Prairie View

Monday, September 28, 2015

Plants--Opinions, Offerings, and Blessings

You're in for a treat if you follow this link.  I've written about this Memorial Rose Garden here before, and here's another person's perspective--on the front page of our local newspaper.  This article illustrates just one of the ways in which plants are a blessing.


I have several plants I'd like to offer an interested local person.

First, the comfrey.  I have two fairly large clumps I'm willing to part with.  I'd like $4.00 for each, since that's what the baby plants cost me originally, including having them shipped from a herbalist in Pennsylvania.  This plant is a perennial in the medicinal herb category.

I also have two hanging baskets available that used to hang in the Learning Center at Pilgrim/Cedar Crest.  One contains a heart-leaf philodendron plant and the other has a Hoya vine.  Neither is large or overpowering or particularly fast-growing.  I'd like first dibs on the baskets themselves at some future time when I might have a use for them, since the watering opening on the side makes these baskets rather expensive to replace and very convenient.  There's a reservoir in the bottom of the pot, and filling the reservoir with water allows the water to wick up as needed, preventing over-watering or drying out--as long as there's water present.  For now, if you want it you can take it--free.  I don't have room to hang them in my house.

Email, call, or message me on Facebook if you're interested in any of these plants.


The "opinion" part is what I would have said to my Home Environment class students if I had thought far enough when we talked about the various landscaping principles our text introduced.   In the class, we talked mostly about planning and planting landscapes.  We should probably have talked more about maintaining them.  Here are some of the specific things I wish they knew.

When you plant a row or a patch of the same plant, the goal usually is for that area to be perceived as a single unit.  Individual plants hopefully will lose their identity in the whole when the plants are mature.  In order for this to happen, the outer margins of each plant should intermingle with the outer margins (usually branches or foliage) of the adjacent plants.  The function of such plantings usually is to create a background for showcasing other plants, to provide contrast or harmony with other kinds of plants, to make hard surfaces feel less forbidding (by obscuring them with soft plant material), to simplify maintenance and limit expense (e. g. groundcovers instead of mulch), or simply to increase the impact of the special features of the plants--interesting leaves or flowers, for example,  In such a scenario, proper maintenance calls for basically leaving the mass alone.

The only good reasons I can think of for shearing background plants or digging up plants in a ground-cover-like mass are these:

Background plants:

1.  The plants are encroaching on other valuable plants.
2.  The density makes them susceptible to disease.
3.  They interfere with maintenance or use of a structure.
4.  They obscure a desirable view from a window.
5.  They shut off light to interior rooms.
6.  They interfere with opening windows.

To be avoided is trimming such background plantings so that each plant is isolated from its neighbors.  The only plants that deserve such isolation are accent plants.  These are placed strategically to draw attention to themselves, marking something important nearby--such as an entrance or doorway, etc., or to help create structure and "architecture" in a large planting.  Accent plants should be used very sparingly.

Here's an example from our own place.  More than 25 years ago Hiromi brought home some yews to plant on the north side of the house, along the walkway leading to the front door.  I was not particularly pleased with the selection, since I saw that the mature size was a lot bigger than the space, and I knew we'd have to do a lot of trimming to keep them from overwhelming the sidewalk and the window on the wall behind the planting.  But I did like yews and the north side of the house was the best place for yews, so we planted them.  They were pretty and easy to keep within bounds for the first number of years.  Then we moved away.

When we got back, those yews were enormous.  They obscured about a third of the window, and we had to keep hacking away at them to have any walking space left on the sidewalk.  Finally, early this summer, Hiromi hacked away at them till they were gone.

In their place we planted three plants.  Near the front door we planted a Nandina, or Heavenly Bamboo.  It grows tall and skinny and has attractive leaves and scarlet fruit.  It's our accent plant.  Beside the single Nandina we planted two low-growing boxwoods.  They have small shiny leaves, and boxwoods do well on the north side of a building.  Right now they're not very big, and the plants are clearly separate, but eventually we hope they grow into a short "row" leading to the Nandina.  They will also function as background for the flowers we have on the other side of the sidewalk.

Groundcover Plants

When a mass of low-growing plants completely fills in the space between them, they've accomplished their purpose--covering the ground.  The only reasons some of them might need to be dug up are these:

1.  They're diseased and ugly and you don't like them anymore and want to get rid of them altogether.
2.  You want to propagate the plants in order to plant some in another area.
3.  You really want to display beautiful  mulch between the plants (just kidding--I can't imagine wanting this, but that is the result sometimes--simply having to buy more mulch or do more weeding)
4.  They're encroaching on other plants around the perimeter of the planting.


The corners of a a building call for special plant treatment--the use of softening plants.  These are plants whose function is to soften harsh architectural lines.  Corners of a building are always harsh architectural lines and the building looks best when these lines are softened with plant material.  In practical terms, what this means is that any plants that are preserving this function should usually be left alone to do their job--filling in inside corners and providing background for what is planted in front of it, or spreading around outside corners.  They are usually bushy spreading plants--shrubs or small trees, and they look best if their height is maintained in a pleasing proportion to the building.  Either one-third the height of the distance to the eaves, or two-thirds the distance looks good--varying somewhat according to the surrounding plantings and the height of the building.  Corners should never be accented.

Trimming of corner plants should be limited to times when building maintenance can't be performed otherwise, when the plant gets too tall, or when it overwhelms other valuable plants.  If it's unhealthy, trimming may be part of helping to restore its health.  Visually exposing the corner of the building is never a good reason for trimming or removing a corner plant.

