Thursday, December 29, 2011

Breathing is seriously under-appreciated

I'm climbing back up out of the pit now, but did I ever go dooooowwwwwn with some serious asthma problems the past few days!

It all started, as is so often the case, with my catching a headcold. It wasn't even an especially bad cold, just a runny nose and that woozy feeling of impending sickness. That was Monday night. I'm so glad it was after Christmas!

The following morning my lungs were just full of wet junk. I was coughing and wheezing like crazy. This is my normal reaction to headcolds, which is why I tend to take them very seriously. But I didn't even have time to react to this one - I just went right straight down to not breathing.

I won't give too many more details, as I think that reading about someone else being sick is rather boring, but suffice it to say that there were moments when I wasn't sure this wouldn't be the asthma event that finished me off. There were moments when my response to that possibility was more relief than concern. It was really bad - possibly the worst attack I've ever had.

If your breathing is easy and clear right now, take a moment to be grateful for that. Really.

I'm blessed to have the necessary equipment and medicine to give myself nebulizer treatments in my home. As it was, I needed about seven treatments over the course of about seven hours to get things back under control. I'm still recuperating from the strain on my body (especially the muscles in my chest) that happens during an event like this.

Allen happened to be away from home during most of this. He'd had to make a trip to the city of San Pedro Sula. When I told him about these events (he's required to listen to the details of my sickness, whether it's boring or not), he thought it might make a good blog post. Because, you see, if I'd been born a Honduran in the mountains of Lempira, I'd likely not be alive anymore.

Now, truth be told, if I'd been an average citizen of Lempira, I'd almost certainly have died long before now. I've not been an especially healthy person throughout my life. I had a serious case of pneumonia at the age of 13 (which was pretty much the onset of my lifetime struggle with asthma), my experiences giving birth 5 times involved some potentially life-ending complications, and I've been rescued from asthma attacks (through medical intervention) many many many times. I have a serious asthma attack requiring the use of the nebulizer about once every couple of years. Any one of these events would likely have been the end of my earthly existence, without some fairly extensive medical help.

In Lempira, quite often the most basic medical care is out of reach - sometimes because of the expense, sometimes because of the physical impossibility of getting from a remote village to a location where some level of medical care is available, sometimes because the clinics which are available often don't have the supplies, equipment, and trained personnel to be of much use. People die regularly from readily treatable medical problems.

Allen and I are not trained to help with medical problems, but we do host medical teams as often as we get the chance, help distribute medicines to rural clinics when they become available to us, and our completed bridges often mean that people in remote village have access to the rest of the world during rainy season, when previously they were cut off from all medical care during that part of the year. So, we're doing what we can. Thanks again to those of you who help us remain here and do what we do.

And thanks to those who pray for us personally. Now take a deep breath and appreciate it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Want to read the entire newsletter?

My friend Jane (who has visited here in the past, and is making plans to come again this year - YEA!) just asked, in the comments on a recent post, how to go about getting a copy of our entire newsletter. It occurred to me that, after reading the bits I've posted here over the past week, perhaps others might like to receive this and future newsletters. As you can see from the snippets, I do try to include different information in the newsletters than what you would normally read in the blog.

Some of you may have been receiving the newsletter in the past, and no longer do so. This is often caused by a change of email address, or it might be an error on my part.

So, if you don't receive the newsletter, and would like to, or aren't sure if you are on the list to get it, here's what you can do . . . write to me at trish @ (just leave out the spaces around the @) and tell me you'd like to be on the list.

Thanks for your interest in this ministry!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bridge Building: How we manage the costs

This is the last of the newsletter fragments I'll be posting. I don't know if you've enjoyed reading them, but it has been nice for me to have some quick and easy postings already written, as I'm pretty swamped with work right now. We've been organizing the items from the shipment and creating gifts for the pastors with whom we work, and this is a huge task. This final bit from the newsletter is about how we handle our bridge construction projects, with an eye toward being as efficient as possible with funding.

We also attempt to use funds as efficiently as possible in our bridge construction projects. We save money by acquiring donated gently-used cables and free design and engineering advice from contacts in the US. We utilize volunteer labor from the communities served by the bridges, and oversee the projects ourselves (thereby avoiding the cost of supervisors and the opportunities for overpriced contracts to be accepted and bribes to be paid). We estimate that our bridges cost about 10 – 20% of the cost of the same bridge built by Honduran government agencies and contractors. The material costs are mostly paid by the local government, which also oversees the scheduling of volunteers, maintains a secure on-site bodega for storing materials and equipment, and provides meals (and sometimes housing) for Allen, Russell, and our small paid crew.

