Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Well Stocked Kitchen

Or Making It Easy to Get a Meal to the Table (Part 1)

Frantically I pulled all the bottles and jars out of the cupboard to the left of my stove. Canola oil, olive oil, cooking spray, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and Worcestershire sauce. I ran downstairs to the garage pantry and scanned the shelves, moving some salad dressings, cans of diced tomatoes, and even flour out of the way. No, no soy sauce.

Now I had to decide what to do. We needed to eat in an hour and the recipe I had all the ingredients for, well almost all the ingredients for, required soy sauce. Could I substitute something I did have? Was there time to run to grocery store? Would my husband be able to stop at the store?

I hate to admit how often this kind of thing has happened to me. My husband is a gem about running to the grocery store for me. I sometimes feel like a failure at planning. I can spend an hour making a menu and grocery list and be defeated by the simplest ingredient. 

That is understandable when making a special meal, but on a day to day basis, it can make it too stressful to have family meals at home because coming up with something you for which you have all the ingredients isn't easily possible. I try to have my kitchen stocked with basic ingredients, then I can to make dinner tonight for whoever is eating at home and we'll all enjoy it more if the cook isn't stressed--especially the cook!

Here's how I keep a basically stocked kitchen and my plan to maintain it. I can't make a fail proof list for  your cooking style, but I can give you a list to start with and you can take it from there along with my ideas on how to keep a supply of those things on hand.

The Basic List (printable)

I did a fair amount of research as to what others consider required as basic kitchen staples and I went through my own cupboards and pantry as well. I realize the list will change for different households, tastes, and needs. (For example you may prefer only whole grain rice, flour, and pasta, or may need gluten-free items.) This is not even exactly the list I consider essential, but we like lots of spicy ethnic food and I have to eat sugar-free.

Here's how I suggest you keep what you need on hand:

  1. Print out this list of long shelf-life staples.
  2. Read through it and cross off anything that you have never used and/or never remember being called for in a recipe you've made.
  3. Go through your favorite 12-20 recipes and add anything to the list that is a staple, but is not on this list.
  4. Now go through your pantry, cupboards, fridge, and freezer and check off the things you DO have on hand.
  5. Start a grocery list of items you have run out of that you know you will need and buy as many of them as you can the next time you go grocery shopping. 
  6. Any you don't pick up this time, keep transferring to a new grocery list. You might do this with certain items that you know go on sale from time to time or you know you won't need until a certain recipe.
  7. If it is practical, keep two of each item on hand. When you open the second item, write the first on your weekly grocery list. If not, add it to your shopping list when it gets to below half full. 
  8. To avoid buying things you may never use again, see if you can make a reasonable substitution by consulting a site like this, or Google the ingredient along with the word "substitute".
  9. Keep track of "use by" dates. While foods are often safe well after the date, they may lose some of their nutritional and taste value. Spices that are years old, for example, may need to be doubled to give the desired flavor.
  10. Keep a mental track of what staples you do use frequently and stock up on several when they are on sale.
About every other year we go on a six to seven week ministry trip and in between we we often take trips that last three weeks. In the time leading up to these trips and when we first arrive home, I depend on what I have in stock to feed us as I don't want to be buying food that will have to be thrown out or arrive back to a house with nothing to eat.

If I can basically organize to do this, I know you can, too. And don't kick yourself if you run out of something. No one ever died for lack of soy sauce.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Tables of our Life

In 2008, after 26 years of marriage, we bought our first new table.

When we were first married, we knew we'd be leaving for the mission field soon and Jim's parents had an extra table that his dad had picked up somewhere and refinished. Great! We started having company right away, just two weeks after we were married. A habit we've continued.

My brother and husband in our Monopoly Tournament, first Christmas married.

During our eight years in Peru we rented two different furnished houses. The good thing about the tables was we could seat a lot of friends at them, but the not-so-good-thing was we'd had no choice in the tables. The first table was "early missionary" style. That's okay. That's what we were!

