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Thinking About Siblings
I'm just recovering from a weekend long craft show at my house. We were raising money for the children's home in Kenya where we're heading in March by selling Kenyan jewelry, coffee and tea, and lots of carvings and soapstone.

It went really well and I'm thrilled! A little tired, but I feel like I accomplished something.

But now it's Monday and life must begin again. I'm running a little late this morning; I was catching up on email and blogs that I've neglected over the weekend, and now I'm done. But I do need to get moving!

Before I hit the Wii Fit to exercise I thought I'd pose a question to you all: what impact do you think siblings have on us? I think this will be a two-part post, since I have a lot to say on the subject, but as an only child I've always thought a lot about siblings.

I would have liked to have had some, but my father left my mother when I was still really young, so that didn't happen. Instead I grew up alone. I was very close to my cousins, who were also girls, but cousins, as much as you love them, are different from sisters and brothers. I didn't believe that then, but I do now as I watch my own girls grow up with each other.

Rebecca, my oldest, made me watch the funniest video from America's Funniest Home Videos on YouTube the other day. In it, a mom announces to her about 5-year-old daughter and about 3-year-old son that the baby she's carrying is a girl. The boy is devastated, and declares that he will never "pway wif the baby in Mommy's tummy that's a girl." Then he throws himself on the floor and starts howling.

We laugh at it, but honestly, for that child it probably was a tragedy. I'm sure he will love his sister, and his sister will love him, but if it had been a boy, he would have had his best friend for life.

Having siblings that are the same gender is special, I think. When I was pregnant with Rebecca we didn't find out the sex, because we wanted to be surprised. With Katie we did, because we had just had our son who had died, and I so wanted another boy. I didn't want to be disappointed at the birth, so I thought if it were a girl, I wanted to know ahead of time so I could deal with it, put it behind me, and welcome her properly when the time came. And I did.

But looking back, I realize that having a girl was absolutely the best thing. I can't picture anything different. My two girls really are close friends, and they do things together that they couldn't do with a brother.

I am not saying that opposite-gender children can't be friends; I totally believe they can be, and especially as adults, opposite-gender children can often become closer than same-gender children. But as kids, having that same sex sibling is special.

It's strange, but in my family it's all same sex. My mother was one of three girls. My cousins are both girls. My husband is one of four boys. And looking at those families shows me, too, that just because you're the same sex is no guarantee that you will be close friends. Some are, some aren't. So much depends on personality.

But I think it also depends on other factors, like age difference, and parenting. And it's the parenting I want to talk about now. Having a sibling who is a best friend is such a blessing in your life, one that I wish I had. They have followed you through your whole life. They know you as well as anyone else. They will be there for your trials and tribulations, even if you live on opposite sides of the country. I remember when my mother was 42 and was diagnosed with breast cancer. They had her in surgery within 3 days (it was a very large lump). And both her sisters were by her side, even though they lived far away, and one required a very long plane ride. They may only see each other once or twice a year, but when it came down to it, they were there.

Siblings are important. But when they're 4 and 6 and they're bickering, or even worse, when they're 10 and 12 and picking at each other (for that preteen age is often the worst), what do you do? What are your ground rules?

We never allowed our kids to fight. If they did, someone, if not both, landed in trouble. We didn't require that they always play with each other, but we did want them to spend some time together. If the oldest needed a break from the youngest, though, we let her, even if that caused tears for the youngest. When you are encouraging a relationship, it's important to remember that occasional fights do not mean the relationship isn't strong. They're kids, trying to figure out their own identity and form some independence. That means they will naturally squabble. That doesn't mean that we naturally have to put up with it, but don't take it personally and break down if your kids don't get along. It isn't necessarily a reflection of you.

I've also noticed that there are often years when they have gotten along well, followed by a year of frequent squabbles, followed by a year of peace. It has its ebbs and flows. For us, the year after Rebecca had hit puberty but before Katie had were awful. Katie was still a little girl and Becca wasn't. They didn't have as much in common, but Katie couldn't see it, and felt that Becca had betrayed her. Similarly, I remember the year after Becca learned to read as being a difficult one. She had passed a milestone in maturity that Katie hadn't reached yet, and they often bickered then. But with time, such things do pass.

To try to keep them together, even in the rough times, we tended to buy games and toys they could do together, rather than things you do alone (like iPods or TV). We encouraged imagination games. We let them take the pillows off of the couch to make forts (as long as they put them back). We didn't put them in a lot of lessons, so they did have time together to play and get to know each other. When they had friends over, we often invited kids of a variety of ages so they could all play together.

It takes a lot of work, and sometimes it's easier just to separate them, or let them put a TV in their bedrooms so they don't have to hang out with each other. I think, though, that encouraging that friendship is important. Whenever my children fight, I always tell them, "Rebecca is the best friend you will ever have, Katie. Don't ever forget that." And I mean it. And I think, deep down, they believe it, too.

