Sunday, January 29, 2012

Oh man, I hope we're not in trouble with Katie's Mom . . .

Katie poses on the bike.

Allen takes Katie out for a tour of the area . . . on the motorcycle!

We'd offered to take Katie on a horse ride up Celaque mountain, but Katie is an experienced horsewoman, and a trail ride didn't offer much to interest her. Then Allen suggested he could take her out to see some of the local villages and such, on the motorcycle. Katie was gung ho.

Today, as they were setting off, I sent Boo out to take a couple of pictures of Allen and Katie riding away on the bike, to send to Katie's Mom. When Boo came back in, she told me, "Katie said she should go on a motorcycle ride now, because her mom might not ever let her go again."

Yikes. I could be in trouble here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Pig Fortress

We've had all four pigs on the back porch of the team house, and this was a very unsatisfactory situation! This week, the guys were finally able to bring home enough wall panels to put up a better pig shelter. This is still temporary, but better than the porch, plus being dog proof. We aren't ready to trust that the dogs won't mess with the pigs, until the pigs get a bit bigger.

These wall panels are part of our construction equipment. You see them occasionally in the bridge photos, when we use them as forms for pouring concrete - which is their intended use. They're reusable and very strong, and can be assembled in any number of configurations. We've used them for puppy pens, and right now we have a temporary wall built of panels in our bodega/house, which sort of keeps the mess of the shipment out of the living area of the kitchen.

The pig shelter is extremely tall, and impregnable from all sides, which is why we've taken to calling it the pig fortress:

Because it doesn't have any side entrances, the kids - mostly Boo - climb up onto the roof, which covers part of the top, and lower down food and water. If needed, Boo will climb all the way in, as she's young and spry enough to do this.

The pigs have more room, and the kids aren't having to clean up after them as often, so this is all good . . . for now. Eventually I hope we'll have a more traditional pig pen set up, instead of the pig fortress we have now.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Branding Accomplished!

As promised, here are the photos from the branding of our new heifer. I am trying, by the way, to use the appropriate bovine terms now . . . a heifer is a female which has not yet had a calf. Since this animal is a year old, and hasn't had a calf, she's a heifer.

Sorry the picture quality isn't great. The menfolk handled this task after their day at the bridge project, so this all happened this evening at dusk.

First, scrap wood was collected, and a fire started.

The branding tool was placed in the fire to heat.

While the tool heated, the heifer was brought into position near - but not too near - to the fire.

Then she was immobilized, so that she couldn't move while she was branded. This is the point where I left the scene. Sigh. I'm still too soft-hearted for this stuff.

Boo didn't record the moment of the brand on her skin . . . but this was taken just afterwards, as Russell treated the burn.

Can you see her brand well enough in the picture to read it? We ended up with S4P as our brand . . . hopefully you can figure out for yourself what that stands for.

As soon as this was done, the heifer was untied and allowed to get back up. She was pretty upset, and kicked a bit once she had the chance to do so. I totally don't blame her - I think I'd feel like kicking someone, too.

With the work completed and a fire burning, the family toasted marshmallows and ate them before dinner. Good thing we had a light dinner planned tonight!

Though she doesn't know it yet, the heifer will be much happier now that she is branded. We've been keeping her tied to a stake, so that she would be less likely to escape from our land, because without a brand she couldn't be identified as our property. Because the mother cow was already branded, we've been allowing her to move around with the rest of our little herd. The baby has been mooing for her mother rather pitifully, and now we'll be able to let her loose to roam with mom and the rest of the cattle.

The big bridge project - another update

Allen says I need to post more frequent updates about the big bridge project. I am so far behind in my posting, compared to where they are with the project! In their mad race to finish the bridge before the end of dry season, the guys are pouring concrete twice every week. The pour days are long and stressful, and filled with hard physical labor, so this is a brutal pace!

The photo above, from the first pour, shows some of the guys throwing large stones into the trench during the pouring of the foundation.

The photos below are from the second pour. Now, instead of simply dumping the wet mixture into the trench, they have to pour it between the wall panels, which you can see just sticking up out of the hole.

