Thursday, February 16, 2017

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

Did you grow up with a big Sunday dinner?

Photo Credit

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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Friday, January 27, 2017

In the Image of God

What will you talk about with your kids at the dinner table tonight?

Would you consider talking about what it means to be made in the image of God?*



Today is the day of the pro-life rallies in Washington DC and around the country. They won't get as much press coverage as recent marches have because they don't fit the belief system of the media. But they are happening and thousands and thousands of people will take part.

I can't go, but here's why I am prolife:


I believe all people, born and pre-born,
 are made in the image of God.

What it means to be made in the image of God:
  • Each and every one of us are created by God and have worth because of Him
  • We are relational because God is relational
  • We have a morality, an absolute sense of right and wrong because God is holy
  • We have an intelligence because God is all knowing
  • We are to represent God here on earth as His image, His art piece here on earth
  • Cursing one another is a sin against God Himself
  • Taking the life of another human is a sin against God Himself
Take time today to pray with your family for our country. Not only for the pro-life hopes, but for our leaders to be saved, the people in our government to do God's will whether or not they realize it, for Christians to be outstanding testimonies, for the Word of God to go forth.

And flood your social media with March for Life pictures and hashtags! We can stand up and be noticed too.

#MarchforLife
#IntheImageofGod



* Suggested discussion questions for your family:

  • How does the Bible say we are made?
  • Who did God make us like?
  • How are we like Him?
    • Do we look like Him?

    • Do we have His special powers?
    • Can we act like Him?
    • Can we have the same qualities as Him?
    • Do we relate to others like Him?
  • If God made us in His image, how do you think He wants us to behave?
  • If people are made in the image of God, with many of the characteristics of God, what does God think about each one?
  • How should we then treat other people?
  • What things would be wrong to do to other people?
  • What things would be right to do to other people?









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    Monday, January 23, 2017

    Groundhog Day

    Groundhog day is a day to be celebrated! Why? Well, because as annoying as it can be to a person trying to keep a nice lawn to have a groundhog around, they are really funny.



    We had a couple of groundhogs while on furlough. We moved into a house owned by people from our church who gave us a real bargain on the rental price. The house was inside a small city along the Mississippi River, high on a bluff with a view of the harbor and bridge. Even though there were neighboring houses, the bluff had some woods on it so we saw all kinds of interesting wildlife while we lived there, but our favorites were the ones we came to call "Nibbles" and "Waddles". 

    Our landlord had told us that there were groundhogs around. He pointed out an old tin skillet and an enamel pot under a tree and said we should put any leftover vegetables, lettuce cores, carrot peelings and the like in them and the groundhogs would come eat them. We had a ball taking our leftovers out there and then watching the antics of the two groundhogs that would come eat. Soon my 11 year old daughter named them, Nibbles and Waddles. 



    If we happened to come out onto the deck when they were out and we hadn't realized it, watching their loping toddle always brought a smile to our lips. 

    They were pretty cute when they sat on their haunches and held their food, biting, turning it, chewing...biting, turning it, chewing. 

    I told a friend about "our" groundhogs. She exclaimed, "You encourage groundhogs to come?" I had no idea they were unwanted, so I did some reading and discovered that if you have a garden, you don't want groundhogs, or if you have plants you don't want eaten, or a yard you don't want dug up. Oh well, we enjoyed Nibbles and Waddles and our landlord was the one who told us to feed them!

    Another reason I think we should celebrate is my third grandchild's birthday is on Groundhog Day making it very easy to remember because the date is 2/2. Why didn't they all get born on days like that? 3/3, 4/4, 5/5? 

    Assuming you don't have a birthday on the day, how would you celebrate Groundhog Day?

    Here are my suggestions:

    First, get the kids busy with a simple craft. You can use this as your centerpiece at dinner. You can find some ideas on Pinterest. I will be visiting my older grandchildren (the oldest of my 6 grandchildren is five, oh excuse me, five and a half) a couple days before Groundhog Day so I am hoping to do one of these with them.



