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Monday, July 9, 2012

A Short Story About Stewardship

Jon and Don were twins.  They had grown up somewhat privileged, but their father also knew a thing or two about teaching children the value of hard work and a dollar earned.  Things he had learned from his own father.  For Jon, the lessons were enriching, although at times difficult.  But, Jon tried to get as much as he could out of everything his father taught him all through high school and college.  Don, however, felt that since his father had so much, he should not have to work as hard as other boys and he resented his father's attempts to teach him hard work and responsibility.  He chafed at his father's lessons and did the very least he could to get by without falling out of his father's good graces.

When the time came, the father agreed to pay for half of the boys' college educations, since he was of some means, and he required the boys to pay up front their halves directly to himself.  Jon graduated from a two year school with an associates degree because he could see that he could get a better paying job and would be able to work slowly through the next two years of school toward a four year degree and incur no personal debt to do so.  It took him an additional four years of school, but he completed a bachelor's program and was able to receive a very good job from the company he had inturned for during his school years.  Don, however, feeling that the half was much more than he should have to pay decided to forgo school altogether.  He started a small service business and was able to set himself up with a decent living, as long as he took a few shortcuts here and there in his business dealings.

When the time came for the boys to marry, the father agreed to pay for half of each wedding and honeymoon expenses -- again providing the boys paid him up front the amount they intended to spend themselves.  Jon and his betrothed decided to forgo a huge wedding and opted instead for a small civil ceremony.  Then they jetted off to a tropical paradise where they relaxed and enjoyed the sand and surf for a week.  For the second week, they had already planned to fly the entire family to where they were so they could all celebrate together.  Don, however, chose a bride who had her mind on other things.  They were only able to scratch together enough for a large party to include their friends and family and a short weekend stay in a nice beach resort.

When the time came for the boys to buy homes, the father agreed to allow the boys to choose one of his many real estate investments in which to live, provided they paid a reduced mortgage fee to him and kept up with all of the utility and repair expenses on the homes.  The father placed the management of the properties in the hands of his associate, because he didn't want anything to come between himself and his boys, so he was unaware of anything that the boys did in the homes, or how much they paid or how often.  Jon chose a somewhat modest home that they could raise a family in and be comfortable in for the rest of their lives.  After they moved in, Jon paid his mortgage fee to his father and added a ten percent bonus as a thank you to his dad for all the things he had done for Jon and his wife.  Don, however, picked the largest house he could possibly afford to maintain.  He begrudged his father every mortgage payment he made, and after several years, he decided that there was no need to pay the fee since he knew the father already owned the house and there was no way of losing it.  He began taking money out of the account instead of paying into it.  He also knew that his father's associate would not tell the father about the missing payments.  Don still had to pay utilities, which he also hated, and occasionally, the utility companies would send collectors to shut off their services until Don got caught up.  This went on for a number of years.  And, since Don had been cutting so many corners in his business, his client base fell dramatically.

Eventually, the father had passed his prime, and became ill.  The boys each reacted in their own way.  Jon was at his father's side when he could be, making sure he was comfortable and taking care of anything that the father hadn't thought of, which wasn't much.  Jon and his wife spent any spare time they could repairing things they had let go on the house, hoping that in the event of an estate sale, the house would bring the best price possible to the father's estate.  Jon had dealt very well in his business and was not afraid of losing the house.  He knew that he would be well able to provide another home for his family.  Don, however, spent his days in terror of losing his home.  He and his wife spent a number of weeks finding a cheap place to live and proceeded to strip the father's house of as much as they could to sell so they would be able to live in their cheap rental for as long as possible.  The house they had once called home was practically gutted by the time they finished.

Finally, the time came for the father to be laid to rest.  He had already arranged and paid for his own burial, so the boys wouldn't be burdened by any of it.  The time came for the reading of the will, and the boys gathered with the attorney to discover anything that the father might have for them.  To their great surprise, the father had thought of every possible detail; things they would not have thought about.  The attorney came to the place in the will that dealt with the houses that the boys had called home for so many years.  The father had seen that his associate set up a bank account in each of the boys' names, and every mortgage payment they had made was actually going into the interest bearing accounts.  The father had made sure that it would be more than enough to settle any inheritance taxes the boys would owe.  He had made arrangements for the houses to be transferred into the boys' names after his passing, and all the adjoining land in each home.  To his delight, Jon realized that while he thought he was taking excellent care of his father's house, he was really fixing up his own house, and all the money he had paid into the mortgage account would be much more than he needed to settle estate taxes and fees.  Don realized, to his horror, that while he had thought he was only taking what his father rightfully owed to him, he had really been destroying his own dream house and draining his own bank account of funds. 

