Prairie View

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sorting Sortie

I've been spending valuable vacation hours facing down the stowed papers and other things that still reside in boxes in the basement at the farm we moved away from last summer.

I've gritted my teeth and steeled my nerves and pitched too many things I'm sure I'll find the perfect use for tomorrow or the next day.  I discovered several good things, however.

One, I touched base again with many of the sources for the knowledge that has long ago been incorporated into my private mental storehouse.  Scanning articles I had clipped often inspired a deja vu sentiment like this:  So this is where I learned that.  For example, I saw a really great article on bio-digesters, which I found  myself trying to explain to students last month during our "energy" current issues study, realizing all the while that I haven't read about those in any detail for a long time, and grasping for what I was sure was nevertheless significant and real.  No wonder.  The article I saw today was from a magazine I haven't subscribed to for a long time.

Two, I realized that the computer and internet age does free us from the need to maintain all the paper files that used to be necessary in order to retrieve information.   I discarded quite a few paper copies of letters I also still had computer files for.  I don't expect to need those letters again, but if I do need them, I'll know to check the computer files instead of a file box.

Three, photocopying, or computer printing, both now as simple as could be, are soooooo much  easier to read than those old purplish spirit duplication products.  I found a 29-page senior thesis paper I wrote in college on "The Ethics of Curriculum Design," and reading it was so difficult that even scanning it took too much time.  I settled for studying the Table of Contents.

Four, I'm relieved to be done with some parts of my past life--creating bulletin boards, for example.

Five,  I'm happy for some of the choices we made for our family--joining 4H, homeschooling, doing many things the "hard work/skills-acquiring" way instead of the go-to-the-store-and-buy-it way or the hire-someone-else-to-do-it way.

Six, I'm pleased to see that some of the work I did more than 30 years ago still makes good sense to me.  In other words, I don't have serious regrets about where my thinking was headed in those days.

Seven, I haven't wasted my life.  Certainly, there's evidence of having spent time on many things that never earned me any money and other things that never got finished properly.  But I don't feel cheated for having majored in "trivial pursuits" that now look meaningless and empty.

Eight, finding a picture of that old boyfriend did not prompt feelings of shame or regret.

Nine, I'd rather be "here"  than in any of those past life stages.

Ten, I'm glad I saw that little snake in the arts projects box before I touched it.  Examination of the contents of that box got aborted abruptly, and the whole box went to the dumpster.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Little House and a Man

Today's funeral for Sheldon Martin was just like all the other funerals I've ever been to--unique.  I don't think I've ever seen the widow in red before, but Sheldon liked Louisa's red dress, and had told  her she should wear it to a funeral some time.  So she did.  A long beige sweater toned it down a good bit.

I've also added another way of grieving to the repertoire of possibilities I've been  taking special note of during the past months.  It involves standing outside yourself for a minute, and describing yourself in facetious language of the sort you might read in a heavy novel from the early 1900s.  It's pretty funny if you make it shamelessly self-aggrandizing.  Even funnier if you tell it to the person in the next stall in the bathroom.

For balance, you should probably mix the above with some very earthy expressions, such as "it [Sheldon's death] really stinks."

My perspective of the funeral itself was limited mostly to a view of the rear 1/3 of the sanctuary, and a very prominent support structure squarely in line between me in the overflow and the speaker's platform at the front of the sanctuary.  I didn't see anyone who spoke or led singing from the front.  I liked what I heard though--the singing, the teaching, the memories.

I reconnected briefly with Andrew and Jolynn, with whom I worked closely for two years when Andrew and I were the Pilgrim High staff members on duty every day.  It was really good to see them.
Andrew is Louisa's brother.

I had a nice long visit with Evelyn, whom I've known for several decades, and who lives nearby, but with whom I rarely have extended conversations.


In an email exchange with Louisa earlier this week, she referred to Sheldon as being so "gone."  Mercifully, that reality doesn't sink in all at once.   Sadly, however, it will keep on sinking in deeper for a long time.  I will be among those praying for her as it happens.

Another thing Louisa told me in our brief little email exchange is that it's a great treasure to have had, for three years, "a little house and a man."

The quote is a reference to something Louisa blurted out spontaneously the year she was in my home environment class.  I had tried to make the whole homemaking thing look appealing, and it must have worked because she said that "Someday I want a little house and a man."  I thought then that everyone else was probably thinking the same thing and Louisa was the only one with enough nerve to say it aloud.

I told the story at a parent-teacher's meeting, and again on the last day of school and again at the open mike time at their wedding.  This week it was Louisa reminding me of the story.

Sheldon and Louisa's time together was short, but that time together was a treasure, and I'm glad Louisa was blessed with "a little house and a man."



Friday, November 22, 2013

Kinda Neat--or Not

Some decades ago, Sanford Yoder said something in a sermon here that has stuck with me.  He reported on a conversation with his young-adult children.  The subject was self-written wedding vows.  His children thought they were "kinda neat,"  as he summarized it.  I don't think Sanford reported on his immediate response to that sentiment--only on his subsequent thinking.

Essentially, he wondered if couples who wrote their own vows weren't getting some things mixed up.  As I recall, Sanford proposed that in a public church wedding ceremony, the couple getting married should understand that a big part of what they are doing is asking favors of others.  I think of people who take time for attendance, the minister who acts in an official capacity to perform the ceremony, those who spend time in preparation for speaking, singing, and preparing and serving food, and those who spend money for food, clothing, supplies, gifts, facilities, and travel.  Beyond that, the couple is legitimately seeking the blessing and goodwill of friends and family on the establishment of a new home.  Receiving such is a great favor.

In our wedding traditions, in exchange for all these favors, the couple or their parents offer food, beautiful and comfortable surroundings, and an opportunity to worship, to fellowship, and to hear instruction.

None of the above suggests that self-centeredness is a proper focus for the day--for anyone present, but certainly not for the couple getting married.  Over-individualizing  wedding vows, in Sanford's view, tipped a ceremony too far toward self-centeredness and too far away from acceptance of what was most readily offered:  the gift of traditions.

I identify with Sanford's thinking.  Especially in once-in-a-lifetime events, tradition is our friend, and a preoccupation with innovation and individualization is not particularly commendable.  Certainly, the comfort, convenience, and sensibilities of the guests should always loom large in the planning and in the events.  For sure, it's an awful time to be offensive and to act petty or selfish.

On the day that Sanford's daughter got married in Costa Rica to my brother, I was not present.  I was at home awaiting the birth of our first child.  What I know of the wedding comes from pictures and from hearing about it.  Five things stand out:

1.  Lowell did not wear a suit coat to the ceremony because some Costa Rican brothers objected to such ostentation.  He took it off after they took some pictures.  Judy had made (or altered) his suit, and Lowell had planned to wear it.

2.  They got two glasses as a wedding gift from one church family.  Judy was sure that the family had never owned two such glasses, and drank from old jars, cheap plastic, etc. instead.

3.  All their wedding gifts fit into one laundry basket.

4.  The building in which the wedding took place had the front wall bedecked with long, curving giant leaves (branches?) from a palm tree.  As I recall hearing my mom tell it, Sanford showed up with the leaves in his arms on the morning of the wedding, the idea of using them apparently just having occurred to him.