The wall panels are held in place by straps which connect them across the void. The straps we have on hand are too short for the width of the walls, so Russell is welding them into longer straps. He's working here inside of the bodega the municipal government put up near the construction site, for use during this project.

More bridge pictures to some soon . . . I promise!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cow-proof garden fencing, part 2

The new, cow-proof fencing was installed around a much larger area than the current garden. This was done so that we won't need to re-fence again when (if) we decide to expand the size of the garden in the future.

The older fencing which goes right around the edges of the garden will remain in place. Even though it has been pretty mangled by the cows, it still keeps the dogs out of the garden, something the new fence can't do. I suppose sometime in the future we'll attach mesh fencing to the cow-proof fence, so that it can be both cow-proof and dog-proof.

There's the gate - site of many a broken fingernail! It's not Trish-proof, but it is certainly Trish-resistant.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interjecting a question here

I'm interrupting the riveting series of posts about garden fencing, to ask an important question.

Sometime in the next few days we'll be branding our new calf. Do you want a post with pictures, or would you rather not see this?

Just thought I'd ask.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cow-proof garden fencing, part 1

Do you remember my writing about our cow getting water from the barrel just inside the garden fence? (If not, you can read that here.) You can see, in the photo above, how easily the cow could push over the fence to get a drink. Unfortunately, the cow - and the bull - could also push the fence over to go into the garden and eat things. That's bad.

When we first fenced the garden, we had in mind keeping out dogs, not cattle. So, we've had to upgrade our fencing. Here are a few photos of our small crew of workers who help us out around the place, putting in our new garden fence.

First they selected small, straight-ish trees, chopped them down, and cleaned off the branches and the bark.

Digging the holes for the posts was arduous, as there are lots of large rocks right at the surface in the garden area. That's part of the reason we plant in raised beds.

To be continued . . .

Monday, January 23, 2012

Boo and Katie make Christmas gifts for pastors

My house is always both a house and a bodega (warehouse). Sometimes it is more house, and sometimes it is more bodega. When we're working on the annual container shipment, my house is almost all bodega - we just keep a few pathways open to the bits of space where we sleep and eat!

We're in the thick of it now, with the production of pastor gifts in full swing!

Here's Katie, gathering information about the next pastor on the list, so that she and Boo can put together a gift specifically for that family.

This is the list the girls were working on today. To the left is the name of each pastor, and to the right is the number of children in that pastor's family - E is for girl, V is for boy.

Here's Boo, stuffing a gift box with items which have been laid out in categories, in plastic boxes along several tables.

Pay attention, Boo - not everything on that table is supposed to go into a gift!

Oh no . . . the BucketBoy got his hands on the camera!

Approximately 100 family gifts have been put together so far!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The big bridge project - the first concrete pour

In the photo above, you can see our crew finishing up the digging for the first wall of the bridge. The deeper spot is one of those "teeth," giving the wall extra depth in spots along it's length. Where the trench gets wider is something Allen calls a "strongback." This is a spot where the wall will be extra thick, again adding strength with less cost than making the entire wall that thick.

Edited to add: Allen told me that I was mistaken about the "strongback." The spot where the wall has extra width will be where they will pour a column. The columns will support the strongback, which will be more like a horizontal beam. Sorry for my error . . . although I should get some credit for not making more of them, considering my total lack of construction knowledge.LOL

Water is collected for the mixing of concrete.

Volunteers from one of the nearby villages which will benefit from the new bridge gather to help with the pour. On regular work days we have our paid crew, on pour days we also have groups of volunteers. The local government keeps a schedule of which villages are to send workers on which days.

Bags of dry cement, buckets of sand, buckets of gravel and water are mixed together in a specific proportion. Generally our kids all go along on pour days, and act as supervisors, counting to be sure the correct proportions of cement, sand, gravel and water are maintained. This is extremely important to ensure that the strength of the final wall is sufficient for the weight it will need to support.

A member of our paid crew stands at the edge of the trench and supervises as the volunteers pour buckets of cement into the trench. At intervals, large stones are thrown in as well.

As this is the first pour, the men are creating a "footer." This is basically a flat slab, upon which the actual wall will sit. There isn't any sort of form or mold; they are simply making the footer the size of the bottom of the trench.

