Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Finding an Alzheimer's Home for Father-in-law

My wife, The M, is still in Houston. She and her sister have been trying to find a place for their father. They have learned to ask the following questions right off the bat:
1) is there an immediate opening?
2) are they equipped to handle belligerent patients?
3) do they allow smoking?

They found a facility today that The M likes, but there isn't an opening yet. She said it was much more peaceful and home-like than their second choice, and less than half the cost. The range of costs for these facilities surprises me. They are seeing prices in the range of $4000-9500 per month. I'm not sure how much, if any, medicare will cover.

She told me tonight on the phone that being there with him is "insane". She goes from having tender moments of connection with her father, to screaming in the car to vent frustration, to laughing with her sister about some idiosyncrasy of his, to sobbing into her pillow. She says this is the most difficult thing she has ever endured. And that's saying something.

Like Tow-Mater, without the Tow

D smashed his foot at church Sunday. We hoped it would be better Monday morning, but he was still limping severely, so we took him to see the Doc. He got an x-ray, but it wasn't broken.

Now, only read this part if you aren't squeamish. When he landed, it pressed down on the tip of his toenail, and leveraged the nail bed out of the skin at the base of his nail. I get the heebee jeebees just writing it down. Sheesh.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


The M is in Houston. Her father's mind is unravelling with Alzheimer's. It is emotionally difficult for her. He thinks he can stay in his house, but this is impossible. He no longer has any concept of time and calls people in the middle of the night. He takes a week's worth of medicine in one day. He can no longer take care of his own basic needs. He has become a child again.

Just as a child doesn't always want what's best for him, neither does he. So not only has The M experienced a role-reversal, becoming the parent, but now she must force him to do something he doesn't want to. All her siblings are coming to Houston to do this together this weekend. I am concerned for her. Last night she cried over the phone with me. She cried as hard as I have ever heard her cry. My ability to comfort her in this is so minimal in this situation.

She and her sister visited Alzheimer's care facilities yesterday. She said they were terribly depressing. So far, none of the ones they have seen in Houston is as nice as the one we have here in town, and they are more expensive. But all his doctors are in Houston, so they are looking there as a first choice.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Wind Turbine Project Part 7

Saturday the boys and I spent about five hours at the World Hunger Relief farm on the foundation and anchors for the wind turbine. David, Brittany, and Ryan met us and we made great progress. Here we are driving one of the anchors into the ground with a sledgehammer.

Here you see the tail end of one of the guy wire anchors after driving it into the ground. The anchor is about four feet underground now.

Fortunately we had a very long water hose for mixing the concrete. Ryan is the brown dot at about 2 o'clock. There is a spigot out in the field for watering the farm's produce.

The boys worked very hard tearing open sacks of concrete and mixing it with the water. Jono worked especially hard with his little shovel, and stirred every single bag.

The network of rebar that will hold the tower base.

The four threaded rods will protrude out of the concrete and will form a mount for the base plate. The wood will be removed after the concrete sets.
Here you see the concrete just poured and covering the rebar.

Jono, David, and I at the end of the day: 1120 pounds of wet concrete, lots of sweat and a little sunburn. Good times.

This is the base of our tilt-up tower. One boss will hold the tower, one will hold the gin pole. The base plate will sit on the four threaded bolts you saw set into the concrete (after we remove the wood).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Now That I Have Seen



I am sitting still
I think of Angelique
her mothers voice over me
and the bullets in the wall where it fell silent

and on a thousandth hill,
I think of Albertine
there in her eyes what I don't see
with my own

now that I have seen,
I am responsible
faith without deeds is dead
now that I have held you in my own arms,
I cannot let go till you are

I am on a plane
across a distant sea
but I carry you in me
and the dust on, the dust on, the dust on (lots of dust) my feet

I will tell the world,
I will tell them where I've been
I will keep my word
I will tell them Albertine

I am on a stage,
a thousand eyes on me
I will tell them, Albertine
I will tell them, Albertine

Friday, April 25, 2008

Fun With New Camera

The other day our Lifegroup from church met at the park for some fun. The kids played on the merry-go-round and I played with the new camera. I found out how to force it to use a slow shutter speed to make interesting effects. Here I used a 1/10 shutter speed to catch the blur.

I took this one while on the spinning merry-go-round with the kids. You can see the background blurring. I'm pretty proud of this shot.

Let's have a vote. Which one is your favorite picture? Please comment, my vanity needs a booster.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More Stormy Weather

Again I find myself the only one awake at the Orangehouse. And it is after 11 p.m.. And it is raining hard. Look at the weather radar now. There are PURPLE cells out east of Waco, not just red. Yahoo!

