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A Survivor Christmas Tree Challenge

Every year we put up our eclectic decorations on our Christmas tree. And every year they seem to get uglier and uglier.

It started with our wedding, when my mother presented me with a box of every Christmas decoration I had ever made as a child. Let's just say that pipe cleaners were my best friend.

Then, our first Christmas together, my mother-in-law presented me with a box of every decoration my husband had ever made as a child. Canvas cross stitch was featured prominently.

DSCN4402Over the years we have added things the children made, from dough figurines to pie plates with pictures and painted shapes.

And beyond a doubt, they are all hideous.

Many of them, of course, have sentimental value. But not all. And then you add to the tree the ugly decorations we have been given, or which I seem to have bought in a temporary lapse of any sort of colour coordination, and our tree is pretty awful.

This Saturday my girls and I decided to decorate, and much hilarity ensued as we examined the different elements on that tree. Some decorations are actually quite beautiful, but many are just plain terrible. And then it occurred to me: perhaps it is a time to have a weeding out.

DSCN4403Certainly we'll keep the important ones, which speak to a moment in our lives together, frozen in time (even if they are hideous!). But I do not think we need six examples of each type of hideousness. And since the girls are no longer children (Katie turned 13 this year), and they are both becoming quite decoration savvy, they would like to actually have a tree that looks, well, at least presentable.

So we have decided to host a Survivor Christmas Tree challenge this year. Instead of only using a typical advent calendar, we shall also celebrate the days ticking away until Christmas by voting a hideous decoration off of the tree. That's 25 decorations that can go! Some nights, one of the four of us will nominate 2 items, and the other three will vote, guaranteeing that one will go. Other nights I will let you, my loyal readers, chuck a decoration. I'll put up two pictures, and you can vote which one leaves! But there are rules: if an item survives a vote, it cannot be renominated until next week. That way if you really hate something, you know it better go now!

And then next Christmas, we'll still have the important ones, but we'll have more room to actually create a pretty tree by buying pretty things.

Tomorrow is officially the day we start, but since tomorrow is Wifey Wednesday, and I have something important I want to talk about re: marriage, I'm going to post the first vote now.

So here are our first two candidates:

First we have a styrofoam star that Katie spray painted gold in Sunday School one year, and added decorations to. It also, at some point, lost one of the points of its star, but it has been going on the tree every year anyway. Now please be assured that a few of the important things Katie made as a child are on the reserved list, so if this gets chucked, it is not like we lose everything she made.


Second up is what I believe is supposed to be a bow. I think I made this one when I was a kid. We took fabric, wrapped it together, and then used a pipe cleaner to tie it.


So it's up to you: which one has to go? You have until tomorrow to vote! And I do need your vote!

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Will My Child Grow Up to be a Christian?

It's probably the prayer Christian parents pray the most: "Please, God, help my child to grow up to love you." Sure, we want them to get a good job, a good spouse, a good home. But mostly we just want them to follow God.

And yet all too many of my friends and acquaintances spend their evenings checking out their children on Facebook, looking at pictures of drinking binges or statuses that they wouldn't even recognize as their own children, now that those kids have left for college.

These kids who used to go to youth group, and who used to seem so innocent, aren't seeking out a church. They're not finding Christian friends. Intsead, they're letting other kids pull them down.

That's not unusual. In fact, that's par for the course today. Most teens raised in a Christian home will not go on to live as Christians themselves when they're adults. That's the awful truth. I've seen statistics that say only about 18% of churched kids who went to public schools will still love God as an adult.

So what do you do?

I've spent the weekend talking to a couple of moms who are going through just this with their kids (isn't it amazing how Facebook lets us keep track of our kids like that?), and I don't have any real wisdom for them. I don't know what to do when a teen goes off the rails and starts to make poor choices. The only thing I can think of to share is how to lay a good foundation. So whether your kids are 5 or 15, these are good things to start looking at now:

1. Think hard before you let your child go to public high school

I know many of you don't have a choice about schooling because you don't have the money for a Christian/private school, and homeschooling is not an option. But before you absolutely decide this, really pray about it. The rates of kids who stay in the church are much higher for homeschoolers and Christian schooled kids, and it's not just because kids get into trouble in public high school. Most of them don't. It's something far more fundamental: they start choosing their closest peers from outside of the church. And once they do that, church starts to seem irrelevant.

If your child has to go to public high school, that's okay. But think about these next points even more then:

2. Make church a huge priority

Never skip church as a family. Ever. I know that sounds radical, but if you want your child to take God seriously as an adult, you have to model it. If you skip church, you give the impression that it is optional, and if it's optional, your child likely won't go.

I see so many parents of teens that I know only coming to church sporadically, but then they wonder why their kids date non-Christians, or don't seem to want to be involved in the youth group or help in Sunday School. It's because you haven't modeled it as a family! So find a church where your kids can both help out and be ministered to themselves, and then keep going. Don't slack off. Make it a major part of your family's life. Help there yourself! And then your kids will be more likely to stay plugged in.

Now, I also know many families who don't go to church often but who are Christian. They do church "at home". I respect their faith, I really do. But I think this is a mistake. The implication that you're teaching your kids is, "you can be a Christian all on your own in your home". What's to stop them, then, as adults, from saying, "I don't need to go to church to be a Christian. I can sleep in on Sundays and still be fine."

You certainly don't need to go to church to be a Christian, but the repercussions for not going to church are much greater on a young person than they are on someone in their forties who already has his or her devotions established and who has a whole history of walking with God. Make sure your children think of church as an integral part of their lives.

3. Encourage deepest friendships to be Christian

This is probably the most important point, and the reason that so many Christian teens end up leaving the faith when they get to college. Their deepest friendships aren't Christian themselves. Make sure your children are always surrounded by Christian peers first.

That means that you have to be involved in a good youth group, and if that's not an option where you live, start one yourself. If your child doesn't know a lot of Christian teens, invite families in for dinner. Cultivate those friendships. But raise your child so that it's natural that they should look to other Christians for support and friendship first.

That's not to say that they don't have non-Christian friends; we all need to be involved in the world. But too many people use this as an excuse to not have Christian friends. "I'm just witnessing!", they say, but then pretty soon they're hardly hanging out with Christians at all.

If our Christian teens start thinking that they don't need other Christians as friends, then they will fall away from the church. One of the primary reasons we need church is for fellowship. If they don't think they need that fellowship, they won't go. It's that simple.

So don't let your child date anyone who isn't a Christian. If their best friends aren't Christians, switch youth groups and try to find another source of Christian friends for them. And you yourself should model the importance of Christian friends by having them yourself.

Keep in mind that the danger is not just that your child will become involved with non-Christians and thus start drinking or doing things you'd rather they not. I've seen Christian teens become immersed with very upstanding citizens who aren't Christian, and that was part of the problem. They knew so many kids who were "good" who didn't go to church that they started to suspect that you didn't need to go to church to be good. And then church became superfluous.

4. Make Faith Natural

All of this hinges, of course, on making faith natural in your home so that your kids know it's not that you're worried that they won't be "good", it's that you want them to actually believe. Pray over problems. Talk about God. Don't keep God just for Sundays. Many of us aren't comfortable praying out loud, or praying spontaneously, but whenever something comes up in the family, stop and pray. Ask what God would think. Read your Bible together.

If faith is a natural part of your family life, your kids will see it's more than church. And then they're more likely to stick with it.

5. Be Proactive in Finding Christians on Campus

Finally, if your child is going off to a secular college, or moving to another city, help that child find a church or a Christian group on campus. Don't leave it for your child to do. Get on the internet and investigate before they go so that they know how to get plugged in.

A teen who finds the Christian group on campus in the first week is far more likely to make their first friends from that group than a teen who waits a few months. It's important, far more important than what courses they're taking or what college they choose. So don't let this one go.