    Next, figure out some food to go with groundhogs day. Groundhogs like roots and greens, so depending on how adventuresome your kids are you could fix some of those. Anything from carrot sticks and lettuce to turnips and brussel sprouts will do. And, although I think they look more like beavers, Pinterest has lots of dessert ideas. You can decide to go all out, or just stick a teddy graham in some pudding. The idea isn't to get all flustered about having a "Pinterest perfect" celebration, just to get together and have some fun.




    I have looked up some true/false facts about ground hogs and you can print them out and cut up the cards (or use printable business cards such as Avery® Business Cards 28878 Avery® Template 8371) and take turns asking each other questions at the dinner table. For my groundhog fact cards click here.




    Finally, if your kids are big enough--or maybe just for you and your hubby after they are in bed--the movie,  Groundhog Day, which doesn't have a whole lot to do with groundhogs, can be a fun way to end a groundhog day celebration and can even lead to a serious discussion. Ask your kids: 

    • How can we learn from our mistakes? 
    • How should we treat other people? 
    • What makes the changes in Phil? 
    • What can truly bring about changes (transformation) in the lives of people? 

    My motto is use any excuse to have fun with, learn, and connect with your family!










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    Thursday, January 12, 2017

    Living By Faith

    I have a confession to make.

    Last week I talked about enjoying the seasons of life. I said God had given me a gift of being able to enjoy each season of life. As I reread my post, I realized how it sounded: 




    That's not what I meant. That's not how I wanted to come across. 

    First of all, if I find joy in each new phase of my life, I believe it is a gift from God and that says more about Him than it does about me.

    Secondly, I do struggle with living by faith, with seeing God at work in and through me in new, different, and sometimes unwanted circumstances.

    Right now I have a heartache. A mother's heartache. But I want to honor God in the midst of my pain. I want to honor Him by living by faith, walking by faith through this life. 

    I used to say I couldn't wait until I got to heaven and I could have my faith perfected and my worship undistracted. But not too long ago I came to realize that I can't live by faith in heaven. When I am in heaven I will live by sight, "we will see Him just as He is." (1 John 3:2)

    It is only here on earth that I can honor God by living by faith.

    I'm still working on how to figure that one out. 












    I know it involves knowing God, knowing His Word, obeying Him. But what I struggle with is trusting Him, trusting to the point of no longer being afraid. Afraid of the future, of life, of the what ifs, of the what if nots. Trust that believes that whatever God does, whatever God allows, is The Best Thing. I can say the words. I can quote Romans 8:28--in two languages! But do I live like I believe it?

    And when I pray, do I pray in faith, or do I pray wishes? How can I know the difference? 

    One day last month as I went about my necessary activities I had an ongoing conversation with God. Well, it was rather one-sided. Guess who was talking?

    Over and over I asked God, "How can I live by faith?" I told Him I wanted to. I wanted to honor Him in that way in my life, but I felt so distraught, so anxious, that I knew I wasn't. I tried telling Him all about my worries. I tried asking Him to work in and through them. I tried asking for Him to work in me. I even tried thanking Him for everything good and the hard times too. (See Philippians 4:6-7) But I didn't feel like I was living by faith. 

    So this is me being honest.

    I do have joy in this season of life. But I also have concerns. Concerns that I sometimes swaddle my thoughts in all day long. But I also have God. And I'm seeking Him. Looking to know Him. Longing to trust Him. Wanting to honor Him. Honor Him by living by faith.






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    Thursday, January 5, 2017

    Are You Enjoying This Season of Life

    When I was growing up, the only things I wanted to be "when I grew up" were a missionary, and if God allowed, a wife and mother. I worked toward being a missionary, assuming that no matter what, that was God's will, but I wasn't sure His plan included getting to be a wife and mother. That would be a bonus. During my teenage years I spent my summers on missions teams, I attended missionary conferences, and I met missionaries. I went to missionary prayer meetings. I gave to missions. Eventually, I went to Bible School, where I met a man who felt the same call of God. When God confirmed our relationship, He gave us an amazing love for each other.



    Eventually, God led us to Lima, Peru. I can still picture the street we were walking along there when we came to the conclusion that our Spanish studies and adjustment to our new country were moving forward, and we wanted to try to start a family. Ten months later we were parents of a son!



