Sheila's Books
Click on the covers to read more or order autographed copies!

My Webrings

Crazy Hip Blog Mamas Members!



Medical Billing
Medical Billing

For ALL Your Graphic Needs

Dine Without Whine - A Family 

Friendly Weekly Menu Plan
Wifey Wednesday: Replenishing Your Batteries

In my last few Wifey Wednesday posts we've been getting philosophical: what does it mean to be committed, to be grateful for your spouse, to love him?

Now we're going to get practical for a moment. So here's my question:

So you have enough energy to be a wife?

I know that sounds like an odd question, especially if you're sitting at the computer right now with moist Rice Krispies on the bottom of your socks and kids pulling at you when you just wanted two minutes for yourself, but I think it's an important one.

We women have an easy time throwing our energy into our kids and our responsibilities. We'll be there for our children, try to get the housework done, try to give our kids some play time, try to make it out to kids' night at church where we're leading the crafts, get ready to go to the PTA meeting, drive everyone to soccer, and make a big birthday dinner for our mother-in-law.

But what do we have left at the end of the day for our husbands?

Maybe that doesn't seem like a fair question. Maybe you're thinking: at the end of the day, he should be there for me. And you're right. He should.

But you should also be there for him, and that's hard to do if you're exhausted. One of the chapters in my book Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight revolves around this: how to get energy at the end of the day. If you're thinking it's impossible, let me offer some incentive. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more energy you put in with your husband, the more energy you'll have for the rest of your day.

When you make a connection with your husband, when you have a good time talking, or snuggling, or doing what married people do, you feel a natural high. You feel close, supported, loved. And that energy can take you through the next day.

So today, make sure you get some downtime in the afternoon. Make it a rule that kids have to stay in their rooms for 45 minutes after lunch, even if they're not napping. This can be book or puzzle time, or playing quietly on their beds. If you enforce it, they'll learn and they'll adapt. That gives you some time to yourself.

Cut some things out of your life. Don't sign the kids up for every activity under heaven. Don't volunteer to teach at everything. Keep at least two nights a week when you don't have anything on at all, and you can just relax as a family.

And ask your husband if you can take 45 minutes after dinner for a bath, or to read, while he gives the kids a bath. If you can take the time for yourself before the kids go to bed, then when they do go to bed, you'll be more likely to have the energy to spend time with your husband.

What about you? Do you have a tip for marriage? Why not link it here? Here's how it works: copy the picture at the top of this post by right clicking it and saving it to your hard drive. Then go to your own blog and make a Wifey Wednesday post. Once it's up, come back here and enter your blog's name and the URL for your post. That's it! And then share what you think with us.

Labels: , ,

I Kissed Dating GoodBye
On the weekend we bought Rebecca, my 13-year-old, Joshua Harris' book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. She demolished it in less than a day (it's 214 pages long). She loved it.

I am one happy mother.

I read the book for the first time myself maybe seven years ago. I totally disagreed with him until about 2/3 of the way through when he won me over.

His premise is that dating is dumb and unChristian to boot. What we should be interested in is courtship--serious relationships with the intention of moving towards marriage. Anything that isn't going in that direction isn't right. There's too much room for temptation and heartache, and, even more importantly (and this is how he won me over), there's an opportunity cost to dating. When you're heavily involved in a relationship as a teen, even if you remain pure, you don't focus on friendships. You may forego missions trips because you don't want to be away from your girlfriend/boyfriend. You spend your life investing in someone else rather than investing in your relationship with God.

If this person is the right person for you, they will still be there when you're twenty or so and can begin to seriously think about marriage. So don't waste your prime growing years at 15 on dating.

I dated a lot in high school. I would never want my girls to date in the same way. I had my heart broken so many times, and stepped a bit over the line too many times. It was not good. But it was so much a part of who I was I couldn't picture my girls not dating.

But I've now grown used to the idea. My husband and I hadn't actually formulated a policy on dating until the last year or two, but other families that we're close to and that the girls talk to fairly frequently have the rule of no dating until 18.

So the day that Katie turned 9, I ran into her room and hugged her and said, "You're halfway there!". I meant halfway to being an adult. But she replied, "I know!!!! I'm halfway to being allowed to date!".

We had never told her she couldn't date. She just assumed it. And I thought, then and there, let's go with that.

But what we've now told our kids is, no dating until 16, at which point we will reopen the subject. I do think kids should be able to experience maximum freedom while they are still living at your home, rather than as soon as they go away to school, because then they can go crazy at school. But I want the no dating thing to be something they embrace on their own, not because it's a rule from us. Several of their friends have, so I'm hoping that's where their peer group from church takes them.

I do have several friends who started dating in high school and are now married. They would say that it worked for them. But I still think I'm with Harris on this one. It's a great book, and if you have a teen, maybe you should get them to read it, too.

Labels: ,

Menu Plan Monday: Company + Panic!

I am back from a busy weekend and stepped right into a horrendous week! But it has lots of fun elements, so hopefully as long as I get time to take a deep breath, I will enjoy it.

My family and I have been to the Mulli Children's Family, an orphanage in Kenya, which is home to 850 children, twice now. We just love it. We've made real connections and I think have been useful.

Charles and Esther Mulli, the Kenyan couple who started the orphanage, are in my hometown doing a fundraising tour. They've been to other places in Canada, too, and now it's Belleville's turn.

So they're having dinner at my house tonight, along with another 12 people. That brings the total to 19.

So I've decided I'm going to do fajitas. I just can't sit 19 at a table, so some people are going to have to use couches. So I want some finger food.

I make really good fajitas! I usually make them with chicken, refried beans, Mexican rice, guacamole, salsa, cheese, peppers, and mushrooms, and then people can add whatever they'd like. So that's my plan for tonight. I'll add some salsa and chips and some veggies and dip, and I may get my girls to whip up two cakes from mixes.

Here's the rest of the week:

Tuesday: Pork Tenderloin. My brother-in-law is coming over to finish our taxes, and since he is recently single he doesn't always eat that well. He likes this dish, though. Just cut the pork into medallions, cover with flour and some salt and pepper, and brown. Then add 1/3 cup maple syrup, 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar, and 2 tbsp dijon mustard, and simmer until pork is cooked. You can double the liquids if you want. It's really tasty in the end. Thicken the sauce with some corn starch and you're all set. I serve it with rice and veggies.

Wednesday: Spaghetti. I need something simple. Rebecca will make this one herself.

Thursday: Steaks. We haven't done them yet this season and we're going to buy a new barbecue this week. We bought half a cow earlier this year, and I have some yummy steaks in the freezer. I'm really looking forward to this one!

Then, once again, I am away for the rest of the weekend. Rebecca has a Bible quiz meet, and our region is going up to Muskoka Woods, a sports camp quite a bit northwest of where we live. It should be a riot, but I doubt I'll get any sleep because they're housing us dorm style and I can't sleep with noise. Oh, well.

Anyway, that's it for me this week. What about you?

Labels: ,

Kindness Is as Kindness Does
Every week I write a syndicated parenting column that appears in newspapers across Canada and a few in the U.S. Here is this week's: Kindness Is as Kindness Does

In our homeschool lately we have been trying to sum up famous people by their best-known sayings. “I have a dream!” (Martin Luther King Jr.). “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (Franklin Roosevelt). “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (Ronald Reagan). “The buck stops here.” (Harry Truman). Some presidents we remember because of the stupid things they said—“Read my lips,” by George Bush Sr., or “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” by Bill Clinton. We didn’t actually study the latter, of course, since it’s not very child-friendly, but you get the point.

Those comments all resonated, whether good or bad, because they reinforced who we already knew those figures were. Martin Luther King was a visionary. Franklin Roosevelt was a courageous leader. Ronald Reagan believed in freedom. Harry Truman took responsibility for his difficult decisions. George Bush Sr. waffled too much. And Bill Clinton was Bill Clinton.

How will people sum up my life? I was mulling this over recently when I heard that my mother had been named the Kindest Person of the Year in our hometown. She learned of this award through a phone call, which she initially suspected was a hoax. When she realized it wasn’t, though, she protested, “But I’m not that kind!”

