Friday, November 23, 2012

Sausage and Cheese Soup and Unscheduled Evangelical Poverty

Hello, internet.  It's been a while (as usual) so here is a recipe just so you know I'm alive and I still think of you every now and again.  We have Ryan's parents here visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday.  We were very relaxed on Thanksgiving Day, Skyping with the rest of the family, going for a hike on a gorgeous day, playing with the children.  Well, I was.  My father-in-law and husband were hard at work grilling the turkey and cleaning up our yard before our house is appraised on Monday.  Then the ladies had a frantic hour when the turkey was done much earlier than anticipated, the babe needed to be nursed, and we had no stuffing or mashed potatoes prepared.  Served me right for being so Zen (read: lazy) all day.  My in-laws are very good sports.  George even mashed the potatoes.  I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day too!

Today we'd had a big lunch, and not yet ready for more Turkeyish delight this evening.  So I made this soup from odds and ends, and it was a winner.  As always, measurements are approximate.

Bring to a boil:
  • 6 cups turkey broth
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
Reduce heat to simmer.  Tie together in cheesecloth:
  • 3 sage leaves
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 3 sprigs parsley
  • 3 cloves
  • part of a cinnamon stick
Cook for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender.  Meanwhile, nurse the baby yet again, cook in a skillet and drain the fat from:
  • 1 lb. sausage
Remove the spice bag and puree the soup.  Stir in:
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar
  • 2 cups baby spinach
When cheese is melted and spinach is wilted, add the sausage and salt and pepper to taste.  I like to use white pepper because it disappears into the soup, but it tastes the same as black.  We have been eating a lot of squash this fall.  Squash has been 35 cents a pound, so that's why.  I'm not tired of it yet.

So, yes, our house is getting appraised on Monday.  We are in the process of refinancing our mortgage.  If anybody reading this is a homeowner and doesn't already know:  Now is a great time to do this.  Interest rates are as low as 2.63% right now!  We're taking advantage of the much lower interest rate to change over to a 15-year mortgage, so we will be debt-free by age forty.  We'll have to come up with more money each month, but it will be so worth it. 

We had the mortgage broker at the house last week and he just kept running the numbers over and over to tell us in so many different ways what we already knew:  We are saving a boatload of money by making this move.  He was practically giddy.  Actually, he was a really nice man about the same age as us.  He was so happy to meet a family serious about getting out of debt.  He called it a "breath of fresh air," and being debt-free by age forty is such a rare thing nowadays.   He told us that he'd worked with a couple who both worked for the same company as my husband and had high incomes.  They we in their forties, had a $400,000 house and $100,000 in credit card debt.  They signed a new 30-year loan.  He says they are not unusual.  Part of me still can't get over that.  I hate being in debt, even though ours is all "good debt." 

There's no such thing as far as I'm concerned.  I want it gone.  I want that seemingly gargantuan amount we pay out on loans every month to be free to do something better than maintain the status quo.  I'm talking giving it to the Church, or to good charities like Heifer International, or building up our little farm.  If all our debt money went to these things instead, it makes me so excited to think just how far that money could go.  Evangelical poverty has to have this kind of purpose.  "Love of God" sounds great but at least for me I'm not at the level of sanctity where I immediately see the connection between loving God and walking down the ice cream aisle without stopping.  Love of God, I hope, is the underlying motivation, but I need a more concrete-feeling bridge between the two if I'm going to actually make the sacrifice most of the time. 

Also, what do we want to get out of debt so soon for?  Certainly not so we can finally have all the ice cream we want.  The hundred-grand-on-the-credit-card couple proves that debt is not an obstacle to gratifying little desires.  It is an obstacle to the big dreams, and being able to give generously when the opportunity presents itself.  Anthony's godfather, for example, purchased two houses downtown outright to convert into the house for the Oratorian fathers to live.  He just couldn't have done a thing like that had he been drowning in debt.  We also are not getting out of debt so we can just watch our bank account get fatter and fatter.  We are stewards only.  When Judgment Day comes He won't be interested in our bank statements, but whether we fed the hungry and clothed the naked.

