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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Easy Orange-Chocolate Marble Angel Food Cake

Last week we celebrated my mother-in-law's 89th birthday! I definitely hope I'm going as strong as she is if I reach that age. She still drives (in the daytime), studies her Bible, has an extensive prayer list, cooks on weekends, visits the elderly(!), attends a ladies' Bible study, and knows what's going on!



I know her favorite kind of cake is a chiffon cake. But I don't have much success with cakes from scratch, so I searched for a way to make a chiffon cake out of an angel food cake mix. I didn't find one, but I found an idea of how to "dress up" an angel food cake.



I chose to to "mix" two ideas I had found and come up with my own new creation, because as you know, I can never leave a recipe alone. And it turned out delicious, if I do say so myself!

It was very easy, too, because I started with a mix.

Here's what I did:

Ingredients
1 angel food cake mix (I used the one step kind for this)
1 cup water
1/3 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
1/4 cup cocoa powder (or 3 tablespoons chocolate syrup; I used powder)

Make up the cake batter using the mix, water, and orange juice. Add the grated orange peel while still mixing after batter reaches proper consistency.

Divide batter in half. Stir the cocoa powder into one half of the batter and mix until evenly distributed.

Pour the white batter into angel food cake pan. 
Pour chocolate batter on top.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate into the white. Do not mix too much so that you get a marbled effect and not a mixed effect.

Bake as directed on mix.

Optional: drizzle with lemon glaze.
2/3s cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
Stir together until smooth. Add lemon juice by 1/2 teaspoon full for runnier consistency, if desired.



Our family loves angel food cakes. I found this a light and delicious way to serve it instead of lots of whipped cream and chocolate (which of course is good, but lots more calories!)

How are you creative with angel food cake mixes?


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Thursday, July 23, 2015

8 Tips for Better {Kid} Photographs

I love looking at the photos my friend, Ruth, posts of her children and family. One time I asked her how she got such good pictures and she said, "The secret is in telling them what to do." With that one simple tip, my photos improved greatly! I figured Ruth had more tips, so I asked her to write a post and tell us some more of her secrets. 

Let me start by clarifying one thing.  I am not a professional photographer!  I have never even taken a class on photography—I actually dropped the class in college because it was my senior year, and the class was going to require more work than I felt was necessary to put forth!  


However my mother was always holding a camera, and took thousands of pictures of friends and family using a Nikon SLR (I don’t even know what SLR means!) and 35mm film.  She was also not a professional photographer, but loved capturing faces and the ever elusive smiles that she never knew if she actually had until she spent money to develop the film. 


I love it that now we live in the age of digital photography, and instead of getting maybe 8-10 good pictures from film, we can take hundreds of pictures, delete that ones that are blurry and where people aren’t looking at the camera, and still end up with…hundreds of good pictures. 

I may not be a professional photographer, but I know what I like, and what looks good in a photo.  Fancy camera equipment can still come up with mediocre pictures because the photographer needs some artistic concept that consists of more than just pointing and shooting. Looking at good photos, blogs, and magazines, will better develop that sense of what looks good through your lens, how to change your focus, or manipulate your subject to get attractive photos.  


For me, once I got an entry level DSLR, the quality of my pictures skyrocketed!  I was blown away with the colors and sharpness I got with this new fancy camera versus my older point and shoot digital.  The more I experimented with different settings and lighting, I grew comfortable with my camera and found the setting I liked the best and learned when to change that setting depending on the light inside or outside.  As I continued looking at pictures online, and comparing them to my own, I decided I needed a new lens different from the basic kit lens that came with my camera.  When I got a 50mm lens I was thrilled to be able to focus in on faces, blur the background of my photos, and use my camera without a flash.  I have since upgraded my DSLR camera and even gotten a better lens; I still can’t claim to really know what I’m doing, but these fancy new cameras have some amazing features that make it harder and harder to take a bad picture!  

I happen to have some pretty cute models to work with; (I may be biased because they’re my kids) but getting them to perform and pose for me is not exactly as simple as working with seasoned models who pose in pictures for a living.  


In spite of my limitations, I have some tips for getting great photos of your kids:

1. Imagine what the photo will look like while you are looking through your camera lens.  It’s easy to just focus on faces and make sure they are all looking at you and smiling, but... 

2. Don’t forget to notice the background and surroundings, as well as the person’s posture and proximity, because these are all just as important!  


3.  Don’t be afraid to tell people how to pose and stand, and smile or lean.  They really don’t have any idea what looks good through your lens, and need direction from you, the photographer, to lower their chin, not smile so big, and relax a little. 

