Monday, September 27, 2010

Wedding Invitations!

Here are the wedding invitations. These were completely homemade, except for the printing, which was done by a friend of Russell and Iris.

The invitations were also delivered by hand to all the local guests.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lightning Strikes - What I've Learned

Right from the start, I want to make sure to explain that this post is about what Trish has learned. Science was never my subject, so much of what I've learned about lightning strikes is pretty elementary. I don't want you to think this is what Allen has learned. Allen is learning, too, but he started off knowing much more than I did!

First of all, I learned about lightning rods. Our system is grounded, but it didn't help us in either of our recent lightning strikes. Here's why:

A lightning rod draws lightning to itself, to keep the lightning from hitting something else that would be damaged by the strike. There is a limit, though, to the usefulness of the rod. It will, apparently, only draw lightning which was going to hit very close to the rod in the first place. So, if the lightning was headed for your roof, and you have a rod on your roof, the lightning will hit the rod and your roof should be spared damage. If the lightning was headed for a tree in your yard, the rod may not pull the lightning away from the tree, because the tree and the rod weren't close enough together.

When lightning hits a correctly installed lightning rod, the electricity hopefully travels down the rod to a metal cable, which runs from the rod to the ground. Then the electricity is disbursed through the ground, normally without causing harm to anything.

We haven't had a hit to our buildings, or even all that close to our buildings, so clearly a lightning rod isn't the solution to our current problem.

Most of that I already knew, to some extent, but here's what I'm learning that's new to me. After lightning hit a tree some 600' away from our buildings (two different times!), the electricity went down the tree to the ground, and then traveled through the ground to our buried electrical cables (which run between our two buildings and are encased in a "protective" plastic conduit). The electrical surge traveled along the cables and then into our equipment - traveling up to our equipment along the grounding lines which we had installed to take electrical surges away from the equipment in the event that we should experience a direct strike on the house!

Do you get this? The steps we took to protect our equipment actually facilitated the movement of these electrical surges into our equipment! Ouch!

Apparently if we were "on the grid" we might not have such a problem with this. When lightning hits the interconnected grid of electric lines servicing multiple buildings, the surge can spread out and cause less concentrated damage over a wider area. In our case, since we are the whole "grid" we are likely to take the entire force of the electrical surge, and therefore we can expect to experience a large amount of damage.

So, there's our problem. And we're not the only ones with this problem. Allen has been doing quite a bit of research on this (as we upgrade to better and more expensive equipment in the near future, we need to do all we can to protect our investment) and he has discovered that there is no generally accepted solution for the problem of ground surges damaging off-grid solar energy systems. Some people, in areas where they experience frequent lightning strikes and where the problem of electricity surging along the ground is common, take the risk of having no lightning rod or grounding of any sort on their electrical equipment. Their rational is that the probability of damage from a ground surge is higher than the probability of a direct strike to their equipment.

We're not yet sure what we'll be doing about this. But now you know about as much as I do about the situation.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

So, about yesterday . . .

Those who guessed that the tree in the photo was struck by lightning were, of course, correct. Here's what happened:

If you recall, about a month ago lightning struck a tree on our property, and the electrical surge traveled to our house and destroyed the inverter connected to our solar energy system. After that happened, Russell went to the city, and bought a replacement inverter, but the new inverter was smaller than the one that blew up. Russell had a friend who loaned us another (even smaller) inverter, and with the two we could handle running the fridge, the computer, and some lights, and watch a bit of TV in the evenings.

Yesterday afternoon we had another storm, and another nearby lightning strike. This time, as you can see in the photo, the strike blew up an entire tree! (The tall tree you can see behind the exploded tree in the photo is the one which got hit a month ago.) At the moment of the strike, the new inverter blew, with sparks and smoke and great excitement. Allen wasn't home when it happened, so Gus and I had to handle things, quickly disconnecting the destroyed inverter from the batteries. We're always learning new things around here!

Because we had been running two inverters, and only one was damaged, we can still run either the computer or the TV, and we can run lights. But the remaining inverter is too small to power the refrigerator, so we're using up the contents of the fridge and freezer as quickly as we can - tonight for dinner we had hotdogs, leftover hamburgers, leftover mac and cheese, leftover chili, steamed broccoli, and fried bologna. Currently we run the generator a couple of hours each day, so that we can use the washing machine. Now we are also running the refrigerator during that time. The food in the freezer is still mostly frozen, but soon we'll have to empty the entire fridge and move anything that's still good into a cooler.

