Tuesday, February 18, 2014

And so it begins . . .

 . . . another generation! Russell and Iris just announced last night that they are expecting!

This will be the first grandchild for Allen and I, and the first great-grandchild in either of our families! We're all super delighted!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Part 2 - The Date

The following Saturday, after a morning spent digging a pit, building a large fire, and preparing the meat for cooking, Allen picked up Trish in his red Chevy Luv pickup and they headed out into the farmland surrounding the campus. Borrowing a tractor and wagon from a farmer Allen knew, they drove to the barn and filled the wagon with bales of straw (Allen, of course, had to explain the difference between hay and straw to the curious but ignorant suburbanite). 

Trish was impressed with Allen's arrangements and connections - she certainly didn't know people who would loan her wagons and tractors! She didn't actually know anyone off-campus at all. Allen liked that Trish perched on the fender above the back tire of the tractor and rode along with him across the fields. Later, the two enjoyed chatting and working side-by-side shucking the corn, preparing the potatoes to be baked, and getting things set up for the evening.

The dinner, held in a rustic Rotary Club building, had a picnic atmosphere, and was casual and fun, though Trish created an awkward moment by asking, out of an abundance of curiosity and such a complete lack of knowledge that she didn't know not to ask, why the beef they were eating was said to come from a "steer." How was a steer different from a cow or a bull? The answer . . . that a steer is a castrated bull . . . was not a conversation these young men wanted to have with a bunch of girls.

Following the meal, the guys had some games planned. You will clearly recognize this first game as having come from a guy's imagination. Each couple competed against the other couples. The guy would take an end of a piece of licorice in his mouth, and his date would take the other end in her mouth. The winner of the race would be the first couple to entirely eat their licorice. No use of hands was allowed. Obviously, this would involve some very close lip to lip activity. Sheesh - guys and the games they come up with! 

Did I mention this was a Christian college?

Now, Allen and Trish still didn't know one another very well. One thing that Trish had yet to learn was how very competitive Allen could be. He would play this game to win.

The starter yelled, "GO!" and Trish and Allen started chewing. Allen, in his competitive zeal, went a little too far too fast . . . and accidentally chomped down on Trish's lower lip! Rather badly. There was blood. Lots of blood.

They headed into the restroom for tissues to staunch the bleeding. It required many tissues. Eventually they were able to rejoin the group . . . just in time for the second round of the game! Because they'd achieved the fastest time in their heat, they had qualified for the second round, which involved . . . Twinkies.

They did NOT win the second round. To this day, Allen insists that Trish went backwards when the starter yelled, "GO!" 

The rest of the evening was thankfully uneventful. After the games came the hayride (which was really a strawride, of course). Since Allen drove the tractor, Trish sat up there with him again. He really appreciated that, though Trish wasn't trying to send a message by it - after all, who wants to be the only single in a wagon full of couples? 

Allen was responsible for some of the cleanup afterwards, which Trish helped with. Then, after a long, full day, they drove back to campus, and their first date came to an end.

Both Allen and Trish were busy the following day. Allen was competing in a 100 mile bike race, while Trish was traveling to present a concert with the handbell choir. Monday, though, he called her, and they ended up going for a walk around "the loop" - the road which made a big circle around the campus. Walking and talking became a regular evening event.

Trish had a fat lip for a week. Over and over again, when her friends would question her about what had caused the injury, she'd have to start out by asking if they knew a guy named Allen Sowers . . . which they rarely did, since she and Allen ran in such separate circles . . . and then she would explain what had happened.

It was a Christian college . . . did I mention that? Trish had to marry Allen now. Her reputation was pretty much shot.

Just kidding! In reality, Allen and Trish continued going for evening walks together, and talking. Lots of talking. They became best friends. 

Allen managed to continue to surprise her, planning the most interesting and unusual dates. Visiting a local auction. Spending the evening hanging out with people he'd befriended who lived on farms around the college. Sitting in the truck watching electrical storms over the lake.

Eventually, Allen told Trish, "You know I'm planning to marry you, don't you?"

And, of course, she already knew that.

If you were to ask Allen, today, what most attracted him to Trish, he would tell you that she had such a great attitude, and handled problems and unexpected difficulties with grace and humor.

And Trish would tell you that she recognized, very early on, that life with Allen would never, ever be boring!

