Simple Heartstrings Challenge: 50 Simple Ways to Bond With Loved Ones

Life blows past you and suddenly you’re looking back at the last five months, five years, or five decades wondering what on earth happened to all your time. How much of your precious, irreplaceable time was spent on Facebook or stressing over your latte and politics or reading about how to be a better wife or mother instead of tying heartstrings?

Probably too much.

What is tying heartstrings? At its most basic level, tying heartstrings is connecting with people, but I don’t like to use the word “connect” when talking about people, because it makes me sound like an insurance salesman. I don’t have a problem with insurance salesmen–I just don’t want to sound like one, because I’m not one.

Tying heartstrings is building or strengthening the bond between people. It’s putting your time where it matters.

Take the Heartstrings Challenge! 50 Simple Ways to Bond with Loved Ones

It is also one of the simple tools in The Simple Homemaker’s life simplifying toolbox. It’s an important one.

Here’s how you tie heartstrings:

Do something together.

That’s it. Told you it was simple. I challenge you to dedicate a portion of each Saturday to tying heartstrings. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you accept the Simple Saturday Heartstrings Challenge:

  • It doesn’t have to be anything epic—if it’s simple, you’re more likely to keep it up.
  • Please don’t make it into a big deal. Don’t say, “We shall henceforth spendeth 60 minutes of uninterrupted quality time together to ensureth heartstrings are properly tied-eth and to enableth the generations to strengtheneth their bonds…eth.” That’s freaky.
  • Don’t make your “victims” feel like you’re checking quality time off on a list. “There, I played with you. Now I don’t have to pay for your therapy. Oh, and don’t bug me for an hour.” 
  • Don’t be ultra-obsessed over the Saturday thing. Be flexible. We school on Saturdays and take Mondays off, so my Simple Saturday Heartstrings are actually Marvelous Monday Heartstrings. Be fllllleeeexiblllllle.
  • Just do something!

Here are 50 ideas for simple ways to tie heartstrings. Many of these will work with a small child as well as a teen, your spouse, Mom and Dad, or your elderly neighbor next door.

