Friday, March 25, 2011

Dangerous Batteries?

Summary: I think I burned a hole through my skin from leaky AA alkaline batteries. Details follow:

In the picture, you can see three colors on the pH paper. The light green at the top indicates that baking soda has slightly basic pH 8 of. The light orange is the color of the paper itself, and the dark brown indicates that the moisture in the battery compartment had a very strong alkali pH of 13 to 14.

Batteries, batteries . . they are everywhere! I need to write about my second hazardous battery instance in as many months. The first incident occurred when I was recharging AA batteries in a charger recently purchased from Radioshack. Fortunately, I was only a few feet away from it, when I smelled the melting plastic and was able to unplug the overheated beast. The charger and batteries were permanently denied access to any electrical connections in the house.

The second incident occurred Tuesday night as I was futzing with the Rayovac batteries from the boys’ Sharper Image LED lanterns we received as a gift from grandma and use for nighttime stories. I saw moisture inside the battery compartment and thought that with curious children, somehow water had made its way inside. Well, I wiped some of the liquid with toilet paper and started feeling a burning sensation on my finger – same feeling when you get lemon juice or salt in an open wound. So I quickly washed the area and felt a sliminess - you know, the same sliminess when you are using bleach and it gets on your hands. I think that has something to do with dissolving skin cells, but I am not sure. I suspiciously went back to the battery compartment, held it exactly as I had before, and in seconds, ssstiiiingggghhh. Off to the sink again, washing, trying to respond to Sally’s “what happened?” without going into detail or getting the kids engaged into something besides bedtime stories.

I looked closely at my finger to find a red spot, yes an open wound, very small, but also very new. Could these AA batteries be leaking acid strong enough to burn through skin? No, impossible! Well improbable, I thought, but I had some evidence. If it is battery acid, then the liquid should fizz if I put a base on it. This is the same type of reaction my students gets when they combine vinegar and baking soda. So, I applied some baking soda to a wet spot in the battery compartment, and observed no reaction. Hmmm. Maybe not an acid . . . wait! Of course, this is an “Alkaline” battery, just the opposite of an “Acid” battery. It should react with an acid, such as vinegar. Then I remembered that I had some pH paper. I applied the end of a pH strip to the liquid and the paper changed to a deep brown color. I compared it to the pH scale and matched it to a pH of 13 or 14, a very strong base. Yes, strong enough to warrant caution and apparently to burn through skin. I received the same readings from two more wet spots and tested the wet baking soda at a pH level of 8. So, the liquid in the battery compartment was a much stronger chemical than the baking soda.

I discovered that alkaline batteries contain potassium hydroxide, a chemical also known as lye or caustic potash. It is used to make paint remover and is the primary active ingredient in liquid drain cleaner. I’m sure you’ve read the warnings before using drain cleaners. They unclog drains by dissolving the gunk, including human skin cells, stuck in the pipes. The potassium hydroxide concentration for liquid drain cleaner is 25-30% and from 5-9% in Rayovac alkaline batteries. Since many things can cause battery leakage, we will now have to continually check these flashlights and this brand for wetness or corrosion.
I’ve felt the shock of 9 volt batteries and the heat generated from 4th graders making short circuits with D batteries, but this is the first suspected burn I have received in decades of working with batteries.

Our children enjoy working with batteries and lightbulbs, so we will need to keep a careful eye on things. Right now, the suspicious batteries are stored in a glass jar, and I will have another science teacher test them with a different batch of pH paper to compare results. I do not know the likelihood of this happening again. Maybe this was a random combination of manufacturer, user and tester error. So, in the meantime, my children will not be breaking open batteries like I did when I was a child!