4. Get creative with your ideas. Look at photographers' photo blogs for ideas.

5. Like me, take 200-400 pictures during a “shoot” and expect to get maybe 20 photos that are good!  


6. Crop them and tweak them in a simple editing program like Picasa to make them better.  

7. Remember even though convenient, the quality of phone photos is too poor to print or enlarge due to the lower pixels that the phones have.  An entry level DSLR is relatively inexpensive now days and worth the time and investment to record your family memories.  

8. Back up your photos! If not for Facebook, many of these photos would be lost in our computer’s hard drives!  I have also started creating yearly digital scrapbooks through programs like Snapfish, or My Publisher so that I have a hard copy of the memories of each year.  


When I look back at the pictures my mother took of my childhood, specific memories remain that surrounded that moment. I can’t help but think that if not for the picture, I might not remember that event at all today.       



Ruth is a counselor, wife, and mother of two.  She is a bi-lingual, third culture kid, who loves the black man she is married to, and has beautiful bi-racial babies.  She pursues friendships, and looks to include others in her life because she never really felt like she fits in anywhere.  She loves brownies, Coke, and salsa; and also enjoys photography, spending time at the beach, scrolling through Facebook, and reading.  All photos credited to Ruth S.



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For more ideas on photographing your kids check out this post.
For a fun family photography outing, click here.


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If you are interested in writing a guest post for my blog, check out my writer's guidelines and then write to me at:
aroundthetableblog(at)gmail(dot)com


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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:





It's as easy as that. No searching for the blog, waiting for your browser, or missing a post. Sign up today!

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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 question each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Start a Spiritual Conversation

I confess it. I am not a very good witness. I don't have many friends who are not Christians and when I am with someone who is not a Christian I have no idea what to say. 

I've told you before that I suffer from brain freeze. Not the kind that comes from eating ice cream too fast, the kind that makes you feel like you don't have a brain! Sometimes I'll want to talk to someone, the person next to me on the plane, the para-professional I'm eating lunch with at school when I sub, a person I know and might even be friends with and I can't think of a single intelligent question to ask! That's why I love the conversation starters.


Recently, I came across these spiritual conversation starter questions by Chris Walker. Wow! I love them! I want to try and use them...often.



I hope you want to as well. So I have put most of them onto printable cards for you to have and use. You could carry one or two in your wallet. Or you could keep the whole stack on your desk and just read one before you go to the lunch room. To get the printable cards click here and here.

If you use these questions I would love to hear what kind of conversations you have. Please let me know!

  1. Where are you in your spiritual pilgrimage?
  2. In your opinion, how does one become a Christian?
  3. What single thing would you like to make absolutely certain you do (if at all possible) during your lifetime?
  4. How do you think a person can keep from becoming a workaholic?
  5. What character can you imagine yourself to be? (any period of history)
  6. What are you reading that is not an assignment or required by your work?
  7. How do you know you’ll go to heaven when you die?
  8. How are your growing personally?
  9. In a conversation with someone who has never heard about God, what would you say about Him from your experience?
  10. In your opinion, how does one become a Christian?
  11. How would you describe your father and his impact on your life?
  12. Tell me about your mentor and his/her impact on your life.
  13. What do you think would probably surprise most people about you?  Why?
  14. What is your greatest strength, and what are you doing to develop it?
  15. Why do people do what they do?  What are the assumptions you make about people?
  16. How do you handle pressure?  When the pressure is really on, what do you need from your friends?
  17. Has anything ever happened to you that was dramatic, personal or spectacular enough to cause you to be certain there is a God who is both infinite and personally caring?
  18. What do you consider to be two major turning points in your life?
  19. What is something you consider to be a great personal success?  Why was it so significant?
  20. What is the key to maintaining balance in your life?
  21. What are 2 or 3 major truths upon which you have based your decision-making?
  22. Tell me about two of your life-long friends and why they have such an impact on your life.  What made you choose them?
  23. Have you dealt with the question: “How much money is enough, and what do I do with the rest?”
  24. How would you describe your mother and the impact she has had on your life?
  25. In your opinion, who was/is Jesus Christ?
  26. If you could know God personally, would you be interested?
  27. How would you define materialism, and how do you deal with it in your life?
  28. What have you found to be the best way of absorbing disappointment, rejection, distress and discouragement?
  29. When you get to heaven, what will be the first three questions you will ask God?
  30. If you were to inherit a million dollars today, and couldn’t spend it on your own enterprise or keep it for yourself, what would you do with it and why?
  31. What do you find most attractive about Christianity/the person of Christ?  What do you find least attractive about Christianity/the person of Christ?
  32. Do you consider yourself a seeker of the truth?
  33. What is your spiritual background?
  34. Have you ever read the Bible?
  35. Have your views on religion changed since you started college?  How?
  36. Have you ever discussed what Biblical Christianity is?
  37. Why do you think you feel the way you do toward Jesus Christ and his message of love and forgiveness?
  38. What is your philosophy of life based on?
  39. Do you believe what you’ve been brought up with?
  40. Why do you think Christianity isn’t relevant to your life?
  41. If Christ was who He claimed to be, how would that affect your life?
  42. What are you living for? What do you value most?
  43. If your questions could be answered in a way that would satisfy you, would you then believe in Christ?
  44. The Kennedy questions:  First ask–”If you died today, do you know for sure you’d go to heaven?”  Then ask–”If you died and stood before God and He asked you ‘Why should I let you into Heaven?’  What would you say?”
Most of these questions are on printable cards click here and hereThey are formatted to print directly on Avery® Business Cards 28878  (Avery®  Template 8371or print them onto cardstock and the guidelines will show where to cut to get cards of uniform size.
For even more questions from Chris Walker click here.