Those are my thoughts. Right now I'm living with a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old who each do have deep faith, and I'm so grateful. But I still plan on doing all of these things to make sure that faith carries them through. It's my primarily responsibility.

Maybe your children aren't that old yet, but many of these things you can put into place now. Pray as a family. Put a priority on church. Make sure they have Christian friends. Do those things, and your kids are more likely to seek out those friends when they're on their own.

UPDATE: As was mentioned in the comments, I left out PRAY! Duh! Of course we need to pray for our kids. I guess the reason that I left it out (if I can offer any kind of an excuse for that) is that for many parents that seems to be the ONLY thing they do. They pray, but then they leave it up to God. They're not proactive in these other areas. So perhaps I should say this: Pray first, but then make sure you DO something within your family, too. Take the responsibility that God has given you!

What do you think? Any advice? Have you gone through this? Do you have a child who can't make Christian friends? Let's talk!

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Bah Humbug Recovery

Photo by Kekka

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. And for the last 8 years, I have written 4 Christmas columns a year. That's 32 Christmas columns. It's becoming harder and harder to find new things to say! Luckily, I've received a bunch of emails asking me to re-explain The Three Gifts of Christmas that I've written about for two years in a row now, so this week I decided to oblige. Enjoy:

I love Christmas. I love the tree, and the turkey, and the story, and the candlelight service, and being with family.

What I don’t love is Christmas in November. To me, Christmas is a special time of year; it’s not special all year. When Christmas decorations go up before Hallowe’en, I have to put my foot down. Apparently Harrod’s in London, England erected a Christmas display in August! I guess when Christmas accounts for up to 40% of many retailers’ annual sales, they want to extend it as long as possible.

Forgive me, though, if I don’t want to help them. Of course it makes sense to do your shopping early. But rushing around like a tasmanian devil on December 20 is part of getting in the Christmas spirit. Putting up a tree on November 10 just seems weird. There’s a part of me that wishes Christmas could go back to being simplistic: we exchange a few gifts, enjoy a far too large meal, and visit with family. That sounds very Norman Rockwell. Buying everyone you know crap doesn’t fit as well into that idyllic picture. It just makes us look like dupes.

And I wonder if that’s what we are. All the Christmas marketing has convinced us that we have to buy gifts for everyone who crosses our path, from the Girl Guide leader and the children’s teacher to nosy co-workers and noisy neighbours. All we’re doing, though, is increasing the amount of junk in the world.

Our family has our own Christmas tradition when it comes to Christmas, and it's one I've mentioned for the last two years in this column. I keep receiving emails every November asking for me to write about it again, so I thought I'd take this column to oblige.

I have decided that I don't want Christmas in our house to be a gift haul. I want it to be meaningful. I'm not going to eschew gift giving altogether; I do love the opportunity to give my children things that can bring joy on that day. And giving is intrinsic to Christmas, since Christmas is all about God's gift to us.

I just want to make sure that this giving is done with some thought. Thus, in our family we have the Three Gifts of Christmas: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. The gold gift is something they want, like an iPod. The frankincense gift is something they need, like pyjamas or beauty products (those are big in my house), and the myrrh gift is something that nurtures their spirit. That’s always the hardest one to come up with, but that makes it the most special, because it’s also the most individual and personal. It may be a journal, or a magazine subscription, or a book, or a CD or a DVD. Whatever it is, it’s something that challenges your loved one to go deeper in character and faith, but also reflects exactly who they were made to be.
I began doing this just for my children, but this year I’m going to extend it to my husband and well. I like the idea, because it limits the number of gifts we buy, but it also makes each gift more meaningful.

I love choosing presents for those I love, but I fear we’ve lost sight of the point of the holiday. You can’t buy gratitude and faith and family and friends at Harrod’s, even in August. Once I started to rethink how and why we buy gifts, though, that bah humbug I all too often used to utter has just about disappeared.

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Happy Thanksgiving!
To all my American friends, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

And to make you smile on this day, I present another video rendition of the Hallelujah chorus. This one is just hilarious. The impromptu one from Tuesday was touching and brought tears to your eyes. This one will, too, but for a different reason:

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Wifey Wednesday: Women Are Not Like Slow Cookers

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!

Have you ever heard the expression, “men are like microwaves, women are like slow cookers”?

It’s often uttered at marriage conferences, as if it’s very profound. Here’s what it means:

Men are like microwaves. They heat up quickly, and once they’re heated up, they’re really hot. Women, on the other hand, heat up very slowly. And they continue to cook, but very slowly. Then, by the time it’s all over, she’s really tender.

I don’t buy it.

Sure, there’s an element of truth to that, as every married woman will know. Men do tend to be “in the mood” almost instantaneously, if the thought crosses their mind. We women don’t work like microwaves at all.

But are we really slow cookers? To say that we are implies that we will, eventually, actually heat up. But we may not! The truth is that for us sex is primarily in our brains. We have to have our brains in gear for our bodies to follow. So it doesn’t really matter what he does to try to heat us up, we won’t heat up unless we also decide to. It’s a head thing.

You can really only say that women are like slow cookers if you also acknowledge that it’s women who control the switch. No one else can switch us on. It’s a decision that we make to enjoy this. And you all know what I mean. Have you ever been having a very good time with your husband when you realize all of a sudden that you don’t have milk in the fridge for breakfast in the morning? You start ticking off a mental grocery list in your head, and you’re gone! You’re not paying attention anymore, and your body follows into the abyss. Our heads need to be in the game for sex to work! That’s why, by the way, it’s often hard for a woman to a want to make love if she has a headache. The headache is a distraction, and when we’re distracted, we can’t concentrate. When we can’t concentrate, our bodies often don’t work right.

That’s not true for men. I remember soon after I was married my husband caught a horrible virus. He was in bed with a fever of 103 and a rash all over, and I crept into the bedroom. “Is there anything I can do for you?”, I whispered in sympathy.

That all too familiar look came over his face, and he smirked. “Well, since you asked…”

I thought to myself, “He is sick! In more ways than one!” But what I’ve come to realize is that this is how God made us differently, and He made us this way for a reason.

Men’s bodies are more tuned to desire sex quickly and to be able to perform right away (though obviously there can be problems, which we may deal with in another article in the future). If God also made women the same way, then what would our lives together look like? We’d likely be physically intimate extremely frequently, but there would be no impetus to actually talk to each other, or get to know each other on a much deeper level.

Women, on the other hand, were designed to desire relationship first. For us, sex comes out of our feeling of being loved. When we feel safe and secure, we want to make love. If God made both genders like this, we’d probably be physically intimate far less frequently, and we’d miss out on the profound beauty that comes when we’re intimate both spiritually and physically at the same time.

Men make love to feel loved, whereas women need to feel loved in order to make love. Our motivations are different, and our bodies respond differently. But it’s all so that both sexes have an incredible drive and need for each other that is expressed in slightly different ways. And that means that to get our primary need met, we have to meet each other’s primary need. We are forced to be selfless, generous, and giving in the marriage relationship.

That’s a good thing. So next time you’re wondering why your husband doesn’t want to talk and snuggle as much, and why he’s only interested in one thing, realize that he is not a lesser human being. It’s not that you are morally superior because you value relationship first; it’s that you are simply different, and that’s the way God made you.

And think about this: when you do make love, chances are he talks to you a lot more afterwards. He snuggles. And the next day his step seems lighter, and he’s more fun to be with. He’s all the things that you want, but it happens after you make love, not before.