5.  They served chicken and rice (a traditional wedding meal).

I have never heard expressed a single negative memory of that wedding, perhaps because they did what may always be wise in wedding planning:

1.  Don't be offensive.

2.  Honor your guests and be grateful for their sacrifices.

3.  Don't be ostentatious.

4.  Don't tell the Dad who's paying for the wedding what he can and can't do.

5.  Honor tradition.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Grief Upon Grief

"Turn to God with your questions--not away from God," Mr. Schrock told all of us at school this morning.  I think we're all trying to do that, but it's not easy.  This morning, again, the group that gathered for school was quiet--a little numb from just having heard of Sheldon Martin's death.  He was 31.

This is the third death to impact our school significantly since school started last fall.   The funeral is planned for Saturday, with the school vacating the Pilgrim/Cedar Crest facility on Thursday evening.

Sheldon had left home yesterday to go canoeing and spend time alone with God.  When he did not return at the expected time, his family and friends went looking for him.  They found his truck and then notified authorities that he was missing.  With more help, they found an empty canoe and then his body--at about 3:30 A.M.  He was wearing a life-jacket.

Sheldon had been married for three years to Louisa Schmucker.  Her parents live about a quarter of a mile down the road from school and the Cedar Crest church where they all attend. Most of us learned to know Sheldon after he and Louisa started dating.  He grew up elsewhere--mostly in Pennsylvania, as I recall.

Louisa and I "started" high school at very nearly the same time--she as a freshman and I as a teacher.  She was a student in a number of my classes.  After that, she helped me in the house for a period of time when Marian was unable to do so.  She is a friend, apart from those connections, and my heart breaks for her loss.

Louisa was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis soon after she graduated from high school.  The medical interventions available have kept her functioning very well, by all appearances, and she went on to earn a degree in English, and, this past May, a degree in nursing--her father's career.

I remember hearing, at their wedding, that Sheldon was a premature baby, and his survival was in question.  He grew to be a tall man--just right for the tall young lady Louisa became.

Louisa has four bothers, three of whom live in this area.  In Kansas are Abner, William, and Levi.  Andrew lives in Pennsylvania.  Louisa's only sister, Maria Stutzman, lives in Elnora, Indiana.  I've met some of Sheldon's family, but can't give much information on names and whereabouts.

As Louisa and others who are grieving come to mind, please pray for them.  We're not "recovered" from the previous deaths, and this feels like too much.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cavalier Rejections

At this link, I heard some educational philosophy I like.  The speaker was Ethan Young, a high school student from Knox County, TN.  He was speaking very recently to a local school board in opposition to Common Core, the national program that replaces "No Child Left Behind."  Several quotes:

". . .we teach to free minds. We teach to inspire. We teach to equip . . . "

"If everything I learn in high school is a measurable objective, I have not learned anything.”

 “ . . . education is unlike every other bureaucratic institute in our government” because the “task of teaching is never quantifiable.”

I'm using these quotes as the impetus for writing about the electives our school offers that students often don't enroll in--because the courses are too much work or because the students are not interested, or because they already know that or because they are too busy with other things.  While I'm certainly glad that not everyone wants to enroll in all the classes I teach, I feel sad sometimes that learning opportunities seem to be rejected so cavalierly--not only in my classes.  What we teachers all would really would like is a group of students who are eager to take advantage of the learning opportunities offered to them.

With reference to the above quotes, my intent as a teacher is to free minds, to inspire, and to equip.  None of this can happen between teacher and student if students are not present.

I loathe the notion that getting an education means plowing through paces as fast as possible.  True, completing paces are measurable objectives.  They're listed incrementally every day on the goal charts, but if, at the end of the process, that's all there is, has the student learned anything of value?

If a course is shunned because the credits earned are fractions of a whole, and thus limited in quantity, does that mean that what is gained is of limited value?  The result is often not quantifiable, just as the task of teaching is not quantifiable.

I have one son who, early in life, had "No" as the default response to most of my suggestions for venturing into new learning territory.  I soon learned to ignore the default response and proceed as if the response had been more agreeable.  Almost always, it didn't take long for the child to profit from and even enjoy the learning opportunities I shoved him into, under protest.  I wonder sometimes if other parents have never had such an experience to bolster their resolve and initiative.

Today that child is grown, does not shrink from new challenges, and he has an impressive array of skills in his repertoire.  He is also getting a taste of his own medicine with a toddler who is fond of the "No" response at this stage of life.

I do know that one can never take advantage of all the learning opportunities that are available, and choices are necessary. I applaud parents who weigh the options thoughtfully, with an eye on the long-term results, and, perhaps, with a deaf ear to the short-term protests and a shove in the direction of a learning opportunity.

Lunacy and Lunar Cycles

I will attempt to flesh out something I started in church this morning.  The subject is not an obvious one for church, but it made sense this morning when Dwight preached about the fourth day of creation, the day when the sun, moon, and stars were created.  In passing, he mentioned a specific event that occurred during the full moon in October this year and the "moon phase" explanation he heard for the event.  He also expressed his suspicion of astrology.

On the night of the ladies' prayer partner banquet this year, on October 18, many of us had to scrape the frost off the windshield of our vehicles before we could see to drive home.  Surprisingly, there seemed to be little effect on tender garden plants.  The explanation Dwight heard from someone is this:  If the first frost occurs during full moon, plants are not damaged.  It was full moon that night.  He had never heard such a thing, and was certainly not passing it on as gospel truth, but he acknowledged the possibility that there may be some largely unknown effects of the moon cycles.

My mind immediately went back to some research I had done a number of years ago, in preparation for a gardening article I wrote for Keepers at Home.   One defining insight I gained during that research is that planning activities "according to the signs" as found in an almanac is based entirely on the Zodiac, and it is a solar (sun) cycle.  Lunar (moon) cycles are slightly shorter than solar cycles (about 29 days, although slightly irregular) as opposed to exactly 1/12 of a year, as comprises one "sign" of the Zodiac.

The Zodiac is essentially an elliptical path through the heavens.  The entire solar system travels this path once each year.  On or along this path are twelve different constellations--one for each of the twelve equal sections of the Zodiac.  At any given time when we are said to be in a certain "sign,"  that sign is the constellation that could be viewed during a total solar eclipse in the sky spot where the sun is located.   In other words, that constellation is "behind" the sun when viewed from the earth.  Obviously any stars "behind" the sun are not visible during normal daylight hours because the brightness of the sun totally overwhelms any light from the stars.  On a normal day, no one can simply go outside and look up at the sky and figure out what sign of the Zodiac we are in.

Astrology is based on the signs of the Zodiac.  Astrology interprets the Zodiac signs as having an influence on human affairs and the natural world.   When people rely on the signs of the Zodiac for gardening guidance, they are tapping into one aspect of astrology.

I gained a second insight when I  asked this question:  How would God communicate to man whatever creation markers are important in the timing of our activities?  The answer that satisfied me is that God would make the markers easily observable for everyone.  Lunar cycles meet this criteria;  the solar Zodiac cycle does not.  One Jewish writer put it this way:  "Yahweh’s calendar is based on observation. Man’s calendars are based on calculation."

How does this relate to gardening?  I found information in one book that is a gardening classic:
How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons.  In this book, filled with pages of valuable charts, etc., the author has a short section on planting by the moon.  At the center of his recommendations are these factors, all of which decrease or increase at different points in the moon's phases:

1.  Magnetism

2.  Gravitational pull

3.  Light

Essentially, he limits his recommendations to two gardening tasks:  planting seeds, and transplanting seedlings.  You will find an online explanation of Jeavons' strategies here.