That was the first table our first child sat at with us. How exciting to start growing our family. What sweet memories of first bites, spilled food, and smiles!

First table in Peru. So many things I notice about this picture: that great baby chair that attached to the table and folded completely flat; the toy that he couldn't throw on the floor!; the fresh flowers that were so inexpensive in South America; the formica table--"early missionary!"

Our second home had a beautiful dining room set with hutch and buffet and very large table of heavy, real wood that termites loved! In spite of them boring through the wood once in a while, we added two more children while living there and the table was messy, noisy, and full of love.

When we moved to Colombia we went to a second hand shop and found a gorgeous refinished oval table and six lovely chairs. Of course, this was probably not the most practical purchase for a family three and then four little ones!

It was a beautiful set--our fourth table. This one we owned!

Then a single friend bought an expanding table that came with twelve chairs. Even though it was homemade and awkward to use, we decided it was logical to trade. She would probably never have more than five guests and since we were six already; there wasn't a lot of room for extra people at our table. That table was the center for many birthdays, guests for dinner, and, of course, family dinner every night.

This table had two leaves and we could angle it in the living/dining room and squeeze in 14--which we did on many occasions!

When we left Colombia to live in the states again, we needed yet another table. Just before signing on the house we went to a local furniture store to see what was available and saw a rectangle oak table on a closeout sale. We had already decided we wanted rectangle so we could "extend" it even more than it's two leaves did by adding other square sided tables to either end.

We left to sign the papers and check the house again, but the area where the table would go looked too small. Jim measured the space by counting steps across the floor.

Would the table fit in the eating area?

We went back to the shop and tried to compare steps with steps. Was it too long? We weren't sure. Smiling, the sales lady tossed us a measuring tape and said, "Go measure it!" We did. It fit.

A group of men from our new home church helped us on moving day.

Moving day

We had our first meal at the table that day with our son, daughter-in-law and youngest daughter. That is the table we eat around now. We love that now we have four generations around this table regularly. Six grands and all four of our parents have joined us at this table. We are thankful.
First meal on our current table of eight years, the longest time we've had one table!

Do your tables tell the story of your life? I'd love to hear them!

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Who Prays for You?

One of my favorite questions to ask my Christian friends is, "Who do you know was praying for you before you became a Christian?" I have yet to find someone who can't name someone who was praying for them.

I'm wondering if I should ask my Christian friends, "Who do you know who prays for you now?"

About a year and a half ago a friend and I started a ministry at our church that we call Titus 2 Alive! You might recall the verses in Titus 2:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

The goal was a ministry of facilitating older women mentoring and discipling younger women in the faith, but we started with prayer partners. We had a sign up sheet for anyone who wanted a prayer partner for the summer. If they wanted to choose their prayer partner, they could. If they didn't have someone in mind, we would find a prayer partner for them.

When we got our list of names together we looked at each other and asked, "Who are we to decide who is paired up with whom?" So we prayed that God would decide. Then we put all the names in a bag and she pulled one out and I pulled one out and those two were partners. Next two names, the same. And so on.

It ended up that I had a prayer partner, but she didn't. I told her I wanted to be prayer partners with her, too. So I had two prayer partners--both more than 25 years younger than me! I also started discipling another young woman who wanted to go to the mission field. She has since gone and we still "meet" every other week by Skype.

Most of those partners kept it going as well. Would it surprise you to know that many of us meet "around the table" over lunch or coffee? One pair even overcame living 50 miles apart and working opposite shifts by using video calls, email, and texts!

So if you asked me "Who do you know who is currently praying for you?" Besides my husband and family, I can list three women who know me well, pray for my weaknesses, my ministries, my fears, my health, and my spiritual life. And those relationships have evolved into mentorships--the question is, I don't know who is teaching whom more!

Wouldn't you like to have someone like that?

