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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Encouragement and a {Slightly} New Direction


In March, I was facing being gone for three weeks (that was not hard!) and needing to write posts ahead for my blog. I had very few ideas and little time to get it done. Suddenly it loomed ahead of me like a mountain to be scaled and I got discouraged.


Rather than half heartedly doing a few posts, I decided to just be honest. I can see how many are reading my blogs and there are about 100 per post. (A couple of posts have practically gone viral like this one with twenty questions for married couples that has had 29,000 views and been pinned on Pinterest over 7000 times!) But I was wondering if I was helping anyone, causing anyone to think through things, inspiring anyone to show love to their family through family meals, devotions, chores, manners, hospitality, and conversation? So I decided to ask.

A few people answered. Here's a sampling:


Definitely forgiven, Kim!
(And if you want to receive my blog posts by email, just sign up a little up and to the right of here. They come right to your inbox, no searching, waiting for the page to load, and you can cancel at any time.)


Thanks, Anna. Those are the areas I have been trying to integrate into the blog, although some posts focus on just one of those areas.


Mitti, it's so encouraging to know that you didn't just think about it, but actually tried my ideas.

I love writing. I've loved having a "platform" for my ideas and thoughts and I plan to keep it up. 

One of my "problems" with writing about family mealtimes is I no longer have kids at home. (Well, one is back from finishing college and I'm in no rush to see her move out, but she is looking at apartments.) So I no longer have two, three, or four children at home, around my table at mealtimes like I did for so many years. So I don't have the stories that come with that. And I can't remember more than the ones I've already written about. That's where I would love some help from you. If you have children at home, I'd love to publish your stories in my blog. Just tell what happened at dinner one night! Here are my guidelines for writing a post.

Along with that, since I don't have new stories to tell, I thought that I would make some slight changes in the blog. 
  • Look for a new look! Coming soon we'll update the look and make it easier to read.
  • Around the Table! I will be sharing with you as though you were sitting with me at my table
    • devotional thoughts
    • ideas for meals
    • new recipes
    • questions I'm thinking through
    • what God is teaching me
I don't want it to be all about me, though. I want to keep that focus of integrating faith, family, friends, and food (and conversation!) We can say "fellowship" to keep it with "f's"! :-) So I want you to help. If you write to me with...
  • your ideas, 
  • your thoughts, 
  • your suggestions, 
  • your questions
...we'll have more to talk about! You can always leave a comment below or you can write directly to me through this link. I'd love to hear from you!







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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Middle Eastern Hospitality

When we arrived we were weary. A three day conference held in Arabic with a translator sitting behind us...most of the day in a an old Hyundai with five adults...sightseeing around ruins that involved a couple hours of walking...a huge and delicious lunch of mansaf (a typical Jordanian meal of lamb, yogurt, and rice) at 4pm...watching a sandstorm move across the Jordan River valley at sunset...and the fact that it was after 10 pm all contributed. Now we were delivered to the home of a German woman we had only met for a few minutes the day before. At her house our group--a Dutch couple, our Jordanian friend cum tourist guide, and my husband and I -- found a Jordanian man, an Algerian man, and a German man as well as our hostess.





Our friend left to retrieve our luggage which had been delivered elsewhere and we were offered some ginger-lemon tea. Discussions were going on in four languages, but we were the only ones who always were speaking in our first language, because we don’t speak Arabic, German, or French!

Jerash

Our friend arrived with our suitcases and plastic bags full of lamb filled pita bread, hummus, eggplant hummus, pickled cucumbers, carrots and turnips, yogurt, and more pita bread. We didn’t need to eat anything, but we did because it was all so good.


Hummus


Our hostess showed us to our room where we found two large twin beds pushed next to each other. There was a pile of towels in the bathroom to choose from and a hot shower to get the ancient dust from the the fascinating, column lined Roman city of Jerash off our bodies.


The next morning our hostess had to be at a meeting at 7:30 am so we wandered out and found our own breakfast amid the clutter of pita breads, apples and oranges, hummus from the night before in the fridge, spicy olives, tasty cherry tomatoes, and large slices of cucumber and pepper. Not your average Kellog's breakfast, but one I enjoyed greatly.


