#FoodForThought: Things That Caught My Attention

  • Are you worried about Ebola? Read this... a rational look at Ebola in the States, from someone who has lived through one Ebola outbreak already, and chooses to remain: ParadoxUganda
Teach them to fish...
  • She made a coat, and then she gave them jobs. She saw a need, and filled it. But best of all, she did not allow her past to dictate what she could become. 

Raising daughters...
Dancing priests...
  • This has got to be one of the most fun videos I've seen in a while. Forget the fact that they are priests... these guys can DANCE! And the singers aren't bad either. Watch the Dance-Off.
And in my own backyard...
  • Tom and Jerry decided to put on a show for me this week.


What's catching your attention in your world?


The Evolution of a #HouseToHome

Seven months after we were married, we fell in love again. This time it was with a 1500 sq. foot, 2-bedroom, 1-bath, 1940 brick bungalow. As soon as we walked in the door, it felt like we had come home. Oh sure, it needed some tender, loving care (the kitchen made no sense at all), but we both saw the potential for what it could be, and felt like it had good "bones" to work with.

Checking out the kitchen on our first walk-through in 2001

Over the last (almost) 14 years, we've torn off, ripped out, added on, and redone the entire house, leaving very few of the original "bones" intact in the process. From 2001 - 2005 we lived in chaos as we handled a home renovation and addition, doing everything ourselves except the shingles, the gutters, and some cement board siding. We went from 1500 sq. feet to 2000, added a new section of basement, created a master bedroom and bath, and modernized important things - like the plumbing and electricity. 

Hard at work on the new basement wall in 2003

In 2004 we took our first longer trip overseas, and by 2005 we were committed to full-time international travel and work, which we continued until December 2008. On occasion we would pop home to check on family and get visas for our next destination. During these down times we continued to tweak the house, doing things like adding a third bathroom (which we had already plumbed for in the basement) on a $1200 budget.

Toilet, sink, shower, and fixtures - amazing what clearance shopping can do!

In 2009 we were trying to learn how to stay in one place for more than 3 months at a time, but since the bug of change seems to have bitten us pretty hard, we expressed that through more home renovations rather than constant travel. Peter crafted beautiful built-in bookshelves and a storage bench in our library that eventually put us on the cover of a magazine. We repainted the living room... twice, and started drawing out plans for our next major project - gutting the front half of the house.

Our library was the cover story for the USAA.com magazine in 2009

In late 2012, a new idea began to brew in our brains, which we ended up sitting on for over a year before taking any action. In late 2013 we started the ball rolling on some life-changing stuff that, in May of this year, motivated us to get started on our renovation plan. For the last 6 months, we've once again been living in chaos. We removed all the plaster, added insulation, and reworked the existing floor plan to make the most of the space that we have. What looked like this in late April...

The living room in April 2014
Looked like this by the end of May...

No more walls, no more heavy lath and plaster, new ceiling joists, new wiring, happy homeowner

And as of October, it looks more like this (with sheetrock scheduled to go up at some point in the next 2 weeks)...

Wood floors repaired, bathroom walls up, insulation in place (with just a touch more to come)

Over the last 14 years, we've pretty much left no part of the original house untouched. Even the outside went from this...

Summer 2001

To this...

Summer 2009

The fact of the matter is, we love our ever-evolving house. We love that we already have ideas for what to do next and how we could improve on what we already have. But we're also grateful for it. Living among those who have far less gave us a perspective that we didn't have when we first starting this never-ending project. Like anyone, we look around and think, "oh, we really would like to have... or change... or get...", but we also realize just how much we already have. This time around, every change is done with a new perspective and a new goal of sharing our home with those God brings into our life. Home renovation is fun (for us), but I'll be honest... it's more fun with a bigger purpose. 

How will you share your home this year?


Flipping Over Figs

Over the last few years, we have become part-time foodies, fully embracing the French idea that if you don't like it, you just haven't tried it enough times yet. (Want to know more about that? I highly encourage you to read French Kids Eat Everything - whether you have kids, or not.)

Last month, I was cruising around The Fresh Market when I spied a box of fresh figs in the produce department. The thought crossed my mind, "I wonder what you do with those?"

After my Fresh Market encounter, I came across a recipe for "Fig Surprise" from Luca Marchiori - a foodie friend that I connected with earlier this year. After a brief chat over Twitter, he recommended that I try a simple fig salad, for starters, followed by his dessert.

Another week goes by, and as I'm finishing up my latest food-themed bedtime reading, Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa by Matthew Fort, I am once again attracted to the stories of fresh figs and fig-based foods that he encountered during his travels.

"You must try figs" I am told by various sources. It seemed like the fig planets were aligning when one night, the Hubs and I hit up a local restaurant which happens to feature an appetizer of fresh figs on French bread, topped with walnuts and honey.

We saw, we ordered, we were smitten.

This week when I saw the figs at Fresh Market, I dropped them in the cart. Then I came home and sent out a tweet to Luca... what do I do with them? "Blue cheese and fig salad" was his reply. "I have no blue cheese in the fridge... would goat cheese work?" "Always good, do you have any honey?"