Friday, February 14, 2014

An Unlikely Romance - Part 1

Long, long ago, on a continent not so very far away, a bookish, classical musician of a girl and a rough-and-tumble, rock-and-roll loving guy met and fell in love. They were obviously NOT destined to live happily ever after!

This August, however, Allen and I will celebrate (well, commemorate, anyway . . . we tend to underachieve when it comes to celebrations) our 30th wedding anniversary. For your reading pleasure, on Valentine's Day weekend, here's the story of how it all began . . . 

The daughter of a lawyer and a nurse, raised in the affluent Maryland suburbs, Trish excelled in her studies without much effort, and loved to read, write stories, and watch old movies - especially cheesy musicals. She enjoyed participating in public speaking contests and the county youth orchestra. In other words, she was something of a nerd. Quiet, introverted, sedentary, and frankly privileged, she never held a real job until she'd graduated from college. She majored in Fine Arts, with an emphasis in Harp Performance - possibly not the most practical degree the university offered.

Allen, on the other hand, grew up in southeast Asia, the son of missionaries. He was not at all a natural student, but his hard work (which would be central to his personality all of his life) earned him the grades he needed to continue his education as he desired. His defining characteristics would be a gift for problem solving, great physical strength and endurance, and an amazing grasp of the common sense aspects of a wide variety of subjects. A natural entrepreneur, he earned the money to purchase his first car before he was old enough to drive. In his scarce and precious free time, he enjoyed bike racing, weight lifting, listening to cranked up rock music, and pulling annoying pranks on campus security with his crazy friends.

These two both opted to attend a conservative Christian university in Indiana. Although the school was relatively small, their completely different interests kept them apart until their junior year. The school had two dorms which were almost identical - Olson Hall, for girls and Wengatz, for guys. Allen lived in 3rd West Wengatz, and Trish in 3rd West Olson. On occasion, the matching wings would have joint activities. 

Wengatz Hall in the foreground, Olson Hall in the distance

In October of 1982, the two wings held a "Secret Sister" event. Each member of the Olson wing would draw the name of a person from the Wengatz wing, and then for a week each girl would secretly send that guy encouraging notes and small gifts, like candy bars, for instance. 

Trish drew Allen's name. Because she knew nothing about him, Trish asked her roommate if she knew him. The roommate replied that he was a red head, that he was really into biking, and that Trish wouldn't want to go out with him. With this enlightenment, Trish proceeded through the week, with the notes and gifts.

Meanwhile, Allen was thinking ahead to the upcoming weekend. A major event was in the works. Each year, 3rd West Wengatz held a pit roast. On the schedule for the following Saturday was the roasting of a steer in the pit, and Allen's date for the event had canceled. As a PA for the wing (most colleges called these RAs - basically he was in a leadership position for the guys in his wing) he would be heavily involved in running this event, and he certainly didn't want to attend without a date. He also made it a point, after any secret sister event, to do something nice for the girl, like take her out for ice cream. Allen decided that, if his secret sister wasn't someone he already didn't like, he'd invite her to the steer roast with him. Practical Allen - he could kill two birds with one stone! 

The Secret Sister week concluded with the girls from 3rd West Olson and the guys from 3rd West Wengatz meeting at the dining commons for dinner. At that time, each guy would find out who his secret sister had been. Trish dressed casually but carefully for the gathering, in nicely fitting jeans and a pretty sweater. Allen wore . . . wait for it . . . a pair of olive green mechanic's overalls which had previously belonged to his grandmother, and flip flops. In October. 

The dinner together was enjoyable. Fortunately for Allen, Trish wasn't one to judge a person on their outward appearance, and she found him to be pleasant company. She was intrigued by his international experiences, which seemed much more exciting than her life in the suburbs. Allen found Trish cute and sweet, plus she had done a nice job as his secret sister. He didn't already not like her, so as they finished dinner, he asked her out to the pit roast. Because his job required him to set things up for the event, he asked if she'd like to help with that as well, and Trish agreed.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A funny update to the recent prayer request

We're still without cell phone service around here. The village of La Campa, about 6 or 7 miles south of us, does have cell service. The city of Gracias, about 5 miles north of us, does not.

The other day, Russell dropped off workers at the big bridge project in Las Flores (which does have cell phone service) and then he came out here to pick up some tools and things. He was inside of our 20' metal shipping container, looking for tools, when his phone rang! It was a big surprise, as we haven't been able to send or receive any calls from our home since last week.

