Where Things Have Landed

The last post was a big brain and heart dump for me. Of the best kind though. It’s been fun to see the conversations it’s started just with friends here in Haiti, either from just sharing the same things or because they read the blog and started talking about it. I love that kind of exchange after we share our stories. That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? That connectedness.

Diving in to all of this has been kind of crazy. Chris and I spent more time chatting about all of it on Friday night after I posted and it was just so refreshing to be able to see where I’m really at with all of this, and I love that he’s so supportive of it. I think it helps that he’s seen how unhappy I’ve been in the work sense, so in a way I think there’s some level of relief there :) I think more than any of that though, it was exciting to look back over the past 10 years of the missions history and to see how God has walked beside us and transitioned us through things, even before I actually joined the staff here in Haiti. The process of him bringing Chris into a leadership role, then bringing me into the picture as his help meet and seeing how our gifts, skills and abilities have complemented each other over the years and moved so many things forward has been amazing. As we look at the future we’re both excited about the next stages. We and our board have done so much foundational work in the past few years and it really feels like we’re moving into that stage where God is putting the meat on the bones in a new way, so we can do more. Having Peggy here is a huge step forward, one that we’re really excited about.

I can’t tell you how fun it’s been in the past couple of days to feel the freedom to pour myself into learning. Yesterday I had some admin stuff that Chris needed help with, and once I got it out of the way I spent the rest of the day pouring over the user guide for Lightroom 5, a photo editing program by Adobe that is so much more than any of the free stuff I’ve been using. I haven’t been this challenged in a while and it feels good. My head is tired, and so is my body. I think I need to stop letting myself scroll through Pinterest until midnight looking at pins of photography tutorials…

It feels good to learn and to practice new skills. To think of all the ways that I’ll be able to incorporate this into what I do at the mission – new things that will just add more to what we’re already doing.

So that’s been me, personally, in the past few days.

Today is Olivia’s last day of school. I’ll be honest, it’s a mixture of excitement and dread. Excitement because it’s summer vacation! Yes, we still have to get up early and do the work day, but it means less stuff happening in the morning.

No more homework!!! Oh my word, this is the thing I’m most excited about. Seriously. Homework has been a battlefield and I wasn’t sure we were going to make it out alive. This weekend we needed to push through Olivia’s last book, her math, to get it finished so it could count on her report card. We managed to do it, but it wasn’t pretty. The kid has been working on grade two stuff, so it’s just naturally getting harder for her, but now she can take a break! We do have books for her to work on over the summer so she has something to do, but we’re going to take a little break…

Dread… yeah, I love my kids and I love the break from the school routine, but it takes about a day and a half before boredom sets in and they’re going crazy. Alex is at a better age and they play together really well now. Yesterday I was stifling laughter when they said, “Okay, let’s fight,” and then proceeded to have a mock kungfu type throw down. Think of the worst fight scene you’ve ever watched in any movie and replace the main characters with a 6 and almost 3 year old. Slow motion, holding hands and lots of grunting and turning in circles… yeah, that went down in our kitchen yesterday and it was hysterical. I love that they have such huge imaginations. I love it even more when they aren’t really fighting and screaming at each other in the process.

To counter the boredom and real fighting I’ve been building up an arsenal. Last August after we got back from our summer trip and had almost 6 weeks of down time before school started we almost didn’t make it. This year, I promised myself it would be different. Thanks to some generous friends we have a bunch of work books to just reinforce stuff Olivia learned, but that are more fun looking and a variety of stuff that she’ll enjoy. We have craft supplies. We have new books. Sidewalk chalk. Bubbles. So many things! My plan is to be more intentional about doing stuff with the kids between now and when school starts again. Just to save my own sanity.

Not sure if I mentioned it on here but Olivia is changing schools next year. She’ll be going to one that offers the same curriculum, but is only 5 minutes from our house. When we first looked at starting school they weren’t at the stage where it would have been a good fit for her, but now they are. We’re SO looking forward to not having to drive as far. Right now we’re driving at least an hour per day between the two trips to drop her off and pick her up. Her new school starts later in the morning, and because it’s closer we just don’t have to be ready to go out the door before 7 am. She also starts about 3 weeks sooner, so less down time in the summer where we have to keep her busy. Very excited!