My mother has been organizing a career centre for a group of unionized employees who have been laid off. She’s gone above and beyond to lobby for extra training and opportunities for them, and they rewarded her by submitting her name. They weren’t just impressed with what she did for them, though. They were impressed by the stories they kept hearing about her African exploits.

Three years ago my mother visited the Mulli Children’s Family in Kenya for the first time. Home to over 800 children and teens, Charles Mulli, the Kenyan founder, works to give these kids a top-notch education and job training, along with support and love. The first team my mother was a part of included a filmmaker, several pharmacists, and lots of others with useful skills. Mom was at a loss as to what she could contribute. After pondering for a while, I suggested she teach some girls to knit. After all, yarn isn’t heavy, so you can take an awful lot in your suitcases.

She thought it was farfetched, but she let the word get out that we were collecting yarn. Within three weeks her entire living and dining room were filled with Wal-Mart castoffs. Since then she’s traveled to Kenya three times, twice with me and the family in tow. We have also delivered thirty knitting machines, so that several graduates can set up a knitting business for income.

It’s not only yarn that we stuff in the suitcases, though. The first time Mom was over she also realized the need for underwear and bras. Many of the girls arrive at the home after being severely abused on the streets. Providing them with undergarments gives them some much-desired modesty. So we let the word out that we wanted bras, too. Last summer we brought over 4000. Some were lacy. Some were functional. And some were just plain odd. We even had a 48DD bra that was an add-a-cup, the kind with extra padding to make one look bigger. And bras and yarn keep pouring in, almost squeezing my mother out of her house.

I think my mother is one of those people who has done amazing things without realizing it. She saw a need and did the small things that she was able to do. And those small things grew, and grew, until they became too big for her to manage. She grew discouraged. She wondered if there was a point. But she perseveres.

She accomplishes much with what she has, because these actions flow out of who she is and who she is becoming. And isn’t that the point? Life isn’t about tooting our own horns. It’s about doing what we can with what we’ve been given. To my mother that’s nothing to be proud of; we all should be doing that, so what’s the big deal? “I’m not that kind,” she says, because she doesn’t think she’s doing anything special. I
disagree. And I would be proud to follow in her footsteps.

Don't miss a Reality Check! Sign up here to receive it in your inbox every week.

Labels: ,

The Toilet Paper Wars
Many families fight over toilet paper.

There's the typical: why doesn't anyone else ever change the roll fight. I seem to be the only one who ever changes anybody's roll. The girls in their bathroom will run out of toilet paper, and instead of taking the six microseconds it might take to put a new roll on the wall, they just leave it on the sink or the back of the toilet.

Then there's orientation: does it come out of the bottom, or down from the top?

My husband and I also disagree on brand. He buys the 138 rolls for $2.00, or whatever it is. I think that stuff is gross, and not worth the money because each roll has approximately 6 sheets on it. I prefer to buy the monster rolls that are also soft. They're not that much more expensive because you need fewer sheets, and there are more sheets in the roll. But we have yet to see eye to eye on that one.

There's also the scruncher and the folder problem. I'm a scruncher. When I need toilet paper, I grab a bunch, make a wad, and use it. Other people fold it. And folders are sure that the majority of plumbing problems are caused by us scrunchers making too big a wad, rather than making a nice flat surface that flushes easier.

It's amazing how much these little things can annoy us. I'm annoyed right now because we're now out of toilet paper and I have to start using Kleenex, which is softer anyway, but it did get me thinking along these lines.

What about you? What are your problems with toilet paper? Do share them so I won't feel so badly!


When Kids Can't Read
I write a lot about education issues in my weekly column, and tomorrow I"m off to a homeschooling convention to give two workshops.

One thing that gets me incensed is when schools don't teach children to read properly. I am not a whole language advocate. I believe in phonics. Whole language turns English into Chinese, with children having to memorize each word. Phonics teaches children to sound out letters so that they can read anything. Many people say a blend is best, and to a certain extent I agree. Some words, for instance, just have to be memorized, like "through" or "because" when children are very young. They are common words, and the rules for these just don't get studied that early.

So I read plenty of education blogs, and I came across this gem at Joanne Jacob's site:

The Chancellor’s New Clothes tells the story of a severely dyslexic student who succeeded in school with the help of note-taking aides but failed in his career because he can’t write.

The educational community failed my friend. We didn’t want him to feel bad about himself when he was in school, so we gave him a false view of his abilities. We decided that it was better for him to feel good about himself while in school and then be miserable for the rest of his life.

Personally I think this is appalling, and all too frequent. I know many students, children of friends, who use computers to write everything in the classroom because they have dyslexia. Yet some of the studies I have read shows that the rate of dyslexia is correlated with the teaching method of whole language. When you don't teach children to read the letters, you end up with kids who get the letters mixed up and can't read.

My husband used to test for learning disabilities in his pediatric office, and he'd often have grade 4 or 5 students in there who could read the word "beat" but not "meat". They had never been taught to read meat, so they couldn't figure it out. They didn't know basic things, like "m" says "mmm", when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking, so "ea" says "eeee", and "t" says "t". It's not that difficult.

Yesterday, when I was preparing for my seminars on Friday, I looked up the learning objectives for grade 1 and 2 in Ontario, my province. Here's what it said:

By the end of grade 1, students will predict the meaning of and solve unfamiliar
words using different types of cues, including:

- semantic (meaning) cues (e.g. familiar words, phrases, sentences, and visuals that activate existing knowledge of oral and written language)
- syntactic (language structure) cues, e.g. predictable word order, predictable language patterns, punctuation
- graphophonic (phonological and graphic) cues, eg. blending and segmenting of individual sounds in words; visual features of words such as shape and orientation;
sound-letter relationship for initial, final, and medial sounds; onset and rime;
common spelling patterns, words within words).

Teacher prompt: It looks right and sounds right, but does it make sense?
In grade 2, Teacher prompt: “The word does have the same beginning sound, but does it make sense?”

Do you notice a problem? The only reference to anything remotely resembling "sounding out the letters" is in point three, where it says "onset and rime", which means first letter plus letter patterns, so c-at, for instance, and the sound-letter relationship. But these obviously aren't stressed, because the teacher prompt for a child isn't "let's figure out what these letters say", it's "does it make sense?".

What it does stress is looking for visual cues, like the shape of a word, or the pictures on the page to figure out the context. This context-oriented reading is supposed to help kids with reading comprehension. What I've found, though, is that most kids I work with in homeschool will read by 5 quite well. Then they'll figure out the context by 6 1/2 or 7 very fluently becuase they're comfortable with letters. I've taught many children to read, and not just my own, because some parents are uncomfortable with how the school system is doing it, and wanted a phonics approach. Over the summer their kids learn to read, and then no matter what the school teaches the next year, they're okay.

It's not the bright kids who lose out. They'll figure out how to read anyway. It's the kids who are average or struggling who lose out. It's just silly, because reading really isn't that hard to teach. So if your child is struggling with reading, take a look at how they're being taught to read. If they don't know the sounds of letters, there's a problem. If they're not being taught things like "final e makes the vowel long", or stuff like that, you're going to have to teach it. But do teach it. We can't afford to lose another generation because they can't read.


Made for Each Other
In keeping with today's Wifey Wednesday theme, another of my articles has been posted on the website. Here's how it begins:

In my marriage, I wreck the cars. Keith wrecks the laundry, but that doesn't cost nearly as much.

Of course, Keith recently backed into a tree and shattered our van's windshield, but since this was his one and only infraction in our whole marriage, we viewed it as an aberration rather than a pattern.

Then, when he went to buy a new car this fall, he bought a standard. I can't drive a standard. So I can't drive his car. I'm still trying to figure out if there's some hidden meaning there.

Keith and I have other differences, too. Keith has the "all the lights in the house must be turned off if not needed" gene. I'm missing that one.

His idea of a relaxing afternoon is to do absolutely nothing. I like taking energetic bike rides. He likes war movies. I like Jane Austen. We're a strange pair.

And yet, what most often occurs to me is how alike we've become.

You can read the rest here.

Labels: ,

Works for Me Wednesday: Clothing Allowance

For Works for Me Wednesday, I want to talk money. And character building. And how you can kill two birds with one stone!

It seems to me that what the school system focuses on above all else is self-esteem. They mistakenly believe that if kids feel good about themselves, they will excel, instead of realizing that the relationship should go the other way: if kids excel, they will feel good about themselves. Indeed, there's nothing special about self-esteem in and of itself. Those with the highest self-esteem tend to be in jail.

