Prairie View

Friday, September 28, 2018

Shenanigans Like This

The confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh who was nominated by President Trump to serve on the Supreme Court has been difficult to watch.  Most recently Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified publicly, alleging that the nominee sexually assaulted her when both were high school age.  Mr. Kavanaugh vociferously denied the allegations, also in a public testimony.

Senators will soon vote whether to confirm or reject the president's nomination, now that the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to submit the nominee for the full Senate's approval.  The committee, however, is asking for one more step to be inserted before the Senate votes:  investigation by the FBI.  The outcome when the Senate votes is quite uncertain.

I will not venture an opinion about what should happen regarding Kavanaugh's confirmation.  I do have several observations related to the matter.

1.  I relate to Ford's actions in a small way--not as a victim of sexual assault, but in another way.  It has to do with being honest when I'm asked by an employer what I know about a potential employee.
Occasionally, someone who is considering hiring one of my former students will ask for my input on the student's suitability for the job being considered.  Although I couldn't imagine many (or any) other circumstances under which I would reveal any dishonesty or lack of integrity that I've personally observed in a student, I will do so when a potential employer inquires about a specific person--only if it applies, of course.  I remember also adding a "big caveat" in one such case, saying that I have hope that the former student no longer lives like that, but what I know would give me pause about employing that person.

I believe Ford had a very similar experience after Kavanaugh was nominated.  She was privy to negative information regarding the nominee that was not public knowledge.  Under these extraordinary circumstances, she felt compelled to share that information for the sake of those who were considering Kavanaugh as an "employee."

2.  It's fair to consider the possibility that a person who once made serious mistakes has made better choices since then, and may have in the interim become a trustworthy individual.  See "big caveat" sentence above.

I think it's very possible that Ford, who ascribes despicable behavior to Kavanaugh, and the people who speak now of Kavanaugh as a person of great courtesy and integrity may all be truthful. I'm not sure how long a person's old sins should be held against them.  I do know that forgiveness is a Christian principle, but also, when the stakes are especially high, great caution is in order when decisions are being made that affect multitudes.

3.   A person who drinks freely, as Kavanaugh apparently did, is in a poor position to claim honorable behavior while inebriated.

In Japan, people who wish to save face for having behaved badly often pass if off by saying "I was drunk, and don't remember what I did/said."  It's notable that this may not have actually been the case, but it's so commonly understood that being drunk interferes with both memory and good behavior that it "works" as a pseudo-apology for what is too shameful to admit.

Kavanaugh would do well to acknowledge that drinking may have affected both his behavior and his memory.  If he had dealt with this a long time ago and gone as far as possible in making things right, I can't imagine that Ford would have had anything to bring up now.

4.  Kavanaugh was the only child of two lawyers.  He attended an elite private school.  It doesn't stretch my imagination in the slightest to visualize Kavanaugh as an arrogant young man with a strong sense of entitlement.  I don't know that for sure, of course, but his public presentation in his own defense certainly did nothing to discredit what I'm visualizing.  He still comes across like that.

5.  As a matter of personal integrity, it's a bad idea to reflexively defend someone whose life you really don't know, especially political figures whose image-stoking activity is well-known.  I find it incredibly embarrassing when I see otherwise good people (my people!) do this.

Right now it's Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh who are in the limelight.  Years ago, under similar circumstances, it was Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill.   I remember learning that Clarence Thomas' wife has a sister living in Hutchinson, and hearing her impressions of her brother-in-law made it hard not to see Thomas as being trustworthy--but the same was true of Anita Hill, who had no in-laws living in Hutchinson.  I feel the same way about Ford and Kavanaugh.  I feel sympathy with each of them.  Nevertheless I will not come out swinging in defense of them--or in condemnation of them either--because I don't know them, and all that . . .

6.  Any obstructionism going on in the Senate now is a repeat of the obstructionism that took place under the Obama administration when Merrick Garland was nominated for the Supreme Court.  Obstructionism, it seems, is an equal-opportunity option for partisan politicians.  Shenanigans like this are one more piece of evidence that steering clear of it all is an eminently defensible position.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday Wrapup--September 23, 2018

Today my new computer is up and running and my Sunday is less busy than it has been for weeks.

The computer crash about a month ago was quite disorienting, and without Hiromi's help, I would still be in a very discombobulated state.


I started teaching an adult Sunday School class at the beginning of September, so a lot of preparation time has been focused on the book of 2 Peter.  I always start studying at the beginning of the week before, but still usually scramble a bit to get ready before time for SS class. Having time to study is a great freedom though, and it's far less stressful than the class preparation that has consumed much of my time during the past few years.  And there's no grading!!!!!!!!!!


