career is a little awkward in case marriage and family are part of the future, and planning on marriage and family with no career goals seems a little presumptuous too.

I didn't think to say it then, but I wish I had thought to say that I think spending time after high school either as a volunteer or in a job that is related to a career path you feel drawn to makes some sense.  If you do decide to pursue further training in that field, you will be able to do so, better prepared to make use of the investment.  I've also observed young people being able to earn money and acquire other kinds of valuable life experience while "biding their time" in a job not in their preferred line of work.  The funds and the experience can help them advance toward accomplishing long-range goals, or provide direction for the future.  I really believe also that sometime in life every young person should experience the demands of labor all day, every day, on a regular schedule--for the insight it provides into others lives, for the respect it engenders for those who do this, and for the reflection that is possible when the hands are busy and the brain is free.  I don't think filling all such time with music is a great idea.

Honeymoon stories told earlier by the students' parents appeared to be a recurring theme at one point in last night's conversation.  One set of parents went snorkeling, and got very worried when they realized that the current was carrying them far away from shore.  One other couple also had a memorable beach-and-ocean honeymoon event.  The bride sat on the beach and watched while the groom went "surf sailing."  That wasn't what it was called, and I'm not sure I'm picturing it correctly, but "he's not the kind to take lessons or anything" so he set sail without lessons.  Things didn't go too badly until he too began to realize that he was a long way from shore and wasn't sure how to get back.  With his limited sailing knowledge, he got the sails set to move sideways, and eventually got to a place where he could land safely.

Another student summarized his parents' "honeymoon" by saying they "milked cows."  They didn't have a honeymoon, in other words.  They were Amish at the time.

The pronunciations of Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, Arkansas, and Dubois all merited some discussion.  Foraging and sushi and collecting stamps and rocks, and former friends turned Goth, and flying helicopters, parachuting, mountain climbing--can you tell we covered  a lot of territory last night?


I had the foresight to trade vehicles with Hiromi yesterday morning so I could be assured of having lights on the way home from the party.  His old clunker has a very simple pull-out-the-knob light switch.  Everything worked out well, except that the windshield wiper malfunctioned.  Turning the "wheel" on the turn signal lever seemed to have no effect on the action.  It alternated between long pauses and steady speeds, but I could not speed it up or slow it down or shut it off entirely, so the wipers busily screeched over a dry windshield most of the way home.  Hiromi dismally noted that we might have to junk this car too because we can't drive it without functioning wipers, and the motor will surely burn up if we can't shut it off.  Have I mentioned lately that I really miss my minivan?

BTW, we have several seats for a 1998 Mercury Villager (the above-mentioned minivan) that are "living" in our study that we need gone.  They are gray-upholstered captain's seats, and came from the center section of the vehicle.  If anyone who has a vehicle like this and wants to replace seats is interested,  let us know.  They haven't been used much.  The first owner, and we, had them out of the vehicle much of the time.


The annual softball game between the grade school and high school proceeded yesterday under soggy conditions, both on the ball field and in the atmosphere.  I couldn't believe it was worth the discomfort to anyone. People driving during that time would have needed wipers the whole time, and people got back to the high school wet and cold.  It was clearly not mothers making the decision on whether the playing should proceed then or not.  


During the lunch hour yesterday, Richard Y. brought some wheat plants he had pulled up from his field after his daughter Lois had told him I was asking her if her dad could tell how his wheat had fared during our hard freeze this week.  He showed us how to feel for the slight bulge in the stalk where the tiny head had begun to develop.  Then the stalk can be carefully slit lengthwise, and the head (less than an inch long) is revealed.  Yesterday all the heads still looked the right shade of pale green for this stage of development.  If the freeze killed it, it will soon turn white.  Sometimes, if a freeze occurs early enough in the wheat's development, additional tillers are produced, and heads develop in those new stalks, but yields are always reduced because the number of new stalks will not equal the number produced initially.

On my way to school I saw Joe Y. walk out into his field after the freeze to check the wheat, and heard later that he said every stalk was frozen solid and broke easily when handled.  LaVerne M. said he thinks the crop is gone any time the stalks are frozen solid.   I'm sure there's a lot of praying happening, and farmers like Richard, Joe, and LaVerne will keep checking over the next week or two to see if the color of those  "infant" heads still looks healthy. Drought and freezing temperatures have been the concerns so far.  If the crop survives these, there is still the chance of hail, and, although it's hard to imagine, torrential rains at harvest time, both of which could potentially destroy or diminish the quality of the crop.


"Careening toward the end of school" is how Norma puts it when describing what's happening in our lives right now.  Even when each task is carefully lined up and tackled in turn, inevitable crises in school or outside of it intervene and must be dealt with, so things never quite seem under control.

Lord, help us all.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Great Quotes

Wendell Berry:  "People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health . . . and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food."

Hippocrates (460 B. C.) :  "Let food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food."

E. B. White:   "I would feel  more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority."

Same Song, Second Verse

We've got ice to chip off the windshields this morning and a prediction of 24 degrees for tonight.  That would be record breaking cold for this date.  It's a dismal and chilly prospect and casts the survival of lots of vegetation in further doubt.


Last night, however, we had a family celebration, and pretended we didn't have a care in the world.  One of the new girlfriends in the family is visiting, and Judith Hoover got an introduction to the local portion of the Miller family.  She is here to visit Benji primarily.  That was one reason to celebrate.

Shane and Dorcas are expecting another son in August.  That was another reason to celebrate.

I can't tell you yet about one more reason to celebrate, because it's a family secret.

The green cupcakes for dessert (baked by Judith and Heidi--or was it Kristi) were in celebration of Earth Day.

The main reason to celebrate, however, was because Dad's tumor is gone.  The mother and children at Myron's house wrote a song in honor of this milestone and a group of grandchildren sang it together.  We all joined in on the final chorus.  I wish I had memorized the words, but the main parts I remember are repetitions of Alleluia"" and "They looked everywhere but the tumor wasn't there."  It was a familiar tune.

Lois showed pictures of their recent trip to Australia and Indonesia, and Lowell showed pictures of Liberia.

Our meal was a carry-in, with people bringing whatever they wanted.  Family specialty foods were especially welcomed.  I provided some makizushi and barazushi (with the makizushi leftovers) and oriental cabbage noodle salad.  Rhoda served an Italian salad, Shane and Dorcas served rice and curry, Lowell and Judy brought plain rice with "buffalo wings" to eat with it, and Joel and Hilda brought a delicious veggie and meat "stew" and Lois provided chicken and cupcakes.


