Thursday, April 20, 2017

There. Is. No. Need. To. Yell.

Or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (part 6)

Has family dinner every sounded like this at your house? It never did at ours, well, not least not every night.

But there were those nights.

How do you keep the atmosphere pleasant at your family mealtime table? Here are some suggestions:

1. Keep your sense of humor.

2. Discuss your atmosphere goals with your husband or wife. If you guys aren't in agreement about this it's not gonna work. We tried to have a signal to say to the other when we were getting worked up about something. One would say to the other, "Elephants" or whatever we chose. I have to admit, however, that this didn't always work. (I will take the 5th amendment on who it was that had trouble cooling down.)

3. Have a talk with the whole family about it. We were never big on formal "family meetings" to discuss issues, but we did have a family meeting of sorts, every night at the dinner table. I can remember asking questions like:

  • What do you look forward to about dinner?
  • Is there anything that makes you cringe when you think about our family mealtimes?
  • What can we, as your parents, change to make it a happier time?
  • What can you do to help make the atmosphere pleasant and inviting?

4. Keep your sense of humor.

5. Have fun family reminders to use, especially if guests are present. The family of one of my good friends signaled each other with the silverware. The fork meant "get to the point." Holding up a knife signaled "cut it off." And the spoon meant, "Feed it to him!" You can use whatever your reminder is to help stop ranting, arguing, gossiping, or complaining. (Not that I think any of that would happen at your table!)

6. Agree to work on this together. Does one person feel never listened to? Another like everyone disagrees with him? Someone else feels hurried, or slowed? Ask them what would make them feel better. Get each person to offer a compromise they can do and give a commitment to do it.

7. Get a theme verse that you all want to be the working principle for your family mealtimes. Cross-stitch it and hang it on the wall!

8. Oh, and did I mention, have a good sense of humor?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Do You Have Energy to Get Your Family to the Table Tonight?

or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (Part 5)

Do you wish you had more energy?

Most people do.

Life takes energy and in our society the meal we can most often get together for is toward the end of the day after we've used most of that energy on other projects. 

How can we get the stamina to keep going, so we can get a meal on the table and have the pizzaz to have an interesting conversation?

One thing I do is exercise.

Dreaded word, I know. But it's as simple as taking a twenty minute walk.

That's my favorite kind of exercise, especially in spring and fall. I actually go for about thirty minutes. My dream is to have an hour to walk, but I'm not sure when I'll have time for that on a regular basis.

One website that encourages me in this is I can plot a map of where I walked, how much time it took, and other notes. They tell me how many calories I burned! They'll also let me know of progress I'm making, like if I have better time or more activities or longer walks.

It's just fun to have that extra information. And besides, if I ever need an alibi, this should help, right? 

In the winter or on rainy days I do exercise videos. My favorites are the Walk Away the Pounds series by Leslie Sansone.

This is the first one I got and the one I still use the mostThe One and The Two Mile Walks . I try to do the two mile walk mostly, but some days I just run out of time and the one mile walk only takes about nineteen minutes. In it she combines a little bit of weight work.

This is my favorite one! Because she does strength training and aerobic exercise in three-minute intervals, the time seems to go by so quickly. Plus, I can feel the muscles working as I use the weights. I've worked up from tuna can "weights" to five pound weights and sometimes I even use eight pounders.

It seems like an enigma, using energy gives you energy. But I think I'm proof. I am 56 and have low blood sugar, low blood pressure (last count 90/61), asthma, and no thyroid, but I have energy to make dinner every night. 

For insight in what I think about while I'm walking take a look at this post!

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Six Grocery Shopping Solutions!

Or Making It Easy to get to the Table (Part 4)

I stood looking at the freezer section that held orange juice concentrates. There were probably five different brands each of which had three, four, or five variations, and two or three different sizes. Did I want regular, extra pulp, no pulp, calcium added, or no sugar added? How much did I want: six, twelve, or sixteen ounces? And which brand would produce the most orange juice for the least price while not adding sugar?

