Thursday, August 17, 2017

Listen, Love, Linger: Southern Hospitality with Summer

I have some Facebook friends I've never met in real life. Most of them are friends of friends, but some I've met through various pages that involve my interests. One of these is Jessica Summer Overstreet, the admin of a small page where we try to help each other boost our blog page posts "one like at a time". (Isn't that a great tag line she came up with?)

I asked Summer some questions about her mealtimes growing up, with family, and with friends.

What was the first thing you learned to cook?
Grilled cheese sandwich. When I was between the ages of 10 and 12, my mom was in nursing school and her study group would always cram for exams at our house. It made me feel so important to make and serve "lunch" aka grilled cheese sandwiches and chips to her friends!

What meal related chore will you put off as long as possible?
Anything to do with peeling! I am like a butcher with that task. I ruin tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers. I would much rather shell peas and shuck corn!

In the south manners are important, what mealtime manner did your parents have to constantly remind you about?
To not put my feet in the chair. I was terrible about wanting to sit on my knees at the supper table when I was little. I felt taller and it allowed me to lean in when I got to a really good part of whatever I was talking about. However, try as they may, my parents never broke me of the habit. If I am eating at my supper table you will find me sitting Indian style every time!

Tell me about the people usually around your table.
When it comes to supper time, my family is a little bit different. My parents both own their own businesses and I manage one of them, so we all work very long hours. For that reason, we eat out at various, locally owned restaurants most nights. We have been doing this for years, so we have made close friendships with the owners, management and staff of these restaurants. On any given night, you will find me, my parents, my sister and various restaurants employees at our table. Sometimes they will eat with us if they are in break or just sit and catch up for a minute. We love these precious people so much and consider them to be family! 

We also love to have supper with extended family and we have "adopted" several young men and women who will join us from time to time. 

What is your guilty pleasure food?
Mint chocolate chip coconut milk ice cream! I have a dairy allergy, so I can't enjoy regular ice cream. However, my coconut milk based ice cream is fabulous! I may or may not go through a container a week!

If you could bottle anything and spray it over your table, what would it be?
Summer time weather! Once the weather warms up, we love to sit at the outside patio at our favorite Mexican restaurant. There is something very intimate about those lazy summer days, soft breezes and relaxed and real conversation. We love watching the lightning bugs flicker, drinking an endless amount of sweet tea and watching the moon rise over the river. It is my happy place!

What is the last food picture you took on your phone?
Dark chocolate granola clusters. Because I have allergies to gluten and dairy, I had a hard time finding snack foods that I could eat. I finally decided to start making my own foods and these cookie clusters are my favorite!
Do you have a standard question you like to ask guests or friends when you are enjoying a meal with them?
My favorite question to ask at the supper table is about what has been going on in their lives recently. I want everyone at my table to know that they are free to open up and talk and that there is someone to listen and take interest in them.

What advice would you give to someone who is afraid to try hospitality?
Hospitality is so rewarding! It is a great feeling to see your guest relaxing and enjoying themselves. If a big meal is impossible for you to pull off, then go simple and invite a few ladies over for coffee. Have some of your coworkers over for fun appetizers after work.  If all else fails, do what my family does and ask them to have supper with you at a local restaurant on a week night. It will not be as busy so you can all have easy conversation and not feel rushed to give up your table as soon as you finish your meal. 

What's the most unusual combination of people you've put together for a meal?
My family and I love people. It's that simple, we love people. For that reason, I do not know of any combination of supper guests that we would consider unusual. We are go with the flow kind of people so feel free to pull up a chair and join us!

Finish this sentence: My ideal dinner party would include _______
Oh, I could gush about this one forever! My ideal dinner party would include plenty of outdoor seating, women unwrapping delicious casseroles, men laughing around sizzling grills, Frank Sinatra softly singing in the background, laughing children running in the grass with bare feet, colorful table cloths, pretty flowers for the table, sweet tea with lemon, a dessert table filled with pies, cakes, cobblers and banana pudding and a night of memories with a yard full of people who love the Lord.

