Animal Life at ViVerde

By Diane Laughter

Hope 2017 finds you happy and healthy. Things are moving ahead here; the construction workers are gone so we can concentrate on finishing details for the guesthouse buildings and grounds. Brett has been with us here since November; she came after eight months working on farms and orchards in New Zealand. Amelie is halfway through her Masters in Nutrition program in Portland and plans to lead several educational tours here this summer.

The theme of this post is animals. Much of our fifteen acres is wooded, so you can be sure there is a whole world happening we don’t see. Every day we do see plenty of birds, squirrels, lizards and iguanas. Our dogs, bless their hearts, on their nightly rounds, encounter some private creatures we might not otherwise see.

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This little guy was adorable.  We put a dot of fingernail polish to recognize him if we ever see him again. He spent the night in a bucket to keep him out of Mario’s grasp and then we let him safely go the next day in the cacao and coffee plants.

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This Central American skunk is much smaller than its northern cousin and its scent smells like something is burning, nothing like the stench we use to smell on rural roads in Oregon.  Good thing because Mario got himself sprayed recently.

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Curious Dulci checking out a possum.  They are quiet, nocturnal creatures and I think we have many.  This one did a good job of playing dead until Jose came to rescue it.  Brett thought it was dead but I said, “Have you ever heard of playing possum?”

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We have insects of all shapes, colors and sizes.  Have you ever seen a walking stick this big?

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Our two sister hens, are “brooding”, they think they are incubating eggs. They look cozy, though, don’t they?

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Animals in the guesthouse shower, left side.  You must come visit to experience this outdoor jungle shower.

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Working with Brett to install the pieces.  Have to work quickly!

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Finished left side shower mosaic – That is a monkey in the right foreground eating an orange and the bird is a Motmot, Nicaragua’s national bird.  They are beautiful and plentiful here in the spring where they nest in the arroyo behind our property.

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And of course, our favorite animals, Mario and Dulci.  In two weeks Dulci is going to have puppies.  We bred her with a friend’s beautiful male Rottweiler.  It should be a very fun experience, another advantage to living outside.  We’ll take videos. And no, we do not intend to keep any.

P.S. Gerard will go to Costa Rica next week with Brett’s friend Mark for a timber frame building course.  Lots of projects to do when they return.

 

Lots More Construction at ViVerde!

By Diane Laughter – (photos follow)

Eight months into 2016 and the fun and work never stop! We continue to do more building, more planting, more infrastructure development. We renovated an existing animal structure, turning it into a material storage area and added a large open-air workshop and locked toolshed. We resurrected a tumbled-down house into a beautiful new guesthouse. We love our mason, Eddy, and since the end of March his team has built the guesthouse, the base for the dry compost toilets and the guest showers (to be solar heated). This week they started the sinks and laundry area. All this is outside under a canopy of large trees.

We roofed the old pig houses with the metal torn off the woodshop and turned them into our recycling/reuse center and holding pens for construction materials such as gravel and sand. No more piles all over the place, less loss, much neater. We opened up a back entrance for vehicles and solidified the road so trucks can deliver without getting stuck in the mud during rainy season.

Gerard is still doing a lot of designing in Google Sketchup. Such a great free tool (Sketchup, that is); it allows us to see our building details in 3D so no big surprise when we see them in real life. He spends a lot of time managing the construction, making sure the workers have what they need, and trying to stay one step ahead in design details.

In April I traveled to Costa Rica for a two-week permaculture design certification course (PDC), the same one Brett took two years ago. If you, or anyone you know, wants to get their PDC and can get to Costa Rica, Rancho Mastatal offers one of the best experiences around. Classmates came from all over the world and brought a lot of expertise of their own. It was nice to get away, immerse myself in the subject matter, make new friends, and network with lots of cool people doing amazing things.

With the Juans and Jose, I have been planting many more edible shrubs and trees. The nursery got cleared out and then filled up again with lots of new plant starts.  Our beds and planting areas, having been heavily mulched, are turning into rich healthy soil full of life-giving micro-organisms. We have also been cutting not so valuable trees to get sunlight to what was a hidden orchard of mature citrus trees, many types.