I goofed on identifying Joel's car we're planning to use.  It's an Eclipse.  The Infiniti was a car Shane once had--at the same time as Joel had the Eclipse.  I'm afraid that my ineptitude and lack of commitment to discernment in such matters is showing.  

The Infiniti would actually be a good match for me. in appearance at least.  It's a sober looking car and offers a comfortable ride, but its powerful engine is what made it attractive to Shane.  Unstellar gas mileage and high-priced parts made it less appealing, however, and he ended up replacing it a long time ago.  The name stayed stuck in a remote corner of my brain apparently, however.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Quotes from a Columnist

The context of the column by Michael Gerson in today's paper is the Boston Marathon tragedy and the private and public response since then--especially the desire to comment and explain.  You can read the entire column here.

I loved several quotes from this column and will share them here.

1.  In this one, Gerson was quoting Albert Camus:  "Too many people now climb onto the cross merely to be seen from a greater distance, even if they have to trample somewhat on the one who has been there so long."

2.  "Facts without commentary lack context.  Commentary without facts is a gelatinous mass of sentiment and prejudice."

3.  "Truth really does set us free.  The discernment of a common set of facts is the only basis for constructive, democratic disagreement.  Otherwise, we inhabit fundamentally incommensurable ideological worlds, and power becomes the only way to choose among them."

Friday, April 19, 2013

Students and Soup

The Pilgrim yearbooks came today.  I looked through my copy and admired everyone's cheerfully bright garments (I knew what to call them after I heard one of the students talk about how saturated all the colors were), and then I set out on a bit of an obsessive compulsive mission.  I counted students that get an education under the Pilgrim banner.  Here are the statistics:

Classroom Students:

Grades 1-4--27 students
Grades 5-8--27 students
Grades 9-12--27 students

Total:  81 students

Homeschooled Students:

Grades 1-12--82 students


Our soup experiment at school turned out OK.  It was thick and hearty.  If I had followed a typical recipe I would probably have added more broth or tomato juice, and I certainly could have added more water, but I decided to leave it alone, and it was just fine.  We had about a gallon left.  I'm sure that some people brought more than their assigned amount of meat, and perhaps other ingredients also.

Susanna and Lois spearheaded the making of fresh hot ciabatta bread--5 loaves.  It's a chewy Italian bread which we ate with butter and honey or strawberry jam.  Really good.

I had one near-disaster with the soup when I added some black pepper.  I aimed to shake some pepper in from the big plastic dispenser in the cupboard and accidentally lifted the "scooping" lid instead.  Waaaaaaay too much pepper.  I quickly dipped out the pepper pile into a nearby cup, and then stirred in the remainder.  By then I had already divided the soup into two kettles, so I mixed them back together briefly to dilute the pepper in the one kettle.  I could still taste a slight excess, but it wasn't too bad.


At school, we weeded and cleared out dead stalks and mulched in the flower beds.  They look much relieved.  In spite of a chilly start to the day, the weather felt spring-like again by afternoon and it was good to be working outside.

One night next week has temperatures predicted to go down to 30.  Spring keeps getting assaulted by winter of late, and can't seem to get the upper hand for long.   So far it doesn't seem to me to be a bad year for being very late with my gardening ventures.


Floods, Freezes, Friday Food and Student Activity

Flooding is very serious in the Kalona, IA area, as I'm learning via Facebook.  I'm seeing posts from my cousin Evan's wife and her sister-in-law, Carolyn--married to Landon.  Evan and Laverta's house is close to the English River, as is the home of Evan's parents, Joe and Mary, my aunt and uncle.  I've slept in Joe and Mary's basement several times.  It's a friendly place, with ticking and chiming sounds from the watch and clock repair shop that occupies part of the basement.

Evan and Laverta's basement is flooded.  She spent hours carrying things upstairs.  Cut off from others by road closings, and with a husband confined to a wheelchair, this must have been a desperate and lonely operation.  She posted, saying that water was now coming in every window, it was a foot deep in the basement, and the sump pump had quit.  The house had gone cold when the furnace was flooded, there was a stiff wind blowing, and snow was predicted.

My sister Linda saw somewhere that the English River was to crest this morning at 21 feet.  Flood stage is 14 feet.

Carolyn posted that at Joe and Mary's house, the basement floor buckled under the pressure of saturated soil.  They could hear jars of canned food breaking, after giving up the struggle to save things and keep the water out.

i heard several references to the flood of 1993, and no one believed it would get worse than that, but it has.

I love the setting of Joe and Mary's house.  It's high above the river, but in plain sight of it--among trees and an abundance of birds.  Before they decided to build there, the elevation was carefully established as being high enough to not be threatened by flooding.  Carolyn had told me they knew that all of Kalona would get flooded before they did.  I wonder how the town is faring now.


I've been up since five, and have watched the temperature drop over the past hour.  It's now at 29 degrees, under a clear sky--at least what I can see of it at 6:30 with daylight having dawned.  Hearing about Iowa's flooding makes freezing seem a little simpler in some ways.  For us it's the loss of potential; for them it's the loss of things they've "owned" and enjoyed for a long time.

I still grieve for all the farmers and gardeners I know and love.  Two years of drought and heat and now a late freeze, makes the potential loss of the wheat crop feel like a very cruel blow.


We had a small bit of panic yesterday at school when Norma discovered that the Friday hot lunch  "void" was for today and next week instead of next week and the week following as the rest of us thought.  We could have of course, just all brought our lunch from home as we usually do on other days, but what's the fun in that?  We scrambled and came up with a plan during the final hour of school.  The three girl students from the Richard Y. household offered to provide fresh-baked hot bread.  The rest of us will bring 2 cups each of a vegetable soup ingredient.  People who want desert can bring their own.  People sitting in one section of the learning center bring broth or tomato juice, another section provides meat, and the two remaining sections provide vegetables.  Everything is to be cooked or parboiled before it's brought.

When I was explaining the plan, one concerned student asked what would happen if everyone brought celery and onions for the soup.  I said I thought that we would have a good attitude and an adventurous spirit and [enjoy the food].  I can't remember for sure how I finished that sentence.


We're also doing a spring spruce-up and mulching of the landscaped areas around the school building today.  Every time we do this, I wish that we had yews along the back of the north bed by the school entrance.  We planted some there, and they did not survive the first season--perhaps because that perfect size was not as well adapted to our growing conditions as a bigger-mature-sized variety would have been.  The landscaper who originally recommended them also had survival problems with the ones he installed.  We hoped to avoid the need for annual pruning.  I guess we accomplished that, but not in the way we had hoped.  At first, the spouting was not functioning right and when it rained, copious amounts of water dumped into the corner of the bed.  That might have been what actually killed the yews, since they will not tolerate standing water.  The beds around the church entrance need a little updating too.  Making sure the low-pressure watering system is in good repair and being operated properly seems to be needed also.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Good News for Dad

My dad got some great news today.  There is currently no sign of the tumor that had been overlooked during his first surgery for colon cancer, and was later discovered.  The tumor disappeared during the time he was taking chemo and radiation and food supplements.


