Thursday, July 26, 2012

Brainstorm with me . . .

We're working on building our house, but even as the footprint of the house is being created on the ground, we're still developing certain aspects of the design.

One major concern we have for the house design is that we create a home that will be easy on us as Allen and I age. We're both 50 now, and we're starting to see the signs that our bodies are weakening. We can't read the small print on the medicine bottles anymore, and we groan more when pulling items out of the lower kitchen cupboards.

Several things are obvious. The bedrooms are on the same level with the living areas. I've also designed the kitchen to have storage cupboards with shallow shelves from about my knee height to my head height, to avoid lots of stooping and reaching. Actually, there will also be cupboards and shelves in those more remote high and low areas, but I can keep the most often used items in the easy-to-reach places.

I thought I'd mention this here, and see if some of you might have additional thoughts on ways that we could make the house work for us as we age. Since it's another 8 years or so until Ben finishes high school, and since we expect to probably have some Honduran grandchildren from some of our other children by that time, we figure Honduras is where we'll live and work for a good long time - Lord willing!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A taste of MK camp!

My campers are back home again, and recuperating from their action-packed week of camp and the grueling bus ride back home.

A camp for missionary kids needs to have lots of action and adventure, as many of these kids experience much excitement in their day-to-day lives. Below is a video compilation of scenes from the 2012 Honduras MK Camp. Make sure to watch the part where the kids are bungy jumping amongst trees - my kids said, "It's amazing only a few kids ran into trees." Hmmm. That's the kind of thing that warms a mom's heart.

If you want to see my kids specifically, Boo and Rachel show up well at 8:02. To see Gus, just watch for the big kid with the scruffy beard! Ben didn't attend camp this year - he stayed home and spent the week with Kirstin.

Thanks to all those who help make this camp happen!

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's a puppy explosion around here!

From my two previous posts, you already know that we have two dogs nursing litters at our house right now. Buffalo, Boo's fluffy lapdog, has 3 puppies, and Pepper, our female Rottweiler, has 12 puppies.

Last night, Russell called to tell me that his female Rottweiler, Precious, was giving birth. Eventually she had 9 puppies. One of their fluffy lapdogs is currently nursing a litter of 5, and their other fluffy lapdog is due any time now.

It was not intentional that all of these pregnancies and births happened simultaneously, it just worked out that way.

We're busy around here just now.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I'm exhausted!

If you haven't already done so, you really should read the first part of this story before reading this post. You can find the first part here.

Yesterday, when I left off with my story, Kirstin was trying to get a very pregnant and unwilling Rottweiler up a steep hill, I was trying to keep several puppies alive and well until their mother returned to the house and could care for them, and our fluffy lapdog, Buffalo, was nursing two of the newborn Rottweiler puppies in addition to her own three (one-week old) puppies.

When Ben brought the third puppy up to the house, I was actually busy in the lard making project (yes, that was going on at the same time). I needed to be stirring rather constantly, so I didn't have hands for the puppy. I also didn't want to put a third puppy in with Buffalo. I felt confident that Kirstin would have Pepper (the mother dog) back in the house fairly soon, so I didn't want to have to go through the process of getting Buffalo to accept another pup for such a short time. I was also thinking that Pepper might give me trouble when I tried to take the puppies from Buffalo and give them back to her, and I just didn't want to compound my difficulties unnecessarily. So, I took the slightly slimy puppy (Pepper had given it just a very quick cleaning) and stuck it down the front of my shirt. I remembered, from my days dealing with human infants, that skin-to-skin contact is the best way to warm a cold baby. It was also the only hands-off method I could come up with quickly. The puppy didn't seem to mind.

While I stirred lard, with a slightly slimy puppy inside my shirt, Kirstin was hauling Pepper very slowly up the hill. Pepper is too big a dog for Kirstin to carry, so this was a pulling and hauling and resting and continuing kind of process. Pepper helped not at all, and when given the opportunity would try to head back down the hill to the den she had chosen. Eventually, however, Kirstin won the battle. Kirstin is a recently trained and licensed Emergency Medical Technician, and I teased her later that we'd sent her out on her first EMT call. Kirstin says she doesn't believe that assisting at any human birth will ever be as physically demanding as what she was called upon to do for Pepper!

