Good Steward?

The Gospel reading from last Sunday was the parable of the servants and the talents. It has been my contemplation all week. The Master (God) gave to each according to their ability.
He gave to them based on his expectations. He didn't expect much of one, expected a mediocre return from another, and expected much from the third. 
While this parable causes us to contemplate many aspects of our life - our spiritual gifts, or tangible gifts, and our hearts, it is speaking of money, and the behavior as it relates to money is a frequent Gospel theme. 
I know in my own life, especially in my 20's, I felt like I was being punished in times of poverty or less. There have been times I felt like the lack of resources was the devil trying to come against me. There have even been times I questioned why some were given so much and some so little. 
When I discovered Dave Ramsey 18 yrs ago (Financial Peace University) I went to his seminar. In it he said something that began a change in me. He said, if we took all the money from the wealthy and gave it to the poor, then walked away, in two years the poor would be poor again and the wealthy would be returned to wealth. He spoke about this parable. People who are just bad stewards, typically remain bad stewards. People who are good stewards, increase. 
I've heard that echoed many times since then, in Conservative Business, Financial reports and I see it borne out in my own life. 
The parable has hope though. 
Even though, God expects the servants to do what they have always done, He gives them a chance to do differently. So to it has been in my own life. Many, many, chances. 
I can say that I have gone from being the "wicked lazy servant" to the one in the middle, to whom God gave two talents. But God desires to place all confidence in me. I need to root out the errors in my own discipline and habits and be the servant to whom God entrusts with the most. 
Not there yet. 
I know people get all fidgety when you talk about God and money. I still do a little. There is still a part of me that wants to make excuses. Our life savings was wiped out in Katrina. I have a chronic illness and many other life lessons. I'm resisting the impulse now to blame outside forces. Outside things are GOING to happen. How foolish to assume otherwise? I must live a life that accepts the reality of life events, hard times, and prepare. I am supposed to store up for those days. I am supposed to live below my means so that when those days come my house is built on rock not sand and washed away in the flood. 
It's hard. So what. I am done making excuses. 
This parable says something else. There is still time. You see right now, the Master is away. But the Master will return. When He does how will He find me? 
The First Reading last Sunday was Proverbs 31 (I love how my church structures the readings and cycles. It's perfection) 
This is why I work. The Proverbs 31 woman works without ceasing to enrich her family, to provide for the poor, to increase their holdings, to help her husband. I know I am also called to be at home, to homeschool, and to be a wife first. So was the Proverbs woman. In the last 15 years finding this balance has been my life's work. It's been so very good. 
I know that God is telling me, His expectations of me have changed. He expects much more from me, and He desires to give me much more. To whom much is given, much is expected is true in reverse as well. 
No more excuses. No more poor decisions which prevent me from being prepared for reality. My lamp will be on all night and when the Master returns, He will accept all that I have done with what He has given me and He will say, "Well done my good and faithful servant."
Here are the readings from last week btw

The Green Eyed Beast of Jealousy

A sister in Christ shared something on a forum that spoke to me. She was suffering a physical ailment and battling finances on a ship that is sinking. When she sees a family in her church seemingly wealthy and perfect she is pained and finding herself battling jealousy. Aware of it and knowing it is wrong she was seeking prayer. She certainly has my prayers. 

I wanted to share my own journey in this. Because I share things on a blog titled A Housewife Extraordinaire. People often get their knickers in a twist and well, they hate on me. Photos of projects, pretty things, happy kids, a great husband makes some people's blood boil. 

What a difficult area to navigate. I have been where you are, in poverty, in suffering. I learned more about Christ in those times than in any other of my life. I am blessed by suffering, truly. Pride and jealousy is a cancer. 

For me, in those times, I had to question my own thoughts. Why do we need to believe these things when we see happiness, joy, or abundance in the lives of others? 

"They must be in debt up to their eyeballs."
"They must have a terrible marriage."
"They aren't really happy."

There is no grace in these thoughts. No mercy. No Jesus. 

We met a couple 15 yrs ago. Financially secure. Beautiful home, happy, great family. Vacations. Good Stewards. Faithful. Loving. Admired. Respected. God had worked on me to that point in my life by then and for the first time I wasn't jealous. I wasn't threatened. I wasn't embarrassed, or anything negative. I was drawn to them. I wanted to know them. 

They became our dearest friends. They become our mentors in faith, our role models. They modeled how to get where we wanted to be in life - marriage, faith, family and prosperity. They are treasures. They're story is not one without sorrow, and pain. But it's a story of triumph.

The truth was, we had made some decisions that made every minor crisis a major one AND we also had some difficult cards dealt to us in health problems but everybody does really. It's rarely all or none.

