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 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

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…)

IMG_9911

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.

IMG_9921

IMG_9920

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.

IMG_9914

IMG_9919

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.

IMG_1505[1]

IMG_1507[1]

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.

IMG_9915

IMG_9918

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