How do you bring Christ to your table? 
I think the secret to a successful mealtime is to listen, really listen to each other. As busy people, supper time is our one opportunity each day to stop and focus on each other for one whole hour. I am a very candid and open person, so I willingly open up to whoever I am eating with. More times than not, they will usually open up to me as well. When a conversation starts to get deeper than just the standard "how've you been?" the opportunity comes to bring God into the conversation. This can be through advice, verses, examples of people in the Bible, sermons I've heard, what God has been showing me recently and stories of His faithfulness to me in the past.

Summer is a born again, Southern raised Alabama girl who loves Jesus, her family and her hometown. She works as a floral designer at her family owned florist, teaches first grade Sunday school and writes a blog designed to encourage every woman to find her confidence and value in Christ. So many of today's women are deeply struggling with accepting who God has made them to be and it is Summer's desire to reach out to them in that place. Before she turns 40, Summer would love to accomplish a few goals she has for herself like learning how to juggle, traveling to Israel, writing a children's book and taking a ball room dancing class! You can read her blog here.

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aroundthetableblog (at) gmail (dot) com

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Can't wait to read Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at MealtimesDid you know it is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Beyond Small Talk

Small talk, the bane of introverts and Germans.

How do I know it's the bane of Germans? My son-in-law is German and he doesn't understand the American past time of small talk. What's so interesting about the weather? Like introverts he prefers conversation about ideas, hopes, dreams, plans--things many of us feel are worth talking about. He's very good (sehr gut) at bringing up whatever topic he's currently investigating and explaining it and exploring others thoughts on the subject. Introverts--and Americans in general--have a harder time with that. 

That's where conversation starters are so great!

Because I'm the way I am, I like "directed conversations". By that I mean, some kind of game where the conversation is intentional. I think that's why I love conversation starting questions so much. 

There are lots of great uses for these cards:
  1. Keep them at the dinner table and let everyone choose one each night to ask of everyone in general.
  2. Keep some in the car for long car rides. They really break up the monotony.
  3. Carry a few in your purse or wallet to ask when you get together with a friend or meet a new colleague. Sneak a peek and then ask the question as though it was on the tip of your tongue.
  4. Take a card to church in your Bible and ask it of the person next to you during coffee break. 
  5. When you have guests over, toss a few cards in a basket and have each person choose one, read it and answer it.
  6. A group of people can pick a question and choose someone in the room to ask the question to.
So today I'm offering 60 more conversation starter questions. These aren't deep, idea-driven questions. They are more along the lines of getting to know the other person, but they can lead to deeper conversations. This is a non-threatening place to start.

Click the links below to get printable versions of the conversation starting question cards. They 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.

Conversation Starters 1

Conversation Starters 2
Conversation Starters 3

For 50 more printable conversation cards, click here.

And even 50 more click here.
For trivia question cards, click here.
For end of year conversation starter cards click here.

And for special conversations for married couples click here.

aroundthetableblog (at) gmail (dot) com

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Can't wait to read Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at MealtimesDid you know it is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!

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Linking with these great blogs. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thrift Store Candle Holders

If you know me, you know I like centerpieces on my table. Something you might not know about me is that I love the idea of repurposing things and having an upcycled item that looks good in my house.

This time it started with wanting better candles on my dresser. I had a pretty plate with three candles plunked on it. It wasn't working. So I was trying to figure out what I could do to make something pretty. This led to some time on Pinterest. From there I took a detour on my grocery shopping trip to our local thrift store. Without realizing it, I hit their fifty percent off day! I bought a few glass items (photo 1) and the next day I started playing around.

I washed and dried the items well, so I wouldn't be painting over spots. Then I tied twine around one of the glasses and the frame--which I had cut the picture out of and taped over the glass as I wanted it clear (2). On the frame I had to tape the twine on the back to keep it where I wanted (3). Some of the glasses I randomly placed rubber bands around (4). Then I spray painted everything lightly with one coat of "hammered" gold spray paint that I had left over from a previous project (5). 