If you have any similar experiences with burns from household batteries, specific problems with Rayovac or Sharper Image products, please let me know.
Signed M

Friday, March 18, 2011

Peace & Prayers

The boys had a great Sunday School lesson last weekend. They were excited to spend time with their teacher and I enjoyed the hour to myself. When I picked them up, they came bounding out of the house with a paper cut-out (brightly colored) of a fish with a piece of yarn trailing behind. On one side, a verse from Matthew 4:19 and on the other, a little Spanish song about Pescadores de Hombres! John quickly taught me the tune and we practiced it the entire walk home. What a blessing to have this hour filled with teachings, prayer and activity! Can't wait for this Sunday's lesson.

I also had a chance to share in worship and fellowship this past week. I attended a 30-minute Prayer and Share at a couple's home in Santa Elena. I had talked with the couple earlier in the year as we were hoping to start a small group (much like what I am working on with the other family I spoke about in my previous post). One day I opened my email and saw an invitation to join in a community opportunity to share in meditation, prayer, bible readings and song. I was IN and made sure Mike was home by 5 p.m. that night so I could attend. The setting was beautiful, an intimate circle of chairs on their front porch overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya as the sun was setting. I was encouraged by the ten or so folks that attended and each of us shared how excited we were to have this opportunity for worship. We agreed to meet every two weeks! I am hopefull that we can pool our resources and work together to form a cohesive group and plan for a more structured and permanent worship program. Time will tell, but exciting none the less! I just got off the phone with a mom from the States that will accompany me this coming Thursday along with her two high-schoolers!

We had another busy weekend and spent most of it down in San Luis. We enjoyed Saturday at Gaudy's farm, Mike and Raul continued working on the greenhouse, while I helped Gaudy with her laundry and the boys gathered raspberries in the nearby mountains in hopes of making a yummy and refreshing Fresco!

You can see by these pics that Raul is handling the heavy-duty machinery and is an expert at tree-cutting - I'm sure Mike's time will come! The plot of land for the greenhouse is sectioned off, holes dug and corners squared! The cutting of lumber was quite the task. What a blessing it is to harvest wood from your own farm - a huge $ savings!

Late in the afternoon, we headed to a soccer field 10 minutes away with Raul, Gaudy and Laundry as Raul was eager to get Mike involved in a 'friendly' pick-up game of soccer! Friendly, well, that's debatable... boy some of those guys were pretty competitive, but I was proud of Mike for getting out there and showing his stuff! He even had a couple of bounces of the head and looked like a real pro. The younger boys enjoyed kicking around a ball on the sidelines, while I just kept my fingers crossed that Mike would survive with all his bones intact :) Survived he did, but several sore muscles and joints the next morning!

Sunday we headed to Lower San Luis to support a community fundraiser focused on raising funds for repairing the local cemetary. We arrived just in time to watch the Horse races...well sort of! Real cowboy country. Lots of cowboy hats, horses and 'yee haws'. It wasn't so much a race, but a practice of patience and precision as the cowboys were to try and thread a small stick through a clothespin (with a small loop on the end of it) strung up high above, across the road - all this, while riding a horse at full speed. YIKES. How anyone could hit a bullseye, I'll never know! The kids had fun and enjoyed refreshments and frolicking in the open fields in the late afternoon sun.

We had a lovely dinner this week with a couple from the Chicago area who found us through our blog. He is with the Peace Corps now and is stationed here in Monteverde for two years. His wife came into visit and we shared a really nice evening with the both of them. They were so thoughtful and brought puzzles and granola bars for the boys - perfect gifts if you know my boys! The kids were perfect hosts and so engaging...perhaps they are indeed growing up. We love to open up our house and share a meal, conversation and laughter. Please come visit!

We are excited to have harvested our first bunch of root vegetables from our garden (and I even cooked it up in a hearty soup/stew). I am enjoying cooking more and experimenting with all the local veggies.

I think this little creature speaks for itself. Don't even want to know where the boys found this one but Raul tells me some folks here in Costa Rica pay big bucks for the horns...just Gross!