Russell answered the call, and as he was explaining something to one of the workers in Las Flores, he started to walk out of the container . . . and as he stepped outside, he lost the signal. He discovered that, if he stayed about 4 - 5 feet inside the container, he could send and receive calls, but outside . . . no signal at all!

The container happens to sit so that the door end faces pretty much directly south - toward the city of La Campa. We figure that the container is blocking the Gracias cell towers (which will NOT allow us to call) and focusing the phone toward the La Campa cell towers. Weird, huh?

So, last night, when Allen realized that he had left his very important phone and address book at the bridge project yesterday, and he needed to make a call about retrieving it . . . he headed out to the shipping container to place the call.

This all got me to thinking about how much my life seems to resemble poorly written fiction. LOL

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Prayer Request Update!

Here's an update on how you can be praying for us right now!

Since late last week, we have not had cell phone service in the city of Gracias and the surrounding area. This is part of a new anti-crime law, which has required the cell phone providers to block cellular service from all of the prisons in Honduras. As the new system is being put into place, there is no cell phone signal in our area. Occasionally texts go through, and down in Gracias people are able to connect to the internet with their phones.

This situation is expected to last approximately a week.

With the communications down, any travel becomes a bit more precarious than usual. Simple day-to-day things, like Russell needing us to bring a certain tool into town, or arranging for Ben to have a play date with a friend, are vastly more complicated. And important ministry-related phone calls which Allen needs to make, including arranging for the shipping of the upcoming container, are not happening right now. We're making do with Facebook messages and emails . . . and tomorrow I believe Allen is planning a trip outside of our no-service area, to make some calls!

Please do pray for us, as this complication has the potential to add new dangers to our lives, as well as being a real nuisance!

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Tale of Two Bridges

Building the huge bridge in Las Flores in conjunction with the Honduran government has certainly had its up and downs. 

Although we provide the engineering, management, supervision, and much of the equipment (scaffolding, tools, forms for pouring cement, etc) for the project, the government provides funding for materials (cement and rebar), labor costs, and the costs related to the use of large equipment like bulldozers and the cranes that raised the beams. A small crew of paid workers sets up the forms for each concrete pour, then the local communities provide volunteer labor for the day when that pour takes place, then the paid crew tears down the forms and sets up for the next pour. In this way, the entire cost of the bridge is significantly less than normal - like about 1/8th of the price - and a large part of that savings is that no bribes or "kickbacks" are being paid!

The local government, however, doesn't have a lot of money, and they've occasionally fallen behind on paying for the construction costs. There have been several times when we have had to halt work on the bridge, until the payments could be caught up again. 

The bridge is now very close to completion. The deck is poured all the way across the river, but the third of the three deck sections still needs safety walls at the sides. The dirt access ramps on either side of the river need to be bulldozed into place, and the old bridge must be torn down. And that's it. About six weeks of work, and this bridge will be done

Unfortunately, right at this point, so close to completion . . . the flow of funds stopped, and so construction stalled out again. Frustrating for everyone, but life in a third world country involves this kind of frustration on a frequent basis. 

With no bridge work to do, the menfolk have been working on another project that is near and dear to my heart - the construction of our personal house. But this weekend, we received word of an incident that changed the situation . . .  one of the four cables holding up the existing bridge snapped! 

There are four cables running under the existing Las Flores bridge. The one to the far right snapped off where it goes into the concrete at the end.

Looking up at the underside of the bridge, you can see the three remaining cables, and the scored area on the wood where the fourth cable WAS, but is now missing. You can also see the hole where that cable used to go into the concrete structure.

The broken end of the cable. It broke right where it entered the concrete, and then the weight of the bridge pulled the cable away from the end of the bridge. Notice how the end of the cable has been wired to a board, so that it doesn't get pulled any farther. This is keeping the whole bridge from tilting sideways!

Because it wasn't being held in place anymore, the cable pulled up between the boards in the places where the stringers connected to it. This allowed the bridge to sag badly at these points.

These "humps" of cable shouldn't be there . . . that's the cable that should be strung tightly across, holding up the bridge.

Looking down from the new bridge, you can sort of see how badly the old bridge is now slanting to one side. And really? This bridge wasn't exactly the safest you'd ever seen, before this cable broke!