I've labeled this section the opinion section, but I'm really quoting what I've learned from people who are a lot more knowledgeable than I am about such matters.  A class Hiromi and I took more than 30 years ago from the county horticulture agent was my introduction to landscaping principles.  The textbook we used then is the same one used in the Home Environment class I've taught at Pilgrim.  Doing it differently than the experts recommend is not a sin of course, but I consider it a shame because it diminishes beauty.  In this case avoiding the shame is often very easy:  Leave healthy plants alone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

In the Dark and Out of Luck

Julie Doll's columns have recently begun to appear occasionally in our local newspaper, The Hutchinson News.  She is apparently a retired journalist who is originally from Kansas and now lives again in Kansas (Garden City/Wichita).  In the intervening years she has worked in states ranging from California to New York, as well as many areas of Kansas.  This post will highlight a column which appeared on September 13 of this year.  "Keeping the Public in the Dark" is the title of the column.

First, a quote from the beginning of the column:

" Much of the public's business is conducted in secret.

That's no surprise to anyone who has served in government or tried to cover government as a journalist.

I don't mean to be cynical about the lack of transparency and accountability.  Nor do I intend to demonize government officials and employees who would rather conduct business outside the glare of public scrutiny.

It is admittedly easier to get things done when reporters and critics aren't second-guessing decisions--decisions that have not even been made but are being contemplated.  And most of us prefer the easy way when we set upon a task.

But as in so many things in life, the easy way is often not the best way."

Doll goes on to elaborate on three incidents in government that highlight the  topic of the column.

One was the matter of Hillary Clinton's private email server on which she apparently conducted official business as Secretary of State, thus putting the correspondence out of reach of the public sphere.  The Associated Press sued for access to those records in 2010, based on the Freedom of Information Act.  When the records were not produced at all until late in 2014 and then not in their entirety, in March of this year the AP sued the federal government for access, based on its failure to comply with the federal open records law.   Doll notes that the public's past experience with the Clintons warrants skepticism about what was deleted before the records were turned over in 2014.

The second incident involves a business department building on the University of Kansas campus.  It was built with donations from the Koch  Foundation and is named the Center for Applied Economics.  The director of the Center, Arthur Hall, worked in the past for the Public Sector Group of Koch Industries, Inc.  Doll didn't say it in her column, but people all over the country (thanks partly to media coverage from Time, for example) know that the Koch brothers--Charles and David--of Koch Industries are a powerhouse of funding for conservative causes, including support of conservative candidates for public office.  Forbes lists Charles as #4 among the richest people in America.  Back to the story.  The leader of a KU student group asked for records of Hall's email correspondence with Koch Industries, in order to determine whether influence from the Koch Brothers was affecting the operation of the Center they founded.  After the student group paid the requested $1800 to cover the costs of collecting the material (it must have been a surprise that they were able to pay), Hall sued the group in order to stop the process of releasing the emails.  His defense was based on two conflicting contentions:  1.  His salary was paid by private donations, so he wasn't really part of the public university.  2.  Because he worked for the university, he was entitled to academic freedom (which protected him from "intrusive" inquiries such as the one he didn't wish to comply with).  In a private settlement, Hall released a few innocuous emails--the ones he deemed to be public records.  Doll notes here that people often look for loopholes in open records laws and when they fail to find one, they make one up.

The third incident involves the Kansas governor's dissemination of budget decisions to lobbyists via private email.  When the Wichita Eagle's reporting challenged the legality of this action, the state attorney general weighed in, essentially saying disingenuously that "state officials' emails about state business aren't public if they're sent using personal email accounts."  (Doll)  He justified this by using a convoluted and dictionary-discredited definition of "entity," arguing that a person can't be an entity. Nonsense.  

In a sense, all this hoopla about what happens in government is old hat and hardly worth commenting on.  Emails are a small slice of open records law, so why make a big deal of them? That's just how it is, and we might as well acknowledge that it's largely beyond our control and move on with our lives.  Or maybe not.  Maybe we ought also to recognize that openness in matters (even emails) that involve "the public" is not merely a legal matter; it is also an ethical matter.  As such, it applies to activities other than government activities.  Perhaps the very minimum of what is expected sensibly in government matters should also apply to other situations (e. g. board and committee deliberations) that involve "the public."

Several decades ago, when many far-reaching decisions were being made regarding our church's involvement in Christian education, Hiromi inquired of chairman Melvin H. N. whether school board meetings were open meetings.  Hiromi and I were grateful for Melvin's response.  He assured Hiromi that "yes," the meetings were open and Hiromi was welcome to attend.  When he did so, Melvin asked if he wanted to say something.  Hiromi declined.  I think he attended several meetings and then quit going.

More recently, in a time of upheaval regarding the administration of the local farmer's market, one of the changes that occurred is that board meetings became open meetings.  In this case also, I assume that meetings have become less widely attended, although information is still announced ahead of the meetings about where and when they will take place.  They are still open meetings, and that is reassuring.

My sense is that all committees and boards that serve a group ought to operate their business in full view of the group they serve.  At a minimum, beyond publicly distributed minutes of past meetings, I believe that includes being willing to conduct open meetings.  Some closed sessions within those meetings may need to be conducted, especially when they involve sensitive personnel matters, but the general modus operandi ought to be open rather than closed.