At the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, Marian found a staff of caring people, and some help for alleviating the nausea and pain she has had ever since her surgery nearly seven weeks ago.  The "staging" sounds more worrisome than it did earlier--not necessarily because her condition has worsened.  There is more mystery about why the staging was at one earlier, than about why it is now several notches higher.  She has an appointment in Tulsa next week again.


Betty Y. is released from treatment now, having had only surgery and no chemo or radiation.


And now, moving beyond medical reports--Today's Hutchinson News contained an article about an interesting  development with Pleasantview Academy (formerly Elreka), where all the children from the Pleasantview area attended during grade school from 1958 to some time in the 1990s.  The Haven school district no longer has plans to make use of the facility, and it will likely be offered for lease or sale.


We're in the middle of some dramatic weather.  At school today, it got so dark outside that the security lights came on.  Lightening, thunder, downpours, and marble-sized hail all stole the show at various times.  Tonight freezing rain is predicted.  It will likely turn to snow by morning and continue into tomorrow.  Most troublesome of all is the prospect of temperatures falling to 27 degrees tomorrow night--for a record low for this date.  Farmers are worried about their wheat.  A recent freeze was thought to have been timed so that there was little damage, but things are farther along now, and the damage could worsen accordingly.

Last year we saw people harvesting wheat on our way home from Kingman Lake on Memorial Day.  That will certainly not happen this year, even if the crop escapes freeze damage.  It's a much later season all around.

Later:  The latest prediction is 25 degrees here tonight.  I'm feeling a little sick for all my farmer friends and family, and am praying for a miracle.


Shane made an unwelcome discovery within the past few days.  A large quantity of beef, pork, and chicken that had been processed for sale to retail customers thawed while stored in a walk-in freezer that malfunctioned.  The meat quality has not deteriorated so far, but will need to be refrozen.  The packaging doesn't look very good, and he is selling it for half price.


I'd better shut this off before the lightening does a number on our phone (and internet) connection.


Later:  I'm mourning the "passing" of my 1998 Mercury Villager minivan.  Only 15 months ago, the timing belt was replaced for a pretty price, but it went bad again and apparently broke while it was running to warm up on a cold morning, creating havoc when it did so.  It looks like I might switch from driving Li'l Red to the Infiniti.  For those who can't picture either one, you can just think redneck mini and aging sporty--neither of which I fancy as self-descriptors.  I am grateful though for the availability of these vehicles, and for our generous sons who offered them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mental Alterations

I would like to add several items to the chart on the Site Selection Ballot.  I raised my hand to do that at the public meeting when Marvin asked what should be added, but he didn't see my hand--probably not surprising since I was sitting along an outside aisle.  I said it later instead.  I would also choose a different descriptor on at least one item.

It's a 3-column chart with the center column naming a factor such as "Accessibility."  The two outside columns rate each location on that factor, using describing words.   The format was very easy to read and the effort was a help in creating clarity.

 On site prep costs, I would choose the words "Expensive"" and "Less Expensive"" rather than "Expensive"" and "Minimal Cost."  As I recall the numbers the lower number is between 1/3 and 1/2 of the other, and I think $37,000 does not sound like a minimal cost.

On the future expansion potential, I note simply that the Partridge Road site has plenty of room for as much expansion as needed for a school.  The original chart calls the potential "limited."  If we could have considered the  community building possibility as a separate item--to be constructed elsewhere possibly, this line would say  "Adequate" for both locations.  Also, as soon as the combined high school and grade school become a reality, the Distance to Pilgrim High factor would read "zero" in both columns.

The two factors I would like to add are "Opportunity Cost" and "Natural Environment".  I should probably define "opportunity cost".  It means something everyone is very familiar with--something like this:  If you do one thing, it often makes another thing impossible.  For example, if you go the the youth group activity on a Thursday evening, you won't be able to be at home studying during that time.  Or, if you decide to travel to Europe in early July, you won't be present for the family reunion on July 4.

In our case, the specific opportunity cost I see has to do with location for a business and for wise stewardship of productive farmland.  The Dean Road property is ideal as a business location, but it will never be used for that if we build there.  It's also very good farmland.  It will likely never be returned to production if we build there. On the flip side of this issue is the reality that a school/community building location does not require ideal farmland or an ideal business location. Granted, neither business or agriculture are priorities above all others, but it's clear to me that on both counts the Partridge Road site would have minimal "opportunity cost" and the Dean Road site would have a high "opportunity cost."

On "Natural Environment" the Dean Road property has minimal appeal while the Partridge Road property has extravagant appeal.

Because I believe them to reflect reality I will mentally make these alterations on the chart before I cast my ballot.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Hiro's Brain and Conscience

To many of you, Ben Carson's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on February 15, 2013 is old news.  It is to me too actually.  I listened to it immediately after it was presented,  listened to it again just now, and heard it at least once in between.  My initial reaction and my current impression is exactly the same--sensible and non-partisan and inoffensive.  You can listen for yourself  here.  Lee N. quoted from it at the public meeting organized by the feasibility committee when he said that an eagle is capable of flight because it has a left wing and a right wing.  Saying that in Washington, of course, has connotations that it did not have at Cedar Crest, except as people there considered the original context.

I was taken aback several days after the speech to see Cal Thomas roundly criticize Carson for the content of the speech--not because Carson was wrong in his position, but because he should not have politicized a National Prayer Breakfast.  In the meantime,  many conservatives couldn't get over how heroic Carson's actions were for telling it like it is and embarrassing the president properly.  So which was it?  Was Carson acting with courage or indiscretion?

I thought it over for several days and concluded that Thomas needed to get over himself--as did those who saw it as a conservative coup de'etat and an Obama embarrassment.  Just because some are accustomed to politicizing "everything," it's not safe to assume that others act in the same way.  I believe it is actually possible to do what I see Carson as having done--rising above the straitjacket of political correctness to address compelling issues truthfully and fearlessly, with right motives, no matter the context or cost.  Certainly, if there were any political parties in Old Testament times and during the Reformation in Europe, the prophets and the Anabaptists' messages were not tailored to fit any particular partisan agenda.  They aimed to speak truth, and their words fell differently on people's ears, depending on how their hearts were prepared to receive truth.

