On a Snowy Morning

I suspect that very soon after the invention of cars there was the invention of mission vans. The community here in Paltinis shares four of them.

Three are in decent enough shape. One is old and rattly. Riding in it can give you the sensation you are in a cattle car, or a worn down stage-coach. My earliest memory of it is opening the door and seeing the straw strewn about on the floor. Someone had been hauling a few hay bales. This van is considered the property of the VS boy. He’s a fine fellow and take pride in his ride, shifting gears and passing slow vehicles like a local.

Claudia and I were in the United States for Christmas. The weather in Pennsylvania had been rainy and not so cold. We returned to a winter wonderland. I’m told this area of Romania hasn’t seen this much snow in quite a few years. It must be that global warming thing.

While we were gone, a new baby was added to one of the church families here. That meant vans were shuffled so the expectant mother could have constant access to wheels. Claudia and I hardly need a van, we live a kilometer and a half from school. So it happened that the old rattly van fell to us. It had changed a bit while we were gone. A back window was missing.

The second morning we awoke to fresh snow falling.

As we backed out onto the road, I mentioned to Claudia that I was glad it wasn’t the front window. She shivered.

Halfway to school I rembered Robert Frost and he kept me laughing all day.

Whose van this is I think I know. /His house is in the village though; /He will not see me stopping here /To watch his van fill up with snow.



A Whisperer


Why/when do people whisper?


Read Proverbs 16:27-30

Is this whisperer causing good? What are his whispers? Why is he whispering?

Friendships are valuable to all of us. And we don’t like separation.

Do you like to hear bad things about friends?

Let’s learn to keep evil from passing our lips, in fact, we should not even think evil of others.


Let’s treasure friendships and think before we talk. Be a true friend. Only think good of others. The next time you whisper, analyze why you are whispering, and be sure you aren’t destroying your friends.

Owl Pellets

Sometimes teaching is one hundred percent salesmanship. How else would students ever be induced to extract square roots and sample blue cheese?

Or dissect owl pellets.

Several years ago, I was exploring my brother’s farm and was delighted to discover owl pellets scattered in his commodity barn.

I’ve been interested in the small clumps since I was very young. A pair of barn owls nested in our abandoned silo. My grandma was a photographer. So she sent Grandpa up the chute for some pictures of the fuzzy little owlets. He got some remarkable shots. Father Barn Owl sat above the chute and the pictures I remember most are of Grandpa when his feet had regained the ground.

Now, as a teacher, these owl pellets are more gold than gray. Amazon sells them for better than two dollars apiece. My hand had been hovering over the “add to cart” for a few months already. I wanted so badly to dissect one of these regurgitated morsels with my student. It would be a learning experience. And inside, all those little bonesies! It’s like Christmas to me. You never know what lives or stories hide within the wrapper.

I scooped up five pellets and dug through my car for a suitable container. I found an empty truffle box.

That’s when the scheming began. Boys usually don’t mind owl pellets too much, but there were two girls in my sixth-grade class. And sixth grade is just that age where a girl is growing into a lady; the age when she becomes especially sensitive to all things unladylike, but has not yet developed an adult ability to look beyond the wrapper.

I took the pellets to school and buried them in a drawer at the back of my room. I needed time to plan.

Ruthie cut the time short a few days later when she was digging for colored pencils in the same drawer.

“What are these?” she asked, holding the box at arm’s length.

“What does it say on the box?” I returned.

It wasn’t my best day. The cat was out of the bag before its time. My lines were not prepared. I explained that they were owl pellets and that inside each lay a mystery. Perhaps a mouse skull. Perhaps sparrow feathers. They rate among the most interesting things on earth. By pulling these clumps apart and reassembling the pieces we could discover what the owl had for night lunch.

Ruthie turned up her nose.

I promised that I would make latex gloves available on the day of the dissecting.

Ruthie put the box back and shut the drawer.

Several weeks later we cut open the pellets and both those girls entered right in. It was one of the boys whose stomach was weak.

The owl had fed on mice.

We took a large poster and clustered the different bones into beautiful arrangements: our own manifesto of an owl supper reconstructed.

With money left over for truffles.

When Elephants Fall


What is the greatest thing that a person has ever done?


Around 163 BC, during those four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments, Judas Maccabeus had a stand off with Antiochus Eupator. Judas had been fighting to free the Jews from Greek/Roman rule, but some of the Jews turned against him and stirred up Antiochus, the Greek king, to squelch Judas’s rebellion. A traitor high priest even sided with Antiochus. And Antiochus said he wanted to do more damage to the Jews than his father had done.

History speaks of Antiochus as a brash and heartless man. He came against Judas with:

  • 110,000 foot soldiers
  • 5,300 men on horses
  • 300 scythed chariots
  • 22 elephants

Judas told his men that victories are from God. He took his most valiant men and attacked Antiochus’s army by night. They killed four thousand men and the best of the elephants. All who tried to stand against Judas that night were killed.

In the morning, Antiochus’s army was filled with dread and horror. Antiochus set his men in order and commanded the elephants to be given grape and mulberry juice to drink. The elephants were divided up so that each one had one thousand foot soldiers and five hundred cavalry. Each elephant had an Indian driver and carried a wooden room on its back that contained thirty-two more soldiers.

Judas engaged the army and killed six hundred men.

Eleazar, Judas’s brother, saw an elephant in royal harness that was taller than all the others. He decided that likely Antiochus rode that beast. Eleazar went for it, slaughtering men on every side. When he reached the elephant he crept underneath and killed it.

But the elephant fell on Eleazar and he died also.

