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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ten Habits of Families that Eat Together

"How do you do it?"

How do families that eat together often, maybe every night, manage it? In our society it seems like that's an impossibility. Everyone has a busy schedule, including the kids, so what makes family mealtimes happen?

Here are 10 habits of families that eat together often:

1. Start Right Away -- From day one of becoming a family they sit down together to eat. This means before the first child comes along, the couple eats meals together. As soon as possible baby is included at the table, even if he's not eating. My grandchildren have learned to hold hands and pray just by being included from long before they had any idea of what was being done.

2. Expect It -- Develop an attitude of this is the way it will be. Not eating together should be the exception. Expectations go a long way in developing habits, so be on the same page about them!

3. Everyone Helps -- Teaching our kids to shop, cook, and clean up are life skills entrusted to us. But getting them to help isn't just about them knowing how or me getting the table set; it's a great way to get to know each other. You know, it's easier to talk to someone about sensitive topics if you don't have to look them in the eye!

4. Keep Meals Simple -- My mother-in-law thinks every meal needs a meat, potato, vegetable, salad, bread, dessert, and coffee. Of course, those are great meals, but sometimes we have stir-fry and rice. Oh, and I let them drink water.

5. Block Interruptions -- There are BIG interruptions, like everyone having a different sport, practice, lesson, or appointment to get to. And there are little interruptions like television, phones, doorbells, and texts. The family that eats together blocks out as many of these as possible. Schedule things early enough to eat together. Power down, put away, don't answer. And, gasp, say "no" to some activities so you can say "yes!" to family dinner. 

6. A Few Simple Rules -- Dinner time is not time for Mom or Dad to turn into The Enforcer, but you need some basic rules to make a meal enjoyable. How about: Don't do things that make other people uncomfortable or upset.

7. Parents Set the Example -- Mom and Dad have to obey the rules too: no answering the phone, say please and thank you, be all there. 

8. Keep it Light -- Humor defuses. I can remember one of my teen's mood temperature rapidly rising as they searched frantically for their shoes. For once I didn't spike a temp, too, and philosophized, "One of the great questions of life is, 'Where do our things wander off to when we aren't looking?'" Temper successfully disabled.

9. Be Flexible -- Some days the family meal won't be on time. Some days there will  be interruptions. Some days the food will burn, or still be raw. Some days you'll have to take the phone call. Some days the appointment is unavoidable. Some days you won't all be there. The family that often eats together knows this and keeps expecting family mealtimes on most days. 

10. Know Every Day Won't be Like the Cleavers -- Do you even know the Cleavers? I was stunned to find out many of my kids' friends don't. I guess that dates me. The Cleavers are the family on the 50's TV program, Leave it to Beaver. They always sat down to dinner in the dining room, with a tablecloth, dad in a tie, a delicious meal, and kind conversation where the kids respected and learned from their parents. Yup, won't happen every day in any home. Might not even happen most days. But you keep trying.

Tell me, what habit helps your family sit down together for a meal?

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tell Us Your Story!

After reading a post on my blog, I want the readers to long for the kind of family connection they read about. They should think, "Let's have dinner as a family as soon and often as we can. I want that kind of connection in our family."

To do that I want to tell stories in my posts. My problem is I don't have any kids living at home full time. One daughter is in her senior year of college and I get to have her home some of her school vacation. 

So I need help.

If you have children--of any age--living at home, and you have regular family meals. I would LOVE to hear your mealtime stories.

If you have a story about a time your family (children, parents and siblings, grandchildren) was together around the table (or at a meal) that includes

Then it could be a great addition to the blog.

Photo Credit: Kelly Wilson

I want to emphasize that it is a story we want to hear. The teaching comes along naturally. If it’s a story of how something really clicked we’ll all be encouraged to keep working at getting our family together for meals. But even if it’s a hilarious disaster (at least now it’s hilarious), it helps us all know that others have calamities and not only survive, but can make them a part of their family’s oral history.

Humor is a wonderful teacher, so if that’s part of your story, work it in!

I am also open to slightly off-topic posts that have to do with families connecting. If you have an idea along these lines, please query me before going to the work of writing.

If you are interested in helping me (and I hope you are!) please take a moment to read the rest of this post with some specific guidelines.

Also, if you have a story, but aren't a writer, send me an email telling me the topic and giving me your phone number. You can tell me the story, and I will write it up.

Writer's Guidelines

Please take time to familiarize yourself with the blog (including clicking on the links above) and its purpose, to inspire families to gather around the table more often where they can learn, talk, and enjoy each other.

Submission of your guest post does not guarantee publication. Your submission will be reviewed and if it will benefit Around the Table Blog readers, it is likely to be published.

A guest blog should be a story not an instruction manual.

Musings on family mealtimes are also good, but keep them real and include true illustrations from your life.

Posts must be original content (i.e. not published under a copyright you do not own).

Please read and reread your entry to tighten up your story and make it readable and flowing. Read it out loud to yourself to see if it sounds good.

Read it to the people in the story to make sure they agree on its accuracy and that you have their permission to have it published on the web.

If it has to do with a holiday or season, please get it to me at least 3 months before that time so that we can work on it together before it is time to post it.