Take the Heartstrings Challenge! 50 Simple Ways to Bond with Loved Ones

50 Simple Ways to Tie Heartstrings

  1. Say, “Let’s play a game.” (A few rounds of Tic-Tac-Toe or Twenty Questions is great—it doesn’t have to be monopoly or chess!)
  2. Bake cookies together to eat or to deliver to another heartstring “victim.“
  3. Be nosy about an interest they have, and, if possible, pursue it together once in a while. (My husband loves airplanes, so sometimes we have a picnic lunch in the van in a spot near the runway where the planes land and take off right in front of us. Simple and free.)
  4. Go for a walk.
  5. Call someone up “just because.”
  6. Ask what they’ve been reading.
  7. Read a book out loud together—children’s books are fun at any age, and chapter books can be spread out over weeks and months.
  8. Try a new recipe together.
  9. Send a letter—handwritten!
  10. Blow bubbles.
  11. Plant flowers.
  12. Help with a simple task, and don’t forget to stick around to chat a little bit.
  13. Sip tea, coffee, cocoa, or apple juice together…slowly…and chat…without your cellphone nearby.
  14. Enjoy nature together—follow ants, identify trees, feed ducks, take your dog squirrel-chasing.
  15. Ask about their week. If you truly listen all week, you’ll be able to ask in detail, such as “How is Susie feeling today?” or “Did your buddy make the football team?” or “Did your secretary’s brother’s wife have her baby?” or “What kind of food did they serve at the conference luncheon? Cookies, I hope!”
  16. Have a movie night or watch an oldie, but goodie, like Gomer Pyle, The Andy Griffith Show, or The Dick Van Dyke Show. (Yes, screen time can be heartstring time.)
  17. Paint each other’s nails.
  18. Toss around a baseball or the ol’ pigskin synthetic leather.
  19. Challenge each other to a 5-minute Lego building contest or set the timer for five minutes and see how high you can stack something.
  20. Do a simple craft—simple! Hello, Pinterest! Or, as we like to do, hop on to Pinterest together and pin all the crafts you will never do. Pinning is a fun little family obsession of ours.
  21. Make a blanket fort and sit in it.
  22. Collect jokes throughout the week and share them over a bowl of Chocolate-Covered Sugar Bombs.
  23. Read Calvin and Hobbes or a new magazine over each other’s shoulders.
  24. Pursue a SRAOKTDRS together—that’s a Simple Random Act of Kindness That Doesn’t Resemble Stalking.
  25. Share stories from your youth or ask about their childhood or young adulthood.
  26. Share dreams…but let them do most of the sharing.
  27. Attack a project from the to-do list together.
  28. Hold hands, snuggle, or give back rubs.
  29. Braid hair.
  30. Pick flowers.
  31. Flip through a catalog together or read a newspaper side by side, sharing whatever you feel moved to share.
  32. Call someone up and say, “Get dressed, cuz I’m coming over!” and then hang up…and go over there, because it would be mean to call and not show up.
  33. Star-gaze.
  34. Watch a dog show on TV.
  35. Sit in the park or mall and watch people.
  36. Go eat all the samples at Sam’s Club.
  37. Skip stones or throw sticks in the water.
  38. Lie in the grass (or snow if you live where they have perpetual winter) and look at the clouds.
  39. Ask a question and listen to the answer without interjecting the words “I,” “me”, or “you should.” Good luck with this one!
  40. Teach someone a new magic trick.
  41. Share a chocolate bar or a box of candies.
  42. Sit by the water, with or without your toes dangling in, depending on if there are gators and piranha where you’re dangling.
  43. Go fishing.
  44. Make a scrapbook page.
  45. Memorize something together—a poem or a section of Scripture or my birthday so you can send cookies.
  46. Bake a pie…and more cookies.
  47. Go window shopping.
  48. Turn on the sprinklers or fill a wading pool and sit in it.
  49. Break out the sidewalk chalk and create together—don’t be tempted to let them create while you go do the “important” things.
  50. Put your phone away and just be together and see what happens.

Take the Heartstrings Challenge! 50 Simple Ways to Bond with Loved Ones

If you follow me on PinterestFacebook, Twitter, or Instagram (as The Travel Bags), I will remind you to devote part of your Saturday to Strengthening Heartstrings, and invite you to share how you did this. (On Facebook, don’t forget to check “Follow” or comment and like frequently, or you won’t see my posts. Crazy Facebook.)

Please share your Simple Saturday Heartstrings in the comment section. Let’s share great ideas and tie heartstrings!

Loving Your Spouse Out Loud – A Challenge

Reposting in honor of my grandparent’s anniversary:

Yesterday, while perusing a popular site about managing the home, I noticed the question of the day:

“What about your spouse just drives you crazy?”

Loving Your Spouse Out Loud - A Challenge

As of this morning, there were 189 answers.  I got (literally) sick from reading the responses and petty complaints after about 30 or so.  Only one was positive: “It makes me crazy in love when he says ‘Hello, Beautiful’ in the morning,” but then she dampened it with a crass and very personal criticism.  The majority of the wives (I didn’t notice any replies from men) were irritated that he left his socks on the floor, left cupboard doors open, and didn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste (all things I do wrong, by the way).  Occasionally someone was less shallow, such as being upset by his apathy toward the children or his being a poor listener.

I wonder…

Even on the rare occasion when the gripes are legitimate, does sounding off and getting upset solve the problem?

Isn’t life…isn’t marriage challenging enough without an open invitation to share our criticisms?

Is my spouse the one with the problem if he can’t locate the laundry basket, or is it me that has the problem, to let that infuriate me and undermine all the positives about the person I chose to marry?  (I’m actually the one that can’t locate the laundry basket, just so you know.)

Because I believe negativity leads to bitterness, and bitterness is poison to marriage or any other relationship, I issue this challenge.

Love your spouse out loud!

