Tag Archive for resource

Book Review: Raising Happiness

Dr. Christine Carter is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. She has made a living studying happiness. Fortunately for you and me, she has taken her scientific expertise on happiness and applied it to the art of raising children. In her book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, she gives practical advice to parents who want to raise happy kids. Don’t get the wrong idea. She’s not talking about a simple gushy, feel-good emotion. No, happiness is “a set of skills, habits, and mind-sets that set the stage for a wide range of positive emotions” that will last a lifetime. Notice the emphasis on skills, habits and mind-sets that a person can learn and teach. As parents, we have a responsibility to model these skills and teach them to our children…and this book offers practical advice for doing just that! Not convinced teaching happiness will help your child succeed in this “dog-eat-dog world”? Consider this: happy people have higher incomes, greater academic achievement, more job satisfaction, and more friends. Happiness contributes to healthy lasting marriages; and, it helps us persevere through, and successfully cope with, hardships and difficulties. As you can see, raising happy children is a pretty good goal. In her book Raising Happiness, Dr. Carter offers practical advice that ranges from teaching gratitude and self-discipline, helping our children build a healthy support group, taking care of yourself, teaching optimism and more…all of which contributes to happy, resilient children! Each chapter explains the benefits of a particular skill that will enhance happiness (such as forgiveness) in a straight forward, easy-to-read manner and gives practical advice to build that skill in yourself as a parent and in your children.  She even includes several “try this” sections with tips, scripts and strategies distilled from the research that you can implement with your family. This book is not just about pie-in-the-sky research either. Dr. Carter has personally implemented these strategies in her own family life as a single, working mother who co-parents with her children’s father! She has field practiced it.  Overall, this is a great book with great advice for raising healthy, happy children who have all the skills necessary for a lifetime of success. You can read more about this book on Dr. Carter’s Website Raising Happiness or purchase it from Amazon through Our Favorite Picks under More Parenting Resources.

The Special Ingredient of Intimate Families

I was talking with a young man (middle school age) about what he liked and didn’t like about his family. Interestingly, he liked the family dinners they used to have and he disliked that they no longer had those family dinners. Even as a middle school boy, he missed family dinners. Family dinners provided him the time he desired to reconnect with his family…to slow down, talk, and connect with his whole family. I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised to hear a middle-school-aged child talking about missing family dinners because of the family connection he desired. Nonetheless, he made an excellent observation. Family dinners provide a great time to reconnect and bond with our families. They are a time to relax, tell stories, and talk about our daily lives, laugh, and even make some future plans. Research also indicates that having regular family meals help to reduce the rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression in adolescents. Families that enjoy regular family meals see their children attain higher grade-point averages than children whose families do not have regular family meals. Studies also suggest that “dinner conversation” boosts vocabulary more than reading does! The stories of personal victories, perseverance, fun moments, and family times help build a child’s resilience and confidence. As you can see, family meals offer a smorgasbord of benefits for families and their children. So, if you want your family to grow more intimate…if you want your children to grow up happy…if you want your children to grow up physically and emotionally healthy…if you want your children to have a higher grade-point average, set aside the time to enjoy regular family meals.  Here are a few tips to help you plan your family meal time: 

       ·         Include your whole family in the meal process. The family meal process includes making the menu, preparing the meal, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. Include the whole family in these activities. Make the menu together. One day a week, allow a different family member to pick their favorite food items for a meal. Encourage the whole family to help clear the table, load the dishwasher, wash the dishes…and make it fun with conversation and laughter. Come up with your own creative ways to include the whole family in the family meal process.

Enjoy conversation during the meal. Save topics that you know lead to arguments for another time and focus on conversation that will build relationships. You can talk about the day’s activities, each person’s dreams, memories of fun family times, and things you’d like to do in the future. Really, the topics available for conversation are limited only by our imagination. If you have trouble thinking of topics, check out these conversation starters from The Dinner Project.