In case you missed them, here are the previous posts about this project:

Las Flores - Our biggest bridge project ever!

More on the big bridge project

Big Bridge Construction Project - still digging

Friday, January 20, 2012

Plant Identification Time: Chinese Lantern Plant

I've never learned much about plant identification. I'd like to know more about the plants on our property, and I don't have many good resources to help me with plants which are specific to Central America.

I am starting to work on this, however, and I figured it would make sense to start with plants which have very unique characteristics, so that they would be more easily identifiable. The other day I found one of these plants growing as a weed in the vegetable garden:

Of course I pulled out the plant growing amongst the vegetables, but then I brought it inside to look it up on the internet. Now that we're watching for them, we've found many more of this same type of plant growing around the place. I believe these are a type of Chinese Lantern Plant. Check out this page, and see if you think I'm right:

I don't expect that our "lanterns" will get as bright orange as those in the seed catalog, but I'm pleased to know the name of at least one of our wild plants. With the name, I can find out more about the plant, like with this page:

Next on my list to identify is a weed we have all over our lawns, with spiky thorns growing out of the tops of the leaves. It is a scary looking plant - don't go around barefoot at my place!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Three Little Pigs

The three little pigs - our new ones. The larger spotted one belongs to Russell.

Here are the three new pigs, with our older one, so you can see the difference in size. They seem to be getting along well together.

We still don't have a pigpen set up, and having four pigs on the back porch of the kids' bedrooms isn't the ideal situation. We are hopeful that we'll be able to set up some more permanent living quarters for the pigs this weekend. The big bridge project has been a real manpower drain around the home place, but our menfolk are working manfully to fit everything in when they can. (Notice I used forms of the word "man" three times in that sentence - just to let you know who gets the heavy work done around here.)

By the way, the girls have been working "girlfully" (that must mean working happily and steadily, but not using much muscle?) to make up those Christmas gifts for the pastors. I'll try to get some pictures of that work in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Our Poor Cow!

We have had a certain cow and her calf for a year, and until this week I had never seen them. This was the cow that was so pregnant she couldn't walk all the way to our place, so we left her in the care of a friend, whose property was near where she decided to stop walking. I originally shared the story here.

It's not uncommon around here for people to keep other people's cattle on their property. We have a neighbor's bull hanging with our cows on our place pretty much year around, except when the neighbor occasionally moves the whole group to his property (usually during the dry season, to try to keep the cows where there is the most grass). Our cow and her calf stayed all year on our friend's property, where she had given birth. Since the friend had his own herd of cows, ours were no extra trouble.

Recently, however, our friend decided to sell his entire herd, so we needed to collect our cows. Unbeknownst to us, however, our adult cow was in dreadful condition! She had recently become horribly skinny, and would probably not have lasted much longer if we'd not gotten her back when we did. We're not sure why she's doing so poorly, as her calf is beautifully healthy.

Now she's here, and we're feeding her three meals a day, plus she has access to grass between the meals (and we're treating her for parasites). Allen says she looks stronger already (we've had her for two days now), and Ben says she looks a tiny bit fatter. Her trip here was rough (we had to tie her down in our trailer, and the road is really rough), so just recuperating from the travel is a big deal.

Here she is, poor thing, looking like a bag of bones:

And here is her pretty little calf:

The same day Allen and Russell brought home the cow and calf, they also purchased three more little piglets and brought them home! Five new animals in one day is a big deal around here! I'll show some pictures of the piglets in a future post.

The largest of the new piglets belongs to Russell, but it will live here with our pigs. I'm glad we're having the opportunity to fatten up a pig for Russell, as Russell is always helping us out with the cows and dogs and such. I know when butchering time comes Russell will be here to assist with that, as well.

Oh, just for fun, here's a picture of our guest, Katie. I know her mom will appreciate seeing her enjoying a bit of puppy playtime.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How Cool is Thurmont Maryland?

Dear Readers - this got long, and has no pictures. Sorry about that. I'll try to do better in the future . . . but read it anyway, okay? I think you'll enjoy it.