So, now you know a bit more about a few of our ongoing ministries. We did mention in our letter (a part I didn't post on the blog) that we are having to look carefully at all of the different ministry works we do, because funding is down, and we might have to choose some things to discontinue. Of course we are praying that God will allow the funding to come in so that we can continue all of the current ministries, but we're also praying for wisdom and discernment for dealing with more limited funding than we've had in the past. Thanks for praying with us!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cost vs Benefits: Running a Pastor Training School

Here's another snippet from our recent newsletter:

Our pastor training school is one of the most expensive programs we run. The students pay nothing to attend. Most of our students find it a challenge just to give up their work income for these few days once a month, and to pay for their transportation to the school. We provide housing, food, and any necessary school materials. A group of pastors from the churches in the city of Gracias (the more wealthy churches, which have paid pastors with seminary training) handle the curriculum planning and the teaching rotation on a voluntary basis. Currently we rent a facility for a few days each month, where we run the school. Our long term plan has been to use our own property for the school campus, but so far we haven’t had the funding to construct the buildings for this. Our daughter Rachel and daughter-in-law Iris do all of the cooking for the school, in Russell and Iris’ tiny kitchen. Russell handles the transportation of people and food back and forth from Gracias to the campus, and he also maintains the registration paperwork. We keep expenses as low as we can, and we feel that this program is simply worth the expense, as the trained pastors spread out into ever more remote locations and multiply our efforts as they teach their existing congregations and reach out into new communities.

Friday, December 16, 2011

More churches, fewer dollars

Again today, I'm posting a portion of my recent newsletter. This part concerns funding the construction of church buildings. Now let me say right up front, I recognize that a building is not a necessity for a church. Lots of churches all over the world meet in homes, or even outdoors. However, the desire for a church building is very high among the new churches here - and new churches are springing up all over the place.

From the newsletter:

The construction of church buildings is another ministry area where we strive to make dollars go further. While a building is not essential – many of the churches we work with meet in homes – the lack of a building is sometimes a detriment to church growth. Most homes in our area are extremely small and dark, and holding meetings outside isn’t a viable option during most of the rainy season.

If a congregation desires to construct a building, we are available to help. Allen will meet with the pastor and congregation members and discuss construction details with them. While we do receive some funds for church construction, generally this isn’t a large amount of money, and we receive requests for construction help from many churches each year, so part of what Allen does is to advise the church members on how to build their buildings in the most economical way, making use of local materials and skills. Over the years we’ve learned a few tricks which can help make an adobe building much stronger and longer-lasting than the traditional construction methods, so Allen passes this information along to the congregations.

Once the new building has a foundation and walls, using mostly labor donated by the church members and locally acquired free building materials (sand, rocks, gravel, dirt for adobe bricks, hand hewn lumber), we use our limited funds to help buy roofing materials, which generally are not locally made. With walls, a roof, and a dirt floor – but no doors or windows – a congregation can begin to use the building immediately, while the process of completing the structure can take place over time, as funds allow.

Using this method, we’ve helped approximately 15 congregations construct buildings this year alone and more than 70 since we moved to this part of Honduras six years ago. Our cost for one of these projects is typically about $800, for a church which will hold 200 or more people.

Next up: The cost of running a pastor training school

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Newsletter Tidbits

Do people actually read all the way through a missionary's prayer/newsletter? I've often wondered if people enjoy our letters, slog through them from a sense of duty, ignore them altogether, or what. Allen and I are concerned that our current letter is a more difficult read than usual. In this letter, we desire to communicate to our supporters how we try to use donated funds as efficiently as we can. This is super important to us, and we believe it is of great interest to our donors - but that doesn't necessarily translate into an interesting letter.

I've decided to post some parts of the letter on the blog, in a series of posts. If you don't receive our letter, this will fill you in a bit as to how we handle some of our ministry work. If you do receive the letter I apologize for the duplication.

