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Thursday, November 26, 2015

It Happens Every November

Just as sure as the leaves change color and fall off the trees.

And then it is all undone in December.

Facebook friends begin using #30daysofthanksgiving hashtags and talk about a Thanksgiving Challenge. At churches and in homes paper turkeys and trees boast of all the things for which we are thankful.

But in December we begin to make lists--mental, written, or on Amazon--of the things we want. 

Does that strike you as incongruous? 

I did it with my kids every year, but a couple of years ago I was asked to speak to some college girls on "contentment" and it gave me a whole new perspective on thankfulness.

The world thinks we'll be content if we have a little bit more. 
Or if we learn to want a little bit less.

Is that what the Bible teaches?

Or how about:

In other words: God is enough.

How can we teach our children this? I am not sure I succeeded with being the one who taught this to my children. I'm not sure I have come to truly believe this in my own life. But I'm working on it.

I'll give you a few of my ideas of how we can teach this to our children, but I would love to hear from you and know how you are working on this. Please let me know.

  1. Be an example. Are you someone who is always talking about wanting the newest, the better, the improved? Or do you exhibit contentment? What do you talk about?
  2. Talk about contentment. If you look online you will find all kinds of quotes about contentment. Read one to your kids each night at dinner and ask if they think it's true. Is this is a clever statement or the path to contentment?
  3. Read what the Bible says. Look at the verses I have mentioned here and others. What does the Bible say is the basis for a Christian to be content? Ask who they can think of in the Bible that lived contentedly...or didn't.
  4. Look for real life examples. Talk about people who are living life content with having God in their lives. Ask your children, "What would true contentment look like in your life?"
  5. Be thankful. That year I challenged the college girls and myself to not just list things they are thankful for, but start their thanksgivings with "I'm thankful for God's presence in my life because..."
Leave me a comment and let me know your ideas for living and teaching true contentment.

P.S. I took these photos a couple of years ago while on a "leaf crunching" walk with my youngest daughter when she was a college sophomore. Today she is a senior getting ready to move overseas for her internship and then her first full time job!

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Get Along at Get Togethers

Who will be at your Thanksgiving table? 
  • Great Aunt Evelyn who never stops talking and generally about topics no one is interested in
  • Crotchety Uncle Harry who has made an art of finding something to grumble about
  • Your twin cousins who at 34 give new meaning to the term sibling rivalry
  • Three darling nieces and nephews who cry, spill their milk, and scatter food all over the table and on anyone within reach
  • Grandpa who  has adamant political views that are the polar opposite of his lawyer daughter
  • Your gossipy sister who tries to "figure out" the evil in everyone's life
  • Your husband who will see if he can hide in the study watching football most of the day
  • Your son who loves to play board games and your daughter who absolutely refuses to
  • Your sister-in-law who insists she is allergic to everything on the table and tries to make it a pity party for her when you know she's just on a continual diet

Sounds like a great setting for a holiday comedy movie...or a murder mystery!

I hope that even if you have one person who in your family who comes close to these descriptions, it's only one and not a table full. But every family has it's foibles and people who struggle to get along with each other. While none of the above are people I know personally, our holidays include four generations spanning from 9 months to 89 years old! You can bet we don't all want to do, talk about, play, or eat the same things.

In the years since we've been back in the states and been able to have our holidays with family (after 24 years in South America) we've learned a few things to help make the holiday fun for everyone. And some of my happiest times are when all my kids are in my house enjoying being together!

Be Flexible--easier said than done for some. My husband and I are consummate planners but the younger generation not so much. So we set up a schedule but if it doesn't happen, we try to let it go. The main thing is that we all have a great time together. If that happens when the kids oversleep their nap (or the adults!) and we don't get to take that family photo. Oh well. (At least that's the attitude we aim for.)

Something for Everyone--When we first started hosting holidays, I had tons of ideas for things we should do, places we should go, people we should visit. But as I became mother-in-law I did not want to be that mother-in-law so one time I planned nothing and asked them to plan. One daughter told me, "But you are mom. You're the one with the plans and ideas!" So now I try to get ideas from everyone about what they would like to do and then we put them in the schedule. Everyone gets at least something they enjoy and that makes them happier about joining what isn't their preference. That said, no one has to do everything. Prefer not to play games? Then sit and visit, read, nap, play with the littles.

He who eats, works--For the main meal, like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, I ask everyone to pitch in. They get to choose what they want to make/bring. That makes the main meal so much easier. Then during the weekend or week that everyone's around, we all help as much as we can. Sometimes that means I get to read a book to a grandchild while others do the dishes. Sometimes I'm prepping food while someone else takes a nap. Sometimes I ask for volunteers to take on even more house cleaning. It's only fair.