It was 12 years ago this month that we moved into a rental house in beautiful, historic, small-town Thurmont Maryland - although officially the house was in Graceham, which is a teensy antique hamlet just on the outskirts of Thurmont.

Prior to that, we'd been living in a trailer on property we owned in another part of Frederick County. We had been planning to build a house on that land, but our plans changed when the decision was made, in late 1999, to pursue full time missions work instead. In order to make the big move possible we needed to sell our land, and we needed to move into less rustic living conditions - you know, a place with amenities like phones and internet access.

The first day after the holidays of 1999 I bought a local newspaper and checked out houses for rent. I found one in a good location with a price we could afford, and called on it. Judy, the woman who answered the phone, explained that her church owned the rental house, and that her husband (a trustee of the church) would be the one to show us the house. As you might imagine, as a prospective missionary the idea of renting a house from a church was appealing to me. In the course of my conversation with Judy I learned that she homeschooled her children (fellow homeschoolers often feel an immediate kinship). We hit it off nicely, and had a pleasant chat. At this point I still didn't know that my son Russell already knew her husband and her oldest son, Eric, through the Awana Program at our home church. We found that out when we met with her husband to view the rental house.

Later in the day, I spoke with Judy's husband. He told me exactly where the house was located, but also said that there were several other people interested in renting the house, who were in line ahead of us. I drove over to see the exterior of the house and the yard. I was convinced that it was perfect for us - and I was certain that one of the other two families would snatch it up first. Russell was delighted with the location of the house, because Dalton, another one of his friends from Awanas, lived just a couple of houses away.

That evening we met with Judy's husband to see the interior of the house. He told us that both of the other families had chosen not to rent the house. One of those people mentioned that they wouldn't want to live there because the house was situated next to a cemetery. That surprised me, as we saw the cemetery as an asset - you'll never have quieter, less intrusive neighbors!

So, we got the house. There were some immediate benefits to living in that house - like picking cherries, pears, and grapes in the yard. Twelve years later, our decision to rent that particular house, in Graceham Maryland, during our last year in the states is still having ramifications - in very good ways!

The house belonged to Graceham Moravian church, and is situated directly across the street from the church. Although we didn't regularly attend services at the Moravian church, they still totally treated us like family. In fact, they still do twelve years later! We've been back to speak at the church several times, their adult Sunday School class collects funds for our ministry work, and their church collects donations every year to contribute to our Gifts for Gracias Christmas Project.

During our year living in that house, we were invited to participate in a homeschooling co-op which was held in the church building. That was such a blessing to us. It was a busy year for me, and it would have been hard for me to commit to a regular gathering like this - except it was right across the street! My kids enjoyed the social aspects, and I had some of the homeschooling burden taken on by the moms who taught co-op classes. I also had the opportunity to develop some friendships with other women in the community, which I likely wouldn't otherwise have had, since I only lived there a year (including Judy, who answered the phone when I first called about the house, and our neighbor Anne, mom of Russell's friend Dalton) .

Right now, we have a young guest staying with us, helping with the Christmas gift project (and with whatever else is going on around here from moment to moment). Katie is from - you guessed it - Thurmont Maryland. We got to know her family while we were living there, as they were part of the homeschooling co-op. Of course, Katie was only 5 at the time, but she says she remembers us when we were part of the group. Of course, she also knows us from more recent interactions: when members of our family go back to Maryland for a visit, we frequently stay with Katie's family. Plus, Katie's home is our Maryland collection location for donations when we do our annual container shipment. She helped collect, package, and load the donations on that end, and now she's helping put together and distribute the gifts on this end. Pretty cool, huh?

All of these blessings and benefits came to us, over the course of the past twelve years, from our move to Graceham/Thurmont, when all we thought we were doing was renting a house. Do you see why we think Thurmont Maryland is exceptionally cool? And don't you think it was pretty amazing how God put us in that place for our last year of living in the US?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Big Bridge Construction Project - still digging

Hey all - I'm just posting some more pictures of the digging at the bridge project in Las Flores. I'm behind on my bridge posting, as the work started back in early December and I first wrote about it on January 5th.

Above - digging
Below - throwing the dirt out of the trench

Soon we'll move past the digging phase, and you'll start to see the walls going up, I promise.