Together, let’s counter the negativity with positives of our own.  Let’s answer this question instead:

What about your spouse just blesses you like crazy?

Share in the comment section below.

Even if your marriage is at a rocky place or going through a lull, look at it from a new perspective.  Find the blessing, the positive, the gift that is your spouse, and add it to the comments below.  You may answer as many times as you wish!

Please, friends, keep it real.  None of us married Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, so let’s not make others feel their spouses are inferior in comparison to a myth.

Take a moment, if you would, to share this post so that we can outnumber the 189 naysayers and let the mainstream world know that we love our imperfect spouses and are blessed by them. Let’s give marriage the reputation it deserves.  I don’t think I’m being overly optimistic to think that we can find more than 189 people willing to love their spouses out loud!

Let the world know that marriage between two imperfect people in an imperfect world still works!

Because it does.

The beautiful photo was taken three years ago at my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary – as of today, 63 years, two months, and 13 days of two imperfect people in an imperfect marriage, making it work by the grace of God.  It’s a beautiful thing.


The Get Dressed Challenge

100_2926Some time ago I wrote about the importance of dressing for your man.  While I firmly believe in and try to follow through with that philosophy, I admit that I am writing this in the middle of the day in my PJs.

Life gets in the way.  It’s time to push it back out of the way.

For a little kick-in-the-pjs motivation, I have joined up with Like a Warm Cup of Coffee’s Get Dressed! challenge.  I don’t know the details, but I do know that I am required to be dressed with shoes on by 8 a.m. each morning.

Are you with me?


Ha ha, you’re so funny!

Come on!  Take the challenge.  It’ll be fun…except on Saturday morning.

See you bright and early with shoes on for the Get Dressed! challenge.

The Get Dressed Challenge!

Okay, ‘fess up. What are you wearing right now?

Whether or not you participate in this challenge, hop on over to Like a Warm Cup of Coffee and read this insight from SarahMae about keeping the proper focus. These words are excellent for people who tend to be driven by guilt…like me, and whose focus has shifted from internals to externals.


My Mentor Monday Interview with the Holy Hen House

Monday Mentor -- A full-time traveling musician's wife and roadschooling mother of eight shares her thoughts on marriage, mentors, and life.

I am honored–and by honored I mean I seriously don’t deserve this honor–to have been asked by the lovely Amanda Rose of Holy Hen House to be interviewed for her site’s Mentor Monday.

If you want a peek into my life, my heart, my past, my future, and maybe a cheesy joke or two, go here.

A glimpse into the heart and life of a full-time traveling Christian music missionary's wife and roadschooling mother of eight.

Does Valentine’s Day Complicate Relationships?

At the risk of sounding like a hater, I admit that I’m not big on Valentine’s Day the way it is often celebrated in my great big beautiful USA. What’s not to like?

Does Valentine's Day Complicate Relationships? {}

Here are the Valentine’s Day biggies that rub me the wrong way:

  1. Crowds of “last-minute” men in the 20-items-or-less aisle hoping their tinted carnations and cheap chocolates show enough “love” to appease their significant others, but knowing they’re probably in for a fight. 
  2. The false belief that the obligatory expression of affection on that day is, indeed, affection.
  3. The thought from far too many women that if a man doesn’t open his wallet on Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and Sweetest Day (if you’re in the Midwest), the love and commitment he shows the rest of the year is negated.
  4. The thought by a normally-negligent man that a pink bear and a $4 box of Russel Stovers will cover his backside.

Grrrr. Yes, I growled. Out loud.

Let’s get one thing straight right here, right now: Valentine’s Day the way it is celebrated today is a complication, and no relationship needs complication.

A Simple Valentine Tradition that Stuck

Does that mean we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day? No, it doesn’t. At The Simple Home, we keep it simple and fun…no unrealistic expectations!

This year we are having a Post-it note party. Each family member gets a pad of Post-it notes to write (or draw) on and exchange. It’s simple, heartfelt, creative, and a ton o’ laughs!

