A Christmas kitchen that keeps on giving

by bzephyr

I’m singing a new tune this Christmas. And I’ve already given a gift that will hopefully help me and others in this family to keep on giving to the mom who gives so much in this home. But this isn’t about me, the kitchen, or my sweet Mandy. It’s really about the gift of God’s Son, Jesus, who came to rescue us from selfish pride and everything else that pulls us away from loving our Creator and from loving all the others he has put in our lives.

The challenge of loving others begins with my family. If I can’t truly love the ones closest to me, those who should be the easiest to love, how will I ever humble myself and selflessly serve the others God has prepared for me to encounter?

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With seven people in our family and my wife’s inclination towards hospitality, our small kitchen has long been painfully crowded and full of chaos. There never seems to be enough counter space, and it’s always a big task just to clear the sink before we can start washing the dishes, nevermind where to put them once they’re clean. I should have taken some before pictures, but I was able to find the one above. Notice that the stove top is doubling as a counter and there’s not enough space on the real counter to even fit the entire mixing bowl that is being used.

Mandy and I have talked back and forth about building a small extension off the back of our house in order to double the size of our kitchen. But who would do it? I’d like to do it myself perhaps with the help of friends, but how many of us really know what we’re doing? Plus, that would certainly take more time than I have to spare. We could hire someone to do it, but that would certainly take more money than we have to spare. Plus, if we’re going to build an extension, it ought to extend just a little bit further so we could have a much-needed mud room at the back door. And if it extends that far, it might as well wrap around the corner as well, in order to add a separate space for various ones of us to use for doing home office tasks, homework, crafts, or getting together with friends while others are occupying the rest of the house. Whether we’re talking about the minimal addition or an extended one, such a project is just too big for us at this time. BUT WE’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT CROWDED MESSY KITCHEN!

So about six months ago, I ordered a bunch of kitchen organizing tools in order to make better use of the space we have. I splurged, but I knew these things would make the perfect Christmas gifts for Mandy. When we returned from the translation workshop in our remote village a few weeks ago, these sanity boosters were waiting for us.

The biggest priority was to assemble the two-tier dish racks. Yes, that’s ‘racks’. These are BrylaneHome racks that I got here . They don’t have the best reviews by everyone, so I’m hoping these service our kitchen better than others have experienced.

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When I was searching online, I was looking for a two-tiered dish rack that is just as wide as most single-tiered dish racks that come with double-wide space for all your dishes, cups, and whatever else you’re too lazy to dry and put away right now. But all the two-tiered racks seem to be designed as space-saving devices for small apartments. I guess most people in the market for a two-tiered dish rack are dealing with fewer than seven cooks in the kitchen. So I looked for a rack that would fit nicely side by side with another one of its kind. And this is what we got.

The main problem with the side-by-side approach is that these needed to sit atop of our stainless steel drainboard. In the picture above, you can see that the white feet of the dish racks sit nicely beyond the edge of the drainboard. I first attempted to take these ugly plastic feet off the more elegant chrome-plated dish racks. But I soon discovered that those feet are one of the main things on the rack providing any sort of cross-bracing to prevent these parallelograms from toppling sideways.  So they went back on, well, half of them anyway. On the other side, I encountered another problem. Those plastic feet would cause the drain racks to stand significantly higher on one end than the other. Also, there wasn’t enough support to keep the dish racks sturdy in the deeper middle section of the drainboard. So I had to take two days to shape and varnish a wooden support for this double two-tiered drain rack system. I thought about drilling holes and fastening it with screws, but I was concerned about the risk of rust. So we’re going with some ugly zippity ties. At least they match the ugly white feet on the opposite end.
2-IMG_1450cropOnce the high-priority dish racks were up, I got to move on to the project that promised the most fun. It was also the most expensive addition at $158.07. When I was agonizing over the price tag here, I contemplated constructing my own pot rack out of whatever materials I could get my hands on here in Papua New Guinea. I probably could have done it and made it serviceable and looking half-way decent, but I don’t know how many months or years it would have taken me to get it done. I’m glad I got this one. This piece has very sturdy construction and is well-designed to do the job right. But it’s also nice to look at. And one of our first guests to visit after this was up noticed the J.K. Adams name and said, “Wow, that place is located in Vermont just 20 minutes down the road from where I’m from. They do really good work.”

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This hanging pot rack was also the most difficult thing to install. It was not easy navigating the length of the attic to this particular spot in order to see what there is to screw into up there. Thankfully, there was solid wood for three of those hooks. And I was doubly thankful that I measured twice and drilled once for each of those three holes. Thanks Dad for that advice you gave me many times over the years. I had to install an additional 2×4 up there, however, for the fourth hook. That was fun and dirty. There’s not a lot of head room there where the roof is coming down over the window.

