Hello Bloggy, my little friend.

I just got through two months worth of accounting work and it feels so good to get that out of the way! With being sick and then Chris being gone I’ve gotten hardly anything done in the past month. I honestly was taken by surprise when the Shingles knocked out my energy. Was not prepared for that!

Chris came home last Tuesday and we’re all better with him here :) On Monday Olivia was really quiet at dinner so I asked what she was thinking about and she said, “I’m just thinking about 3 days from now.” Prodding her more she said, “I’m just so excited I can’t even talk about it!!!” Yeah, she had, for some reason, decided that it was still three days until Daddy was coming home. I had intentionally been really vague about it because I wasn’t up to having the constant questions about how much longer or dealing with the inevitable melt downs that would come with knowing exactly when. I had just said things like, “next week” and “a few more days” which, in kid terms, could be one day or a billion days. So, knowing that she had decided in her mind that it was still three more days, I decided not to say anything.

The next morning we went about or day as usual, and Chris phoned mid-morning to let me know he had landed. He was hoping to get back in time to go get Liv from school, but because of some vehicle complications Alex and I hit the road, with Chris arriving home a few minutes after we left. He was able to change and start unpacking a bit before we got back. When he heard the car come in he hid behind the door so when we opened it it didn’t go all the way. Olivia immediately whipped it back to see why and found Daddy hiding behind it. Then this happened:

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And this…

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I still feel a little weepy when I look at those. These kids love their Daddy and vice versa. Alex had been in a funk for 2.5 weeks which was super draining on me. He was really clingy, didn’t want to do anything, would ask for something and when I gave it to him told me he didn’t want it or that it was “yucky”. Our little caveman who often eats just as much as a normal adult didn’t want anything. He was just not himself. As soon as he saw Daddy he got this contented little smile on his face and for the next two to three days would just randomly say things like, “My so happy Daddy’s home” and “My love that Daddy’s home.” Melt(Aside: this kid is so free flowing with his sweet comments and verbal love. I regularly hear things like “Mommy, you buful” and “I love you”.)

Nanna sent boots in for the kids. Alex has barely taken his off since he got them. He even talks to them. Like, “Hey Boots! Good night Boots! It’s okay, Boots…”

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And yes, that’s his regular wardrobe. He has a diaper tan, and we have no idea how we’re going to ever get him to wear clothes regularly. Maybe when he starts school…

My energy is pretty much back to normal now and I’m super thankful about that. It’s so frustrating to not be able to do what you want to do.

We had friends come spend the day on Good Friday, then Sunday was our regularly scheduled missionary fellowship bible study day, so we had an Easter potluck and spent time doing communion together. It was a sweet way to spend the day with our missionary family, and time and time again I find myself thinking about how thankful I am for the people that God has brought in our lives. We’ve always had a solid group of people around us and try to make those relationships a priority, but in the last year and a half God has just solidified those more and brought new families into the area that have kids in our kids age range. On top of that there have been a wonderful group of single ladies that we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and who love to come over and hang with us and give us date nights by hanging with our kids. Every single one of these people is a blessing to us.

I had a bit of a laugh last week because there was this distinct moment in St. Marc while I was doing some shopping that reminded me just how much I’ve adjusted to the crazy that happens here on a regular basis, so much so that these events can happen and they just get mixed in with everything else in a day and I sometimes even forget to mention them to Chris. These are the things that would have been a BIG deal when I was first living here and the fact that they just become part of the kaleidoscope that is life here just shows me how much this has become home and how the “abnormal” has become my normal.

I was in town doing some grocery shopping before picking Olivia up after school. Chris had asked me to stop by a parts store to pick up some fuel conditioner for the car. The store that I went to is one of the better ones in St. Marc and is always busy. There’s a guy that fixes tires out front so there are cars and motos and people everywhere. Just being a white woman going into a hardware or parts store here gets enough attention as it is. Literally people whip their heads when I walk by. The guys inside are always surprised that I know what I’m asking for and that I speak fluent Creole. Also things not normal for white women here. I went in, chatted with everyone, bought the stuff I needed and headed back out. As I was walking to my car – literally just coming around the front of it to go to the drivers side door, a dump truck started pulling in. He very much saw me. And he very much did not leave enough space, or stop until I had passed my car. He literally kept driving and was so close that as I quickly tried to scurry around the car the box of the truck brushed my dress. I was shuffling sideways and my butt was touching my car, just to give you an idea of how tight a squeeze it was.

Yeah, I literally almost got run over by a dump truck! (And this is where my mother goes, “Ah! Les!” – sorry mom!)

The best part of this whole story though is not that I didn’t get hit (though that’s a very good thing and something that I’m grateful for!) but rather that the mob of people moving about in front of the store stood in disbelief at what they’d just seen and then they started yelling at the driver. So often there’s such a huge divide between classes and whatnot that we feel like we’re on on own with few times where others come to our defense. We’re often looked to as the ones to blame simply because we’re the foreigners, not because things are actually our fault. It leaves us feeling like everything here is work, because it truly is. In that moment where a mob of people started yelling in my defense I kind of felt like the playing field was not just level, but that we were all playing the same game for a moment. They were upset that he had done something that could have caused harm to anyone. I wasn’t alone in thinking the whole thing was crazy, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t need to come to my own defense. Instead I was able to yell a thank you, wave and get in my car and go.

People that come to visit often comment on our Creole or that Chris and I go and do a lot of things personally rather than sending our staff. We believe in giving our staff responsibility for a lot of things and are always looking for ways to give them more, but we also believe in being able to do things ourselves here. As a woman, I think it’s even more important. More often than not I get compliments on the fact that I speak Creole pretty fluently. People here appreciate the effort because to them it says that we’ve invested ourselves in learning the language of the people. It earns us a lot of respect in the sense that it’s so appreciated. As a woman, I see how men respect me when I can go into a hardware store or something like that and ask for things specifically and tell them in detail what it’s going to be used for. What I love is when I tell them that I’m the one building furniture or needing something for a project that I’m working on. They LOVE that I do things out of the box and they respect it. I like that people appreciate the effort that I’ve put in because I know they see that it’s hard work and I know that it means something to them. It bridges so many gaps that have been here for so long.

A few months ago we bought a used washing machine off of some other missionaries. They had owned it for 8 months and the motor went on it. Chris is handy, which I’m SO thankful for, so he loves situations like this where we can buy something for the mission and fix it rather than having to buy something new and spend more money. He gave the machine a good once over and confirmed that it was the motor, then found a new one online that he brought back with him. Our original plan was that he would do the fix on the new one and we would put it in our house and then move the one in our house down to the round house, because as Chris told me repeatedly, “We’re going to use it until it dies completely!”. The one down there works, but is really old and can only take small loads. I’m so thankful for that old man of a machine though, because time and time again we’ve needed a back up and we’ve been able to just go down and do laundry down there. Like the day after Chris left when the machine in our house stopped working!

Now would be a good time to tell you about the old machine in our house. We bought it off Craig’s List back in 2007, and received it here in Haiti in early 2008 after having it shipped in. It was in great shape and it’s been worked hard! I think the mission spent maybe $200-250 total for the machine and shipping. Great deal, especially since appliances are SO expensive here. Because we live on the ocean the salt and the humidity tend to cause a lot of rust on things. Our bathroom doesn’t have the best ventilation, and that’s where the washer is. Over the years of living up here it’s slowly been rusting apart. Not just outside, but inside too! We literally had the water hose coming into the drum clamped on with a binder clip because the fittings holding the plastic feed rusted away. Pieces of metal would regularly fall off from the drum surround, and if we had to move the machine out for any reason Yonese and I would find ourselves sweeping up dustpans of rust chunks. But the machine still worked great, and Chris said we would use it until it died. As far as washing and the load capacity that it would take, it was still better than the old man downstairs, so we figured Chris would just figure out what the problem was and we’d bring back the parts in the summer and fix it. That is, until he went to move it…

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Proof we have kids – a few dozen Q-tips on the floor…

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You see how the right side of the machine is lined up with the bars on the railing, and the left back side isn’t? Yeah, that’s not because the railing isn’t square or the machine isn’t level – it’s because that whole side of the machine almost fell off when Chris moved it.