We had friends from South America, who now lived here, arriving to pick us up for most of the day so we left after putting a load of laundry in the machine and hanging it on the rack on the balcony to dry in the dry Jordanian air.


That night we came back and attended meeting at the local church with new and old friends. It is amazing how other believers are instant friends, even when you can't hold a conversation with them. Once again we were invited out for a delicious supper of Middle Eastern food. 

During the day our hostess had called the bus company for us and organized our trip to Petra, the city carved into red stone cliff faces 2000+ years ago. We had to be at the bus station at 6 and our Dutch friends had to be at the airport at 5 a.m. “No problem!” sang out our hostess, even though we got to bed just after midnight.

The next morning she was cheerful as she drove us to the bus station and made sure we had everything we needed including her extra cellphone so we could call her when we were on our way home.

Four hours in the bus through the desert made us grateful for air-conditioning and a bathroom break. We would not have made good Israelites wandering in the wilderness. We had 7 hours to wander through Petra, absolutely fascinating to see the city carved into the cliff faces. One of the places people should visit! Then four hours home. Our phone didn't have any minutes left on it and the bus was going to be 2 hours later than she thought. But when she called to find out she sang out, "No problem. I will call again when you are closer to make sure of the time."

She picked us up after 9 pm and took us home for a delicious fruit salad and tea. Our other friends called and asked if they could come to say goodbye, she made sure they understood we did not want to be up too late. They came and we had our last hugs, received Arabic sweets, and were told that a man from the local church would be taking us to the airport the next day because all of them had to be at work.. He didn't speak English, but knew what to do and they had already paid him.

I had heard about Middle Eastern hospitality, but now I had experienced it. I no longer wonder why Abraham insisted the angels wait while he killed a calf and roasted it. Time, generosity, and their own convenience are not what is important to them.

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Watch here next week as we see some changes to this space. I hope that I will be able to continue to encourage you in following Christ, in your home, around your table, among your family, and with your life.




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Friday, March 25, 2016

Taking a Break

Jim and I will be traveling for four weeks and I have lost some of my motivation for writing this blog. I love having a place to express myself, but, except for a few posts, I wonder if it is making any difference and if this is how I should be spending my time and limited energy. I always wanted to have a "column" and this has sort of been it, but with the lack of response and my energy/motivation down...well. I won't be writing at least until May. 

If you have enjoyed these posts and want to hear more from me, please write to me and let me know. You can tell me what you'd like to hear more about as well. Your letter can make a difference to me.


Thanks!

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Real Meaning of Easter Ideas

When I was in first grade our teacher assigned us to write about Christmas. I wrote that Christmas was when Jesus was born. That was probably the whole "essay"--it was first grade, remember? 

The comments my public school teacher made on that paper led us to find out that she was a Christian. 

Spring came and she asked us to write about Easter. I wrote that it was about dyeing eggs, bunnies, flowers, and candy. Oops!

My teacher and my mom were friends by then and Miss Cleaveland mentioned it to my mother who set about finding ways to help me understand the true meaning of Easter.

As a result, when my oldest son was 3 I decided to create an 8 day Easter devotional to do together. Twenty-seven years later, we still use it with our kids and, when they are around, our grandchildren.



My Easter devotion is pretty easy to copy and I have instructions in my book, "Around the Table".

Here are some other ideas to allow Easter to draw you and your family closer to the Lord.


  • Start a family Easter week tradition. How about having any member of the family say something and the rest respond. Some possibilities:
    • Caller: "Attitude check!" Response: "Praise the Lord!"
    • Caller: "Resurrection Practice!" Response: Everyone jumps in the air. (Warning, do not try this at the table or in a car!)
    • Caller: "He is Risen!" Response: "He is Risen Indeed!"
  • Pick a person, any person involved in the first Easter and learn all you can about them. One year I took a deeper look at Mary Magdalene and then I spoke in character and costume at our ladies' meeting telling her testimony from from former life through conversion to the empty tomb. I found it incredibly moving. Wouldn't your kids love getting into the act?

