Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Practicing Being In Love!

 We hear people say, "I fell out of love". That is understandable. The dailiness of life and habits that used to be cute but are now annoying can really take the glow off a marriage; but is it an excuse to move out of a commitment you made for life? On the other hand, what does it mean for our emotional well-being, the effect on our children, and our witness for Christ if we are living our lives with our spouses with gritted teeth, soldierong on?

All over the Bible are references to marriage being a picture of man's relationship with God--Ephesians 5, Ezekiel 16, the books of Song of Solomon and Hosea.There is no relationship on earth more intimate, so what could better show us what our relationship with God should look like? Given that, soldiering on in marriage is not God's best for us.

If we have fallen out of love, is it possible to fall back in love? I have to confess I have never been in love with my husband except when I practiced it! Since we just passed Valentine's Day, I took a poll at our homeschool group on how the moms kept close to their husbands. Here are the results:

--Don't use the word "divorce" in the context of your marriage.

--Pursue intimacy--purposefully! That means plan for it and make sacrifices to be sure it happens.

--Thank God for your spouse in your prayers and to his face.

--Brag on his love to your kids.  Our family goes around the table at least once a week and each person gives someone credit for doing something loving. Do it more often than that, even, or at any opportunity!

--Compliment him in front of other people as well as to his face. Studies have found the effect of a compliment is multiplied by the number of people who hear it.

--Share your struggles and growth with him and invite him to share his.

--Write him a love note.


--Smile at him.

--Be interested in him: his concerns, his work, his amusements (motorcycles, football, computers), offer to help him, ask him, "How can I pray for you?"

--Pray for him! I admit, this is my greatest challenge as a wife. I think that perhaps I feel that he's got this thing and doesn't need my prayers. Nevertheless, since marriage is our picture of man and God, we have to know that Satan will attack it--so we need to pray for our husbands and our marriages.

These are all simply ways to pay attention to your husband. There is no guarantee he will reciprocate, but that is not the point. If you pay attention and are concerned for your husband and seek him out, and you actually want to, you will find yourself falling back in love with him.   

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Table Manners for Everyone


At our homeschool meeting recently, someone asked, “How do you teach table manners? Not like what fork to use, but when the little kids are complaining about seeing the food in the teenager’s mouth?”

Let’s be honest; there’s a bit of the Neanderthal in every teenager, where they have very little regard for their family’s sensibilities. (Now, if their friends complained, that might be different!) How do we teach them to be polite at the dinner table?

First of all, table manners are only part of the general category of courtesy. Courtesy is simply being sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. It’s what we would like others to do for us. Your kids need to know that this isn’t you being fussy, it is a general attitude that will affect their lives in the future. I have heard of businessmen who never hire someone until they have eaten a meal with them to see whether they salt their food without testing it, or hold their forks like shovels instead of pencils.

Secondly, I don’t recommend talking about table manners at every single meal. The criticism could end up pushing a child into a food disorder. Instead, have practice meals. Our family had one sit down meal a week, Sunday night dinner. That was where my brother and I learned how to set a table, to put our napkins in our laps, how to cut with a knife and fork, and how to behave at dinner.

What I would suggest is having a practice meal, just one, to go over the rules. At your once a week meal, you can reinforce what you went over at the first practice meal. Here are some tricks.

For kids who chug water before they have swallowed and leave floaties for everyone to see, have everyone drink a cup of water before sitting down to the table. They need hydration to be able to swallow their food, so you don’t want to forbid them water—you just want them to get in the habit of not drinking with every bite. It shouldn’t be necessary. So give them their water beforehand, then take the cups.

For kids who hang over their plates with their arms on the table, have them move their chairs closer to the table. It will encourage them to sit up straight and their arms will be ridiculous draped across the table, even for them.

Use napkins! Teach them to put their napkins in their laps as soon as the family has said grace. It is a handy thing to have if you suddenly decide you don’t like the bite that is in your mouth. (You may tell them it is okay to hide something disgusting in it, as long as the rest of us don’t have to see it and they don’t make a big issue out of it.) It also catches crumbs and is handy for accidents, like runaway barbecue sauce.

Play a game of eating while sitting on one hand. This doesn’t work if they are using a knife and fork, of course, but is great otherwise. They can have fun catching each other using their non-dominant hand. It is also key for training away the draped arms on the table.