Other ways to conduct business openly involve gathering public input by various  means.  Private conversations, organizing public meetings where people are invited to speak, receiving and considering written communication, and hearing input from individuals who attend meetings are among those other means.  Lack of openness on the part of any small group serving a larger group is a recipe for creating rifts, some of which would never happen if relevant information were freely shared in a timely manner.   No one likes to feel shut out, especially when the matters being considered have significant long-term consequences that affect everyone.

For the smaller group itself, some pitfalls could be avoided at the outset if public input were received in the course of deliberations.  Waiting to consider alternatives till a board decision is announced and "hits the fan" can result in lots of wasted time and energy--in laborious communication, backtracking, altering course, and making necessary explanations and/or apologies.   Openness is almost always a wise preemptive measure for building understanding, support, and consensus as opposed to acting preemptively by simply announcing and forging ahead with small-group decisions.

Julie Doll summarizes one of the government examples she cites by saying "The case is one of many examples of how the public is shut out of business that is supposed to be conducted on their behalf."  The same should never be true of any Christian organization, where ethical standards should supersede expectations for government entities.   As Doll says  ". . . the easy way is often not the best way."


Julie Doll's entire article can be read here.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Ahmed's Clock

As sometimes happens, I recently wrote a comment on Facebook and forgot to click "enter" afterward, insuring that the comment posted.  Consequently, when I tried to leave Facebook some time later, I got a message asking if I was sure I wanted to leave this page since my comment wasn't finished yet.  What comment? I couldn't remember.  So I left the page without finishing, and the Facebook world never heard my brilliant sentiment.  Much later I remembered that it was probably a comment on one of the first posts I saw about the 14-year-old in Irving, Texas who was arrested, handcuffed in front of his peers, and marched off to be questioned after he made a clock at home and brought it to school and showed several teachers.  The child  is part of a Sudanese Muslim immigrant family.  The family's last name is Mohamed and the child is Ahmed.

I was incensed at how the child was treated.  It turns out that a lot of other people were incensed too.  From Mark Zuckerberg to President Obama to MIT to the local Cosmosphere, invitations and awards were extended to Ahmed, all from people who were eager to make amends for what they saw as a big mistake. To my great surprise, however, hardly anyone was upset about the same thing I was most upset about.

Some people immediately saw in the authorities' response to Ahmed's act overt discrimination against Muslims.  Predictably, others saw in it a covert Muslim-designed provocation, useful as evidence that discrimination against Muslims is real.   Because Ahmed's father has been involved in public Muslim identity activities (I can't remember the details), this grows the "evidence pile" on the side of conspiratorial intention associated with Ahmed's clock.

Stupidity is what others saw in the event--not Ahmed's, but of the people who couldn't tell the difference between a bomb and a clock.

"Responsible vigilance" is how the teachers' reporting and the officers' show of force was characterized by others.  Everyone should take school violence seriously, after all, and we can't be too careful.

One writer labeled Ahmed's clock a fraud because he used parts from an old clock in making his clock--so it wasn't really his invention at all.  Puh-leese.  He must not have gotten the memo that everything man creates is made from what God provided when He created the world originally, and that one person's invention always builds in some way on the provision of parts or forces in nature or on the inventions of those who have gone before.  It's true, of course, that Ahmed really made nothing so new as to be patent-able in putting together his clock, but it was nevertheless ingenious and creative and inventive,  It did what he said it would do--show the time of day or night.  It was a clock, as he said it was.

Someone else saw something sinister in the fact that Ahmed put the whole contraption into his pencil case to bring it to school.  Deadly weapons are often concealed, after all.  Fact checks are in order here. The parts were visible to anyone who opened the pencil case. It made a convenient carrier for the rather untidy assemblage of wires and other parts that comprised the clock.  Why would he have showed his trusted teachers his "invention" (with no accompanying threats) if he intended to blow up the school or harm other students?  Do most people feel a need to be furtive about the clocks in their possession?  No.  Do most people prize validation from the people around them when they have tried to do something good?  Of course.  In putting together his clock and then packaging it in a pencil case before shyly showing his teacher what he made, Ahmed acted sensibly in every way on the good side of normal.

I do have some sympathy for the adults involved in the debacle at Irving, Texas.  I wouldn't be too likely to know either if what I was looking at is a bomb or a clock if the main thing I could see is a jumble of electronic parts.  I'm just that ignorant.  I know what it's like to feel shackled by policies that I have no enthusiasm for.  The teacher who triggered the involvement of the authorities might have been in such a position.   The first teacher (his adviser, as I recall) to whom Ahmed showed his clock advised him not to show anyone else, no doubt foreseeing the possibility of such a scenario as the one that actually materialized later.  Ahmed could have avoided a lot of trouble if he had followed the first teacher's advice.  I'm guessing that the first teacher did not explain his recommendation (possibly wishing to spare Ahmed knowledge of the foolishness likely to be unleashed in such circumstances), and Ahmed simply did not understand the consequences.  He probably couldn't resist sharing his special secret with one more trusted adult, another teacher.  I may be wrong in some of the assumptions I'm making here, but I'll stand by them until I hear information that counters it.

My sympathy grinds to a halt, however, when I hear no apologies for the obvious mistakes made in the Irving events.  Ahmed was a good student who had never caused problems in school.   Under these circumstances, why a teacher immediately thought "bomb" when Ahmed said "clock" is beyond me.  Why authorities found it necessary to handcuff Ahmed when the clock (bomb?) was already in their possession is another incomprehensible act.  That had to do with shaming him, as I see it.  Inexcusable.  Public apologies are in order.

