Steve and me at Acadia National Park, Maine

News from the Carpenters in Honduras

January 2017

As I look back on the events that have happened in our lives since we left China almost two years ago -- though it seems like yesterday -- I feel time stood still for a short while as I experienced something that I never would have expected. I am not someone who is anxious about the future but I like to have some plans and a direction and this experience definitely changed my direction.
Christmas in Honduras was the start of being back to "normal".
Celebrating the newest great nephew, Gavin.

I love to keep adding to my Colombian nativity with pieces fromevery country we have visited.

Returning to Honduras at the end of October 2016 was the start of trying to see if that was where we were supposed to stay,or if the plan would take us back to the states or to another country altogether. I have been reading Sarah Young's "Jesus Always" devotional and I wanted to share this new year message with you:
"Do not dwell in the past. As you begin a fresh year, rejoice that Jesus is continually working newness into our lives. Don't let recent disappointments and failures define you or dampen your spirit. God is a God of unlimited creativity so expect Him to do surprising things in this year that stretches out before you. God has strewn little pleasures along our path so stay thankful and close to God to find the joy in the journey of 2017."

We started out our summer of 2016 with a trip to Maine to see my parents and other family in that area that I hadn't seen in probably 20 years. Being equal opportunity travelers, we like to travel in the states as well and had wanted to see Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park so we flew up and met my parents in Augusta. Being the capital of the state, you would have thought it would have been a big airport, but au contraire,it was small enough that the plane we flew in only held 9 people. I hate the fact that it was the perfect opportunity to get a great view of the coast and I had to keep my eyes closer to avoid panic, but better than than throwing up on a small plane!


Views from Acadia National Park

The weather and views in Maine reminded me of some of the places and vegetation that we had seen when we were in Alaska many years ago. There just aren't that many places where you see lupines lining the roadsides in all their various hues of purple. These types of places always make me feel closer to God and feel His presence in the majesty and beauty He created to surround us in our lives here on earth.
The Lupines along side the roadways were beautiful.

This is the main thoroughfare in the desert of Maine.

Off the coast of Bar Harbor you can walk across a sand bar at low tide to a park out on one of the islands.

The tall ships would take you out for a sail as well as on whale watching tours.

One really unique place we went to was the Desert of Maine. Now if you know anything about deserts, you are thinking there is something strange about a desert in Maine. The Desert of Maine is a 40 acre tract of land that is actually exposed glacial silt surrounded by a pine forest that seems to continue to grow. According to the Smithsonian.com...

"Ten thousand years ago, during the last ice age, large glaciers covered what is now Maine. These glaciers scraped rocks and soil as they expanded, grinding rocks into pebbles, and grinding those pebbles down into what is known as glacial silt—a granular material with a texture somewhere between sand and clay. Layers of glacial silt piled up as high as 80 feet in some parts of southern Maine. Over time, topsoil began to cover the silt, hiding the sandy substance beneath a layer of organic matter that encouraged the growth of Maine's iconic coniferous forests. It was used and farmed by various people groups who didn't understand about proper land usage, crop rotation, and overgrazing. While the Desert of Maine is certainly an intriguing tourist attraction, it's also a reminder of what can happen to farmland that isn't properly cared for."

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/why-desert-middle-maine-180951555/#Z2AbCq0gI9s4C5jF.99

Birds and flowers are always a good combination!
Lighthouse off the coast of Portland, Maine

We also went to Bar Harbor, Portland, Freeport,and just enjoyed driving in the countryside where it was relaxing, peaceful,and quiet. We saw deer, diners, and wild Maine blueberries, and ate a lot of blueberries in pancakes at the diners but not with any deer! We did go to LLBean flagship store, but we didn't buy anything but a few whoppie pies at the shop next door.I always associate the whoppie pie with the Amish in Pennsylvania, but they had about 25 different flavors in Maine that were just as good! LLBean is an institution in this area and has an interesting history told throughout the story in pictures and displays.

Back in Honduras, we visited Copan Ruinas, the area where you can see the Mayan ruins in Honduras. Along with the ruins, the Honduran government has a release program of Macaws that have been rehabilitated or saved from private collections that operates in the park. It is amazing to see the colorful birds flying free in the park. At one time, the Scarlet Macaws were much more common, but as they were trapped and sold as pets, they were hardly ever seen in the wild.
A Pygmy Owl

The Rufous Motmot

Flying macaws in the forest

Lots of other wildlife can be seen in the park as well. In addition, there is Macaw Mountain you can visit to see the rehabilitation process or to bring birds that have been rescued. It was not as impressive overall as Tikal in Guatemala, but it was interesting in its own way as the statues and buildings had more design and style aspects.
In front of the ruins in Copan with our friend, Andrew
If you've ever been to ruins, you can walk all throughout the area and woods and find mounds or remnants of the people.

*warning - graphic surgery images coming up below.