Take the risk. Ask someone to pray with you weekly. You can set a time limit if you want. I'd suggest a minimum of eight weeks and a maximum of six months to start. You can reevaluate at the end of that time. If it's not clicking, taking too much time, or whatever the hitch is, you can part friends and try again. But if it is, keep it going!

Meeting with my prayer partners is the highlight of my week! 

So, tell me, who is praying for you?

For more of my thoughts on prayer click here.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

On Being Introverted

You might be an introvert if

  • Small talk makes you crazy, you just want to have a meaningful conversation, but it's not always easy to know how to start it.
  • You can handle a whole weekend or even week of people if you know it's coming and you know you will have some alone time afterwards.
  • Your planned alone time gets interrupted by well-meaning but clueless friends and you think it might send you over the edge.
  • You make plans to be with friends but the main emotion you feel when they cancel is relief.
  • You have continuous "practice" conversations in your head 99% of which will never take place.
  • You'd rather give a well planned speech to 100 people than have to start a one-on-one conversation with a stranger or acquaintance.
  • You call someone and root for voicemail to pick up before a live person does.
  • You express your thoughts in a blog for all the world to see because when you are writing you can think them out ahead of time.
  • You are me.
Photo Credit

Yes, I admit it. I am an introvert.

But I'm also upset at how so many people use introvertedness to be selfish.

Before I step onto my soap box, I want to go on record saying that I do understand that there are different personalities and different levels of introversion and we can't all do or be the same. But, as followers of Christ, we have some responsibilities to God, most of which revolve around dealing with people. Maybe the people who in the past retreated to monasteries to pray and meditate were actually the introverts of their time. That gave them a ministry without having to deal with [many] people. But that's not an option, or even a desire, for many today. God has called us to be with and help other people. 

Photo Credit

If you do a search for the "one another" passages in the the New Testament you will discover that we are to be devoted to, love, live in harmony with, honor, accept, instruct, and greet one another. And that's just in the book of Romans. God expects us to be involved in the lives of others stimulating "each other to love and good deeds." That doesn't involve binge watching Netflix at home, or spending all your free time reading books or surfing the Internet. 

Believe me, I like being alone as much as any Introvert. Now that I don't have any children at home, I  sometimes wonder how I did it. Four kids always clamoring for my attention in addition to a husband who worked from home and a missionary ministry that involved, well, people. Lots of people. 

This past Christmas I figured it out. I love those four kids. And I love those three in-law kids. And I love those six grandkids. So when I had lots of them around continuously over a six week period, it was great! I love them. I love watching them interact and love each other and each other's kids. I love having them around my table again. I love seeing them pitch in with meal preps and clean up. I like to think that I had something to do with that maturity and love they show now. We had a great holiday season! Sure, when they all left and I steamed cleaned all my carpets from kid messes with a borrowed carpet cleaner I enjoyed the time alone, but I also cried.

And that's how we can be involved in people's lives. We love them. 

When I was a teenager I went on a missions trip and one of the leaders said, "If you want to be a missionary you have to love three things: God and His Word, people, and hard work." I remember thinking, "I've got one." So I gave up wanting to be a missionary. NO! I began to ask God to help me love people. I still have a long way to go to love them like He does, but I do love them and love to encourage them and see them grow in their Christian walk. 

(Confession: I didn't pray to like hard work. I didn't want to like hard work. But I've even learned to enjoy that. Or at least I like the results.)

No matter what personality you are, God expects you to get into the lives of other people to tell them about Him. An extrovert doesn't always have to be the life of the party keeping everyone on the edge of their seats, sometimes he can have a quiet meaningful conversation with one other person. And an introvert doesn't have to always sit in a corner, she can learn to minister to others in ways that fit her talents and personality.

How will you reach out to someone for God today?

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

How to Host Sunday "Dinner" After a Morning at Church

Did you grow up with a big Sunday dinner?