Serve the food at the table. If Mom or Dad serves, they determine how much food is put on each plate. We always serve the youngest first, though protocol says that the eldest lady down to the youngest and then the eldest gentleman down should be served. At family meals, this allows the little kids’ food to cool at the same time it teaches them to say “no” to themselves and wait for others—both important courtesy skills. Along with this, no one is allowed to get seconds until the person who served has finished. More courtesy, as well as teaching them that, if they wait, they may not be as hungry as they thought.

When the hostess raises her fork (that’s mom), the signal has been given that everyone may eat. (The exception would be if there are a lot of people at the table, such as at Thanksgiving dinner. The rule of thumb there is that if the people on either side of you have their food, you may begin. This isn’t something you would practice with the family.)

If you have a shoveler, one who is trying to get as much food as possible into his mouth as quickly as possible, try serving on smaller plates. This changes the dynamics a lot more than you might think. Most people want a small amount of food to last longer, so they eat smaller bites. It is completely okay to talk with your mouth full—as long as your mouth is not packed with food. You should be able to chew small amounts of food without the world seeing it. Having smaller plates, smaller amounts of food on them, thus smaller amounts of food on each forkful, makes this possible. Encourage your children that they may always have seconds if there is extra; your goal is not to starve them. You just want them to really enjoy the food and the company and be enjoyable at the same time.

When the meal is over--

Their silverware should be placed together at four o’clock on the plate. Since plates are removed from the right side of the person, or if a child is clearing his own plate, the right thumb can pin down the used silverware on the plate and keep it from skidding away and clattering over the kitchen floor and making a general mess. It’s more courtesy. Before getting up from the table—ever--including going to the bathroom during the meal—they should wipe their mouths with their napkins. More courtesy. Messy faces are disturbing to people.

Extra credit--

Their napkins should remain on their laps the entire time they are at the table, even if the family starts reading a book together or people are talking for a long time after the food is done. If the table is cleared, that is another story. However, if someone leaves the table and plans to come back, he should leave his napkin on his chair—it keeps the table from being sloppy and his napkin from getting messed up in his plate. If he is done and does not plan to come back, the napkin can be put back on the table.

Remember, table manners are not about being more refined than everyone else; they are about thinking about everyone else’s feelings.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Gratitude Attitude

 One of the problems with having people around the house all the time is that you can get on each others' nerves because you never get a break from each other.  In the Bible, one third of the verses on why God gets angry are about ingratitude. We get angry at ingratitude, too, don't we? Having a family culture of gratitude can lift your whole family.

How do you that? The easy thing is to start by teaching your children to say "thank you". We are accustomed to telling our children, "Say, 'thank you!'" We need to start by saying "thank you" ourselves! Every habit we want to instill in our children starts with us. That means we have to be a good example. Saying "thank you" never gets old. Everyone appreciates it.

Another way to grow an attitude of gratitude in your family is to have "thank yous". As part of our family's prayer time we go around the room and give a public "thank you". It is a "thank you" to God. 

We also do "loves" which are when each person shares some loving thing that they have observed someone else doing. It is another kind of "thank you". 

You can come up with your own methods to train a gratitude attitude, but that one thing lifts everyone's spirits and helps them get used to appreciating one another and everything around them. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

How Do I Keep My House Clean With All These People in the House!

 Yup. You go to visit your friend who has two children in school and works and has a cleaning service come in once a week and then you look at your house. Four kids, you homeschool and the only time the kids are out of the house, you are, too. How can you possibly have a clean house? 

I'm not that great of a cleaner. I'm a tidier. I can't think if there's a lot of clutter, but clean is a matter of taste for me. I dust once every two or three years. But as my mother told me when I had five kids under the age of seven, "You have little kids; people who stop by expect you to have a certain amount of toys and dirty socks lying around. But you want people to feel safe eating your food and using your bathroom." That was a gift from my mother: have a hygienic, not sterile, house. 

So, yes, my kitchen and bathroom get a going over pretty regularly, though I'm a little blase about mopping the floors; but what about the rest of the house?

First, let me tell you that I used to clean the rec room with a broom. I don't mean I swept it up, I picked it up. I would sweep all the toys into the center of the room and put them away from there. I know what a dirty house looks like, so please do not be intimidated by what I'm saying here.