What about you? What are your experiences with siblings? How can you foster friendship among kids who don't necessarily get along? I'd love to hear! Leave a comment!

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My Three Gifts of Christmas
Every Friday my syndicated column is printed in a bunch of papers! This one is a special one to me. For the last few years I've mentioned our method of gift giving, and inevitably people come up to me on the street, months later, telling me how much they appreciated it. So I thought I'd better mention it again, albeit in a slightly different way (it's hard to keep coming up with new Christmas columns after 8 years!). Here goes:

Apparently I buy really lousy Christmas presents. I had always mildly suspected my shortcomings, but recently economist Joel Waldfogel confirmed them. In his book Scroogenomics, he showed rather indisputably that if you ask Christmas gift recipients to assign a value to the gifts they receive, they inevitably quote a number less than the actual cost, leading to a waste of $963 million a year in Canada. And the gifts that are valued the least? Those from aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who apparently only get 75 cents of perceived value for every dollar spent.

I do have trouble buying for the nieces and nephews and various other younger people in my life. I don’t always share the same interests, and being the incorrigible aunt that I am, I refuse to pander to hobbies that don’t suit me. Instead, like many millions of aunts and grandparents and in-laws all over this nation, I buy something lousy instead. My preference is always books. Unfortunately, most younger Canadians don’t share my passion, and thus they consider these types of gifts with about the same amount of affection that I consider most X-box games. And thus we reach the gift-giving impasse.

One of my nephews announced rather brazenly that this year he’d rather just have cash. Doling out money, though, seems so crass. If gift giving is going to degenerate into passing along cash and gift cards, then Christmas becomes a season of greed, rather than a time to express our love.

Nevertheless, Waldfogel’s news isn’t all bad. We actually do quite well on certain gifts. The closer we are to people, the better the gift giving becomes. Siblings value gifts at about 99% of their value, and spouses do even better, at about $1.02. I’m pretty sure my children tend to like their gifts from me, as well.

Even if I buy my girls good gifts, though, is that really the point of the season? According to most of the seasonal flyers that pass through our mail slots it certainly is. Shoppers’ Drug Mart, for instance, in their 36 page “Gifts Made Easy” flyer managed to talk about the “Top 10 Gifts They’ll Love” (though I’m sure my nieces and nephews wouldn’t like those either), and lots of things to “Rock your Holiday”, or go “Twinkle Twinkle”, while only mentioning the Christmas word three times.

If Christmas is only about gifts, then we are in trouble. It has become a big waste, whether we’re successful gift givers or not, because all we’re doing is breeding greed. I know it’s difficult when children are young and they desperately want the latest toy, but parenting is about identifying teaching opportunities, and I think this is one of them. Life is not about accumulating stuff with as little work as possible; life needs to be about giving, about making a difference, about family, and values, and faith, and love, or life becomes very empty indeed.

That’s why several years ago we started a new gift giving tradition with my
children. We call it the “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh” ritual, where they each get three gifts, and nothing more. The gold gift is something they want. The frankincense gift is something they need, like socks. And the myrrh gift is something to nurture their souls. It could be a journal, or a book, or a CD, or a movie. It’s something that reminds them of their purpose here on earth, or encourages them to think, to write, and to pray about what’s important. It’s always the biggest challenge to find such a thing, but it’s a challenge I’m up for, since it reminds us of the reason for the season. And I’m pretty sure, despite what the flyers might say, that reason should not be greed. Pass it on.

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Cool Review of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
Every now and then I come across another review of one of my books on the web. I know many of my readers have published reviews lately; I'm sorry I haven't linked to them! I've been a little busy, but if I've left you out, please leave another link in the comments and I'll try to post it properly ASAP!

But recently I found this review from Aussie Mama for To Love, Honor and Vacuum. Here's what she says:

After reading many discouraging marriage books full of half truths, "To Love, Honor and Vacuum" is definitely a breath of fresh air. This book is not a doormat manual like others. Sure, it is aimed at helping us be good wives, but this book does not do what others do, blaming the woman for all the marriage problems. It helps women where they are at, realizes that sometimes husbands can be jerks, and how to live your life so that you are doing right but are not burnt out.

I felt that this book was enabling to me as a woman, while it seems that other authors think that I should be walked all over just because I'm a woman. There is very good Biblical and practical advice, including how to do things to get your husband to respect you.

This is one marriage book I can actually recommend, and I gladly do so.

That is so great! I really tried to write it to empower women. I do believe that we have the ability to change our lives, with God's help. We don't have to wait for our husbands to change. So I'm glad that's what she took from it!

If you like the stuff you read on this blog, I know you'll appreciate the book! It goes into much more detail on my thoughts about marriage and parenting. As always, you can find more information about To Love, Honor and Vacuum here.

