Friday, February 26, 2016

The Winged Watchman

A book chat by Serena:

The Winged Watchman written by Hilda Van Stockum in 1962 was set in Holland during World War II. It gives a hands-on perspective of living in an occupied country - ration coupons, empty shelves, hungry people begging for food at doorsteps to carry back to loved ones miles away. It also has lots of fun details like Dirk Jan reminiscing in the times where there were chocolate and sugar cakes, and the store owner said thank you for coming! Imagine that!

The main characters include the Verhagen family - Joris, his older brother Dirk Jan, Mother, Father, and little sister Trixie, whose red-haired identity is a bit of a mystery...

We also meet the Shenderhans family, Joris' neighbours. Hendrik, the youngest son, is Joris' good friend but has an unbecoming tendency to blurt out secrets and blab until his head falls off. Hendrik's older brother is Leendert Shenderhans, a mean young man with no respect for his parents, property or countrymen. He quickly becomes a landwatcher, a despised traitor working for the Germans with great authority and the assignment of ratting out lawbreakers.

That leads us to Uncle Cor, or Kees Kip.  Uncle Cor is the leader of a group of resistance fighters, known as the Underground.  Kees Kip is Uncle Cor's secret Underground name.  The Underground does weapon drops, hides English fighter pilots, stores ration coupons and attacks German police stations.  The Verhagen family are very proud of their brave Uncle Cor!

Father Verhagen is a millwright, a Dutchman born and bred to work the mills the old-fashioned way. The Verhagens live in their mill, which sits on a piece of polder land. Polder land is reclaimed land that has a dike and uses its windmill to drain the dike to keep it from overflowing and ruining the crops of the reclaimed polder. Electric mills threatened to take away the old fashioned mill, but in the end electricity is less reliable than people thought...

Photo Credit:
The "Winged Watchmen", as the Verhagen family calls their mill, is much more useful than you would think. By changing the position of the sails, a millwright can signal to his neighbours many secret messages, such as joy, sadness, and need of repair. When Catholics were persecuted in Holland, a white flag tied to the wing meant that a priest had come to say Mass.  There is also the St. Andrew's cross, the position least likely to attract lightning.  And if the Winged Watchman hadn't been slowly spinning its wings one night, Joris would not have escaped from the prying eyes of Leendert and a very big predicament!

Do you know why the Dutch wear wooden shoes? These shoes originated with the polder farmers and millwrights, who disliked getting their shoes and socks soaked when they walked along their soggy property.  Wooden clogs were the perfect solution!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Colima: El Sol

Beautiful gold sand! We went to a beach in Manzanillo where sand littered with gold flakes was everywhere! What a gorgous spot. I also went back to one of my favourite beaches near Dolphin Cove Inn. This beach also had some nice gold-flecked sand, plus an abundance of shells with half-formed pearls inside! You can also find chunks of calcite minerals scattered in the water. I had a lot of fun beach combing and treasure hunting!

O, such strenuous days... Flying down waterslides, lounging on pool chairs with palm trees swaying overhead... Such hard work!

My dad and I tried every possible way of going down this fun water slide - on our stomachs, on our backs, siting up, head first, even backwards.

As mom took this photo of me lounging under the sun, she told me to remember this moment when I do my math at home. Phooey.

Can you believe that this fish is even real?  Cause it is, caught fresh in a swordfish/marlin fishing competition, it even had real squishy eyeballs. I found out because a kid decided to poke it in the eye. Nice. You could hold the thing if you wanted too, meaning holding it around the middle, not actually supporting its weight. If you tried, you'd probably be 2D.

And this is me being Spider-Man, one of my more excellent jumps! My dad and I disrupted the swimmers in this pool by diving in as The Hulk, Captain America, a pair of duelling Jedi, and Spider-man.  Not to mention various starfish, pencils and cannonballs.  Oh yeah!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Colima: Los Amigos

While the physical work we did was so tangibly rewarding, the friends we made in Colima are by far the most precious.

For 3 Januarys now we've worked alongside our local contractor Roberto and his family. Their daughter Fatima and Serena became especially close this year and shared many cold treats and giggles together.

Roberto continues to inspire us with his hardworking and cheerful spirit. He re-opened his now closed taco stand just for us one night and we feasted. Daddy broke his record from last year and ate a whopping 20 tacos!