The third insight I gained is the realization that, whatever we do in the garden according to the lunar cycle will fall in the category of nuance--a small adjustment that may affect the outcome--rather than being foundational  to success or failure.  When germinating seeds, for example, the right temperature, the presence of moisture, and the absence of toxicity or decay  must be in place, or a seed will not germinate even if the moon phase is favorable for germination.

What are the practical applications?  To make the applications to seed germination, one additional piece of information is needed:  Which germination time is typical of this seed--short or long?  Short is generally accepted to be 5-10 days, and long is 15-20 days.  This assumes favorable temperature  and moisture conditions.  Almost all common vegetables fall into the short germination category and the majority of flowers fall into the long germination category. Usually the seed packet will say when germination can be expected.

Some specifics:

1.  Plant most vegetables around new moon, in the period from three days before to one week after.

2.  Plant most flowers around full moon, in the period from three days before to one week after.

The above recommendations are based on the fact that magnetism and gravity are both strongest at the new moon, and the above timing is suggested in order to help insure germination around new moon.  As Jeavons describes it, at this time, the forces combine to burst the seed coat of any seed that has absorbed sufficient moisture and is within an ideal temperature range.  Roughly two weeks later, at full moon, the night light is greatest, and top growth seems to respond favorably to this increased light.

Without my going into the reasons here, you may be interested in Jeavons' recommendation that transplanting happens at full moon.

One more bit of research on the respiration of potatoes helped solidify my thinking that moon phases can, in fact, affect living things in ways that are real but often imperceptible.  Respiration is carried on by all living things.  It is basically oxygen exchange--moving from the inside of the organism to the outside or movement in the other direction.  Potatoes qualify as living things, perhaps contrary to intuition.  We all know that they can sprout, however, given the right conditions.

For the experiment, potatoes were placed inside a dark, temperature-constant chamber, and the rate of respiration was measured.  The rate changed measurably throughout different phases of the lunar cycle.  Essentially, this strongly suggests that the forces of magnetism and gravity were exerting influence on potato respiration.  If that is true, similar effects may well be present in all (or most) living things--plants, at least.

When I sent my article to Keepers at Home, it created quite a furor among some of the workers at the place where it was published and printed.  My sense is that the opposition to the content on moon planting occurred among people who did not distinguish it from the astrological practice of planting by the Zodiac--something they no doubt would have avoided as a matter of principle.  Perhaps they even associated it with some of the superstitious practices that still are prevalent in some Amish circles.

One caveat:  What I have written here is not a categorical condemnation of considering the Zodiac in the timing of gardening activities.  I have no experience with using it, I have insufficient patience for consulting the complicated charts containing the necessary information, and I have no confidence that it is important.  Nevertheless, I'm not necessarily convinced that doing so is wrong or foolish.  I do believe that most other aspects of astrology have nothing to offer us, and involvement with them may be detrimental.  I personally steer clear of them and would recommend the same to others.

Lunacy?  I'll leave it to someone else to explore how or whether the lunar cycle affects emotional balance.  The main thing I know is that  lunacy and lunar have a common Latin root: luna.  I may not be entirely on target when I speak of "luna" in relation to gardening, but I'm in safer territory by talking about what happens in the garden than about what happens inside people's heads during the various moon phases.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Classmate's View of High School

I just got around to reading some of the stories in Wheels, Pranks, and Memories of School:  Third Book of Stories of Growing Up in Partridge, compiled by Chris Terrill.  It was printed this fall.  One of the most interesting to me was a story written by Bob Fair, who was a high school classmate of mine.  He was also the classmate of David Y., Oren Y., Nevin N., Ellis M., and Leon M. and a dozen or so others. He wrote it after having visited with his cousin, Joyce, who also attended Partridge High School.  Bob entered high school the second year after state law changed to require all students to attend school until age 16.

I'm re-typing a portion of his story here:

"She told me that our dear friend Ellis Miller had said she wasn't very nice to the Elreka crowd, and it started me thinking about school bus dynamics.  Joyce was on the route that picked up most of the new students from Elreka.  She and I agreed that it wasn't the student's fault, but the situation that they had unwillingly been thrust into by the State of Kansas.

In her defense, imagine daily encountering a huge, well established group of new Dutch-speaking conscientious objector students piling on to the bus, with no interest in pop culture, rock and roll music or future military service.  Group dynamics changed on her bus in a major way, where our bus route didn't change at all.

Of course these students wanted to  eagerly complete their high school diploma in 2 years and were avidly discussing school problems on the morning and afternoon bus rides in a language we didn't understand, but they could understand ours.

Their non-participation in our school sports program seemed lame, as these guys were beating our socks off in basketball and baseball on a daily basis, and we were asking for their help to no avail.  Those guys were well established teammates that could easily dominate any sports match.  The general community was very supportive in just getting every student out by their junior year.

After you import all of these straight A students, the bell curve starts to manifest itself in our report cards.  While B's or D's were all the same to me, it mattered to some other people.  This group was superior to ours in 3 ways--Academically, Athletically, and Religious Devotion, even with some of their homes lacking running water, electricity, or internal combustion engines!  You can imagine how frustrating it might have been to be on that bus.  They seemed to always side-step foolish situations unlike us, and it made us see ourselves very differently by comparison."


This sounds like Bob.  He was a fun-loving guy, and I'll vouch for his attitude toward grades.  But not so fast, Bob.  Some of these details need a little work.  I'll chalk it up to the memories being more than 45 years old.  Obviously, no malicious intent is present.

I wasn't on Bob's or Joyce's bus, so I'm not sure what all happened on the bus, but I would like to offer some amendments to other parts of the story.

1.  On Dutch speaking:  True, we were capable of that, but I seriously doubt that it happened to any degree on the bus or anywhere in school.  We were not allowed to talk Dutch in school during all the years of grade school, and we were not in the habit of talking Dutch at such times.  I suspect discussing school in Dutch would have felt extremely awkward.

2.  Completing high school in two or three years:  I never heard of any parents pushing their students to do that, or students pushing each other to do that.  I finished high school in three years, but it was a sudden notion I got on enrollment day, when I learned that Oren, Ellis, and Nevin were all doing that.  I'm not sure that I even knew it was possible before then.  This decision actually moved us out of Bob's class and into Joyce's class.  After that year, I can remember only one other person who finished high school in three years.

3.  Sports superiority:  Elreka's grade school team had never played Partridge's grade school team because we were in different leagues.  The year we were in eighth grade, however, we had an extraordinary team, and most of the boys went to Partridge High the next year.  Some of the best players, however, (Gary and Phillip N.) were not attending Partridge, so his description of an intact established team is not quite accurate.  Also, I remember only one actual match-up between the "Amish" and the Partridge teams.  I think it was arranged a bit surreptitiously by the P. E. teachers, and happened during the school day.  Non-participation in sports had nothing to do with wanting to finish high school early.

4.  Primitive Living Conditions:  Here I believe Bob conflated what he knows of Old Order Amish life with what he assumed of all of us.  For the record,  every student from the "Amish" community (that was us) came from a home with electricity, a telephone, and running water.  All but a few of us owned and drove cars with internal combustion engines.  The Old Order Amish had also been using tractors for farming here for 20 years by then.