Don Aslett, the cleaning guru of the 80s and 90s, said the best way to keep your house clean was not to let it get dirty in the first place. In light of that, your main entrance for the family should have three things:

1--Doormats indoor and out to allow four steps as you enter. That gets off most of the ordinary amount of dirt on the shoes and boots.

2--Have storage for shoes, coats, hats, and backpacks (if that is important for you) as close to the front door as possible. You want to keep them from getting dumped on the floor because that will make it harder to sweep or vacuum. In light of that--

3--Keep a broom/vacuum as close to the door as possible so you can clean it easily. 

Along those lines, keep your cleaning tools as close to the things they clean as possible. If you have carpet upstairs and downstairs, have two vacuums. You can alternate years on getting new vacuums so you don't have a big expense all at once. If you have a long ranch house, keep the broom or vacuum as central as you can. 

Each room should have a wastepaper basket with a plastic liner. It should be easy to throw away the trash! I use disposable grocery bags whenever I get them, and put three in the bottom of the basket for the future and use a fourth to line the basket. The liner is important. For one thing, it makes it less of a mess when there are pencil shavings or used gum in the basket. Secondly, an under-two-year-old child can participate in cleaning the house by pulling up the handles of the grocery bag and learning how to tie them in a knot, or just throwing them into a big trash bag you are following him around with.

Each wet place should have its own cleaning tools--a set for each bathroom and the kitchen. 

Choose cleaning products that limit the number of tools you need. Our pastor and his wife had started two Christian camps and knew how to clean and keep down the expenses. They cleaned everything with either bleach or vinegar. You may pick your own, but it will be easier to teach your children if you don't have to explain five different cleaning products to them. Another possibility is having one product for everyday cleaning and a stash of serious products for periodic cleaning, like getting the rust stains out of the toilet. If you are a duster, keep a cleaning cloth or Swiffer-ish thing tucked away in each room so it is easy to do the dusting.

Cleaning is something we just have to do. We don't have to like it, but our families need it done. Remember, they can help!

Wednesday, October 12, 2022


 Last week, on the way to homeschool group, we were driving through the countryside and I saw my favorite picture in the world: a freshly mown field with the haybales still there waiting to be picked up. I don't much care for late summer. Everything gets messy--the weeds get bigger than the flowers, which have gotten all leggy and lost their blooms, you can't get through the vegetable garden, the crabgrass is growing over the walk. Harvest time--the autumn--everything gets cleaned up. The plants die back and the fields are shorn, their crops organized and tidy and there is abundance in the barn. 

It made me think of decluttering a house. We need to do that, don't we? Right now, we are dismantling our kitchen and I had to sort out the--oh, no!--junk drawer! It took longer than any other drawer as I divided everything in it among Put Away, Give Away, and Throw Away piles. I do the same thing whether I'm clearing out a bookshelf, a closet, a cupboard, or a drawer. Everything in your house has an emotional claim on your life, and most of us have enough demands on us; we don't need garbage claiming us, as well. So everything needs to have a home. On the other hand, just because it has a home, does not mean we need to keep it. Choose wisely! Once we have decluttered, we find we have more elbow room emotionally as well as physically. Abundance!

God declutters us, too. In the Old Testament, the Israelites would regularly add stuff to their worship of the Lord--idol worship, child sacrifice, and the rest. So God would send the mower through, decluttering their lives by showing them how useless those extra things were as their fields were barren or their crops and animals and children stolen by enemies, and they would turn back to the Lord, simplifying their lives, getting back to the fundamentals of worshiping the Lord. What did God give them after they had repented and turned back to Him? The crops grew, they could by their children back. Abundance!

When our lives get leggy and overgrown with extra stuff that isn't him, He does the same thing for us, pushing us to where we know we have to get back to just Him--less running to meetings and get-togethers, turning down the music and turning off the TV and the phone. What does He give us? An abundance of time and focus on Him and on our families.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Mom's Job

I recently got back from a thirty mile wilderness backpacking trip with four sons and I realized that the job of mom doesn't really change over time; it's the same job with different details. 

What is that job? Just two things: 1) Organize, and 2) Cheerlead! 

