Prairie View

Monday, September 29, 2014

More on Bites

Do you remember those mystery bites I wrote about last week?  I may have stumbled onto an answer.  It was buried in an email on turf management from Megan Kennelly at K-State.  According to this newsletter, Oak Leaf Itch Mites (OLIM) become active at this time of year.  They are not a problem every year--only when the pests they parasitize have infested the oak trees.  OLIM females eat the larvae of a pest that causes galls either on the margin of oak leaves, or perhaps on pockets along the veins of oak leaves.

OLIM bites have a small blister in the center, and when they're scratched, the bites become painful.  Secondary bacterial infections may occur.  They are different from chigger or mosquito bites.  Unlike chigger bites, these are not typically found in areas where clothing hugs the body.

The bites are most often found on the arms and upper part of the body, since the mites drop from the leaf canopy of oak trees.  They are microscopic in size and not visible to the naked eye.  They are small enough to pass right through window screens and into home interiors.

A four-hour time lapse may occur between the time the mites land on a person's skin and the time they begin biting or burrowing (not sure which).  This means that if a person is outside in the vicinity of an infested oak tree, taking a bath or shower promptly afterward may prevent the mites from causing painful bites.

Here are some links to more information:

K-State people do not know that OLIM bites have become widespread this year, but they are aware of some who apparently have had bites, so they're putting out an alert.

I'd be happy to hear from anyone here who has information or an experience to share with the rest of us.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Past-Tense Amish

Over a period of the past ten years or so I've cogitated occasionally over what it means to be a Christian group or individual from an Amish background, but not currently living an Old Order Amish lifestyle.  Although it's not to my credit necessarily, I think sometimes I've focused on what I don't like seeing in ex-Amish people (or people formerly from another conservative Anabaptist lifestyle).  For example:

1.  A focus on what was wrong within the Amish group.  Usually this involves rehearsing  agonized growing-up experiences, with the story teller looking like a victim-hero--noble aspirations and longings squelched, while the Amish culture is cast as ignorant, unsympathetic, closed-minded or harsh.

2.  Flaunting elements of a newly-adopted lifestyle that are particularly offensive to the Amish.   On the flip side, someone told me recently how much they appreciate the respect it shows when such people dress modestly in the presence of their former associates.  Showing restraint with a host of other behaviors is similarly appreciated.

3.  An apologetic stance.  This is in contrast to a respectful stance.  Be nice to them because they don't know any better sounds a lot different than They take following God seriously and I respect them for it.

4.  A superior stance.  See number 1.  They'd be so much better off (happier, more free, more relevant) if they saw things as I do, and did things as I do.

Is there any right way to leave such a group?  I really wish I could point to a method and say This is it, or even These are right reasons for leaving such a group.  Right now I'm not prepared to go there.
Instead, I'll reference several general ideas that have been swimming back and forth in my consciousness over the past number of weeks.  They are related to how I think we should view our Amish background.

One is the repeated admiring references to the Amish way of life that I see in the writings of respected authors in a variety of fields.  An off-the-top-of-my head partial list includes:  Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver, Gene Logsdon, and John Taylor Gatto.   Several of these people have clerical training, and at least one of them is an educator.  Some of them are particularly interested in responsible use of resources, community building, self-sufficiency, craftsmanship, and sustainability.  All of them have authored multiple books.

Almost certainly these people have a somewhat idealized view of Amish life, particularly in their farming, their community life, and their education.  In other words, they haven't lived inside of it long enough, if at all, to see its warts.  They are, however, people who do not have "baggage" (like that of many ex-Amish) that prevents their seeing what is truly laudable.  They are also people who can evaluate some things far more dispassionately and with far more training and practice in making rational comparisons than people can from inside the circle.

My growing sense is that we are acting foolishly when we pedal away from this heritage with "good riddance" sentiments.  Maybe what we really need is eyes to see and appreciate this heritage.  If wise people around us can see its value, why can't we?

Another perspective that guides my thinking about being Amish is the Anabaptist hermeneutics list (hermeneutics is how a text--especially the Bible--is understood and interpreted) I first saw while I was teaching an Anabaptist history class.  I really don't know much about the origin of this particular list, but I loved how it expressed concisely the things I "felt in my bones" about cherishing the way of life I had grown up in and now choose deliberately for  myself.  Six years ago I wrote a blog post on it here.    I suggest you read that post for better context, but I will repeat part of it here:

(1) The Bible as Self-interpreting--Any specific Scripture can be better understood through knowledge of and reference to other Scriptures. Each part harmonizes with the whole.
(2) Christocentrism--Christ is at the center of Scripture. The Old Testament points forward to Him, and the New Testament reveals Him.
(3) The Two Testaments--We understand the Old Testament through the lens of the New.
(4) Spirit and Word--The Spirit brings the Word to life. Lacking a proper respect for the Word, people can justify all kinds of excess by claiming the motivation of the Spirit. Lacking the work of the Spirit, the Word has little more life than any words on any paper.
(5) Congregational Hermeneutics--Understanding of Scripture comes by active participation in a brotherhood of believers--with strong relationships a prerequisite. This also provides the "staging area" for the practical outworkings of Scriptural norms.
(6) Hermeneutics of Obedience--People grow in their understanding of truth by being obedient to the truth they already understand.

