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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Day I Finally Vacuumed & Other Reflections

I decided upon the title for this blog while glancing down at the fresh cleaned carpet between my toes on Sunday afternoon. "Ooh, it feels so nice and soft," I thought to myself, as I struggled mentally to get past the now overflowing vacuum bag, consisting of equal parts gravel, dirt, dust, hair, and other disturbingly "dirty" elements. It was the first day that I officially vacuumed our new home, just shy of three months since we moved in. 

In my defense, there must have been at least one or two times where Ken vacuumed the house within the past three months. Must have. 

Fast forward to the next couple hours following my cleaning spree. I sat on the carpet, read magazines while sprawled on the carpet, and ended up lying flat on my back on the carpet of our living room floor while brainstorming fireplace ideas with Ken. It was such a wonderful feeling knowing that I wasn't going to step on a nail or muddy my clothes with residual dirt. As I reflect on the past few weeks living at our new place, I recognize that our transition into being homeowners has been quite messy. We're in the process of creating a whole 'new' home for ourselves. It's such a cool opportunity to extend grace to myself and Ken as we work out the details of our new space. I'm learning that it's OK to get behind on laundry, dishes, and yes--vacuuming. Meanwhile, as I do start to develop habits and routines, I find my excitement increasing, knowing that I'm investing in our home. Everyday, I find things that I am grateful for as well as things that I want to change, in our new home. Perhaps, that is part of the beauty of living and self-improvement--being grateful and welcoming change as an opportunity to grow. 

Ken and I continue to work toward our house project goals. Some of which include:
  • Replacing the old painted lava stone facade on the fireplace with brick and a new, efficient wood-burning insert. (We are currently in the purchasing stage with the brick, which is about $100, and the saving stage with the fireplace insert. Initially, we thought the insert would be around $1500 but after actually researching fireplaces, we found out that they cost about $2500.)
  • Purchasing a second bed so that we can have a comfortable setup for guests
  • Installing a new fence in our backyard, as well as a new driveway
  • Turning our one bathroom into two bathrooms
  • Putting up blinds and eventually, replacing the storm windows
  • Purchasing a couch, art, and an efficient and space-saving washer/dryer combo
  • Refurbishing our kitchen with new cabinets, a larger sink, and a gas stove
  • Tearing down the kitchen/living room wall and installing a reclaimed wood countertop island
Our list is inspiring and at times, daunting. Ken and I have reviewed our monthly budget countless times (which includes our income and cash dispersal for bills) and keep coming back to the simple lesson that with time, diligence, and patience, we can save for our projects. "It's the steady climb," someone once told me. As Ken and I commit to living frugally (i.e. our monthly budget for Eating Out is $50), and practice satisfaction and contentment over acquiring more "stuff", we are moving in the direction of our goals. It's pretty cool. 

And oftentimes hard. 

And uncomfortable. 

Yet, so incredibly worth it. 

+ +

I hope you enjoy these photos of our current home additions and improvements. Thanks for stopping by!
Ken tearing down the 1970s' style stone fireplace.


All the old rock pieces are off! :)

He did an amazing job.

New sheetrock and mud coating applied.

Our new dining room table!

Plants galore.


Hung a coat rack by the door!

Ken painted accent walls in our favorite shade of pear. 

Indoor succulent garden! 

View from our house - you can see the mountains. :)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Official Homeowners! {Photos of UnderSpruce}



It's official! Ken and I are homeowners in this beautiful, snowy city of Anchorage, Alaska! From our new home, we can see the towering mountain peaks and watch the sun rise in all its glory. Our backyard will be great for a summer vegetable garden and also comfortably house the sweet pup we're hoping to get in the next couple months. (Side note: I've already picked a name for her!) 

Ken and I -- after excruciating hours of intense deliberation -- have decided to name our house UnderSpruce in honor of the giant Spruce trees in front of our home and those out back. The three trees next to our entry way provide a sheltered cove of sorts and therefore, the name "UnderSpruce" felt most fitting, as our new home will be a cove and a shelter of warmth, safety, food, and fellowship for all those who enter. I look forward to carving a wooden sign to place out front with our house name on it!

