Thursday, January 31, 2013

Spending or Saving Part 4

Welcome! This post is part of a series about “financialliteracy”, spending, and saving.  You can find the first three posts, here, here, and here.

If you’re here for the first time because you clicked on my link over at Edie’s, thanks so much for visiting. I'm thrilled you stopped by!

I’ve  had a lot to say about several of the big picture ideas and principles that in my experience (and based on the reading I’ve done…) need to guide our thoughts and eventually our practices in regards to money.

We definitely can’t leave off without talking about this biggie – budget.

For some of you, you cannot even fathom not having a budget.  You know where every nano penny goes, you have your income spent on paper before a greenback leaves your wallet, and you might even use strictly cash for your consumable purchases as a further means of connecting you to the flow of money in and money out.  A budget is your lifeline because you know exactly how much you have (or don’t). 

I’m jealous. 
I think.

I don’t really know because no matter how many times we go to budget school we end up as the class drop outs.

Now, before you go judging on us simple farmers, consider this.

Our income has been generated on a 100% commission basis for as long as I can remember.  This means some months we’re rolling in it, and some months we have just enough to cover the pre tax commitments that are withdrawn from every paycheck, and then taxes.  Yes, we've had months when we could have made a downpayment on a house with a single paycheck. Conversely, we've had months (catch that - it's plural) with zero income. 

Obviously we've had to have some sort of budget in place in order to avoid debt and the lights being shut off! It doesn't fit neatly in an excel spreadsheet.

Everyone says you need to (should) budget.  I don’t disagree.  I just think that the “how” on this is highly personalized.

The budgeting process tends to root out all kinds of stuff – triumphs and trials.  I don’t consider it an easy process.  Perhaps simple, but challenging, for sure. 

So, here’s my guideline:
Everybody needs to the best of their ability (and with increasing maturity), talk about the obvious tension between income and what gets saved and spent.

How you do this is very personal.  You’ll discover all kinds of valuable insights about yourself, your spouse if you’re married, or maybe even for some of us our parents and family of origin as some of us may be in the sandwich years of caring for our offspring and our moms and dads.

Weekend Farmer Husband and I do this with varying degrees of success.  Some of our best discoveries have been the contrasts between us and how that impacts the bottom line.

He’s impulsive and emotional.
I'm often a penny wise and a pound foolish.
I’m a tough negotiator and at least a ½ full.
He’s spontaneously generous and I’m consistently giving.
We love the same ministries and easily agree on which to support.

And, in the end, we share common goals, which even if we do not meet them, we persist in working together in gratitude and contentment toward them.

This next one’s personal.  I mean to me.  
My experience has been to be frugal, thrifty, and resourceful. 
Oh how quickly that tips over into cheap. 
When that happens I have to check myself for false worship.  I puff up and become prideful about how money smart I am.  And, as my head swells, my heart shrinks, and I quickly tumble down the rabbit hole of scarcity.
Seek to cultivate a practical but personal understanding of the difference between frugal and cheap
For me it’s pretty simple. 
Give. Save. Spend.  In that order.  
When I follow that pattern I find that I am properly aligned with the principles I posted about here and the daily implications of responsible stewardship.

If I could have one do-over in this big picture perspective,  I’d ask Weekend Farmer Husband to at least annually if not more frequently have a sit down and develop and review a family financial manifesto.  Not only would we benefit from the face to face communication regarding needs versus wants and check progress on our goals, but we’d have the opportunity to connect on what tools we need to maintain or acquire to keep on rolling.

It came to us late that we would want to identify and work towards equipping our household intentionally to further our gospel, family, church, and community work.

Let me make this a little more down to earth
The practice of intentional, authentic, heart changing hospitality has always been a shared commitment for my fine farmer and I. But, we rarely considered its impact on our food budget, the need to continually thrift for more dishes, investing in enough chairs, or sufficient drink ware, and more.

We have much greater clarity now on the true cost of hospitality, and we anticipate a full kitchen renovation this year (brown bag please, I’m hyperventilating…) as the farm kitchen that Libby offered when we bought her is quite literally rotting away.  

We don’t argue or fuss about the capital outlay to realize the remodel.  We talk about how the kitchen needs to function to serve the farm kids, the farm, and share the gospel in intentional and spontaneous hospitality.
Yes, we’ll lay down a wad of cash and we’ll labor long hours to realize this goal.  But, we’ll also seek to be wise, resourceful, and committed to building the infrastructure that supports the philosophy and practices of Liberty Farm and our family.

And now, the last of my big ideas and important principles. 
All this requires a commitment to incremental change.
None of us can do everything all the time.
We all have limited energy, opportunity, and resources to bring to any of these far reaching points.

And, if you’re already doing most if not all of these things well, I suspect you’ll want to do them better.  So, little by little, you tweak, you nudge, you adjust, and you realize incrementally you've achieved greater success.

If you’re in an swirl of too much month at the end of the money, review these ideas and prayerfully consider which needs the most attention.  Begin there.  Slowly gather strength and press on to the next, and the next, and the next.