  • Memorize a hymn (or several hymns) that have to do with Christ's resurrection. Sing them with your family, even if you don't have the best voices. We certainly don't, but our kids really belted them out when they were small! Some of our favorites:
    • He Lives
    • Christ Arose
    • Christ the Lord is Risen Today
    • Because He Lives
    • I Know that My Redeemer Lives

  • Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-20 together. Ask some discussion questions like:
    • Of what three things did Paul want the Corinthians to be convinced?
    • What proof did he give of the resurrection?
    • How many people would have to tell you they saw something amazing before you would believe it was true?
    • How many eyewitnesses does Paul say there were to Jesus' resurrection?
    • In what ways do you depend on Jesus' resurrection being true?
    • How would your life be different if it weren't true?
  • Make "Empty Tomb Cookies" with your children on the Saturday night before Easter.
    • Visit The Garden Tomb website and read some of the articles under the link "About". Look at the photos in the "Galleries" link. Whether this is the true site of Jesus' tomb or not, the thing that is true is the tomb is empty!


    That's what our tour guide told us when we had the opportunity to visit on a ministry trip to Israel. "Now you will discover that you have come all this way to see...nothing. Because the tomb is empty!" The Tongans whose group we had joined erupted in a chorus of "Amen! Amen! Praise the Lord! Amen!" 

    And that's the reason for Easter. Talk about it around your table the next couple of weeks.


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    Thursday, March 10, 2016

    St. Patrick's Day Round Up and Trivia Questions

    I love a celebration.

    When my kids were little, I celebrated everything I could think of--George Washington's birthday, Groundhog's Day, Valentines, St. Patrick's day...and on and on. Since we lived overseas, far from extended family, we celebrate all their birthday with a cake, candles and a song on the day!

    Celebrations create joy, happy memories, and--usually--dessert!



    So why not celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year? It not only adds to the fun, but there's a missionary story involved that's worth letting your family in on.

    Here are some ideas I've found:

    Breakfast
    For the Littles (and not so littles)Green Milk--Every year when my kids were at home, we would have cereal for breakfast on St. Patrick's Day. Since our milk came in bags, I always poured it into a ceramic old fashioned milk jug. On St. Patrick's day I added green food coloring. The first one to pour them milk was usually surprised! I had fun watching their reactions. As they got older, they knew to expect it, and my oldest son repeats it with his children now.

    Grown-UpShamrock Eggs--I tried this and it actually works! It probably requires a grown-up palate, but my husband and I loved it!



    Snack Time
    For the KidsLucky Charms and Green Milk--My grandkids love eating little snacks where you pick up one at a time, so how about serving Lucky Charms cereal in a muffin cup (extra points if it's green!) along with milk (maybe green, too)?

    Activities
    For the FamilyLeprechaun Photo Shoot--With these printables your family will have as much fun as a barrel of leprechaun's taking pictures together!

    For the Bigger KidsA Treasure Hunt! --When my son was a freshman in high school we hosted a St. Patrick's Day party that included running all over the neighborhood for a treasure hunt. This link has pre-written clues for an indoor treasure hunt. If the weather is warm enough, you can have the kids go further abroad. The prize? A "pot" of gold (foil covered chocolate coins). 

    For the LittlesShamrock Stamping--even my young granddaughter had fun with this one! When my kids were little I had them paint shamrocks on the kitchen window for me. They had a great time and washable paint is so cleanable.



    Devotions
    For the Family: The True St. Patrick's Story--My daughter-in-law wrote this story to explain who the real St. Patrick was to her preschool class. It is one of my most popular pins on Pinterest! But I think it would work with any family for a change of pace family devotion.




    I hope you have a wonderful St. Patrick's Day.
    As they say in Iowa:

    Kiss Me
    I'm Iowish


    St. Patrick's Day Trivia Questions

    I know that the world thinks this is a day to drink (green) beer or Guinness, but then the world pretty much thinks that any celebration requires drinking, even to the point of getting drunk, but I really can't imagine that's fun. It's so much more fun to laugh and talk and connect with the people we love.



    So my St. Patrick's Day gift to you is St. Patrick's Day Trivia Questions in the form of printable cards. You can take turns asking these questions to your family or friends around your table on St. Patrick's Day.


    Happy St. Patrick's Day!

    And don't forget to wear green.