I imagine everyone saw the elephant fall. I imagine very few saw Eleazar fall. But what he did was truly great, perhaps the greatest thing anyone did on that battlefield. He saw work to be done and he did it. A battle to be fought and he fought it. He didn’t worry about the cost. He didn’t care about being noticed. Because all that mattered was victory for the people of God.


Often the greatest things we can do will be noticed the least. Or even if the result is noticed, the doer is not. Find the quiet things to do. Kind words to a friend. Dishes washed for your mom. A prayer for your preacher.

Be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies.

Mother Teresa

*this story can be found in James Ussher’s The Annals of the World paragraphs 3467 to 3473

Low Door

This Christmas bulletin board was built by fastening up cedar fencing slats. The can be fastened with screws or nails, but if you put on a paper baking and staple it especially tight, the boards can be hot glued to the paper. The poem is by Margaret Penner Toews. I had no large paper, so I painstakingly printed and glued and burnt around that piece.

Girl Power

Teachers are always on the lookout for the opportunity to drive a point home, and we love it even more if someone else does the driving. Then we sit back and cheer. As I cheered this week.

One of the Dads comes in to lead school devotions every Monday morning. This past Monday it was a Dad who stands close to seven feet tall. Grayish whiskers, large open coat. 

He’s a memorable sort of guy, speaking seriously yet mixing sly jokes in here and there, as a great teacher would.

He laid out his objective right before closing prayer.

“After we pray, I’d like the boys to go stand at the courtyard gate. Just stand there and watch.” He paused as we tried to sort out what he was saying. “And I’d like the girls to give my van a push to get it started.”

In following hush, he hurried on, “It doesn’t take much at all, just a gentle push. And you boys watch quietly and see that the girls are strong too.”

I guess it really unnerved two of the boys because they whispered straight through the prayer, and so received a little of my own teaching later.

At the “Amen” we rushed out to watch.

Another car had parked too closely, so the van had to be pushed back a little.
First the gentle push, then the satisfying purr of the motor.

The Dad thanked the girls heartily. We all cheered.

And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street

I love Monday mornings. Right before first class, my students and I swap stories from the weekend.

I ask, “Did anything exciting happen to you last weekend?” And they tell me all about their adventures. Or they yawn and give me a blank stare.

How is it that we all love stories? There must be something deep in the nature of humans that drives us to recount our adventures. We’ve told them ever since that first campfire. Our children hear them at bedtime. And I tell them to my students every Monday morning.

Last night, something very unusual indeed happened to me.

Our bedroom floor is made of two-by-six’s laid edge to edge. And I suspect they were laid wet, because now there are gaps between them. I would mention that the gaps are sizeable, but sizeable is relative. The gaps I speak of are the size of a smallish mouse.

As it relates to most things, my dear wife Claudia is definitely above the average. But when it comes to chocolate, I believe she is pretty typical. You could find chocolate on our nightstand more times than not.

And a week ago, a smallish mouse was delighted to discover the same. I awoke to the sound of nibbling. I swung my hand out of bed. He scurried back though the crack. The next morning the chocolate bore the marks of mouse teeth.

Now I know it was a waste of great food, but we broke off the very edge of the bar and Claudia threw it in the garbage. I would have dropped it though the crack. There is a soft spot in me for smallish things. Yet every soft spot has its edges. I was personally responsible for moving the chocolate from the bottom shelf, to the top of the nightstand.

Last night we finished that sweet dark substance. I’m sure you are familiar with the possess: crumpling the empty wrapper, looking at each other and sighing. I turned it over thoughtfully. Precious fragments lingered still. The soft spot wakened, and I dropped the package over the edge of the bed.

“For the mouse,” I told Claudia.

I slept and dreamed someone was typing on a rattly laptop. I woke. The sound came from the floor beside our bed.

For the next half hour, I teased the smallish mouse. I’d make a sudden motion and listen to him scurry off. Soft spots have edges. Many ideas came to me. I could drop my iPad on him and convert him to dog food. I could pounce my hand on him. I could continue building his trust with empty threats. But most of all, I wanted to see him.

How well can mice see in the dark? I know little about the eyeball of the mus musculus except for the way it peers from under the trap spring. But it is reasonable to expect they have great night vision. They spend most of their lives careening through dark passages. I began an experiment, mixing in my own twist of psychology.

Question 1: Do mice see in the dark?

Question 2: If so, do human eyes bother them?

Experiment 1: I put my face over the edge of the bed and turned my closed eyes toward the chocolate wrapper.

Experiment 2: If my mouse began rustling, I would open my eyes and hopefully scare him badly enough to give him daymares.

Solution 1: Yes

Solution 2: I don’t know.

After lying senseless with my face exposed for nearly fifteen minutes, I gave up. There was not a squeak. I turned over, put my arms beneath my pillow, and would soon have gone back to sleep. Except for the rustling.

I closed my eyes against it.

Suddenly the rustling had stopped, and something was tickling my arm where it disappeared beneath my pillow. I jerked. It was gone.

I lay still. My brain whirled. Could it have been a largish Romanian spider? Or was it a smallish mouse? I remembered playing with a mouse in my sister’s house in British Columbia. Sleeping in her living room that night, I had listened to it crawl over the back of the couch, and had waited to make my move until it was between my bare ankles. It escaped unscathed.

Last night, I didn’t.

As I lay still, the tickling began again; and just as I began to move quickly and intelligently to catch the belligerent beast, he sank his not-so-smallish teeth into my arm.

I jerked and roared. Claudia sat up in bed. Something like a giggle dropped though the crack in our floor.