The Post-it exchange is a tradition that started accidentally the year my husband and I forgot the date (a regular occurrence) and hastily scratched out our feelings on Post-its. It was my favorite Valentine ever, and it stuck…no Post-it pun intended there.

Perhaps the main reason it stuck is because the simplicity of it fits our relationship.

Does Valentine's Day Complicate Relationships? {}

Keeping Simplicity in Our Marriage

One thing my husband has always appreciated about me is my lack of expectation…about some things. I don’t demand (or expect) a big deal made out of Valentine’s Day. I don’t demand (or expect) a big to-do on our anniversary. (Truth be told, I don’t expect him, much less me, to even remember our anniversary!) I don’t expect my birthday to be fussed over.

I do expect effort to be put into the relationship itself, however.

He appreciates that lack of focus on ceremony…and so do I.

We have always focused more on the marriage than on ceremony. The planning we put into our wedding was nothing, nothing compared to what we have whole-heartedly poured into the marriage. We place more emphasis on the days than the dates, on the day-to-day marriage than on the “Hallmark” occasions. We always have, we always will, even if that means a Post-it note instead of roses and restaurants on Valentine’s Day.

How to Not Complicate Your Relationship {}

Does this sound utterly unromantic to you?

Romance in the Real World

Life is dirty. It’s gritty. It’s real. We are two very real people in a very real life loving each other in a very real, raw way. That’s not romantic in and of itself.

Or is it…?

I see young love, which is nice…and young…and lovely…and idealistic…and romantic, maybe, but the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen is the old couple, scarred with years of raw gritty love, still standing by each other, still grumping and fussing and  pestering and nagging and laughing and crying and holding on tightly. Still living together, still loving, still forgetting anniversaries and laughing about it, still hurting and forgiving. Knowing each other so well…so very well…but still learning about each other.

How to Not Complicate Your Marriage {}

That’s romantic in my book.

And that’s simple love.

Simple love does not mean it’s easy. Simple love means it’s uncomplicated.

How do I Know if I’m Complicating my Marriage?

I have to, from time to time, look in a mirror and ask that crazy lady a few questions:

  • Am I complicating my marriage by focusing on dates more than days?
  • Do I put too much emphasis on appearances and dreams rather than on the raw grit of reality?
  • Are my expectations based on a movie or a friend’s (not necessarily accurate) portrayal of her marriage?
  • Do I hold my man up to the standard someone else has set (say, my grandfather, his dad, Mr. Darcy) instead of encouraging him to be the man God intended him to be?
  • Do I forgive and accept him the way I want and expect and need to be forgiven and accepted?
  • Am I loving my man out loud for who he is every day, or scorning him because today, on Valentine’s Day, he didn’t follow the script I wrote in my head?

Think about it.

Periodically I revisit a 14-day series I wrote on building strong families. When the nation is focused on the mush and gush, I like to build up my family’s foundation a bit, and remind myself (because I need reminding) what really matters in a marriage and on Valentine’s Day…and…I can’t believe I’m saying this…it isn’t chocolate.

Love in Action - Building Strong Families {}


I’d love to hear your thoughts below. Happy Valentine’s Day.



4 Thoughts on Tragedy, Family, Focus, and Faith

I’m supposed to be writing about Brussels sprouts. Somehow, I can’t force myself to think about Brussels sprouts right now (although these particular sprouts were unusually delicious). Another school shooting took place last week. I’m sure you heard.

I wasn’t going to write about it, because it feels like capitalizing on tragedy. But somehow, I find myself here in the dark writing, a small child asleep on my lap.

4 Thoughts on Tragedy, Family, Focus, and Faith (

There are no words for situations like this, for the victims, for those left behind, for the shooter’s surviving parent. There is only pain.

With pain comes a backlash.

We’re hearing people scream for gun control and other people saying this would have played out differently if every law-abiding citizen had a gun. Celebrities are stepping forward with their wisdom, mystically garnered from years of pretending to be somebody they’re not. Soon, it will be overshadowed in the media by another tragedy, but the pain will remain.

