Prairie View

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nehemiah, A Model Leader

Sunday School makes me really happy right now.  We have just begun studying the book of Nehemiah.

After having spent earlier parts of the Sunday School year teaching from Romans and Zechariah, this book feels easy to understand and relate to everyday life. Within the past several years I studied Nehemiah thoroughly for my own benefit.  I read through it a number of times in various translations.  I filled many notebook pages with handwritten notes.

My past reading of Nehemiah occurred in the middle of some trying circumstances, and I was actually reading the book expecting to feel chastened by it--given the fact that a critic suggested that I needed to do so.  Instead I was surprised by joy over and over during the readings.  I felt encouraged and affirmed.  A picture of Nehemiah's integrity and selfless inspiring leadership emerged, verse-stroke by stroke, and I was often deeply moved as I read.   My notebook was filled with observations on Leadership.  Nehemiah was an amazing model of Godly leadership.

I told Hiromi at home this morning that one thing bothers me about sharing in Sunday School what inspired me in my earlier reading:  making observations on Leadership can easily appear to be a critique of existing leadership--which is a miry clay situation, as we all know.  "Then don't say it," Hiromi advised, quickly reversing his own advice after we talked a bit more about the need to be willing to go wherever the Scripture and the Holy Spirit lead us.

Nehemiah's own example shows the way.  He took his deep distress to the Father.  Mourning, fasting, and praying on behalf of his suffering people occupied his thoughts, presumably while continuing to offer his service to the king who kept some of his people captive.  He acknowledged his own sin and reflected on the promises of God.  In that four-month-long crucible of distress was birthed a resolve for Nehemiah personally.   At the first opportunity and at great personal risk, he asked the king for permission to travel to Jerusalem to aid his downtrodden countrymen.

He would leave his cushy palace job to pursue a project in a dangerous place among a demoralized people--to do a job he seemed not to be well-prepared for.  As Shane put it in church this morning, Nehemiah knew a lot more about wine than about construction, but he would undertake the job of building a city wall.  Just so the Lord often builds us up in private to prepare us to serve the public in roles which require us to lean hard on Him, because our own smarts and skills are not enough.

Years of working in the king's palace gave Nehemiah an inside look into administration activities that must have been a help to him on his big wall building project.  Still, it was hardly those techniques that served as Nehemiah's most important tools.  His humility, integrity, compassion, and dependence on God proved more effective than any heathen king's strategies could have been.

I note also that Nehemiah sought good information before he acted.  He asked his "brother" (perhaps a flesh and blood brother actually) about the condition of the Jews in Jerusalem--those out-of-sight, but not out-of-mind kinsmen.  His brother Hanani offered a first-hand report.  A man by that name is recorded elsewhere to have been in charge of Jewish affairs during this time period.  Hanani was the expert on the matter, and Nehemiah knew him to be trustworthy, so asking Hanani made ever so much sense.

Today in church when the discussion leader asked for highlights on the first Sunday's study of Nehemiah, no one mentioned Nehemiah as a model of good leadership, although many other worthwhile things were mentioned.  It almost made me wonder if I was projecting my own thoughts onto the content.  But no.  Believing that would be to invalidate what I know certainly to have been hearing from God during the study of His Word.  In gratitude for that I wish to be faithful in sharing with others what He shared with me.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Events and Thoughts of the Past Week

I'll start with writing about some of the good things about the past week.  It was packed full of end-of-school activities which I could enjoy this year without the crushing work load usually associated with the end of the school year.  A host of non-school events also crowded in, mostly with pleasant effect.

Today we attended the baptism of our youngest son at Plainview.  We stayed afterward for the carry-in dinner and enjoyed interacting with others--some who attend there regularly and others who were also visitors.  That was one of the good events of the weekend--a long-prayed-for occasion.

Plainview has preaching first.  Because I needed to teach my Sunday School class during that time we could not be there for the preaching.  The cold weather prompted a change in plans for the baptism and it took place in the fellowship hall.  Their immersion mode involves quite a lot more drama than our "pouring" mode.  I made a few (slightly irreverent?) observations about the water-retention qualities of denim jeans.  I never knew water could come gushing out of the bottom of a pant leg like that--in the process of climbing out of the "stock tank" launching the jet far beyond the edge of the towel-on-plastic-tarp laid down to protect the carpet.

For the first time in memory I wondered whether having preaching first would be a good thing for us.  I see some potential in it for accomplishing good things--wakefulness, happy babies, motivation for prompt arrival, etc.  


Yesterday I attended the Pilgrim awards assembly in the forenoon and then came home for  lunch with Hiromi and an afternoon of working together outside.  With rain in the forecast over the next number of days, getting plants out of the greenhouse and into the garden and landscape had finally made it to the top of the priority list.  We got a lot done.  Not finished, but more nearly so.

The awards assembly featured a few changes in this first year after transitioning to a combined grade and high school.  The grade school tradition of recognizing character qualities in each student (in even numbered grades) extended this year to the high school students.  I especially enjoyed hearing this of those who have been  my students.  Also, this year the grade school graduation was part of the awards assembly.  Doing it this way simplified a lot of things.  I'm not sure that everyone likes it as well as I, but I doubt that anyone will wish to have it back to the earlier way as time goes on.