While we’re looking at it, the kitchen curtains were a recent addition by Mandy, sewn from a duvet cover she picked up cheap at the local second hand shop. Also notice the pots and pans arrangement. The smaller ones are purposely located on the right so I don’t bump my head when I’m washing dishes. I think I’m going to enjoy being in this kitchen much more now. This may just be the gift that keeps on giving. I already scrubbed the greasy undersides of these pots and pans. If they’re going to be on display, we can’t be showing off months of blackened bottoms.

The next task was to put up the wrought-iron semicircle pot rack for the wall. It’s no J.K. Adams, but it goes well with the other iron wall decorations that Mandy likes. Since we have the other pot rack, this one will be used more for cooking utensils. I found this item here. This was the most frustrating piece to install. The wall is thin masonite, and I didn’t have a well-stocked hardware store where I could get the proper fasteners. I originally tried using the ribbed plastic anchors that came with this product. Evidently, those are not made for masonite as it sheered the ribs right off the anchors. Some also went completely through the masonite, making a bigger hole than I had drilled. For the other fasteners I tried to drill a slightly bigger hole than recommended in the instructions, but the whole pot rack easily ripped out of the wall. Thankfully, I had just enough hollow-wall anchors to finish the job. But only after I installed the long strip of molding to make sure that the whole thing was secured to the few solid studs behind that wall. There’s also another small piece of molding coming down vertically from the ceiling to support the top.4-IMG_1413cropI didn’t have this up more than a day before Mandy added her Christmas flare to the top. She says we need to print this picture and post it on the fridge so she can remember where I’ve put everything. She knows I think of this as a work of art. Sorry Honey, but this too will get me in the kitchen more. It’s fun to put dishes away when each item is adding to the look and feel of the place.

And the next item to go up was this Amish-made wrought-iron shelf from Lancaster County, PA. I found that here and the wrought-iron S-hooks here and here. This also required additional strips of molding in order to make sure the weight was secured to the studs. And again, I’m sure this will provide extra motivation to get me washing dishes and putting things away in their perfect place.

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Here’s what they look like together with a few more Christmas touches…6-IMG_1411cropThe keen eye may note that the two bottom strips of molding are exactly half the distance apart as the two top strips of molding and two-thirds the distance of the top molding from the ceiling. This placement was also dictated by the proximity of the wrought-iron shelf to the refrigerator to the left. The freezer door can now only open part way. That’s not ideal but it’s okay for the freezer. It wouldn’t have worked if the shelf was a few inches lower and impeded the larger refrigerator door.

The next item to go up wasn’t new, but it got moved to a different location. Mandy’s affinity for this iron decor inspired the previous additions to the kitchen.

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And the next to go up was a new spice rack that I found here. So most of these spices came out of an over-crowded drawer that is nearly impossible to open and close.8-IMG_1400crop

Here they are together in the evening light…9-IMG_1484crop

The next addition was this magnetic knife holder that I found here. This was originally planned to go on the side of the fridge, but it’s designed to be installed with screws. I could have glued strong magnets within the back of this knife holder and still installed it on the fridge, but we found another place for it that we both liked, right beside the stove.10-IMG_1406crop

Mandy saw my arrangement of the knives and said, “You don’t expect me to put those back in the right place, do you!?” No, of course not. But I like this arrangement. Note the louvered windows which are found in most windows that have glass in Papua New Guinea. Easy to open. Easy to clean. And easy to replace.

The next little project was not a part of the original plan. This addition to the kitchen makeover transpired when Mandy saw all of the above and started adding her own touches. This shelf used to be full of many miscellaneous food, cooking, and medicinal items. It was ugly, crowded and a nightmare to find anything we were looking fore. The pretty dishes were hidden behind a closed cupboard. No longer.11-IMG_1464cropWhen Mandy added the plates, I quickly went and found the cup hooks that were laying about the house. We almost didn’t have enough until I remembered that several more were currently unused, still ready to function with curtain tiebacks from a previous generation. But it was time to designate them again for their originally manufactured purpose. The holes were already there, so I just had to find them and screw them in. Mandy loves getting early Christmas presents, especially if it means more holiday decor.

This set of snowman plates, bowls and mugs, we found here in PNG when we first arrived in 2002. It was a strange find on this tropical island. They were hand painted in China and headed for colder climates. Our fellow expatriates from among the Chinese and Malaysian business owners had imported them to PNG at the Papindo’s store, the place where a few things from Indonesia and beyond have made it to the markets in Papua.

The next picture here shows some of the things that used to be on that shelf above. Now they are hidden in a recycled baby changing table basket.