Closer to home, we’re hearing people say to hug your children a little closer tonight, let your kids be kids, keep them happy because this could be your last moment together.

Then we’re hearing people going on with life as usual, sounding off about the dangers of French fries and non-organic apples, arguing over politics, global warming, educational methods, fill in the blank.

And finally, we’re hearing people trying to make sense of the senseless.

Pause. Big sigh.

Four things.

1–Our world is in pain. A school shooting is big, and it’s tragic. When the hallowed halls of a safe place are attacked, everything we think we knew (but never really did) about life in America is irreparably shaken.

The same reality strikes families every day everywhere on a quieter, but just as painful scale. Children are taken away from parents, ripped out of “safe” places every day through disease, accidents, family break-ups, and sometimes evil people.

Everywhere, every day, there is pain.

The way we all feel about our children right now–the way we linger a bit longer at their bedsides, touch their hair, put down the computer or magazine and make eye contact–we should feel that way, act that way every single moment of every single day.

The way we pray for others, love our husbands a little more, pick up the phone to call our mamas, and smile at total strangers, that should be a daily practice.

The pain will never go away, not ever. Shouldn’t our love be just as enduring, just as strong? Even stronger? Shouldn’t we be this way all the time?

We won’t, because we’re human, and because we need to eat and sleep and earn a living.

But we should.

4 Thoughts on Tragedy, Family, Focus, and Faith (

2–Love like they’ll be gone tomorrow, and train like they’re going to live forever.

What does that mean?

Your child may be taken from you tomorrow. Heck, today even.

Cherish. Every. Moment.

Even when your boy throws up on your laptop, cherish it–not the throwing up, and especially not the smell, but cherish the fact that you have your boy there so he can throw up on your laptop…and hopefully he can do other, more remarkable things later.

The Bible calls it being grateful in all circumstances.

But don’t cherish to the exclusion of your duties.

Your job is to cherish your child as if each moment is your last, but the other part of your job description is to train your child as if he will live forever.

Please, please, please do not use tragedies and what-ifs and guilt (or your child’s personality, but that’s another topic) as an excuse not to train your children. If for no other reason than to make your daughter- or son-in-law’s life a little (or a lot) more pleasant, train your kids!

If I knew my children would be taken from me tomorrow, of course I wouldn’t make them do their chores or eat their veggies today. We would not work on reading lessons or first-time obedience or sharing. Chances are, however, that my children will someday need to be disciplined enough to clean up after themselves, obey those in authority, and be accountable for their own actions. That won’t happen without work…my work.

Don’t slack on the cherishing, and don’t slack on the training. I know there are only 24 hours in a day, but lucky for you, you can cherish and train at the same time.

4 Thoughts on Tragedy, Family, Focus, and Faith (

3-Assess your priorities. What are you passionate about right now? What is driving your days?

I’ll go first–my family, my God…and not in that order. But it wasn’t always that way.

If your passion suddenly feels unimportant in the wake of what happened, maybe that’s because, comparatively, it is.

Maybe your passion needs to be demoted to a hobby or a pastime, or maybe even kicked out for a time, so there’s room for your family and your God to take places one and two in your life (not in that order).

Spend 15 minutes on any social media platform today–Facebook, Twitter, anything. There is a huge outpouring of unified love and support and very real pain in America right now. And then there are the other posts:

“I can’t believe my mama gave my baby a graham cracker! I told her we don’t eat that junk and she did it anyway.” Well, I’m sorry, and she should listen, but you are so blessed to have a mama and a baby, and I bet you didn’t listen to your mama a whole lot more than she didn’t listen to you…just a guess.

“Anybody who feeds their children XYZ is just plain ignorant.” Maybe. Maybe. But I’m pretty sure the mamas that have no children to feed this morning aren’t comforted one iota by the fact that when they had children to feed a few days ago, they took the time and effort to feed them ABC instead of XYZ.