On Friday evening Hiromi and I attended the Pilgrim High School graduation and the reception following.  One of my favorite parts of the celebration is seeing the table-top displays prepared by each graduate.  It's a chance to glimpse who these people are outside of school.  Some of each gender like hunting.  Some love art and music and have acquired skills in these fields.  Many love to read.  Sports are important to a few.  One has a love for the sea and another a love for horses.  Colorful characters all.

Gideon Y., seventh and eighth grade teacher, gave the commencement address.  It was clear and profound and memorable.  His coming to this community three years ago from Poland where he had worked for several years was a good thing for us here.  I knew from his Sunday morning devotionals at church that this was going to be good.  He's thoughtful, reads widely, thinks rationally, and communicates effectively, with a deep commitment to eternal priorities.


Shortly before we left for the graduation ceremony, I opened a gift from Jim and Alex Potter.  They had dropped it off with Hiromi at work, so I didn't get to see it till I unwrapped it after he brought it home.  The gift is a mounted and framed print of a painting done by Alex, who is a professional artist.  The "Pepper Mandala" features a glass bowl of colorful peppers on a red napkin.  It's a "birds-eye" (top down) view, done in pastels.  When Jim interviewed me recently as part of his Master Gardeners series, he thought of this one of his wife's paintings when I described why I can never resist planting lots of colored peppers.

I'm beginning to learn about pastels as an art medium.  For the uninitiated, picture applying color with something like chalk except less powdery.  Pastels cannot be blended before and during application as watercolors, chalk or paint can be.  Applying a color obscures whatever color is already present in that spot.  This means that colors must be individually layered onto the cloth canvas, and shading and highlights will both require the use of carefully chosen individual colors that lend just the right color variations.  Pastels are almost pure pigments not blended with either oil or water.  I am in awe at what precision is possible within the "limitations" of this medium.  The colors are as vivid as--well, as vivid as jewel-toned peppers illuminated by sunshine, so it's proper also to note the stellar attributes of this medium.  In the hands of an artist, that is.

My print is much smaller than the original "Pepper Mandala" painting which was 36" x 36."  That explains partly how it was possible to create the fine details in the peppers' stem ends, in the glass bowl's scalloped rim, and in the stitching and weave of the cloth napkin.   While my print is roughly half of life size, the original must have been several times life-size.  The painting is so realistic that it looks like a photo, but is more sensuously appealing than a photo.

Alex's art was featured in an article in Focus/Santa Fe/April/May 1998. The "Pepper Mandala" was pictured in that article, and included details about how it was created.  A reprint, along with some other printed information about Alex's work, was included in the gift box that contained the painting.  This combination of words and images together is my favorite way to learn.

The peppers were from a neighbor's garden and the bowl and napkin belonged to Alex.  She had plunked the bowl with peppers onto her studio floor while she prepared to "pose" them on a table top for a still life composition.  Then, before she put them on the table, she noticed how luminous the bowl and its contents looked right where they were, with the sunlight streaming over it all.  So she put a napkin under the bowl and took pictures looking down on the arrangement.  That photo became the model for the painting.  It's easy to understand that the time required for finishing the painting would be too long for the peppers to stay fresh throughout the process.  Thus the need for camera-preserved peppers.

The gift of the painting prompted gratitude on many levels--for the kindness and generosity of friends, for the lavish beauty in garden produce--nutritious and delicious--but more than that, for the capacity to enjoy good gifts, for a God who made humans creators in his own image, for the skills an artist develops and uses to bless others.  So many reasons for delight in the here and now, and many reasons as well to anticipate the perfection that awaits God's people in heaven.


Several conversations during the graduation reception involved education.  I did not initiate either of the two conversations that I was involved in.  The first included a group of young men, some former students and one person I didn't know.  Apparently before Hiromi and I got there, the "stranger" had been bombarded with admonitions to stay in school past his sophomore year, contrary to the wish he had expressed.  I gathered that our arrival was welcomed by the "bombarders" who saw us as potential reinforcements.  We tried to oblige (without ganging up too much on the young man being bombarded), but I doubt that we were very convincing.  I've already thought of many good things I couldn't think to say then.  Story of my life--these tardy zingers.

The other conversation was with an administrator.  Part of what we talked about was relevant to the situation with the young man from the previous conversation--the one who didn't want to finish school.  I didn't make the connection till much later, and the first conversation did not come up in the second at all.  Story of my life again--these belated connections.

My desire to see people stay in school through twelfth grade is strong.  My desire to affirm those whose strengths lie in non-academic areas is strong also.  I wish to see our offerings at school challenge the academically gifted; I want those who are differently gifted to be challenged to excellence in the areas where they're capable of excelling.  It is this last group of people who I believe could be served much better than is happening now.

In some way, staying in school should be linked to excellence in non-academic life skills--at least for students who are not college-bound. That's perhaps the crux of the challenge in designing an effective education program.  I believe the reluctant student in the first conversation  could not see that finishing high school would benefit him in his working life, which is where he idealized being successful.  He might be more right than I wish he was.

