Prairie View

Monday, July 31, 2017

Prairie Petunia

On our way to the wedding on Saturday, I saw wildflowers along the road that I didn't recognize while driving by.  We  had just crossed the railroad, driving north on Herren Road.  On the east side of the road, in the sharp angle of the corner of Marvin Nisly's field were lavender flowers, appearing singly and about the size of a quarter.

I had to wait till the next day on the way home from church to stop and check them out further.  I still didn't recognize them, even close up, although I noted that the flowers were petunia-shaped.  I consulted my field guides after I got home, and I believe that the flowers are Ruellia humilis, or Prairie Petunia.  Here's a page with pictures and information.

The plants are perennial.  They are actually not related to the garden-variety petunias, in spite of the common name and the similarity of the blooms.

Buckeye butterflies use Prairie Petunia as a larval host plant.  In other words, if you find worms munching on the leaves, you probably should leave them alone if you want to enjoy the Buckeye butterflies that the worms will transform into.

One of the unusual things I noticed about the flowering branch that I brought home is that it appeared to have very fine strings attached all along the leafy stems.  I knew where they came from when the first flower dropped off the branch I had cut, and, to my surprise, a long string pulled right out of the base of the flower trumpet and stayed attached to the stem.  One of the pictures on the cited page shows the strings.

I wish there were some way of protecting that patch of Prairie Petunias.  What if Marvin posted a "Do Not Mow" sign?  What if Jeff conveniently delayed lowering his mower deck when he mowed the ditch in that area?  I personally think that preserving this patch of wildflowers has merit.

I've had my eyes peeled for wildflowers for most of 65 years, and this is the very first time I've seen these flowers in this area--or anywhere else (they're widely distributed).  Any flower that blooms this cheerfully after the punishing heat and drought we've had recently deserves all the survival help we can offer.

If you live in this area, I hope you take the opportunity to drive by and to enjoy the Prairie Petunias.  If you know of other local patches of these flowers, you're welcome to post that here as well.

In other wildflower news, the Ironweed that grows in the ditch along our property is at its loveliest right now.  This seems to be earlier than most of the Ironweed around here blooms.  On Saturday when I especially noticed it, the blooms were full of nectaring butterflies.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Wrapup--July 31, 2017

The big event of the weekend was the wedding of Jonas Morinigo and Kerri Byler.  Hiromi and I were invited to the wedding because Kerri was one of my high school students.

Jonas came here several years ago to work as a Choice Books volunteer.  His parental family lives in Tennessee, having moved there from Paraguay several years before then.  Jonas' father is a youthful-looking native Paraguayan, who is sometimes asked if he is Jonas' brother.

At the reception we sat across the table from one of Jonas' aunts.  She is a sister to his mother.  Their family came from Paraguay where they live to see their newborn first grandchild, and to attend the wedding.  The husband told us that he speaks four languages, with English apparently being the least familiar one.  Spanish, Guarani, and Pennsylvania German are the other three languages he knows.

While we were still seated, my brother Ronald spoke to Toby, the husband of the Paraguay couple, and invited the guests to spend the night with them in Labette County where Ronald's family lives in SE Kansas.  That was the first that I realized that they knew each other.  Ronald and Brenda had visited Paraguay on official Amish Mennonite Aid business near the time of my father's death in November. That's when they got acquainted.  This was an unexpected opportunity to continue some of the conversation they had begun then--about church matters, no doubt, since both of them are pastors.

Can you believe that I never thought to ask the names of the couple across from us who felt like friends by the end of the meal?  I only learned Toby's name when Ronald addressed him as such.  My bad.


"Mrs. Toby" told me the barest details about her parental family's saga.  She told me that sixteen children were born to her parents.  Only 14 survive.  I don't know where the family lived in the US, but they moved from this country to Belize.   From Belize they moved to the Eastern Paraguay Chaco--the same area that was offered to many Mennonite refugees after World War II.  Later they moved to a different part of Paraguay--near the Clinica Luz y Esperanza (Light and Hope Clinic) where some of our own local church people have served--most notably Lois Yoder, who delivered several thousand babies while she worked there as a midwife.

Some of the children obviously married while they lived there, and they stayed when the parents moved back to Belize.  The aged parents still live in Belize.

Mrs. Toby told me that she remembers when Roman and Ruth (local church people and market gardeners) had their farm sale before they moved to the US.  She thinks her parents and Roman's parents lived in the same area in the Chaco before she was born.


Jonas has established a reputation locally as the armadillo-trapping-expert.  In Paraguay they augmented the family's food supply, and, even here, some of Jonas' trapped armadillos ended up in a cooking pot.  Jonas makes his own traps--simple box traps with a wire tripping mechanism on the inside wall of the box.