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When he started to pull it out from it’s spot in the bathroom, the one side detached from the rest of the machine – because of the rust. He could barely move it because the outside was shifting separately. It left a trail of rust all the way out to the deck and once we could see the back of it Chris was able to see just how bad the rust was. Let’s just say he decided it had finally “died” :) This girl, and Yonese, are super happy with the new washer! And, for a total of $260 (machine and new motor) for an almost new machine it’s a win! Have I mentioned I love having a handy husband?

Here’s another window into life here…

Haiti has been rapidly advancing in the area of cell service and internet options. For the first year or so that I was here we had a few cell phones for the mission, but whoever was leaving needed to take all of them because the coverage would change between companies depending on what zone you were in. Just going 30 minutes away to St. Marc meant two different coverage areas. Now new companies have come in, we have great coverage, access to cheap phones and internet and even the poorest of the poor can afford to have cell phones in the family. We used to have satellite internet, but two summers ago we got back from vacation and our modem was down and the company couldn’t provide an easy fix. The cell companies were just putting out USB internet sticks so we switched over. That worked for a while, but we ended up having issues. About that same time I got an iPhone and when our USB sticks kept giving us issues I figured out how to tether/hot spot on my phone and we eventually switched over to using that for our internet. We could all tap into my data plan and it was a great solution. A couple months ago Chris switched over to an iPhone too so we’ve both had things hot spotted as our means of getting internet access in our house for work and personal stuff.

Then Apple released the new operating system update in the middle of March. Being new to the iPhone world Chris downloaded it immediately before I could warn him to hold off a bit. Whenever there’s a new update there are always bugs and I’ve learned just from watching facebook to hold off and let everyone else get annoyed and wait for the fix releases to come out before downloading it. We rely on our phones for too much here and it’s too important to not be able to use them as usual. Well, one of the bugs was that the 7.1 update wouldn’t let you use the hot spot feature – meaning Chris’ phone was useless for internet access unless he was just needing internet on his phone.

For anyone in North America, you might not even ever look at hot spotting your phone. For us… This meant that we went back to relying on my phone exclusively. If I had to leave for any reason, Chris couldn’t do anything internet related on his computer. No emails, no nothing. On top of all that, we had a very generous friend and board member donate her old iPhone 4 to the mission so we could have an extra. We know Haiti and know that it’s very likely something will happen where one of ours breaks, and since we also use it for internet, having a back up means we can seamlessly keep going with work and everything else. So appreciated! Well, when she got the phone unlocked they updated it at the same time to 7.1 – so the back up phone was useless for anything other than a phone :( Sadness.

For the last month we’ve been trying to figure out ways to fix it, and no cigar. The complaints on the Apple discussion pages were coming in from all over the world from users that rely on tethering/hot spotting their phones. Yesterday Chris, on a whim, checked to see if there were any new iOS updates, and lo and behold there was a 7.1.1. We decided to try it on the back up phone first to see what would happen. It worked! They fixed it and now both phones can use the hot spot again and we have multiple ways of getting internet! Woo hoo.

All this to say – when you just turn on your devices or go online, appreciate the simplicity of just having the service available in a way that doesn’t require electronic gymnastics with no back up support if there’s a problem (and no, being able to call a service desk and have a technician come out to your house within a week of the problem does not qualify as a valid complaint of “no back up support” when you’re talking to people like us, because  you can actually use the words “technician” and “coming to your house” in the same sentence. Here that would be a crazy luxury that we can only dream about.)

Have a happy Wednesday!

~Leslie

 

Variety Is the Spice Of Life!

I know the last few posts have been a lot about organizing and feeling pulled together, and not much about Haiti specifically. Though, if you can step back and come in the back door, it’s all about Haiti. Haiti and life here, is what drives me to this place because it’s what helps keep my sanity.

So, yesterday I mentioned that I’ve been working on more variety, especially with breakfast. As I said, we eat a lot of eggs in the morning because they’re easy and one of the more inexpensive food options here. We get a flat (30 eggs) for about $4.50 – about $1.80/dz. I usually try to have about 2 flats in the house per week, which I use for meals and baking, unless we have visitors. If that’s the case I get more accordingly.

I also mentioned yesterday that Olivia doesn’t really like eggs because of some bad experiences with an early morning gag reflex. She will eat the white part if they’re poached or hard boiled, and will eat quiche. This is one of those things we don’t force because she has good reason to not want to eat them. In her case if we’re just having eggs & bacon, for example, I’ll cook her bacon and pop a piece or two of bread in the toaster and give her jam and peanut butter on it.

I only actually started planning breakfast meals a few months ago. I was getting bored with eating almost the same thing every morning, and so was everyone else. I also wanted to lower our grocery costs a bit, so while we splurge a bit and regularly have bacon in the house, I wanted to cut back on how much we used.

While I wanted more variety with breakfast, let’s face it, it’s breakfast. Breakfast is not supper, so variety is good, but it doesn’t need to be a different thing every morning. What I ended up doing was coming up with two weeks worth of meals and I just alternate them. It looks like this:

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OYO (On Your Own)
On weekends Chris still wakes up early, but he lets me sleep as long as I want to, which usually is only until about 6:30-7:00 am because my body is so tuned to getting up early. The point is, I don’t have to be up at a certain time and can catch up on a bit of rest, especially if Alex has been up a lot during the night through the week. We start work at 6 am, so there’s no room for sleeping in even if I’ve been up multiple times and am working on 5-6 hours of sleep. (As and aside, he slept for the ENTIRE night last night!!! First time in a long time. I think he was so worn out from being down in the yard all day that he slept like the dead. In fact, I checked him a couple times to make sure he was still breathing because he hadn’t even moved around in his bed!)

On weekend mornings I try to make sure there’s easy stuff around, like cereal, that Chris can just throw together for the kids so they don’t turn into little crazy people.

Oatmeal
Yesterday I mentioned that we don’t eat a lot of oatmeal, even though I know it has great health benefits. The problem is that it doesn’t keep either Chris or I feeling full for very long. It’s not a huge problem, but if I know we’ll be traveling, for example, I’ll choose to swap this out with something that I know has more protein in it just because it’ll help us stay full longer.

Breakfast Sandwiches
We love breakfast sandwiches! You can change them up in so many ways. Bread (toast), biscuits, English muffins, croissants… so many options just in the outsides. Sometimes we have them with just a scrambled egg and a bit of cheese. I might put some bacon in it, or if we’ve had deli meat in the house I might fry a slice of ham to go along with the egg and cheese. I like mine with a few slices of raw onion too. Pretty versatile, and also an easy meal to take on the go if you have to. Just wrap it up in a paper towel.

Poached Eggs On Toast
We love Eggs Benedict, but let’s face it – high calories! I do make it from scratch as a special treat from time to time. Because we couldn’t get English muffins here until I started making my own, I substituted a piece of bread. When I wanted to do a healthier version I discovered that a poached egg or two on a slice of toast with a smear of cream cheese was delish! If we have it (as in, we’ve done a grocery run in Port) I might saute some fresh spinach and do a slice of toast and cream cheese, the spinach, then the poached eggs with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of dill. I like my eggs a bit soft and I like to cut them up so the yolk runs. SO good. This is actually one of my favorite breakfasts, and I was really excited when my parents came because my mom brought me a second egg poacher insert so I can cook eggs for all of us at once.

Breakfast Bake
This can be any kind of breakfast bake, with any ingredients I have around the house. Maybe it’s more like a fritata one week, and baked french toast the next. It’s flexible.

