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Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Secret To Having Family Breakfast




I am sure your home does not sound like this on school mornings, but some homes do (or did!)

If you have even one of those things get in the way of having a family breakfast or even a parent with a child at breakfast (however short that time may be), you should know that there is One Secret to solving these hindrances.


Photo Credit

It's so easy, you might have thought of it, or maybe it's so easy that it hadn't occurred to you. But it is only three words. Curious?

Here's the Secret:


Photo Credit

Really, it's that simple.

With elementary school children:
The night before go through your children's backpacks and check to see if there are any notices, especially ones you might have to sign. (I know, they seem to always get lost, don't they? I wrote my share of "homemade" permission slips in my day.)

The night before check their homework agenda and find out what homework they have, make sure it is done, and that they have it in their folder, notebook, or backpack. (My husband was good at this one.)

The night before take a look at the school schedule--do they need anything special, like gym clothes? Make sure that is in their bags. 

The night before help them pick out appropriate clothes for school, including socks, unmentionables, shoes, and adornments (like earrings or barrettes). (This was easier for us as our kids wore a school uniform most of the years they were in school.) Lay these on a chair near their beds so they have them at hand.


Photo Credit
The night before help them make sure their alarm clock is set to get them out of bed in time. Discuss with them how much time they think they need--you should revisit this discussion from time to time. (We failed in this one and were always our kids' alarm clocks, but somehow, they learned anyway.)

And my Secret Secret:

The night before set the table for breakfast. Put out everything you can, plates, bowls, sugar, boxes of cereal, silverware, napkins...so that you have less to do in the morning, and more time to enjoy breakfast with your kids.

If you do these things with your elementary age kids, gradually turning the responsibilities over to them, by the time they are older, they should be able to get themselves ready in time to enjoy a quick breakfast with you or dad.

During their last visit, my daughter-in-law mentioned to me the difficulty of getting breakfast on in time for her husband to leave for work while dealing with a 2 1/2 year old and a 1 year old. I try really hard not to give advice to my two wonderful daughters-in-law (fortunately they don't need my advice, but that doesn't stop most of us), but before I could think, out popped, "All the years the kids were in school, I set the table for breakfast the night before." The next week I received this text message.



The sideways photo is of their table set the night before, all ready for their oatmeal breakfast the next day. Yes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Doing this meant we had a quick breakfast with almost all our kids almost every morning before they went to school. We liked to use the time to not only get some nutrition in them to start the day, but say a quick prayer before the first one left the table to pray God's blessing and protection over their day. (And I will admit that there were more mornings than I care to remember like the one depicted above. I choose to forget!)

So, you remember those three words, and work toward having 5, 10, or 15 minutes with your kids before they start their day.


“The Night Before”


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Thursday, April 10, 2014

An Easter Hunt, With a Twist!

Did you ever do Easter egg hunts as a kid? 
Did you ever lose an egg?
Or two?
I can remember it happening when I was a kid, and it happened more than a couple of times with our children. We never smelled a rotten egg in our yard, but we did wonder what happened to those eggs.

If you Google "history of Easter egg hunts" you will find all kinds of stories, from the dark and scary to plausible to down right silly. 

But I got to thinking about doing another kind of "Easter Hunt" that would have a whole lot more meaning and be an interactive learning experience with our children. No eggs need apply.



Perhaps you could call it "The Hunt for the Meaning of Easter" or "The Better Kind of Easter Hunt" or simply "The Easter Story Hunt".

I did this with my grandchildren when we visited them on Tuesday before leaving for a ministry trip to South America. I had as much fun thinking about this and planning it as they had doing it. Here's how I did it.

Gather:

  • 4 very large plastic eggs, or medium sized Easter gift bags
  • a boot-size (or larger) box with lid
  • green tissue paper or one of those disposable plastic green tablecloths (that's what I used)
  • Fig Newtons (enough for each child to have at least one)
  • Small bread rolls and boxes of grape juice (one of each for each child)
  • Two boards nailed together to form a cross, two or three more nails, a hammer
  • an old sheet or rag torn into a long strip
  • a favorite stuffed animal
  • 3x5 cards or computer printed cards
Printables for the cards can be found here.

