Saturday, March 28, 2009

Growing Boys, Bigger Toys

Today I took down the boys' old swing set and hauled it to the municipal recycling center. They have outgrown it, and it was getting rusty and perhaps a little dangerous. Instead of disassembling it with hand tools, I cut it into pieces with my reciprocating saw and a metal-cutting blade. While such amateur destruction made me feel powerful in a rent-a-Rambo kind of way, it also made me a little sad. It symbolized the fact that my little boys are growing into tweens and teenagers. This experience is like a slice of loss with a scoop of pride on top: I will no longer have little children, but I am growing fine men.

I am also starting to build the long-promised treehouse in the backyard. Ryan is helping (read: doing most of it) including cutting down dead branches, designing the zip line "emergency exit" and pricing the lumber. We hope to have the floor up in a few weeks.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mari the Marigold's Long Dark Night of the Soul

Mari is a marigold that lives in a beautiful garden. She is a happy flower. She has many friends. Life is good in the garden, but not without some hard times too. There is a kind and gentle Gardener that tends the garden. He wears big rubber boots and overalls. Many times, the Gardener comes with a water hose which he uses to carefully water the flowers that live there.

One hot summer day Mari said “When is the Gardener coming back? I am ready for some water. My mouth is dry and my leaves are gettin’ wilty. I feel like a Cesar Salad left in the back seat of somebody’s car!” she said. She tried to keep a sense of humor about these things, at least at first.

Her friend Sunnie the sunflower looked at her in surprise.

“Why the Gardener came by with his water hose just this morning. Didn’t you see him?”

“What? Why didn’t I get any water?” Mari said, shocked.

“Well I don’t know why you didn’t” said Sunnie, “maybe he is angry with you and didn’t want to give you any water.”

“Angry?” thought Mari. That didn’t sound like the Gardener she knew.

Mari decided to trust that the Gardener was not angry with her. “He’ll come by with the water hose soon” she reassured herself.

The next day was even hotter. She spoke to her friend Daisy about it.

“When is the Gardener coming back? I am ready for some water. My mouth is dry and my leaves are gettin’ wilty” Mari said, forcing a smile.

Her friend Daisy looked at her confused.

“Why, the Gardener came by just this morning, didn’t you see him?”

“No” said Mari, discouraged and frustrated, “I didn’t.”

“Well I don’t know why you didn’t” said Daisy, “maybe he forgot about you.”

“Forgot about me?” thought Mari. That didn’t sound like the Gardener she knew.

Mari decided to trust that the Gardener had not forgotten her. “He’ll come by with the water hose soon” she reassured herself.

And the next day was even hotter. She spoke to her friend Cathy the cactus.

“When is the Gardener coming back? I am dying of thirst!” Mari said, in desperation.

Cathy the cactus had a lot of baggage of her own still to work through and she spoke out of her bitter root. “He tried to give me water this morning, but I held him back with my long cactus pricklies on account of my intimacy issues.”

“I didn’t see him or his water hose.” Mari said, as she began to loose hope.

“Well I don’t know why you didn’t” said Daisy, “He must not love you anymore” she said matter-of-factly.

“Doesn’t love me anymore?” thought Mari. That didn’t sound like the Gardener she knew. But she couldn’t explain why she hadn’t seen him or why he hadn’t come by with his water hose. He knew she needed it! Where was he?

Mari decided to trust that the Gardener had not stopped loving her. “He’ll come by with the water hose soon” she reassured herself. But it was getting really hard.

That night Mari woke up to the exciting sound of rolling thunder. As lightning lit up the sky, she saw a sight that made her heart leap! The Gardener! He was standing right beside her just smiling a reassuring smile. It began to rain on both of them. The cool rain! It soaked into her roots, it washed the dust from her leaves, and it dripped from the long thick beard of the Gardener as he stood over her and began to laugh! They laughed together and then he spoke.

“Mari, you know I was not angry with you. You know I had not forgotten you. And you know that nothing in this world could make me stop loving you!”

Just then, Mari noticed that the rain was not falling on the other flowers in the garden. It was only falling on the two of them! This rain was just for her.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sunnie's Choice

Mari is a marigold that lives in a beautiful garden. She is a happy flower. She has many friends. Life is good in the garden, but not without some hard times too.