Conversation "steerers"--I'm known for my conversations starters and we will be using some this Thanksgiving, but we also plan ways of steering the conversation away from touchy subjects that don't edify. My husband and I have done this for years, just trying to change the subject, look for the good in someone or something that is being criticized, or look for a new activity to join in. It's fun to see our grown kids pick up on this and toss in their own "steerers" when someone (yes, even me) starts heading the wrong way in a conversation.

A, B, C--When you are stuck together and you've used up all your ideas to keep things happy and positive, use the alphabet. When you are sitting around tell everyone that you are going to do the Alphabet Thankfuls. The first person says something they are thankful for that starts with "A", the second something that starts with "B", and so on. For added fun, make it a memory game where you have to repeat everything everyone else said before you say yours. 

And finally, always remember to count...

2, 3, 4--Philippians, that is. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." 

I hope your Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and all your holidays will be filled with love, laughter, and good memories!

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thanksgiving Conversation Starters

What do you do at Thanksgiving to remind yourselves what you are thankful for? We have done a variety of things to help our kids learn thankfulness at this time of year and to remind our family and guests about the true meaning of Thanksgiving. But going around the table to say one or even two things you are thankful for might make you miss out on some of the things that happened in the past year that you do want to be thankful for. 

That's where specific questions come in. If you have specific questions to ask people, that will open up memories that they might not have thought of otherwise. And as one person begins to share their answer, others around the table will have their memories jarred as well.

It also helps keep the conversation upbeat. After the food has made its way around the table or everyone has gone through the buffet line, ask someone (preferably someone who has been a bit forewarned) to read their question and answer it. Tell everyone that the "rules" are 1) no one can make fun of anyone's answer and 2) everyone who wants to can answer the question. Let the conversation flow. But if it starts to flag or degenerate, pipe up and ask the next person to read and answer their question. 

I've made the questions below available in printable format. If you buy printable business cards such as Avery® Business Cards 28878  (Avery®  Template 8371) they will print just right or print them onto cardstock and the guidelines will show where to cut to get cards of uniform size.

You might want to turn them over and print your guests names on the back to use as name cards.

Here is the link to the printable format.

Here are the thanksgiving questions:
What teacher are you thankful for this year?

What unexpected event came into your life this year that you are thankful for?

Tell about a Bible verse you are thankful for this year.

What are you most thankful for about your family?

What memory did you make this year that you are most thankful for?

What food on this table are you most thankful for?

I'm thankful for my job because __________________.

One thing I am thankful about my parents is __________________.

What place have you been able to visit this year that you are thankful you got to go to?

What event that made the news are you thankful for?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cook Something Bold and Pungent

The first time my husband and I visited India we stayed with an Indian family who, although we didn't know it, had never hosted Americans before and were quite nervous about having us in their home. 

We were a little nervous too. We got on a plane in Chicago and 15 jet-lagged hours later disembarked in New Delhi. While we were waiting to our luggage, I saw a familiar sign and told my husband I needed to use the bathroom and would be right back. I walked in and then into a stall where I was greeted by two foot rests and a hole in the ground. (I have since learned that this is fondly referred to as a "squatty potty".)  I suddenly didn't have the urge any more. I turned around and watched a large cockroach stroll across the counter where the sinks were. Where have I come to? I thought as I rushed to rejoin my husband.

Our suitcases arrived (since it was a non-stop flight they should have, but if you travel with me I recommend bringing pjs, medicines, and a change of clothes in your carry-on because I regularly have suitcase no-shows) and we headed out the door to meet our hosts. 

Have you ever watched a movie where the camera walks through a crowd of gaunt, staring people dressed in turbans and salwar kamises? That was pretty much what it was like as we stepped out to the throng waiting for arriving passengers. 

They were behind a rope and we gazed at them hoping for a sign that read "Fleming". The crowd looked back at us without one smile. So we stood in the center of the roped off area feeling rather on display in our American clothes and pale faces as we scanned the crowd for some spark of recognition. After all, they had our photo. Finally we saw the small, hand lettered sign held by a couple in their 50s and we introduced ourselves and followed them out into the fog of India at midnight.

We had a wonderful few days with them before going on to visit other Emmaus Bible Course workers in other parts of the country. The thing that amazed me was the intensity of the faith of these people. We prayed when we arrived, when someone else arrived, when we were going to eat, when we finished eating, when someone was leaving, when we went to bed. Being a Christian is not easy in many parts of India and they recognize their dependence on God.

On the day we were to leave, the wife confessed to me their fears about hosting us. Then she said they had asked a friend who often has American visitors what they should do. His advice? "Leave the chilies out of the food." So, she told me, that's what they did...left the chilies out!

Wow! I had loved the curry dishes we had eaten with them, but my goodness gracious, they were hot! I mean hot and spicy! I was so glad they hadn't put the chilies in!