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And we don’t have to look at the clutter all the time. The basket sits on the next shelf up next to an anniversary gift from a few years back: a piece of Madang pottery decorated with the plumage of two birds of paradise. I guess this shelf now represents the marriage of  Americana with Papuan design.13-IMG_1477crop

Here’s the larger context. We’ve got the stainless steel cubby, the vinegar cubby, and the yellow-label cubby. And in the cubby to the left is some more Madang pottery, our gecko mugs. We have fewer and fewer of these pieces as the frequent earthquakes knock them off our shelves.14-IMG_1472cropThe hanging basket below was the most difficult to find a place for. I purchased it here. It’s not an object of beauty where it is. In fact, it hides the arrangement above. But it is practical, and it helps keep a few more things off the counter.15-IMG_1479crop

At the bottom of the picture above, you can barely see the other spice rack I constructed for the kitchen a few months ago. There’s a lot of spices in this kitchen, and now most of them are easily accessible.

The hanging basket required another strip of molding on the ceiling, but there was not a single piece of solid wood behind the thin ceiling material in this location. So I had to use a few more hollow-wall fasteners to secure the molding to the ceiling, and I spaced them both fairly close to the point where the hook for the hanging basket screws in. The reviews on this hanging basket say that it will easily break if we hang too much heavy produce in there. So I’m sure the basket will break before the ceiling gives out.16-IMG_1459crop

So that’s about all. There were a few more projects done that day, but they had more to do with Christmas decorations than the kitchen, so I’ll save those for another post. So now that you’ve seen all the individual projects, here’s a few pictures of the larger context in our new studio kitchen.17-IMG_1417smartfix

Okay, in the picture above, I see an idea for my next project. We still don’t have a good place to put all of our pot lids. I’ve seen an idea recently where they can stand up vertically in a rack. We may give that idea a try.18-IMG_1401crop

In the picture above, you can see three kitchen appliances sitting on the small table that are lifesavers for us here in PNG. Mandy cooks most everything from scratch, so the mixer gets run through its paces quite often. That includes a lot of bread and pizza dough. We’ve been experimenting more recently with various whole wheat and multigrain recipes. To the left is our water filter. We catch most of our water from rain off the roof that we collect in two large water tanks. Anything we drink we run through this four-candle ceramic filter. Also on the table is our rice cooker. Mandy grew up in Indonesia and Malaysia. So we eat a lot of rice dishes. Our kids think we’re half Asian. We eat well every day, and we feel loved.19-IMG_1438cropThat’s two happy cooks there.

And here’s another. Where’s Waldo Ellie?

21-IMG_1444cropIt’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Here you can see our fireplace. Even though we’re living on a tropical island not too far from the equator, when we’re here in Ukarumpa, it can get quite cold at night since we’re situated about a mile high. The fireplace also has water pipes that run through it so it can function as our backup hot water supply if there’s not enough sun in the day to heat up the solar water heater on the roof.20-IMG_1443expandedhallwayThe small table with the kitchen appliances used to come out lengthwise farther into the room. It only left enough space for one person to enter the kitchen. Since we’ve turned it sideways, we sometimes use the kitchen as a buffet as there is now enough room for people to enter and exit the kitchen side by side. Actually, that’s a good improvement for every minute of the day. There usually seems to be at least three people in the kitchen, if not six or seven. Some of those are there with more legitimate purposes than others.

The baby gate is no longer effective. At three years old now, Jacob learned how to open it last week, and then we caught him teaching his twin sister, Jenny Beth. Now it’s mainly a reminder of where we want them to be. But if they’re talented enough to open this baby gate, maybe they’re also ready to start doing more cleaning up than making messes. After all, whenever I enter this new Christmas kitchen, I’m singing a tune about it being a gift that will help me keep on giving. If smaller versions of myself want to enter this kitchen too, maybe it’s time for them to join the chorus and fill the air with songs of helpfulness and good cheer.IMG_1428expandedwindowframeAutosmartfix-historogramequalized

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9 Comments to “A Christmas kitchen that keeps on giving”

  1. Wow, this is amazing and beautiful! Great job on all the projects. Fun to see your home. Merry Christmas!

  2. Your kitchen looks SOOOO great. Ben, way to go for getting a gift that is sure to lessen the stress on all of you. I know how much you all like to have people over and Mandy is always making something new in the kitchen. Looking at these pictures, I breathed a big sigh of relief for you all. 🙂 I can’t imagine how much fun it must be to be there in the kitchen. Wish we could visit and see it in person…

  3. After just finishing reading this I’m sitting here with a big smile on my face, and feeling blessed. Great job on all the kitchen projects! So happy to see it all. So wish we could be there to help make it a little more crowded and cozy. : )
    So good to “feel the love” in your projects and in your writing. Love to hear how the twins are growing and learning also. Smart kids. : ) Much love to you all and Merry Christmas ! Dad (Grandpa)

  4. Wow! This is great! Well done!!!

  5. Making your kitchen as efficient and organized as possible will defiantly ease the stress that cooking can cause. A hanging pot rack will create an atmosphere that is totally functional and efficient for preparing your daily meals.

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