What we really need to teach is maturity, and that comes best with delayed gratification. We need to teach kids they can't have everything they want all at once. And I've found the best way to teach that is with an allowance.

We started our children on allowances very young, and tied them to chores. Then we stopped paying for chocolate bars, so they had an incentive to earn money! I've written more about that here.

But now that my daughter is 13, we've established the clothing allowance. Last December we totalled up all clothes that she is likely to need this year, and then I gave her a dollar value as to what I would be willing to spend on each item. She made it into an Excel spreadsheet. I lowballed the amounts since I tend to buy a lot at thrift shops, and we came up with the final figure. It was really high this year because Rebecca has grown a lot and her body shape has changed so she needs new everything. I don't think I've ever spent that much on myself in one year before, but I've never needed to start from scratch again, either.

Anyway, it's working well. I handed the money over in January and we opened an account with a debit card attached to it. She had to spend extra on bathing suits this year because we needed better ones than we thought for her swimming lessons, so she's learning she can't buy tops just because they're cute or she won't have money for that winter jacket she's going to need next year.

She wanted me to take her to Value Village last night, because you can get great recycled clothes, and she found a few things she liked. But she's learning to budget, and she never asks me for money. She knows there's no point.

I think it's a great idea, and my 10-year-old is looking forward to her own clothing allowance when she's 13. So that's what Works for Me!

Be sure to read more of my blog! I've got great posts up on marriage lately.

Labels: , ,

Wifey Wednesday: Keeping Your Eyes on Yourself
So here we are, on another Wednesday, and it's time to talk marriage!

My husband and I spoke at a marriage conference last weekend, and it was a great time. We always feel especially close after sharing truths about relationships (though the week leading up to the conference is often rotten)!

But the one truth that we try to hammer home is that you can't change another person. I think this is women's bent. It's like the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. We think it goes like this:

Beauty meets the Beast. She sees great potential inside the Beast. So she loves him, and because of her love he blossoms and becomes a Prince.

In other words, she loves him so that he will change. And then he does!

In our relationships, if that is our attitude, what happens if he doesn't change? Then it must be his fault, because we are doing the loving! What is wrong with him? And a lot of us have a long list of things that need to change. You say to yourself, "I'd be happy if only he'd..." and you can probably finish that sentence. Figure out what a mop is for. Spent some time with the kids. Stopped working so hard. Showed me some affection every once and a while.

But what if the Beauty and the Beast fairytale actually is different? I think it's more like this: Beauty meets the Beast. At first she is completely repulsed by him. But as she gets to know him, she accepts him and loves him, for the Beast that he is. Because of that acceptance, he changes.

Acceptance is the key. Don't we all just long to be accepted for who we are? Isn't that our deepest need: to be fully known, and yet still loved? And yet how many of us are holding that acceptance back from our husbands?

I'm not saying to ignore major issues in our marriages; not at all. In fact, we had several sessions this weekend on how to bring such issues up. I'm only saying that those your love for your husband should not be contingent on those issues. When we start thinking to ourselves, "maybe I can change him if I do this...", we're missing the boat.

But we can change ourselves. You can change the way you interact with your husband. You can change the dynamics in your home if you change yourself. And that is likely to cause ripple effects in the whole family. But such changes should be made not so that your husband will change, but so that you can be happy.

So if you feel taken for granted, figure out a way to get your kids more involved in chores. If you feel like your husband never spends any time with you and isn't romantic, plan romantic getaways yourself, and he'll likely come along. If you have no time together, just the two of you, trade baby-sitting with someone else. You take the steps, rather than getting mad at him, and chances are you will be happier even if he never changes. This is the main theme of my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and if you're feeling depressed and taken for granted, I can't recommend this enough as a way to turn your marriage around.

I'll talk next week probably about how I see submission when it comes to this issue, but I want to drive this point home: what one or two areas are you waiting for your husband to change in before you fully accept him? I am not saying accept sin; again, that falls under the category of things we need to confront. But do you accept him, despite his laziness, his thoughtlessness, his selfishness? Do you accept him despite his faults, just as you have faults? If you don't, he's always going to be defensive, and your marriage can't grow.

So there's some food for thought for everybody.

Will you share your tips, or your problems, about marriage? Simply go and write your own post on your blog, and then come back here and fill in the Mr. Linky with the link that goes directly to your post. Copy the picture at the top of this post onto your hard drive (just right click it and "save picture as.."), and then post it on your post, too, to spread the word. Thanks so much!

Labels: , ,

That Dreaded Trip to the Doctor
I hate checkups.

When I was a kid I hated them because you got needles. I remember when Rebecca was turning 5 and it was time for her booster I made an appointment for the two of them to get checkups. She asked me, "Is it going to hurt?" I couldn't lie to her, so I said, "well, it won't hurt Katie." Probably not the right thing to do.

She started crying, and it was 7:30 in the morning. Still five hours until her appointment. So I went down to the doctor's office and asked them to give her her needles now. We'd come back later to see the doctor. So they did, just so that I didn't have to listen to her cry all that time.

But it's way worse when you're an adult and the doctor wants to get way too personal with you. I am just not good at Pap smears. They can tell you to imagine you're on a beach all they want, but you're not on a beach, and if anyone did that to you on a beach there would be a major incident.

The problem is that I don't actually need Pap smears. When they do one they're looking for cancer. Cervical cancer is caused by HPV, an STD. Really. If you've never had HPV, your chances of having cervical cancer are around your chances of winning the lottery.

And the gynecologists know it. At least in the United States the guidelines are that if a woman has only ever had one sexual partner, and he's only had one sexual partner, and you weren't sexually active until you were an adult, every three years is fine.

Canada's guidelines aren't so kind, but I've tried to convince my family doctor that I really don't need to be examined like that every year.

Unfortunately, I do need the mammogram. My mother had breast cancer at 41, so I need to be checked.

Happily, my friend Kelita explained to me how to prepare for mammograms. So if any of you are scheduled for one soon, and you're worried, here's some great advice.

Go down to the kitchen naked in the middle of the night. Open your fridge door. Insert one breast right up against the fridge, wedged in nicely.

Then, as hard as you can, slam the fridge door on your breast. Now you are ready for the appointment!

If you're afraid you can't manage to slam the door hard enough to get a true feel of what it will be like, another method is to find two metal bookends. Go outside and ask a complete stranger to come into your house. Give him the bookends. Take off your shirt, and ask him to slam the bookends into your breast as hard as possible. Now you have simulated the mammogram experience and you're ready to take on the world!

In all seriousness, it's not that bad. It's one of those times, though, where I'm really glad I'm an A cup and not a DD.


A Weekend to Remember
I was speaking this weekend with my husband at a Family Life Weekend to Remember. They're all over the U.S. too, but in Canada the couples speak together. It's not just the men speaking the way it tends to be south of the border. So we have a riot up there talking about all our mistakes and funny stories and the truths that God has taught us to keep our marriage strong.

I find that each conference has a different feel to it. Last conference I had at least five people come to talk to me about pornography. They were struggling with it, had quit the addiction, but their sex drives hadn't come back. It was really sad. I gave them some pointers on how to reawaken proper sexuality, and prayed with them.

This weekend it wasn't pornography. It was remarried families. Or "blender" families as one of the other speaker couples calls them. The pain in these people's faces was incredible. They had already had one major relationship fail, and they didn't know how this one was going to work, either.

If we could have had all those couples up at the front to talk for a minute about how difficult their relationships were, I'm sure all the couples who were on marriage #1 would work harder to make it succeed. Remarried life is definitely not easy, what with kids and ex-spouses and differing expectations galore.

I did a lot of praying with people this weekend, because you can't counsel people well that you don't know in 10 minute increments. But most of them really did want to make it work, they just didn't feel loved by the other.

And that's the crux of it, isn't it? When we don't feel loved we get afraid, lonely, and angry. But whether or not we feel loved is not always a function of what the other person is doing. Sometimes it's our issue as well. I'll talk about this more on Wifey Wednesday this week, but I hope some of the couples listened.

You can't change another person. But you can change yourself. And that's really who God wants us to work on: ourselves. I think if more couples understood that, even in the midst of the pain, more marriages would succeed.