You can do it dear one.
And before long you’ll want to take it to the next level of developing specific habits.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reading: Making Time On Purpose

I think I've read Edie's blog since the beginning of time.  Well, at least for five years. And I don't remember her ever initiating a linky event. She's been hospitable, welcoming, winsome, wordy, and downright awesome in all kinds of other ways, but a link up?  Hmmmm. Don't remember one.

Before now that is.

So, I interrupt my early attempts at another topical series to jump in and join in over at life{in}grace.  If you've put all kinds of effort into planning a party, sent out invites, and gotten your space ready, you want people to come, right?

Let's just love on her and her blog, go visiting and hear what others have to say about:

We've been invited to share our insights on the broad subject of time.  That's pretty much it.  So, I got to thinkin'...

If stranded on a tropical island for any length of time I'm pretty sure I'd hope I'd thought ahead enough to bring my dutch oven, a pillow, a huge supply of lip balm, my colored pens, and books, books, books, books.  Maybe some more books.

(Right. How am I gonna explain that to Weekend Farmer Husband - fortunately we can all put our minds to rest since in this make believe world he's stranded with me and taking excellent care of everything we need.)

I cannot think of anything that has influenced me more profoundly than the printed word. Really.

Some of you will be surprised. You might have guessed key relationships or even people in general  because to know me in real life is to experience what some have called "intense".  You see, when I'm with you I am totally into you.  I fall in love with you right away, and over time enjoy you more and more, moving from initial phases of infatuation through to (if life together permits), enduring relationship.

And yes, loving you changes me immensely. Forever.

 But not as much books, articles, blog posts, journals, and the scriptures.

Because when I'm full up on you and the wonder of relationship together, I curl up with pages cupped between my hands, and begin to see you , the world, God, myself all over again with help from the heart and mind of another and the words they offer.

What lies on the page for my eyes to scoop up are bits of wisdom, hope, suffering, sweat, ecstasy, longing, denial, fulfillment, history, philsophy, and in the end, whoever the author was or is, they've given over a piece of themselves for me.

It's not always well written.  It's not always true.  And, it's not always good.

But, it's all come a great price so that I might someplace in time and space drink full up on art that another has poured out.

January is a time for rest at Liberty Farm. And I read as well as plan my reading.  It's a commitment, actually, since there's so much to do.  I get up earlier and earlier, stay productive later and later into the day, and seem to get less and less done.  So, you can see why I must choose to read.  Even though reading might seem as natural as breathing, it doesn't happen that way.

We complete the last of our customer orders in December, rush headlong into Christmas,and then crawl into the New Year eager to rest and regroup.

There's not a frenzy of resolving, organizing, planning, reinventing, or any number of what seem to be "typical" January pursuits.

In the quiet and lack of agrarian activity there's lots of books.

So, for all the bookworms out there, and for Edie's bazillions of readers (one of whom may click over here), here's what's on the shelf and in the Amazon save for later list.

First - a long time hope of mine has been fulfilled by participating in the Read Well Live Well Online Book Club.  My nerdy self gets all a quiver when it's time to read about and discuss the most recent selection.  I get all kinds of dorky and stay up way to late shoving my glasses back up on my face to keep pressing on with these hefty works. I still can't believe that other people get all excited about old books.  Ahhh, bosom friends.

Click on the button on the sidebar if you want to get all bookish with me and a bunch of awesome readers, or just click here if you want to see the book list.

For home school maintenance, direction, and accountability I've got a copy of Susan Wise Bauer's, The Well Trained Mind permanently on my desk for ready, regular, and easy reference.

Wendell Berry doesn't know it, but I've got a full blown crush on him.  I can't read or reread enough of his material.  The short list includes a reread of Hannah Coulter, a first read through The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, and a short one Fidelity: Five Stories.

There's no shortage of necessary skills on this fast paced farm stead.  Our family culture is to a fault DIY, so the shelves contain their fair share of how to books.  I'm thumbing my way through The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman in the hopes that we'll be able to adopt some of his models for our growing practices.  It alternately terrifies and inspires me.

I've read it once, but I'm gonna give it another go.  Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon has been helpful in changing a number of our family practices in relationship to food, health, and nutrition.  I'll be reading through again with first born farmgirl.

I'm pretty excited about these:
Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating 
Norman Wirzba
Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today
Craig Bartholomew
Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions
Arthur Boers

For family read aloud devotions we're just finishing up Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God by Bruce Ware.  Oh. My. Word.  Outstanding.  Next up is Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism by Starr Mead.  Hearts are soft and minds are open.  The read aloud spiritual training and discipleship home educating affords in the middle of our school day is so precious.

I'm usually a little fiction poor.  So many friends and good reads online type groups have spoken so highly of Francine Rivers, Redeeming Love.  Tell me, will I wish I'd bought it if I get it from the library?  It's coming to me inter library loan.

Truth be told, I'll read most if not all I've listed, and still max out my library card every two weeks.  Some I'll skim.  Most I'll read word for word.

