Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Hodge Podge

I've been too busy to blog . . . so here are the highlights:

Allen is home from a six week visit to the US. He visited friends, spoke at churches, and loaded the annual shipping container in Maryland. We're glad to have him back!

Another bridge project is underway, so most of this past week Allen and some collection of the children have been out working on that. It's a fairly large bridge, so they'll be working on this one for a while.

We've been baking and decorating mountains of cookies to give away as personal gifts (not as gifts for all the pastors - that would take forever). We're almost done putting together the platters of cookies; I'm hopeful that the last ones will be delivered tomorrow.

Once the cookie baking and gift delivering is finished, we'll start in on the cooking and baking for the big Christmas Eve dinner being held at our house. We'll only have our family, Iris' family, and Rachel's boyfriend, but that's still a pretty big gang of folks to feed. We splurged on a big turkey - an expensive, imported item for us. We're all looking forward to the feast!

My garden is going like gangbusters. It's just a little, semi-experimental garden, since I'm such a novice gardener, but I now have lettuce, beets, carrots, cabbage, bush beans, peas, and garlic growing. The weather this December is much hotter and sunnier than last year, so I'm having to watch all these tender plants pretty closely. It's also the dry season, so I'm doing frequent waterings. So far, it's still fun.

This past week, Allen bought another cow. This one was pregnant. It's a kind of funny story. Allen went to see the cow late this past week. The owner of the cow and Allen dickered on the price, but were unable to come to an agreement. That night, someone set off fireworks right where the cow was and got her all upset, so that she was running all over her little yard in panic. The owner was terrified that something might happen to the cow, or the unborn calf, if he didn't sell her and get her out of the city right away. (At Christmas, firecrackers are pretty much a constant all over the cities of Honduras.) So, the owner called us and agreed to the highest price Allen had previously offered, and then we suddenly owned a very pregnant cow who had to be moved ASAP!

Yesterday morning Allen, Bethany and David drove to town and started walking the cow, very slowly, toward our property. They didn't make it. The cow was done, and wasn't willing to walk another step, when they happened to be at the property of a friend of ours. So the friend agreed to let us keep the cow there, and to keep the cow and calf (once it arrived) until we were ready to move them the rest of the way to our place.

This morning we got word that the cow's water had broken, and later that a local animal midwife had been called in, because the cow was having difficulty delivering her very large calf. But all came out well in the end - we have a new female calf, large and healthy! Pretty neat, huh? The next thing on my agenda is learning how to milk a cow, and starting to make cheese. I'm excited about the possibilities!

The container Allen loaded in Maryland is now in the port here in Honduras. It will be going through customs this week, and soon we should have it here. Please pray with us that we won't have problems as we get the container through customs and unloaded up here in Gracias. Once the contents are unloaded, we'll be busy busy busy putting together the gifts for the pastors and the orphanages.

That about covers the excitement at our house. Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Did you pray for us today?

I was just wondering, since it seems like someone might have been praying when Russell fell off the roof today, and only sustained a badly sprained ankle.

He was cementing down some clay roof tiles on our team house, when he slipped on some wet metal roofing (that's what's under the clay tiles) and discovered that there was nothing to grab onto, to keep himself from falling. At an estimate, he fell maybe 18 feet.

He drove himself back into Gracias, and then went to the hospital, where they did an X-ray and put on a cast. Apparently the damage is a very bad sprain, not a break, but it did involve some bone damage, and they want him in the cast for the next month.

So, if you pray for us (even if it wasn't today) . . . thanks!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sorry for the silence

I've had lots on my plate recently - fortunately nothing bad, just stuff that needed to get done, and I've not had much of interest to say here, or time to say it.

I do have an update on the IRS situation: we still haven't received the official notice that we won't be required to pay additional money. So, while this isn't exactly bad news, I don't yet have the "closure" I've been waiting for. You can keep right on praying about this - I certainly am!

I've started gardening, which has taken up some of my time, as well as that of the kids. I'll share some pictures soon . . . right now they'd mostly just be pictures of dirt, so not all that interesting. It's weird to be planting in November and December, but I've noticed that the neighbors have new gardens sprouting now too, so I'm certain that I'm on the right schedule!

