Monthly Archives: August 2013

Aug 28

4 Ways to Improve Your Master Closet

By Mary Beth Foster | Household Management

4 ways to improve your master closetSharing a closet: one of the unexpected pleasures of a domestic partnership.

While we’d all love to have custom closets designed to keep us organized and maximize our space, it’s simply not a financial reality for most couples.

Here’s a look at four easy ways to improve your shared closet space that won’t break the bank.

Re-evaluate what you store

Many single people are used to living in small apartments or shared housing with limited storage space.  Because of that, we develop certain storage habits that may not serve us well when it comes to sharing a closet.

For me, it was suitcases.  Living in a one bedroom apartment, I had always stored them in the bedroom closet.

Where else would they go?  When my husband and I bought a house, I put our large suitcases in the master bedroom closet because that’s what I had always done.  But how often did I actually use those suitcases?  Almost never.

Meanwhile, I spent dark mornings stubbing my toes on them while other things I did use frequently were pushed aside to leave room for them.

Remember: your master bedroom closet is prime real estate.  Moving large and rarely used items to another location can free up a lot of space and ease frustrations.

Let go of unused items

It’s no secret that getting rid of things is a way to clear space and pave the way toward an organized closet.

Actually getting rid of things, however, can be harder than it sounds.  We convince ourselves that we’re going to wear that shirt we bought a year ago that still has the tags on it, or that we’ll lose a few pounds and fit in those too-small jeans again.

Here’s a trick my husband and I use to keep ourselves honest: about once a year, we each look through the other’s clothes and pull the things we can’t remember having seen the other person wear in the past year.

The first time we did this was an eye-opening experience.  We each formed a pile of items we’d never seen the other wear in five years of knowing one another.  The items don’t always go straight to Goodwill.

Sometimes we still insist on keeping things we insist we’re going to wear someday, but it does help us to take a more honest look at what we’re actually using.

Invest in shoe storage

Quick: where do you store your shoes?

If you’re anything like me, they’re laying on the floor of the closet in a jumbled pile.

Investing a little in shoe storage will go a long way toward making your shared closet a more usable and organized space.  An over-the-door shoe organizer or expandable shoe rack is a relatively inexpensive, pre-fab solution.  Repurposed bookshelves and media stands also make great shoe storage.

To remedy the big pile of shoes on the floor of my closet, I used a 6’ Closetmaid shelf installed close to the floor to make room for two levels of shoe storage.

4 ways to improve your closet

If you want to be more creative with your shoe storage, there are some great ideas on Pinterest, like these magazine files used to store flip flops from Lovely Lohas, this system of tension rods from 3 City Girls NYC, and this shoe rack created from PVC pipe from Cookie Loves Milk.

Add shelves

Most closets – even large walk-in closets in new homes – tend to come with a single shelf or rod hung roughly at eye level, which can be a big waste of space.

How many things do you have that actually reach the floor when hanging from that shelf?  Adding a second “level” of shelving at waist-height immediately doubles the amount of space you have to hang shirts.

I had plenty of space to hang items in my closet, but little space to put folded items.  Installing two more shelves left plenty of space for my husband and I to hang our clothes while also creating more space for folded t-shirts, which had previously lain jumbled on a single shelf.

4 ways to improve your closet

 There’s no one-size-fits-all shelving solution for every couple, but that’s the point: if you and your spouse own your home, you can customize your closet to suit your needs without breaking the bank on an expensive organizational system.  If you rent, modifying your closet by adding additional shelving may not be an option, but you can still “customize” your space with inexpensive bookshelves, plastic drawers, or wire baskets.

What have you done to make your closet a share-able, organized space?

Aug 26

A Reality Check for Marriages Gone Flat

By E.J. Smith | Communication , General

Today, I feel like I need to address one of the most insidious myths about troubled marriages.  Ready?

The myth is that trouble marriages appear at random, seemingly out of nowhere.

Reality Check:ID-10044277

Troubled marriages don’t just happen.  They are created.

It might seem like they just happen.  And despite our perceptions to the contrary, the undoing of many marriages is written into the daily grind of life.  With our lives full of commitments—the job, the kids and their 90 hobbies, your 90 hobbies, making time for friends, fixing up the house, paying bills… and then there’s that spouse who is also asking for your attention…

You get the idea– the stress of managing all those hats causes many people to simply check out mentally and emotionally from their lives and subsequently, their marriages.

Pain or Pleasure? 

Honestly, checking out mentally and emotionally is nothing to beat yourself up over.  First off, playing the self-blame game does absolutely nothing to set your relationship back on track. Second, studies have shown that humans will go to great lengths to avoid pain, far greater than even for pleasure.  So it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that people check out for days, weeks, months, or even years, only to wake up one day shocked to see their relationship has gone awry, astray, or just completely flat.

But EJ, I am surely at least partially to blame!

Sure, I’ll give you that.   And to be fair a little humility and a sincere apology are often a welcomed olive branch for a marriage gone flat.  But after…

Quite frankly, you don’t have time for hours upon hours of self-blame.  You’ve got a marriage to resuscitate!

Which leads me back to my point:  flat, passionless, disconnected or otherwise troubled marriages often break down while our attention is elsewhere.  The fact that we co-create our relationships with our partners, however, means we have the power to start changing these relationships just by readjusting our focus.