In two weeks our wedding guests will arrive, and my parents will have a new inverter in their luggage. So, it's just a short period of time that we expect to do without the refrigerator. Of course, having all of this excitement right before the wedding is just - well, just probably more excitement than we needed right now, but we'll make it! ;-D

Oh, and by the way - Allen believes he has figured out why our equipment is so very vulnerable to lightning strikes (even strikes that aren't directly on the buildings, or all that close to the buildings) and he's working on a plan to more fully protect the new equipment. Please pray with us that we'll be able to keep the equipment safe in the future!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Do you want to hear about my day?

I don't have time to write it all up just now. You'll have to wait until tomorrow, assuming I have internet and can type up the story. Meanwhile, here's a photo to arouse your interest.

The good news is that the car is NOT under the tree.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Can I Be Blunt?

I've wondered whether this request was appropriate, but I've decided to go ahead with it. If you think I'm being too forward, well, please forgive me, okay?

You know that Russell and Iris are getting married next month, and you know that we are shipping down a container in late November or early December. You also probably know that most missionaries, when they move to the mission field and set up housekeeping, have a separate budget for these large, all-at-once expenses. Russell and Iris don't have a set-up budget, or any extra funds, as they are putting together their new home.

It occurs to me that, if our friends knew they could help Russell and Iris get set up in their new home, they would probably like to do something to help. So I thought, at the risk of being perceived as pushy, I'd go ahead and mention this.

Basically, at this point in time, Russell and Iris have a bed (made by Iris' father), some wire shelving, a small dining room table, and one chair. I guess you could say they need some stuff. ;-D

In case you are interested in helping with this, I've updated the "Requested Donations" page linked at the top of the blog, with items which would be a blessing to Russell and Iris. If you have something you'd like to donate for them, which isn't on the list, feel free to email us and ask about it.

Oh, and if you'd like to donate to them financially, you can use the "To Donate" button at the top of this page, and follow the links and instructions there, but substitute the words "Russell Sowers" for the words "Allen Sowers." That'll get it to them!

Thanks so much, friends!

Monday, September 20, 2010

New Things in 2010

The year isn't even over yet, and already I'm looking back, and thinking of all the new things which 2010 contained for my family and myself. Here's a quick compilation:

We moved onto our property. This actually happened at the very end of 2009, but I'm a sloppy recordkeeper, so I'm going to count it.

We set up our solar power system, and began using it. Then our batteries started dying, and we've used it less and less and less. We're hoping what we've got will hang on until new equipment is purchased later this year.

We now heat our water (mostly) with solar, too. (We have a gas hot water heater for cloudy days.)

We started vermiposting! That's where you use worms to create compost for you. We have two buckets full of worms outside our kitchen, enjoying our food scraps.

I started dying my hair. I look my age now. ;-D

The girls and I learned how to can food. So far, we've only canned green beans, but those came out great. After the excitement of the wedding next month, we hope to have time to do much more of this.

I made homemade English Muffins! They were really good!

We started running cattle on our property. We've actually owned our bull for a few years, but he was a gift. Now, we've purchased a heifer, and are looking about for others to purchase, so that we can raise our own beef.

I started driving a manual transmission vehicle. I know it's pathetic that I haven't already learned this, but I never needed it in the US, and our first 5 years in Honduras we didn't use a vehicle at all (as we lived on an island which didn't have roads - we traveled in boats). After four years in the city of Gracias, and now most of a year living outside of the city, it's just becoming necessary for me to drive here, and our vehicle is manual. So, I'm doing it. Gradually.

In the next few weeks, I'll become a mother-in-law for the first time.

Oh, and the icing on the cake: this year, for the first time in our lives, Allen and I are being audited by the IRS. Sigh. I could have done without this one.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Here it comes!

I love watching the storms come in over the mountains.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

David's Eye-Opening Trip to the Dump

When we lived in the city of Gracias, we had trash pickup at our doorstep three times each week. We made it a point to take our usable but unwanted items and place them unbagged on the corner, whether or not it was trash day. These items would quickly be picked up and carried away. We were careful not to put out the bagged trash until we actually heard the trash truck coming. The trucks helpfully sound a siren as they pass through town, so everyone gets an early warning. If we put the trash out early, people would rip open and go through the trash bags, looking for usable items, and then we'd have a big mess to clean up.