A little something off the record: I really wanted to name our home "The Shire" or "Bag-End" or "Inn at the Prancing Pony," however, Ken felt that it was going overboard or too obvious that I was copying Lord of the Rings. I beg to differ. Yet in every great marriage, there has to be lots of compromise and working things out and so with excitement (and a slight tinge of disappointment--lol), we agreed on "UnderSpruce," although secretly I will always be thinking of that reference to 'Mr. Underhill'...

We hope to host many dear friends and family members in the weeks and years to come!

Here are some photos:  






















Saturday, February 15, 2014

Discovering Home: Thoughts on Visiting Maui & Buying a House in Alaska


The soft glow of my light blue vintage-style “Hawaii 50th State” lamp beckons my thoughts back to two weeks ago, when Ken and I visited my family on Maui, where natural light and warmth gently nudged me awake each morning, rather than the multi-purpose lamps I now have scattered throughout our new home. If I pause long enough from typing, I can almost hear the sound of the myna birds and coqui frogs as they bellow their morning song. My senses are suddenly overpowered once again by the fresh scent of Plumeria flowers and my heart draws me back to Maui; the tropical landscape that I’ve called home for all these long years. It’s like I’m there:

Tiny crickets chime in on key with their grand cacophony of whistle-like humming. A sweet yet sticky aroma hangs in the air and the intense moisture from Maui’s humidity clings to my skin—the dryness I experienced in Alaska is now covered in nature’s healing balm. I recognize that in this climate my skin is most comfortable.

Only a few minutes past 6 a.m. and I’m recharged and refreshed from a good night’s sleep—we had the windows open and the fresh, cool trade winds kept us at just the right temperature the whole night. Mashed overripe bananas are the “perfect” accompaniment to the oatmeal muffins I start making for breakfast. Rich, buttery bread encased in a lightly toasted crumb holds the moist banana center in a perfect balance. Ken and I sit down at our family friends’ giant marble slab table and dig in to our local farm-fresh eggs medium-fried alongside freshly-baked organic apple-banana bread, made from bananas my mom picked from trees outside the house I grew up in. This is a slice of Heaven, I think to myself, as the intoxicating blend of bananas and butter smells just like Komoda’s stick doughnuts—my all-time favorite dessert from Makawao town’s local bakery.

But alas, these comforting memories of the place where I grew up and visited recently, remind me that I am not on Maui anymore. I’m here in Alaska, specifically the main city of Anchorage, where temperatures hover above zero degrees this time of year. There are no coqui frogs outside—at least whose song I can recognize, there are instead dogs of varying breeds interspersed throughout our neighborhood, whose frustrated howls replace those friendly morning songs. And the light that now fills my vision is a rather muddled hue, not the welcome daily sun that rises along the Pacific islands.

I find myself reminiscing with joy and fascination at the romantic childhood I was blessed to experience. I am from Maui, and that is a gift. It is something I take with me wherever I go.

My sisters and I grew up in a bucolic setting, among acres of green fields home to spotted cows, Billy goats, and riding horses. Adventures abounded for us as children living in a small town on the slopes of Haleakala. My friends and I fought countless battles involving ripe guavas (and some unfortunately, not ripe enough), and would hide out in those barbed wire fenced fruit lots, climbing trees and watching cars pass. Not a care in the world, except of course how we’d love to climb the social ladder at school or be noticed by our crush. My best friend Katheryn and I would spend hours after school dreaming about our futures and how we both wanted to travel the world. Success in our careers always seemed secondary to the spirit of adventure. I suppose this love for seeing the world and immersing myself in new cultures and climates is a big part of how I am finding satisfaction in places that can feel very foreign at times.

Visiting Maui on this past trip helped me understand how very divided my heart has felt over the past 10 years. When I left for college in 2003, I felt a wave of intense joy and also grief that I carried with me throughout the past decade. It was a combination of mismatched feelings that included wanderlust, the fear of settling down, anxiety over missing out (“FOMO” as my friend Jen calls it), and the hope that there will always be something more beautiful to see in this wide expanse of world—I just need to find it. I suppose that for many people, growing up on Maui (or wherever they are from) already seems like Heaven, so why ever travel or move? That makes sense and yet, it was never my calling—to stay. I believe that God placed these desires to travel and see the splendor of His creation on my heart at a young age and tangibly provided the means to fulfill my dreams in this way.

