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Why I Love Small Towns...
Some of you may remember my column from last summer called "Date Night", where I talked about my friend "Sebastien", who took his wife to a movie, fell asleep, and then ended up posting on Facebook about how he didn't understand the plot anymore. It was pretty funny.

Anyway, it turns out Sebastien and his wife finally got out for another date last night. They went to dinner--and were seated right beside their assistant pastor and his wife. So they couldn't get away from church friends. Then, as they're walking through the mall, who do they run into but me and my daughter? Twice.

So today, as I turn on my Facebook, I see this notification:

Pretty funny. I lived in Toronto for 28 years and only 2 or 3 times ran into people I knew. Here in my town I can't go out without seeing someone I know. And it actually creates pretty funny interactions!
Horror Free Hallowe'en!

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Our little corner of the world has seen a lot of horror and grief in the last few weeks, what with the Russell Williams trial, the heartbreaking accounts of depravity, and the media circus. So I think it would be rather fitting if we swore off horror for Halloween. Instead of celebrating ugliness, why not celebrate ballerinas and cowboys and princesses and superheroes, with a few baby bunnies and baby bees thrown in? In fact, I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is, and I’ll announce a chocolate ratio: anyone at my door wearing a happy costume gets three pieces of chocolate. Anything ugly gets only 1.

And if any parent dresses their little girl in something that looks like stripper wear, I’ll still give the kid a mini-chocolate bar, because they’ve already been punished enough by having such a degenerate family. But I’ll be sure to send the evil eye the parents’ way.

I’ve never been that fond of Halloween, ever since my grade three year when I pranced into school in my Wonder Woman costume and all the boys laughed at me. Coming up with a costume that other kids would think was cool was always way too stressful. And as a parent, creating a costume my children wanted to wear but which was also warm enough to protect them in the October slush gave me migraines. I’ve always had that suspicion that Hallowe’en is just a big racket anyway, promoted by candy and costume companies, forcing us to shell out big bucks so our kids can freeze one night and gorge themselves the next.

Thus, I was deliriously happy when my children reached that magical age of twelve, when I proclaimed that trick or treating was now a thing of the past. Hitting up neighbours for candy is cute when one is six; when one is fourteen and can afford an iPod touch, it’s not called cute anymore. It’s called extortion.

What makes it even worse is that often these teens arrive sans costume. Maybe they’ve managed to throw on a wig on or some heavy black eye makeup, but that’s it. Why should I give a teenager a little chocolate bar just for showing up at my door, when they haven’t even put any effort into it?

If teens want to dress up and have a party for Halloween, by all means, go right ahead. But do it inside someone’s house, not out on the street. Get your friends together, pool your money and buy candy on sale, and watch some movies or play some games. Just keep it indoors, not out on the street where you’re scaring four-year-old ballerina princesses to death.

The only teens I don’t mind seeing at my door are those who are supervising younger siblings, so that Mom and Dad can stay at home, listening to their own doorbells and giving out their own candy in peace. Those teens are contributing, they’re not mooching. Interestingly, the teen supervisors almost never ask for candy. But I tend to give it to them anyway, because I appreciate that they’re being generous with their time, too.

Hallowe’en is an upside down night. We let kids go out in the cold without coats; we let them take candy from strangers; we let them eat too much dessert. We’re already big hypocrites. So let’s at least put some parameters on it. No teenage—or adult—trick or treaters. No costumes that sexualize little children. And no costumes that turn rambunctious kids into demons. From one subdivision mom to all the other fed up moms out there, let’s join forces and enforce some decency once again. And maybe then we’d have some chocolate left over to munch on, all by ourselves.

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Thursday Thoughts: Dead Bunnies, Looking Boxy, and Nightgowns

Photo by nblumhardt

Ever had one of those weeks where just weird things happen to you? Allow me to share three tidbits from my life which demonstrate how upside down things are sometimes.

1. When your day starts off with having to kill a bunny, you know it can only get better from here.

One morning this week the girls and I were jogging, as we do almost every morning, when we came upon a bunny that had been partially run over. We assumed the thing was dead, so we all groaned the obligatory, "Ahhhh, that's so sad," when all of a sudden said dead bunny started moving its legs.

We screamed and jumped back, as if this bunny were about to charge or something. But since blood was coming out of its eyes, I think the chances of that were rather slim.

Nevertheless, I now had a dilemma. A bunny was lying on the road, not dead, but obviously in pain. And crows were circling. What do you do?

My youngest decided this was ridiculous and she headed for home, but Rebecca and I continued to fret about this bunny's fate. We'd beg passing motorists to run over it and end its misery, but no one took us up on the offer.

"I could run over it with the van," I helpfully suggested, but we both agreed I'd be too chicken to do it.

Because we wanted some way to help, we went to fetch shovels, thinking at least we could move it to the grass so it could die somewhere comfortable. Walking around in sunny weather with winter shovels we approached the bunny, who was still not quite dead. Then I thought, "if it has a broken leg and we move it, we're only causing it more pain." I briefly considered decapitation, but then realized I could never do that, either. Drowning, perhaps?

In desperation we headed to my nephew's grandparent's house, which is just around the corner. My nephew, who is 15, happened to be home, and he came with us and promptly finished the bunny off with a quick blow to the skull. Then he and his grandfather buried it.

Moral of the story: sometimes it's good to have 15-year-old boys around!

2. Props can come in handy.

Last Saturday I spoke at a Girls Night Out event in Niagara Falls (if you live in the Maritimes, I'm coming in November! Check it out here). I planned to make the three-hour drive home that night, rather than staying in Niagara, because I had to be at church the next morning. I don't mind driving at night; I had CDs ready to go, and Diet Pepsi to keep me awake. I was ready for anything.

Except a major traffic jam, that had me sitting on the QEW for three hours. After I had travelled only about 40 miles I finally got through the jam, was able to exit, and got a hotel for the night.

"But I'm going to have to sleep in my clothes!", I moaned. Then, as I was going through my car to see what supplies I might have for an overnight stay, I found the famous nightgown that I use as a prop when I speak.

And lo and behold, I was all set.

If you want to see the routine, here it is from a few tours back:

3. Be Wary of Sales Staff

This year, as I went through my speaking wardrobe, I realized I would need some new clothes. The Girls Night Out set has a background that's royal blue, and most of my clothes were blue. Take a picture of me up there and you can't see me.

I have lots of nice clothes, and didn't really need anything personally, but I needed a few speaking outfits. So I headed down to a locally owned boutique where I have bought some nice things in the past and tried on some clothes. I was in a hurry, so I didn't look that closely, but the women there told me that the jacket and the blouses looked "just fabulous!"

They were awfully pricey, but I wanted quality, and I knew I'd wear them again. So I bought them. Then, last Saturday, when I was getting ready to leave, I tried on an outfit.

It looked hideous.

It was too big in the shoulders and it just hung there, making me look like a box or a giant rectangle. I had no shape. I called the girls in and we frantically tried to make it work, but nothing did. They said, "we tried to tell you in the store, but the women kept shushing us."

Note to sales staff: never shush my kids. They have good instincts.

I wore something else, went into a store in Niagara Falls and bought some much better--and cheaper--stuff, and was happy.

So I went to return the things this week and they almost wouldn't take them back. They're "special occasion" wear, and I guess boutiques don't even do exchanges on special occasion wear. I was mightily ticked, but talked them into it. So now I'm in the position where all I can do is exchange (not get money back), and I don't want or need any other clothes. I wanted to spend money redoing my basement.

I bought some jewellery and a few sweaters, and came away much wiser.

Lesson: When you're trying on clothes at a boutique, start with something absolutely hideous and ask the salesperson how you look. If they say, "Fantastic!!!", walk out of there as fast as you can. They only want your money; they're not interested if you actually look good.

I wish I had figured that out earlier!

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Wifey Wednesday: Made for Each Other

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up! Today I'm a little pressed for time, so I'm going to reprint one of my favourite columns on marriage here. Hope you enjoy it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I tend to be on the shy side. Today I make my living speaking at women's events and retreats, often in front of large groups, which doesn't bother me the least. But parties, where I have to talk one-on-one are uncomfortable. It's not natural for me.

It's not natural for Keith, on the other hand, to be quiet. And as we've been married, he's taken me to so many parties that I've begun to open up. But he's also started to quiet down. Had we not married, he might have been even more gregarious, and I may have become more introspective.

Or take food. I crave sweets, but not fat or salt.