I save the Breakfast Bake and Pancakes for Friday’s because Olivia doesn’t have school, which means a bit more time in the morning and less running around and managing. It means I can spend more time focusing on breakfast.

Waffles
Waffles? There aren’t any waffles on the list… Ah, yes grasshopper, you are correct. But, we eat them!

I had been wanting a waffle iron for years, so I finally bit the bullet and got one before Christmas. I don’t plan to make waffles on any given morning because it’s time consuming. Waffles are one of those meals you make when you have time to sit and visit and no where to go. Each one takes about 5 minutes to cook, so it’s a time commitment. That said, what I DO do is make up a double batch of batter and spend a few hours every couple of weeks cooking them all up, then I let them cool and I break them into quarters, dump them in a big Ziploc bag and freeze them. In the morning when I need something else for Olivia, or on weekends when we want a quick breakfast for the kids, I just take the bag out of the freezer, pop a quarter in each toaster slot and push town the handle. The toaster makes them nice and crispy again, just like a waffle should be. The kids love them and so do we. So, while they aren’t on the rotation, we do actually eat them as a supplement instead of toast, or on their own as a meal.

So that’s my basic Breakfast Menu Plan. I will say that it changes regularly based on the season we’re in as a family. If something isn’t working, I ditch it and replace it with something else. Because the ingredients are simple and stuff we have on hand most days, if I feel like changing it up I do. Even things like Daylight Savings affect it because it means adjusting the start of our work day. My whole goal is to have some place to start so that when I get up bleary eyed I don’t have to be grasping for ideas or trying to think. Chris and I are working together to eliminate stress first thing in the morning so we can all have a good start to the day, and this is part of that.

~Leslie

Subtle Stress

It’s always amazing to me how stress can creep up on us. Over the years Chris and I, because of some of the major issues we’ve had to deal with, have gotten pretty good at managing things. Typically, when something comes up now, we just do what we need to do and often catch ourselves talking about it later and noticing the differences in how we’re processing or coping in a situation that several years ago would have had us not sleeping, reeling and not able to focus on anything else. When we were back in Canada on our sabbatical in 2010 one of the best things that we did for our own personal well-being, as well as family and marriage, was to spend a couple of months in Post Traumatic Stress counselling.

Aside from connecting with an amazing counselor that we now have in the friend category in our lives, we were able to learn some tools to help us cope and process.When things are going on, those things are deeply rooted and are a natural way of dealing with things now. On that list are things like voicing things like fear, frustration, etc. Actually allow ourselves to feel, I guess. As we share, it’s recognizing that we each will process things differently, and that all of those processing things and feelings are valid, even if they aren’t the same as what the other might be going through. Sometimes it’s okay to cry. For me this is a big one because I’m a natural crier and it’s my body’s way of physically letting go of those feelings. I usually feel wasted, but lighter afterwards, like I’ve flushed out all the crud. I think one of the other big things is perspective. Being able to emotionally step back and put things in order of importance, deciding how much time and energy to give something, and seeing where it fits in the bigger picture of things is something that we’ve gotten better at.

Despite all those things though, the stress can still creep up and invade, and sometimes we don’t even really understand where it’s coming from until we start taking off the layers. That’s where I’m at right now. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, but under the surface and didn’t realize that’s what it was until yesterday. I’m doing life and yet just sort of feeling “off”. Like I’m not quite there yet. When I start feeling that way, it’s hard for me to be a good mom and wife. My patience is limited because I just feel agitated. Once I start realizing the causes, I need to take time to work through the process of taking care of the things that I can, to essentially bring myself down a bit.

So, what’s been going on here?

Well, all in all things have actually been pretty good, thus the subtlety. I honestly didn’t realize I was feeling this stressed out.

You’re going to laugh when I tell you the first part of this, because it is so obviously something that should be incredibly stressful – but we were pretty chill about it and just rolled with it.

Back story… when Chris’ parents were here last week his mom mentioned that their shower in the dorms was backing up a bit and asked if there was any chance the septic tank was full. I smiled and said that it wasn’t a big deal, sometimes the pipes in the round house get clogged and the shower backs up, I would have Chris check on it after they left.

And then Yonese went down to start cleaning up the dorms on Friday after their visit. And she told me there was a big problem in that shower because it was full of water. Chris checked it out. Yeah, it was full of sewage.

I wish that was where it ended.

He came upstairs a few minutes later and very calmly said, “Um, yeah. I need you to stop what you’re doing and come downstairs because we have an emergency on our hands. I need you and Yonese to help clean out the dorms while I try to unblock the shower in the small dorm and get the septic to drain into the tank. I think there’s a big blockage.”

He was so calm about it that I thought he was exaggerating. (Because he does that from time to time…) I *may* have let out an exasperated sigh and said something along the lines of “Is this really something I need to come help with???”

And then I went downstairs. And yes, it was bad enough that the large dorm shower was full of water. But what was worse was the that small dorm had not only a full shower, but also 1-2 inches of standing sewage water through most of it. The bathroom. The main room. The small storage room where we keep everything from sheets and towels to our personal luggage and our bankers boxes of previous years filter forms.

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This was after at least half an hour of sweeping. Anywhere that’s wet had sitting water.

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Chris going in to snake the shower, which had about 10 inches of standing water in it.

And then we went to work. Yonese and I grabbed brooms and just started pushing water out the door. And the whole time I just kept thinking things like:

“I’m so grateful we live in a place where it’s all concrete construction and not drywall, carpet etc.”

“People often think what we do is amazing and “glamorous”. I don’t think they realize that sometimes it means you get to be ankle deep in poo water.”

“That just splashed my face…”

“We always try to make sure that we don’t ask our staff to do something we wouldn’t do ourselves. I guess tandem poo water sweeping is pretty much the definition of that…”

And I would try not to focus on the fact that there were shreds of toilet paper floating by me.

Now we are in the process of digging, and sadly not a swimming pool like Olivia was hoping. Our septic tank was full and overflowing and it wasn’t the type you could pump. Needless to say we’re making some design changes on the new one…

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Busting into the leach lines to do the first assessment.

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The not a swimming pool hole and the third load of dirt to go. And our poor lawn…

And yes, it’s been stressful, but definitely no where near where it could be.

  • We’re grateful for the fact that we have several buildings on the property, and each one is on it’s own septic tank. This means we can go and shower and use the bathroom and do laundry down in the round house during the day and feel mostly normal.
  • We have a fabulous staff that have been rock stars, whether it’s been Yonese bleaching the things that she can clean up at this point, or the crew of guys that have been digging a hole in our yard for the last few days.
  • The sewage smell has really been minimal. And this is a miracle in and of itself because we had to cut open the section of pipe coming from our building into the tank to let the pressure off and give it a place to drain the overflow. We literally have a pit of standing water with a section of 6 inches missing from the pipe. It’s mostly grey water going down there now from doing dishes, so I think that helps. BUT it could be so much worse.
  • We’re thankful this happened days after our last visitors of the season left. We have nothing else scheduled for a long time and no pressure to make it all better before a certain date. While it’s a minor inconvenience, it’s not the end of the world.
  • We have a trained plumber on our staff, who is meticulous in his work. He did all the plumbing in our building and does a great job. Being able to keep this stuff in house means less cost to the mission when stuff like this comes up.

So yeah, that is a bit of the stress causer right there, but honestly, it hasn’t been that bad. I feel it a bit in the sense that we’re having to think about how we use water in our house every day, but we should be thinking about those things or be reminded of them regularly. And honestly, I think the biggest stressor out of all of it is Alex. He wants to be where the action is, but sometimes gets in the way. It doesn’t bother the guys, but frustrates Chris, so then I have to try and keep him occupied while trying to do other things and get stuff done. And the whole time he’s fighting it because he wants to be back down in the yard. It’s times like this where I’m reminded of what a blessing Yonese is to us because she’s that extra set of hands and eyes and helps us out with him SO MUCH.

So that’s one thing.

Yesterday I came face to face with a surprise stressor. This might sound totally crazy, but hear me out.