The other big excitement around these parts is that we’re within the 3 week window of our summer vacation. It’s always nice to get away, but I think we’re really looking forward to this year more than most. Last summer was full of great opportunities to see so many friends and family, but it was also so much driving. So much. A lot of stops and a day here and a few days there. It was fun, but not very relaxing.

This summer we basically land in Seattle and then after reorganizing some things we’re hoping in the van and driving down to Chris’ Mum and Dad’s. We don’t need to worry about getting the van all outfitted, etc because we left it almost ready to go, and we can do any needed things once we get to their house. We’ll be there for almost two weeks, and we’re all really excited about it! From there we’re heading up to Canada with a couple stops to visit people on the way, but the trip will be nicely broken up. We’ll be in Canada for the rest of our trip doing a variety of things. One of Chris’ sisters lives in Canada, and his brother who is down in California, are both flying in to spend some time with us there which we’re excited about. We’ll have time to go camping and visit with family. My dad is back in British Columbia after working out of province for two years, and I’m so looking forward to spending more than a couple days with him as has been the case when he’s whipped into town for a weekend while we’ve been there. Mostly we’re just looking forward to relaxing and having a good time.

Well, time to go organize some craft stuff and then I get to hunker down and read some more users manuals. Sounds SOOO fun, doesn’t it. I guess when you enjoy something it is fun, even if it seems like a mundane task.

Here are a few of the pictures I was playing around with in Light room yesterday. The fun thing is that they didn’t need a ton of adjustment. These will probably be more exciting for the grandparents :)

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Have a great week!

~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

The Weekend Our House Found It’s Personality

I won’t lie. I love Pinterest.

That’s my confession.

Why?

Laundry detergent I can make myself for less money and readily available ingredients. New meal ideas that I can make from ingredients we have here. Seriously, I can search “west indies pumpkin” and come up with a slew of recipes to use the variety of pumpkins we have here in Haiti. People are creative, and they like to share that info. Do you know what you can DIY if you just look for information?

So, I love Pinterest. Because of Pinterest I’ve been inspired to try new things and do stuff I would have just dismissed because I had no idea where to start. It was because of Pinterest that I found the Ana White website, the one that had plans for our fabulous dining table and coffee table. That’s what inspired me to get into building furniture. And, the funny thing is that instead of starting with something simple, like shelves, I decided to go for a coffee table, a dining table and a bed. Nice.

I’ve learned so much through the process of building some of our furniture.

I’ve learned that I can do it. That I can take an idea in my head and actually make it become reality. The plans for our coffee table I followed fairly closely to the ones on ana-white.com. The table was created with inspiration and basic plans, but adapted to fit our needs by adding the slid in extensions on the end.

Our bed? I saw the plans on the website, but fell in love with the original on the Pottery Barn website. I wanted less “farmhouse” and more of the feeling of something “more”. I watched the video on the PB website about how they made the beds and fell in love with the finish and the dark wood. And I love how our bed turned out for the most part. When we move, and have to take it apart, I have a couple minor adjustments to make, but for the most part we LOVE it. For the first few weeks I just kept saying how grown up I felt.

I’ve also learned how to work with what I’ve got. I can’t walk into Home Depot and pick out the nicest wood there for whatever project I’m making. There’s one hardware store in St. Marc that actually has decent wood, and that’s where I get most of my stuff, but even then there are times where I have to be flexible because what might be considered a “finished” board here, would be considered rough hewn back home. I have to account for measurements because a rough board here will truly be 1×4″, not planed down and just called a 1×4. I always have to have a good supply of sand paper on hand and be willing to commit the time to sanding. Often this is where most of my time is spent when I’m making something.