The text following the dash in each numbered paragraph is my wording.  It is a summary of much longer text in the original document.

Hiromi and I have had some fairly intense conversations over some of these points.  His "a whole group can be wrong" is bolstered by a recounting of what happened in Japan before WWII when the whole country viewed their emperor as a god.  I counter with this: "When a whole group is focused on understanding and obeying Scripture, they're not likely to be wrong in any way that puts them at odds with the will of God.  Operating within the counsel of a church body is a protection against error--not an inclination toward error."  The "whole group" in Japan was united on a very different foundation than that of a Christian group.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not always comfortable with the status quo.  I am deeply grateful, however, to be part of a church group that operates with an Anabaptist hermeneutic. In the Anabaptist hermeneutic we have common ground with Amish groups--more so than with many evangelical or mainline Protestant groups, and we should celebrate the link of that amazing gift instead of apologizing for it.

The third "fish" swimming in my sea of thoughts is the "memory" place occupied by the Amish.  By this I mean simply that their way of life provides for the rest of us a reminder of what following Christ might look like if we took it as seriously as we might.  It preserves a memory in other areas as well.

One example in the "other" category comes from the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.  Wes Jackson, the founder and director, is well-known in sustainable agriculture circles.  He is a former Stanford professor and operates and writes on a decidedly secular foundation.  Guess where he looked, however, when he decided to experiment with tillage by horsepower on his land.  That's right.  The Amish, because of how they had kept alive the memory of this way of farming.  They were the experts.

Paul Yoder, who learned to know Christian people in Europe who had lived under Communist rule in the former Soviet Union for many years, has recounted what these people told him.  When new freedoms in recent years allowed a more open expression of faith, most people had no idea how to conduct church services, for example.  It was the grandmothers who remembered how it once was, and who could help provide guidance.  This is what the Amish can do for us also--provide a memory of how to do church.  For example, we have almost entirely departed from the pattern of preaching regularly on prescribed topics throughout the year.  What if we returned to that model, temporarily at least?  I suspect we'd find it a blessing.

I saw the memory-thing happen in a gathering I was once part of at Hesston college, following a talk there by David Kline.  I wrote about it here.  In short, Kline answered a question by suggesting to the gathered group that they consider the use of the lot in making congregational decisions.  Most of those present had shifted to a congregational practice of having salaried, professionally-trained pastors--a practice not without problems as I'm sure everyone present understood.  Here again, the Amish way provided a memory of how it once was that might be of help to church people in our time.

If we (and all who are no longer Amish) can note honestly the things to be appreciated in the Amish way of life, if we can identify and celebrate the things we share, and if we can look to the Amish to show us the way in areas that may not be working so well for us, then I believe we're on our way to benefiting from the ways in which our lives are linked to theirs, and we'll be enriched by it.  On the other hand, if we're convinced that allowing the Amish to influence us means nothing except "moving backward,"  we'll find ourselves influenced instead by something else, which may not be as honorable as the Amish way.  In any case, it's less likely to bear the gravitas of centuries of continued practice.    


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Wrapup 9/21/2014

If you've ever visited here when the weather was awful, you really need to come back right now.  The temps today were between 70 and 80 all day--without unpleasant humidity, the breezes are very light, and the day arrived and departed with a magnificent (or at least attractive) sunrise and sunset.  The weather tomorrow will likely be similar.

I have my typing students primed to especially note where the sun rises and sets in relation to the east-west roads in the area on Tuesday, September 23, the first day of Autumn. This equinox event gives me pleasure every time I notice it.


Today in church Gideon and Esther became members.  A teaching job for Gideon is what brought the family here from Poland where they had lived last year.  Before their marriage, Esther resided in Ireland with her family, and Gideon had lived in Missouri with his parents when he wasn't in school in Guys Mills, PA.--before he moved to Poland as a single man.

One line in Gideon's testimony impressed me.  He noted that he and his wife have an ongoing interest in Europe, and said simply that if they ever choose to leave this fellowship, they are committing themselves to do so for noble reasons.  He also said that they want to be givers while they're here, and not only takers.


I learned today that Paul Yoder's (and "Melvin Fannie's") sister-in-law Marilyn died last week in Indiana.  She was Vernon's widow.

This would have meant something to me anyway, but far less if I had not been with Paul and Edith several years ago when we stopped to visit Marilyn just before we left Indiana, after having attended Susanna's father's funeral.  She was a gracious and pleasant lady.


We have a local seminar coming up on Thursday and Friday of this week, related to interacting with Muslims.  It's open to all, but "signing-up" in advance is requested for those who plan to be present for meals.  I hear that some Middle Eastern food will be served.


I heard the good news today that Rachel Y.'s counseling license has been granted in Kansas, in reciprocity with South Carolina, where her training and first clinical experience occurred.  A personal visit to the state office in Topeka seemed to have moved things along at lightening speed, compared to the 3-month silent wait she had experienced till then.