Don’t concentrate so much on what you need; try to step out and give him what he needs, too. Think about sex in a positive way, where you’re “flipping the switch”, so to speak. Anticipate it. Enjoy it. Even initiate! (I think we'll talk about this next week.) Think about how great it’s going to be to be with your husband tonight. Don’t just get in bed and then wait for him to turn you on. Jump in and be enthusiastic about it! Most women, when they start to make love, aren't actually aroused yet. But once you start, your body follows if you make that mental decision to enjoy this. So just because you don't feel "in the mood" first doesn't mean you aren't. It just means that your body hasn't picked up your mental signals yet. When it does, you'll probably be fine. And if you do initiate, you’ll find that your own emotional needs for more connection will likely be fulfilled as well.

That’s how God made us. It works beautifully when we decide that we’re going to give to each other. So can you make that decision, even if you can think of all the things he’s doing wrong? Someone has to take that first step and decide to reach out. Can it be you today? Why not pray and ask God to make you thoroughly excited for your husband. Ask God to help you anticipate being with him tonight. And you just may find that you’ll heat up, after all!

This article first appeared in A Martha Heart last week, where I've been guest posting.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever had to confront your fantasies and throw them aside? How did you do it? 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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Impromptu Hallelujah Chorus
For the next few months I'm going to be busy writing a book, so I'll try to have thoughtful posts up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I'm going to post funny things I find on the internet. I just don't have enough time to write everyday, so I hope that's okay, dear readers!

Anyway, this happened in a town in Ontario last week close to where I live. It's a must see:

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Absence Makes the Heart Grow...What?

I've just returned from a week-long trip in the Maritimes with the Girls Night Out tour, speaking in five different communities in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Comedian Leland Klassen went on first, and then I spoke afterwards. (He does this whole routine about how big his hands are; hence the picture comparison once I got up on stage). Sometimes he was just so funny and the audience loved him so much that it was hard to get up there, but we had so much fun, the guys on set & Leland & me. The other three on set were mini-comedians, too, and I spent much of my week apologizing to waitresses for all their kidding around (don't worry, nothing inappropriate, just very funny).

Anyway, I really, really missed my family, and it was great to come home. But I learned a number of things about myself this past week and I'd thought I'd share them, in no particular order.

First, I don't like airports these days. They had the full body scanner in the Moncton airport, and boy does it look scary. I've looked through the literature on it, and I just don't think I want my daughters getting scanned. They have nice figures, and I don't care how private they say it is, how do I know? I think I'd prefer they were patted down by a female. That's what I chose. What do you all think?

Second, I need to have more fun at home. Lately home as been a bit of a grind. I'm finding that life is just getting busier with the kids getting older. It's not that Keith and I are busier; I've always spoken quite a bit (though this is the longest tour I've ever done), but now the girls' lives are busier, and it's getting harder to keep it all together. It was a lot of fun this week meeting up with people (I saw some friends from university I haven't seen in years), and speaking, and joking around on stage, and I hate to think that I enjoy that more than being home. I don't, because everyday I kept thinking, "If only Keith were here to see this, or if only the girls were here," but the fact is that there's something about being somewhere where there's no pressure on you.

Sure, I had to speak, but that's fairly easy for me. The point is I didn't have to do dishes or laundry; I didn't have to chauffeur anyone anywhere (instead people were driving me places); I didn't have to tell anyone to practice piano. And I liked it.

My life at home has become too much about logistics and not enough about fun.

I know I've written about what fun is here on this blog, and it's not that I disagree with what I wrote, it's just that I'm in process on this subject right now. I'm thinking and praying and wrestling through it. I do enjoy life usually, but I would like there to be just a bit less pressure. How do I accomplish that? I don't know. Carving out one night a week (Tuesdays) just to have fun with the family really helps. Other than that, I'm at a loss. No answers to this one, just questions.

Third, my husband is a really good dad. When I got home last night he had the whole house cleaned up. But when I started to talk to my daughters, I found out that one of them (I won't mention which one) had a pretty hard week last week and hadn't finished all her schoolwork. She had, however, informed her father that it was done, and she had gone to several social engagements this weekend.

Needless to say, I was not impressed. However, this particular daughter has had some big disappointments lately, and my first instinct was to hug her (she was crying) and try to comfort her. Keith was not so kind.

He laid the law down pretty hard last night, and there was kicking and screaming, and I so wanted to intervene. Didn't he know how much she was hurting? But at the end of the whole thing, she completely agreed with him. She didn't give a fuss about giving up some things this week that were important to her in order to catch up on work, and she didn't bat an eye at me taking away major computer time. I would have given in; Keith did not. He was right. I had an easier time disciplining the kids when they were younger and the infraction was obvious. Now things are never as black and white because feelings are involved. But Keith said, this is the rule, we can't budge, and it worked.

Today she got up early and immediately began working, and didn't complain at all.

Maybe we moms should give the dads credit for understanding the dynamics in our homes more than we do. I may understand the children emotionally better, but when it comes to setting boundaries, he's often right.

So with being away, did my heart grow fonder? Yes and no. Yes, because I desperately wanted to see my family again and missed them a ton. No, in the sense that I have this vague uneasiness that we're not having enough fun at home, and that somehow I'm losing a bit of effectiveness as a mom. But perhaps I'm wrong on the last one: perhaps I'm being more effective because I let Keith step in without stopping him. I still need to think about how to increase the fun quotient, though.

One more thing: I have some big news to share on this blog in the next week about a book contract I just landed. You'll love the title. I spent a lot of last week on the phone with my agent and on the computer mulling deadlines and chapters and thinking things through. I'm really excited to share about it, just as soon as I can.

Here are two questions for you this morning: what do you choose for TSA screening at airports? The scanner or the pat down? And what about for teenage daughters (even if that part is only hypothetical?). Has your husband had better insight into discipline than you? What happened? I'd love to hear!

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

It all started with Sesame Street. Learning used to be something we did systematically, with the aid of books, a straight-laced teacher wearing horn-rimmed glasses, and a ruler across the knuckles if all else failed.

But Sesame Street promised to make learning fun! Letters danced and sparkled. Numbers exploded! Cool.

Thus learning became entertainment, and soon entertainment became everything. Our society is addicted to entertainment, and not the kind that was once derived from sitting out on the wrap-around porch with your neighbours and a bunch of banjos, if such a culture ever really existed. No, it’s the entertainment you experience on the new iPhone I bought my husband last Christmas, which not only makes calls and plays YouTube videos; it also has its own fake “lighter” application, should you ever find yourself at an impromptu concert. How fun is that?

And while men are busy with their new gadgets, women are typing frantically, finding new ways to keep up with friends in 140 characters or less. Technology is now our entertainment and our social outlet.

Unfortunately, technology got women all wrong. We may broadcast on Twitter to everyone we’ve ever known, including some guy we dated for three weeks in grade eleven, that last night’s extra cheese pizza gave us heartburn, but that doesn’t build the connections we really need. You can’t cry on someone’s shoulder on Facebook. You can’t pat someone’s hand on a blog. Most of all, you can’t look someone eye to eye and read the heart, because there is no face to face.

We women need that face to face, which is why we get so ticked off when we’re trying to talk to the men in our lives and they don’t look up from the video game. We like scrutinizing our loved one’s faces, watching their laugh lines, even seeing ourselves reflected in our guy’s eyes. When we see eyeballs, we figure ears are listening, too. Without eyeballs, we figure we’re being tuned out. And since we’re missing the face to face in the rest of our frantic lives, we especially need it from relationships.

Men aren’t built for relationship in quite the same way. A man can watch a football game with a buddy and come away feeling that they have experienced something together. A woman watches a movie with her guy and, while she may have had fun, she often feels somewhat unfulfilled.

Men operate side by side; as long as they are experiencing something with someone else, they tend to feel empowered. It hearkens back to the days when men were hunters, trekking out with their buddies. Requiring eye contact to have real conversation would have been a huge drawback when a sabre toothed tiger approached. Men had to be able to scan the horizon while still debating about whose campfire was bigger last night.