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    Thursday, March 3, 2016

    35 Books to Read Aloud to Your Children

    When my oldest son was five I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia to him. Every night, after I put his little brother and sister to bed, we would lie on my bed and I would read until he fell asleep. At first it didn't take very long for his eyes to close. But it was amazing to watch him grow right in front of my eyes and before we finished the first book we could read a whole chapter and he would still be awake. It took us months to finish the series and I'm not sure who enjoyed it more, him or me. But I had four children so got to read it to them two more times (the middle two kids are very close in age and more than 3 years either way from the oldest and youngest), plus I read it to my oldest son's second grade class when his teacher got Bell's Palsy and was no longer able to read to the children. I'm sure I read it at least two other times on my own, once as a child and once more as an adult.

    In case you haven't figured it out, I love to read! One of my parenting goals was to help my children love to read, too. I think my oldest is the only one who caught it as "bad" as I have it, but I don't think the others are opposed to reading! And I know they all enjoyed the books we read together.



    This list isn't anywhere near exhaustive, but these are some of the books we read to our children, some we read three times to our three "groups" of children--oldest, middles, youngest. I hope you read to your children even when they get past the picture book stage. Maybe some of these perennial favorites will get you interested!

    Little House on the Prairie--the whole series! When we were reading this with our "middles" I had just discovered the Internet (so had pretty much everyone else in the mid 90s) and I looked up Laura Ingalls Wilder and discovered that she died only a few years before I was born! I had no idea that someone who had lived in the days of pioneers could have been someone I met as a child! Of course, my kids still thought it was ancient history.  Regardless, we all loved the stories.

    The Chronicles of Narnia--as I've already mentioned, we read this one several times. I enjoyed it every time! They are not only well told stories, but they can provoke deeper thoughts as you consider the theology C.S. Lewis is teaching through his stories. 

    God's Smuggler--this story about a boy who, unbeknownst to his parents, did his part in the Dutch resistance, who ran from God, and eventually was used greatly by God behind the Iron Curtain, has enough excitement and action to interest almost any boy or girl! There's also history, the gospel, and ministry. This is one of my favorite books which I have read many times, yes, including to my children.

    From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler--I first read this book when I was in fifth grade and loved it. I couldn't wait until my children were old enough to enjoy having it read to them! My favorite genre is biography, but I am always amazed at what there is to learn in fiction too. This is a fun book about a bossy big sister and a sharp thinking little brother who run away from home and live in a museum and solve a mystery!

    The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking--My husband found a copy of this book in our home library and read it to our six year old redhead. Her older brother and sister listened in and thought it was great fun, too. 

    Anne of Green Gables--and the whole series were more books we read because of our redhead. Being the youngest, I enjoyed having this time with her when she was probably in fourth and fifth grades. Sometimes the things we talk about with the others she says she didn't get in on, but she can't say we didn't read to her!

    The Phantom Tollbooth--another book I remember reading in grade school, I knew my oldest son would love the numbers side of this story. But there's enough silliness and fun about a boy who receives a mysterious package that has a car he drives through a tollbooth, also in the package, that he puts together and ends up in another land, for all my kids to have enjoyed it. 

    Alice in Wonderland--this classic along with Through the Looking Glass are just thing to start reading to your kids on an evening when they can't go outside because it's raining or they are sick. You will all probably go around saying, "Off with her head!" for months to come.

    All Things Bright and Beautiful--and the other books in this series. Whether your kids are animal or science lovers they will enjoy the humor and stories in these books. Who knew a veterinarian could write so well?

    Charlotte's Web--before my kids had the video, I read the book to the three oldest ones. My youngest had it read to her in second grade by a teacher who did a whole unit on spiders around it, thus giving my seven year old daughter a love for spiders and she brought home a jar full of them that escaped all over the house...but that's another story.

    The Hiding Place--this is my all time favorite book. I don't know how many times I've read it. Before we had kids, I even read it to my husband on a car trip! I read it to each of my children as well. A single woman, the first licensed watchmaker in Holland, and her father risk their lives to save Jews in World War II and end up in concentration camps. It's an amazing story of faith and God at work.

    Any book you love qualifies for reading to your kids. And when you are already together around the table might be a good time to start reading. Just remember, stop reading at an exciting part so they will want to hear the next part tomorrow!