Mom is the organizer. She can't do everything--there's just too much to do. She shouldn't do everything, either, because those four year olds are going to grow up to be adults and need to be trained up to it. Mom needs to organize to make sure it happens; she doesn't have to do it all.

She is the cheerleader. Her kids need to believe that she believes they can do whatever it is she is asking them to do, and even more. Each one will need a different kind of cheerleading and even different kinds at different points in their lives. 

What did that look like when we were hiking on Isle Royale National Park? I was the organizer. Everyone had a load to carry for the sake of everyone else and I was the one who parceled out the loads. What happens when Mom doesn't organize? Everybody suffers! Listen to what happened to us:

We were on our second day out, only one day left. I had divided the food up in two bags, one of which I took down to the beach for us to cook over a campfire. The other was all rolled up tight in a bag and I had left it on the picnic table figuring it was too heavy and a camp fox couldn't smell the food through the bag. Boy, did I figure wrong.When we came back from the beach, we looked everywhere and it was nowhere to be found. The camp fox was stronger than I thought! That left three six foot-plus men, and five foot Noah and me with nothing to eat for our last day of hiking but one chocolate bar, a quarter of a bag of marshmallows, a bag of potato chips and a single summer sausage. They handled it well, but was I embarrassed!

The Cheerleader. Each one of these young men needed a different kind of cheerleader. Mick, who had hiked Isle Royale twice by the age of eighteen, was suddenly, at the age of twenty-nine, surprised to find that it wasn't as easy as it used to be. After the first day of nine miles, he was afraid he would need to turn back. However, it would just mean nine miles back through through the same terrain, would cut off only one third the distance, and the fact was, we couldn't split up. We had only one tent, and one stove. Wherever some of us went, all of us went. I pointed out to Mick that AJ and Jesse wanted to finish what they started (13 year old Noah would go wherever the adults led) and that this was a big undertaking and we should expect some pain; every great undertaking results in it. He went along with us and finished spectacularly. 

AJ, the sixteen year old, was our Beast of the Trail. He led, even taking an extra mile and a half detour before a ten mile day to get a rock from Rainbow Cove for his niece. He was just awesome and I acknowledged it.

Noah, at thirteen, was asked to do what few thirteen year olds are asked to do: hike an average of ten miles a day for three days with twenty pounds on his back. He needed to know that I was impressed with him and that I understood this was a tough thing to do and that it would transform him.

Jesse, my son-in-law, was a different case. He's the macho man, and doesn't take compliments or criticism very well. I got him to leave a few things out of his pack, but he still carried sixty pounds! He got terrible heel blisters on the last eleven mile day and his strides got shorter and shorter. He went from being hot on AJ's heels on day one to being way behind on day three. Except, I kept behind him. It was hard to walk as slowly as he did, but I knew he needed to not be the last person into camp. I wouldn't shame him by having the fifty-seven year old grandmother beat him into camp. 

So Moms, we organize our households, and encourage our children that they can make it to the finish line.That job never changes, it just looks different over the years.

Friday, July 15, 2022

It's a Whole New World!

 The Badgers are embarking on their twenty-eighth year of homeschooling. With ten kids, the look of our school has changed over time. We went from what was essentially a preschool to a one room schoolhouse and now we have a tutoring service with only two kids, thirteen and nine. We have had to adjust our systems along the way. We have gone from school around the kitchen table (it was the only way to keep track of everyone!) to school lounging around the family room. Our field trips have gone from visits to the petting zoo to trips to the salvage shop and three mile hikes/climbs.

Homeschool groups go through those transitions as well. Groups start because moms with kids the same age tend to hang around together. They have play dates when their kids are five, plan art classes when they are ten, and do biology labs together when they are fifteen. Then, they graduate and leave homeschooling behind them. The groups often follow this pattern, dying out as the highly involved parents graduate out.

For those of us with a wide age range in our children, we've seen these patterns. It can be discouraging to see a vibrant, highly active homeschool group fizzle out. But what we need to do is what we do as moms: adapt to the needs of the next generation. Our homeschool group has gone from STEM and art and gym classes to US Government, Chemistry, and "Pride and Prejudice" to potlucks and hiking club during COVID. But many of us have graduated and there is a new generation that needs the wisdom of the older moms (Titus 2, ladies!) and the encouragement of other soon-to-be-homeschooling moms in the trenches to know that they can do it. Let's do it, ladies!