Or purchase it from Amazon below:

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How to Make a Turkey Juicy

A while back I was cooking a bird, and asked help on Facebook about how to make a juicy turkey. Got back some great replies, which I shall share with you right before your American holiday!

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Put a series of bacon strips across the turkey when you put it in the oven. It moisturized constantly. This has been my family secret for years!

2. Shawn has always told me to cook the meat upside down to get the best juiciness out of it, and he's a certified chef so I listen, cuz I'm not. lol

3. We inject our bird with Zesty Italian Dressing.

4. I always use the Reynolds oven bags. My turkeys have always turned out great with those. Otherwise, just keep an eye on it and keep basting! :-) (I had a lot of comments about this. Seems people love baking bags!)

5. If you have a convection oven, that is the best way. Also baste it lots. That's my 2 cents.

6. Cook the bird upside down! Not as attractive looking but juicier!

7. Buy a fresh turkey, not frozen.

Now personally, I find #6 a challenge. In fact, I find figuring out rightside up enough of a challenge already. I'm just turkey-challenged. I stare at the bird, trying to figure out where the legs are coming from. And then I have to picture myself as a turkey. If I were a turkey, where would my legs be? And then if my legs are there, where is my breast? Only then can I figure out which way goes up. So I look pretty stupid clucking around the kitchen momentarily in order to correctly orient my bird.

So for all of you giving thanks this week, have a wonderful holiday! And may your bird be very, very juicy.

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Wifey Wednesday: What About Christmas?

It's Wifey Wednesday, when we talk marriage! I introduce a subject, and then you all comment, either by creating your own blog post and linking up, or by leaving a comment here.

It would be appropriate to talk about gratitude for one's husband, since Thanksgiving is tomorrow for all you Americans, but I've done that quite a bit lately, so I thought instead I'd bring up something that's on my mind, since this is, after all, my blog! :)

So here's my quandary: what do you do about Christmas with your hubby? Let me explain. I'm not really into gifts that much. I'm honestly not. If I really really want something, I buy it for myself. Most of my hobbies are very specialized (like knitting), and someone who wasn't active in that hobby couldn't buy me something that I'd like. And my husband is not great at buying me clothes. Besides, I really feel quite blessed already, and I don't want a great deal of money being spent on me. I'd rather it go into the kids' college fund or to charity. I really would.

So a few years ago, we agreed that we wouldn't get each other gifts.

I made the mistake of assuming that agreement was binding. Turns out my husband thought, "there's no way I'm not buying my wife a Christmas present", so he bought me something big (I forget what it was now), and I hadn't bought him anything. I looked quite small in comparison.

To make matters worse, our anniversary is December 21, so I've got TWO gifts to buy, not just one. And I know my husband is going to buy something regardless, even if I tell him not to, so I'm stuck.

My husband presents similar dilemmas. He has very specialized hobbies, and I can't really buy for him. He needs clothes, but he doesn't particularly like them, so he doesn't consider them a gift. So what do I do? I'm really at a loss.

What do I want for Christmas? I don't want a gift per se. I want someone, either my husband or my kids, to take all our VHS family movies and transfer them to DVD. I want someone to organize my digital photos. I want someone to make a movie out of all the family movies we've taken over the last two years. That's what I want. But no matter how hard I actually say that, I don't get it, because people insist on BUYING me something.

I suppose I'm complaining a lot when Thanksgiving is tomorrow, but I do find this time of year a little bit stressful because I don't know what to buy, and no one takes me seriously that I honestly would rather not have anything (because it's true, I honestly would rather not have a gift that was purchased).

What about you? What do you do with your spouse for Christmas? Any brilliant advice I should take (like be grateful you have a husband who wants to buy you something, you ridiculous woman?)? Let me know! Just leave a comment, or go write your own blog post and then come back here and link up in the comments section!

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What Do You Do About Santa?
Last week, when I was shopping with my girls, we stopped by the food court in the mall. And the girls were so excited that some of the "good seats" were still available, so we plopped ourselves down to watch.

And what was the object of our attention?

Santa. Not because we like Santa (I never believed in him as a child, and in fact told my ENTIRE kindergarten class that he wasn't real, causing my mother to get hate phone calls for months afterwards). It's just that we have a very sick sense of humour. My children and I find it fascinating to watch grown women try to plop very upset babies into the lap of a rather rotund stranger and then try to get that baby to smile, while the baby is crying and reaching out to Mommy.

Some babies go easily. But in that half hour, we counted three moms trying to coax crying babies and toddlers to sit still with the fat stranger and make a nice face. The babies would have none of it. They wanted their moms.

I think it's a perfect metaphor for Christmas. The baby is like our soul: it's reaching out to the familiar, the loving, the meaningful. But we miss the significance of that, and instead try to push the baby into the Christmas trappings, even if they ultimately don't satisfy.