And when I read, I'll think of you, those I love the dearest, and those I hope to come to know.
I'll learn about myself, the world, the times past and the time we live in.
Art will undo me and pieces of another will fly into my heart to stay lodged, embedded, and continually change me.

Think of me in the mornings, yes?
Fingers curled around coffee cup, first the Holy Scriptures counsel my day, and I hide those words in my heart at the beginning if I'm living well.
Then, until the last drop is gone, it doesn't matter how many children or animals are swarming around, I read until the bottom of my cup.

I do it on purpose.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Spending or Saving Part 3

Welcome, this post is the third in a series.  You can find the first two here and here.

Before I type another word, well – okay, in my case we know it will be lots of words – I want you to know I’ve culled many of these ideas from a wide variety of sources.  The ideas and principles are not specific to any one author or particular body of work.  

And, it's important to me that you understand although my writing style tends to be definitive, I’m not the end all expert on these matters.

I’ve collected ideas that apply to Weekend Farmer Husband and me personally, and ideas that were consistently mentioned in the articles I read.  The widespread nature of this content leads me to believe these are big ideas and principles we all need to know.

Big ideas are often inspirational, directional, and sometimes a little too lofty.

Maybe they seem that way because our culture demands quick answers, and in an age of YouTube self education and Wikipedia easy answers we aren’t too often careful enough to consider the Why and the What before we get to the How.

Yeah, I can’t help myself – How Now Brown Cow? You hear it too right...? So many years of preschoolers in the home...(this book comes home from the library with some frequency)

We’ll get to the “how” grasshopper.

But, let’s try and build a solid foundation first, so that if a couple of our bricks get loose along the way our structure is still sound and we only have to make minor repairs since we know the big bad wolf sometimes comes along a tries to blow our house down!

It ALL belongs to and comes from God.
As master designer and sovereign creator of time and all that is, God has proper jurisdiction over the whole of His creation.  Our human experience is but a breath, and our numbered days reflect the generosity and abundant care of a loving God.  The scriptures tell, and our own hearts confirm, that we deserve no good thing, yet unbelievably, as one of God’s early acts of creation He blesses us. (Genesis 1:28) If we but dimly understand this, we necessarily acknowledge that anything we have received is a gift from the Father. (James 1:17) We are merely stewards of all He gives.

Everything we have is a GIFT.
This is true whether we have plenty or if we live in want.  Any and every condition our bank account reveals is for our good and God’s glory.

Most of us who come here have plenty.  I suspect most of us had and have enough to eat, clothes to protect our bodies, homes to shelter us, and abundance far beyond what we would consider basic needs. 

Yet, there are some of us who experience true want.  There’s more month at the end of the money, and bills pile up and more than collect dust they attract collection calls.  

Most of us have noticed our tax burden has increased with the onset of 2013, each paycheck comes to us with a little less and we stretch ourselves even more from paycheck to paycheck. 

Others of us have more than enough and we experience pleasure with the finances at our disposal.  Perhaps we are anticipating a great ski vacation at spring break or a shopping jaunt next weekend to the nearest urban center.  Maybe we have a book addiction passion and our shelves burgeon with the printed word. We have more than enough

All of us are likely somewhere on the continuum of just being shy of poverty to western wealth.  

The principle applies to all of us.

The apostle Paul testifies clearly in his letter the Philippians that he’s experienced both – he has had contentment and want.  And what is his determination and teaching for us from the counsel of his life and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?  He has learned the secret of being content- He can (and by extension we can) do everything through Him who gives us strength.

Being hungry because there isn't food in the larder or money to get groceries is a hard gift. 

I pray for us, that none receive this gift to its depths, but I humbly submit that this kind of want is as great a gift as dollars in the budget to spend on luxurious food as you will. 

It is in our needy places that it is more likely that we’ll see God and His mercy and love, and make practical doing all things through Him who gives us strength.

When I lose sight of this idea, God often arranges circumstances to realign my view and I come to understand Him more completely as provider.

Or, sometimes, He in unreachable gentleness, puts the perfect song on my Pandora play list:
(Y’all make sure you come back after this…this is but the beginning of these ideas)
 ((Ahem- what I’m saying is there’s more to read after the video…))

We’re never done learning.
At least I hope we’re not as I’m easily bored (true story), and when bored my attitude sours and my actions head south.  

That’s more than confession. 

It’s understanding that if I don’t bring a long term commitment to bearing up under the responsibility of revisiting the practice of faithful stewardship, I’ll likely make unnecessary or frustrating mistakes.  

Life moves fast and circumstances change.  This is a vast area of practice, study, commitment, and feet on the ground doing.  Artists, athletes, business professionals, nurses – really, any professional engages in ongoing improvement and development if they’re seriously committed.  

Financial stewardship is no different.  In fact, that’s one of the motivators in writing this all down.  Even though I recently read up a bunch and put together a mini presentation, I am just as likely as anyone to forget any morsel of wisdom I've gleaned if I don’t review and reevaluate my practices in this area.  Our expertise seems to last only as long as our attention in matters of meeting financial goals.