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I did. Mom got up at 5:30 on Sundays to get the potatoes ready to cook. If they were scalloped she put it all together and baked it before church until it was about three-quarters done. She baked it the rest of the way when she got home. From the time I can remember, we had an oven with a timer so mom would get a roast ready and set the oven to come on at the proper time. She had made the dessert on Saturday and did the vegetables when we got home.

Our guests were people at church. We always connected with them during the break to confirm that they were coming. Many times our guests were a visiting missionary family or a speaker from out of town, so I often rode home with them to show the way. 

My dad would sit in the living room visiting with the guests while I helped my mom get the meal finished. Then mom would call dad to come cut the meat and I would go out to visit with the guests. 

My mom always set a beautiful table with lace tablecloths and china and had a delicious meal. I knew that when I grew up I wanted to follow her example of hospitality, even if I didn't do it as elegantly. Throughout much of our 34 years of marriage we have had Sunday company.

I've never had an automatic oven and I don't relish the idea of getting up at 5:30 on Sunday, so I have always done most of my preparation on Saturday. My slow-cooker is my best Sunday friend! It's so great to walk into the house after church and smell the food cooking. When we lived in South America, sometimes there was no delicious aroma because the power had gone off. Then my pressure cooker would come out and I would use it on my gas stove lit with a match!

Our Sunday mornings are busy times for us. Over the years we have often been at church from 8:30 until 12:30, so it's a trick to get a big meal on at 1 or 1:30. Here are ten helps to getting that Sunday "dinner" for your family and guests to enjoy!

  1. Invite Someone to Lunch -- If you have some people coming over for lunch then you have the motivation to do something about it!
  2. Don't overthink it -- People enjoy being invited and getting to know you; they aren't as concerned with the food or the condition of your house as you are. Really! My mom used to say, "I would like to be invited over even if they just opened a can of beans and served it on a paper plate."
  3. Clean up -- Okay, so you house should be relatively clean. Maybe free of clutter is a better way to put it. You want your guests to be able to walk in without tripping. Enlist the family Saturday night after supper to put away all their things from the public areas of your house. 
  4. Plan ahead -- Before you do your weekly grocery shopping, plan what you will have when your guests come. Check the recipes and your cupboard to make sure you have everything you need so there's no last minute rush to the store or simply none of the essential ingredient you need. Talk about stress--Ain't no one gonna be happy if the cook is banging pans!
  5. Cook what you know -- Having company is not the time to start trying new recipes. You never know how long they are going to take, what they will turn out like, or how they will taste. Save the taste thrills for your family. Sub sandwiches, grilled cheese, meatloaf are all better than underdone "what-is-this". One year every Sunday guest got "Beef Daube Bourguignon" because chuck roasts were so cheap. Only my family knew. 
  6. Start early -- maybe not as early as my mom, but do ahead all that you can. I make the dessert on Saturday (if I have one, usually I just serve ice cream). I put the stew (or whatever is going in the slow-cooker) all together and in the fridge overnight, peel the potatoes and leave them soaking in cold water, peel the carrots--all the day before. 
  7. Set the table -- now that it is just my husband and I at home most of the time we can have breakfast at the breakfast bar and I can set the table beforehand, too. My mom had a dining room table so she set it Saturday night. I usually do it Sunday morning, if I get to it. Our Sunday guests now are both sets of parents, our son and his wife and daughter, and our daughter, so the "girls" usually help with setting the table when I didn't get that done.
  8. Use your slow-cooker -- This is a lifesaver. Most of a meal can be made in this with just a salad and vegetable or bread on the side. The food is ready when we get home, so there's not a long wait.
  9. If they offer, say yes! -- If your guests offer to bring something, accept the offer. It's often easy for them to bring dessert, a salad, or bread. And that's one less thing you have to think about. Now that Sunday guests are family, we often share parts of the meal.
  10. Enjoy -- Working ahead takes the stress off you, even so there's always some feeling of rush, some nervous energy. But try to enjoy your guests. Ask them questions about themselves. Get to know them. After all, that's why you have them over.