Once I had all the supplies, I put the Hunt together into the Easter gift bags.
Bag 1:  One folded piece of green tissue paper or pieces of tablecloth cut into large "palm leaves" --one for each child and one for me
On one side, the card in this one said: When Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey the people were excited and waved palm branches and shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" Hosanna means 'Save us'. Why don't you pretend Jesus is coming? Wave your palm leaf and shout!
On the other side: The next item will be found ______. (My grandchildren are very small, so I told them exactly where to look. If your children are old, you can give them clues so they have to hunt.)


Bag 2: Fig Newtons for everyone
Side one of the card: A fig is a fruit that grows in hot climates. Jesus used a fig tree to teach His disciples a lesson. You can eat your Fig Newton while I read you the story--One day Jesus was hungry and saw a fig tree. He looked to see if there was fruit on it, but there was none, so He said, 'This tree will never again have fruit.' The next time Jesus and His disciples passed the tree, it was withered up and dead! The disciples were surprised. They asked Jesus about it and He told them, "Have faith in God. Whatever you ask of God He will do for you, even if it is hard, like forgiving someone." We know this was important because it was one of the last lessons Jesus taught His disciples.
Side Two: The next part of our Easter Hunt can be found _______.

Bag 3: Bread rolls and juice boxes
Side One: At the last meal Jesus had with His disciples before He died He gave them bread to eat and said, "This bread is to remind you of my body that will die for you." Then He gave them juice from grapes and said, "This drink will remind you of how I shed my blood for you. Remember Me." Eat your piece of bread and drink the grape juice and remember that Jesus loves you.
Side Two: The next clue can be found ___________.



Bag 4: The wooden cross with nails pounded part way in where the hands and feet would go and a hammer.
Side One: Soon after this all the people who had been so excited to see Jesus on Palm Sunday, were talked into asking their ruler to kill Him on a cross. Nails were pounded into Jesus' hands and feet. It sounds awful, and it was, but God had a reason for this. When Jesus died, He was paying what we should have paid. It should have been us, dying for our own sins, but God let Jesus pay for them so we could go to heaven if we would believe on Jesus. Can you pound the nail into the cross and think about how much it must have hurt Jesus to pay for our sins?
Side Two: Go find _(name of favorite stuffed animal)_ and then look for the next part of the hunt in a box in ___________.



Box: cloth strip(s)
Side One: When Jesus had died, they took His body and wrapped it in strips of cloth and put it in a tomb. Everyone was very sad. They had thought Jesus was going to be their Savior, but now He was dead.
   Wrap _(stuffed animal) _ in the strips of cloth and put him in the box. Then put the lid on the box. Do you feel sad to think of _(stuffed animal)_ in the box? Remember, Jesus' friends were very sad, too. But there was something very good that they didn't know! It happened three days later. Run around the house three times to pretend like three days have passed.



Unless your children are old enough to run around your house alone, while you are running with the children, you need an accomplice to take the stuffed animal out of the bag and place him in a prominent spot nearby, fold up the cloth strips neatly, and place this note on top of them.




Celebrate the fact that Jesus is alive with your kids! Cheer and clap and jump up and down. Hug the stuffed animal and hug each other. Tell them this is the true meaning of Easter.



Links for Printables

For more ideas on how to bring the true meaning of Easter to your family in a fun way click 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.

Attention Introverts!
We know we like people and we do like to talk, but we want to have something to say, right? I can help. Get a Conversation Starter question each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page, and always have something worthwhile to talk about.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

How to Have a Happy Family Meal

A reader wrote to me recently, "I would love suggestions for how to ENJOY family dinner. I honestly hate family dinner at our house...My kids are great when we all eat together at Grandma's...but it's pretty much just stressful almost every night: the kids are all complaining abut their food, they're fighting with each other, everyone believes everyone else's conversational topics are boring and tries to short circuit them, every kid has 5 requests which he has to interrupt everyone for. I end up wishing I *could* just eat by myself before everyone else comes to the table just so I can digest my food in peace. What is our problem?"

My heart went out to her!




I write about happy family mealtimes, but believe me, when our kids were growing up, there were plenty of meals that I just wanted to be over. Every night won't be one big happy family. There will be seasons when it will seem like that never happens. But don't give up!

