Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring (and I use that term loosely) Cleaning

Sorry about the long blog break but I just plain needed to get some stuff done around here. The last week was our homeschool spring break and I was so excited to actually get some spring cleaning done. I started a three ring binder last week with each room of the house as a section. Each section had detailed lists of exactly what needed to be done in each room, how many light bulbs of what type I needed to have on hand for the coming months to replace bulbs, cleaning products I would need, stuff for little repairs that would have to be done, etc. I couldn't wait to throw open those windows and air the place out. Imagine my surprise at waking up to a few inches of new snow TWO mornings this week!!! Yikes!!! So, I can't wash any of the windows outside, but the inside is starting to look a lot better. I still have plenty to do as the kitchen stuff has taken me forever, working around all the partially done flooring and cabinet projects.

My eldest son was here visiting from New York for 10 days which was wonderful. My second and third sons both had birthdays. I made a quilt for the third one. The whole thing is pieced together, now I've just got to complete the quilting process. I'll post pictures when I'm done. There has just been a lot going on around here. Between the normal stuff (homeschooling, lots of kids needing lots of food, Jim's long hours) and the incidental stuff, it's been busy.

Anyway, I'm back! Lucky you!?!

Just one thing, I thought I might actually recommend watching something on TV tonight. Perhaps you had heard of the Van Ryn's and the Ceraks, couples from Michigan whose college-age daughters had been misidentified in a fatal car accident two years ago. Both of these couples and their daughters are believers. It is a powerful story. Gutwrenching, to be sure. If you can muster the strength to watch, I think you'll be amazed at the testimonies of these folks.

Coming next week: The Star System (How absolute power corrupts absolutely)
Monkeys and Bananas (don't worry, I'll explain)
Book Review (Been reading some good books on creativity)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I Just Got Back from the Windy City, the Windy City, the Windy City!!!

Wow! That was fun! Jim had to take a two-day certification exam in Chicago and we (Carrie, Jeff, and I) tagged along with him. If you live within a day's drive of Chicago, GO! We had a ball.

For little kids (I'd say up to about age 7) the Chicago Children's Museum on Navy Pier is the way to go. Carrie and I went while Jim was testing. We stayed for 5 and 1/2 hours and had a blast. We constructed a chair, learned about safety, painted 4 different projects at a painting workshop, die-cut and assembled a horse, took pictures, learned about manufacturing, and had a wonderful time! She wanted to go back again.

Jeff was in the art museum a lot. He watched Carrie in the evening so that Jim and I could spend a few hours there. It was unbelievable! Their collection is just amazing. Even better was the fact that the museum was free during February. An enormous Winslow Homer (one of my faves) exhibit was there starting on Saturday so we didn't see it. Jeff, however, did. He was there without us on Thursday and didn't know it was a special exhibit. He just walked in not realizing that it was a special 'members only' preview. He was wondering why people were looking at him funny!

Here's just a sampling of some of the more famous pieces that are there:

American Gothic by Grant Wood - I have to link instead of showing it as most of these won't cut and paste.

Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh - fascinating to see this stuff 'up close and personal'.

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler by Pablo Picasso - I'm not a big Picasso or cubism fan but I've got to say, seeing the real thing was pretty awesome.

I particularly enjoyed the paintings by Monet, Vuillard, and Pissarro. A few by Whistler intrigued me as well. I want to go back again when Jim and I can relax and take our time there. He had just finished a 3-hour exam and we had already been walking a good portion of the afternoon so we didn't take all the time we really needed. One thing is certain. The museum will never hire us as tour guides. We like what we like, and hate what we hate, and we laughed as much as anything at some of the stuff in there that they call 'art'. It was fun to make up our own sarcastic captions and descriptions for the occasional pieces of garbage hanging along side the good stuff. I suppose it's all in the eye of the beholder but I've seen my 1st grader turn out some better stuff than some of the modern stuff I saw. Really!

On the way to the art museum we walked through Millenium Park. There was a rather large, uh, sculpture, (I guess) housing the stage of an ampitheatre. Carrie looked up at it and said, 'Mom, look! A water tower fell over and crashed!". I laughed so hard. That's EXACTLY what it looked like! Right next to it is the oversized kidney bean/skateboard helmet sculpture (yeah, I'm POSITIVE that's not the real title) that was actually pretty neat because it reflects the whole skyline. The crown fountain was pretty fantastic, too. I'd love to see it all in the summertime, when the park is having free concerts, the fountains are spewing, and the gardens are blooming.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I had fun. I guess I should have left it at that because now I'm rambling!