I love having guests on Sunday. Now that it's mostly family, it's a different stage of life. But this is our season and we are glad that we can honor our parents and enjoy our kids (including the daughter-in-law!) and granddaughter often. We have been so blessed by the people who come into our home that serving them is our joy! I hope it will be your joy, too.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Yes, Virginia, Valentines Day IS for Everyone!

I love a celebration!

I'm not quite sure how I got started on my Valentine's celebrations, but love is always a good thing to express in tangible ways, so I wanted my kids to learn that. I also wanted to show love to people who might not have a "significant other".

When our kids were growing up, we had a Valentine's mailbox. These were works of art by the combined efforts of my four children. We made them on or near February 1. And we made them BIG! Every year I'd think, "We don't need a box this big," but every year by Valentines we had cards spilling out and piled up beside the box!

What the box needs is to look Valentinsy--red, pink, purple, white, lace, hearts, glitter.

And it needs a mail slot in the top or side.

After the mailbox was made, I set up a "Valentine's Central" on a corner table in the kitchen. I left supplies of construction paper, wrapping paper, glitter, lace, glue, tape, markers and crayons. This was where anyone who had a minute or two would come and make a Valentine for someone else and "mail" it in the mailbox.

I told my children to think of something they love, appreciate, or admire about the person they are making the card for and to tell them in the card. This could be a challenge when it's a brother or sister!

Since I wanted everyone to receive a Valentine from everyone, I made little charts for each child to check off when they had made a Valentine for someone. But...organization was never high on the list of characteristics of the Fleming children, much to my husband's dismay. (Yes, they get this from their mother.) However, in fairness, I'm happy to say that as they've grown older they have developed this quality...I digress.

Then we decided to include their unmarried teachers from the school for missionary kids that my children attended in Bogota, Colombia. So I sent invitations for a Valentine's dinner. The first or second year, I got a phone call from one of the teachers saying I had invited every unmarried teacher except one, could I include her? Of course! And thus the Fleming's Annual Valentine's Party tradition began.

One stipulation was that every guest also had to make a Valentine for everyone who would be present. It took some doing to get a firm list of who was coming in time for everyone to create their Valentines. 

Our guests were  the best sports. Some of the Valentines they brought were:

  • A poem written especially for each person
  • A coveted peanut butter cup (not available in Colombia these had to be imported!) for each one
  • Drawings
  • Paintings
  • Each person's favorite kind of candy (this took serious research!)
  • a flower for each one
  • An origami swan for each one
  • A personal note to each person

We very seldom had cheesy kids Valentines. When everyone arrived, they "mailed" their Valentines in the box.

After a meal of as many red or heart shaped things I could think of and before a dessert of something gooey and chocolate, we played "Valentine's Games".

Some of our ideas:

  1. Starting with one person, they had to sing the line of a song that has the word "love" in it (everyone joins in if they can). Then the next person had to come up with a different song. And the third person still a different song, going around until someone couldn't think of one. There are two ways to continue here--just jump over that person, or have them be "out" and keep going until there's only one person left.
  2. Have everyone tell their favorite Bible verse that has the word "love" in it.
  3. Get some to share about their first crush way back when.
  4. Have a few tell about a time someone made them feel truly loved.

Then we read a version of St. Valentine's story. There are many and I'm not sure which one is true, but they all have reason provoke thought on true love. I googled this just now and found this one and also this one to get you started.

Finally, came the moment everyone had been waiting for: 
The Opening Of The Valentine's Mailbox!

My kids delighted in passing out the Valentines. At first people seemed pleasantly surprised that they got a Valentine or two. But as the pile grew, we often heard them say, 

  • "I haven't gotten a Valentine since grade school"
  • "Oh, thank you! That's so kind of you to say that!"
  • "This is the best Valentine's I've ever had!"

Remember, if we had 15 people, each one got 14 Valentines!