Keith, on the other hand, once drank a cup of bacon grease because someone dared him. If Keith hadn't married me, he'd likely be a lot heavier than he is right now. And I'd probably still never know how wonderful real butter makes everything taste.

Over the last I 6 years we have changed. I am not the same person who walked down that aisle, and he isn't the same one who was waiting for me, I loved him dearly then, but I love him much more deeply now. Just by being together, we change each other.

And isn't that how it should be? Think about it this way: marriage is supposed to reflect Christ's relationship with us. As Christians, when we walk with Christ we'll become more like Him. So that might happen in our marriages, too. As we walk together, we start to reflect one another. And I think that's a beautiful thing!

But it should also be a warning to those thinking there's that one perfect person out there – that one person that God made especially for you. I don't think that's the Christian view of marriage. Rather, it's God's wish that a husband and wife would grow to adapt to one another. God made men and women differently — yet made them to complement one another. Husbands may never find the laundry hamper and wives may never appreciate the importance of "the game's on," but they can both adjust to each other and learn to value those differences.

That's why I don't think marriage is a matter of finding the perfect person as much as it is becoming the perfect couple. And the more time you spend together, the more you just might find that you're made for each other after all.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you grown together over the years? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

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What ONE Thing Can You Get Rid Of?

Photo by Pitt Wedge

Here at Simplify Your Life month we've been talking about paring down all month.

And today I want to let you dream a bit: what's the one thing you would get rid of in your life, if you could?

Hockey games that you have sitting at, but feel like you have to because you son loves it? All the volunteering you do at church? Laundry? Baby-sitting someone else's kids? A part-time job? In-laws? Grocery shopping? What?

What is your biggest source of stress? What is the one task which, when you have to do it, you groan inside and you have to steel yourself against all the negative feelings that you have?

If you had only one month to live, chances are it would be the first thing that you get rid of, because it's not worth it. There's too much negative energy there, and not enough positive, God-given joy.

Today I want to help you dump that one thing without having to resort to a cancer diagnosis to do so. Don't be scared; it's easier than you think, and it's not going to hurt that much.

1. Identify Your One Thing
Think hard about what you do that gives you the most stress. Sometimes we're afraid to admit it to ourselves because it's such a central thing in our lives. But be honest: what is the one thing that drives you the most crazy?

2. What Purpose Does that One Thing play?

What is the purpose of that one thing in the lives of you and your family? For instance, let's say we're talking about hockey for your 9-year-old son. You're sick of getting up at 6 in the morning every Saturday and hauling small children to a cold rink so they can watch their brother. The expense is killing you. You don't like the other parents. But what is the purpose of hockey? It's to give your son competition, fun, exercise, and a social life.

Take a look at those four things for a moment: competition, fun, exercise, and a social life. Can he meet those needs somewhere else? Does it have to be through hockey? Maybe he can join a different league that doesn't play as often. Maybe you can have him go out once in a while when friends rent the ice. Maybe he can join soccer in the summer to get competition, and in the winter you all can go skating together as a family, or take up cross country skiing as exercise. Or maybe you can go for hikes and go tobagonning once the snow comes.

Or what if your one thing is your part-time job. What purpose does that serve? Giving money for the family, right? Can you meet that purpose in another way? Maybe you can save more money by smarter grocery shopping. Maybe you can get a different job, or find a way to make a small amount of money online. Maybe you can help your husband make more money.

Once we figure out the purpose, it's easier to see if the activity itself is necessary, and if there are alternatives to whatever is driving you crazy.

3. Can Others Do It?

What if the thing that is driving you nuts is grocery shopping, or laundry, or keeping the living room clean? Can others do that? Can you divide up the chores and assign these to someone else? Can you hire someone to do some basic cleaning? Can you change the way your family works so that the kids do their own laundry, or fold while they watch TV? Does it have to fall entirely on your plate?

4. Can You Develop a Different Attitude?

Let's say you've tried all that and it doesn't really look like things can change. You can't get rid of it; it's an essential part of your family, even though it drains you.

So the next question is this: can you change the way you think about it? I'll grant you that it's draining, but can you tackle it in a new way?

Let's say, for instance, that the thing you can't get rid of is visiting your grandmother in a nursing home every Saturday. It saps up your time, it's horrendously boring, you get little gratitude, and you feel guilty the whole time you're there because you don't want to be there and you feel like you're letting your children down. But there's no one else to go, and you feel like you need to help her with basic groceries and other things once a week.

Can you instead embrace it as time to yourself to pray? Can you give yourself twenty minutes, while you're shopping for her, just to do have some alone time? Can you bring a book and sit in the food court and read for a few minutes before you go back with her groceries? Can you bring your journal and as you're sitting with her, make that your time to process what's happened this week. Can you read out loud to her, and focus on reading something that you've wanted to read.

Can you simply think of that time and task that you can't get rid of as a chance to give an offering to God of your time and energy?

Some things in life we can't get rid of, but that doesn't mean we have to hate every minute of it. Maybe there's a way to start seeing the blessing in a small amount of time away from the family, or in the quiet space sitting with an older person. It's never going to be the most fun thing you do, but you may be able to change the way you do it so it fits with your style a little bit more, and so that you can derive some intense satisfaction from it, too.

When we're feeling overwhelmed, the tendency is to think that we are trapped: our lives are exactly the way they need to be, and we can't change them. But that's usually not true at all. You always have power to make different choices. So I'd invite you to take a good, hard look at the things that sap your energy the most, and ask yourself these questions. Can something else serve that purpose in our lives? Can somebody else do it? Can I change the way I think about it? You just may find that you have more power than you think after all!

Have you ever had to get rid of your "one thing"? What did you do? Let's talk about it in the comments!

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Accepting Yourself as You Are
Brighton Marathon 2010-022
Photo by Matt Grover

We're wrapping up simplify your life month here at To Love, Honor and Vacuum. We've talked about finding your purpose, and organizing, and paring down, and all kinds of things that will help your life become more peaceful.

Today I want to talk about another fundamental one, and it's this: give yourself a break.

Many years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I made some career goals for myself. One in particular I was supposed to have attained when I hit 40.

Guess what? It's not going to happen. For years I was trying to twist myself into a pretzel to try to shortcut my way to that goal, so that when my 41st birthday hit I would have done it. But no matter what I do at this point I won't have time to meet that goal. It's fallen by the wayside.

I've realized that the issue isn't whether or not I meet the goal; the issue is whether or not I am at peace about not meeting that goal.

We women just don't tend to like ourselves. We can see all our shortcomings, and we feel as if we should be pushing ourselves, beating ourselves, forcing ourselves to change and be different. We shouldn't be this heavy; we should exercise more, lose weight, eat less. We shouldn't be this lazy; we should be able to earn some money at home, create a small business, generate some income. We shouldn't be this shy; we should have more friends, more social engagements, more people over to dinner.

Do all those "shoulds" help you actually accomplish anything? Or do they just paralyze you?

I find so often that when we set up goals for ourselves, we just end up paralyzed, unable to move forward, because we feel overwhelmed and guilty. I know goal setting can be important, and some goals are worthy. But not all goals are.

Let's go back to my professional goal that I had for myself at 40. Do you know why I won't meet it? It's because since I made that goal, my life has changed. I decided to homeschool my children. I decided to work with the youth of our church. I decided to do more at home to support my husband's career, because our life was becoming too busy. I made decisions that were smart for my family, but those decisions made that goal pretty much impossible to attain. Usually the reason that we haven't met a goal in our lives is not because we're lazy and undisciplined; often it's because we have used our time to do something else. We have decided that something else is momentarily more important than that goal.

Photo by minitrue

For instance, I've gained fifteen pounds over the last ten years. For a while I felt really badly about this, and desperately wanted to lose the weight. But over the last year or two I've come to the conclusion that as long as I maintain what I am now, that's okay. I don't need to have the body of a mid-twentysomething woman when I'm forty. It's okay to learn to be comfortable in your skin.

And it's much more emotionally healthy to accept yourself for what you are than to hate yourself because you haven't beaten your body into submission.

In order to have that body again I would have to radically change how I eat (because I already eat quite well), and I would have to add a lot more exercise to my schedule. My girls and I already start the day with a jog, at least four times a week. It's not overly long; we're usually only gone for twenty minutes, but it's something. But I've realized I don't really have time to do much more than that if I want to attain the other goals I've made for myself. It's not that I'm lazy; it's just that everything has an opportunity cost. In order to have that body of the twenty-something, I would have to work out for an hour a day. I would rather spend that hour going over Katie's math with her, or writing, or organizing something with our youth group, or making dinner. I am consciously choosing that there are other things in my life that are more important right now.