When Kirstin and Pepper crested the hill and were in sight of the house, Pepper decided that she really did want to be inside after all. She finished the trip without assistance and headed directly to the spot which I had set up for her birth. She was clearly looking for a puppy in that spot, so I was happy to be able to pull one out of my shirt and give it to her. She immediately settled down to caring for the puppy. Now we were set up for having babies!

I was going to wait a bit, before getting the other two puppies back from Buffalo, but since Pepper settled in so easily I went ahead and brought one of them to her (Buffalo was not happy at my stealing her new puppy from her). Pepper accepted the puppy without a second thought, so I brought the other puppy as well (again, against the objections of Buffalo, who had clearly decided to keep those puppies - she would have looked pretty funny in a few weeks, when the Rottweiler babies outweighed her), and all was well with the world.

Except, of course, that Kirstin was collapsed on the couch, I still had to finish the lard, and nothing at all had been accomplished in our house for hours but dealing with puppies. Yea for convenience food. We splurge on frozen pizzas (we have to get them from San Pedro Sula) and keep them for occasions when we need a quick meal. It was definitely a frozen pizza night here yesterday!

It also started to rain about this time, which was not important once Pepper was in the house, but it showed that Kirstin was right to force Pepper into shelter, even though it had meant moving her during labor.

After getting up the hill, Pepper's body took a short break from pumping out puppies, but after an hour or so things started up again, and for the rest of the evening she just kept on having puppies. When she finally stopped there were TWELVE Rottweiler puppies!

None of our dogs has ever had such a large litter, and Pepper has been known, in the past, to accidentally crush a couple of her puppies, so we figured this huge batch would need some extra help and protection. We set up a box under a heat lamp, and took the earliest born puppies away from Pepper. After two hours, we switched the two groups, so that the ones which had been in the box had a turn to nurse. This made the situation a bit more manageable for Pepper, and also guaranteed that the smallest puppies wouldn't be pushed away from the available food by the larger ones. We continued this two hour switching process all night - which is why I'm so exhausted today - and I'm watching the group throughout the day, moving puppies which have fallen asleep away from Pepper and into the safety of the box, and moving them back when they need to eat. Pepper doesn't seem to care. I think she's pretty exhausted, too.

Final Product!

I'll type in the rest of the story from yesterday afternoon a bit later, but for now, here's a photo of the final results of the events:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lots of excitement at my house today!

Before I begin the story, you need to know that Boo's fluffy little lapdog - named Buffalo - had puppies last week. Boo is away at camp, so during the daytime there isn't anyone up in Boo's bedroom. Kirstin is sleeping in Boo's room at night, but during the day she spends her time down with the rest of the family in the bodega. Because Buffalo doesn't like to be alone all day, and seems willing to forget about her puppies in order to spend time with the family in the bodega, we bring her little cardboard welping box down to the main house every morning. The three puppies stay in the box in my bedroom, and when they make noise Buffalo goes and nurses them, then she returns to hang out with the family. At night, Kirstin takes Buffalo and the pups back to Boo's room, so their noises won't disturb Allen's sleep (he's a light sleeper).

This afternoon, Kirstin, Buffalo and I were chatting in the kitchen when we heard a puppy making a much louder-than-usual noise. It definitely sounded like distress, so we went running toward my bedroom.

In the middle of the living room was our pregnant female Rottweiler, Pepper, and she was mouthing a small dark puppy. Because the pup was the same size and approximate color as one of Buffalo's puppies, we assumed that Pepper had taken one of the week-old pups out of the welping box and perhaps was harming it.

Kirstin and I yelled at Pepper to drop the puppy, we told her she was a bad dog . . . and then we realized that it was Pepper's puppy - she had just given birth to it in the middle of the living room floor. Just so you know, we normally know when a dog is about to give birth - there are warning signs. We knew Pepper was due to give birth in the next week or so, but we had no warning at all that a pup would be arriving right then. From the birthing location smack dab in the middle of the living room, I'm guessing Pepper was taken a bit by surprise, as well.