Since I started building furniture last year I’ve also learned what my true “style” is. Or I guess, what “our” style is as a family. We need a home that’s functional and that we can truly live in. Our kids are small. They will abuse the furniture. Having anything that we’re afraid of getting roughed up just won’t work. We’re not those kind of people, either. Chris and I would much rather be living in something comfortable than fancy. I think that living in a space with some element of “beauty” is good for the heart.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that it’s easy to only see the poverty in Haiti and miss the people. In that it’s easy to miss the fact that Haitians, while living in hard circumstances, have a lot of joy and appreciate nicer things. You can go into some of the most humble homes (sticks, mud/clay walls, and tin roof) and find beautiful hand carved cabinets with all the nice things the family holds dear. I remember the first time I saw it and how it struck me. We were in the middle of no where, and from the outside I would have had no idea. While I think the natural tendency when working in a place like Haiti is to live simply, there is value in enjoying your living space, especially if you plan on being there for the long haul.

Chris and I love the feeling of off white walls and big windows. I know that if we were living back in Canada we would be happier in a home with history than a brand new, looks like everyone else’s house. We like character. We have light aqua kitchen cupboards and we love them so much that they will be repeated in part when we move. We aren’t afraid of color, and to have anything otherwise just wouldn’t be us.

We like the feeling of a house that is lived in. We like being able to put our feet on the coffee table. Our coffee table was built with that in mind. I love the Pottery Barn feel of having worn wood and industrial metal mixed with simple white, cotton and twill and little bits of history. Stuff that feels used and recycled mixed with stuff that maybe isn’t. Yet, things being functional. In this sense, Haiti works in our favor. That wood I was talking about? Even after a lot of sanding, it looks “worn”. And, for our family that works so well. Our dining room table has small gaps and ruts – the kind of thing that people actually have to work at putting into their furniture to get that “aged” look. I don’t care if Alex bashes his spoon into it and makes dents. It adds more character. The coffee table is the same and the kids can bang their toys on it to their hearts content. It doesn’t matter.

I love that living here has made me be creative with things, because nothing will be what you want it to be if you get it here. You either make due, adapt or figure out how to make your own. And anything else? Well, it most likely has to come in a suitcase. Slip covers to convert a less than ideal couch or chair. Paint. Thinking outside the box and seeing how to use one thing for something else. For example, I wanted to hang our pots and pans above the stove where they were easy to get to. I hated having to lift a pile every time I wanted the one on the bottom. I decided to have a friend build the shelf and we used a thick piece of rebar painted black to hang things from. I love it. (And case in point about the color in our home…)

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This last week I decided to bust into the wood stash I still had and knock out some projects that I’ve had on my list or in my Pinterest boards for a while. They were all decor related. Back over the summer we finally decided it was probably time to actually print some pictures to put into the frames I had stock piled and put them on display. When we got back I hung some of them, but I had some shelves in mind for the living room for others. Chris wondered why I didn’t just hammer nails into the walls and hang them, but I wanted something that we could change up and move around, add little things to, etc.

Our living room now has shelves with photos. I still have one frame coming that will have our wedding picture in it, but for now we have a smaller version up.

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I decided that while I was at it and had the tools out I might as well do some other things. I made a shelf for above the kitchen window. It’s only function is to hold decor stuff. I was tired of not having character in our house, so I scrounged around and found some stuff I loved, but that we didn’t really use, and put it up there, and made some other things.

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The Open Daily sign and the “r” were hand made, and the rest was scrounged, with the exception of the black frame. That one had a picture in it, then fell and the glass smashed, so it’s going to hold seasonal art.

When I was a kid we had a chalk board in our hall way and we spent hours, maybe days, or our childhood playing on that thing. I was tired of hearing our kids fight and noticed that they’ve recently gotten into this drawing/coloring kick, so thought they would have tons of fun with a huge chalkboard on the wall.

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I looked down the hall to see this hours after it went up.

Since it went up on Saturday afternoon Olivia has reassured me that it is in fact one of the best things ever. I also love the “give thanks” word art above it, and have already knocked something out for Christmas, but you have to wait to see that ;)

One more piece of word art in the kitchen was the icing on the cake. I love this. Just a rough sanded 1×6, a couple coats of paint, some traced and painted letters, then a pass with the sander and a satin varnish. Done.

