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:

Breakfast Menu JPEG

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

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]

IMG_1855[1]

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

Weight Watchers: 2 Month Check-In

Today is the end of the second month that I’ve been on Weight Watchers, so it’s time to check-in and do an update!

So far, so good!

Actually, I’m really happy today because when I weighed in this morning the scale showed that I’ve now lost 15 lbs!! And, there were two weeks where I had actually gained a bit, so really I’ve lost more, but had to make up for the gains. I’m .03 shy of my first goal of losing 10% of the overall amount of weight that I need to lose, and the truth is, I know I’m already there, but because of a pizza dinner last night that’s got me feeling a bit bloated up today, it’s not showing on the scale. It was there yesterday morning, though :)

How did this month go?

Well, I got over the six week hump, which seems to be my breaking point most of the time. And, it was a challenge. Funny how that is. But, got through it.

We’ve been battling a flu type thing in our house in the last two weeks, so for weeks 7 & 8, I was still tracking, but my body was wanting comfort foods. You know, carbs, cheese, etc. Yes, normally when people are sick they don’t want those things, but I never claimed to be normal. When the cravings kick in I know I’m into recovery mode. I let myself eat those things, tracked them, and then made good choices like a giant plate of salad one night to account for it.

Last weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving, and if you’ve been reading, you know we had a big get together here. How did I decide to handle the holiday and all the food?

I allowed myself to not track for one day. Actually, I decided that I would give myself that grace for any major holiday or my birthday. I know this whole things will not work if I feel guilty or deprived, so I won’t let myself go there. And, I know that one day is not going to be the ruin of all my hard work. I enjoyed dinner last Sunday, and some of the left overs this week, but I tracked them and after a day or so had no interest in them any more. Stuffing is my favorite part of the whole turkey meal, and we still have some in our fridge because it wasn’t worth using my points for.

15 lbs is a decent weight loss, if I do say so myself. Am I noticing any difference on my body?

I’m starting to. I’ve been noticing things for the last couple of weeks, actually. My ribcage area has lost the most probably, and I noticed that my wrists looked slightly slimmer. Tried on a bracelet that I have and it definitely sat in a different place than before, so it wasn’t just in my head.

The other day I put on a denim skirt I haven’t worn in a while that has two buttons on the closure, and without realizing it right away I had done it up wrong by buttoning to the farthest button, because that’s where it fit comfortably. That felt SO good :) That’s been the most noticeable clothing difference so far, though a couple pairs of shorts are starting to feel a tiny bit loose.

So, that’s the update for this month. This next month I need to focus on getting more veggies in because of all my comfort food eating. Need to get the meal plan updated too.

Have a great week!

~Leslie

Happy Belated Thanksgiving Canada!

This past weekend marked Canadian Thanksgiving. We’re a multi-country family with Canadians, Americans and Haitians all represented. In fact, out of the 4 of us, I’m the only one who doesn’t have 2 passports. Chris is a dual citizen and was able to transfer citizenship to Alex. We haven’t done it for Olivia because as an adopted child it would involve an immigration process and gets spendy. I haven’t gotten my green card because I just haven’t needed to. Olivia still has her Haitian passport from when we finished her adoption.

So, we get to celebrate two Thanksgivings in our family. Typically Canadian Thanksgiving is a low key roast chicken dinner at home. We may invite a friend, but that’s usually the extent of it. One year we went to a big Canadian Thanksgiving bash at a friends house where about 20+ Canadians had gathered. There tends to be more American missionaries here in Haiti, so any gathering of large numbers of Canadians are fun.

This year we decided to host Canadian Thanksgiving for our missionary group. The funny thing is there are only 5 Canadians in a group of about 40 :) When we extended the invitation, we weren’t sure how many would come, so we were happily surprised when the RSVP’s started flying in and everyone who had been invited was excited to be there. We did a big ol’ potluck, because our group is good at those.

We decided to try something different to see how it worked out cost wise, and bought two local turkeys. On Friday morning Yonese brought our little friends to work so they could meet their fate. We were a little surprised when Alex quickly grabbed the leg tie on the big one and started walking it around the yard like a puppy.

IMG_1520[1]

In case you were worried that he was in shock after it was butchered, he wasn’t. In fact, a couple hours later I looked down into the driveway to see him walking over from the work yard where the deed had been done, carrying a turkey head by the comb. My first world self almost freaked out, then I remembered that we aren’t living in the first world and if he was okay with it, I guess I could be too. Besides, if we lived on a farm, that would be normal if we had chickens.

We had a great day with all our friends. Everyone chipped in with tables and we had a nice afternoon with great food under the coconut trees. As we sat around playing some games later and then moved on to going around the circle to share something we were thankful for I was kind of overwhelmed with gratitude.

IMG_1525[1]

You see, being in another country full time means you miss a lot of family stuff. For example, my brother and sister in law recently had their second baby, a sweet little girl. I wasn’t there when my nephew was born, and had to wait 4.5 months to meet him. I won’t meet Lucy until next summer. That stuff makes me sad. Holidays are hard too because we know family is gathering back home and we aren’t there. BUT, that said, as I looked around I was reminded of the blessing that God has given us in our missionary family here. When I first arrived in Haiti, Chris and I were some of the youngest members. Less than a year later we were the only young married couple. Then we were the only young family after Olivia came along. There were other people in our age bracket, but they came and went with shorter commitments to Haiti. As I looked around on Sunday I saw 40 people that are a core group in our lives, ranging in ages from 70+ down to the first few months of their lives. Where we used to be the youngest and only young marrieds/family, I now saw several young families with kids of all ages. We have singles. We have newly-weds. We have mid-lifers. We have retirees. We have surrogate grandparent and auntie/uncle types for our kids. We have people we look to as mentors, and people we want to spend time with when we just need to unwind. We have people we can feed into because we’ve done the hard work of settling here and starting a family. We have Canadians, Americans and Haitians – all creating beautiful blended families whether it’s through marriage, adoption, fostering or coming alongside brothers and sisters in Christ. God has truly blessed us with this group, and we’re so thankful for each and every one of them!

It was a wonderful, relaxed, fun afternoon! That evening I got to talk to my brother, and on Monday me and the kids got to talk to Nanna and Pappa. For the first time Alex was really into talking on the phone, which was a kick! There was a lot of excitement from the littles!

Sadly, Monday and Tuesday also got spent as sick days in our house while me and the kids were down with a stomach bug that’s been going around. Thankfully we’re all better now :)

~Leslie