Monday, April 30, 2012

1 Hour's Hard Work = One Week of Easy Meals!

Are you a list maker?

I am an incessant list maker. My lists tell me who to call, where to go, what to do, to buy, to pack, to make, and to think. I guess my brain is just too small to hold it all.

The best lists I make are the hardest ones to come up with. I guess I'm just not a decision maker, but making a week's menu and corresponding grocery list take me at least an hour. I have to take into account

  • who will be eating
  • what they can eat
  • what time they need to eat
  • what's on sale
  • what I still have on hand
  • how much time I'll have to make it
  • how many will be eating
  • would it work for reheating for lunches the next day
  • is there enough variety?
  • is there the right nutrition?
And most important:
  • does it sound good to me?
When I make the menu, I also list side dishes and on my grocery list I include the ingredients for those, so I don't have to think at all when I go to make the meal--just read the list and make it!

One thing I've noticed--I hardly ever do a whole week's menu as I planned it. Seems like something always comes up to change things, I wasn't able to get an essential ingredient, there were so many leftovers I decide to do something with them, our non-resident vegetarian comes for a meal so I switch things up, or something.

Here's a recent menu of main meals I labored over for well over an hour--and the changes I ended up making: (I start on Wednesday because that's the day I do my grocery shopping.)

Wednesday - Salmon, baked potatoes, green beans

Thursday - Mexican skillet rice, salad

Friday - Hot turkey sandwiches, coleslaw; Jim and I were alone so we had a shared steak, baked potatoes, and stir-fried broccoli and sweet peppers

Saturday - (our oldest son, his wife and their baby are here for the weekend)
lunch: hamburgers, broccoli salad, potato wedges; fan potatoes
supper: pasta with white sauce, salad; bruchetta (breakfast and lunch were late so we just needed a snack before going to a play)

Sunday - (Jim's away, but his parents join us for the midday "dinner")
dinner: curried fish, rice, carrot salad, left over broccoli salad
supper: bruchetta; toasted cheese sandwiches

Monday - Cranberry Chicken, sweet potatoes, green beans stir fried with sweet peppers and mushrooms

Tuesday - Pizza Meatloaf, broccoli, potatoes

Is it worth the work I put into this? In a word, YES!

Every day instead of thinking "What on earth can I make for dinner?" I just look at the list stuck to my fridge with a magnet and say, "Oh, I have everything for that! I'll get the chicken/meat out of the freezer now."

So in spite of the effort it costs me, it's something I recommend. And maybe you are one of those lucky people who doesn't have so much trouble making decisions!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Would You Like a Laugh at Dinner Tonight?

When I was about 10 my parents went to a gathering of their friends at a home where they had a daughter about my age. They were going to be there late, so the other girl and I got put to bed in the twin beds in her room. We talked a little while, but we had more fun listening to the adults.

We couldn't hear their words, but they must have been funny because there was a lot of laughter. And that's what caught our attention. 

Every time something funny was said we hear the high laugh of some of the women: Tee-hee-hee-hee!

Before that died down, the majority joined in with various pitches of chuckles: Ha ha ha ha ha!

Finally, as the others grew quiet, one man was still enjoying the humor as his deep bass voice chortled: HO HO HO HO!

You know everyone laughs distinctively.
And you know laughter is contagious.

So here's a way to start some laughter at your table tonight!

First have every one laugh like Mom.

Next ask them to laugh like Dad.

Is there someone--perhaps Great Aunt Betty or Grandpa Tom--who has a distinctive laugh? Do them next.

Ask for suggestions of who to laugh like--but don't let them make fun of people.

All of you laugh like each other. 

Have someone laugh and everyone guess who they are imitating.

Who else can you think of laughing like?

When I was in college there was a formal Christmas banquet I was invited to. Ten of us sat around our table feeling rather awkward. After too long a silence, the table next to us erupted in spontaneous laughter. Someone at our table said softly, "I wish I was at that table."

The silence grew "awkwarder".

Then my date said, "We can do better than them. On the count of three, everyone laugh....One, two, three!" We all burst out in laughter!  The awkwardness disappeared and we all found our tongues. It turned out to be a great evening.

So if your table is feeling a little tense, or you just want to brighten it, laugh a little--or a lot--tonight!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Popcorn Children at the Table

Bonnie wrote:
“I was wondering if you could ever do a blog on children who don't want to sit at the table during the whole meal the parents have to constantly struggle to keep them seated and eating? We are talking 4 year olds and then a 2 year old and an infant. My daughter is really struggling with the 4 year old and I thought you might have a suggestion.”