I don't live inside Carson's conscience or brain, but from this great distance, they both appear to me to be in good shape.


 If I had been a student in the junior college Hiromi attended, I believe he would have been my hero a long time before he became my Hiro.  This is the story I have heard bits and pieces of at various times.

The technical school Hiromi attended developed financial problems after he decided to attend there.  He had enrolled, based on the promise of receiving a certain kind of education.  Many other students had the same expectations.  When it became clear that the administration was failing to deliver as promised, students felt cheated.  Because Hiromi was student council president, others looked to him to help resolve these problems.

Complicating matters was the strong on-campus presence of the Communist Party--among students.  They were antagonistic toward the administration, which they viewed as right-wing, pro-government traditionalists.    Hiromi had to keep working closely with both sides.  If he alienated the administration, they would not treat students fairly.  If he alienated students, he could not help them get what they needed.

Hiromi was not particularly sympathetic to the Communist Party, but students saw that he was willing to take on the administration on their behalf, so they respected him enough not to take matters into their own hands and break out in frustration and anger.  Because he had attended a military prep school before he enrolled at the technical college, the administration could make themselves believe he was on their side--the traditionalist, government side.  But no one trusted him implicitly, except those who had not already taken sides.
Hiromi plodded along, writing article after article for student publications.  Keeping everyone informed, meeting with the people he needed to see--it was all very exhausting.

In the end, the effort was only partially successful.  The students and the administration both were a little displeased with him, but it turned out better for students than if Hiromi had not faithfully represented their interests.

Hiromi learned only after we were married and went back to Japan to visit how significant his work as student council president was in his employment prospects.  He learned this from an aging company president we went to visit.  Hiromi had worked for him straight out of college.  When Hiromi reconnected with him again in 1984--at least 15 years after he had left his employment, the president told him a story.

As the owner of an electronics store, he needed additional help and approached someone at the technical college and asked which graduate they would recommend.  They showed him a list of graduates, likely containing some information beyond their names.  Whoever showed him the list pointed to Hiromi's record and said "You don't want him.  He's a troublemaker."

Presumably without batting an eye, the store owner said, "He's the one I want."  When he told Hiromi the story later, he finished with "I was never sorry."  That's my Hiro.

In Japan, cheerleaders are always males.  My Hiro is my biggest cheerleader.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Under My Thumb

Grant loaned me Li'l Red (his mini-truck) since my minivan is in the shop.  I drove it earlier today and got along fine, and I drove it to Arlington church to hear the last Pilgrim program tonight.  Things went downhill afterward--flat terrain notwithstanding.

Li'l Red has been upstaged by what I call Big Red--the truck that Jared provided for Grant.  (Sorry I can't provide any more details than its color, but I think it must be a pretty cool truck.)  It's a perk, I suppose, for working for someone with a vehicle dealership as well as a farm.  That leaves Grant and Clarissa with three vehicles between them and they're letting me use one of them.  Big Red towed my minivan to Fairview yesterday, so he's good for something other than looks.

Some things about Li'l Red do not really rhyme with my persona.  I'm sure I'm a very poor representative for RealTree or BowTech, but the front and back windshield each contain one of these hunter-type decals.  A long aerial waves from the top of the cab.  I got some strange looks earlier today in this little machine.

Tonight after the program when I started to leave I got Li'l Red started just fine, clutching and shifting as needed, and headed into the driveway to leave the church parking lot.  What was going to be a quick flick of the headlight switch, however, did not materialize.  I couldn't locate it.  I ground to a halt, and several vehicles behind me were forced to do the same while I fumbled.  Definitely a proud moment.  One little horizontal wheel thingie labeled "lights" did a great job of brightening and dimming the interior lights, but brought no illumination to the area outside and in front of the vehicle.  I waved people around me and then, in the dark, pulled a little farther off to the side.

I tried again some of the things I had tried earlier.  Pull back on the big knob.  It made a humming/scratchy/buzzing sound but produced no light.  Wrong again.  Push on some likely-looking black horizontal things below the horizontal wheel.  The right side of the horizontal switches sort of disappeared into the dashboard, but still no lights.

My imagination churned along and I wondered if this vehicle perhaps did not have functional lights, and no one remembered to inform me.  It would be easy, after all, for Grant and Clarissa to leave it parked at home after dark.  If that were the case, Li'l Red would have to spend the night in the church parking light.  As for me, well, fortunately, my rarely-used cell phone was charged and available.  I called Grant, who did not answer.

I called Hiromi who had opted to stay home.  He called Grant, who answered.  Grant called me.  Those two black horizontal switches were for the headlights.  On the left side, I needed to sort of pull them out toward the driver's side door.  "They're a little wiggly, but they always come on," Grant said.  "One is for the parking lights and the other for the headlights."  I did as he said, pushing/pulling on both switches and the lights came on.  I thanked him and drove out.

I headed toward the after-party at Steve and Evelyn's.  Then I began to wonder what my chances were of getting those lights to cooperate again.  Besides, it was getting late by then.  Probably the snacks had been served and I would arrive on the scene in an untimely manner.  If I went, I would need to leave soon again anyway because I could not bear starting out this busy week tired from staying up too late.  By the time I got to Partridge Road, I had convinced myself that going straight home was the wise thing to do.

After I turned off, I remembered that my parking lights were probably still on.  Aren't those usually off when the headlights are on?  I'd better turn those off.  I pushed only one of those switches, and complete darkness prevailed. Oh no.  I clutched and slowed and pushed/pulled desperately on both switches again, and the lights sometimes went on and always stayed off unless I kept my thumb firmly depressing those switches.  If Marvin and Lois or Linda were looking out as I passed their houses, they must have wondered what was wrong with that vehicle or its driver.  And that's how I drove home--three miles, my thumb hard on the switches.  This was a bit of a trick while I shifted.  There was no extra hand for the steering wheel at those times.

After I parked it here at home, I committed myself to getting this figured out--once and for all.  I pushed and pulled just like I thought I had done in the church driveway when I got the lights to come on.  No luck.  It was a short-lived commitment.    I gathered my things and headed for the house.

Ah.  So good to be home.  If I ever need those lights again, I'll tackle them in the daylight.  No.  Wait.  I won't need them in the daylight.  Well.  Whatever.  I'm good for now.

I often thank God for my minivan.  I really hope it doesn't have a terminal illness.  Li'l Red is good for something, but he and I don't seem to understand each other very well.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

It Seemed Good . . .