    I don't remember the moment we decided to try for a second child.

    That brought us into a season I refused to enjoy--secondary infertility. Every month was a disappointment when it became clear that no baby was on the way. Twice babies were there, but they died in my womb early in the pregnancy. I'm pretty sure having a second child was the only thing I could talk about. If I could do it over, even not knowing that one day I would have three more children and at least six grandchildren, I wish I could trust God more and learn to appreciate what He was doing in my life during that season. I do know that I enjoyed my little boy to the fullest and got to do things with him that later I could not do with the others because I was busier.

    God led us to adopt a little girl. Shortly after she joined our family, another son was born to us. Life was busy! Two babies eight months apart and a five year old. There were those days. There were those women who said things like, "Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems." And "Enjoy them now, these years go by so quickly."

    Eventually God moved us to Colombia and gave us another daughter. I loved my life there. It was full of opportunities to teach women and watch new believers grow in the Lord. The ministry was exciting and fulfilling. My kids were in school. There were those days when school was hard, the kids didn't understand, and the teachers didn't understand my kids.

    Health was always a struggle. Thyroid cancer followed by the onset of asthma took away my spark for quite a while.



    Life moved on. One child was about to leave home. That was so hard. I would wake up in the middle of the night with a panicked feeling that he was leaving and would never live under my roof again. God must have laughed at me because He sent us on furlough for a year, and my son lived with us during his junior year of college. We got to know and love his girlfriend who today is his wife and mother of their four children.

    A time of change in ministry came. My husband took on a whole new role. No longer were we missionaries together, but he was the International Coordinator of Emmaus Correspondence School. I had no idea what I would do. This was his work. It took me quite a while to find my place in our new local church.

    Health problems intruded again and I had four surgeries in two years before things were resolved.

    I was able to start working with the women's ministries in an administrative role. Something I never wanted to do, but God has given me joy in it, even though I still struggle to keep track of all the details. God has someone alongside me who picks up all the pieces I drop.

    With one child married, two away at college, one in high school, and my husband working at an office instead of out of the home, my life became different. Then the fourth one went to college and lived on campus, even though it was only a mile away. She was home, along with other family in town, for lunch every Sunday. Were we empty nesters?

    The middle two each moved back home for about a year and a half and I loved that. Then they got married and now I was a mother-in-law three times over.

    All of a sudden I became a grandmother. Wasn't I much too young for this? One, two, three, and then four grandchildren four hours away. One in town. One in Germany. Three of them arrived within six months of each other. It was a little overwhelming, and a lot of fun.



    Our youngest graduated from college, got a job, and got her own apartment in town. My season of life has become mom to adults, grandma, and daughter as all four of our parents are now living in the same town as us, ages 81 to 90.

    I work hard at church. I'm on four committees and the head of three of them. How did that happen? I don't like administration!

    ...But I feel like God has given me a gift. A gift of enjoying each season of life. I always feel like I enjoy this one more than any of the others, with the exception of my secondary infertility season.

    Still, if I could go back and ask that woman in her late twenties with all those little kids, she might say, "This is what I always wanted. This is the best time of life."

    If I could go talk to the woman with three teens and a tween? Well...even then I remember telling people that I had never given up anything to be a missionary. I had everything I wanted.

    If I could ask that woman with all those opportunities to teach other women, I know she would say it was a great time!

    If I could ask the woman moving to the states, a place she had to submit to God to come to, what would she say? She was sad that her life living in Colombia was done, but excited to see what God was going to do.

    If I could ask her six months later how she felt, she would have been amazed at the house God had given her, but still seeking what God wanted her to be involved in. That was a tough time, after 24 years of working closely beside my husband in ministry, now he had a fulltime "job" ministry and I was a fulltime stay at home wife and mother. But I reveled in the changing seasons of the year, each one was better than the last! Summer! Fall! Winter! Spring!

    Today, I'm so busy with so many things that I'm learning to love, yes, even administration. My family is my joy...there are heartaches, there are growing pains, but I'm asking God to let me trust Him and enjoy this season of life, too.

    How about you? Are you able to enjoy the season you are in now?



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