Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This has been some week

Actually, this entire series of events took more than a week, but this past week has been particularly rough.

First we got word that we were going to be audited by the IRS for the year 2008. With a meeting scheduled, we worked hard to have all of our receipts and documentation together, to prove that we had presented our income and giving accurately and honestly.

Then we had a preliminary meeting with the IRS. At this meeting, the agent assigned to us said that our paperwork was very thorough, and that she thought we'd probably be told that everything was okay, and that we would not be required to pay additional money to the IRS.

This was reassuring, but turned out to be inaccurate. When the agent presented our papers to her supervisors, they disagreed with how some of the paperwork had been handled. Not that they didn't believe that we'd received and given away money as we stated, but that we might not have gone through the right paperwork channels.

This ruling meant that we would potentially owe thousands more than we've already paid, plus there was a suggestion that, since we did our paperwork the same way in other years, the IRS would potentially want to audit us for the years before and after 2008, back as far as they are allowed to audit. Just the thought sends chills up your spine, doesn't it?

That was the way things stood for a week, while Allen worked to get some better resolution to this issue. Lots of people were praying for us!

Allen spoke with three different lawyers. Two were lawyers who specifically work with Christian organizations, the third was the H & R Block lawyer who represented us to the IRS, for free, because we had used H & R Block to prepare the taxes for 2008. The three lawyers all agreed that the way we had handled the tax return should have been acceptable. The H & R Block lawyer wrote a letter to the IRS, explaining the manner in which we had obeyed the tax laws. The letter was delivered to them this morning. By late morning, we received unofficial word that the ruling was going to be changed, and that we should expect not to owe any additional money.

I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm feeling more hopeful than I've felt for a week, but I think, until I have a piece of paperwork direct from the IRS stating that we're in the clear, I'll still be feeling unsettled and a bit nervous.

Some weeks are like that, I guess. I just hope we don't have another week like this one anytime soon!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Why Can Food in the Tropics?

That was the question I asked myself, when I thought about taking on home canning. Here are a few of the answers.

Although one might think that since we live in the tropics we can just stick our hands out the window and grab a banana or mango any day of the year - well that's not quite the case. We have seasons here (rainy and dry), and seasonal foods as well. We are able to benefit by purchasing these foods when the price is best, and storing them for other times of the year. Canning is a super way to do this.

Also, we have a limited amount of freezer space. Currently, we're just running the little freezer on top of our refrigerator, because we don't have enough power to run the chest freezer. By canning some vegetables and meats, we have some extra food stored beyond what our freezer can hold. Plus, there is always the possibility of losing power, and thereby losing all the frozen food. I'd love to be able to say "that can't happen to us, since we're using solar energy" - but it only took a couple of lightning strikes to teach me that we're vulnerable to power outages, too.

We've experienced few major disasters in Honduras since my family has lived here (nothing even close to the significance of Hurricane Mitch). Even so, there have been times when bridges have washed out, and landslides have closed roads - it actually happens quite frequently here in the mountains. Honduras doesn't have lots of roads. If the major arteries are shut, food and fuel and other supplies just can't get through. The unions use this fact to their advantage, by holding their strikes on the major roads. Usually they get the attention of the government very quickly, as traffic rapidly piles up in both directions. Allen and several of the children were caught in a huelga (a strike blocking a road) a few years ago, and they were stuck in traffic for a couple of days! So, I say all that to make a case for having some extra food around the place - enough so that our family won't be in trouble if we can't get to where food is being sold, or if the food can't get to our part of the country. Last year, during the curfews related to the political situation - which sometimes lasted for several days without a break - we were relieved to have some stored foods in our pantry!

One final advantage to canning has been the ability to create "convenience foods." We don't have many options for quick and easy meal preparation available to us here, and the options we have are generally imported - and therefore expensive - items. The ability to pre-cook a large amount of meat (or beans, or veggies) and have that item ready to heat-and-serve is an unparalleled luxury for us!

So far, we've successfully canned chopped chicken, ground chicken, green beans, red beans, orange slices, and tomatoes. We're quite pleased with the results!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A word to my friends in Maryland and the surrounding area

The official Gifts for Gracias collecting has ended, as we always try to set the mail-by date early enough that there's time for donations to travel by mail.

HOWEVER, the container will not leave Maryland for two weeks or so. This means, if you have anything else you'd like to get into this shipment, the time is NOW to get it to us.

If you need info on how to get in contact with the people working on this project in Maryland, send me an email (trish @ sowers4pastors.com). But do it today! ;-D

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Canning chicken

Today we canned 7 quarts of chicken meat, with broth. Here's how we do this:

We started with five frozen chickens, purchased from town. Five chickens gives us seven full quarts of chicken. We'd previously canned up four chickens into seven quart jars, and those quarts had less chicken and more broth. Seven quarts is the magic number, by the way, because that's how many quart jars my pressure canner can hold at one time.