We already had a spot set up where we wanted Pepper to give birth, so we moved her and the puppy to that spot, but Pepper was confused, and she turned and ran out of the house, leaving her brand new puppy behind!

Kirstin saw her heading into the woods, and chased after her. I went to take care of the abandoned pup. The baby was still wet, and cooling quickly. It needed to be cleaned and fed and cuddled. Not knowing how long it might be until we found Pepper, after a few minutes I decided to see if Buffalo would take care of the mommy-less pup.

At first, Buffalo wanted nothing to do with the little one. We had put Buffalo and her puppies into the bathroom when all the excitement had started, so I took the pup in there and tried to introduce them. Buffalo growled and snapped at the baby, and when I continued to press the issue she hid behind the toilet and refused to come out. I put the puppy in the box with Buffalo's pups, hoping to get the new one to smell like the others. Then I took the Rottweiler puppy out of the box, and put Buffalo in. When all of her own puppies were nursing, I held the new pup in front of Buffalo, and she gave it a tentative lick.

That's all it took, and Buffalo was moving to get that cold wet puppy under her fluffy belly. Within moments the pup was nursing, snuggled in amidst Buffalo's warm, dry puppies, and things were looking good . . . except of course that Kirstin and Pepper were out in the woods somewhere, with Pepper in labor.

At about this time, Allen got home. He had gone to a meeting at the bridge project, and Ben had gone with him. I sent Ben into the woods to help Kirstin find Pepper. Soon Ben returned with the news that Pepper had settled into what appeared to be an old abandoned den of some other animal, and was having another puppy. Kirstin decided to wait until the second puppy was born, and then try to move Pepper back to the house between puppies. The birthing spot was less than ideal, and the sky was threatening rain, so the mid-labor move seemed unavoidable.

Pepper had other ideas, and eventually Ben reappeared with another puppy wrapped in a towel. Pepper was not cooperating with being brought up the hill to the house, and Kirstin was afraid the puppy was getting too cold, while Pepper was distracted by Kirstin trying to get her up and moving.

I apprehensively approached Buffalo with another Rottweiler puppy. She was actively caring for her three pups and the one abandoned pup, and she very briefly growled at the new one - apparently more in annoyance than real dislike - before taking on the parenting duties of one more cold, hungry foster baby.

Meanwhile, back in the forest, Pepper had dumped a third puppy. This time Kirstin was adamant that the dog would move up the hill. Ben brought me the puppy, while Kirstin half-pulled, half-carried the dead weight of a largish pregnant Rottweiler up a steep hill. Pepper isn't a difficult dog. She didn't fight or give any indication that she was upset with Kirstin - she just didn't help get her own body up the hill at all, and whenever Kirstin stopped to rest, Pepper would turn around and try to head back down the hill.

Whew! This has gotten really long, and I'm not nearly done. I'll stop now, and finish this tale tomorrow. I'm beat and I need a shower. Good night!

Oh man, the story I have to tell today!

No time now, the story is still unfolding. Watch for it!

Whoopeeeee - I have achieved lard!

Throwing long-standing tradition to the wind and following the advice of bloggers who have achieved lard before me, I threw all of the cubed pork fat and skin into the crockpot. I can use the crockpot, basically for free, during the hours when there's a large amount of sunlight.

At the end of the day, I was able to pour off the accumulated grease into a clean, hot canning jar. In the morning, I had the results you see above.

The fat had not all been rendered at the end of the day yesterday, so it's all in the crockpot again today, making more lard.

I'm still looking to improve my end product. There's something at the bottom of my jar that isn't lard - I think maybe I didn't strain the lard quite thoroughly enough. I'll work on that, with the next jar, and see if I can do better.