After a preliminary greeting, here's the first part of the letter:

2011 has been a difficult year for many, and we have seen this reflected on the mission field. More and more often, we are seeing missionaries having to leave the field due to lack of funding. Although we continue to trust God to provide, sometimes He chooses to allow times of hardship. Often the times of hardship are also opportunities for great spiritual growth. In Honduras, hardship has been a way of life since long before we came to live here, and the spread of the life-changing Good News and the work of church planting in the poverty-stricken mountains of western Honduras has continued to advance at an amazing pace, even reaching into the most remote villages of the Lenca Indian people. As long as God allows, we hope to continue to live here and help with this work.

During hard financial times, everyone learns the importance of stretching a dollar. Our family has made the frugal and efficient use of funds, in our home and ministry, a high priority. In this letter, we want to highlight some of the ways we try to make the best use of every donated dollar. This is important to us, and we know that it’s important to you, too.

One of the ways we’ve found to use money most efficiently is to recognize what we do best, and to allow – and empower – the Honduran Christians to do what they can do better than we can. For instance, running a feeding center is something that we are able to do, but your average Honduran pastor can do it better. He can more easily teach and mentor the people of his community. He can muster the resources of his local church for volunteers to help in finding a suitable location, setting things up, cooking and cleaning up, getting the word out to the poor of his village, etc. He can present a Bible lesson which is relevant to the lives of the people in that place, using language that is accessible to them. He can maintain a day-to-day relationship with the families involved in the feeding program. What a typical pastor in our area lacks is not the desire to serve others in this way, but the financial resources to purchase the necessary food. That, of course, is where our part comes in. By partnering with donors in the US, and dealing with the hassles and expense of paperwork, international communications, accountability back to the donors, etc., we can import a container of highly nourishing food, and oversee the distribution of this food to a network of pastors who then run over a hundred feeding programs in widely scattered locations throughout a large part of western Honduras.

There. Now you probably know more than you knew before about how we run feeding centers. The picture at the top of this post is a pastor picking up food for his center. Below are photos of a feeding center in action - first a Bible lesson, then a meal.

Next post: how to build more churches with fewer dollars.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What December is Like . . .

Oh, yes, I'm keeping busy.

The year-end newsletter is mostly written. I originally started the letter with a certain theme, but Allen chimed in with some thoughts which, while they were good ideas to write about, really didn't fit well with the letter I'd started. I tried to merge the two parts and ended up with a messy conglomeration of writing that just wasn't working. I woke up early this morning (sometime around 3am) and started in on it again, finally admitting to myself that what was needed was to scrap what I'd already written and begin afresh.

Once I'd made that decision, the letter practically wrote itself, over the following three hours. I had enough completed for Allen to read through before he left for work at the bridge site at 7am. Hopefully I can achieve "final draft" status by tonight, send the letter out tomorrow morning, and check that task off my list.

Regarding the container, we've started in on the opening of boxes and sorting of stuff which is preliminary to the creation of pastor gifts. This is fun work in small quantities, or when a group of friends all come over to help, but it can be a bit daunting as we start in on a whole new huge pile of boxes and bags. We're wading in with vigor, nonetheless.

We also have to fit the celebration of Christmas and two birthdays in during the next two weeks. It's a busy time for us.

So, what's with the flowers, you're asking? Well, it's hard to find interesting pictures about writing newsletters or unpacking boxes. It happens that the beginning of dry season (now) is when all the wild flowers and miscellaneous bushes and shrubs start to bloom, so I thought I'd just randomly add some of those pictures to this post. The wildflowers are definitely a part of what December here is like. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Any Day Now is . . . TODAY!

Yes, the container from Maryland is here! Well, not at the house yet. Much of the contents of this container is items for a huge bridge construction project, and so the family is unloading those items at the construction site.

The rest should be arriving here at the house before too long.

Thanks to everyone who participated in making this container of donations possible!!!

Music to my ears . . . er . . . eyes!

I started off with the title "Music to my ears," but then I realized that the event I was planning to relate was not audible. It seemed wrong, then, to call it "music."

Anyway, not long ago we had some guests at our house who were impressed with our large collection of books. They had just arrived, and the whole family was in the room at the time, as we were greeting them. One guest stated, "You sure do have a lot of books here - who's the bookworm?"

In response, every child in the room raised their hand.

Yes, I'm extremely pleased about my tribe of self-described bookworms! It was a major goal of mine, when I started homeschooling, that my kids would learn to read proficiently, and that they would love to read.

Checking off that box now. LOL.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Pig and a Puppy - Finally I have those pictures!

