Friday, April 30, 2010

What a week!

This past week was a busy one for my family. A group of dentists visited our area, to do free dental clinics, and we helped them with various aspects of their work. Boo, for instance, was in charge of mixing the material used in the fillings. Some family members helped translate, some worked on cleaning and disinfecting instruments, some did crowd control.

Christopher and I were, as usual, the hold-down-the-fort contingent. I had such big plans for the week! With Allen and most of the children gone all day every day, I had no schoolwork and very little cooking to do, so my housework level was low. I planned to make a huge difference in the pile of donations, so that we could quickly close out the Christmas gift project, and I could get my house back in order.

Alas. On Monday, I started to feel a bit upset in my tummy. Tuesday was a day best forgotten, with Christopher holding buckets for me, wiping up my messes, changing sheets, doing loads of disgusting laundry, disinfecting everything, etc. Christopher should get a medal. Instead, as you might expect, Christopher got the tummy bug, too.

Chris never got quite as sick as I did, but even now, he and I are limping along; hungry, but not enticed by food, or eating and then regretting that act.

I'm happy that, at least so far, we didn't pass the sickness along to any of the visiting dentists or the other family members. Rachel is flying to the US tomorrow (her first time to fly alone, so she's just a teensy bit nervous), and I really really hope she won't get sick while traveling!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Look alikes

The kids found this almost life-size Rottweiler in the shipment, and wanted to pose it with Commando. As you can see, Commando is much cuter than the stuffed dog, but not as good at holding still for a picture! ;-D

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Storm coming in over the mountains

We've been getting an hour or so of rain every day for the past few weeks. This is terrific, as we've seeded some small areas of lawn in front of both of the buildings, and the new grass is loving all this rain!

The photo above is one I really like, as a storm closes in across the valley from Celaque, the tallest mountain in Honduras. Click on the photo to get a better look at it.

Living on Solar Power

It's a bit soon to be writing about this, since we've only had our system up (and only 2/5 of the system is up now) for three days. But, here's what I've gleaned so far.

The sunlight begins to peak over the horizon at around 5am here. With those first glimmers of light, the solar panels begin to collect energy. There's not much energy at that time of day, but after a few moments enough is collected for the controllers to kick in, and try to begin collecting information from the solar panels. The controllers keep track of how much energy has been collected, and how much has been sent along to the batteries. I believe they do other things as well, but so far my only interaction with the controllers has been in relation to their job as energy meters. Apparently, the amount of energy the controllers need (to run their own activities) quickly uses up all of the energy the panels have collected from the tiny bit of sunlight, and the controllers turn themselves off again.

We have two controllers running, so far. Each is connected to 4 solar panels. Eventually, with the equipment we have currently purchased, we will have four controllers each connected to 5 panels.

So, at dawn, the controllers start turning on and off. They do this with an audible "click." At first, the clicks from the two controllers come every few seconds. This wakes us up in the morning, sometime between 5 and 5:15. Gradually, as the panels are able to collect greater amounts of power more quickly, the clicks come further and further apart, until eventually there are no more clicks - the controllers are running steadily. This morning, which is especially sunny, the clicks ended at around 5:45. At their peak of "clickiness," however, the sound of the controllers turning on and off is very much reminiscent of the sound of a toddler discovering that he can climb onto something and reach a light switch - on, off, on, off, on, off . . .

Depending on the sunniness of the day, we start our peak solar collection hours around 8:30 or so. At that time, we make sure and do the things which use lots of energy, like washing laundry, vacuuming (with the shop vac), etc. We have good power, depending on the weather, until around 3 or 3:30pm. Then the sun is too far over for the rays to reach our panels well, and we gradually collect less and less power until dark.

One of the things we'd like to implement is an earlier rising time in the morning, and an earlier bedtime at night. This would reduce the use of battery power for lighting. We currently require the family to be up and going (although still eating breakfast is acceptable) by 7am. We're thinking of gradually pushing that to 6am. We already go to bed around 9:30 most nights, so we won't need to push that much, unless we're all feeling too tired to get up at the earlier rising time.

I've got to go now - the chickens and bunny haven't been fed, and there's lots more to do after that! ;-D

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Running on solar!

Before any of our solar panels were installed, we ran a generator to charge our batteries. The generator creates too much power at once, and so we tried to run lots of electrical appliances at the same time as the generator. So, first thing in the morning, we would wash laundry, run the fridge, use the computer, etc, while charging the batteries. Two additional times during the day we would run the generator, to bring up the battery levels. This is, of course, expensive, and it is also annoyingly loud!