There's another side to this issue.  Some adults who are successful despite not having finished high school seem unable to value learning by means other than hands-on experience, and seem not to value accomplishment that is not easily quantifiable in production terms.  I believe disdain for learning by reading-studying-researching can be a serious limitation--a character flaw even,  Failing to value non-material accomplishment can involve failing to value what God values. Bottom line?  Acquiring more academic skills and other soft skills would have been a good thing for these people--not because they needed it to become financially successful, but because they needed a bigger frame of reference by which to order their values, priorities, and interactions with people.  The reluctant student above should know that he needs a bigger frame of reference for living well than two years of high school are likely to offer him.

Striking the right balance between academic and practical offerings at school is not easy, and I certainly see no clear path forward in accomplishing it.   I'm thinking that it would likely necessitate the involvement of people not now usually considered part of school staff, and locations outside the walls of a brick and mortar school building.  The matter of assigning grades and credit might need reevaluation/reinvention.  I believe it would mean giving careful thought to meeting legal mandates in ways that also serve our purposes more precisely than is now the case.  At this point, I'd settle for agreement on the necessity of beginning the task and would welcome the application of many good minds to the matter.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

TMI on Colic

Just a few days ago I remembered a theory I had read about what causes colic in babies (or did I actually see something on youtube--can't remember).  The person sharing information believed that babies' unexplained discomfort occurred because of a problem with their spinal alignment.  The problem was exacerbated by the diaper changing routine in which a baby's ankles are grasped with one hand, and the baby's body is lifted just enough to swap diapers.  This lifting calls for the baby's spine to bend quite a bit at a certain point.  The muscles are not yet developed enough along the spine to keep it aligned.  As the spine bones shift, nerves are pinched and pain results.

Around the age of three months, strengthening of the muscles means that less shifting of the spine occurs and diaper changing no longer triggers pain.  What is needed early on is careful spinal adjustment, repeated as needed (by a chiropractor, of course) and a modified diaper changing routine.  Rolling the baby from side to side--off the wet diaper and back onto a dry one, is one example of how this can be done.

I thought it made some sense, although I wasn't ready to become a big promoter of curing colic by chiropractic adjustments and a new diapering technique.

On the matter of chiropractic adjustments for babies I remembered what happened when our first grandchild was born.  Those first days he cried as if in great pain at every feeding.  Because of all that had occurred during a difficult delivery, I suggested that maybe seeing a chiropractor could set something right that had gone wrong during delivery.  The baby's parents took him to the person who has treated members of our family periodically over many years of time.  He treated the baby very gently, applying minimal pressure with one finger in the area where he discerned a problem with the alignment of his bones.  He explained that the bones of babies move very easily, and it really doesn't take much to set things right.

The crying at feeding time stopped immediately--a night and day difference.

In a very different vein, yesterday a Facebook friend linked to an article detailing the horrors of chiropractic adjustments for babies.  While being filmed during a manipulation, the infant being treated gave a loud cry just as an audible cracking sound was heard on the recording.  Accounts followed telling of permanent damage resulting from chiropractic adjustments for infants.  Medical doctors were calling for a ban on the practice.

This happened in Australia, but the article concluded by saying that things are just as bad in the US.

OOOOOOKAAAAAAY.  So what's going on here?  Is a chiropractic adjustment for a baby a good or a bad thing?  

In the Family Life magazine that came today a self-educated Central American woman wrote that she discovered after a lot of reading and time spent caring for colicky babies, that a thumb pressed firmly but gently on a baby's navel can stop the crying, often almost instantly.  Taping a wadded-up cotton ball tightly over the navel serves the same purpose.


In case  your own experience does not include caring for colicky babies, you should know that dealing with it can be ever-so-trying.  In general, medical practitioners don't seem to have a clue about how to address the problem.

In case anyone asks me for advice, I'll be happy to refer the parent of any infant in pain to a trusted chiropractor who treats as gently as ours does.  I think it would be a disservice to steer desperate parents and crying babies away from any possibility of finding help.  Remember?  Traditional practitioners often can't offer help for colic.  I am assuming, however, that a medical professional has been involved enough in the baby's care to have identified abnormalities or other obvious causes of discomfort.

If I were asked I think I might recommend trying the side-roll diapering technique.  If that didn't help, there's always the tape and cotton ball thing to try.  Surely none of these are any more ridiculous and dangerous than alternatives that might present themselves to the sleep-deprived mind of a caregiver who has listened for hours to incessant crying.  I'm familiar with these:  incessant jiggling, floor pacing, tummy rubbing, back patting, draping the baby lengthwise over your forearm, rocking, or, when you can't stand it any more, putting the baby in the crib and walking away for a minute or two.

Compiling that list in the last sentence clearly amounts to Too Much Ineffectiveness (TMI) in colic-relieving efforts.  I have no doubt that others could add to the list--things I didn't try or have forgotten.


Monday, May 09, 2016

Words and Connections

Fair Warning:  I'm wearing my teacher hat now and the lesson today is on often-mangled words or pronunciations.

First I'll have to confess having (silently at least) mispronounced "extant" all these years.  The emphasis is on the first syllable.  I didn't know that till I heard it in yesterday's sermon and looked it up afterward.  It means "still in existence," as in the case of an ancient Bible text, for example.

On the other hand, I did also look up Byzantine and found that I had been pronouncing it right all along.  The first syllable sounds like the first syllable of business.

