Friday, December 28, 2007

Axis and Allies Gamenight #1

This is the first of a series of entries that have virtually no value to anyone other than myself. I and a small group of men play a board game titled Axis and Allies. Each night we meet for dinner, then play until after midnight. It's effectively a man's answer to Creative Memories Crop Nights. I've played in these game nights for nearly five years. The original crew that invited me included Kraig Smith, Brent York, Matt Cook, and Scott Stringer. They've all moved away, I'm left holding the torch (which is now about the size of a match stick).

This first game night of the 2007-2008 season (these are almost always played over the wintertime) occurred tonight. Most players were busy/out of town due to the holiday season. Allen Acker backed out due to a sinus infection. In the end two played, Rob VanFosson and myself. Here's the game summary:

Host: Darden

The Players:
Darden: USA, UK, Russia **WINNNER**
VanFosson: Germany, Japan

Special Rules:
Salvage (Russia), U-Boat Interdiction (Germany), Enigma (UK), Banzai (Japan), Superfortresses (USA)

Round One Summary:
Russia: Bought mix of infantry and artillery, typical first move, nothing special.
Germany: Rolled two dice for weapons development, winning Jet Fighters. Bought 1 U-boat, 2 Fighters, and tanks. Typical counter-attack to Russia. Took out UK's Mediterranean battleship.
UK: Bought Indian factory, consolidated African tank and Mediterranean Destroyer to India. Forgot to move transport/sub around Australia.
Japan: Did not buy Asian factory. Rolled two dice in attempted weapons development (long range bombers) but failed. Took Pearl. Moved southern fleet against UK's Indian fleet and lost. Japan failed to hold serve.
USA: Bought two bombers and an aircraft carrier. Lept for West Africa due to Germany's land move east, thereby bottling up German battleship in the Med. Otherwise laid low.

Middle Rounds Summary:
Russia: Typical game exchanging blows with Germany. Slowly gained upper hand because Germany's penchant for Jet Fighters failed to replenish ground troops.
Germany: Bought one U-Boat and 1-2 Jet Fighters for first three rounds due to special rules. Slowly lost momentum in ground war against Russia. Lost tank in Africa, failed to dominate the continent.
UK: Cranked tanks into Asia, taking upper hand due to Japan's lack of production capacity on the mainland. Got luck rolls and had two Australian troops island hop from East Indies to Borneo to the Philippines, thereby strangling Japan's IPC's while gaining at one time a 56 IPC production count. Used growing production capacity to build transports, moved first to Norway (Germany left it open), then to Karelia, then to Eastern Europe, then to Western Europe. Germany was left counter-attacking the UK. UK shifted focus from Asia to Europe after Round Three in attempt to deliver knock-out blow to Germany. This starved India (1-2 tanks per round). Late in game Japan began moving troops to Asian mainland using up to four transports, thereby threatening India. Because Germany was weakened, Russia switched to tank production in Rounds 4-5 and helped recover India via counter-attack.
Japan: Eliminated initial US fleets, but failed to remove UK fleet from Indian Ocean until Round Three. Was starved of IPC's due to losses of south pacific islands to UK. Failed to fight for Asian mainland until late.
USA: Bought two bombers per round every round. Moved them all to UK for strategic raids against Germany. Slowly began strangling Germany's production. Never wiped out Japanese fleet, and never significantly pressed Japan. This would have been regrettable if the Allies' concerted effort to focus on Germany failed.

It Was Over When... Japan failed to buy an Asian factory and missed on weapons development. This opened the door for the Allies to focus on Germany.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cream of Crab Soup

Got this recipe from Richie Stevens, brother-in-law of our former neighbor Amanda Adams. Good stuff!

1lb backfin crab meat
1/2 stick butter
1 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup flour
4 cups milk
1 cup half and half

Melt butter in pan. Blend in flour and stir. Stir in broth and simmer 2 minutes. Add milk and half and half, stirring constantly until thickened (DO NOT BOIL). Add crab meat and salt and pepper to taste. We also add old bay seasoning to taste as well. It takes a while to get it thickened but once it gets hot enough without boiling it will thicken.

Blue Ribbon Googled-Last-Night Red Bean Chili

This October our church celebrated it's 25th anniversary with a huge fall picnic. The Men's Ministry held a chili cook-off challenge. Over 20 men across the church were talking it up. Some pulled their family's secret recipe out of retirement. One commented on how he had been soaking (Barb calls it marinating) his beef for two days to get the right zing. I had decided to cook a pot to help feed the masses (a male's version of a pot luck dinner). I enjoy chili, but my couple attempts at cooking it was average at best. So I did the next logical thing - I googled for a new recipe. At 6pm the night before the cook-off.

I shopped at Giant that night, threw everything the recipe called for into a crock pot. And slept. The next day was showdown at the OK Corral. There was some jockeying, some jabbing, some posturing (all in fun) by most. I stayed out of it lest I be found for the poser that I was. There was some good chili that day, and mine didn't hold water against some of them. But what mattered was the judge's results, and in the end this Google recipe (which I can't even trace now) was the near unanimous choice for Best of Show. Three of four judges voted this #1 out of 22, the fourth judge tallied it #2. I've made it four times since, and it continues to receive rave reviews. Head and shoulders above the rest, I now gladly share with you the Blue Ribbon Googled-Last-Night Red Bean Chili recipe.