During the open-mike time, LaVerne reported that after the first time they realized that they had an armadillo problem, Jonas came to investigate and reported that they "have a regular armadillo highway out there."  He trapped nine of them before the trap stayed empty.


Benji, my nephew who is the property manager at Golden Rule Property Management where Kerri also works, told a funny story about the time Kerri and another girl did a day's worth of mowing on properties that needed it.  Things went well except for one yard where they had trouble getting the mower through the front gate.  They finally gave up and mowed the yard entirely with a string trimmer.  As they were reporting, Benji began to suspect a snafu ( he couldn't remember a fence or a gate on that property . . . ).  It turned out that somehow the first part of the address had gotten mixed up and they had found the right house number--but on the east side of Main Street rather than the west (East 9th instead of West 9th, for example).  I'm sure the recipients of this mowing service were mystified.  I wonder if they're still puzzling over it.


I've been thinking a lot about storytelling and trying to figure out how to help my students cultivate the skill.  As it turns out, Leroy, the resident professional storyteller, is not nearly as full of advice about storytelling as he is full of stories.  After he gets back from leading a group of young men on a hike down into Grand Canyon (four nights camping in the canyon), he plans to see if he can find a book among his stash that might be helpful to me.  It's what I asked him for when my first questions didn't produce a clear storytelling map.

I'm sure that storytelling comes quite naturally for some people.  The rest of us need to be mindful of what makes a good story, and especially, we need to practice repeatedly.  That's the one thing I know that would be helpful to my students.

I know very well that there probably isn't a Grand Canyon hike in my future, but Leroy suggested an appealing (but still impossible) alternative:  a river trip through the Canyon.  The fact that it comes with a $5,000.00 price tag is the killer, although I don't doubt that it's a fair price.  I told Leroy that I may have been forever spoiled by the river cruise in Bangladesh last November.  That ship was the right size (only about 20 passengers), and we could stand around and watch the anchor being let out or winched up, or we could go into the ship's head cabin and watch the pilot turn that big wheel to keep it in the right channels.  From the hold downstairs, wonderful cooking smells wafted up, and when it was ready, the bounty was served with aplomb.  On the "roof deck" we had a great view of  the countryside along the river banks, and the other vessels on the river.  The engine sounds were not annoying, but audible, and I can't quite imagine a vessel so large that you would hardly know if you were moving or not--or so small that the higher winds and waves would be scary.

We got a small taste of that one morning when we were anchored within sight of the Bay of Bengal while a tropical storm was lashing the Bay.  Some of our passengers had gone on shore and walked through pouring rain to a beach along the Bay.  Our pilot barely waited till they got back in their motor boat (heavily-loaded and riding low in the water) before pulling anchor and sailing upriver with dispatch.

I confess to having done a good bit of checking on river cruises after I got back to see if such a thing might be within reach on one of our US waterways.  The search turned up the Road Scholar program.  Ohhhhhhhhh.  It's the stuff of dreams.  They offer all sorts of trips, many of them international.  Each one is paired with many learning opportunities.  Hence the "Scholar" part of the company name.  Here again though, the price . . .


The meeting scheduled last week with the nursing home administrator had to be rescheduled for this week.  It's about the landscape at the facility.

Maybe some background is in order.  This nursing home is now being administered by a visionary couple who feels called to help turn around struggling facilities.  This is not their first project, and it will likely not be their last.  Ownership is by a large corporation.

Hands of Christ has served clients that have gone there to live when they could no  longer stay in their own homes.  Rachel Yoder currently has regular Bible studies with some of the residents.

One of the much needed improvements is in the landscape.  The street side is reasonably attractive, but the courtyard areas that residents can safely (?) access need a lot of help.  Rachel is working hard to pull together a team of volunteers who can make these areas attractive, accessible, and full of  life.  Rachel and others have done a huge amount of work to remove nuisance vegetation and work the ground.   When I was there, I sketched the various parts of the "smoker's courtyard," and wrote down the measurements I was taking.  Inside my head, plans were taking shape as well, but I realized that I needed a lot more information if I were to come up with a good workable landscape plan.  That's why the meeting is happening.

I can't imagine that much money is available, but my heart breaks for the people who are confined to such desolate surroundings, and I pray for ways to make things better.  I'm sure feelings like mine are what made the lady administrator cry every night after work the first few weeks after they arrived in Hutchinson.  Even the welcome shade under the lone Siberian Elm is crisscrossed with surface roots that would be hazardous for anyone whose mobility or stability is compromised.  Parking spots for wheelchairs need smoother paving.  A bird bath (empty) and a bird feeder showed some effort at bringing birds to the area.

Squirrels frisked without fear, and their presence added some life to the place.  They were apparently responsible for a number of corn plants growing in the bed outside the dining room.  One resident forbade the volunteers to uproot the corn, because "one of them has an ear on it." It did indeed, but I couldn't imagine that it would produce much since it was growing in a very shaded area.  It told me something about how hungry the residents are for some connection to living, growing things.  The corn was growing right outside their "floor-length" dining room windows.