Action Steps

Just like troubled marriages, good, fulfilling, exciting marriages don’t just happen either.  They’re cultivated when we invest in the relationship with our partner.

So here are 3 Simple Solutions you can implement today:

1) Start talking. 

ID-10090773

It’s fairly common knowledge these days that communication (or lack thereof) between partners is one of the best indicators of the health of the relationship.  So first, ask yourself, “Do I talk to my partner?”

If so– about what?

Is it mostly about the bills, the kids, coordinating schedules, and other surface topics?  These are all conversations that you could have with your accountant, babysitter, or the neighbor up the street.

Do you share genuine secrets, dreams, hopes and stressors—the kind of stuff you shared when you were dating?  Moreover, do you seek to get to know your spouse more?  Or do you just assume you know them so well that you don’t even bother to ask anymore?

Want more? Check out EM.com’s 7 Tips for Talking to Your Spouse.

2) Invest in Yourself

Chances are that when you and your spouse first started dating, you invested a little more in aesthetics—physical appearance, keeping your space neat and clean—and in personal interests.  A lot of people would refer to this as the “Honeymoon Phase.” And yes, eventually Prince Charming reveals his physical inability to put socks in the hamper, and Princess Charming reveals that flipflops and yoga pants make up more of her wardrobe than originally thought.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with getting “comfortable” around your spouse, sometimes folks use “comfort” (or even necessity) as a reason to stop investing in themselves whatsoever.

Chances are, your spouse found something about you that was interesting, enticing, and intriguing when you first met.  You had individual interests, thoughts, dreams and activities.  If those have fallen by the wayside, it might be time to invest some personal time in rediscovering them.  Allowing yourself to find passion and joy in life may ultimately re-light the intrigue and passion that initially brought you together.

3)  Grow Together

Of course you can’t just grow as an individual if you want to save your marriage.  Great marriages also possess the quality of couples growing together as well. Share a new experience.  Go to an outdoor concert together.  Agree to pick different activities from each other’s areas of interest—or possibly something entirely new.

Play!

Rediscover the joys of spending time with the person who vowed to accept you and all your quirky weirdness. While you’re at it, remember that you vowed to accept all their quirky weirdness too.  And if all else fails… consider attending couples counseling together.

 

 

Aug 21

Sizzle Your Space Challenge

By Debi Walter | Household Management , Romance

Photo Credit: bien living blog

Photo Credit: bien living blog

I have a pet peeve when it comes to cultivating romance at home, and it’s something you may or may not have thought about before. It has to do with the state of your space–namely the master bedroom.

I encourage you to stop reading for a minute and go to your bedroom and take a quick look around. Don’t touch anything, just take a look at what your room looks like right now. Then return to the computer. Now, answer these questions, honestly:

  1. Is your bed made?
  2. Are there more children’s toys in your room than anything else?
  3. Are there piles of clutter in any (or all) of the corners?
  4. Is dirty or clean laundry visible at a glance?
  5. Does your room look like a grown-up place that’s warm and inviting or more like a college dorm room?
  6. Are there unfinished projects lying around the room i.e. scrapbooking, bills, crafts, broken things needing to be fixed?

These are hard questions to answer when you’ve been caught off-guard. But they’re very important in determining the romantic element of your marriage.

Who wants to push toys out of the way in order to be romantic? And who wants to have pictures of your family and friends staring at you from framed photos on the shelf?

A few years ago we had a series on The Romantic Vineyard called S.I.Z.Z.L.E. Your Space. It was very popular and many couples admitted that their bedroom was more like a storage room than a place of quiet retreat. I want to encourage you before the summer is over to reclaim your bedroom for the sake of your marriage. It’s not that difficult and once you get started I have a feeling you’re going to like what you see. Are you ready?

First, you need to set aside time everyday to do the following assignments. It shouldn’t take you more than a week to do it well. Maybe less if you’re truly motivated. Next, set a reward for finishing the goal. It could be a date night to your favorite restaurant, or a romantic rendezvous in your “new place”. You choose, or let your spouse choose. There are so many options you can do to make this more like a game than work. After all, you are the one who will directly benefit from the results of this project.

Here are the daily assignments that spell out the word SIZZLE.

Day One: S = Sexy or Sloppy?

Walk into your room and look at it as if you had never seen it before.  What does your room say about the importance of romance to you?  Does it look cluttered and thrown together?  Does it speak of all the other things in your life – work, children, and/or unfinished projects?  If so, take one hour today and remove all these things.  Your room should be your haven – the one place you can go to retreat together as husband and wife.  Retreating is hard to do when you’ve invited the world into your space.

The goal is to keep only those things that help you celebrate your love.  Anything that draws your attention elsewhere should be kept in another part of the house or a closet.

One more thing we are going to challenge you to do every morning this week –make your bed.  It will help your room look better immediately, and it will also motivate you to complete the day’s assignment.

Day Two: I = Inclusive

Is your space Inclusive?  In other words, have you considered what is important to your spouse when it comes to relaxing and retreating?

We have talked to couples who argue quite a bit about how to decorate the home.  One prefers one way and the other prefers something different.  How can two come together and create a space that includes the likes of both?  It may seem like a difficult task, but it doesn’t have to be.  Most likely you know what your spouse likes.  Try to incorporate some of their tastes into the space.  If they like modern and you like traditional, look for something special they would find appealing.  Our bedrooms don’t have to look like the cover of a designer’s magazine.  Our bedroom is only for US!  Whatever works for you to help you both relax is fine; in fact it’s perfect!

