A few days ago, I was looking through some old pictures and ran across a couple of photos from the kitchen in our most favorite house – the one we sold before we came to Ecuador. We had remodeled about a year before leaving for Ecuador, trading old green tile for updated colors and a modern back splash. I just loved, loved, loved my updated kitchen…rolling out pie crust on a flat surface…knowing the counter was clean after being wiped off instead of everything sticking in the grout grooves…priceless.
Then, lo and behold, we decided to move to Ecuador and traded in our updated, modern kitchen for something, well, different. Last year, being exclusively at Calacali, I had certain things that I really liked and some challenges as well. This year, as we now added an apartment into the mix, I have the need to put into words some different ideas about what makes me thankful to have a kitchen.
First of all, I am thankful for drawers. Believe it or not, in my nice, big, beautiful Sioux Falls, SD kitchen, I had seven total drawers. Now, four of them were a part of the island and were used for things like cereal, baking items, towels and dishcloths. But, the other three were small, and, by default, were used for silverware in one, cooking/stove utensils in another, and the third held things that didn’t fit in the first two – matches, skewers, kitchen scissors…that type of thing. I didn’t have a junk drawer because, well, there wasn’t a drawer left over for the junk. Here, in this apartment, I have EIGHT, count ’em, EIGHT drawers. More than enough room to fill with silverware, matches, dish towels, spices, tea, a $14 roll of aluminum foil, homemade ranch dressing mix (thanks, Aunt Sue!)…eight is, believe it or not, too many to house the actual amount of items we even own…so I can actually find things in them as they all have room to spare.
A six burner gas stove…granted, I use only about two of the burners as I typically only have two pans that I cook with on any given day. But, a gas stove with an electric start that works is definitely something to be thankful for. When the power outages hit, as they tend to do on a somewhat irregular basis, you can still put a match to the burner and cook away.
This chair: While certainly providing a respite from a hard day on your feet in the kitchen, this lovely piece of furniture serves a function well beyond its normal job description. The main role of this chair is to hold my stove closed. The hinge is broken and in need of replacement, but, our landlord has not yet chosen to make that investment. So, we keep it closed with a chair. If the well-placed chair is not in its place of honor, we would have an oven door jutting into our working space at least twelve inches. Granted, the stove would definitely become a welcomed heating source, but getting things baked appropriately would then become even more of an issue, stretching even farther beyond the altitude challenges.
This oven rack: It is the only one in the stove. I have no idea where the other one is. This rack tests me every time i use it as it makes me practice my patience and balance. It is reverse-warped in the middle, thankfully, so that when a heavy casserole dish is placed on it, it actually pushes the ends onto the ridge a bit more to keep it from crashing to the floor of the oven. But, it does handle all our baking needs, even if it takes twice as long to bake cookies since we have to do them one sheet at a time…all the more time to enjoy the dough between batches.
These gas tanks: At $3 a pop for a refill, these tanks provide the life-blood of our cooking and cleaning activities. Our hot water is powered with gas, as is our stove.
These gas tanks are highly subsidized by the Ecuadorian government, and, if predictions are correct, when the government switches over to hydroelectric power in the next few years, the price of these tanks will go up to around $15-$20. But, in the meantime, we flag down the gas man when he pulls into the parking lot with his telltale four horn-honk announcement, and, for a $1 tip, he will bring our new 60-70lb gas tank up to our apartment and take the old one away to be refilled for the next person. Now, we never quite know when the gas man will come…this week alone, he’s been around three days in a row, but we often don’t see him for a week and a half. So, I am thankful for having TWO tanks, that, if necessary, we can switch on and off to fulfill the duties of the empty tank until it has been replaced.
Our fridge: Not only does it do the normal functions of keeping items cool, but it also provides patience testing and riddle solving. As an added bonus, the refrigerator sometimes doubles as a freezer, on certain shelves, in certain conditions, but none of which can be predicted or prevented. It tends to like to freeze lettuce, milk, cabbage, and rice, particularly when placed on different shelves and the cooling set to the warmest temperature. Rotation of items in the fridge is necessary to ensure equal opportunity for freezing, and creativity abounds when realizing part or all of the menu for the evening has reached an untimely and early end to life. Frozen cabbage heads can easily double as bowling balls, so certainly could, if necessary, provide an evening of entertainment on a slow night.
This soap: I fought using this Ecuadorian cream-soap staple for the first few months we lived here. Instead, I opted for the dubious imitation of the good ol’ dish soap I grew up with in the US of A. Try as I might, I found myself using 1/4 of the bottle each time I would wash dishes, desperately seeking the lather I was used to which certainly indicated that it was cleaning efficiently. Once I embraced the cream soap and the “put it on your sponge, scrub with running water, rinse, and repeat on next dish method”, I have not looked back. Short of feeling like I am wasting water and the risk of scalding myself at the kitchen sink with the running hot water (set to that temp so our showers can actually be warm), this soap is the bomb and I wonder how many people return home with a life supply in their suitcase. Granted, this brand is not my favorite, but is the one that it is in the best shape and less grungy, so you take pictures of what works. As an aside, I also have learned to use a scrubby sponge, which I had never used with any consistency before arriving here in Ecuador. Bless my mom for her continued supply of knitted dishcloths, though, or my counters would never be wiped clean. That is something only a dishcloth can do well.
Finally, in our old house, I had my laundry right off the kitchen. Well, for some reason, it just seems so much more practical in this apartment. I LOVE the clothesline that I never had – not only does it add much needed humidity to a dry, high-altitude location, but it saves on our electric dryer bills and provides extra closet space as the clothes are continually in a holding pattern on the line until I am tired of not having any natural light coming into the room. While we don’t have hot water hooked to the washing machine, we have a great kitchen sink nearby where we can draw hot water to carry only a small distance for those times where washing in cold just won’t do.
All sarcasm aside, we definitely are thankful for what we have, particularly as we look and see those around us making due with much, much less. Our neighbors in Calacali wash their clothes by hand and hang them all out to dry on the line. I have both a washer and a dryer with a clothesline to boot. I have a six burner stove and an oven that works, compared to many who may only have a one or two burner hot plate. I have water to wash our dishes, and two gas tanks in our household…if one is empty, we can still cook and shower with hot water simply by switching the regulator to the other tank. We have bottled water to drink, clean counter space to prepare our meals, and a refrigerator to preserve the leftovers for the next day. My kitchen and laundry room may not have the best view, state of the art appliances, or the most space, but it provides for our daily needs and more.
If you have a moment today, I suggest you take a short walk around your kitchen and laundry room. How often do we take for granted these two simple spaces? I challenge you to look at these special areas with a fresh eye of thankfulness. Do you see the amount of dishes, silverware, pots and pans in the cupboards? Do you see the plethora of Tupperware containers, and more than enough space to house all the extra lids with no matching bottoms? Are you thankful for the electricity or gas that powers the appliances? Do you acknowledge His goodness in the majority of times they exhibit working parts? Have you stopped to think that your dishtowels are absorbent and plentiful? How He has provided funds to have matching rugs, towels, paint, and trim? That your drinking water pours straight from your sink? These, dear friends, are little things that I, too, took for granted. It took moving to another country for me to really see the gifts that were so abundant and expected. We grow complacent and somewhat oblivious to the very blessings we have when they are overflowing in front of us.
Thank Him today, with a full heart, for all you have. He pours out his abundance on us, each and every day. It is the very least we can do to have eyes that see it.
12 Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all. 13 Now therefore, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name.14 But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? For everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your own hand. (1 Chronicles 29:12-14, emphasis mine)
May my eyes continually be open to see –