And now to cover the trivial category . . . This was definitely a purple morning among the ladies from Center and Cedar Crest who sang at MFC.  Of the six ladies there, all except one were wearing some shade of purple.  Maybe the unplanned matchy-matchy event would have been "ruined" if someone else from Center had showed up.  The singing would have likely been improved though.  Hiromi and I were the sole representatives from Center, and we were there because Henry and Elizabeth Schrock had asked to trade turns with us.  Henry's widowed sister-in-law was visiting here from Indiana--Mrs. Phineas Schrock.


Our voting for the next Sunday School study took a funny turn today.  Among various suggestions we voted on, the most-preferred option came in only four votes ahead of the runner-up.  So we voted again between Daniel and Hebrews.  The vote was tied till Joseph (the SS superintendent in charge) broke the tie in favor of Hebrews.  Then we voted on one more option, and decided to add the books of Philemon and James to the study of Hebrews.

I had voted in favor of studying the minor prophets.  I was simply ready for something in the Old Testament.  When that didn't fly, I voted for Daniel, although I'm certainly not over-eager to get into all the prophecy speculations that others have in studying that book.

Another option that looked good was studying Firm Foundations, a curriculum from New Tribes Mission.  It covers the "story" of Scripture, from creation to Christ.  I liked that option too.  We had studied that in SS a number of years ago.  So many good choices.


What is it with skin eruptions, of late?

My co-teacher Norma's niece in Pennsylvania has the most horrible case of staph-infected skin that many of the health-care professionals involved have ever seen.  It started with contact dermatitis (which often involves poison ivy exposure), and then was diagnosed as impetigo.  She has spent a number of days in the hospital, and has had a lot of facial swelling, and oozing sores over much of her body.

Norma herself, at about the same time, saw a doctor for what was also diagnosed as impetigo.  She was given antibiotics orally and topically, and with a bandage over the one small area involved, she taught school as usual.  Now, however, she is battling a reaction to the antibiotic.

Dietrich, my nephew, has an angry-looking patch on his forearm.  He has it bandaged at school, and at home, they're treating it with plantain, a common weed that is known to have healing properties.  It arrived in this country via immigrants who brought it along for its medicinal powers, and has now spread over the entire country.  Dietrich's mother, who is a nurse, treated herself successfully with plantain several times for brown recluse spider bites--with no tissue necrosis resulting.

Several girls at school have mystery bites on their forearms also.  One girl is afraid it's flea bites from playing with friendly cats.  Her brother, however, who has even more exposure to the cats, has no such reaction.  No fair.

People apparently do not all react the same to bites, even if they are exposed equally.  I know that is the case for bedbugs--through several unfortunate hotel room experiences while on overnight trips to Christian school meetings at Kansas City and Topeka (this year we're going to Wichita).    In one case, three out of four girls who shared the same room and who slept in the same beds got numerous itchy, swollen bites, and the fourth one didn't.  At another time, in the case of one room where the bedbugs were actually seen crawling on the skin of the room's occupants, neither of the two people there developed skin symptoms.

Have any of the readers here noticed more or worse skin infections than usual?


 Most of the ladies and some of the males in the DLM family gathered yesterday at Mom and Dad's place to work in the house and yard to do maintenance tasks outdoors and cleaning indoors.  The most fun part of such days are working with people I really like.

My mom, despite her dementia, is capable of providing some levity and entertainment.  "Can you tell me how I'm doing?" she asked Dad yesterday, in my hearing, when she was doing  nothing at all except sitting in her rocking chair.  In her case, Dad gave a reassuring answer.  During most of the day, Mom's question was one I should probably have been asking as well--only I had the good sense not to, since I was pretty sure I didn't really know what I was doing.  I'm glad for others who are better at organizing and carrying out such events than I am.


Recently I've been following several Facebook threads where people have shared something about their hard experiences in church life.  In both threads, I knew very few of the people who contributed, so a lot of the personal context was missing, but nearly all had suffered through the exercise of church discipline.  In some cases, excommunication had taken place, and in other cases, people had walked away from a church situation that had become unappealing for some reason, and they felt ostracized afterward.

Here are some of the other things I've observed on the Facebook threads and elsewhere:

1.  In one group, where there are no written standards, people felt deeply wounded by the control exerted through personal pressure from leadership toward members--often when the members had no knowledge of where the "invisible" lines were that separated acceptable conduct from unacceptable till they had crossed the lines.

2.  In another group, where the standards are very clear, failure to abide by them regularly resulted in a determination of rebellion and the exercise of church discipline--frequently excommunication.

3.  One person, the only one I knew personally, talked about living for years in limbo after having been excommunicated.  He was never sure whether he had returned to good standing or not, and finally left.

4.  In another case I heard about recently, someone who considered joining a certain church decided against it when he observed that some who are members regularly do things that are contrary to the agreed-upon standard.