Now we are financially in a better place and we are still growing and recovering from setbacks, but we are on a good path. Our family is healthy, strong. My home is beautiful and life is very good. Overwhelmingly good. Not perfect, by many standards, but I've learned to view everything through a very different lens and so it feels pretty perfect to me.

The truth is, it was always good, even in the hard times, I was so blessed, and despite those moments of jealousy that pricked my peace I knew it then too. Now, I walk in that truth daily. Life altering slaying that green eyed beast.

People sometimes look at the things I share and think similar unkind things about me I'm sure. I do interior design, and custom furniture and decor and I am pretty good at lots of things.

If they didn't assume, but instead took the time to get to know me, they would learn my story. I was raised in poverty, abuse and addiction. My family is broken and irreparable. I married at 17 was divorced twice by the age of 24 with two children, a working single mom. I was raised in no faith at all. I have been born with a heart condition and had by age 24 $100,000 in medical debt from heart surgery and treatment. I filed bankruptcy then. 

Enter grace and mercy and a fervent desire to change my life and my family tree.

An old friend from high school entered into my life and this time I was open to God's plans and not my own. A deep and powerful, lifelong conversion began in y soul. A marriage I had never even witnessed in my life began 17 yrs ago and thrives to this very day. A close, amazing family grew in us. Faith, homeschooling, and building a financial plan for our provision. Education. Hard work. Perseverance.

Cake walk? no. My husband was deployed into War. We lost babies in miscarriage. We lost everything we owned in Hurricane Katrina and relocated with almost nothing. I was diagnosed with MS. My son has epilepsy, my daughter shares my congenital heart condition. 

 Jealousy and those thoughts which flow from it are not bringing peace. They are robbing you and they are lying to you. 

"Comparison is the thief of joy." -Theodore Roosevelt.

It is terribly unhealthy to comfort ourselves by assuming those we see in a good place must secretly be miserable, in debt, bad people, instead of considering God has in fact blessed them because of their faithfulness in storms or the measure of their own commitment.

Perhaps we could look upon the grace in the lives of others and in place of jealousy, find hope. Hope that God is faithful. Hope that God will provide and that we can improve our behaviors and choices to lend a hand in our own prosperity too.

I would not trade my Cross for anyone's. It is mine to carry, and I count it all joy.

A Favorite Meal is Called Back Up

I recently went through some of my favorite cookbooks to freshen up and tune up the menu for fall. Tonight I made a favorite dish from Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond's Cookbook and I gave it a twist. It's called Marlboro Man's Favorite Sandwich.

My man isn't the Marlboro Man, but he is certainly a fan of this sandwich.

Basically it's sliced cube steak and onions served on a grilled, buttered hoagie.

The seasoning on this with the caramelized onions is just to die for! It's not complicated, the best things aren't. Lawry's Seasoning Salt, Worcestershire Sauce and a splash of Tabasco.

We like it just as it for lunch. But when I make this for dinner I like to "kick it up a notch". Forgive me for mixing my celebrity Chefs!

So I add some peppers and a bit of mozzarella to it. Sometimes, I make it with a BBQ sauce instead of the original seasonings and add a little pineapple and soy. It's versatile :)

But tonight I caramelized the onions, then added the peppers.
It doesn't take a lot to feed 4 people. After prepping them I removed them and set them aside. 

This is a one skillet dish - yay. For the serving of four I used one yellow pepper and one red pepper and about 1/3 a large sweet onion. I can't believe I waited until my mid-thirties to discover the glorious sweetness of peppers. 

It's tough being a late bloomer!

The next step is to add the sliced cube steaks and grill it up.

Before I talk about the cube steak, can I tell you how happy I am about my cast iron skillets? 

I found 3 cast iron skillets at the goodwill! I had been longing for some (again a late bloomer - I am well aware that everyone else knows the beauty of them and has since Moses was a whippersnapper, but I've just come to this in the last 6 months!)

Chronically thrifty and believing that God provides for us what we need, if we work on His timing and not ours I have waited for 6 months. I have scoured garage sales, thrift shops and the facebook selling boards. Then one day... they were there, stacked and $3 a piece!

Now, the cube steak. I always thought this was a cheap, worthless cut and had no use for it. HA! 

It is a cheaper cut but there are wonderful uses for it, as my happy tummy can attest. The package I purchased for tonights dinner was about $7. 

When the steak was cooked I added in the peppers and onions and let it simmer a few minutes while I toasted the hoagie buns.

A pat of butter and a hot griddle toasted up my hoagies to give it a little crunch. I'm learning these little steps aren't critical and they can certainly be cuttable corners but going the simple, extra steps actually makes a difference and my husband and I notice in the taste. So not sure how cuttable they are for me anymore.

Steak fries and a chef's salad (not pictured) rounded out the meal tonight. 