Have a great week!

Labels: ,

Menu Planning Monday: Taxes Week!

Hello everybody! It's a new week and it's a busy one, and I am trying not to panic.

I'm speaking this weekend three times: two workshops at a homeschooling convention and then an outreach women's tea at a church. All three should be fun, but I do need to polish my talks.

And then the nightmare. On Tuesday night my brother-in-law, who is also our accountant, arrives to do our taxes. Doing the taxes is not the issue. It's getting all those little pieces of paper together that is. We have two businesses in our house: Keith's medical practice and my speaking and writing. And I have to figure out all kinds of Accounting terms like "costs of goods sold", and "remaining inventory", etc. etc. Oh, bother.

I also have no time to really prepare for all these things during the day because I'm homeschooling three kids. And I have company coming Monday night, Tuesday night, and Wednesday night. So I need easy meals.

Last week one of our easy meals was baked potatoes, and it worked very well. The kids mostly loaded on bacon and cheese, while I added salsa and a black bean spread, and it was very yummy and very easy. I figured it counted, at least for me, as a meatless meal.

So here we go:

Monday: Ham and Scalloped Potatoes. This is my staple company meal because it's really easy.
For the ham, I just pour some maple syrup and some dijon mustard in it, and put it in a roasting pan for two hours. It always tastes really yummy. The scalloped potatoes aren't hard, either. Then I just make three vegetables from what's in my fridge: broccoli, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, etc. And cut up some cold vegetables, and you're set.

Tuesday: Spaghetti. This is taxes night, so it has to be easy. I'll have Rebecca, my 13-year-old, make dinner that night. We just brown ground beef, add garlic and carrots, and throw in some ready made sauce. That's it!

Wednesday: Chicken in Garlic-Ginger Sauce. Another really easy recipe! I can just boil the chicken (you heard that right) while I'm still schooling, save the stock, and then make the really yummy dipping sauce. Serve with rice and some veggies, and you're done.

Thursday afternoon we leave for Hamilton for the homeschooling convention, and don't get back until late Saturday night, so that's my whole menu for the week. It's going to be a busy one!

Labels: ,

The Sound of Silence
Every week I write a syndicated parenting column that appears in several papers in Canada and the United States. Here's this week's column:

Last week I had to take my daughters shopping for bathing suits. We walked into Sears, prepared for a depressing shopping experience, as most encounters between females and bathing suits seem to be, when everything got worse. A rap song was playing over the speaker system. I don’t know what the women in the orthopaedic shoes department thought of this, but as far as I could tell the words went something like: “Feel the Beat, so you can feel the heat!” I looked at the girls, and we decided Sears was too hot, even for bathing suits. We went elsewhere.

I happen to believe that silence can be golden. Our lives are busy enough with phones ringing and televisions blaring and people yelling that sometimes it’s nice to just have nothing at all to listen to. But when I step in an elevator after a meeting, and I finally get a chance to take a deep breath, the speakers are invariably broadcasting a 25-year-old song which was already lame when it first came out. It hasn’t gotten any better with time, but some powers that be have decided that all elevator riders want, above all, to listen to Air Supply.

As conservative John Derbyshire once noted, this is what is so maddening about music in public places. All other things we don’t like we can easily enough avoid, but music is a different story. I’m not particularly fond of the modern Britney Spears-type dancing, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to start gyrating in front of me as I eat at my favourite restaurant. Likewise, I don’t particularly like professional wrestling, but when I’m taking a walk down by the waterfront trail, I doubt I’ll run up against two guys dressed in ridiculous costumes pounding away at each other. In other words, with most things that we detest, we can easily avoid them simply by not going to see them.

But music is everywhere. No matter where we go—restaurants, shopping, elevators, shopping malls—music is playing. And usually it’s awful music.

Right now I am sitting in the library, typing away, which is where I normally work because at home the phone rings constantly. The twenty-something guy working at a table beside me is listening to music through his ear phones, which I suppose is considerate. But he must have it turned up to 11 or something, because I can hear a constant blaring, and I don’t know how he’s getting any work done. He is, however, doing a lot of sniffing and snorting and coughing, probably not realizing how loud and disgusting he sounds because the music in his ears is fooling him into thinking he’s

Why are we so scared of silence? Has life become so fast-paced that the thought of being alone with nothing but our thoughts become intimidating? What if there’s no noise, and then we realize we actually don’t have any thoughts, or at least few worth dwelling on? What if we’re alone with ourselves and we get bored? Is that the secret impetus for music everywhere? Have we become so scared of having to think all by ourselves?

When music stops, though, we can actually hear life. One of my favourite sounds is the blanket of silence on a winter’s day, after a snowfall, when all sound is muffled. It’s almost like the absence of sound, and it’s quite profound. Spring sounds are lovely, too. Finally we open our doors and we hear birds, and children laughing, and happy noises, to make up for the dreary months punctuated only by the lovely sounds of soft, falling snow.

Sometimes even just hearing your own breathing can be soothing, or lying next to someone you love and hearing their heartbeat, whether it’s a baby against your chest or your spouse whom you adore.

Yet we miss these beautiful sounds when we insist that all of life must have a soundtrack. If my life were to have a soundtrack, there certainly would be occasional music, during parties, or maybe classical music during dates. My daughters would play the piano for me when I’m pensive, or depressed, or even elated. But normally there would be no music at all, so that I could just enjoy the sounds of my real life. They’re infinitely better than “feeling the beat”. Trust me. Shhhh.

Don't miss any of Sheila's Reality Check columns! Sign up to receive them in your inbox here.
The Housework Wars--Among Women!

Kathleen Parker over at Townhall has a great article on a new housework report that was published saying that--wait for it, you'll be shocked--women do more housework than men.

Wow. It's a good thing they had a study to show us that. But just in case the results didn't come out that way, they made sure not to measure things like household repairs, mowing the lawn, servicing the car, or anything that men usually do. Only dishes, vacuuming, and caring for the kids qualified.

And women are on the losing end. Men don't do their share.

Parker is a little perturbed by the study, because it seems to insinuate that women would be happier if they never married. Besides that, she adds:

One obvious, if partial, reason is that habits change gradually over the course of generations. Another explanation is less palatable, especially if one views housework as comparable to following the elephant walk with a shovel. Men and women have different attitudes toward domestic "chores."

I would never say that women enjoy housework more than men do because I have no special affinity for firing squads. But decades of experience suggest that most men don't value the results of housework as much as women do. Could it be their nature?

Let's be clear. Men don't get a pass for being slobs and women shouldn't have to clean up after anyone older than 5. I personally have a special death mask that I wear when the four males with whom I've shared a roof the past 20 years fail to notice that towels are not rugs. One rictal glance their way and tidiness suddenly becomes an irresistible urge.

Even so, they will never meet my standards. If they do, they'll need behavioral therapy and medication.

As I wrote in To Love, Honor and Vacuum, some men wouldn't notice a dust bunny unless it obstructed their view of the television. And I told of one woman who was so sick of doing the dishes she steamed and fumed and decided she would just leave them until he did them.

There was only one problem. Her husband, before he married, liked to use every dish in the house before doing dishes. Having dishes on the counter didn't punish him. He honestly couldn't care less. So she was only punishing herself.

Now I'm not saying we women shouldn't get our husbands more involved in housekeeping, especially in childcare. But I think these measures of housework are a little bit silly, and not just for the reasons Parker mentioned.

I think a far better question would be, "how many hours do you work a day?" Add up everything that a woman does, and everything a man does, and then see who comes out on top. Many men do work really hard, it just may not be at home. And how do you classify reading to your children? Is that work, or not? What about having a hear-to-heart with your 4-year-old? Work? Or good for the soul?

And here's another thing that bugs me. The study's implicit assumption is that 50-50 is the best model for marriage. But it's not. If you're expecting your spouse to do his share, then you're always looking at him asking if he's living up to his end of the bargain. I think we should each put our all into a marriage--100-100. That's the model. Not waiting for him to do his share before I do mine.

Now, I'm quite aware that many women would do just about anything to get their husbands to participate more at home (again, I cover this a lot in To Love, Honor and Vacuum). But I think the issue there is one of her feeling respected and valued, and getting enough sleep. It shouldn't be one of fairness, because how do you measure 50-50 anyway? It's impossible. And as soon as we try to, we're going to end up in conflict.