Next, Steve and I were preparing to head to Nicaragua for a vacation in July before school started again, and I decided to go to an orthopedist in San Pedro Sula just for a shot of cortisone for a little pain in my shoulder so it wouldn't be bothering me on the trip; this is something I have done several times in the states and I thought nothing of it. Unfortunately, whether it was at that doctor's office, the emergency room, the next doctor's office, or somewhere in between, I contracted a staph infection in my arm that almost cost me my life. An overnight flight to Atlanta had us in the emergency room at Dekalb Medical Center where the staff tried to figure out what was wrong. Antibiotics were not working and the doctors couldn't determine what was happening in my arm. It had swollen to about twice its normal size and felt like someone had put a blood pressure cuff on it and was continuing to pump up the pressure.
(Sorry if the pictures are too graphic for some. Scroll quickly if needed.)
The hard part of this type of injury is that the tissue takes a long time to regenerate while the small amount of muscle that had to be removed doesn't.
This was when they took off the wound vac for the first time to see how far the skin had been able to close. It is amazing to me to actually see the muscle under your skin and how it all fits together.

The doctor put 76 staples in my arm to hold it together. Believe it or not it was only a week until he took them out and without any pain.

The infection reappeared in my scar in the form of blisters.
My arm had lost all muscle and strength and I had to pick it up with the other hand to move it. This is the scar at one month.
The scar continues to heal and the arm to gain strength.This is the scar at four months.

When the doctor opened my arm in surgery, he could see where the muscle and tissue was already grey from the lack of oxygen because of the way the infection moves systemically through the compartments in my arm. He was able to relieve the pressure by cutting through the fascia and the tissue started to turn pink again. The fact that I am able to write this today is a testimony to God, faith, quality doctors, and the prayers of many people. I never would have made it through the two MRIs without God there with me; it was terrifying for me. I spent 11 days in the hospital, two weeks with a wound vac on my arm to try and close the wound, a pic line in my other arm for a month to receive antibiotics at home after leaving the hospital, and hours of physical therapy to go from a useless arm to one on the road to recovery. There was only one set back when the staph infection returned and I had to do another round of antibiotics -- apparently staph is hard to kill so the doctors actually weren't surprised -- staph actually lives normally on most people's skin, a fact I did not know.On all accounts, it was a miraculous and best case scenario recovery.

Here are a few pretty pictures from Gibbs Gardens in Georgia to break up the scary stuff!

I love how the pink flower is reflected in the butterfly's wing.


The MRIs were terrifying but the removal of the bandages without painkillers was as close to torture as I have ever been. (One group thought the other group had given the painkillers so know one realized it until I was screaming insanely about the pain, and by then it is too late.) Anyone who has been in the hospital I think will testify that it is not a place to rest and recover, but a place where you seem to be kept awake and uncomfortable to be sure you are stay alive! Dr. Burcall was definitely a God-send and even calledme at home to see how I was doing. It was one of those injuries where everyone comes in an looks at it, scratches their heads, and says "hummmm..." Not a good thing when you are the patient but the doctors at Dekalb were committed to solving the mystery and saving my arm.

I like this picture outside La Ceiba, Honduras, because it reminds me of a place in the old South with its buildings and colorful trees.

As I look back now, six months later, the memories and pain have faded but the scars remain to remind me of God's faithfulness and the power of prayer. I am blessed to have a family that was able to care for me while Steve returned to Honduras to work. The fact that I could manage my classes online, and that our school was extremely supportive was a blessing. Even the fact that Dekalb Medical Center was in our network of international insurance providers was huge.

These are tobacco drying houses out near Copan.

Steve is at the rescue center at Macaw mountain with some of the rehabilitated birds.

People ask me why I would ever think to trust a doctor in another country and I can honestly say I had had great care any time I had gone up until that point. I had braces, dental care and therapy in Colombia, lasik, dental care, and a colonoscopy in Guatemala, a root canal in Japan, and so forth and had great success so I wasn't even dreaming that a doctor -- with all the diplomas and office at a hospital --would not clean the surface of my skin before giving me a shot. I had even gone to the public health center in downtown San Pedro Sula for a yellow fever vaccine and had come away with a problem. It definitely taught me to pay more attention and be aware of any medical procedure for sanitary conditions because things like that can happen anywhere, even in the US.
The fact that my family was there for me to help me through this situation really made me think about those who don't. I can't imagine being single without friends or family to be there for you and getting through a traumatic experience. I can see how it would be easy to give up or not do the therapy because you have no one to push you or stand by you to encourage you. Just because you know that God is there with you and that your family cares about you doesn't mean you cry any less or don't have to overcome personal challenges. But it is God and those people who stand in the gap for you and keep you going.
Gibbs Gardens in the summer is full of all types of lilies.

I don't know if I have shown this before, but I find it interesting that bananas start out as "fingers" and plump up as they grow.

I say all that to explain why I have been slack in getting my newsletters written! I did learn a lot about muscles and tissue and the workings of the muscular system, as well as how hospitals are not good places to get rest and the value of cleanliness, a quality therapist, and a good anesthetist. I am constantly reminded of how much what happens to us can influence and affect those around us and those far away that we don't even know who somehow get tied into our stories and lives.