Some of the clients who use the smoker's courtyard have mental health diagnoses.  What I know about the healing effects of being in nature makes me hopeful that these people could benefit from a varied and beautiful natural environment.


Speaking of healing effects of being in nature . . . I've been learning about grounding or earthing--both terms for human body contact with the earth.  It's fascinating, and I am inclined to think that it's not entirely hocus-pocus, although I haven't sorted out what is incontrovertibly sound.  The most familiar and simplest means of contact is going barefoot.  Any kind of non-conductive footwear (like rubber and plastic) limits beneficial electrical exchanges between the earth and human body.

The fact that a number of maladies seem to have increased around the same time that materials for shoe soles changed may be related.  I think it's very possible that we haven't discovered yet what all is affected by this change in our lifestyles.

Remember those sandburs we uprooted last week?  I had hoped that I caught them before they dropped the thorn-clusters that contain seeds, but I realized that it was a vain hope when I examined the bottom of my Birkenstocks and had to remove many stickers before I carried them into the house or the backyard.  Sandburs are the main deterrent for going barefoot at our place.  I did make an effort last week though to at least let my tender feet rest on the grass while I'm sitting outside.  It meant moving to the edge of the patio while I was trimming the tops off the onions I had harvested.


I think the Roadrunner I've been seeing might have a mate or at least a sidekick.  I looked out the patio door just in time to see two large birds shortly after they'd gotten airborne.  From the angle of their flight, I'm quite sure that they had taken off from the edge of our property.  They were the right size and shape for Roadrunners.   I never saw two Roadrunners together here, but last week I saw one drinking out of the water dish on the patio--maybe two yards beyond the patio door.


Our family is planning an "immigration papers" celebration now that my brother Marcus' long wait is over.  We're having pupusas, a Salvadoran food that Marcus and Anthony remember and love.

We're meeting at Hans' house in town.  Hans has a guest, Fineas, from Australia, a friend he first met at the "Beachy" church in Gympie.  Fineas has been touring the US with Hans for the past few weeks.  The gathering is partly a chance for the Miller family and Fineas to get acquainted.


My sister Clara and her adult children Zachary and Victoria plan to arrive here on Tuesday of this week.  Clara's first grandchild is expected around the middle of August, which is the same time that the Elreka reunion is planned.  Clara can't stay till the reunion, and she'd like to be at home when Nigel and Karen's baby arrives, but it's possible that she may be able to return at a later time.


In one of my flowerbeds, a very large thistle-like plant is thriving.  I decapitated it once early in the season, and it came roaring back.  I was about to attempt another eradication when I had second thoughts.  Did I or didn't I plant a Sea Holly in that spot?  That would be a thistle-like plant, which I've never actually grown before.  I decided that the best thing to do was to let it grow until it developed flowers.  If they don't look like Sea Holly, I'll show no mercy.  Out it goes.  I especially don't want those noxious thistles that have moved in to find shelter on my property.  I'm sure the landowners around us have the same interest.  It now has fat buds, so the wait may be nearly over.  If anyone who is more familiar than I am with the earlier stages of the bad thistle's life cycle checks out my plant, I'll uproot it before it blooms if you can identify it.


In the food line at today's carry-in after church, Paul Yoder told me about his nephew, Loren, who is a doctor in Indiana.  Every year Loren invites people from the area to his place for a time of singing hymns.  Hundreds of people show up. They always begin with the German song sung at every Amish Sunday morning church service--the Lob Lied.  Loren has a deep appreciation for his Amish Mennonite heritage, and is distressed by what he sees as departure from the things he appreciates, especially the shift in some sectors to involvement in conservative politics.  He has purchased land in Belize.  Paul said this in the context of his disaffection with the current conditions in the church, so I presume he's putting an escape plan in place.

Loren's parents lived at one time on the farm where I grew up.  My grandfather A. J. Beachy purchased the farm from Loren's grandfather, Dan Yoder.

My sister-in-law, Brenda, recently traveled to have Dr. Loren perform carpal tunnel surgery for her.  His going rate is about half of what others charge.  Much of his clientele is probably Amish.  These people pay their own bills (without insurance), and he has reasonable assurance that they will not default on their debts.  These things combine to make him able to offer his services at a lower price.


Congress is deeply mired in healthcare issues.  Lord help us all.  I don't think Obamacare is that great, but I think the alternatives being offered are worse.  When Hiromi asked me today what I think should happen, I said that I don't really see any good options.  I said that what I think is needed is a major shift in our approach to healthcare (promoting wellness rather than treating sickness), reform in the legal sector (placing limits on malpractice lawsuits), and regulatory reform (so that the pharmaceutical industry does not have a monopoly on substances that may be legally prescribed).  I find the insurance business at fault as well.  None of these were touched under Obamacare, and I don't think anyone is offering to right the wrongs now.  That's why I don't see any good options.