Financial turnaround/success isn't based on income growth but on getting a grip on spending.
It is this principle that inspired my uninspiring series title.
I do like to be a little contradictory sometimes…

In most cases the single biggest challenge for an individual or couple trying to get control of their finances is NOT their income level.  It’s their financial literacy and their own awareness of the tension between spending and their end of the month balance.

So often I’m attracted to blog posts, podcasts, and book targeted at saving money.  Back to the how – I want to have specific things to do.  And, frankly, I’m pretty good at the saving money part.  I can stretch the dollars and do without and make do right along with all the experts. 

But, those practices seem to have very little impact on long term change.  They do affect the month to month bottom line and produce a little wiggle room when necessary, but they aren't the things that move us forward in most of our financial goals.

I used the term “financial literacy” above.  Here’s what I mean:
If I want my 3rd grade daughter to become a good reader I give her access to books. 

She’ll read both cover to cover, and yes, will enjoy both.

One will substantively increase her literacy.

One will keep her occupied for a short time and probably give her some ideas I wish she didn’t have. 

Although I don’t have a bias against “Captain Underpants”, I do have a bias that includes increasing reading literacy with books that include historical context, vivid (not base) language, complex story lines, and depth of content.

Do you see the analogy?

Our income went from adequate but shrinking to zero in one moment in May of 2012. Our literacy regarding spending was immediately enhanced.  Financial literacy is the awareness, depth of understanding, comprehension, and behavior that makes up the totality of a financial plan.

I think Weekend Farmer Husband and I have received some good teaching about financial literacy and how spending is the key factor to impacting the bottom line.I’m not advocating a lack of attention to saving – we’d have been in much deeper waters if there hadn't been some saving practices at play in our personal circumstances. 

But we spent our way through those savings, and it was our spending that had the biggest impact on our savings.

I can’t believe it either…I’m not finished.

Could there possibly be more to say?  I think so.

Let’s touch on budgeting, the tipping point between frugal and cheap, and a family financial manifesto soon. And if you would, chime in! 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Spending or Saving: A Little Backstory Part 2

What I remember may not be wholly accurate.

Fortunately, my parents and all my siblings are willing and able to correct me. I wish to tell a story not expose skeletons or rub salt in wounds.  It’s all good family, ok?

My parents haven’t figured out how to comment here.  I bet my siblings will.

If I need correction, that is.

First of all, I’m the oldest and grayest of the bunch of aforementioned unruly sibling group.  

What? I hadn’t suggested unruly yet?  Well, it’s true.  

It’s also true that I have a faulty memory.  Some of that may be a result of self reliance introducing itself early on, and although it’s served me well over the years, I suspect my perceptions may have been grounded in my opinions rather than what was real. Certainly I lack all the details and we know those change stories.

My sense was that I grew up in a family of means.  We weren't the wealthiest in our peer groups, but we had a big house in a pretty tony neighborhood, newer vehicles, and abundance of clothes, took a nice family vacation every year, attended several years of private school, and my mom never failed to fill our cupboards, pantry, refrigerator and freezer.  And, there was lots of stuff.  Stuff for crafts.  Stuff called books.  Stuff called toys.  Stuff in the garage and stuff in the attic. And, yes dear brothers and sisters, lots of vitamins. *wink*

In spite of this abundance, I have a developed sense of scarcity from my growing up years.  I easily picture my father’s gray metal desk and his determined and strained look when he went downstairs to pay bills and balance the checkbook.  I remember business deals gone bad and bad people taking advantage of my good father.  Consumer debt coupled with business debt seemed often poised to crush my parent’s bank account.  My father was and still is self employed.  In hindsight I recognize the strained look perhaps had as much to do with meeting payroll as it was providing for his household.  He carries a heavy yoke.

Some of it is just the personality of the home.  There are some decided ½ empties in my family of origin.  I’m not one of them.  So, if perchance a ½ empty is in charge of family finances you can understand how he or she might evoke an atmosphere of caution that translates to scarcity.  This perhaps explains my conflicted feelings of affluence and scarcity.

I have very little memory of dedicated effort toward building  savings on my parent’s part.  That’s likely my memory problem.  My mother was especially gifted at gathering, and eventually hoarding, change and transforming full jars of coin into special purchases.  I have a sense that any unplanned and or major financial event was catastrophe just waiting in the wings.  I also remember dismissing that feeling as I believed my parents would just open another line of credit, apply for a new credit card, or borrow from a friend or family member to make it through.

Long before etsy and at home entrepreneurs were the norm, my mom began an at home business which demanded a great deal of her.  When things would be tight at my dad’s office I think she often helped to keep things afloat.

A mixed blessing of my growing up years was my father’s plan to teach financial independence to his offspring by the end of 8th grade.  For good or for ill (mixed reviews here folks), he gathered my mother and me at the dining room table and outlined that I’d be financially independent beginning in 9th grade.  He’d continue to provide room and board, I didn’t have to pay a share of utilities, but I was to be on my own for most everything else.  There are definitely more details, and although it may have been extreme, in the end it proved very valuable.