So far I've planted lettuce (three varieties), spinach, carrots, beets, and garlic. The kids are preparing the new garden beds ahead of my planting, so I'm putting things into the soil gradually, as each bed is set to go. Soon I expect to put in beans and peas, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Everything is an experiment for me, so I don't have a big overall plan, unless you consider "learn from my mistakes" to be a plan. ;-D

I've also been working on a newsletter, and trying to get lots of housework and schoolwork done before the big container shipment arrives. It's all keeping me busy.

Now, just to add a couple of pictures to this post, I thought I'd show you a couple of interesting bugs we've recently found:




The caterpillar above is about 3 inches long. The pictures don't do it justice - in real life those "branches" growing out of the caterpillar look exactly like a real plant. That's some impressive camouflage. It's pretty hardy, too - Boo keeps bringing it leaves and it's living in a container on the kitchen counter. I'm pretty sure a caterpillar this hardy must be something that will decimate the garden!



The cats were playing with this moth, before Rachel grabbed it for a picture. The red you see on one side is a small wing peaking out from under the larger wing. There's a matching red wing on the other side, but it's tucked up so you can't see much of it. The moth is on a 3 x 5 card, so you can judge the size.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This has been some week

Actually, this entire series of events took more than a week, but this past week has been particularly rough.

First we got word that we were going to be audited by the IRS for the year 2008. With a meeting scheduled, we worked hard to have all of our receipts and documentation together, to prove that we had presented our income and giving accurately and honestly.

Then we had a preliminary meeting with the IRS. At this meeting, the agent assigned to us said that our paperwork was very thorough, and that she thought we'd probably be told that everything was okay, and that we would not be required to pay additional money to the IRS.

This was reassuring, but turned out to be inaccurate. When the agent presented our papers to her supervisors, they disagreed with how some of the paperwork had been handled. Not that they didn't believe that we'd received and given away money as we stated, but that we might not have gone through the right paperwork channels.

This ruling meant that we would potentially owe thousands more than we've already paid, plus there was a suggestion that, since we did our paperwork the same way in other years, the IRS would potentially want to audit us for the years before and after 2008, back as far as they are allowed to audit. Just the thought sends chills up your spine, doesn't it?

That was the way things stood for a week, while Allen worked to get some better resolution to this issue. Lots of people were praying for us!

Allen spoke with three different lawyers. Two were lawyers who specifically work with Christian organizations, the third was the H & R Block lawyer who represented us to the IRS, for free, because we had used H & R Block to prepare the taxes for 2008. The three lawyers all agreed that the way we had handled the tax return should have been acceptable. The H & R Block lawyer wrote a letter to the IRS, explaining the manner in which we had obeyed the tax laws. The letter was delivered to them this morning. By late morning, we received unofficial word that the ruling was going to be changed, and that we should expect not to owe any additional money.

I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm feeling more hopeful than I've felt for a week, but I think, until I have a piece of paperwork direct from the IRS stating that we're in the clear, I'll still be feeling unsettled and a bit nervous.

Some weeks are like that, I guess. I just hope we don't have another week like this one anytime soon!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Why Can Food in the Tropics?

That was the question I asked myself, when I thought about taking on home canning. Here are a few of the answers.

Although one might think that since we live in the tropics we can just stick our hands out the window and grab a banana or mango any day of the year - well that's not quite the case. We have seasons here (rainy and dry), and seasonal foods as well. We are able to benefit by purchasing these foods when the price is best, and storing them for other times of the year. Canning is a super way to do this.

Also, we have a limited amount of freezer space. Currently, we're just running the little freezer on top of our refrigerator, because we don't have enough power to run the chest freezer. By canning some vegetables and meats, we have some extra food stored beyond what our freezer can hold. Plus, there is always the possibility of losing power, and thereby losing all the frozen food. I'd love to be able to say "that can't happen to us, since we're using solar energy" - but it only took a couple of lightning strikes to teach me that we're vulnerable to power outages, too.

