These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things – Part 3

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

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

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

5. The NINJA Mega Kitchen System

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Homemade All Purpose Cleaning Spray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. The “Puddle Jumper”

Click on photo for link.

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite things???

~Leslie

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

4. My new camera & eBay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1854[1]

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

~Leslie

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things – Part 1

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

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

1. My Kitchenaid Mixer

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

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

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

2. Stainless Steel BIG French Press

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

Click on the picture to go to the Amazon listing.

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

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

~Leslie