The weather has not been ideal for the collection of solar energy recently. This, among other things, has delayed the promised pictures of our new little piggy. But, finally, here she is:

Tentatively named "Miss Mouse," she's a rather shy creature. At the moment she lives in a blockaded portion of the back porch of the team house. Here she is, shyly hiding (as much as she can) in a corner of her enclosure:

You can't really tell her size in these pics, but she's a bit less than 2' long. She can sure make a lot of noise for her size, though!

Now, for puppy pictures! Pepper gave us 10 Rottweiler pups - six boys and four girls. They all look alike, so Boo just took pictures of one puppy.

See Bunny watching over the situation with worried eyes? Bunny's part hound, so she always looks a bit sad and worried. In addition to a mother dog, these pups have two auntie dogs keeping all harm from them.

Here's Auntie Bubbles, sticking her nose into the picture taking business. Bubbles really wishes these were her pups. I believe if she could, she'd take them away from Pepper and keep them for herself.

Thanks for waiting so patiently for these pictures. It's a bit sunnier today, so hopefully this patch of particularly overcast weather is almost behind us. But, December and January are the worst months of the year for sunshine, so we'll be keeping our expectations low for a bit.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lots of Life around here!

Hey all! The skies have been especially overcast yesterday and today, so I wasn't able to use the computer to get the piggy pics (and also pics of our Rottweiler puppies) off the camera yesterday. I did write the following, but didn't post it, figuring I'd put it up when I had the photos to go with it.

The power level is a bit better today, but this morning Allen took the camera to work with him, and the pictures are still in the camera. So, I'm going to go ahead and post what I wrote yesterday, and I'll put up the pictures when that becomes possible!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Our new little piggy arrived last night. She's pretty scared and not very nice to deal with at the moment - hopefully that will change when she gets used to her new home. Allen is talking about getting a few more pigs, so we'll be needing to construct some significant housing. I'm not sure when or how that will happen, as Allen and Russell are crazy busy with the current bridge project - but with one pig already on site, I guess pig housing will have to be a priority.

In other news, our female Rottweiler, Pepper, just produced ten puppies late last week. This time we were able to keep our lab mix away from Pepper during her heat, so all of these pups are Rotties. We already have homes lined up for a few of them. For now, Pepper and pups live on the floor at the foot of my bed, but they'll need an enclosure soon. It's amazing how quickly puppies become mobile!

Bunny, our lab mix, is currently in heat, so she and Kody (the other lab mix) are making plans for the next batch of puppies. The male Rottweiler, Commando, would like to take part in this process, but so far we've been able to avoid that. Commando is a pathetic, whiny mess right now, and we'll all be glad when Bunny's heat is over and things can go back to "normal" around here . . . at least until she (hopefully) has her pups in nine weeks.

I'm glad to report that all three of our females seem to love puppies. The two which don't have puppies just now (Bunny and Bubbles) keep looking covetously at Pepper's babies, and even occasionally babysit when Pepper takes a break, using that opportunity to get in a few surreptitious licks. In spite of all this puppy love, the moms have been great about letting us handle their babies - although with Bubbles, we couldn't let anyone but family members into the house for about a month, for fear she'd attack them to keep them from her pups.

That's all for now. Pictures to follow before too long, I hope!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Backlog of Photos

Wildflowers from our hillside, arranged in the kitchen by Rachel

We recently hosted a medical team, and they worked in the hospital you can see in this photo. The shot was taken from a scenic overlook in the town of Gualcince.

Here's the view from the same location, looking off over a mist-filled valley

These are neighbors and good friends of ours, who live in the community of Catulaca.

Just a photo I like of a typical house in our part of the country

Rachel's funny-looking puppy, Pebbles. Pebbles was solid black for several months, and then she started growing in white hairs, ending up with this white/black combo. She doesn't really have bright blue eyes; I think that's the puppy version of a red-eye photo.

Mail Call!

We don't receive much mail - maybe one or two items a year. If you wanted to send a letter through the postal service directly to us here in Honduras (we don't recommend sending packages this way), you'd just write our name, the name of our nearest city (Gracias Lempira), and the country name on the envelope . Hopefully the letter would arrive in the Gracias post office. After that, the letter would sit in the post office until some friend of ours picked it up and brought it to us. Since we rarely get mail, we don't go checking in at the post office very often (or ever, really).

Recently we received information packets for voting by mail in the next US election. These packets were mailed to Gracias, and then brought to us by the young men who regularly do farm work for us on our property. So you see, the system really does (occasionally) work. Actually, Allen didn't receive a packet, and he's registered to vote as well, so we're not talking about a 100% success rate.

