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My "Craft Project" Guaranteed to Mortify any Teenager
Yesterday I had six women and five teenage girls over making the craft project to end all craft projects.

I've posted before about the cloth sanitary pads that we make and send to Africa. A friend who runs Heart to Africa in Georgia emailed me and asked if I could send her a bunch to go to a women's prison in Kenya. Right now, when it's that time of the month, the girls just squat over a bucket for a week. They have absolutely nothing. Can you imagine?

So we made her 160 (2 for each girl) and I mailed them off today. That's not enough, and washing them in prison is going to be tough, but it's better than nothing I suppose. Personally, I think these will work better for those living on their own, even just in huts, where they can wash with river water or something (because you need a lot of rinsing), but at least this is a start.

My daughters are always joking about my "craft" project, because I get so excited whenever anyone gives me old pyjamas or old fleece! But they jump in and help all the same.

Here they all are at the end of the day:

And here's a video we made last time:

It's on my list of things to do this summer to publish a pattern and a video so you can make them, too, either for your own use (they're very comfortable) or to send overseas.

But if you have any questions or comments, just leave them below!

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Taking Time Together This Summer
I have a daughter who is very talented at figure skating. She pretty much taught herself, watching YouTube videos of famous skaters and then practising during our homeschool skate times.

We've been trying to put her in lessons, but the clubs near us are always full. I'm going to make the effort next year, though, because she is very committed to it.

When she was younger she had the opportunity to do competitive gymnastics. She's always been really flexible; she often sits in the splits while she reads.

And we said no anyway. My cousin was in competitive, and she had a great time, but it's not that she ever got to the Olympics or anything. And so she spent 15 hours a week doing a hobby that made her parents rush her around everywhere. I'm not saying my aunt and uncle were wrong; I don't think they were. It's just that for our family I didn't want that. And maybe I could have handled the lessons during the week, but the kicker for me was the summer. They expected you to be there for 75% of the lesson times anyway, and we like to go camping and get away in the summer. I just couldn't give that up.

I think children should have the chance to do well at sports, and pursue hobbies and dreams. But too often today these things take on a seriousness which I don't think they warrant.

I was browsing some blogs lately, and I came across one woman at the United States of Motherhood who was bemoaning her child's competitive swimming. He had actually made it into the top 38 in the nation, and so he was on his way. But listen to their schedule:

He loves swimming. His friends and social circle are there. It's his thing. But he used to love to read? He used to get great grades? Where did that boy go?
Was I wrong? Am I wrong to let swimming take over our life?

Swimming seven days a week. Some days we leave for swimming at 3:30 and get home at 9 PM.

Dinner is eaten on the run most nights.

Homework is done in the car, in the stands of the pool, or at the nearby library.

She ended up threatening to take away swimming this summer because of his grades, which is a worry. But I think there's a bigger worry. Here's my take, and what I would say to her:

When your son is older, what will ultimately matter is not swimming lessons or swim team, as beneficial as that may be. What will matter is that he has a strong relationship with you which grounded him in his identity, his faith, his integrity, and his character.

Swimming is fun, but it is not the main thing in life. The main thing is your character and what you will become. Swimming can play a role in teaching discipline, but what he really needs is to anchored in his family, and for that you need time to be a family--to eat dinner together, to play together, to walk together.

Seven days a week is just too much, even if he's Olympic material. The Olympics are not worth sacrificing your family over.

So you need to find balance. The thing that is most correlated with academic, relational, and emotional success in life is eating dinner as a family. If you have no time, that's a problem.

I look at some of these girls who have won Olympic medals in gymnastics or skating, and I still think it wasn't worth it. So they've got a medal. They've wrecked their childhood. And it's your relationship and stability with your family that you only get during those childhood years that helps them form the morals and values, and acquire the faith, they need later in life.

I know that sports teaches you morals, but it can't replace a family just hanging out together.

So my advice to you this summer: don't overschedule it. Now's the time to quit a lot of outside involvement. Hang out together. Escape together. Talk together. Read together. Be together again without having to nag about homework, or piano practice, or getting to bed early. This is your chance just to have fun and rediscover family. Don't waste it!

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I Finished Another Vest!
Just wanted to share with you another finished knitting project. I'm getting myself all ready to go away camping this week, and I'm packing up a vest to knit for my youngest daughter, and a shrug for my oldest. But I thought I'd better get the stuff I've got on the go done, so here's a vest!

I feel just like a proud momma!
When Are You a Grown Up?
It has taken me a long time to feel like I'm actually a grown up.

I thought I'd feel like I was a grown up when I got married, but I didn't.

I thought I'd feel it when I had kids, but I didn't.

But sometime in the last decade I have crossed a line. I don't know where it was, but I am now a grown-up. And I'm trying to figure out how I define it. I might turn this into a column, but here are some of the things that make me feel grown up.

I knew I was a grown up with men when I could stop asking, "Does he like me?", and start asking, "Do I like him?".

I knew I was a grown up when I could begin to make a recipe without a recipe book and without worrying whether it was how my mother-in-law would make it.

I was a grown up when I stopped worrying what other people thought of my children's behaviour and just concentrated on being the best mom I could be.