My brilliant Facebook sentiment said something like this:  "It's a sad day for students who are inventive and who have a life outside of school . . ."  It doesn't look so brilliant here, but that's the crux of what I was incensed about.  I saw a bright and conscientious young boy treated very unjustly.   My Mama Bear and Teacher Bear instincts were aroused.

I don't know what school was like for Ahmed, but I know what it's like for some students whom I perceive to be much like him.  It can feel stifling and full of trivial pursuits.   I also don't know exactly what life outside of school was like for Ahmed, but some students don't have  much of a life outside of school when it comes to learning independently, interacting with others constructively, and using time to acquire skills.

For Ahmed to be doing well in school, spending his time constructively at home, attempting to bring both worlds together by sharing in school a product of that productivity at home, and to be smacked down and humiliated for it is a huge offense to my sense of justice and my sense of how to treat children well.  It encapsulates much of what I feel is wrong with traditional education systems, especially in their sense of institutional self-importance and ignorance of and disregard for the value of life and learning outside of institutional schools.

Enough of that for now.  Since I have a life to live outside of school, I'd better get on with my day and wait till another day to elaborate.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sheep Barn--Past Tense (or Tense Passing)

I’m very fond of drama-free days.  Today was not this kind of day.  For the second time in two weeks, we had serious damage to one of our outbuildings.  This time it was the sheep barn, and the damage was from fire–not wind–not directly, at least.  It was already an old building when we moved here in 1984.  By the time we moved back here in 2013 it had aged further, and it was apparent that sheep would no longer be entirely protected from wind and rain inside it.  It still functioned as a wind break to the garden on the north side of it, however.

From the Labor Day wind storm, we lost a lot of tree branches.  Hiromi had piled them in an open area out  back, far away from any buildings or trees.  When the day dawned calm this morning and no high winds were predicted at any time of the day, he called 911 and reported that he wanted to start burning a brush pile.  Permission was granted and he started the fire, after first stringing a garden hose all the way out there and turning on the water.  The hose had a shut-off valve at the end.

He stayed next to the fire until it had burned down most of the way, and even sprayed through the smoke blowing toward the northwest where the sheep barn stood a good distance away.  When he started the fire the smoke blew southwest, but the wind shifted slightly during the morning.  After feeling assured that things were well under control, he went back to cleaning up around the demolished building.

I was working indoors and then around the back side of the house.  When I headed toward the west side of the house to clean up some buckets at the hydrant, I saw flames and smoke on the sheep barn roof.  I yelled to Hiromi, and had a hard time getting him to understand  “Fire!  Sheep barn!” Three repetitions  (which I’m sorry to say is fairly standard) finally got the message across and he sprinted toward the hose and the sheep barn, yelling back to call the fire department.  I did (I heard him just fine the first time).

Meanwhile Hiromi did all he could to keep the fire from spreading down the row of Eastern Redcedars running right past the end of the barn that was burning.  If that had happened, our entire windbreak would likely have been lost.  One thing in our favor was that the trees there had died of drought during 2012, so the volatile oils in the needles had long since dissipated, and the bare branches, while flammable, did not create nearly as explosively spreading fire as live trees would have.

Hiromi doused all the flames he could find on the south side and then brought the hose around to the north side of the building.  We heard the burned  ends of the roof purlins crash down one by one inside as they lost their moorings at the west end of the roof, but there was hardly anything flammable inside the barn, so this did not result in a great deal more damage.  There was still open flame when the first fire truck arrived.

When the first truck showed up, I guided the driver out back.  It was a tanker truck, and those big nozzles directed at the flames made short work of them.  I’m still not sure who all was here, but I suspect we had the Abbyville crew here instead of the Partridge one.  I didn’t know any of the guys except Michael N.  A pumper truck and the brush fire pickup came in the east drive and stayed there for a bit.  Then the pickup drove out back and the pumper truck drove in the field along the west side of the tree row.  I suspect that by this time they already had word from the guys that were here that the fire was largely under control.  They worked quite a while yet though to make sure that no hot spots remained.
Shane saw the Nickerson truck headed south past their place, siren blaring, and then, before long, it headed back north again with the siren silent.  It was about the time we were needing help, and we suspect that Partridge may have been out on anther call when ours came in, so Abbyville and Nickerson might both have been summoned.

We can still hardly believe that our innocent brush pile fire set the sheep barn ablaze.  It wasn’t close to the sheep barn and the wind wasn’t blowing strongly  at any time today.  Nothing was burned anywhere between the original fire site and the sheep barn.  Apparently, however, a live ember landed on that old wood-shingled roof.  It was obviously fine kindling material, aided by the dry sunny weather recently.

We have one more old and largely unused building on the premises.  Judging by recent events, I don’t give it very good odds for long-term survival.  Clarissa has already put in her bid for the “barn boards” from that building, unless it does what neither of the others have done–self-destruct so thoroughly that no boards are left.

Over the noon meal, I told Hiromi that I think he needs to stop resisting the hearing aid idea because it’s really ridiculous when he can’t understand what I’m saying when there’s an emergency and he’s well within normal hearing range and I’m yelling till I’m hoarse and he still can’t hear me.   “You noticed,” he said (monumental understatement).  “Find out what that Amish cure is,” he suggested then.

“You find out,” I answered.  “I listened to that  spiel on Facebook, but I still don’t know what it is,” I said.  It didn’t sound very convincing to me.  Now I’m thinking though that maybe Hiromi and I could create our own little commercial for hearing remedies.  I think it might be as believable as that mountain lion attack story in use now by that Amish hearing remedy supplier.