This is getting rather long and completely stream-of-consciousness.  And my consciousness is fading fast. The nitty-gritty of tithing will have to wait for another (fort)night.  I need a pithy sentence to sum up with and call it a night.

"Money, if you'll pardon the expression, is like manure.  It's not worth a thing unless it's spread around, encouraging young things to grow."  Thank you, Ephraim.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Quick Takes: Heavy and Light

--- 1 ---
I just didn't have the heart to talk about the election the other day.  I had always expected President Obama to be re-elected, or at least for quite some time now.  I had a good talk with a friend the day after about what it all means.

President Obama has declared war on the Catholic Church with his HHS Mandate.  I know that lots and lots of people, and even a majority of Catholics, just don't see this.  We voted for this state of affairs, and the gloves-off attack on religious freedom that's sure to come is entirely the consequence of our lukewarmness.  The President is trying to force division:  Do we choose the unborn and let Catholic service in the public square disappear, or to serve the poor and the sick at the expense of the lives of our smallest brothers and sisters?  It's an impossible choice.  We can't abandon any of our brothers and sisters and still be Christians.  Do we choose to follow the laws of God, or the unjust laws of Caesar?  There is only one choice. 

But it's going to require even more heroic grace than ever.  We are a weak people.  And there will be many souls lost in the battle.  Lord have mercy.

--- 2 ---
So new political strategy:  Be a saint.

--- 3 ---
While I try to figure out #2, I still have the everyday domestic things to attend to.  (Actually, those are my means to sanctity, as I've talked about a little bit here.)  Oh, yes, happy belated Feast of All Saints!

--- 4 ---
The garden is finished for the year, except for five lonely heads of lettuce in the cold frame.  I'm going to miss our little (?) friend, the praying mantis who lived in our green bean plants and kept away all the bad bugs.  I can't count how many times I've thought, "How did I miss that big one?" only to find I was trying to harvest the praying mantis!  Anthony always had to look for him each time we went out to pick some green beans.  He called him his "pet" and would in fact pet him.  Katie Rose thinks he's funny too.
--- 5 ---
We pulled out all of our carrots, even though we're a ways from a hard freeze.  Most of them would have been respectable radishes, but they probably weren't going to get much bigger at this point.  Some of them were getting eaten by clusters of little grey bugs, so I thought it's probably better to take away their food source.  We'd been pulling them up periodically, so this final haul is probably about 1/4 of the total carrot yield.  I'll definitely grow them again next year, but I'll try harder to space them properly to begin with.  Thinning carrots is a sad job, and I mostly left them too close together to really get to be a decent size.

--- 6 ---

14 pounds of green tomatoes.  Most of them went to make green tomato relish.  That project took up half of the day on Tuesday, so I wasn't just fretting about the election.  It's quite good!  This might not make sense, but it tastes old-fashioned.  Green tomato relish is the embodiment of the old-time idea of never letting anything go to waste. It looks really Christmasy, green with bits of red.  The recipe yielded over a GALLON of relish, so I think some of these jars are destined to be Christmas gifts.

--- 7 ---
There's a runaway train of clean but unfolded laundry behind me as I'm typing this.  I should get Anthony down for his nap and deal with that.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Halloween Photos

It was so hard to get Anthony to hold still enough for a photo!  He was just too excited to be a "CHOO-CHOO!"  His cardboard box was the hit of the neighborhood.  And he sure hammed it up.  But he did learn to say "Tank you," by the time we got to the very last house. 

Katie Rose's flower petals were mostly chewed on.  It was cold and drizzly, so she stayed home and handed out candy with Daddy. 