We had a little bouncer, too. We never even tried to count the number of times in a meal she was out of her seat. Because she sat in a booster seat until she was almost 5, that kept her in the chair until then. But what did we do after that?

To start with, both of us sat at the table and if one had to leave to serve or get more napkins, the other always stayed seated. We noticed that the more I was able to stay in my chair, the more the kids stayed in theirs, even if Dad had to get up. So I tried to be organized, meals were ready on time and everything* was on the table when we all sat down together to hold hands and give thanks.

We learned that Rosana, our little seat jumper, couldn’t just tell a story with words, she needed to demonstrate the story! So if she was telling about something that happened at school and jumped out of her seat to use hand motions or act it out, we let her, as long as she stayed beside her chair and climbed back up when she was done. 

When the children were young we usually had meals that only lasted about half an hour or less and they were meant to be fun times. Jim and I didn’t come to the table expecting to scold or air grievances. We came intending to create a fun, relaxed time of talking and listening and enjoying good food. Remember--that was the ideal!

On the food front, I tried to make meals that, while nutritious, my children would enjoy and be able to eat on their own, either with their hands when they were little or with age and size appropriate cutlery as they grew older. I introduced new flavors and vegetables from time to time, but I wanted the meal to be something they enjoyed.

We also had an “end of meal” activity. After breakfast Jim would pray a blessing on the day. When we had finished dinner we had short, age appropriate devotions. Everyone knew we weren’t done until then. During the Bible story, Rosana often got out of her seat to act out the story as we read it. That definitely kept a twinkle in Jim’s eyes and mine!

Krista, mother of three elementary aged children, and a teacher, adds, “I would suggest coloring sheets or dry erase place mats to draw on, or other activities to keep their attention while waiting for others to finish. Rewarding good behavior is helpful too.  A sticker chart for staying in their seat, and if it's a big problem it might even start as a sticker for every few minutes they stay in their seat.  The more successful they are you increase the expectation and wait time for reward, eventually phasing out rewards when no longer needed.”

When the parents model and expect a behavior, the children will often learn it. As Rosana said recently when I asked her about why she had chosen to do something that I was happy about, “Kids want to please their parents.” If you are consistent, gentle, upbeat, and firm, a child will generally come to a stage where they conform. Be encouraged!

*I tend to forget napkins and since our house in Bogota only had an eating area outside the kitchen, I usually jumped up right after prayer to get the napkins. 

What do you say?
Do you have more suggestions and ideas? Please let us know by clicking on the blue "share your thoughts" line below and tell us what you think!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Changing Places

A friend of my mother’s entertained her daughter one afternoon with a tea party. Her daughter came as Mrs. H. (the mother) and the mother came as Mrs. D. (a friend of the mother). 

As they were drinking tea and eating cookies, the mother asked her daughter/Mrs. H questions about her children. Unwittingly the daughter revealed her own thoughts and feelings on several topics. Wisely, the mother asked about her other child as well so it wouldn’t appear she was prying, but the mother came back to questions about the daughter herself from time to time and gained some new insights into her little girl, and the girl's perceptions of her mother.

That event was a bit of serendipity that came from a mommy having a fun little activity with her daughter. But it can be planned, too.

I have indistinct memories of a similar family dinner activity when our children were all at home. We each chose a name of one of the others of us and "became" that person for the meal. It's simple to do.

At dinner the night before, or at breakfast that morning, you could have each person draw a paper you have prepared in a basket each with the name of another family member. Tell them not to reveal who they have, but to come to the appointed dinner prepared to “be” that person for the meal. 
Photo Credit: D. Sharon Pruitt
For added fun they can dress for the part if they want—at least adding some adornment or piece of clothing his or her person habitually wears. Tell them to keep it upbeat and uncritical. 

At the meal, each one could sit where the person they are role-playing normally sits. If the one who gets to be Mom is able, perhaps he or she could serve the meal. Whoever plays the one who normally gives thanks could take that part.

Play along well. You can act out some of your character’s more annoying traits but keep it lighthearted. Don’t go so far you upset anyone.
Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt

Along the same lines, keep your sense of humor if your daughter portrays in you in a way you don’t think is fair or don’t want to be. This is her perception of you. Play along while subtly directing things so they don’t become hurtful to anyone. And think about how you are perceived. Perhaps there are characteristics you need to work on!