There are different ways to can chicken, including putting the meat into the jars raw. We've chosen to roast our chickens first. We end up with lovely roast chickens, and lots of grease and drippings in the pans.

We don't want to waste anything here, so we collect all of the grease and drippings, and save them for making gravy. I put 1/4 cup grease, 1 cup of drippings, and 1 cup of water into a freezer container. I generally get enough to put the makings for three or four batches of gravy in the freezer. Then, whenever I want to make chicken gravy in the future, I'm all set!

The meat is pulled off the bones, and set aside in a big bowl.

As each carcass is picked clean, we dump the bones and skin into a pot of water boiling on the stove. Eventually this will be the broth that we put in with the chicken.

In the midst of the canning we had to fix supper. Since I had more grease and drippings than I could fit into my freezer, we decided to use gravy in tonights supper, so Rachel whipped up a quick batch of biscuits for biscuits and gravy. It was nice to be eating chicken and gravy on the same day that we canned chicken, as the smell of the chicken cooking makes everyone want to eat it now!

We didn't have quite enough chicken broth, so we filled the jars the rest of the way up with hot water.

I won't go into the details of all the steps involved in making sure that the food will be sealed safely into the jars, but rest assured that we are carefully following all the directions. Once the chicken is in the jars, and the hot broth is poured over the meat, we pop the jars into the canner for processing.

We have to set the pressure on our canner slightly higher than the general directions, because of our elevation.

And there's the result of all this work - cooked chicken, ready for seven future family meals.

I was going to explain how we figure the benefits of the canning in this post, but it has gotten kind of long, so I'll save that for next time.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Home Canning in the Tropics

I've been doing some research lately, on home canning. As our family adjusts to our new, rural lifestyle, I've had to figure out what new activities we should incorporate. Canning wasn't something I was certain would be of benefit to us, for several reasons.

First, I figured that people living in the north (not northern Honduras - I mean like in the US and Canada) store foods through canning because they only have appropriate weather for gardening during a small portion of the year. By canning seasonal foods, people in colder climates have a way to save their home-grown produce, or produce purchased at a low price when a certain food is in season, for use during the winter months. Here in the mountains of western Honduras, our climate is fairly consistent all year long. We have months when we receive more or less rain during the year, but our temperatures only range from highs in the mid-90's down to around 40 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course). So, theoretically, the climate in our area should make it possible to grow some vegetables and fruits pretty much year around. Additionally, our family doesn't depend on our own gardening for our food - we currently purchase almost all of our fruits and vegetables. Although we hope to change this, it will be a gradual process, as I learn (likely through a good bit of trial and error) how to successfully garden here. So, I wasn't sure that there was a good reason for me to do any canning at all.

Second, there are costs related to the process of canning. There is the purchase of a pressure canner, jars, and lids, plus the cost of gas or electricity used during the canning process. The amount of time involved also must be factored into the equation. I wasn't sure if these costs would be offset by a significant enough benefit to the family.

The more research I did, however, the more I became convinced that canning foods would be a useful tool in my family's repertoire of cooking skills. Last Christmas I gave myself a canner and a small collection of canning jars as a present. The equipment arrived in our shipping container, along with the Gifts for Gracias donations. It took us months to dig our house out from the arrival of the container, and it wasn't until that was mostly under control that I found the time and motivation to actually start experimenting with canning.

Now that we're in a comparatively quiet time of the year, we've begun. So far, we've canned green beans (14 quarts), chicken in broth (also 14 quarts) and orange sections in light juice (7 pints). It's barely a start, but I have to say that we've found some significant benefits for us, even here in tropical Honduras!

I'll expand on this in the next post.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Okay now, this is kinda pathetic

Last night at dinner we had a new treat - something we bought on impulse, as we hadn't seen it at our regular grocery store in Gracias before. It was margarine spread - the kind that comes in a big tub, you know?

We usually only get those sticks of margarine that don't taste anything like butter. I don't think they're really trying to taste like butter. Actual butter isn't available here.

So, we were having what we call "munchy-crunchy-lunchie" for dinner last night - that's chips and salsa, cut up veggies and dip, maybe some cheese. Then we added some (homemade) bread with the margarine spread.

You'd have thought the spread-on-bread was gourmet fare. Boo ate so much of this! David opined that he's sure they'll have margarine spread to eat in heaven. Gus snuck back later for a bedtime snack of margarine spread on crackers (he said he'd been thinking about how good this would taste the whole time since dinner).

I'm feeling like my children are just a bit deprived. ;-D