I was a grown up when I started taking better care of myself, like caring what I looked like again and not just hiding the earrings in the drawer because I couldn't figure out how to wear them when the kids liked to pull on them. When I started prioritizing feeling good in my body, I felt like a grown up.

I was a grown up when I called my mom for her advice, and not her approval.

I was a grown up when I could calmly talk to a salesperson about what their establishment had done that was beyond the pale, instead of letting them walk all over me.

I knew I was a grown up when I could start looking at other people's kids and at teens and telling them what I honestly thought instead of being intimidated into worrying that I'd be labelled "the mean mom".

I knew I grew up when the fact that my father didn't understand me became a cause for pity for him, rather than for angst, anger, or introspection on my behalf.

I was a grown up when I started letting myself dream dreams, instead of living out the dreams of my mother, or my other family members.

I felt like a grown up when I could pray with other women in my church, even older ones, and feel like I could offer some counsel.

I felt like a grown up when I acted like others were my equals, instead of feeling insecure around those who were of higher rank or status than I was. Once I realized that didn't matter, I knew I had grown up.

I felt like a grown up when I could see someone and have a conversation and not remember until the next day that I was supposed to be mad at them. I guess I don't carry grudges anymore.

I knew I was a grown up when I could ask people over for dinner and not worry about whether they'd like what I made. I'd just cook what I liked, and figured everybody else would make do.

And I know I'm a grown up now that I can admit my faults to other people rather than trying to pretend to be perfect. I know now that there's no point in pretending.

And I feel like a grown up now because I'm realizing that this isn't my life; the next life is my real life. This is only preparation. So I think I can let go of things a lot easier now and not worry so much what other people think.

What about you? Do you feel like a grown up, or do you still struggle with it? What makes you a grown up? Please leave a comment! I'd love to know!

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For Budding Writers and Speakers
So last weekend I was at Write Canada, a writers' conference for Christian writers in the great white north.

I did a lot of hard work, as you can see from this picture.

It's funny, though, because God really changed my direction after I came home. I thougth I was going to the writer's conference to talk about one thing (mostly ebooks), and I came home totally excited about the book proposal I've been putting off for several months. I finished it by Tuesday and sent it in to my agent.

But the other thing I got excited about was training others. I'm a speaker as well as a writer, and I think I get more energy and rewards from speaking. It's just one of my giftings. Here's a snippet of me:

And I've realized that I can only speak so many weekends a year. So if I want to maximize my impact for God, the best thing I can do is to train others. I've started a blog for those who want to launch their speaking career, but I've also decided to launch some teleseminars and email courses, both on How to Launch Your Speaking Career and how to use social media to build an online community.

We all need an online community if we want to write or speak, but even if you're online you may not be doing it in such a way that you build relationships. Learn how to blog in your niche, how to get traffic, how to use Twitter and Facebook appropriately, and what words like "StumbleUpon" and "Delicious" mean. The teleseminar is next Monday, but you can register and then listen to the teleseminar

And if you want to come on a journey with me to learn how to speak, find more information here. I think God is raising up an army of women to help other women focus on what's truly important. If you want to be one of them, join me!

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Plastic or Canvas?
Every Friday my syndicated family column goes out to a million people in various newspapers. Here's this week's, about my dilemma with plastic bags! I suppose this is somewhat appropriate today, when the U.S. Congress is voting on Cap and Trade!

Once upon a time, people would happily gather up their steak bones, used Kleenex, and slimy meat wrappers into plastic garbage bags the night before the garbage truck made its rounds. Then these happy people would happily deposit their garbage bags on the curb.

That all changed the day that municipalities started demanding $1 per bag. No longer could you discard of a half-full garbage bag. You had to get your money’s worth, even if that meant stinking up the garage by leaving the garbage an extra week. After all, if you threw away a bag that was only 82% full, you wasted a whole eighteen cents. Instead, you’d stuff and stuff and stuff until you could stuff no more.

Then cities started charging $2. Some even demanded clear bags to ensure you weren’t sticking Campbell’s soup cans where they must not go. Garbage was serious business.

The effect is still rippling out. Last month my favourite grocery store stopped handing out plastic bags for free. Instead of warning customers, though, they made an “exciting announcement!” They wanted to save the planet, and they would do this by requiring you to pay for bags. Isn’t that grand?

It certainly is environmentally friendly, though grocery stores congratulating themselves on their civic mindedness as they inconvenience us goes a little far. And I do know that we all should be using canvas bags. I even bought green boxes a decade ago. They’re ever so handy to carry things upstairs and downstairs, or to lug books in, or to use as alternate suitcases when you’re camping. I even use them to separate my recyclables into four different categories! In fact, they’re so handy that they never remain in my car so that I would have them when I’m grocery shopping. Come to think of it, I have the identical problem with those pesky canvas bags. They’re always everywhere but at the checkout counter.

Nevertheless, that’s not even my main problem. I’m all for stopping excessive landfill, but shortly after we started using these reusable shopping bags, like good Canadian citizens are supposed to do, I went to change the garbage in my kitchen and I didn’t have a plastic bag to line the can afterwards. What are you supposed to do with all the soggy leftover Cheerios? With the gooey stuff that sticks to the bottom of the roaster? With the dried egg that remains on the frying pan because my youngest daughter forgot to spray it before she scrambled? You can’t throw that directly into the can! You need a bag.