I like Halloween.  I wasn't too much into it as a child, but I like how on our street most people are outside and ready to chat about neighborhood happenings and get to know you a little bit.  We moved into our house on Halloween three years ago.  It was the perfect way to meet our new neighbors!  And of course I like the Snickers which Anthony so generously shares with me. :-)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Evangelical Poverty: Part 1

We all have so much.  Even those of us who are reading this wondering if the budget sheet is going to be in the negative numbers this month.  If you are reading this, then count yourself among the world’s wealthy.  You are literate and have internet access, even if it’s at the public library.  You also have leisure time to spend reading the scribblings of some Midwestern housewife.
I hope you don't mind pictures from our garden way back in July.  I never posted them, and it seems to fit with this post: Very full of promise!
Guilt trip, yes?  Sorry, but I do have a point in beginning that way.  Well, are you worried about finances?  No matter how much we have, we worry about how to hold on to that level of financial “freedom,” but really we are kind of enslaved because of how much of our energy is devoted to money:  Working to earn it, time and thought about how we’ll spend it, worrying about how we haven’t saved enough of it.  I have to confess that I often stress out when I need to spend money unexpectedly, or even on stupid stuff like I need a haircut.  Last Friday I had a fender-bender (We are all fine!) and got a $130 ticket.  Ouch.  Plus fixing both cars and likely our insurance rate will go up. How are we supposed to get out of debt and start a farmstead now?  Yes, I am aware of how stupid that sounds, since I’m not bashing around like Cruella De Vil.  But I still have those sort of discouraging thoughts with each setback.  It’s human nature I think.  But that is not what God wants for us.  God does not promise us earthly riches, but something much much better. 

“Fear not, little flock.  For it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Luke 12:32-34)
Before I get too far into this subject, let me be up front that Ryan and I are not struggling financially.  On the contrary we have been very blessed with a good job and a comfortable home.  We do have significant debt from our student loans and mortgage, which we are working hard to pay ahead of schedule.  This information might lead some people to say for me to talk about the virtues of poverty is just ridiculous and insulting to those who are really in need.  I hope I don’t come across as just some starry-eyed girl playing at being a saint.  Because I am well aware I am far, far from detached from this world’s material goods.  I like birthday presents and ladies’ nights out and buying something pretty for myself every once in a while.  I’ve just been thinking about this subject an awful lot lately, and I’m trying to organize my thoughts as well as share them.  I think it's very important, especially as more and more people are having trouble paying the bills and might give up on giving.  I’d be very interested in any additional insights or even corrections my readers (all five of you!) may have.

So, the kingdom.  Something money cannot buy, but we have to be detached from money before we can obtain it.  “One cannot serve both God and money.”  Money is a little thing in comparison with what we are promised.  Few of us are called to the radical poverty of St. Francis of Assisi or to give all of our money to the poor, but I’ve become convinced that we are all called to tithe.  The fifth Precept of the Church is, “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.”  This is not specified as a set amount, only “according to his own ability.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2043)  So I don’t claim that not paying a 10% tithe is automatically a sin.  However, I think giving 10% of one’s income—before taxes—is the first step in trusting God with our finances, of letting go of our attachment to money.  I don't think attachment to money is exclusively in the realm of the rich man; Jesus' admonition to not worry about our food and clothing applies to everyone.

The Old Testament is full of exhortations on the importance of paying our tithes.  The Old Law may have passed away, but human nature has not changed.  God doesn’t need our money.  A million dollars is nothing to Him.  The tithe is ultimately for our own benefit.  The 10% figure is high enough that we have to make a deliberate decision to give that much and lay claim to God’s promises, yet low enough that God is still very lenient with us.  If you think about it, God lets us keep 90%, when He could justly claim all.  He is God, after all. 


It is a “stepping out in faith” to begin to tithe.  I can only say for now that the only way to learn to trust in God is to do it!  Pray for grace, read the Scriptures.  The ones I referenced here were important to Ryan and me in beginning to tithe, also Mark 10:21 and Matthew 6:31-32.  Tithing changed my whole outlook on stewardship and Divine Providence.  Our money is not really ours.  Charity is an obligation.  God WILL provide.  We'll talk about all of this.
Meanwhile, God makes another incredible promise regarding the tithe that is still true, because God never goes back on His promises: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me in this, says the Lord of hosts: Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessing upon you without measure?” (Malachi 3:10)