There is a kind and gentle Gardener that tends the garden. He wears big rubber boots and overalls. The Gardener has a thick, black beard and sometimes tucks pencils into it. From time to time he takes out a notebook, and scribbles something into it with his pencils. This makes Mari laugh.

One of Mari’s best friends is Sunnie the sunflower. Sunnie is tall and has a big bright face full of sunflower seeds. Mari and Sunnie are best friends, and they love to talk about the weather, or about video games, or best of all, about the kind and gentle Gardener.

One day when Mari and Sunnie were talking, the biggest, blackest, noisiest crow that the flowers had ever seen flew in and alighted right on Sunnie’s face! Her head swayed back and forth a little from the weight of him. He let out a terrible noise, “CA-CAW!” and every flower in the garden looked to see what the trouble was.

What they saw was alarming. The big crow peck-peck-pecked a sunflower seed right off of Sunnie’s face and then flew away with it in its beak!

“Ouch!” Sunnie yelped.

“Oh my!” said Mari.

“Did you see that?” Sunnie said with fear and anger in her voice. “That crow he… why, I can’t believe… I know he didn’t!!” Sunnie was beside herself with anger.

Mari felt bad for her friend. She listened to Sunnie fuss about it for the rest of the day as she tried to be supportive.

“Yes, I know it.” Mari would say, and “No, I can’t believe it either.”

Mari looked across the garden and saw something that surprised her. The crow was sitting on the Gardener’s shoulder and they were walking in their direction. The Gardener was talking and scribbling some notes in his little notebook.

As they came near, the Gardener said “Sunnie, Mr. Crow has something he wants to ask you.”

Then Mr. Crow spoke up softly, “Sunnie, it was (caw) wrong of me to take your seeds (caw) without permission. Would you please (caw) forgive me?”

Just then the Gardener tore off a sheet of paper from his little notebook and put it into his mouth. Everyone looked at him as if to expect an explanation, but he just chewed it and smiled broadly with his lips closed.

Mari tried not to laugh.

“No I won’t forgive you” Sunnie said sharply. “It still hurts where you pecked me!”

The gardener swallowed the paper and spoke to Sunnie.

“You know Sunnie, you can forgive someone even if you are still stinging from what they did to you. Forgiveness is a choice. It’s not just ‘feeling’ better about what happened, it’s choosing to let the other person off the hook anyway, even if it still hurts.”

They all sat in silence for a minute while Sunnie thought about it.

“OK, I will forgive you” Sunnie said.

“Thanks” the crow said, and he flew off.

The Gardener asked her how she felt now.

“Well” she said, “I am still sore from yesterday, but somehow, my heart feels better now.”

The Gardener laughed his gentle laugh and tucked the pencil back into his beard as he walked on.

“Good, Sunnie. That’s good.” And as he did, he ate another piece of paper.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mari and the Pruning Shears

Mari is a marigold that lives in a beautiful garden. She is a happy flower. She has many friends. Life is good in the garden, but not without some hard times too.

One of the best parts of the garden is in the morning when the kind and gentle Gardener comes by. He wears big rubber boots and overalls. Sometimes he carries thick work gloves tucked into one back pocket and a pair of pruning shears in the other. Mari doesn’t like to look at the shears. Many times, the Gardener comes with a water hose which he uses to carefully water the flowers that live there. As he moves around the garden, he talks to the flowers.

“Hello Mari. You look happy today. Here’s some cool water for your roots. And let’s see how you’re doing under these leaves.”

He lifts up Mari’s leaves and bends down to take a look. Mari is a little afraid, because she knows that under her leaves there is place that is not pretty.

“Oh my little Mari, you have a broken place. I’m so sorry that has happened to you. I’m sure that hurt you badly. My sweet little Mari. It seems that some bugs have gotten into the broken place and made it worse. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it. My sweet little Mari.”

Mari wasn’t sure, but it seemed that the Gardener had tears in his eyes.

He first cleared out some of the rocks that were on the ground around her. His hands were gentle and he hummed a bit as he picked some twigs out of her leaves. She was happy to see them go and it made her feel cleaner right away. She was relieved that he didn’t fuss at her for being broken; she loved having his approval.

