Monday, May 31, 2010

All Clear from Here

I just wanted to let everyone know that the weather is hot and sunny today up here in the mountains of Lempira. Our part of this tropical event is over. There are some roads washed out in our area, and at least one person (an 11 year old boy) died locally as he tried to cross a swollen stream. A brand new, government-built bridge was washed away in our department, and several communities are cut off from the rest of the world until some roads are repaired. We are in the 'aftermath' stage now.

Serious issues continue in the low lying areas, where the rivers are flooding from the rain water that fell up here in the mountains. The capital has areas underwater, around the country there are bridges out and roads that have been closed due to landslides.

In all, so far, I've heard of ten deaths in Honduras, and nine additional people missing. These numbers will certainly change somewhat, but we seem to have been spared the kind of devastation which might have been the case.

Please continue to pray for those who have been harmed by this event, in Honduras and Guatemala.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


We've had more hours of rain than not for the past three days. Yesterday (Saturday) we had enough sunny hours to power up the batteries, but just barely. It has rained all night for all three nights.

We're experiencing Tropical Depression Agatha, as you can see in the photo above, from the weather site WeatherUnderground. This is a storm which began in the Pacific, and there is some concern that it will cross over into the Atlantic and regain strength to a tropical storm or hurricane, at which time it will receive a different name (Anna, I think).

I don't believe our family is in any danger from the storm, but there is great likelihood that there will be roads and bridges washed out in our area, with this much rain. Plus, the rivers up here in the mountains join together into large shallow rivers near the north coast, and there will likely be significant flooding there, as this much water roils toward the sea!

The risk of houses (and people) being washed away in mudslides is very high. The poorer homes tend to be built on the steepest slopes, and those same slopes are generally completely devoid of plant life - setting the stage for the massive mudslides which caused much of the loss of life in Hurricane Mitch.

I understand from the newspaper (and the satellite maps) that the situation is much worse in Guatemala than here in Honduras. Please pray!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Trish's Sweet Pepper Garden

I have a well-deserved reputation in our family: I am the killer of all plants. Seriously, I can under-water, over-water, neglect, and do whatever else it takes to kill any plant - it's kind of amazing, really.

So, taking on the work of growing vegetables is a huge undertaking for me. Last year, we planned to start a garden. At the time we started, we mistakenly thought we would be moving onto our property around June or July. So, we started some plants from seeds, and when they outgrew their first little pots, we transplanted them into 5 gallon buckets. Our move kept getting delayed and delayed.

Some of the plants did okay in the buckets, and we still had some living plants (pepper and tomato plants) in December, when we left for our sudden immigration trip. Immediately after that trip, we were engulfed in the attempt to finally, actually get moved into our new house before the end of the year. So, the plants experienced an even greater level of neglect than normal, followed by the trauma of a move (in an open trailer) out to the property. This was followed by weather that was, by our standards, severely cold - down into the low 40's. Tough times for plants.

As life settled back into some sort of a schedule, and I finally had time to take care of these plants, I still had about three barely-living tomato plants, and about a dozen pepper plants (several different varieties, but all sweet peppers, no spicy ones).

Since that time, the tomato plants haven't fared well. But the peppers - oh, the peppers! - it would appear that even I can't kill the pepper plants!

Back a few months ago, when the plants were looking good, and starting to bear peppers, my little garden was attacked by leafcutter ants! The first night, two plants were stripped of every leaf. The second night four more plants were attacked. This was a serious situation. I tried several non-chemical solutions which were supposed to deter the ants, but without success - the devastation continued. I went out in the dark, caught the ants in the act, and Allen and Gus attacked them directly, killing the ants they saw, and following them to their nest, which they destroyed. The following day, a helpful neighbor who is also a farmer came by and sprayed the plants. I don't know exactly which of these acts did the trick, but we didn't suffer any more ant attacks.

The damage was significant - I believe eight of my plants lost all of their leaves. I've lived in Honduras long enough, however, to know that a dead-looking plant isn't necessarily really dead. So, I kept watering the plants, and sure enough, within a day or so they started the process of growing beautiful new leaves. Within a couple of weeks, the plants which had been stripped looked healthier than the ones that escaped the attack!

Then, the harvest! In early April, we were starting to really produce peppers. Fortunately we all like to snack on sweet peppers, and I was able to give some away. Things were going great!

In late April, I got really sick. Basically, everything in my life fell through the cracks! The pepper plants held on valiantly, and happily the rainy season made it unnecessary for me to water regularly. The pepper plants continued to bear peppers, although they started to look a bit weary, as they were badly in need of fertilizer.