3 lbs. ground beef
1 (really) lg. yellow onion
1 (really) lg. green pepper
2 (28 oz.) cans Furmano’s chunky crushed tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano
2 (10 oz.) cans Rotel tomatoes (Original flavor)
2 (16 oz.) cans Goya red kidney beans
2 (15 oz.) cans Hormel Chili Hot with Beans (yes, Hormel)
Diced jalapeño peppers to taste (I use about 1 Tbsp)
Chili powder to taste (I use about 1.5 Tbsp.)
Adobo seasoning to taste (I use about 1 Tbsp.)
Black pepper to taste (I use about 1.5 Tbsp.)
Raw sugar to taste (I use about 1 Tbsp.)

Brown beef. Chop then saute onion and green pepper. Throw everything into large crock pot. Cook 8-10 hrs on Low. Best if refrigerated and warmed the next day. Makes 6 quarts.

"I'm watching everything you do Daddy!"

Life has two speeds these days - hectic and chaotic. But you know that already. Then Fantasy Football season rolled in and elbowed into my computer time, so I've set aside using the blog to capture some of the memorable family moments in recent months. And there's been some good ones.

One that I want to remember in 10 years is the night I was driving the boys home one night without Barb when I realized I had been deep in thought for some time. And the boys were quiet (I figured asleep). I glimpsed Cameron leaning sideways in his back seat, so I asked him what he was thinking. "Nothing" was the reply. "Com'on son, you have to be thinking something". "No" was the repeated reply. "So you're just sitting there and your mind's just going buzzzzzzz...." Without hesitation Cameron interrupted me to say "I'm learning how to drive, daddy". Gulp. "Whaddya mean?" was my nervous reply. Then blammo - "I'm watching everything you do daddy!".

I won't capture into words the look of "I told you so" that came from Barb later that night. How'd my boys get this old this fast???? :)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Music Monday - Aaron Shust

I was slow to catch on to Aaron Shust. His song One Day comes with a catchy tune, but it was the lyrics below that made it a favorite for me. It reminds me of James 4:13-14 where the Bible says "Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." One day we will have a day like no other, and this song reminds us that everything we do in the meantime should be preparing for it. Hope you enjoy.

One Day I will leave this body
and I will get a perfect one
That day I will see His glory
shining like the noonday sun
One day, I'll take a walk with Jesus
He might explain the mysteries of life
Some say, I just can't believe it
but I know that one day

We will gather at the Crystal Throne
All these years: we're finally home
I can actually see His face
And all I can do is say,

Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come
We lay our crowns before You
Every heart and soul: adore You:
The God of gods, Almighty One

One Day, death will be abolished
And sin will have its mastery no more
And I know that we will be astonished
At all that our Creator has in store
One day we will meet our Savior
And He will give each one of us a stone
Engraved with our names upon it:
known by God alone

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Annual Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight!

I remember my grandfather tell me about one early morning in the mid-60's when he was driving down the lane leading to the farm house when all of the sudden every star in the sky began moving. He saw the Leonid meteor storm of November 1966, (picture is from a similar storm in 1833) an annual meteor shower that peaks every 33 years. Ever since then I have dreamed of seeing a true meteor storm, with rates peaking at 10,000 per minute.

Tonight is the annual recurrence of the Perseid meteor shower, regarded as 'Old Faithful' because of it's reliable-but-not-spectacular nature. The Baltimore Sun reports this year's event is nearly ideal with a New Moon and good weather forecast. I'll be out there at 1am tonight with the dreams of a young boy of seeing the stars fall out of the sky just like my Grandfather saw, but knowing I'll be lucky to see but a few. Hopefully I won't wake up at 4am with ants up my pants!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Music Monday - Rich Mullins

I remember hearing Awesome God for the first time at a Campus Crusade for Christ Friday night gathering at Virginia Tech in 1990 or 1991. I've been a Rich Mullins fan since, and loved the fun little song Screen Door. The lyrics carry the line
Faith without works is like a song you can't sing
It's about as useless as a screen door on a submarine

The quirky lyrics and straight percussion accompaniment I first heard on the CD years ago fits the band's live performance. I stumbled across this fun but grainy video of a live show by Rich and his band of Screen Door - hope you enjoy!

And the countdown's on....

It's August. The last month of summer. Time to get ready for school's return. This year there is new excitement in our home as we are preparing to homeschool our oldest - a new adventure for us. We've seen many of you, our friends, lead the way. Many reasons factored into our decision, but they all seem to fade into memory as the logistics of starting a homeschool for the first time flood in. It seems there's a difference between watching others do it with ease and actually going through the mechanics yourself.

After much consideration and prayer we've already tackled the curriculum decision. We reviewed the full gamut of options available to homeschoolers at the CHAP (Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania) 2007 convention in Harrisburg PA in June. For several reasons we chose to start this first year by continuing with the A Beka curriculum series Cameron started in First Grade at Kings Christian Acadamy. First decision down.