At the lunch table today, Jonny told about doing a construction project for Tom Heintzman, a person whose name I recognized from his having worked for the parks department and then owning Prairie Hills nursery.  I learned a few things about the man that lives on his property and works for him--Zach Hemmerling.  I know Zach from Farmer's Market.  I knew that he has a horticulture degree and that he keeps a vineyard and market garden--and that he got married fairly recently.  I have vines that I bought from him and once just missed the opportunity to take my food production class to his vineyard so he could show us how to prune grapevines.  What I didn't know is that he used to be a champion wrestler and he has an IQ of 157.  I presume that Jonny got that information from Tom rather than Zach.


I've heard reports about the Rosedale conference last week including a statement in which the leaders confessed having wronged the women in their churches by barring them from participation in certain aspects of church life in which they had good things to offer.  They sought forgiveness, which was offered by a representative group of women in the church.  This apparently happened without any presumption that the ordination of women as pastors would follow.  One woman who is a Facebook friend found reasons for great hope in this model of addressing troublesome aspects of  practice without "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." I'm interested in seeing how this develops in actual practice.  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Everyday Ramblings

Yesterday when I posted on Facebook, the post got so long that I regretted not having made it a blog post instead.  Belatedly I decided to paste it here.

I'd like to do some elaborating later, especially on this year's big onion growing experiment, which has involved tracking the results of having planted four different bunches of onion plants.  Two of them were sampler packs, each containing three different varieties.  Some are short day onions, some intermediate, and some long-day.  We're in the intermediate zone, so growing other types should rightly be considered experimental.

Today I harvested the produce from one bunch of onion seedlings--50 lbs. Several other notable things happened.
Between yesterday and today's efforts, we hoed and discarded about half of a trash dumpster cart full of "sandburs," AKA puncture vine. These are some of the worst "bad boys" of local natural vegetation.
My brother finally got the copy of his naturalization papers he first requested from the immigration office in September 2015. Now he can reapply for his driver's license.
Hiromi finally paid the second time for postage for a package that he mailed to Japan for the first time in December 2016. It was floating around in the postal system all this time (having arrived at least once in Japan) because when the correct address was typed into their address-label making machine, it looked right on the screen, but the "state" (prefecture) name was omitted in the actual label on the package--an equipment glitch. Yesterday he was told that the package had returned to the local post office (for the second time in a week) because the postage had first been purchased more than six months ago. He worked for hours this afternoon to try to file for the refund they told him he could get online.
We saw a Roadrunner (bird) in the backyard just beyond the patio--twice today. I marvel at how readily they frequent the area around buildings in the country. These birds are very striking, and still fairly rare in this area.
Last night at dusk around 9:00, I saw from the house that a small group of animals was scrambling in and out of an empty frame on the ground that is to be a future strawberry bed. Right now we're filling it with compost materials, including kitchen scraps. When I went to the back door to get a better view, I saw telltale white stripes on a black body. By the time Hiromi got outside with his gun, the skunk family had disappeared.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Wrap-Up, July 16, 2017

Three weeks ago, Dwight and Karen Miller's house burned.  Yesterday, a replacement house stood in its place--not complete yet, of course, but with a completely finished roof, and the framing, sheathing, and rough flooring all in place, along with some of the interior wall framing.

About 40 volunteers showed up to help yesterday, and many other volunteers had helped in the weeks since the fire.

Dwight and Karen and their family operate two home-based ventures, in addition to dairy farming. One of them is The Potluck, a produce market inside what used to be the "milk house," the separate building containing the bulk milk tank.  The building was attached to the milking parlor.  A new milk house and milking parlor were built later and are now in use for that purpose.

The other venture is a bed and breakfast.  One facility, called the Homespun Hideaway, is currently being rented out by the month, so is not available right now for overnight guests.  It's a small house, separated from the house and other farm buildings by a walking path through the big garden.

The Homespun Hideaway was my first home.  Until its B & B christening, it was usually referred to in our extended family as the tenant house.  It was one of three different small houses built by the landlord, Mr. Bostick, who owned lots of land and had three full time hired hands working for him.  Each of them lived in one of the homes he provided for them and their families.  This is the only one of the three tenant houses still standing.

My parents lived there when I was born, and we lived there until I was about three years old, when we moved to the place where I grew to adulthood, and where our son Shane's family now lives.

The other bed and breakfast facility is built into a barn loft near the Potluck.  That one is still open for guests.

Customers are also welcome, of course, at The Potluck--perhaps especially so now.

Here are some links to media reports of the events at Dwight and Karen's place yesterday:

Video from KAKE TV.
A second Video from KAKE.
An article in the Hutchinson News.