While I just stood there feeling dazed and staring, an older woman (since I was in my late twenties this could mean someone in their sixties, but my mind remembers a woman in at least her seventies) came and stood by me for a moment. Finally she looked at me and commented, "There are just too many choices, aren't there."

While I nodded in agreement, I thought if you only knew. If you only knew...

I had just arrived in the states after six years in Lima, Peru, where the grocery store had four aisles and most of them had one item--one kind, one brand, fixed government prices. There could be a whole aisle of corn flakes (not recommended as they hadn't perfected that science yet), or a row of dried beans, or a row of grainy chocolate used to make hot chocolate. There might be some chickens (whole with heads and feet stuffed inside), some beef (which required a pressure cooker to get it tender enough to chew), and some eggs (attached feathers free). If you wanted orange juice you bought a kilo or two of juice oranges and strengthened your arms by hand juicing them--full pulp, no sugar, no added calcium.

You'll be happy to know things have improved there since the 80s. I have to admit, though, that I envied those who had such "easy" grocery shopping in the states.

Now I live in the states, and it seems like every time I go to the grocery store there is something new to consider: organic? roasted? fresh? in water or olive oil? with extra vitamin C? omega-3 enriched? low fat? low carb? splenda or stevia sweetened?

When I think I know exactly what I like, the company changes their packaging or the store rearranges their merchandise. It's all designed to keep me in the store longer and spend more money. If the grocery store takes too much time or is too frustrating, we're not going to buy the food we need to have at home to make a family meal and that together time goes out the window in favor of everyone grabbing their own, fast food in the car, or eating too many calories and spending too much money eating out, just to eat.

So I have six simple suggestions to make your grocery shopping easier. This isn't how to have the lowest bill possible, there are plenty of others who can tell you how to do that. This is making it easy so you can spend your time getting your family together around your table.

  1. Have at least twelve different meals your family enjoys and you find easy to make. This is your go to list when you are deciding what you need to buy. Choose five of these, one new, or different recipe, and plan for leftover/dinner out/potluck at church/snack supper for the other meal. Go through each recipe and check your cupboard to figure out what you need to buy.
  2. Make a grocery list. Never shop without a list. You just forget too many things. (Never mind that I am capable of forgetting things that are on my list in my hand!)
  3. Know your store. While stores will change their products around from time to time, the same types of food stuffs generally stay near each other. Organize your list in the order you go around the store. I shop mostly at Aldi's so it's easy to zip through there with my ordered list.Extra credit: print out a list of the things you often buy in the order you find them in your store. Then you only need to circle what you need.
  4. Know your likes. If you cannot stand the store brand of ketchup, then just know you are going to buy Brand X and don't worry about price comparison. If the store brand is usually the cheapest and you like it, don't stand there trying to calculate which one is one cent less per ounce than the other. Learn if you like your orange juice with extra pulp or not and grab what you like.
    This darling little shopper is the son of friends of ours.
  5. Don't shop when you are hungry or have to go to the bathroom. Take care of those needs or  your brain will stop functioning and you'll be backtracking all over the store and forget to buy the coffee, without which you will die.
  6. Talk to someone while standing in line. Yup, your line is always the slowest, so enjoy it. Make an upbeat comment to someone else in line, even if it's about the weather. The other day a lady told me that she used to eat those chocolate-covered gooey-inside cookies with her dad, now long passed, and it was all she could do to not buy a box and eat the whole thing. Today the man in front of me had placed a strong empty box inside his cloth grocery bag, when I said, "What a good idea!" He told me it holds the bag open for him making it easy to pack the groceries. Both times, I was through the line before I knew it and on my way home to put the food away, ready to make another family meal.

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Contrasting Meals

Or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (Part 3)

Do you struggle over what to make for dinner? 