Our next decision was to consider options with several homeschool co-ops in the local area. We looked into the Homeschool Christian Acadamy (HCA) based out of Patuxent Presbyterian church just up our street. We know one of the administrators (Alisa Albers), one of the teachers (Sandi Hepler), and several of the kids there. We enrolled Cameron in a full day of classes. Each Thursday he will take Science, Math Games, Art, Music, Latin, and Phys Ed with 10-15 other First and Second graders. This gives Cameron continued interaction with peers, and gives Barb one day to continue working with several children with her National Institute for Learning Development (NILD) training. Second decision down.

This week we make the final decision on where to register our homeschool for outside supervision. I read the Maryland State Department of Education Fact Sheet on Home Instruction, which states we must choose to have our home instruction supervised by one of the following entities:

1. The local school system.

2. A nonpublic school that holds a Certificate of Approval from the Maryland State Board of Education.

3. A nonpublic school registered with the Maryland State Department of Education as exempt from education regulation because it is governed and operated by a bona fide church organization.

4. An education ministry of a bona fide church organization.

Right now we're considering registering directly with the local county school system. If anyone has any other suggestions or insights we'd welcome your comments!

After this, we then can start focusing on lesson planning. Again, we're open to any tips, tricks, or words of wisdom from anyone out there! Homeschooling will become a central theme in blog posts to come.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Air Traffic Controller needed

This summer Barb added a hummingbird feeder to our deck. We waited patiently for our first sighting. Then he came. Over time he brought friends. Now we need an air traffic controller to direct traffic. At least five hummingbirds have taken up shop in our back yard. I've learned a few things about hummingbirds this summer. I never knew they chirped - a lot! This morning we had two birds chase one another right in front of our chairs. The resulting battle sounded like a clash of light sabres from Star Wars. They're also trusting of us. One bird fed from the feeder with Barb standing just two feet away from it. Barb now spends time each morning reading on the deck while she watches them come and go. Below is a video of just one of the birds feeding. We've yet to capture one of their mid-air duels, but will upload it when we do!

Not being an avid bird watcher, I thought it unique to have four or five hummingbirds take up shop in one's backyard, until I saw this video on YouTube!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Houston, We Have a Problem!

I once thought my wife's penchant for snapping photos was out of control. We upgraded our hard drive once, then had to buy an external drive for backup (you do have yours backed up, don't you Rich?!? :). It kept growing. And that was just from the film camera. It exploded with the addition of the digital camera.

But something's happened. I can't put my finger on it, but something is definitely amiss. First was Monday when Barb took the boys to Six Flags for the day (while I sat sequestered away on a source selection panel!). Cameron rode his very first big boy water slide. The boys rode roller coasters. They went with 'Grandma Myrtie' and Owen's best friend Philip. Not one photo.

Then yesterday Barb took the boys to the Solomons Annex pool, complete with water slides and diving boards. Both boys took and passed the swim test. Owen was a champ, and was beaming with pride when he got his wrist band certifying this milestone in his life. Not one photo.

So, I have many firsts to report from the Darden family this week - but all you get is this plain white text. If you see Barb this week, ask her if her camera's broken. :)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Music Monday's Tuesday debut

Our friends 50 toes posts favorite music clips they title 'Music Mondays', and invited others to join in. I'll bite. I've avoided the whole YouTube scene for much the same reason as we turned off our DirectTV feed - it's a time drain with virtually no lasting value. So pardon my surprise and amazement when I discovered the unbelievable wealth of great music videos when I began research to take up the 50 toes challenge! So here it goes.....

One insane tidbit of info I have etched in my mind from my misspent early teen days was an interview of Eddie Van Halen on MTV News with Kurt Loder. I was a huge Van Halen fan, the year was 1982, the band had just released Diver Down (with Hang 'Em High a hit) and Kurt Loder asks Eddie what it was like to be the greatest guitar player in the world. He said 'I dunno, go ask Phil Keaggy'. Phil WHO I asked???? I never heard Phil Keaggy's name again for over 15 years. Then I saw him live in concert with my friend Drew Ham in Colorado Springs, and realized that he is, in fact, the greatest guitarist ever recorded. The clip below is the tip of the ice berg. When you watch this, keep in mind he is playing solo, with no backup recording. Read this article to hear how he uses digital delay/sampling effects to build and overlay tracks live. Barb and I went to see him live 8 years ago - he often plays in coffee houses and small theaters. It's a great night out if you can catch a tour stop in your hometown!

Here's Phil Keaggy in Salvation Army Band. It's over nine minutes long. Get another cup of coffee and enjoy....

I've got several months of clips already in the queue, so until next time..... :)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

And the lights went out in California.... AGAIN!

One of the joys of living at the end of a small peninsula is that there is one tree-lined feed for SMECO's power lines. Our power outages here in Kingston Creek are memorable. The 1994 Valentine's Ice Storm was eight days. Hurricane Isabelle was seven days in 2003. The tornado (which clipped the trees between our house and the neighbor's) was a three day outage in 2004. Tropical Storm Ernesto was five days in 2006. The wind storm of last week was an all-nighter, and last night's lightening outburst (the worst I remember in five years) was nearly an all-nighter.