Thanks for listening to me babble about lard! LOL

Seen on our trip to town yesterday

I had to make a trip into Gracias yesterday, and saw these creatures along the way. Check out the fancy red, black and white one, which Ben instantly identified - and I believe correctly - as a "King Vulture." Ben loves perusing science and nature books, and is quite the walking (and talking) resource for interesting tidbits of nature info.

(Hey - I did okay with my photographers away from home, now, didn't I? LOL)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Update on the Lard Project

Yesterday's attempt to render lard was a dud.

Apparently, I am using an inferior type of fat. The fat around the organs is much better for making lard than the fat under the skin. Secondly, our hog wasn't all that fat, as it wasn't fully grown when we butchered it.

I cooked the cubes of skin/fat in a cast iron pan for over an hour, to no effect. The pieces were even sticking to the pan, in spite of my using the lowest heat. I am certain that melting fat shouldn't stick to the pan!

I tried adding water, as suggested by some of the instructions I read, but when the water had boiled away we were not really any further along in the process.

When I stopped working on this - because I needed to turn my hand to cooking dinner - I had achieved slightly melted, slimy/greasy cubes of skin and fat. I stuck the mess in the fridge, and this morning I found that I had, in fact, rendered about a tablespoonful of lard.

Due to these disappointing results, I went ahead and started on Plan B today - the cubes of fat are now in the crockpot. During the sunny hours, using the crockpot is "free" power, so I feel okay about using this method, in spite of basically wasting propane on this project yesterday.

If nothing else, the dogs are sending me signals that they think the results of my experiment - however it turns out - would make highly acceptable dog food! LOL

Monday, July 16, 2012

Off they go . . . to MK Camp!

Early this morning, Kirstin drove some of her siblings to the nearby city of Santa Rosa de Copan, to catch the early bus. They're headed to the Loma de Luz Hospital, which is 7 to 8 hours from here, by car. I'm not sure how long the trip will be by bus, but certainly it will be longer! I once traveled by bus from La Ceiba to Gracias (about an hour less than the trip to the hospital) and that trip took 12 hours - but I was on a bus that stopped frequently. The kids were able to catch an express bus, so their trip should be faster and more pleasant.

Every year, the missionaries at the hospital, on the north coast of Honduras, host and run this camp. We're really grateful for all of their hard work! The kids love going and spending the week with friends they rarely get to see.

Since I have a bit of extra time today, I'm going to try my hand at rendering lard for the first time, using fat from the pig we butchered back in March. We're nearly ready to butcher another pig, so I need to use up what's currently in the freezer, and a lot of what's left is skin and fat. I'll report back on how that goes, once I've done it. Of course, I'm feeling like I'm trying to blog with one hand tied behind my back, since my photographers are gone for the week. But I'll do my best.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gardening Woes

I haven't written much about the garden lately - and there's a reason for that. It hasn't been doing all that well. I've been disappointed at the small quantity of food being produced, in spite of lots of hard work invested.

Recently our good friends, Brad and Trish Ward, visited us here in Gracias. Brad is an agricultural missionary, and so he gave me some tips. Basically, it boils down to a need to significantly nourish the garden soil. Our soil is mostly composted cow manure, and that's just not doing the job. Brad suggested that I plant a certain type of bean plant - frijole abono (Russell tells me that the word "abono" basically means fertilizer) - and then once those plants have grown for a couple of months, to till them down into the soil, mulch heavily, and then let the soil sit for another couple of months. THEN I should have better results from my plantings.

One of the young men working on our new house construction has said that he would bring me some frijole abono seeds on Monday, so hopefully I'll be able to get those into the ground and growing right away. July and August are fairly good growing months here, as there is slightly less rain than the beginning and end of rainy season (when it's sort of a deluge around here). I'm hoping to grow the bean plants now, have them under mulch during September and October, and be ready to plant when the cooler temperatures and gentler rains start arriving in November.

I hope it works out. Enthusiasm has waned for this whole gardening project, since the rewards have been so minimal, and we really need a major success here!

Although this progress report has been a bit of a bummer, I'm happy to report that Gus has continued to improve the infrastructure of the garden. He, along with Ben and Josiah, have improved the pathways between the raised beds by adding gravel. This has significantly reduced the amount of work needed in just keeping the pathways clear - and really, there's plenty to do in the garden without having to worry about the pathways!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Let's talk about the new house!