The moral here is clear.  We live in our Father's World, but it is our home, and what we do with it is what will be done.  Our stewardship is something we do with respect for God, but we will ultimately live with the consequences of our own actions.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Freedom from a plan is not a plan at all

There are so many choices in the world of financial gurus right now that it can be crippling to decide which one to follow.  For a person who already has no financial plan whatsoever, and is essentially happy with that from a personality standpoint, the incentive to buckle down and choose someone to follow can seem nonexistent.  So, imagine a man in his sixties sitting in a dark apartment, adjusting his rabbit ears antennae on his TV set (yes, they still have those, even for the digital age) to try to get a better picture because he can't afford cable, or to turn the lights on.  He's eating a microwaveable entree because he can't afford to have his gas meter turned on (it's $25 a month just to use the service, before any gas flows to your home).  He would like to go out and see a movie with friends, but he has no money in his wallet.  This is a glimpse at the future with no financial plan.  And, it stinks!

The key to getting anywhere financially, according to just about everybody who is anybody is actually beginning the journey with the first step. For me, it is a matter of looking at someone who I would like to emulate, and doing what they do.  It is also important to avoid emulating people who are in places that I don't want to go.

Realize that everyone has a different idea of what the finish line should look like.  For some people, this means millions of dollars worth of real estate and stock with a hefty savings account on the side.  For some, it is a paid for cottage on a lake with a small row boat and a steady stream of bait money flowing into their modest checking account.  Still, others have designs on blowing out their 401k account and using the interest in their old age to travel the globe.  I have recently discovered a really interesting lifestyle pattern where a person sets up a few income streams with products and services that they barely have to be involved in and going someplace where their money is very strong and they can do just about anything they please.  The bottom line is, no one person can tell everyone on earth how they will best be happy and comfortable for the rest of their lives.  What about missionaries and monks who have taken vows of poverty and chosen to live out their days in service to their fellow man without the intrusion of monetary concerns at all.  Are they wrong?  Of course not!  They have made choices best suited to their personal goals.  And so should you.

But, know this.  Wherever on the map of life you have placed your pin and decided to go, you will need a plan to get there.  Do whatever it takes (for me, this means reading dozens of books and blogs) to find the destination of your dreams, find someone who has made it there, and go that way!  One day at a time, one step at a time, eventually you will begin to see progress.

For me, this means learning new ways to generate income to pay off our debts and eventually get a farm where we can have a few goats and chickens.  More on that later.

My primary point is that you will never get anywhere if you do not decide on a destination and take the first step toward getting there.  Simple as that.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Equip Your Teen Driver

Among my many "careers", I once sold cars for a major retailer.  We had many policies that I was fond of, but a particular favorite was our method of keeping our customers busy while their paperwork was printing in the office.

When a person purchased a car from me, while we waited for the business office to get all the papers ready for them to sign, it was my job to take the customer back out to the lot (we pulled the car inside if it was raining), and go over a long checklist of items to make sure the customer knew how to operate every major bell and whistle on the car.  Things like turn signals, windshield wipers, headlights, brights, cruise control, etc.  It was not only a great way to kill twenty minutes, it was a wonderful way to make sure that the customer didn't drive off the lot into traffic and get smashed trying to find a button.

This makes me think of our own teenage drivers.  The one thing that a young person really needs to know before they operate a car is how to ... operate the car!

Take twenty minutes when you get Junior behind the wheel for the first time and teach him all the ins and outs.  You've got more than twenty minutes, but that may be about as long as he will listen, so focus on the critical stuff.  I recommend looking over the table of contents of your owner's manual for starters.  Anything that the manufacturer wants you to know, your kid should know.

Happy and Safe Driving!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Be Who You Are

I used to homeschool my kids.  One of the best elements thereof was how much I learned about myself.  I'm an avid reader and researcher, and one year I was taken with the idea of learning styles -- the concept of how a person learns and how best to teach them.  Much of my research pointed back to basic personality traits.  It was so enlightening!

During my research, I learned something very important about my own personality that had always really bugged me.  It was something I would change if I could.  But, in a book written especially for parents, I learned that this aspect of my personality was completely normal -- just not one that a lot of people talked about or celebrated.

Okay, I'll let you in on what it was; but only for illustrative purposes.  The writer of the book happened to share the same personality trait which made me feel even more validated.  She said that it was not unusual for a person with this trait to hold down five or more careers in a lifetime.  Careers!  Not just jobs.  I had seen myself as a job hopper or as someone who didn't stick to the task for the long haul.  But what I learned was that many people are like me and just desire a change in scenery in the area of their work.  This opened my eyes and gave me so much more perspective into my journey.  I felt like it was okay to be me.

