Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bryan Elliff's Blog

We added a new link to our favorite blogs that I wanted to point out. It is Bryan Elliff's blog, Nothing but the Cross.

Bryan is the son of one of our elders Jim Elliff. Bryan is a freshman in college but is hardly your typical college freshman. Bryan wants more than anything for his life to count for Christ. Last year he wrote the following bulletin insert pleading with young adults to be fools for Christ...

Be sure to not to miss a few of his recent posts. The first is "Anabaptists and New Covenant Theology." In this post he refers to the book "The reformers and their stepchildren" and lists it as one of his favorite books of all time. I finished this book in March and would have to agree. His posts on "The reformation of morals in our society" and "Church" are outstanding as well.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Adoption Seminar

We attended an adoption seminar this past Saturday that was a requirement for our adoption process. The seminar was wonderful and we were blessed by it in many ways. We got to hear from several adoptive parents and children, as well as a woman who had given her son up for adoption several years ago. All of these people were very open and honest with us about their experiences, and it was so encouraging to see how God had worked in their lives through the adoption experience. The whole day was a reminder to us of why we are pro-life. Seeing the adopted children and how they were flourishing in their adoptive families showed us what a gift their birthmothers gave them when they decided on adoption, not abortion.

One of the highlights of the day was when we heard from the woman (who is now a pregnancy counselor) who had given up her son for adoption several years ago when she was a college student. Her testimony was so moving, and gave us even more respect for women who make this courageous and selfless decision. Before we heard her testimony, we got to watch this amazing video by Mark Schultz. He is a Christian singer/songwriter who also happens to be adopted. He wrote a song for his birthmother as a "thank you" for her decision to give him life. Have your Kleenex ready!

We also watched the following video of his wonderful testimony regarding his adoption.

The only disappointing part of the day for us was that the room wasn't packed full of Christians waiting to adopt. We feel very strongly that if the Christian community is going to say "Adoption, not abortion" then we need to be ready to back that up with a willingness to adopt. We realize not every Christian family is going to be able to adopt, but the Christian community as a whole should be known by their love for orphaned children and their willingness to take care of them.

Please join us in praying for women who find themselves in a situation with an unplanned pregnancy. Pray that God will move them to give their baby life, and the courage to place that child for adoption if they feel they can't parent the child themselves.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why I love being a stay-at-home mom...

Being a stay-at-home mom can be trying at times, but the memories with your kids are so worth it. Today the boys reminded me of why I love being home with them. While I was busy upstairs, they created a "stage" downstairs and invited me to come down for the show. I was greeted with two "drinks" to sip while I watched the performance---and what a performance it was! I'm so thankful I get to be home with them and see all these memorable moments of their childhood. Here's some shots from the "show."

Luke and I will be driving to St. Louis on Saturday for an adoption seminar that we are required to attend in order to adopt. It should be an interesting day. The boys get to stay with Mama and Papa that day which they are excited about. Keep praying!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Financial advice in turbulent times

Many of you know that in addition to working for a company that services institutional investors, I also stay up to date on the markets and am fascinated with economics and finance. I don't normally post financial advice because it ideally needs to be delivered in person so it is not misconstrued. Due to what is happening in the markets I felt it was necessary to post something very specific that will hopefully be helpful for you or your family, while at the same time will be simple and straight-forward.

Make no mistake about it. The U.S. economy and financial system is a wreck and will not be getting better anytime soon. In fact, it will get much worse before it gets better. Hundreds of banks, brokers, and insurance companies will fail in the next few years. I don't write this to scare anyone but to try to give advice on how to act based on how I have interpreted the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury's responses to date.

The Fed and the Treasury have made 15 announcements on Sunday afternoons so far this year. There have been a slew of bailouts of firms like Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and tonight with insurance giant AIG. Capitalism in America is essentially gone and has given way to socialism for corporate America similar to the socialism at the personal level that has been emerging for years. Like most forms of socialism, only select people benefit. This became apparent over the weekend when the government let Lehman Brothers fail while saving AIG tonight. Lehman's bankruptcy was not anticipated by a marketplace that has been conditioned to believe that all Wall Street firms will be bailed out if they scream loud enough to the politicians they have lobbied for years. I was shocked that they let them fail, though I welcomed it as the right thing to do if you believe in capitalism. You might be thinking "Who cares?" but the events of the last two days tell me two things:

1. The government will only protect the biggest and most reckless firms (AIG, Fannie, Freddie) whose failures will lead to systematic troubles. The taxpayers will be on the hook for the billions of dollars of losses so Wall Street doesn't have to take them.