Make dinner a surprise now and again. I just ate breakfast with a friend today…he ordered a double burger for breakfast and I ordered an omelet. We both enjoyed our meal and his burger was a great meal conversation starter. Your family might enjoy dinner for breakfast or breakfast for dinner. Plan one “ethnic meal night” per week and travel the globe with culinary surprises. Eat your meal backwards, starting with dessert.  Plan an “Iron Chef” night and let each family members cook one dish…the family can vote on best taste, presentation, and creativity after the meal. You get the idea. Do something different now and again. Make it a surprise…and have fun.

Turn off TV’s, video games, phones, and any other technology that has the potential to interfere with the moment’s face-to-face interaction and family interaction. Learn to enjoy each other in the moment with no interruption.

A great resource to get your family started with family meals is The Family Dinner Project. You can sign up for their “4 Weeks to Better Family Dinners” for free helps. They also provide ideas for recipes, conversation starters, meal activities, addressing various challenges, and meal preparation. This is a wonderful resource to bookmark and use on a regular basis. 

I love the family meal plan to better family bonding, enhanced educational attainment, and better emotional health. It combines two of my favorite ingredients in life–eating and family–in attaining several of the goals I desire for my family and children. With that kind of recipe, why not give a try?!

Book Review: “The Blessing of a B-” by Wendy Mogel, PhD

Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a B-, looked ahead with confidence to the time she would parent her own adolescent children. After all, she had successfully navigated the challenges of parenting through the childhood years. In addition, she was a clinical psychologist who specialized in parenting and had worked with families for over 30 years. She had the knowledge and the expertise…she had even written a book on parenting children (The Blessing of a Skinned Knee). However, as her children became teens, she experienced “unrelenting power struggles over every conceivable topic,” monosyllabic responses rather than conversations, battles over neatness, confusion over which battles to fight, and grief that her adolescents were posting signs to “keep her out” of their rooms and choosing to spend to time with friends rather than family. Dr. Mogel discovered that parenting teens is hard work. She discovered that parenting teens is very different than parenting children. She turned to her Jewish traditions and rabbinic teaching for help in navigating the challenges of parenting teens. Fortunately for us, she has shared her insights in this book.
The Blessings of a B- offers excellent advice to any parent who is about to experience, or is currently experiencing, the years of parenting a teen. With a candor that can only come from someone who has been there and wisdom that combines her beliefs about God, expert parenting knowledge, and developmental research, Dr. Mogel shares lessons on how to survive the wilderness of adolescence and make it to the “promise land.”  Dr. Mogel encourages parents to accept their teens as “gloriously ordinary” by protecting them from society’s performance-oriented definition of success.  Chapters cover such topics as how to set your teen free, how to live graciously with the “chronically rude,” the true lesson of homework, guiding teens “out of the wilderness” of materialism and entitlement, and making time for rest and fun. Perhaps my favorite chapter deals with letting teens learn from bad judgment and stressful situations. Overall, Dr. Mogel acknowledges the challenges of parenting a teen…and offers personal testimony to that challenge. She also offers excellent advice for navigating those challenging years and a bright light of hope at the end of the tunnel…a confident expectation that the promise land awaits us at the end of our journey through the wilderness of parenting a teen.
Click here to view Dr. Mogel’s website and more information about her.