Too often we spend too much time on the trappings, and not enough on what's really important.

I know some families find Santa fun, and I don't mean to say that you're wrong. I really don't think you are. I just could never summon up the energy to try to convince my kids of the existence of someone I found too complicated to try to explain. I also felt that my main calling was to point them to Jesus, and to add another semi-omnipotent and omni-present being into the picture was too confusing.

But I'm curious: what do you do? How do you handle Santa? What will you do this year? Tell me in the comments!

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I Feel Like an Egg
A fried one, that is. Or perhaps it's more like a little scrambled.

I'm a little tired this morning. I remember when my children were babies, and one night I left them with Keith so I could walk down to Fabricland--alone--and buy something for a new sewing pattern. I was only gone for about 45 minutes, but it was bliss. I was thinking about something for myself, and I didn't have any babies hanging off of me. It was "me" time, and though I didn't have much of it, when it did come along, it renewed me. It's funny the things we think of as treats when we have babies. Even escaping to the grocery store on our own can be a break.

Now my children are older and I don't have to worry about the diaper bag, but I still find myself feeling a little fried.

I've been writing a lot lately about time management, because it's something I've been thinking and praying about quite a bit. I'm busy, like we all are, but it seems like it's all important stuff. So where do I cut?

This fall has been really full. I've been speaking a ton on the weekends, which is great, but it does take a lot out of me. I've been good at managing my time--all the things I've written about lately really do help. But there's a point where you can't just move stuff around. You can't squeeze anything more juice out of that lemon.

Here's my problem: all during the week I'm homeschooling my kids. I honestly love that, and I do spend a lot of time with them. Their friends come over and we do stuff together. We're starting a homeschooling co-op in January, and again, I really love the other homeschooling kids in the area that are the same age as my kids. So I'm looking forward to it.

But in the middle of all the homeschooling I'm also cooking, and doing laundry, and mopping floors, and ironing, and all those things that have to get done. While they're at piano I'm running to the bank and the occasional dry cleaners. I'm taking the car in for oil changes. You get the picture.

So I spend my week trying to squeeze in all the things I need to get done. Then, at the back of my mind, I'm thinking about the speaking engagement that's coming up that weekend. And then, when the weekend hits, I hit the highway and away I go.

Often it's just for a Saturday (I've only done three complete weekends so far this year), but what that means is that I lose the day that would normally have been for me. I have no downtime.

And it's that downtime I think I need. It's not that I don't enjoy speaking--I do. But a lot of what I speak about is rather heavy. It's not all heavy. I have quite the comedy routine I do at the beginning, which is a lot of fun. And it involves a Barbie. You can see part of it here. After the laughs, however, when we get serious, I end up sharing my testimony, which includes talking about the hurts in my life, including my son dying. It's hard talking about that so often.

And when I do the big conferences, we inevitably get deeper into the subject of suffering--are you relying on your life to make you happy, or are you able to say that no matter what happens, God is enough? It's an important question, and it's one that we all need to deal with at some point. Today, though, I'm wishing that I didn't have to deal with it all the time.

Yesterday I did take a day all to myself. I sat down and I started a new knitting pattern that I really enjoy, and it's knitting up really quickly. I think I'm going to like the finished product. And I need more of that.

But what I also need is a sense from God of where my limit is. I love speaking. I want to speak. Because I homeschool, I can speak without abandoning my children, because I am home so much during the week. But I'm starting to realize that I can't just abandon me time. We need that me time.

Do you ever feel like that? If you have young children I'm sure you do. If you try to balance a job outside the home with mothering I'm sure you do, too. Sometimes it's not that we're not managing our time well; it's that we need more time for personal renewal. Susanna Wesley, the great mother of the faith from the eighteenth century (she was mother to evangelists and composers John and Charles Wesley), raised twelve children in a tiny home. Periodically she would go into her kitchen and throw her apron over her head as a symbol that she was "praying" and no one was to bother her.

I think I need to throw my apron over my head a little more often. I'm looking at my winter and spring schedule and I've decided to cut down on speaking. Several publishers are looking at one of my book proposals, and if that gets bought, I want to spend some time writing this year. I just need to be able to focus on me, just for a little while. I don't think it's selfish; I think it's realistic. Are any of you feeling the same way? Have any advice for me, or for each other? Tell me in the comments!

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Secrets of Saying "I Do"
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a number of papers. Here's this week's, on the latest marriage research:

I find it hilarious when magazines feature Julia Roberts on “What I’ve Learned About Love”, or Angelina Jolie with her tips on making love last. Stars who have been married multiple times and cheated on their spouses, or stole other people’s spouses, hardly seem like experts on how to experience a lifetime of love.