We need our spouses to respect us and support us. We don't need to each do 50% of the dishes and 50% of the oil changes and 50% of the diaper changes and earn 50% of the income. That's just silly. And we should stop pretending otherwise.

Labels: , , ,

Touring a Disaster Area
My hometown of Belleville, Ontario has been on the news lately because we've had some awful flooding, about 10 minutes from where I live, and right near where a friend of ours lives.

So yesterday, during our homeschooling day, I thought it would be good to go check it out.

Alex, my nephew whom we are now homeschooling, asked when the homeschoolers are going to start the sports days on Fridays now that the snow is gone. It turns out they may be delayed, since this is the field where we normally have sports days:

My friend Holly's house is fine because it's on high ground, but her property is flooded. The kids are standing beside the rowboat here; but the water line for the river is usually about 100 feet out. You can see how the green fence extends in the picture below; the river is usually even further back than that. My friend took a rowboat out with the kids yesterday and went by their neighbours' houses. Very surreal.

Next door to her the farmers' barns are flooded. These are sheep an pig pens which are now housing ducks and geese who are loving all this water.

Many of their neighbours have sandbagged their homes, but I don't know if it's working!

It's sort of ghoulish to stop the car and take a picture, but I thought this scene was particularly awful:

What surprised me is that the water is actually on both sides of the road, though the road is still passable.

My son is buried in a cemetery across the road from the river. Part of it is flooded, though it's a new area where they haven't buried anyone yet. I'm a little worried about where he is, but apparently the flood waters are receding as of yesterday, so hopefully it will all be all right.

At least 50 homes have been totally wrecked, so it's really quite awful. It feels sort of wrong to be touring around, but it's the most exciting thing that's happened in these parts in ages. Does that make us insensitive clods? I hope not!

Works for Me Wednesday: Kids Cooking!
I have an easy thing that Works for Me.

It's called: having my kids make breakfast so I can blog.

Isn't that brilliant?

Mind you, it works a lot better now that my kids are 13 & 10, but they started making their own breakfasts a few years ago. They used to just do cereal and toast, but now they can do omelettes, or pancakes, even from scratch.

Today it was French toast. Becca didn't want me to take the picture, but you get the idea.

They're really not too bad at cooking. Rebecca can make spaghetti and chicken pie and a few other things for dinner, too. Katie is learning with breakfasts.

Now if only I can get them to clean up the counters...

But I think it's great for kids to know how to cook, and they do like learning. I don't think we as parents should do everything for the kids. Think about what life was like a century ago; most 11-year-olds could run a household easily. So why not ask our older ones to make our lives a little easier every now and then and cook?

Tonight it's Becca's turn for dinner, too. She cooks once a week as part of her chore schedule. So we're having baked potatoes, with bacon and lots of topings. She'll like it because she had her braces tightened yesterday and potatoes are easy to eat! But they're not hard to make, and it makes her feel great to know that she can cook something for the family.

So that's what works for me. Head on over to Rocks in My Dryer to see what works for other people!

Labels: , ,

Wifey Wednesday: When You Don't See Eye to Eye with Hubby

Fun talk yesterday morning with the Bridge Street United Church moms! It was informal, and it wasn't a large crowd, which actually is a nice break from some of the stuff I've been doing lately. So we had a chance to chat during my talk, and I threw questions out at them, too.

I was talking about taking the long-term view when you are raising kids. Don't focus on getting through today; figure out what you are building towards. How do you want your kids to turn out? What values do you want them to have? Now what are you doing today to inculcate those values?

But what kept coming up, over and over, is what to do when your husband isn't on the same page. He may not even be reading the same book! He just doesn't look at parenting the way you do. If you ask him where he wants the family to be in ten years, chances are he'll say, "Well, I'd like the house to be paid off," and start talking about financial goals rather than relationship or character goals.

And our reaction is often quite negative. We cling to the kids more, because we're afraid it's all up to them. But I don't think this is the best strategy, even if it's our most natural one.

Let me put it this way: how many of you would die for your kids? In a heartbeat, right? But now, how many of you would die for your husbands? That one takes a lot more thinking, doesn't it? It depends on the circumstances.

That protectionist instinct that we have for our kids is great, but if we're not careful it can cause us moms to start making our primary relationship with the children, rather than with our husbands. That's where we get our love, and affection, and affirmation. And that's not right.

If you and your husband don't agree about parenting priorities, you need to talk about it. But even more important, don't squeeze him out! Keep him as your #1 priority (or really #2, behind God), because that's what kids need. They long to feel that their family is secure, because it is their bedrock.

Now to get back to talking about it. I think all couples need to plan dates, when you just get together and talk about how work is going, how the kids are doing, what things we need to do financially to meet our goals, or just discuss the things of life that come up. Take 15 minutes every night before dinner to connect, or plan for one night a week that you just talk.

I know some men don't want to do this, but get creative, ladies! Plan it so it's fun for him.

This weekend my husband and I are speaking at a marriage conference, and if you have a chance, go to one near you. They really are an awesome time to start talking through some of these things. I know many women are frustrated with their husbands, but don't know what to do about it. You can't keep living like that forever!

I outline a lot of tips in To Love, Honor and Vacuum about how to engage a husband who doesn't seem concerned about the things that really bother you, but let me just go over a couple of points about how to talk to your husband.

First, don't go in attacking him. You want to have those conversation times, but if you open up with both barrels he'll get defensive. And it's not right. Instead, ask him what is bothering him. Chances are he may be concerned that the house isn't that neat, or that the car hasn't had an oil change in a while. Listen to him, don't get defensive yourself, and pledge that you will try to adjust to the things that he really cares about.

Then talk about one issue (that's right, only one) that is bothering you. Don't make it about him, either! It's not, "I think you don't care about the kids enough." It's better to say, "I'm concerned that Johnny is starting to talk back a lot and I don't know what to do about it." Make it your problem, rather than his, and he's more inclined to help you reach a solution together.

In order for this to work, though, you have to have regular "meetings" with your husband--those fun times that you set aside to connect. Go for walks. Talk before dinner. Talk right after the kids go to bed. Take a bath together. Anything! But make it regular, and make it fun for him.

Will you share your tips, or your problems, about marriage? Simply go and write your own post on your blog, and then come back here and fill in the Mr. Linky with the link that goes directly to your post. Copy the picture at the top of this post onto your hard drive (just right click it and "save picture as.."), and then post it on your post, too, to spread the word. Thanks so much!

Labels: ,

Friends for a Season
When my children were really young we were living in downtown Toronto. I didn't live close to anyone who went to my church. We lived in an odd neighbourhood, and it wasn't exactly my natural kind of place. It was just convenient to Keith's work.

Everybody lived in condos or apartments, and so nobody had a yard. I needed to get out of the apartment everyday, so I ended up going to a playgroup at a local public school. There I met about eight other moms with young kids, and we became friends.

These were not women I would have normally chosen as friends. We didn't have much in common except our children's ages. But they were a lifesaver to me. They were only friends for a season; when I moved away I hardly contacted any of them, and I think they knew it would be like that. They, like me, were just making friends for a season, too.

One was a 19-year-old girl who got pregnant by accident. She met someone else who raised her child as his own, and they had another one together. One was 41 with her first daughter, married to a domineering man ten years older. Another was from Brazil, the wife of a doctor up here on residency training. Another seemed normal, but shortly after I left I heard she had a nervous breakdown and ran off and got temporary amnesia. It was a very eclectic group, but they were a lot of fun!

I don't think that's a cop out to say I had fun with these women that I was not too sad to say good-bye to. I think sometimes we need to make the best of what we have. I always dreamed of finding a kindred spirit, and I have in Belleville where we have put down roots. But in university, in high school, and in that playgroup, I frequently made friends for a season. I needed people to talk to on a regular basis, people to share my frustrations and joys with, but I knew they weren't people that I would carry with me the rest of my life.

In Belleville we live right next to Trenton, which is home to Canada's largest air base. I know lots of military people. And frequently they say the same thing. When you're stationed somewhere for two years, you know you're going to leave friends behind. So you don't try to make lasting relationships. You just try to find "filler friends", who will help you pass the time.