First and foremost, Mom and Dad need to be on the same page about the importance of meals, the "rules", the enforcement, and being all there themselves. If that's a problem, try a Dinner Just for Mom and Dad to talk about this!

I did a round up of suggestions to make the goal of happy family meals a possibility in your home. While I may not endorse all their ideas, and I certainly don't know what the rest of these websites talk about, here are some practical ideas to solve some of the dilemma's you might be facing that hinder your joy at family mealtimes.



The New Rules of Happy Family Meals
The Ladies Home Journal has 9 great suggestions to make a family mealtime happier (for you), healthier, (for all), and a time of more connection (for your family).  Note: you can click through to the other pages even though you can't get rid of the over-ad on page one.

Fight for Your Family Mealtime
Blogger Jennifer Schmidt talks about watching her teenage sons eat noodles directly from the pot while she prepared a talk on "The Importance of Family Meals"! It happens to the best of us, but she also talks about the atmosphere benefits of having candles at every meal, even frozen pizza meals, conversation starting questions, and being all there.

Focus on the Family
The ministry with that name was brilliant in choosing that name! To make your family your focus, and getting your kids to focus (or at least not be distracted by technology) will enhance family mealtimes and be a big factor in a happy family mealtime. This is a link to a short FotF video on the topic.

Making Mealtimes Pleasant
One of my pet peeves is no one coming when I call them for a meal. But I have to realize that it's hard to suddenly drop whatever you doing and run to the table. I've learned to give a "warning call". That's just one of the ideas you'll find in this article that helps our families come to the table with a good attitude.



De-Stress the Environment
Wouldn't it be great if an article could tell you how to take the stress out of your life, but that's always going to be there. This article has some great ideas about how to tone down the stress possibilities for you at mealtime, like using non-breakable dishes for little ones, (or everyone!). That way you aren't tense about breaking something valuable. Check out some of their other ideas.

Eat! Eat! Eat!
Actually, not. When our focus becomes on what and how much our kids eat and making sure they are in the "clean plate club," no one's going to have a happy meal. Here are some suggestions for getting kids to eat healthily, without ruining your dinner.

Minimize Annoying Behavior
This mom has some great ideas about how to deal with habits your kids have that really annoy you, in a positive way! Take a minute to read her thoughts.

Check Blood Sugar Levels
Don't actually do a blood test (unless you have a diabetic in the family) but make sure no one is starving for the last half hour before a meal. "No snacking, we don't want to spoil our dinner" should maybe change to "Have a little snack. We don't want to spoil our mood." 

Other great ideas that so many mention:
Manners!
Include them in the Work
Making Serving Others a Priority
Use Questions and Conversation Starters
Risk the Mess, Get them Involved in Cooking
Be Proactive about Picky Eaters




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Did you know that Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!


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Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Home Depot" (DIY) Meals: The Taco Episode

On our first furlough back in the states from Peru, several friends had us over for meals to hear about our lives and ministry in South America. Many of them thought to ask, "What food would you like to have? What have you been missing?" (Great question to ask visiting missionaries, btw!)



When we said, "We love Mexican food!" more than one responded, "Don't you eat that every day??"

"Umm, no. Mexican food is from Mexico. We live in Peru."

What they eat in Peru is a topic for another day (and Peruvian cuisine is delicious!) but one thing they didn't have at all at that time (the 80s) was tortillas. I had tried making my own, but that was a tremendous amount of work and they didn't turn out well. There was a contact we had whom we could call and order corn tortillas that her maid made from scratch, but I didn't know the people, it required thinking way ahead and then driving across town to her house to bother them and pick them up, and did the maid make some of that money?



I realize that what I like is better categorized Tex-Mex or American-Mexican food. But I still like it. And I like to share it.

Taco-type food is a natural for my Home Depot (DIY) Meals. These are meals where the guests (family or friends) do part of the work of assembling their meal. I love these meals for:


  • their natural ice breaker quality--people moving around, interacting, talking about what they like, and making suggestions are soon comfortable talking to each other.
  • the ease of set up
  • the possibility of guests bringing part of the meal--less work for the hostess!
  • people enjoying their food--they get to make the food the way they like it, and can avoid anything to which they they are allergic or intolerant, too!