Our printer/copier.

First off, we love this thing for so many reasons. Part of my job is to get things like training manuals printed and put together, training posters printed and laminated, and all of our installation forms printed and ready to go, just to name a few.

All of these things are double sided, so back in the day when we just had an inkjet printer I would, no exaggeration, spend two weeks printing. I would have to do one side, then the other, or just use more paper and do single sided pages. But I had to babysit the printer because the ink would run out and the printer wouldn’t stop. When we upgraded I specifically wanted something that would do double sided printing in color. Four years ago when we were looking for printers the only real option was a more office grade printer/copier that would do duplex in color.

It does a nice job for the most part, but the toner cartridges are expensive and need to be brought in specially. If we haven’t had regular visitors or I forget to plan ahead and make sure we have a supply here in country, running out means we can’t use the printer – period. It shuts down with an error message and until you replace one toner, it won’t work.

The drum unit, the part that holds all the toners, needs to be replaced every 1-2 years, depending on use. Last fall our printer started dumping ink all over the page. I ordered new cartridges, because sometimes the old ones wear out, especially if you refill them. Replaced them, but the print quality was still poor. We ordered a new drum unit and drum belt (the part that pulls the paper under the toner rollers) and they came in with Chris’ parents. They’re fragile. They didn’t travel well. I tried to put them in and while the printer works, the color print quality isn’t fabulous.

As I was working on things yesterday and doing everything recommended I was able to get to a place where I could be logical about the whole thing. Chris and I had already talked about the fact that the drum unit might not work well. We do have an inkjet printer as a back up and had been using that for the last 6 weeks or so but it just ran out of two colors of ink and when I tried to find them at the office supply store we checked in Port a couple weeks ago they didn’t carry them.

I realized that we could just keep using the big printer/copier for most things. Our day to day is things like printing in black and white, which works fine, or running things off that aren’t important and just for in house. If there are other things that are more “special” we can still use the inkjet, right?

Ah, but the ink!

This is the other part of the subtle stress. This stuff always happens when we really need the printer. Never fails. Definition of Murphy’s Law.

As we moved into the new year I realized that I wanted to put the effort into making an organization binder, so all of the things running around in my brain can be in the same place. I do have a day timer, but it sits next to my computer and it’s more for jotting down work stuff that needs to be done.

To give you an idea, I wanted a place where I could do my meal planning and master shopping lists for bigger grocery runs, plan blog posts (or jot down ideas so I might actually write the posts), a “wish list” so as I think of things we need to order to come in with people or bring back I can write those down, a cleaning and organizing chart, a place to check in with my yearly goals, packing lists, menu and planning pages for when we do get togethers at our place… so many things.

As I looked around on Pinterest there were a lot of great, free printable family/home binder planner pages out there, but a lot of them didn’t quite get the job done. Much of the stuff in them didn’t apply to our life here, and most of the stuff I needed wasn’t included. So, I made my own. And I love it! I spent a couple weeks designing all the pages, and being really methodical about what I wanted it it. I made my own dividers, and can add whatever other pages I find I need as the year progresses. Next year I can change dates and see what worked and what didn’t, then make changes accordingly.

The only hitch was that as I was finishing up one of the ink cartridges ran out. As in there was no more fluid in the resevoir. I kept going though, and the print quality wasn’t affected. I decided to wait until Chris’ parents were gone, then put the big printer back together and try to print things on it. Well, when it would work in the way I needed it to I felt frustrated.

Waiting on being able to use this thing, I realized, has had me feeling really disorganized for the last month. And knowing that it’s just been sitting there, and that using it, if I could, would alleviate that feeling has been hard. Using the binder will also mean that I can clean up my work space too, by taking down four clipboards off my wall, giving me more white space and a calmer, cleaner place to do my job. That’s a big deal for me because my “nook is about 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep (have I mentioned how excited I am about getting an actual office at the new property???).

After realizing I wasn’t going to be able to get the big printer to do what I wanted it to do, rather than getting really upset and agitated I made a quick decision to let it go. I set the inkjet up on our kitchen table, went through my computer file of all the pages that are supposed to go in the planner binder, how many I still needed to print off in total, and then decided which were the most important and how many I need to print for the next two months. I then fired a message off to a friend who is leaving next month for a few days and who has already offered to bring something small in and asked if she would be cool with transporting some printer cartridges for us too, that would allow us a bit of breathing room. And on top of that, made plans to make an order to build up our stock here, for Chris to bring back in April. Then, I sat down at the table and I just started printing, telling myself that I would do as much as I could until I couldn’t print any more because the cartridges were EMPTY (another was almost gone, too).

Let me tell you, it was a loaves and fishes situation.

I got all of my essential stuff printed, and a few extras that will allow me to work on stuff into March without having to madly print stuff off in the 24 hours after our friend gets back and I leave on a trip (big excitement to share!). As this was all playing out I felt a layer of stress come off me. I didn’t realize how feeling disorganized and not “together” was affecting me, but when I thought about it I realized I had regularly been thinking about it, whether it was wanting to use it to write a big shopping list or work on next months menu plan, or wishing the “wish list” was in place to be writing down the things I know I need to get when I’m away. Basically not having a place to “dump” all that meant I was trying to remember all of it and my head is very tired.

When Chris came back from a meeting and I explained the status of the big printer the first thing he said was, “You know what? I’m kind of done with it and I’d like to get a new printer that is better for what we need, doesn’t need all these consumable parts and has less cost for the ink.”

And another layer came off. And I realized how big of a source of stress the printer had been for me over the years. Yes, I loved it and the work it would do made my job easier, so I dealt with it, but it has been a headache on and off, and always at the least opportune moments.

We can get everything we want and need for what we do in a much less expensive printer that won’t have the high cost toner cartridges. We can even bring one in our suitcases, rather than having to ship it in. I love how technology keeps advancing.

And, another layer off.

Life here takes so much more work than back home. Even the act of buying the food to feed our family requires more work. Because of location and availability, I have to plan what I buy and when. St. Marc has a large percentage of the things we need and use regularly, but some things we can only get in Port au Prince, so I have to plan specific shopping lists for the once a month trip to the store there that Chris makes. Weekly I need to look through the menu plan I have in order to make the Thursday market list for Yonese. Not planning means we buy fresh fruit and veggies, and they get wasted because we don’t use them before they go bad. Truly fresh food in a warm climate doesn’t have the same shelf life as it does back home.

Yesterday as I was grocery shopping for the first time in a couple of weeks, I got to the cashier and as I got to the end of my haul I realized I exhaled. Had I really been holding a breath and feeling stressed out because I needed to go shopping?

Yes. I had.

Some days it’s getting breakfast ready and realizing we’re out of bread and trying to figure out what to feed Olivia because she doesn’t eat eggs (gag reflex leading to several bad experiences, not because she’s picky). Others it’s trying to figure out what to eat for lunch because we don’t buy a ton of things like deli meat, so sandwiches are harder. Anyway, you get the idea. It just takes more work. And it takes planning because we have to drive 20 minutes to the nearest small store where I can shop for most of the stuff, aside from fresh stuff.

Another layer off.

Today my goal is to spend a bit of time on self-care, doing the things I need to do in order to feel more pulled together. Meal planning for next month. Dumping some of my brain stuff out in the right places. Tidying up my work space. Spending some time working on my women’s Bible study lessons so I don’t get behind.

What are your subtle stressors? What makes you feel like you can decompress a bit?

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things – Part 3

Phew, yesterday was a bit lengthy, but I hope it was good info, especially the part about shopping eBay. I can’t tell you how many people kind of cringe when we tell them how much we shop on eBay, but in the 8+ years I’ve been using it, there have only been a couple of things that have been frustrating and not resolved quickly by the seller. Chris would say the same.