Occasionally you may meet a kindred spirit anyway, and that's an added bonus. But sometimes you just don't. And it's important to make do with the women God has placed in your path.

I don't mean to sound snobbish, but I hope you all know what I mean. We women are social. We need friends. But sometimes the perfect friend just isn't there, especially when you're living somewhere temporarily. You can't hibernate, though. You have to get out of the house and reach out to someone. So you find those people that you fit best with, and you make do.

And in the end, you can look back and thank God that He brought them into your life, even if it was only for a season.


What Are Your Kids Leaving Home With?
Tomorrow morning I'm speaking at a church moms' group, and it should be a great opportunity.

It's not a large group, but it's local, and I don't have to drive far, which is nice. I seem to spend my life in cars driving to speaking engagements these days.

Anyway, what I want to focus on is "what are you preparing your kids for?". So often we focus on getting through today--making sure the kids don't beat each other up, tear the cat's fur out, set anything on fire, or run out of the house naked.

So our lives are spent trying to avoid the small fires. We'll do whatever we can to keep them busy--put them in front of video games; let them watch the TV; or separate the siblings constantly so they don't fight, instead of focusing on how to help them work things out.

I think what helps is a bit of a mind-switch: we need to realize that we are raising families, not children. Your kids will not always be kids. One day they will be adults. And the kind of adults they will be depends upon how you raise them now. Focus on the future.

I like to say that the best gift you can give your future daughter-in-law is a son who cleans toilets. He will be a catch indeed! And if he can make a lasagna, too, she'll be in heaven.

So do your kids have a chance to learn necessary skills? Are you teaching them delayed gratification, or do you focus more on distraction if they get miserable? Are they forced to get along with their siblings, or do you let them watch television in their own rooms? Do your kids know how to handle money? Even a 4-year-old can be taught the importance of saving for something.

Anyway, that's the theme of what I'll be saying. We just went out now to buy Daddy a birthday present, and the girls paid with their own money that they earned. That's good. That's the way it should be. Now I have to go pack my props for tomorrow!

Labels: , , ,

Menu Planning Monday: Easy Week!

This is going to have to be easy week! I'm actually going away on Friday to speak at a marriage conference all next weekend, and I'm going to have to be preparing for that. So here's what I have planned for the homefront:

Monday: It's Keith's birthday! So we're actually going away for a romantic evening. I've got a hotel booked (he doesn't know that yet) and my mother is sleeping over. So my plan is to take my husband out for a romantic dinner and then a romantic evening. I'm leaving the kids with some frozen hamburger helper leftovers. They like that better than most things I make, anyway.

The kids really can be picky. Last week's salmon chowder didn't work out so well for them, but I had enough to eat leftovers for lunch all week! I liked it.

Tuesday: Baked Potatoes. This is one of the kids' favourite meals, so I'll make up for the salmon here. I'm trying to do one meatless meal a week, so this qualifies. You bake a bunch of potatoes, and then load the table with butter, salsa, shredded cheese, black beans, sour cream, green onions, and any other toppings you like! They're happy, we're happy, and it's easy!

Wednesday: Pasta with Sausage. I haven't done pasta in a while, and I do have some sausage to use up. So I cut up the sausage and brown it, add some tomatoes and pesto and a bit of hot pepper sauce, and then toss it all with the pasta. It's good, and it's easy!

Thursday: Ham and Scalloped Potatoes. We're having company over, so this will look great but will still be easy! I love doing scalloped potatoes. I use onions grated really thin so nobody notices they're there, a lot of garlic, and some butter. But I also have this great herbed salt that you can add, and if you add milk and flour to the whole thing you can cut down on the butter so it's not too too fattening. They key thing is to layer really well and put the garlic on every layer, so it's really tasty. Then you don't need as much butter.

I'll throw in some broccoli and carrots and green beans, too. I find that what really makes a meal is having a lot of vegetable choices. It's healthy, and it makes you look like you worked harder than you did. I usually put raw veggies on the table, too, for munching, because kids always eat them!

And that's it! I'm farming the kids out to various families next weekend while we're speaking, so that's taken care of. Although I'm thinking about making a lasagna to send with each child just to thank the families.

Have a great week! And do check out my other posts. I've got some great things up about marriage and kids and chores!

Labels: ,

Why Do We Think Kids Exist to be Entertained?
Sandra at Diary of a Stay at Home Mom is talking about The Road to Avonlea television series, now available on DVD, which she just loves. As a Canadian, it's great to hear praise of it!

Anyway, for those of you who don't know, it's set in Anne of Green Gables' neck of the woods at the turn of the last century. Sandra explains much of this, but what I want to pick up on is a comment she made. She said,

Watching the series you see young girls who by the age of 9 or 10 can cook, sew, embroider, take care of little ones and pretty much run a household, which then makes me understand why in the early 1900's they got married a lot earlier and
younger than we do now.

The boys helped the fathers with all of the physical work done in the farms and the ranches and this was all done before school, when today I can barely get Jasmine dressed and out of the house for school, imagine if she had to go milk a cow or gather eggs or clean the stables before hand? LOL

That is so interesting. Children in earlier times, and in different parts of the world, have far more responsibility than ours do. They used to have chores. Many of them! Not just making their beds. They learned to look after themselves. And they were richer for it.

I think one of the reasons that 14 and 15-year-olds in eras past didn't try to "find themselves" in the same numbers as today's teens do is that they already knew they were useful, and they had a purpose. They learned to think outside of themselves.

When kids do chores, they learn that other people rely on them; that they are expected to contribute to the family; that their work is useful. They learn that they can master something important, and that they must think about the effect of their own effort, or lack of effort, on other people.

Our children, on the other hand, live a very self-centred existence. From the moment they're born, our lives revolve around them, rather than the other way around. We take them to play dates, put them in kindergym and kindermusic, and then they go to school where they learn all about self-esteem.

As parents, we need to start getting back to the idea that children need responsibilities. Their lives should not revolve around entertainment. I think kids who do have responsibility and learn to care for the home actually end up less depressed and less rebellious because they are less self-focused. So our kids do a lot of chores. And we expect them to volunteer at church and with caring for younger kids. What about you? What do you think?

Labels: , ,

I Am Proud to Be Married!
I have just returned from a women's retreat where families of all shapes and sizes were represented. Some were girls just struggling to raise their babies. Others were struggling with their marriages. And others had withstood the struggles.

And I've been hearing on the news about the polygamous compound that was raided (thank goodness!). In England, a Muslim man was arrested for speeding as he was zipping between the homes of his two wives. And in the news in Toronto I hear of more gang violence, mostly caused by kids who are growing up without dads.

I'm not trying to be judgmental. But I wish we could express pride in marriage in the same way that people express pride in being single parents, or in being homosexual. They want to flaunt it in everyone's faces, yet we're somehow not supposed to do that, because it would be, in turn, judging them unfairly. I'm not sure how society ever thought that, but that's the position we're in.

Meanwhile, if we're honest, we would all admit that the vast majority of problems in society would be fixed immediately if people simply started getting married wisely and staying married. Heck, even if the environmentalists would be happy because divorced people use up more energy since they have two homes!

Here's an excerpt from a column I wrote on the subject a few years ago:

People who are married are happier, healthier, live longer and earn more money.
(They also have more satisfying sex lives!) They suffer less depression, less substance abuse, and fewer instances of suicide. Children whose parents divorce, on the other hand, are more depressed, do worse in school, and experience more poverty and abuse. Even among upper class, white families, children whose
parents divorce have a 25% chance of experiencing serious social, emotional or psychological problems twenty years down the road (double the risk of intact families), and are five times more likely, if girls, to become teenage mothers. The stress from divorce even seems to affect our bodies. Thirty-five percent of girls whose parents divorce start menstruating before age 12, compared with 18%
in intact families. These kids are also twice as likely to drop out of school and to become chronic criminal offenders. Marriage matters.

Marriage does matter. And it is hard. But it is good for us, it is good for the kids, and it is even better for society. Marriage teaches you to be selfless, rather than selfish, and a society full of people who are being refined to think of others first is an immensely better one than a society where people form relationships on a whim, and discard them when they're no longer happy.