Oh....and of course I let my dearest take me to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch to fuel all of our walking...and no, I didn't have any cheesecake. I also didn't lose any weight.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hotel Hopping

This weekend was awesome! Our second son, Dan, had Carrie up to his dorm to stay with him over the weekend for Sibling Weekend. It just so happened that this coincided with celebrating our 24th anniversary. Wahoo!

We started the weekend in separate cars, because we had to bring Dan's car back up to school for him. It was sitting idle in the driveway unable to start for the past month and a half. One day son#4 and I decided to go smack it around a little bit before we had it towed to Norm (mechanic par excellence). Lo and behold we got that puppy started and it's now running like a gazelle. This is always a good thing.

Anyway......after depositing Carrie and said car with Dan, my dearest and I headed back to the tropical and exotic (okay, I'm lying) Lansing, MI. There is a fantastic bed and breakfast there (not lying) that we have been to before for our anniversary. The rooms is tucked up in the top of the house with our own enormous hot tub in the little roof alcove. The B&B is within walking distance of lots of restaurants, an art gallery, and yes.....a Barnes & Noble. We love our bookstores, the Mr. and I do.

We enjoyed our time there immensely and decided to spend the second night right up by Dan's school just in case Carrie couldn't handle another night away. We trotted back up the highway and thought to our frugal selves, "hmmmm, there is a new casino there. I bet(no pun intended) we could get a really nice room extremely cheap!". A lot of times these places offer rooms fairly inexpensively because they make their bucks on people pumping every last dime into the slots and such. We don't gamble so we figured we'd just get the good deal on a nice room. So we popped in the front door. How depressing. This new place reeked of smoke and was lined up almost out the door. I called the desk instead of waiting in line and EVERY room of this place was filled. We were glad. It was gross and depressing. So we took our non-gambling, unsmokified selves and took a look at the other options.

Seeing that we had already spent enough $$ at the nice B&B the first night, we thought we'd go 'budget' the second night. There was a Microtel that looked like it was brand new. I popped in while DH was checking his email. I started reading the signs behind the registration counter. I wish I had snapped a picture. They said everything short of 'your probation officer must register for you'. It smelled in there. Looked gross. There was a sign right over the breakfast buffet counter that said, "You must wear your shirt and shoes to have breakfast". Alrighty then!

I went back out to the car, made a phone call to a lovely hotel in Midland where they had an abundance of rooms and a lack of six-pack-toting mobs of people who had just lost way too much money playing KENO. Midland is a neat little town, past it's real prime (hey, so am I) but very charming. We've stayed in that hotel a few times with the guys. The park behind it is at the confluence of the Chippewa and Tittibawassee Rivers and there is a "tridge" over the whole thing. Very cool. Take a look, here. It's hard to see exactly how this three-way bridge is situated but in the fall it is just beautiful. There is a neat skateboard park behind it that holds lots of fun memories for our family.....all of our boys used to skateboard non-stop. Now Jeff is the lone skater. I don't think he'll stop until both wrists have plates and screws in them (one already does).

We put our things in the hotel and decided to walk for our supper. There were 4 choices(meaning places that served food and were actually open) within walking distance; a fifties diner that closed in 10 minutes, a restaurant/bar that had deemed itself the 'Party Headquarters' (no thanks), a sports bar(nothing says romance like 'sports bar'), and a place called Molly's. We walked into Molly's and found that we should have had reservations. Who knew? This was Midland not New York City. Anyway, Molly said she'd take care of us and to be back in an hour. We did and she did. Dinner was amazing. There was a piano, some drums, and a big old stand-up bass that were all played beautifully. Wonderful dinner music. Great atmostphere. And no sweaty guys trying to eat with their chest hair and toenails exposed.

It was a wonderful anniversary. We had a great time. Carrie had something fun to do. Dan made a lot of fun memories with his sister. Dave and Jeff enjoyed having the house to themselves (and yes, it is still intact and it was cleaner when we got home than when we had left.) The cat missed us (she'll get over it). I didn't think about the diet once. (that's a good thing for a change) and I'm thrilled and thankful to be married to such a great man. I will spare you all the mushy details.

I know this isn't my typical post but it's what been up in this neck of the freezing cold woods.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

?????? about Church Planting-- or-- Heinz isn't the only one with 57 Varieties

I submit this post to you with both a caveat and a disclaimer. The warning being that this might offend some. The disclaimer being that I don't have all the answers. This is mostly a 'thinking aloud' via blogdom. I feel a little awkward questioning what others feel God has told them to do, but yet I've been in situations before and done things 'for God' that now I feel were probably more of a 'jumping on the bandwagon' than the leading of the Spirit. So I'm not trying to be judgmental. I just don't get it.