Another way people sometimes get mail to us is by sending it to the Missionary Ventures main office in Orlando Florida. We have a mailbox there, and when anyone from the office visits us they'll bring us our mail, or when we visit Orlando we can pick it up.

Allen recently returned from a trip to the states, and he brought some mail back with him. We were delighted to receive some Christmas cards and letters from friends - in fact, several years worth!

Henry Z, we laughed through three years of your witty Christmas letters at one sitting (2008-2010)!

B family, formerly of Costa Rica, it was so kind of you to send us a housewarming gift along with your Christmas card in 2009! I'm guessing your little guy is quite a bit bigger now.

I can't wait to see what people are sending us this Christmas . . . but I guess I'll just have to.

Sowers Family News Alert:

Tonight Allen is bringing home our first pig!

Pictures tomorrow (assuming internet, weather, computers, etc cooperate).

You heard it here first.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Our busy time of year

We're expecting the arrival of our container shipment "any day now." In case you haven't learned this from following the reports of our container shipments in other years, "any day now" means we really don't know when the container will arrive, but we need to be ready for the arrival at very short notice. In anticipation of bringing all the donations into our bodega/house, we did a major cleaning a few weeks ago. Since then, we put up the Christmas tree and a few other decorations, as extraneous activities like putting up decorations come to a halt when the work related to the container shipment begins. Of course, daily life takes it's toll, and piles of current stuff have encroached into the area which needs to be cleared out to receive all the new stuff. This work has to be high priority, since the container is due to arrive "any day now."

It's also time (and past time) for me to write up and send out a newsletter. I've decreased the frequency of our newsletters in recent years, since so much information is available on a more timely basis here on the blog (and with pictures), but I do try to make sure that letters go out a few times a year, and especially to put one out at the end of the year, to sum things up for those who faithfully support our ministry with prayers and donations. It has become harder to write the letters, because I know most people who read the letters also visit the blog, and I want to think of things for the letter which haven't already been covered here - and since I blab so much here, finding un-blabbed info can be difficult.

I also need to update our main website, which has been woefully neglected lately. This however, is a really big task, and I believe it will be even bigger than usual this time. The program I've been using for years now to maintain the website has officially entered obsolescence, and I'm going to have to learn to do this work a new way. Sigh. I suppose I should say that having to stay abreast of new technology keeps me young, but in reality it just makes me feel old and tired. I'm pretty sure the website update will have to wait until after the holidays.

Additionally, this is our best time to grow vegetables in the garden. Our weather is much less extreme from November through March, and we really need not to waste these productive months - but finding the time for planting, weeding and other garden chores is hard right now.

Soooo, I guess I'd better get back to work!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A "Cooking in Honduras" Question for you to guess

Let's see who knows or can guess:

When cooking spaghetti Honduran style, how do you judge when the spaghetti noodles are done?

We learned this bit of spaghetti cooking trivia from Russell's wife, Iris, who is a guaranteed authentic Honduran cook. Have fun guessing!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A doctor, a lawyer and a missionary all get stuck in an elevator . . .

Wow - I wish I knew the punchline for that joke! It wasn't a joke this weekend, however, it really happened! Allen, Russell and I, along with several members of a visiting team, were trapped in a hotel elevator for about ten mildly traumatic minutes! It was the first time I'd ever been stuck in an elevator - and while we laughed and joked about the situation, there was definitely an undercurrent of tension. All was eventually well, we were freed from the elevator in time for - well, just a bit late for - the final team meeting of the week.

The team, consisting of 23 people, spent last week in the village of Gualcince, about three hours drive farther into the mountains than Gracias. We had to drive most of the food for the team into the location in advance of their arrival, as things like eggs, bread, ground beef and milk aren't available in that area, or aren't easy to acquire (for instance, milk and eggs are available from local farms, but this kind of shopping requires knowledge and time - things we don't have while hosting a team). As a medical team, including doctors, dentists, nurses and non-medical support personnel, these folks saw over 2000 patients in Gualcince and four surrounding villages, over the course of about five days.

We certainly appreciate all of the preparation, hard work and expense that go into making a week-long mission trip a success. You guys are welcome back anytime!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A "Chance" Encounter

Well I had some fun this morning! In order to understand this story, and the odds against it happening, you'll need a bit of context. You'll need to know that I'm the ultimate homebody. I really just love staying around my home. I do head into town once a week for groceries, but then I head right back home again - no hanging around in town for me.

