These Kids…

I thought that after the last post it might be fun to finally share some of my pictures. If nothing else at least the grandparents will be happy ;)

Our kids both have big personalities. Alex, when he’s in the right mood, is such an easy subject. Olivia is in this stage where she tries to perform for the camera so it’s hard to get good, natural pictures of her right now, but every once in a while she gives me something to work with. One of the advantages of having white walls in and out along with big shady trees outside is that we get amazing light in our house at different times of the day, as well as out on the deck. I especially love the light in our bedroom. Most of these were taking on our bed. They definitely weren’t edited to the extent that they could have been because I think that there’s something sweet about keeping kids natural to an extent, remembering bumps and scrapes and food on their faces.

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I LOVE that picture of Alex so much. I don’t even have words.

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Little Mister insisted on playing with the swim goggles.

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Miss O loves being dramatic :)

 

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Where Things Have Landed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Have a great week!

~Leslie

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?

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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

Blustery Wednesday

It’s deliciously cool here right now. The thermometer is still reading 83*F, but it’s overcast and breezy and it feels like winter. We’ve noticed that the cooler weather has taken a lot longer to arrive this year. Usually I would have been waking up and needing to wear a long sleeve shirt for the first couple of hours for a few weeks by now, but this morning was the first time. Hmmm. Maybe the polar vortex got things all mixed up?

Chris’ parents are on their way home now after a wonderful 10 day visit. It’s been so great to have both sets of parents here in the last month. The kids are at an age where they “get” it now and to see the difference in those relationships has been so fun. I think Alex, especially, showed the biggest difference. He’s just talking so much more and interacting in such a fun way now, but more than anything he remembers things and can talk about them later. Frequently today he kept asking where Gramma and Grandpa were and I had to explain they went home. We’ve had the same conversation about Nanna and Pappa many times in the last couple of weeks.

Mum and Dad brought in a ton of stuff for us. It was so overwhelming we literally waited until the next day to go open suitcases, and Chris and I had to take turns going through the bags so we could each go over lists and make sure everything was there. It was and we’re still being reminded of everything they brought in.

One of the most exciting items for me was my new camera :) I knew I had gotten a good deal on it on Ebay, but when it arrived I was shocked to see just how good it was. Sometimes those buys can be risky. This one though – complete gem. This thing looks and acts brand new. I showed it to a friend and told her it was bought used and her reaction was, “That is used???” I checked the shutter count (number of times the shutter has opened and closed to take a picture) and it only had about 3500 shots on it – and it’s rated for about 100,000 before it needs to be replaced. It has literally hardly been used. I feel so blessed!

As you might remember, one of my goals for this year is to learn how to actually use the new camera. The 40D is definitely a step up from my old Rebel. I’ve been having fun practicing and trying to learn how to use the manual settings rather than just shooting in “green mode” (which I actually hate because it always wants to pop up the flash). If you have any recommendations for online tutorials or classes, I would love them! You can leave me a comment.

I thought it might be fun to share some of my pictures from the last week. These have had some minor editing, but not a lot, which makes me feel really good. I would love to learn how to use this thing so well that I don’t have to do a lot of editing, but I realize that’s a life long project :) These were all taken with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens.

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I had some good subjects :)

~Leslie

The Imagery of Poverty

When I say “the poor” what images come to mind? What things flash through your brain? What feelings do they stir up in you? How accurately do they portray the lives of what we’ve come to know as “the poor”?

I think it’s safe to say that most of us probably think of the TV commercials we’ve seen. You know the ones… some large organization is raising money for sponsorship programs that will help feed and educate a child for as little as $30/month. Big, sad eyes. Dirty little bodies barely clothed. Children looking forlorn outside of their ramshakle homes. Their clothes are tattered, they have no shoes. Babies have ribs showing through their papery skin and flies buzzing around their eyes.

Sometimes the images are different. Maybe it’s a homeless person pushing a grocery cart with their life’s possessions in it. They’re dirty because they sleep on the street and their hair is scragly and beards are bushy. Maybe you see people standing in line for a meal at a shelter. Maybe you see someone sitting next to a major intersection with a cardboard sign and a cup asking for spare change.

The point is, we’ve come to associate certain imagery with “the poor”. And, if we’re honest we all know the reasons why. At the core of it those are the images that grab our attention and tug at our heart strings, moving us to a response of some kind.

When I was in college there were a few Christmas breaks where I would take a day to volunteer with several friends helping the Salvation Army hand out their Christmas food hampers. We had a central location where the hampers were all prepared and people would come in with their claim form and pick up their hampers. Part of the day was spent finding the matching boxes to the number on the claim form, and part of it was spent helping carry the boxes out to waiting vehicles if people had one.

That was over 10 years ago and I still remember one client that came in. She was a beautiful lady wearing normal clothes. If I passed her on the street I would have made assumptions about her economical state. We found her hamper of food and toys for her kids and I helped her carry them out to a nice black pick-up truck. She was sweet and kind and thankful. I’ll admit, when we got to the truck I made assumptions and judgements and then something happened. As I helped her put things in her truck she paused, and the tears started to roll down her face. As she started to wipe them away in embarrassment she said, “I’m sorry. This is just so hard. My husband has been out of work and we’ve lost pretty much everything except the truck. I never thought it would come to this. I’ve always supported organizations like this and never thought I would be needing them myself.”