Yet though men are comfortable side by side, it is with women that they experience the true intimacy of face to face. Just because that’s the potential of relationships, though, doesn’t mean we’ll always achieve it. Humans are intrinsically lazy, and it’s all too easy to ignore our deepest needs and focus instead on the immediate, the flashy, and the fun, even if it’s shallow. With all these new gadgets, we’re filling our lives with pseudo-relationship and pseudo-intimacy.

So here’s a little pointer if you’re wondering why you’re not getting anywhere in your relationships. Put the iPhones away and go for a coffee. Sit at a table and look into someone’s eyes, whether it’s your spouse, your child, your sister, your friend. Then just talk. It doesn’t even matter what you talk about! Just spend some time not being entertained by anything except another’s stories. That’s a special kind of fun, and it doesn’t need batteries.

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Funny Skit: How to Get Out of Debt
I don't have time to write a long post today, but for your viewing pleasure, I present this hilarious video on how to get out of debt fast. It's got one simple tip. See if you can pick it up:

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Wifey Wednesday: Why Women Need to Talk to Warm up

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's Wifey Wednesday is actually a post I wrote for the blog Adding Zest to Your Nest. I thought I'd print it here, too!

Photo by J. Ronald Lee

See if you can relate to this all-too-frequent scenario in our house:

It's been a long, hard day. You've been running after kids, cleaning snotty noses, throwing food on the table before chauffeuring to karate, and visiting the bank and the dentist. The principal called today and wanted to talk about a bullying incident to do with your 7-year-old. The karate club says that your 10-year-old has great potential and should take an extra lesson a week. And your sister called; she and her husband are having problems.

The kids are now in bed and you want nothing more than just to relax and let all of those concerns fade away. You head into the bedroom, and there's your hubby, whom you adore, getting ready for bed. But you know from the glint in his eye that sleep is not what he's planning.

You smile and scatter your clothes in all directions, following him to the bed, praying that the kids stay asleep and don't bug you. He reaches for you and starts kissing you. And then--

From somewhere deep within, you're not even sure where--

You find yourself pushing him aside and saying, "Do you think Jeffy should take two karate lessons a week? He is really gifted, but I don't know if the teacher is just trying to get more money from us. And can we even swing it? When will we eat dinner as a family? But I know he really wants to do it. And then maybe he could teach his little brother to stick up for himself more when bullies pick on him. What do you think?"

Your husband sighs and rolls over as he starts to grunt monosyllabic answers to your big monologue about karate, bullies, money, dentists, and schedules.

Then, when you're finished, you start kissing him again, but he doesn't seem interested. You're mildly ticked at him for being ticked at you, but you can't quite put your finger on the problem. So you give him a peck on the cheek and roll over and go to sleep. Maybe tomorrow night...

Can you see yourself in that scenario? Let's diagnose what's going on for a minute.

Did that woman want to make love to her husband? Or was she pushing him away when she started talking?

Here's what I think, from personal experience: she did want to make love! But she knew that she wasn't emotionally or mentally ready yet because she had to get all this stuff that was inside her head out.

Here's the reason: for women, sex is largely in our brains. If our heads aren't engaged, our bodies won't follow. That's why women find sex difficult when we have a headache; if we're in pain, we can't concentrate! And if we can't concentrate, arousal ain't gonna happen.

Men, on the other hand, aren't like this at all. I remember a time shortly after we were married when my husband had a fever of 103 and a rash all over. I crept into the bedroom to see how he was doing, and whispered, "is there anything I can do for you?" His fevered face turned into a smirk as he said, "well, since you asked..."

I thought he was sick, in more ways than one. But I have since learned that men and women are very different when it comes to sex. Men are mostly body oriented. Women are relationship oriented, which means that we are largely in our heads. And if something intrudes in our heads, we lose focus on sex.

Have you ever been into some heavy petting with your husband when the thought suddenly occurs to you, "Is there milk in the fridge for breakfast?" You didn't mean to think it, but now that it's there, you start ticking off all the other things you need to buy at the grocery store, and you're gone! He's still touching you, but he knows he's not getting through. He's lost out to milk.

We women know that about ourselves, even if we can't articulate it. And that's why, when there's a lot going on in our heads, making love can be difficult. We know we just have to get all our thoughts out and dealt with (even if they're not solved), so that we can concentrate on the here and now.

It took me a while to figure that out about myself. I thought when I started talking instead of engaging in foreplay that I was somehow pushing my husband away. But I wasn't. My brain was just trying to relieve itself of all the pressure so that I could be present with him! In other words, talking was the foreplay. I wasn't looking for my husband to solve my problems; I just needed to get the concerns out, so that they weren't crowding in there.

Now that we understand that, our evenings look much different. We'll often take walks after dinner to talk about the pressures I'm feeling, or the frustrations I have, so that they don't have to spill out right before bed. And Keith knows that for me, that's part of warming up!

Maybe you're like that, too! Explain to your husband that it's not that you don't want to make love; it's only that you want to be able to fully enjoy it. And to be able to do that, you may need fifteen minutes of talking first to get out all the pressures of the day.

When he sees what's in it for him, he may not become so prickly. And when you understand why you need it, you may not fear that you're running away from sex quite so much! You may understand that all you're really doing is creating a deeper intimacy between you.

Understand the different sex drives, and it's a win win. Misunderstand our motivations, and you're both bound to feel hurt. So talk about the importance of talking! And then you may be able to get around to something even more fun!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Do you need to talk, too? 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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My Life this Week
Hello everybody! Great comments on yesterday's post on children's rooms. Keep commenting and reading if you haven't already.

I thought I'd fill you in on what I'm doing this week. On Sunday I flew out to Moncton, New Brunswick, because all this week I'm speaking at "Girls Night Out" events in various churches in the Maritimes. Last night I was in Summerside, PEI, and tonight we're in Charlottetown. Later this week we return to New Brunswick and then Nova Scotia.

I love speaking, and I love meeting people. But at the same time it can be rather stressful. I had a huge Saturday the day before I left, because my kids, who are in Bible quizzing, had a quiz meet three hours from my home. I run the quiz program for the 20 youth who participate at our church, so I was responsible for getting 20 youth to Ottawa and making sure they actually quizzed.

Our kids did great, but one of my daughters had a few disappointments. But then, at the end of the night, I had to hug them goodbye for a week, instead of getting back on that bus with them and heading home so we could talk about her disappointments.

My husband also wasn't feeling all that great, and I knew he'd have to deal with things while I was gone. He'd have to make sure Katie and Rebecca got to piano; make sure the milk and eggs were bought; make sure that Katie finished her Science assignment; and make sure that some laundry got done.

Rebecca, of course, will likely end up doing a lot of that, but Keith's ultimately in charge. I haven't left for a whole week before, and it's a new thing to me. And I'm feeling a bit guilty.

To make it worse, my husband and I didn't really communicate well that I was going. I thought he knew, since everyone else seemed to. I had told him (I'm sure I had), but it didn't stick. Then I began to pack all last week, since the airplane lets you have 2 50 pound bags, and I need to make sure I use all that 50 pounds (I have to bring my books to sell, you see). So I was packing for a good three or four days, the suitcases all over the floor. I thought that would have been a clue that I was going somewhere, but it seems like Keith didn't really realize it until I started making the list of all the things he'd have to attend to the week that I was gone.

He was gracious about it; they all were, because they support me. But it's hard, because I feel like I've left them in the lurch. I guess that's just what mothers feel. I don't think I'm wrong, of course, because let's face it. I homeschool my kids. I'm home with them all the time. If I'm away for a week, they'll survive. And Keith has gone to work or gone on a 48-hour shift many times when I wasn't feeling well, and that was par for the course. So it's not that this is wrong. I just always feel pulled in two directions.