Here's the truth: we cannot do everything. We cannot maintain the perfect body, and maintain a perfect home, and spend tons of time with the kids, and have romantic getaways with our husbands, and create small businesses to make income for our families. We just can't. Why not instead talk to God about what is good enough in each of those areas of your life? And then accept the good enough; don't keep feeling badly that you're not doing more.

Of course, many of us aren't getting important things done because we waste time. We spend too much time in front of the TV, or the computer, or on the phone. If that's the case, then maybe you need to re-evaluate. You certainly don't want television to keep you from attaining an important goal in your family. But many of us don't have that many hours, even if we wanted to find them. They're already being used. And we still, after all, do need downtime.

I think we are completely unrealistic about what is possible for us to accomplish in this life. Everything comes with a price, and if you're not willing to pay the price, then that's okay. But don't just say, "I don't have time to do this," and then continue to feel guilty. Say, "I don't have time to reach this goal," and then accept it. Accept who you are right now, even with your limitations, because you are doing the best you can. And your best is always good enough.

Isn't that what we tell our children? We don't care what they get on the test, as long as they tried their best. If they get a 95% but they didn't try, we'd be unhappy. But if they got a 65% and that genuinely was their best, then that's okay. We'd get them some more help, but we wouldn't be angry.

So why be angry at ourselves? If we're doing our best, and we're talking to God about how to prioritize our lives, and we're talking to our husbands about our lives, then let's give ourselves a break. We're doing what we can do, and in this season of our life, this is the best we can offer. Don't compare yourself to someone with more time, more money, or more energy, because that is not how God made you. Just be the best of who you were made to be, and whatever that is, that is okay.

Wouldn't that feel so much better?

What do you struggle with accepting about yourself? Do you often feel negatively towards yourself because you aren't meeting some goal? Let's talk!

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Girls Night Out Niagara on the Lake!

Last night I spoke at a Girls Night Out event in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, in the lovely Orchard Park Bible Church!

Had a great time meeting all the women there--like Stacey Weeks, who was instrumental in organizing it. So many churches from the whole community were represented, and it was a great night! Comedian Leland Klassen opened, and then I gave a little comedy portion, a sponsorship appeal for World Vision, and then a thirty minute talk on what it means to be able to say that "God is enough".

Loved talking to women afterwards, and so appreciate the two hurting women I shared with for a while--one whose husband just left, and one who has a family member dying of cancer. Hard, hard things, but let's remember Romans 8:18:

For we know that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.

I love that verse. It means that no matter what hardship and crap you're sludging through right now, no matter how terrible it is, it's not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. Isn't that beautiful? My son's death was horrible, but even that is not worthy to be compared with what God will do.

What joy!

The drive home, however, was not so joyful, since I hit a traffic jam and sat on the QEW for two hours. I realized I wouldn't make it home that night and woul d have to stay at a hotel intead. I thought to myself: "I didn't bring any pyjamas!" And then, for those of you who have seen the show, I remembered that flannel nightgown I always hold up for laughs. Sometimes props come in handy!

Girls Night Out is coming to the Maritimes in November! If you have friends in the eastern part of Canada, point them here to find dates and times. And I'll be touring the U.S. in the spring and fall, so maybe I'll see some of you there then, too!

The rest of the album is here.


My Thoughts on Russell Williams, God, and my Hometown
Belleville heron
The Belleville, Ontario waterfront

Last Monday I was in Toronto, in World Vision headquarters for some speaker training, and looked up at the television set to see my hometown.

There was the Pinnacle Street courthouse, across the street from the library where my children usually were that time on a Monday, hanging out while waiting for their music lessons. I had called them that morning and told them it may be wise to avoid the library that day, because worldwide media was parked on the doorstep.

It was the trial for Russell Williams, the former commander of the Trenton air base, Canada's largest military base, charged with two counts of first degree murder, two sexual assaults, and numerous other perversions.

His name will forever be linked in Canadian history with Paul Bernardo and Clifford Olson. He is despicable.

This case really rocked us because it happened so close to us. Our church is also filled with military personnel from the Trenton base who were so thrown by the revelations. But Jessica Lloyd, his last victim, lived next door to my former sister-in-law, who at the time lived alone with her teenage daughter. It was only a few kilometers from my house, and I drive by their several times a week.

Jessica's disappearance affected everybody. She went missing in the morning; by that afternoon, posters were already up all over Belleville announcing she was missing. I've never seen such a well-organized campaign.

And the police were brilliant. I have many friends who are police officers, and while they can't disclose everything, I know they worked tirelessly and diligently and it was good old-fashioned police work that caught Williams.

I'm glad the trial is over, and I hope that our little town can get back to normal soon. But there are two things I will continue to think about, once I have pushed the perversions and gross revelations out of my mind.

1. It is just dangerous for women to live alone, especially young women.

That's not fair. I'm sure I'll get tons of comments bad-mouthing me for stating the obvious, just as I received comments on my other posts talking about how women should try to protect ourselves from assault, but it's the truth.

Yes, women should be able to live however they want and wherever they want. But Russell Williams deliberately targeted women who lived alone. Jessica lived just off of a highway he used to commute, and he noticed her, by herself.

I am not blaming Jessica. It was not her fault. I have lived alone, too, and I know many women in their twenties don't have a choice. But this case has changed me. I will not let my girls live alone, as long as I have power over that decision. I will encourage them to have roommates, and if they do need to live in an apartment, I will make sure it is at least on the third floor.

Would I have been this careful before this case? No, I wouldn't. But in the same way that the Paul Bernardo case has made me lecture the girls about stepping near a car to give directions, even if it's a woman who's asking (it was Karla, looking lost and holding a map, who grabbed Kristen French), Jessica has made me determined never to let my girls live alone, if I can help it.
It will never totally protect them, but I do believe that there are evil people who deliberately look for single women. I don't want my girls to be one of them.

2. I was really saddened to read the victim impact statements by Jessica Lloyd's family. Over and over again they said a variation of "I don't know how God could create such evil, and I will never believe in a god again."

I completely understand that sentiment, and with the way Jessica Lloyd was tortured, I think it would be hard to feel any other way.

I just don't think it's helpful. It's really quite sad, because you're turning away from God, the one person who could offer real healing in this absolutely atrocious situation. How can you ever have peace on this side of heaven after a loved one was killed so horrifically, unless you get that peace supernaturally, from God? By turning their backs on Him, I'm afraid that they're turning from real help.

I believe God will still be reaching out for them now; how could He not? But there is this misconception that it was God who created that evil. No, He didn't. He created Russell Williams, but Williams made the choice to ignore God and to let evil grow inside him. Williams doesn't represent a creation of God as much as he does a rejection of God. If Williams' victims now turn from God because of what Williams did, then doesn't evil ultimately win? To turn to God--the antithesis of Williams--is to turn away from Williams, to punish him most effectively. To turn away from God is to reject the good that Jessica was, and that God offers to them now.

They are hurting so badly, and there is so little our community can do to help. I pray that all the family members will be able to catch a bit of sleep soon, and that their dreams will be peaceful and quiet. I pray that they may one day remember with laughter, and not just with tears. And I pray that those who do know them can reach out and help, instead of being so overwhelmed that they don't know what to say.

But most of all, I pray that they will run to God, even if it's in desperation. God didn't abandon Jessica Lloyd; Russell Williams abandoned God, and that had horrific consequences. I hope his evil deeds don't cause others to abandon God, too, and live in hopelessness, alone.

What a sad, sad week for our community. If you followed the news at all, will you say a prayer for the Lloyd and Comeau families? They will need it so badly in the days and weeks and years to come.


The Benefits of Boredom

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Ask someone how they’re doing, and the most likely response you’ll receive is, “I’m busy.” Leading a hectic life has become a status symbol. Perhaps because of that, the two most dreaded words in the English language are now, “I’m bored.” We spend our lives running so hard because we’re scared of being bored.

But is boredom really so bad? After all, without boredom would Benjamin Franklin have decided to fly his kite to test electricity? Would Thomas Edison have thought up the lightbulb, the phonograph, the motion picture machine? When we’re bored, we’re alone with our thoughts, and thus we tend to—gasp!—think!

I remember reading a study a while back that found that people burned more calories sitting on a couch for an hour staring at a blank TV screen than they did sitting on that same couch staring at a TV program. Sitting with nothing to do makes our brains active, and we start to actually imagine.