Within the past few weeks, independently of each other, several people asked our feasibility committee to consider floating a survey ballot to assess the interest in separating the community building and school building options before a final yea or nay vote is taken for the "big package."  There is apparently some thinking that only a small minority would be in favor of considering this, and that floating such a ballot would be unnecessary.  I don't know whether that thinking is based on hard data or on hearsay.  If there is data, I wish I could see it.  The hearsay I'm exposed to goes along a different line.  I have considered offering to gather such data myself.  If I were to do it, it would certainly require some additional intestinal fortitude and a lot of time.

One thing I have learned in similar situations in the past is that "hard data" can be misleading also.  Here's how that can happen.

Someone crafts a ballot that contains a proposal to which people can respond with a vote supporting the proposal or a vote that does not support the proposal.  In our culture particularly, the "support the proposal" wording is loaded with freight.  No one wants to be unsupportive, so when a ballot is crafted in this manner, we tend to "support" even if we have serious misgivings about much of the proposal.  To remain true to our real feelings and to try to be honest, if we have serious misgivings and are comfortable with expressing them, we add a comment that details our reservations.  Yet, when the results are tallied, only the "yes" or "no" votes are likely to make it to the public report of the results.  I choose  to believe that no dishonesty is intended.  The method simply has limitations for discovering people's real preferences because the options have been narrowed so "severely."

In other words, a ballot worded in this way is not really asking "What do you think?" It's saying, ""We're giving you only two options.  Which one do you like best (or least)?"   As I see it now, a "no" vote is the reasonable option if there is significant unease about the proposal.  I didn't see this several decades ago.  I always voted "yes" in support of a proposal if I could possibly find a way to do so.  My way was usually to articulate my reservations in the comments.

I first saw clearly the benefits and limitations of this two-options-only phenomenon in a "use of language" research project I did  in college, and in that project, I tried to compensate for the limitations.  As I did so, I saw that it made my results much more messy, but also gave me a far more realistic picture than would have been possible otherwise.  I suspected that many of the people I knew who had a Pennsylvania Dutch language background would be more likely to use standard English than people who had spoken English over a long lifetime.  I used a professionally prepared survey and asked people in a wide variety of age groups, both among PA Dutch speakers and lifetime-English speakers, but all having lived in the same area for many years, how they're used to saying certain things.  The survey gave them a number of choices, but allowed them to add wording that was not on the list.  Hiromi helped me wrestle the data into some coherent form, and I wrote a paper on the results.  My initial "suspicion" was  essentially confirmed, but that confirmation had to be expressed in a very nuanced form because the data demanded it.  I ended up with many shades of gray rather than a black or white conclusion.

Designing ballots or expressing results in a nuanced form is arduous work, and, when people are particularly production, action, or results-oriented, taking the necessary time and putting forth the necessary effort may simply not happen.  Shades of gray can be too inconvenient.

I do understand that sometimes a "support/don't support" proposal is the best way to proceed.  Just recently, I recommended that to someone who  was leading a fractious group of people.  I believe, however, that the highest standards of Christian conduct call for people in positions of responsibility, especially when spending group money is involved, to make proposals with a great deal of finesse and discernment.

The phrase "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" persisted in coming to me as I was writing this.  When I looked it up, I saw that it was part of the statement that James publicized after the Jerusalem conference when matters were settled that insured that the Christian church would not develop along separate Jewish and Gentile lines.  I idealize reaching consensus in group decisions in such a way that everyone can say at the end "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us."

The passage in Acts 15 that gives details about the Jerusalem conference tells us this:

1.  It took place after "no small dissension and disputation" in Antioch.  People involved in the disagreement were missionaries (Paul and Barnabas), teachers from Judea, and local brethren.  V. 2
2.  Those most closely involved in the conflict decided to seek counsel outside their small group.  V. 2
3.  They traveled to Jerusalem and consulted the church leaders there, who were the "experts" in the matter.   In this group were one or more persons in the following categories--1)  Grew up in the same household as Jesus 2) Walked and lived with Jesus as a disciple 3) Saw a vision directly related to the matter at hand 4)  Were present when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost 5) Had been ordained as leaders
4.  Impassioned speech from a visionary (Peter) occurred during the meeting, and Paul spoke from a missionary perspective. V. 7-12
5.  The impassioned speech was followed by silence--not rebuke--and then by listening to the missionaries. v. 13
6.  The leader (James) reviewed the evidence given by the "seer of the vision"  and the confirming  word of the Old Testament prophets.  Although not mentioned specifically, he presumably also considered the witness of the missionaries, and made a pronouncement.  vv.13-19
7.  A letter was drafted and distributed that contained the following clause:  "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;" V. 28

Here are some of the takeaway lessons I see in the above account:

1.  Those on the front lines of carrying out a task are often the first to feel the friction that results from unsound policy.  In the above case the task was "helping build the kingdom of God" and the missionaries were on the front lines of the task.  Our primary task is the same as theirs, and missionaries are still on the front lines of carrying it out. Just as was true at the Jerusalem conference, we ought to take their perspective seriously.  I've heard a number of former missionaries express reservations about an ambitious building project.  Center has, by my count, 47 members who have served or are presently serving in foreign missions.  Hearing from some of  them has influenced my thinking.  They are concerned about the opportunity cost of monies diverted away from missions.  I also hear concerns about what ostentatious construction would  reveal about our community's values, or perhaps how it will shape them in the future.
2.  Visionaries are a benefit in the process of finding the best solutions--not to be hushed or dismissed.   Peter didn't always get it right, but at the Jerusalem conference he certainly did.  Peter's history in instructive here.  After his initial vision, he had seemed to have forgotten its message at one point, and Paul "withstood him to the face"  on the matter, whereupon Peter changed his mind and promoted again the message he had received in the original vision.  At the Jerusalem conference, Peter and Paul had no apparent disagreement, and Peter was the one who made a defense of the position Paul had earlier confronted him on.  Paul added additional data to the record, and both of them spoke in favor of the position that James eventually articulated.  Confrontation is part of this story, but the end of the story spells agreement. I am enormously inspired by visionaries, (who are often seen to be confrontive) and find promotion of the status quo necessary sometimes, but far less satisfying.
3.  Passion and patience both are appropriate when a thorny matter is being discussed.  I do not always find quiet meetings to be synonymous with good meetings.  I see a lack of passion as a problem, as is a lack of patience, of course.  On the latter, there is more ready agreement than on the former, due to our cultural sensibilities.  Those above who were involved in "no small dissension" were all believers, and they took their differences all the way to Jerusalem.  After the final decision was made there, the differences apparently were no longer divisive.  I find this approach reassuring--vigorous, open discussion, with all the "cards" in plain view to everyone before a decision is reached.
4.  Agreement on the ultimate purpose of our efforts is absolutely foundational to a good outcome.  This seemed to be the case at the Jerusalem conference.  I have less confidence that this is the case in our community right now--on ultimate purposes or intermediate ones.
5.  Laying upon others no greater burden than is necessary is a godly act.  It's quite a different matter to decide how to spend our own money than it is to decide how other people should spend theirs.  Undertaking major construction assumes that financial help will be forthcoming from everyone.  Due partly to what one speaker called the Mennonite "gene" that tends to consider financial matters very private, we don't know much about each other's financial status, unless our spending is conspicuous.  I consider it very likely that we have people among us for whom helping substantially with an expensive building project would be a significant financial burden.  I certainly do not wish to see laid on such people a greater burden than is necessary.
6.  Seeking input from experts is an act of wisdom and humility.  When this community built a birth center, the ladies (Kathleen J. and Lois Y.) who had the vision for the service and many years of training and experience in doing the work, had a great deal of input on building design, but of course, it was builders who actually did the final work of drawing and constructing--presumably even then seeking input from others whose building expertise exceeded their own.  I do not understand why building a school should not first involve hearing from teachers for the same reason as building a birth center should involve hearing first from midwives--or building a Choice Books building should involve hearing first from people who currently or who have in the past worked for Choice Books. The fact that teachers are not primarily the ones in our community pushing for new construction raises for me the question whether the primary goal behind the feasibility committee's work is actually a goal of meeting educational needs, or whether constructing a school is being used as impetus for reaching some other goal.  Center has about 31 current or former teachers among its members, with almost half of them (14) having taken at least two years of post-high school training.  Fourteen or so families have demonstrated a significant commitment to homeschooling.  I count these people among those on the front lines of the work of education as surely as those who have done classroom teaching.  Hearing from some of these people, and being counted among them myself  has also helped shape my thinking on our current situation.