Over dessert, talk about what was portrayed. Some questions you could ask are:

Do you think you were fairly represented?
Do you agree with the way I was shown?
What did you learn about how others see you?
How do our actions speak about how we feel about others?

Variation: Each person sits in their normal seat, but acts the part of his or her  person and everyone has to guess who they are. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Broccoli Salad

I think every meal needs a salad. They add color, flavor, variety and nutrition. I serve lots of lettuce salads, but I also like to switch things up frequently, so I'm always looking for great salads that combine unexpected ingredients and textures.

While this salad adds a bit of wickedness in the form of bacon, it's still good for you and low in calories. So dig in!

Broccoli Salad

Stir together in 2 quart mixing bowl:
4 cups of broccoli, cut into florets
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 Tablespoons shelled sunflower seeds (I prefer salted & roasted)

Kids can help

Let your kids measure the ingredients and dump them into the mixing bowl.

In a small (1-2 cup) prep bowl stir together :
1 Tablespoon canola oil
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons plain, unsweetened yogurt
1 Tablespoon sugar (or 1 1/2 teaspoon Stevia)

Kids can help

Let your kids help measure and then stir with a small whisk until smooth.

Kids can help

Pour dressing over vegetable mixture and toss with a rubber spatula to coat.

Micro-cook two slices of bacon on microwave proof dish covered with a paper towel for approximately 2 minutes (checking every 15 seconds after 1 minute) until crisp. When cool, crumble. Put salad in serving dish and sprinkle crumbled bacon over top.

For a printable version of this recipe click here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why Family Meals?

If you've read more than a couple entries on this blog, you know that I am strongly in favor of regular family mealtimes. Okay, so way past "in favor of"--I believe it is something every family should do…as often as possible. 

Best case scenario? Everyday.

Before you give up on this post as impossibly idealistic, please read a little more.
Kids who eat sit down meals with their families on a regular basis:

  • Are more likely to have better eating habits and a healthier weight
  • Will probably develop a wider vocabulary and conversational skills (Taste of Home, December/January 2012, p. 84)
  • Teen and tween girls who have at least 5 meals a week with their families are almost one-third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits and dysfunctions. (Good Housekeeping, August 2010, p. 107)
  • High school teens who miss more than two days of meals with their family are seven times more likely to use illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) research)
  • CASA’s Lauren Elbaum says this last statistic is “true regardless of a teen’s gender, family structure or family socioeconomic level.”

Just in case you need
Another good Reason to Eat Dinner Together

It’s worth it, but how can you make it happen?
If there’s food on the table and everyone’s eating it, 
call it dinner. 
by Pilar Guzmán, Jenny Rosenstrach, and Alanna Stang, p.10)

You probably have the necessary food to throw a meal together at home that will save you at least $15 spent at the drive through. So drive home instead and make one of these:

  • An “omelet”—To your whisked eggs add any of the following: cheese, bacon, sausage, lunchmeat, olives, chopped pepper, chopped onions, canned mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, leftover meatloaf crumbled, leftover chopped veggies; serve with toasted “garlic” bread (toast bread, butter while hot and sprinkle with garlic salt) and orange slices
  • Spaghetti—cook the noodles, heat a can of prepared sauce and add a side of tomato and cucumber slices
  • Pancakes—with sausage or fried eggs and slices of fruit
  • Grilled Cheese—and a bowl of canned soup; super easy!
  • “Chef’s” salad—throw in cold meats, cubed cheese, sunflower seeds, sliced pickles, mandarin oranges, green or black olives; serve with slices of bread with cheese melted on them under the broiler
  • Frozen pizza—add any kind of salad combination you can come up with
  • Stuffed baked potatoes—bake potatoes in microwave, open a can of chili and heat it; pour over sliced open potatoes, sprinkle some grated cheese on it
  • Tuna melts—mix up tuna the way you like it, place on open faced English muffins, put a little cheese on top, and broil until cheese is bubbly; serve with side of any fruit

Get everyone involved in the preparations: set the table, pour the water, slice, dice, chop, grate, sauté, stir, and light the candles. If they help they are more likely to eat it too!

Then sit down, take a deep breath, ask someone different to give thanks, and start the conversation by telling the kids your most embarrassing moment that day or about your crazy dream the night before.