Today I had to run some errands - things that absolutely had to happen today - and I didn't have a car. Our friend Kevin, of the Goodwin family of missionaries, was very gracious about driving out to pick me up and take me into town, and then driving me all the way back home a few hours later.

So, I was afoot in town, for really probably the first time since I started driving last year. It was nice. I think I'd forgotten how pleasant it is to walk about in town. I'm not likely to drive in just for that, but I did enjoy it today.

I made a stop at a little restaurant that sells rotissarie chicken, to pick up a rare treat to take home with me, and I ran into a visiting couple, Sonny and Kay, from Texas. We started into the regular conversation we tend to have with visitors (it's almost always interesting to find out how and why someone has wandered into this out-of-the-way corner of the world), when they asked me my name. After I told them my name, they excitedly explained that they'd been trying to contact me. Turns out they're regular readers of this blog! I'm not sure why I haven't received their emails, and they didn't have my phone number, but I just happened by where they were having lunch, and so we met!

We had such fun, exchanging stories! I immediately abandoned Christopher (he was at home, expecting me to come straight back with bread, so he could make sandwiches for the guys who work for us on our property - I told him to make up some boxed mac and cheese instead), and I settled in for some serious chatting! Sonny and Kay are actually living on a sailboat, and right now their boat is docked in La Ceiba while they jaunt about in the mountains for a bit. We used to meet up with sailboaters when we lived on Guanaja, but it's pretty uncommon to bump into them up here in Gracias! They have a blog of their own, which I've just had a chance to check out a bit - it looks like a fun read, with lots of lovely pictures. They keep it updated, so they already have pictures up from Gracias and the surrounding area. This page has the most recent entries. I'll be keeping an eye on it, to see if they write something about me, LOL.

Eventually I did have to finish my errands and head home, but I'm thinking we'll have to make sure to spend some more time with these folks before they return to the ocean - they're great people.

Oh, and did we have cameras there? Yes I'm pretty sure we did. Did we think to take pictures of our fun encounter? Ummmm, well, ummmmm. Maybe we'll do better next time we meet up.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another Poinsettia Post

November 1st

November 18th

When Boo read what I wrote the other day about our poinsettia, and saw the picture I posted, she noticed that the plant is much redder now than it was when that picture was taken. I've been sick (a headcold with asthma complications, which always seems to lay me pretty low), so Boo has been caring for the garden lately and I hadn't seen it. Yesterday Boo took the updated picture, above, for you to see (and for me to see, too).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Our weird cow . . . again

Our cow still thinks she's a pet. We might be somewhat to blame, letting her live in such close proximity to the family. She likes to follow us around. Although she has her own water supply, she frequently accompanies Boo to the garden, where Boo enjoys giving her drinks of water out of the plastic cup used for watering the plants.

Here she is at the drive-thru, awaiting her drink.

Sometimes the service in this place is really lousy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Poinsettia Redux

Perhaps some will remember the saga of my Christmas poinsettia from last year. If not, you can find that here.

I'm happy to report that the poinsettia plant is alive and well. When it grew strong, we put it into a pot, and planned to set it on the front porch of the bodega. We never did move it, however, and it still sits in the garden, its pot in a partly shaded and somewhat weedy location next to the water barrel.

Apparently the plant is happy with this level of care/neglect, and I noticed the other day that it is starting to turn red! Christmas must be approaching.

Now I'll have to decide . . . do I bring this happy and healthy plant into the house for Christmas, where the chances are that I will either kill it or at least commit near-planticide?

What do you think? It sure would look pretty in my kitchen . . . at least for a while . . .

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Another gardening update - berry bushes!

Do you remember those dead-looking sticks I received last month, when I wanted to propagate some of the local berry bushes for use on our property? In case you don't remember, here's what they looked like upon arrival at my house:

Though these sticks did not appear promising, we stuck them into buckets of soil, and have been tending them faithfully. Two of the sticks, which had obviously been harvested with a bit of root attached, started to sprout new growth fairly quickly. Here's what they look like now:

The remaining sticks still just look like sticks stuck in soil, but we haven't given up on them. Under the dirt, we hope there are roots forming. One of the rootless sticks has given us a bit of hope:

I'm excited about how this is working out! I've purchased seeds to try to start berry plants, but starting from local cuttings - plants that I know can live and produce in our climate - gives me a much greater chance of ultimate success.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November Garden Update

This month marks the end of my first year of in-the-ground gardening! I did do a bit of container gardening the year before that. I haven't produced much food, but I've certainly learned a lot, and I'm trying to feel encouraged by the increased knowledge, rather than discouraged by the lack of results.