Processing tomatoes and peppers has involved a lot of time over the past month or so.  I have given away bushels of tomatoes, some of them already canned, and our supply in the cave cellar is abundantly restored.  Peppers have been dried and frozen.  Naturally fermented sauerkraut and dill pickles are packed in jars in the little fridge in the cellar.  Hot peppers and red onions are pickling in vinegar solutions in the utility room refrigerator, and we've learned how to prepare and enjoy Shishito peppers.

We knew we wanted to try them when we first heard from a farmer's market customer about the "really good Japanese pepper."  Our first crop was puny, probably due to drift or volitilization from a neighbor's chemical assault on weeds in his wheat stubble.  They were only half as thick and long as  my thumb.  This year they are as big as my biggest finger.

At a Master Gardener's potluck meal, Mary Clark, retired from Dillon Nature Center, contributed a dish of cooked Shishito peppers, and I learned how she prepared them.  Now Hiromi and I agree that these are "really good Japanese peppers."  I leave them whole and "scorch" them in a hot, lightly oiled cast iron pan, and turn them over to repeat the process on the other side.  Then I anoint them with crushed garlic and soy sauce and stir to distribute the flavorings evenly.  That's it.  Delicious.  We eat them seeds and all, sometimes holding them by the stem and biting off the "meat."

Shishito peppers are distinctive in that they are only very slightly hot, with rare exceptions.  One writer says that about every ninth pepper is a hot one.  True story.  Even the hot ones are not fiery, but if a person has zero tolerance for pepper heat, and not a shred of enthusiasm for gastronomical adventures, the surprising ones might be enough to dissuade that person from eating Shishito peppers.


My smart phone is still not  cooperating very well with me at all times (because I'm still not very smart), but with both Shane's and Grant's help, it was synced with my computer's internet and email accounts just in time to keep me from being completely disconnected with these means of communication when my computer went AWOL.

One wonderful cell phone use though has me completely won over.  Taking pictures is easy, and I use it a lot on the weekly nature walks I have been leading for my grandchildren and one other neighborhood homeschool family.  Taking a picture is almost as good as collecting a specimen for later identification.  I can often give the name of what we see, but sometimes I can't give both the Latin and common name, or I can identify the family, but I don't know the specific species name, and, of course, sometimes, I simply don't know enough to even track down the name.  Past experience tells me that some day I'll come across the name of these mystery plants and I will know exactly where I saw that plant because my brain can't let go of such a mystery till it's solved.

Before we part company after our nature walks, we try to list everything interesting that we've found.  At Shane and Dorcas' house, Tristan dictates a story about our exploration which I write in his nature journal and he reads back to me immediately, and then later reads to his dad.  His mother helps him with ideas for drawings, inserting specimens, etc.  Here too the freedom of being able to do this in a small group without the constraints of a big-school-environment is a pure pleasure.  One caveat:  the chigger bites that we all got in Jamie and Chris' shelterbelt were a great misery--no pleasure on that score.  I was wary of mosquitoes, given the recent abundant rainfall, and I had my insect repellent at the ready, but we saw hardly any mosquitoes and I was happy not to need the repellent. I hadn't had chigger bites for years, and the threat of getting them had completely dropped off my radar.  Suffice it to say that a whole bunch of Iwashige people would have had a better night of sleep if this grandma had done a better job of watching out for her charges.


Hummingbirds.  For some people, I know hummingbird visitors are common, but not at our place--until this fall.  We have thoroughly enjoyed watching them at our feeder for the past few weeks.  We've never seen more than one at a time, the first one spotted by Wyatt, my four-year-old grandson.  Today, after church, when I arrived home and checked the Autumn Joy Sedum for butterflies, a very tame hummingbird was resting on the rebar that is part of the support for the grape vines that are trellised over the flower bed.  I believe it had been attracted to the red salvia that is in bloom in that bed.  I have high hopes for a lot of reseeding of that Salvia next year.  I've had it reseed before, but this year I bought the plants again at the Dillon Nature sale fundraiser in the spring.  Judy, my Master Gardener friend, says they reseed readily among her irises and she sees hummingbirds all summer long.  The flowers are dainty--nothing like the large, thick blooms of the flowers Stutzmans used to sell years ago when I worked there.  Lady in Red is the variety name.

The Dillon Nature Center newsletter says that the hummingbird migration is far more impressive here this year than usual.  People are seeing a variety of species--not only the most common one, the Ruby-throat.  I've never been able to see colors on the ones we've had at our feeder.  The feeder is in the shade, and my eyes aren't sharp enough to discriminate details very well, especially on a tiny, fast-moving creature like the hummingbirds.