2. The government will let the smaller to medium tier firms (Lehman) go bankrupt so as to look tough and still have some ability to say they believe in free markets and capitalism though their actions prove they do not. In this scenario, the stock market will suffer some, but it will probably go down slow rather than crash. It also means if you have any dealings with these companies the government will NOT protect you. They are only interested in protecting Wall Street, not Main Street.

So what does this mean practically for you? Scenario 2 means if you have family or friends with annuities at small or medium tier firms they need to get them out if there are not huge penalties to withdraw. The government bailed out AIG tonight because up until a few months ago they were the biggest insurance company in the world and pose systematic risk to the stock market. They also are one of the biggest sellers of annuities in the world. Yesterday, unbelievably the New York attorney general allowed AIG to use monies that are by law segregated for holders of life insurance policies, annuities, etc... to use the segregated funds for general corporate purposes. The government bailout tonight will negate their need break this law, but smaller insurance companies and banks will be failing over the ensuing months who will not be so fortunate to get taxpayer funds. This means your annuities will be at risk as AIG annuities and Life insurance policies would have been prior to the bailout. I have never been a fan of annuities but now is a particularly bad time to have them. Since many older people put huge sums of money in them at retirement, you probably know people that have them. I know several people in our sphere of family and friends.

So where should you put your money if you have annuities? In a period like we are in now, not losing is winning. What that means practically is that you should have your money in short-term U.S. Treasury bills or a U.S. Treasury Money Market fund. Do not settle for a money market fund with corporate debt. You should only own U.S. Treasuries with maturities under a year. You can buy them at your bank or at Treasuries are only yielding around 2% right now but remember, "not losing is winning."

Deposits at banks and CD's up to 100k are safe with FDIC insurance. FDIC will be insolvent after a couple more bank failures, but I am 99.9% confident that the Congress will pledge more taxpayer funds to make them liquid, especially in an election year. Though it is almost a foregone conclusion that FDIC will be bailed out, they will be stressed soon. Washington Mutual and Wachovia bank will likely fail in the next few weeks. They will wipe out the rest of the FDIC reserves so Congress will be forced to act soon. This is why I prefer T-Bill's, though I am confident that CD's will likely be fine.

The landscaped has changed massively in the last two weeks. Though we are supposedly capitalists in America here are two facts that are staggering to me....

1. As of two weeks ago, the biggest mortgage issuer in the U.S. is the U.S. Government. 8 out of 10 mortgages in the U.S. are now funded by Fannie Mae, Ginnie Mae, or Freddie Mac. Only 2 out of 10 mortgages are funded by private companies. That will be zero soon enough. No private company can compete with a government that has printing presses for bad loans.

2. As of tonight, the U.S. Government has become the biggest insurance company in the world and by default a leading player in the annuity market.

If that doesn't sound like capitalism to you then we are on the same page. The American people are growing weary of the socialism for the rich (as am I), and I am not a "soak the rich" class warfare person at all. I am, in fact, very conservative philosophically, but more libertarian fiscally. Going forward the Republican administration will try to look tough by letting small companies fail, while bailing out the big firms. This is what you should expect in the headlines going forward so if you know anyone with annuities they need to seriously consider whether they should keep them.

If you want un-varnished reporting of the events to help you stay ahead of the curve, here are two excellent financial blogs. These two guys have a great grasp on what is going on and what will continue to happen over the coming months.

Calculated Risk

Mish Shedlock

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Seeds and Sticks

Here are some pics from our field trip last week. Isaac went with two of the moms in our group to a nature center that has planned activities and tours for school-aged kids. The activity his group participated in was about seeds. Here he is making his seedballs:

He had a great time and brought home several wildflower seedballs that we planted behind our house. He also got to participate on a nature hike where they identified several types of trees and plants. While he was gone on his trip, I took Caleb and his friend Luke on our own little "field trip." We went to the lake in our subdivision and had a picnic. Then I gave them each a paper sack for them to collect sticks and leaves. Their collection didn't last long though because all the sticks they collected they wanted to throw in the lake. I think that was definitely their favorite part! Here's some pics from our time there:

It was a fun day for all. We were very thankful we got our field trips in before the deluge of rain started. We have had so much rain over the last three days!

Today's my day to plan lessons for the week so I better get busy...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Something worth reading

It's been really hard to keep up with this blog since we've started homeschooling! Hopefully soon I'll get back in the groove of writing more. But although I haven't been writing much, I am still reading, and I found something this morning on one of my favorite blogs that I thought was worth sharing. It's a quick read, and was a good reminder for me of where my heart should lie regarding my wardrobe. As we start to think about fall/winter clothes, these are wise words to remember!

Isaac has a field trip today that he is really excited about. He is going (with the other five kids from our homeschool co-op) to a nature center where he will learn about seeds and go on a nature hike. Should be fun! Maybe I'll find time to post pics from the day's adventures later this week....