A pair of words that has often confused me is this one:  interment/internment.  "Interment" usually happens in a cemetery and "internment" usually happens in a prison.  One letter makes a big difference.  The longer word is associated with the shorter duration--of bodies residing in specific locations.

I often hear tract and track confused when reference is made to the human body.  We have a digestive and respiratory tract.  Only in severe digestive distress does that tract resemble a race track where moving along toward the "finish line" happens at an accelerated pace.   Don't make me laugh by talking about anyone's digestive track.  The image is funny and an appropriately sober response might elude me.


When I arrived at Shane and Dorcas' house this morning to take care of the boys while Dorcas went to town, Carson was eating breakfast.  I noted that and asked Tristan if he already finished his breakfast.  His answer:  "Well, I had toast but I didn't have any protein yet and I'm still hungry."

He had apparently been offered an egg and had declined.  His surprised mother renewed the offer and prepared an egg for him in short order.

Shane is on a Choice Books trip to PA.  Tristan told me that this time he would be gone only one night.  Last time he was gone three nights.  They like this much better.


Here's my status post on Facebook today:

You know you're in a small-town post office when the postmaster offers you some of the peonies he cut at home and brought to the post office in a bucket. Yay for the Partridge postmaster! He made my day.

 More than 40 people like this--probably as much as I do.


I so love the surprising connections that sometimes happen in the course of living life.  Three such have happened this week.

Last week while we were working in the demonstration garden, one of the Master Gardeners introduced me to J----- J------, telling me that she (JJ) grew up in Africa.  It turned out that my cousins M and S, who have lived in Ethiopia for many years, knew JJ's brother very well.  They lived near each other in Ethiopia.  Two Master Gardener's connecting at HCC via Ethiopia is pretty amazing.


"Sheila's" has been mentioned often among Master Gardeners as the best place to buy plants from K-State's Prairie Star Annuals list.  These are plants that have been carefully trialed all over Kansas, and they have thrived.  I had gathered that Sheila's was somewhere about an hour northeast of here.  Yesterday when I finally set about trying to figure out how to get to Sheila's, I suddenly remembered a young single Holdeman lady I had befriended a number of years ago at a grower's meeting in Wichita.  She had just started a plants business and I almost remembered that her name was Sheila.  I began to wonder if this was one and the same person.

Everything I learned on the internet about "Sheila's" sounded Holdeman--the Galva address, the Wedel last name, the location on a farm in the country and having begun originally by cleaning out a shed on the farm and then adding greenhouses.  Her family and many friends had helped her.  Today I asked Pam (extension agent) if Sheila was Mennonite and she said yes.  Her business name is Sheila's Garden Market.  Tomorrow I want to drive over there.  I've invited my Dad to ride along, and he wants to do so.  I don't know if I'll see Sheila, but if I do it will be fun to chat.


When I sent the Master Gardener profile written by Jim Potter to my extended family, my brother Myron mentioned that their children had learned to play chess from Jim.  He had met every week with a number of homeschoolers in the area while he was a school resource officer for the Reno County Sheriff Department.

Steve and Evelyn M.'s children were also in that group.  I don't know who else, except that I believe Brandon N. was present too, although he was not homeschooled.

Today when I saw Jim I mentioned that my nephews were in the chess group, and he spoke of that time together as having been a great pleasure.

He had spoken at Pilgrim high school also at some point.  Ray Delahoy's children attended at the time, and that provided an easy connection since Ray was also with the county sheriff department.

So many connections we didn't know about earlier.

An Interview

My sister suggested that I post this in honor of my mother.  It's written by Jim Potter, a fellow Master Gardener who is undertaking interviews of various individuals in the group.  This interview took place last week in the Hutchinson Community College Master Gardener's Demonstration Garden, and the picture was taken there.  If you live in this area and have never seen this garden, do yourself a favor and stop by often.  During the summer it will be a quiet place.  Park near the southeast corner of the parking lot north of Lockman Hall (just off 14th street) and walk south toward the garden.  The tennis courts are to the east of the garden.  A few tables in the area could be used for a picnic.  