Now, moving into the last couple of things for my Favorite Things list. This is really a limited list of stuff as we’re always finding things that make life better or easier or more efficient here, and over time we’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to spend a bit more and invest in better quality if it’s something we want to have over the long term or will be using a lot. Sometimes we just get used to having or using something, forgetting what an improvement it was over life before. And honestly, most of these “things” are bigger, but it’s often the really small things that bring the most excitement.

Here are today’s list makers, to round things out:

5. The NINJA Mega Kitchen System

As any expat in Haiti will tell you, a blender is one thing you want here because making shakes or smoothies with all the local fruit is a yummy way to stay healthy. Papaya is especially good for you because it helps balance out the good and bad bacteria in your stomach and as anti-viral properties. It’s kind of common knowledge that if you’re having any kind of stomach issues having a papaya shake will probably clear them up.

Any expat here will also tell you that a blender is one of the appliances you replace most often. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating when I say that we go through about one per year. The newer models of your basic Osterizer and Black and Decker can’t even seem to hack it with Haiti’s fluctuating power issues. We burned up so many blenders that we finally resorted to having Yonese buy the old school versions of the Oster because they seemed to last longer. Sadly, they’re harder and harder to find now. Last year when we needed a new blender, again, I managed to find an Oster in the local Deli Mart. It was almost $700 Haitian. To translate that into US prices, that’s almost $80, and it had nothing more than a few blending options to choose from. About six months later it started to make funny noises and smoke, so Ryan took it apart and was able to jimmy rig it to work again, but it’s crazy loud and “walks” along the counter if you don’t hold it down.

When I asked Chris what he wanted for his birthday and Christmas (his birthday is at the beginning of December) he suggested a really good blender because he was tired of buying a new one every year. We did some research and knew that a Vitamix was out of our price range, so I kept looking at other options and the Ninja got great reviews and was recommended as a more affordable option for people that wanted to step up to a pro-style blender. I was wishing I had a food processor for a lot of things, too, so when I found that Ninja made a blender and food processor combo I decided to go that route. I gave it to Chris for his birthday, knowing he would get a lot of use out of it.

Sadly, this is Haiti and Haiti does crazy things. When he plugged it in there was nothing. No power light, nothing. He took the base apart and found a burned up resistor. Replaced it, but nothing. We ordered another base (again, off eBay) hoping that was the issue. That came in with his parents. Again, no cigar. As we mourned two DOA bases, I remembered something that Chris had told me about certain kinds of equipment – sometimes they need a “boost” of energy to start and then level off for continuous running. I mentioned it, so the next time we had EDH (Electricite D’Haiti) Chris plugged it in and it was ALIVE!

We realized that our battery system won’t give it that initial boost that EDH or the generator being on will, so for now we get to keep two blenders in the cupboard. The old one for when we’re on battery power and the Ninja for when we we’re on EDH or generator. When we move to the new property our power system will be bigger and set up so that we don’t have this issue, which will be great on so many levels! See, life here is so interesting!

We love the Ninja. It’s a beast! The first smoothie we made was like going to Booster Juice (for my Canadian friends) or some equivalent.

6. Homemade All Purpose Cleaning Spray

I love all things Pinterest. It’s such a great resource for DIY things. Just makes me realize the wealth of info that’s on the interweb.

I love it when we can save money here, and when we can find substitutes for things that might be pricier or harder to get on a regular basis. Seriously, you would be amazed at how expensive normal, every day household items might be here. Cleaning products? Expect to pay about $5-10 US for a simple bottle of something like Clorox wipes.

We have our windows open all the time. We do have screens and that keeps most things out, but we still get the “sugar” ants and they are most attracted to food, or even the smell of food. I like to have a disinfecting spray handing in the kitchen to spray down our table and counters just to keep them at bay. For a while I was using diluted bleach and water with a bit of dish soap added in, and it was fine, but I wanted to see if there were other homemade alternatives. Hello Pinterest! For almost a year now I’ve been using this combo and I love it:

2 c warm water
2 Tbps white vinegar
2 Tbsp baking soda
1-2 tsp dish soap

Many recipes call specifically for Dawn dish soap, and I have no idea why. I use whatever I have, which is usually Palmolive or something like Gain, and it works just fine.

Now, here’s the deal. We all know that mixing vinegar and baking soda can lead to those cool science fair eruptions, so it’s really important to mix this up in a certain order to avoid that! Start with your warm water, then add your baking soda and stir until it’s mostly dissolved, then add your vinegar. It will bubble and fizz, but just keep stirring for a minute and it’ll dissipate. Then add your dish soap, stir and pour into your spray bottle. Easy peasy! And, it’s all stuff you have on hand. No need to buy anything special or put off making it until you can go to the store again for that one special ingredient.

I love this because the combo of baking soda, vinegar and dish soap cuts through grease and gunk really well. I usually do a quick spray of all the counters, then the kitchen table, and by the time I come back to start wiping anything that was stuck on has already loosened. If there’s something that’s dried on I just let it sit for a few minutes and use the scrub side of my kitchen sponge. I’ll even use this in our shower because it will cut through hard water grime build up and helps with a quick clean on the sink and outer part of the toilet. And, if you use yummy smelling dish soap, it’ll smell good too!

7. The “Puddle Jumper”

Click on photo for link.

A few months ago we went swimming with some friends and they brought two of these things that their organization had bought for their retreat center. They asked our friends to try them out for a while before investing in a bunch of them to have on hand for the kids that will be visiting the center. Their daughter is about 6 weeks older than Alex, so it was fun to give the Puddle Jumper a whirl.

Alex LOVED it. It completely changes the way a child swims because rather than them floating backwards like they do with a traditional life jacket, the float forward and get used to the swimming motion. It’s basically water wings on steroids that the kid can’t get off because it buckles in the back. Alex has been using water wings for almost a year now and paddling around the pool by himself, but always wanting to be close to one of us. Understandable, right? When we put him in a Puddle Jumper in minutes he was literally swimming around the pool by himself. When all of our water wings started to bite the dust Chris suggested we just spend the money and order one of these. Alex was SO excited when it go here because he remembered using our friends. We love it and I would recommend it to anyone with small kids. It’s rated 30-50 lbs and the back strap is adjustable so you should get lots of use out of it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts! Let me know if you have any questions about the stuff I’ve talked about.

What are some of your favorite things???

~Leslie

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things – Part 2

I hope you enjoyed the Favorite Things Part 1 post. Today we’re trucking right into Part 2 and I’m excited it :) Drum roll…

3. The “Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day” Book

If you love bread, especially the “fancy” bread at the bakery and feel like it’s a splurge, or you’re like us and just can’t get it where you are, you need this book!

It’s amazing, and amazingly simple! I was already using a no knead bread recipe that I baked in my cast iron dutch oven pot, but this just expands on all of that. You can literally make a batch of the master recipe and keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks, just taking enough out for a loaf whenever you want to make some. My basic problem with the no knead bread I was making is that I would forget to plan ahead and allow enough time for the rise. Yes, it was minimal work – if I remembered several hours ahead of time to start. With a big batch in the fridge all ready to go I can just take out the container, cut enough off, and prep it for baking. That’s it! And it’s delicious. The master recipe is hugely versatile too. I made pizza with it the other night, and hands down the best pizza crust I’ve ever made. Again, because it was already in the fridge I was able to decide at 4:30 pm that we were going to have pizza for supper, and by 6 we were at the table oohing and aahing over how yum it was.

If you get it, definitely spend a few more dollars for the revised version as it has updated info based on reader reviews and more testing, and more recipes. You don’t need any special equipment to make it, and it literally takes about 5 minutes to mix up, and a few minutes to prep when you’re ready to bake. They give you a ton of suggestions for what to use and how to bake, so you can probably use things you already have at home rather than feeling like you need to go buy a ceramic stone baking sheet, etc. Definitely a good addition to any kitchen if you love bread!

4. My new camera & eBay!

I know, I already spent an entire post talking about it and showing off some of my pictures, but I really love this thing!

