Friday, February 26, 2010

Loans and Debt

Earlier I wrote most of this entry and I had a nagging suspicion that I was going to have the opportunity to trust God again with our finances...and my suspicion came true. 2 1/2 years ago we got our basement waterproofed. That is what starts my story below. This morning, I discovered water in my basement. Ugh! I got on the phone to the company, but a technician can't come out until Monday to check on it. So began the process of figuring out what to do. This job is all up to me since my husband is gone for 3 more weeks. At first, I was at a loss. I talked to my husband and he was overwhelmed which made me realized I just needed to figure out what to do. I called a friend who's a contractor and he explained to me what to do and how not to lose my carpet (the most expensive part to replace). I fixed the kids lunch and then set to work. Now, 2 1/2 hours later, the carpet and pad are pulled up in 1/3 of the room. The carpet is draped backwards and the pad is draped over a supergate to help it air dry. One fan is on and I'm off to get another out of the garage. The next step is to get the wet/dry vac and vaccuum the carpet. So, I need to get to work. But, here's what I wrote this morning....

Yesterday, I shared with a friend how much we'd paid off in debt in the last 2 1/2 years. The friend said, "Wow! How did you do that?" My reply was "God. God did it." I say that with all humility and thankfulness for what He's done in our lives. It wasn't like God just handed us a check and paid for it--we had to be diligent. There is a part that we play in it. I like Jerry Bridges' picture of the Holy Spirit and how it works--the Holy Spirit is the Electricity that makes the motor (us) work. One doesn't work right without the other.

I look back on the last 2 1/2 years and it's an interesting journey for us. It all started when we had to waterproof our basement because there was water in the middle of it. That led to having to replace our furnace at the same time. And my husband had just bought a new motorcycle right before it. And so it began...

Honestly, I stressed about it a lot and often didn't trust God with it as well as I wish I had. Part of it was because the first loan we took out for the waterproofing felt horrible. My advice about loans when people are married is to always make sure both people's names are on it--even if you think you'll be able to pay it off quickly. If you're not on the loan, the lender won't talk to you. That happened with that first loan, the man played it off as not being a big deal--it was a difficult loan to deal with. The second reason I hated (yes hated) that loan was that the whole deal left a bad taste in my mouth. I recognized that the salesman was making a hard sell and yet I still got caught in it. We did need the basement done. We got caught.

So, then we had 2 loans (we had to take out a separate loan for the furnace/motorcycle) and a car loan. It was daunting. But, we knew we just had to plug away and so we did.

In the spring, we had to remodel our kitchen (our sink was leaking), replace our deck, and replace our roof all in the wake of our third child arriving. Because we had loans, we had to pay outright for everything--and amazingly God provided for all of these needs.

The following summer we tried to go down to one car and we sold my husband's car. That was a trying time. My husband traded his motorcycle and got a different one. (I wrote about our motorcycle buying adventures a long time ago =) if you're curious--that's a whole other story.)

After only a few months, we decided we needed to find a way to get another car. My husband did research and we chose a used Chevy Equinox with less than 30k miles. God has been very gracious to us with this car. It has only had minor issues and is very comfortable for my husband to commute in. More than that, God has been gracious to me because I have my car when I need it and I don't feel panicked if something were to happen to one of the kids and I have to get them to the doctor or hospital.

The car loan was a small loan to me, but I was thankful to have the first one paid off. But, then we took on another car loan. But, God provided so that we paid off one of the loans and also paid off my husband's new used car. We worked on it bit by bit, but were thankful every time we were able to pay off a big chunk.

After making the comment to this friend the other day, I sat down and totalled how many loans we'd paid off and the amount of them and then the amount of money we'd had to spend on other big repairs for our home. We paid off 6 loans in 2 1/2 years and I am thankful. The amounts surprised me. After taking taxes and health care off the top of my husband's income, we paid 30% towards loans and close to 50% for house repairs and loans together. That blew me away to see God's gracious provision for us on paper.

Sometimes I think we know that God can stretch the "loaves and the fishes" far more than we can imagine, but sometimes writing it down or articulating it can show us truly what that means and how much more God can do than we can ever imagine.

Do I think I'm really a person to give advice about these things? I don't know. I think we're just like everyone else. We struggle too with our wants and needs every month. But, we keep pressing on. We weren't able to save a lot in the past 2 years because of the loans and expenses we paid outright. We are looking forward to saving now that all the loans (except the house) are paid off.

I read a book this summer that I really liked by Matt Bell about finances ( and I liked what he said about loans and debt. I think the hardest debts to tackle are credit cards because they are not a set amount and they are connected to our habits and daily lifestyles more than car loans and personal loans. All financial advisors recommend that credit cards be paid off first. Then they say to pay off the smallest loan first and then move to the next biggest and then the next biggest, etc. I agree with that. It feels good to get a loan paid off and it's going to be quicker going if you start out with the smaller loans. The other thing I took into consideration, though, was the interest rates on the loans. I was most anxious to get the loan paid off that felt yucky. It was the second loan paid off, I think.