Miriam Iwashige: Verbena bonariensis
               “Verbena bonariensis,” she pronounced without hesitation. Then, when I asked, she spelled it for me like a by-gone Latin teacher or spelling bee champion.
Growing up, imagine having your mother refer to the plants in your garden by their botanical name! Later, you’d learn the plants had other, more common names.
“As long as I can remember I have loved anything to do with our garden or farm,” said Miriam. She learned from her mother and grandmother, who both had a great deal of knowledge of plants and the environment and were tremendous gardeners.
As an adult there were other teachers for Miriam, authors who shared their knowledge about growing plants that would survive in rough environments with harsh winters, hot summers and sudden hail storms (The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather Resilient Beauty (2011) by Lauren Springer Ogden, and Passionate Gardening: Good Advice for Challenging Climates (2000) by Lauren Springer and Rob Proctor).
               Miriam enjoys focusing on hardy landscape planting that attracts birds, so berries and red cedars are especially useful plants. Also, planting flowers allows her a handy natural resource for flower decorating. She started selling these “field grown cut flowers” at the Reno County Farmer’s Market in Hutchinson when she was looking for a way to “get out a little more and have more contact with people.” Because she was already comfortable with the market from her mother’s previous pie sales, Miriam figured, “Growing flowers and selling at market might be a good fit (for me).” As is Miriam’s modus operandi, she researched the idea. Books authored by Lynn Byczynski on growing for market were especially helpful (Market Farming Success: The Business of Growing & Selling Local Food, 2nd edition (2013) and The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising & Selling Cut Flowers (2012). Thus, Miriam learned what plants were the backbone of the business and could be grown and marketed in Kansas. She recalls how one particular variety of Zinnias became one of her favorite flowers to use in cuttings due to its mildew resistance and long stems
For inspiration Miriam likes to study the Prairie Star (K-State Research and Extension) list of hardy plants as well as commercial botanical catalogs. If the plants she wants to buy are not available locally, she’ll find the closest nursery so the item will be as similar as possible to Reno County’s climate. Goumi is one shrub she found, similar to Autumn Olive used in windbreaks, that she planted this spring. It has tiny red fruit overlaid with tan freckles and she’s already looking forward to tasting it.
               “In my garden,” Miriam explains, “the two, no, three things I can never resist trying are different varieties of lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. I really love to eat tomatoes, probably my favorite.” Then Miriam describes her colorful peppers using words like “glossy, vivid, orange, white, yellow, lavender and purple.” Sounds to me like she’s painting a picture as decorative as her cut flowers.
Every year Miriam likes to grow different varieties of produce and compare the new product to her long time favorites. For example, Snow Crown, her standard cauliflower, will be compared to something newly planted this year. This constant evaluation keeps Miriam grounded. Another side of her horticulture fun is improving the landscape by deciding which “cheap and available” plant needs to be in a particular spot. It makes for an interesting adventure!
“I love the garden here (at Hutchinson Community College),” Miriam shares. “It’s therapeutic for me to work in the garden. I find myself with a smile on my face without trying when I’m in a place like this,” she continues. Miriam references Psalms 23 with its mention of the soul being restored in green pastures and beside still waters and concludes, “I know what He’s talking about, the beauty of being in places where things are grown. Man started in the garden. The natural environment was a place to feel connected with God. We were made to thrive in this environment.”

Monday, May 02, 2016

Flora and Fauna and Fungus in the House

The Gray Doves in the dining room are lovely.  They have been quietly growing for about a month and will soon be big enough to eat.

They are confined to a plastic bag labeled Gray Dove Oyster [Mushroom].  Inside the bag is straw which has been colonized by threads of white mycelium.  The exquisite little gray-crowned mushrooms erupted just a few days ago, after I noticed that the straw looked white throughout.  Then I took off the two clothespins that had been clamped over the folds of the closed plastic at the top of the bag.  I allowed the top of the bag to mostly stand open, except that I used the clothespins to clip together both sides of the open bag.  This leaves plenty of room for oxygen to circulate inside the bag, but helps keep it from drying out too fast.  I'm spraying it several times a day with a mist from a spray bottle.

I attended a mushroom growing workshop taught by Pam Paulsen, our extension horticulture agent.  She had boiled a whole bale of straw, a big kettle full at a time on the stove top in her home kitchen.  Then she stuffed it into trash bags and each class participant sanitized their hands and grabbed several hands full and stuffed it into a jumbo-sized clear plastic bag--big enough for two loaves of bread side by side.  Next we got a handful of the spores embedded in a media of some kind--the texture of cold refried beans.  We "kneaded" the spore mixture into the straw till it was well distributed and then added a bit more straw and worked it around till it was spread throughout.

I also prepared and brought home an oak log inoculated with shiitake mushroom spawn.  It has many holes drilled into the log and stuffed with spawn-filled "sawdust." The plugs are sealed over with wax which has been brushed on after being melted.  That log is living in the seed house for the time being.  It needs to be watered periodically.  It won't produce "fruit" till this fall.

I brought the Gray Dove bag home and perched it on the lid of my worm bin.  That's the fauna part of my dining room population.  Eisenia foetida inhabit the plastic tub with holes drilled along the sides near the top.  I give them treasures from my kitchen, although they're not hungry enough to consume all the waste goodies produced there.

I had one creature in the house last week that was uninvited.  I was headed to the kitchen from the dining room when I saw that it was already inhabited by a furry little gray rodent that seemed utterly confused.  It ran in circles, bumping occasionally into the toe space trim under the base cabinets. Its behavior reminded me of the rabid skunk that I saw once, stumbling and circling stupidly and falling occasionally.  This mouse made no effort to run away and hide.  What to do?

I wasn't brave enough to squash it, but I didn't want to let it get away either.  I was glad when I thought of trapping it under a heavy kettle or a lid.  I had to get close to the circling mouse (wearing sandals!) to find a lid.  When I got close I spied the plate cover that usually lives inside the microwave.  That was perfect, so I dropped it right on top of the mouse.  It was plastic and almost clear.  Then I quickly perched a 3 lb. shortening container on top of the cover.