I spent an hour and a half on Skype on Sunday night, once I landed in Moncton, talking to my daughter who had the bad day. We sorted a lot of things out, and I think she's all set to go now. I'm so glad we can keep in touch. But this being a mom thing is hard.

I know Keith can look after the kids. I know Rebecca can handle the house. And I know Katie will be all right. But I still feel like I should be there, managing everything and making sure everyone is happy.

What is it with mothers, anyway? Even when I'm doing something I know I am called to do, I feel vaguely like I'm letting people down.

Last night, when I was sharing my story, I encouraged the women to ask themselves, "Is God Enough"? Usually when we hear that question we answer glibly, "of course He is", but is He? Because a lot of us are holding things back: I love you God, but I really want a baby. I love you, Lord, but I really need that job. I love you, God, but I can't live with this pain. And I told them how to wrestle through that question.

After the break a woman came up to me who had only recently lost a baby, in a similar situation to the way I had. We talked for a bit, and I hope that I encouraged her. And I realized: this is where I'm supposed to be.

But my heart is in a house in a different province, where a 15-year-old girl is doing laundry, and a 13-year-old girl is healing her heart, and a 40-year-old man is trying to pull it all together. Life can be tough, can't it?


Should a Child's Room be a Castle?

When my children were first born, I did something radical. I didn't really decorate their room.

Part of it was a money issue; we had so little cash, and we were trying to save for a downpayment for a house. I thought putting our money into an apartment sized washing machine would be a far better use of our funds than buying cute little Noah's Ark wall hangings.

But part of it was also a conscious choice. I figured they were babies; what did it matter what their rooms looked like, as long as they had a comfortable place to sleep with an interesting mobile above the crib to look at? So we bought a sturdy crib, a practical change table, and a rocking chair where I could feed them. Everything else was kind of boring. In fact, until my oldest was four we actually stored our Christmas decorations in their room, in a pile in the corner.

Here's the clincher: I knew that throughout the day, they would be spending most of their time in the family room, not in their bedrooms. They would need to be where I was; so why put all kinds of money and time into a room that they really only used for sleeping? I wanted to keep the living room in our small house as fun for them as possible, so I often sacrificed some of the comfort in their bedrooms--where they rarely were--for the family space we all shared.

I think modern parents pay far too much attention to children's rooms. We want to create a fairytale for them, but honestly, how important is that? I have seen 3-year-olds with televisions in their rooms. I have seen six-year-olds with video games and computers in their rooms. And it's a big mistake.

When children hit the teenage years, they will need some privacy. Giving them a nice, bright, comfortable room where they can do homework, read, and practice an instrument or something is good.

When they're 8, they don't need that. What they do need is an incentive to be with the family. We spend far too much time in North America cocooning in our own individual places than we do hanging out, all together, in common space.

I respect the urge to try to create a comfortable home for your child; I really do. It is admirable to want to provide for your child and to nurture your child.

What I don't agree with, though, is how our society comes to define "providing for" and "nurturing". We think that this means that our kids should have access to all the latest gear. Really, I think nurturing our children means giving kids access to each other and to us. They need family far more than they need a television.

What happens when kids have a television in their bedroom? They sleep less. They gain weight. They score lower on reading and math tests. And perhaps most importantly, they're more likely to start smoking and get involved in other delinquent activities, even controlling for all other factors.

While the health and educational factors are important, it's that last one I want to talk about. When kids have televisions and computers in their room, they are more likely to make lifestyle and moral choices that you would not approve of. Why would you want your kids doing that?

And the reason they do that is because their lives have now become more and more separate from you. Kids with TVs in their rooms live in their rooms, not in the kitchen or the family room, where they can hang out with you. And perhaps just as importantly, they tend to live solitary lives, not lives with their siblings. If you've ever wondered why our kids squabble so much, perhaps it's because they aren't forced to play together or cure boredom together. Instead, they just retreat to their rooms to be entertained on their own.

I really can't think of anything much more destructive in a family than encouraging your child to coccoon, all without you. Kids need input from us. They need conversation. They need meal times. They need to have fun! But we're letting them grow up by themselves, in their wonderfully decorated room with every little gadget. It's wrong.

This year my family started enforcing family games night. We've had it theoretically for years, but somehow other things often intruded: meetings or dinner engagements or kids' activities. Not so now. It's every Tuesday night. I've stopped accepting speaking engagements on Tuesdays (except this one, because I'm away for a whole week! But my family is playing without me!). The kids don't work or get together with friends on that night. And that night we have a great dinner, and then pull out the board games and laugh and laugh altogether.

Let's provide for our kids. Let's give them a great living environment. But that environment should not be in their own rooms, where they're encouraged to spend time far away from the rest of the family. It should be altogether.

I find that my girls need to talk about the stuff of life, but that conversation usually only comes after we've been together for a while. They need to be comfortable opening up. After we've been goofing around or chatting or cooking together for a little bit, suddenly out will come this torrent of feelings about friends, or youth group, or their futures, or whatever. But it only comes after that initial bonding time.

If your lives consist mostly of gathering the children for the practical functions of life, like putting food on their plates or collecting homework or ascertaining everybody's schedules, and then you separate during your leisure times, I doubt that kind of opening up will happen. If your children hang out in their own rooms, rather than in the family room with siblings, I doubt great friendships will develop.

So here's an idea: think about how you want your kids to turn out. What values do you want them to have? How do you want them to act? Now, does your physical home reflect those values, or are you undermining them? If your kids coccoon, you're undermining them. And maybe it's time for a readjustment.

What do you think? Does your family have a central place where you hang out? Where is it?

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Winning the Chore Battle
Child labor 7/26
Photo by clogozm

I know in most homes cleaning is a major source of conflict--or at least frustration. There's a never-ending list of things that need to be cleaned, and yet there seems to be a shortage of those who are willing to pitch in. In fact, most moms find themselves cleaning alone, and when we do get others to help, it's often more trouble and frustration than it's worth.

Many Saturday mornings when the children were younger I remember getting all excited about carrying out my chore plan. The kids knew what to expect, we all knew what was on our lists, I put on music, and we got to it.

Or at least I got to it. I cleaned, and the girls bickered. They fought more when doing chores than they ever did at any other time--even though they weren't doing the SAME chores. Rebecca would get mad if she thought she was putting in more effort than Katie. Katie would get mad if she felt that Rebecca was telling her what to do. And I would yell and threaten and tell them nobody was getting their allowance if they're going to make my life even more miserable!

We're over that stage now, and I've learned that getting involved in their emotional squabbles aren't worth it for me. It just makes me mad, and it doesn't actually get anything done. Waltzing in and saying in a sing song voice, "Looks like nobody's getting allowance unless you both leave each other alone in the next two minutes and finish your chores", and then waltzing back out, works much better. Sometimes I've had to follow through and not given an allowance, and then they're in a lot of trouble. I won't drive them somewhere they want to go that week, because they made my life miserable. And slowly but surely they've stopped bickering.

But it's not easy. And often chore systems get complicated not because the system itself is hard, but because we let our emotions get involved, and we get wrapped up in the mind games they're playing. So here are several tips on how to recruit help for chores, and maintain your sanity in the process!

1. Accept the fact that you care about the house more than other people do.

Many kids don’t care if the house is a mess and if the only meals cooked are Kraft Dinner. Lots of husbands may not notice a dust bunny until it impedes their view of the television. So we don’t share values when it comes to keeping the house clean.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t work towards everybody pitching in. The key is just to realize that they’re not going to do it automatically, because they don’t share the commitment to it. Expecting others to want to do it is to set yourself up for major disappointment.

Approach it another way, though—that nobody really likes doing this, but it’s something that needs to get done—and you can make a difference.

2. Talk about chores as if they're everyone's job

Start with the idea that they’re not “helping” you if they clean; it’s everybody’s job to clean, not just yours. And then just talk about what a fair division of labour is. Of course, different family members require different strategies (you have no authority over your husband, for instance), but you can make a difference, once you stop doing everything and start leaving room for others to help!