We have been working with our local grade school. On their wish list was better security. The locks on doors were broken or non-existent and they had trouble with break-ins. With help from our Christian fellowship group, we were able to beef up their system. We also helped them purchase two high efficiency, low smoke stoves from a local business, Coci-Nica (a great project started by a couple from Portland and now run entirely by Nicas).  The school cook was against using the new stove but now is a huge fan and gives a great testimonial to the community. We are helping to promote these stoves.

One exciting project is my “green leaves” campaign. We have been growing and propagating chaya and moringa, both super foods, easy to grow, easy to use. After tasting delicious salads and other things made with these highly nutritious greens, many friends wanted plants and I had them ready. We also planted plenty of both at our local school with the idea that they incorporate the greens into the school meal they serve and then take cuttings and share the plants with the community. Everyone wins!

We are happy and healthy, love living outside with the birds & bees, we find our dogs endlessly entertaining, and we are working hard so more people can come share this experience with us. Next building projects will be natural ones, cob and timber frame structures with wood from the property.

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Taking down the old walls of the tumbled down house to build the guesthouse. Don’t worry, all that broken concrete will be put to good use.

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New four-bedroom guesthouse, waiting for floors, paint and plants.

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Eddy and team working on the base of the dry compost toilets

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Mario enjoying, for now, the cool space under the compost toilet. Still lots to do: construct the walls and roof, build wooden toilet, seat & covers, install service doors on the back side.

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Adjusting the levels for the guest shower entrance.

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Juan helps students plant moringa and chaya plants at our local school.

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Planting moringa trees with care

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Mature citrus trees are getting some love, Jose is digging trenches and filling with leaves and manure. We are opening up the canopy to let in much needed sunlight.

Greening ViVerde

By Brett Liza Rousseau

2015 was a busy year for building, hosting friends and family, and
familiarizing ourselves with Nicaraguan life and culture – it was also
a busy year of planting. In the past year and a half we have planted
over 150 fruit trees and shrubs, including 40 different species – some
which you know: banana, avocado, lime, coconut, pomegranate, and other exotics like cacao (chocolate pod), ojoche nut, jackfruit, nispero, surinam cherry, star apple, and many more! With our warm-weathered climate, some will begin fruiting within 3-5 years!

In June 2014, I went south to Costa Rica and took a permaculture design course in Costa Rica emphasizing tropical agroforestry systems, which has given me endless inspiration for our work here. Permaculture: Is it a book, a philosophy, a movement? There are many interpretations of the word, but here is my favorite:

Permaculture is the practice of designing sustainable, resilient, and
productive human habitats by following nature’s patterns.

I’ve now spent over a year on the farm and have been acting as ViVerde’s permaculture designer for the plant spaces, sculpting the land for water harvesting and efficiency, building soil, planting fruit trees, developing new garden spaces, learning what does and doesn’t grow, and reviving old fruit trees that had been lost to the jungle. We had inherited a large assortment of citrus and mango trees, coconut, starfruit, and over 100 coffee plants, to name a few.

Before planting the orchards, we needed to get the land ready. In the world of permaculture the three S’s of water management are: slow it, spread it, sink it. Not only is rainwater runoff a lost resource, but it also strips the soil of its most nutritious top layer. By digging a ditch that follows the contour of the landscape, you allow the water more time to penetrate into the soil. Locating swales around fruit trees sinks water where it’s most needed, and encourages deep root growth. Our biggest project was digging 60 meters of swales (1 m deep, 1.5 m wide), and channeling the runoff from the road outside into the property. Considering all was hand-dug, it is a tremendous feat!

Promoting and building healthy soil is another important element of permaculture. Mulch, defined as a “layer of material applied to the surface of an area of soil,”  is a technique with multiple functions and benefits. It conserves moisture, improves fertility and health of the soil (by creating habitat for microorganisms), and reduces erosions and weed growth. A variety of materials can be used as mulch: leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, newspaper, plastic, etc. On the farm, fallen leaves abound, and we apply them to our orchard and gardens to imitate nature’s way on the forest floor.

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Digging swales in the dry season, prepping berm for planting

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Built-in overflow, from one swale to the next

 

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Dressed for success: young fruit tree equipped with swale and leaf litter mulch

Watch Mario and Dulci enjoying the swale after a big rain, video: 25 seconds of fun. You will get an idea of how much water we are now harvesting.