Yesterday I posted this drawing of what we anticipate will be the look of our new house. I know the house is not all that impressive - and that's intentional. Part of our strategy for living safely in a crime-ridden third world country is keeping a low profile. Of course, as fair-skinned, blue-eyed Gringos we'll always stand out in a crowd here, but at least we can avoid drawing some attention to ourselves by maintaining a less-than-ostentatious lifestyle. This can be difficult, when you live in a neighborhood where having tile floors - instead of dirt floors - is considered a luxury.

We've worked hard to come up with a design which, while looking mostly like a local house from the front, would also give us the amenities which Americans are generally used to having - like finished floors, bath tubs, a functional kitchen, glass windows, and CLOSETS! Plus, we've included some features which will definitely feel like luxuries to us - high ceilings, lots of kitchen cabinets, a fireplace, and rooms looking out over gorgeous mountain views.

The plans call for the house to have four bedrooms and two full bathrooms (both with tubs), a nice-sized living room, a large kitchen/great room with a dining area, sitting area, and fireplace, a big pantry and nice laundry room/mudroom, plus a bit of basement storage. It's all packed in there! We're excited about these plans, and about seeing them grow from ideas to reality!

Oldest daughter Kirstin is arriving today for her annual visit, and we're expecting her to come up with a few tweaks, as she looks over the plans with fresh eyes. I'll keep you informed!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Exciting times!

We're starting to build our house!

Currently our family lives on our property in two buildings which were not intended to be family residences. Allen, Ben, and I have bedrooms in the warehouse/bodega, which also contains the kitchen (eat-in), living room, and bathroom, as well as lots of space actually used as warehouse storage. The older children live in the building which was intended as housing for visiting teams.

Here's the most recent plan for the exterior of the actual house. Imagine terracotta tiles on the roof, stucco walls, and stained (rather than painted) wood doors and trim. The left side of the house is set in about 8 feet, behind a covered porch.

Over the course of time since we originally began to build on this property, some of our plans have changed. We've had a foundation and parts of walls for an unfinished building sitting around since before we moved here, and we've determined that we won't be needing to use that location for the originally planned purpose. In order to make the best use of the work already completed, we decided to use that foundation - with some additions and modifications - as part of our own house.

These photos show the foundation early in the day, as the guys were just starting to work on chipping away some unneeded parts:

The photo below, taken around 3pm, shows some of what the workers have accomplished on their first day of demolition.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, we did plan the house to make the most of the magnificent view of Celaque Mountain across the valley.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Aaargh! Frustrating day!

I'm having one of those days, when everything is just a bit harder (or a LOT harder) than normal. It's so frustrating.

Ben had a school-related meltdown. I know that learning multiplication facts isn't fun, but you Aaargh.

We were informed, on Saturday, that we needed to handle a particular report for the IRS - right away. We thought it had been handled already, by the person who does our taxes - but no. There has been one frustration after another with getting this report filed. Hallelujah it's done now, finally.

My countertops are being repainted. This is a good thing, but it is also a several day process, and meanwhile I'm working in a kitchen where everything is piled on the table, and I can't use either the table or the countertops. Frustrating.

Allen had to tear apart the rear axle of the Land Cruiser, because the last time our mechanic was making some repairs in the vicinity of the rear axle, the mechanic messed up something other than the thing he was fixing! I don't know anything about car repairs, but Allen tells me the rear axle is now leaking oil. If you know anything about car repairs, maybe that will mean something to you. Even if you're not car repair savvy, I think you can imagine how frustrating this situation is - and it happens frequently when we have mechanics work on our vehicles, and there's no recourse here, like there might be back in the states.

It's hot. More than normal. I guess I'll be glad I'm not back in Maryland, where it's also hot, and the power is out in many locations, due to the big storm on Friday.

Sooooo, thanks for listening to me vent. I'm thinking tomorrow will be a better day, maybe.