Instead of relying on them for marriage advice, then, I thought I’d take a look at some recent studies that put much of what we think we know about marriage on its head.

For instance, we all know it’s important to marry one’s equal, right? Turns out it depends how you define the word “equal”. A Europoean study called “Optimising the Marriage Market” followed 1500 couples for five years. They found that women who marry men at least five years older than they are experience divorce about six times less frequently. And here’s a weird fact: couples are more secure if the woman is more educated than the husband. Maybe educated women know what they want, and work harder to get it! Finally, a woman should choose a man who has never been divorced before. Previous relationships can endanger present ones.

What to make of all this? Women, I think, tend to be more mature than men, if one can judge by the appreciation, or lack thereof, of fart jokes. Marrying an older man, then, can be a wise choice.

Here’s another one: you definitely shouldn’t get married unless you’ve “tried each
other out first”, right? Most couples believe this one, since up to 70% of couples cohabit before they marry. Yet these couples may actually be endangering their future security. According to a study published in the February edition of the Journal of Family Psychology, testing the relationship first tends to lead to negative communication patterns, more fighting, and more breakups. When you begin a relationship always testing the person—does he make me happy? Does she fulfill my needs?—then the partner is always under scrutiny. You’re judging them, rather than asking, “Am I fulfilling his/her needs?”

Besides, once you’re living together, it’s easy to slip into marriage because it’s the next logical step. You’ve already developed this sense of intimacy, but it doesn’t necessarily last. A better idea, then, might be to figure out if the one you love is marriage material before you rent that U-Haul.

Finally, you should definitely wait until you’re established and you’ve played the field, right? Well, yes. And no. Getting married as a teenager is not a good idea, according to most statisticians. But getting married in your early twenties, according to Norval Glenn at the University of Texas, tends to be better than marrying in your late twenties or early thirties. You can have children when you’re younger and more energetic. You can establish yourselves together, rather than trying to blend two very separate households. And you tend to stick together. Speaking as one who tied the knot at 21, and never regretted it, I think early marriages can be wonderful—as long as both parties are mature. Now that I have teens, it’s fun being the “young mom”. And it’s so rewarding having such a rich history with my husband. Nevertheless, you still need to find someone who's compatible. Don't just marry young for the sake of marrying young. But if you have found that person, perhaps we shouldn't hesitate so much.

Of course, if you violate any of these rules, it doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. These are generalizations, not specifics, and any one couple can beat the odds. But perhaps it’s time to face up to what actually works, and encourage our kids in the right direction.

Marry younger, marry men who are slightly older, and don’t live together first. It goes against common wisdom. But perhaps what we commonly believe isn’t actually so wise after all.

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Getting Rid of the Things That Plague You

What holds you back?

Do you have things that bug you, but you can't seem to get rid of them? Do you find yourself constantly worrying about the same thing, or feeling guilty about the same thing, but it never seems to get dealt with?

You're not alone. Pharaoh suffered from stuff, too, and he wasn't the most effective at dealing with these pesky things in his life.

In this week's short, insightful and funny podcast, you'll see what we can learn from this long-dead Egyptian king. Learn to get rid of the frogs in your life, and you'll find that life is much less slimy!

The podcast this week isn't long, and I know it will make you laugh. Listen in right here.

I have a major book proposal being looked at by a number of large publishers right now on exactly this topic: how do we get rid of the things that plague us? If you could say a prayer for me right now that someone will pick it up, I would so appreciate it! It's been on my heart for quite a while now, and I'd love to be able to get it down on paper.

In the meantime, I do have it out on CD and DVD, based on a retreat that I gave, right here! And if you enjoy my blog, but you want to get to know me a bit better, you can listen in to the CD or watch the DVD! I promise they'll make you laugh, but they'll also make you cry. It's really quite touching as we take a journey through the difficulties that we often face, and learn how God offers hope, even in the midst of them.

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Wifey Wednesday: Work to Your Strengths

It's Wifey Wednesday, when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and you comment, or, better still, write a post on your own blog and link back here!

First, I was blown away by the comments from yesterday's post. I was talking about whether early marriages are good, and asked people how old they were when they were married. I don't know if it's selection bias as to who commented or not, but it seems like 95% of you were under 25. Perhaps that's a unique Christian SAHM thing? I'm not sure.

I do think that you're more likely to be a SAHM if you marry early, because you're used to living together when you're poor. You haven't established a career yet that it's hard to leave behind. So perhaps the people who read this blog just simply have tended to have similar paths in life (though if you haven't, you are, of course, more than welcome to stick around!).

Anyway, apparently marriages that begin in the early 20s tend to be more stable than those that begin in the early 30s, so I thought we could address today one way to make your marriage more stable.