I can hear it now (in Hiromi’s voice):  My hearing problem almost caused us to lose one of our farm buildings and the windbreak trees that had taken 30 years to establish.  Then I tried _________ and my hearing problems disappeared.  My wife loves not having to repeat things three times, and I’m not worried about ever again missing an important emergency message.

I’m afraid I’m not a very good ad writer, but since we can’t really go back now to not having the sheep barn catch fire, writing an ad is one of the few possibilities I can think of to redeem the situation.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Raising the Roof

I had a nasty surprise on my way to the car around 7:00 last night.  Glancing toward the south, I saw the remains of our biggest building on the place.  It was a shed-roofed structure, originally built to house hogs.  For more than 30 years the hogs have been gone.  When we lived on this place earlier,  the building was used to house poultry, especially a closed-off section at the west end.  After we left, a good cleaning made the larger section suitable for use as  a yard-equipment storage garage and workshop, and a storage area.  My nasty surprise involved seeing the building newly and very untidily roofless.

I haven't walked out to look, but Hiromi and our boys left the family cookout last night to move the riding mower, generator, and air compressor out of the area that had formerly been the interior of the building.  The roof had been ripped off by the powerful south wind and tipped up, with much of it caught by the massive old Siberian elm growing at the northeast corner of the building.  Some of it was high in the tree.  If the wind had shifted, that debris would likely have come back down on top of the equipment.

The old sheep barn (an open-sided shed), which was actually the most decrepit building on the place is still standing, apparently saved by the wind being able to pass through "age-related" openings in the sides and roof.

I'm very aware that if we were people of more means and more pride, we would have razed these buildings a long time ago and replaced them with something better.  They have both served a significant purpose beyond their aesthetic and shelter functions, however.  The hog barn/chicken house/garage/ storage area building provided a windbreak from the south for the house and the backyard.  I think it was about 80 feet long and maybe 40 feet wide.  The sheep barn did the same for the garden.  This is a significant service for a property situated where only windswept fields lie to the south, unbroken by trees for several miles in that direction.

I was in the kitchen when the wind hit, and watched from the window as debris blew across the backyard.  Most of it was roofing paper, and I was a little puzzled about where it was coming from.  Since the hog barn has been covered with tin roofing sheets ever since before we lived here, it didn't quite make sense that it was coming from there.  The wind didn't last long and I kept right on preparing food to take to Grant's place for a cookout--a change from the earlier plans to have it here.  Hiromi was at work.  Two window air conditioners were running (the temp reached 100 degrees again), and I did not hear any terrible noises except the noise of the terrible wind.

I was relieved that the wind had gone down and the rain had stopped before I needed to lug the big watermelon and the very heavy picnic basket to the car.  That's when I saw that the hog barn had been damaged.  Knowing there wasn't a thing to do about any of it anyway, I didn't even walk out to look.  I just kept on with getting myself and my food to Grant's place.

I already know that our property wasn't the only one that was harmed.  In the Pleasantview area, Nisly Trash Service, Stutzman Greenhouse, and Center Church all were affected.  Limbs broke off and entire trees did so, in some cases.  The tall new fence dividing Pilgrim School from Stutzmans is wrecked.  I'm sure much more devastation will be evident today.  If there were no injuries, that will be the best part of the news.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Sunday Wrapup--September 6, 2015

We picked the first watermelon today.  It was a Crimson Sweet and weighed 24.5 lbs.  This variety was bred at Kansas State University in 1964.  Wikipedia says it is no longer grown to any great extent.  I don't think Wikipedia knows anything about Kansas watermelon growing.  In my experience it's by far the most popular variety among local gardeners and consumers--at least the people who haven't become unduly enthralled with seedless watermelons.

This is the very first time I have had any confidence that I'm picking a watermelon at the right stage.  I've never actually grown many watermelons, often needing to focus on less space-hungry or more marketable or preservable crops.

I've been watching the first watermelon with eagle eyes, checking it at least once a day to see if the curl closest to the watermelon was dead yet.  It stayed stubbornly green--until yesterday, when I first saw that the curled tendril had a "pinched" brown spot along its straight portion.  This evening it was totally dead-looking.  I came in for my pruner and invited Hiromi to participate in the celebratory harvest.  I was, of course, also hoping he might carry it in.  He did.  It's cooling in the refrigerator.  This will take a while since the temperature today reached the century mark.

This past week our garden also produced one of the most exquisitely-flavored cantaloupe(s?) I've ever tasted.  One other melon from the garden was almost equally good, and many others were so-so.


My galley-style kitchen has so much garden produce on the floor (mostly in buckets) that walking through it requires some navigation skills.  There's Hiromi's pickle bucket--a 5-gallon bucket of thick-sliced cucumbers submerged by a heavy weight in salt water.  Next he'll press all the liquid out in small batches in his Japanese pickle-maker, and then mix it with chopped gingerroot and soy sauce and press it some more.  Finally, the finished pickles will go into jars in the refrigerator and be eaten as an accompaniment to any meal that includes rice.

A very large basket (3/4 bushel?) contains various kinds and colors of soft-skinned summer squash, including green and yellow zucchini, white scalloped (patty pan), and yellow crookneck.  I'm taking them to the Labor Day picnic as giveaways.  The big squash "clubs" that were missed in previous harvests are piled on top of the mulch in the vine-crop patch, along with the bloated-submarine-shaped cucumbers that lurked too long in hidden places.