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Now we just need to get a different clock. The one we had there actually died a few weeks ago. I loved it. It was a red number that cost me $4 at Walmart. The one up now we stole from the round house and it eventually needs to go back there.

So yes, this weekend our house found it’s personality. I keep finding myself walking through the house, catching something new in my eye, and smiling. It feels like home. Not that it wasn’t home before, it just feels like a family with an identity lives here now. And we like it. This morning one of the workers came in to get something and noticed the shelves in the living room and said, “Those are nice! I like the photos.” And I smiled.

~Leslie

I Made A Coffee Table!

I mentioned on here last week that I was starting out on a new adventure of learning to build things out of wood. I’ll admit, the jump was a little scary because it would mean making something that actually looked nice, not just cutting some stuff, screwing it together and having it do the job for a while.

I got all drooly looking at ana-white.com and seeing all the fabulous plans on there. I decided to start with a cool coffee table with a trundle storage box under it. You can find the plans for it HERE.

What I love about the plans on her site is that they’re simple and easy to follow, and that others are able to post their version of things so you can see how people tweak and change things up. It’s really fun and inspirational.

In Haiti you can buy what they call “planch prepare” which are the plained boards that you would find in any normal hardware store in North America. OR, you can get the rough, just cut boards. They’re actually the measurements that they are called, like a 2×4, rather than being called a 2×4 but actually measuring 1 3/4 x 3 3/4. And they’re rough in the sense that they haven’t been all planed down and sanded. The majority of what I got were the rough boards. They cost a bit less, and really aren’t terrible to work with if you want to put the time into it.

The beginnings.

A not so handy helper!

My “work bench”.

There could be worse places to work.

I spent Friday evening last weekend sanding down the rough boards for what I needed (I bought wood for several projects all at once) so that I could get an early start on Saturday morning. Saturday I spent the entire day cutting and screwing and gluing and nailing. I didn’t even stop for lunch! I had so much fun! Sunday I filled some holes and left things to dry for a couple days. Wednesday ended up being a holiday here so I spent the day putting everything together and surprised myself by getting as far as putting the stain on. Thursday after work I did the first coats of varnish. Friday I put wheels on the trundle and varnished the table top. Today we moved that baby in!

Here’s the finished product!

I’m really happy with how it turned out. And so is Chris. When I first told him what I wanted to do he didn’t work very hard at hiding his doubt that it would turn out well. When I started building he came down to check my progress and at one point said, “I’m just worried it’s not going to be very solid. Like, will someone be able to sit on it?” After I put the sides together I let him pick one up. They each weigh at least 20 lbs. It’s solid. And yes, you can sit on it.

Details:

Wood used: I really have no idea what kind it was, but if I had to guess I would say pine.

Stain used:  One coat of Early American by ZAR. I brushed on a liberal coat, let it sit for about 10-15 minutes, then wiped it off with a clean old t-shirt. Let it dry overnight.

Varnish: Two coats of clear polyurethane, brushed on.

Hardware: Drawer handles from IKEA, 2 ” swivel casters.

Total cost: About $85 US for everything (wood, hardware, stain & varnish)

What I learned while making this:

  • TONS! Ha ha!
  • Messed up a few cuts, but thankfully was able to use the scraps for other parts of the project.
  • Learned a few things about using wood filler.
  • Learned all about pocket holes and how to use my Kreg pocket hole jig :)
  • Learned about staining – it was the first time I’d stained anything.
  • Learned about varnishing. Thin coats are good. I didn’t goop things on, but rather was grateful that I was doing thin layers.
  • Really challenged myself to read through things several times AND to really take my time. I have a hard time with that, but the results are so worth it.
  • I learned that I really can do this and make something fabulous.