5.  Many churches avoid spelling out much at all in regard to expectations from members.  Not much is made either of being in or out as a member, or being a contributing member or simply being aboard for the ride.  

I have no appetite at all for delving into such messy situations, but wonder whether there isn't a much better way to handle things than often happens.   The right road really seems to be somewhere between deep and dangerous ditches that look something like the situations referenced above.  While I certainly don't claim to see the whole picture, or even the most important parts of the picture, I note the following:

1.  Church membership should mean something.

What people often talk about when they don't wish to do what has been agreed-upon before their arrival on the scene is that they feel no ownership of the standards.  This sounds like whining to me. One of the universal challenges in growing up (what appears in literature anthologies under the theme of Innocence versus Experience) is to adapt oneself to the realities of the grown-up world.  That's not all that church is, but it is that--a grown-up world that will welcome people who are still growing up, but a world that does not need to fall all over itself to make immaturity comfortable.

Identity is another thing that church membership can mean.  It's not that a single identity is the only right one, but a confused identity is no virtue either.  Being comfortable with who we are as a church body is OK, if we are a people who seek to follow the Lord--even when there is still room for improvement on many fronts.  We really don't have to put on a necktie when people outside our church might feel obligated to do so.  It's OK to not have neckties be part of who we are.

When people deliberately walk away from a church body, something changes in their relationship to other members.  I, for one, often feel the burden of many needs that I know of. Sometimes they feel overwhelming.  I try to remember, however, that I am not "the mother of the world," and I have responsibility for meeting only a small part of the world's needs.  I feel especially responsible to pray for my natural family and for my church family and to help meet their needs.  Beyond that circle, I feel far less responsibility, although I pray for others as well, as the Lord reminds me.  In plain words, one thing it means when someone walks away from our church fellowship is that their needs are now more someone else's responsibility than ours.

2.  Leaders should lead and members should follow. 

I've often pondered the problem of trying to follow someone who refuses to lead or leads in an off-course direction.  Walking in place is a sorry and frustrating exercise, but being immobilized permanently is worse.  We all really need engaged and willing leaders.

I'm sure that if I had a leadership position, I would see more clearly the problems associated with people being unwilling to follow.  Usually I'm happy to follow. In the schoolroom, where I do have a leadership position of sorts, I find that students usually try to follow my wishes.  When they don't, I'm responsible for making it feel advantageous for them to do so, or to re-evaluate what I'm asking of them.

3.  Expectations should be clearly communicated.

I would very quickly lose patience with any effort to write everything down that is expected of church members.  I believe, however, that if group expectations are not followed because of being unclear, a clarification and gentle reminder is probably all that is necessary.   It's silly as well to say that unwritten expectations are not legitimate.  This imperfect world operates by many such expectations, and it can not be otherwise.   People should learn to live with it.

4.  Everyone should be accountable, always.

A self-determined course of action regarding settled church matters seems like a contradiction of the purpose for being a church because of how it leaves out the functioning of the body as a whole.

In the process of making decisions, everyone's input should be welcome, and everyone's actions and attitudes should be open for inspection.  Leaders and members are alike in this regard.

I'm probably not qualified to say how leaders should carry out their roles.  I do know that we have only one perfect leader and He is near, but none of our flesh and blood church leaders is He.

I don't see leaders and members as comprising different tiers in a church body.  If the body were a circle, the leaders would stand in the line of the circle, along with everyone else.  In the fashion of the "electricity" game we used to play, everyone stands there when decisions are being made, providing and receiving input, as the "electricity" passes around and around the circle, perhaps having begun with the leaders, but reversing direction occasionally, and eventually passing through the hands of all who are present.

When the "game" is over, it is the leaders who have the responsibility to determine where the "charge" lies now, and what is best for all.

5.  Voluntary confession of sin should be encouraged.

6.  Redemption and restoration should be pursued.

I don't feel inspired to develop the last two ideas any further just now. Maybe a reader can help out.

In the sermon we heard today at church, Julian asked us to consider whether we are willing to be people of discernment.  A church is blessed if its people all say yes when they're asked that.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ten Favorite Childhood Books

Someone tagged me on Facebook, with instructions to list ten favorite books I read as a child.  I'm having a problem here--several actually.  One, I have a poor memory for details.  Two, I'm beginning to wonder if I had a book-deprived childhood.  I do know that when I had young children I often envied their reading opportunities, and realized that their homeschool experience far surpassed my public school experience in this access-to-and-time-for-reading department.  As is often the case, I can't quite comply with the listing format that works best for others, but I'm willing to approximate the list of ten.

When I was in first or second grade our teacher read Pilgrim's Progress during story hour.  I thought it was a wonderful story.

Our home did not have many story books, and we never visited the public library when I was growing up.  We did have a church library, and we had a school library, of course.  I read so many books from both libraries that I sometimes thought there were no interesting-looking ones left.  From the church library I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Among my favorites from the school library were Thornton W. Burgess books, and a few Jim Kjelgaard books. Those were animal stories, and I loved them.  I also read a number of Lois Lenski books.  The only title I recall now was Texas Tomboy.  In a similar vein was Caddie Woodlawn, another story of a tomboyish girl.  I loved both stories, and identified with the main character.