If you’re on a tight budget it pays to go to garage sales and thrift stores to find that special something.  Often times I don’t even know what I’m looking for, I just have an idea of what I want.  Walking through the aisles of a thrift store usually provides lots of ideas of items at very reasonable prices you may want to consider adding to your space.

Most of all, make this part of your bedroom decorating a surprise.  It would be fun to add this special element to the room as the finishing touch.  Don’t let your spouse know until they see it for themselves on the final day.

Day Three: ZZ = Pair of ZZ’s

The ZZ factor of your bedroom is very important!  How well do you sleep at night?  Today we’ll focus on beds, linens and sounds.

This is the most challenging part of the week because it requires some investment to do well.  The linens, pillows and bedding we have really are the centerpiece of the bedroom.  If the covers are frayed and the sheets are torn it effects our ability to relax.  If you are able to purchase some new items here are some things we’ve found to boost the ZZ factor of a Sizzling Space:

  • 100% cotton sheets with at least 400 thread count.
  • Pillows – be sure to have the type of pillow best suited for your needs and support.
  • Mattress toppers – we have discovered a down mattress topper that lays on top of your mattress that is unbelievable.  It makes you feel as if you’re sleeping on a cloud, but without losing the support of a firm mattress.  They sell these as Target or on-line.
  • A Good Mattress – if you’re in need of replacing your mattress, but don’t have the money to buy a new one, pray and ask the Lord to provide.
  • Comforter Set – If it’s been awhile since you’ve replaced your comforter you might want to consider changing it.
  • Clock Radio CD player with Sound Machine

Day Four: L = Lighting

How is the Lighting in your bedroom?  There was a day when candlelight was the only option, and a good one at that!  It was cheap and very romantic.  Now we have so many choices – flourescent, incandescent (not for long though), lamps, canned lights and candles.  What options to you have in your room?

Tom and I have dimmers on every switch in our bedroom; they are inexpensive and make any light fixture easily romantic.  And we have invested in battery operated pillar candles – a must for any serious romantic! Another fun alternative is to hang clear stringed lights from the ceiling – you may not want to keep these up all the time, but they sure would be fun for an especially romantic date night at home.  The quick peel and stick hooks will make this easy to do in any bedroom. Or hang them from your headboard as an easy alternative.

Day Five: E = Enjoy

It’s time to ENJOY your space.  Today is the day to finish all the work you’ve begun this week.  Once you’ve finished it all – spend an hour vacuuming, dusting and straightening your knick knacks.  Next, buy or make a card for your spouse inviting them to a special Evening to Enjoy your space together one night this next week.  If you have the room why not set up a table and have dinner or dessert by candlelight with soft music in the background?  If space is limited spread a nice tablecloth on your bed and enjoy a picnic of finger foods you both love.  Don’t forget to use your special lighting to create the right mood.

You’ve worked so hard to do this project be sure to make a big deal of the reveal to your spouse.  You may want to wrap your bedroom door with a large bow along with a romantic card. Play it up big!  After all this is the moment you’ve been waiting for!  Enjoy it!  Oh, and don’t forget to have the music playing as they open the door!  This is the best part of taking on a project like this – the results!

For inspiration, check out our Romantic Master Bedroom photos on Pinterest.

————————————————-

Tom and Debi Walter have been married for 34 years and have been involved in marriage ministry for much of this time. In 2008 they began The Romantic Vineyard in an effort to help build and strengthen marriages. They provide a rich harvest of ideas to help your marriage vineyard grow strong for God’s glory. They offer creative date night ideas, both at home or out on the town. They even offer FREE iPhone app that provides a healthy marriage tip and great date night questions to use when you don’t know what to talk about. You can download it on their blog, follow them on: Facebook, Twitter (@theromanticvine), or Pinterest.

 

 

Aug 19

Saying “Yes” to Sex? Is that Your Exception or Your Rule?

By Julie Sibert | Sex & Family Planning

saying yes to sexUntil recently, my calendar had been taken hostage by our son’s baseball schedule.

Baseball is over, but football is chomping at the bit to set up camp on all those empty calendar spaces baseball has left behind.

Can you relate?

With children’s activities and other demands, do you ever feel like your life is running you way more than you are running your life?

I get that!  In many regards, I think no other aspect of our life suffers more in this chaotic dynamic than our marriage.

We always believe there is more time “down the road” or “around the bend” or “when the kids are raised.”

Sadly, many married folk arrive at those future rest stops, only to discover they don’t have much of a marriage left. They’ve emptied themselves into every other endeavor — parenting, work, ministry, elder care — only to find their marriage has been damaged or destroyed in the wake.

One of the more common aspects of marriage that is put on the back burner is sexual intimacy.

I often hear from people who talk about weeks, months and even years passing with little or no sex in their marriage bed.  One or both spouses rarely says “yes” to sex.  “Yes” has become the exception, rather than the steadfast rule (to something that God actually tells married couples to do often).

I know there are many ways to strengthen marriage, but I write about sex in marriage, so I have a heart for speaking hope into that particular aspect of intimacy.

If “yes” to sex is your exception, not your rule, consider this…

Doing well in everything else is pale satisfaction if your marriage is in shambles.