Then, this week, I finally felt well enough to get serious about the plants again. I weeded, fertilized, harvested . . . and noticed something. Several of the plants were looking as though they were being attacked by leafcutter ants again - but the devastation was not complete enough to be likely to be the work of those ants. Then, as I harvested, I found several peppers which had been nibbled upon.

Looking very closely, I found this fiend:

Do you see it? That caterpillar is obviously feeding well - it's about 6 inches long, and fat! Bethany helped me search all of the plants, and we found another caterpillar just like this one. These have been removed, hopefully in time for the plants to revive.

So, that's the story of my gardening travails so far. It has been a learning experience for me, that's for sure!

Oh, and one more thing. Neighbors tell us that the invasion of the giant grasshoppers (see this post) happens every two years. If this is correct, then we should be expecting them to arrive shortly. I'm thinking I'd better prepare my garden for this event in advance - perhaps with some netting?

Monday, May 24, 2010

NOW I know it's the rainy season

I was just thinking yesterday, when I wrote about bugs, that we hadn't experienced the big beginning-of-rainy-season bug dump this year. When we lived in the city, every year after the first big rain of rainy season, we'd be innundated by these weird bugs. They aren't very big, and they have long thin wings. They show up from nowhere, in droves, and then their wings fall off and the bug bodies are crawling all over everything. Since we've already had several really heavy rains, I wondered if perhaps we wouldn't have the bugs, living up here on the mountain. Thinking happy, hopeful thoughts, you know?

Well, it's the rainy season, now, that's for sure.

Gus was doing the dishes at the moment of the event. He had to keep changing out his dishwater, as it filled up with floating bugs. The clean dishes, in the drying rack, all had bugs stuck to them when he went to dry them. This is a nasty business!

My friend Faith, who worked with us here in Gracias last year, wrote a post about these lovelies.

Another annual event for which we can be grateful when it's over!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Distributing food

Admittedly, our living up here on our property, instead of in a house in town, has made some things harder. The two ministries most affected are the Bible sales and the distribution of food for feeding centers.

Our new home is far enough from town that most taxis won't come up here, unless the driver happens to be your buddy. People are asking friends for rides, walking in and out from the distance which taxis will take them, and sometimes juggling large packages on motorcycles.

This situation will be resolved in a few months, when Russell and Iris get married. They will be renting a house in town, and they will handle the Bible sales and the food distribution from there.

In the meanwhile, however, our pastors are having to be resourceful. Here's the pastor who came by this morning to pick up food for the feeding center he runs:


As we watch the changes in the weather as the year progresses, we also notice certain times when specific bugs (or types of bugs) are more prevalent. In April we had flies. They're still around, but not in the same quantities. Yesterday, Russell was doing some work on the roof, and noticed that the house roof is covered with a multitude of tiny dead gnats. Happily, we didn't experience the gnats while they were living - we don't know when or why they all arrived and died on our metal roof.

We've recently been interacting with lots of very active beetles -we especially notice the large ones, although digging the smaller ones out of the kitchen sink drain, in order to put in the plug to do dishes, is notable as well.

Here's a picture of a sort of mid-sized beetle. He's about an inch and a half long:

The pictures below are of a bug Chris and Russell found in their bedroom. The boys were in trouble with me the other day, for not getting up at dawn to get pictures of the colorful bird (Chris thought it might have been a kind of parrot) which flew into their room, and later found its way out. To make up to me for this, Chris made sure to catch this bug and photograph it for me. He used a standard size pack of cards, to show scale.

Boo thinks it's a roach. What do you think?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Missionary Russell

Russell took care of giving four of the new motorcycles to pastors today. Here he is handling the paperwork:

And here are the four pastors and their new bikes and helmets:

As I've mentioned previously, the funds for these motorcycles were donated by the Christian Motorcyclist's Association. We also received funds for motorcycle maintenance, and we used those funds to purchase a spare tire and several quarts of oil for each motorcycle owner.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yet another pretty bird

I've been trying to get a good picture of this bird for several days, but I only see them at dusk, and they don't come very close to me, so the pictures I've been able to take haven't been worth posting.

However, I do believe I've identified this beauty (with the help of some friends on the Sonlight Curriculum forums, so I'm going to post a picture of the bird anyway, and count it on my list - which is now all the way up to three birds!

Here's the best picture I took:

I know you can't tell much from that picture, beyond the basic shape of the bird. I have been able to get a closer look than what you see in the picture, so I'll give you my description.