I go in spurts of making menus. Whenever we are going to have guests I make detailed menus that include two or more side dishes, where to find the recipes, and sometimes even when to take food out of the freezer or what time to get it going. I used to do it every week for the family, but it is a little easier now that it's just the two of us at home. One thing is my husband is very good about eating lots of veggies and  not turning his nose up at anything, so I don't have to worry about who likes or eats (or doesn't eat) something. (He does tell me if something is good enough to put in my "top ten" Pinterest list or if I "don't need to repeat that.")

But even if you know what your basic food will be--say baked chicken--you still need to come up with some ideas for what to serve with it. Early in our marriage I made some pretty blah meals. How about one memorable meal of baked chicken (no skin), mashed potatoes, and cauliflower. And this was back when I thought salt and pepper were the only spices you needed, unless you wanted to make cinnamon rolls.

That meal was white, tasteless, and textureless.

Then I did some research on what makes a great meal and I found out that contrast is one of the keys.


  • hot and cold: Hot food stimulates the appetite and enhances the taste of many foods, but it needs to be balanced with foods meant to be eaten cold or at least room temperature. If you have a roast with some steaming gravy, mashed potatoes, a broccoli salad might be just the contrast you need to create an enjoyable experience.
  • colors: Think about how a meal will look on the plate. My all white meal was served on my all white plates and that added to the blandness. Now I try to involve as many different colors as possible when planning a meal. That's one reason I love my signature carrot salad--you can hardly make a whole meal orange!
  • flavors: We've come to expect spicy food to have a cool green salad with it because they bring out each other's flavors, helping us appreciate each taste and cool the mouth if it's very spicy.
  • textures: Chewing food helps take the time we need to feel satisfied. If we have a creamy soup we love to pair it with a crusty artisan bread to give us the feeling of truly eating.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Do You Have a Burden?

Or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (Part 2)

I do. I have a burden. I have something that weighs on me all the time. Something I would give up everything, and I do mean everything, to have resolved, because it's a burden of eternal consequence.

I'm not so spiritual that I would find it easy to give up everything or that I wouldn't complain later or ask God give it back. But in my heart of hearts I understand that all I would be giving up is just temporary and the burden is about the forever soul of people I love. So I pray. I pray all day, many times a day, about this burden.

In relation to my burden, the past few mornings I've been meditating on Matthew 11:28-30: 

We all like these verses because Jesus promises rest from our burdens. As I've thought through these verses (that's what that hard-to-understand "meditating" is), I have come to see that rest, isn't a do-nothing-vacation, or even freedom from our burden. It is a two part rest: first, we rest by taking a yoke on us. We walk in step with Christ and that, obviously, will have us doing the right thing within the burden. By doing the right thing, responding as Christ would, we find a soul-rest even while carrying the burden.

Second, it is a double yoke. We don't carry the burden alone; Christ is carrying it with us. He is teaching us, walking with us, making it doable. He's an easy teacher to have--gentle and humble. I remember a math teacher I had who was so haughty he made my sophomore year of high school miserable. One day when I was struggling with a concept he said to me, "I guess I'll be seeing you again next year!" He didn't. Although I eventually obtained a bachelor's degree from college, I did it without ever taking another math class! How wonderful to know that Jesus Christ will never exasperatedly say to me, "Haven't you gotten it yet?!"

My personal devotions give me food for thought through out the day, and ways to pray for myself and others when they come to mind. They help me cast my burden on the Lord again. In talking with God about all that He is teaching me, doing in my life, and the things that concern me, I am strengthened for all I do, prepared for the day and all that will be contained in it.

And part of what I do is plan, prepare, and share a meal with my family. I am convinced that my devotions help make our family mealtimes a more enjoyable place for everyone involved. 

Because I spend time with the Lord each morning, I hope I am more prepared to respond as He would want me to when the milk spills or a tough question comes up. I wish I could say I always carried His strength with me through the day to dinner. I'm afraid I haven't. But just imagine what I would have been like without that time with Him.

I firmly believe that making a habit of personal devotions, and developing a life of devotion helps us make our family mealtimes a more inviting place to be and therefore, make it easier to get the family together for a meal.

For Part 1 "A Well Stocked Kitchen" click here.

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Linking with these great blogs.

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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