That's my point.  You are who you are.  I'm not saying you and I don't have areas where we need to grow or develop.  We all do.  But, the best place to begin is by accepting ourselves as we were made to be -- the things we really cannot change -- and then move on to develop the best qualities of our own individual personalities by capitalizing on our strengths and learning to make our weaknesses less of a liability.

It all boils down to one simple idea -- you must accept yourself and resist the urge to compare yourself with others.  It's a habit worth cultivating.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I am working on getting products added to my store. Running into some technical difficulty.

In the meantime, if there is a particular product you wish to find, you can either click on the featured product to the left, then search Amazon.com or you can go just below that box and use the Amazon.com Search box.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Heirloom Gifting

Today, my daughter graduates from high school. It's a big deal! Perhaps most importantly because her older brother didn't and cannot since he is no longer with us. In light of that and other considerations, I have decided to give her an heirloom gift to celebrate, rather than go out and purchase a new graduation gift.

Heirloom gifting is almost a thing of the past. In today's society where it seems like most things are disposable, we lack the sense of legacy that past generations held. This is sometimes blamed for young people getting involved in gangs and other forms of criminal behavior. Kids need to feel connected to the past in a positive way.

I encourage you to consider heirloom gifting next time your child or a close family member crosses a major milestone. A wedding, graduation, or the birth of a new baby bring so many wonderful lasting memories. What better way to demonstrate the significance of the occasion than with a gift that surpasses generations? A piece of jewelry, a set of china, or a hand made item given to you by a family member can become a delightful reminder that a person has a family rich with history.

When I decided that I would give Sarah an heirloom, I immediately settled on a piece of my jewelry. I actually own quite a bit, although I don't really wear it much at all. Most of my jewelry has been given to me by my parents or my grandparents. Instant heirlooms!

Because I own several nice pieces, it was a little challenging to decide which one to gift to my daughter. I gave it quite a bit of thought, then checked with my mom to make sure it wouldn't hurt feelings. I chose a beautiful sapphire tennis bracelet that my mother gave to me a number of years ago. It's set in silver and has white and blue sapphires alternating. At the time of this writing I haven't given it to her, and I'm going to wait to publish later this evening when I know it won't spoil the surprise -- just in case she reads my blog.

Finally, I wanted to pass on a little tip that I picked up a number of years ago on how to polish silver that has become slightly tarnished.

The things that you will need are simple -- baking soda, aluminum foil, and boiling water.

First, place the aluminum foil into the bottom of your kitchen sink. I crumpled my foil up to make it into a bit of a basin. You want the shiny side down and the non shiny side up -- in contact with your silver item.

Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda into the sink on top of the foil.

Place your silver item into the foil basin.

Next, put a small pan of water on to boil.

When the water is boiling, pour a small amount into the foil basin with the soda and silver item inside. You should get lots of bubbles.

You may want to repeat with more baking soda and more boiling water several times.

After a few tries, you should notice a considerable difference in the brightness of your silver item.

This is not as effective as silver polish, but it will do nicely in a pinch -- especially if you have to give it as a gift in just a few hours!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Got a Picky Eater?

Let's face it, raising little ones has a plethora of challenges. One of which can be getting them to eat!

I face this challenge on a daily basis with my daycare baby, Reagan. She's a charmer, but not a big eater. Today, I made a loaf of half-whole wheat, half-white bread (in my thrift store bread machine that I paid less than five bucks for).
I was amazed at how much she liked it! I let her eat as much as she wanted, lightly buttered.
Her mom was shocked that she liked it as well.

That's just how it is with little ones. Sometimes even the most particular eaters will surprise you and enjoy some very healthy foods. But, you'll never know unless you try. Some parents become frustrated and serve only sugary foods to a picky eater. I think that's a mistake and a very bad habit. For instance, those "milk shakes" that the grocery stores sell to "supplement" your child's lacking diet. What on earth! So, if a child won't eat healthy foods, we substitute by giving them milk shakes? I think not. I'm not trying to judge. I know it can be very stressful when a little one doesn't seem to be eating much. But, to only offer her sugary foods would be counter intuitive. It satiates her appetite, but doesn't meet her nutritional needs. I submit that it is well worth taking the time and patience to continue offering new and different kinds of foods to small children to see which ones will stick. I also recommend that you use common sense. Don't start with arugula or radishes. I also refuse to give Reagan milk at the beginning of the meal as this tends to fill up her tummy and doesn't provide her with everything she needs from her food. Rather, giving foods first, with a glass of water, and milk later in the meal or even between meals with a snack seems to keep her eating more foods and relying less on her "Ba Ba".

Just a friendly reminder to not give up and keep trying different foods with young children. They may surprise you.