Starting a habit always takes a first day. Why not today?

Monday, April 16, 2012

When Mealtime is Bad

Sitting down to a meal together isn't always good.

Ever think you'd see me write that? Neither did I. 

Recently I've been looking at the meals in the Bible to see what I can learn. If you are familiar with the Bible at all, you know that the families in the Bible had problems. Some of them could be called "dysfunctional". God has chosen to let us see the reality of human-kind and how He can work in them, through them, and even in spite of them. So when we see them eat together, they aren't always connecting in the best ways.

One meal I read about today is in Genesis 37:25. Jacob's sons are out in the field taking care of their sheep and it says, "Then they sat down to eat a meal." 
Photo Credit
Wow! They took the time out of their work (and I'm sure shepherding is one of those there-is-always-something-that-could-be-done jobs) to stop, sit, and eat together. That's good, right? Well...that part is, but if you look at the story surrounding that meal, the whole situation isn't good.
Photo Credit
Joseph had just come out to find his brothers as told to do by his father, Jacob. But the brothers were jealous of Joseph because of his dreams (Genesis 37:5-11) and because he was their father's obvious favorite (Genesis 37:3). When they saw him coming they decided to kill him, but Reuben managed to get them to *only* throw him in a pit.

This is when they sit down to have that meal.

While they are sitting there the caravan of Ishmaelites comes along on its way to Egypt. The table conversation then turns to, "Hey, instead of killing him, let's sell Joseph and make a profit. He is our brother after all." So they did.

I remember once in Peru when we were teaching at a couple's dinner about the importance of family mealtimes. One man spoke up and said, "I don't see how they are good. When we were young we ate together and it was the time for my father to say to us, 'You, why did you talk to your mother that way?' and 'You, you'd better get busy and do your school work well or I'll be after you with my belt!' and 'You, what are you making faces for?'..."
Photo Credit
It's true, sitting down together isn't magic. We have to be intentional about our family mealtimes or we're not going to connect in the ways we want. We're probably not going to end up deciding to sell someone into slavery (not to say it hasn't flitted through someone's mind once or twice), but we can get into habits that make it a time people want to flee.

So decide to make your family times around the table upbeat times that create happy memories. That's what I'm trying to help you do with this blog with conversation ideas, devotion ideas, and just plain fun ideas for your family mealtimes . Look around at past posts and come back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to get more ideas. 

I'd love your feedback, too. Write a comment below any post to which you have an idea to add or a question about. Or write me an email here. You can help shape this blog and make it more useful to you and others!

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Question...Do You Have Answers?

After reading my post on getting teens to talk around your table, Rick, from New York, wrote with a question. I have some ideas, but both Rick and I would like some input from you as well. In a multitude of counselors is wisdom (see Proverbs 11:14).

Rick, a father of four, wrote: What about when your learn from your children's friends of a big project that is due that you haven't heard a peep about? It seems like listening without criticizing or correcting  isn't the way to go here. Don't we have a responsibility to teach our children (even our teens) responsibility?
Photo credit
My thoughts: First of all, we are still their parents and do have a right and responsibility to correct when the time comes. When I said to not "jump in...refute...tear down" their every opinion, I meant the comments they say, the ideas they express. I am still learning to do this.

I think one way to overcome the "you only criticize" syndrome is to make an intentional effort to ask questions that are not judgmental, but seek to discover what they are really thinking and feeling and how they came to have that opinion. Sometimes all it takes to get an explanation is patiently waiting in silence. I'm always surprised when I manage to do this how often they talk themselves out of their own idea or even change their "tune." (Maybe they were looking for a reaction!) This needs to be our deliberate plan all the time so that when we do have to correct, we haven't been saying little nitpicky things. This is somthing Jim and I fight with, it's easy to see what's wrong and overlook what's right. (Didn't you just notice the misspelled word in that sentence but never thought about all the correctly spelled words I've used?)

Southern Plantation--One of the School Projects that Came from Our Home
Secondly, a little reality discipline can be good. A high schooler who doesn't get an assignment done or done well because they procrastinated gets a bad grade. Bad grades carry consequences at school and at home. Allow school to implement their discipline (are they off a sports team if their grades go to low? Don't try to save them from this real life discipline.) Be in touch with teachers and ask them to let you know if something isn't turned in or is done poorly. Then at home you can also give whatever consequence is realistic--probably something like not being allowed to attend a special event or losing Internet privileges. Whatever it is, it should be what they least want you to do! (And this is not easy to do as a parent. For more on this read Kevin Leman's book Have a New Teen by Friday.)