I could, of course, just buy packages of kitchen catchers, but that seems like too big a leap. And thus I arrived at the modern dilemma: those plastic grocery bags we were once given actually served a purpose. They didn’t travel solo to a landfill; they carried my wet trash. And I still need that plastic.

So I went to my grocery store, deliberately leaving the canvas bags behind. When the cashier asked, “Would you like bags today?”, I proudly replied, “Why yes, I would!”. Every head turned in my direction with horror. But I didn’t care. I wheeled my groceries out, plastic bags and all, with my head held high. I have soggy Cheerios that need a home, and these bags fit the bill. When they’re filled up, my husband will stuff and stuff and stuff our garbage into our jumbo garbage bag, and affix our $2 sticker to it. Times may have changed, but garbage is still garbage. And I still need a place to put it.

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UPDATE: Everybody's asking me what kitchen catchers are! Sorry! I thought everyone knew. Glad Kitchen Catchers: heavy duty plastic bags just for your kitchen.

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How Important are Friends?
They say that only 10% of men have a real friend--someone that they could actually bear their soul to. Many have lots of acquaintances, but the conversation never goes below the surface level.

And we women pride ourselves because we have so many friends! But I got thinking lately, do I really?

I have two women that I call on a fairly regular basis just to chat. One more than the other, perhaps. And I have a ton of women that I could call if I wanted to. It's just that the vast majority of the time, I don't want to. I don't particularly like talking on the phone that much, and when I do pick up the phone, it's usually while I'm doing dishes, or hanging laundry outside, or doing something else that is a definite candidate for multi-tasking (I draw the line at going to the bathroom while on the phone, though. That's just gross).

Anyway, Christian circles love talking about women's friendships, and how important they are. We have books upon books on how to be a good female friend. And the truth is, I'm not sure that I am, or that I particularly want to be, outside of these two people. It's not that I don't want friends; it's just that I want them to go out with, and to talk with occasionally, just not all the time.

To me, my husband is my best friend. I can tell him anything. I call my mother about once a day, too, because we get along quite well, and I call my mother-in-law a few times a week. I have a potential sister-in-law in the loop that looks like I may get quite close to, if and when my she and my brother-in-law cement the deal. And I guess for me, family plays a big part in my social needs.

Does that make me weird? I sometimes feel badly for not spending more time with female friends, but if I want to talk about something, I generally go running to my hubby or my mom, or I pour it out here.

The one really good memory I have of female bonding is the women's Bible study I was in for about three years. About 25 of us met regularly every Thursday morning, and we went really in-depth. What I loved about it was that there were older women mixed with us younger women (I was in my 20s at the time), and we learned so much from the older ones. I eventually went on to lead a number of studies by my third year, and I learned so much there. But we could pour our hearts out during the prayer request time, and get so much great advice, at the same time as we were delving deeply into the Word.

But I don't feel that I need that as much anymore. Perhaps because my children are no longer so young, I don't crave adult conversation in the way I did. And my kids are actually pretty fun to talk to at 11 and 14.

Sometimes I feel like I'm missing something, or perhaps I'm letting other women down by not trying so hard to be a friend. But I just don't have a lot of time, and I really really love my husband.

So what do you think? Is it okay to lean on your husband for most of your friendship needs? Or should we reaching out to a wider circle?

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Wifey Wednesday: When You Don't Speak Each Other's Language
Sometimes husbands and wives just don't see eye to eye.

I'm a little distracted today, and so it's hard to write a Wifey Wednesday post. But let me try and let you in on what's going on in my head today.

To make a long story short, a woman from our homeschooling group has just been diagnosed with a very rare terminal condition. She likely doesn't have long to live, and she has a 10-year-old daughter for whom she has always been the primary caregiver. To make things worse, she's in hospital an hour away from here, so people aren't able to visit her or bring her daughter to her. So she's lying there, alone in the hospital, knowing she's dying. I just have a hard time even getting my head around how she must feel.

And she and her husband really don't have any family, and not a lot of friends. So I suppose I feel responsible in some way, even though we're not close.

I was talking to Keith about this last night, and the talk did not go well. He's a doctor, so I always figure that he can figure out how to talk to doctors and get things done in the system better than the rest of us plebes. But I think he felt it was an attack, "why haven't you done anything for this poor woman?" Needless to say we were each a little annoyed with each other.

Now this shall pass. I know that once he gets home from work we'll talk and it will be fine. It really isn't a big deal. (Although I'm still quite sidetracked trying to figure out what I can do for this woman, other than going to visit her tomorrow). Often, though, our disagreements with our husbands happen not really because we see the issues differently; they happen because we have different approaches to life in general. So I thought today, for Wifey Wednesday, I'd make a chart of some of the primary ways that men and women think and act differently. And then you, when you participate, can make the list longer, either in the comments or on your blog!

Here goes:

1. Men think we're trying to get them to fix a problem, when really we want to brainstorm about a problem or just discuss a problem. That's why Keith got defensive. When we mention a problem, they figure we're angry that they haven't done something about it yet. They need to feel competent; if we say things the wrong way, we undermine this and set them off.