Special thanks to Chris Walker for letting me share his Spiritual Conversation Starters. Visit Chris' Facebook page, Evangelism Coach or his blog here.


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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 question each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

Linking with these great blogs. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

More Picnics than Restaurants

In my "Little Bits of Wisdom" birthday post I said, "Go on more picnics than to restaurants." I really believe it. I really do it.

I was getting my hair cut at a new place in town recently and the young beautician asked me what I like to do for fun. When I told her I like to go on picnics and for walks and hikes, she didn't know what to say. I pretty much ended that line of conversation!

But it's true. That is what I like to do.



You might think a picnic is more work. But think about it. If you have to work at your job for 1-2 hours to pay for a dinner for two at a medium nice restaurant, you've worked pretty hard. 

Here are 10 reasons I think picnics are better:

1. I'm eating healthier--I can make veggie salads and I don't deep fry anything! My potato salad isn't mostly mayo. Whatever I make is probably going to be fresher, cleaner, and healthier than average restaurant fare.

2. I'm wearing off calories instead of putting them on--Picnics lend themselves to walking around or even actually playing sports. Whether it's strolling over to the fence to watch the boats on the Mississippi, playing a game of bean bag toss, or an all out game of touch football, I am walking far more than I would be between the car and the restaurant booth.

3. I'm in the fresh air--Fresh air and sunshine is good for you, right? Not just your lungs and your vitamin D, but it's just good for you mentally to get out of doors and enjoy nature.

4. I'm appreciating God's handiwork--Nature is amazing. I love watching birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and sometimes other animals. The variety of greens that God has created is amazing. I just look around at everything I see and say, "How Great Thou Art!"

5. I'm saving money--See comments above!


6. I'm actually able to converse--Restaurants are crowded and noisy and so many of them have TVs going now that it's hard to carry on a conversation--especially when you have hard of hearing people in the family.

7. I have a quick escape from the ordinary--My husband is game for anything. So if I want to take a picnic to the park at the end of our street (really a very pretty place!) he's willing to take an hour and do that. We don't make a big deal, just go there and eat, maybe take a short walk and then come back to do our yard work or whatever we need to do at home. It's a wonderful change of place.

8. I can make the menu whatever I want--Do you have a signature sandwich of something like Nutella and cucumber? You can have it on your picnic! I enjoy lots of fresh veggies and fruit that restaurants can not keep on hand, at least not at an affordable price!

9. I'm relaxing more than in a noisy restaurant--The noise, the activity, the constant questions about if everything is fine (or the stress of trying to get your sever's attention), is just not relaxing. Sitting with a sandwich or a simple casserole of mac'n'cheese and iced tea, is much calmer.

10. I'm having more fun--Whether or not we have kids along, we have fun. We can laugh, get up and walk around, play a table game, play a lawn game, visit, or do whatever we consider fun...things we wouldn't be comfortable doing in a restaurant.

Convinced? Maybe not. That's okay. This keeps the parks less crowded for us to enjoy.

Looking for ideas for eating outside this summer? Click here.


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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 question each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

Linking with these great blogs. 


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fleming Steak House

My parent's actual anniversary was a week after the big family reunion celebration. We thought we'd all go out to eat at a local steak house...one where you eat peanuts and drop the shells on the floor.

But when we calculated the cost, we decided to have dinner at the
 Fleming Steak House


We spent money on some good steaks. I asked each person whether they would order steak fries or a baked potato. (Everyone ordered steak fries.) We made a big salad.

And we bought peanuts.

I even told them they could throw the shells on the floor...if they helped sweep them up after.


Call us cheapskates if you want, but we had a great time, a good meal, enjoyed working together to make it, could linger as long as we like, and could hear each other talk. And it was fun.