Photo Credit
One of the things we have struggled with is our desire to control, to stand over our children, even older teens, to make sure they get assignments done. One of our jobs as parents is to teach our children to be responsible or pay the consequences. We start when they are young, insisting that they use their time well and get things finished, but gradually we give the decisions over to them about how to use their time, how much effort to put into an assignment, and when to finish. If they choose poorly and end up staying up late to finish something, they still have to get up and go to school the next day. We won't be there to help them with college assignments and their boss will expect them to be on time every day.

Others' Ideas
Ken, a father of three grown daughters said: We would simply bring it up in conversation.  “So how is your science project coming along?”  Perhaps they did not know that we knew they had a “science project” due.  But by simply asking them a question about that they now knew we were aware of it, and it allowed them to respond without feeling that we were somehow attacking them or being over critical of the decision they had made to not let us know.  This could be followed up with, “well, let me know if I can help in any way”.  
His oldest daughter responded to this thought: It's interesting looking back and seeing your perspective... And I've always thought that you all managed to do what other parents are unable to do... Teach us about individual responsibility and respect and love us for the individual women that we are.
His second daughter said: …funny how the things you say I find myself teaching already to my children. ... now I know why I do it the way I do. I got it from you.

Carolyn, mother of three grown daughters said: It is best to lead a mealtime discussion in such a way that will help the teen make their own decision regarding time use.  Then have them understand, and agree with the consequences if the expectations aren't met.

Charlie, the father of two grown daughters said: I think asking questions in a loving, supportive way is a fair method to handle this kind of situation.  To open the discussion one might say  "One of your friends mentioned that you have a project due at school." ,  "What have you chosen to work on?",  "Is there anything Mom and I can help you with?"  Then add a word of encouragement by saying something like "I'm sure you will do good work on your project.  Mom and I would love to see it when you have completed it."  By asking questions like these we can begin our discussion in a positive way. This can lead to a healthier discussion later about their lack of communication with you.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with us? Do you have more or other ideas? I welcome discussion on this either in the comments below or at my email here. I'll post your ideas and together we'll all learn.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Keeping It Upbeat

Every family can fall into times of crankiness, criticism, and pettiness. I remember a time when Jim and I felt like family picnics were just tension builders for us, always trying to keep the conversation upbeat and away from gossip and criticism. Memorial Day was coming up and we didn’t want to endure that again, so what to do?

Jim came up with a great idea: include someone from outside the family circle in the crowd! We chose a couple whose grown kids lived in another city. The husband has a jolly gruffness and the wife a cheerful laugh, in addition to her being a tremendous cook and hostess. They came over and joined in our family fun—and it was fun!

Our family thoroughly enjoyed being with them and hearing their stories instead of the ones we’ve heard before. It changed the whole dynamic by just adding two more people!

The idea was so simple and so easy.
Our upbeat family!

How have you gotten over these kinds of problems at your family get togethers? Let me know by commenting below or send me an email here.

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I was interviewed for the Just Between Us website. Check out my answers to the interviewers questions and see what my favorite book is! You will find the interview here.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Remembering Uncle Pete

This post is in memory of Peter Alan Fleming (April 9, 1957-July 23, 1999), son, husband, father, brother, uncle, friend; and to his two children, now teenagers who never really had a chance to get to know him, but would make him proud.

“Pete has just passed away,” my father-­in-­law told me that July day in 1999. Pete, my husband’s brother, my children’s uncle, the father of their only (at that time) cousins, dead of cancer at forty ­two. 

Jim was able to travel across continents to comfort his parents and say his final farewells, but to the five of us left in South America it seemed unreal. This man whom we saw only for a few weeks every three years was in heaven. The Bible says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” (Psalm 116:15) but for us it is separation. How could I help my children, then 5, 9, 10, and 13, assimilate the facts, express their grief, and learn that it’s okay to remember Uncle Pete with joy in the midst of sorrow?
One night as I lay awake praying, the Lord gave me an idea to implement around our table, 4000 miles from where the funeral was taking place in Iowa. I told my children that before we had lunch, we would be having a memorial service for Uncle Pete and asked them to think of the things they remembered about him to tell the rest of us.