So let me suggest something: work in your areas of strength. Let me explain what I mean. Often when we are upset in our marriages it is because we focus on the marriage's areas of weakness. We don't communicate well. He doesn't do enough of the housework. He leaves all the childcare to me. All he thinks about is sex. Etc. Etc.

Yet the marriages that tend to last tend to be the ones where people focus on their strengths. So let's say that you're in a marriage where you really don't seem to communicate well. It's hard to raise something that's an issue to you. He never shares his feelings.

You now have two choices: you can pound away at the communication issue, trying to get him to open up, and get frustrated in the process, or you can let it go for a while. If you pound away, he's likely to get annoyed, and retreat, and you're likely to get even more bitter.

Another strategy is to say, "what do we do well together?" Maybe he doesn't open up well, but maybe he really enjoys doing active things together as a family. Maybe you talk a lot when you take drives in the country. Maybe he gets excited when you look at the stock market together and plan your financial savings strategy. Or maybe you need to think back a little further. When's the last time you really laughed together? Had fun together? Relaxed together? What were you doing? Maybe a few years ago you pulled out a puzzle, and realized he really liked doing puzzles, and you liked it, too, but you haven't pulled one out since. Maybe you're awesome at playing Monopoly together.

What are your strengths as a couple? Are you sporty together? Can you lead a great Bible study together? Are you good youth leaders at church? Are you both musical? Are you good at painting a room together or fixing up the house?

Figure out what you can do together that makes you feel energized, and that touches your interests and/or gifts. And then do more of it.

So often we squeeze out the stuff that we do well together because "more important" things come along. The kids have hockey. They have homework. I have to clean the house. But it is just as important to function well as a couple and to feel competent and capable together. In fact, perhaps it's more important.

If there was something you once enjoyed doing together, and you've cut it out of your life, bring it back. Especially if you're having problems. If you can spend some time in this area of strength, it can refocus your marriage. You start to look forward to being together again. It's not stressful, as it is when you talk about the areas where you don't connect. It reinforces the reasons that you're a good couple.

And as you do that, the areas of weakness tend to fade, for two reasons. First, we stop noticing them and giving them so much importance. But perhaps more importantly, when we build our friendship and our identity as a couple, we tend to build a good foundation for the rest of the relationship. Work on companionship, and sex tends to improve. Work on fun, and communication tends to improve. Don't push these things, of course; but you'll likely find that you both are better able to function in all areas of your relationship when you start focusing on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses.

So today, whether your marriage is a good one or not, ask yourself: what do we do well together? Ski? Camp? Play games? Plan? Hike? Drive? And whatever it is, make a point of doing it together at least once a week. You just may find that your attitude, and his, takes a dramatic turn!

What about you? What do you do well together? Leave a comment and tell me! And, if you have a blog, do post on this topic. Have you ever focused too much on the negative? Has doing something together changed the dynamic in your relationship? Tell us! Just go write your own blog post, link it back here, and then come on over here and enter the URL for your blog post in the Mcklinky!

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When Should People Marry?
I wrote my column yesterday on marriage research that we're not commonly aware of. You'll be able to read it on Friday, but I thought I'd talk about some of it today. (You can look at my Delicious bookmarks on marriage research here).

One of the interesting tidbits I ran across lately is a researcher in Texas called Norval Glenn has found that the ideal age of first marriage is in the early twenties. You're less likely to get divorced if you marry in your early twenties than if you marry in your late twenties or early thirties.

Marriages when you're a teenager, though, aren't very stable.

Why? And what does that mean for us?

I think there are a number of reasons, including:

1. You aren't established yet, so you have a chance to establish yourselves together. You're not trying to meld two sets of dreams, and two sets of habits, and two households, as much as you're starting out together, and figuring all these things out from scratch. It's less of an adjustment, and you tend to adjust together, meaning that you tend to become quite similar.

2. You have fewer long-term relationships, or heartbreaks, behind you. Other research shows that the more partners you have before you marry, the less stable your marriage is. What dating really does is teaches you how to break up. It teaches you how to fall in love and then lose it. So dating widely isn't a good foundation for marriage. It could be, then, that those who marry younger are more stable because they have less baggage.

Note that of course I'm not saying that everyone should just get married in their early 20s. I don't think that's practical, because you may not have met anyone yet who is right for you. God is going to bring people into your life when He's ready.

But what I do think the research shows is that we should be READY to be married once we hit our early twenties. We shouldn't freak if our children come home at age 22 engaged, as long as we know our children are mature. And we should be working to make our kids mature, so that in their early twenties they could start to make these decisions.

The problem in our current culture is that we're trying to push the age at first marriage later and later. We want people to get their full education, and land a good job, and be established before they settle down, likely because we're scared they won't finish their education or won't finish what they've started because they'll get pregnant or something.