So do I sound judgmental? Perhaps I do. But marriage is better. Marriage, in fact, is best. I am proud that I waited until marriage to make love to my husband. I am proud that we are raising our daughters together. I am proud that we work at our marriage. I am proud that we encourage others to work at theirs. I am proud that my daughters are growing up understanding what sacrificial love is. I am proud that they know the meaning of commitment, and security. I am proud because I believe this legacy will continue in them.

So I am proud to be married. I wish more people were. I think, then, that our culture would be infinitely better off.

Labels: ,

Our Tiny Cultures!
Every week I write a parenting column that appears in 12 newspapers across Canada, and in several in the States on a monthly basis. Here's this week's, about how fragmented our culture is becoming.

People used to care about the Academy Awards. Not only that, but most could offer thoughtful opinions over who deserved what, instead of simply the clichéd “it’s his turn”. Everybody had seen virtually all the movies up for Best Picture, and everybody knew all the performances. In those days, everybody went to the movies.

Today we don’t. My aunt and uncle quit frequenting the theatres when they began to be overrun by teens, rather than people of their own age. We gave up when they stopped making movies we actually liked. Now I just watch decorating shows off the internet, with the occasional rented movie to spice things up.

In some ways I applaud this new culture. Instead of only having a few choices, we can all find the little niches that serve us best. But this increasing fragmentation has its downside. We don’t all share the same culture anymore. Gone are the days when everybody saw Howdy Doody. Now we don’t even know who anybody else is talking about.

In the midst of this, Hollywood is becoming increasingly irrelevant, as was evident by the lack of concern over the writers’ strike. And ponder a moment on this statistic: about 31,000,000 Americans watched the Oscars this year, the smallest audience ever. More people tuned in to the season premier of American Idol a few weeks earlier. But the Treadmill Video on YouTube, with four geeky guys performing choreographed moves that involve six treadmills (you have to see it to believe it; it’s awesome), has been viewed 32,000,000 times, too. Forgive me here for comparing apples to oranges, since the YouTube video could have been viewed all over the world, whereas that Oscars statistic applies only to the United States, but I still think this illustrates an important trend. People are tuning out Hollywood and looking at the stuff they find entertaining, and increasingly it’s stuff that people just like themselves have made.

Perhaps this is one reason celebrity culture has taken such a dive. Those who grace the covers of magazines—Tom and Katie, Brad and Angelina, or the famous Britney and now Jamie-Lyn Spears—do so not because of their incredible talent, but simply because they are, in some way, freaks. Does anybody really believe that Tom Cruise is the greatest actor that ever lived? Or that nobody can beat Britney at singing? Of course not. They’re not famous for their accomplishments; they’re famous simply because we find them somehow odd, in a glamorous sort of way. I’m not sure that’s something to be particularly proud of.

The end result of these cultural changes, though, is that we have become increasingly narcissistic. We watch reality shows to see people just like us. Our entertainment, especially for the young, is focused on self: video games, Facebook where you talk to your own friends, MySpace where you post videos of your cats, and so on.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these trends. I enjoy Facebook, though mostly for the nineteen Scrabble games I have going right now. But what it means is that we are constantly spending time with ourselves, or those just like us. We aren’t participating in anything that unites us as a community. We don’t listen to experts; we don’t even trust them. We rarely talk to anyone outside of our own generation. We find people who reinforce our own views on the internet, and we huddle in that little bubble.

This technological revolution is the true democraticization of media. Anyone can now be a producer, instead of only a consumer. And that is profoundly changing how we relate to one another, with the result that we all function and walk in parallel cultures, instead of inhabiting the same one. Most of us have lost church, we’ve lost community, we live far from our extended family. Instead we find our solace in our own entertainment niche with our expensive screens and stereos and computers. I can’t help wondering what all this will mean.

Maybe we should all just switch them off for a night and invite our neighbours over for coffee. What do you think?

I sometimes worry that I'm developing this habit by hanging out mostly in the blogging world, or a particular political orientation of it. Do any of you ever feel that way? It's nicer to be with people who understand you and agree with you, but every now and then I think I just don't get what the rest of the world is thinking right now. I often wear that as a badge of honour, since I think the rest of the world is often insane. But it's not always a good thing to coccoon. There has to be a balance.

I'm just not sure where that balance is...

But I do know where that treadmill video is! Watch it here.

In the meantime, don't miss a Reality Check column! Sign up here to have them delivered to your inbox every week.

Labels: , ,

Are You Sabotaging Your Kids' Good Habits?
Lindafay at Higher Up and Further In is blogging about an international move and the headaches it brings, while still maintaining sanity with her kids.

Her focus is on homeschooling, but something she wrote I think is applicable to all of us.

Here's the question: do you want your children to acquire good habits? Of course you do. Let's say you want them to study hard, or make their beds, or pick up their toys. Let's say you want them to stop watching so much television, or eat fruit more often.

Habits are hard work to develop, but once you have them, they're rewarding. We keep at habits because we enjoy them. Even good habits! We feel a psychological benefit from doing them.

What happens, though, when your darling children, with whom you have been working hard to develop these good habits, actually start to practice them? Here's the quotation that Lindafay uses from Charlotte Mason:

When the child has formed a habit, the mother thinks that continuing to act out of habit is as tedious as it was at first when the child was having to make a conscious effort to form the habit. So she admires his effort and starts to think that he deserves some relaxation from doing the habit, a sort of reward. So she lets him break the habit every now and then to give him a rest, and then he can continue on keeping the habit. What she doesn't realize is that, after a break, he isn't continuing on, he has to start all over, only now it's harder because he has both habits and must make a decision each time about which one to follow. The little relaxation she thought would be a treat turns out to form a new bad habit that now has to be broken. In fact, the mother's misguided sympathy is the one thing that makes it so hard to train children in good habits.
Now isn't that interesting? And isn't that true? So often when my kids are being especially good, and demonstrating maturity, I let them off the hook! I tell them to leave school for a bit, or don't worry about cleaning up anymore since you're already done such a great job. And I wreck the habit!

It's great to provide flexibility and positive reinforcement, but let's make sure we don't undermine ourselves.

Just something to think about...


Photo Tutorial: Wrapping Hair in Rags
Yesterday I posted on how rolling my daughter's hair in rags produces much better curls than any other method. A bunch of you asked how you actually do this. So, by popular demand, here is how you wrap a girl's hair in rags!

First, take a small section of hair:

Then comb it flat.

Lay the bottom of the hair onto a rag, maybe eight-ten inches long.

Fold the bottom side of the rag up so it covers the hair.

Then twist, or roll, the rag up the hair, rolling it under, not over.

Roll it right up to the scalp, and then get ready to tie it.

Take the ends and make a tight double knot.

You're all done! Now repeat for the whole head. My daughter has quite thick hair and I think we used about 20 rags.

To see the final results, you can look at my first post here! Have fun!

Thanks for dropping by my blog! Since you're here, look around a bit! I've got posts on parenting, marriage, money, and tons more!

And if you liked this post, please share on Facebook below, or Stumble It!


Wifey Wednesday: Finding Mr. Right or Being Mrs. Right?
So embarrassing. Totally forgot to post this yesterday! No real excuses, but I guess it's better late than never!

Jennifer Roback Morse, an expert on love in the age of "hooking up", quotes 40-year-old Lori Gottlieb who is writing about the phenomenon--and necessity--of "Settling for Mr. Good Enough".

Gottlieb starts out by saying that in our 20s and 30s we're looking for that perfect someone to complete us. But as we age, if we're still single, we realize that to some degree we're going to have to settle. But then she goes on to say that perhaps this isn't a bad thing. That settling, in and of itself, can actually be a more mature kind of love. Here's how she explains it:
Love is a single reality with different dimensions that are needed or emerge at
different times. One dimension is necessary to attract a person to another, but this becomes less necessary over time and especially as one matures. This is eros, or the "madness" that intoxicates, displaces reason and drives a person powerfully toward another. It is the central theme for movie romances and modern sitcoms.

But for all its thrills, this dimension is not enough. In fact, on its own it becomes an obstacle to the maturing of the relationship. We see this played out all the time. Love is reduced to its caricature, to the amount of gratification that each can take from it. Bartering begins: "I'll do this if you do that." "I will stay with you as long as the sparks last." "If you love me you will let me do what I want." "I won't have children with you until I have had my career and spent my youth." "You can have children but I am not going to let this cramp my style". "I will absorb all you can give to me, your good humour, good looks, money, sensuality but I am not prepared to give you anything back." It destroys the relationship or at worst leaves spouses in a permanent adolescent-style union.