We've experienced few major disasters in Honduras since my family has lived here (nothing even close to the significance of Hurricane Mitch). Even so, there have been times when bridges have washed out, and landslides have closed roads - it actually happens quite frequently here in the mountains. Honduras doesn't have lots of roads. If the major arteries are shut, food and fuel and other supplies just can't get through. The unions use this fact to their advantage, by holding their strikes on the major roads. Usually they get the attention of the government very quickly, as traffic rapidly piles up in both directions. Allen and several of the children were caught in a huelga (a strike blocking a road) a few years ago, and they were stuck in traffic for a couple of days! So, I say all that to make a case for having some extra food around the place - enough so that our family won't be in trouble if we can't get to where food is being sold, or if the food can't get to our part of the country. Last year, during the curfews related to the political situation - which sometimes lasted for several days without a break - we were relieved to have some stored foods in our pantry!

One final advantage to canning has been the ability to create "convenience foods." We don't have many options for quick and easy meal preparation available to us here, and the options we have are generally imported - and therefore expensive - items. The ability to pre-cook a large amount of meat (or beans, or veggies) and have that item ready to heat-and-serve is an unparalleled luxury for us!

So far, we've successfully canned chopped chicken, ground chicken, green beans, red beans, orange slices, and tomatoes. We're quite pleased with the results!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A word to my friends in Maryland and the surrounding area

The official Gifts for Gracias collecting has ended, as we always try to set the mail-by date early enough that there's time for donations to travel by mail.

HOWEVER, the container will not leave Maryland for two weeks or so. This means, if you have anything else you'd like to get into this shipment, the time is NOW to get it to us.

If you need info on how to get in contact with the people working on this project in Maryland, send me an email (trish @ sowers4pastors.com). But do it today! ;-D

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Canning chicken

Today we canned 7 quarts of chicken meat, with broth. Here's how we do this:

We started with five frozen chickens, purchased from town. Five chickens gives us seven full quarts of chicken. We'd previously canned up four chickens into seven quart jars, and those quarts had less chicken and more broth. Seven quarts is the magic number, by the way, because that's how many quart jars my pressure canner can hold at one time.



There are different ways to can chicken, including putting the meat into the jars raw. We've chosen to roast our chickens first. We end up with lovely roast chickens, and lots of grease and drippings in the pans.



We don't want to waste anything here, so we collect all of the grease and drippings, and save them for making gravy. I put 1/4 cup grease, 1 cup of drippings, and 1 cup of water into a freezer container. I generally get enough to put the makings for three or four batches of gravy in the freezer. Then, whenever I want to make chicken gravy in the future, I'm all set!



The meat is pulled off the bones, and set aside in a big bowl.




As each carcass is picked clean, we dump the bones and skin into a pot of water boiling on the stove. Eventually this will be the broth that we put in with the chicken.



In the midst of the canning we had to fix supper. Since I had more grease and drippings than I could fit into my freezer, we decided to use gravy in tonights supper, so Rachel whipped up a quick batch of biscuits for biscuits and gravy. It was nice to be eating chicken and gravy on the same day that we canned chicken, as the smell of the chicken cooking makes everyone want to eat it now!



We didn't have quite enough chicken broth, so we filled the jars the rest of the way up with hot water.



I won't go into the details of all the steps involved in making sure that the food will be sealed safely into the jars, but rest assured that we are carefully following all the directions. Once the chicken is in the jars, and the hot broth is poured over the meat, we pop the jars into the canner for processing.

We have to set the pressure on our canner slightly higher than the general directions, because of our elevation.



And there's the result of all this work - cooked chicken, ready for seven future family meals.

I was going to explain how we figure the benefits of the canning in this post, but it has gotten kind of long, so I'll save that for next time.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Home Canning in the Tropics


I've been doing some research lately, on home canning. As our family adjusts to our new, rural lifestyle, I've had to figure out what new activities we should incorporate. Canning wasn't something I was certain would be of benefit to us, for several reasons.