A 2-gallon bucket is piled high with "special" tomatoes.  None of the Great Whites are ready yet, but I've picked Super Sioux, Bella Rosa (both red), Chef's Choice Orange, Lemon Boy (clear, icy yellow), a large red cherry variety, and Aunt Ruby's German Green.  The Green and the Super Sioux are the clear winners in the taste category.

Super Sioux is an improved variety of Sioux, a tomato released in 1944 by the University of Nebraska.  It's open-pollinated.  The plant is semi-determinate, and the fruits are medium-sized, with the ability to produce well even in hot, dry weather.  I think this variety is one I will plant regularly from now on.

The white, green, and yellow varieties are destined for a special purpose--mixing with the green juice I imbibe in large quantities during the winter.  I plan to can the tomatoes.  Kale and spinach are the major ingredients of my fresh green juice.  Red tomato juice mixed with this results in an unappetizing brown color, although it does good things for the flavor.  The white, pale yellow, and green juices will only brighten the green juice and make it look as appealing as it tastes.

One more juicing trick I'm trying this year is to blend cucumbers into a liquid, and then freeze the liquid in ice cubes to add to raw vegetable juice.  I always add salt and like my green juice just fine.

Three other buckets on my kitchen floor are full of  "regular" tomatoes.  One five-gallon bucket is about 3/4 filled, mostly with Butternut squash and about four more scalloped (patty pan) squash.

Two neck pumpkins (think "ginormous" long-necked Butternut squash) are also taking up floor space in the kitchen.

Three grocery bags of cucumbers have been stuffed into the refrigerator.  Cool Beans (restaurant) is still buying them.


Tonight on my garden stroll I saw butterflies from the Whites and Sulphurs group, and some from the True Brushfoot group.  I think these were likely an American Lady and a Painted Lady.  One was distinctly larger than the other.  I've been seeing Blues and Hairstreaks too, of late.


I'm not sure what it says about us, but tonight my sisters Lois, Linda, and I all separately made our way to a place where we could watch the setting sun in its molten-lava-colored glory.  Brilliant color surrounded it, and nearby clouds were all edged in gold and silver light.  Every time I go to the effort of walking to the end of the drive in order to see the sunset unobstructed by the windbreak trees on the west edge of our property, I feel the satiation of a hunger that comes from somewhere deep inside.  I can't ever leave till the sun is out of sight.


The Dyck Arboretum native plants fall sale is this week, starting on Thursday (for members) and going through Sunday.  I hope to purchase some plants for the Pocket Prairie that's being created on the Pilgrim School grounds.  A generous donor has designated money for this project.  Many of the plants, however, will need to come from more cost-effective sources.  Digging them up where they are abundant in native vegetation or growing them from seed might be two possibilities.


This week I begin Master Gardener classes offered through our state extension service.  In exchange for about 40 hours of training from professionals in the horticulture field  (both food gardening and landscaping) and a giant notebook of reference materials, I am paying a $110.00 fee to cover costs, and I'm agreeing to invest 40 hours of community service in the horticulture field.  Some of the hours will be spent working in the demonstration garden at Hutchinson Community College and helping with next summer's garden tour in Hutchinson, but the majority of the hours can be invested right here in the Pleasantview area, in a format that has not yet been determined.  Let me know if you have input.  I'm open to teaching classes for interested adults, etc.   I will attend classes every Thursday through December 10, so any classes I teach would need to happen after that--presumably after the New Year.  I was a little disappointed to find that the classes are conducted in Newton--not in Hutchinson, as I had hoped, but it makes sense that several counties are collaborating for these classes, and Newton is the central location for this group of counties.  Transportation is provided.


I've heard good things about the first "expotition" at the grade school.  It was a very warm day, but little creatures apparently abounded around the Stutzman pond and in the area en route to the pond.  While butterflies was the main emphasis, captures and inspections of other interesting things included quite an assortment.  Some students were quick enough to capture a lizard and flying grasshoppers.  They saw dragonflies and damselflies--and a tomato worm wearing eggs from a parasitic insect.  That would have been the one that prompted an Ewwwww! response from me.  They also saw a dragonfly devouring a white butterfly.

Some of the first and second graders' drawings and sentences about the experience were absolutely charming.  They each had a little notebook in which to record what caught their interest.  Older students too have nature notebooks in which to keep records.

I hear lots of buzz from students who are looking for interesting things at home to take to school.  Simply creating a classroom environment where such things are welcome is a huge step forward in creating interest in and appreciation of the natural world.  I myself took a cicada killer over there on Tuesday for the students to see.  It's quite a scary-looking giant wasp-like creature.  I'm not sure what its fate was, but I'm sure that at least initially the jar it was in joined other insect-home jars collecting on the counters in the classrooms.

"Science" was the quick answer my sister Linda overheard when someone asked a student what was her favorite thing at school "today."

An out-of-state visitor to the community told  me that in one local home they visited they saw jars containing living things, ready for the children to take to school.  This might be the first time those children are sorry that Monday is not a school day.


Can you believe I read part of a Leonard Pitts column in Sunday School class today?  It was about the faith of Jimmy Carter, written after Carter announced publicly that he has cancer in various places in his body.  The story fit perfectly with the first part of Romans 5--our lesson for today, which elaborates on "Righteousness by Faith."  The column can be read here.  I noted that in his column in today's paper, he was back to his always-liberal and sometimes slightly-disdainful-of-religion tone.  When a person observes carefully as he does, feels deeply, and writes truthfully, however, some of the writer's God-image will shine through and occasionally glitter with inspiration and beauty.  Such was the case in the Jimmy Carter column.