DSLR (digital SLR) cameras can be a pricey investment, and I think there’s a feeling that in order to take good pictures you need to have the latest and greatest model. Not true. in fact, most professional photographers will tell you that unless you’re planning on doing massive blow ups of your photos you don’t really need a ton of mega pixels. Most people who are taking pictures of everyday life, or even getting into photography as a hobby or small business would be fine with 10-12 mp. A lot of the newer models also have the added HD video feature, which is very cool and definitely worth considering if you want an all in one type deal.

If you’re wanting to upgrade from a point and shoot type digital camera, or even upgrading an entry level DSLR like a Canon Rebel (any version of it) I would definitely recommend looking on eBay. Amateur and professional photographers are often upgrading equipment and one of the easiest ways to recoup some of their investment is to sell their older stuff. EBay has opened up this whole world where that is much easier, and you can find some wonderful stuff if you’re willing to do a bit of work.

When I started looking for a new camera I started looking at the Rebel class, just the newer versions of what I had before, and while I could have gotten a brand new one for about the same price as my used 40D, I realized that what I would be paying for was stuff I wasn’t really worried about having, like more mega pixels and HD video. The mission already has an HD video camera, and I have no plans of doing poster size blow ups of stuff, so why pay for those. I decided I would rather have a more solid work horse of a camera than bells and whistles. The Canon D series have a great reputation so I focused on what we could afford, knowing that it was enough for what I wanted. I knew we could afford a good condition used 40D, so I didn’t look at other stuff. It doesn’t help anyone to focus on what you can’t afford because then nothing else seems good enough.

I know some people are really hesitant about buying electronics, especially what would be considered higher end, on eBay, but here are my recommendations:

  • Know what you’re looking for. Narrow down your search results so you don’t get overwhelmed with the sheer number of options. Do you only want a “new” item. Choose that. Open to refurbished or used? Select those options.
  • Read the listing carefully. Seasoned Ebay sellers will often indicate right in the condition line (the first one right next to the picture) if an electronic item is for parts or not working.
  • Pictures, pictures, pictures! If there are no or few or really crappy pictures, I don’t give a listing much consideration. This is a buyers way of essentially holding and turning and examining an item. Serious sellers will try to include good pictures of multiple angles so you can see the over all condition. Really good sellers will also include close up photos of any scuffs, wear or damage on the item so you really know what you’re getting.
  • What does the seller say about the item? I’m going to give a listing more attention if there’s a more thorough description of an item than something that just says, “Used iPhone 4 in good condition.” What does that mean? Everyone had different standards for what “good” means. The more info in a listing the better!
  • Check out the seller’s feedback score. This is something that Chris has been adamant about because it’s a really valuable piece of information. You might think that 98% positive feedback is a pretty good score, but that can be deceiving. How many transactions has the seller had (number in brackets next to percentage)? If they’ve had several hundred transactions and they have a feedback score of 98%, that’s actually a pretty good group of buyers who have had negative experiences. Go to their feedback page and read through the negative and positive feedback. Sometimes people have ridiculous expectations and nothing makes them happy, so they leave negative feedback. Sometimes though, it’s warranted. Be thorough!
  • If in doubt, ask the seller a question about the item and see what kind of response you get. If they’re prompt, courteous and professional they’re probably going to provide a good transaction. If you feel something is “off” then walk away.
  • When I’m looking at items I always save things that look like a potential in my Watch List. When I feel like I’ve looked at the bigger picture and am ready to narrow it down, I just need to go back to my Watch List and go through those listings rather than trying to remember what page an item was on.
  • Remember that eBay actually has a pretty good complaint system, as well as Buyer Protection for most purchases over $20 if you pay through PayPal, which I would definitely recommend. Between the two there are a lot of security features in place to protect you and ways of following up if something goes wrong.
  • If you have a good transaction, especially with higher priced items like electronics, please leave feedback for your seller. It helps them in the future, and it helps people like you who are trying to navigate the system.
  • On the other hand, if you have a bad experience, please also leave feedback and report the seller if necessary. EBay has high seller standards and enough reports of bad transactions can get a bad seller kicked off, which is a good thing!
  • What about shipping? Many listings on eBay include free shipping, but know your stuff. Is it really free shipping, or has the shipping been rolled into the overall price of the item, especially on Buy It Now items (items that you can simply buy without having to bid on). The really good deals are the ones that have free shipping and the final price is lower than the market average.
  • Know how much time you want to commit to looking for and buying the item you want. Often we’re working on time restraints because we need to make sure things can be shipped and arrive where they need to in order to be brought in to us. Waiting on an auction might take a few days, and you might not win. Decide how much value your time has, and then decide if it’s better to wait on an auction to end, or if it’s more worth it to find a Buy It Now listing that’s a good deal. Typically, when an electronics auction is lower than the average end price or a Buy It Now listing the last hour will go crazy with bids. Remember that you can enter a max bid price if you want, which most will do, so the system will keep bidding on their behalf until they’re out bid. You can suck up a lot of time waiting for listings to end, or finding another one if you don’t win the one you want. Just decide how much time you want to invest.

The long and short of it is that if you take the time and are thorough you can get some great deals from good people on eBay. If you know the average price of what you want to buy, both new and used, you’ll have a better idea of what to pay and what is a really good deal. Remember that Amazon sells used items too, so you can check there to get an idea about market value. Also, as you go through eBay listings you’ll start to see average price points of used items. From there you can generally judge what a good price is.

One last thing to remember about shopping on eBay is that a major percentage of the sellers on there actually use the whole eBay system as one way to sell their wares. In many cases they are people who have actual businesses and eBay is one portal for the online retail part of it. In many of those cases you can actually go to their website and buy directly from them, rather than eBay, if you’re more comfortable with that option. For example, when I was looking at cameras, there was one business called “Henry’s Cameras” based out of Canada. I was just reading a blog post today about camera equipment written by a Canadian woman and she stated that she uses Henry’s as her main source of camera equipment. Many businesses like Henry’s use eBay as a means of reaching a wider audience to move their inventory. I’ve seen everything from Tupperware to Pampered Chef to stuff from Toys R Us being sold on eBay.

I know I mentioned that I got a fabulous deal on my camera and that it’s hardly been used. See what I mean?

IMG_1854[1]

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A brand new 40D body on Amazon – just the body, no lens – retails at almost $1400 US. An aftermarket (non Canon brand) battery grip (that thing on the bottom that holds an extra battery and allows you to more comfortably shoot vertical) retails starting at about $50 US. It also came with two batteries and two 8G memory cards. I paid less than $325 US for the whole lot, including shipping, and it’s in like new condition. So yes, people, it’s often worth it to invest the time in checking out eBay! :)

~Leslie

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things – Part 1

Chris and I are now what most people here consider “lifers”. As in, we’ve been here for more than a few years, and we have no plans of leaving any time soon. This is home for us and our family. Frequently we find ourselves in conversations with newer missionaries in the field about how to “do life” here over the long term, especially with a young family. We’ve actually run the gauntlet, so to speak, of establishing ourselves here in Haiti. Chris was here and single for about 3 years before I moved. We had just started dating a month before that, so we did the dating in the field thing, then got engaged, and navigated life as newlyweds when I had no idea how to even cook with half of the stuff available (or not) to us. Eventually Olivia entered the picture and we figured out how to be first time parents while processing an adoption. Throw in some major trauma situations and another baby, and well, here we are. And we’re still standing. We feel stronger than we did years ago, and life feels calmer and more “normal” than it did back then. Because of all those things though, people often look to us as a couple, as a family, and as missionaries, as a resource.

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to put together a “Leslie’s Favorite Things” post. Now, please know that none of the things on this list are specific to missions or life overseas. They’re all things that I’m just really loving right now. It might be that they save us money, time or just make life work better. Without further ado…

1. My Kitchenaid Mixer

I was actually give the glass bowl as an early birthday present when I got my mixer and I love having it! It has a plastic lid so you can mix and cover, and it’s HUGE!