I ended up with some pretty candle holders (6), not only for my dresser, but for our table and the coffee table vignette. The first time I used them was in our back yard at a bonfire we invited some neighbors to. We had a great evening visiting, even though no one asked me about my adorable candle holders. 

I get a lot of joy out of doing a project that ends up looking nice and costing very little and I love having candles around, especially on my table. They add so much to the atmosphere at mealtime.

What have you upcycled or crafted recently?

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Pinterest: Nailed or Failed?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Changing the Culture at the Kitchen Table--An Interview with Amber

What are mealtimes like in "real" households? People work at actually having meals together in families of every size. When is the best time to start having regular family meals? Tonight!

Here's what my blogging acquaintance, Amber Durgan, says about family meals with her young family.

Tell me who is around your table:
My husband, our 20 month old son, and myself. We are Christians and love the Lord first, each other second. My husband, Lance, and I take turns praying before meals. He is an engineer (and rancher, we have a family ranch) and I am a stay at home momma to our toddler boy, who is adventurous and loves all things boy!

If I came to your house for a meal, what unique thing would I notice?
Not that this is good, but right now the only way to get our toddler to eat is to play Winnie the Pooh for him. We only eat beef raised by our family, too.

How do you handle people using their cellphones during meals?
We really do our best to have the TV and cellphones off at the table. People who come over generally just follow suit when they see what we do. I've never asked anyone to not use their phone at the table.

What is your go-to meal these days?
I am a person who needs variety so we do not have go to meals, unless it is for our toddler who loves full fat Greek yogurt and non-sweetened applesauce together.

If you could bottle anything and spray it over your table, what would it be?
Relationship. I think the table is a great place for conversation and for fostering relationship with each other. I believe we can change the culture at the kitchen table.

What would be the best compliment you could receive about your mealtimes?
That whoever was at my table felt like they had grown in the Lord and in relationship with us.

What is one invention you would like to see to make mealtimes easier?
Something that completely does the dishes--ha ha!--it takes so long.

Finish this sentence: My ideal dinner would include
all the people I love most coming together in community to eat delicious food and grow in our love for the Lord and each other.

How do you bring Christ to your table?
We pray and often talk about Christ. We need to do it more.

Amber is the wife of four years to an engineer-rancher husband and a stay at home momma to their toddler-boy. She loves Jesus first and foremost, family next and this beautiful-crazy life we have been given. You can read her blog at

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Things I Never Thought I'd See, But I Did in Cuba

My husband and I had the opportunity to go on a working ministry trip to Cuba last month. It's a place that has always fascinated me because I might have grown up there if things had been different. My father visited missionaries in Cuba before he was married and believed that God might be calling him there. But after marriage a variety of factors, including the revolution in Cuba, kept them in the United States.

We had heard that some German friends of our were visiting believers there and we had the opportunity to go to present our study materials so we jumped at the chance! I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting (and I can't tell you all we did and saw there) but I thought I would tell you some of what I never thought I'd see--anywhere--that I found fascinating to see in Cuba

  • Cuba! All my life the country has been closed to Americans, not so much by them as by our government. One of my very good friends was born there to Canadian parents. I've read books about it, but never truly thought I'd get to see it for myself.

  • * A motorcycle driver using a flashlight as his headlight. To save battery power he only turned it on when he got near us!
  • Uniformed people (military?) "hitchhiking" by holding out money instead of their thumbs.

  • * Cows that are illegal for nationals to eat
  • Professionals--teachers, accountants, etc--who earn $25 a month after working 20, 30, and 40 years
  • Mayo as the bread spread at breakfast (butter is scarce)
  • Ox drawn carts as the local delivery service

  • * No WiFi anywhere in the country (maybe in the tourist hotels, but we didn't go to any)
  • Cars from the 1950s--not just the show cars but most of the cars owned by individuals
  • Trash-less towns in a Latin American country
  • Ration books that allow each adult in a home to buy one bread a day, and having that piece of bread given to me for my breakfast

  • * A man, who after recounting all the problems of his country saying, "But this is my country, the country God has given me to evangelize."