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Terraced fruit tree to maximize rainfall, pineapples planted around the rim to maximize space

With its intense wet and dry season, Nicaragua’s climate is tricky
to accommodate. There are times when we need to harvest and
conserve water and other times when we need to shed it – during the peak of
rainy season the ground becomes so saturated with water that the
lower level of the farm becomes a flood plain. Future plans include turning a natural low-point into a seasonal pond.

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Rain, rain! A valuable resource that needs to be well-managed

Last year I stubbornly made a go of trying to grow a “North American
garden” and learned my lesson about growing non-climate appropriate
crops. Nothing like learning from your mistakes, right? I also learned
that eggplant and peppers thrive, iguanas eat the green beans, papayas
spring up like weeds , root crops like sweet potato and ginger need little care and perennial greens (such as moringa, katuk, chaya) make a more beautiful and far more nutritious salad than even spinach.

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The Mandala garden – repurposing old roof tiles to create bed edges. Gerard and the Juans, making sure all is round and level.

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Growing a mixture of perennial greens and vegetables, herbs, and flowering shrubs for the humming birds! Also constructing trellises for beans and grapes.

I have become very interested in edible landscape design, ecological
farming, and inspiring others to explore alternative methods of growing
food, both in Nicaragua and in the States. The opportunity to get
dirty and experiment with landscaping and permaculture techniques,
work with Gerard on gravity-fed irrigation systems, propogate plants with Diane,
and begin my own food forest has been priceless, and already proving
to be delicious!

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Our first bunch of bananas, planted 16 months ago. Did you know that bananas are not trees but belong to the grass family? After a bunch is harvested, the stalk is cut down leaving room for its offspring to grow.

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Citrus harvest: sweet oranges, sour oranges, grapefruit, and a whole lot of limes.

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A healthy bed of root crops: ginger, turmeric, and yuca (cassava).

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Leguminous plants, an important element of the forest garden. They fix nitrogen into the soil,  create biomass for mulching and are incredibly beautiful! (Arguably my favorite flower.)

Note from Diane: My mom Edna, who was living here with us, passed away on February 5th.  She spent the last 2 years, as her health rapidly declined, surrounded by family, amongst growing plants, birds and butterflies, and attended to by wonderful Nicaraguan caregivers.  It was her time to go and she is in a much better place. She lived a good life and we were honored to have her with us.

Feliz Año Nuevo from ViVerde

By Amelie Rousseau

I am amazed by how much Diane, Gerard, and Brett have accomplished in only one year (not alone, of course). This place is beautiful, way better than I expected. Because I was there during rainy season, everything was green and lush. Since my arrival mid-September I met the wonderful farm staff, made fast friends with the dogs, and renewed friendships with my old friends, that is, the papayas and coconuts and tamarinds and mango trees that I had missed so much since leaving India.

I spent the first few weeks listening to Spanish podcasts and doing much-needed painting in the Centro building. The front porch is now a comfy hangout space in the evening where Brett and I play guitar and ukulele. Inside is now a tranquil turquoise. The second floor’s beautiful railings were installed so we no longer risk our necks every time we go up and down the stairs at night.

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Back of Centro, painted with railings

Our locally handcrafted cement tiles are installed and polished. We had a special mold made for us. This is an ancient craft; you see tiles in Granada that are hundreds of years old.  If you like seeing how things are done differently, watch these short videos:  our tiles being made and tiles installed, the local way.

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We painted Grandma’s casita; now with its iron grillwork windows, it is quite a charming cottage.

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Casita before

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Casita now, feeling better about itself

My lovely Americorps friends, Isabel and Ari, came to visit in September. Both farmers and women of the woods like me, we got muddy building a giant cob bench. All day we would dance around and around in circles, mixing wet clay and sand with handfuls of straw for tensile strength. After the cob was thoroughly mixed, we formed balls and carted them up the hill to our building site. Then, and this is the best part, we would pick each mud ball up and SMACK! it onto the bench for maximum adherence. After the bench is thoroughly dry, we will seal it with an earthen plaster and decorate it tastefully. Thanks Isabel and Ari for all your help!

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Gerard working with the Juans on the bench roof

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Diane building brick foundation wall

Making cob

Ari and Isabelle mixing cob with us

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Amelie and Ari, covered in mud,making cob balls

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Amelie & Brett building and shaping the back wall

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Finished bench, drying and awaiting final cob plaster

One of my favorite projects was transforming the bathroom and showers into a lush junglescape with my sister Brett. We now brush our teeth surrounded by birds of paradise, toucans, a jaguar and a waterlily lake filled with moonlight. Brett and I worked long days painting layer upon layer of massive arums, graceful palm fronds and vibrant snake grasses.