First, I figured that people living in the north (not northern Honduras - I mean like in the US and Canada) store foods through canning because they only have appropriate weather for gardening during a small portion of the year. By canning seasonal foods, people in colder climates have a way to save their home-grown produce, or produce purchased at a low price when a certain food is in season, for use during the winter months. Here in the mountains of western Honduras, our climate is fairly consistent all year long. We have months when we receive more or less rain during the year, but our temperatures only range from highs in the mid-90's down to around 40 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course). So, theoretically, the climate in our area should make it possible to grow some vegetables and fruits pretty much year around. Additionally, our family doesn't depend on our own gardening for our food - we currently purchase almost all of our fruits and vegetables. Although we hope to change this, it will be a gradual process, as I learn (likely through a good bit of trial and error) how to successfully garden here. So, I wasn't sure that there was a good reason for me to do any canning at all.

Second, there are costs related to the process of canning. There is the purchase of a pressure canner, jars, and lids, plus the cost of gas or electricity used during the canning process. The amount of time involved also must be factored into the equation. I wasn't sure if these costs would be offset by a significant enough benefit to the family.

The more research I did, however, the more I became convinced that canning foods would be a useful tool in my family's repertoire of cooking skills. Last Christmas I gave myself a canner and a small collection of canning jars as a present. The equipment arrived in our shipping container, along with the Gifts for Gracias donations. It took us months to dig our house out from the arrival of the container, and it wasn't until that was mostly under control that I found the time and motivation to actually start experimenting with canning.

Now that we're in a comparatively quiet time of the year, we've begun. So far, we've canned green beans (14 quarts), chicken in broth (also 14 quarts) and orange sections in light juice (7 pints). It's barely a start, but I have to say that we've found some significant benefits for us, even here in tropical Honduras!

I'll expand on this in the next post.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Okay now, this is kinda pathetic

Last night at dinner we had a new treat - something we bought on impulse, as we hadn't seen it at our regular grocery store in Gracias before. It was margarine spread - the kind that comes in a big tub, you know?

We usually only get those sticks of margarine that don't taste anything like butter. I don't think they're really trying to taste like butter. Actual butter isn't available here.

So, we were having what we call "munchy-crunchy-lunchie" for dinner last night - that's chips and salsa, cut up veggies and dip, maybe some cheese. Then we added some (homemade) bread with the margarine spread.

You'd have thought the spread-on-bread was gourmet fare. Boo ate so much of this! David opined that he's sure they'll have margarine spread to eat in heaven. Gus snuck back later for a bedtime snack of margarine spread on crackers (he said he'd been thinking about how good this would taste the whole time since dinner).

I'm feeling like my children are just a bit deprived. ;-D

Monday, October 25, 2010

Taking a family portrait

We wanted to take a new family picture, including Kirstin, who isn't in Honduras very often, and with our new daugher, Iris. We had a hard time with the weather, which turned hazy and made it difficult to show the mountain of Celaque in the picture, as we'd desired.

Here's the photo which we've chosen as the potential winner:



In addition to dealing with the weather, it is always challenging to get one photo in which nine people all look pretty good at the same time. When one of those people is a slightly disgruntled 8 year old boy, the challenge becomes even greater. Some examples:





Of course, the very best picture of all is one in which the kids were intentionally goofing off . . .



Considering all of our challenges, I think we managed to do pretty well, although I'm still hoping to improve the color and brightness a bit!

Friday, October 22, 2010

My sister's visit to Honduras

My sister did a whole series of posts on her blog (www.Lifeatthellewellyns.blogspot.com), with tons of pictures, about her recent trip to Honduras. It's always fun for me to see things through someone else's eyes, since I've been here long enough to have forgotten some of the things which used to seem unusual or remarkable!

This link will take you to the most recent posts on her page. She's not done posting about Honduras yet - her most recent post was titled: Day #7 in Honduras -- Part # 1 -- Touring Gracias and preparing to leave. So, there's at least one more post about Honduras coming . . .

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pictures from the Wedding Ceremony!

The groomsmen and Russell entered from the side.

First in the procession was the tiny girl who cut the ribbons which had been stretched across aisle.



Next came our son David, carrying an open Bible.

The two ring bearers . . .