But then the gardener reached into his back pocket and pulled out the shears. Mari was suddenly quite afraid! He had never used the shears on her before! Not the shears! Not the shears!

Mari felt the sharp pain as he cut the broken and buggy part away. It really hurt! She was suddenly angry with the Gardener! Why did he do that? That wasn’t making her better, it was making her hurt! She felt a little betrayed by the Gardener; he had always been so nice before. She wanted to say “Leave me alone!” but as she looked at him, his eyes were so full of kindness and love, that she stopped. Her heart melted. And she just cried a little.

The Gardener pulled the broken part away and threw it in a bucket. He gave her a little more water. Then he spoke to her gently.

“OK girl, I know that hurt. But it’s going to be better now. Now that we’ve removed that broken, buggy part, you will be sprouting new buds in no time. I can’t wait to see how lovely you will be.”

And he was right. Soon Mari was putting out new leaves and buds and was growing like a weed, only she was a flower. The gardener still came by every day, but Mari didn’t fear him or his shears anymore. She knew that even if he did have to trim a part of her from time to time, he did it because he loved her. Even if it hurt, it was for her best. She had learned to trust him.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mari and the Rosies

Mari is a marigold that lives in a beautiful garden. She is a happy flower. She has many friends. Life is good in the garden, but not without some hard times too. There is a kind and gentle Gardener that tends the garden. He wears big rubber boots and overalls. Many times, the Gardener comes with a water hose which he uses to carefully water the flowers that live there.

The garden has lots of different kinds of flowers; some are tall, some are short, and some have thorns. Near the center of the garden there are several rose bushes, and each one has dozens of blooms. One day, the blooms were talking. They were talking loudly, and Mari couldn’t help but overhear them.

“Rosie, aren’t you, like, totally excited?”

“Like, should I be, Rosie?”

“Rosie! Don’t you realize it’s February now? And you totally know what that means! Valentine’s Day!”

Mari never understood why all the roses had the same name.

“Valentine’s Day is like, the best day of the whole year! All the people are like, totally in love and stuff, and do you know their favorite way to say ‘I love you’?”

“Yeah! It’s by giving roses! Rosie, you’re right, I totally love Valentine’s Day!”

“Yeah, I’m sooo glad I’m not some other kind of flower!”

“Yeah, like a freaky tall Sunflower!”

“Yeah, or like a plain old Daisy!”

“Yeah, or like a dumpy little Marigold!”

They laughed hard and loud, a little too loud, and then they sent text messages to each other that said “BFF”.

Mari was hurt. Dumpy? She never thought of herself as dumpy before. That means short and squatty. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed true. She was dumpy. She wasn’t pretty like the Rosies. They were long and slender and beautiful. She was more like shrubbery, really. She wished she were a rose, instead of a marigold.

About that time the Gardener was making his rounds with the water hose. When he got to Mari, he stopped to look at her and could see that she was sad.

“Oh Mari, I can see that you’ve been listening to the Rosies. I heard what they said, and I know it hurt you. Let me tell you the truth, though, Mari. If I wanted a rose in this part of the garden, then I would have planted one. But I wanted a beautiful marigold instead. You see, when I made this garden, I could tell that the most perfect flower for right here was a marigold. And I don’t make mistakes! I love your bright orange blooms, and most of all your delicious scent. I made you just the way I wanted to, and I planted you in just the right spot.”

As always, the Gardener’s words brought peace to her troubled heart. Why was she so foolish to listen to the Rosies? Next time she would remember who she was; she was important not because of what she was, or how she looked, or even how she smelled, but because of Who made her!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Discovery Channel Blog Planet Green Interviews Us

We were recently interviewed about our new company, Village Energy Inc., by the blog Planet Green, owned by Discovery Communications (Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, etc.). Here's the story.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Practice is a Hit

Jono could not wait to get to baseball practice today. He slept with his glove and new balls last night, and it was on his mind as soon as he woke up.

Coach Jeff led them in warm up exercises and running the bases; you know, baseball practice stuff.

Despite his high expectations, Jonathan was not disappointed. He loved the throwing and catching and running, and of course, his favorite part was batting.
They chose a name for the team: The Electric Eels. It's... unique!