We got extra local help this year as the size of our project grew. Martín is a jovial contractor who worked with Roberto to patiently teach these Canadians the art of construction. Martín has a fantastic voice and loves to sing while he works, much to our delight!

Roberto and Martín are ingenious in coming up with solutions to many challenges we encounter at the job sites. However once in a while, we just have to go and buy our solution. We met the Arman family who runs this well stocked hardware store nearby. As we chatted in our broken Spanish, we found out that they're a homeschooling family!

Since most of the homes we work at have no toilets, we always make sure to locate one central bathroom for the team to use during our work days. Meet Carmen and Jorge's family. They live right by the 3 houses we were working on and generously opened up their home (and the critical baño) to us. Like a mother hen, Carmen checked up on me and Serena daily and didn't mind one bit as we treaded in and out of her home while covered in dust and dirt. Her husband Jorge runs a shop that sells and installs doors and windows. He ended up doing the door installation for free on the little shop front we built for Justina.

As Roberto invited us into his home the night he made tacos for us, we saw a photo of him and Keith displayed prominently in their living room. The way God weaves our disparate lives together is amazing. Carmen kept telling us, "Mi casa, tu casa!"; Justina appointed herself as Serena's abuela; a chance encounter with a rare homeschool family in a Mexican hardware store; Roberto and Keith walking arm in arm...

"He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted." (Job 9:10)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Colima: Gatitos y Perritos

Kittens!!  It all began when I was resting from work and heard some little "mew, mew, mew" sounds from Justina's house. I crept over to the box where the mommy cat was sleeping and there were five kittens - only 5 days old! Their eyes hadn't even opened! Justina even made the dangerous offer of giving me one...

Can you believe that this scrawny dog could possibly have two healthy puppies? I already knew that Justina had a bouncy male dog and a skinny female, but I never guessed that they could be padres (parents)! The two pups where only one night old when I found them, but already big and healthy with an incredible amount of fur! Good job mom!

This dog is Diamanta, Dia for short - I named her.  Diamante means diamond, so the female version of that would be Diamanta. This dear pup adopted me as her Mistress immediately and refused to leave my side. She walked with me, sat with me, followed my every step.  She's probably a stray young mom and the only dog my mum would ever keep. It was heartbreaking for us both when we had to leave that day. I never saw her again.

So many cute animals, I love them all!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Colima: La Tienda de Justina

Justina is an amazingly strong 83-year-old widow who lives with her handicap son. She ekes out a living by selling whatever used goods she finds. As we returned to Colima for the third year, our family was put on this project to build a small store area attached to the front of her home.

Before putting a concrete floor in, we needed to clear up the area and level it - not our most favourite chore as the ground is usually rock hard. We took turns with the pick ax and got sweaty mighty fast under the hot sun!

We all pitched in to shuffle buckets upon buckets of sand and rocks to throw in the mixer to make the concrete batter. That mixer was loud and it needed to be on the whole time to keep the concrete from drying out. By the end of the day, we were all a little deaf.

Serena and Fatima decorated the freshly poured concrete floor with a fish symbol, a little tradition we do with every project where there's fresh concrete!

Walls came after the floor. We spent many hours laying bricks while getting a nice farmer's tan. Serena became quite skilled at breaking bricks into small pieces. She came home with all her fingers intact.

We did our best to build those walls straight. Even if they were a touch crooked (and they most certainly were), thankfully there're those concrete columns and beams we poured to glue it all together. After many trips climbing up and down that rickety and hazardous scaffolding, Serena & I felt quite ready to audition for Cirque.

Daddy arrived the second week of our project and helped finish it off.

Often times we'd add extra "fixings" if time and materials allow it. We decided to build a nice little ramp (yes, more concrete!) for Justina so she doesn't have to tread all the mud into her store and home, especially during their rainy season.

Almost there - the walls were parged and a simple roof went up.

A fresh coat (actually 3) of paint makes a world of difference. It was a very bright and sunny day when we painted, the white was blinding!

TA-DA, store front built and ready for business!

We fell in love with this strong sweet old lady who in turn adored Serena. Before we left at the end of our 2-week stint, Justina held onto Serena and told me to find "otra niña" (another girl) to take home because she's keeping her there! Hopefully we'll be back next year so we can see her again. Serena is eager to go back too, not only to see Justina, but also her kittens and puppies - she'll tell you all about that in the next post!