Knife at the ready, I placed the first fig on the cutting board, turned to my husband and said, "How in the world do I prepare these things? Do I need to peel them? Do they have a pit?" Shrugging his shoulders while madly whipping the hollandaise sauce for Eggs Benedict, his encouragement was, "Try it and see!"

Julia Child is famous for saying, "You must have the courage of your convictions" - a thought that went through my head as I plunged my knife in to the soft, juicy fig. Pulling out two small plates, I crumbled goat cheese over the fig slices, and topped the whole thing off with a generous squeeze from the honey jar.

The next day, I sent a tweet (and this picture) to Luca... "I fell in love with figs last night." I didn't focus on presentation, and I don't claim to be a food photographer, but taste is what really matters in the end. And the taste of this was awesome.

Next up, a suggestion from a friend in Spain: dried figs, sliced and filled with cream cheese... and I can't wait!

What's your favorite recipe involving figs? 


Spare Change: 3 Tips for Saving

If you've just stumbled onto this blog, here's what you need to know... I'm not a professional financial planner. I don't always make smart decisions when it comes to how we choose to spend our paychecks. But we did develop enough discipline to pay off our 30 year mortgage - 20 years ahead of schedule, and we do juggle a lot of projects that require money to move forward, so I think it might be worth your time to keep reading. 

I'm sure my husband and I are not the only ones who go through phases in our lives. Sometimes it's really easy to say "no" to going out to eat or spending money on special trips or a new tchotchke for the house. Sometimes we eat out 5 days a week, buy the venti lattes, and add more books to already bulging shelves. It happens, and we don't beat ourselves up over the times when we let things slip.

What doesn't happen in this house are recurring payments or balances that carry over from month to month, racking up interest and killing our credit. 

When we paid off our house in 10 years, people wanted to know how we did it. While I'd love to tell you that it was a fancy formula of couponing and beans and rice, the fact of the matter was that we just decided where our money was going to go, and we did it. Bottom Line: self control paid off our house 20 years early.

But while we slip up here and there, there are three things that we steadfastly avoid or do that helps us never get in over our heads financially.

  • We don't pay for TV. Here's why...
First, it's totally optional, and if you are thinking about ways to save some dough for a much larger goal, paying for TV should be the first thing to go. Second, it's filled with commercials - and like it or not, we're all influenced by them. Not realizing how much we are missing out on until we see how happy those actors are when they bite into a BBQ chicken wing or slip down a slide on on a giant cruise ship. What we don't see? The heartburn and the seasickness. Third - I'm sick of the excuse, "But I just want to see what's going on in the world!" Hello there. May I introduce you to the Internet? Filled with news websites... absolutely free! My favorite is the BBC, simply because you get a larger slice of what's happening around the world, and less of the dramatized Hollywood news. And finally, it's free online (again, if you need an introduction to the Internet, let me know). I love me some BBC mystery (hello Sherlock, we meet again), and am a fan of Call the Midwife and What Not To Wear. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I can watch them - commercial free. [NOTE: If I like the shows enough, I will actually use my discretionary splurge funds to buy the series on DVD.] 
  • We don't make payments to other people. Ever. Here's how...
[Disclaimer: Unless it's on a mortgage - but we pay those off early.] We drive 10 and 12 year old cars that we paid cash for, and I use a first generation Android that we bought off eBay. We don't rent-to-own, we don't take 36 months to pay for a car, and we don't take a line of credit on the house to upgrade. We practice something you might have heard of: delayed gratification. In an era when everyone must have the latest and greatest NOW, we choose to delay our purchases until we can afford them. Sometimes by waiting, we actually discover that we no longer need - or want - the item. Talk about instant SAVINGS! Our projects do take a little bit longer to complete, but that's because we pay for them as we go, and when we're done, we're DONE. No payments hanging over our heads. I do make payments to myself. I pay our savings account several times a month. When it's time to replace our old used cars with newer used cars (we don't buy new), the money is already there, with the added bonus that we earned the interest on our "payments" instead of paying interest to someone else.
  • We appreciate the value of money. Here's what I mean...
I recently observed a panhandler looking through his "takes" for the day, picking out pennies, and throwing them on the ground. I was very, very close to running over and picking them up, but was restrained by the Hubs who felt it wouldn't be prudent. The fact of the matter was, I wanted to gather them up and then give the man a lesson on how he got to that spot in the first place. It's true that one U.S. cent isn't worth what it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, but it is still money. Watching him that day, I would estimate that he threw away at least 25 cents. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't throw away a quarter from his jar (though one has to wonder these days), and yet that was exactly what he was doing. When I see a penny on the ground, I pick it up. We used to have neighbors who would regularly toss the change from their pockets onto our shared driveway. Guess who could be found later than day, picking up pennies, and dimes? {ahem} Money is money, and 100 pennies is still equal to $1... which I'm quite sure you wouldn't pass by if you saw it lying on the ground. I keep a change jar going, rolling the various coins as I get enough of them. In June I took a load of them to the bank and came home with enough paper currency to pay for a nice meal out.
Appreciate the small things that you can do to save money.
Much like those pennies on the ground, they really do add up. 