I was at my weekly ladies Bible study a while back, and we got into talking about Kitchenaid mixers. One of my friends blurted out, “Come on, we all know that one of the best reasons to get married is so you can put a Kitchenaid mixer on the gift registry!” She’s hilarious on any given day and while she was completely joking, we all laughed knowing that there was a small grain of truth to it. It’s one of those appliances that is considered an investment that will, hopefully, be in your kitchen for the next 20 years, but you can never really justify spending the money on yourself. Last year I was having a hard time thinking of what to ask for from Chris and my parents for Christmas. I just threw out the idea of them going in on a gift together and getting me one. Long story short, because of some financial issues before the holidays I gave up the thought because I knew we just couldn’t afford it. Let’s just say that when I opened the box on Christmas morning there were tears.

Henry (Yes, I named him. No, I have no idea why it’s a “he” and he’s called Henry.) now sits on our counter and I use him every single week for something. I’ve since tucked away several other small appliances, like a hand mixer, because my Kitchenaid can do it all. I love that I can put stuff in it, turn it on, and let it work while I’m wiping and cleaning up, or prepping other things. Pinterest is great for finding recipes that let you make things at home rather than buying pre-packaged versions in the store. While I like the idea of cutting out preservatives and hard to pronounce ingredients, for us it’s more about general availability and the fact that most imported foods cost double what they would back home, so we just don’t buy them. Case in point – with my mixer I can make homemade marshmallows. We can’t hardly find them here, and when we do, they’re usually all gooey in the bag and not much good for anything other than melting. And, now that I’ve made homemade ones we’ve kind of turned into marshmallow snobs. Cresent rolls, English muffins, tortillas… I could go on. I just love my mixer!

2. Stainless Steel BIG French Press

We’ve been using a french press to make coffee for years. Because we work on a battery and inverter system we do whatever we can to conserve power. Having a french press means we don’t need to run and leave a coffee maker on in the morning. And, lets face it, french press coffee is fabulous. Last year, after going through at least one glass beaker french press per year I decided to buy a stainless steel one. Aside from no longer having to worry about bumping it or dropping it and potential breakage issues, it was double walled so coffee stayed warmer, longer. The only problem was that we would only get 2 1/3 cups of coffee out of it. It wasn’t terrible when it was just Chris and I, but some mornings I really wanted a second cup. The frustration was when we had guests and I had to make two or three pots to keep everyone in their caffeine fix. I did some sleuthing and found this bad boy:

Click on the picture to go to the Amazon listing.

48 ounces of french press heaven! It’s literally like a thermos with a french press plunger. It makes 4 large mugs of coffee when filled all the way up, which all french press users know is a LOT of coffee, and it keeps it warm for a long time! Just this morning, about 3 hours after the coffee was made I poured a second cup and it was still steaming. We LOVE it. When Chris’ parents were here it was so nice to make one or two pots in an entire morning, rather than a bunch. And, I don’t have to worry about not getting a second cup!

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

~Leslie

Ringing In A New Year

It always feels biter-sweet to me to take down the Christmas decorations. Christmas is my favorite time of year. I just love the hunkered down feeling. I always try to take quiet moments and just sit and enjoy the Christmas lights and the quiet that seems to come with winter, even here. When it’s time to put everything away for another year, while I love the fresh clean feeling of space after it’s all down, it’s always hard for me to put things in a box and close the lid for another year. As I did it the other day I just kept thinking about the anticipation come November when it’ll be time to bring it all out again. And then I cleaned! :)

I feel like this year I’m easing into the new year. Usually we come back in a flurry of travel, and have a day or two to unpack and settle back in, then it’s back to work. This year has involved sleeping in, slowly getting things like my 2014 day timer set up, and tidying things and thinking about what I want to see happen in 2014.

I’m not a big “resolutions” fan. They seem fake and like you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment if you can’t do what you set out to do. Over the years I’ve set small goals, and if I don’t make it, it’s okay. As I’m thinking about the year, these are the things that I’ve decided I want to focus my attention on.

Health

Weight Watchers:
I haven’t done an update in a while – maybe two months? The truth is, I hit a road block in November where I hovered at the same weight for over a month. I realized that the issue was I was anticipating the holidays, and all the stuff we would be doing. I love to celebrate the holidays as fully as we can here because I think it adds a sense of normalcy that helps us to feel more at home, so for me this involves having food that is familiar to how we would celebrate back home, just scaled back a bit. This means Christmas treats and special meals like the traditional turkey dinner. My problem was that I was starting to find reasons to not track my food so I wouldn’t feel ashamed about eating the stuff I liked. I finally go to the point where I realized I was sabotaging myself by telling myself I shouldn’t want those things. Most of them are things I wouldn’t normally eat in any major quantity through the year, just at Christmas. I didn’t want my success to date to be for naught, so I got honest with myself and when I realized I was starting to look at tracking my food over the holidays in a negative way I made the choice to stop, and give myself a break. I know that for this to work over the long term I can’t ever let my relationship with Weight Watchers become something that I look at with disdain. So I took a break, and gave myself permission to eat what I wanted for the rest of December without guilt. I weighed myself weekly as I normally would, just to keep tabs on things, and it was a good reminder, but at no point did I tell myself I couldn’t have something. I enjoyed everything, and listened to my body. I also knew that come the beginning of January we would be going back to our normal eating patterns and normal food that was available in the house.

The great news? When I got on the scale this morning to do my weigh in I was less that one pound up from the last time that I was regularly tracking. And today was my “back on track day”. I’ve been having internal conversations with myself to gear up to it and as I woke up this morning it was kind of freeing to know that today was the day to get back into routine. I’m not harboring any negative feelings and am looking forward to getting back on track with things. I know this program works for me, but I also need to give myself space to enjoy life if it’s going to work over the long term.

Drinking Water:
You would think that 8+ years of living in the Caribbean would have me in a place of sufficiently hydrating every day, but sadly, no. Drinking enough water every day is a major challenge for me and I feel the physical effects daily. Often I feel sluggish, and I can get headaches. My first word of advice for anyone else is to drink more water, but I don’t do it enough myself. So, a goal for this year is to make a bigger effort in this department.

Today I downloaded a free app for my phone that lets me check off glasses of water each day, and it has alarms that you can set that go off at your chosen times to remind you to stop and drink. I want to try it through January and see if it helps me get more fluid in my body, and in turn how I feel if I drink enough.

Another part of this is not just hydration, but also replacing electrolytes. Living in Canada I didn’t have an issue with this, but here we sweat a lot more, even with little activity. A person can hydrate, but if we don’t replace those electrolytes our bodies have to work harder. It’s not something I’ve really put a lot of thought into, but a friend here who was drinking a lot of water told me she was still feeling sluggish until she started drinking one glass of Gatorade per day. Chris and I are going to try it and see how it works for us.

Spiritual
I’ve been going to a Bible study weekly with a group of other missionary ladies from our area and I’ve really been enjoying it. I want to be more intentional about working on my Bible study lessons through the week rather than madly working through them the day before so I get more out of them.

I also want to find a good devotional so I can be more regularly reading my Bible. I know it’s key for helping me stay centered in all areas of my life, but often it’s the last thing on my priority list.

Time and Organization

Social Media – Facebook:
I’m becoming less and less in love with Facebook. Recently Chris and I have been really reminded that it’s a very poor platform for conversation. The whole thing has always been funny to me in the sense that I think it gives us a sense of more importance than we really all need. I was hardly ever on it until the earthquake, then it was the fastest and easiest way to keep everyone updated on things here. Since then, it’s just kind of stuck. But, I don’t love it. In fact, when I think about how I use it, I often feel frustrated. I waste a lot of time scrolling through status updates that aren’t always that interesting. I have people on my “friend” list that I never communicate with in “real life”, and because of it I feel limited in what I can share because it doesn’t feel personal any more.