5.  The size of the "Amish" group on the bus:    For starters, I can think right off of at least nine Amish students who were on my bus, and not Joyce or Bob's bus--at least not the first year after the attendance laws changed.  I can't come  up with that many who could possibly have been on either of their buses that first year.  Again, probably a case of conflation with later years.

6.  Student grades:  We were not all straight-A students, and as far as I know, no teacher graded anyone on the curve.  I still remember the grading scale:  94-100=A,  86-93=B, 76-86=C,  70-76=D, 0-69=F.    


I never heard anyone say what Bob said in this story--that they viewed us as superior in three ways.   I do remember the first school newspaper I saw with a published honor roll.  It was heavily freighted with names of Elreka graduates.  I'm sure I wasn't the only one who noticed that.

In my view, what happened was that the separation between the cultural/religious groups in the community was thorough enough that we didn't really know each other.  Leftover sentiment from adults who remembered with some rancor our people's non-participation in World War II probably fueled some suspicion.  "Dumb Dutchmen" was also probably a fairly concise appraisal coming our way.  When they really learned to know us, the initial perceptions needed adjustment.  Bob's concluding sentence tells me that the new perceptions stuck:  ". . . it made us see ourselves very differently by comparison."  That's a credit to youthful flexibility.


The last I heard, Bob was working as a diver in Hawaii.   That sounds like a job he'd go for.


My computer is near a window to the west in what we've come to call  "The Middle Room."  This morning I saw something very scary from this window.

Hiromi had gone outside to tend to his daikon radishes, which are drying, in preparation for making Japanese pickles.  I watched idly as he lifted the door to the cave cellar and began descending the stairs.  I saw him reach for the light switch high on the wall above the bottom of the stairs but his head and shoulders were still visible from my side/back view.  While I watched, the wind caught the open door and slammed it down--on top of his head, it looked like.  I jumped up from the chair to do something.

Just about that quickly, I saw the door rising slowly, and Hiromi began to emerge.  "Are you OK?" I called through the closed window.  He assured me he was.  He had felt the door strike his head, but he was not hurt.  Relief.

Over lunch we talked about how differently the morning might have turned out.  If he had been a little nearer the top of the stairs, if he had not already been moving forward slightly, if the blow had pitched him face-forward onto the stairs . . . shudder.  If all those terrible things had materialized, I would not likely have known about it for a good while if I had not seen what happened.  I knew he had gone outside and I didn't expect him back inside for a while.  If I had gone to look for him eventually, I would have seen the cellar door closed and would not likely have thought to look inside the cellar.  It's a windy day and the wind and the cellar enclosure would certainly have muffled any calls for help.  Shudder again.

For many reasons, I'm glad things turned out well.  Thank you, Jesus.

Epitaph Candidates

I'm sure that when I die, my headstone will contain only sensible information, which is why the following exercise has very  limited value except as a way to have a bit of fun.

I'm considering a very short list of possible epitaphs for my headstone.  Choosing such is not up to me, of course, and etching them costs money better spent elsewhere, and protocol can not be flung to the winds.  All of them have been said of me, without solicitation, although I have changed the format slightly in a few cases.  None of them were meant as compliments (that's probably typical of the unsolicited kind), and most were said without malice.

Here's the list:

1.  Easily amazed

2.  Quirky

3.  Too much imagination

4.  Too many ideas                                                                          

In the comments, I'd love to see other epitaph lists for people I know.

Pilgrims in Pleasantview

Pilgrim Christian Schools will soon have a new home.  As of November 26, possession of the old Elreka facility on five acres of land in Pleasantview will transfer from public into private hands.  More recently the place was called Pleasantview Academy.  A purchase agreement for $80,000.00 was finalized at a Haven (District 312) school board meeting this past Monday evening.   Eventually the high school and grade school will be combined at this location.  

Among the options still standing in the school facility options, use of the Elreka facility was a very appealing one, in my books.  It represents a lot of past community investment and loyalty, it is conservative of construction materials (as opposed to building new), it is being used for the purpose for which it was designed (usually a monetary benefit because modification is minimized), and it does not take additional good farmland out of production.

Almost everyone who grew up in the Amish/Mennonite community here and now is roughly between the ages of 30 and 70 once attended grade school there.  It was part of the attendance center for a public school district, made up of several small country schools joining their districts into one.  The Elreka name came from combining elements of the East Eureka and Elmhirst names of the smaller schools.  Elreka was first used in the 1958-59 school year, when construction was still not quite completed.  School bus transportation for the students was another new development that arrived with use of the new building.

Buildings constructed in the late fifties were not usually well insulated.  At Elreka, large sections of each exterior classroom wall consisted of glass blocks with a row of single-pane "openable" windows below.  All of that means major interior heat and cooling loss through the exterior walls.  This situation needs remedying at the Elreka facility.

I lament the potential loss of all that natural light infusing the classroom spaces, however, if making the place amenable to climate control is done without consideration for how it affects the light.  Maybe another layer of glass could be installed inside the glass block, with a thick layer of almost-clear "angel hair" insulation between them.  I don't actually know of the proper name for what I have in mind, but I've seen it recommended for garden grow-bed covers inside a frame.  For that use, it was sandwiched between layers of flexible glazing--think "thick plastic."  An abundance of natural light is very important to me.  Most students feel the same way, although an occasional one seems to prefer a more cave-like environment--as in "close the blinds and turn off the lights." Research on how the absence of natural light affects mood and learning negatively is there for the finding.

One important principle for energy conservation in construction is to maximize the thermal mass inside the insulating layer.  During the winter it absorbs and stores heat.  The opposite happens during the summer.  The exterior walls at Elreka are block construction with brick exterior.  That constitutes an enormous amount of thermal mass, and would, all by itself (if the insulation were on the outside), help tremendously with maintaining even interior temperatures with low energy inputs.

I wish someone would figure out how the insulating layer could go on the outside.    New bricking?  Peeling off the old brick and cleaning and re-using it?  The cleaning of brick is obviously extremely labor-intensive, but with an army of volunteer labor,  maybe it would not be as un-doable as it sounds.  We literally have hundreds of people old enough or young enough to handle the necessary tools.  It would perhaps be one of the only things adolescents could do as well as adults.

Besides violating a conservation-of-energy principle, putting insulation on the inside would necessitate "smallering" the interior space, slightly, at least, because it would thicken the wall, allowing it to extend further into the interior space.

Locating heating and cooling units on the roof of the gym didn't do the exterior appearance any favors. The landscaping, never stellar, is a disgrace now.  A number of the trees around the perimeter have died, adding to the wearied ambiance.  The landscape matters are relatively easily fixed, although growth of plant material will take time.

All in all, being able to focus now on the perplexities of getting the property in shape for occupation is a good problem to have.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When Things Go Wrong

I'll let you guess why weddings and associated disasters were a topic of discussion today in typing class.

First, a disclaimer.  No one mentioned any names in connection with the following stories, and I rather doubt that any one knew any names.  Just so you know that if you experienced or witnessed the events referenced, your anonymity is still intact.  You should also know that sympathy was liberally sprinkled throughout the telling and the hearing of these stories.  A little indignation was present too, but not directed toward anyone who actually was the star of a disaster.