We were able to make our postponed trip to Nicaragua this year at Christmas time. Nicaragua is a beautiful country and we were amazed at the wonderful clean roads (with reflective lines and everything!), friendly people, and resources they had available. Nicaragua is said to have the lowest minimum salary in Central America at $173.00 a month for an agricultural worker, but it didn't appear as poor and run down as here in Honduras where the same worker would make almost $300.00 a month. If you need to, you can use that data when you are talking to your kids about their jobs at McDonald's and how they should feel blessed for the opportunity. Unfortunately the cost of living doesn't match the salario minimo as electricity and gas here in Honduras are twice the price as in the US. and isn't even available to everyone in the country. There was a story in the paper today about an area that finally was going to get electricity after 30 years of waiting.
Monkeys everywhere spend a lot of time just hanging around.

Fields of sugar cane were flowering everywhere making it look like fields of snow.

Anyway, our trip was great and we got to see and learn a lot about the country of Nicaragua. We started at La Bastilla, an ecolodge that is part of a coffee plantation near Jinotega. The owners use 50% of the money brought in by the lodge to finance students in their school to give them skills to try and help them improve their lives. Once you know that, you don't mind the fact that there is only solar power at the lodge so if there isn't sun, there isn't hot water in the shower, or, that there are no outlets in the room or any kind of service to connect you to the outside world. The fact that you can see toucans flying by, have a wonderful cool breeze to enjoy as you watcdh the world go by, and monkeys and birds singing in the trees made up for that for me. We could always go down to civilization if we needed to since we had a 4x4, which was essential to get to and back out of the road to the lodge.

Our room at the lodge

The lodge sits in the middle of a coffee plantation.

The Keel Billed Toucan "singing" -- really it sounds like a squawking crow -- to its companion outside our room.

The views across the mountains in Nicaragua

We left Jinotega and went south to Granada, one of the oldest colonial towns in Nicaragua along with Leon. It was not as "old colonial" as Antigua, Guatemala, but had a similar feel and its own unique charm. The town sits within sight of Lake Nicaragua -- the only lake to have fresh water sharks -- and a ring of volcanoes, several which are active. We were able to visit a prison and learn about the times of the Sandinista and Somoza. We had to remind ourselves of the Oliver North and the Iran Contra Affair and then try to understand how that related to what was happening in Nicaragua at the time. Very interesting though appears to make no sense on the surface!
This is at the prison and the openings at the front are where solitary confinement was held.

The view of the volcanoes and Lake Nicaragua from the prison

We got to have lunch and swim in a volcanic lake and visit a local potter to see how the Nicaraguan pottery was made. It was really nice because you always see so much of the stuff that you start to think there is no way it could be "handmade" and not from China, but it really is handmade and they are fast! The clay is "stomped" like they do with grapes to prepare it for the potter's wheel.

It was cool to see because the colors they use are all from local rocks from various regions around Nicaragua. I wouldn't have believed a color could come from a rock or the ground --other than red clay in Georgia of course -- but he showed us and it really does. The land in Nicaragua is really fertile -- I would guess from the volcanic ash and such in the soil -- so there were fields and fields of various crops everywhere; and if it wasn't a crop, it was a place where workers were processing coffee. We started and ended our trip in Valle del los Angeles in Honduras and to give some credit to Honduras, it was a nice town up in the mountains that was a wonderful cool and tranquil change from San Pedro Sula.
Many of the buildings in Granada were built to protect the city center from pirates or to give a view so the people could watch the coastlines.

These would be the type of workers that would be making the salario minimo of $173.00 a month.

All throughout the highlands region, you could see the various parts of the coffee processing process. Here the beans are being dried and then packed up to be roasted.

A colonial church in Granada, Nicaragua

People often think that God allows suffering and wants people to suffer, and they don't see that as right or fair. For me, it wasn't suffering as much as it was building perseverance and putting me in a situation where I had to communicate and spend time with God in order to see how to overcome the situation; moreover, how I handled it could influence those around me and that is one way God can use my life to reach those around me.

Lago Apoyo

I met several people during this time that had either gone through a similar type of situation in their lives or were in it as well and it really reminded me that I am not special; I'm not special in the sense that there are people in far worse situations and we all have had that brush with death that gives us a new perspective on our lives. If it doesn't cause a change in our lives, then we wasted the pain and experience. Our scars, whether on the outside or inside should remind us daily that God is faithful to us and we need to be faithful to Him in reaching out to others.

All the various sugary sweets are available at almost every stop on our trip.

You never know who is watching you where or who you might influence for better or worse without even knowing it. My goal this year is to be more intentional in those actions!

All photographs and copy the property of Cathleen Carpenter Photography 2017

People ask me why I would ever think to trust a doctor in another country and I can honestly say I had had great care any time I had gone up until that point. I had braces, dental care and therapy in Colombia, lasik, dental care, and a colonoscopy in Guatemala, a root canal in Japan, and so forth and had great success so I wasn't even dreaming that a doctor -- with all the diplomas and office at a hospital --would not clean the surface of my skin before giving me a shot. I had even gone to the public health center in downtown San Pedro Sula for a yellow fever vaccine and had come away with a problem. It definitely taught me to pay more attention and be aware of any medical procedure for sanitary conditions because things like that can happen anywhere, even in the US.