If you have any digital photographs that you could include with it, that would be very helpful, and actually necessary!  These would need to be sent to me in an attachment to be able to post them. If your family or others are in the pictures please get their permission to have them published on the web. I will assume that your submission means that there is permission. Include the suggested caption for the picture.

The entries can be 200-600 words long.

Include a short, fun bio (50 words or less) at the end of your post. I don't want your curriculum vitae, tell a fun or interesting fact about yourself. Feel free to include a link to your website, blog, and/or Facebook page.

Please send your well-edited blog entry to me in body of the email with any images attached

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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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Linking with these great blogs. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

People with Clean Houses Clean

Not too long ago I looked at my schedule. I could mow the lawn that day or I would not have time for nine days. It had only been a week in the heat of summer, so large parts of the grass had barely grown. The shaded parts were getting long, though. And if I waited another nine days, it would all look pretty bad. I decided to mow. 

As I pushed the mower along, there were times when I would survey the grass seeking some sign of wheel tracks so I could tell where I had mowed and where I hadn't. I figured my neighbors were looking out their windows thinking, "O.C.D." But believe me, I'm not!

My neighbors' always lovely yard

But you know what I realized, people with manicured lawns, mow, cut, and edge when others think they don't need it.

I had some further revelations.

People with clean houses, clean even when the house looks relatively clean.

Godly, wise older people got that way by walking with God every day. (This is one of my goals; actually, all of these are my goals!)

Thin people watch what they eat. All. The. Time.

Organized people (like my husband) are always organizing. (Which is different from the way I do it: always trying to organize.)

People who are never late, always leave when there's more time than they need to arrive. (And they get less speeding tickets!)

Think about it.

People who get a lot done, are always doing something.

Maybe my "revelations" are beyond obvious to you.

The point is, to get something done, we have to do it...All. The. Time.

You want to have family meals on a regular basis? Start planning before dinner time. In fact make plans at dinner the day before! 
Do what you always do, even when it doesn't look like it needs to be done and then you'll be one of those people that seems to have it all together. AND, you'll get around to family meals!

Okay, now where did I put that fingernail file...?

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For more thoughts on this see Noticing What We Do

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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!

*   *   *   *   *  

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, August 6, 2015

Take It Outside!

In the city of Lima, Peru, there's a light house with a green grass park around it. Lighthouses are fascinating and spark the imagination. And a park with nice grass, that was a rare find in Lima in the 80s. So we often took our supper down there to enjoy looking at the ocean, run around the park, chase each other around the light house, watch ships sailing by, and have a family meal together.

When the weather is warm and the kids are off school is a great time to do something special for family meals. And there are all kinds of great ideas. Here are seven ways to "Take it Out". 

1. Carry Out -- That's what we did in the lighthouse park. I made some simple one dish meal that we could easily eat while sitting on a blanket along with tangerines or carrot sticks, sippy cups for drinks, and cookies for dessert. Any park will do, from the city park around the corner to the park by the lake an hour away. Bring some balls or frisbees or Bocce Balls (our family favorite) and enjoy the time together. As long as you are away from home, you are going to have enforced togetherness.

2. Grill Out -- Whether you have a hibachi or built in gas grill, and if you eat shrimp and steak or hot dogs, cooking and eating outside give you a chance to hear the birds sing, kids playing, a car driving past with bass booming, and, of course, someone mowing their lawn nearby. Something special after dinner (iced coffee drinks?) keeps everyone lingering longer to enjoy the outdoors.

3. Grill Further Out -- Take it further from home to a nearby park where grilling is allowed. We have a great park in our town overlooking a lock and dam in the Mississippi River where we've enjoyed some wonderful family times. "Remember the time the "ladder balls" got stuck in the tree? The game of getting them down was as much fun as the original game!" Perhaps there are trails to walk along in a park near you. And a kids outdoor scavenger hunt is always a great diversion!

    4."Move" Out -- Do you have a "video" projector? Take it outside and show a dinner movie on the side of your house, a sheet, or even an outdoor screen. Invite friends and neighbors for extra fun! Another variation of this is a drive in movie, if you still have one in your part of the world.

    5. Concert Out -- In our town there are two parks with free concerts where you are encouraged to bring your dinner beforehand for a picnic and then listen to the local talent. In the bigger city, where my son lives, there's a Concert Park dedicated to this during the summer. You have to pay, but you get to hear professional musicians. Either way it's a lot of fun! Look in your local paper for possibilities.

    6. Play Out -- Where my parents live they have "Shakespeare in the Park" one evening a week during August. We've gone there with our supper in a basket to enjoy the park, feed the ducks, have dinner together, and then try to figure out the Bard. Maybe there is something like that in your area.

    7. Shout Out (or Take Me Out to the Ball Park) -- Our church has a softball league and they love to have fans. It's pretty easy to pack a simple dinner and go cheer the team on. We did this a few weeks ago and sent an email around telling others we'd be there with our dinner and asked anyone who wanted to bring their food and join us. We had a good crowd cheering on our team!

    What can you do to make a summer evening meal extra special?
    There's still plenty of warm-enough weather time to eat outside!

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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 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:

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

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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:

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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. 
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