The mouse sat still part of the time and circled part of the time.  Every time I had to be in the kitchen throughout the rest of the day I gave the mouse a wide berth.  I did put a heavy, stiff piece of cardboard nearby so that Hiromi could slide it under the mouse and the lid after he got home.  I opened the doors for him as he gingerly carried the imprisoned critter out.  I did not inquire what he did with it.  Maybe he took my suggestion to make use of the shovel propped against the outside of the utility room.

Plants reside in each of the main rooms of the house--violets in the living room, a fern, a clivia, and a rubber plant in the dining room, and rooted ornamental amaranth cuttings on the kitchen window sill.  I rooted those cuttings on a whim after I had to reduce the plants in the cell packs to one in each cell.  Since I had direct-seeded the amaranth and the germination was good, I ended up with lots of extra plants.  They rooted in a hurry.  That's the flora part of what I have in my house.

I love a house with lots of living things in it besides the people.  Except for spiders and mice, they're all welcome.  

In Search of a Model

No.  Not that kind of model.  A model for the education of children.  I keep circling back to this topic because I keep learning of new possibilities and keep noticing flaws in existing models.  This search for a defensible and workable one just might take the rest of my life.

I'm glad I don't need a perfect plan before I broach the subject again.  Each investigation helps clarify my mental picture of what a stellar system might look like.  Viewing the picture from various angles reveals strategies and specific actions that can actually be implemented, given general agreement on the goals, and given the will to make it happen.

Duane W. asked me last week where I get the ideas for blog posts.  I couldn't give a very coherent answer.  What I read, hear, and observe all provide raw material.  Usually, however, on the more substantive topics, input from many disparate sources has to click and connect (more like twist and churn and tumble) inside  my head before anything rational emerges.  On the topic of education, there's already quite a sizable glob of raw material residing inside my cranium, accumulated over years of training, experience, observing, and thinking.  The integration of anything new is complicated, but ever so necessary if it's all to do any good.

My thinking recently has been stimulated by two things primarily:

1.  Ongoing work on our school's curriculum committee, a multi-year project in which every subject area will be scrutinized.  Resulting documents will likely include for each subject area a Philosophy Statement, a Purpose Statement, Implementation Guidelines, and Curriculum Materials list.  Every committee meeting and "goalpost" prompts me to read, listen, observe, and think.
2.  Exposure to the system in current use in Finland.  I learned recently about a documentary by Michael Moore which contained a segment on schools in Finland.  All I saw of it was a three-minute clip.  Further searching turned up some really excellent writing by an American educator who spent five months in Finland's schools under the auspices of a Fulbright research assignment.  Earlier she had traveled to seven countries in Asia on another educational research assignment.  I am far more trusting of this writer's perspective than I am of Michael Moore's, although I don't really know enough about him to critique his work credibly.  The teacher's name is Kelly.  I urge you to follow her blog.  Go here to sign up.  Read these two posts (in this order) and the comments following, even if you can't get to anything else right away:  11Ways Finland's Educational System Shows Us That Less is More, and I Can't Find the "Less" in the Middle of So Much "More."

Kelly faithfully records what she sees as strengths in both the Finnish and the American systems, and and the collision that resulted when she tried to integrate Finnish strengths into the American system.  Her words and the words of teachers who commented echo the words that sort themselves out occasionally inside my head.  Reading this blog gives me the sense that Kelly really "gets it" as do some of the people who comment--all the yearning for something better, all the frustration in continuing to reach for it, the loneliness of the pursuit, the weariness of trying to steer clear of inferior pursuits while others seem intent on rushing after it, bumping into walls of all kinds, working at preserving relationships in the process, etc.   She concludes, as have I, that a fundamental and widespread shift in values is needed before alternatives can take hold in America.

In my case personally, the integration effort that Kelly attempted would need to take into account also Biblical values and values consistent with an Anabaptist lifestyle.  Small wonder that this seems like a gargantuan task.  Chipping away at it feels too slow and too inefficient, but it also seems like the only option open to me--except for advocating homeschooling (augmented by participation in group efforts), in which these strengths can all be swiftly incorporated in some measure at least.  For me, pursuing that only would mean basically "checking out" of the system in common use, rather than continuing to participate in the process of bringing about change in group education efforts--which will always be needed in some form.  I'm not positive that optimism for changing "the system" is warranted, but I want to make the effort to try by staying involved.

I believe that what Anabaptist schools routinely have now is an almost-unexamined and slavish copy of the American system with some added Christian content.  In many ways I don't believe it is serving us well.  We can do so very much better, but we won't do so if we expend all our energies in beefing up and "enthroning" the business-as-usual system.  At some point, we must back off far enough to examine the whole system, not just individual curriculum pieces of the system.  I pray this happens before that system collapses from its own weight, as it almost certainly will eventually.  We do some things better than public schools around us can manage, so theirs will likely collapse before ours, but I don't call outlasting them a resounding success if we stay on a collapsing trajectory.  Being tardy to the collapse is far inferior to avoiding the collapse entirely by changing course early in the journey.  So let the examination process begin.
                                                                                                                                                                    In the American system which we  have adopted, I see several major flaws.