Pushing the age of first marriage later and later, though, also means that our children believe they don't HAVE to mature until far later. They can goof off in their twenties, they can act irresponsibly in college, they can continue to mooch off their parents and not get real jobs. They don't have it in their heads that once they turn twenty, it's time to start carving their own lives for themselves. For boys, especially, many don't grow up until they're way on their way to 30. And I don't think that's a positive development.

If we created a culture that said that we expect that people will begin to marry at 22 or 23 (obviously not everyone will, but they'll start), then perhaps our kids would start maturing faster. Instead, we give them the idea that we don't want them settling down until 27 or 28, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I married at 21, and I'm really glad I did. We had so much school ahead of us anyway, and if we waited to graduate, we would have been 28. So why not marry early? And because of that we had children early, when I was still energetic. And we're parents to teenagers while we're still in our thirties.

Not everyone will meet someone early, especially because there are far more Christian girls than Christian boys. But perhaps we need to stop this idea that people should settle down first. It doesn't look like that works anyway. Starting your life together seems to work better.

What do you think? And what's your experience? I'd love to know!
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How to Start the Week
Last week I started my week thinking about busy-ness. I was too busy. But I concluded that the "busy" feeling was largely one of my own making. It wasn't only that I had too much on my plate--though I did have a lot--it was also that I was letting the computer steal a bunch of my time.

So what's the alternative? Right now, I'm sitting at my kitchen table with five days in front of me. And the question is, how am I going to make those five days count? How am I going to make sure that what needs to get done does indeed get done?

I've done the to-do list thing. Many of us have. And I don't always find them helpful. Sometimes they can just be stifling, because there's so much on there it gets discouraging. When you go to make a to-do list, you often think of all the things you wish you would just complete, and those go on the list. And then your to-do list stretches a mile.

I think there's a better way to handle it, and so today I'm going to sketch out what I'd like my days to look like. I'm not saying I always achieve this, but this is the aim. And if you would like to comment and add your thoughts, too, that would be great! Maybe together we'd figure out how to use our days more productively, but also how to savour the downtime and just enjoy being with those we love. So here goes:

1. Have a morning routine. I've written about this before, because mornings are my test. If I can start the morning off right, the rest of the day tends to go well. If I dither or start too late, I become discouraged and often give up on my plans for the day! So I suggest that everyone adopt some sort of a morning routine. When we have a routine we don't need a to-do list. We know what to do, when. It becomes habit.

So, for instance, I often get up, write a blog post, read my Bible and sip hot chocolate, exercise, shower, and make my bed, in that order. It takes about an hour and a half. Now my children are older now, so I don't have to get up with them, or get them dressed, or even get them breakfast. They can get their own. I know it's tough when you have smaller children. But even then I did have a routine. I would often put on a certain video, or put them in the playpen, while I showered. I tended to have breakfast at a certain time. When we had a routine, the kids knew what to expect and didn't complain too much.

What do you do in the morning to get your day off right?

2. Put first things first. Part of my morning routine involves reading the Bible. I need to have that time just talking to God and praying, and having some quiet, peaceful time before the day begins. For a while I tried to do this before blogging, but I gave up, because frankly I'm too tired when I first wake up to have productive time being quiet. And quiet time can definitely be productive! We think things through, we pray about important things. But I can't do that when I'm almost falling asleep. So I try to do something else first that wakes me up, so that I can concentrate more and give my full attention to God.

It's important to be quiet, at least for a little bit, at the beginning of the day. Assess your priorities. Bring your worries before God. Examine your heart. When we do these things, the day tends to flow better.

3. Get active. I can't tell you how much happier I've been since I started working out in the morning! It was always something I wanted to do, but getting to the gym was so impossible. With the Wii Fit Plus, I can just workout in my own home. I'm probably not getting as strenuous a workout as I would at the gym, but the point is that I'm doing it. And I've been really consistent for about a month now. It does mean that my school day (since we homeschool) begins about a half hour later than I would otherwise, but because I've exercised I tend to have more energy!

4. Figure out what your "one thing" is. I read a great article on time management recently that said that successful people don't make to-do lists. They simply know what the one biggest priority is, and they work that priority. So their to-do list is only one thing long. I think that's brilliant, and to tell you the truth, it really does work. My one thing right now is my column. I need to get that written and sent in. When that's done, I'll have another one thing. But I find that I can worry about one thing far better than I can worry about twenty. So I try to figure out what the one thing is that is causing me the most stress and worry, and work on getting that out of the way first.

5. Have routines for "routine" things. Sounds basic, but few of us do it. You have to do laundry. You have to do grocery shopping. You have to do ironing (even if you try to reduce the amount of ironing you do as much as possible). You have to change your sheets and mop the floors. I don't think of these as to-dos, really, because they occur all the time. So do you have a routine for laundry? I throw a load in everyday when I get out of the shower. I make my bed everyday when I get dressed. I change my sheets every Friday. I iron every Tuesday. Since I know when I do these things, I don't have to think about them. They automatically get built into my day.