What we had at home instead of individual story books were sets of books.  We also had a collection of old magazines from Christian publishers.  My mother had sewed them together in books, and we read them over and over.  Youth Companion is the one I remember best.

We also had one very large volume of children's literature, a textbook from a class my dad took in college.  It was called Story and Verse for Children, and had poems and stories from the best children's authors.

In the category of sets of volumes, we had Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories, Childcraft (the old red-covered ones), and World Book Encyclopedia.  I browsed the Encyclopedia often, and read and re-read the Bedtime stories and Childcraft books, especially the volumes with stories and poems.

So there you have it--my custom-formatted list of ten books.  Here it is, in summary:

Jim Kjelgaard books

Thornton W. Burgess books

Laura Ingalls Wilder books

Lois Lenski books (Texas Tomboy)

Pilgrim's Progress

Caddie Woodlawn

Story and Verse for Children

Childcraft Series

Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories Series

World Book Encyclopedia

My list looks like the kind of child I was, and hints at the kind of adult I became.  I'll let you put that together any way that seems right to you.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Wrapup 9/14/2014

Hiromi's new work schedule of having Saturdays off pleases me a great deal.  I'm also  happy about his never having to work past 7:00.  Since my first class starts at 10:30 and his work day usually begins about then, our morning schedule is compatible too.  Lots of good togetherness going on here.

After hearing about the insect-bite-healing properties of plantain, and after learning from Richard and Susan where to find it near school, I looked for it along the roadside near our place.  Hiromi and I took a walk this evening and, since he politely asked me to do so, I named every plant I could identify.  I saw many lovely grasses in full bloom, but not much plantain--one plant, to be precise.

"Is that what I've been working so hard to kill on this place?" Hiromi asked when I showed him.

"No.  I think that's dock," I answered.  I hope I'm right, but I'll have to check things out a little more to be absolutely sure.  According to what I found online, plantain comes in many different forms.

During lunch on Friday, when Richard and Susan were at school, I was trying to remember what Plantain Lily is.  Later I remembered that it's another name for Hosta.

All the discussion about plantain began when we looked at a large and beautiful flower arrangement that Sheri Nisly had given Norma, in honor of Anja's memory.  She was a cousin to both of them.  In the bouquet was a long oval-shaped leaf that we were all trying to identify, and Susan said it reminds her a bit of plantain.  Since the bouquet contained many lilies, her comment triggered the Plantain Lily memory for me.  That leaf may, in fact, have been a hosta leaf, although I've never seen that exact leaf form and color.  Given the enormous variety in hostas, however, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the plant material has become part of the floral trade.


In bloom right now are these:  Indian Grass, Big Bluestem, Silver Bluestem, Purpletop, Switchgrass, Foxtail, Lovegrass, and several less ornamental grasses--Goosegrass?  and Orchardgrass?  In flowers I saw Goldenrod, Ironweed, Smartweed, Plains Coreopsis, and Snow-on-the Mountain.


In school last week, when Dietrich casually mentioned a bite on his arm that was painful and itchy, I inquired about whether it might be from a brown recluse spider.  He didn't know for sure, but he said his mom has been bitten twice by a brown recluse spider, and both times she recovered with no lasting effects after using plantain leaf to heal it.  That's what Dietrich is doing for his bite.  He had just started treating it.


Some locations nearby saw frost on Friday morning.  Frost this early is almost unprecedented.  It's a month earlier than the average first frost date.  I haven't heard of damage to vegetation--only frosty windshields, etc.

The temperature a few days earlier had gone to at least 99.


Lizzie Nisly had her 81st birthday yesterday.  Friends of hers made others aware of the event and suggested ways to make it a special time.  Last year, on her 80th birthday, no one could think how to celebrate.  The birthday occurred between Anja's death and her funeral.


(Big) Josh Yoder helped out his great uncle and aunt, Amos and Anne, by calling for quiet via the sound system during the visiting after church today.  When everyone was listening, he said that the aforementioned relatives had received a lunch invitation and needed help remembering who had invited them.  It turned out to be William Hershbergers, and Leroy was on hand to provide transportation for them.


Friends of Anja's family are making plans to plant a rose garden at LaVerne and Rebecca's home to  honor her life.  Anyone is welcome to contribute. Some plants that complement roses will also likely be incorporated, so any dollar amounts can be put to good use.  I haven't heard any mention of this, but I'm also hoping that mulch and drip lines will be installed to make maintenance easy.  A single rose bush might cost between 20 and 25 dollars, although what is purchased and where it's purchased will make a difference.  Money can be donated to Joanna Yoder (Mrs. Oren), Judy Miller (Mrs. Lowell), or to LaVerne and Rebecca directly.


On our church bulletin board are two letters of thanks from a congregation in Monrovia, Liberia.  Included are pictures of people who have just received food purchased with funds from our church.  The Ebola sickness has created many secondary problems, including paralysis of normal work and marketing activities, and simply getting food on the table is more difficult than usual.