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Have you had a unique family meal? 
Write me and tell me. 
I'd love to share it with my readers.

aroundthetableblog(at)gmail(dot)com


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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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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cleaning House with a Full House

We had ten in our house over Memorial Day weekend. Five went home and two more arrived the same day and stayed for two weeks. I loved it! That's because they are my children, their spouses, and their children (a.k.a. my grandchildren!). 

But I wanted to do lots of fun things with them.

And cook them all their favorite meals.

And play games.

And visit.

But my house got pretty dirty during that time and that bothers my husband and I. It doesn't have to be perfect when we're having family time, but we like to get rid of visible dirt.

I didn't really think I should have to do this alone. So one day we went off to a local tourist town for a walkabout and lunch. At lunch I pulled out a piece of paper on which I had written five 20-30 minute jobs. 

I also asked them to take their personal belongings and put them in their rooms.

I told them I'd like them each to choose one job and do it in the afternoon when we got home and I would take the left over job. (My dad has dementia and didn't have to do anything, but even my 80 year old mom helped out!)

One daughter swept and mopped the kitchen and eating area floors. 

The other daughter cleaned the upstairs bathroom.

My son-in-law dusted in the living room and family room.

My mom cleaned her bathroom in the master bedroom.

And I vacuumed.

Whew! Two hours of work done in about half an hour! 

Doesn't look like a bathroom being used by 5 people, does it?

My husband and I were happy because the house was clean.

Everyone else was happy because they didn't have to work too much on their "vacation."

I do this whenever I have family visit for a week or more. It's such a great help to me and no one minds spending 20-30 minutes doing a job, especially if everyone else is doing it.

I do wonder what my German son-in-law will tell his mother about this, though.



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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:





It's as easy as that. No searching for the blog, waiting for your browser, or missing a post. Sign up today!

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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 question each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bits of Wisdom


I turn 55 on June 19. By this stage of life I should have gathered some wisdom. Here are 55 bits of advice, I consider wise. Many of them I still need to put into practice in my own life.




  1. Hold the door for others.
  2. Focus on the half full part of the glass.
  3. Learn to say “thank you” wherever you go.
  4. Take notes in church.
  5. When you pray, don’t just ask.
  6. Write thank you notes.
  7. Every once in a while do something out of character.
  8. Get up early enough to see the sunrise at least once a year.
  9. Spend time with people 50 years older than you.
  10. Attend funerals for the bereaved.
  11. Make your bed everyday.
  12. Sit at a table  to eat, even if you are alone.
  13. Always be reading a good book; you’ll never be bored.
  14. Go on more picnics than to restaurants.
  15. Help your friends, and don’t keep track of favors done.
  16. Unpack and repack half your suitcase everyday.
  17. “Because I can” is not a reason.
  18. Your wedding lasts a few hours; your marriage lasts a lifetime.
  19. Get up the first time the alarm clock rings.
  20. Once in a while have ice cream for dinner.
  21. Embrace change.
  22. Play with children, their parents will become your friends.
  23. When you offer to help, really help.
  24. Remember different, isn’t necessarily wrong.
  25. Don’t bring your phone to the table.
  26. Ask people about themselves.
  27. Never eat and run, especially if you are a guest.
  28. Always be learning something new.
  29. Remember when you marry someone, you get to spend Christmas with their family for the rest of your life.
  30. Know the population of your city, the latitude of where you live, and it's claim to fame.
  31. When someone else is talking, listen; don’t be planning what you’ll say.
  32. You will never regret having spent time with your grandparents.
  33. Get rich quick schemes are just that: schemes.
  34. Read a Proverb a day.
  35. Appreciate nature; trees, flowers, small animals are fascinating.
  36. Memorize a Bible verse every week.
  37. Weather happens; revel in the variety.
  38. Invite people into your home.
  39. Cultivate friendships with people from other countries and ethnicities.
  40. Say "I love you" to someone everyday.
  41. If it comes from the bottom of the drawer, take the things on top out first, then put them back.
  42. Stack bowls so they nest.
  43. Resist the temptation to change the way people hang their toilet paper.
  44. Remember the person in front of you has a right to recline his seat, too.
  45. Go for a walk every day, even if it’s just around the outside of your house.
  46. Make goals.
  47. Never pick your nose in public. Inside your car is public.
  48. Sing it like you mean it.
  49. Learn about other places, especially if you are going there.
  50. Learn to cook at least one company-worthy meal.
  51. Even if you are the best, you don’t need to tell.
  52. The strongest person is the one who holds on tightest to his temper.
  53. Give hugs, especially to people who never get them.
  54. Listen when older people tell you what they wish they had done.
  55. You are allowed to say no.

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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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