Now that we live outside of the city, we have to handle our trash ourselves. We burn quite a bit of trash, but some just has to be carried to the dump. Generally we wait until we have enough for a large trailer load, and then either Allen or Russell drive the trash out of here.

The dump is on the other side of the city of Gracias from where we live. Recently, Russell was taking a load of trash to the dump, and he also wanted to take several members of the family into the city. Since he didn't want to drive around inside the city with the trailer full of trash, we all went to the dump first.

The dump is down a long dirt road from town. As we approached the dump, children started to run out of the nearby houses and yards, to meet us. Once we'd pulled in and stopped, they immediately began pulling the bags out of the trailer, and searching for "treasures." I imagine they expected our trash to be especially good, since we gringos are known for having more stuff, and for throwing away usable items, like empty tin cans (often used as baking pans here) and large plastic bottles like those in which cooking oil is sold (used for transporting and storing water).

David watched silently for a bit, as the children emptied the trailer and dug into the bags of our garbage. As they grabbed up items which had value to them, David began to grasp the situation. He turned to me and asked, "They're so poor, they want our garbage?"

We see a lot of poverty as we minister here, but I guess it impacts you more when you see people excited to get their hands on your very own garbage.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Want to see some bugs?

I thought you might. Here you go:

Starting off with a bug that doesn't make people squirm. These butterflies are everywhere right now.

Not any one specific bug here: this is a huge termite nest I found on our property, down near the river.

We saw many of these extremely fluffy caterpillars on our recent camping trip.

Here's the same fluffy caterpillar, seen from the underside.

The same caterpillar again - when Boo picked it up with the end of a small stick, it curled up in a ball.

Just some random bug in the grass.

We found this in an old, rotten piece of wood in our campsite firepit. It was about 2" long.

I hope you've enjoyed this entomological interlude.

Russell and Iris' House

Here are a couple of pictures of the house in Gracias which Russell and Iris are renting. It's a nice place for a couple starting out. You can see in the picture above that there is a small, enclosed carport. It is so small that I don't think Russell will be parking there - I believe it will be used as a storage space.

The front room will be the living room and dining area. You can see the kitchen at the back of this area in the picture below - and David playing "fast food restaurant" in there. The kitchen is very Honduran, with not a single closed cupboard. I've had a kitchen like this in the past, and it can be a challenge to set up and keep clean. Hopefully Iris is better at this than I am!

Rental houses in Honduras don't come with a refrigerator or stove. These are items Russell and Iris will have to acquire, along with furniture. It's a good thing being young and in love make those inconveniences seem smaller. ;-D

The house has three bedrooms. Russell's intention is to use one of these as an office. Another bedroom will be used for storage, as Russell's house will be the hub for our food distribution and Bible sales ministries. This arrangement will be much more convenient for the pastors who come to pick up the food and books.

There's lots of excitement in the air around here these days!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Our upcoming wedding

Things are coming together. This week, Russell and Iris found a house in town to rent. I haven't seen the house yet, but I hope to do so soon, and get some pictures to share here.

Yesterday, while playing soccer, Russell took a head hit to his jaw, and split open the skin just under his chin. When you look at him face on, you can't see it, fortunately, but it's a nasty cut - took five stitches to close it. We're hoping it will be mostly healed up in time for the wedding - we're just a month out now.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Limping along with some new equipment

We've got a new "normal" at our house now. Russell wasn't able to purchase the exact inverter we'd hoped for (one we'd looked at in a store, and considered buying to have on hand in case of an event just like this - but we'd decided not to buy it, of course), but he was able to purchase a smaller unit. He also was able to borrow another (even smaller) inverter from a mechanic friend of his.

With this smaller equipment we can't run as many appliances at one time as we could do previously. This means that we can't use up all the excess power which pours in during the sunniest hours of the day. So, to protect our equipment from having to deal with so much incoming power, today Russell removed four of the solar panels from the roof.

So, this is what our day looks like now: we run the refrigerator and the computer during the day, but nothing else. These are running on solar power.

In the evening, we use the generator to charge up the batteries and run the TV/VCR, computer and the washing machine. When two or three loads of wash are done, we're done running power for the night.

This is a workable situation, since without this equipment we'd really have a hard time running the fridge at all - so, it's much better than the alternative. Of course, we're still having to wonder if additional batteries are going to die . . . that would mean that we'd have to find another, lower level of "normal."