At one wedding, the servers were tightly wedged into a bench, no doubt alternating by gender as is typical, when one young lady fainted.  She may literally not  have been able to breathe.  Who knows?  The young man who was her partner for the day picked her up and carried her to her father and deposited her in his arms.  She was mortified, of course, when she came to and found out what happened.  We all agreed that the young man did the gallant thing, at least up until he dumped her on her unsuspecting father.  And the young lady?  Well, I think she must surely have felt many sympathetic vibrations today.  Seriously awkward was the general consensus.

At another wedding,  during open  mike, no one responded.  After about a ten-minute wait, the couple got up and made a little speech and dismissed everyone.

Here's where the indignation kicked in.  If even freshmen can figure out that if no one else led the way, the best man should have done so, I have a sneaking suspicion that someone in the wedding crowd should have figured it out.  How hard is it to wish the couple a blessing, and to say some kind words?   Why couldn't someone speak, even if they didn't have a clever or dramatic or embarrassing story--which sometimes seem to be the favorite kinds of expression at open mike?  Pride, maybe?  Fear?  No matter how kind the feelings of those in attendance were, by all appearances at that point in the proceedings, it's almost as if the feelings were unkind.  Or is it possible that some other sensibility was present?  An idea of decorum or propriety that did not allow for a hint of levity, or even spontaneity?  Any clues out there?


Hiromi, who is a bit of a safety freak, suggested I post here a link to a story I first saw on Facebook.  It's a warning about the disastrous results when a child ingests a tiny little button-shaped battery, like the ones found in watches, remote controls, etc.  After Hiromi read the story, he reviewed out loud how this works electro-chemically.  It wasn't pretty.  Basically the battery shorts out in the presence of liquid and begins to overheat, burning whatever it touches.  Somehow acid is released also, if I understood him right. A child's digestive tract can be horrendously damaged in a short time.  One family whose toddler experienced this is making it their mission to warn others.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Wedding and Other Matters

Whew!   Today I'm thankful for some things I wasn't thankful for yesterday:

1.  That I am not planning on getting married.

2.  That my children's weddings are all in the past.

If I planned a wedding to suit my tastes precisely, I have a feeling it would fall off the bottom of other people's favorite-things-in-weddings charts.  The food would be good, mind you, and the flowers would be fresh, the dresses would be new, and the singing would be as glorious as it usually is these days, but simple would be the name of the game--at least as simple as is possible when a crowd is involved.  I would creep in and out with as little fanfare as possible.  Being in the limelight is not for sissies like me, especially when Hiromi and I are hugging and kissing.  I'm sure I sound like I'm about 61 years old and have been married for about 32 years.  Why yes, that's exactly how it is.


Danny and Kathy got married today, and it was a nice wedding, with much love and beauty in evidence.
Arlyn N. preached on Song of Solomon, which was surprising, but probably shouldn't have been.  I'm guessing most preachers have no idea how to elucidate the message of the book discreetly in a mixed audience, but Arlyn pulled it off, and succeeded in directing our attention to the love of the Father for His bride, without forcing that truth onto the content of the Song of Solomon.  I really enjoyed the sermon.  Did you know that the book has the typical Hebrew poetry form, with ideas being repeated in artful arrangements--unlike western poetry where rhyme and rhythm are key elements of poetry?  According to one author Arlyn referred to, the form of Song of Solomon is this:  Prologue, A, B, C, Pivot/Climax/Fulcrum, C, B, A, Epilogue.  Arlyn carefully summarized the contents of each section, reading selected passages throughout.  Very fascinating.

At the reception I sat with my parents, (Hiromi had to leave for work before the meal.) and Shane and his wife and youngest son were only one table away, baby Carson within reach of his grandma for a bit of the time, so that was very nice.  Shane was the MC at the reception, and they had wisely planned ahead to have Tristan stay at Myron and Rhoda's house.  Seated very near the mike as they were, Tristan, hungry and needing a nap, would have been unlikely to add anything good to the atmosphere.  Besides, this was the big week for toilet training the little fellow.  Getting text message updates about successes and failures was far more relaxing for Dorcas than dealing directly with them would have been.

I  learned at the reception that Grant had grilled the chicken for the reception meal.  It was delicious.

Anja Miller was to sing at this wedding.  All those who sang wore white roses, "in loving memory of Anja."

For a period of time--perhaps for a year or so--before Danny and Kathy started dating, Kathy was one of three of the youth girls who asked me to "mentor" them.  I wasn't sure how to do that, but we met regularly, and learned to love each other and pray for each other.  Even before that, I was convinced that Kathy was quite a special young lady, and I never saw any reason to think otherwise after I learned to know her better.  She's unusually articulate,  and obviously intelligent, with quite an array of domestic skills.  We heard today that she never shied away from hard, dirty farm work.  I'm impressed.

We also heard today that Kathy did nothing to encourage Danny's interest in her when he first made it known.  In fact, Danny's father suggested today that she may have overdone it a bit, but he still was sure it was good for Danny.  Hearing about the drama early on was a fun part of the open mike time.  Danny, who spoke last, told us that he thought maybe he should have taken notes on what others said, because he thought he could likely have given a rebuttal in many cases.  Fortunately, he decided to forego the rebuttals, and spoke instead of his and Kathy's desire for others to know and feel the love of God for His bride.


Kathy has two "eligible" sisters--one a little older, and the other a little younger.  Just in case anyone has a need for such information.


 Seriously, one of the thoughts that has recurred often since Anja's death is that many other young ladies I know are really amazing people.  Anja was such a person, of course, and when she died, we all spoke of her wonderful characteristics and celebrated them, and  deeply mourned the loss of this amazing person.  What if we affirmed and celebrated those characteristics when we see them in the living--at a time when it need not be coupled with mourning?  It sounds like a good plan to me.  I admit that I'm not unusually good at seeing and seizing such opportunities myself, but I hope to become more attuned to following up on the opportunities.  As was true of Anja, others are gifted musically,  are heroes to the little people in their lives, affirm and support others unselfishly, love God passionately, serve their families, reach out to needy people, and have beautiful smiles and pure hearts.  I thank God that they have not all been snatched away as Anja was.


My dear friend, former housemate and co-teacher, Susie, was at the wedding today.  She is Danny's aunt.  I had very little time to visit with her, since I was coming and going with my parents, and they left fairly promptly after we were dismissed.  I hope to work on catching up tomorrow.  Her daughter has me pegged as a match for her talkative mother.  I'm not sure that it's a fair characterization of either of us.  (Notice the starchy tone?)  Why wouldn't we both talk a mile-a-minute after we've been separated for months or years, and still love to know about the other's life?


Lowell and David Y. had plans to travel next week to India for the annual pastors' seminars our church supports.  David, however, discovered that his visa is not current, and there is too little time to get an updated one, so Lowell will be traveling alone from here.  Vidya, the Mennonite Brethren pastor from Canada, who is an Indian native, is still planning to go.


I met one faithful blog reader today--Dorcas Miller's mother.  They are en route to Mexico to visit Floyd and Dorcas.  I saw them last at Anja's funeral, but had never actually met them till today, and certainly did not know that Dorcas' mother is a blog reader.


Lorne K.  is assuming LaVerne M.'s deacon duties for the present.

That reminds me of the stink room story.  It does relate to the previous bit of information in that I overheard the "stink room" reference in the few minutes before I entered the sanctuary for the preparatory service ahead of communion.  LaVerne was going over a few details with Grace or Susanna, in the process of handing off some of his and Rebecca's usual communion duties, and finished by saying he would leave _____________ in the stink room.    I had never heard it called that.