We've learned to appreciate three things through all of this:

1. You can cook ANYTHING on a grill (pizza and fries are a family favorite)!
2. The neighbor's pool is INVALUABLE to flush the toilet, but buckets of water get heavy after the first 100 yards!
3. These niftly Brinkman GO-LED lights deserve an award for cheap, safe, effective emergency lighting.

I trekked back to Target last night to buy two more packs. $4.99 at Target for four of these little guys. Disposable, cheap, and good enough to keep you from stubbing your toes on the toys the boys left out in the hallway (and to read a book in bed by).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Back in the USA

Our team returned to the States yesterday. The cocoon that surrounded me in Mexico has been stripped away. The intense closeness that comes from setting aside the cares and worries of one's own life is now intruded upon by the realities that awaited my return. Being reunited with the family was wonderful, especially as my boys rapidly shared their experiences at Grandpa's farm, the beach with Laura & Mike McFarlin, and with our former neighbors Zack and Amanda. Barb had returned home from family and friends only hours before I did, and had a week of memories herself.

But soon the excitement settled. The boys fussed over computer games. The bags need to be unpacked. The dishes had to be put away. The water pump failed again (I need to finally replace that flaky pressure switch). The neighbor's dog through the night, waking me up for good at 5am. I'm home.

And yet in some way's I'm not. Being my first missions trip abroad, I am suffering from the emotional overload that comes from shifting not just time zones - but newfound friends and cultures all in a matter of 12 hours. In many ways my heart is still with Jorge and Eduardo and the men, women, and children of San Bartolo. I wonder what Julio is going to do today. I encouraged him to spend time reading his Bible. I pray he stated with at least five minutes in the Word of God this morning. I can't wait for an update from Jorge.

Life will move on. I will return to my job Monday, and the 154 emails that await me. If not careful one can drift forward with one's life and allow friends and events to fade to a distant memory. It requires intentional effort to maintain such bonds. I hope Jorge, Eduardo, and Lis are able to keep in touch. Last night I shared with my boys stories of the boys and girls of San Bartolo, and of the work that Jorge and Eduardo are doing there. In our family prayer time Cameron, my oldest at seven years, prayed that they would be excited about sharing Christ with Mexico - something I hadn't even asked him to. Jorge and Eduardo have just joined Scott Stringer and John Albers in his nightly prayer requests for safety and strength. If I go a day forgetting them, the Lord will be using Cameron each night to remind me.

I will be adding a few more posts to this blog about my memories of Mexico in the coming days. If you hadn't figured it out, this blog was more for me than for you. I wanted to preserve in this journal the experiences and people that I hope to return to in the coming year. I will be returning to this blog in time to remind myself of the joys and the hopes that I have for the church in San Bartolo. I hope that you have enjoyed getting a taste of some of the sights and sounds of Mexican culture, of the wonderful people there, and of the work that is underway there.

When you see me, ask me how my Spanish lessons are coming. Drop me an email to remind me. I'm serious that I want to return to San Bartolo. I promised the kids there that if I am able to return that my Spanish would be better (but probably not my soccer game). Hold me accountable to that!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Our final day in San Bartolo

We wrapped up our sports camp mission to San Bartolo today. We had almost 50 kids today, many of them coming for the first day. My friend Julio brought a second helper today, a 14 year old named Lucio. At the day's close we spoke one last time with the large group about the purpose of our visit, which was not to show how badly I play futbol. Many of the younger kids were squirming as little ones do, some of the older boys were not interested in listening, but there was a good group of kids who listened intently and understood the message.

Several of the adult men from the church stopped by to see how camp went. Jesus returned to pick up his weedeater that we used to clear the soccer field on Sunday. Eduardo´s father, himself a pastor of a large church in Puebla, MX, paid a visit. Dr. Victor made the rounds. Our final lunch at Dr. Victor´s home was special. After photos (hopefully to come to the blog after my return to the states), Dr. Victor gave us each one of his business cards, which said on the back: "Si tú y yo nos conocemos y tú me olividas, no pierdes nada, pero si conoces a Cristo y lo olvidas, entonces si lo habrás perdido todo.", which roughly interpeted says: "If you and I meet and you forget me, you lose nothing, but if you meet Christ and forget Him, then it is as if you lost everything". Dr. Victor`s contact info is: Dr. Victor Manuel Sabbagh García, U.N.A.M, Lardizabal Sur N° 2512, Apizaco, TLAX, tel: 01 (241) 418-00-59 or 417-57-68. One of his various business activities is the Gas Central de Apizaco, S.A. de C.V.

I hope I can return on a future visit. If I do, I hope to see many of the same kids again. I look forward to seeing Lupe, Joel, Arturo, Juan Carlos, Lizabeth, Liz, Liz (popular name!), Cinthia (the tickle monster!), and many others whose name escapes me. I hope to see Gabriel and Chava, as well as Enrique and his friend (or brother) come as well.