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Toilets and showers before…

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Largest mural by Rousseau sisters to date

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Look closely for the jaguar in the tree

I also had fun painting the kitchen backsplash below.

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Thieving monkey in the kitchen– watch out!

I am so thankful for this quality time with my family. These three months also gave me the mental space to reflect on my life goals, and I am happy to report I will be returning to Portland and intend to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition at the National College of Natural Medicine. America’s system of feeding and healing our communities is far past broken, and I can’t wait to dive deeper into the world of whole foods and holistic healing. In a year and a half I hope to organize cooking classes and wellness programs at ViVerde. Our farm will be, among other things, a restive place to inspire folks to treat themselves and the earth with kindness and patience.

Check out our Christmas Duck adventure! This was my first time ever butchering and roasting a duck. Delicious!

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Dulci with the duck

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Amelie with duck a l’orange

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The Finca ViVerde team wishes you Happy New Year!

A busy year at Finca ViVerde

By Diane

Okay, it has been a while since you heard from us, way too long.   If you know us, though, you know we  have been busy, so busy. Since the beginning of this year, Gerard and I both filed for and received our Nicaraguan residency, registered our business, ViVerde SA (Sociedad Anonima) in Granada, almost completed a large renovation and addition to the existing main house with hundreds of design details, and we developed an assisted living program for my mom, Edna with all of the necessary staff and protocols to provide for her medical and daily needs (she is suffering from Parkinson’s and pretty severe dementia) from 7:30 in the morning until 8pm at night.  And all of this in Spanish!

Obviously, we couldn’t have launched into all this if Gerard hadn’t already spoken pretty fluent Spanish (remember that he is French and they have to have not one but two foreign languages). I am speaking Spanish too, badly, but I do communicate with staff all day long . My French does help, it is so similar, but now the Spanish has pushed the French out of my head.

Our daughter Brett earned her permaculture design certification in Costa Rica and unlike most of her classmates, she actually had her own farm project to design right away. She measured and mapped   the topography of the property, plotted buildings and trees, where the water runs and the sun hits, and then drew beautiful maps of what we have and what we want to add. Then we got to digging and planting. This rainy season, we put in over 40 new fruit trees!

Our daytime staff, both named Juan, are so valuable, such hard workers; this job gives them the opportunity to learn a wide variety of things besides digging (which they are SO good at). They have now done plumbing and electrical, rock wall building, concrete masonry, composting, planning and transplanting. We could not move ahead without them.

In January we started our construction project.  When you speak Spanish you have a wider choice than the builders customarily working for expats and we took advantage of this.  We have experience building in the US, but here it it so different, mostly concrete, with ceilings covered with cane, metal roofs covered with clay tiles, and when it rains, it pours, so gutters need to be custom engineered to handle the water.  We have learned so much! And every day, we had to stay ahead of the contractors in design details or we could have easily ended up with something we would not have chosen.  We purchased the materials ourselves to stay in control of that process.  People work six days here, Saturday being a bit shorter, so crews were around most of the time and there was plenty of noise all day long.  We knew it would be stressful and it was, but we did it, we stayed on top of things and we are thrilled with the results.

We have had a string of visitors and volunteers. Our dogs, female rottweiler Dulci and male boxer Mario, are an endless source of delight. Let’s let photos tell the rest.

Posts later about our mandala garden, major earthworks and rainwater harvesting project, and more…

Centro demolition before

Demolition of old wall – The BEFORE

New kitchen

New kitchen walls

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Gerard getting the stairs right

Centro early construction

New addition starts to take shape

Bottom level kitchen and dining room, top level multi-purpose space. Almost finished!

Bottom level kitchen and dining room, top level multi-purpose space. Almost finished!