Your Hobby Isn't Worthy of #Pinterest? It Might Be Real Life.

I've had some time to think lately, and came to the realization that there are some things I will never be

I will never be a world-class knitter. Should someone be in need of a simple hat or scarf, I have the skills (rusty as they are) to help them out, but that's as far as it goes, and I'm okay with that. It's a hobby I tried and retired.

I will never be a power blogger. I have no skills for self-promotion (that's the "I" part of INTJ shining through), and no blogging plan or specific niche (which, from what I've read, is a must if you want to hit the big time). And I'm okay with that too. I'm happy to support bloggers who resonate with me.

I will never be a master chef (no patience) or a much sought-after editor (I enjoy it, but the mistakes I miss annoy me too much). I will never be a linguist (though the idea of speaking a second language appeals to me), an award winning photographer (good pictures are an accident in my world), or a best-selling author (we tried - again with the self-promotion roadblock). And I'm okay with all of that.

What I know is this: I'm a raving fan of the good food others fix, I'll happily proof-read for friends, I appreciate my bi-lingual husband, respect my successful brother, and write honest book reviews on Amazon & Goodreads. In short, I am a great cheerleader. Introvert surprise!

While updating my bio earlier this year, I realized that I could not pinpoint the non-essential (read: non-eternal) things that really made me tick. Although I had attempted to emulate the interests and talents of various friends and family members over the years, editing was as close as I got to something that fit my natural skills. And even that lost its bloom over time.

Last week I stopped trying to figure out what I was good at, and instead paid attention to what made me want to do the {happy dance}. I looked specifically at the people I followed on Twitter, the blogs I read, the books I bought, and the tasks I enjoyed in my free-time.

Here's what I discovered...

I like to eat. I like to eat really well-made food, ethnic food, unique food. Though I will never be a great chef, my own cooking skills have improved in the last few years, and with that, my confidence. My husband, on the other hand, loves to cook. It's a hobby he has embraced, and I am an enthusiastic fan of his growing skills. If you recall, I almost had my gallbladder removed in honor of his butter sauce! When presented with a menu at a fine restaurant, I get downright giddy. If you're looking for a raving fan to cheer you on in food prep, I'm your woman.

I love to travel & I adore culture. Start talking international, and I'm there, pulling out suitcases, passport in hand. For 4.5 years we had the amazing opportunity to live and work in east Africa, southern Africa, various ports of call in southeast Asia, and the United States - from North Carolina to Idaho to Alaska and back. And I miss it. I miss living out of a suitcase. I miss the flavors of new foods, the sights, sounds, and smells of a new country, the culture of a new-to-me people group. I like stretching my dollar and splurging on occasion. I like trying to "blend in" and pay attention to reducing the American side of me. The idea of living outside of the U.S. again is not outside the realm of possibility, and fortunately, I married someone who loves it as much as I do. 

I like to find ways to save a dollar, but have a life. I'm not one of those budget bloggers who can feed a family of 20 on $3 a day, but I do have a little financial savvy, plus the experience of paying off our 30-year mortgage in 11+ years, most of that within one 9-month period of time. I wrote about it here (and no, I never wrote that e-book). I know each couple, family, and individual is unique, with various levels of income, interests, goals, self-control, and yes, even hobbies, and there is no one-size-fits-all plan. But I like to share our story in the hopes that something might resonate with someone who is ready for a change. {P.S. I loved this post from Tsh about their choices}

I enjoy planning and executing home improvement projects. When it comes to renovation ideas, seeing the big picture and visualizing the final result would be listed in the category of "fun" for me. For whatever reason, perhaps something to do with our INTJ personalities, both my husband and I can look at a worn out house and see the potential within. Within minutes of walking through a space or looking at pictures online, we have come up with a plan to revitalize it - with very few surprises about what the finished product will look like. And though we have the skills to do much of the work ourselves, we've learned the hard way what we are willing to do, and what it's better to hire out. If we can work our way up to having disposable income, I could easily see this becoming our self-supporting career.  

I am a reader. I have been since my mother placed a book in my hand as a 5 year old and taught me to sound out "Little House in the Big Woods". If I find myself with 5 minutes to spare in a waiting room, I'm pulling out my phone for the Kindle app. I have two, never-shrinking stacks of books on my nightstand, and love used book stores, Amazon gift cards, and Goodreads giveaways. Books are my Achilles heel. I still pinch myself when I get paid to read for work (a little more rare these days, but it still happens), and love it when I stumble upon a series of books that sucks me in. It's more than just a hobby, reading is part of my DNA.

Finally I have my list. And while none of these things pay the bills (with the occasional exception of the book thing), and they may not be "pinnable" or even cause me to suddenly find my place in the blogging world, they are solidly mine. A direct result of the personal experiences of my life; bringing with them not just fun for the present, but positive memories from the past, and big dreams for the future.

What makes you tick?


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