But we do love Indian food and Thai and many other bold flavors. For our anniversary in Colombia we always went back to an Indian restaurant we loved. I have brought spices back from India and have been learning to cook somewhat authentic Indian dishes. 

What does this have to do with family mealtimes? Well, November 8 is "Cook Something Bold and Pungent" day. So I thought you might want to celebrate with a simple recipe from the Tamil Indians who live in Durban, South Africa where my husband was born and grew up. 

Oh, but you might want to leave out the chilies!

Curried Meat
Fry 1 or 2 sliced onions in 2-3 Tbsp oil until golden.
Add 1 Tbsp your favorite curry. (Be sure there's enough oil so the onions don't stick.)
Add 1 pound cubed meat (beef, lamb, or chicken).
Stir to coat with curry.
Add a few peppercorns, 4 or 5 whole cloves, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp. ginger, 1 tsp. minced garlic, and 1 cup water. 
Cover and let it cook 30 minutes, stirring frequently and adding water as needed (you want there to be a sauce when you are done.)
Add 2-3 large cubed potatoes, 2-3 sliced medium carrots, and 1 cup inch-long green bean lengths.
Continue cooking until vegetables are done.
Remove bay leaves.
Serve over rice.

Have several (or all) of these condiments available to eat with the curried meat:
salted peanuts
shredded coconut
chopped canned pineapple
sliced banana
plain yogurt
diced tomato and onion mixed together

P.S. There aren't any chilies in this recipe.

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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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Thursday, October 29, 2015

What's On My Table?

I love the feeling I get when I see a well dressed table. 

I could be in a furniture store, a friends' home, a restaurant, or my own house. When the runner or tablecloth and centerpiece come together in beauty, style, grace, and a touch of whimsy it brings a smile to my face.

It's true, when my four children were all at home, I did very simple centerpieces most of the time--a flower in a vase, a couple of candles, a bowl of fruit--but I always took time to make sure there was some kind of centerpiece on the table. 

Now that I have more time and less people to play with the centerpiece, I often try to get that look in my own home. A centerpiece is always on the table, even when we aren't eating, even when I'm home alone, even when my grandchildren are visiting.

So what's on my table these day? Autumn!

One of the things I think is fun is to find things around my house to use as part of my centerpiece. I'm not the kind of person you will find with a variety of silk flower arrangements in different hobby store vases. I'm more likely to look through my knick knacks and kitchen to see what I can come up with to decorate my table. So when I saw a photo of a bowl filled with popcorn and a candle in it, I knew that was a centerpiece that was just right for me!

Popcorn is one of my favorite snacks! My wooden fruit bowl from the Bahamas was just right along with my pumpkin spice votive candles, and dollar store silk leaves on a table runner from Africa in the right colors.

I revisited the popcorn theme in a clear cylinder vase from my son's wedding. I put one candle in and put my scarecrows on guard duty beside it for another idea.

I bought a green, rectangle plate when I was in Goodwill with a friend a couple of years ago. When I saw the plate, I knew I wanted to add it to my collection, but I wasn't sure what I would do with it. Normally it lives on our guest bathroom vanity with some seasonal decoration, but I decided to move it into a more public eye on my table.

A few years ago I bought a leaf decorated candle holder that is my old standby for September and October table tops (before the Pilgrims come out). With a lit candle, a few silk autumn leaves scattered around it, on a runner from Ecuador and my table always looks festive.

What's on your table?

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For more ideas on centerpieces click here and here.

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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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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Three Ways to Stop a Gossip Fest

Recently I was talking with a young woman who was saying she heard lots of sermons against sins like drunkeness, using illegal drugs, and even smoking, but she said, "It seems like gossip hurts a lot more people and is just as bad a sin, but I don't hear people preaching against that.

"In fact, when some of us get together with some non-believers, the gossip is thick! It's a bad testimony to the non-Christians, and I don't know how to stop from hearing it or stop them from gossiping."

It was interesting to me because the Titus 2 Alive! ministry at our local church has been reflecting on the qualities Paul tells Titus that the women should develop and a recent one we talked about "not malicious gossips". One of the questions that came up was, "How do you stop a conversation that has turned into gossip?"

I think some of the conversation starters that I have written for this blog could help; here's how:

1. Have a question ready. You could go through the conversation starter questions that I have written, and choose a couple to memorize before you go to a gathering where you are afraid there might be gossip. They could be simple things like "What's something on your bucket list?" or "What's something you've done to take yourself out of your comfort zone?" When the conversation starts to become gossip--and there's a fine line about telling people news about others and telling news that might make someone look bad--then change the subject with one of these questions. Just throw it out there! 

2. Have a pile of questions. If you plan the get together you get to organize what happens. Then you can have a pile or basket full of these conversation starting questions on cards or pieces of paper, questions like "What current event has intrigued you recently?" or "If you were going to take a survey, what question would you like to ask people?"