I'd love to tell you more about what I saw and the people I met, but I'd need to do it in person. Please just remember this: 
Pray for Cuba
Pray for the people of Cuba to be saved
Pray for the believers to walk close to the Lord 
to be bold in their witness

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Our Nation Still Needs Prayer

Almost a year ago I wrote my election advice. It is time to repeat it. It's the same advice as last year--pray for our country. There are plenty of problems, divisiveness, unwise actions on both sides to pray for, but I'm reminded of Jeremiah who was in a truly impossible situation: the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by Nebuchadnezzer's army, and God had already told him that the city would fall and the king would be carried away in captivity. The situation was hopeless.

Then God told Jeremiah that his cousin was coming to ask him to buy a piece of land (a piece of battlefield really) and he should buy it. Jeremiah obeyed, but then he talked to God.

The thing that impresses me about his prayer is that he didn't launch into a plea for God to make everything better. Nor did he complain to God about the ridiculous, and apparently pointless, act of paying top sheckle for land that was about to be lost to the enemy. Instead he begins with true prayer, worshiping God for who He is and what He has done. Listen in on his prayer:

Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You, who shows lovingkindness to thousands, but repays the iniquity of fathers into the bosom of their children after them, O great and mighty God. The Lord of hosts is His name; great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, giving to everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds; who has set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and even to this day both in Israel and among mankind; and You have made a name for Yourself, as at this day. You brought Your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and with wonders, and with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm and with great terror; and gave them this land, which You swore to their forefathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey. Jeremiah 32:17-23 
This is how I want to pray, worshiping God, reminding myself Who He is and putting things in perspective. 


The Bible says, "[God] changes the times and epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding." Daniel 2:21 

Since it is God who puts them into power (and takes them out again), I need to be talking to Him about it, asking Him to do His will on earth as it is done in heaven and to show me what my part in it is.

Whether to reward, punish, or guide, God puts or allows rulers to come to precedence according to His plan, for His glory and our ultimate good. We can't always see what that good is, and sometimes it doesn't seem like there could be any good at all. But that is when we get to walk by faith. Once we get to heaven, we won't be able to walk by faith any more, it will all be sight! So here on earth is our opportunity to honor God by trusting Him and obeying Him even when it doesn't make sense. He is something to truly believe in.

God has told us, "I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings who are in authority..." I Timothy 2:13  So when we pray for the authorities and that the right ones will be put into power we are obeying God.

  • Do you pray for your nation's and the world leaders in your private times of prayer?
  • Do your children hear you pray for these leaders in your family devotions?
  • Are they prayed for publicly in your church?

I urge you to do this and to encourage others to pray as well. Feel free to download and use this "election sign" on social media. Use the hashtag #AppealtoaHigherAuthority to encourage others to be praying for the United States nationally and locally, and all the nations around the world.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Chore Chart Sytem That Works

Today's post is guest written by the daughter-in-law of friends of mine, Anna Shepherd.  This was originally written three years ago, and is one of my most popular posts so I thought it was time to post it again.

Oh!  There's the dryer.  I need to fold these clothes before they wrinkle.  I have GOT to wash those dishes before the playdate.  Little man, could you please empty the recycle bin.  It's overflowing!  You did it the last two days?  Hey!  Who's turn is it to empty the can?  Oh yeah, fold laundry.  Could someone please load the dishwasher for me?  Where's your sister?  I can't think about dinner yet.