2. Men tend to focus on one thing at a time, while women are always multi-tasking. Even when I'm working, I'm thinking about what my daughters are doing and how they're feeling. Men often seem oblivious to the reactions of family members to their actions, not because they don't care, but because they weren't thinking of that right now. Instead of attacking them in these cases, it's often better to ask a question to help them focus differently. ("What do you think we can do to help Rebecca out of her funk?" for instance).

3. Men are quick to get in the mood; we need to be romanced. Thus, men often assume we don't want to make love, so they roll over and get grumpy. I keep telling my husband, "try to seduce me!" I'm not in the mood right now, but you could probably get me there. It's just not on the radar screen. If it's not on their radar screen, they know it can't happen. But they forget that we're not usually in the mood until we start. We don't work like them. So we could, potentially, be warmed up if they tried.

4. Men tend to relate to others on a side-to-side basis. We relate on a face-to-face basis. Men do things with others, whether it's other guys, or their children. We like talking to others. One is not necessarily better than the other. If we want to get closer to our husbands, then, maybe the answer isn't to try to get them to talk and act like us; it's to find things that we can do, side by side.

5. In the end, men need to feel like we think they're competent and can manage life. We need to feel like we are cherished. We have different primary needs. You may feel like you're meeting his if you're hugging him all the time and telling him you love him, but if you're simultaneously questioning him about his job, how he handles the kids, and the finances, he'll feel undermined.

So there's my list. Anything jump out at you? Anything you'd like to add?

And don't forget: in terms of sex, if you feel like you're not relating to your husband because there are too many differences, I lay them out in my book Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight, which is on special this month. And you can pick up an audio download of a hilarious talk I gave on the same subject here!

To participate in Wifey Wednesday, either leave a comment, or preferably write your own blog post, link it to here, and then come back here and enter your URL in the Mr. Linky.

Thank you!

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What is Clean Enough?
I once read this quotation that said:

"A clean house is the sign of a boring person."

And I think that's true. For a home to be clean all the time requires two things: people who have few hobbies to mess it up, and someone else whose hobby is cleaning. Both of those things are signs that someone needs to get a life!

At the same time, a certain level of cleanliness is necessary in all homes. No one wants to fear catching a communicable disease upon entering a bathroom. When my oldest daughter was almost a year old, and teething, I found her in the bathroom. She had managed to lift up the lid, and was enthusiastically gumming the toilet rim.

Naturally, I freaked. And cleaned everything in sight.

But no one's toilet will ever be clean enough for a child to lick.

And that's the point. Nothing is ever truly clean enough when your kids are little. You just finish vacuuming and find out that a toddler has been following you while eating crackers. And is laundry ever all done? Nope.

We need to have a system, and we need to keep things as sanitary as possible. But let's face it. It's never going to be perfect. So don't stress out about it! Make it presentable so that you can feel comfortable in your home, but not so perfect that you're constantly worried about it. I thought about this a lot for my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and here's a taste of some of the things I suggested:

Schedule Cleaning Chores

Pick one area of the home, or one task, that you need to complete for each day. Perhaps Monday is bathrooms, or Tuesday is doing all the vacuuming. That way, you know that over the rotation, everything will get clean. It may not all be clean simultaneously, but it will be cleaned in its time.

Then stick to the schedule! Often we avoid cleaning until company is coming, which results in us panicking three hours before they arrive. It's much better to do get into the habit of doing a little bit everyday, so that panic is unnecessary. But the added benefit is that when you're done your work for the day, you really can relax. You know everything will get done in its time.

Decide What is Good Enough

We all need to accept that perfectly clean isn't attainable, especially when children are underfoot. Just remember that over our lifetimes everybody eats a bucket of dirt. If your child picks up a few crumbs in the kitchen, it won't kill them. Concentrate on keeping things sanitary, and clean in its time, and accept that the house will never be perfect.

Tidy Main Spaces

What do you need to have to feel peaceful? Does the living room need to be tidy? Does the kitchen need to have clean counters? I like my dining table set, rather than strewn with papers. Decide what your "must haves" are for feeling like your house is under control, and then do these things twice a day. It's amazing how key traffic areas collect papers, and toys, and even laundry waiting to be folded. Twice a day, ensure that your traffic areas that you worry about are tidy, and you will emotionally feel better about your house.

Recruit Help

Don't try to do it all yourself! Two-year-olds can be taught to put toys in toyboxes. Three-year-olds can dust coffee tables. If you have a set time when everybody tidies, including the children, people will soon adjust. The key is to be consistent!

I think it's amazing how stressful clutter can be in a home. But it can be just as stressful if we pressure ourselves to be perfect. Let's lower our standards, concentrate on what's really important, and get organized. It really isn't that difficult.

So adopt a schedule, stick to a schedule, and watch your stress alleviate! Your house still won't be perfect, but it will be more peaceful and liveable. And isn't that what a home is supposed to be?

Share with us your cleaning organization tips! Do you have anything that really works well to handle the laundry? Toy clutter? Messy dining room table? I'd love to hear it!