I have talked to enough women to know that sometimes their internal dialogue goes something like this:

“I’m a really good mom.  That’s enough. I know I should make time with my husband a greater priority, but these kids need me more right now.”

To be fair to wives, I know that sometimes it is the husband who is denying sex and not making the marriage a priority.  His internal dialogue may go something like this:

“I want to be a good provider.  I have to put in the extra time at work so I can take care of this family.  I’m out of energy at the end of the day, but at least I’ve provided well for my kids.”

Each marriage is unique, so I don’t know what dialogue is ringing in your ears and heart.  And I don’t have easy answers as to how to tame the schedule in your marriage. (Honestly, I don’t think there are easy answers or otherwise more people would do it).

BUT, I do know that by carving out that time for your marriage, including sex, you actually are better equipped to walk in all your other roles.

Sure, the old saying is “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  I think a better truth is, “If mama and daddy aren’t happy and healthy, no one else is going to be either.”  (Yeah, not as catchy, but you get the point).

It takes effort to make sex a safe and nurtured place in your marriage.  If it is far from being that, humbly look at why.

Are there big issues with which you have not dealt, whether it is past sexual abuse or promiscuity from prior to your marriage or struggles with pornography?  Were you always told sex was dirty or wrong or just your duty?  Do you struggle with experiencing pleasure and being uninhibited in bed with your spouse?

If saying “yes” to sex is your exception, not your rule, figure out why and resolve to bring about healthy change in your marriage.  There are countless couples who have moved sex up the priority scale and been pleasantly surprised at the profound effect it has had not just on their marriage, but on their overall outlook in life.

You can get there!

You’ll have to say “no” to other things in order to have more time and energy to make “yes” to sex your rule.  Initially, this will feel uncomfortable. It may even ruffle a few feathers as those around you get used to you setting healthier boundaries.

Remember this, though:  Saying “no” more frequently to all those extra activities does not mean you are saying “no” all the time.  You’re not saying you will never volunteer for ministry or your kids’ classroom parties; you’ll just not commit as often.   You’re not saying you’ll never drive your kid to practice or help out with elder care demands; you’ll simply find creative ways to share those responsibilities with others.

Honestly, I think you will discover that setting realistic boundaries won’t have quite the negative impact on others as you think it will.  It is humbling and refreshing all at the same time to realize we aren’t quite as indispensable as we would like to believe.

Making sexual intimacy a greater priority endears us to our spouse and fosters healthy attitudes about sex in our home and family.  I’ve long believed there is no sweeter form of godly worship in a marriage than to savor and nurture authentic sexual intimacy with the person we married.

So, how about you?  What will it take for “yes” to sex to become your rule, rather than your exception?

 

Aug 14

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

By Amy Latta | Children

Believe it or not, friends, August is almost halfway over!  And for most of us, that means it’s time to start thinking about the new school year!  Maybe your kids have already headed back to the classroom, or maybe they have a few more weeks to wait, like my little man does.  But no matter what the schedule, it’s a good time to start reviewing and practicing some academic skills in a fun way!

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

The family that plays together, stays together, right?

Here is a fun family activity you can adapt for kids of all ages to help reinforce some of the skills they need to succeed in school.  Or, if you homeschool, you can work it right into your curriculum!

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

Materials:

– index cards
– coins or other small “treasures”
– tape {I used decorative washi tape for fun}
– marker
– pirate costumes {optional}

STEP 1: Label ten index cards with numbers.  Starting with card #1, write a clue on each card through #9  for where the next treasure/clue can be found.  Then, tape a coin or another small treasure {like a chocolate coin, a lollipop, a ring, or something else your child would enjoy} to cards 2-10.  Card 10 should not have a clue because it is the last one, just a treasure and a “Well done, matey!”

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

STEP 2: Beginning with card #2, hide each card based on the clue written on the previous card.  For example, if card #1 says “Look in a cold place,” you can put #2 in the refrigerator.  If #2 says, “Look near books,” hide #3 on the bookshelf, and so on.

STEP 3: Hand card #1 to the child and let him/her begin the search!

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

STEP 4: Once all the treasure has been found, remove it from the cards and have your child sort and count it.  Since we used money, we had him sort the coins by type and size, count how many of each coin type he found, and finally count up the value of the money.  If you used a different type of treasure, you can do your own variation; sorting by candy type, color, etc.

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

This fun activity reinforces a number of different skills…and your child probably won’t even realize it’s educational!  Here are the things my son practiced as he searched for and found his treasures:

Sight words, Reading, Reading aloud, Sequencing, Following Directions, Counting, Sorting, Adding, Money values

If you have an older child, you can try variations to make the game age-appropriate, like incorporating vocabulary words into the directions on the cards.  You could also ask him/her to solve a math problem or spell a particular word before finding the next clue.  It might be fun to scramble a word in the clues too, like, “Look near the hocuc” and ask them to unscramble it {“couch”} to know where to search.  If your child is learning geography, you can incorporate things like north, south, east, and west and have them plot the location of each clue on a map of the house.  There are tons of ways you can personalize this basic activity, and I promise your kids will enjoy it!  For extra fun, locate a few props like a bandana, a scarf, or some face paint and get the whole family in on the fun by dressing up like pirates.

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

What are your family’s favorite ways to play together?