The congregation we're helping is the one where Lowell and Judy visited last spring?, and where Lowell spoke a number of times in a Christian conference.


 David is grateful to have received a ten-year multiple-entry visa to India.  He and Lowell hope to go there later this year, and this time Larry Byler will likely go along.


For the first time since we live here, the area around the back door is nicely cleaned up and mowed.  I have not yet had the courage to inquire about the fate of some of the things that were out there.  I think my suspicions are probably on target, based on Hiromi having produced a cast-iron grill plate today that he said we could use the next time we want to grill fish.  (Last night's attempt was not entirely successful.)  "I got it out of the recycling," he informed me.

"You had thrown it away?" I asked incredulously.

"Not thrown it away.  Recycled it."

"What was it for?"

"It was part of the camp stove.  I think Shanes have it."

That was even worse.  He knew where it belonged, and where it could be used to good advantage, and still threw it away.  (I mean recycled it)

I fretted and stewed over it awhile, and then told him that I've figured out what's wrong with him. I'm sure you can see that diplomacy and tact were oozing out of every pore at this point.

"You have no imagination," I said.  "You look at something, and can't think of a single thing it would be good for, unless an insight happens to hit you in the face.  All you can think to do is get it out of sight as fast as possible."

"We don't have room to store it," he said.  Further evidence that he has no imagination.

Efficiency can be so overrated.


Time has a very informative article on what goes on during sleep. In short, the brain cleans and heals itself during this time.  Cranking along during waking hours results in a build-up of waste material, and a slow-down of its processes.  Too little sleep time results in waking hours during which the brain simply cannot function optimally because it's still clogged with wastes.


One of the stellar pleasures of teaching an adventuresome food production class last spring was the chance I had this summer of trying out some of the heirloom tomatoes they planted and shared with me.

Today when I provided a meal for my parents and Linda, I prepared the most beautiful plate of sliced tomatoes that I have ever seen.  On it were slices of Ruthie's "white" tomato (actually a clear pale yellow), an orangey yellow Kellog's Breakfast tomato, ripe green slices of Aunt Ruby's German, and, of course, some ordinary red ones.  The green one was from Kristi, since my plant like that had unaccountably died, after growing to a decent size in the garden.  I think Kristi had originally planted the Kellog's Breakfast one too, which has produced well for me.   I may be spoiled for life, and never again settle for just plain old red tomatoes and nothing else.


Kristi butchered the rabbit yesterday that she had raised for the "animal" part of the food production class.  Not everyone in the class thought she would have the intestinal fortitude to prepare it for the table, but they were proven wrong.

When she did her "wilderness survival" for a school science project, she had shot and cooked a squirrel to eat, so I suppose a domesticated rabbit seemed easy, compared to that.

Jordan's pigs are still growing, and are regularly being treated to "people food" wastes.

Everyone else chose to care for chickens.  Some are laying hens, and some were broilers that have long-since been packed into the freezer.


My brother-in-law, Marvin M. was born in 1957.  He turned 57 today.  My brother Caleb turned 58.

As Perry Lee does faithfully, he got us all to sing Happy Birthday for Marvin after church.


Bryan and Cynthia Shenk have come here to live.  Bryan has lived here most of his life, of course, and Cynthia comes from Leon, IA.  After having had three families from our church move away in the past year, it's nice to have one moving in again.  Lyle Stutzmans moved to Indiana, Conrad Yoders to South Dakota, and Sanford Yoders to Miami, Oklahoma.


Have I mentioned that soccer is the game of choice at school right now?  In all the years I've been there, this has never happened before.  It's a wonderful thing, in my opinion, given the fact that it's an outdoor activity, it's a participation sport, and it involves a lot of physical exercise.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Negative Review

I'm ready to put some of the slightly tense and sad thoughts of the past few weeks behind me.  No.  No one is out to get me.  Neither have I suffered injustice or torment at the hands of others.  What I've been doing a lot of is reading the news.  In preparation for the first current events study of the school year, I immersed myself in pinning down the particulars of what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Ukraine, Iran, the US-Mexico border, and inside ISIS.  It took looking underneath the surface, in some cases, to understand our country's role in the events transpiring in those places.  I had to understand things well enough to write a one-paragraph summary of each situation, and then, as questions surfaced, to elaborate on every one, repeatedly, as students sought to understand and then write and speak on specific aspects of them.

I feel saddened by the suffering in each place, and the complexity of doing anything at all to help make things better, except pray.  Even now that our president has offered a plan for "helping," I know, as we all do, that the answers offered are not really answers at all, but, at best, a way of delaying what is, in a sense, inevitable--the darkening of a world increasingly ripe for a final harvest.


It's the week of 9-11, and more significantly for us here, it's the week of 9-10, the day when our Anja was instantly killed a year ago.  Marian's death followed only a little more than a month later.  Sheldon died about a month after that.


I'm reading the book IndoctriNation:  Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity.  I have a great deal of respect for others in my profession, but much of this is really depressing stuff.  While conditions in public education do not directly affect my family or me, I grieve for what it means for many around us.