Brett and I gave this sink a facelift with a colored concrete design

Brett and I gave this sink a facelift with a colored concrete design

John Dripps and Bess

John and Bess, the perfect people to put together these complicated Thai light covers

Tyler McRae and Justin Barth plan their table construction project with Gerard

Tyler and Justin spent 3 weeks with us, here they plan their table construction project with Gerard

Sister in law Laurie with nephew Adam, Edna, and caregiver Maria

Sister-in-law Laurie, nephew Adam, my mom Edna (when she was still walking), caregiver Maria, and Dulci

Stamblers and us

Barrett, Bobbie, Jamey, Sivan, and Dillon (not pictured) visited over spring break

Niece Danielle and Sarah in Granada

Niece Danielle and friend Sarah in Granada

Carol and Eliana returning after eleven years (we are in Granada based on Carol's recommendation)

Carol and Eliana returning after eleven years (we are in Granada based on Carol’s recommendation)

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Diane in her element: propagating plants is so easy here in this warm weather

Beginnings of a growing garden

Beginnings of a growing garden

Dulci and baby Mario

March 2, 2015 ~ Mario’s first day on the farm!

Giving Thanks

By Gerard

For this Thanksgiving, we would like to thank all of you around the world who helped and supported us in our adventure, which started two years ago.  During that time our blog received 3,000 views from 65 different countries.  This week Diane, Brett and Nathan are returning from their hiatuses in the US.  I am looking forward to getting our core team back together.

Over the next months our project will enter an even more active phase which will see friends, family members and volunteers visit and participate in many exciting projects.  We’re working hard to make sure they enjoy Finca ViVerde and the experience as much as we do.

Settling in at the Farm

By Diane

We moved to our 15 acre farm at the end of August. The month before the move, we were busy procuring what we needed to set up our own housekeeping (the Granada rental was completely furnished). We had fun working with a local metal shop to design and make grillwork for our windows and doors. Granada is full of beautiful ironwork so there were lots of examples to choose from.

Since July we have had two teams rebuilding our fence. The perimeter is .75 miles so it was no small task; this past Saturday was the day they closed the loop. It is a “living fence”, the branches are cut from certain types of trees (on our property) known to grow roots and become living posts. Once established they will not rot. To keep animals out, or in, we are repairing the barbed wire and adding new strands. As soon as the wire on the front side was complete, the neighbors’ pigs stopped coming in. We are also reinforcing a line of pinuelas, a cactus-type “hostile” plant with barbs that you do not want to get hung up on. To achieve the coverage we wanted, we purchased plants from neighboring farms that our guys dug up and had delivered with a horse cart. Once the front line was planted as densely as possible, the neighbors’ chickens stopped coming through (except for one very persistent one that Gerard is having fun chasing off). We also have a clean wide path now all the way around that we can use for walks and runs.

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Notice the green shoots emerging from the new posts.

Pinuelas planted tightly to block animals and people

Pinuelas planted tightly to block animals and people

Local horse cart delivery

Local horse cart delivery

Three weeks ago, we got a female Rottweiler puppy, Dulci. Gerard and I have never had a dog together so it is a new, fun parental experience for us.  Rotties are described as devoted, good natured, alert, obedient, calm, confident, fearless and they make excellent guard dogs and family pets.  She is going to be very big, 100+ lbs and she is growing, literally, before our eyes. I think she has doubled in size since we brought her home.  She is so smart and eager to please, learning new puppy tricks every day. We love her and so does everyone else who works here. I now get what all the fuss is about in having a dog!

Dulci when she was first put into my arms, at about six weeks.

Dulci when she was first put into my arms

With her furry friend

With her furry friend

It is great living here, so much cooler and quieter than Granada. With rainy season finally kicking in, everything has turned green. It rains every two or three days for less than an hour, usually toward the end of the day. Close to the house we have seen toucans, parrots and other colorful birds in our trees, and iguanas and frogs on the grounds. Our guys are clearing brush and we are thrilled to discover numerous fruit trees of many interesting varieties and 100+ coffee plants. We intend to bring these mature trees back to their productive best. We are pruning and using the fallen leaves and sticks from this and all the clearing as mulch (no organic matter goes wasted) and will soon add manure from the farm next door.

Everything is green now

Everything is green now

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Young iguana

Have you ever seen a frog like this one?

Have you ever seen a frog like this one?

Our first three weeks were with very limited wifi but now we have a seventy foot tower that transmits a good signal. Gerard spent mucho time on this, assessing the options and choosing the best one to meet our longterm needs.

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Installation of wifi tower

We are excited to welcome our first volunteers. Brett and Nathan will be back after Thanksgiving, two of their friends in January and my sister in law, Laurie and nephew Adam in February. We are getting ready for them!

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