Mike has been obsessed with catching the family of mice that have made themselves at home in our third bathroom. Once my head hits the pillow, I am out, but the scratching and running through the wood panel walls seems to keep Mike awake for hours. We are using some live-traps and have successfully captured four of the little critters this week. The boys have delighted in helping dad deposit them at the edge of the pasture to continue their life. Okay, they're sort of cute!

Mike is busy planning a school trip in the coming weeks and I am heads-down coordinating the April 2nd Walkathon!

Thanks to all who have sponsored me so far, I a may run the 13K after all as I've been running with Raul every day this week. He is kicking my butt and really pushing me and I continually have to remind him that he is 20 years my junior :)
We hope to run a race together before the end of the school year.

Signed: S

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Weekend Warriors!

Truly, we are squeezing every second out of these weekends! How do you spell busy?....BUSY! Come Sunday night, the kids fall into bed, no time for 'Sunday night Movie', or Sunday night shower for that matter, just get me to my bed!

We are blessed to have wonderful weather right now, 'real summer', with crisp blue sky and a gentle wind. My wet clothes THANK YOU and doing laundry is a breeze (no pun intended).

Our last two weekends have clearly been focused on fostering friendships and deepening our relationships with some very dear Tico families. For the first time in 40 something years, I look forward to visiting, sipping afternoon coffee, nibbling on a tortilla hot off the stove and listening to our friends tell stories of their youth. Very inspiring stories indeed. Never in a million years did I think that I could gear myself down into a slower speed to enjoy these types of activities; here it is all about visiting, spending time with family and friends and opening up your lives.

We spent a full Saturday two weeks ago with a family (a classmate of the boys) who have a coffee plantation and sell their coffee to local hotels, restaurants and at the Saturday Farmers Market. We visited them when the gals came to visit. We were curious to check out their farm, and Shirley was eager to practice her English, so we piled into the Gallopher and 'galloped' up to Santa Elena. The kids played while Mike and I chatted with Shirley and her husband about what they like about living here in Costa Rica and what they want (their dreams) for their children. Shirley made an authentic Costa Rican meal "Olla de Carne" which I guess would translate into "Pot of Meat", but oh was it good. Tons of locally grown veggies and of course, beef! After our tummies were full and we savored a cup of their coffee, we headed to their farm in Los Tornos (about 15 minutes away by car). Not a single inch of soil was wasted or went un-used. Trees, plants, fruit, coffee as far as the eye could see. Hard to believe that 15 years ago, the land was pure pasture. Shirley and Eulogio gave us an extensive tour, quickly pointing out the different types of trees, which trees are fast growers and how they planted the trees in strategic spots to provide natural wind-breaks. Their greenhouse was full of coffee beans drying out and in various stages of 'readiness'. What an Art farming is and such hard work! Eulogio showed us the pond that he had made in the river that marked the end of their property and said that they used the pond last Sunday for baptisms at their church. I'm sure that was quite a celebration! We ended our day at Eulogio's mom's house - she quickly invited us in to share again, another cup of coffee, as she whipped up some corn tortillas and brought out the homemade cheese from the fridge. I loved the fact that she had an-outdoor kitchen that was very rustic, all wood, table, benches, outside sink and a wood stove. A rickety ladder led upstairs to a loft should she have an unexpected overnight guest. Just into the house and around the corner, we were in another kitchen, big by Costa Rican standards. You could tell she enjoys cooking. She had corn soaking in a big plastic bin which she would later put through the grinder and use for tortillas. My spirit was full and alive when we headed back to Monteverde as the late afternoon sun began to cast shadows over the hills and meadows. Choppy, she insisted you must return to teach her English!

The next day, Sunday, we headed to Gaudy's house to celebrate (a week late) Mike's birthday. We celebrated with a delicious cake made by her sister-in-law and happy to say, that not even a crumb was left for a hungry mouse.

