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?


#HouseToHome2014 - A Project Update

On May 29th, I posted this picture to my Busy Nothings Facebook page...

On May 19th, we (and by "we" I mean the college kids we hired) started ripping out all of the walls in the front half of the house, removing the lath and plaster from 1940 with a plan to go back with insulation (what a novel idea!), and Sheetrock. When this picture was taken and shared on the 29th, we had come a long way from the mess of the previous week, so that smile is genuine. I figured that in a month's time, I'd be taking a similar photo with new walls behind me. It's like I've never lived through a 5 year house project before (that's a story for another day). 

This morning, almost a month later, I took this photo. Can you see the differences? I promise, there are some if you look hard enough. And I'm not talking about all the junk tools on the floor. The smile is still genuine, if a little less enthusiastic (and slightly more out of focus - I was in a hurry).

Differences include newly framed doors (we moved the hall door about 8" to the left to make room for a new door in the hallway, and we moved the bathroom door about 2' to the right), and way more blue electrical boxes and yellow wire. We haven't had whole-house air conditioning in over a month, so needless to say, both Peter and I are ready for this to be done. If I were still doing my Friday thankfulness posts, I would include our free window A/C unit that allows us to sleep at night, and the fact that our basement is a place of refuge thanks to it's cool, underground location. Oh, and the fact that I am always cold, so for 98% of the day, I'm a happy camper. In a sweater. Yes, Peter thinks I'm nuts too.

While it feels like things are going slowly (Peter even has a count-UP timer on his phone to keep track of how long the project is taking us - yep, we're INTJ nerds) I have to give a huge shout out to the Hubs for his dedication to this project. After working all day, he comes home and labors on the house until it's time to go to bed. The weekends are taken up with trips to home improvement stores and coming up with new ideas and ways to fix old problems. He has single-handedly framed up a new loft over the front bedroom (including installing a window where there wasn't one before), and figured out electrical grids and structural issues like a pro. 

Together, we make a good team. I offer the occasional hand at lifting 4 x 8 sheets of flooring 9' up to the loft (thanks to a pulley system he rigged - he's all about smarter, not harder), and stuffing wires into electrical boxes. But the majority of the time that he toils on the physical side of things, I man the online shopping world, finding ways to get products for the project for cheaper. I pin ideas to pull up for him later, and save our Amazon points to buy light fixtures and mail slots. I dream big, but watch the budget. Between the two of us, we make projects happen, and 99% of the time, we even have fun while we're doing it. 

Celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary in the midst of construction chaos.

Home projects - DIY or Call in the Professionals?


We're Just Getting Started...

Fourteen years ago, two young people (one a wee bit younger than the other...), stood before a minister, wedding party, and a small crowd of friends and family, and made their vows to God to love, honor, and cherish each other, until death did them part. The theme song from Indiana Jones ushered them down the grass aisle and into a life that has certainly been anything but dull. For this couple in the "getaway car" - life was just about to get interesting.

From the coast of New England to the hills of East Tennessee and the frozen tundra of Alaska, from the plains and deserts and mountains of Africa to the jungles of Indonesia - together we have traveled and explored, experienced frustration and faced the dissolution of expectations. For fourteen years we have done our best to listen to the Holy Spirit and follow the Lord's leading, and while most people would look at our lives and say we've already done so much, I'm betting that the next fourteen years are going to be some of the busiest and most interesting yet. As the Lord leads us into unknown territory, there is absolutely no one I would rather do life with than the man that I wake up next to each and every day.

Happy Anniversary to Us.
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