I believe that every congregation voting and providing input in public discussion on feasibility committee matters has its own "culture"--composed of both positive and negative aspects. I have attempted to focus on what I consider positive aspects of the congregation I'm part of--a significant population of missionaries and teachers and homeschoolers--more than 70-100  members.  Anyone interested is free, of course, to do an analysis of their own or anyone else's congregation, and identify what they consider positive and negative aspects of the culture.  What none of us can legitimately do is view sentiments and comments and even votes from any group without considering the context for those sentiments, comments, and votes and examining all of the above in light of ultimately noble, shared purposes--certainly something more than private agendas.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bits and Pieces of My Week

Whew! I've finally reached a familiar spot.  I got a new computer on Tuesday evening as per Hiromi's and the Eldest Son's recommendation, and due to the tax refund having arrived in a timely manner.  Since then I've been trying to master lots of new laptop and Windows 7 tricks.  For those who care, here are the stats:  Dell, 1 TB, 8GB RAM, Intel Core i5 processor, 15.6 in, 6 lbs. (That last sounds like baby stats.). We were looking for Windows 7, and this one filled the bill, unlike most of the others on display.  The salesman kept telling us it was a real beast.  He was clearly not tuned in to my preference for decidedly unbeastly computer qualities.  Tame and controllable is all I ask, and the eldest son's help, of course.  Poor him.  He's in Texas this weekend, recovering--er, I mean, visiting his brother-in-law Angelo's family, with his own little family in tow.

I took the laptop to school today, in hopes that my students would be able to help me over some of the biggest hurdles.  Wesley actually answered one question for me and Susanna and Michael Jon each helped me with something else that I hadn't been able to figure out.  Go school friends!


On Wednesday, April 10, we had an ice storm which caused some power outages and a limited amount of tree damage.  It was vastly less damaging than the ice storm of December 2008, the effects of which are still evident in many strangely-shaped Siberian Elms.  It reminded me more of April 10, 2009, exactly four years ago, when we also had a brief return of winter after some very warm weather.  The damage from that event was also far in excess of this year's winter weather damage--largely because the weather earlier had been so much warmer in 2009.  The wheat heads were already beginning to form, and the temperatures plummeted to the lower teens, as I recall.  Most of the wheat crop was lost.  Because it was less developed, and the temperature only went down to the mid-twenties this year, damage might be minimal.  That's what we're hoping for.  Many fruit trees, however, were in bloom, and likely did not fare well.

Clarissa told me this afternoon that they were waiting one more day to harvest the first cutting of asparagus, but after the cold nights, the first spears had toppled over limply.


I laughed out loud this morning at a video I saw posted on Facebook.  This was an act of inconsistency on my part since I had exhibited some shock and uttered many cautions (Hey, someone has to act like a mom for these reckless young men at the high school when their own moms aren't around.) when Darren, who is a student and one of the stars in the video told me about the water skiing fun they had when the ditches held quite a bit of water after snow from the big snowstorm melted and the weather turned warm.  (Time to come up for air after that long sentence.)  The towing "boat" was Steven W.'s truck, the skis were the usual kind, and the "lake"was long and very skinny, along Trail West Road near Crupper's Corner.  Nelson, Andrew, Eddie, and Kraig are Choice Books guys from other states.  I'm not sure if they've been corrupted by the Kansas guys, or vice versa, but somewhere normal cautions seem to have gone missing.  You can check it out here.


Tonight the MCC Relief sale begins.  I am not there because my minivan is on the fritz.  I'm glad that at least $10.00 of my money is making it into the till, thanks to my sweet 9-year-old niece Diana's pluck and persuasiveness.  She is running three miles in the "hunger run" and called to see if I would help sponsor her.  Sure.

I didn't offer to bake bread, even after Leroy reminded us that since Fannie Helmuth died, the main Center bread baker for the sale is missing.  For that I feel a little guilty.


The second one of the high school programs is history.  Cedar Crest and Center have had their turn, and Arlington remains.  I don't think my extreme enjoyment of these programs is entirely due to a lack of musical sensibility, although I usually assume that some of this is in play.  The theme this year is "joy,"and joyful it is indeed.

After the first program I heard some of the students talk about an older man they didn't know, who came up to talk to them after the program.  "He has kind of a little head,"  is one of the only descriptors I remember.  He asked, "Were you having fun up there?"

When they answered in the affirmative, he said, "You looked like you were just about to . . . [I can't remember what!!!! but it sounded like really joyful action]." So I wasn't the only one who noted the joyfulness being conveyed.