When they came to the lunch table they saw I had placed an unlit candle at each of their places. A  lit one was in the center of the table. Their curiosity was aroused. I explained that the lit candle represented Uncle Pete. After each one told the things they remembered about him, they could light their candle from Uncle Pete’s.
 Their memories were not many or deep — a backyard barbecue, splashing down a waterslide, helping with yard work, a Fourth of July picnic, going out for pizza. When each one had spoken and lit their candle, we watched the flames a moment. Then I blew out Pete’s candle and told the kids, “We don’t have Uncle Pete with us any more, but we still have our memories of him, just like our candles are still lit.” 

We read a few verses and I explained that even though Pete is not here, he still lives in heaven. Jesus said, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25) We sang a hymn about heaven and each of us prayed for one of the people who will miss him most: Pete’s widow and children, Grandma and Grandpa, Dad, Pete and Jim's sister. Their eyes were moist when we finished. We concluded with another hymn of praise and trust that we had been learning and then I served lunch.
 During the meal the kids watched their candles and talked about whose flame was the biggest and who, therefore, had the most memories of Uncle Pete.

Death is a part of life, but a part our culture tries to deny. As Christian parents, I think it is important to help our children face the pain rather than deny it, to say good­bye, and to begin to understand the hope of heaven even if we live far away from the loved one who passed.

I pray that my children started to learn these things from this simple ceremony. I’m sorry if you have a loss in your family, but perhaps this memorial service will benefit your family as well.

“Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Where's My Family?

Recently Jim went on a two week ministry trip just at the end of my parents' month visit. After they left, too, Samuel, Christina and I were alone in the house. Well, when they were around "we" were in the house--most of the time it seemed like I was alone in the house. I don't mind being alone, especially as this came after a very full of people month, but "family meals" were not a happening event at our house! At least not often.

Eating together as a family, at least with those who can make it, is a high priority for us, even at this stage of life. In fact, I've never spent time prioritizing it. It's just something we do.

"This stage" is Samuel with night classes two evening a week that keep him away right over dinner time, Christina working 4-6 p.m. or 7 p.m. three nights a week and meeting a mentoring friend for dinner another. 

So the first night after my parents left, I ate dinner alone. It's a strange thing for me to do. If it were a regular occurrence, I'm sure I'd make something, but I wasn't real motivated that night for cooking and I was busy working on other catch up projects that I hadn't wanted to do while visiting with my parents.
So I opened the fridge and found leftover green beans and peppers with pine nuts and heated them up and ate them. Healthy, satisfying, delicious, and quick!  Also lonely.

The next night both kids were home for dinner and we had a good time around the table, talking, joking, teasing, and sharing our day. Now that's more like it.
Photo Credit: Megan Von Bergen

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rewarding Hospitality, Part 3

In Rewarding Hospitality part 1 and part 2, I intimated that you might have to wait 50 years to be rewarded for the service you do around your table. Well, that’s not true. I just want to be sure, we practice hospitality because it’s right and good and God mandated, not because we are expecting rewards. In fact, I have worn furniture, broken dishes, dirty carpets, and even missing toys as a result of hospitality! But it does have rewards, and some of them come immediately:

Making friends—this should be pretty obvious. If you have someone over to your house whom you don’t know very well, you are going to know them better after spending a couple of hours with them.

  Seeing others grow—once again my mom is my example here. There was a young man who grew up on the mission field who had attended our church a couple of times sporadically. She wanted to have him over for dinner so she started inviting him. He wasn't real interested in going to church at that point in his life and made excuses Sunday after Sunday. But her persistence paid off. He declined many times until he was so embarrassed he finally went!  He says that evidence of love and hospitality had a tremendous impact on him. Just an invitation started all that!

  Networking—When you have someone new over along with someone, well, not necessarily old, but who’s from the area or your church, they might discover they have similar interests, or can help each other in some way. And you had a hand in getting them together!

    A job!—This might really come under the category of networking, but not too long ago our daughter, a senior in high school, was discouraged by her fruitless job hunt. In the midst of this, friends of ours from Colombia came to town to visit their daughter and son-in-law and new granddaughter. We invited them all over for a meal. I told the son-in-law, a local businessman, that if he knew of any part time jobs to let us know. He said, “Actually, our insurance agency is looking for someone!” The hours were perfect for her schedule and it was precisely the kind of job Christina had mentioned wanting! She gave him a resume and about a week later had an interview and got the job!

What rewards have you experienced from practicing hospitality? I’d love to know. Write to me here I’ll share them with my readers!