This year I want to be intentional about stepping back from Facebook. I’m not leaving it behind, but rather being more intentional about how I use it. I think limiting myself to one check per day and setting a time limit to it is healthy. It’s so easy to kill hours on there. I also decided that I’m not going to post or get involved in hot button conversations. It’s not the platform for where those “conversations” should be happening. The truth is, a lot of people will say things on the internet that they would never say to someones face, and I don’t want to be part of those conversations any more. I’m going to limit my use of Facebook to occasional status updates and photo postings, and only share the information that I think is truly valuable or important. It’s also a time thing for me. I need to better use my time. Facebook isn’t it.

Blogging:
I know that people love reading our blog, and I enjoy writing it. The problem for me is when I start comparing myself and my blogging to other bloggers. It’s so easy for me to feel inadequate, usually in the realm of how frequently I post, and that there aren’t a ton of pictures. The truth is, I have ideas for blogging all the time. The catch is I don’t often have the time. When I do sit down and blog I am frequently interrupted and it takes even more time to finish a post. This post for example, I’ve been interrupted by the kids more times than I can count. I sometimes have a window in the mornings during the work week where Chris is gone to take Olivia to school, and Alex is happily playing outside, where I can have focused time on the computer. When those moments are there I can get a lot done, but it’s hit or miss. I need to step back and stop feeling like I’m not meeting the mark on this one. Our present reality is that time is limited. Aside from the fact that I’m a wife and a mother to young kids, one of which who is still home during the day, I also have a lot of responsibilities with the mission administratively and otherwise. I just don’t have the time to post more than once or twice a week, no matter how much I like the idea. So, for this year, I’m releasing myself from any expectations and will blog when I feel like it and when I have time. I’m not a professional blogger, I’m a wife, mother and missionary.

Homefront

Menu Planning:
This is something I’ve been doing for years, and I plan on continuing. Where I need to be more diligent is checking the plan in the morning, even earlier in the week, and doing any preparations needed whether it’s making a loaf of bread to have with dinner (I use a great no-knead recipe that literally takes about 10 minutes of work) or looking ahead and making sure I put everything on the weekly market or shopping list that I need so I’m not scrambling come dinner time. We’ve found that meal planning helps to save money, so that’s another big part of it for me. As I plan I want to be intentional about planning meals that are lower cost, but balanced and enjoyable. I can’t tell you how often we talk to people here who talk about a poor diet, yet Haiti is bountiful in fresh vegetables and fruit, beans, rice, various meats… I could go on. Anyway, I want to be more intentional about being prepared, and eating what’s available to us and seasonal. We benefit health wise, and the mission benefits with lower food expenses.

Organization:
I did quite a bit of work last fall to go through the house and purge each room. Now I need to stay on top of it. I’ve already put together a check list for each room that is a great reminder of what needs attention. Yonese is great with helping keep things tidy through the week, but it’s my job to control our stuff. I have a binder that I used to keep myself organized through the holidays, and I plan on making it work year round for general household organization. Part of it will have space for meal planning each month, and there will be the check list to go through the house and stay on top of keeping things organized.

I should say, that over the last year or so I’ve realized that while I like things organized in the sense that I want our house to be organized because it’s small and we need to know that things have their place, where they are, what we need etc, BUT we also need to be able to live here. As in, while I enjoy the 5 minutes post cleaning where everything feels fresh and sparkling and it’s in it’s place, that’s not reality most days. Most days the floor needs to be swept and there are things on the counter that need to be put away and shoes splayed three feet away from the door. That is just the way it is right now. When we build and move to the new land, there will be more space and new ways for us to store things and live. But that is not now. I have to relax to a certain extent and accept that there are four people in our house and we all have different needs. So organized, but not anal about it.

Personal Care

I’m really horrible when it comes to doing things to take care of myself. Little things like actually washing and moisturizing my face. Seriously. So, I want to work on that.

I have back problems, and repeatedly my chiropractor has told me that simply taking the time to stretch certain muscles will do a lot to relieve that. So, I want to work on stretching and see if I can help my body heal. I’m good at complaining about it, but not doing the work to help it get better. Stupid, I know.

I want to finally grow my nails. I’ve been a life long nail biter, but I want to grow them. Not crazy long, but so they look nice. Olivia loves “doing nail polish” and the crazy thing is that Chris has become her go to person to have her nails painted. I like having polished nails and toes, I just don’t take the time to do it. So, I want to do it. I have a bunch of fun new colors and glitter polishes coming with Chris’ parents (thank you Ebay!) to have fun with. When I take the time to polish my finger nails, they grow and I don’t bite them. So, that’s a goal.

I want to be more intentional about looking after my skin. I’m 35. It’s time. I’m not a person who is crazy worried about wrinkles, but also don’t like when my skin feels dry or rough. I know that when I take the time for a day or two in a row to take care of my skin it feels better. Again, it’s a laziness thing. Time to grow up a bit!

Hobbies

Knitting:
I know I’ve mentioned on here that I enjoy knitting and really started to pick it up in the last year or so. It’s relaxing for me and gives me something to do with my hands. I’ve also realized after talking to a lot of people that it’s one of those things that comes naturally to me, and that already in the last year I’ve challenged myself with projects that most people don’t attempt in their first year of serious knitting. I know that for me it’s a case of needing something new to challenge me and keep my interest. After we came back from holidays in August I started working on Christmas stockings. Wow, pushing through to finishing number four was a trial. It was too much of the same thing without a lot of variation. I love how they turned out, but wow, I was happy when they were done.

My goal for this year is to have fun with my knitting and enjoy it. I had set out to make several Christmas presents, but as the holidays got closer and things got busier it became more and more of a burden. I was loathing how much knitting I “needed” to do. Then I realized that I didn’t “need” to do any of it. So I stopped. And I knit a dishcloth, because I needed something different and small and mindless to get my groove back. I switched up the gift giving and no one but Chris and I were any the wiser (except now my parents will be wondering what I didn’t make). And I felt free and enjoyed the holidays without the pressure of be a slave to my knitting needles. A couple of days ago I cast on a sweater for Alex to wear when we go camping. It’s my goal to knit each of us a sweater for the summer, but that’s a loose goal. And it might sound crazy to want that for the summer, but when we go camping mornings are often very chilly for us because of the fact that we live in the Caribbean, so having something to bundle up in until it warms up is needed. And, we can wear them when we go home in the winters. Anyway, I’m having fun on Alex’s sweater and am anticipating the yarn coming with my in-laws for Chris and I. I love the words “If you’re going to spend two plus months knitting a sweater, you might as well use good yarn!” Especially when they’re uttered by my husband :) (As an aside, if you know anything about Chris and his “special” sweater, you’ll understand what a big deal it is for him to have actually asked me to make him a sweater…) So, knit more and have fun with it. If I need a break from one thing, cast on something else that is exciting.

Photography
I won’t lie. At least once a day I find myself thinking, “My new camera is coming, my new camera is coming!” I’m so excited that it’s coming with Chris’ parents :) But, it also means I need to be committed to actually working on how to use it well. I had so much fun playing with our friends camera when we did our family pictures that it has me completely excited to get mine. I want to be intentional about learning how to use it well, and practicing with it regularly. And, it doesn’t hurt that I have two super cute subjects to practice with. I also want to set the time aside to work on editing those photos and actually sharing them. Ahem. So, maybe you’ll see more pictures on the blog this year… That is, whenever I get around to posting them because I’m not pressuring myself, remember? :)

So those are the big things for 2014. They are gentle and good for me types of things. Things that improve my quality of life and things that are worth working on. No guilt. No shame. No feelings on not meeting the mark. Maybe as 2014 comes to a close 12 months from now I’ll be able to look back on the year and feel a sense of peace and happy accomplishment. Maybe :)

What goals have you set for yourself this year? Do you even set goals, or hate the whole practice all together. 

~Leslie