Local trivia:  One of the other tenant houses was located south of the Salt Creek Bridge on Centennial Road.  From Dwight's east corner (on Illinois Ave.), the house was located between 1/4 and 1/2 mile north--on the east side of the road, I believe.  I used to work the field occasionally where the house once stood, and recall seeing some remaining limestone rocks where it must have been built.  My dad and Uncle Edwin farmed that land together at one time, and my age-mate and cousin Valetta and I sometimes traded off with the tractor-driving chores.

The other tenant house was located near the intersection of High Point Rd. and Illinois Ave., in the northeast quadrant.  Old timers will think of it as being just east of Ervin Miller's east place.  This house was still standing in my memory, but was never inhabited in  my memory.

Each of the tenant houses was on a different section (square mile) of land.  I'm not sure how much land Mr. Bostick owned altogether, but my quick tally comes up with between three and six half-sections.  After his death, his two daughters, Georgeann Russel and Virginia MacArthur inherited the land.  Virginia was born inside the house that burned down in 1962.


Here is one story I posted on this blog earlier about working in the field where one of the tenant houses once stood:

 When I was young my dad and Edwin did some farming together, and shared equipment.  As a consequence, we children spent many hours working together--or playing together while our dads worked together.  A long tiring job of tilling the fields was ever-so-much more enjoyable when one person from each family went to the field together and took turns making rounds.  We usually agreed on a specified number of rounds at the outset, after which we would trade off drivers.  The off-duty driver waited under a shade tree if such were available. 

Last Saturday when Lois and I took lunch over for the family that had gathered after Edwin's death, we reminisced about one particularly vexing aspect of those field working escapades--the pop-off valve on our old U M&M (Minneapolis Moline).  As the LP gas in the tractor's tank expanded in the heat of the day, it continued to build up pressure until a safety release valve was activated.  When that happened, the noise was deafening, and a dramatic plume of vapor blasted out and billowed all around.  As Marlin remembered it, the ones in our family were used to it, and weren't terribly bothered by it, but those in their family feared it greatly. 

I remember it a little differently.  I don't think anyone ever got used to it.  It gave a bit of warning by a soft hissing, and if we hadn't been so scared of the whole business, we could actually have manually released some pressure at that point by opening the valve.  Instead, we cowered and waited and then shuddered helplessly when it finally blew.  Valetta remembers being so traumatized by it once that she walked a mile to our house from the field where she was working along Centennial Road, claiming that the blast had blown her off the tractor.  On Saturday she gave a more likely version.  It blew and she stopped the tractor safely and left in a hurry.


Another bit of trivia has to do with how very afraid of fire old Mr. Bostick was.  For this reason, he made sure that all the farm buildings were spaced far apart from each other and from the house, to ensure that fire did not spread from one building to the next.  That was smart, since help from a fire department was undoubtedly far away and slow in coming.

It seems ironic that twice now the house on that main property has been destroyed by fire.  The first time it happened was in 1962.  I can still recall exactly how that house was laid out, since it was my grandparents' home.  Before it burned, my aunt and uncle Ollie and Emma had moved from the tenant house into the big house with their infant daughter.  It burned on a day when they had left home to buy supplies for installing an indoor bathroom.

In my memory, the bathroom was a tall little squarish building at the end of a long board walk under the locust and catalpa trees around the house.  In the spring, when the trees blossomed, the scent along the walkway was heavenly.

When the two-story house burned, the adjacent wooden enclosure at the bottom of the windmill and the nearby wash house also burned.  Apparently Mr. Bostick's desire for convenience outweighed his concern about fire safety when these structures were added.


Our church gathering today was  far smaller than usual.  I know of at least four different families that traveled this weekend for family reunions.  At least one of them involved various households from Center.

Shane's family is still gone, having attended Dorcas' brother Titus' wedding in Virginia.

The Kansas Youth Chorus is on tour right now, so at least 13 of the young people were missing.

Arlyn's family was visiting in Oklahoma, where Arlyn preached this morning.


Mr. and Mrs. Micah Martin, a young couple who visited church this morning, are living and traveling in a camper.  Their travels began before last winter.  Micah is the nephew of Loretta Miller (Mrs. Arlyn).  They discovered various connections with members of our church after they arrived.  Mrs. Martin (Hannah) had grown up in the same church where my sister-in-law Judy's siblings attended.  She also knew Hannah, my niece.  She knew Heidi (Kuepfer) Overholt, who moved from here to Ohio after she got married to John.  Rachel Yoder knew her through Romania connections.

Micah's mother was the teacher who replaced me when I left my teaching job in Ohio in 1978.  Although we never overlapped, Mildred (McGrath) Martin, lived in the house I had lived in and taught in the same classroom where I had taught.