So, church planting. Hmmmm. No doubt the activity itself has biblical roots. The apostles planted churches in those days when the good news was being spread into communities and cities it had not reached yet. Then they just had to function as the church (easier said than done).

Today I'm confused by the whole idea of church planting in the United States (not to be confused with sending missionaries into largely unreached countries). When I look at our small town, we have more than a half dozen choices almost within walking distance of my house. If Iwant to travel up to 30 minutes, I probably have close to 100 choices or more. Now, not all of those are places I'd necessarily want to go but many of them do contain real believers serving the Lord with sincerity and gladness.

Here's the event that brought my problem with church plants to the front of my mind. I got an email from a person I've recently been reacquainted with. This person was considering being part of a church plant in (insert large metropolitan city here). The problem is that this person also lives 2/3 of the way across the country having moved there for another church plant, from a church here. Now I guess what I don't get is that this first move was WAY out west. I have a hard time believing that there aren't enough believers out there to reach those around them. Who knows, the believers out there might be sending believers out here to reach the massive Arab population in the Detroit area. Doesn't it seem kind of silly to be 'trading' mission fields? Shouldn't we reach those that God put right in front of us? I know of a particular church in our state that is looking to plant in New York City. Right now the Brooklyn Tabernacle is doing an absolutely marvelous work in the city. They've got groups in all five boroughs. The church is living and active in Manhattan alone, in several different expressions already. NYC is a completely different culture than suburbia or the rural U.S. Who better to reach the people in the city, than those who already love the city as well as live and work there?

I remember when we lived in upstate New York in our apartment. In our little rural community along one particular country road, there were three Baptist churches all within about 3/10 of a mile. It was downright silly. One of them was called Fellowship Baptist Church and we used to chuckle at the name because they obviously weren't up for fellowshipping with the baptists 100 yards in either direction. Since that time it appears that two of those churches are now gone, but yet there are several more plants. In the other town in which we lived, we saw at least two plants come in while there were already a pile of churches in the area.

So, are we just shuffling believers around from church to church or are we actually reaching the lost in a big way? Are we determined to know & proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified, or are we wrapped up in our particular way of 'doing church'? I don't know. I have been part of a church plant at one point. We weren't one of the families that moved into the new area, but started attending just after they started the plant. I know that there were several gatherings of believers meeting within a few miles of them at the time. So were we bringing the gospel into an area that needed it? Seems to me like we were taking believers away from an area they were already ministering in and just shifting them into another. You can't tell me that everyone in the area where they had come from had already come to know Jesus. I know for a fact that is not the case. Had these folks already evangelized everyone that God placed in their lives, i.e., their kid's teachers, their work acquaintances, their neighbors, postmen, grocery clerks, etc.? I am all for sending out missionaries to places that haven't heard the good news, but in the good old U.S. of A., it seems like we are more interested in planting our type of church than bringing the gospel to people who have never heard it.

I guess what I'm asking is, "Does there really need to be a baptist plant (or two), a PCA plant, a Plymouth Brethren plant, a Christian & Missionary Alliance plant, a Church of the Nazarene plant, a pentecostal plant, an Independant Baptist plant, etc.........? (what is WITH all those labels anyway?) Are we footing the bill to open yet another plant in an area saturated with churches because we have a difference in the way we worship? Or are we renting or erecting yet another building because the the other churches in the area believes in only the King James Version and we like the ESV? I think the problem is that, although we don't like to admit it, we oftentimes are gathering around a set of distinctives rather than around the Lord. Another reason we plant seems to be an underlying feeling that our group has better methods of reaching the lost or discipling or whatever. Book upon book has been written about methodology from seeker sensitivity to bus ministry to cell groups and everything in between. The Bible only talks about the power of the gospel itself. There is no power in a particular method. In fact, I think when we start trusting in our methods we feel less of a need for reliance on the Head of the Church (um, that would be Jesus....not the pastor--but that's an entirely different post, I suppose)

Please understand that I'm not trying to be negative, controversial, or cynical. I'd love to hear your views. Just yesterday I heard of a church one town away from us, starting a church in another neighboring town (which already has a pile of churches). Go figure.

I Corinthians 3: Are you not acting like mere men? 4For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
5What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Okay, I'll Play - Six Random/Quirky Things Meme

1) I am a go-with-the-flow, laid-back, come-as-you-are type person. It takes a bit to get me riled. Unless of course you happen to be one of those people that merges at the last possible second by zipping up the right hand side and cutting in front of all the people who have waited their turn. Oh, the wrath of Karen.

2) I once took a pregnancy test in the bathroom at Yankee Stadium. It was positive.