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Rite of Passage for the American Male

Tomorrow Jono starts his first season of coach-pitch baseball. He is giddy with excitement! The M and I bought him a glove and a couple of balls at Academy. He was so happy about his glove that he didn't want to take it off to let the checkout guy scan it.

Immediately after we got home we were into the backyard throwing balls back and forth, grass staining the new white balls, smelling the new leather. My palm stings from catching without a glove. I taught him to hold his glove this way, not that way, and what the difference was between a pop fly and a grounder. Throwing and catching, sort of. Skill level aside, something real happened out there this evening. Something American. Something cosmic.

When it got too dark to see, we came inside and drew a picture of a baseball diamond. This is the infield, that is the outfield. Run to first base first, three strikes you're out, what's a foul ball anyway? - that kind of talk. Tomorrow at noon is his first practice. I am excited and apprehensive for him.

But why should I be apprehensive? I have felt this way before. Whenever my boys do something new, something public, something potentially awkward or humiliating, I experience the pre-cringe of my own imagination. Perhaps it is my own sports insecurity, some deeply buried childhood memory of sand-lot football gone awry, or having my fly down at the junior high dance. Perhaps, more selfishly, I fear the other fathers thinking I am a lame dad because my son didn't know which base was first. Worse yet (or is it?) what if they think I don't know which base is first.

I say forget them, those judgemental, critical other-fathers that I don't know but only imagine. I know something real when I see it. When I smell it. I was there. It was cosmic.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Visit To Danta Uno

While in Honduras last week I went by to check on our hydro electric business at the rural village of Danta Uno. I knew there had been some problems; some were natural, some were business related.

A lightning strike blew out our electronics in the fall, but Sergio managed to replace the circuit boards in the inverter and get the system working again. He has a lot of talent. Also, there was a large flood in December that destroyed the PVC pipes that bring the water (63 liters per second) to our generator. This had not been repaired, and I was a little disappointed about it. I had wired the money to make these repairs a few months ago.

Waldina was pregnant last summer, and now she and Adolfo have a little girl whose name is so difficult that my fingers cramped just typing it.

In the power house was the biggest scorpion I have ever seen in my life. The marks on the stick are in inches! Sergio killed it with a screwdriver. That's why we pay him the big bucks. The first thing I'm going to do when we get back is fumagate the power house. Who knows what else is living in there.

This photo shows one of our Madreado tree/power poles. It's sprouting.

Here is some of the flood damage. We can rebuild him. We have the technology.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Limping Lempiras

While in Honduras last week I got a glimpse of the deteriorating financial situation there. Since I have no formal training in economics (except that one class at the community college) I will give you my observations with a boldness normally seen only in criminals and idiots.

In January President Manuel Zelaya raised the minimum wage in one big jump from $157 to $289 per month. That's an increase of nearly 60%. If you're earning the minimum wage in Honduras, it's good news for you unless, of course, you get laid off because your employer can no longer afford to pay you!! And that is exactly what has happened.

I discussed the state of the Honduras economy with my favorite Honduran taxi driver / electrician, Sergio. The Surg, as I like to call him, has had it rough in the last few months. Since more and more people are loosing their jobs, fewer people are taking the taxis to get around. So there is a taxi glut. The city has stopped issuing new taxi permits. Surg's revenues dropped in half from December to January. Drivers are competing for fares and driving longer hours and more dangerous routes to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, Surg has been robbed by gang members in his taxi three times since Christmas. Two times were at gun point. They took his cash and cell phone. Because of this he no longer drives after 7:00 PM. When we return in May, we are going to stay at a new hotel outside the city which should be safer. It's more expensive, however, so we'll have to double up in the beds to stay on budget. Oh well, at least it's on the beach.

(Surg, Blaine, and I looked for a new hotel. This one in Jutiapa was the closest to our villages, but it was just too run down. Their was no hot water, and it was expensive for the quality, but the worst part was the night club on the third floor. The music would likely keep us awake every Friday and Saturday night. No gracias.)

The economic stress also means fewer people are depositing cash into bank accounts, so lenders have to charge higher interest rates to make money. We spoke to a bank about the process of obtaining commercial loans for our capital expenses, and we were told the interest rates are between 18-24%! ¿Exc├║seme? I couldn't believe it! You might as well put it on a credit card! And to get this lousy loan you need land or a building to serve as collateral. So our plan of borrowing and using the equipment (generators, for example) as collateral is now dead in the water.