Last week when my sister Lois and I took a meal in for Dwight and Karen's family and others, we had a chance to visit with Dwight's brother Michael's family and his mother Ruth, who had arrived from Ohio to help.

When Michael was in third grade, he was part of a class that came to my 7th and 8th grade classroom every day for their reading class.  Michael's wife was part of Lois and Marvin's Virginia "family." Marvin had lived with her family before he was married, and she had helped in Marvin and Lois' household when Heidi was born.

Ruth was the parent of four of the students (counting Michael) who were part of my classes when I taught in Ohio.  She is still a perky, alert, and friendly lady, just as she was all those years ago.  A little more than a month ago her husband died, after having suffered with dementia for some time.  She was his main caregiver, so her ability to travel was very limited.  It's different now, and she stayed about a week longer than Michael's family did.


Our homestead here must be a wild rabbit factory--or at least a magnet for them.  Hiromi and his shotgun have dispatched an average of one a week for most of the summer, but we still keep seeing live ones around.

The fact that the carcasses  routinely disappear promptly gives evidence that other wild predators frequent the property also.  Coyotes, owls, and hawks are the usual suspects, but I'm not sure if all of those will eat carrion.


The other day I saw a pair of Bobwhites strolling through the backyard.  All summer we've been hearing their distinctive call, but I had never caught sight of them before.  They're very well-camouflaged.  Although they're ground nesting, they spend a lot of time calling from high in the trees.

We're in a hot, dry stretch of weather right now.   We're praying for rain and praying for all those who depend on a successful crop for their livelihood.


We're doing the second printing of the "Perry" books, written last year by the composition class I taught.  The book tells the story of my Uncle Perry's life.  He was a public school teacher for more than 30 years.  In mid-August, a reunion is planned for all those who graduated at Elreka school while he was principal.  That covered the years from about 1958 to 1984.

The first printing is sold out.  Those who didn't get one yet can console themselves with the knowledge that the second printing contains fewer errors.  Many of the errors were in formatting, and only a very few were actually factual errors.

Linda (my sister) helped me with making the corrections, and Arlyn (our principal) helped a great deal with getting the formatting and page numbering right.


We did the tuna can test with our lawn sprinklers today.  It was even worse than I suspected.  Despite running the 90-minute cycle three times in succession, only a fraction of an inch of water accumulated in the tuna cans we had distributed around the area.  Obviously, the size of the area and the output of the sprinklers are not well-matched.

I've known for years that the ideal lawn-watering method is to give the grass an inch of water once a week.  The business of watering a little bit, often,  is a terrible idea because it keeps the roots near the surface where the soil dries out fast instead of allowing the roots to grow deep and in order to draw up moisture for a longer period of time.  Here, natural rainfall must be considered the supplement to regular irrigation--at least during a typical summer season.


At the sewing last Tuesday, Rose N.  offered free-for-the-taking short lengths of fabric and some already-cut squares that had once belonged to a lady that Rani worked for.  She was a quilter who bequeathed her supplies to Rani and her mother when she died.  Among them were many lovely Asian fabrics--some of them obviously Japanese.  I felt like a kid in a candy store.  I've often drooled over such fabrics on ebay, and have purchased a few pieces, but they're expensive, and I could never afford to buy many of them.

Sarah M. had already sorted through them and had pieced a fan quilt from them which will be hand quilted at the sewing and offered for sale at the MCC sale next spring.

Years ago, I started piecing my own fan quilt, using scraps from my dresses and Hiromi's old neckties.  I will probably use these new fabrics to finish that quilt.

Finishing it will probably need to wait till I retire after this next year at school.

Friday, July 07, 2017

African Violets

Despite what I thought during most of  my growing-up years, African violets are truly a houseplant for those lacking a green thumb.  I thought it was very important not to get any water on the leaves, so they should always be bottom-watered.  I've been watering from the top for years now, regularly getting water on the leaves, with no major problems.  I don't make a habit of using cold water, however, since room temperature water is a good thing for keeping the leaves healthy.

Gradually I've added to my practices other tidbits that I'm consolidating here for future reference, and to get them clear in my own mind.

1.  Propagation.  Removing a leaf and burying all of the stem and a bit of the leaf in moist potting soil is the propagation method I have used most often.  New plantlets will eventually pop to the surface if all goes well.

To help the process along, rooting hormone powder can be applied to the leaf stem tips.  Putting a bit of powder inside a small lid or something similar works well for this purpose.  Handle the leaf stem as though it were a stamp being inked on a stamp pad.  Only the end needs rooting hormone.