I'm revisiting insights I've held close for a long time, and see that, rather than being able to moderate my reservations about "status quo" education, I may need to reshape some assumptions in a more cautious direction.  I don't like  having to do this.


Within a few weeks, work will begin in earnest on readying the old Elreka building for school next year.  Before then, and going forward, a pile of decisions will be made, and past decisions will be implemented.  I don't see the way forward as being any tidier than the process has been until now.


My car needs a new fuel pump.  It will set us back about $500.00.


I feel like I've done a lot of restraining in typing class, much as I try to state things in "We need to do this" terms rather than "Don't do that" terms.

"Look at the screen [rather than the keyboard].
When I'm talking, no one else talks.
Keep your hands to yourself.
Train your brain and let your brain train your fingers.
That negative score is a bug in the program; you'll have to start over as a new user and test in again."


Hiromi found three snakes today while he was moving dirt from several plastic canvases on the ground--with a shovel moving the dirt back into the hole it originally came from.  The snakes got moved to the dense growth on the north side of the big old chicken house.  I really hope they stay there.


Mice are finding their way into the house of late, and we're doing our best to welcome them with freshly baited, carefully positioned traps.  They don't all have the grace to die without making a mess.  One particularly dramatic one left its red body fluids spread over a large area near the trap, and then disappeared entirely, leaving the trap empty.


Hiromi is having a lot of trouble viewing and participating in an online class he's taking on Saturday mornings.  The teacher is from Tel Aviv, Israel.  It seems that an upgrade in bandwidth might fix the problem.  The plan with our internet provider allows the upgrade to happen free of charge.

I wasn't very keen on Hiromi taking the class, and I've had the temerity to wonder aloud if the problems are a sign from heaven.  Meanwhile, the teacher is picking Hiromi's brain to see what new classes he should be offering.  I think I see the makings of another wrap of the mesh in that questioning process.

In trying to solve the computer problem earlier, Hiromi talked to the tech support person provided by the course provider.  He was Muslim, apparently, and seized the opportunity to instruct Hiromi on what he should be learning about instead of this Jewish and Christian stuff.  He didn't choose a very likely target for his efforts.


I'm not sure how writing all about such negative things has the power to improve my mood, but it does.  I had to stop myself many a time while writing, or I would have gotten off-topic and begun to tell about another good thing that is happening.  I'll have to do that at another time.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Stories for a Picnic

Today at our Labor Day church picnic two people commented on my not having posted anything on the blog recently.  It's true, of course, and it's due to blogging having to get in line behind other priorities.  Actually, it's due mainly to having to spend my time thinking mostly about things that don't mesh well with blogging--which requires lots of thinking before any writing can happen.  Or I can simply report what other people have been thinking and saying.  Much easier.


First, I wish you would all have had the privilege of listening to Leroy H.'s storytelling at the Labor Day program before lunch today.  I was a little late getting there (yes, Sharon, again), so I didn't hear the beginning.  I can't recount all the stories, but I'm sure if you had heard them you would have joined in on a lot of knee-slapping laughter, sympathetic nods of understanding, and bright-eyed interest from the audience.

When I got there Leroy was talking about the time a Kirby sweeper salesman tried to sell his mother a vacuum cleaner, which she pointed out to him was not sensible since their house had no plug-ins.  They were Amish and had no electricity in the house.  Not to be dissuaded, the salesman offered to take them to his church, which was a Mennonite church, and they accepted.  Thus began a church journey away from being Old Order Amish and has led finally here to Center Church in Kansas.

Along the way, the family members who stayed Amish responded to the Hershberger family's change in status with varying degrees of acceptance.  Perhaps the least accepting was Elizabeth's sister Ida, Leroy's aunt.  She was married to Denny (Danny?) Gingerich.  Especially after Denny became a deacon, he and the family felt more responsible than ever to be good examples,  and keeping themselves properly separated from family members who had strayed was important.  So the rift remained--to the point that one day when the Hershbergers had notified the Gingerichs that they would visit at a certain time, they arrived to find the house empty--an obvious message of non-welcome.  The Hershbergers had driven hundreds of miles to make the contact.

In recent years, at the funeral of Leroy's cousin, the son of Ida and Elizabeth's brother John, who had left behind a large family of children from ages 2-21, Leroy got a request from the dead man's children to please tell the Taily story.  Earlier, at another family event, he had charmed them with that story, and they wanted to hear it again.  Leroy did not agree to tell that story because he thought it was too inappropriate, but he agreed to tell other stories, which is how he found himself standing in front of a group of children and young people seated on straight backless benches, outside, with hundreds of funeral-goers milling around just beyond the fringes--busy power-visiting, as Leroy put it.

People began cocking an ear in the direction of the storytelling event, and to Leroy's surprise, he saw Aunt Ida sidling up to the group.  He also saw his mother about to cross Ida's path, and watched them engage in a little interchange.  Later he heard that Ida asked Elizabeth why she was wearing such a long dress.  "You would have never done that if Mom had asked you to," she accused.