Hugs & Glitter,

siggy

Aug 12

Put The Phone Down!

By Patrick Kansa | Children

Put The Phone Down!Given that the name of this site in Engaged Marriage, I think that today’s parenting post is rather fitting, as I want to talk to you about another aspect of engaging in your marriage – and that would be being fully engaged with your children.

But, before we get into that, you’re probably wondering what might make me an expert in parenting.

Who Is This Guy?

I’m not an expert. I don’t have any degrees that relate, nor have I devoured stacks of books.

However, as with most things in life, I’m learning as I go along. My wife and I are doing the best we can for our two little girls. Sure, we’ve learned by doing our share of reading on the topic, but parenting is just one of those things that you truly have to experience.

And it’s that experience – and the mistakes that we’ve learned from – that I’m hoping to share with you here.

Back to my original premise of engaging with our children.

We’ve always had distractions in our lives – our jobs, chores around the house, errands that need running, things of that nature. More recently, of course, we’ve had all manner of mobile devices (phones, iPods, and tablets) crop up that many of us carry everywhere we go. And it’s those devices that can cause us to become disengaged from our children.

Put The Phone Down!When our oldest was still relatively little (under 6 months old, say), I would often rock her to sleep at night. Of course, once she was asleep on my shoulder, I couldn’t immediately lay her down, as the odds were she would wake up. I needed to wait awhile to ensure she was truly asleep.

With a sleeping baby in your arms in a dark room, how do you pass the time?

For me, that was easy – I’d fire up the iPod, and hop on over to Facebook, or perhaps play a game. And that was the pattern I kind of established for myself.

It was easy to follow, as I generally always had the iPod in my pocket when I was at home (never know when you need to check your email, right?) As our daughter got older, however, both my wife and I realized that perhaps that wasn’t the best course of action.

Distracted_parents text addedA Lesson Learned

Where it really struck home for us was when she was a toddler.

We’d set a phone or iPod down somewhere, and if it was in her eyesight, she’d pick it up and bring it over to us. Yes, in some sense, she was being helpful. But that action also carried a message.

It seemed like, since she always saw us with a device, that she thought we must have set it down by accident, and was bringing it over.

For us, that cut deeply.

I know for myself, I’d often sneak a quick peek at my email while she was distracted for a few minutes playing with her toys. But that device was pulling me away from my child. Sure, I wasn’t missing out on any milestones, but I was still missing out.

And I certainly wasn’t doing anything constructive to help her to learn and grow – or just simply have fun.

Put The Phone Down!The end result of this was a  decision – when we’re with the kids, the devices stay tucked away.

Often, my cellphone is in a different part of the house once I get home, so I don’t have any distractions from that. Sure, I may have the iPod tucked away somewhere, but it stays tucked away.

This way I can be engaged with my daughters, enjoying their laughter and curiosity. If that means being the crazy customer at their “restaurant” or building an amazing track for Thomas, then that’s what we do. We engage them, and do our best to take their imaginations on a journey.

Why Make This Choice?

And if you think about it, there’s a relatively simple equation behind this decision: Time spent on a device plus time with your kids is equal to the time you have before they go to sleep.

Decrease one, and the other increases. And even though they may not have the vocabulary to form the idea, your children will interpret what they think is most important to you – it’s what you spend your time doing.

Put The Phone Down!

This is one of those lessons that we learned the hard way, via our oldest bringing us the phone that we set down somewhere in the house to get away from it. She had that image of it in our hands set in her mind, and she was restoring the picture of what she saw as normal.

This isn’t to say that we don’t use the devices in kids presence. Sometimes, there may be a question that comes up that a quick YouTube search pulls up a video that explains something we can’t quite describe. Or maybe they want to see a silly picture we took of them.

But that’s the root of why the device may be out in their presence – it’s focused on something for the children, not necessarily for us.

And lest you think I’m preaching from on high on this topic, let me assure you – while I’ve personally made strides to improve this, I’m by no means perfect in this regard. If I was, I probably wouldn’t even have the iPod on my person when I’m at home, and would need to go hunting for it.

The Winding Path Of A Parent

But that illustration is representative of parenting, at least in my mind.

You pursue a course of action, and then you make corrections as you realize a change needs to be made, for the benefit of your children. Email and Facebook messages will be waiting for you once you have some downtime when the kids are asleep.

Your children, however, will only be the way they are in a moment for that moment – and once it’s gone, it’s gone! At the same time, we’re also setting an expectation – by our example – of how we expect our children to act when they (one day) have their own electronic distractions – we will want their full attention when we’re talking to them.

Put The Phone Down!What I’d like to encourage you to do is simple: once you get home, set your phone up on a cabinet somewhere where it’s out of sight (and hopefully out of mind).

For the few hours you have at night before your kids go to bed, really focus on your family (children AND spouse), and make the most of that time that you have. For extra credit, you might even consider an electronics-free day (or weekend) – it’s something we’ve talked about in our house, but haven’t quite gotten there.

And for those of you already further along this path, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, and some of your “tips and tricks” around this particular subject.

As with many things parenting-related, it’s not always an easy path to walk along – but it is certainly one of the most rewarding ones we’ll find ourselves on.

Aug 09

How to Know if You’re Ready to Say “I Do”

By Dustin | Marriage Preparation

How to Know if You’re Ready to Say "I Do"Many people dream of getting married to “the one”, but how do you know when you and your partner are ready to take the plunge?