A second helpful practice is to set the pot with its leaf or leaves inside a plastic bag tall enough to contain the pot with its leaves.  Gather the top of the bag into a circle made by your thumb and forefinger.  Blow into the bag, filling it with moist carbon dioxide, and then secure the top tightly with a twistie.  Another option is to set them in a tiny "greenhouse" made from a large grocery store container like the ones that sometimes contain baby spinach or chopped kale.  Expose these babies gradually to drier room air, first by opening the bag, then over time, removing it completely.  One source suggested that this can happen after one week.  You'll know for sure that it's OK when you see evidence of new growth.

A note on propagating violets with variegated leaves:  Use leaves with the least variegation as propagation material.  I don't know why, but I read it somewhere.

My niece Hannah says she has simply put detached leaves in water and the will send up new plans that way too.  I haven't tried that.

2.  Maintenance.  Here's where I've learned several new tips recently.  The plants I keep at school are watered weekly with a weak fertilizer liquid solution.  A balanced N-P-K analysis is best and can be used for all houseplants.  I also use a good potting soil mix.  Here it's sold under the Stutzmans brand, but elsewhere I believe it's called Sunshine.  Many of the mixes sold specifically for African violets are not really "loose" enough to work very well.

At school the violets get morning sun.  Here at home, they hardly ever get direct sunlight, but I have them near an east window.  To some extent, more light means more blooms.

One tip I learned recently is that blooming plants should be maintained with about 5 circles of leaves.  Here some information about their growth habit might be helpful  As violets grow, the crown elongates above the soil line.  In other words, growth of new leaves originates at the tip of the crown.  Flowering stalks originate there as well.  Although I'm not sure that it's quite this simple, I think of each circle of leaves (they branch out in several directions at nearly the same point on the elongated crown) prompting growth of a new set of flowering stalks  Think of the growth process as accumulating layers of leaves and flowering stalks.  The lowest leaves therefore have no more help to offer in flower power, and only a limited number of leaves should be  maintained to keep the plant vigorous enough to produce new leaves and flowers.  The bottom line here is to keep pinching or trimming off the oldest leaves, and no harm will come to the plant.  I presume it will help somewhat in controlling the size.   Untrimmed plants can easily reach a foot across.

The second tip I learned is to diligently maintain only a single crown for each plant.  Some varieties seem to have a great propensity to establish multiple crowns.  This has the effect of crowding the pot and making the plant misshapen. and asymmetrical.  The remedy is to pinch or slice off every new crown as it appears.  The developing crowns will look like the center of the plant (with new leaves and flowering stalks originating there), but they will be developing at the side of the original crown.  A few of the plants I kept at school (only certain kinds) were chock full of crowns by the end of the year.  I suppose this has something to do with the fact that for the first time ever, I had a problem with powdery mildew.  Jason, at Stutzmans, recommended a fungicide commonly used on Roses.  It contains Neem Oil.

3.  Repotting.  Violets should be repotted every 6-12 months.  The reason for this again becomes clear with some explanation.  Remember that I referred to the crown as becoming gradually elongated?  That elongation eventually creates an odd looking plant if it's not repotted or replaced.  If the light exposure is uneven, the elongated crown bends toward the light, and the plant begins to look "off-center" in the pot.  If the light is even all around, a bare trunk-like structure develops, and the leaves are perched on top--like a palm tree.

If unsightliness is the main problem, an emergency measure that makes it look better is to simply set the plant deeper in the pot, burying part of the "trunk." A better option is to remove most of the leaves, leaving only the very top 1/2 inch of the crown intact (cut the bottom part off) and bury the small crown piece.  Treat it exactly like you do the leaves from which you're trying to grow new plants--root hormone, pot inside a plastic bag.

A schoolroom is a great place for African violets.  As all plants do, they take in carbon dioxide (which is what people breathe out), and give off oxygen (which is what people need to breathe in).  So especially where there are lots of people, lots of plants help keep the air fresh.  Gideon commented last year when he walked into my classroom, "The air smells fresh in here.  My room smells like stale perfume."  There's a tip for other teachers of 7th and 8th graders out there.

As I discovered last year, however, plants in a schoolroom face some hazards that my plants do not face at home.  A row of students sitting in chairs along the back wall by the windows will inevitably have some students who love to lean back by tipping their chairs.  Predictably, heads begin to tangle with crisp leaves, and some of them break (the leaves, not the heads).  Also, if the sills are not wide enough, and the row of chairs migrates closer and closer to the window wall, students will break off leaves by simply trying to squeeze through the space with an armload of books .

Teachers don't always have the ability to "think like a plant," which sometimes results  in placing plants where they fit the room use and decor, rather than to place them where they have the amount of light they need to grow and perform well.  Save those inhospitable spots for artificial plants.  They'll meet the decor need, although they won't freshen the air one iota.  Full-spectrum bulbs in the light fixtures will benefit the plans that are located away from the windows.  They'll benefit the students too, although that's a topic for another post.