Today, with seven of our panels installed, we have run the fridge all day, washed two loads of laundry, and have kept the computer on full-time. We did run the generator for about 20 minutes first thing (before the sun was really up enough for us to start receiving solar power - we didn't have much power stored from yesterday), but other than that we are using our solar power - and we have enough power beyond the electricity we are using, that the batteries are getting charged up!

This is huge! We are very excited!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Some more photos

Above are Allen and Russell, adding more panels to the roof. As the panels are put in place, but not yet connected, the men are keeping them covered with blankets. Apparently, the panels collect energy as soon as they are exposed to the sun, but until they are connected to the system (and the batteries) that energy has nowhere to go. The little bit of energy in the panels (from the time they weren't covered during installation) surges into the system as soon as the panels are connected - and keeping this amount low, as we test the system, seems like a good idea to us. We don't really know if this is necessary, but we prefer to err on the side of caution.

Below is a random view from our property on this hazy day. This isn't one of the more spectacular views, just one of many.

I've received a bit of teasing about the fact that I'm not one of the people on the roof. I'll have you all know that I am risking skin myself, to get these pictures. Trudging into the brambles (where multitudes of ticks reside) and getting scratched up by briars isn't exactly a picnic, you know (although, it was similar to some picnics I've attended). Additionally, today I had to chase cattle off the high spot where I station myself to get views of the roof. Here are just a few of the beasts I had to wrangle:

Various other beasts were in attendance:

Kody, our beloved lab-mix

The cat we call "Mama"

As I type this, Allen, Russell, and Gus are working to connect 4 more panels. It looks like rain, though, so that might end the outside work for today.

The sun is now charging our batteries!

Woo hoooooooo! Allen and Russell managed to get three panels onto the roof, connected, and charging the batteries, before lunch! They'll take a short break now, and then add some more panels to the system. But the big news is: IT WORKS!

We're pretty excited here right now!

Solar panels on the Roof!!!!

Well, at this moment, only one solar panel is up there. The menfolk are hoping to install six to eight panels today, and get part of the system running so that these are producing electricity.

A Birthday Surprise for ME

Yes, it's my birthday!

It's funny. I got up, thinking about scorpions and centipedes. I walked into the bathroom barefoot, thinking about how I should get some shoes on. I picked up the laundry pile (favorite hiding place of creepy crawlies) gingerly, remembering that David was stung by a scorpion just a few days ago, in the same part of the house. After depositing the laundry in the laundry room, I walked into the kitchen - and was very much surprised to find this nice item in the kitchen sink!!!!

Fortunately, the sides of the sink are steep and slippery enough that the scorpion couldn't climb out, so I had time to grab a picture before dispatching the critter.

Brace yourself for the picture - my sink wasn't all that clean:

I'm thinking my birthday gift was that I didn't get stung! :-D

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another day of solar power installation

Today Allen and Russell are working on running cables to the roof, to connect the solar panels to all the equipment in the house. The cables will run up the inside of the front wall, and across through the roof trusses, and out through the ridge of the roof.

This is just one more set of cables in view in the "ceiling" of our "house." We have the computer cables, running out to the satellite dish, and a power cord running up to the one hanging light in the center of the house. Since our house is really a warehouse, I just pretend I can't see all of these cables. Allen does try to keep things looking fairly neat up there, so I don't have to look at a messy tangle of cables. Thanks Allen!

The solar cables look like this:

The cables running to the roof look like this:

Here is the first of the controllers, being installed near to the batteries, inverter, chargers, etc. The power station looked complicated to me before, and it's getting much more involved today!

It's interesting, listening to Allen and Russell as they figure out what each part of the system does, and then decide how and where to install it most effectively. For my part - I think staying out of the way while I take pictures is how I can help most efficiently!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Well, what's one more day?

The plan was to get an early start on the solar power work this morning - but first, we needed some supplies from town. Sadly, the supply run took longer than expected, and so we didn't have what we needed before the stores closed for the loooong lunch break.

We'll try again tomorrow.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Up and Over (solar energy installation)

This is the second set of photos, showing the family beginning the process of installing the solar panels on our roof. If you missed the first set of photos, it's here.

The first photos showed the crew getting the first metal stand for the panels up onto the front roof of the house. The front of the house is much closer to ground level than the back, so the plan was to carry the stand up and over the peak of the roof, to install it on the back side.

Here we go, on the front of the roof . . .

Over the top

Starting down the back

Being goofy on the roofy (?)

Here's a tough spot - those black tubes are water pipes. The sun heats the water for us, so that we can have hot showers. We are quite fond of hot showers, so the workers were being careful not to damage those tubes.