3) My christmas tree is still out on my deck

4) I've secretly always wanted to be a woodworker. I probably will fulfill that dream some time in the next decade. (Hey, Grandma Moses didn't start painting until her 70's....there might be hope for me)

5) I've always HATED running and considered it to be a pointless sport created for hopeless 'Type A' personalities, but I'm going to run a marathon this year.

6) I do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle every week.

I won't tag anyone, just do it if you feel like it!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rich People

What does that mean, anyway? How much money qualifies us as 'rich'? Can a believer have too much?

I like to be frugal. Sometimes I feel bad spending money on myself. For instance, today I am going to the hairdresser and getting my once-every-four-month hair cut and some highlights (although sometimes I suspect the real motivation for my appointment is for the two hours of quiet and the cups of herb tea made by someone other than myself) I can afford it. I'm paying cash for it. I cut all the men's hair in my family myself to save money. My husband encourages me to do it...But I still don't like spending money on me. That is the mindset I am coming from.

Sometime just before Christmas, I realized that even though I wasn't saying anything to anybody about it, I was copping an attitude about people that had a lot of money and spent money on what I would call frivolous things or houses that rival the taj mahal. I live in a sort of weird area. There are some people with not a whole lot, but this is also the county where most of the auto executives live, many Detroit's professional athletes reside, and all the money that comes along with those professions. As well as my financially-middle-of-the-road friends, I have some friends that are loaded, or rather LOADED. I have acquaintences that are so rich it would make your head spin. Houses with 7 bathrooms. Indoor pool. Private club memberships. You name it.

I caught myself once (okay, lots more than once) thinking, "how can they spend money on that kind of stuff", or "I'm glad we don't spend money on nonsense like that", or any of several variations on that theme---kind of righteously indignant at their 'wastefulness'. Reality is that some of these people are believers that God has chosen to bless financially for one reason or another. Should I sit here and judge what they should and shouldn't do with their money? I know some of these people very well and know just the tip of the iceberg of how amazingly generous they are with their money. I know of times when they give like crazy and no one even knows. I've seen them give cars to people in need with not even a thank you. I've watched them opening their homes constantly to those around them who didn't have a place to go. There are more of these folks that I don't know as well and I have no place even thinking about their money choices. I don't know where their money goes because the right hand shouldn't know what the left hand is doing when it comes to giving. The Lord knows and that is enough.

Reality is, most people on this planet would look at what I have and think I am living like royalty. When Jim and I were first married, we used to have international students in from the University nearby. We had some kids from Beijing over to our little barely-furnished apartment, and the first thing they did was take pictures of our bed. They couldn't believe that a young couple would actually have their own 'large' bedroom like that in their own apartment. They thought it was just over-the-top. I suppose if we don't want to be judged for the relative wealth most of us have in the developed world, we best be careful how we look at what others have been given.

So I guess I'm just making a confession here about being somewhat judgemental from time to time. Not only should I be content with the station God has chosen for me in this life, I should not condemn others (verbally or just in my thoughts) for the lifestyle God has chosen for them. I probably will never be in a situation where I will influence or evangelize the very wealthy in this world, but those to whom God has given vast wealth just might.

Often we think the wealthy look down their noses at the rest of us, when oftentimes I think the situation is exactly the opposite. I think the key is that we should all handle our money (whether a mere pittance or a ridiculous abundance) according to biblical standards when it comes to giving, debt, helping others, saving, investing, contentment, and choices regarding our everyday spending. We need to bring all our thoughts and decisions regarding money to the One who owns it all anyway.

Where We Came From, Where We're Going

This is a tough one for me to post. It's always embarrassing to admit your past mistakes, especially when you knew better. If this keeps someone from making the same bonehead moves, it's worth it.

Jim and I have never been classic 'spenders'. We don't go for the nicest cars, both our current house and the one we had in New York are average fare. Nice but not ostentatious, plenty big enough for us but not a palace. We never had a lot of expensive electronic equipment or toys like boats or snowmobiles. I say all this to show you that you can make a wreck of your finances even if you're not a 'spender'.

We also were givers. We supported missionaries, our local church, and others that we personally knew were in need. So that wasn't an issue that caused the floodgates to close or anything.

We ate frugally. Didn't eat out much. Rarely did expensive activities. Most of our furniture was handed down to us. We went for years on just one car for the six of us...even walked five miles with four kids to get to the dentist(uphill both ways,LOL).

So what happened? Actually there were a few things. The first being something that never happened, as in.....a budget. If you don't figure out ahead of time where your money is going to go, it goes everywhere and leaves no trail of breadcrumbs so that you can find out what happened to it. More on that later.