First of all, this bird is mostly black (or at least appears that way at dusk - the internet pictures seem to show more blue on the body than I'm seeing). The wings and tail are a shiny blue, so the bird shows up as a bright spot of color in the trees. I always see these birds in a flock of about a dozen or more. They come to the trees behind our house around 5:30 pm (which is the beginning of dusk here in the tropics) and they make quite a bit of noise, as they chatter to one another. I rarely see them fly any great distance, and only occasionally do I see them land on the ground. They move about in the trees as though visiting with one another before settling in for the night. I'll see three or four fly in to sit together on the same branch, before they fly off into other trees.

I believe that what we have here is a Bushy-crested jay. Here is a link to a much better picture. Isn't that a beautiful bird? According to the information I've read about it, this bird has an exceptionally small range - but I happen to be located right in the midst of it. So, this is a very uncommon bird to most bird enthusiasts, but I have big flocks of them in my yard. Kind of neat, huh?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ministry Montage

The "working" part of "living, working, and raising a family" sometimes gets short shrift on my blog. That's partially because Trish writes, but Allen oversees ministry. It's also because I run out of things to say, when we do the same things over again. But, since much of ministry does tend to repeat, and because I don't want you to think that we're just hanging about up here, enjoying the view and watching the birds, I thought I'd write a short ministry update.

Yesterday, for instance, Allen and Russell traveled to the city of San Pedro Sula (about a 3.5 hour drive) to pick up a batch of motorcycles. Paid for by funds raised by the Christian Motorcyclists Association, these motorcycles will be used by pastors in their work throughout western Honduras.

This past week, the monthly session of the pastor training school was held. Many of the details regarding the school are now handled by Hondurans. We, of course, still fund the school, we oversee things, and I bake the cakes for the dinners (I have the most important job, as you can tell), but things are running pretty smoothly.

We continue to supply many feeding centers with food. In fact, this particular part of the ministry has expanded significantly in the past year. I presume this is related to the downturn in the economy. I'm not sure exactly how many feeding centers we currently supply, but I believe it's approximately fifty. We also provide food to fourteen orphanages and several schools which provide lunches to their students, and to a group of families with special needs children. Allen estimates about 4500 children are being fed through the food we are helping to provide. We really should take a moment to thank Kids Against Hunger, the organization which supplies us with food. We only pay the cost to ship the food here, so we are able to feed children these vitamin enriched meals for about 1.5 cents per meal.

Also, I must mention that I am nearing the end of the process of creating and distributing "Christmas" gifts to the pastors with whom we work. Phew - just in time to start gearing up to do this again for this coming Christmas. We are determined to ship our container earlier this year, so be watching here for information soon on how you can be a part of this project in 2010!

There you go - a ministry update! Of course, I left out the bridge projects, the school and church construction projects, etc., but you get the idea.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another Bird Identification

Bethany saw this bird in our front yard today, and rushed for the camera - didn't she get a great shot? These birds run fast, making a clear photo even harder to obtain! Bethany correctly recognized that it was a ground bird, as she said it ran away from her, rather than flying.

I knew it was a road runner, but I had to search a bit for the specific type. In my reading, I found that some road runners eat rattlesnakes, and I sure hope ours do!

I found a good match to our bird in a picture of a Lesser Road Runner in a "Birds of Honduras" website, so I'm feeling pretty confident about the identification. Here's a link to a picture, so you can compare and see if you think I'm right.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What did I do today?

I'd hoped that today would be a day where much would be accomplished. We've had a spell of the drags, since many family members have been mildly sick for the past week or so - not sick enough to go to bed, but not well enough to want to eat or move around much.

We're mostly better now, though, so I thought this was going to be a day I could look back on with pleasure at work completed.

Allen and I were in the kitchen first thing this morning - the kids weren't up yet - enjoying a rare quiet moment together. It was so quiet, in fact, that I noticed the sound of the refrigerator motor. It didn't sound quite right. So Allen and I pulled the fridge out from the wall . . . and the motor stopped altogether. And it wouldn't start up again. Sigh.

Remembering to be thankful here, I will tell you that I am happy we have a chest freezer in the house. We haven't been using it recently, so I was able to fill it with the food from the refrigerator, and plug it in to keep the food cold. Of course, wiping out that freezer and moving all the food over took quite a bit of time.

Allen and the boys put the refrigerator onto the trailer, and Allen hauled it to a repair shop in town, over our extremely bumpy dirt roads. Yeah, having a repairman come to the house would be such a gringo-style solution, don't you think? ;-D

Of course, when Allen plugged the fridge in at the repair shop, the motor started right up. Of course.

It was determined that a certain switch was going bad, and so a replacement was procured, and the fridge made a return trip on the trailer. This took most of the day.

When the fridge was back in its place in our kitchen, we returned all the food from the chest freezer to the fridge. On the upside, the fridge got a nice, thorough cleaning today.