Book Review: The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work

John Gottman, PhD, revolutionized the study of marriage with his Seattle “Love Lab,” an apartment designed with one-way mirrors, cameras, and sensors for heart rate, pulse, and other stress markers. Couples volunteered to spend time in the “Love Lab” to interact with one another, argue with one another, and even resolve arguments under the eyes of scientific observers. After years of research, Dr. Gottman was able to accurately predict the success or failure of a marriage observed in the “Love Lab” 91% of the time. Dr. Gottman found four key predictors of success or failure in marriage. One, how the couple initiates conversations, especially disagreements, predicts marital success or failure. If they begin with a harsh start up, it generally ends badly. Second, if a couple uses the “four horsemen” during their discussion, the interactions goes from bad to worse. The “four horsemen” include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. When these “four horsemen” run wild during an interaction, the relationship will get trampled under a stampede. Third, if one partner consistently feels overwhelmed by the negativity of their spouse and emotionally disengages from the relationship to protect themselves, the relationship falters. Fourth, if the couple is unable to repair their emotional connection during and after a disagreement, they damage their relationship and create an unhappy future for themselves. If a couple experiences each of these difficulties on a consistent basis, they create bad memories, a negative history that distorts our perception of our partner. So, what is a couple to do? How can a couple prevent these factors from entering into and destroying their marriage? Read the rest of this book to find out! You will discover ways to develop, sustain, and revive the friendship inherent in a successful marriage. Chapters three through eleven reveal 7 principles that create marital success. Dr. Gottman discusses everything from “enhancing your love map” to “allowing your partner to influence you” to “solving problems.” Each chapter ends with several practical exercises to help couples master the skill of each principle and enhance their relationship. After all, marriages are not strengthened and saved by avoiding the markers of divorce, but by building a healthy friendship and connection between marital partners. This book will give every couple the tools necessary to build their friendship, enhance their intimacy, and enjoy a truly successful marriage.

Book Review: Sex Begins in the Kitchen

Sex Begins in the Kitchen. What? Sex begins where? That’s right…sex begins in the kitchen…and in the living room, the back yard, the bathroom, and…. Now, before you get the wrong idea let me just say, “sex is the culmination of honoring and loving interactions shared throughout the day.” In that sense, “taking out the trash without being asked becomes foreplay.” In Sex Begins in the Kitchen, Dr. Kevin Leman expands on the idea of daily actions building relationships that culminate in sexual intimacy for married couples. He addresses issues such as the impact of birth order, emotional expression, male-female differences, love banking, and gender understanding on intimacy in general and, ultimately, sexual intimacy in particular. A couple of chapters that I found most beneficial included “Games Couples Play,” addressing some of the “dangerous and destructive games married men and women play.” In this chapter, Dr. Leman explains games like “children are the enemy,” “kill the umpire,” “take that you rat,” and “dump truck.” These are not fun games. They are games that can destroy a family and Dr. Leman helps us learn to identify and change them. Overall, this book is full of humor and insightful information that can enhance your love life and give you a more fulfilling, intimate sexual relationship.

Book Review: Family by God’s Design

Family by God’s Design was written by John Salmon, PHD, and published in 2011. Since its publication I have had the privilege and joy of talking about its content with various Christian camps and churches. If you have not had the opportunity to review Family by God’s Design yourself, here is a brief summary.
God designed the family to reflect His relationship to His people—a relationship of honor, grace, and celebration. Unfortunately, society pulls families away from this ideal and downstream from the beauty of God’s design. As a result, families find themselves adrift in a culture that emphasizes individualism, entitlement, and performance. Even families within the church find themselves caught in this cultural drift. As a result, family members become disconnected and isolated from one another. They find themselves living in the same house while behaving like contestants on an episode of Survivor. This is not God’s design for the family. It does not reflect His love for His Church.
Families that become celebrating communities of honor and grace reflect God’s family design. Becoming a celebrating community of honor and grace demands thoughtful action and intentional effort. Family by God’s Design guides families through the Biblical basis of the intentional family and explores practical ways for families to become celebrating communities of honor and grace.
Family by God’s Design is divided into three sections. Section one focuses on honor in the family and offers practical advice on how to make deposits into the family bank of honor. Chapters focus on treating one another as precious, using speech that honors, keeping one another “in mind,” and accepting one another’s influence. The section on honor also explores practical ways to remain honorable in the midst of conflict and the importance of honor in discipline.
Section two focuses on grace. In this section, Family by God’s Design explores how families can become grace receivers and grace givers. Topics include practical ways of giving one another unconditional acceptance, remaining available, attentive and emotionally connected, “giving up” for one another, and forgiving one another. A final chapter explores how to discipline in grace.
Section three focuses on how to shape your family into a celebrating community. Chapters in this section develop a Biblical perspective on playfulness, celebration, and the importance of discipline for celebration in the Christian family. The reader will also discover practical suggestions for implementing rituals of celebration in this section. Family by God’s Design explores the celebration of marital intimacy as well.
Overall, Family by God’s Design invites families to become a celebrating community of honor and grace that will witness of God’s love for His people. It is an excellent resource for those entering into marriage or parenthood. In addition, it can be easily used as a guide in a Bible Study focusing on the Christian family. 
Here are a few comments from readers of Family by God’s Design:
“If you would like to establish a healthy and biblical family environment, read John Salmon’s book Family by God’s Design. He gives you practical, concrete ways to develop honor and grace while living everyday life. Implement these ideas and watch your family blossom!” -Tim, husband, father, & attorney
“Dr. Salmon has done a wonderful job of surveying much of the relevant material available in reference to marriage and family. Beginning with the introduction, there are numerous analogies and metaphors to help the reader grasp his ideas. Throughout Family by God’s Design, he introduces information from the best authors today to assist the reader in understanding how a healthy God-honoring family operates. You clearly see his belief in the importance of marriage and family as a part of God’s design.” -Rev. Dr. Terry L. Mann–Executive Director, TWOgether Pittsburgh
Family by God’s Design elevates the importance of family relationships by demonstrating ways for kindness and love to permeate day-to-day behaviors. The helpful hints presented are easy to implement and make good sense. This book reminds us why cherishing our families is such a blessing.” -Nancy, wife, mother, & child/adolescent mental health worker
If Family By God’s Design sounds like a book that could help your family, click here to purchase it through our website.