Taco Bar Suggestions (but not limited to):
  • warmed flour tortillas
  • warmed corn tortillas
  • ground beef (ours was actually venison!) mixed with spices for taco flavoring
  • refried beans
  • black beans
  • pinto beans
  • kidney beans
  • shredded cheeses
  • nacho cheese sauce
  • lettuce
  • chopped tomatoes
  • chopped (and maybe sautéed) onions
  • chopped green onions
  • chopped peppers
  • jalapeños
  • sliced black olives
  • avocado
  • guacamole
  • sour cream
  • fresh chopped cilantro
  • limes


Since not everyone could be at the taco bar at once, I had chips and salsa on the table, for people to eat while waiting, with their meal, and to just snack on afterwards.


My family and friends (ranging from 19 to 86 years old) enjoyed the meal, helped themselves to seconds, and had a great evening, which ended with a Mark Lowry concert we had discovered on YouTube!


For more "Home Depot" (DIY) meal ideas, click here.

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For More Ideas and Inspiration:
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Hospitality -- Pure Enjoyment!

Why don't we have more people to our homes for meals? (check as many as apply)


 not enough time
 not enough money
 too much work
 who cooks?
 they are busy
 we are busy
 house not clean enough
 not enough energy
 something might get dirty
 something might get broken
 it makes me nervous
 __________________(fill in your reason)

We recently had some missionaries to Hong Kong (serving in China) stay with us for several days. The last evening we invited one of the missions professors from Emmaus Bible College, a visiting adjunct professor/missionary, and three Inter-Cultural Studies students (including our daughter) to have dinner with us. 

I fixed my super easy slow-cooker chicken in cranberry sauce, rice, and my ever popular oven-roasted carrots, we sat down to eat and the laughing began!


With all those missionary and studious types there you'd think we would be discussing deep topics with enormous ramifications. And we did talk about important things like how to reach the lost, language learning, different cultures, verses of encouragement, current events and issues, future plans and how to know God's will. But it was all punctuated by laughter.

Then we talked about the Queen of England and James Bond, funny language errors, and Mr. Bean!

We ended up the evening watching a series of YouTube clips that had us still laughing with our guests the next morning.

Like this one about a horrible language translator.
And this one about Mr. Bean at the London Olympics opening.

But our favorite was this one:




Even though all the Germans we know (including our son-in-law) understand English much better than this one, we watched it several times because it tickled our funny bones so much! (That probably had to do with the wonderful laughter of two of our guests!)

What I'm trying to say is you never know what you'll be missing by ticking off the anti-hospitality excuses above. 

Practice hospitality this week. I think you'll be glad you did!


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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.

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Linking with these great blogs. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Real Story of St. Patrick


When she was teaching at a preschool, my daughter-in-law wrote this story to explain to the children what St. Patrick's Day was really all about. If you have young children, you might want to read this to them tomorrow. It could spark a lot of conversations including what they know about how the world celebrates this day, about the bad choices the people of Ireland had been making, and about loving your enemies, to name a few.


Be sure to check out some St. Patrick's Day breakfast ideas to serve up along with the story.


The Real Saint Patrick's Day

by Abby Fleming

Once, a long time ago, there was a beautiful land called Ireland. The people in Ireland were not happy, even though they lived in such a beautiful place. They were sad because, believe it or not, not one of them had ever heard about Jesus!

They made lots and lots of bad choices. They didn't know that their bad choices made God sad, and that they should be punished for them. They didn't know that Jesus took the punishment for their bad choices by dying on the cross, that he rose again, and that if they believed this that God would forgive them. No one had ever told them!
So they just kept making
                   lots...
                          and lots...
                                      and lots...
                                                 of BAD choices.

Patrick lived in another land near Ireland. He knew all about Jesus because his Daddy had taught him. He tried to make good choices. Sometimes, he made bad choices too, but he knew that God forgave him.

One night, some people from Ireland made a very, very bad choice.

Quietly, they snuck into Patrick's land...
                                           then, they snuck into his house...
                                                          then, they snuck into his room!

They made Patrick go with them to Ireland!!

Even though he was scared, Patrick knew that God was still with him, even in Ireland. When he got to Ireland, the people from Ireland made him do their work! They made him their servant, and they were not very nice to him at all. Remember, the people in Ireland didn't know Jesus, so they made lots  and lots of bad choices. One of those bad choices was being mean to poor Patrick.