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re thinking of making plans to step the relationship up to the next level:

Trust

Do you know each other’s email and Facebook passwords but never feel the urge to use them to snoop? That’s trust.

Can you happily wave your partner goodbye as they go for a coffee with a friend of the same sex? That’s trust.

Would you tell them your deepest secrets? That’s trust, too.

It’s an essential ingredient to a happy, healthy relationship. Make sure you’ve got that down pat before thinking about getting married.

Goals

If your ultimate goal is to be a Hollywood movie star and your partner’s is to live a quiet life in the country, this could become a source of conflict – you will be focusing energy on different goals.

Aiming for the same objectives in life brings you closer together and also makes you more likely to achieve them because you’re encouraging each other and working together to get there. Those who have met via a dating site like www.eharmony.com.au have a good basis for shared goals since they will have been matched on compatibility.

Respect

This is another crucial ingredient in a marriage-ready relationship.

You won’t be able to happily share your life with someone who you don’t respect, or who doesn’t respect you. This includes their opinions and perspective on life, their beliefs, values and intelligence.

Signs of mutual respect include listening to the other’s opinions, taking them and their ideas seriously and responding in kind.

Love

This one goes without saying, but if you don’t have a deep love for your prospective fiancée, then don’t even consider getting married.

Don’t take them for granted – show your love in some small way every day – whether it’s by spending quality time, being physically affectionate, giving words of encouragement and praise, or helping them out in some small way.

Ready to Get Married?

Communication

We all know that talking about your problems is better than bottling them up – but this is easier said than done. Many people feel it’s easier to ignore a problem than to bring it up – but if you ignore it, there’s no chance of it being resolved.

Communication is one of the key foundations of a strong relationship, and without it, marriages flounder.

Expectations

How do you want to spend your days? Are you homebodies or party animals? Do you want to travel or live abroad?

How will you distribute the household chores? Are you dog people or cat people?

It’s important to have these discussions before tying the knot.

If you’re still looking for the love of your life, whether in Adelaide or Melbourne, click here to sign up to online dating. Through the online dating system you can easily be matched with singles in your area who are compatible with you, meaning you are more likely to have a committed, long-term relationship.

Note: This is a guest post from Laura James in Australia.

(photo 1) (photo 2)

Aug 07

The Anticlimax of Marriage, Brought to You by the Media and Your Own SEXpectations, not an SC Johnson Family Company

By Dawn Van Ness | Sex & Family Planning

The Anticlimax of Marriage

Despite how your family set the stage for your ideas about sex and intimacy in marriage, and despite all the cultural cold water used to rinse away the Disney-fied ideas, I have to say, it didn’t prepare a generation of women and men for the real sex and intimacy of marriage.

It appears the overload of media (online, print, television, radio) injected people with lots of SEXpectations.

Somewhere after the 80s and in the 90s, sex became the endgame for relationships, and sex in marriage (lack of frequency, dulling of passion) became another reason not to tie the knot. This was followed-up by the next media “sex and marriage” gabfest, setting the conversation about marriage as a means to:

The GREATEST SEX OF ALL TIMES! Frequency! Quality! Comfort! OH!

When attention waned regarding quality sex, strange sex of the rich and famous went viral, due in part to the 24/7 media cycle, the gossip blogs, and paparazzi frenzy.

Oh oh oh! Uh-oh…

Media outlets started to feature couples’ saucy little deviations from missionary, and moved into…. well… everything! Tricks, whips, and nipple clips. Fetishes.  Even the front page of the sports section  got a dose of sex:

“Baseball Coach Plays Footsies With Woman on His Cell Phone – His Wife!”

“Baseball Star New Madonna Boy Toy.”

The media trawled for it all. Pamela Lee’s sex swing.  Huff’s triplets.

Sex was mainstream, so then things had to be taken to the (imagine monster car rally voice)

SEXtreme!

SEXtreme!

SEXtreme!

(end said imagined monster car rally voice)

SEXtreme

Ok, the word play is too easy, but so was all the media hype around sex. It was easy to catch the five second attention span and get the online world to click and share – or just react -so they could get numbers to sell advertisers.

Unfortunately, or rather, obviously, now I have a gaggle of 30 something and 40 something friends who have to have piercings, sexting, and parlor tricks to feel they are somehow sexually adequate in marriage.      ?! what happened ?!

Worrying About Measuring Up to One's Own Sexpectations is the worse.

Worrying About Measuring Up to One’s Own Sexpectations is the worse.

In the last 10 years, I’ve even had co-workers share their use of toys, powders, gels, and what it had to do with ceiling fans in the bedroom.

And if they weren’t swinging from the ceilings, some friends thought something was wrong. If there was a lull, something was wrong.  If they weren’t feeling it, something was wrong.

Ok, so if you are not feeling IT, down there, then you might have nerve desensitization from overuse of those sex toys, gels, and powders.  Overuse!  You broke it!  So I’m told…

But joking aside, all the media selling of sextremes has done some real damage: SEXpectations

SEXpectations

Everyone has them. From 20s to 30s to 40s, committed girlfriends and guyfriends have let it slip that they aren’t getting what they thought they were going to get or that they are unable to give what they thought they would be able to give.