Imagination, I think, is impossible without boredom. It’s boredom that pushes people to start thinking: what else could I do? And that’s when we get the greatest ideas! Children build forts or explore the outdoors. Adults write stories or think of new business opportunities or fix something.

Boredom can be a huge benefit in childhood, for it nudges kids to actually play with their pesky younger siblings, instead of spending all day sitting by themselves updating their Facebook status. Boredom makes kids read books. Boredom makes children explore more of the world and figure out what interests them. It was boredom that made people turn to crafts—crafts that may have taken hours or days to complete, but delivered such a sense of satisfaction afterwards, a sense that one cannot get from advancing to the next level on Call of Duty or Halo.

Parents in the past embraced boredom. If kids were bored, we told them to clean their rooms, play a game, go outside, or read a book. We turned the problem back on the kids: if you’re bored, find a solution! Today, we accept responsibility for our kids being bored and think it’s our job to fix and ensure our children are entertained. And all too often our quick fix has to do with food. We stick something in their mouths to stop the whining so we can get back to our own busy lives. We’ve forgotten how to see boredom as a positive thing: this will help my child use his or her imagination, get active, or try a new hobby.

I learned to knit as a teenager because I had nothing to do on Sunday afternoons, and the television schedule was dominated by bad movies that were already decades old. Twenty-five years later knitting is still my favourite hobby, and I have ten of the cutest little baby sweaters nestled away in a box, all ready should anyone have a baby shower. I find knitting tremendously relaxing, and it’s such a source of creative expression and joy in my life. Would I have first picked up those needles, though, if video games and Facebook were in existence then to dispel my boredom?

Boredom forces us to enlarge our world. It forces us to play with a sibling, call a friend, or write a letter. It makes us take up hobbies, learn a new skill, make home improvements, clean something, organize something, or make the world a better place.

Why deprive our children of such a great gift? Next time they say they’re bored, celebrate! Don’t try to fix the problem—and especially don’t stick something in their mouths. Instead, reply, “That’s wonderful! Now let’s see what you come up with to do.” And you just may find they live much bigger lives because of it.

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Awesome Organizing Links
Hello, faithful readers!

My mind is a little all over the place today, which is probably why I've decided to publish a links post, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

But today a major publisher will make a decision about my next book, so if you could say a quick prayer that God will lead them in the right direction (and lead me to accept it no matter what the answer is) that would be great! I really believe in this book, though, so I really want to see it published. And I'll tell you all about it once I can!

Anyway, I stumble. Do you stumble? I don't mean do you fall on your nose all the time, the way my daughter does even when she's going up stairs (I never thought it was possible to fall UP stairs until my daughter came along). I mean I use StumbleUpon, a social media site that helps you discover new sites that might interest you. I wrote a post about it here which you can read to fill you in, but I enjoy it when I'm bored and have a few minutes. I usually discover some pretty cool stuff!

Today I just want to show you the sites I've discovered that relate to organizing, cleaning, or simplifying your life.

How to Clean Your Entire House. Need checklists for your kids of what to do in each room? They're here!

Need more incentive to scale back? Here's a really neat graphic of how household compositions and budgets have changed over the decades. Makes an interesting dinner conversation, especially the amount of TV & the average house size!

Simple article on 5 ways to simplify your life. This woman thinks like me! Have a pen and paper handy as you read it, and decide what your 5 ways will be (they don't have to be the same!)

Absolutely gorgeous pictures of kids sharing rooms! I love the bunk beds in the hallway alcove especially. You probably will never decorate this well, but some of her points are profound.

8 Ways to Kill Clutter in 5 Minutes. It's written by a twentysomething guy, but the ideas are good. I'd make my teenage boy learn these tricks!

And I'll end with this: The Secret to Having a Clean Home without Trying. Really quick tips, but here's her main point: clean all the time. I don't mean that every moment of every day you have out the mop. I mean that whenever you're in a room, leave it cleaner than when you got there. See a glass? Bring it downstairs when you leave. If you're in the bathroom and you're brushing your teeth, put away the bottle of Tylenol that's on the counter. If we did this all the time, the house wouldn't get so out of control!

That's more than enough links for today, but I do encourage you to try StumbleUpon. It's not like Facebook where it takes a bunch of time; it's fun just to discover new sites. And remember, if you like a post, you can "thumbs up" it on Stumbleupon here by clicking the "Share on Stumbleupon" button below!

So back to my original topic: we're all trying to organize our lives this month, but I find it hard to get into a routine when I'm worried about something. Today, for instance, I'm supposed to start off by jogging with my daughter and by posting some posts and doing some work, but I don't feel like it one bit because I'm nervous about this publisher's meeting.

But I'm going to try to do it anyway. I find I often give myself excuses not to do things--oh, you don't have to jog because you're too busy/too tired/too worried/too excited. There's always an exception. I can usually talk myself into an exception for just about anything. You don't have to clean today. You don't have to cook dinner tonight. You can't be expected to get that work done.

I want to stop that. I need to develop better habits where I'm not always making excuses for why I don't NEED to do something that's important. Life will always get in the way, but I want to choose how to live life deliberately, rather than letting my life run my day.

So I shall go jogging now, even if I'm nervous. And while I'm doing that, I shall pray for the publisher's meeting.

What about you? Do you make excuses for not having to do things?

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Wifey Wednesday: Invest in Your Marriage

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up in the comments!

We've been talking all month about how to "simplify your life". Many of us feel like we are just too busy--we're running around like chickens with our heads cut off, with too much to do, too many pressures, and not enough resources to get us through.

We've talked about various ways to put first things first, to reprioritize, to organize.

But today I want to let you know the ONE thing you can do to avoid hassles, give yourself energy, avoid heartbreak, and revitalize your life. And it's really very simple. Invest in your marriage.

Your marriage is the best weapon you have in your arsenal to get through life. It is marriage that makes us feel like we can take on the world. It is our spouse that gives us a partner in life so we're not trying to handle all this alone. It is marriage that helps your children's behavior, and helps them to turn out okay, thus saving you a ton of heartache, worry, and time, too.

Perhaps some of you have marriages that you don't think contribute very much to your happiness. I know so many women who think that life would be easier and less of a hassle if they were to divorce. That may be true, but it is true for a tiny minority of people, and this is why:

When you split up, you magnify all your problems, you don't necessarily solve them. It is not like you can actually "get rid" of your spouse, anyway. You have to share custody. And if you already don't get along, imagine trying to negotiate who gets Christmas, who gets this weekend, whether we can switch weekends because Katie has a soccer practice and you want to be there. Of course, most of you aren't about to split up, but let's look at worse case scenario first:

And children do not fare well in a divorce, even if that divorce is justified. They grow up too fast. They're more likely to get involved in risky behaviors. They often shut themselves off from you, even if your children are your whole life. In the couples that I have seen split, even if they had the best of intentions of building new lives with the kids, the kids don't share those intentions. They pull away. And with shared custody, as horrible as it sounds, parents get used to having a life without the kids. Suddenly your life doesn't revolve around the kids anymore, and they don't want their lives to revolve around yours, because their whole life has been turned upside down. So they look outside of the family for support, and few parents, even if they were the wronged party, enjoy a closer relationship with the kids after the divorce. Usually, after a split, you fall further away from the kids. It's not true in every instance, but it's true in a lot. And even if your'e closer to one child, chances are you won't be to all of them.

Money becomes a worry in a whole new way, because now you have to support this family. Child support isn't going to be enough, and courts demand that you work, too. It will be tough.

So my best advice to simplify your life: don't ever let your marriage get to that point.

What about those of you who certainly aren't ready to split up, but you don't feel that your marriage is a source of energy and strength for you? Then invest in it. Forget everything else I have said this month and do this one thing, and your life will change. Find a way to love your husband like crazy.

I've spent the last two days in Toronto, at speaker training for World Vision's Girls Night Out shows. I've been speaking for them for years, but they're expanding into the United States, and I'll likely be doing some shows down there this spring. But while I was at that training, I was away from my family. And I was driving home last night, I heard the country song "Love Like Crazy". And I thought: that's what I want to do to my husband. I want to love him like crazy. I want to invest so much in him that he has no doubt that he is the only man in my life because I want him to be the only man in life. I still would choose him. I enjoy being with him. I'm proud of him.

And I'm going to treat him that way. He has been so good to me lately, but I've been wrapped up in a lot of things--I've got a big book proposal in front of some huge publishers right now and I've been stressing about it. And I said to God last night in the car, "God, I really don't care about the book nearly the way I care about my marriage. Give me my marriage over the book. I'd love the book, but let Keith always be my main priority."