That put a silly grin on my face as I walked in to take my seat. The "stink room" is tucked away in a corner of room 1 in the basement, and it contains the collecting hole for the sump pump.  There's also a sink in there, and a water heater, I believe.  It does not smell good, as attested to by Harry S., who opined that if they used banishment to that room as a punishment for misbehavior at the grade school, there would surely be good behavior all around.

I had prayed for encouragement en route to the preparatory service.  Who would have thought of the "stink room" as the vehicle for brightening my outlook?


How did we get from the wedding to the stink room in this post?  Selah.


Friday, November 08, 2013

Marian's Legacy--Part 4

In one more post about Marian, I want to introduce you to tidbits about her home life as an adult.

When Marian was still in her twenties, she and her oldest sister, Rosa, who was twelve years older, moved into a house a short walk down the road from where they had grown up.  At some point, their parents moved a house right next door to where Marian and Rosa lived and settled there for their old age, and their brother Joe and his new family moved into the original farm house.  Their father had purchased the house Rosa and Marian moved into from John D. Yoder, the kindly Old Order Amish bishop who presided over the reorganization which resulted in a Beachy church in Kansas.  It was a very modest house.

Around the same time they moved into their own house, Marian and Rosa became licensed providers of foster care.  Because regulations specify, however, that some other income is provided, Marian kept working outside their home, doing house cleaning for others several days a week.  Before long, they added two bedrooms onto one side of the house.  This space was needed for the children who were placed in their care through social services.

They kept babies and grade-school-aged children, all of whom were in distressing circumstances before they came.  Some were handicapped.  I remember one child who required total care because of cerebral palsy.  Another robust and bright-looking little boy was nearly school age and did not speak.  They came with a variety of skin tones.  Some were scarred emotionally;  others' behavior was difficult to control. Lovable though, every one of the 70--that's how Marian and Rosa saw them.

One day Marian shared with me their hope that they could adopt one of the newborns who had come to them.  Because they were excited, I was excited with them.  Marian and I talked about how the child's need for a father could be met, even if both Rosa and Marian were single.  We knew that fatherless children come with a guarantee of the Heavenly Father's care, but they would need loving and interested men to help also.  Rosa and Marian's brothers might be able to fill that place, to some extent.
Although adoption looked like a big hurdle, they believed, and I agreed, that if God was calling them to do this, He would provide.  If they did not welcome the child into their own home, for keeps, the future for the child looked bleak, for reasons I won't elaborate on.  So Rosa became an adoptive mother, and Marian became an aunt to Rosa's adopted daughter.  A few years later, the adopted daughter had a birth sister, whom Rosa also adopted.  The daughters both came to Marian and Rosa's house straight from the hospital.

For the first number of years after the adoptions, foster children came and went, but eventually asking the daughters to deal with the constant changes of others coming and going in their household made Marian and Rosa decide to discontinue foster care.

Life with their daughters proved challenging as they grew older, but, while affirming the challenges, Marian told me once that, without the children's presence in their home, the hard work of daily life would be "so vennich devowaht" (so lacking in purpose).  

For a period of time during the girls' childhood, Marian became disillusioned to the point of despair.  Never given to sugarcoating anything, Marian saw clearly what was wrong in her little world, and she found it hard to cling to hope that things would work out well.  She needed understanding and help from others, and she did not always find it.  Although she was always willing to work hard to help make things better, hard work often wasn't enough, and things did not get better.  Finally though, she climbed out of that dark place in her thoughts, and faced life again with renewed hope and deepened faith.  Some of the Christian people who helped the girls helped Marian also.  From that time on, her strength grew.

For a period of years, she met regularly with others to pray.  I was often there.  When she was at home, and feeling particularly overwhelmed, she loved to take prayer walks.  Bit by bit, she learned to shift her burdens onto Jesus, and instead of a dark place inside, others could see peace and light in her.   That's surely why people who learned to know her later in life saw her as a saint.

Rosa and Marian had very different interests and different ways of working.  Division of household labor happened quite naturally.  Marian did the sewing, laundry, decorating, flower beds, and deep cleaning.  Rosa did the cooking, gardening, financial records, and daily housekeeping chores.  Overlap happened too, of course, when necessary.  I never learned how they worked things out with finances.  I'm sure they didn't fight over it, since I never knew them to fight over anything else.  Peace reigned between them, and they were generous in granting each other special favors.

I can't help contrasting Marian and Rosa's family and living arrangement with what is often staunchly defended in our time when same-gender parents rear children.

I may be guilty of stereotyping, but here's what I see in the gay rights rhetoric:

1.  Pretense that nothing essential is missing when both parents are the same gender.

2.  Adoption of children for the fulfillment of parents' needs.

3.  Demands for acceptance of "deviance" as normal behavior.

Marian and Rosa bypassed all that rhetoric and simply lived as a very non-traditional family, without pretending that it was ideal, without selfish agendas, without demanding that others affirm their choices, and certainly without deviant behavior.

In living their lives as they did, Marian and Rosa accomplished what Mr. Schrock referenced recently in a talk about living and dying.  He said that whether he lives or dies, he wants people to be able to look on and say either "That's the way to live" or "That's the way to die."

Now, finally, it's the perfect time to say of Marian both of the following:  "That was the way to live" and "That was the way to die."

Thank you, Marian, for showing us how to live and die.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Crystal Bowl and Chemical Soup

On a blog post on February 10, I mentioned my missing large crystal bowl.  It was the most beautiful bowl in my possession, except that at the moment it was no longer in my possession, and I had not been able to find it.  A week or so ago I spied it, stacked among the other large clear bowls in the kitchen cupboards at Cedar Crest.  I have no idea where it spent the intervening months, but I know I had checked for it at the church before.  I snatched it and brought it home, before it disappeared again.  I'm very glad to have it back.


I've watched the documentary Gasland several times recently.  It deals with the topic of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas.  Most of the hard facts below come from the movie, although I have seen references to the realities elsewhere also.

I did not know till I watched this movie that under the Bush-Cheney administration, the fracking industry was granted sweeping exemptions from the regulations present in the Clean Air and the Clean Water Act.  The first of these Acts was passed during the Nixon presidency--in an era when Republican presidents could still be environmental presidents apparently.  The 2005 exemption is sometimes referred to as the Halliburton Loophole or the Halliburton Exemption.  I find this exemption completely unacceptable, as does one whistle blower who works for the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).  In one particularly  troublesome incident, the EPA found that indeed the chemicals used in fracking were extremely toxic, but they also found that no action was needed.  As the whistle-blower summed it up, "Only in an Orwellian world does this make any sense."

In effect, this means that companies in the fracking industry can pollute with impunity, with no fear of consequences.  People whose health has been compromised by ruination of their water supply and breathable air have no legal recourse except civil lawsuits.  Law enforcement can't help because there are very few applicable laws to enforce.  Legal settlements almost always include a non-disclosure clause, so that people who have been wronged are muzzled after the settlement.

Dick Cheney was president and CEO of Halliburton (a huge gas drilling business) before he became vice president.  George Bush owned an oil company before he became president.  His father was in the oil business also.

When Cheney became vice president, he convened an energy task force which held 40 meetings with people in the oil industry and one meeting with environmentalists.  Five of the seven members of the task force were industry people who benefited personally from lenient laws for people in the fossil fuels industry.  It was during this era that the "Halliburton Exemption" became law.