When I started this one thing I decided right off the bat was that I would be content with imperfection. I had to, to some degree, because the wood I was working with was far from perfect. I tried to get the best that I could, but some pieces were still a bit warped and I had to sand it down to get something worth working with. I told Chris that I was actually kind of excited about the wood and just kept telling myself that it was like working with reclaimed wood – that people spend a lot of money on in some cases. Or, they build a piece of furniture and distress it by banging all sorts of things on it to mark it up and give it character. In my case I had to take a lot of that distress out of the wood and find the beauty in it. And I love it. I love that there are knot holes and that I actually intentionally kept them on the surface rather than hiding them. I love that you can still see saw marks on some boards from when the wood was originally cut.

I also told Chris that part of the reason I wanted the imperfections was because we aren’t perfect. We’re rough around the edges. We’re a young family. I wanted furniture that we could really live with. I didn’t want to be worried that the kids would spill things or drive cars on it or bang it up. I wanted something to put our feet up on while we watched a movie together. I wanted to have a place where the kids could play. Our house is small too, so having the extra storage space is fabulous.

This morning when we moved it in and showed the kids how the drawer worked they both got excited. Chris and I got into doing other things for a few minutes and then I looked over to find this:

The other thing I love about this is that it’s the first piece of furniture, aside from some cheap night stands and two night stand/dresser thingies for the kids room, that I’ve picked out. Every other piece of furniture has either been donated, picked out by someone else, or I slapped it together from scraps of other stuff around here.

I love too that I was able to do this, in Haiti. Yes, I had to do some planning and bring certain things in, but I did it. And, if I can do it under those circumstances, then I know that there are people out there that have access to all of this stuff that can do it too. And you should! Why spend a crazy amount of money on something you can build yourself? And build the way you want to! Do it!

To celebrate the completion of my first major build we put some toys in the drawer, put our feet up and watched a movie as a family.

And now, I have a very important play date where there will be some car driving and Candy Land playing with a certain 4 year old.

~Leslie

The WIP

Last week Amy asked in the comments what sewing project I’ve been working on lately. Since then I’ve been deliberately taking pictures of the process so I could put them on the blog. Aren’t you proud of me? You should be even prouder that I’m actually doing it. *grin*

The current project is one MASSIVE quilt for our bed. I like to call it the “I dare you to try and tell me I’m stealing the blankets” quilt. Or the Marriage Saver. Whatever you like best. When I told Chris that I wanted to make a light quilt for our bed (light being the operative word there) his one requirement was that it was BIG. Big enough that it draped waaaayyy over the sides so neither of us had to wrestle for our fair share. Done. This thing is BIG. The sides will get trimmed a bit after it’s quilted, but you can see that it’s plenty big. 

My requirements (yes, I have more than one) were that it was simple, and that it was bright. I’ve mentioned before that I was working on a quilt top already, but that I didn’t think I had enough fabric to finish it the way I wanted to and that I lost excitement for it. I still like it and will use what I have together to make a twin sized one for Olivia when she gets a bigger bed. I just wasn’t feeling it for Chris and I. 

The fabric squares are from the Moda line NEST. Click here to see an actual photo of the fabrics in all their vibrant beauty. Mmmm. I got them on Ebay. I got two sets of 40 10×10″ squares (one square of each fabric in the line per package) and I used 36 on the front and 20 on the back. The rest were smaller prints that will get used either on the binding or for other projects. Not sure yet. 

I thought going with a simple squares with sashing pattern on the front would be simple. In theory I was right. In actual work done I was WRONG. Simply for little reasons like things not lining up or my sashing fabric mysteriously changing shape or size on me while ironing. Or that 10″ squares are just slightly bigger than 10″ which throws other things off. I have seriously ripped out almost every seam on the top of the quilt and redone it. Sometimes multiple times. I decided I wanted to do it right though and kept at it and am happy with that. I’ve been pushing myself to work more on quality and less on getting things done quickly. 