3. Stop doing everything

They’re also not going to start pitching in if you keep doing everything. Don’t clean and then fume that no one’s mopping with you. You need to stop some of what you’re doing before others pick up the slack.

4. Find a chore system that works for you

When my daughters were small, we put stickers on the fridge when they did their chores. Since they’ve been five we’ve paid them an allowance, and that’s worked well. When they were small, I also did the chore with them or checked up right then. Now we use a checklist and I expect it all done by Saturday night.

You just have to find a system that works for you. People could choose their favourite chores, and stick to those, or you could put chores on pieces of paper and stick them in a basket, and everyone “chooses” their chores for that week. Or you could rotate. It really needs to be something that works for your family. One suggestion, though: make sure every child knows how to do every chore, even if they don’t do them very often. One day, when they have their own household, they’ll have to do it, so this is part of their training for independence.

The main thing, though, is to be consistent. If you want the chores done by Saturday night, enforce that rule. If you are giving an allowance, actually give it out. Don't forget, or it loses its appeal. And if you're tying chores to allowance, then stop buying them chocolate bars everytime you're out. Make them have a reason to want to earn their own money!

5. Reward cleaning, not attitude

Disrespect is obviously not tolerated. But if a child is dawdling, and cleaning as slowly as possible, is this really worth getting into a fight over? After all, they're going to have to finish the chore before they can go do something they want to do. If they decide to be slower than molasses, they're only hurting themselves.

My suggestion? Ignore behaviour like that. Tell them firmly but happily that they have to get it done, and then leave them alone. Don't start fighting about attitude, because then you end up arguing about intangibles, and you can't win. You start arguing about whether or not someone's really trying, and they insist they are, and then where do you go? They start crying, you try not to yell, and it's ugly all around.

You require the cleaning to get done. That's non-negotiable. If they want to flop on the floor every now and then, or work slowly, or scowl, then leave the room so you can't see them.

If they start fighting with siblings, as mine often do, I just tell them that they're not allowed to make my life miserable and start taking away allowances. Or I just make sure that they're cleaning on two different floors of the house.

6. Negotiate in good faith with your husband

If your husband is just not interested in cleaning, I don’t think this is worth getting into a huge fight about, personally. What’s more important to me is that the man spend some time with the children, not necessarily that he mop everything in sight. Everyone should be doing some work for the family, but if it works out fairly that Mom does most of the housework while Dad does most of the paid work, I think that’s okay. Every family needs to come to its own equilibrium.

If, however, you both work full-time and he still does little to nothing at home, you need to talk about it. Tell him how you’re feeling, and ask him to pitch in. If he just won’t, because he doesn’t have the time or because he’s already doing a lot of other chores, like maintenance or yard work, ask for his support in getting the kids to help. Some men still believe it’s the “woman’s” job, and thus it’s none of their concern, and shouldn’t be the kids’ concern, either.

Most men, though, are firmly committed to raising children who will be independent and responsible. If you talk to him about how teaching children chores is part of helping them to be independent, he’s more likely to see the value in it, and less likely to just expect mom to do everything. So have a date and plan for the future. Ask him what he wants the kids to be like in 5 years, in 10 years, in 15 years. How are you going to get the kids to that point? What chores should they have? How many? What do they need to know how to do before they move out? You may just find you have an ally after all!

Tomorrow's Saturday, the big chore day at many people's homes. Are you ready to go? If you want to talk to your family tonight about changing the way you do things, you can download my free chore charts here!

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Remembering Today's Heroes

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. I've decided to publish this week's a day early, since it's a Remembrance Day column. Here you go!

The first time I met a soldier I was nineteen years old. My Queen’s University housemates and I encountered him in line at a movie, and we felt sorry for this lost, obviously brainwashed soul. We invited him back for a homecooked meal in the hopes that we could talk him out of his warmongering ways.

Consider this column my apology to him.

I grew up in downtown Toronto, which recently denied a request to display “Support Our Troops” on their buses because such sentiment was deemed too political. Twelve years ago I moved to Belleville, and my whole perspective has changed. Today, when I think of the military, I do not picture violent prone individuals. I think of honourable and amazing men I call my friends: Kevin and Kelly and Steeve and Gerry and Gord and Craig and Mike, and I remember Nelson. I now sport a Support Our Troops magnet on my van, which somehow always manages to get stolen whenever I drive to Toronto. But I happily replace it nonetheless.

The military families I have met have so little to do with warmongering and so much to do with what I want Canada to be. I have come to realize that the things that we equate with being Canadian—freedom, responsibility, opportunity, duty, honour, sacrifice, generosity—are often best exemplified by the military, whose main job it is to protect Canada, to stand up for what we collectively believe in, and to spread that belief around the globe. As the poet said, “it is the soldier, not the minister, who has given us freedom of religion. And it is the soldier, not the journalist, who has given us freedom of the press.”

Last week, in Iraq, fifty-eight unarmed worshipers were gunned down while attending mass at a Catholic church. That’s barbaric, and that’s the kind of thing that our forces are trying to prevent in Afghanistan. I don’t know if they will be successful; can you change a part of the world that thinks it’s okay for girls to be married at ten, that it’s not okay to educate women, and that people don’t have the right to their own beliefs? But today little girls are attending school in Afghanistan, and that is something for which Canadians should take much pride.

This year, I hope that our schoolchildren are being given the chance to take pride not just in what their great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents did, but also in what our soldiers do today. In my schooldays we recited In Flander’s Fields and listened to talks about World War II. The production too often rendered the impression that good wars were those which were fought only very long ago, and had little to do with me today. In that moment of silence, I would always meditate on my great-uncle who was wounded in Vimy Ridge. Remembering seemed like only a duty to the past, rather than also a duty to the future.

When I close my eyes on November 11 now, I thank God for the sacrifices of those in World War I and II who saved this world from unthinkable horror. But throughout the day I also think of Suzanne and Lisa and Eileen and Cheryl, who lived for months without husbands, navigating toddlers learning to walk and teenagers starting to date, all without their mates. I see Rebecca’s and Ethan’s faces right after their daddies came home. And I see the faces of my friends, with tears in their eyes, when they hear that another comrade will not be making that trip back.

I cannot enter into their lives completely, for the military is a family all to itself. But I can stand with them, and I can say thank you. And I can remember.

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Wifey Wednesday: Saying Hello

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!

What really determines the course of a relationship is not necessarily the big things, like how we handle anniversaries, as it is the little things, like the tone of voice you use to each other, or whether you look up when the other walks into the room. Think about it: how often have you spent the whole day mildly ticked off at your husband for something little that he did? It wasn't huge, but that one little thing has coloured how you judge all other interactions with your husband that day. If that little thing hadn't happened, you likely would have been much more forgiving, much more generous, much more loving.

The little stuff matters, because it's through the lens of the little stuff that we judge our spouse on a day to day basis. Now obviously we should be able to let little things go, but that's not how we work! And I'm not talking about the rightness or wrongness of this state of affairs; I simply mean that it is what it is.

And so if that's the case, why don't we go out of our way to care for those little things? If we took care of them, likely the big things would take care of themselves.

Let me share with you one little thing that you can do that can colour how you and your husband interact throughout the night: consider how you're going to say hello.

Sounds pretty little, doesn't it? But what's the scenario when you and your husband meet at the end of a long day? Let's look at this from two different perspectives:

You're at Home; He Walks in the Door

Welcome to my world! The way this scenario used to unfold was something like this:

After a long day of homeschooling and errands, I finally am able to get on the computer around 4:30 to get some actual work done. Dinner's in the crockpot (I managed to throw that in while we talked about history earlier), and now I have some time to myself. I am trying to make the most of it by typing like crazy and writing like crazy until dinner is ready.