Import Pre-Marriage/Commitment Questions

Reflecting on what I’ve been told, and what I myself have worked through, I’ve come up with a few important questions that I did not see on my minister’s relationship scoring sheet before getting married.

In the interest of great sex and wonderful intimacy, what are your expectations for you and for your partner? Where did you get them from? How are they working for or against your RELATIONSHIP?

Commonalities in Couples with SEXpectations

Sometimes, girlfriends seemed to want to be Pamela Lee on the sex swing with some rock god serenading her.  And sometimes it was a guyfriend wanting to be Denzel Washington and Vin Diesel rolled-up into one studly attraction.

The couples had sought out and entered committed relationships, but now their sexpectations and insecurities were surfacing.

Another commonality I noticed was that they were NOT wishing those stereotypes on their partners.

It was their partner’s REACTIONS they were seeking.

It was about them. It was their insecurities. When it came to wanting their partners to be different, they didn’t have anything on their list. No complaints about bellies or thighs, hairlines or hairiness. Complaints were about their partner’s lack of reassurances.

Of the couples and individuals I have in mind, when it came to the sex, they wanted their partner to make them feel like a rockstar celebrity sex idol.

This is too much of a burden to put on a partner.

Another commonality were the complaints. Funny how “I don’t feel sexually adequate” can then come across in a relationship as “You don’t spend enough time with me!” or “You don’t clean enough in the house!” or “You like your friends more than me!”

Just fill in the complaint, then hit =, and then put “I’m my own problem.”

Own The Problem

If you love your partner, and you want a wonderful relationship with great sex, the best thing to do is establish your own feelings of sexual adequacy and stop looking for it in them.

They can enable or hinder this, but ultimately, your feelings about yourself is about how you think.

You don’t need piercings and feathers, edible gels, or all night rock and roll sessions.

You need to not be obsessed with yourself, IN A HEALTHY SELF-OWNERSHIP WAY, open up, and think of your partner and the sex and intimacy you are creating (or destroying) together.

Step Away From the Blame Free Narcissism and Step into Self-Ownership

Oddly enough (sarc!), when you start fixing YOURself, YOU give YOUR partner less work, and they can deal with themselves!

Get away from the media, and concentrate on your lover. See them. Feel them. Touch them. Heart. Body. Soul. Open up and give them the opportunity to experience you completely as well. That is intimacy.

Sex can start with touches passing a cup a coffee, some flirtatious texting, and then the kids sleeping over at grandma’s! But it is ok if your lifestyle doesn’t allow for more. Life is full of responsibilities.

And joy of joys! You can be flabby together. You can droop together. And if this is a committed relationship, you will! But the best sex ever comes from this walless give and take and time together. No batteries required. Stripped bare of media and cultural expectations. Maybe some gelly once you get a little older. It happens kids. I’m told. That is ok too! Our life eXpectancy as well as seXpectancy has changed since colonial times!

In short…

Questions to Ask Before Marriage/Commitment

What are your sexpectations for you?
What are your sexpectations for your partner?
What are your sexpectations for the relationship?
Are they harming the relationship?

………………..

Recommendations

Own your sex-self-image.
Own your problems.
Free your partner from supporting your sexpectations.
Get real about your love life.
Let love and reality rule.

……………………

Commonalities of Couples Suffering From SEXpectations

Imposing high SEXpectations on themselves.
Not imposing high SEXpectations on partner’s appearance.  
Seeking reinforcing reactions from partner to feed their needs.
Growing dissatisfaction and need to blame partner for their own inadequacies.

 

Love and Let Love

What I’ve come to realize through personal experience and from friends is that the best sex from a relationship is not the Pamela Lee sex swing kind, or the Vin Diesel biceps of love types, it is from those who have gotten over their egos and insecurities enough to be a great couple.

It is nice to be able to be shaved smooth and shower fresh (even for the ladies) but the comfort and level of satisfaction is highest if it isn’t a requirement. The couple that knows they have morning breath, and knows how to breathe away from their partner while they curl their toes, are having the

GREATEST SEX EVER!

And guess what, the media was right!

The greatest sex ever is from committed relationships! 

Being a real, happy couple is one of the most satisfying experiences in the world.

Being a real, happy couple is one of the most satisfying experiences in the world.

Aug 05

Life is Pounding at the Door: Are you ready?

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

Life is pounding at the door. Are you ready?Do you remember those first, heart-pounding moments of playing hide and seek?

100, 99, 98, . . .

As your friend began the countdown, you raced for the best hiding place you could find.

Sometimes, just the blink of an eye would pass before you’d hear, “3, 2, 1. Ready or not, here I come!”

You knew your goose was probably cooked at this point.

There was always someone, though, who was the last to be found.

You know why? Because they were ready before the countdown began.

Life is a lot like that.

We don’t hear anyone counting down our moments, but it is happening nonetheless.

Sometimes, it is for the wonderfully exciting: finally meeting the one, or welcoming our bambinos into the world.

Other times, however, it’s those seconds that feel like hours as we wait for a proverbial shoe to drop, that long In-Between.

And every once in a great while, we round a corner, and WHAM!

We run smack dab into an unexpected life event, those experiences that carry the potential to dramatically and negatively change our circumstances.

Money Magazine reported that 78% of Americans will have a major negative financial event in any given 10-year period.

Being the optimistists—or ostriches—that we are, however, we often carry happily on, sure that everything is and will be just fine.