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what we're doing that we forget to love like crazy--to talk to our spouse, to make time for him, to put effort into "getting in the mood", and romancing our man. We think about our own priorities, and we forget his.

But what happens when we romance him? What happens when we love him like crazy? I don't know about you, but in my house, it means that he loves me right back. The days after we've been really close he does the dishes more. He asks me what I need. He's closer to me. It's a two-way street. When I'm close to him, he feels close to me, and we both get immense satisfaction from helping each other. We're thinking about the other person.

And I can talk to him. I can tell him my stresses and concerns. I can ask him to help me make even minor decisions about the girls or schedules or church. He's engaged.

It doesn't automatically happen. It only does when we invest. When we listen, and kiss, and send love notes, and put our marriage before our kids. When we pray for him, and enter into his world instead of always insisting he enter into ours.

Life is so much easier when you walk through it with another. It is so much harder when that partnership falls apart. So invest in your marriage and make it super strong. It's your best resource for this life!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever had to change your atttitude towards your spouse? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the comments.. Thanks!

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Organizing Kids' Chores: Just Do It!
command central
Photo by Evelyn Giggles

When it comes to kids' chores, there is no perfect solution except one: just do it.

No matter which method you choose of having kids do chores, the most important ingredient is the same: consistency. If you assign chores, but then don't follow up to make sure they're done, kids won't do them. If you tie chores to an allowance, but then forget to give the allowance, kids won't do them. If you teach a child how to clean a toilet, but then never look to see if they did it properly, kids won't do it right. They decide whether or not this stuff is important based on whether you act like it is important. So if you want your children to do chores, make it a priority!

And to make it a priority, you have to make it into a routine. Decide when they're going to do chores, when they're going to receive an allowance (or the payment for chores), and when you're going to verify that the chores are done. It might be everyday at a certain time; it may be every weekend; it may be every month. There is no right way. You just simply have to pick one and stick to it, or your children will not know what to expect.

Chore Time
Photo by Peachy Weasel

With that in mind, here's a big picture look at how we have done chores in our family.

We tied chores with allowance from a young age. At age 3 we started assigning chores (like folding face cloths and using a wet cloth to wipe down the bottom cupboards in the kitchen), and then every year we'd add a few more things. The chores were written on the fridge, on a chart, and we'd tick things off every week.

They had certain "responsibilities" they had to do no matter what, like make their bed and put their laundry in the hamper and tidy their toys. The chores that they were paid for were more things that helped the family as a whole, and didn't relate to looking after themselves alone.

By the time my girls are 18 I want them to completely know how to manage a house: how to do laundry, how to grocery shop, how to organize a kitchen, make meals (including a Thanksgiving dinner!), clean furniture, and scrub floors. Every year we introduce more things to them, and they're getting more and more competent at these things.

Do you want to download some chore charts you can use with your kids? I have free ones right here (along with charts you can use to organize your own chores and schedules!)

And, if you want to read some more, here are a few other posts I've written about chores:

How to get toddlers started on chores.

Deciding What is "Clean Enough". An overview of chores from an adult point of view.

Why I sometimes think I have Chore Distraction Disorder.

Now, how do you organize your children's chores? Do you put all chores in a jar and have the kids choose them? Do you assign them at the beginning of the week on a rotating basis? Do they always do the same ones? Do you use charts or do you use cards? Let me know in the comments! Remember: what system you use is not nearly as important as the fact that you use a system consistently!

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To Love, Honor and Vacuum Review
Just received an email from a woman who read To Love, Honor and Vacuum:

I've been asking God some questions lately and he directed me to your book from our church library and it's been a breath of fresh air and a source of hope like you can't imagine. Not only do I find common sense and truth in what you're saying but I feel loved and cherished knowing that God has directed me to read it.

That made my day! Don't know much about To Love, Honor and Vacuum: the book? Here's a 1 minute intro:

Buy it on Amazon here!


Simplify Your Life Month: Laundry Organization

Photo by H.A.M. Photography

It's Simplify your Life month here on To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and in my introductory post I talked about how we'd be doing three things this month: figuring out your purpose, learning to organize better, and then paring down. We spent last week on the big picture "purpose" issues, and this week I want to spend on organizing.

Here's the warning I issued about organizing, though: I don't think we should become tied down to any one particular system, because sometimes the system itself that we use becomes overwhelming and stops us from feeling organized. Or sometimes a system will work for a time, but you'll lose interest, and then it's time to find something else to recapture your interest and keep you motivated to go again!

When I asked last month what's the one thing that you all want to organize better, the single greatest response I received was, "laundry!" So to kick off organization week, let's tackle laundry!

Later this week we'll also tackle scheduling kids' chores, organizing your kitchen, and keeping communication going between you and your spouse over what needs to get done.

But let's do laundry first!

Let me share how I do it, and then I'm going to link to other systems on the internet for your interest. Then I'd encourage the rest of you to leave your ideas in the comments! Remember, there is no one RIGHT way: when it comes to organizing, you need to find a system that works for your family, and even then you may need to keep renewing that system every few months. But no matter which system you use, one thing that is not negotiable is routine. When it's routine, it gets done with a minimum of fuss. When it's not routine, it doesn't.

So here, without further adieu, are my thoughts:

Washing Routine

1. Keep laundry separated according to how you wash it. I don't separate according to whose clothes they are, because by the time Rebecca got enough whites to do a load, she would have worn the same bra two weeks' straight. I also find that by doing laundry everyday, we don't need as many clothes. Since the girls are on a clothing allowance, they've each decided to only own two pairs of jeans. Because we do our loads together, they can make do with only two pairs more easily. If they had to wait a week between loads, it wouldn't be as easy. So we just pile everyone's clothes in together. Some families with teens have kids do their own loads all at once (and when I was in university I didn't separate whites and colours; I threw them all in using cold water, and nothing really ran and the sky did not fall), but right now I just find it easier to wash everyone's together.

I have four bins: colour, white, delicate, and hand wash. My hand wash is for lingerie and hand knit items (I knit a lot!), and delicate is for almost all sweaters and nice T-shirts. It's probably overkill, but they rarely get really dirty, and if you wash them on delicate they last a lot longer.


Then, every single morning, after I have my shower, I put a load on. Just before I make lunch I put that load in the dryer and I put another load on. Just before I make dinner I put the second load in the dryer, and that's it for me in the day. Two loads of laundry usually does us sufficiently and I don't wash on weekends. That way it's part of my natural weekday habit. If you work outside the home, you can do the same thing. Put a load on first thing in the morning, and then another as soon as you step in the door after work.

The Folding Dilemma

Folding is far more haphazard; I fold while I take up schoolwork with the girls, or we all fold together while we talk about whatever novels they're reading for history and get into debates. I believe in multitasking! The big thing with laundry is that you MUST fold it, or it wrinkles horribly and it sits all over your bed and your floor.

Get in the habit of washing at set times and folding at set times, and it's much easier!

I highly envy those who live in climates where you can dry clothes outside year round. I do not live in such a place, but in the summer I'd hang the clothes out right after breakfast and right after lunch, and it always worked fine.

Getting the Laundry to the Laundry Room

As difficult as it may be to figure out how and when to wash, getting the clothes to the machine is just as much an issue. My girls each have a hamper in their closet that they are responsible for emptying. It's part of their daily chores, and everyday, after they make their beds, they're to empty their hamper. They've done it since they were four, and it works fine.

But I have a secret to admit. I don't have a hamper. In the mornings, my husband and I throw our dirty clothes by the door to our bedroom, and then when I leave the bedroom, I scoop them up and take them to the laundry room. Isn't that horrible? I know, one should never put clothes on the floor, but honestly, they're never there long! I don't mind my husband leaving his stuff there because I do, too, and it's no more work to add his socks to the bundle of clothing I'm already carrying of my own.

Of course, there are much more elaborate systems for laundry, and if you're looking for one, or if you're overwhelmed because you need to do more than two loads a day, here are a few more thoughts:

1. Often the reason laundry becomes overwhelming is because we are washing things that are not really dirty. Children, especially, have a habit of throwing things in the hamper because it is easier than putting them away.

Have a conference with your family to decide your own rules on how often pants should be worn before they're washed; how often towels can be used before they're washed; how often sheets should be changed; how often pajamas should be changed. Personally, I wear jeans a good four times before I wash them, unless I spill something on them or I'm in a smoky place. They really don't get dirty. Sheets we change every week, and pajamas once a week. Towels are more haphazard.