My hope in sharing all of this is that it might encourage you if you do have loans--we can trust God and we are called to be good stewards of what we are given.

My little Sami has been asking for things when we go into stores a lot lately and I have been telling her often that when we go to stores we buy things we need, not just things we want. Needs come first.

At the end of a day like today (and it's not even over yet), it seems like there's always something. And that can be really discouraging. But, on the other hand, it keeps us from getting self satisfied and putting our trust in ourselves and it helps us to remember that we continually need to trust God with our finances--every single day. He is our provider =)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Refried Beans and Bean Flautas

I use a version of the recipe for Craig's Refried Beans in the Cabbagetown Cafe Cookbook. It's out of print and my recipe is different enough that I feel comfortable posting it here =)

Saute 1 chopped onion and 1 sliced green or red bell pepper in 1-2 Tbsp. of canola oil.
After about 5 minutes, add 1 tsp. minced garlic an saute about 30 seconds to a minute.
Then add 1 Tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. dill
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
A pinch of pepper (to taste--you can add up to 1/4 tsp.)
Add 2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed.
Mix well. Then throw all of it in a food processor or a Vita-Mix. I don't think I'd use a regular blender because I think it's too hard on it. The food processor really does the best job on it.
When they are as smooth as you want them, add them back to your saute pan and turn the heat to med. low add 2-3 Tbsp. of butter (optional, really this is up to you). Let the butter melt and then stir it in until it is all mixed thoroughly.

I got very frustrated with canned refried beans because of the hydrogenated fats a lot of brands put in them, so I've gotten in the habit of making these.

Bean Flautas...
I'll be honest, my husband and I love tacos, but my kids aren't so crazy about them. We do have them every week, though. Autumn and Eli will eat them, but not Sami. But, then again, there's a lot of things she won't eat.

So, last night, I took the refried beans and shredded cheddar cheese and spread a little (2-3 Tbsp. down the middle of a small tortilla. Then I rolled the tortillas up and put a toothpick in to hold them closed. I placed them in a pyrex 8x8 or 9x13 pan. Then, I brushed them lightly with butter on top and then put them in the oven. I baked them for 15-20 minutes at 425 degrees. Eli and Autumn liked them much better and Sami was able to eat half of a half (which is more than the none that she usually eats of her taco =) ).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Taco Seasoning

When I was growing up, my mom made tacos every week. I grew up in LA. =) I ate quesadillas several times a week as my afternoon snack. It still surprises me to meet people that don't eat tortillas very often, because everyone ate them where I grew up! Anyways, back to the tacos.

When my mom made tacos, she would mince a small onion and saute it with a pound of ground beef. Then, she would add an 8 oz. can of tomato sauce. I always liked it this way growing up. My husband grew up though in the Northeast with taco seasoning. So, I started looking for a combination of spices to add to our tacos.

A few years ago, I read Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy and adapted her recipe. I don't mix up the spices ahead of time. I just pull them out and make a light sprinkle of each spice over the top of the browned meat and onion mixture. After I've browned the meat, I add the spices before I add the tomato sauce. These are the spices I sprinkle over: Oregano, Cumin, Chili Powder (mild), Garlic Powder, and a little salt. Then, I add the can of tomato sauce and heat it through with the meat. I only give a light sprinkle of each spice over top. If you like it spicier, you can play with the amount that you add. I would start light and then add more if you'd like.

Most packaged spices add in preservatives and often MSG, so I feel a lot better about cooking the meat this way! I also drain a can of black beans sometimes and add them to the meat to make it stretch a little farther. =)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bread Machine

I have knocked my bread machine for 2+ years now. I have a zojirushi bread maker. I've always been thankful for it, but regretted buying it because it wouldn't bake my wheat bread well. It wouldn't let it rise long enough and I haven't had enough time to figure out a custom cycle.

This weekend I discovered that my bread maker may not have been such a bad purchase after all. A gal I know uses her Oster bread maker for whole grain wheat bread, but she has to use the bread cycle and stop it before it bakes because the dough cycle doesn't mix it enough. My zojirushi has 2 paddles which helps mix the wheat dough easily. So, with my Zojirushi, I'm able to use the dough cycle and when it's done I put the dough in two loaf pans and let it rise for an hour or so. Then, I bake it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Someone gave me a great tip once that when the internal temperature of bread is 200 degrees, then it's done!

My bread machine is now 4 years old now and still going strong when the average lifespan of a bread machine is a year. I think I may have to rethink my regrets!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Peach Pie Recipe

After Sami was born, a friend made this pie for us and I was taken by surprise. I love fresh fruit pies so I never expected to like a pie made with canned peaches. This pie is very unusual and sounds odd, but quick to make and pretty inexpensive as well. But, most importantly--it is really, really yummy! =) I agree whole heartedly that it should be made in a deep dish pie pan and make sure to cool it after you make it! The cream cheese topping needs to set up or else it will be really runny.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Being Generous

I was not raised in an especially generous home. My dad told me over and over-- "if you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day; but if you teach a man to fish, he'll eat for life".