I came to adulthood with a developed work ethic, and capacity to find or generate work. It produced a can-do spirit in me.  A resourcefulness and creativity was born.  Finding a deal and developing adaptations became strengths. I don’t think I’ve struggled with entitlement.  Perhaps just the opposite.  That American ideal of rugged individualism was a pretty strong current in my financial paradigm.

It also means I came to marriage pretty established in my ways and assumptions.

 Weekend Farmer Husband is in many ways my opposite, and his financial background from his family of origin is markedly different.   Saving was the standard.  As employees, his parents were faithful workers and were able to consistently plan how to use their income.  I’ve never met more dedicated productive workers than Weekend Farmer Husband and his family, and they served their profession above and beyond what was expected of them. Weekend Farmer Husband speaks with humble gratitude and immense respect regarding his parent’s financial training and practices.

The first decade of our marriage was spent completing degrees and welcoming at least two “surprise” babies in addition to the “planned” baby into our family.  I was working in my chosen field, but for very little income.  Weekend Farmer Husband kept combining class schedules and work to meet our needs, and since we had avoided all but the tiniest of student loans, he and I both eventually graduated with two BA’s and an advanced degree between the two of us.

And, we established some financial habits.  Worry is one of our best skills.  Failure to communicate is a close second.  And, loading finances and financial decisions up with super charged emotional content is a highly developed skill set for us.  Our opposite natures – one being a planner and one being impulsive, have contributed to all the above.

Perfect combination for lots of error and misunderstanding.

But, in spite of us, (and isn’t this always the case?), God has been gentle to us in our shortcomings.
Slowly, in the last 4 years in particular, He’s been remaking us.

We have some catch up work to do involving medical debt.

Our move from the city to this Green Acres has been costly.

Just when our long term savings account seems to be trending in the right direction, we experience something catastrophic and we can’t save as aggressively as we’d like or we have to borrow from ourselves and our future needs.

But our hearts have been changed.

God has pointed us to the eternal truths about all we have and what our future holds.
Which means in spite of our mistakes, He has qualified us to share with you and our children on our next topic, Big Ideas and Important Principles.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Spending or Saving: Which is it? Part 1

Welcome! This is the first in a series of posts. You can find the others linked at the bottom.

Not long ago I had a special opportunity to facilitate a support group meeting for home school moms in my greater West Michigan community.  You’ve never met a more wonderful, kind, generous, and accomplished group of women.  The particular thread that weaves most of us together in this group is the large number of children given to each family.  Our family of eight can seem downright puny or at the very least just a starter size in relationship to several of these moms who spearhead homes with upwards to 12 children. 

As you might imagine, there are many topics near and dear to our hearts, and topics that always draw our interest. Home management, recipe sharing, family traditions, books, and much more keeps our ears open and our jaws wagging for hours once a month.  For our January meeting I was asked to offer all I could in the area of “money saving tips”.  Many of the families represented in the group are single income, and Weekend Farmer Husband isn’t the only one who’s had employment struggles, interruptions, or losses.  Income is sufficient but often stretched thin in most of these households.

There’s a spirit of inquisitiveness, openness, and teach- ability amongst these gals.  That made me more willing to say “yes” to the opportunity to share ideas, resources, and experiences with them. But -

Although I am seeking to cultivate a more consistent servant’s heart in this season of life, it was hard to say “yes”.  No, it’s not the public speaking part.  I love a crowd! It was the “I am the least among you” part.  Weekend Farmer Husband and I are continually challenged in the area of personal economics, and have a quarter decade worth of “guess we shouldn't have done that” under our belts.

Isn’t that what makes us the expert sometimes?  Our failures are often the best teachers.

Oh, I studied.  I searched the internet.  I read.  I prayed, prayed, prayed.  Got out my colored pens and took copious notes. 

And after my captive audience listened and encouraged me and one another, I realized:

·         I need to write this all down in a more formal way.  Not only do I need to reinforce and preach all this to my sister self, but I hope my farm kids will benefit from finding all these ideas, principles, and hard learned lessons in more accessible format than a colorful but ratty clutch of notes. 

·         I talked long and fast.  By the time I was up against the clock (and it’s no surprise is it that I went over?), I had only addressed about 2/3rds of what I’d prepared.  Now, those moms deserved a better time manager, but more than that, I hope to encourage and bless them – and a couple of them are readers here- (hi you sweeties! heart you)- by finishing what I started.

·         You come here for a reason right?  We connect in this space.  We have common interests, questions, desires, and some shared experiences.  Might I serve you well by translating my scribbles to this space?

Although I've yet to finish a series I've started on this lil’ol’ blog of mine, I’m undaunted in starting another one.  

I’m writing ahead this time, not just trying to keep pace with the days.  Unlike before, I actually have done a lot of the prewriting.  Let’s see if it makes a difference to start something with a plan instead of just starting.

Here’s what it’s gonna look like.

First I’ll give you a little bit of my story and experience in relationship to spending, saving, wealth, want, and resources in general.  If I can accomplish this I’ll be feeling really good – my notes are the sketchiest here! 