In the past, I think I’ve shared how at age 14, I traveled to Australia on a crew team competing in the World Canoe Sprints. Then, at age 16, I was given the opportunity to be an exchange student to Okinawa, Japan. Since then, I’ve traveled throughout the United States and Canada and visited all the places in Europe previously scribbled on my Bucket List. God truly met me in allowing me to see the world and learn about people and the places they live. My overwhelming sense of curiosity was tempered through these trips although I always felt a sense of longing to be back on Maui—the only place I truly felt at home. I suppose that I never felt rooted anywhere else. Throughout my travels, the places I slept were never ‘home’, they were just a bed (or a floor) where I could rest my head at night. I always missed my family and the illusive feeling of being settled and safe.

But I think that is starting to change. This visit to Maui, I noticed something. Something small and almost indescribable.

It was something in me that had changed.

While I love Maui and find my heart at home being near my family and the sights, sounds, and tastes of island living, I have a growing awareness that I am safe and at home regardless of my present circumstances or physical location. Home is not a place that I can pinpoint on a map; rather it’s a feeling of being rooted in my faith and my marriage, coupled with the desire to press in and find community wherever God has me. Right now, home is in Alaska where God recently provided Ken and me with our first house that we officially own. Already it feels like home, even though we barely have furniture to fill the space and can find multiple things worth ‘fixing’ or ‘replacing’ or ‘updating.’ Christ is doing something in me and in us, and it’s so exciting. He’s showing me that I’m safe in Him and at home—a place I’ve longed to be my entire life.

Praise God.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Lone Tree That Would Not Falter

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12

I did it--I got through the darkest days of winter, I think to myself, as I peek through the textured blue curtains into the vast darkness outside. The light from my room casts a bright spotlight onto our snow-covered yard and immediately, my eyes lock onto the glittery white flakes streaming from the sky. It's beautiful out there. I'm so glad I'm up early to see this, I muse, as the rest of our family sleeps peacefully on. It's December 22nd, just one day after the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and I'm grateful that some of the darkest days of winter have passed. My mind and my heart recognize the approaching light of spring and the hope that God brings with each new season.

And here in Alaska, Ken and I are to stay for however long God pleases. It's quite remarkable what the Lord has done in our lives over the course of the past six weeks. On November 13th, my husband received two back-to-back job offers for exciting engineering positions, and then the next day, I received a phone call for a job offer myself, with a well-respected logistics firm. That Friday, Nov. 15th, we both signed job offers and started our new positions. We were beyond excited by these unexpected work opportunities! It was as if God hand-picked these positions for us. And so many wonderful surprises came with our jobs--for example, we work the same weekday hours and commute the 30-minute drive together each way. Likewise, our offices are both downtown, only a five-minute's walk apart from each other. We can meet for lunch or coffee or even just a quick hug and word of affirmation throughout the week. It's so encouraging getting to spend quality time together in the midst of working full-time hours.

Along with the huge praise of securing jobs, Ken and I are now able to move forward in buying our own home. We've budgeted and saved over the past three and a half years of marriage in the hope of having a house someday and our dream is becoming more tangible each day. Looking back, I'm so thankful that we studied Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University together when we were first married. It inspired us to live within our means, save and give generously, and also to remember that "Discipline is remembering what you really want," in the words of Dave Ramsey.

As Ken and I walked through starter homes with our family's Realtor yesterday, I thought back to the first apartment that we shared as a couple. It was a studio--meaning no designated bedroom, about 495 square feet total, and basically, what you saw was what you got. Except of course, for the fact that our queen size bed was hidden in the large closet--it fit perfectly, so that we were able to jump in bed, close the closet doors for privacy, and curl up underneath all of our hanging clothes. How cozy that was! I'm laughing, because I do miss being able to pick out my daily outfit from the comfort of my bed.