The back came to me after reading this blog for months. She’s got some fabulous ideas and stuff for people that are getting into quilting. When I got the squares I laid everything out on the floor. Top first, then bottom. After I saw what was left after deciding on the squares for the top I used the rest to do the strip and was so giddy with how it came together. I hadn’t decided what color to do with it and left that up to my instincts. I told myself to just go to the little (I mean that some people have bigger walk-in closets than this place kind of little) fabric store in St. Marc and see what grabbed me. It took all of two seconds to decide on the brown. When I got it home and laid things next to each other I was even happier with my choice. Now that it’s together I can’t wait to start quilting. I love that it’s reversible. I tend to go through phases where I change my mind or need to move things around. Just ask my husband. This way I can flip it over when I get bored of one side. The idea with the back is that when it’s on the bed face up the color blocks will sit 2/3’s of the way down the bed. I’ll be sure to take a picture when it’s done and on the bed :)
This was the beginning of the piecing process. That pile of white fabric at the bottom of the picture is all the stuff that became weird shaped or just wasn’t “right”. Doh! I had to rip the whole thing apart. Sigh. 

Quilt top done and we’re trying it on for size. :)
Top and bottom getting to know each other. They’re in love. 

The little non-helper leaving tracks so I know where to find her if she gets lost. Just in case. 

Some of you are probably wondering why I have my quilt masking taped to the floor? Well, I was basting. I learned it from the above mentioned blog and it works great. You lay your first layer (normally you would quilt the top, so you would lay your bottom first) face down to the floor, as in the nice side is kissing the laminate. Then you start in the middle of each side and tape it down, stretching it to a nice tautness (you just want to pull out the wrinkles, not pull so much that it gives your fabric a distorted shape) as you go. Work around the quilt, like a framer would attach a canvas to a frame. After you have your centers taped down, keep working each side. Tape a piece, move around to the next side, tape, move to the next side, tape… After you have your first layer down you put down the batting. No need to tape that, just make sure it’s nice and smooth. Then lay your second layer and do the same taping process. From there you can take safety pins (big ones) or long stick pins (the safety pins really are superior for this) and starting in the center pin all your layers together. Work out to your edges. When you’re done go around and remove all the tape from your layers and voila! You have a basted quilt. 

And no Barb, it’s not appliquéd. Wouldn’t that just be amazing of me? ;)

Answers to Your Questions

Hi All!

Apparently the crafty posts were a bit hit:) Glad you liked them. There were some questions that I thought I would take a few minutes to answer for you.

Would I ever sell the stuff I make? (and in turn make some sweet dough)
I would LOVE to make stuff to sell. I have one major problem though – Haiti has no reliable postal system. I don’t have fabric stores that I can go to like there are there. Most of the fabric that you find here is for school uniforms and suiting etc, not for fun crafty projects, which makes me very, very sad. Boo. Because of that I end up ordering what fabric I do get on Ebay and have it brought in for me, or I go shopping when we’re home. Luggage space is always a challenge though. Maybe one day I’ll be able to designate a good amount of space to fabric, but I doubt it’ll happen any time soon. The postal system thing also means that even if I could sell stuff online, I have no way of sending it out to people. People tend to get a bit grumpy when they don’t get things within 6 months of purchasing them. I have thought about getting a bunch of fabric, making a bunch of stuff – like bags – then taking them back with me and having someone do the sending out etc for me. That’s a thought, but for the future.

Have I been making the baby’s layette?
I’ve actually only made the one outfit that I showed you, but I have a list of stuff that I want to make and may do some sewing this weekend. The great thing about baby clothes is that they don’t need a lot of fabric, especially not summer clothes, so a yard of fabric can go a long way :) I have, as you’ve seen, done the curtains and the change table cover for the baby’s room. I also made crib bumpers that I haven’t shown off yet because I don’t think they’ll really photograph all that well. Essentially I took a solid white fabric, one that had a white gathered swirl of fabric sewn to it, and an eyelet and cut different sized rectangles, then sewed them together so it’s sort of a patchwork feel. I used the same print fabric on the curtains and the change mat for the ties so it brings it all together. Our crib is apparently white so I think it’ll be super cute, but very simple and versatile.