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    To never miss an Around the Table blog post, simply sign up in the space on the right side of the blog, below the picture of the book. Each week you will receive one email that looks like this:



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    For More Ideas and Inspiration:

    Check out the book Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes. You can read the first chapter at this site and order a copy of the book!

    Get a Conversation Starter each weekday by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page!






    Thursday, February 25, 2016

    10 Hacks to Get Dinner on the Table More Often

    Did you know that before they were called "life hacks" they were called "tips and hints" as in "Hints from Heloise" who had all kinds of solutions to a housekeeper's problems. So while they aren't new, and many are simply common sense, they can be life-changing and obvious at the same time!

    When people feel like they can't get a meal on at home and have to eat out, take out, or order in, I think they don't realize how simple a meal can be from coming up with an idea to getting it on the table. So here are some of the Cooking Hacks I've used over the years to get meals cranked out for my family of six plus many others who have joined us around the table.



    • Come up with twelve go-to meals that everyone, including the cook, likes. Even if this were all you ate, this would probably be two weeks of meals after you include one meal out or off the list per week. These should be meals that you usually have the ingredients on hand for or can get at your regular grocery store, meals that don't take too much work or time to get together, and that the family enjoys eating.
    • Three to five of these meals should have 10 ingredients or less making them even quicker and easier to put together. If they are one dish (stove top, oven, or slow-cooker) there's the added bonus of a quick clean up! If you know you can get dinner on the table without too much work, you are more likely to make it.
    • Two or three of your go-to meals should take approximately 30 minutes or less. Pancakes or eggs easily fall into that category. Cookbooks and magazines are full of recipes that have this claim. Most of them mean 30 minutes from the time you have all the ingredients chopped, diced, and measured, but there are some that are truly quick.
    • Make planned leftovers. Cook more than your family will need to eat with the idea that the extra meat, pasta, or sauce can be turned into something different in a night or two. Then you have a meal almost ready to go!
    • Pace your learning. Don't plan a new recipe every night for a week. There's bound to be ingredients you don't know what to do with and have to research, time adjustments, unforeseen or frustrating directions. Try only one new recipe per week, maybe every other week, and keep a list of meals you like--even more than the basic twelve to make.
    • Batch roast vegetables. I love oven roasted vegetables. And I found out you can roast root vegetables (as well as others) in large batches ahead of time and refrigerate them. Once they are cooled, they keep for about a week in the fridge and can easily be reheated in the oven or microwave as a side dish. They can be added to soups, grains, salads, or mashed into spreads. And they are good for you! 
    • And speaking of roasting, use parchment, cooking bags, or foil inside pans. This saves on clean-up so much, it is worth the few extra cents it costs! (Wish I'd known this trick, excuse me, hack sooner!)
    • Keep your pantry stocked. If you have all the non-perishables on hand that you need for at least your go-to meals, you are more likely to make them. More than one family meal has been lost for want of some ginger.
    • Freezer food counts. Whether it is a frozen pizza, ravioli, or a stir-fry, just because you pulled it out of the freezer and basically only reheated it doesn't mean you didn't cook. If everyone is sitting at the table together and you are all eating, call it dinner!
    • Use Pinterest. Most of the recipes I use now are pinned to one of my Pinterest boards. Even when I have a recipe from some other source, I've searched for it online and pinned it. That way I have my recipes available anywhere I'm online and can organize them for the way I cook. I still love cookbooks, but I have books that have hundreds of recipes from which I use exactly one.
    • Make a menu. This way you know what you need to buy, what you need to thaw, and what you are going to make tomorrow so you don't have to rack your brain. Remember though, it's not an iron-clad contract. You can change and rearrange it as is best for you (or you get a craving for something else!)
    • Make a master shopping list. I set mine up in the order I go through the store so I'm less likely to forget things. (Notice I didn't say, "So I won't...") It takes a while to get it right when the store reorganizes, but my master list helps me remember the things I usually want but weren't on a recipe ingredient list or I forgot to add them to my "I ran out of" list.
    • Get everyone to help with the planning, preparing, chopping, measuring, frying, setting, and clean-up. It's not only a great way to spend time together, but it makes it more fun and less work.



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    Can't wait to read Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at MealtimesDid you know it is available on Kindle?

    You can get a copy today for only $4.75!


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