Fannie Nisly died since I last blogged.  She was 91, and had declined gradually for the past several years, after contracting ALS  (Lou Gehrig's Disease).  I remember her best as a cheerful, good humored, self-deprecating, encouraging and articulate woman of faith and servanthood.  It was hard to see her having to come to terms with her limitations, but she had resolved to "live above it" as she heard the Lord instructing her to do when she asked Him what she should do with her uncooperative body.  When clear speech became increasingly impossible for her, she resorted to writing.  She lost even that ability as nerve damage continued its ravages.

The evening before she died, the women of our church had gathered to hear Marietta Yoder speak, beginning a series of talks she had given in other states, and we prayed that Fannie could be released from her suffering.  The Lord called her to Himself the next forenoon.

My brother Lowell, who helped with the burial, saw a little mouse scampering about outside the vault into which the casket was placed.  He thinks they got the lid put in place with the mouse excluded.  Thinking about how Fannie would have enjoyed the incongruity of that little mouse having inserted itself into the solemn occasion of a burial made us all laugh when Lowell shared the tidbit.  That was Fannie--never putting on airs, and never failing to take note of and enjoy the surprises and pleasures in life as it happened.


Hiromi and I took a short trip this past week to visit our friend Eunice Officer near Stover, Missouri.  For a number of years while our children were still at home, we went there every year.  She lives in the Ozarks, and when we visited, we usually helped her with some project connected with her developing the wilderness area on which she established her homesite.  This time we washed her windows in the  main living area.

Eunice had a long career in nursing, ending her career only when she became unable to work because of Multiple Sclerosis.  For the last few years she had worked as a state surveyor (inspector) of nursing homes, and then as a consultant to nursing homes.  I have a very high regard for her perspective on elder care.  In many ways, her perspective has informed my perspective of education matters.

Decades ago I remember noting, in writing, some of the similarities between how society had changed its ways of dealing with both the old and the young--largely having accepted a shift of responsibility for care to "specialists" outside the family.  The observation raised some hackles.

Eunice's mother died about a month ago, after having been in a nursing home for about two years.  For the two years before that, Eunice had brought her into her own home to care for her, placing her in a nursing home only when her own disabilities made caregiving difficult and her mother's dementia made it impossible for Eunice to keep her safe.  She was more mobile than Eunice and would sometimes go outside at night, looking for Eunice (who was sleeping in the next room).

Eunice said she always counseled other families to not attempt to care for anyone at home who needed complete care and suffered from dementia--because it was simply too difficult.  When it came to her own mother, however, she could not bear to "abandon" her in a nursing home.

When I asked her several days ago if the things she feared about subjecting her mother to nursing home care came true, she said "yes" and wept talking about it.  I'll spare you the details.  These things happened, even in a facility that she felt was a "good" facility in many ways.

Speaking generally, Eunice believes that the ones who actually deliver nursing home care are too often poorly trained. For example, they are not taught how dementia affects normal function, and they often initiate unnecessary conflict, and consequently elicit an uncooperative patient response.  The often-chaotic personal lives of caregivers bleed over into their jobs and mean that employment may be short-lived, and showing up for work may be inconsistent.  Besides, it's a low-paying job, so moving on as soon as something better appears is appealing.  Because of over-specialization in job expectations, meeting the most basic needs is sometimes ignored "because that's not my job."  Since patients are often quite helpless, and perhaps unable to communicate effectively, they are easily victimized.

Eunice's own prospects look daunting.  With great difficulty and with the aid of a walker, she can still move about slowly indoors, and she can still get into and out of her vehicle and drive.  She knows though that if she were confined to a wheelchair, she could not continue to live in the house that she planned and moved into when it was brand new--in the natural surroundings she fell in love with when she bought the property.  She carries a phone with her all the time because she knows that she can't get up if she falls.  Cell phone service is non-existent anywhere within five miles of her house, but she carries a portable phone connected to a land line.

Mentally, Eunice is as sharp as ever, and conversing with her is always a pleasure.  I look forward to being able to visit again, without waiting as long as we did before this time.  Driving there went OK, but Hiromi and I are less and less up for driving on trips.  Hiromi discovered some new vision issues (his eyes perceive conflicting images) on this trip that mess with his confidence, and I'm certainly not eager for driving challenges, for some of the same reasons.  Between here and Eunice's house, however, we can travel without passing through any large cities, and travel is comparatively easy.