Wind Turbine Project Part 6

Spencer is our computer expert. He maintains the computers (diligently) at a local ministry called Compassion Ministries. They provide help to families that are homeless or near homeless.
Jonathan is designing the tower foundation.

Greg carves the blades by hand, leaving a layer of sawdust for his sandal shod feet.

AJ is just standing there looking good.

Melanie makes the tail fin with the EM logo (for Engineers with a Mission).

Melanie sands.
David, Brittany, and Jonathan with their steel Tinker-Toy parts for the tower.

Wind Turbine Project Part 5

This is called the "stator". It's part of the alternator. It stays still so it's called the stator. Next to it we will place the "rotor" which, you guessed it, rotates. The rotor will contain very strong permanent magnets which, when moved passed the coils of copper wire shown here, will induce an electric current to flow in the coils. These currents are collected by the red wires and eventually brought to another device, the rectifier. More on that later.
These Tinker-Toy looking things are inserts that connect sections of our tower. Each end will be inserted into a steel pipe whose inner diameter is slightly larger than the outer diameter of these pipes. The guy wires will loop through the holes in the flanges.
Our machinist welded the flang plates to the pipes. The quality of the weld is much better than we could have done, though I wanted to try my hand at it. I have welded a little before, and it always comes out looking ugly. This is an anchor to secure the cables that guy the tower.

Painting of African Woman

A couple of months ago, The M found a beautiful painting on sale. It reminded us of our trips to Africa, so we bought it. What do you think?

New Camera

Our Honduras team purchased a digital camera with which to document our projects, record information regarding river flows, transmission line paths, etc.. I have been learning how to use it and taking all kinds of pics. So you can expect a new burst of posts with beautiful photos and little content. Ah... such is the life of a supermodel.

Here's my cats sleeping with stuffed animals.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Highlights from the Canoe Trip

A dozen scouts and half that many men journeyed a few hours to Colorado Bend State Park this weekend - it was, perhaps, the best scout camping I have ever experienced! The weather was great; lows in the 50's, clear skies, highs in the 80's. The scenery was beautiful and the food was delicious. We pitched our tents in a large open area just feet from the Colorado River. This is what we saw from our campsite.
Jono came with us since The M is out of town dealing with her father's Alzheimer's. Because Jono was too young, the two of us could not canoe. He and I spent the day together, just the two of us. We fished together, hiked together, and went to see Gorman Falls, a beautiful waterfall in the area. We waded in the cold water and laid on our backs in the shade. I could tell he was thriving on the personal attention because he kept telling me that he loved me. "Guess who I love" he said. "Who" I asked. "You" he says. He must have said this ten times that day, without any prompt.

Here is a photo of Gorman Falls.

At one point, Jono, D, and another boy were talking about their names. It was a serious conversation that went something like this:

R: "If I had to change my name, I would change it to Brad, because that's my middle name."
D: "If I had to change my name, I would change it to Austin, because that's my middle name."
Jono: "If I had to change my name, I would change it to F.H.. That stands for french horn."

That's my Jono. He marches to the beat of a different french horn.

Saturday morning D and the other scouts made breakfast of pancakes and charred bacon, then packed into a Suburban which pulled the canoe trailer. They drove out to the entry point, donned their "PFD's" (personal flotation devices) and began their river journey like Huckleberry Finn wearing SPF 30. One of the men used a GPS to measure their progress; their track went 16 miles before reaching our campsite! D says his arms are sore from paddling, and his butt is sore from the metal canoe seat, but I can tell he had a great experience.

The red arrows show the starting and stopping points of their trip. The bottom red arrow also shows our campsite.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Midnight Red Cells

It's after eleven p.m.. I am the only one awake at the Orangehouse. It has started to rain very hard. Flashes of lightning illuminate all my windows, previously dark. Cracks of thunder shake the entire house. (And yet the boys sleep on!) The shades are up and the windows are still open; I can smell the ozone in the air, and the moisture. The wind chime is clanging in the gusts like a worriesome old woman.

I love this weather. It excites me, especially in the middle of the night. This is what the weather radar for central Texas looks like right now:

Canoe Canoe?

Despite the unrest of The M leaving town, we are going camping this weekend. Canoe camping, in fact. The boy scouts have a canoe trip weekend once a year and this weekend is it. Since The M is out of town, I will have to bring Jono with us. Since he is not a registered Boy Scout (he is a cub scout in a different pack) he is not covered by the scout insurance. This has created some problems and I have only tonight received the final word that he may come.

Although Jono won't be able to get in the water, he and I will hang out at the camp site, do some fishing, go hiking, and perhaps read books while the older boys go out in the canoes on Saturday. I'm glad we got this worked out, but there is still a lot more to do before we can leave.