The fact that 600 different chemicals are used in fracking, with no disclosure required, is a travesty also.  Many of the chemicals are extremely toxic, causing neurological damage and cancer.  After the chemicals are mixed with water for fracking purposes, the water can never again become a safe part of the water cycle.  Much of it remains underground, and the remainder is left in open-air pits to evaporate.  The volatile compounds from the mixture escape into the air, where, beyond the negative health impacts that result, they pose a danger of explosions, in sufficient concentrations.  The water mixture itself is sometimes saturated enough with flammable material  that it can be made to burn, if touched with a lighter.   Applying a torch to the surface of  euphemistically-named "produced water" in a stock tank can almost instantly create wisps of something that looks like clear plastic--not surprising since many of the chemicals that are used in manufacturing plastic are also used in fracking.

Farmers who struggle to make a living are sometimes tempted by the huge sums of money that are offered by companies buying up mineral rights.   The producer of the documentary, for example, was offered nearly $100,000.00 for mineral rights on the 20 acres of Delaware River bottom land he owns in Pennsylvania.

This is a worrisome prospect.  Kansas sits on top of one of the underground shale formations that are coveted for development.  I can only hope that landowners act wisely if they are ever approached by representatives from fracking companies.  As an aside, wind generators as energy producers begin to look very benign when compared to fracking as an energy-producing strategy.  Kansas has a great deal of wind energy potential also.

Another issue of concern with fracking is the apparent misuse of public lands.  Public lands first were opened for drilling in 1988 under the Reagan administration, when the elder Bush was vice president.  Very extensive fracking is happening on Bureau of Land  Management (BLM) territory now, mostly in western states.  The stated purpose for BLM areas is  "to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations." For land with this stated purpose to be used to increase the wealth of privately owned businesses, while polluting indiscriminately, seems wrong.

The Gasland movie contains some bad language that comes from people who were interviewed, and the movie has detractors for other reasons.   Although I regret the salty language and can't vouch for the veracity of every detail, I believe that, on the whole, the documentary reveals something we ought to know.  I borrowed the DVD from the Hutch library.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Marian's Legacy--Part 3

Marian lived her whole life without making or spending a great deal of money.  I never heard her complain about this.  It was apparently a limitation she accepted without bitterness, and it did not keep her from being generous.  

Marian told me once about the time at Calvary Bible School when a speaker compellingly told the story of Moses--when God was dealing with him about going to Pharoah on behalf of the Israelites.  "What is that in thine hand?" God asked Moses.  We know the rest of the story of how God used the rod in Moses' hand to work miracles.  Moses needed only to offer it for God's purposes.  

When Marian considered what was in her hand that she could offer to God, she saw a dust rag.  That provided direction for her, and that's how she got started with cleaning houses and businesses as a means of supporting herself.   She worked for a number of different people, and, to my knowledge, the pieces of her work combined never produced a full 40-hour week.

Marian also told me about a time when she was young and her mother expressed frustration with the long list of things she knew she did not want to do to support herself.  I never heard that list, but know for sure that she did not shy away from difficult tasks.  She was smart enough to know, however, when her skills and any given task were not well matched.

Marian's housework often had to be fitted in around a variety of other responsibilities.  The foster children in the household (70 different children over a 20-year time span), and later, the two adopted children, were her first priority.  In later years, she helped care for her parents, both of whom lived into their 90s.  Her mother survives at the age of 98(?).  For the past decade or so, "grandchildren" also needed care at times.  It was for these grandchildren that Marian most regretted the prospect of departing this life earlier rather than later.

Between foster care and elder care, Marian and her sister Rosa produced and sold baluts.  Baluts are developing duck embryos that are cooked and eaten in some Asian populations.  They kept a breeding flock of ducks, and incubated the eggs they produced.  When they were at precisely the right stage of development, they packed them up and transported them to Wichita where they were sold in Asian markets.

Ducks are not very tidy in their personal habits, and they do not reliably lay their eggs in any particular location, so gathering the eggs involved plucking them from a messy duck house floor.  They needed to be scrubbed before they could be incubated--a job which Marian described as being hard on anyone with a brain.  Giving this description was one of the many times Marian poked fun at herself in a way that let others laugh with her.  I loved that about Marian.  She made me laugh.

When Marian cleaned house for me, I always aimed to pay her whatever I was being paid.  When I got a raise, she got a raise.  I considered her service to me as valuable as my service to others at school.  At the beginning, I had confirmed that this was not short-changing her, in relation to what others were paying her.

Shane remembers how, on the day of his wedding, Marian pressed a $50.00 bill into his hand, to use on their honeymoon, or wherever else it was needed.  That was a memorable gift, coming straight from her generous heart and modest supply.  She told me later that in the chaotic time leading up to the wedding, she had not found time to shop for a gift or even prepare a card, but when she thought of that $50.00 bill, probably from having cashed a housecleaning check, she hoped desperately that she might be able to connect with Shane to give it to him at the wedding.  Since she didn't even have a card, it could hardly be included with the other gifts.  It worked out, and she was thankful.

I don't know specifics of Marian's financial situation in the last part of her life.  I would guess that her financial net worth rested almost entirely in the big old house she owned.  I can almost imagine her saying with a chuckle:  I guess it came out almost exactly right, didn't it?  Just enough, and nothing left over. 

These are the elements of Marian's legacy in relation to work and finances that I want to remember:

1.  Embrace who God made you to be--in considering the work you will do.
2.  Live within whatever means that payment for your work provides.
3.  Remember that making money can probably never be the highest priority if  God orders the priorities.
4.  Don't complain about not having enough money.
5.  Don't spend money you don't have.
6.  Do hard, dirty work without complaining, if that's what is needed.
7.  Be generous with whatever money you have.

Thank you Marian, for living well in the area of work and finances. 


Saturday, November 02, 2013

When Frugality Becomes Idolatry

The following words are copied from a Facebook comment which I wrote in the Reno County Anabaptists Group.  It was written in response to a question on when frugality becomes idolatry. On a side note, I really appreciate the privilege of paragraphing in this format.  If paragraphing is possible in a Facebook comment, I haven't figured it out.    


I find it especially troubling when a preoccupation with frugality is coupled with a deficient view of stewardship regarding other important matters--care of the earth, for example, or conspicuous consumption. In the latter category, high-dollar weaponry, preoccupation with trendy but extravagant or unhealthful foods (This includes thoughtless "eating out" habits.), showy vehicles, and imposing, overdone building construction seem to me to be particularly inconsistent with being wise stewards.

On the other hand, I see frugality as being a necessity we need not apologize for, given the fact that some of our other wise choices seem to make it a financial necessity. We value having large families and stay-at-home mothers. These are unaffordable on a modest income, unless we work at finding ways to live on less. When the idolatry discussion comes up, I think it's good to mention how this factor may influence our spending habits--not only now, but throughout history.

One measure of whether frugality has become an idol for us may be to examine our willingness to stay silent after we have "scored" an amazing deal. We might call it "The Brag Test." True, such matters can be shared in a spirit of rejoicing in God's provision, but other motivations are possible too.

I've been married for more than 30 years to a man for whom money is no idol, and I admire my husband for this, and have learned from him. Nevertheless, positively and intentionally practicing good stewardship in all of life goes beyond simply avoiding idolatry on this matter, and, for nearly all of us, that will be a lifelong task.