I've been engaged recently in a rather exhausting Facebook conversation mostly about Christians' participation in government.  Several local young men participated, but I don't know the two other young men who made many of the comments.  It all began quite innocuously with Hans Mast posting a link to a nice little clip of Ben Carson answering a question from a ten-year-old.  If you look it up, be advised that you'll have to click numerous times on "See more" and "View replies" in order to read it all.  If you're not on Facebook and really want more information about the conversation, email me.  I have probably never before stated my view of this matter in a venue as public as Facebook.  Shudder.


"Things are getting worse [regarding the practice of homosexuality] and I think our current administration has a lot to do with that."   That was what I heard from a very nice man who, with his wife, had just told me about the terrible things that happened to members of their plain Mennonite group who were witnessing in a North American city.  A woman approached members of the group and asked provocative questions about their view of homosexuality.  Despite their best efforts to be cautious and kind or to simply decline from discussing it, the woman spoke hatefully and then literally battered and slapped in the face the people she interacted with.  She tore at the coverings of the ladies she attacked.  After leaving briefly to change clothes, she returned, carrying a knife with which she stabbed the group leader in the back as he spoke to the team about the plans for dispersing and then gathering again the following day.  Mercifully, the injury did not prove fatal.

Later, I thought more about the conversation.  My first thought was that the people I  had been talking to had some really tragic life experiences involving homosexual individuals--perhaps more so than anyone else I know personally.  Not a trace of bitterness about those experiences came through, however, in their speech.  I admire them for that.  They live exemplary Christian lives, and have reached out to bless many hurting children, for which I love and respect them.

Later still, I thought of something else.  One, the incident involving the Christian witnessing group actually took place in Canada, and I'm not sure how "our current administration" could be held responsible for what happened there.  Two, the opening of the floodgates for legalizing same-sex marriage was an act of five supreme court justices, only two of which were appointed by the current president.  It's true that Obama, in his second term, has supported same-sex marriage.  It's also true, however, that, no matter his opinion, he could not have opened these floodgates by himself.  Blaming the president for the same-sex ruling is not quite fair, and is too simplistic.


I had a big Sunday School class today.  I didn't see anyone that I want to do without, but I do know that there will be at least two more people there in the future, who were not there today, and that will make the group even bigger.  The location of the class makes it appealing for women with mobility issues--something I'm not sure the superintendents considered when dividing the classes initially.  I've privately called that class the "mommy" class for that reason (I've been part of this class at various times, so it wasn't a pejorative label).  I think I'll check in with the superintendents and let them make any necessary decisions.  They might find it stressful, but not as much as I would.


I've noticed a recent trend that departs from a long-standing seating tradition in church.  "Sitting up front" has been a growing-up rite-of-passage that occurred around the age of 12.  Of late, I see girls a number of years on the older side of twelve opting to sit with their mothers.  I haven't asked anyone why.  In the meantime I've comprised a speculative list of possible reasons:

A.  They were observed misbehaving and have to sit with their mothers as a punishment.
B.  They enjoy the diversions provided by watching people (not many can be discreetly watched from the front)
C.  They have a recently-developed fondness for being in close proximity to their mother.
D.  They're bored up front.
E.  They are helping care for children during church.
F.   They need a shoulder on which to rest their head because of weariness or ill health.
G.  Other reasons unknown to me.

I don't think the front bench is usually crowded--unlike the back benches--sometimes, at least.


The Week had a two-page article by Oliver Sacks about his impending death.  He is a gay secular Jewish author.  When I began reading the story "The Seventh Day of Life" I thought immediately of how principles of observing the Sabbath  can help us deal with all kinds of stresses in life.  I've usually thought of Sabbath-keeping as rightfully including rest, worship, and fellowship.  What struck me this morning was that during every day of the week, those elements of Sabbath-keeping can be incorporated in sample amounts.  The idea of doing so has relevance for what I talked about in my devotions at the sewing--finding ways to live well, even in challenging circumstances.  It involves observing checkpoints, at which time one quits "working," because the work is "done," and rest and refreshment is appropriate.  The work is never really done, of course, but it can safely be put aside for a brief time, so that strength can be renewed for taking it up again after the Sabbath is over.

From his Orthodox Jewish childhood, Sacks remembers painstaking preparations for the Sabbath--preparing food,  cleaning the house, and putting on clean clothes.  When Friday evening arrived, they lit candles and ate together, various activities punctuated by prayers and chants.  The next day they gathered with relatives and other families at their synagogue service, and visited outside afterward.  After a cold lunch at home, families often visited each others' homes for tea.  Sacks looks at the end of life similarly--preparing by living a "good" life, and then, in good conscience, resting.

I find it disturbing that Sacks apparently has no cognizance of the need to prepare for what follows physical death.  Nevertheless, he's onto something good in pointing to lessons from observing the Sabbath, and applying truths we learn there to how we live life or how we die.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Nuances, Corrections, and Elaborations

My brother Myron weighed in on what I had written here about his topic at church recently.  He corrected some details and more fully fleshed out other content.  My having written the report so long after it actually happened and doing so with few notes didn't help any in preserving nuances and remembering details accurately.  I thought at first that I would go back and correct the original post, but am just feeling a little too lazy at the moment to do that.  I'm posting his comments just as he sent them to me.