And in the meantime, if you want more information about To Love, Honor and Vacuum, get it here:

And you can purchase an inexpensive download of a hilarious talk I gave on this subject here!

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Finding Your Passion
I spoke at Write Canada, the Canadian Christian writers' conference, this weekend. Made some great connections, renewed old friendships, and had some time away from home just to dream and ask God about my direction.

It was interesting, because I went to that conference thinking I should be going in a certain direction, and came away with a whole lot of other priorities. And I'm excited!

As a member of the faculty at the conference, people had an opportunity to sign up to talk to me and ask my advice. And what I found myself saying, over and over, was: "find your passion".

People would want to know what direction to go, and how to market, and what niches to target, and I said, "find your passion".

I think that's true in everybody's life, whether we write or speak or not. God has given us all passion for something, and we will feel most alive and purposeful when we're able to live out that passion. The problem comes when we try to live out a passion that isn't ours.

Now please--I'm not saying that if housework isn't your passion you can let your house go. We all need a minimum level of cleanliness so that you don't fear catching communicable diseases in your kitchen! But it's within our areas of passion that we leave our legacy. So, for instance, if you have a passion for the Word, you need to be teaching and participating in a Bible study group. If you have a passion for prayer, you need to start an online prayer ministry where you can pray for other moms in the same stage in life. If you have a passion for helping kids from broken families, you need to figure out how to create a safe environment at your house where they can hang out.

But if we ignore our passions, and say that something else is more lucrative, or more logical, or more responsible, we risk running ourselves dry.

Now there will be some periods in our lives when our passions will mostly be home focused, whether it's with raising babies or managing a whole bunch of teens. But even during those times, we can become passionate about creating a fun homelife. If we're simply trying to keep the wheels turning, and making sure that the fridge isn't empty, and worrying about the mundane of life we lose it. But if we see those mundane things in the context of a broader passion, our purpose becomes more clear.

And perhaps I should be talking purpose instead of passion, because purpose implies that there is One who gives it to us, whereas passion can be self-focused. So I do believe that often our purposes and our passions coincide. I think that God often gives us passion in our area of purpose. And that passion usually relates to doing something that will impact others and leave a legacy.

It is wonderful when our passion can actually start to bring us an income. I often tell my girls to figure out what it is that they love doing and that God has gifted them in doing, and then together we'll try to figure out a career path so that they can do those things! I think the most effective people in business are those who are working in areas that they love. Probably the definition of a happy life is to get paid for doing something that you would do for free anyway.

This summer I have a ton to do, and I mean a TON. This week alone I have to finish a book proposal, get three articles written, and write up a business plan for a speaker's training course I'm starting this summer. But I'm so excited about all of it!

If you don't have passion in your life right now, pray that God will show you an area that you are excited about, and that He will show you a path where you can start living out that passion. I think too often we live lives that are dreary by default. We get sucked up into the routine of life, with its TV and its internet and its noise. And we can live day by day like that, until those days turn into years.

So what is your passion? Is it art or creativity? Is it the Word? Is it children, or marriage, or education, or homeschooling? I would say mine is marriage, and helping women get out of ruts and live purposefully for God. That's what I talk about and write about, and I do love it. But share with me yours. It's summer; it's a great time for reflection and prayer and planning. Why don't we take it to make sure that next year we can start to live out some of these things that God has put in our hearts.

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Father's Day: To My Fathers
I have a strange family when it comes to fathers. I wrote about it in last year's Father's Day column, and I thought I'd reprint it here:

When I think of Dad, I think of belly laughs, and smiles, and choked back tears. I think of a proud grandfather, a fiercely loyal parent, a family man.

I think of a man who loves hockey but who loves his grand-daughters, too. I picture a man who is proud that his children have outpaced him in learning, if not always in common sense. I see a man who might worry about the practical side of life—health, money, or jobs—but not about family or friends, because he knows they are rock solid. And they are rock solid because he is. And though he may make fun of Mom and me talking clothes, or cooking, or gardening, or my daughters laughing about toys or dresses or flowers, he is secretly pleased that so much estrogen surrounds him.

Girls, you see, were once a rarity in his life. I was his first daughter, but he only inherited me at his oldest son’s wedding. And though he is not genetically my father, when I hear the word Dad, his is the face that comes to my mind.

Father’s Day, which must have been created by Hallmark and the people who make fishing poles, was my least favourite holiday as a child. I didn’t live anywhere near my father, so how could I celebrate him?

My relationship with my biological father has always revolved around heredity. Like many who should have a relationship but don’t, he is often trying to establish a connection, and the only one that exists is genetic. When I demonstrate some of his traits, he’s tickled pink. He can claim pride because he can claim me as his daughter. Now I do know that he wishes things could have been different, and that he does genuinely love me. But it is love at a distance.

This genetic type of love is valuable in its own way and I am grateful for it, but it is very different from parental affection, which is what I feel with Dad. As a child, it is what you desperately need, and when I looked around for it, I found it in my uncle. He wasn’t genetically related to me, either, but he did care for me, and fuss over me like a dad should whenever I gave my heart away to an undeserving boy. He picked up the phone to dispense advice or provide a listening ear when I needed it.