We pack up tonight, and head to the airport at 0500 hrs tomorrow morning. I will miss the children, the weather, the sights and sounds of San Bartolo and Apizaco, and most importantly the friendships struck both with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Mexico, as well as our team from Leonardtown - memories that will stay for a lifetime (again, I heard that "I told you so" from Wyoming, Kraig!).

More sights and sounds from the streets of Apizaco....

We have been driven back and forth from San Bartolo each day by three of our brothers and sisters in Christ here in Mexico (and John once, thanks again for the prayers for safety!) Lucy as I said in a previous post lives in Puebla and has a three-hampster Ford go-cart of a car. Pepe, who works for the Potomac Baptist Association and lives in both Maryland and Puebla, has a four-hampster bright yellow car that is comparable to a Honda Civic. Eduardo, the local pastor for San Bartolo, drives a 1980's stype red Chevy van with captain's chairs in the middle row. The drive between Apizaco and San Bartolo is only 10 minutes at most. San Bartolo is on a hill that overlooks Apizaco. The vistas and landscape here remind me in part of views from southern New Mexico, only there is grass and agriculture here. There are two large mountains (I'm going to guess they are 12,000 feet) close by, one on either side of the town. There also is a large volcano (guessing 14,000 feet) a bit further away.

The streets of Apizaco resonate all day (starting at 6am) with the blaring of various advertisements from each of the delivery trucks in the local area. Most often, it is the propane delivery men, with each company having their own jingle and slogans blasting from their truck's roof. Most locals are not on a delivery schedule, the trucks roam the streets much like an ice cream truck back home, and the jingles are intended to draw customers out of their home and businesses. I'd hate to be a delivery driver, I don't know how he sleeps at night with that jingle playing in his head!

Another amazing sight is the tractor trailers who rumble through the streets all day and night. These streets are narrow. The street in front of our hotel has a narrow median strip, and parallel parking to the left and right in both directions. The single middle driving lane is maybe 15 feet wide with cars on either side. Double tractor trailer loads rumble by at all hours. These double-trailers are not the US style, where regulations limit the second trailer to be half-length. These are full length double trailers in tow. Right through the downtown streets. Don't park on any street corner here if you visit. Poor Jorge and Wayne have a room whose window fronts the street. Tractors rumble through all night, with their jake breaks belching 10 feet away as they slow for a turn just down the street.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Learning Spanish? Here's a resource list!

OK, this post is mostly for me. I'm capturing several web links I've found for learning Spanish. They are:

Spanish Verbs
I've found Spanish verbs difficult to master. Each verb infinitive has over 14 variations depending on the tense and pronoun mix. Several websites I've found that focus on Spanish verb conjugation are:

I will be expanding this blog entry over time to include other resources I find on learning Spanish. Know a good resource? Include it as a comment to the blog entry! Thanks!

Yo hablo poquito Espanol, pero estoy tengo mejor, no? No!

It's hard to believe the week is nearly over. Tomorrow (Thursday) is our last day hosting the camp. We depart for the Mexico City airport at 5am Friday morning.

I opened today's camp asking the older kids (aged 10 and up) this question - "I speak little Spanish, but I'm getting better, no?" Their answer was a chuckles, followed by "No!" I've taken quite an interest in trying to draw from my faint recollection of Spanish classes in High School to communicate with the kids, and the pastor Eduardo, in their native tongue. I think I'm wearing out my new friends from Puebla with 'Como se dice.....' (how do you say....) to grasp at understanding the language. I know I've asked five times over how to say that one of the soccer balls is flat - their patience is a living example of Job of Old Testament time! While I still can't carry a conversation in Spanish, I am beginning to piece together bits and pieces by listening to others (although I had no chance following the rapid-fire rants and chants given by Lis and Pepe at tonight's Copa de Americana futbol game!). Given the rapidly expanding Latino community of our Southern Maryland area, I'm feeling a call to continue studying in an effort to be able to be semi-fluent in their native tongue. I would love nothing more than to have the opportunity to return to San Bartolo next year and be able to speak directly with the kids vice hand signals and an occasional interpreter.

Walking the byways of San Bartolo...

Another great day working the the children of San Bartolo in beautiful (but blazingly bright) sunshine. During the initial half hour Lis (the interpreter from Puebla) and Amber Cook welcome and register the kids, then do face painting. Today everyone wore the Mexican flag proudly as Mexico faced Argentina in the semifinals of the Copa de Americana in football - even the staff (except John!). After face painting, the younger kids play in the Moon Bounce that the Leonardtown Baptist Church bought the San Bartolo mission four years ago. It's a bit torn and ragged, the plan is to look into a patch kit to replace the duct tape repairs that held it together. The older kids have joined John and I in the soccer ring to play futbol de americana. It's been fun working down-and-out patterns with the kids with no common language to speak of. I've also been impressed with how well many of them can throw and catch - it's been more impressive than my attempts to join them in soccer pickup games after the camp is over each day! Today I scored three goals in a 5-2 loss in the late pickup game. All three goals were into the wrong net. It got quite the smirk from Lis, who has been touting the superiority of futbol over futbol de americana.