In that moment I learned a valuable lesson.

I learned that while there are certain states of poverty that are easy to pin point simply by looking at them, there are others that you would never be able to pick out. Poverty doesn’t look a certain way, and we do the poor a serious disservice by trying to make it look that way by the images that we share. We distance ourselves from the truth of poverty, which is that there are individual people behind the pictures and images. People that have stories. People that have feelings.

Living here for the length that I have has given me plenty of opportunities not only to see how visitors tote around their cameras, but also to see more of what goes on the in the aide and development sector when it comes to sharing imagery of the poor. I think we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Somewhere along the way we’ve (our culture) developed this mentality that we have a right to take pictures and videos of people in their most difficult state and to share them around, and we can justify it by telling ourselves and others that we’re trying to tell the story or raise awareness so that people will take notice and support the efforts. Like I said, the baby with the fly in the eye does tug at heart strings. The fact that it does, more so than someone rejoicing over life change tells me that there is something terribly wrong with our culture. If we only stop and take notice of the worst case scenario then we need a reality check because we’ve gotten so self focused that we can’t take the time to really look at a situation and only want to pay attention to what makes us feel guilty.

As an organization it would be so easy for us to snap dozens of pictures of naked kids and destitute families, then plaster them all over our promotional materials because we know it would probably help us raise more money faster for the work that Clean Water for Haiti is doing. But, we won’t ever do that.

Chris and I won’t ever do it and we won’t allow anyone within our organization to do it. Don’t believe me? I’ve fought former board members on this and won.

We won’t let visitors take pictures when we feel it’s inappropriate. I’m less concerned with you being upset that I’m telling you to put your camera away than I am about respecting the old man who is waving his hand in front of his face as a gesture to let you know that he doesn’t want his picture taken.

It won’t happen because we’re people. And we’re parents.

We believe that a large part of what we do here at Clean Water for Haiti is to help restore dignity by remembering that people, at the core, want the same things that we want. They want their dignity. They want to see their children healthy. They want to have people see them for more than just their living situation.

I don’t know if I’m wired a bit different, but this is always something that has been hard for me. I have always struggled with the idea of running around with a camera and snapping photos. I can do it with landscapes, city/community scenes etc, but when it comes to people my heart jumps in and my hands stay still. I struggle with it, and I’m so grateful that I do.

See, I’m a mom.

And, as a mother I would be mortified and angry if some random person came by my house and started snapping pictures of my kids running around the yard. I would be livid if I knew that they were going to take those pictures home to “share” with everyone they knew, telling them about what my family was lacking and how much I needed their help. Do they know my name? Have they asked my permission to take pictures of my half clothed children? Why wouldn’t they give me the time to bathe my kids and put them in their nicer clothes rather than their every day stuff? Why can’t I even comb their hair? And really, why are they even parading around with a camera in the first place? We all know how inappropriate it would be to walk around a neighborhood in North America snapping pictures of children and people living in a disadvantaged state, so why don’t the same rules apply when we travel to places like Haiti? Take a look at the imagery you see for North American non-profits working in North America. Do you see the same kind of imagery in that promo stuff as you do for organizations that are working in impoverished countries like Haiti? Why is that? Is it maybe because in North America it’s socially unacceptable to portray people in their time of need that way? Why do we think it’s okay to do the opposite for the poor living abroad?

No, you won’t ever see pictures of naked babies sitting in mud puddles in any of our promo materials.

What you will see is people smiling and happy because we believe that the work we do provides a way of helping people move towards life change. We know that when we pull up with the delivery truck people are excited to be getting their filter that day because it may mean their kids won’t be as sick and that there may be more income coming into the home. That’s what we want to show you. That what we do is moving towards something better, not focusing on the worst of it. It’s seeing past people’s circumstances and seeing them. Seeing that they are people first, and “the poor” second.

We realize that this position may mean that we don’t tap into certain funding avenues. But you know what? We’re okay with that. We know that the work we do is saving and changing lives every day, and we believe that it’s a privilege for people to support what we’re doing, to be a part of it. If people need to see imagery that takes advantage of the poor before they’re willing to support us then they aren’t the kind of donors we want. We want people that believe people have dignity no matter their economic state, and who are excited to help us promote that and encourage it, not destroy it.

I want to challenge you with something. Most of us support some kind of organization in a charitable way. What first got your attention? Where there images that you saw, whether photographs or video? Why did you want to support a particular organization? Was it because of the imagery you saw, even while they were telling you about their work, or was it simply because of the work they were doing? When you think of the organization now, what images flash through your mind? After reading this post, how do you feel about that?

I realize that these are hard things to look at and dissect, but it’s so important. Especially for those of us who call ourselves Christians, Christ followers. Jesus went to the least of these. He treated them with dignity. He reminded them that they were people. He reminded them that they had the power to make good choices. He reminded them that when no one else looked at them as being worth something their heavenly Father did. We have that same responsibility. And it should be exercised in every way that we interact with the poor, from how we speak of them to how we represent them to others. It means we have to level ourselves with them and remember that at the core we are all people that have the same needs and desires. We have to humanize poverty, something that we’ve subconsciously moved away from.

Hard stuff.

~Leslie