Raul and Mike scoped out the location for a green-house on their property as they are eager to have a place to start seedlings and grow crops and plants. This is their latest project - stay tuned for further posts as we are hoping to chronicle the construction. Before our afternoon coffee, Raul asked if anyone was up for a hike up their mountain to a waterfall where their drinking water originates. Mike and I quickly jumped at the chance. With borrowed rain boots, we headed straight up. I can say that this was quite a challenging hike as we followed the river. Raul led the way with machete in hand to cut down overgrowth that was impeding our progress. He raced up the river with us 'gringos' hobbling behind at a steady pace. Although he hikes this often, you would never know it by the richness and thickness of the forest. The moss on the trees and boulders were a thick coat of emerald velvet that comforted by hand-holds as I tried to stay vertical. After several falls (have you ever tried to hike in rain boots that are three sizes too big?), Raul handed me a walking stick just my size. We reached the waterfall and I was glad to know that we would not continue to ascend to the top, as it would be another 90 minutes and besides, I was pooped. Raul explained that everyone on the family farm received their water from this waterfall (or where it orignates at the top of the mountain). It is pure, pure, pure! We had to negotiate around all the 'mangeras' or hoses which were strung and laid throughout the forest, with each one having a starting point that was securely placed deep into water to ensure a constant H2O supply. Raul was a great guide and shared many stories of how he would find peace in the forest and would come often, sometimes packing a hammock to string between two trees for a cat-nap. A peaceful place and I could see why he liked it so much.

This past Saturday we enjoyed a school fundraiser "Sports Day". The day was sunny and warm and the turn-out from the parents and community, impressive. Mike manned the bbq, cooking up beef and chicken while I waited in line with the boys as they patiently anticipated the taste of a cool snow cone!

Sunday, we were headed down the Trocha again to San Luis. I wanted to check on Raul's mom as she is recovering from pnemonia. Raul and Mike worked all day digging holes for the wood supports for the green-house. The comradery between the two is very special. Twenty years apart - they get along famously. Lots of joking and laughter - but boy is Mike getting in a lot of Spanish! Lunch time came and we had some belly-laughs as we all tried our hand at making tortillas. Gaudy had taught me two weeks prior, so I was feeling pretty confident in my ability to present the roundest and most perfectly shaped of all. Mike agreed that he needed a lesson from Gaudy but all in all, a corn a corn tortilla!

Here is a sample of the very first tortillas I made - not bad huh?

The kids enjoyed feeding the pigs and collecting eggs from the chickens. Raul will spend this week looking for fallen trees in the mountain and hauling them out to the work site to make the posts! Mike's schedule only allows him to help on the weekends, so we'll likely be in the valley this Saturday.

Last Friday, I accompanied Raul and his mom to Puntarenus for a doctor's appointment. I was happy to offer our car for a more comfortable ride instead of the overcrowded bus. Raul drove as I took in the sights along the way. Puntarenus is a port town and oh so hot. We drove by the main strip of beach and one could imagine it filled with tourists and locals, with every vendor you can imagine selling their wares on the sidewalk. I was happy that I could lend my support as we went from clinic to clinic with chest xray in hand and then to see the doctor at a private practice. We arrived back in San Luis about 4 p.m. and I made sure she was comfortable and wrote down the daily regimen of medicines the doctor had given her to make sure the family understood at what time she needed to take what medicine. Finally, I am happy to hear that mom is recovering and feeling a little stronger. The family gave me many hugs and kisses and were truly grateful for the small bit of assistance I had provided. I felt priviledged to help out such a dear family friend.