Our team has enjoyed terrific (and most authentic) Mexican lunches each day at the restaurant in Doctor Victor's home. Today was a garlic meatball soup that had egg buried in the center of each meatball. We didn't dare ask the source of the meat. Tomorrow will be garlic rabbit stew I've been told.

After lunch I was able to join John, Jorge (a local computer programmer originally from Vera Cruz, and now works as a consultant for the government in Puebla), and Lucy (an American missionary from Maryland who now lives in Puebla supporting mission trips and teaching English to locals) in an afternoon of visiting homes in the local neighborhood. The four of us piled into Lucy's car, one of the comically small cars one sees only on television footage of foreign streets. The first stop was to Senora Leanora's home. After parking, we hiked a quarter-mile up the hillside to her home (not an insignificant task in the altitude here) only to find that she had gone into town and would return in a couple hours.

We then drove a half-mile over to the pulloff for Senora Lenora's home. Senora Lenora's home is an annual stop for John. His first visit four years ago did not find anyone home. They only left a tract and an invitation to the sports camp on a large rock near their door. The next year John returned and found the family home. They remembered the calling card left from the previous year, and opened their home to John for a visit. I don't recall if it was that visit, or the one last year where the family (I believe it was both the husband and the wife) prayed to accept Christ. Today's visit was to deliver a health pack for the family, and to see how they and their three children are doing. John knows each of the kids by name, and greeted them with a full tickle contest when they walked up the drive. Their home was most modest by American terms, but John noticed it had a fresh new tiled floor that covered the dingy concrete slab of a year ago. The quality of the tile matches that found in only the best of American homes, a reminder that the cost of living here in Mexico can be most inexpensive in some ways. Some of the finest tile you will fine is manufactured here in the Puebla area, and are sold cheap to the locals. We visited only briefly with the family, but they warmly opened their home, and offered bananas to us. The husband remembered that the team has offered eyeglasses in past trips, and asked if we were doing the same again this visit. He will be bringing the entire family to Dr. Victor's for tomorrow's last day at the camp - the kids will join us for the morning, he will be fitted for a new pair.

These homes on the hillside are mostly cinder block homes with concrete floors and deeply rutted drives for as far as the eye can see from the road. Lucy's tiny car scrapped bottom just pulling off the street. The hike down to Senora Lenora's home was most interesting, as John led us down the wrong path trying to find it. After walking downhill for a good half mile John realized his mistake, and we then trekked cross-country through fields, rocks, ditches, and back yards trying to jog to the left to get closer to their home. At one point I thought we were certainly going to be attacked by three loose (and unhappy) dogs as we skirted one home's back yard - their retreat at the last minute was for me a testimony to answered prayer from those back home for safety. When we finally found and reached the home (from the back side), the family got quite the giggle over our chosen path and sent the kids with us on our return to show us the more direct way back. (It turned out the rutted dirt road had be rerouted since John's last visit, thereby clearing him of culpability in the matter) The return trip took us directly through another family's walled-in back yard, and just a few feet from a chained pit bull. The kids petted the dog, I gave him an extra two feet. The neighbors looked from their back window in wonder at the 'Blondies' (their term for fair-skinned Americans) meandering through their yard with local kids. I have to say there was a warm feeling in my heart to be a part of John's ministry visiting with these local families. Not many outsiders venture into these parts of the countryside, and the surprised look, followed by warm reception offered by them to John and the team was touching. I'm more interested in ever to continue learning the spanish language and be a part of future mission teams to the area. (Yes, Kraig, I heard your 'I told you so' all the way from Cheyenne, Wyoming!!!!)

¿Agua caliente? No! No agua caliente para tu!

"Hot water? No! No hot water for you!". As I've learned more of the spanish language I'm picking up more and more by reading the street signs - and boy are there street signs here! I noticed some hotels had 'Agua Caliente' posted, others did not. Our weekend stay in Puebla last Friday and Saturday spoiled me, as we had the most amazing hot water shower I've ever seen. The water pressure was enough to take skin off, and the water was muy caliente. Our hotel here in Apizaco (Hotel Meson de Alfonso, Blvd. Emilio Sanchez Piedras No. 104, Apizaco, Tlaxcala, Tel. 01(241) 417-19-54, C.P. 90300) does advertise agua caliente, just not for the first 10 minutes. And then only for the next three minutes, no mas (no more), and only for the first person in the shower, and only on days of the week that begin with 'T'. Today was Miercoles. No agua caliente. And it was 60° in the bathroom this morning.

Last evening John and a few others went to Dr. Victor's to measure one family for eyeglasses. He had advertised to the communities that he would be at the top of the hill near the bus station to fit people for glasses as they came home from work, but our daily hail storm hit just as the bus arrived, so we will hope today's bus stop wait yields fruit. Please pray that the weather holds out for us, and that John can reach the community with the news of this ministry.

The rest of us went to Eduardo's home (the local pastor for the church in San Bartolo) to make the final assembly for about 25 frames of glasses, and to cut the lenses for the four family members who visited Dr. Victor's. We also cut lenses of the most needed prescription strengths for about 10 more. Our time around the table each night is one of great fellowship, much laughter, and sore fingers! Brian Gass' frankensteinian frames made from scrap pieces are quite the hit, we almost have enough for the entire team to take home. "Gass' Glasses" they've been dubbed.