We learned on this trip that train travel is possible to Sedalia, MO, which is close to Eunice's place.  She says picking us up at the train station would be no problem.  I think that travel option looks attractive.  Changing trains in KC is necessary, and I haven't checked out the schedule, but just maybe that way of visiting Eunice would prove to be workable and affordable.


One of the fun things we did in Missouri was to visit my cousin Ellen and her husband Don Gingerich.  Don's sister was a classmate of my mother's.  When Ellen and I both attended my Aunt Mary's funeral in Iowa, we discovered that they and Eunice live only a mile or so apart on Big Buffalo Road near Stover.  Since then we have visited Don and Ellen along with Eunice.  Over pumpkin pie that I had baked here at home, we had a snack in their home, and a great visit.  Being with relatives is special, no matter how divergent your lives have been at other times.

Don and Ellen told us that they have often repeated and chuckled over something that was included in the tribute they heard read at Mom's funeral.  As an example of how Mom used a more advanced vocabulary as her dementia advanced, we recounted how she spoke of a group of grandsons hunting after a holiday family meal.  As they walked past the window where she could see them, she noted that "there goes a contingent of marauders."  "Marauders" is such a good word, Don and Ellen noted, and you don't hear it very often. Exactly.


The visit in Missouri turned dramatic yesterday morning on the last morning we were there.  From upstairs where we slept, I heard a muscle truck pulling up to Eunice's house, and heard the driver greet Hiromi and respond to his "How are you?" inquiry with "Not too good."

I overheard him enter the house and ask Eunice to call 911.  In listening to Eunice's end of the conversation on the phone I learned that her neighbor (the visitor) had come home just prior to this (presumably from working at night) and found three vehicles burned and his mother handcuffed inside a trailer home.  He couldn't free his mother, and was calling for law enforcement.  We had heard one gunshot before dark the evening before, but had not seen fire or smoke or heard any disturbance at any other time.  Gunshots from that place are not unusual, and Eunice simply noted that "that's my neighbor" when it happened.  We had driven by slowly earlier the day before and looked in at the place, just because we were out driving--mostly to see the Big Buffalo conservation area and to look at wildflowers.

Later in the morning one of the investigating officers stopped in to talk to Eunice and leave a form with her to fill out as part of an ongoing investigation.  He also wanted to assure her that he didn't believe that anyone else in the neighborhood was in danger, but that there would probably be a heavy law enforcement presence in the next few days.

Oh. My.


Two inches of rain fell here while we were gone. It was a timely rain, accompanied by a cold front that has given us some gorgeous fall-like sunny days.  Night temperatures are expected to dip into the upper 40s near midweek--when a second cold front is expected.


Right now I'm delving deep into the world of healing plants  That is, plants that have healing properties.  I'm hopeful that planting a medicinal garden at Pilgrim School will be possible--this year, perhaps.  It's been discussed for several years, but the Pocket Prairie came first.  With that project well on its way, attention can perhaps be focused elsewhere now.

By far the most exciting recent personal discovery is the research being done on medicinal prairie plants at the University of Kansas (KU).  In particular, one plant shows very strong anti-cancer activity when tested in the laboratory.  To my knowledge, tests in humans are not finished.  The study was hampered when the funding abruptly dried up.  The plant is Physalis longifolia, which I believe we saw recently on one of our nature walks.  I know the plant was either the very same species, or a close relative.

The plant is also sometimes called Wild Groundcherry.  It's closely related to the Tomatillo and the ornamental Chinese Lantern.  I remember taking delight as a child in popping the balloon-like husk that surrounds a fruit shaped  like a pea.  Native Americans have used the Wild Groundcherry as a food source for decades or even centuries, so there's little concern about the cancer-killing properties being paired in the wild groundcherry with toxicity for other body tissues.  If anyone sees these plants growing wild this fall, please notify me--or collect fruits if they've turned yellow.  I'd love to collect seeds and start a planting in my garden.  The plants are perennial, but are in the nightshade family, as are many garden annuals--tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, etc.

One of the active compounds in Wild Groundcherry is in a class called Withanolides, which are present also in Ashwaganda, a herb well-known in Ayurvedic (Indian) herbal medicine.

You can read a news release form KU about Physalis longifolia here.


On a related note, anyone at Pilgrim who remembers the large bracket mushroom with a varnished look (it was displayed in the trophy case) that was found and harvested in Melvin Harold's shelterbelt should know that the mushroom might have been worth a small fortune if a person who knew its medicinal value had gotten there first.  It is the American version of the Reishi mushroom, which has notable medicinal qualities.  Ganoderma tsugae is the species that I believe we found, or perhaps Ganoderma lucidum.  The American version has the same active compounds as the Reishi that grows commonly in mountainous areas of Japan Korea, and China.