Then, we’ll talk about big ideas and important principles, followed by habits to cultivate.  I think I have a few surprises or maybe new ideas for you on that one.

Along the way, we’ll talk about couponing, health, insurance and services, home education, wardrobe building, and will even dabble in fashion and beauty.  Gulp, gulp.

Of course, the biggie, food, meal planning, groceries and supplying our households will show up.

I know the internet is chock full of posts like the ones I'm planning.  Sheesh, there's multiple websites, bloggers, and online services that you can use to increase mastery in this area.  Why come here?  

We already talked about it a few sentences ago, we're together here because of common interest.  If you’ll bless me with comments and questions along the way, we learn what our common needs are. When we dare to speak our needs we have better opportunity to be hospitable to one another, to understand our connection, and then ultimately, serve each other better with suggestions.  Better than suggestions however, we can pour out encouragement and in the astonishing way love works, find that we are filled.

Okay, back to the plan.  Ask me questions.  I'll try to answer.  Feed each other with comments, suggestions, and encouragement.  Finally comes La Grande Finale, where I’ll wow you with abundant links so you can continue your own growth in this area, and a Pinterest board that organizes a lot of this information in one place.

I’m starting to perspire. 

The pressure.


Click on the links below to find your way to other posts in the series:
Part 2Part 3,Part 4Part 5,Part 6,Part 6a,Part 7,Part 8Part 9

Thursday, January 17, 2013

4 Cheese Pasta

Last Saturday was a huge work day at the farm.  An unusual winter thaw came our way and we spent the day in short sleeves and work boots catching up on tasks that had been left to wait in the deep freeze of winter.

I love these work days.  All eight of us, leaning into a common goal, telling jokes, shoulder to shoulder building memories and skills.  That sounds a little romanticized, yes?  Well, maybe just a little.  It was one of those magical days when it all went as it should and as we hope.

With big work come big appetites.  Most of my day was spent between two places – the laundry room and the kitchen.  Talk about work horses, that’s what these two areas are.  I don’t love the laundry.  I’m resigned to it, and in a good moment, thankful for the mundane opportunities to serve.  I do love to cook though.  My love language is expressed at the stove and oven, and I place food gifts on a plate at the family table.

Maybe I’ve been reading my new cookbook from Pioneer Woman filled with remarkable food pictures, or maybe I've got a new phone with a camera feature that I am enjoying taking lots of pictures with.  Maybe both.  As the noon meal drew near, I had fun thinking about  the process of and taking images of one of our simple and satisfying Saturday favorites: 4 Cheese Stovetop Pasta.

Reader beware- this is loaded with high calorie make my life worth living goodness.  Don't tell your cardiologist you ate it.  He'll have a heart attack.

1 stick butter
¾ cup white flour (will work with wheat, you’ll just make a few adjustments to match your preferences)
2 cups milk, or milk and heavy cream combined
4 cups chicken stock
1 brick cream cheese
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar
8 oz. block white cheddar, cubed (all kinds of substitutions work for this)
2 tsp. kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
2 boxes Penne pasta (we've used all kinds of shapes/types.  I like change.)
Romano cheese, chives or chopped green onion, bacon to garnish

Remember, we’re a large, physically hard working family.  This will yield about 16 servings – I love having leftovers!

To begin, melt butter in a dutch oven over medium heat on your range.  You can use any heavy bottomed pot, I just happen to love my dutch oven.  And red.   All my enamelware is red.

Once melted, whisk in flour until it begins to turn a caramel color and bubble a little on the bottom of your pan.

I decided to make my roux (fancy french y'all), a little thicker so I tossed in about a tablespoon of additional flour.  Perfect.

Slowly add milk/cream stirring constantly.

And again with the chicken broth – slowly and stirring constantly.

For the record, this post changed. my. life.  At least in regard to chicken broth. Amen.

You might find you play around with your heat setting for this next part.  Your big goal is to not scald the milk/white sauce on the bottom of your pan.  I almost always do.  Something shiny  grabs my attention.  My pets love me when I do this.  They growl with delight and gladiator like enthusiasm when this is all over and the pan gets placed on the floor…For the record, the cats always win out over the dog.

Eventually, maybe sooner rather than later, you’ll notice your sauce start to thicken.  Really you will.  Maybe 12 minutes…depends on how well you manage your flame/heat setting.  Be sure you’re stirring fairly regularly during this stage.  You want to offer the pets a treat not a meal when it’s all over!
See how the edges look different and there's a lovely smooth consistency?

 Add the salt, season with pepper.

 It’s ready for us to add our block of cream cheese.

Before you do though, turn your flame to high under a big stock pot of water.  Soon you’ll want to start cooking your pasta.

Yup, I just drop the whole thing in there.  If there’s lots of interesting things going on in the kitchen I turn the heat down real low and let it dissolve slowly .  If I've done some deep breathing and am really focused, I can keep my heat on medium, stir constantly, and get that big brick to soften and dissolve a little sooner.