Well, Patrick lived in Ireland for six whole years! For six years, he never went home, and he never saw his family.

Then one day...
                    he quietly, quietly snuck away
                                        and he quietly, quietly snuck back home.

His family was so happy to see him! He was finally free!!

Patrick was happy for a while, but then he kept thinking about the people in Ireland. He felt sad that none of them knew Jesus. He wanted them to believe in Jesus and to have their bad choices forgiven.

So... Patrick did a crazy thing!! Patrick went back to Ireland!

Even though the people had been so mean to him, he went back and told them about JESUS! Lots of people heard him and believed in Jesus and had their bad choices forgiven.

Today, there are people in Ireland who love Jesus and make lots of good choices. Since Patrick was the first person to tell the people in Ireland about Jesus, they decided to have a special day for him. They called it Saint Patrick's Day! And that is why we celebrate today.







Abby Fleming graduated from Emmaus Bible College with a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and Biblical Studies. Also at Emmaus, she met and married Daniel Fleming. They have been married almost 8 years now and have a beautiful almost 3 year old daughter, Anna, and a 17 month old son, Kenneth. After the birth of their daughter, Abby and Daniel decided together that she could work as a full time Mommy. Currently, Abby and her husband are living in the Chicago area as he pursues further education.



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Did you know that Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!


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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Shamrock Eggs!

I'm Irish.

But I'm not that kind of Irish.

My paternal grandfather came from Northern Ireland just after the first World War. He was brave to leave his home and family, not knowing if he'd ever see any of them again. (He did get to see them again, and I've even gotten to know some my relatives from the "old country".)

But even though Northern Ireland has a tomb of Patrick of Ireland, if you go to the Republic of Ireland you'll find another, and I think it's those Irish-Americans who really claim the holiday. I don't celebrate it they way they do, but I'll take any excuse to celebrate! I especially did when my kids were at home.

Since we lived in South America, it wasn't celebrated at all there, and I took my kids by surprise many years when they poured milk on their cereal on March 17 and it was dyed green.

We always read a St. Patrick story that I wrote and some years the kids would act it out. Next week I'll share the St. Patrick story one of my daughters-in-law wrote for her students when she was a school teacher, for you to read to your children.

This year I found an idea here that I thought sounded great for two empty nesters--a more grown up touch, you might say. 



It wasn't as hard as I was afraid it would be. 

  • I sliced  a green bell pepper about a quarter of an inch thick in several slices looking for the part that looked most shamrock-like. 
  • I put a teaspoon of olive oil in my frying pan and let it heat a bit. Then I cooked the pepper briefly. 
  • Holding down the pepper with several fingers of one hand, I poured one small egg from a measuring up into each pepper ring. 
  • I salted and peppered as usual and let it cook on medium heat for a while, until it looked like it was a little more than half way cooked. 
  • Then I added about two tablespoons of water and put the lid on the pan. Since my cover is see through, I could watch the eggs. 



A little bit of the white had escaped, but it wasn't noticeable when I put the cooked egg on my plate.

I also did a "kid version". This one is eggs in the hole, only the "hole" is shamrock shaped. 



Well, it was a good idea

But the I toasted the pieces I cut out in our toaster oven, and maybe if I hadn't turned the egg, but just let them cook slowly through the shamrock shape would have been more visible. Maybe you can do better. Let me know!

Do you need some table decorations? How about using washable paint and the tops of those peppers to create shamrock placemats, table runners, or even a table cloth? This is my granddaughter a year ago at 1 3/4s working on these decorations. Don't you love the concentration!


Photo Credit: A. Fleming

Whether you go the easy route (green milk), the gourmet path (eggs in peppers), or the kid-friendly version (eggs in a shamrock hole), surprise your kids with a bit'o'the Irish this St. Patricks Day. 

My kids still talk about green milk

And my oldest son does it for his children!

Don't forget to come back next week to get the real St. Patrick's Day story to read to your kids.


*   *   *   *   *

Did you know that Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!


*   *   *   *   *  


Get a Conversation Starter question each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

How about "pinning" this post to your Pinterest page?


Linking with these great blogs. 

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