He walked through adolescence with me, delivered the “father of the bride” toast at my wedding, and made baby faces at my daughters. When Katie was two, though, I wrote him a good-bye letter, because the cancer had come back. In that letter I had the chance to tell him how much he had meant to me. And I told him that when I arrive in heaven one day, God will call him over and say, “Art, here is your daughter.” He was the father figure of my youth.

I will celebrate one more father this Father’s Day: the only father I actually chose. He’s the man I’m thrilled is the father of my children: a dad who is loving, and kind, and generous, and a true partner to me. Because of him, Father’s Day is finally a big production in my life.

It is difficult as a little girl not to have a Daddy that she is close to. And yet, as I’ve matured I’ve realized that many men have played that fatherly role, showing me what it means to be loved, affirmed, protected, and cared for. I have the genetic father, to whom I owe many of my gifts, as well as my lack of propensity to gain weight, for which I am eternally grateful. I have the father of my childhood, who is not here to celebrate except in memory. I have grandfathers who were wonderful to me. I have Dad, who delights over me today, and not only because he trusts me to pick the right nursing home one day. And I have my husband. And so I no longer dread Father’s Day. It takes me on a walk through memory lane, and I’m really quite grateful for those I have.

Here's "my" dad and me in Alaska last summer. Keith and I took his parents up there for their 40th anniversary:

Happy Father's Day!

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What We Think About Fathers Through The Years
This made me laugh: what we think about fathers through the years:

4 years: My Daddy can do anything!
7 years: My Dad knows a lot…a whole lot.
8 years: My father does not know quite everything.
12 years: Oh well, naturally Father does not know that either.
14 years: Oh, Father? He is hopelessly old-fashioned.
21 years: Oh, that man-he is out of date!
25 years: He knows a little bit about it, but not much.
30 years: I must find out what Dad thinks about it.
35 years: Before we decide, we will get Dad's idea first.
50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?
60 years: My Dad knew literally everything!
65 years: I wish I could talk it over with Dad once more.

It reminds me of Mark Twain's saying: "When I was 18, my father knew nothing. By the time I was 28, I was amazed at what he had learned in just ten years."
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Father Cravings
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in newspapers around Canada. Here's this week's, on fathers. It becomes hard, after seven years, to keep thinking up new things to say about holidays!:

A century ago, Sigmund Freud posited that women suffered from an envy of a certain part of male anatomy. Personally, I think Freud may have had an inflated sense of the importance of this body part, because I have never entertained even a fleeting thought of possessing such a thing.

I can understand women in Freud's day, though, eschewing their own sex in favour of the other, since women back then couldn't pursue their dreams very easily. But today women are no longer denigrated in the career sphere; men, on the other hand, are frequently denigrated in the domestic sphere. They're the brunt of all kinds of jokes about their ineptitude when it comes to relationships. Fifty years ago the popular image of a dad was Ward Cleaver. Today it's Homer Simpson. We praise and revere mothers; we laugh at dads. The tables have turned.

Think about it: on Mother's Day, we wrap ourselves inside out trying to say thank you to mom. In fact, Mother's Day, not Christmas, is the day when the long distance lines buzz the most. Of course, many dads have failed miserably at their parenting role. For every woman raising a child alone there is a man who has not lived up to his responsibilities.

But by trying to break the stigma of single parenting, we've also inadvertently said that fatherhood doesn't matter. We don't want any single mom to feel badly, or any child to feel like they're missing something, so we loudly declare that children will be fine with a mom. They don't need a Daddy; they just need someone to love them.

Forgive me, but I think that's stupid. Children are programmed to need both parents, and those parents are not interchangeable. In general, psychologists tell us that children get their sense of love and security from their mothers, but they get their sense of identity and purpose from their fathers. It is the mother who nurtures, but it is the father who launches the child out of the nest.
That doesn't mean that all children without dads will have identity complexes. I grew up without a dad, and I overcame. But I also know that my childhood lacked something. My children, who have both parents, are doing much better than I did at their age.

Recently my kids and I ventured to the Toronto Zoo, where we saw father-craving firsthand. A 10-year-old orang-utan kept swinging upside down, over his father's head, so that he could periodically swat dad or pull his hair. The father responded by swatting back, but rarely by looking at his offspring. The mom would snuggle with him, but he still wanted the dad's attention.

The mandrills did the same thing. The baby jumped on all the other mandrills, cuddled with mom, and bugged his siblings. But he would sneak up to dad, waiting to see how close he could get before dad would react. When he came within arm’s reach, the dad would jerk, and the baby would scamper away. He, too, wanted dad to acknowledge him. This father craving has been built in, even to animals.

It reminds me of children on a diving board, yelling, "Watch me, Dad!" We moms can love kids, and hug them, and affirm them, but they'll still want dad.

This Father's Day, let's treat the dads who are active in our lives with the same respect and gratitude that we treat the moms. They aren't just extra additions to the family; they're central to the child's well-being. So to all the dads out there who are watching soccer games, reading stories, helping with homework, and hugging a baby, thank you. You are needed, you are appreciated, and I wish you a wonderful day!

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Summer is a Great Time to Clean Toilets!....