Pivoting to cross the roof from left to right

Heading to the final destination

The first unit is in place! Now it has to be bolted to the roof.

David fetches the drill and other tools for the roof crew. To his disappointment, Mommy wouldn't let David play on the roof with the rest of the gang.

Don't want to leave out Rachel! While the others were on the back of the roof, Rachel was counterbalancing the weight on the other side of the roof. She was the anchorwoman!

Drilling holes and installing bolts, from outside . . .
Russell came inside, and worked in the roof trusses, screwing the nuts onto the bolts which came through the roof. You can't tell in this picture, but he is working 16' off the floor.

Once this unit was installed, the crew had a lunch break, and cooled off a bit. Then, they went back out and did the whole thing again! I'd post a picture of the two installed units, but I used up my camera batteries this morning.

I need to get more batteries soon, because the next step is putting up the actual solar panels! That's on the schedule for Monday.

Up we go . . . (solar energy installation)

Today is a major solar energy installation day! Allen, Russell, Rachel, Christopher, and Bethany worked together this morning to put the first of the supports for the solar panels on the roof. They are taking a mid-day break now, and then they're hoping to install the second one this afternoon. It's mighty hot up on that metal roof, but they're motivated to get this done!

Here are the scenes from this morning:

Getting everything in place

First step - get one end up onto the scaffold platform

Next step - get the front end up onto the edge of the roof

A rope is attached, and Rachel moves into place over the ridge of the roof, to pull from there

Now the bottom is up onto the scaffold platform

Moving onto the roof

Alrighty - the entire piece is up on the roof. Now it just needs to go up and over the peak, to its place on the back of the roof.

More pictures to come . . .

I really blew it this time!

I can't believe this! Apparently I deleted all the pictures Boo took of the Special Needs Kids receiving their gifts. She had some really nice ones, too! I can't figure out how I could have done this, but I can't find them anywhere, so I guess I deleted them from the camera without actually copying them onto the computer!

I'm taking lots of pictures of the family installing the hardware for the solar panels on the roof, to make up for it. They're up there now, and things are pretty exciting around here. Watch for the pictures later today.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mostly more of the same

Really, life is sort of dull right now - we just keep doing the same things again. This week:

Another scorpion bite: David put on his jacket, and there was a scorpion in the sleeve, so he was stung in the lower arm. He was extremely tough about the whole thing. (Oh, I saw a centipede running out of the laundry pile this week - that was new!)

Another litter of kittens: We have three female cats, and two were pregnant. Previously, we had a litter of five kittens, although one didn't make it. This week a different cat had 4 kittens. Good thing we like kittens!

Another set of classes for the Pastor Training School: There were about 40 students attending classes this month.

More (and more and more) gifts sent out: This week, we delivered gifts to the children of the families in our Special Needs program. Boo took pictures, which I'll share in another post.

More work on the solar panels: Much work was done on this last week. Allen was sick some of this week, and there was less available time for work, due to the responsibilities of the school, but work continues on this project.

Above are two of the four bases which will be installed on the roof of the bodega, to hold the solar panels. There was a lot of math involved in the creation of these units, so that they will hold the panels at the best angle to catch the maximum amount of sun, while also taking into consideration the slope of the roof upon which they will sit. Allen spent several days with the welder last week, making sure these were made up according to his exact specifications. He also helped with both the welding and the painting, as he can't keep his hands out of any work that is going on around him. These first two units were brought up to the property today.

Really, we're in one of those times when there is so much work to do, we can hardly think straight. I am soooo looking forward to being done with the distribution of these gifts!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Solar Power is on the way!

Allen has been working hard on getting our solar energy system up and running. There's a great deal of technical info for him to read through and be ready to put in place, as well as the logistics of simply getting the panels installed on our pitched roof.

About a month ago we discovered that one of the pieces to the system which we had been sold would not work with the other parts. Fortunately, our friends the Ward Family were traveling to the states and back, and they were able to take back the parts we didn't need, mail them back to the company, receive the replacements, and bring them back to Honduras in their luggage, all within a couple of weeks. What a blessing!

So now, with all the parts in hand (we hope), Allen has spent the past few days working with a welder to create the braces which will hold the panels to the roof. Hopefully I'll have some pictures of this process to post soon.

Additionally, we've purchase some truckloads of topsoil, and have started working to establish some lawn in front of the two houses. It might be my imagination, but I'm thinking we're already seeing less dust floating in. That would certainly be a very good thing!