We lived from paycheck to paycheck, put nothing in savings. We viewed things like car repairs as catastrophes, which is just silly, seeing that all cars eventually need repairs, new tires, brakes, etc. Instead of budgeting for that and expecting it, we'd panic every time our cars needed something saying, "How could this be happening?". I don't know....maybe we thought we were going to be like the Israelites wandering around the desert for 40 years without their shoes wearing out like everyone else's. Anyway, the transmission would go and, bang, it's on a credit card. The heat bill would be a little high and the balance wouldn't get paid in full on the credit card. Or we'd have a big dentist bill and hit the overdraft in our checking account. Nickel by nickel, supposed emergency upon emergency, the credit card debt grew...I'm too embarrassed to tell you how high. We ended up with two cards.

Jim saw that the place he worked for our whole married life would not be the place for him long term and he ended up completely switching careers. We moved out here to Michigan. We had to pay more than double what we sold our house for,for a similarly sized house out here. The salary,although good, wasn't following suit. After working for them for around six months, Jim could see the writing on the wall and foresaw that they would eventually close the Detroit office. He got a new job but had to repay several thousand dollars of moving expenses. about we put that on the credit card? (by the way, they did close the office soon after and leaving was a great move)

So what did we do about it all? Nothing yet. Jim was extremely successful at his new job and kept getting promoted. The salary kept going up. He was eventually making double what he did in New York, which is all well and good except that we felt like we could relax a little financially, so we did. Around this time, Jim and I were just floundering spiritually and that didn't help matters. (My 100th post is coming up soon....I'll tell you all about that then.)

When I got pregnant with Carrie at 41, I was exhausted and sick a lot, so we ordered lots of pizza and went out a lot. We still weren't buying extravagant things, we just had no budget and no idea where it was all going. Our income was very high, we had nothing to show for it, and we were still living paycheck to paycheck.

Around the end of 2004, we said, "enough is enough" in many areas of our lives. We recommitted ourselves to the Lord, started losing weight, and decided that we weren't going to live on the financial edge anymore. Yeah, baby!

Around that time, Jim heard Dave Ramsey on a radio show or something. We purchased the book and attacked the debt with a vengeance. Here's quick rundown of how it works. Not gimmicky. Very do-able. The first thing we had to do was write a written budget. Part of the thing that had kept us from doing this before was that we both hated paperwork. Now that we're on the budget, we essentially have none. Instead of keeping track of every dime we spend, I go to the bank at the beginning of the month, take out the cash that is allotted to things such as groceries, kid expenses, clothing, eating out or family fun, pretty much anything we pay for with cash. I divide it up and put it into the appropriate envelopes. When the money in the envelope is gone, I'm done spending. No writing anything. It's graphic and it works.

Okay. So, first we did the budget. We tweaked it a little the second month because we just weren't real sure about all the numbers the first month. We stuck to that baby like glue.

Next thing was to set up an emergency fund of $1,000. I can't stress how essential that was and always is. Many people give up on programs like this because something unexpected happens that throws them off. This helps to prevent that. Case in point: we started this thing and put our emergency fund together. One month later our transmission blew, and a month after that our roof started leaking. Believe it or not, we were so intent on getting out of our mess, that we scraped up enough money for both those things that we didn't even have to touch our emergency fund but it was nice knowing it was there.

We had our budget and our emergency fund set up so were ready to start paying down all our debt. We took the smallest debt and worked on that with the intensity of a gazelle. Once that was paid off, we took the next smallest debt and threw everything we could at it. Success bred success, and we knocked that one out. All the money we used to use to pay the monthly payments on debt #1 and debt#2 could now be used to tackle debt#3. Next thing we knew, that was gone. We tackled what we had remaining on both of our vehicle loans. In 17 months, we were free and clear. We slept better at night. We weren't living paycheck to paycheck. We were no longer slaves to MBNA or Chrysler Financial. No more Ford Credit Corp. or Citibank. DONE. Forever!

Jim was laid off in May of this year while we had three kids in college. He was without work for three months. God provided for us. Had it been four years earlier, we would have squandered His provision by having to take care of all those stupid debts as well as our present expenses. Wow. I can't even imagine putting myself in that position again.

We are now working on a fully-funded emergency fund (3-6 months of expenses), and then we will begin throwing extra on our mortgage.

So, there you have it. Our embarrassing money foolishness.

We were very honest with all of this with our older kids. It was great for them. They saw first-hand the consequences of debt and the calm that ensued once we had done the work to overcome our initial money stupidity.

That's it in a rather large nutshell. If you have any specific questions, please ask. I've bared my financial soul. Thursday is your turn.