1.  It bears too much of the stamp of Social Darwinism.  (Google definition of Social Darwinism:  the theory that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals. Now largely discredited, social Darwinism was advocated by Herbert Spencer and others in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was used to justify political conservatism, imperialism, and racism and to discourage intervention and reform) In plain words, there is too much emphasis on competition that allows only the fittest to survive--because they deserve it, you know.  My introduction to Social Darwinism and its influence on education first occurred in History of Education classes at Sterling College.  (Side note:  I did not then make the connection between Social Darwinism and political conservatism, but just last week I "saw" it in a flash and explained it to Hiromi, before I saw it in print anywhere.  Very interesting.  I love such affirmations.)

2.  It borrows too heavily from the harsh efficiency of the high-performance German industrial machine and too little from the kinder, more moderate traditions of other groups.   My first introduction to the effect of German industrialism occurred through the research and writing of John Taylor Gatto, highly acclaimed educator in New York City during the late Twentieth Century.  The route by which it came to influence American education threads right through the exploits of American industrialists who were influenced by Social Darwinism.  My exposure to the ideas below came from a variety of sources.

A.  I see the influence of our pastoral  Swiss ancestors calling for a different emphasis--one of gentle ways, meticulous craftsmanship, and quiet, hard work with the good of the family and community held high.  In our schools, this would mean a shift in emphasis--not begging for the family, church, and community to accept whatever is determined to be good by school standards and rally in support of it, but having the school actively engaged in supporting the purposes of the family, church, and community.  This would elevate learning of practical craftsmanship to the same level of importance in school as the learning of academic skills.

B.  I see in Japan's Toyota manufacturing model a highly efficient system that still values and develops each underling in the system, allowing change to occur from the bottom up--not the top down, as is likely to happen in Germany.  The Japanese system is also more compatible with the Swiss values of community and craftsmanship, as opposed to the assembly line, cog-in-the-machine industrial system of Germany, which was compatible with Nazi goals and complicit in it.  Efficiency coupled with placing a high value on the well-being of every individual in the system ought to be in evidence in our schools.  Our schools largely subsume individual needs under the blanket of efficiency required for a group setting.

C.  In Finland's system I see a deep understanding of childhood as God designed it.  There is no effort to circumvent natural, gentle learning processes, and certainly no imposition of burdensome "canned" curriculum on every individual.  Our schools need more flexibility to accommodate childhood in its God-created splendor.  While children need training, they do not need to act like adults in a factory, beginning in kindergarten.   Finland has done better than we have at striking a balance that preserves the wonder of childhood with the need for training during childhood.

D.  In the kingdom of Christ I see a culture of humble servanthood as opposed to competition and visible, quantifiable high performance.  Not so much in our schools.  Many of our lessons and much of our grading system rewards individual student effort only--not cooperative efforts or one-on-one help from one student to another.  Children are being too often asked to show what they can do (performance), not to show how they can help others (servanthood).

3.  It costs too much.   Money. Time. Stress (sleep deprivation, weariness, compromised health).  Lost opportunity (gaining knowledge and skill in non-academic areas, building relationships outside of school, being producers rather than consumers only).  

4.  It shows too little recognition of the rights and responsibilities of parents.   I've run out of energy and time to expand on this one.  Maybe another time.

Obviously, the work is only begun when problems have been identified.  Most of the hard work remains.

Join the Conversation.  Report for Duty.  All Hands on Deck.

Substitute your own cliche--whatever it takes to inspire and promote an education model that improves on the traditional American system.                                                                                                                                    

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Dealing with Difficulty and Hubris

Last Sunday afternoon at the cemetery where  my aunt Elizabeth Wagler had just been buried, Phil W. looked at the tombstones of his parents, grandparents and others in his family and spoke of one ancestor who was not buried there.  The man was his great grandfather, the father of Peter Wagler, Phil's grandfather.

Peter (Pete) had been born in Daviess County, Indiana.  He was the oldest in his family, and at the age of six had a number of younger siblings.

One day Peter's father set off walking with his gun in hand.  As he left, he told little Peter that when he hears a shot, he is to come looking for his dad.  When Peter did so, he found his father dead by his own hand.

Because he died by suicide, he was buried outside the fence of the cemetery.  However, since the cemetery needed to be expanded later, the fence was moved, and Great Grandpa Wagler's grave now is located inside the fence.

The last part of this story is identical to the one Dorcas Smucker recently told about her Miller ancestor--the suicide, the burial outside the fence, and now inside the fence.  Her lament included reflection on the sadness of depression not having been understood then and often not being understood now.  

Surely Father Wagler was not thinking rationally when he arranged for his six-year-old son to find him dead.  Having that image seared into the child's memory as it had to have been was a great injustice to Peter.  His descendants speculated that moving to Kansas as an adult may have been an effort to put distance between himself and his traumatic Indiana memories.

Here in Kansas Pete was ordained as a deacon in the Old Order Amish church.  He was well loved by his church people and had a reputation for great kindness and concern for those who struggled.  Two of his sons, Willie and Mahlon, were later part of the team of ministers in our church.  Redemption came eventually to this family.

Whether depression was involved in the Wagler man's death might never be known.

In any case, what we do know now about depression should prompt in us compassion and a desire to help instead of condemnation and separation--as if it deserves only ostracization, even in death.