I came home from my trip somewhat deflated and defeated from this news. But there was some good news too. More on that in my next post.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On the Ground in Honduras Again

The smell of the air as I stepped off the plane in San Pedro Sula stirred up all kinds of good memories of Honduras. I am growing to love this place. Blaine and I drove from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba this afternoon. It was three hours of passing through palm plantations, and passing (around) palm plantation trucks creeping slowly, and often liltingly, down the road. It's good to be back.

We had a brief meeting with Sergio today. He is having a troubled year, bless his heart. He was able to repair the lightning damage to the electronics by replacing some of the circuit boards (he's handy like that). Now when they power up the diesel generator, it charges the battery banks with any surplus power generated. This allows them to run it for an hour on pure battery power, and then recharge for three hours with the generator while supplying power to the village. This is good for the battery health, and keeps diesel costs down. And it was all Sergio's idea. We have got to find a way to hire him as soon as we can. All we need is moola.

The flood-related damages have not been repaired however. That's OK, I think we are going to work on them in May when we return.

Also, we haven't paid our employees in two and a half months, so at least one of them is getting a little angry. So tomorrow we are going to pay them back pay, and pay them for two and a half months in advance - all the way through May. I hope this will give them patience with us. We're going to give some gifts too.

Blaine McCormic, my traveling companion, has been great. He is the former Associate Dean of the Business School at Baylor - such is the quality of the people God has blessed me to work with. He and I have been dialoging and "Blainestorming" about various high-level business decisions, like what should our vision statement and mission statements be like? He has also had some good ideas about fundraising and the complex questions regarding ownership of the franchises.

Do you smell the excitement in my post? I hope it comes through. More news as it develops...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Packing for Honduras

Tomorrow morning I will leave the house at 5:30 AM to head towards Honduras. I will be there by lunch, if all goes as planned. A new colleague is travelling with me. His name is Blaine and he is a business professor at my university. This is his first time to Honduras, but he plans to return with me in May with 10 engineering students. I am looking forward to travelling with him. He's funny and insightful.

I am packing the day before. As usual, I feel overwhelmed and out of control. With each trip, I spend less time planning ahead. So it always feels like I haven't done enough. I am reminded that doing this type of work often involves an emotional struggle. This time I don't even have a hotel reservation. I don't think this is a problem, however, because I know several hotels in the area. But still, it is an unknown floating around in my brain. I am reminded of a line from a Caedmon's Call song, "I"m just a hammer helping to nail the future down."

Top Ten Things I Want From This Trip:
1) Get Blaine acclamated and provide him an opportunity to practice driving on "la via loca" - the crazy road. I just came up with that.
2) Find a new hotel in Jutiapa. I have always stayed in a different city, La Ceiba, but this time we want to be closer to the village.
3) Check on repairs to Danta Uno system.
4) Make payroll for employees at Danta Uno system.
5) Measure the flow of a big river near Pueblo Nuevo. This would be used for a system upgrade this summer.
6) Check the business/accounting of the Danta Uno system (Blaine).
7) Speak with engineers about applicable codes/laws.
8) Get pricing and availability information from electrical equipment supplier.
9) Come back alive.
10) Not throw up.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

David's First Swim Meet

David has been swimming with a swim team since September. They practice at the YMCA at least three nights a week, and have meets at distant locations every couple of months. Our busy schedule has resulted in us having one conflict after another, and he has never been able to go to a meet, until today.

The meet was in Plano, Texas, which is north of Dallas and about a two hour drive. Jono was sick, so I stayed home with him while The M drove him to the meet.

His teammates and coaches said they had never seen him swim as well as he did today. In his best race, the 200 meter breast stroke, he won the medal for third place out of 90+ boys his age!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Henry Eats Some Paper

I amz Henry. I maked a muvee. I nos bout YouTube. Fat man no blog, buts I du.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Sober Thought

I saw a sad thing today. It was a display meant to discourage reckless and intoxicated driving on the part of college students during their upcoming spring break. Here is a photo I took with my phone.