Our head count of children yesterday for Day Two of the sports camp was up to about 35-40, but still well below the 70-80 of previous years. We learned yesterday that our visit coincides with the start of a four week optional summer session of school for the local community, thereby keeping our numbers lower than hoped. Still, each of these children are a blessing and a joy, to see their faces of excitement as we go through each of the stations is wonderful. Please pray that the older ones will begin to understand the true purpose of our visit and that hearts and minds will be opened to seek the Lord through us this week.

One other sight and sound I failed to mention in an earlier post is the roadside family food stands we pass each evening coming home from Eduardo's home. On Monday night at around 11pm we drove by several such stands a good 10 minutes outside Apizaco's city center offering anything from candy to a full meal.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sights and sounds of Apizaco

Today's camp was bien (I learned the difference between bien, buen, and bueno today, the three ways to say 'good' in spanish!). Today a sixteen year old boy joined us, having been invited by John during his walk through the neighborhood the previous day. Julio was the oldest of the kids, and was given the option to help me with the soccer drills. He was a terrific addition to our camp, as I found myself without any interpreters for most of the day. Julio was sharp, and picked up everything I was trying to show him, and did a great job herding the kids into action!

Several other random observations while driving and walking the streets of Apizaco and San Bartolo that I wanted to capture for my later recollection:
  • The walls around homes have an ingenius security system - shards of glass stick up from the mortar - probably a hundred per linear foot!
  • Most of the auto repair shops do their work right on the street - parallel parked with the car standing on a lone jack with the handle pointed out into traffic!
  • The food markets are jaw-dropping, with fish, pork, and chicken hanging raw for hours (and supposedly for days) in the heat for sale!

Many more, but time is up, need to run to begin making more eyeglasses.

I estaba una vez oculto, pero ahora veo!

"I once was blind, but now I see" is the title of the posting. Last night we made about 15 full frame sets of glasses at Eduardo's home, with the piece parts for many more when we continue tonight. I can't wait until I can post some of the pictures of our time together at the table bending these frames into place. Amber Cook made a most excellent (and entertaining I might add) video of how to bend the ear pieces that had us chucking, but the highlight of the night was Brian Gass's own personal creation of a "different" design from the scraps that were left - we were in tears at the example of 'how not to make glasses'.

John visited the home of the family that invited him yesterday. He reported it was a most excellent visit, with the head of the hous evening they wereehold gathering his entire family to hear the message of the Gospel. The head of the household shared with John that he had a hard time reading and needed eyeglasses - an 'interesting coincidence' then that we will be giving eye tests at Dr. Victor's home this evening! He will be join us this evening to get his eye's tested for a pair of the glasses we made (no, not Brian's!). The eye test John uses has the patient read from a text that asks them have they ever reached a point of knowing for certain if they would be in heaven when they die. Pray that this evening will be fruitful in sharing the Gospel with the community, especially for this man from last night's visit.

I didn't capture the full measure of what I wanted to do here, but have to run back for breakfast. By the way, I just have to close with this for my friends back home in Maryland - it's freezing cold here this morning!!!! Wayne Hetrich and I went to the local square for devotions, and could see our breath as we walked the streets!!!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Sports Camp - Day One

Day one complete of our VBS sports camp in San Bartolo. About 20-25 children came, better than average for the first day. We expect more to come as the word gets through the streets and neighborhood. John Fields walked the streets of the neighborhood while we hosted the camp, sharing 200 tracts, distributing 20 health kits, and talking with families. One man asked John to come to his home tonight to share the news of the gospel with his family.

I hosted the soccer portion of the camp, quite a challenge when working with 8-10 teenagers who know the game quite well! After the camp we stayed and played a 5v5 pickup game for a half hour. I was gasping for air in the 8,000' elevation of the town! Today went very well. I have a terrific interpreter - quite a blessing. We had 30 minutes with each group, divided by ages. I'd spend 15-20 minutes going over a few drills I've learned, and asking the children what they learned from the drills. It's neat to see first-hand the obvious - that kids are the same everywhere. The smiles on each of their faces was wonderful, and to a one they beamed and said 'si' when asked if they were having a great time.

A storm is rolling in again today, looks much like the hail storm that poured through yesterday. I've quickly come to appreciate them as they knock the temperature down into the low 60's (down from the swealtering 75° of the day!). Tonight we head back to Dr. Victor's to begin preparing eye glasses for those who need them in the neighborhood.

The joys of living in a different culture....

We went to Eduardo's home last evening to put together the health kits and plan for today's sports camp. A storm rolled in just as we pulled into his drive. By the time it was over, there was pea-sized hail stones covering the ground, and the temperature had dropped from the day's high temperature of 75° down to 55° again. It's just as cool this morning. I'm still in disbelief of how traveling to Mexico in July is a wonderful respit from the 95° heat and humidity of Maryland!