D has been assigned the role of "grubmaster". At first I thought this meant he played the flute and coaxed grub worms out of the dirt or something. But apparently it means he plans the meals and is responsible for purchasing the groceries for the other boys. So after school tomorrow, we're headed to HEB, chop chop. No bugs please.

Early Morning Flight

I put The M on a plane to Ohio this morning. Her flight left at 6:10 a.m. from Austin. That meant we were up at 2:45 a.m. to get her there an hour and a half early the way she likes it. I'm going to have a nap this morning as soon as I get the boys off to school.

The M is going to visit her sister and father. He has Alzheimer's and has been degenerating rapidly in the last few months. He went up to Ohio to visit her and have a medical procedure to drain excessive fluid off his brain. It didn't seem to help much.

He can't remember his children's names now, and that has The M rather upset. She feels as if her ability to relate to him has already passed. He still has periods of lucidity, however, so she's trying to get to see him before he looses even that.

We looked into a local Alzheimer's care unit near the Orangehouse. It looks very nice and might be just what he needs. It would likely be a big adjustment for us to have him in town, but perhaps it is what is best for him. We're thinking about it and praying for wisdom.

Sorry I haven't been writing much lately, but this issue combined with the tenure problems, and so on, has left little time to blog.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Schematics by a Seven-Year-Old Engineer

The other day Jono came to me with this drawing. It was a schematic of sorts. He showed me where the water comes in at the top and goes down the slide, "shwoom!" and how it is supported by a truss of steel poles. He said, "Can we build this for them when we go to Africa?"

He has obviously been listening to me and watching me as I work and it really touched me. I love that I am his hero. I will try not to ruin that.

And every night when I put them to bed, I ask the boys to thank God for one thing. I am trying to cultivate a general sense of gratitude by this habit. That night, in response to the praise he received for his drawing, his prayer was "Thank you that I drew my picture and that I have a good mind, Amen."


Wind Turbine Project Part 4

Last Saturday three members of the Engineers with a Mission PIT Crew went out to the World Hunger Relief farm where we intend to erect our wind turbine. Jonathan, Brittany, David and Cole put in some sweat equity. They dug a hole and poured over 1600 pounds of concrete to form the foundation of our wind turbine. Frankly, I am impressed and delighted at their progress. I am really quite proud of them. Here are some pics. Early on a Saturday morning, these committed students get to work (while I sleep late).

Kenya dig it?
Those crazy college kids!

Twenty-ish bags of cement at 80 pounds each!

And next week we can cap it off with another block of cement and a base plate to mount the tower. The tower will be about 42 feet tall and be made of spaghetti.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Family Tradition: Manly Fire

When I was a kid, we had a charcoal cooker in the backyard. On burger night, my dad would make a pile of briquettes in the cooker, douse it with lighter fluid, and light it with a match. But as it was getting going, he employed another tool; he would use a hairdryer like an electric bellows to accelerate the combustion process. Many times I saw him out on the back porch with mom's hairdryer, whipping the coals into a raging inferno. It works unbelievably well.

In my first years of marriage, The M thought I was nuts for using her hairdryer on the Old Smokey. Heck, I thought everyone did it! What do you mean your father never used a hairdryer on the hibachi? It must have taken forever to cook anything.
I remember having a cookout with another newlywed couple and showing them the family trick. Steve thought it was great! Elizabeth was not impressed. That reminds me of a necessary warning. Guys, if you get her hairdryer too close to the fire, the tip will start to melt. And also, the next time she uses it to dry her hair, she may have a pleasant smokey aroma. No kidding.

Just for this post, I went and took a picture of our hairdryer. Sorry the quality isn't the best. If you look at the rim, you can see the left side is bubbly and melty, while the right side is still smooth and relatively unmaligned.

Well anyhow, I have this tree stump in my backyard that I have been trying to get rid of. Today was the third day I tried to burn it out. As I sat there watching it smoulder, an ancient voice spoke to me out of the traditions of my forefathers. "Plug it in, Luke." Something like that.

At this point, it would be reasonable for you to think that I used a hairdryer to fan the flames. And you would be close. Instead I used a leaf blower, and MAN! was it cool! We could get the "coals" glowing a very bright color orange, as you can see. They boys helped me out and together we filled the backyard with smoke. It was indeed good.

Jono takes a turn.

D comes in from upper angle. Can you see the smoke in the air?

If you held the blower right on the coals, they would glow like... like... something really bright!

And lastly, here is some video that D shot with his camera. It's a bit shaky, but he was excited. You can clearly hear Jono say "Papo, can I do some?". D says "Oh gosh." when the smoke gets in his eyes. And oh yes, the fellow with the good lookin' legs in the knee-high rubber boots is yours truly.