Hmmmm - maybe I'll be able to look back on some accomplishments tomorrow evening?

Sunday, May 9, 2010


We are currently at the very beginning of the rainy season, and you can see in the pictures below how much greener things have become in just the past few weeks:

April 17th

May 5th

The seasons in this part of Honduras are a bit different than what we experienced when we lived on Guanaja. Here's a summary, as best I can figure it out:

The months of January through April are basically the dry season. January is quite cold (down into the 40's brrrrrr), and there are heavy fogs most mornings. Sometime in February the temperature starts to rise, culminating in a very hot spell - in the low 90's - just around Easter. By mid-April or so, everything is quite hot and brown and dry around here. Once the rains start around the first of May, though, green leaves burst out everywhere, and (comparing to the seasons I knew in Maryland) it's very much as if we had skipped from a very hot autumn to a warm, wet spring.

I'd not have expected this, before living here, but the rainy season is by far my favorite season. The farmers start planting their crops as the rains start, and the world is very green and fresh. Although there is some rain most every day, it rarely rains all day - it's rarely even cloudy all day. Generally the days are sunny, with an afternoon storm front which passes through dumping large amounts of rain in a violent hurry, then the sun comes back out again.

There are rains from May through about October, but this varies. Last year was an especially dry year in Honduras. October and November can be dry, but during these months Honduras often experiences "cold fronts," which sound innocuous but are actually considered quite serious weather events here. The cold fronts bring low temperatures, and generally also bring entire days of cloudy skies and rain.

December tends to be a time when temperatures drop steadily, as we head into the chilly beginning of the dry season and start the cycle over again.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Some fun for me

One of the things I was looking forward to, as we planned our move to the country, was the chance to see some birds (we didn't see many in the city), and possibly do some bird identification.

Every day, at dusk, we have some brightly colored and noisy birds flying about in the shrubs behind our house. Tonight I was able to grab the camera in time to get a picture. It isn't a very clear picture, but it was sharp enough that I was actually able to figure out what type of bird I'd seen! I'm sure this is not all that impressive to real birdwatchers, but this was my first bird, so I'm proud of myself.

So, here's my bird: It's a Yellow Backed Oriole.

Here's a link to a beautiful photo of the same kind of bird.

I had a little trouble with the identification, as most of the bird identification websites in English specialize in North American birds, and this species ranges mostly from Mexico to northern South America. Happily, since this bird has such distinct markings, I was able to find some pictures on the internet that helped with the identification.

These orioles build long hanging nests - here's a link to a picture - and now I'm going to be watching for the nests, too.

Work continues on our solar power system (and solar hot water, too)

Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, the family worked on installing more of our solar power system. Today, the plan is for four more of the panels to be installed and connected. The installation of the remainder of the panels will wait until we've upgraded our battery system, as our current batteries can't handle any more power than we'll be pulling in with these twelve panels.

You should take a look at those black water pipes. They constitute an important part of our hot water system. We have a gas hot water heater in the house, but the water which enters the heater comes from these pipes on the roof. During the hours between about 9am and 3pm, if we use hot water out of the tank, the water which refills the tank will actually be hotter than the temperature we've set for the heater. We try to use hot water during those hours whenever we can, but if we need hot water at times when we aren't getting hot water from the roof (at night, or on cloudy days, for example), we'll have it available, because of the heater. Allen did some math today, and he figures that our annual cost for hot water will be less than $50 - and this is for a family of 7 people! That's a pretty good deal!

Boo climbed up on the roof to take these pictures for the blog. The second shot of the pipes shows how the pipes turn at the edge of the roof and head back across the roof again, to create space for approximately 50 gallons of water.

Boo was glad to take some pictures for the blog, except that she would then not be in any of the pictures. So, she contrived and took this photo, which manages to show the workers and be a self-portrait as well! ;-D

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Panorama

One reason we fell in love with our property is that it has the most amazing views. Our very best view is of the highest mountain in Honduras, Celaque, but that's only a part of the whole. We actually have about 270 degrees of views from the top of our property - which is to say that as you turn in a circle, for 3/4 of the way around the circle you're looking at breathtaking mountain views!

I put together this panorama of one of the lesser views. I've heard that, on a very clear day, you can see mountains as far away as El Salvador in this direction.

We also have a view of the city of Gracias, far below us in the valley:

Here's beautiful Celaque:

And finally, here is a shot of the family, working on the roof this morning. I saw how beautiful the mountains looked behind them, and that got me all carried away with pictures of the view! I'll try to post some pictures of the work tomorrow!

Sorry if I've given anyone a crick in their neck, from all of these sideways pictures! By the way, as always, the pictures are much prettier close up. You can click on any picture for a better view.