Has your passion or cause–whether real foods, green living, getting out of debt, or even a mission of helping others–skewed your vision just a little? Come on, just a little? Think about it, and hear yourself through others’ ears. Feed your kids right, be a green queen if that’s your calling, clip those coupons sister, but keep it in perspective, and never, ever, ever, ever let it take precedence over a living, breathing person…even us ignorant ones.

4 Thoughts on Tragedy, Family, Focus, and Faith (

4–Give them something real.

The empty words trying to make sense of this tragedy are just that–empty. Nauseatingly empty.

Give them Christ.

We teach our children what we understand from the Bible, and that’s this:

God commands all people to be perfect, not just good enough. Unfortunately, none of us is perfect…no, not even you. So God gave us the Christmas baby, His Son Jesus, who is both God and human. (Our brains can’t grasp this completely; we are, after all, only human.) Jesus lived the perfect life we couldn’t, and then died as punishment for our failings, not His own. Jesus came back to life (because He’s God, remember) and now lives in heaven and in my heart…and maybe yours, too. I hope so.

Believing that, however imperfectly we believe and however imperfectly we understand, is faith. Knowing Christ earned you a free pass to heaven, despite the doubts that sneak in, is trust. Living every day for Him instead of ourselves, however much we mess that up, is thankfulness.

If you believe that Christ is the path to heaven, share that with your children. Don’t wait for them to figure it out on their own.

It isn’t brainwashing for a doctor to give medicine to a dying child to save his life. It isn’t forcing our beliefs on a child to teach him how to read or spell or tell him about the history of America. If you believe in Christ, truly believe that He is the only way to heaven, why would you withhold that truth, that saving medicine, that “big picture” history lesson, that comfort and hope from your child? Why would you ever let it take a back seat to anything else?

You can share your faith while you’re training and cherishing–it all fits together beautifully.

If you don’t really know what I’m talking about, this path to heaven, please, please ask me.

share your faith

I’ve said enough.

I think maybe I can focus on Brussels sprouts now before my blessings wake up. You, my friend, go love on your children–cherish, train, prioritize, and share Christ. That’s the simple life in a nutshell.

Love in Action All Wrapped Up

Love one another and you will be happy.
It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

~Michael Leunig

Love in Action

Showing love goes far beyond saying “I love you.”  Actions speak much, much, much louder than words.

You can show deep love through simple actions—lending a hand, lending an ear, sharing a smile, sharing a sorrow, sharing time, washing feet…

To your husband

  • Don’t criticize—replace criticism with gratitude. Let him know he is your hero and that you appreciate him.
  • Smile—you share a connection nobody else has; connect with a smile that makes him go weak in the knees, that whispers love.
  • Dress it up—dress for your husband just as you did in the early days of your marriage.
  • Thoughtful service—perform small acts of service to show your husband you are thinking of him and value him.
  • Feed your man—the way to a man’s heart is still through his stomach, but don’t neglect his stomach once you have his heart.
  • The power of touch—claim him with a kiss, yes, right there in front of the kids. They’ll groan, but inwardly they’ll feel secure knowing their parents love each other.
  • Listen—give your husband your undivided attention, eyes, ears, mind. Share his interests and his life.

To your children

  • Smile even more—let them see their value reflected in your face every time they walk into a room.
  • Hugs and kisses—hug your children, especially when they don’t deserve affection, because that is when they need it most.
  • Play and laugh—get on your child’s level and play and laugh; laugh while you play, laugh while you work, just laugh.
  • Read aloud—hold hands and jump into the pages of a book for shared adventures and memories, teaching moments and snuggle time.
  • Teach your children—give your children the gift of your time and experience; teach them to keep a home, work hard, think, defend their faith, say they’re sorry, forgive, be a friend, and love.
  • Cut the criticism—encourage, praise, build up, correct, guide, cherish, and respect. When it is time for criticism, serve with a heaping helping of love.
  • Listen and look—listen with your eyes, mind, body, and heart without trying to fix or teach or correct. Just listen.

Love is, above all, the gift of oneself.

~Jean Anouilh