Completely blindsided, Elizabeth said simply, "I repented."  (The laughter here was partly because of amusement at Elizabeth having been at a near-loss for words.  This is a rare occurrence.)

Then Ida asked, "Where did Leroy learn to tell stories like that?"

Still taken off guard, Elizabeth said something like, "In school, I guess."  (How's that for explaining to an Amish woman the benefits of a degree in English from Yale University?)

Something seemed to thaw in the relationship between the families, and later Denny asked Leroy if he would come for a visit and tell his stories to the whole family if he could get them together to listen.  He said he'd come, but first, he extracted a promise from Denny that he wouldn't play the trick again of going off somewhere and not being home when he arrived.

Leroy and his parents did pay them a visit, and this time they were served a wonderful meal of Amish comfort food--on separate tables, mind you--to maintain a proper separation, but separated only by about a foot and a half of space at the ends of the tables--not a dark, closed-door house.  After the meal, the large family of Denny and Ida arrived, each with their own large family, and Leroy entertained them.  It was a love-filled time together.

At some point, Leroy told Denny that he had heard a story about him, and he wanted to know if it was true.  He had heard that he was offered $15 million  for his 200-acre farm because it contained an unusual kind of sand useful for use in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and Denny had told him no.  The sand was unusual in that the tiny stones are round instead of straight-sided.  Thus, they work much better for injecting into fissure lines underground, since they cannot pack together tightly and clog up the transport lines prematurely.

Denny essentially affirmed the story, but explained the decision further.  After the offer came, Denny said he would have to let his children help decide, since they would have the burden of spending all this money.  The children decided that if they got that money, they would never have to work again, and that wouldn't be good for them, so they turned down the offer.  Besides, Denny loved his farm just the way it was, and didn't want the top of it lifted off, the sand stripped out from underneath, and the top put back on.  He loved the hills, the trees, and the pond that attracted wildlife.

When Denny told the agent what they had decided, after he recovered from the shock, the agent offered $19 million instead.  "No.  That would be worse," Denny said, and the dumbfounded man left.


In the visit to Denny's home, Leroy saw a china cabinet that Denny had designed and built.  When he opened the cabinet doors at the bottom of the piece of furniture, however, it contained firewood instead of china.  Denny explained it all.  The china cabinet actually covered a hole in the floor.  In the basement underneath there was easy access to an outdoor woodpile, or perhaps the wood was thrown down a chute into the basement.  Then the firewood was loaded into a box attached to a winch that could be raised right up to nestle inside the china cabinet doors.

In the early design and trial stages, however, something went wrong, and a loaded wood box got stuck on its way up the line, and when Denny gave the winch an extra crank, the woodbox came crashing down and broke on the basement floor with a terrible crash.  Denny, a prankster, as the larger Gingerich family has a reputation for being, saw an opportunity, so he walked over to the bottom of the stairway and lay prostrate on the floor, holding very still.

Predictably, his wife Ida came to the basement door to investigate.  "Denny,"  she called.  No answer.  "Bisht du alraat?" (Are you OK?)  Still no answer.  "Denny, vonn du alraat bisht, shaff dich doe roof,"   (Denny, if you're alright, get yourself up here) Ida said, already walking away from the doorway.  Leroy surmised that Denny had tried that trick too many times before to fool Ida--or maybe she was just uncommonly shrewd.


Another Gingerich relative, Rudy, who had a business repairing motors, also hosted for the men of the community a conversation center around the pot-bellied stove in his shop.  This proved to be an ideal setting for plying his prankster trade.  He got a lot of mileage out of driving several nails into the seat of a wooden chair the men often sat in, and then hooking up wires to those nails, and trailing the wires to a device (Motor?) on his workbench that delivered an electrical charge through the wires and nails when Rudy pressed a button.  He tried it the first time when he had a single visitor.  The way it usually worked after that is that anyone who had been treated to the prank, and had leaped out of the chair, levitating above it for a moment, as Leroy described it, would hang around long enough to witness the performance of the next victim.  And so on, till the room was full of victims and witnesses.

One day a 400-lb. English driver-of-Amish-people came into the shop, and Rudy was faced with a moral dilemma.  Is shocking English people OK?  Amish is for sure OK.  But English?  Rudy decided in the affirmative.  The shock had predictable results, except that when the levitation was over, and the man sat down heavily again, the chair split right in two, and was never used for noble purposes again.


Leroy is mostly bald, with a long, flowing gray beard, expressive blue eyes, glasses worn intermittently in a perched-on-the-end-of-the-nose style, and has no shame.  All of those things, with a fine-tuned ear for language, and concerted effort to learn the storytelling profession, combine to make his stories memorable, especially when the telling strikes chords of familiarity and insight, with just a twinge of intrigue and daring.  He's single, so his storytelling efforts have never been narrowed down to a handful of offspring.  Instead, the "whole world" comprises an adoring audience--when Leroy's in fine storytelling fettle--or is that mettle?  Both, I think.