But many children change clothes several times a day, just for fun, and when they do change they throw their clothes in the hamper. By the time you discover that clean clothes are in the hamper, they've already mixed with wet towels, so you have no choice but to wash them. Often the reason we have so much laundry, then, is because we're washing things that aren't actually dirty.

So talk to your kids about how often they need to wash certain items, and if they keep putting clean clothes in the washing machine, then I'd start making it their job to wash and fold all the laundry, or making them pay $1 out of their allowance for that load of unnecessary laundry!

2. Keeping track of which clothes are whose can also be a challenge. Buy one child all green underwear and another all white. Buy one boy all grey socks and another all black socks. Try to keep the basics that we get mixed up to single colours, so that you know whose is whose. And take a permanent marker and write a child's initials on the tag so you know whose it is. If the item is then passed down, use a different colour permanent marker.

Now, here are some other great laundry links:

Laura from Organizing Junkie just has her kids do their own loads--and loves it! No more sorting. Read her thoughts here.

If you want pictures, here's a great post with different hampers, small and large laundry rooms, and more to give you inspiration.

One last problem: I still haven't come up with a solution to the single sock phenomenon. But I cannot bring myself to throw out single socks. So I have a box under my bed. Here it is. Did any of you steal the mates?


Now, what are your thoughts? How do you do laundry? Did you find a system worked better for you at a different stage in your life? Let me know in the comments, and let's help each other!

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Winner Announcements!
Here at Simplify Your LIfe month we've been running some contests and drawing some prizes! And today I want to announce the winner to our decluttering contest: Ellen from 2 Little Monkeys! She decluttered a bedside table, and our readers found you most impressive, Ellen! Congratulations! You'll get my audio downloads for my talks, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight, and $10 in Amazon gift cards!

And one more winner: Heather from TG Magazine won for spreading the news about Simplify Your Life month! She's going to get an audio download of my 45 minute talk, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, too! It's funny, highly practical, and if you've enjoyed my blog, I know you'll like hearing me speak! You can find more about it here.

Thanks for entering, ladies, and next week we'll have some more contests! And don't forget to check in at my Facebook Page where I have contests every weekend! You win just by commenting!

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Getting to Know Some To Love, Honor and Vacuum Readers!
I so appreciate my loyal followers, and those who comment frequently on this site (and for those who just read, I encourage you to leave a comment and introduce yourself! I'd love to know you better!)

Today, then, I thought it might be nice to meet just a few of those who stop by To Love, Honor and Vacuum on a regular basis.

1. Terry from Breathing Grace, A Life in Bloom, thinks so much like me, and is a real encouragement! She writes from the perspective of a woman who feels called to stay at home and immerse herself in family, while still engaging the world spiritually and intellectually.

Here's an excerpt from a beautiful post she wrote about learning how to love her husband:

As I was sitting watching my hubby coloring with Lil’ Princess yesterday, I was struck by all the things I’ve learned about love, and marriage, and family. Things I could never have learned any other way than being in this family. Things I could never have learned without the trials as well as the triumphs. And thinking about how blessed I am to be a part of the work God is doing in each of us through this family that He bound together to love and learn from one another. In particular, I was thinking about growing in marriage.There is a difference between falling in love and living in love. And learning the difference between the two has made all the difference in where we are compared to where many couples end up.

I remember how difficult it was for me as a young wife to be happy and accept my husband when we began to unpack the emotional bags that we’d kept safely tucked away while we were dating and putting our best feet forward. Every cross word, forgotten request, or lack of attention was magnified because I didn’t know what it meant to live in love. I only knew what it meant to fall in love, and it was causing me a world of misery. My husband though not perfect, handled it much better when I unpacked bags that frankly hid far more dysfunction and selfishness than his.

Read the rest to hear how she navigated out of selfishness and into learning how to create a real, loving relationship. And then subscribe to her blog, because I love reading her posts!

2. Jennifer Sikora at For Such a Time as This blogs a ton, with lots of book reviews and thoughts on marriage & kids. Here's a quick post on how to boost your marriage:

I love to do something really special for my husband when I know he is coming home from work. I don’t do this all the time, but most of the time I will. Maybe you can do this as well or something similar for your man–something that says to him you are important to me and I love you very much.

Read some of her really easy ideas here, and then try to do something tonight!

3. Megan at A Sanctuary Sought comments a lot and has been faithful with Simplify Your Life month! She's been jugging kids & grad school for a while and has a lot of great insights. A few weeks back she wrote an eye-opening article on how badly society has deteriorated with video games. Commenting on an article she found, she says:

"Only in Japan, Real Men Go To a Hotel With Virtual Girlfriends". Basically, a former honeymoon destination in Japan is trying to find a way to survive in a country where the population is shrinking and the marriage rate is falling. So they're catering to a new idea of "couple": real men taking their video-game character girlfriends on expensive weekend vacations. In the first month of the promotion, over 1500 men brought their virtual dates to Atami for romantic walks, an afternoon kiss and an evening of fireworks. They paid for two people to stay in a room at the hotel featured in the game, adding to the "realism".

Wives, homemakers, helpmates...if you ever doubted your value, consider this as proof positive that men NEED us in order to be their best.

Read the rest here, and then stop by and get to know her a bit better!

4. Kristine at Kristine Remixed writes some really interesting posts about coming out of a very anti-Christian lifestyle and finding peace in Christ. She's very honest about her struggles. Here's a really challenging post, asking us, "do you really belive in the power of God"? Before you say yes automatically, read what she has to say.

5. Cherish over at Brownies and Onion Dip has luscious recipes, so if you like recipe blogs, check her out! I'm sure there's something that you'd love to eat!

If I've left you out, it's not intentional! I'll try to make periodic posts to highlight some of my followers, and I tend to find people just by clicking through the comments or on links. So if you want to be "noticed" by me (and by others reading this blog), just leave a comment, either on this post or on future ones! Leave a link to your blog there if you'd like, too. Next time I write a post like this, I'll look backwards through the comments and start finding new gems to introduce to my readers! I'd love to meet more of you!


Allowing Kids to Fail
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Every now and then, an idea explodes through our collective consciences, challenging our notions about how life works. It happened in the fifteenth century when Galileo argued that the earth was round. It happened in the eighteenth century when upstarts in North America decided they wanted to govern themselves. And I hope, for some of you parents, it may happen as you ponder this thought: What if parenting is not about helping your kids accomplish certain tasks, but instead about raising them to want to accomplish those things by themselves?

Take the frantic morning routine that sends many parents careening for the Tim’s drive-through in desperation before it’s done. You yell and plead for the kids to get up, to no avail. So you yank off covers, rifle through drawers to find clothes, and hunt for the glasses Sally can’t locate, all while stuffing lunches into backpacks.

No one else seems to be able to hear that bus countdown that is ticking loudly in your own mind. Just when you’ve finally finished ensuring all your offspring is properly attired, one announces that he forgot to do his math homework. So you hunt for a piece of paper and a pencil and start multiplying, while you shove a cereal bowl towards him. By the time the children mount the bus stairs you’re exhausted, and it’s not even nine o’clock yet.

Unfortunately, most parents focus on helping their children complete tasks, instead of helping their children own those tasks. What kids really need is not a mom or a dad who runs around afterwards picking up all the pieces. Kids need to learn to be responsible for themselves, or they’ll wind up moving back in when they’re 23, hoping you’re still around to get them off to their dead-end job. We are accepting too much responsibility.

I read of one mother who was so frustrated by her typical morning that she warned the children that if they missed the bus, and made her drive them to school, then they would have to clean up the kitchen that night in exchange. She explained the new arrangement, and then she shut her trap. She didn’t nag them about homework, or backpacks, or lunches, or breakfasts. She let them figure it out. They soon learned that they didn’t really enjoy cleaning out dirty pots and pans. And lo and behold, she got her mornings back.

Our society seems to believe that children’s behaviour reflects completely upon parents, and so parents tend to do too much to cover up for kids’ failures. All we’re doing, though, is encouraging irresponsibility. Why not make children responsible for the things that are rightly theirs? If they don’t get their homework done, they fail the test. If they fail the test, they lose TV and video game privileges. No more griping over homework. If teens want a car, they have to pay for the insurance, which means they have to get a job. And if they’re late for that job, they lose it. Their problem, not yours.

If your three-year-old can’t behave on a playdate, you leave. You don’t coax them or bribe them or flatter them. If your eight-year-old can’t find his hockey equipment, he misses the game. End of story.