Book Review: 10 Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage

Remember the joys of dating…the spark, the excitement, the anticipation? After marriage the pressure of paying bills, running kids from activity to activity, meeting the demands of work, and the rush of life can all creep in to rob us of that spark. In 10 Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage, authors David & Claudia Arp aim to help you rekindle that spark, reconnect with your spouse, and make new memories…and, it’s loads of fun!

10 Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage
provides you with topics to discuss with your spouse while enjoying a date; in fact, 10 topics for 10 dates. Topics include communication, conflict resolution, building unity based on individual strengths, sharing responsibilities, developing an exciting and fulfilling sexual relationship, balancing marriage with parenting, and developing spiritual intimacy. Each partner prepares for the date by reading a short chapter and answering a few discussion starters/exercises to help you think about the lessons of the chapter. Then the fun begins–take your spouse on a date. Enjoy the time together. Be creative…or romantic…as you plan your date. While enjoying your date, discuss your relationship in light of the chapter you read. Keep it positive and discuss how you can create the marriage you both desire. Most importantly, have fun, celebrate your love, and energize your marriage while enjoying the joy and excitement of dating again.
Book available at

Our Favorite Picks

Book Review: Fighting for Your Marriage

I’m really not very competitive and much too passive to make a good fighter; but, I do believe some things really are worth fighting for! A happy marriage is one of those things. So, why do most couples fight more vigorously for the perfect wedding dress than the perfect communication skill? Or, put more painstaking effort into planning the ideal wedding ceremony than in learning the relational skills necessary to sustain a long-term marriage? I’m not sure I have the answer to that question; but I do know that Fighting for Your Marriage definitely offers an alternative. In Fighting for Your Marriage, the authors presents the skills, “old school style,” needed to give your marriage more than a “fighting chance”…more than enough techniques to knock out the enemies that want to rob you of a joyful, intimate marriage. The material in this user’s guide for married couples is based on the objective research that undergirds the PREP (Prevention & Relationship Enhancement Program) approach. Even though it is based on research, Fighting for Your Marriage is easily understood, humorous, and filled with examples that support the key skills and attitudes associated with good relationships. Practical skills and exercises give the reader the awareness and knowledge necessary to avoid four communication patterns that can harm relationships.

Even with this knowledge, problems, disagreements, and conflict may arise. In order to limit the potential nuclear disaster of marital conflict, the authors present a structure (control rods, if you will) that can limit the uncontrolled reactions of each person and allows them to direct their energy toward solving the conflict and enhancing their relationship. Just learning this structure to manage conflict makes this book worth reading. However, the authors go on to present ideas that can help couples deal with core issues (such as acceptance and power struggles), put expectations to work for their marriage, and protect their long-term commitment to a happy marriage.