Side note- if you know ahead of time you’re going to serve this creamy cheesy delight, by all means take your cream cheese out of the frig and let it soften on the counter .  You know, I often learn more from what I haven’t done than what I do…Just sayin’.

And, while we’re on tangents, you might want to consider having washed last night’s  dishes from the marauding band of ice cream eaters that moved through your kitchen, and the famished farm workers who cleaned your larder out for breakfast.  Of course, I didn’t.  Still smart like that.

Now that I’ve rambled enough, the cream cheese is nicely melted.  Add in the sharp cheddar cheese and the white cheddar.  Stir until dissolved.

Yummo kerrygold cheddar left over from holiday shenanigans.  We're not usually this fancy.

My current range is wimpy, wimpy, wimpy.  Even though I thought ahead on the whole cooking my pasta thing, I probably should have started my water sooner.  Good thing this cheesy sauce is so thick and my beloved dutch oven so even, I can wait a little bit. You're smarter than me though, so your water has boiled and your pasta is now bubbling along nicely.

While you’re waiting, maybe you want to make a bright lemon Dijon vinaigrette and green salad.  I did.

Once your pasta is cooked al dente, drain,  and immediately combine your hot pasta with your cheese sauce in the large stock pot.  Stir. Stir. Do it again. Stir.  There’s lots of sauce and pasta here, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to marry every little bit together.

If you've got a hungry bunch cheerfully breathing down your neck and inquiring every 5 seconds when dinner will be ready, serve immediately.  If you can, clean up a little before you serve.  You’ll be glad you did since you’re gonna want to linger at the table.  I never can.  Clean up before that is.  I’m all about the lingering.

To the table already.  Garnish with bacon (the real stuff – not the bits), green onion, and Romano Cheese.  Take a picture.  I mean a bite. Well, now, why don’t you just clean your plate.  Unless you have pets.

Are you still reading?  Aren't you a dear.  Give it a whirl, and jump back here to the comments and let me know how it goes, ok?

And, for the record, although I've read many recipes over the years for pasta and cheese, this is my own adaptation of all I've made and copied.  No, I’m not trying to be special, just always want to give credit where credit is due.  And in this case, all the credit goes to my hungry farm hands for without them, it would have been cereal for lunch.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Colored Pens and Shiny Things

In the happy, crowded, buzzing place that is my brain when visions of projects, emails, reading plans, menus, and things to write about dance in my head, I pull out my colored pens.

Thought upon thought pushes down and rushes out their tips.  I write as fast as I can because in this ADD happy life I lead, where I am indeed drawn to all things shiny, the sparkling thought of the moment may flee before I've had opportunity to capture it.

Piles of paper later - (I've started using spiral notebooks or bound composition books exclusively.  Fewer loose pages to scatter that way) - the bulk and substance has been put to script, and several shiny things later, I can work through the wheat and the chaff.

I love me some colored pens.  I am barely coordinated enough in a day to manage the basics of home keeping, parenting, home educating, animal raising, God following, and farmer loving.  But, a couple of bright pens comes to my rescue more often than not.

A color per kid, a color per task, a color per thought or project is a simple enough approach for me to keep hold of.

Yes, yes, it's true there are hardly colors enough to corral my brain chaos.  No matter.  Back to the notebooks.  If I keep the notebooks separated (well, at least a little bit) by subject I am saved.

You'll not find a deep well of organizing and management tips here.  Living life to the full is my strong suit, not  planning life.  And, though I write the days with broad strokes, I am aware that the finer tips are my friend.  So, what you see above is yes, maybe a suggestion for you to try as January seems to be the month of regrouping in the blogosphere.

What I hope I've pictured above is a shift of sorts.
A shift toward a more dedicated home school.
A shift toward completing a room (again- we've tried a couple of times before), to better meet the needs of multiple students and the surprising joy of operating a small scale farm.
Another shift toward greater financial stewardship. We began Liberty Farm in order to cultivate a new inheritance for our kids and someday grandkids for financial freedom.
A shift toward taking back the morning. Planning the day, Getting up when the alarm sounds it's call. Leaning to go to bed on time, and counting the precious few hours of rest as enough rather than a reason to approach the day with sluggishness, (which tips more often than not into being the sluggard).
A shift toward re-engaging in service and intentional hospitality.
A shift toward greater dominion over the gift and stronghold of media in our family life. Oh Lord, grant wisdom and courage.
A shift toward you.

Writing regularly, writing well, writing a grocery list is more work than I care to commit to.
But I think that's a mistake of perspective, and *gulp* weakness of character.
I lay waste to the gift of you far too easily by posting in my haphazrd scattegory way.
Humility requires me to admit I've neglected hospitality here, not just at my table.

Colorful and jumbled as it is, the picture is of my toe in the water - testing how best to dive into the waters that I've just been doggie paddling through.

Ack- my battery is kersplat.
My charger is far far away.

Must mean more time to think, plan, and set the table to serve you.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Brief Foray into Plato

Welcome!  This post is a departure from just about anything else I've written here.  And, although I hope you read it, it may be a bit of a head scratcher.  I'm participating in an online book club, reading chronologically through the classics of western literature.  See the button to the right on the sidebar?  You can read along too!  I know you want to {wink}.  