I now have accumulated five kinds of violets, without making a point of collecting them.  Most of them were given to me by relatives.  I bought one at the MCC sale perhaps as much as a decade ago.  That one has  pure white flowers and the medium-green leaves have a scalloped edge.   The others came from my niece Hannah (a double purple, leaves with a purple underside), my sister Carol (leaves with a white edge, and producing clear pink flowers),  Aunt Mary (rosy pink flowers and apple green leaves), and Hiromi (deep blue-purple single flowers with dark green leaves).  I don't consider myself an expert on violets or a connoisseur of them, but I try to give them what they need after they're in my possession, and they repay me by adding wholesome beauty to my environment.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Update on Cleaning Smoke-infused, Soot-stained, Damp Fabrics:

I'm not sure what's with this giant font.  I just now saw it--several weeks after it was originally posted.  I may try to track down the problem later.


Here's what I learned in the process of doing a number of loads of laundry after the fire at Dwight and Karen's place.  For the first installment on this topic, read this.

1.  I was horrified to read, after I had followed most of the earlier recommendations, that stains should always be addressed before washing to remove odors.  In practical terms, what this means is that pre-treatment of stains should happen before even normal washing and air drying is done.  I had reasoned that as long as I don't use hot water and do use line drying, I won't be "setting" any of the stains.  Meanwhile, the clothes would be much more pleasant to handle and treat, if the bulk of the grime were removed first.  Besides, since these clothes were wet from the water used to fight the fire, they either needed to be dried or cleaned promptly, to keep mold and mildew from forming.

2.  The enzyme treatment is a different "animal" from all the usual laundry products.  It's actually a combination of enzymes and friendly bacteria.  The enzymes cause the bacteria to multiply, if other conditions are ideal.  In order to be activated, the enzyme/bacteria liquid should be dissolved in warm water, and the grimy clothes are added.  The longer the clothes soak, the better, since the stain/odor-banishing bacteria can multiply with gusto during that time, and do their good work on both the stains and the odor.  Obviously, if you are dealing with multiple loads, you'll need some soaking tubs to avoid tying up your washer indefinitely.  Soaking up to a week is OK.  If I had done that, I'd still be washing.  On the other hand, maybe some of those stains would have come out instead of stubbornly resisting all my attempts to dislodge them.  About 1/2 cup of enzyme liquid is added to each load.

3.  Most of the other laundry products will kill the enzymes and beneficial bacteria, so the two kinds of products should never be mixed.

4.  Essential Oils added to the laundry water are a good thing for neutralizing odors.  Again, they should not be added to the enzyme soak, but may be added to other laundry detergents.  I think the mixtures Purify and Purification are excellent, but if they are unavailable, I would try any citrus, Tea Tree oil, and Pine oil.   A total of ten drops to one load was suggested by one experienced user.  

5.  In my experience, banishing odors was easier than removing stains.  Cindy's white baptismal dress was the biggest challenge.  Maybe I should say it was the thing that I most wanted to rescue.  It almost worked.  Before I gave it back I could hardly be sure that I was seeing straight.  Is that a gray-brown stain or is it the way the light falls on the fabric? If I can't tell for sure, does it even matter which it is?

I think now that if I had a similar task to tackle again, I would load up on solvent-type cleaners (they're not easy to find--except for alcohol) and Spray and Wash stain spray, straight 3% hydrogen peroxide (for use on whites) and use them in that order till I could see the stains budging.  Then I'd do the detergent-soda-essential oil wash and vinegar rinse--with a plain rinse following.  Bleach-safe clothes could be run through a laundry cycle containing bleach.  After it was air-dried, I would do a long enzyme soak.  After air drying again, I would asses the situation for stains and odors, and then treat stains again if necessary, and do a detergent/essential oil wash again after stain treatment.  I'm  not sure that it would have to be done in this order, but I'd for sure want to keep almost everything except the soiled fabrics far away from the enzyme soak water.  Maybe that's what should come first--the enzyme water soak.  Now I'm equivocating again.  

The enzyme treatment does not leave clothes with the greatest smell.  For sure, there's no perfume present and the smoke odor is gone, and what's left is only mildly disagreeable.  

After I had finished with the clothes, none of them smelled like smoke, and most of them looked clean.  The garments that had the most remaining stains were fleece robes and nightgowns, and one cream-colored pull-over sweater made of synthetic fibers.  Some towels also had a few stains I couldn't remove.  


1.  The recognition that multiple washings would be necessary was on-target.  

2.  Getting out stains was a bigger problem than removing odors.  

3.  Essential oils are able to bond with the cells of odor-causing substances, and their usefulness is clear in my  mind.

4.  Dry wet clothes if they can't be treated right away, but don't delay too long to get started with the stain treatment.  I read dire warnings about delay, and I think I might believe them.

5.  Let go of perfectionism.  Not every stain is worth many dollars in products and many hours of effort.  

I pray I never need this information again.