My son picks out the peppers, like his mom, I suppose his palette will be a late bloomer too.

The flavor is undeniably amazing. I'm learning as I expand my food horizons, seasoning and fresh ingredients are preferred over heavy sauces and dressings. 

I'm finding myself buying meat the day of, or the day before so it's fresh and not frozen. It's not such a big deal to have the hubs swing by and pick up the fresh bread, veggies and meat every couple days. I think it matters to the taste of the final product. 

Best part of this meal, is the cost. Even though it's one of the moderately priced meals in my plan, it's still a fabulous bargain.

Cube steak $7
Hoagie Buns $2
Peppers $1.20
Onion $1
Potatoes for the Fries $1.00

Total meal cost $12.20 /4 or $3.05 per serving. My goal is to keep the serving cost always under $4 for moderately priced meals, and then have a good balance during the week of meals for as little as $1.50 in the lower price range. I limit higher priced meals to once a week.

Think of this way, if you keep your dinner meal costs to $10 on average, you are looking at just $300.00 a month for dinners, to feed a family of four. With younger children eating smaller portions and adding in the lower cost meals a couple nights a week, you can easily save a significant amount of money each month on your grocery bill and get the cost well below $300. If you bake the bread, and have veggies from your garden - man, serious bank would be saved! 

I'm turning in for the night y'all, sleep tight!

It's not rocket science, it's just homeschooling

I have faithfully used Math U See for about 14 years of our 17 year homeschooling journey. I own essentially the entire program.

We started with Saxon. No one liked Saxon. I found it dry and forgive me for being dramatic, agonizing.

So much repetition, so many problems, so much work. Hours of math. Hours of tears.

Math U See was like an oasis, when I found it. Using manipulatives my children were instantly engaged. Concepts were learned more quickly, retention increased. We moved more quickly, we enjoyed math, and my children found themselves feeling successful in Arithmetic for the first time in their education.

Now I am down to my last child in homeschool. We've used MUS until now. I love it still. But something doesn't seem to be clicking for him.

I've spent this year trying to get to the bottom of our math problem. Essentially every problem seems abstract to him. Even using the blocks doesn't seem to be helping it connect with him. I advocate relentlessly in homeschooling circles for finding the right curriculum fit for your child. There I was, with something I love but for whatever reason, it wasn't meeting his needs and that is a deal breaker.

Enter Fred.

I've known about the Life of Fred series for many years. I've heard good things about it from those brave enough to step so far out of the box. I admit, as relaxed as my approach may be, I had worries about learning Math in such an nonconformist method. 

But this week, I took a dive into the deep end of the pool and purchased LOF. My hunch is that my son is not connecting Math with anything he can see or reason. When I sit with him and read the problems aloud and put them in the context of a word problem, attaching real world things and meanings to the numbers he gets it but he is not working independently and it frustrates him.

I should add before continuing, my son has epilepsy and is working through learning challenges, dyslexia and dysgraphia. These may or may not be related to his seizure activity and medication but his doctors suspect they are and at a minimum they present additional challenges for my brilliant young man. 

He really is brilliant. The most amazing mind, creative, critical thinking, able to absorb vast amounts of information and tell it back to you when it's knitted into his mind. 

Rote memory though, memory for memory's sake, not his strong suit. Thus his frustration. Methods and facts which need memorizing, are just not sticking. We have tried more repetition. We use flash cards and we use time tests. Not sticking. Enough already. Let's do something else.

I'm excited to try some new things with him. I love the samples of Life of Fred we have worked with and I think this may be the perfect fit for him. I can't wait, and neither can he, to get our new books and get started. 

Once we crack this obstacle, we may return to Math U See, or not. I have no idea. I have complete confidence in my son's intellect and his ability to learn. I have confidence in my ability to find the right fit for him and help him learn. We have all we need. 

Moreover I am sitting here at my dining room table in the still quiet of my home on the verge of tears. Tears of thanksgiving. Thanking God for the gift of homeschooling. For my husband who makes it possible. I thank God that I am not afraid for his future. I have no fear about his needs being met, or giving him the best chance at success. I don't worry if his next teacher or teachers will be cooperative, supportive. We have all we need. 

I read this tonight on a website I frequent regarding the health and care of my son's epilepsy as it relates to his education.

"Children who have seizures and learning difficulties often require a highly structured environment. Experience has shown that the best way to teach children with attention or memory difficulties is using direct, one-on-one instruction."

Indeed. The article went on and on about how to advocate for your child inside the system, appeals and requests. At home, no advocacy is needed. Our home is set up for his success. His instruction is one-on-one at all times, a private tutor committed to him, invested in him, who loves him. Where else can one find this but at home? 

This experience could be fraught with stress and fears but it's not. What he needs, is what he has. It's not rocket science, it's just homeschooling.