Our hotel here in Apizaco is clean, unique (every room is different), and 'interesting'. I had to ask others who had traveled here before where the shower was, because our room was only a small half'-bath (about the size of a typical guest half-bath in the foyers of most homes). They pointed out the shower head coming from the ceiling of the room - you shower in the bathroom, getting the entire room soaked (including the bathroom tissue!) in the process! Just one of the many interesting aspects of life in a different culture.

Another interesting thing is the home construction styles. Most every home is poured concrete with rebar that sticks anywhere from 2-6 feet above the flat roofs. Virtually none of the homes are finished - it's as if they are planning to add a second story one day, but never do.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Worshipping with new brothers and sisters in Christ

Today we worshipped and celebrated our Lord´s supper with the church in San Bartolo in the back yard of Doctor Victor´s home. There are about 5-7 families who worship together in San Bartolo. The church sits under a lean-to next to the chicken coop and the row of roosters in their pens. After church the families hosted a most wonderful lunch under the small orchard of shaved steak, rabbit fajitas, and cactus tacos!

It was awesome to see the love of Christ in the eyes of several of the church members and worship with them in a different tongue. But over all it must be said that the church is not thriving, and in fact is struggling to survive. One sister, Yolanda, is the heart of the church. Her dedication to her Lord is unmistakable in her countenance, her acts of service for the church, and her efforts to spread the news of the Gospel throughout San Bartolo. Many others who attend are believers, but I´ve been told have not yet understood the full measure and impact of I Peter 1:13-16, ¨Therefore, prepare you minds for action, be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.¨

Tonight we begin bagging the 100 health kits we have purchased, and make final preparations and planning for the start of the sports camp tomorrow. Please pray that the language differences will not be a barrier to sharing the love of Christ to these children. Also pray for me as I, yes I, am called upon to teach Mexican youth up to 15 years old how to play soccer.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Yo estoy en Mejico!

One scan of our family blog shows how deeply ingrained we are into blogging..... many months of fond memories have never made it into writing, something I will regret in time. Barb´s joy is to keep up with the scrapbooks to capture our life on film, mine is blogging - thank goodness Barb is better than I!

So what brings me back to the keyboard? I am on the second night of a week long mission trip with our local church in Mexico. For anyone who´s used a Mexican keyboard you know this can be a challenging thing! There´s a handful of extra key´s wedged into the keyboard, and most of the special characters are shuffled!

Anyhow, we flew into Mexico City last evening, landing around 9:30pm. After 90 minutes to register our visas and clear customs, I had my first experience ordering dinner without an interpreter - boy do I wish I had spent more time brushing up on my two years of High School spanish!!! The meal was most needed to settle the stomach for the two and a half hour drive to the city of Puebla east of Mexico City. There´s a very good reason American auto insurance companies will not cover your travels in Mexico! We rode in a chartered bus similar to the small rental car buses in an airport, and wondered why all the windows were covered with black curtains. One peek outside the windows would make one close them fast! Bumper-to-bumper traffic, four cars abreast on a three lane highway, with tractor trailers on both sides and the rear earned muchas respectos from me to our driver! It´s unbelievable the amount of traffic on the roads of Mexico City at 12:30 in the morning! Our host said rush hour for the city of 20+ million is from 6am to 1am. The first hour of our trip was spent going 10 miles! We arrived at the Hotel Panamerican in Puebla at 2am, praising God for the safe journey and the driver´s alertness!

Tomorrow we drive to our destination - Apizaco, Mexico (a city of 50,000). Basing from there, we will travel each day to the small remote village of San Bartolo to host a sports camp for the children during the day, and make eye glasses and distribute health kits to the adults in the evening. Today we spent our first day on the mission trip shopping in Puebla (a city of 1.5 million) at.... yes...... Sam´s Club and WalMart! We purchased $11,000 pesos ($1,000 dollars) of supplies for health kits, sports equipment, and some personal supplies.

One pleasant surprise is the weather here in Puebla and Apizaco. It averages 50° at sunrise, and 75° as a high in the afternoon - a far cry from the 95° heat and humidity of Maryland this week!!! The 8,000 foot elevation makes the climate most pleasant here - I now understand why most Mexicans are not accustomed to heat!

I also have been struck by the number of mission teams active in the city of Puebla. In our small hotel alone there are four teams who checked in the past two days, including a group led by Andrew Flagg. He is leading a Baptist church from Elkton MD. I first met him when he spoke as a guest at Lexington Park Baptist Church a couple years ago. A second group is from Ocean View Baptist Church in Norfolk, VA. The third group is from Fort Worth, TX.

Tomorrow we move to Apizaco to the north of Puebla. It is closer to the base of Mount Popocatepetl (or Mt. Popo), one of the most active volcanos in Mexico. It erupted in 1994, after more than 50 years of dormancy, and has been quite active ever since. Lava is often visible at night pouring from the crater. We saw steam and ash rising from it today - a normal daily occurance!

Time to turn in. Don´t know if and when I can get Internet connection in Apizaco - but I intend to add posts each evening if I can. Please be in prayer for the mission teams throughout the Puebla area, and for our team as well. Pray that some last-minute logistics will come together for our sports camp activities. More importantly, please pray that the hearts and minds of the local villagers in San Bartolo would be open to the message of the Gospel.