As a Christian, that is a hard thing to find peace with. Jesus has said that we will always have the poor with us. He calls us to give and love others--because His love is made complete in us. So, is what my dad said biblical?

I don't know that it's a matter of being biblical or unbiblical. I think it can be a true statement about life, but I think it is used wrongly as a justification for not giving and for holding onto possessions and money. At least I realize that it was in my life until God got a hold of my heart in my early 20s and began showing me what it meant to live generously and give to others rather than being miserly.

I enjoy these verses from Ecclesiastes by Solomon:

18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. 20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart. Ecc. 5:18-20 NIV

I think that there are times that God calls us to give a fish and other times when we are to teach someone how to fish.

The reason this has come to my mind this week is out of concern for a dear friend who has been ministering to a woman who wants others to give her the things what she wants--in this case a car for her son. My friend is part of a group of women who provide for all of this woman's physical and emotional needs.

At first, I was very concerned for my friend. This request unsettled me. But, while we were talking last night and I realized that I don't have to worry about my friend. God will give her discernment about whether it is time to be a part of giving a fish or it is time to help this woman learn to fish. I am thankful for the Holy Spirit--that we are not alone in this life. God speaks to our hearts and I believe He prompts us when we pray and listen to Him.

10 If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up! Ecc.4:10 NIV

We do need to help each other up. God desires that we would love and encourage one another--it is how we see His love.

But, it is easy to become cynical about people taking advantage of others and their generosity. And I brought this struggle to a friend last night--that question--how do I know how much is wise to give? She shared this with me, which I thought was very wise.

At the end of the day, I'd rather err on the side of loving and giving too much, than loving and giving too little.

Wise words.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mary Ann's Potato Peeling Tip

My aunt forwarded this youtube video to me last night. I haven't tried the potato tip, but I laughed at the video. I think I'll try it the next time I need peeled potatoes! =) The video is of Dawn Wells, who was Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, demonstrating a very unique way of peeling potatoes!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chicken Divan

I have a different way of fixing Chicken Divan...
First, I make a recipe of Mixed-Up Grains by Mollie Katzen... (I don't have rye berries, so I just substitute wheat berries in their place. And I don't add the cashews, but I do add butter and minced red onion if I'm eating the Mixed Grains by themselves. I omit the onion and butter when I'm making them for Chicken Divan.

I spray a 9 x 13 Pyrex pan with cooking spray and spread a layer of the grains in the bottom of the pan.

Then I chop and steam a large head of broccoli. When it's done, I layer it on top of the grains.

I chop 2-3 chicken breast into 1-2 inch cubes and cook them in a bit of oil and butter in a saute pan until they are cooked through. Then, I layer them on top of the broccoli and grains.

I take the cheese sauce from my chicken divan recipe that I grew up with and then pour it over top.

Finally, I crush some Ritz crackers (if I have them) over top of the casserole and bake it at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or so depending on how quickly I've gotten everything layered and how warm everything is.

It turns out really well. The grains in the bottom give the Chicken Divan a lot more texture and variety than making it with normal white rice. I think it's probably a lot more nutritious too! =)

PS If you don't have wheat berries on hand (I think you only would if you grind your grain), I believe Whole Foods carries them in bulk and I'm sure Wegman's probably has them. I get mine from an Amish market in PA. I've found Barley cheapest at Food Lion in the Mexican Food Section of the market or with the dried beans.

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread

I got a new cookbook this week from Amazon for review. It is titled Savory Baking. My husband loves savory foods and I am the sweets eater in our house (I've converted the kids to the sweet side). I requested it as a way to find some fun recipes to cook for him.

Today I started with Lemon Thyme Shortbread. It sounds different, doesn't it? It was pretty easy and I think turned out the way it was supposed too--though it didn't look as pretty as their picture. It was very different. It isn't a cookie, really. I think I would serve it with cheese and vegetables as an appetizer. But, when I start thinking of it as a cookie, it almost sounds too weird to taste!

There is another recipe in it that I'm going to try for Creme Fraiche. I've always been curious about it and the recipe looks very easy. I'll let you know how it goes--if it turns out well.

As I looked through the cookbook, I wondered how many people really cook recipes like the ones in this cookbook regularly. The author is a pastry chef who teaches at CIA. I actually spent 10 minutes looking at one recipe trying to figure out if I needed raw or cooked shrimp for it since the recipe didn't specify.

I love flavorful, good food that's not too hard to prepare and isn't bland. I wish there were more cookbooks included recipes for food like that =) But, then again, I realize that cooking is such a personal thing and we all have different tastes and preferences! I love going to people's homes and seeing what cookbooks they have. It tells me so much about them and what their families enjoy eating!