Or at least, it's a great time to teach kids how to clean them!

But that's probably not what's foremost on your mind right now. Summer has hit; school is almost out; it's time for vacation!

But if you're not careful, you could get into a bad routine where you chauffeur kids, buy kids ice cream, cater to kids, and work for kids, but you never actually ask them to do anything in return.

It's easy during vacations to want to make it as fun as possible for the children. But let's remember that the whole reason we have summer vacations is that kids were needed to work on the farm!

There's nothing wrong with teaching your kids to clean a toilet this summer, or asking them to help you clean out the garage. In this week's podcast, I help you find ways to get kids working this summer--so that they enjoy the fun times even more!

My podcasts are short, fun clips that give you encouragement on your parenting and marriage journey. Download them here, or subscribe at this page by clicking on the links to the right. Then you can download them regularly to your iPod or Zune to listen as you go!

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Wifey Wednesday: Make Your Hubby Feel Appreciated

(Announcement: To go with Wifey Wednesday, it's all marriage, all intimacy, all the time at my Livestream channel! I've posted all my marriage videos up there right now! Go on over and have a peak!)

I've written a lot in these pages about how to make your husband feel appreciated. We've talked about gratitude, about encouragement, and about, of course, sex.

But with Father's Day coming up this weekend, I thought I'd let a guy speak for a change. So today, here's Mark Webb talking about how to say thank you to your hubby:

Make Your Man Feel Appreciated
By Mark Webb

"God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say, "thank you."?"~ William A. Ward

When is the last time you said a word of appreciation to your husband? It is hard to tell which comes first, his lack of appreciation for you or yours toward him. Rather than debate this, I suggest that you pump new life into your relationship by giving your man the gift of appreciation. I have chosen to make this article one-sided because I occasionally catch grief from other men who complain that I am always asking them to make the sacrifices in order to make their woman feel special. I still believe this and I believe appreciation should be a two-way street. I also believe that a man will do a lot more for the woman he loves if he is appreciated.

You see, when a woman is not happy, the man feels like a failure. When she is happy, he feels that he is successful. Men may give up in their efforts to make her happy if he doesn't see results. A woman's show of appreciation is his scorecard. So, ladies this is ultimately in your best interest to give your man one of his deepest longings, appreciation.

Dennis is frustrated that the vision for his marriage is out of sync with his wife, Nancy. She throws him "under the bus" every time they are around their family and friends. Everybody knows something is wrong. Dennis seems very unhappy. He is frequently ill and has nothing to look forward to. Nancy's belittling of him has led to him feeling inadequate as a man. He pouts like a child and acts in a passive-aggressive manner. For instance, he seems to always "forget" her birthday, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. This is how he has learned to retaliate for her lack of appreciation. He dreads going home each day. Their marriage is in real trouble. Don't let this happen to your relationship.

Here are some ways to let your man know how much you appreciate him:

1) Greet him with enthusiasm. Light your face and his with a smile. Be glad to see him.

2) Build him up in front of others. Refuse to say anything negative about him to anyone else. Look for opportunities to sing his praises to his friends and relatives as well as yours.

3) Tell him the things you admire and appreciate about him. Men love to hear how great they are. This also serves as positive reinforcement which in turn will promote an even better man.

Point out how hardworking he is. Thank him for being thoughtful and patient, and a good listener. You will be surprised at how much better he will become.

4) Be playful. Draw out his fun side. Once couples get established in the relationship, they tend to forget how playful and goofy they can be. Being playful will keep you young.

5) Ease up on the guilt trips. Women typically hate to ask for the things they want or need. Instead, they complain about what the man doesn't do. Men interpret this as, "No matter what I do, it is never good enough." Don't make him feel obligated through guilt provoking statements. Learn to make direct requests such as, "Will you take out the trash?" instead of, "You never take out the trash!"

6) Make a big to-do when he achieves something. Fix him his favorite meal or a special dessert. Put the children to bed early and break out the candles. Use your imagination. The bigger the better.

7) Tell him how much you love him. Not with a card. Most men are not into receiving cards. Tell him face to face. A sincere statement can penetrate the toughest of hearts.

8) Thank him for providing for you and your children. I know he is supposed to do this, but a wise woman will never take this for granted. Men equate long hours of hard work to a show of love. Receive this with a thank you.

9) Thank him for supporting your pursuits. Behind every great man is a supportive woman. The reverse is also true.

10) If you want to see a huge difference in your man, listen to him. Listen to his goals, his dreams and his frustrations. Give him a chance to talk without correcting him or getting defensive. Let him vent without taking it personally. A man will give his right arm for this one.

Mark Webb is the author of How To Be A Great Partner and founder of Partner Focused Relationships™. Sign up for Mark Webb's "Relationship Strategies" Ezine ($100 Value). Just visit his website at or

So, ladies, which of those ten is the hardest for you? Which do you do naturally? It took me a long time to learn #3--to tell your mate what you admire about him. I was constantly saying "I love you", but that didn't cut it. Keith wanted to know WHY I loved him. It took me a few years to figure this out, but now I try to tell him what I admire everyday.