I am a homeschooling mother of four (6,7,10,11), and I am NOT a naturally organized person... on top of being a little A.D.D.   I crave organization (who's with me)!  Everything in a common-sense place, all laundry folded and put away, no clutter.  For YEARS I struggled with a practical plan to get close to my grand goal.  But there are so many people living in this house!  Is it possible to have chores done well by little ones?  It may be easier to just do it all myself, but should I?  I found myself relying too heavily on the "helpful" child, while the baby and the easily distracted children ended up doing less than their fair share.  How frustrating for the "helpful" child.  How wrong of me, when God is trusting me to rear FOUR future adults with character.  

My husband and I truly believe that chores are important for a child's character development.  They learn good work ethic, responsibility... and maybe get to earn some money (earn being the key word).  I needed to find some way to delegate age appropriate chores.. with the kids receiving accountability for the chore to get completed... and motivation to do their best.  I looked in stores for a workable chore chart--they were either designed for one child, pre-filled in with standard chores, or in some way simply "not what I was looking for".

At the beginning of last summer I decided to just make my own using a large piece of poster board, some index cards, glue, and markers.  I glued white index cards (on three sides) to the poster board to make about 20 pockets.  On each of the pockets I wrote chores like:
  • Take laundry to laundry room
  • Put books on bookshelf
  • Take out garbage
  • Empty dishwasher  

Things the kids could DO, and do well.   At the bottom of the poster board, I made a pocket with each of my kid's names on it.  I found some smaller, colorful index cards  and wrote Aaron, Austin, Ally, and Aiden on their colored cards.  Guess who's pink?   Last pocket had blue "Done" cards!  

Now, let's get organized.

The first morning, I took the kids' name cards and stuck them in all the pockets.  Some chore pockets like "clean your room" got all of their names.  They were under strict orders to only ever touch their name cards. (This taught them personal responsibility).  When a chore was finished, the child was to take out their name card and replace it with a "done" card. 

They were excited!  It's kind of fun for them to see their names on something, and it sure felt good to show mommy a chart full of blue "done" cards, especially when the "clean your room" chore pocket got all of their names eventually traded for four "done" cards.  

The beauty of this little system is the elimination of, "He's not helping!  He's shoving all his stuff to my side of the room!"  When they cleaned up all mess that belonged to them, they were free!  Everyone had to carry their weight and be accountable to ME!  

Now for the accountability part:  When each child finished all their chores, I double checked that they had been done well. It's important for kids to value doing a quality job.  The kind of kid they are is the kind of adult they will be.   

It took two weeks before "the baby" realized that doing it "well" mattered.  If the chores were done well, I'd give the child a point for the day.  10 points = $5.  "You know what, kids, when daddy doesn't do a good job, he doesn't get paid; a man is worth his wages."  That's life... in capitalism.

One more tip:  I originally set up the chart rotating the kids from chore to chore every day.  That was a bad idea.  Ha! Within the first few days I noticed a trend of all the kids finishing their chores to earn a point, but making no effort to maintain the organization.  Why should they work above and beyond if the sibling tomorrow would have to pick up their slack? If you've ever worked in an environment like this, you can understand that this built resentment.  

Week 2, the rules changed.  Each child would be doing the same group of chores for the whole week.  It then behoved them to keep caught up, to not let the garbage can overflow or the bunny's water bottle empty completely.   

This system works for us (for now).  Maybe it will get you thinking about what would work for you! There IS a plan for organization that will fit your family!   "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."  James 1:5 (my favorite "parenting" verse)  

Okay, now it's time to think about dinner...

Anna Shepherd has been  married for 12 years to a charming, godly, outdoorsy man.  They're both "foodies", so love to cook together (and experiment).  Cooking is fun; the dishes that it produces are not fun.   Their family vacations by camping/fishing; they're so blessed to live within easy driving distance of the beach, the Redwoods, the snow in Tahoe, Lavabed tunnels, model rocket launching events...

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Did you know that there are entire cultures that are happier than other cultures mainly because they teach their children to work? Learn about this and many other ways your family can connect at mealtimes in my book Around the TableWhat do mealtime and chores have to do with each other? How about setting the table, clearing the table, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor!

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