Tell everyone that tonight instead of just talking you are going to take turns asking these questions. I find it's best to clue someone in ahead of time who will enjoy this and ask them to go first. Tell them to pick a card and read the question. Then they can answer the question if they want or just tell the others, "I'd like to hear what you have to say." 

This way the conversation gets going on a different level. When conversation runs out on that topic, someone else gets to choose a card and read a question. 

Another way to do this is to pass the basket of questions around and have everyone choose one. This way they have time to think about what they might say in answer to their question and to get excited about it. Be sure to make it known that others can answer a question after it has been read. After all, you want a conversation, not just a Q&A.

3. BYOQ--Have them bring their own questions.  This takes a little bit of explaining ahead of time, but it can be a lot of fun, too. My friend and I call this "Conversation Matters." We have five or six friends over and explain that they should bring a question that they'd like to hear others' opinions on. It can be light hearted like, "What is a job you hope you never have?" or helpful like, "What is an activity you do that you find restorative?" or deeper like "I've been thinking about girls who are trapped in the sex trade, and wondering if there are practical ways I could help them."

Each person gets a chance to ask their question, and they can give a little background information on why they were thinking about this if they want. Then everyone can talk about the question together.

My friends and acquaintances and I have had a lot of fun with all these ideas and it keeps our conversation on a higher level. 

How do you stop a gossip fest?

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For printable conversation starters follow these links:
Conversation Starter Cards 1
Conversation Starter Cards 2
Conversation Starter Cards 3
For 50 more printable conversation cards, click here.
And even 50 more click here.
For trivia question cards, click here.
For end of year conversation starter cards click here.

And for special conversations for married couples click here.
For 44 spiritual conversation starters click here.

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If you would like to guest post, please check out my guidelines and then get in touch with me. I'd love to feature you! 

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. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

An Evening in Mingouwee

I cut up the green beans while the ground beef was browning after I had sautéed the chopped onions. I kept referring to the simple directions because this meal was so foreign to me. But that was the point, that it be foreign.

We were going to have an Evening in Turkey with our four children and I was preparing a common Turkish meal called Etli Taze Fasulye. My friend who lives in Turkey told me how to say it: et-lee tah-zay fah-zoo-lay. The translation was simple--Green Beans with Meat! 

We would be practicing our limited Turkish vocabulary as well. Very limited. We were only going to work on two words: please, lütfin, and thank you, tesekkür ederim. 

My younger children were busy making Turkish flags out of construction paper to decorate the walls of our eating area and I had put a red tablecloth on the table to coordinate colors. Our oldest son looked up Turkey in the encyclopedia (remember those?) to copy out some facts about it to tell us at dinner. We also searched for information in Operation World.

How could we spend one evening in Turkey? How about if I told you we never even left our home!

Artwork by: Ron Brancato
The idea for this evening was to introduce our children to another culture, another place, and to gain an interest in the world and what God is doing in these places. 

In order to do this, a flurry of emails went back and forth between my friend and I. Explaining what I hoped to do, I asked her for 
     1) A menu and recipe that I could probably recreate where we lived
     2) The words "please" and "thank you" in Turkish
     3) A few simple manner rules for eating meals in Turkey

Even though we had email, the Internet wasn't something we used in those CompuServe dial-up days. Today this would be very easy just using Google, as I did for this article! Here's one version of the recipe I made. But I still wanted a personal touch, so I also asked for
     4) A family photo
     5) A prayer request for each person

The rules were fun:

  • Shoes off in the house; provide slippers at the door
  • Oldest goes first in serving him or herself or being served
  • Don't blow your nose during a meal; if you have to, ask to be excused and go to the bathroom with the door closed to blow.
  • After the meal is over, if you must pick your teeth, use a toothpick and hide it behind your cupped hand
I put little cards at various places on the table with the words "please" and "thank you" and their Turkish translation and pronunciation so we could try using them during the meal. 

At dinner we tried to follow the rules, use the Turkish words for please and thank you, and enjoy a new and different dish. We talked about Turkey and and my friend and family who lived there. After dinner was cleared away, we read the prayer requests for each person and prayed for them. Their family happened to have four children like ours, two boys and two girls, so they each prayed for the one closest to them in age. Then we got out paper and pens and each wrote a short note to each one telling them a little about ourselves and that we had prayed for them.

It worked so well, we did this several times with other countries as well. Then, when I wrote a book with ideas of things to do to get people interested in what God is doing in other places, I included this idea. It can be used for a family, small group, or even a whole church! In the book I called it An Evening in Mingouwee, a fictitious place. I even used that as the title of the book, which is available from ECS Ministries.

Using this idea with your family for a country you are interested in can open up a whole new world to your children!

Tesekkür ederim!

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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!

*  *  *  *  *

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! 

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