The final section of the book is my favorite. In this section, the authors offer practical advice for enhancing friendship within the marriage relationship, bringing fun into marriage, and enhancing sexual intimacy (“woo-hoo”).

All in all, this book is a practical “user’s guide for one of life’s greatest adventures.” If you believe that your happy marriage is worth fighting for, you will want to add this book to your fighting strategy and put each skill into practice with gusto.

Book available at Our Favorite Picks.

Book Review: How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk

They say that “love is blind” and that we “lose our mind” in the early stages of love. In How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk, John Van Epp offers practical solutions to recover from that blindness and keep hold of our minds while going through the process of falling in love. Realizing that relationships are notoriously complex, he does not give pollyanish solutions. Instead, he offers a comprehensive road map to relationship development that is readable, practical, and humorous. He calls this road map the “Relationship Attachment Model” (RAM). The RAM model describes five relationship dynamics–know, trust, rely, commit, and intimacy–road signs, if you will, that guide a person into healthy relationships. The first road sign reads “SLOW DOWN.” Do not travel too fast down the highway toward intimacy. Slow the pace of the relationship so the heart does not outrun the head. Practically speaking, the author offers the three-month rule—“it takes three months for many subtle but serious patterns to begin to surface.” So, follow the speed limit and take time to know the person. Learn how your potential partner interacts with friends and family. Find out if they make you a “better person” when you are with them. Discover their values and beliefs.

The next sign reads “CAUTION–winding road ahead” and informs the reader to never trust a person more than you know them, never rely on a person more than you trust them, and never commit to a person more than you rely on them. Along the winding road, the author encourages the reader to stop at various scenic overlooks. One scenic overlook gives a lovely view of the “date-mate profile” to help assess and develop an appropriate level of trust. Around the next bend, a second scenic overlook gives a panoramic view of the relational “Investment-Reciprocity-Accumulation” (IRA) Account to assess a partner’s level of reliability. Another overlook offers a scenic view of the three strands of commitment–the “want-to,” the “have-to,” and the “reluctant-to” strands. Each of these scenic overlooks offers the reader a glimpse of the road ahead before they cautiously travel further down the road toward a healthy relationship. Taking the scenic drive toward relationship at a slow pace and taking advantage of the scenic overlooks to learn about one another’s nuances, the couple arrives safely at the beautiful villa of intimacy.

John Van Epp’s five dynamics-know, trust, rely, commit, and intimacy-offers an excellent road map for anyone seeking to develop a healthy relationship. I highly recommend this book to anyone currently involved in a dating relationship or anyone thinking about starting a dating relationship. In fact, I actually did recommended this book to at least three people this month…and I guess this recommendation makes four.

Book available at Our Favorite Picks.

Book Review: Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married

Gary Chapman, author of the 5 Love Languages series, hit another homerun for relationship success with his book Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married. In this book, Chapman shares lessons he learned while helping couples for over 35 years as well as from his own experience. Written for those who are dating or engaged, Things I Wish I’d Known explores 12 relationship facts that every couple needs to know in order to find marital happiness. Unfortunately, many young or engaged couples misunderstand these 12 relationship facts and this misunderstanding leads to marital conflict and stress. Gary Chapman candidly explores each of these 12 relationship facts and how to respond in a way that will promote marital happiness. Some of the facts explored include: “Being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage,” “how to solve disagreements without arguing,” “mutual sexual fulfillment is not automatic,” “I was marrying into a family,” and “personality profoundly influences behavior.” Two of my personal favorites include “toilets are not self-cleaning” and “apologizing is a sign of strength.”

In an age where we spend months and thousands of dollars preparing for our wedding, this book offers a great investment in preparing for a lifetime of marriage. Each chapter has practical tips you can discuss with your date or spouse-to-be in an effort to truly prepare for marriage. Truly, I would have found this book helpful in preparing for my own marriage. I hope you will take the opportunity to read and discuss this book with your future spouse in preparation for a truly happy marriage. Find this book and others like it at Favorite Picks & Resources.

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