It's Lyle's last year, since he will soon be off to Indiana to head up the music program at the full-school-year venture growing out of EBI.  To celebrate, part of the program involved an alumni choir and another part included also the students from grades 1-4 at the grade school.  I don't know what staffing will look like next year for music, but I trust that something good will work out.  We have been blessed though to have had a teacher for these past years with Lyle's giftedness, training, experience, and personality--which has produced some impressive results.  A number of the songs in the program were songs Lyle wrote, including several under a pen name.

A shoutout to those of you from elsewhere who have read Tobias of the Amish or Emma, a Widow Among the Amish--You might be interested to know that Lyle is the grandson of Tobias and Emma.  Lyle's uncle Ervin R. Stutzman is the author of the books.  Three generations of that family have lived in the house visible two miles across the fields from our front door.


For our Friday afternoon activity at school, Norma told us about her trip to Indonesia during spring break to visit her friend Ruby, who is an English teacher there.  She showed us a picture of herself, astride a motorcycle, wearing a jobob (sp?--Muslim headcovering) and a helmet.  Rest assured this is not quite the persona on display at Pilgrim.  She also drank civet coffee there, which you should look up if you don't know what that is.  She said it was the best coffee she's ever had.  The area she visited was the same area that had been devastated by the tsunami in 2004.


Marvin and Lois are in Bali (Indonesia) right now, en route home from Australia, where they had gone to visit the Kauffman family, one member of which has begun a friendship with Hans.  It's Heidi, which could make things a tad confusing at times if she continues to be involved with the family, since Marvin and Lois have a daughter by the same name.

The spring has indeed seemed to turn several local young men's thoughts toward love, although it's couched in more formal terms, of course.  Tim Y. and Margretta B. are engaged, and Ryan S. and Rebecca Y. from PA? are "in a relationship."  No doubt many more such matters are brewing than I'm privy to.


Ón the Farmer's Market front, there is no shortage of drama. I think if Shane, who is the shoo-in (and reluctant) board president of the organization, can harness this unruly bunch, he'll be able one day to ride any bucking bronco of a board.  I'll spare you most of the details, but will pass on one of the things that has provided some comic relief for me recently.  Quoting from a Facebook post I did for the Member's Only Group page:

I'm still chuckling at something that happened right after the county commissioners denied our request for funding to help with paving the floor in the market pavilion. Last year, after the denial, I had communicated with all the commissioners--thanking Dan Deming, and expressing disagreement with the others. I got a polite response from one of them, but it clearly did not signal a change of heart. This year, when things turned out similarly and a donation was made anonymously immediately afterward in the amount we had requested, I suspected that one of the commissioners may have made the donation. So I wrote to thank the person I had the most contact with last year. The email began with "If you are the person who donated $2,000 to the Farmer's Market . . ." Not surprisingly, I didn't hear anything back. It all made sense when I learned later that he had definitely not made the donation. I don't know if I shamed him or not, but that's not what I tried to do.


Marian Y. and her sister-in-law, Susanna, left early this week for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa.  I have not heard what has transpired since then, but my heart and prayers are with them both.  Marian's sister Anna has been here for more than a month, and does not have a definite departure time that I know of.  Her presence is a blessing.  Continued nausea and pain ever since Marian's surgery six weeks ago is quite a trial.

When I took her to church to hear the Easter singing before the service a few weeks ago, she tucked a "kutz-shissel" (barf bowl) under the coat she carried into the sanctuary, in case the familiar urge came upon her suddenly.  Fortunately she didn't need it.  In spite of not eating well or feeling very well, she was taking short walks outdoors when the weather was nice.


My dad recently had a CAT scan, which showed slightly enlarged lymph glands.  That can be an indicator of something as simple as inflammation or as serious as the spread of cancer.  For now, we're banking on the first possibility.  Additional testing will take place within the next few weeks, to evaluate the success of the chemo and radiation.  Some tissue healing needs to happen before the tests can safely be done.  He feels well and functions normally.  He preached on the Sunday when most of the ministers were gone to the Beachy minister's meeting in OH.


Another shoutout, in celebration for the success of my high-school junior niece, Kristi Mast.  She won a music writing competition sponsored by Shenandoah Music Camp.  It was open to almost anyone, and 45 people entered.  Anja M., also from Lyle's Music II class at Pilgrim, entered the contest also and did well, although only Kristi won the $300 prize.  The Pilgrim students sang both Anja and Kristi's music at the program.

Every contestant wrote music for the same words, which had won the "lyrics" part of the contest earlier.  Look for the song "A Resurrection Crowns the Cross"" and rejoice with Kristi's success.  Mike Atnip wrote the words.  (BTW, this may be the first time I've spelled Shenandoah right.  Just sayin'.  I thought that first vowel was an "A".)

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Living Well in the City--Part 2 (Nurturing Plants)

For the sake of children, growing plants in the city should focus on plants that produce food or perhaps flowers.  Growing in containers should be explored as a possibility if there is no tillable soil available.  For this post, I will assume that growing in containers is a necessity, and I will write mostly from a temperate climate perspective because my knowledge of gardening in other climates is limited.  I have full confidence, however, that what I suggest here could be adapted for gardening in other climates.

Climate zone (especially whether or not freezing temperatures occur, or whether extreme heat is common) is a limiting factor, but rainfall is not, unless you have no way to get water to your plants.  Exposure to sunlight must also be considered because not all food-producing plants will do well in shady conditions.  Wind may be an issue in some areas, especially if a rooftop is the only place where plants can be grown.

1.  If the growing containers are pot-shaped, try for a container at least 16 inches across and 8-12 inches deep--at a minimum.  This will hold enough soil to space out the watering needs to a manageable interval.  Too much smaller in a hot climate will raise the soil temperature too much, besides the issue of keeping it well-watered.  Making growing beds is another option.  Three or four feet on all sides and eight inches deep is a good size.  At least one of the dimensions should be limited to four feet to make reaching to the center possible from outside the bed.  A waterproof "sheet" can be put down before the bed is assembled and filled, but somehow drainage must be provided--perhaps by locating the bed near gutters, etc. and extending the "sheet" to the gutters.  On soil, the sheet is not necessary.

2.  Use potting soil with amendments that provide air spaces in the soil.  In the US, our best option contains shredded bark, peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite--all of which add airiness and/or water-holding capacity.  Even good garden soil, without amendments, will compact to the point of inhibiting root growth, over time.

3.  Make sure your pot has drainage holes, if it's exposed to natural rainfall.  You may need to catch the overflow in a saucer underneath the pot.  Don't let the pot sit for long in a water-filled saucer.

4.  Fill the soil to within 3/4 inch of the rim of the pot.  This will allow sufficient space for holding water while it soaks away.