I was genuinely puzzled the first time I heard from a non-Mennonite friend that he thinks our people have a slightly unsavory relationship with money. "They're pretty slick with the money," he said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.  I was relieved that he did not mean "slick" in the sense of being dishonest.  He meant that they know how to make money and hang on to it--perhaps to the point of being stingy.  He may have framed his explanation carefully since he wanted to remain friends.

I responded by telling him that in our household, we're not at all "slick with the money," given the fact that we're not particularly good at collecting it or keeping it.  He knew us well enough to know some of our other values:  our faith, our willingness to work hard and do without, our care of the earth.  He even knew some of what we understand to be important regarding healthful food, and our disenchantment with chemical-based healthcare and agriculture.  He had been inside our modest home and had seen our modest vehicles.

I don't know for sure what sense he has of our relationship with money, frugality, and stewardship, but I do know that we are still friends, and, because of that, we have further opportunity to relate to him redemptively--something that might be a casualty of frugality gone wrong.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Marian's Legacy--Part 2

At one particularly anguishing time in Marian's life, I told her a story I had read earlier in Guideposts magazine.  The story was about a man who had just had a visitor in the nursing home where he resided.  The visitor was a woman who had at one time been engaged to the man she was visiting now.  She had later married someone else, under traumatic circumstances.

After the first couple became engaged, (I'll call them Don and Ruth.) Don had a horrible accident that left him disabled to the point of needing nearly total care the rest of his life.  Soon afterward, Don's mother visited Ruth and told her that she believed it would be best if she broke  her engagement to Don.  Don's mother loved Ruth dearly, but unselfishly gave Ruth permission to do what she thought would offer her a brighter future.  Ruth reluctantly followed her prospective mother-in-law's suggestion, and broke the engagement.  In all the following years, however, Ruth maintained her friendship with Don, and visited him regularly, apparently without compromise to her marriage.

Marian and I marveled together at that strange and unlikely "no fault" Guideposts story.  We had a special reason for pondering such a story, for Marian had just experienced a broken engagement.  The future was uncharted territory.  Neither of us had ever known anyone like this, or observed how people act in similar circumstances, especially when ongoing contact is likely, as it was in their case.  Would a continuing healthy friendship be possible for Marian and her "Don?"

It was possible, as gradually became clear.  Right through Marian's final days, "Don" visited her when she was sick, prayed for her, and did I-don't-know-what-else for her.  For the most part, they did not appear in public together, and they certainly did not sneak around in secret.

After the broken engagement, our church community continued to embrace both of them, and I never heard any criticism of their history together, or their decision to cancel the marriage plans.  I remember one person expressing some indignation when "Don" took Marian and others in her family to hear the "Messiah" at Lindsborg,  but that's the only time I heard  of any such comment on their ongoing friendship.  I'm pretty sure Marian enjoyed the day.  She was unlikely to spend the necessary money to hear the presentation, so having someone else pay for the tickets was a real treat.

The more I think about this unusual circumstance, the more I admire how Marian handled it.  Leading up to the initial momentous decision, she needed a lot of hand holding, prayer support, and advice from people wiser than I, but after she regained her balance, she did very well at moving on by herself, and making room for "Don's"  friendship when it suited her--or him.  I know less of "Don's" side of the story, but believe that he did well at moving on also.  He told me, though, that Marian's death was far more difficult for him than he anticipated.  Pain at parting is always the price of friendship.

"Healthy relationships following broken engagement" does not appear on many people's list of life accomplishments, but it's one part of Marian's legacy that puts a smile on my face.  I hope such a thing never happens to you, but if it does, that is how you can handle it, and life will eventually be good again.  It's a juggling act made possible by Christian maturity and the grace of God operating in a person's life.  Marian showed us how such a thing is done with courage and grace.

Thank you, dear friend.


Marian's Legacy--Part 1

Over the past two weeks, during one of the times at my desk in school when thoughts of Marian brought fleeting tears, I pulled out a Post-it notepad and jotted down a list of things I wanted to ponder further and write about at some point.  The list, which got tucked immediately into my purse, named challenges/hurdles/sacrifices that Marian faced and survived and even triumphed over.  I want the rest of the people in my world to know about these things and to remember them also, perhaps to draw courage for their own challenges, to glorify God for His care for His children, to strengthen resolve for choosing what is right, or to develop a caring heart for others who struggle.  I hope to be as discrete as necessary, and protective of Marian's legacy.

Those who learned to know Marian only during the last part of her life could hardly know how far she had come in her personal journey, and what her progress had cost her.  I'm sure I don't know all of it either, but I did see right into her heart many times, and struggled with her, as did others--a few others.
On a number of occasions, when Marian needed to communicate something in writing, particularly to someone in an official capacity, she and I worked out a trade.  I did the writing, and she paid me by cleaning my house.  Doing this writing necessitated making very sure I understood what she wanted to say, and I heard many details in the process of writing down her thoughts.

One of Marian's hurdles was dyslexia.  I use that term with more confidence in relation to her than any of her teachers did in the past, to  my knowledge.  Marian told me herself that she's sure she fits in that learning-disability category.  In the process of finding help for one of the "daughters" she helped raise, Marian learned about the characteristics of dyslexia, and she saw that it fit her situation precisely.  Yet she faithfully read to the children in her care, and repeatedly searched out and read also books that helped her understand spiritual, emotional, and cognitive problems.  I read some of these books at her recommendation, and they were serious books on complicated problems, containing many stories, which she remembered and could repeat afterward.

When it came to reading instructions on a package of wallpaper paste or a medicine or food supplement package, however, she often gave up before she started.  "I can read something like this, and not know a thing it says when I'm done," she would say.  "You read it and tell me what I need to know."  That was Marian--humility without excuses, perseverance when doing so could make a child happy, or provide insight into another person's struggle.

I often marveled at Marian's fearlessness in making necessary contact with others who had information, resources, or services that Marian needed, or that someone she loved needed.  In those pursuits, she had conversations with pastors, counselors, law enforcement personnel, tutors, educators, social services providers, mental health professionals, lawyers, doctors, nurses, musicians, and people in various ministries.  She often talked to her friends and family too, and learned from them.  Marian was humble enough to ask for help.

Marian's desire to serve also put her in contact with a very different spectrum of society--children from abusive or negligent families, people in poverty, in repeating cycles of destructive personal choices, in distressing personal situations, and those with multiple disabilities.  Although she sometimes felt exhausted by these needs, she carried dreams of more that she might be able to do some day--taking care of prison babies, for example.

When she inherited a piece of land from her father, Marian traded it for an old two-story house no one else saw a future for, and set about having it repaired and restored.  She spent many hours doing a lot of the interior work herself.  In her dreams, it became a refuge for troubled individuals--people who needed a place of healing and peace.  For now, the house is home to a young family from our church, a function that does not necessarily preclude Marian's dream becoming a reality some day.

Marian exited school as soon as it was legally possible, after finishing eighth grade, nine years after entering first grade.  (I think I'm remembering right that she repeated a grade.)  Dyslexia, however, could not prevent Marian from living a purposeful, productive, anointed life.  From my perspective, with the grace of God in her life, Marian appears to have been perfectly equipped to do the work God called her to, with competence, kindness, grace, and humility.

I loved Marian for all this, and more, and miss her every day.  I was, after all, one of the needy people Marian reached out to, and one of the people she blessed.