Yet in family planning, Ken and I recognize that having a home with actual bedrooms would be much more comfortable for everyone. It's with this desire and many others that we continue to pursue buying our own place. Many of the things that are most important to us in a new home are fairly simple--a good neighborhood that's close to our workplaces and parks (for walking dogs and playing with children), open spaces with great lighting from outside, ideally three bedrooms, a yard outside with a few trees and space for a garden, and room for a dog! In actuality, yesterday, Ken and I may have found the place we want to purchase. It fits all those desires and has a lot of room for "improvement". It was also the most economical option we've come across with those qualifications. I'm a little nervous about the work we'll put in to make it our own but as Ken encourages me, it's also very exciting to make a wise decision financially by fixing it up as funds become available from us working. Rather than buying a house that is 'turn-key' (and much more pricey), we get to use our creative gifts to really make the house our own. That is exciting!

My thoughts circle back to the soft snowfall ushering in the start of increasing daylight. As a child, I was fascinated with the Summer and Winter Solstice. My Grandma would try to remind me of those landmarks each year since it meant so much to me. When she passed away a little more than five years ago, I felt a new-found sense of longing whenever these days neared as I no longer had my Grandma to remind me of them. Now, I mainly think of her and how I look forward to seeing her again one day. And yet this year, there is something at work that I can sense awakening in me with the advent of longer days. It is hope. God has given Ken and me hope that He will navigate us through any and every season--even the darkest. I'm reminded of the towering tree, with its gorgeous gold and yellow leaves, that I'd stare at through the dining room window over much of the fall months. While all the other trees surrounding it, were slowly or quickly stripped of their glorious leaves, this one particular tree would not falter and shed its foliage to the encroaching cold.

One afternoon, while on the phone with my older sister, I shared with her about the one tree that stood alone among the wide open forest of leaf-less trees. To me that tree embodies my resolve to not give up--to not stop trying to make living in Alaska work for us, I told my sister, seemingly on the verge of tears. I believe that God gave me a vision to be here and I think I just need to hold on and be strong, I continued, Just like that tree. 

My sister paused and then painted a picture for me that was quite different. She lovingly pointed out that perhaps instead of that tree 'needing to be strong and holding onto its leaves,' it needed to let go. The lone tree that would not falter was maybe a quite different picture of how God wanted me to surrender my desires, my hopes, my dreams, and my expectations--to let my leaves die and fall to the ground. It is only in dying that we can truly give our desires to God and let Him have his way, she pointed out. My immediate response was a sense of anger and frustration at a God who would want me to experience such pain.

Months later, I am still mulling over those words. The grand tree did finally give up its leaves. Now, as I look out across the horizon, I can't make out exactly which tree it was since it's leafless and covered in snow. Perhaps though, I don't need to find that tree. And I don't need to feel ashamed of having wanted to hold onto my own "leaves" so badly these past few months. God needed to strip me of them, so that in their place, He could craft my story to be even more beautiful than I could have imagined. God sustained me through this season of pruning and I recognize that in these challenges, He was preparing me for whatever is next.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." John 12:24

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bacon Maple Cake




Bacon Maple Cake. That's the exact response my husband gave me about a month ago, when I asked him what kind of cake he'd like best for his upcoming birthday. Immediately, visions of bacon-maple bars and donuts filled my mind, while the memory of once tasting a bacon-maple-donut-cake, with its sweet and savory flavor, flooded my senses. Yum.

"OK, I think I can do that," I rather naively commented, before realizing that not many recipes were quite in existence yet for this particular dessert. So, I scoured the internet and thought back to the heavenly experience of sharing a slice of a bacon-maple-donut-cake with our friends Kim and Eric, who had bought the cake from Frost Doughnuts in Seattle, a couple years back. It was rich, perhaps a bit over-the-top. But oh so delightful. I wanted to make a cake like that but not so sweet that I felt sick afterwards. I also wanted to incorporate the same crispy, thick cut bacon I enjoyed on that cake but in a way that paired perfectly with the creaminess of the frosting and the fluffy-meets-dense maple cake texture. Lastly, many recipes I found online used box cake mix and well, I wanted to give my husband something that was completely from scratch for his birthday. Here's what I came up with…I hope you like it!