The book club reads and then discusses. Since my reaction/thoughts are far too long to leave in a comment, (sometimes there's a discussion board; this time there's not), I needed a place to put all these words.  

So, here goes- 

Have you ever seen a movie, listened to a song, attended a play, or read a book that left you a mess of emotions – good and bad – and at the same time jolted all your thinking parts awake?

For example, Les Miserables, an already well known and tonied tale is sweeping the big screen, and although I don’t go to movies all that much, (c’mon folks – that’s a long time to sit still and pay attention), this was one I wanted to see on the big screen and experience the intensity.  Yes, I cried. You?

Did you see The Hobbit ?  As avid consumers of print material here on Liberty Farm, Tolkein’s gripping stories are perhaps our favorites and it was a no brainer to pre-buy tickets and see it when it opened. (Ok, I stayed home with the youngsters, but Weekend Farmer Husband and several of our offspring missed opening night, but they were there the next! I saw it yesterday.) 

The music is compelling, the scenery is so vast you can hardly drink it in, and in my humble opinion it was well acted and the book translated pretty well to the screen.  Kudo’s.

Both experiences recently were well worth my attention and were both enjoyable and enriching. And, both tales awakened that place within me that loves to think.

I’ve let you know before that I’m slowly, with dedication, and no lack of eyes glazed over making my way through Plato’s Republic for the Classic Literature online bookclub happening over at Edie's.

This book undoes me.

I alternately love and dare I say , hate (?) it.

What’s to love?
  • Sparkling dialogue.  These guys can carry on a conversation!     
  • Important questions for both culture at large and each individual.
  •  Historical and cultural context.  The text is remarkably fresh and applicable today even though likely written in 380 B.C.  And, you get an interesting view into what it might have been like “back then”.
  •  Bold characters who exhibit sweeping displays of intellect, humor, and hubris that never once seem to struggle with being “politically correct”.
  •  Civil discourse.  At some level these characters are set on “stumping” preeminent thinkers and scholars with questions of morality, (primarily the ideas and practice of justice), and although dialogue gets heated my read through, (thus far), leaves me impressed that their interactions don’t fall into the gutter.
  •  All my thinking parts are wide awake.  This book is hard.  Really hard.  Good hard.  I kind of want to give up, and I don’t.  I read, re-read, and repeat because if I just keep turning the page I find I must examine history, and more importantly, the condition of my own mind and heart in relationship to right and wrong, the practice of justice, and my view of the world.  I’m learning.

What’s to hate?
·         This book is hard. As in difficult.  Complex sentences, combined with complex characters, grappling with complex ideas leave me hanging on for dear life.  I read two pages. Exhale.  Go back and read the same two pages wondering if I really just cast my eyeballs over any page.  My inner nerd is delighted.  My real life self can barely get through.
·         I am frustrated by the philosophical practice of valuing persuasiveness over truth.  Those sophists, although interesting, seem to me too interested in the supremacy of their own ideas with little thought to the reality that ideas have consequences.
·         Sophists, lacking a cohesive school of thought, with views of teachers and then prize scholars widely varied, largely agreed that there is no such thing as right and wrong. I cannot reconcile this idea with the most popular book ever written, (sorry Plato) the Holy Bible, which is abundantly clear on right and wrong. It can be, it is knowable, and known to all.
·         Remember ideas have consequences?  The practice of elenchus (a method of tackling an idea or questions with an initial foray into the subject matter, and then a series of revisions and rebuttals on the part of all participants intended to continue until a satisfactory definition is reached, {thank you very much sparknotes}, in this case dances with aporia, intellectual gridlock, where a dead end is the necessary result.  I find foreshadowing of what I consider a very frustrating marker of our current culture, postmodern thought, in which we seem to be educated beyond our intelligence, and have abandoned basic doctrines of right and wrong, how that impacts what we think, and how we live. So, at least in Part I, I must temper my desire to toss the book to the floor and stomp on it for frustration.  I want  Plato’s brilliant mind and pen to grapple with and then come to conclusions about the ethical questions in The Republic.  To be fair, I have not finished the book.  There are those whose opinions I highly esteem who have vastly different reactions from mine, leaving me with the suspicion that I am engaged in personality conflict, which absolves venerable Plato from any charges I’d level.

Virgil's Aeneid arrives tomorrow, and the book club is pressing on.  I don't know if I've got the appetite to read both at once.  I suspect I'll put Plato aside for now, but he'll still be in the stack of books that is by my reading chair.  Well, I'm not that predictable.  I actually carry a stack of papers n' stuff around the house including all the books I'm reading.  Yeah, I'm organized like that.

Thanks, dear reader, for hanging in there with me. You're the best, and next time I'll be back to the more familiar type of post.

(Pssst- I did a bad bad thing -wrote this in Microsoft Word and then pasted it here.  I should know better and no matter how much I click and reformat I can't get rid of the wonkiness.  Techie friends- all help welcome!)