Keith walks in around 5:45. I'm in the middle of a good writing streak. He says "Hi, honey." I look up briefly and say, "Hi, I'll just be a moment."

Another half hour goes by until I just have to stop to get the food on the table. But I'm not ready to stop yet because I was being really productive. So I'm grumpy. Family concerns are eating into the only work time I have. In exasperation I stow away the computer and yell for the kids to set the table. I find Keith in his office, finishing up some work. And I tell him he better get moving or dinner's going to get cold.

Now, I'm not particularly proud of this, but for years that's what his arrival home looked like. Not exactly welcoming, is it? Honestly, I wonder sometimes why he wanted to come home at all.

I have since woken up to my hubby's need to feel appreciated, and have reworked our routine. Here's how:

1. Be available when he comes home.

Realize that 5:45 is one of the most important times of day. Arrange to be non-stressed at that time! Have dinner well underway. Redo your daily schedule so that you're not in the middle of something. In my case, this meant arranging to work from 10-12 in the morning, and setting up the kids to do some work on their own.

2. Greet him

It sounds basic, but how many of us really do this? We may yell, "Hi, honey!", but do we go to the door and give him a kiss? Do we give him the impression that we were actually waiting for him, anticipating him?

Now, when he comes home, I try to get off of my chair or leave the room I'm in and give him a hug. I want him to know that I've been thinking of him!

3. Prepare yourself

I even put on lipstick. Honestly! So often we dress up to see other people, but never to see our own spouse. So now, when I'm about to see him, I make it a point to put on earrings, a little bit of lipstick, and run a brush through my hair.

4. Give him space

Maybe he needs to unwind for half an hour after he gets home. Give him that time! If you're exhausted with the kids, don't consider this his time to take over. Don't greet him at the door, toddlers in hand, ready to hand them off.

Instead, talk to him and reach an agreement that when he gets home, he gets half an hour to himself. But in return, after dinner, you get an hour to do a craft, or watch a movie, or read a book, or take a bubble bath. You get your time, too!

When You're the One Arriving Home

In many families, he's not the one walking through the door with her to greet him. Maybe you're the one coming home after a long day, or after a part-time shift at night. You're tired. You want to relax. What do you do?

1. Greet your husband before you greet your children

Your children are likely to get so excited to see you coming in the door! Make sure your husband gets a hold of you first. Show your kids that he's #1!

2. Take some time to decompress before you come home

If you need some downtime, take some time before you come home. It may sound selfish, but the children are unlikely to leave you alone when you come home, and he's going to need your help, too. So consider going for a fifteen minute walk after your shift. Or maybe grabbing a coffee and reading a chapter of your book. Get in the headspace where you leave work behind and you're ready to go home.

Maybe you think this is hypocritical, because I'm saying that we should give husbands downtime, but not demand the same for ourselves! I'm just being practical, though. Kids tend to hang on to mom more than they hang on to dad, so even if he wanted to give you downtime, it's likely to be difficult. Besides that, if he doesn't want to give it to you, you don't want to get into a fight about it. Better to take it on your own!

3. Ask others about their days

Don't launch into complaints about how your day went; take a minute to ask how your hubby's day went, too.

These are relatively little things, but imagine how much they could change how we relate to each other! If we went out of our way to show our husbands that we thought they were the most important person in the world. Imagine if we showed them that we wanted them to be happy to come home; that we cared about what they thought.

If you're going through a hard time in your marriage, try it. Often these little switches of relatively little things can give your marriage a whole new perspective. And if he doesn't notice right away, don't give up. Keep at it. Change takes time, but as you start to change in the little things, you'll often find the big things taking care of themselves!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? How do you deal with these little things? 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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Interesting Stuff...
I've seen some interesting stuff around the internet lately, and I thought I'd link to some of it for you!

1. TV makes kids fat; computers don't. A new study shows that if you put a TV in a child's room, they're far more likely to become obese, but computers have little impact. The thought is that kids tend to eat in front of the TV, but they don't in front of computers.

I'm still in favour, personally, of having kids hang out in a family room!

2. Do you know what drowning looks like?

We often assume that kids will flail their arms and that it will be obvious if our child is in trouble. This lifeguard explains how that's not true--and why parents' misunderstandings about drownings often mean that their children can drown right in front of them. A VERY important read!

3. 50 Reasons to Breast Feed Anywhere

I have to admit before my babies were born I could never picture breastfeeding in public. But eventually I got tired of hanging out in the bathroom and decided to let Rebecca eat where she wanted. And it didn't bother me one bit. I covered up with a baby blanket and was perfectly modest, but we were all much happier. It just got a little bit awkward when they slurped loudly or sighed a little too happily. Nevertheless, see if you agree with all of these reasons!

4. Israel Does Security Totally Differently

If you're sick of the scan vs. pat down debate, this will make you even more mad. See how Israel does security (with a dose of common sense).

5. Is College Worth It?

I collect articles, it seems, on the economic problems with college. Here's a good overview on why, for some, a degree doesn't pay.

6. A Very Quick Explanation of Why Men Hate it When Lights are Left on

A picture is worth a thousand words.

That's it for now! Hope you're having a great weekend!


Competition: Is it Good or Bad for Kids?
Soccer Kids
Photo by Chip Griffin

Here's the scenario: Your 11-year-old son is on a soccer team where the coach believes winning and losing are not categories that should ever be discussed. He believes in complete equality, and so each child is given equal time on the field.

The team loses every single game. The kids feel horrible about themselves. They make up stupid names for their team. They pout.

Then one day, out of the blue, you get the opportunity to coach for just one game. What do you do?

That's the scenario that journalist Barry Rubin faced on his son's team. And so he coached that game, putting the good players on the right positions and keeping them in for more of the game. The team won!

He writes:

I worried that the boys who played less of the game and were given seemingly less significant positions would be resentful. But quite the opposite proved true.

With the team ahead, they were thrilled. One shouted from the sidelines something I thought showed real character: “Don’t let the good players do all the work!” Instinctively, he recognized that some players are better, but he wanted to bring everyone’s level up rather than down. I’m tempted to say he was going against what he was being taught in school.

They played harder, with a bit more pressure and a less equal share of personal glory than they’d ever done before. But after the victory, they were glowing and appreciative, amazed that they had actually won a game. Yes, winning and being allowed to give their best effort as a team was far more exciting and rewarding for them than being told they had done wonderfully by just showing up, that everyone should be treated equal as if there were no difference in talents, and that the results didn’t matter.

Suddenly, I noticed that one boy’s mother was really angry at him, claiming he hadn’t showed good sportsmanship because he was too happy over the victory. Not seeing anything that might have provoked her outrage, I wondered whether this was a suggestion that one should apologize for winning. Still, the bawling out didn’t put a damper on his big smile.

Read the rest here.

Competition is an interesting conundrum for parents. We don't want our children to feel badly about losing, and we don't want them to think that winning is all that matters. But at the same time, there is no doubt that many children are motivated to try harder if there is some sort of competition.

In the not so distant past, competition was a regular part of childhood. Every school had spelling bees and math bees. The kid who made top marks was lauded. Sunday Schools had races and contests at each picnic, and even the adults got into it. Churches had baseball teams that played against each other--and often took it very seriously! Almost everyone was involved in some sort of competition.

Today, I would say that a minority of children are. We have taken competition out of many institutions. Most churches don't have Sunday School races anymore. They don't have big baseball tournaments between rival congregations. Schools have eliminated tag and spelling bees and other contests. And why? Because we don't want children to feel badly about themselves.

My children are currently involved in a HUGE competition. I know it sounds geeky, but they do Bible quizzing with our church. Last year they had to learn all of 1 and 2 Corinthians, and they had four meets a year in our district. The top 10 made it to internationals (both my girls went). Our first quiz meet for this year (we're studying the book of John) is on Saturday. They've been studying like crazy.