Wrong as those actions of the past seem to us now, perhaps something I heard said about a community that experienced a rash of suicides a long time ago can help us make sense of it.  While this was happening, a church leader announced that henceforth there would be no funeral for anyone who died by suicide.  Reportedly the suicides stopped.  Perhaps burial outside the fence of the cemetery was a decision in the same vein as the "no-funeral" one.

I'm guessing that the minister who made this decree felt that "de-glorifying" death by suicide would lessen its appeal to people in desperate straits.  He may have been right, although even acknowledging that seems crass and insensitive.

If anyone can provide more specific details about this, I'd love to see them in the comments.  I don't know any names or places involved, or even the approximate dates.


My non-professional, personal-experience observations on depression suggest that it's a mistake to assign the causes routinely to spiritual, emotional, or physical realms.  It may, in fact, be a combination of all of them, with one or another of them predominating at different times and in different individuals.

I do have some reservations about the use of medication for depression, just as I do about other kinds of drugs.  I have used medication for depression myself, however, and found it a wonderful help.  When I hear about people who will not consider taking medicine for depression, I wonder why.  Surely side effects of medication are not worse than the primary effects of continued depression.  Surely medication for depression is no more morally problematic than medication for high blood pressure or any other physiological ailment.

I eventually no longer needed  medication.  No great spiritual breakthroughs occurred and no big emotional vacuums surfaced throughout.  I did take steps to fill gaps in my nutrition habits while I was also taking medication.  I have continued with supplementation ever since.  In the emotional realm, I learned some self-care and boundary-setting strategies.  I continued to cultivate spiritual disciplines and explored new ways of private reading of scripture and prayer.

I can't say for sure what all helped, but the medication and the food supplements were the two things that were introduced for the first time during the "depression era."  I believe they both helped in my recovery and wellness since then.


The whole matter of taking food supplements, selling food supplements, and promoting food supplements has generated controversy for years.  I hate the controversy.

What I love is having access to credible information and a variety of options.  I love using supplements manufactured according to current good manufacturing practices (CGMP) , using certifiably safe substances (signified by a white NSF on the background of a dark circle--look for it on your supplements), and not having to pay an exorbitant amount for anything.  I love buying from someone who is personally educated about the product they're selling.  Especially I love the idea of not needing any supplements because of always eating healthful food, living in a healthful environment, and being entirely free of stress.  Throw in freedom from genetic disorders, autoimmune system dysfunctions, injury, pathogens, toxins and aging processes for good measure.  Not possible, of course, until we get to heaven.

To me, supplementation is a way of attempting to compensate for a host of strikes against our health, many of them beyond our control.  I see this as being like what God did in creation--as an act of love and provision for living in a world spoiled by sin and its effects.  He provided substances and strategies for our use so that we could survive and thrive in a compromised world.  We accept these from him as a gift and use them for ourselves and share them with each other.

While randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled tests "justifying" supplement use may seem ideal, I do not insist on this standard for food supplements--for what I consider impeccable reasons.  Nutritional testing involving humans is heavily burdened by ethical difficulties and controlling-for-variables difficulties.  That's why I consider these "gold standard" tests an unsatisfactory standard.  The information gained is often simply not worth the cost of acquiring it.  Humans are not lab rats.  I'll leave to you whatever elaboration on that truth you wish to explore.  I believe you will find in it solid facts explaining why you should not be unreasonably enamored with randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutritional testing.  Google any terms that are not clear to you.

Anecdotal evidence is often considered a poor substitute for rigorous scientific testing.  I recognize that anecdotal evidence has limitations.  Stories can be tainted by personal bias, even when they're told as honestly as is humanly possible.  Variables that influence results may not be obvious to the teller or the hearer of these anecdotes.  Greed and dishonesty introduce a great many more problems to anecdotal "evidence."  That isn't the same as saying anecdotal evidence has no value at all.

I believe anecdotal evidence can have great value. Stories of others' experiences are another part of God's provision for our learning and benefit. When we've prayed for answers and God sends us story tellers, to despise them is to reveal shameful hubris.  Stories of other people's health journey should be no more off-limits to our ears than stories of their international travel journeys.  Most Bible stories are a kind of anecdotal evidence--not for nutritional mysteries primarily of course, but for getting at other kinds of truth.

No one should need to apologize for learning or conveying truth via anecdotes (stories) on any subject.  The fact that it is against the law to do this in any ways that link health matters and food supplements is a great travesty.  Since it is the law, however, I always cringe when I see this law violated.  It happens a lot.  Prosecution sometimes occurs, and when it does, a good company and a good product can be utterly destroyed.

If you're in the nutritional supplement selling business and you're promoting it publicly, you need to be very careful how you do it.  If you're involved in selling, even citing those "gold standard" tests in connection with benefits from nutritional supplements runs afoul of these laws.  Consider yourself warned.

Marketing.  I've explored network marketing in previous posts and don't feel like rehashing it all.  Suffice it to say that I see no halos or horns above the heads of everyone engaged in any specific kind of marketing endeavors--as though some methods originate in heaven and some in hell.  Greed is alive and well in many marketing methods as is generosity and a desire to serve.  The marketing model is a non-issue as long as people operate with integrity and fairness in it.  Any kind of selling assumes that every person makes a profit in every cog of the line between producer or manufacturer and consumer.  Deal with it.