Allowing children to fail teaches children what real life is all about. Turning ourselves into pretzels to help them get through that playdate, finish that homework, make that bus, or afford that cell phone doesn’t teach them anything except that irresponsibility doesn’t matter.

If you’re running ragged trying to fix your children’s lives, quit it. The world isn’t going to stop spinning if they miss that bus. Galileo figured that out six hundred years ago. Maybe it’s time we caught up

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Do Not Despise the Day of Small Things

Photo by Join the Dots

This October, during Simplify Your Life Month here at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, we've been talking about going to God to find your purpose, figuring out what you really want to do and are called to do, and getting rid of the rest.

Today I want to give you a quick bit of encouragement.

When you're trying to figure out your purpose, chances are you think of something big. That's what we do in our society; we measure things by size. We think, the bigger, the better! We want to accomplish a ton. We want our kids to be doctors or lawyers; we want to grow our churches to thousands of members; we want to afford a bigger house, have a huge ministry, have our kids get all A's and have all their friends want to hang out at our house. We want to do things large.

It's not a new phenomenon. Way back in the Old Testament, when the people of Judah had been in exile in Babylon and were permitted to go back home and rebuild the temple, the work was going slowly. The temple was smaller than Solomon's, and the people were sad and discouraged. And then prophet Zechariah asked, "Who despises the day of small things"? (Zech. 4:10).

God doesn't. God doesn't mind small things, for it's in those small things that God shows Himself. He isn't as concerned about your kids' marks as He is about their hearts. He isn't as worried about the size of your ministry as He is about the effectiveness of it. He's the shepherd who would leave 99 sheep and go after the 1.

So don't despise the day of small things.

If you're looking at your life, and you feel that your purpose is just to be home and raise your kids and create a nice environment for your family right now, that's fine. Don't despise the day of small things.

There's nothing wrong with dreaming big, and there are times when God calls us to do something big. But there are also times when God calls us to do something relatively small. My friend John Patrick, who is now a retired pediatrician and professor as well as quite the philosopher, has spent his career in missions and apologetics and starting a new Christian university. He has done many amazing things. But he was not raised in a Christian home. And he remembers, as a child, his neighbour in England, an old woman who didn't do very much, but who told him that she was praying that he would grow up to be a doctor who would do missions work. And he did.

That's all she did. She prayed. But God used those small prayers to do so much.

Some of us feel hectic and disconnected in our lives because we're doing too much, and we need to get rid of stuff so that we can simplify our purpose and live it out.

Others of us, though, are not necessarily doing too much but we still feel dissatisfied and not at peace. And sometimes that's because we haven't yet learned the lesson not to despise the day of small things.

If your life feels small, that doesn't mean it's not large in God's currency. So don't despise the day of small things. Don't worry if your life doesn't seem big enough. Simply go to God on a regular basis and ask for His direction. If there's somewhere else He wants you to go or something else He wants you to do, He'll tell you. He wants you to do it of course; it's up to Him to let you know. You don't have to turn yourself into a pretzel trying to hear some voice that may not be leading you any differently anyway.

Just stay in touch with God, and you'll hear when He wants you to change course. So until you hear that, have peace. You're doing fine, even if what you're doing seems like a small thing.

Have you ever longed to hear God's voice, and tortured yourself over it? Have you ever hda to find peace in doing small things? Let me know in the comments!

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It's WINNER Time!

For Simplify Your Life month we've had two contests so far, and I think it's time to give out some prizes! First, though, we have to vote!

I had three entries for my declutter contest, and here they are:

A Sanctuary Sought decluttered a mantel

Transformations decluttered a corner of the kitchen

2 Little Monkeys decluttered a bedside table & nook
So it's up to you, my readers, to decide who won! We'll close the voting Thursday at 10 pm EST, so in the meantime, view the pictures and vote away!

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Wifey Wednesday: Getting on the Same Page

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

This week we're talking about how to simplify your life, and now that we're 8 days into it, and a bunch of you are excited about some of the things I've shared, it's time for a warning.

It's always dangerous in a marriage when one person gets excited about something, and the other hasn't caught the vision yet. You get mad at them for not seeing it your way, but realistically, they haven't had the input into it that you have. They haven't experienced the things you did which gave you a little shove in that direction. They're still living in their comfort zone.

That's not their fault. You're the one who's changed; we can't always expect our husbands to follow right along happily, like a little lap dog.

But what do we do when we think the change we've embraced is something important? We can't just let it go, but he's not on board!

Here's a thought: give him a chance. Don't hector him. Think about how you embraced the change: you saw the potential for how life could be different, and you got sick of the direction you were going in. He's not going to change unless he also sees those two things: he needs to catch the vision, and he needs to become dissatisfied with the way things are now.

He's not going to catch the vision if you're pestering him about it. It just won't work.

Here's what might.

Photo by Spirit-Fire

Arrange a date to connect. Get a baby-sitter, and plan a romantic getaway when you have some time just to talk--not to nag, not to worry about the taps that need repair or the painting that needs to be done, but just to connect. Try to do something that he enjoys doing, like hiking, or watching a game, or driving somewhere he enjoys.

Tell him that you want to spend some time talking to him about what he wants out of life--what his dreams are, what he feels God telling him, where he's going.

And then start asking him. Don't ask him about the things that you necessarily think are crucial; let him start talking about the things that he thinks are important. His opinion is, after all, rather central!

What I'd recommend is breaking it down into these big questions:

1. Where do you see our finances in five years? In ten years? And what can I do to help us get there?

Don't tell him what you want him to do; ask him how you can participate in his goals. One little tip about talking finances, though: how much money you have saved has far less to do with how much you make and far more to do with your spending/saving habits. Many people assume that once they get a raise, then they will save--but the raise comes, and they just spend it all. So when you're making your financial goals, don't put it off, thinking "once I have a new job I'll talk about that", or "once we're out of this rough patch we can make some goals." Make some goals now, and ask what you can do to help reach those goals. If he sees that you're trying to participate with what he wants, he's far more likely to embrace the process!

2. Where do you see our marriage in five years? In ten years? How can we build our friendship?

Ask him what sorts of things he enjoys doing together. What did he like to do with you once that you don't do anymore? How can you steal some more alone time?

3. Where do you see the kids in five years? In ten years? In fifteen? What character traits do you want them to have? How can we nurture those character traits?

Here's one of the biggest discussion topics! If your husband, for instance, really wants to raise boys that will be responsible, independent go-getters, and these boys right now are 8 & 10 and do nothing but play on videogames, then ask him how we're going to turn them into responsible, independent go-getters. What can we start doing now that can put them on that road?

Perhaps your husband, for instance, has been of the opinion that the house is your responsibility. Showing him that having the boys learn to clean the bathroom and do the dishes is part of teaching them to be responsible and independent may be enough to get him to embrace the concept of chores, rather than having you do all of them.

If you want your boys to be independent go-getters, you probably also don't want them spending all their time on video games. So what can you do instead? Can you start a family games night? Can you play sports as a family more, and get away from the TV? Can your husband teach them to mow the lawn?

Ask him what he did as a child that made him responsible (or that turned him in the opposite direction)! Many men just haven't thought of this stuff very deeply, and when you start asking questions, you draw it out of them. They become part of the process.

This is far better than announcing to your husband that you want to downsize, that you want to get rid of the TV, that you want to quit all extracurricular activities, have family games night, or set up chore charts for everyone. Do that, and you're making changes with no input from him. And honestly, even if you've thought a lot about goals, it doesn't necessarily mean that you know best how to get your family there. I've found quite frequently that I can diagnose a problem very well in our household, but my husband often comes up with better solutions on how to deal with the girls about it. At first I resist, and often I get angry at him for not deferring to my obviously superior wisdom, but sometimes he sees things I just don't. Let your husband talk!

Will all husbands embrace this idea of goal setting? No. But many will, if you present it in the right way with the right heart: you want to be part of making sure your family goes in the right direction, and you want to make sure that both of you agree on that direction. You're not setting the agenda. You're not dictating anything. You're talking about it together. And many men find it much easier to picture where they want to be in five years or ten years than they do figure out how they want to change right now. Give them the big picture first, and then ask them to plot a route to get there, rather than trying to diagnose what's wrong now and what we should do about it. Don't start with what's wrong; that just assigns blame and can start disagreements. Start with the far-off picture that you can both usually agree on fairly easily, and then back up. It's usually much more effective.

Talk about it in a friendly, low-stress setting, and he's more likely to agree to have the conversation in the first place!