I was referred to this post and enjoyed reading it.  Thanks for your kind words.  Just a couple of corrections and clarifications.  Some split hairs, but I'll still make some distinctions.

I got married at 41.

I taught for parts of 8 years at RBI, usually 2 terms per year and the first years split with SMBI

In the early 90's, as a single man, I was asked if I would consider being a candidate for the position of
    academic dean, which I declined.  I was not offered the job.

When Jon Showalter, the acting dean and the one who covered most of the classes I had taught, with
 his family, spent a sabbatical year in China in '04-05, I was asked if I would consider filling in as academic dean on an interim basis and teach the classes he had taught.  I declined but finally agreed to teach 2 courses for one term.

I was at Westmont 80-81, 81-82 and spent the fall semester of 82 in Europe in the Westmont Europe
    Semester, which included 3 weeks in Israel, studying at the Institute of Holy Land Studies, now Jerusalem University College.  I didn't spend a semester in Israel.  I graduated from Westmont the Spring of 1983.

The point of my story on dishonesty was more that a narrow view of grace, as seemingly embraced by many reformers and their modern day descendents, allowed them to sin with the easy assurance that grace was sufficient, because, as Luther taught, one is always a sinner.  The one thing that matters is what God sees when He looks at us.  When we have faith, God sees the righteousness of Christ, regardless of how we live.  All reformers,  however, would have advocated living Godly lives, I think it is safe to say, as would their evangelical descendents, a point I didn't make but should have.

The preacher praying the kingdom of light and darkness prayer was long after Westmont and had no connection to Westmont.  You don't say that but a casual reader might make the connection.
On point 3, being obedient to what you understand already is only part of the point.  Being obedient, even if understanding is absent, makes it possible to know Christ and the truth of God's word, as understanding follows faithful obedience.

On point 5, more specifically, the Bible (NT) is the template through which all the past and present is evaluated.  This would have more specifically applied to the health/faithfulness/integrity of the church and it provided the touchstone for Anabaptists as they thought about how they should be the church in their time.  Catholics, on the other hand, were more accepting of the givenness of the church as tradition had the same authority as the Bible, since the same apostolic authority presumed of NT writers was passed in unbroken succession through bishops.  Christ consecrated the disciples and they consecrated their successors, passing on the anointing and authority given by Christ to His original followers.  Once you have it, you can pass it on.

Finally, your "powerful people" quote draws my mind to people with stature, means, and authority in a general sense.  In church settings, it isn't so much these kinds of persons as it is strong personalities with decided opinions who are happy to express themselves who seem to drive "discernment."  They can be one and the same but it is a distinction I think worth noting. 

All for what it's worth.  --Myron

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Dieseling Over Devotions

Being in charge of devotions at the sewing several days ago has prompted further reflection on something I alluded to in my last post.  Responses from people in the audience helped nudge me toward further reflection.  I see clearly now that what I want most to convey is not a societal critique of what the workplace and family life have become, but a plea for hearing the unspoken heart cries of those who live lives of quiet desperation.  Especially I want to assure the women around me that the stresses they feel do not all need to be personally absorbed--with the full load of self-blame and sense of failure that often accompanies them.  Typical nurturing and relational instincts of women predispose them to this response, I believe.  The ever-present challenge is to reconcile the ideal with the present reality in some purposeful and redemptive form, without completely losing hope in the process.  How is that possible?

Let's deal first with what is probably the biggest hurdle (and probably the most easily misunderstood):  acknowledgement of the fact that some of our stresses are caused by forces outside of our control or responsibility.  To hear some people tell it, the world is full of blame-shifting, passing the buck, and refusal to acknowledge one's own problems.  In the world of women around me, however, it's full of people at least occasionally wondering what they're doing wrong, struggling to find solutions, resolving to try harder,  and re-committing themselves to cast their burdens on the Lord.  While all of these are appropriate to some degree and in some situations, they can also be part of a painful and difficult journey to an even unhappier and more stressed-out place.  Discerning and setting aside the parts of life's problems that are not OUR problem can  be enormously freeing, shifting our focus toward that which IS within our power to change.  Otherwise the important part (the part we can actually do something about) stays hopelessly obscured in the tangle of challenges we see.

Are you ready for another hurdle yet?  Name that part that's not your problem.  If you need to put a possessive proper adjective in front of the noun name-of-your-problem, do so (e. g.  Society's unfair expectations, ___________ [an employer's] unfair treatment, Government's illogical regulations, ____________ dogma (maxims without validity or mercy], etc.).  God knows it anyway and won't be shocked by it.  Work on not feeling shocked by it yourself.  Cast that part of the burden on the Lord (that's the part of Christian women's typical? response that is always in order).  And then, as your sight becomes clearer, do the next right thing.  Read about it and pray.  Listen when others share, and pray.  Turn it over in your mind, and pray.  Talk about it and pray.  And pray and pray.  These prayers will often be prayers of intercession for others, especially for our leaders.  They will be prayers for God to act in the world in relation to the burdens on our own heart and on behalf of His eternal purposes.   They will be prayers for ourselves--to be able to act kindly and wisely and not lose hope.  They will not be an abdication of responsibility.  They will be embracing responsibility rightly instead of wrongly.

As I used the term, dieseling means to recycle some of the leftover fuel directed toward an earlier task (although I couldn't find evidence online that this is a common usage).  When it happens in the engine of a motor vehicle after the key is turned off and burping eruptions continue sporadically, dieseling is not productive.  I hope this dieseling is different.  More of it may follow in later posts.