Then came the gooey chocolate dessert--what is it about chocolate that feels like LOVE?

Everyone, even the "macho" male teachers, took all their Valentines home. One of the teachers would take the box back to her classroom for the whole class to get in on the love, because romantic love isn't the only kind of love there is.

So, yes Virginia, Valentine's Day is for you, too!

For more inspiring Valentine's ideas click here.

Special thanks to Lil from Embracing the Lovely for sharing her stock photos.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

I love Valentines!

Not only is it a day to remind us to show love, it is Jim's and my "Half" Anniversary! (We're celebrating 34 1/2 years of marriage this year!) Since we've had kids, we celebrate family love and love to others more than romantic love on that day, but don't worry, we still keep plenty of romance in our marriage. Our kids are well aware of our love for each other.

Here are some ideas for making the day a special day of giving love.

Secret Valentines (This is one of my favorites!)
When I was in college we had "Secret Heart Sisters" during Valentine's week. We all chose names from from a basket full of papers with our names and all week we were supposed to secretly express love to the girl whose name we had picked. I can remember wandering around the dorms trying to look nonchalant as I carried a large poster board heart in a hallway I had never ventured down before.

A couple of years we decided to do this with our family. Every evening during the week before Valentines, we chose names for the next day. We were supposed to be "good fairies" of love. Some of the things we secretly did for one another:
  • made their bed while they were in the bathroom
  • left a chocolate on their pillow
  • wrote a note telling them what we appreciated about them
  • bought a small gift for them
  • raced to do one of their chores before they got the chance
  • gave them a card
It was so fun to watch our children who normally squabbled, like kids in all families, trying to find ways to show each other love.

Family Love Day
Dottie, from Ohio writes: I usually make a special dinner and decorate the table nicely with a card at each person's place setting - some years it contains money, some years they may receive a gift such as an engraved "treasure chest" or engraved heart-shaped jewelry dish. I make a heart-shaped cake and then we usually spend the evening playing a game or watching a movie. This year we may  actually deviate from the "norm" since our kids are now 12 and 15 and go to a local church where two Christian groups are performing in concert. Either way, we will do something a as a family to spend time with each other as a reflection of our love for each other. 

Make Valentines Cards
Throughout most of our children's school years, we lived overseas where Valentine's Day was not celebrated, so there was no opportunity to run to the store and buy cheesy kids' Valentines. Since our children attended an American Missionary Kid school, the teachers still liked to celebrate Valentines Day, so we got creative. Now I'm a stamper and make all the cards I send out year round, but back then we folded red and pink paper in half and cut out hearts, made pop-up cards, cut heart-shaped windows into cards, stuck the stickers grandmas kept us supplied with onto cards, and even did origami cards. The best thing about this kind of card is that what you say to someone is so much more meaningful than a store-bought card.

Send Cards to Those Who Don't Expect Them
Every year I make about a dozen cards and we send them to widows and divorcees who don't have someone special to send them a card filled with love. At least two widows have told me that my card is the only Valentine's card they receive and they enjoy it so much. Who do you know that might need a small dose of love this year?

Tell Them Why You Love Them
I recently heard a guest on a radio program tell about her first year as single mom. She had no money for Valentines so she cut out paper hearts and put a mobile of them together for each child. Each mobile had the child's name on one heart and one attribute she loved about them on each of the others. She hung these from the kitchen ceiling late on February 13 so they saw them when they got up on Valentines'. The next year on the 13th they asked if she was going to do it again. Guess what she stayed up late doing? When a friend came over and asked what they were, her son said, "Oh my mom does that every year." A tradition was born! Have you told your kids what you love about them?

Tessa, in California, asked me, "How do you turn a holiday which is overpriced and focused on romantic evenings for two, into a family friendly celebration of love?" 
Tessa, I hope I showed you how a little creativity goes a long way in teaching our kids how to show love and think about others who need love. 

For more inspiring Valentine's ideas, click here.

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