I am really excited to continue working with one of the boy's Kinder teachers - we are hoping to start a church or small group here in the community. She and her family are working with a pastor of a Baptist church near San Jose and hoping that their 'mother' church in Arkansas will give him 'approval' to come to Monteverde at some frequency to give sermons and help to establish a congregation in the zone. For those of us in the community who are not Catholic or Quaker, the opportunities for traditional worship are quite limited. I love this idea as I know of some folks that would definitely embrace another alternative for worship. I had a lovely afternoon meeting with the teacher and her family two weeks ago one afternoon after school. After coffee and some chit-chat, they related to me their visit with the pastor from Cartago. We await an answer from Arkansas and trust that if this does not work out, another door will open through our continued prayers. We've also talked about starting a small group even if we can't get a commitment from a pastor to minister here. We are both excited to see where this takes us. She has graciously invited John and Michael to her home on Sunday's for a Sunday School lesson, starting small, perhaps just 30 minutes, but what an opportunity. I jumped at the chance, and after having talked to Mike, we are all for it. The boys are excited and I have great confidence in her as she is an experienced Sunday School teacher. She gave us the Spanish children's bible she read to her kids when they were young so we are enjoying these readings! Appreciate your prayers as we see where this journey takes us.

Michael and John continue to amaze me; John is fixated on his ever-growing hair and is eager to have it long enough to wear in a pony-tail. He is interested in my hair product as well; I tell him "a little goes a long way", but I continue to see little paw prints in the jar every morning! Watch out girls! I am delighted to see the interest John has taken in puzzles - it is almost like someone said "okay, I'm ready and focused on puzzles now, so bring em on". It is really something, as 6 months ago, you could not get him to sit still for five minutes, let alone focus on a puzzle for close to an hour. The wonders of natural medicine! He has been sleeping through the night now for over a month and what a difference a few zzzzz's make! After updating his doctor in San Jose, she has asked me to write a testimonial about our experience with natural medicine...I gladly accepted. Looking back, I'm not sure how we were functioning as parents, husband, wife, teacher, community member and household! Onward!

Michael is certainly the hula-hoop hero in the community. It is the first thing he picks up when he reaches the house after school. He swaggers around the entire house with this thing circling his hips. He not only is a pro at hip movement, but can now hula on his neck and his knees. Auntie Beth, he is really digging the Magic Tree House book series you brought down last month. If he had his way, we'd read an entire book of the series each night, so I need to get an agreement before the first page is read..."okay, only two chapters...agreed?" Their minds are developing at rapid speed.

We finally affixed the world map we purchased in the States onto the open wall in the boy's bedroom. Mike spends a great deal of time with them after we eat dinner (sort of a calming activity, that's our hope :) talking about far off places, asking them to point to India or Greenland. It is an awesome teaching tool (and mom is learning a thing or two about the world as well). Note the stocking on John's head - did I mention he wants to grow his hair?

Smile Pepito! (He is one of the local farmers that hikes up the Trocha from San Luis several times a week) to sell his veggies and eggs. After having heard a friend speak about some baskets he had made her, I ordered two myself. A week later, he showed up on my doorstep with hand-made baskets, good for fruit, veggies, hot-wheels - or whatever!

I continue to spend my mornings job hunting and have over 20 applications out to Hewlett Packard in San Jose. We'll see if I get any bites. I am confident something will break and that I can contribute my talents to an organization that will appreciate them. Hears Hoping! Say a Prayer!

Thanks all who sent Christmas Cards - we still have them displayed on our fridge and every time I open the fridge to pull out a cold one, I see smiling faces of friends and family!

My next project - the yearly Walkathon Fundraiser at the school - April 2nd. I'll likely manage the 13 stations again, ensuring that we have someone placed each kilometer among the 13K route to hand out refreshments, etc. Yes, you also know, that you'll probably be receiving an email from me asking you to sponsor me in the walk. I can assure you it goes to a good cause!

I am running again and am enjoying laying down my feet upon every stride on freshly grated gravel - yes, it is that time again....road repair time in Monteverde - the windows on the house shake as the tractors and steamrollers move by! Exciting place here in Monteverde!

Rosann, we received your postcard - thanks for remembering us and following our journey!

The boys working with Dad to clear some trees from the driveway - John has his game face on as he concentrates - that machete is sharp you know! Michael helps to saw down a tree....Timber!!!!!!

One final comment - check this out, Michael, John and Laundry collecting garbage in the driveway and down our private road - totally unsolicited by me! Now if I can only get them to pick up their toys :)

Signed: S