Does the competition help? You betcha. Without it, they would never have the incentive to learn the material as inside out as they know it right now. When you have to compete against somebody, you have to push yourself to do your best. You discover things inside yourself that you never knew you had. You discover skills and mental prowess that were lurking there but never showed up.

My children really only compete at Bible quizzing and in music and public speaking festivals, but I do like the competition because it encourages excellence. Is it good for every child? Maybe not in huge doses, but I do think each child should be in some sort of competition at some point, because I think competition mirrors real life.

Our society is tying itself up in knots to cover up this one central fact: human beings are not equal in skill. We're equal before God, and we're equal in worth, but we are not all equally skillful. Some are smarter. Some are faster. Some are more coordinated. That is just simply fact.

Nobody wants to acknowledge this, though, because by saying someone is faster, you're simultaneously saying that most are slower. Yet is that so bad to know about yourself? I know it's difficult to accept, but I think it would be worse for a child to grow up his or her whole life and think they were above average, only to start working in university or start trying to land a job and find that they're not considered a good catch. We need to know where we have areas we have to grow in.

Not everyone will land every job. Not everyone will get into every school, get the recording contract, win that scholarship, marry the most beautiful person. Life is full of competitions everywhere, and we have to get used to dealing with it, and to pushing ourselves, where appropriate, so that we can shine.

I do think that there are some personalities that are less able to handle competition, but I warn you against labelling your child like that prematurely. I never thought my youngest daughter would do well in Bible quizzing. She hated memorizing, she was too social, and she hated anything resembling work. She didn't like competition up until that point.

I was going to discourage her from joining, but she wanted to give it a try, so I said yes, telling her not to expect to do as well as her sister did.

In her first year of quizzing, she won top rookie. She was better than her sister. And I never saw it coming.

At internationals she didn't do as well, when the competition was harder. She had to learn what it was not to be the best. But she was an excellent teammate to those who were doing well, and she encouraged them, and she didn't take it personally that she didn't meet her goals.

Competition has made her so mature, but I never would have thought in a million years that she would do as well as she has.

Perhaps it's time to bring back some form of competition again. Let's have Scripture memory contests in our churches. Let's do more spelling bees. Let's play more board games at home! Teach kids what it means to be a good winner, to try hard, and to succeed; but also teach them what it means to not get what they were hoping for, and how to be happy (or at least gracious) towards those who do.

Isn't that closer to real life than this equality charade we're trying to pull off? Or do I have it wrong? Tell me what you think for your own child, because I know each family is different!

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Getting Better with Time
piano fingers
Photo by Brian Richardson

Last night I was cleaning up my kitchen while my 15-year-old practised piano. She's in grade 8 (almost done!), and she was playing a particularly difficult piece just beautifully. At one point I paused what I was doing, stood still, and just listened.

I love moments like that.

Nine years ago, when she started, she couldn't do that. She would sit on the bench, her feet dangling over, as she tried to pick out the notes to This Old Man. It was cute, but it wasn't beautiful.

Over the years, you see, she has spent countless hours perfecting her skill. And now she can sit down, whenever she wants, and play a song she heard on the radio. She's had experience.

We instinctively understand that when it comes to piano, or any other instrument. We get it when it comes to most hobbies, like knitting or scrapbooking or painting. You get better with time and effort.

I don't think, however, that we give enough room to the thought that this could apply to other parts of life, too.

I remember when I first moved to my small town, Keith and I were invited over to dinner to the home of a couple who was then in their late forties. They served a wonderful meal with a beautiful centrepiece and a delicious dessert. Music was playing in the background. The house was beautifully decorated. Everything looked flawless, and the hostess made the meal look effortless.

Dinner Party
Photo by Lachlan Daniel

The next day, when I looked around my living room to see the mismatched couches, and the toys all over the floor, and the distinct lack of dining room table (we ate in the kitchen and had allowed the children to take over the dining room for their craft projects), I felt like a failure. I couldn't host a dinner party even if I wanted to. I wouldn't know what to make. I wouldn't know where to seat people. And my furniture was terrible.

Fast forward twelve years, and life is very different. I can host a dinner party now, because I have a dining room table again. My 13-year-old makes great centrepieces. I can cook much better (though last year's Christmas dinner was a disaster, but that's another story). My house isn't a mess.

And the reason is because I've had practice.

When I first got married I needed a recipe book for everything. Now I have a ton of them, but I rarely use them. I look at what's in my cupboard and my fridge and create something, and it usually tastes marvellous. I can keep things clean. Part of that is because my children are older, but another large part is because I'm just plain better at it. I know how to clean better, I know little tricks to keep the house in order. I'm better organized. I've had more time to learn.

When I had my children I was fairly young, and I spent most of my energy for them. We went on outings everyday, I read to them, we created things, we played. I didn't have much time to clean or have people over. If I were to have babies today, I'd be a different mom. I likely wouldn't play so much because I'd clean more. I'd be more upset about mess. I'd be far more structured and scheduled because I would need to maintain "my" time.

I think I was a better mother then than I would be now. But at the same time, I'm a much better housekeeper now than I ever was then, because I have learned. Some of you have the gift of hospitality, and some of you are gifted homemakers. I never have been, which is probably why I read so many organization blogs and cleaning blogs. It's always been a challenge for me, because I'm such a multi-tasker that I find it hard to stick to one thing. That's why the dining room never gets fully cleaned; I get distracted before I can finish. But I'm getting better with time.

When I think back to that couple in their late forties who had us over, I think she had just learned how to be a good hostess. When she was in her late twenties, she had three boys under four. I'm sure her dining room table wasn't huge and spotless. I'm sure her furniture didn't all match. I'm sure she had toys everywhere. But over the years they had more money, so they could slowly buy better furniture. She had practice cooking. The toys went away. And life got easier.

We have a tendency, I think, to compare our homes to our mother's home, or our friends' homes, or other women's homes that we know. Perhaps it's time to stop. Your mother's home may have been quite a mess when her kids were the age of your kids, even if her home is spotless now. The women whose homes you admire may have had years to get that way. If you're not there yet, relax. Remember: practice makes perfect. Maybe all you need is just a few years to practice organizing, and keeping a home. We don't learn overnight. It takes a while to get used to it. And I think that's perfectly okay!

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What Do I Want to Be Known As?


Last month I was at World Vision headquarters in Canada for a training session. As I walked towards the entrance, I saw this stone at the base of a tree.

I don't know who Brian Tizzard was, but I found myself tearing up nonetheless. I know nothing about the man, except that he was a man of God, and a champion for children.

I'm sure he's happy to be remembered that way. And then I started to think, how will people describe me? Will they say, "she was a bundle of energy?" Will they say, "She was always running around doing something." Will they talk about how busy I am, how much I do, how much I'm involved in? Or is there something more fundamental that shines through?

I am very busy this year with speaking, and with writing. And the thing that motivates me is twofold: one, in my work with World Vision, God's using me to get children sponsored. And given my love for Africa, I'm honoured to be a part of that.

But two: I'm speaking a lot on marriage. I'm writing a book on marriage. And the reason I do this? So that kids don't have to grow up without a mom and dad who love each other, like I did. So that kids can grow up feeling secure, and safe, and loved, because their parents love each other.

Think of what a difference we can make in this world if we do one simple thing: love our mates. And then encourage others to do the same. Family is the key to everything: it ends poverty, gives hope, teaches kids about God's goodness, and stabilizes our society, our hearts, our souls.

In sixty years, I hope under some tree there's a little plaque that says,
Sheila Gregoire
Woman of God
Champion for Children

That would make me very happy indeed.

What about you? What are your passions? What do you want to be remembered for?

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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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