The other dimension is the reaching out of one person to the other. It is a love that is, indeed, ecstasy -- not a momentary sensual intoxication but an exodus out of oneself, seeking liberation through giving oneself to the other. It is a journey toward authentic self discovery and happiness. This is played out in different ways: the sharing of hopes, dreams, values, desires, sorrows and disappointments, successes and failures, laughter and tears, and of our sexuality by pleasure giving and childbearing.

I think she has it just right. So often we are expecting our husband to "be" Mr. Right. We are waiting for him to complete us, to sweep us off our feet, to make us feel wonderful.

But what if marriage is really not about that? What if God didn't intend marriage to make us happy as much as He did to make us holy? To teach us how to love, to forgive, to compromise, to think of another human being before we think of ourselves?

This doesn't mean married people won't be happy. Indeed, I think the best happinesses of my life have come from being married. But if I were simply seeking after happiness, always asking, "is he meeting my needs?", I would never be happy. It's only when I'm able to be selfless, to think of Keith first, that the marriage works.

That's what marriage is supposed to be. I think with the world fixated on this fairytale love we forget that it's more about giving than receiving. So if you're feeling distant from your husband today, I know it's tough. I really do. But try, even if it's difficult, to show him love. You just may find that happiness can come your way after all.

What about you? Do you have any advice for marriage? Why not share it with us? Simply go and write your own post on your blog, and then come back here and fill in the Mr. Linky with the link that goes directly to your post. Thanks so much!

Labels: , ,

Miscellaneous Catching Up & Thoughts About Childhood Torture!
Thanks for all your posts in regards to putting Katie's hair in rags! It did look lovely today for the piano festival.

I WILL post photo step-by-step instructions on how to do it, but I have to wait until Katie washes her hair again to take pictures! So I'm sorry. You'll have to be patient!

She won both her piano classes so far. I was very proud, and a little surprised because I thought she played her piece today WAAAAYYY too fast. I guess I was wrong.

I find these competitions very hard to watch, though. My daughters tend to do well under pressure. They get that honestly from their parents (I do, after all, making my living speaking. Being in public doesn't bother me in the least. It's small talk at parties I have a hard time with).

But what about the kids who are very shy? It just seems like torture to put them through this. And to see a child totally flub a song, when you know they could probably do it at home, is really hard to watch. Should you put a child who is shy through that kind of torture? I guess everybody needs to stretch their limits and comfort zones, and there is something to that. But I'm sure a few of the kids I watched today are going to have nightmares about these performances for the rest of their lives.

It's the same reason I can't watch Olympic skating. What if they fall? They've been practising for this their entire lives, and everything comes down to four minutes. What if they mess up? I just can't bear it.

I like the competitions for my kids because it forces them to learn a song well, including the dynamics (going loud and soft). They can't flub it. And I think it is useful to really polish a few pieces. But if my children weren't naturally comfortable in public, I don't know if I'd keep making them do it. It almost seems cruel. But perhaps I'm over-reacting. What do you think?

Labels: ,

More Thoughts on Homeschooling
I didn't really mean to start a debate on homeschooling with my preceding post, but I'm getting comments and emails about it, so I thought I'd try to tackle it again.

First, I do not believe all public schools are bad. Actually, the one my nephew is in is one of the better ones in our city. But for most kids who are very bright, a regular classroom is just not enough intellectual stimulation. How can it be with 25 kids? That doesn't mean they won't get a good education; it just means they'll be bored a lot.

And I agree with Jules' comment below that some homeschoolers are below grade level, just as some public schools are below standards. That's definitely true. Not all homeschooled kids do great (though studies do show that on the whole homeschooled kids do better than schooled kids). I do believe, though, that homeschooling, if it's done well, will produce a better educated child. Please note--"if it's done well". I know it's not always done well! But learning one on one will always take less time and will be more in tune with the child's learning styles and capabilities than a classroom with 25kids will be.

We just love homeschooling because it works great for our family. It won't work wonderfully for every family, and not every family can do it. I certainly don't think every family should! And my post below was not meant to say that. I was just announcing something that was going on in my family--we are now homeschooling my nephew, under his parents' supervision--and I'm having fun with it.

I think with every form of education there are pros and cons. The cons to homeschooling would be the lack of sports (though our group makes up for that), the lack of friends, the lack of opportunity to learn teamwork. These, though, don't outweigh what we believe are the benefits for our kids. Different families will have a different list of pros and cons and will have to weigh them accordingly.

So I have no problem if people decide differently from us.

What I do have a problem with is people emailing me or saying that I shouldn't complain about the public school system, because their children are doing fine. That's great for your children. But it doesn't change the fact that my nephew was bored and demoralized, or that my daughter was unchallenged and bored when she was in school, too.

Come to think of it, I was extremely bored all through my public school experience. So was my husband. If we had had the opportunity to learn like my daughters have, life would have been very different.

So every parent has to do what they think works best for their family. Pray about it and make the decision for your own family. We're all entitled to our opinions, and God often leads different people in different directions for different reasons. That's fine with me. I hope it's fine with all of you, too!

Anyway, enough of all this! I don't want to make this into a homeschooling blog. I'd much rather talk about housework or marriage or parenting. So we'll see what I come up with next!

Labels: , ,

An Addition to our Homeschooling Family
We have a wonderful homeschooling group in our little community. We get together for sports, skating, track and field, and sometimes more academic subjects. The youth socialize together. It's great.

But whenever we go, my family brings the average number of children down. Most families have 7, 8, 9, 12, or even 5 kids. We had two.

Until now. My nephew, Alex, has come to join our little brood. So now we have 3!

Here they are doing math on their first day of school. They look miserable, but they were actually just hard at work. and the mugs are full of hot chocolate and marshmallows, which is how we always begin our day.

Alex is thrilled to be here so far. He was the one who asked to come. He's three weeks younger than Rebecca, but they're not at the same level because we've been homeschooling Becca all along, so she's doing high school work at this point. Alex is just as smart, I think, but he developed some sloppy habits in math in school that we're going to cure him of! I'm trying to get him through a whole math textbook in the next three months so he can move ahead and won't be in the same book next year as his cousin Katie who is three years younger!

The girls like it because it's a change. After seven years of just the two of them, it's nice to have someone else around. I think I like it for the same reason. And Alex?

He is just sick of being bored at school. He's sick of homework that has no educational value (we don't do homework. They just get their work done in school). He's tired of all the teasing and social garbage that goes on in the playground. He's tired of not being challenged.

I find school really wastes kids' minds. He could be doing stuff so far ahead if he was simply allowed to work at his intellectual pace. Keith teaches the kids one or two days a week and he's been doing chemistry with Rebecca, so he started Alex on it yesterday. It's basically a high school course, but the kids can handle it if you explain it well. And they're learning Latin and Greek.

For history, we're at the Depression. We spent about an hour yesterday talking about the Stock Market Crash and how stock markets can crash. And we talked about how banks could crash then, but not now. We didn't write a lot, but we talked a lot. They learned a ton. And he loved it. He said they never talked about anything important at school.

I don't know how long he'll stay with us. We're homeschooling the girls all the way through high school, and I don't know if he'll want to go back to school at some point. But I'll get him prepared for harder subjects, anyway. And he's just thrilled that he gets to do hard stuff!

His first comment, when we were in a meeting about homeschooling him, was, "I just want to learn as much as I can." Now that's a good attitude! I hope it lasts (in 13-year-olds you can never tell), but so far he's great. But it makes me sad for how little the kids learn in public school. What a loss of great potential! But more on this later.

Labels: , ,

About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

See my complete profile

Follow This Blog:

 Subscribe to To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Follow on Twitter:
Follow on Facebook:

Important Links
Previous Posts

Popular Archived Posts
Christian Blogs
Mom Blogs
Marriage/Intimacy Blogs
Blogs For Younger/Not Yet Married Readers
Housework Blogs
Cooking/Homemaking Blogs
Writing Links
Blog Design by Christi Gifford

Images from

Related Posts with Thumbnails