What kind of machine do I have?
I’m totally blessed with a sweet Janome. My mom is a faithful collector of shopping points and a few years ago she had enough from buying groceries that she could buy me a new sewing machine for my birthday. The machine, or so it said when we got it, was worth about $600. It’s such a treat to have it here and to have a machine that works so well. My mom taught me to sew when I was pretty young on her machine that she got for her high school grad gift if you can believe it. The machine is over 30 years old and still works great. My machine actually has an all metal body to it which I love because it’ll stand up to life here. And yes, it does do a beautiful stitch, though the “hand stitch” that was on Elly’s ears really was hand stitching, not done by the machine. Truth be told I forgot to sew the ears on before I stitched the body together, so I had to put them on after :)

Let me know if you have more questions. I’ll keep posting pictures of my projects when I have them. For now though, I’m off to do some cleaning. There’s something smelly in the house and I have to go hunt it down…

How to Make the Photo Board

Hi Everyone!

With such a great response and a request for the how to on making the photo board, I thought I’d share the instructions because it really is super easy and I think it’s a great project because it’s pretty and very useful.

Supplies:

1 cut piece of light plywood or MDF board
1/2 yard/meter of fabric or more depending on your board size. You want enough to wrap about 2 inches around back.
1/2 yard/meter or more of light quilt batting
4 yards/meters of ribbon of choice. I recommend something a little stronger so it doesn’t give out under the tacks
1 pack of upholstery tacks*

Tools Needed:

Saw to cut the wood
Pencil
Ruler
Drill and large drill bit
Iron
Staple gun
Scissors
Hammer

Instructions:

1. Decide how big you want your board and cut wood to size.

2. Decide if board will hang portrait style or landscape. On the top edge use the ruler to find your mid point, and about 1 1/2 inches down from the edge make a mark. This will be where the board will hang on the wall from the nail.

3. Use the drill to drill a hole at your mark.

4. Iron fabric nice and smooth.

5. Lay fabric on a large surface right side (that’s the good side, or the side with the print) down on the surface.

6. Center the quilt batting on the fabric.

7. Center the board on the fabric and quilt batting.

8. Time to staple! NOW, this is very important…to get the board equally smooth, you want to pick a side as your start point. Pull the fabric and batting fairly tight and staple it to the board. Go to the side directly opposite and do the same. Do the third side, and then the fourth. You should have one staple in each side’s center.

9. Continue to pull and staple around the board, working out from the first staples you put in. Don’t forget to keep moving around the board!

10. Turn the board over. Isn’t it pretty? Good work so far, but you’re not quite done yet.

11. Time to place the ribbons. Decide roughly where you want your ribbons to go and how far you want them spaced. Starting with the longest pieces cut ribbon to size, making sure you have about 2 inches of ribbon on each end to wrap around the board back, and lay them on the board on the diagonal. Do this for all of your pieces. This is just to get a visual.

12. Set all your ribbon aside, but in an organized fashion!

13. Starting with the longest piece(s), lay the ribbon on the board. Hold each end in place and flip the board over (I know, it’s awkward), then place face down on your surface. Tack down one end with staple gun. Pull other end taught and staple down. Do this for all of your ribbons working out from largest to smallest.

14. Turn the board over so it’s right side up again. Your ribbons should be criss crossing over the board.

15. At each ribbon intersect you want to hammer in an upholstery tack. This will tighten the ribbon even more and make it so your pictures won’t slide out.

16. TA DA! You now have a beautiful photo board! Good job.

*If you don’t want to use upholstery tacks you could use some short nails and then glue gun whatever you wanted, like buttons over the nail. That would look cool! You would just need to flatten the nails on the back of the board so they don’t rip your wall apart.

I hope you have fun with this. I would love to see pictures of any boards that people make. You can email them to me at office@cleanwaterforhaiti.org. Who knows, maybe I’ll get enough to do a Show and Tell post. :) Also, if you have questions about the instructions, let me know. I know I don’t have exact measurements for things so it might be a bit hard for people that like that, but it’s just the way my brain works – nothing really exact, just sort of feel it through.

Happy Crafting!

~Leslie