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Remember the Giveaway!

Become a member of my blog to have a chance to win a copy of the book Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes! When the blog has 100 members I will hold a drawing to so one member can win a copy. (Click the book link to read a chapter!)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Helping Your Kids Help Others

Today's post is written by Krista Iverson.

April 2nd is “Autism Awareness Day”.  It also happens to be my son Josh’s 9th birthday whom, along with his brother Timmy, 10,  has autism.  I’d say that could make him the “poster child” for autism, but to be honest, I doubt that exists. 

When our oldest son was first officially diagnosed with autism the doctor had told us when she hears she’s going to see a patient with autism she never knows what to expect to see come through the door.  She explained the reason it is called “Autism Spectrum Disorder” is because of the wide range of symptoms seen in each child with the diagnosis.  This is certainly true in our house in that what is a strength for one of our boys can be a struggle for the other.  

One of their first signs they did have in common was communication delays.  For quite some time it was pretty quiet in our house when it came to mealtime conversations.  At age 2 the boys’ vocabulary was limited to single words and they wouldn’t use those words to interact with us.  Our mealtimes became more like speech therapy sessions to get them to talk, and still are.  Their speech therapists would tell us to keep talking around them to flood them with sounds of speech.  They had us say each thing we were doing “I’m cutting the meat….cut cut cut…I’m scooping the food…I’m putting the spoon IN the drawer”.  Exciting conversations around our table, let me tell you! 

 Our mealtime speech therapy now includes our 7 year old daughter, Marissa, who has become their model for conversation, maybe too good of a model!  We are working on the art of asking others questions, which mainly consists of “What did you play at recess?”  Timmy and Josh also have their own “conversations” with each other where they repeat phrases they must have heard on a video and then laugh.   It makes no sense to us, but at least they are communicating with each other. 

There are many days when it’s not so quiet in our house.  People with autism can have sensory issues where they are hyper-sensitive to bright lights, loud sounds, textures, or change in routines.  When their senses are on overload they become anxious, angry, or upset and have a “melt-down”—basically a crying, screaming tantrum.  

Josh can especially get stuck in routine.  This can be anything from not leaving the bathroom until the cap is on the toothpaste, the stool is in it’s place, and the toilet seat is down to only walking into the kitchen through a certain door.  

He can also get upset when playing games with others such as tag or duck-duck-goose.  He wants things done in a certain order and doesn’t like unexpected touch.  With those games children are randomly tagged and he can become very upset, crying or sometimes hitting others.  When this happens out in the community I find myself wishing I had an “I have autism” t-shirt on them so people would understand there is a reason for this behavior.  As a parent I feel the stares and hear the whispers.  

Our kids are fortunate to go to a school where they receive excellent programming for autism.  The “typically developing” students are often paired up with them throughout the day and have become very comfortable with children of many different disabilities.  These students are taught what behavior they might see, why they act as they do, and how they can be a good friend to children with autism.  I have been able to witness first-hand kids asking my boys to play at recess, help them play 4-square and even let them get another turn if they lose.  These students keep trying to talk or play with them—even if the boys don’t answer them—because they have been taught the reasons for those behaviors.  

Many children do not have the same exposure to children with autism and don’t know what to say or how to act around our boys.  If taught, however, this can become very natural for them.  I’ve heard Marissa saying to other kids at church “Timmy and Josh have autism.  That means their brains just work different!” 

So how can you help your kids help kids like mine? 

  • Ask the child’s parents for tips on how to best talk and play with them
  • Tonight at dinner talk to them to help them know how to ask questions about “different” children—not: “What’s wrong with him?” but maybe: “Why won’t he talk with me?”
  • Ask them not to avoid kids that are “different”, but to learn how to play and talk with them.
  • Encourage your child to be that child’s “buddy” in Sunday School or at a play date, offering to help in some way.

What a wonderful way that would be to teach our children to show God’s love to others!

Krista Iverson and her husband Tim of almost 15 years live in Dubuque, Iowa with their 3 children.  Before having children, Krista was a Physical Education teacher at an elementary school and Athletic Trainer at Emmaus Bible College where Tim is a professor and basketball coach.  She became a stay-at-home Mom after Timmy was born but continues as the athletic trainer part-time.  For the past 2 years, she has also been substituting as a paraprofessioal at her kids' school  where she enjoys working with children of varying disabilities, including autism.


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