5.  Leafy crops and root crops are the most tolerant of shade.  Fruiting crops are the least tolerant, although cucumbers are more tolerant than some other fruiting crops.  Tomatoes, melons, berries, and squash are all fruiting crops.  Lettuce and spinach are leafy crops, and radishes, beets, potatoes, and carrots are root crops.  It's worthwhile to consider growing crops that your children already like to eat, but it's also worth thinking about the possibility that eating something that they have grown themselves will inspire openness to previously unfavored foods.

6.  Fast-maturing crops make good starter crops.  Radishes are the champions in this regard (less than 25 days), but leaf lettuce and spinach are good too.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are all comparatively  long-season crops and will try the patience of children who are doing this for the first time--unless they've had some intermediate successes with other crops.

7.  Fertilize regularly.  Ideally, the fertility could come from a healthy and well-fed earthworm population in the pots, but warm temperatures will drive them to look for a home elsewhere, and too much or too little water will do the same.  If you are maintaining a worm farm elsewhere, the castings are second-to-none as plant food.  (I forgot to mention this in the previous post on nurturing animals.  Earthworms are a wonderful option, although our effort at home was not wildly successful.  Eisenia foetida is the species usually used for this, but I would simply try to locate a local species if I lived far away from here. Earthworms can turn kitchen wastes and other organic matter into marvelous plant food.)  To simplify setup of a container garden, I would probably buy some dissolvable plant food and mix it with the water according to label instructions.  Leafy crops benefit from more nitrogen, and root crops from more phosphorous, but a fertilizer with the N-P-K numbers fairly similar will probably work for everything.  (10-10-10, for example)

8.  Watch for pests and diseases.  Any critters on the leaf should be identified and a solution found, if needed.  Any yellowing of leaves or other abnormal appearances should be investigated and identified.  My rule of thumb is to go for the least toxic solution that works.  Hand-picking can work for caterpillars and larger insects.  Soapy water can work for some of the tiniest pests.  A spray made by blending garlic in water and then straining it can repel some pests.  I'm especially wary of toxic sprays on crops that have the leafy portion as the edible part.

9.  Harvest what grows.

Starting your plants from seeds adds to the thrill, but also adds to risk.  If direct seeding is done, thinning will often need to happen.  This is a good opportunity to teach life lessons--too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

All this activity can teach a multitude of skills, including some that are often included with classroom curriculum.  If information is gathered from local sources, the process itself can facilitate good contacts with people and prove useful in "becoming native to this place."

I can't imagine raising a family in the city.  If it were necessary to live there, however, I can't imagine living there without learning, with my children, about the plants and animals that are already at home there or that can be nurtured there.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Living Well in the City--Part 1

Someone who lives in the city asked me how to live well there.  This was a followup to several earlier blog posts on the benefits of interacting with nature.

Thinking about an appropriate answer, as usual, has taken me down several bunny trails that have provided some insight.  One of them recalls content from John Taylor Gatto's book, The Underground History of American Education.  Reading that book was formative for me.  I read it after I began teaching at the high school level.  I especially learned something from Gatto's perspective on education among the Amish.  He praised learning by doing, notably in the context of apprenticing and mentoring.  A corollary was his disappointment with conventional education, in which much that transpired seemed irrelevant and ineffective. I finished that book feeling some disgust with how thoroughly our Christian schools have adopted the second-best educational approaches of the schools around us instead of doing what we already know best how to do from our ethnic and cultural heritage.  We need to be "More Like Us" as the author asserted who wrote a book by that title.  (He was writing it about Americans who seemed overly focused on learning from and adopting the business practices of the Japanese.)  I realized that we're not very good "Amishmen" when it comes to teaching our children.

On this bunny trail, I'm thoughtful about drilling deep into the traditions of our people to regain whatever is valuable that has been lost.  The expectation that children will contribute to the family's welfare is one such value.  This will not wait until the "important" work of school is done.  Rather, school will fit around the important work of gaining skill and competence from carrying significant responsibility.  And no, I don't mean only maintaining the house and yard.  I mean responsibility related to nurture, ministry and enterprise.  This is part of living well in the city as well as anywhere else.

Nurturing of living things can happen on any scale.  Hiromi remembers fondly the cricket he kept in a tiny cage as a child.  He fed it bits of cucumber.  In a 10-gallon fish tank with a screen top our boys kept mice and toads and salamanders and a tiny turtle and tadpoles and crayfish and caterpillars--all at different times.  Learning how to care for each one opened up a natural world that might have stayed foreign territory otherwise.    Each of these animals later was released back into the wild, and none of them cost us anything to acquire.  We housed them temporarily as we came across them.

These projects accomplished two things:  learning about nature and learning about nurture.  Even the smallest city dwelling can accommodate  one of the Pets in a Jar--the title of one booklet that was very helpful.  The other was a little booklet on creating indoor habitats for tiny animals.  I can't find a link to that book because I can't remember the exact title.  I bought it at a science museum--in Columbus, OH perhaps.

For a number of years we've kept a parakeet--the cheapest cage bird in the trade, and fish in a 20-gallon aquarium.  We've also had gerbils and a crab.  In my schoolroom we once kept a small snake.  In some places, chipmunks, lizards, and tarantulas would be possibilities.  Any of the above could be kept in a city dwelling--possibly on a porch.

A cottontail lived in our dining room for several months and we kept a pet raccoon at one time--inside until he didn't need a bottle anymore.  (I'm not sure if this is legal now.)  Domestic rabbits could possibly be kept on a city porch, but I don't recommend a raccoon.  Ferrets and chinchillas have been kept by people I know.  These might be a stretch for a city dweller.  I don't know enough about their care to know how it would work, but they are larger animals and would presumably need more cage cleaning, etc.

Children (boys, at least) usually find animals tremendously fascinating.  Rotating pets in and out of the house has the benefit of keeping  the wonder alive.

For the city dweller, here's a summary of what I recommend for nurturing animals:

1.  Buy Pets in a Jar.

2.  Acquire either a gallon jar or a 10-gallon aquarium or something similar and figure out what you will use for a lid.

3.  Think about where you can get soil or water so that you will know what to do when you come across your first "pet" in the wild.

4.  If you have an idea for what you might find, do some study and preparation so that you'll be ready to provide an appropriate habitat and food when you have an animal in hand.

5.  Carry a small jar or cage with you when you get out and about--walking, biking, etc.--for transporting creatures home.

6.  Find something, keep it comfortable and well-fed while it's in your care, and then release it.  It's usually best to release it close to where you found it, or at least in a suitable outdoor habitat.

I'll write later about the nurture of plants and some of the other ways in which I believe it to be possible to live well in the city.