Who wants to think about dark times ahead while the sun shines so brightly?

ocean wave sunshine

Well, Noah did, as he built his ark. Joseph, too, took action. Over the course of seven bountiful growing seasons, he gathered so much grain it was beyond measure.

They were ready when the difficult times began and thus softened the blow considerably for their families.

Granted, these are extreme examples, but you, too, can take small and regular preventative steps to help sustain your marriage, family, and four walls during stormy weather.

Where to look to solidify your defenses

Consider the main areas that make up your life: Financial, Family, Career, Personal Growth, Physical, Spiritual, and Social.

The quality of your life, and the resulting ability to hold things together when faced with adversity, comes from careful tending to each area.

When an area is full, Murphy is less likely to come knocking at your door.

It also means you can draw upon other areas when he does.

For example, if you are hit with a medical emergency, you can rest in the knowledge your finances are in great shape, including your emergency fund.

If you lose your job, you can gather comfort and support from a solid and healthy relationship.

You want to be free to focus the full measure of your attention solely on the main area of need.

We are going to talk about each section, particularly in relationship to the whole, as a pie.

The question is this: How much of each slice do you regularly keep on hand?

Pie of life

How to measure where you are

If you look at the diagram, you will see full and equal slices in each area.

That does not represent real life, by the way.

The more attention you give to an area, the fuller that slice of life is.

For instance, let’s say you are spending sixty hours a week at your job. Your Career slice would definitely be full-size. If you are the reigning Olympic Couch Potato Gold Medalist, your Physical slice of pie will be just a few crumbs in the pan.

That’s pretty fitting when you think about it.

Sketch out a quick seven-section pie-chart on a piece of paper, using the areas I’ve noted. You can add others, or rename any, too. Do what works for you. And remember this does not have to be perfect.

For each slice, color from the center out. The more area that is colored represents the greater amount of attention being paid to this area. Make a judgement about the percentage of attention given. Use a scale of one to ten, one being almost no attention, and 10 being a lot. Color that amount in on the slice.

Spouses, you can do this exercise together or separately: it’s up to you.

How to decide what needs adjusting

Once you are through assigning a value to each slice, take a look at the entire pie.

Do any slices jump out at you as dramatically fuller or emptier than others?

Do you or did you have a sense that certain areas were out of balance, and this diagram confirms it?

Remember that what is required of you and your spouse ebbs and flows depending on your season of life.  When your children are infants, your family may require a great deal more attention. If you are building a business, your career may demand many more of your hours.

You have to regularly assess and reprioritize all areas.

There is no single, right formula, and no perfect, one-size-feeds-all pie.

It’s about what keeps your family happily and steadily fulfilled, prepared, and moving forward.

heart muscle cartoon

 How to strengthen areas

1. Financial. Get your finances in order: Do a budget, create an emergency fund, get out of debt. Dustin has lots of great resources here. Did you know that having better control of your finances gives you a greater sense of hope and improves your marriage?

2. Family. First and foremost, keep your marriage strong. Find simple, frugal, and enjoyable ways to fill your family’s love buckets. Remember that small things can bring big satisfaction. A close family and strong relationships provide great shelter in a storm.

3. Career. Choose to be happy where you are, or find somewhere you can be happy, because a happy mom and dad are a precious gift. Do the positives of the job outweigh the negatives? Is it a means to an end? Do you want to move into something else? Dan Miller, author of 48 Days to the Work You Love, maintains a supportive and uplifting community of over 12,000 entrepreneur-minded individuals. Check them out. Loving what you do pays priceless dividends to you and your family. I speak from experience: I went from Scaredy Cat to Too Darn Happy.

4. Personal Growth. Growing in your skills and knowledge can help with a new career, advancing in your current one, and your general overall satisfaction. Plus, being a lifelong learner is a great role-model for your children. Sign up for a class, attend conferences, learn how to do something new. Remember the kids will be leaving home one day, and then it will be just the two of you again. It’s great to continue to grow so you are both still interesting. 🙂

5. Physical. Just get up and move. Take walks. Play tag with your kids. Eat wisely. Sleep well. Meditate. When you don’t take of yourself, you won’t have the strength or immunity you need to handle a crisis. Plus, if you don’t take time to be well, you will take time to be sick. Check out Dustin’s helpful links here.

6. Spiritual. Grow your relationship with God. Pray, especially before you are knocked down to your knees. Refresh your spirit by going to church, joining a small group study, reading your Bible, devotionals, or websites that enrich and challenge you. There are a multitude of resources available-check with a friend or on the web. Your faith will sustain you through life’s most difficult times in a way that nothing else can.

7. Social. Make friends, join a club, attend concerts in the park, have other parents over for potluck game nights. You do not need to become a hermit just because you are married and possibly have little ones. Neglecting this area is easy to do, especially as a parent, but be intentional about creating and maintaining these relationships, both as a couple and singly. They will fill an important space in your life, as well as that slice of the pie.

There you have it: A plan to identify and fortify the main areas of your life so you will be as ready as possible when life pounds at your door.

I encourage you to spend time and attention to creating the right mix for your family.

Then, when those hard knocks come, you will be able to stand strong and leave the hiding strictly for fun.

Now it’s time to go play: 100, 99, 98, . . .

Question: What slice of your pie is most in need of filling?

Image credit: Eran Sandler