Simplifying your life depends upon figuring out where you're going, and then making sure your family is heading there. Too often we think we're going somewhere--raising independent, responsible, godly kids--but our actions are often taking us in a different direction because we haven't really analyzed the route to our goals. Think about those goals explicitly, and then plan the route. Then your family won't get so tired and discouraged from being thrown off track.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever goal planned with your husband? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

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Living Small Often Means Loving Large

Yesterday I asked "are you called or are you driven"? Do you feel like your life is out of control, or can you peacefully move forward, knowing God is leading?

Living Tight

Today I want to look at that question in relation to our finances. But before we do that, look at that picture of a house at the top of this post.

Small, isn't it? And yet the majority of North American families in the 1950s lived in something that looked pretty much like that. After World War II, we radically expanded the idea of home ownership. Instead of renting, people bought these little houses, and they, by and large, thrived in them.

Was it tight? You betcha. Often three bedrooms with four or five kids, so 2-3 kids would have to share a bedroom. Bunk beds became major furniture items. The living room was small, so people sat on the couch and the floor to watch TV. Kids did homework at the dining room table.

My husband grew up in a house like that: four boys, one bathroom, small kitchen. And they survived just fine.

Am I about to write a post telling everyone you should run out and buy that house? No, of course not. What I am saying is this: many of the things we think are absolutely necessary are not. It is simply that we have listened to our society and we have turned many wants into needs. And that is part of what is making our lives so harried!

Today I want to talk about how to make decisions about work, because one of the biggest issues you will face when it comes to quality family time is whether or not both parents work outside the home. It's just a fact. I'm not going to talk about whether or not you should leave your child in day care; I've already done that here. I'm not going to talk about how you can make money if you stay at home; I've done that here. I'm also not going to talk about the fact that often it costs so much to work that it's not worth it, because I've done that here (and read the comments!).

What I do want to talk about is how we can get off this merry go round that tells us that we NEED so much stuff. Work, you see, is directly related to expenses. Lower the expenses, and a job is not as much of an issue. Increase the expenses, and you have to work.

So let's ask this: what was the quality of life like for people growing up in those tiny homes? Of course, so much depended on the family. But the size of the home was not necessarily bad because people adjusted. It was all they knew, and they felt grateful to have a home. Let's also remember that in most parts of the world, far more people are squeezed into far smaller spaces than even that house represents. We are the strange ones, living with our huge homes. Our grandparents, in these small homes, were not strange. They were more the norm.

What did people do with less space? The kids played in the living room together, or in the basement. They didn't hang out in their own rooms, away from their siblings. They tended to be together. They went outside more since inside was cramped, and thus they got more exercise, even in the winter. They didn't spend as much time on television, because families usually only had one, and sometimes Mom and Dad would want to watch their programs, and the kids had to scatter. They played board games. They made Lego. They played with dolls. They used their imagination.

And that was okay.

Dreaming Big

When you were 13, did you love bridal magazines? Did you used to read them and stare at the pictures and imagine what your own wedding would be like? Many of us did. But many of us still do--we just replace the bridal magazines with Home & Garden, and we dream of a beautifully decorated, spacious home. It's what we're aiming for. We want to have "arrived". We want the space, and the luxury.

But what if that space and luxury comes at the expense of massive amounts of your time--or your husband's time? For it is not just women working that this quest for more stuff affects. It's also men working. A few years ago we made the decision that my husband would work less so he could be home with the kids one day a week. Because he was on call so much, he was often gone at night, and he was missing out on so much with them. So he decided to work less. We gave up some money so that he could gain some much needed time. That's what it all comes down to.

Not surprisingly, when we trim our expenses, we're often able to build wealth and increase our security. Millionaires, for instance, don't tend to act like millionaires. It's those with less than a million dollars who consume all the luxury stuff, because they're acting like they want to be millionaires. Here are just a few stats I picked up from the Growth Matters blog:

•Eighty-six percent of all prestige or luxury makes of motor vehicles are driven by people who are not millionaires.
•Typically, millionaires pay about $16 (including tip) for a haircut.
•Nearly four in 10 millionaires buy wine that costs about $10.
•In the United States, there are nearly three times as many millionaires living in homes with a market value of less than $300,000 than there are living in homes valued at $1 million or more.

The two things to take away so far? We can surely survive on less than we think, and yet at the same time society is lecturing us that we need more--and we're believing it.

Think "Enough"!

Imagine how we could change the culture if we just said, "Enough!". Enough credit card debt. Enough working round the clock to afford all the latest gadgets and the big cars. Enough stress from living beyond one's means. Enough believing that life is all about entertainment and stuff instead of about family. You see, the best things in life aren't things at all. But we seem to have forgotten that. We think our kids need stuff, when what they really need is us.

Photo by Andres Rueda

Here's a family that gave up the rat race and decided to "live in the middle":

His income has stayed steady at roughly $20,000 a year. Lola earns about $30,000 plus benefits working part time as a medical technician in a nearby hospital lab. A decade ago, the couple earned twice as much — about $100,000 a year. Gregg sold insurance, and they lived in tony North Scottsdale. But he wasn't happy.

"We were on this treadmill of making money, making as much money as possible every year, and feeling that we always had to increase that because we wanted to buy more things and live in a nice house and have nice cars and everything else," he says.

At the same time, Lola didn't get a job she'd dreamed of, working at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. That's a painful memory.

"I remember I prayed, I prayed so hard. I still didn't get a job. But there was a sense of letting go," she says.

Perhaps you need two incomes to get you to the minimum that you can afford a house, even a small one like that. That's okay, as long as you've prayed about and you're trying to meet your family's NEEDS, not WANTS. But many of us are on a treadmill trying to meet WANTS, and it doesn't work.

Now, those who know me are going to say it's easy for me to suggest all this, because I'm not in that position. I've got it made. And I do. My husband is a doctor, and we're able to live quite comfortably. But it was not always that way. Both Keith and I put ourselves through school. While he was in training and the kids were born, we lived in a small apartment, without a car. I spent my life with the girls taking them to playgroups and museums, because the apartment was too crowded to stay in during the day. Others in training had taken out the massive loans the banks were offering, and they had bought vehicles and homes. We didn't. We saved for a downpayment.

And then we bought a nice house, 1400 square feet, in a neighbourhood where no doctors ever lived. After ten years, we moved to the house we have now. We have always paid cash for our used cars. We buy our clothes at second hand stores. And we endeavour to take as many missions trips as possible and to give as much away as we can.

Yes, I have it easy, but even when we didn't we made the decision to live "small" so that we could enjoy life more.

The Benefits of Downsizing

The best thing some people could do is to sell their home and downsize. Yesterday in the comments Kristy shared that's just what she's doing--downsizing to get their finances under control. Unfortunately, that's not so easy right now with the glut of houses on the market. Many people will have to remain in the house they're in simply because you can't get a decent price right now. But maybe there are other things you can do. Buy a used car instead of a new one. Eat out less. Learn to save money on the big things, like electricity, insurance, utilities, car payments. And learn to save money on the small things, like groceries, eating, shopping. Many women basically "earn an income" by staying at home and putting a lot of time into saving money!

Is it fun? It can be! Think of it like a challenge, to make the money last. Give up some extracurricular activities with the kids, but replace it with fun family time, where you play games or have parties every week. Stop going out for dinner and have people over more. All of these things are "fun".

Our society cannot go on the way it is, with so many living beyond their means. We are crushed in debt at every level--personal, state, federal. We have built a beautiful society, but it is built on sand. One day it will come crashing down, as it has already begun to. I want to be ready, by raising kids who don't need stuff. Who don't ask for a huge list at Christmas, but instead look forward to all the games we play that day. I want to live with less so I can live more. That's getting back to what's really important.

So here's your exercise for today: examine your 10 biggest expenses on a monthly basis, and ask if they're necessary. Can you downsize? Are these things you want, or things you genuinely need? Can your family develop a new way of looking at money, as something that works for you to build wealth, rather than something that slips through your fingers and is a source of stress? Can money be the vehicle that you help others with, instead of something you're always desperately worried about?

For some it's a hard switch, because you're already living bare to the bone. For many of us, though, we just need to change our habits. Tell me in the comments what you think. Have you ever downsized? Have you ever chosen to forego something big? What did it feel like? Let us know!

UPDATE: Welcome, Organizing Junkie readers! Glad to have you here! I've got tons more articles for simplify your life month, as well as lots on parenting and marriage, so stop by and look around! And if you liked this, be sure to share it on Facebook below!

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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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