With this cable broken, only pedestrians and motorcyclists are using the existing bridge. There is a ford nearby, but generally only larger vehicles use it. The little local taxis are too big for the bridge and too small for the ford, so those cannot be used at all now, by the communities on the far side of the bridge.

Yesterday we received a call from the municipal government in Las Flores, telling us that they had found the money to pay to get the construction work on the new bridge up and running again. We had been expecting the call . . . we knew they'd have to come up with the money for the work, now that the situation had become rather urgent! 

So, Monday morning, our crew will be back in Las Flores, finishing the new bridge there! It will be wonderful to have it done - both for us, and for the people who will be able to cross it!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Tale of Two Sisters

Six of Ginger's puppies

Ginger and Nutmeg are full sisters from different litters. They are lab mixes, but they both have the shape and coloring of chocolate labs. We didn't intend to breed them this year, but with life in such an uproar this fall, we weren't as in control of this situation as we might normally have been.

We recognized in November that Ginger was pregnant. We weren't as certain about Nutmeg - she showed some indications of pregnancy, but she didn't get fat enough in the belly for us to be sure.

Ginger gave birth to a dozen puppies in mid December. One died the first night, while she was still birthing. The rest did splendidly, and Ginger proved to be a competent, gentle, and easy-going mother.

A few days after Ginger gave birth, Nutmeg showed signs of being in labor. She staked out a spot for her nest, and she began to discharge fluids. We didn't like her chosen birthing spot - right up against my brand new couches in the living room - so we moved her into a bedroom. She wasn't delighted with the new location, so we had to close off the doorway to keep her in there. Eventually she settled down, and was moaning in labor.

We waited and waited . . . but there were no arrivals! Nutmeg didn't seem to be in distress, her labor pains gradually eased, she was eating and drinking, wagging her tail at us and moving about normally - but she was still emitting a small but steady flow of blood, and there were still no puppies!

After about three days, we figured there really weren't going to be any puppies coming from Nutmeg. Poor girl, though, she had LOTS of milk, and she kept going into the room where Ginger had her litter, and staring at those puppies longingly.

On Christmas Eve, when the first batch of pups were just under a week old, I decided to try an experiment. I wanted to see if Nutmeg would accept a few of Ginger's puppies. Ginger had her paws full with eleven, and having Nutmeg nurse some of the pups would ease her workload, as well as possibly making life nicer for poor, puppyless Nutmeg. 

Nutmeg had no idea what to do with the babies we put into her bed. Eventually, we gently forced her to lie down, and we put the three puppies up to her nipples. Nutmeg may have been confused, but the puppies were NOT! They began nursing eagerly, obviously thrilled with the lack of competition and abundance of milk at this new eating location! Nutmeg remained perfectly still; she was apparently terrified to move! All that day she refused to get up unless we first removed the puppies from her side. Only then would she leave her bed to drink, eat, and have a short run in the yard. As soon as those needs were taken care of, she would be back, staring again at Ginger's litter. Then we'd return the three puppies to her, and she'd nurse them some more.

Nutmeg, lying perfectly still, with her first three, well-fed puppies

That evening, we still weren't certain that this experiment was going to be a complete success. Although she was allowing the puppies to nurse, Nutmeg seemed to have no idea how to care for them. She hadn't licked them at all - she was apparently still paralyzed with fear. We had tried putting the puppies into her nest while she was out for a break. When she came into the room and saw them, she looked at them longing, but wouldn't lie down with them. She seemed to be afraid of them, or possibly concerned about potentially hurting them.

At the end of the day, we decided to put the puppies back with Ginger, since we wouldn't be able to monitor the situation during the night. With the next day being Christmas, we didn't move the puppies over to Nutmeg all of that day. 

The morning after Christmas, however, Nutmeg was lying as close as she could get to Ginger and her litter of pups. She clearly wanted another chance at motherhood, so we brought the same three pups to her nest again. Gradually, Nutmeg's mothering instincts kicked in, and she relaxed and started to manage the puppies in a natural way. Later that day we moved another puppy to Nutmeg's group, and then one more after that. Success! We now had two happy mothers caring for separate litters. It was a good situation for Nutmeg, Ginger, AND the puppies!

A full belly = a happy, contented puppy

The puppies are now over a month old. Nutmeg is healthy and happy with her five adopted puppies, and Ginger with the remaining six. The sisters show no sign of recognizing that anything odd has happened here. Neither dog bothers the other mother's litter, and everyone seems perfectly content with the results of our experiment!