. . . followed by the boy bearing a basket of fruit.


The two are carrying the lasso, which is used at the end of the ceremony.


The girl attendants processed in, but here they all are at the front, awaiting the bride.


Russell and Iris exchanging rings.

The kiss!

MARRIED!

Friday, October 15, 2010

More Wedding Pictures



My sister, Pam, posted pictures from her trip to Honduras on her blog and on her facebook site. I hope you enjoy these pictures. I will still be posting some more here myself, I promise.

Pam, by the way, came down to make the cake for the wedding, and she did a wonderful job, don't you think? This task included schlepping a lot of items down from Maryland in suitcases, like the cake pans, the Crisco, delicate pre-made icing flowers, the decorating equipment, the cake topper, etc.

Thanks so much, Pam!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pre-wedding pictures

I received pictures from my mother and my sister, both of whom attended the wedding. Here are a few pictures of the final minutes before the ceremony:


Everything was in place.


Family members were ready and waiting.

Some last minute repairs to the cake were required.

There was last minute primping, of course.

Cooking for the reception dinner was progressing nicely.



Guests began to arrive.



Gradually we all entered the room where the ceremony would take place.


Of course, the guest book was signed.


Pictures from the ceremony will be coming along soon!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Now I am a Mother-in-Law



Yesterday was Iris and Russell's wedding. It was wonderful! I only have a few pictures on my camera, but here's a glimpse of the day. Hopefully I'll be able to get a few more pictures from friends!


Here they are getting Iris' train settled as the ceremony begins. There were more attendants than show in the picture, plus all the children (flower girls, ring bearers, and the ones carrying the lasso, fruit basket, and Bible).


This was the main area for the reception, where the food was served, the cake was displayed, and the bride and groom had their table.


Immediately after the ceremony, friends reorganized this room (where the wedding ceremony was held) for additional seating at the reception dinner. We estimate there were about 300 guests!

Monday, October 4, 2010

What life looks like, since the lightning strikes

Now that we've had two inverters fried by ground surges of electricity (related to lightning strikes about 600' from our house), we're limping along on a minimal amount of available power. We now have only a tiny inverter working, and it can't process very much battery power into usable household electricity. Here's what we've done, to keep things running.

We removed several of the solar panels from the roof, so that less power would be flowing into the system - we hope that not sending this excess power to our batteries will help them survive until December, when the new batteries are due to arrive.

The tiny inverter cannot run the refrigerator at all. We have chosen to continue to use the fridge, rather than using a cooler. We regularly put bags of ice in the fridge and freezer, and then we run power to the fridge twice each day, using our gas generator. While we cool down the fridge we also run any other appliances which use large amounts of energy, like the washing machine, the grain mill, and the shop vac. Of course, this system doesn't keep the food in the fridge as cold as when the fridge is plugged in full time, so we've made a few changes. We cook our hot meal of the day at lunch time, and we try not to make enough to have any leftovers. Leftover foods go bad really quickly in our current situation. We've used up all the food that had been stored in the freezer compartment before the lightning strikes, and now we purchase small amounts more often, using the freezer as if it were a very cold refrigerator, storing all meats, cheeses and dairy products up there. The freezer doesn't get cold enough to freeze anything, so we don't have ice, and we don't store anything long-term in the freezer.

We actually have the computer on most of the time now, as the inverter is willing to run either the computer or the TV/VCR, and we need to keep one or the other running to use up power out of the batteries during the daytime, so the batteries aren't charging up too much.

In the evening, when we're running the generator for the fridge, the sun is down, and so no power is coming into the batteries from the solar panels. During this run of the generator we also charge up the batteries, so we have enough power to run lights, and computer or TV/VCR until bedtime.

This has all been quite easy to do, and wouldn't be much of a problem except that we'd rather not have to run to town so often for ice and perishable foods, and it's expensive to run the generator so much.

In just a few days, our wedding guests will start to arrive, and they'll be bringing us a new inverter. Then, we'll be back to limping along with a sufficient inverter but not enough batteries.

Who knows what will be next?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Stone Walkway, part two












This makes me feel really happy. Thanks, family!