From what I've learned about the weather here, I'm treating November as my version of "spring." We're currently cleaning out the garden, which had become weedy and overgrown during the rainy season, and we're starting to plant. So far we have onions, radishes, green beans, green peppers, cabbages, kohlrabi, cucumbers and beets (plus one volunteer tomato plant) in the ground. We recently had trouble with the cow pushing over the wire fencing and walking around in the garden (I'll show our solution to that in another post). All that to say that the garden is a busy place right now, and it looks a bit messy at the moment, as you'll see in the pictures.

During the rainy season we improved the garden by putting down gravel on the pathways, to keep down the weeds. Who wants to have to weed pathways?

One of our experiments has involved growing plants inside of a screened, shaded shelter. As you can see in the photo below, the cabbages and kohlrabi inside the shelter are looking good - they haven't be gnawed much by insects or stressed by the intensity of the sun. We're considering expanding our use of this type of gardening.

My biggest gardening challenge (among my many gardening challenges) thus far has been my lack of knowledge about what to expect from the weather. The seasons here aren't easy to describe. The year is roughly evenly divided into rainy and dry, and there's definitely one cold part of the year for about 2 months and one hot part of the year for about two months (and a whole lot of nice warm months the rest of the time), but the changeovers between these "seasons" don't line up with one another. It is rainy and warm-to-hot from May until October. It is quite cold and humid (but not rainy) November through January, but then, as the dry season progresses, the temperature rapidly rises until we have our hottest time of the year, in April. So basically, we have both the hottest and the coldest months of the year during the dry season. In spite of the drastic temperature change and the lack of rain during the dry season, it still appears to me that this time is my best hope for growing veggies.

I'm still working to figure this all out, though, so I'll have to let you know later if my analysis and conclusions turn out to be correct!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Christmas Season Begins!

I know it's too early to put up a Christmas tree, and yet ours has been up for over a week now. We have such a busy season around Christmas that we need to get going early, or our family celebration gets crowded out. It also takes us longer to get to feeling Christmassy here, since the weather doesn't cooperate. Besides, we have to use an artificial tree - which goes against my preferences - and to my mind the one and only benefit of a fake tree is that it doesn't dry out. I figure, if I have to use a fake tree anyway, I might as well take advantage of the one and only benefit and keep the tree up for a loooooong season.

With older kids in the house, more care is put into the final look of the tree. I remember when they were all little - I would let the kids decorate the tree without interference from me, then later, when they were in bed, I'd move the ornaments upward so that the whole tree was decorated, and not just the bottom three feet! LOL.

This year Rachel wanted to decorate the tree with mostly natural and homemade items, and her enthusiasm pulled most of the rest of the family into her plan. We found instructions for making these stars from twigs, on the Chickens in the Road blog, and pretty soon our kitchen table became a star making factory. The other homemade ornaments used on that site wouldn't work for us, however. We can't get away with decorating with actual food in the insect-and-rodent-filled tropics. I shudder to think what would transpire after a few weeks of having strings of popcorn, dried fruits and cookies hanging on our tree! Yikes!

Here's our version of the twig star - Rachel tied the twigs, instead of using glue.

After putting up the lights and a tasteful quantity of burgundy, green, and frosty-white glass balls (tasteful as determined by Rachel) we added the twig stars and lots of small pine cones we'd collected in our woods.

At this point the tree was too dark, as neither the twig stars nor the pine cones showed up well against the dark branches. We had, in our ornament collection, some light-colored stars woven from natural grasses, that I bought a few years ago in Santa Barbara Honduras, where crafters specialize in creating tiny items woven from straw and grasses. The grass stars helped brighten up the tree, and we also added some tiny baskets I bought years ago, just because I like baskets and I think these are cute. On top of everything else we draped icicles: we are an icicle-loving family. The tree just doesn't seem finished without them.

Our country-style rag doll angel, part of our Christmas celebration for many years, looks right at home sitting atop this tree!

And here is the almost final result (we'll be hanging up red and white candy canes once we get some):

Perhaps I can be the first person to wish you a "Merry Christmas" this year!