Bacon Maple Cake

Ingredients:

For the Maple Cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Maple Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup maple syrup
1 ½ cups powdered sugar (you can use more as needed to build the exact frosting consistency you like)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
6-8 slices thick cut bacon (optional, but not really)

Cake Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-inch or 9-inch round pans with nonstick cooking spray. *I like to use spring form pans and waxed paper for added ease of removal.

2. In an electric mixing bowl (or with an electric beater), beat the butter until creamy. Add the maple syrup and brown sugar and beat until combined, then add the eggs, mixing well.

3. In a separate large bowl, mix together the remaining dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, and salt.

4. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture to combine. Pour in the milk and vanilla extract. Mix well.

5. Divide cake batter between two pans and set pans in the oven on the middle rack. Bake cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, about 40-50 minutes. Watch closely toward the end of the time so that your cake comes out perfectly golden brown.

6. Cool cake pans on wire racks for about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the cakes from pans with a swift flip-over onto a flat plate and a gentle pat.

Frosting Directions:
1. Cream butter with an electric mixer for about 3 minutes.

2. Add powdered sugar and combine well.

3. Pour in maple syrup, vanilla extract, and salt. Mix on medium-high speed, with occasional high-speed use, until light and fluffy. (Add more powdered sugar as needed to get the exact consistency/fluffiness you desire.)

4. Once your frosting is made, set aside on a cool countertop while you cook the bacon slices. If you have a slotted baking pan/sheet, I recommend cooking the bacon at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, watching closely to avoid burning. Or, you can cook your bacon slices on the stove or in the microwave, depending on your preference. The key is to make sure that your bacon slices aren’t overcooked.

5. Remove bacon from pan and let it cool on a paper towel lined plate (to catch the grease.)

To arrange the cake…

Once your cake layers are completely cooled, frost them generously with the maple buttercream frosting, setting one cake layer on top of the other. And then—here comes the best part—arrange your bacon slices artfully on the top of the cake either in strips or broken into smaller 1/2-inch to 1 inch pieces.

Note: When slicing the cake, do try to give everyone a fair share of bacon as to avoid thoughts of favoritism or frustration on the part of your guests who all love bacon equally.

Enjoy! ;)




Special thanks to the folks online whose recipes I adapted to fit my specific desires—Martha Stewart and addapinch.com

Monday, October 28, 2013

Tackling Bear Mountain

Scrambled eggs with zucchini, onion, and aged sharp cheddar, alongside wedges of what was a giant whole wheat cinnamon roll fresh from the bread shop. When Ken and I started our Saturday morning with such a delicious (and substantial) brunch menu, I knew that the day was bound to be memorable. The temperature outside hovered around freezing and the bright blue sky beckoned us outdoors. After compiling care packages to send to our friends overseas, Ken and I packed up our hiking gear: camelbacks, layers of clothes, and bear spray, along with our other essentials (afternoon tea and cookies, and fish-flavored treats for Gracie, my in-laws' border collie), we were ready for an adventure! We decided to tackle Bear Mountain, one of my husband's favorite hikes in Alaska. It's been two years since we first summited the mountain together and what a joy it was to reach the top again! Honestly, there were moments when I considered turning back, especially when I slipped and slid along the half-frozen mud patches and felt the weight of my backpack increasing exponentially as I gained altitude up the steep trail, but I disciplined myself to keep moving, one foot in front of the other. The view along the ridge line was spectacular, dappled with whispy wheat grass blowing in the breeze and dense clusters of wild blueberry and cranberry bushes lining our path. Although a cold wind greeted our arrival, we were prepared with snow pants and thick windbreakers, and were able to comfortably take in the beauty of the view. We had made it to the top! God reminded me through this tangible victory that He continues to give us strength for the journey ahead. Through persevering and trusting in His faithfulness, we will make it. God will give us the victory.

I hope you enjoy these photos from our hike!
(Click on each to enlarge.)

P.S. In case you missed it, here's a link to the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Cookies. We brought these on our hike and enjoyed them with warm cups of tea at the summit, around 3,000 ft above sea level. Feel free to enjoy them in the comfort of your own home at a normal elevation as well.