The more we have routines for the routine things, the less busy we feel. You know everything will get done on its day, and you don't have to do everything all at once. The problem with not having routines is that often things get out of control, and then you try to tackle everything at once. That truly is exhausting. So, as much as possible, work routines for these routine things into your week. Then they're not a source of stress. If you want some planning charts to plan your housework, I have some free ones here.

6. Be disciplined. No one likes discipline. It's not fun. But it really does help. You know what needs to be done. You know what you should be doing. Don't work too hard. Your house doesn't need to be spotless. But when you know something needs to get done, just do it. Carve out time in your day when you will get necessary things done. Don't spend your life on a computer or in front of a screen. When we're disciplined, work doesn't have to take that much time. Discipline isn't boring; it actually lets you have more fun because you live in a more organized environment and life is not so chaotic.

So there you are. My pointers for how to have a more peaceful week. I'd love to hear yours! What makes you feel more peaceful? What makes you more organized? Let me know!

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Tyranny of the Screen
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a variety of newspapers across Canada, and this week's builds on a blog post I had earlier this week complaining about my busy-ness. See if you can relate:

I’ve been a little panicky lately with all the stuff on my plate, and as Christmas approaches it’s only going to get worse. As I’ve been weighing the option of having a full-fledged panic attack to extricate myself from some commitments, I started thinking about the basic assumption of busy-ness. It goes like this: we have too much to do, and not enough time to do it in. In other words, there are two sides of the scale: how much is on our plate, and then how big that plate is.

Let’s look at how much is on our plate. According to time studies, we don’t actually have that much more work to do today than we did thirty years ago. We’re slightly more burdened, but it’s not catastrophic by any stretch of the imagination. So what’s up?

Certainly it could be that we’re spending too much time in extracurricular activities and in volunteer work. Many of our children are over-scheduled, and I do think we need to re-evaluate how much we’re willing to be out of the house over the things that aren’t absolutely necessary. But that’s a subject for a different column.

What I’m really interested in is this idea of how big our plate is. What if we’re not actually busier, but we just feel busier?

If we have roughly the same amount of leisure time as our parents did, and even more than our grandparents did, then what is our major malfunction? Perhaps the problem is not how much we have to do, but instead how we’re spending the time at our disposal. For instance, when we choose to spend our leisure time in front of a screen, we often lose a significant portion of our day.

When you sit down at the TV, do you think to yourself, “I'll just sit here for two and a half hours?” Chances are you don't, but often you find it sucks you in anyway. Most Canadians spend over thirty hours a week in front of a screen. That’s a lot of potential time eaten up right there. My weakness is the internet. I sit down to "check a few emails" and suddenly two hours have evaporated.

I wonder, then, how much of our busy-ness simply stems from the crazy ways we spend our leisure time. Often we turn to time wasters, like TV and the internet, because we're tired, and we just want to relax. Unfortunately, these things don’t necessarily relax us, and we end up worse than we were before. Researchers have shown that watching violent movies or television shows, or watching dysfunctional families on reality shows, actually makes our mood worse, not better.

What really relaxes me is playing games with my kids, knitting, or bubble baths. If I don't have time to knit because I've been on the internet for two hours, I don't feel relaxed, even though I've had what looks like all this “me” time. If I spend a half hour exercising, and then a half hour with my kids, and then an hour in the bubble bath, though, chances are I would feel a lot better than I do after surfing the web.

Perhaps the reason that we feel so busy isn't that we're actually busy as much as it is that we’re realizing the important things aren't getting done. If we prioritized those important things, a lot of stress would dissipate. We'd go to bed at night knowing that we had had a good day. I'd really like that feeling again, so rather than having a panic attack over my busy-ness, I think I’ll just try to leave that infernal screen behind. Are you with me?

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Do You Struggle with Believing God Loves You?

Jesus loves you. We hear it in Sunday School. We sing it. But do we believe it?

We may, but when bad things happen, we soon find out whether that belief is just a few inches deep or whether it reaches down to our hearts.

Today's podcast gets to the heart of the matter. On this blog, I've shared some of my personal history with my son who passed away. I speak about this quite often, and this podcast is a clip of a talk I gave where I discuss why it is that we struggle so much during hard times. I share my own battle to feel God's love, even in the most difficult time in my life.

If you've ever yelled at God, "Why would you do this to me?"; if you've ever struggled to feel God's acceptance of you; if you've ever wondered if He really loves you, then this podcast is for you.

I hope it blesses you, and gives you a glimpse of the God who loves, even in our darkest times, and who carries us through our pain.

Listen in here. It's not too long, but it's deep. And remember, you can subscribe with iTunes and then listen on your iPod!

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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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