I would probably add one more (and you ladies who are regular readers know this about me), but I would add making love frequently. Men make love to feel loved. For them, sex is a necessity but affection is the choice. For us, affection is usually the necessity while sex is the choice. But it is an honest need they have, and we need to learn how to overcome our own barriers so that we can make love with enthusiasm regularly! (My book, Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight, addresses just these issues, and it's on sale for Father's Day!)

That doesn't mean, of course, that if he's into pornography you do weird things with him. I'm not talking about that, and I've addressed that problem before. I just mean that in most relationships, we could improve them a ton if we began to realize that men aren't sick for wanting sex so much; that's the way they were made. And besides, when you make love, you sleep better anyway!

Alright, it's your turn now. What do you need to work on to make him feel appreciated? What can you do leading up to Father's Day to tell him that he's #1 for you? What do you find the hardest? Leave a note in the comments, or go write your own Wifey Wednesday post about how to make him feel appreciated this week. Just copy the picture at the top of this post and upload it to your blog, and then come back and enter your URL in the new Mr. Linky. Love to hear from you!

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He's My Husband, Not My Partner
One of the things that really annoys me about modern society is how it devalues marriage by putting it on the same footing as any number of other types of relationships.

When I was in university, especially in the sociology department, it was especially acute. People knew I was married, yet they insisted on asking, "how is your partner doing at medical school?". If the department was having a social, they would say, "you're welcome to bring your partner."

I so wanted to say, "he's not my partner, he's my husband," but I didn't. These were my professors, after all. But I stood in front of a minister and all my friends and family and before God and pledged to love him and be faithful to him for the rest of my life. Doesn't that somehow distinguish our relationship from one where two people are just living together?

I know all that stuff about how "a piece of paper doesn't mean anything", but the statistics don't bear that out. If you live together, you're far more likely to split up. And if you life together before you're married, your marriage is far less likely to succeed, too. I think it's due to two factors:

1. When you live together, the relationship is under scrutiny. You're always asking: is this the one for me? Is he/she making me happy? It's hard to turn that voice in your head off when you get married.

2. Our threshold for choosing someone to live with is lower than it is for choosing someone to marry. So we may start living with someone, be with them for several years, and then fall into marriage because it's easy and it's the next logical step. But if we hadn't lived together, we likely wouldn't have chosen this person to marry.

Unfortunately, the world doesn't understand this. They think that the best way to prepare for marriage, a lifelong commitment, is by having numerous relationships in which one commits and then breaks off. It makes no sense!

Marriage is unique. On university campuses and when we worked in downtown Toronto the culture was such that it wasn't polite to even acknowledge that people were married, so we were always talking about "partners". In the small town I live in now, it is mostly marriage. But every now and then I come across someone who still says partner. Now I could understand it if they were homosexual, or if they were living with someone. But often it's married people. I had someone introduce themselves to me as "such-and-such's partner" recently. They're married! And they know I'm married! So there's no possible offense to be caused anywhere. But even married people have adopted the language, and I think in so doing we're denigrating the institution.

Perhaps I'm overreacting, but I'd love to know what you think! And in the meantime, rest assured that I'm still working on that reading list! And I'm still working on a post about all the things that make us feel guilty! Thanks for all your input on those!

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What Makes Crazy Memories
Today we had our homeschool track and field meet. Several of the local homeschooling groups get together with several of the Christian schools in our area and we have quite a large meet, and quite a fun day.

Nothing remotely exciting has ever happened in previous years, though. The weather has always been great, if a little on the hot side, and everything has gone as planned.

Not so this year. We were supposed to get together last Monday, but the local natives were blocking the road in protest about something. I can never keep track of the latest grievances, so I don't know what it was.

We were rescheduled to this Monday, at a different venue. And we went. It really was a lot of fun, and the kids had a great time together. My one daughter won the baseball throw, and came second in the triple jump. Rebecca, my oldest, came third in shotput which she wasn't even going to do because she thought she'd be lousy at it. It was her first time trying. Here are a few shots:

Here's one of my favourite shots of the day. I think I shall use this for a caption contest on Facebook. Rebecca will be so happy. She is so glad I am her mother and that I never embarrass her.

And then the skies opened. And when I say opened, I mean opened.

We ran as fast as we could under the little tents.

Rebecca was stuck with a few of the older kids on the other side of the field, and they took refuge under the bleachers, before someone said that being under a huge hunk of metal when there was lightning was probably not a wise thing.

But while they were there, they witnessed the premier moment of the meet. One woman, in desperation, took refuge in one of the port-a-potties. And while she was in there, the trucks came to empty them. They actually lifted up the port-a-potty she was in before the kids under the bleachers could alert the truck driver. No harm was done, but of such things are memories made.

I told Rebecca that when she was 50, and she remembered back to track and field meets, she would have vague memories of relay races run, and ribbons, and heat, and sunburns. But she will have vivid memories of huddling under the bleachers with some friends.

Sometimes it is when things don't go as planned that life becomes the most interesting. I'm always over-planning things, and when things don't go the way I think they should, I get grumpy. I think what today taught me is that sometimes we need to go with the flow and just laugh. Life is awfully funny when you think about it. And sometimes, all you can do is laugh.
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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.

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