Monday, April 5, 2010

I fixed the button

Thanks to the friend who clued me in! Because Missionary Ventures (the organization to which we belong) made some changes to their website, the link on my blog to the donation page on their site was no longer working. Utilizing my impressive techno-skills, I have now fixed this. Yea for me - we old folks have to be praised for this kind of thing (you know, the kind of thing our teens can do in half the time).

So, for those of you who were just sitting there thinking, "Wow, if only that link was working, I could donate some money to the Sowers, to help them:

a) feed the hungry

b) support the work of evangelism in an unreached area

c) train new Honduran pastors

d) get therapy and other helps for the Special Needs children and their families

e) build some more of those cool cable bridges

f) get horses, mules, and motorcycles into the hands of mountain pastors

g) all of the above, and more,"

well, now the link is working, and you can do just that! :-D

We so appreciate those of you who support this work!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Here Comes the Bride, part 3 (THE END!)

The previous two posts have been about a wedding my family attended this past Wednesday evening. See here and here for those posts. This final wedding post will be about the decorations and clothing.

The decorations for the weddings here in Gracias are generally homemade. In this case, the centerpieces for the tables were based on wood boxes - which were made by the groom, who works for his father in his carpentry shop. These small centerpieces also serve the purpose of party favors, as guests are expected to take them home with them after the wedding.

My daughter, Rachel, helped with the placement of flowers and candles to decorate the church for the big event:

I was amazed at the dresses - since I knew that this wedding was all planned and put together in just two months. Notice the slightly different dress styles for the bridesmaids, the maid of honor, the flower girls, the pillow girls, and the ribbon-cutting girl:

The one big disappointment, in the decorations, was the cake. The wedding cake was actually "professionally" created - but it didn't look exactly as expected:

Happily, perfection doesn't seem to be a regular expectation of Hondurans. Can you imagine the response of a US bride, to that cake? I know the bride was disappointed in it, but it certainly didn't put a damper on the celebration!

My sister (back in Maryland) makes and decorates wedding cakes, as a hobby/side business. I'm wondering if I can get her to make the cake for Russell and Iris.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Here Comes the Bride, part 2

Yesterday I started the story of the wedding my family attended on Wednesday evening. There are a couple of things about the procession that I neglected to mention.

First, there was an announcer, up on the platform, who announced the name of each participant in the procession, and their relationship to the bride or groom. After each announcement, we all clapped for them, so there was a lot of clapping during the procession.

When the children each reached the front of the church, they went to a row of chairs which had been placed across the front of the room. The groomsman/bridesmaid couples walked to the front of the aisle, then made a U-turn (boys to the left, girls to the right) and lined up along the outside of the aisle. Each attendant stood in front of one of the decorated stands, with candles on top. When it was time for the bride to enter, the attendants lit the candles, and the room lights were lowered, so that the bride entered mostly by candlelight.

The bride and groom walked up onto the platform, where there were two stools waiting for them. The bridesmaids and groomsmen had chairs with the children, across the front of the room.

Here's a look at the setup at the front of the church:

You can see the female attendants sitting in their chairs (the male attendants were sitting on the other side of the aisle), the announcer (in the light suit) at the podium, the three couples (parents of the bride, parents of the groom, and "godparents of the wedding") at the table in the middle, and the bride and groom sitting on stools under a sort of trellis. On the far left of the picture, you can see a bit of the table which holds the wedding cake.

Once everyone was in place, there was some special music. I'll post a picture, even though it's fuzzy, because Russell's fiance, Iris, and two of her brothers were the singers.

The pastor of the church spoke for a few minutes, then addressed the bride and groom directly, and led them in their vows, which sounded pretty much like the standard version we use in the states (for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, etc). Rings were exchanged, and then, a tradition which we gringos find extremely amusing - a special rope (called a lasso) was placed around the shoulders of the bride and groom, signifying that they were then tied together. Again, the pictures are blurry, but I'll post one anyway, just so you can sort of see this:

Then came the kiss, and the ceremony was over. The newly married couple descended to the bottom of the steps, and people came up to them to offer hugs and congratulations. There were a lot of hugs and congratulations!

While this was going on, dinner was served to each table. Boo took a picture of her dinner, since she thought you'd like to know what we ate:

Our family left before the reception was over, but the one thing I consider the oddest part of the wedding happened after we left. The fancy wedding cake was cut for the pictures, but the cake wasn't served to the guests. That isn't done here. The parents of the bride and the groom took home the cake, and ate it themselves. This is the one Honduran tradition that I've told Russell we'll have to omit, and do the US way, for his wedding. I just can't imagine what our US guests would think, if we didn't share the wedding cake with them!

I have a few more things to share, regarding the cake, the dresses, and the decorations, so I'll try to finish up the story of the wedding tomorrow.