Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What I’m Loving

Generations around our table—My parents came for our two graduations in May and have stayed for a month. Jim’s parents live in a retirement community here in town and have dinner with us every Sunday. I love it that my kids are getting so much interaction time with their grandparents. And our oldest son, Daniel, his wife, Abby, and their daughter Anna, come once a month for the weekend, so sometimes we have had four generations at our table.

Nations around our table—this month we’ve had guests from the Philippines, Hong Kong, India, and Argentina. That means lots of air-mattress-in-the-family-room nights for Jim and I, but it’s worth it to fellowship with these people and learn from them.

Picnic weather! We have been blessed with warm days, even in May, and have been able to eat in our back yard and parks already. So much fun to sit around a picnic table!

Fresh flowers decorating the table My Japanese irises are gorgeous on my table and the peonies are a riot of color. I love bringing God’s creations in to add beauty and color to my home.

Salads! I love fruit in a salad, especially blueberries, strawberries, and peaches—summer fruits all. I add feta cheese, sweet peppers, and serve it all with artisan lettuce. Not only is it colorful and delicious, it’s good for us!

Tell me what you're loving about your mealtimes right now. I'd love to hear from you! Add a comment below or email me at: aroundthetableblog(at)gmail(dot)com. (Supply the @ sign and the period.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

I Laughed Till I Cried

After two days of activities—a  baccalaureate supper, the baccalaureate service, graduation, and a graduation party for two with about 50 people while my parents, our married son, Daniel, and his family, and our former foreign exchange student were staying in the house—we had frozen pizza for our Saturday night dinner. 
Then, with my granddaughter asleep, we played “Things.” I think I would have trouble describing the fun and laughter around our table—it was one of those times when you had to be there. And even then, although you probably would have joined in the laughter, you might have wondered why you were laughing!

I laughed so hard I cried. 
Our second son (third child) Samuel Kenneth Fleming receiving his college diploma from his grandfather, Kenneth Fleming, Professor Emeritus of Emmaus Bible College.

Samuel, watching the tears stream down my face, said, “I’ve never heard Mom laugh like that!”

Later, as things got sillier, Daniel asked, “Who put something in the water to make my mother like this?” (I can guarantee that no one did.)

It was wonderful to have that much joy and fun! Later that evening when Jim and I were lying on our blow-up queen size mattress in the family room, I got the giggles again just thinking about it.

I can’t guarantee that you’ll end up laughing as hard as we did if you play “Things” after dinner one night, but I think you’ll have fun. So here’s how.

First you need to think of some questions for people to answer. Here are some of the questions we used:

  • If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  • What is the most daring thing you would ever do?
  • What kind of car would you like to own (money being no object)?
  • If you were to write a book, what would it be about?
  • If you could build a house anywhere in the world, where would you build it?
  • What have you wanted to say to someone, but haven’t had the courage to say? (Don’t say who to.)
  • If you could invent anything, what would you invent?

Everyone needs a small piece of paper with their name on it and a pen. 

One person reads one of the questions and everyone writes their answer. Then they pass the papers to the person who read the question. He reads all the answers and the person to his left gets to guess who said what. As long that person gets them right, he can keep guessing. When he guesses one wrong, the person to his left gets to try. Now she has the same opportunity and it keeps going around until all the questions are correctly guessed.

Pass the papers back to their owners and the person on the left of the first reader reads the next question and you go around again. And so on. We didn’t try to give funny answers, but the comments made in between the answers are what got us going. Along the way, we learned some things about each other.

When we were finished, we read our list of words with dramatic pauses and a few prepositions, definite articles, or pronouns added to help it make a bit of sense. Daniel was definitely the best at reading these, and that added to the merriment.

We had so much fun, I didn’t think of taking a picture of us sitting there for a couple of hours, so you’ll have to make do with the graduation and cookout pictures.

May you laugh well with your family!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Good Memories and Good Learning

Today's post is guest written by Carolyn Aspenson, a woman with whom I used to play when I visited my grandparents farm in Iowa from my home 1000 miles away. Now we live about an hour apart and chat frequently on Facebook. Read about how guests enriched their family devotion times.

Years ago we had the privilege of housing Gospel preachers when our five children were young. Once or twice a year our assembly (local church) would have a series of Gospel meetings every night for as long as a month. Since our rambling farmhouse had space for them, they would stay with us. We always had meals together at the table and a time in the Word and prayer after breakfast before excusing ourselves to go about our daily duties.
Carolyn's family today
I remember one particular occasion we were having a discussion about the rapture. Our twins were around six at the time and listened intently to our conversation. One of them was very curious as to how the Lord was going to take us all to heaven at once and proudly suggested that He could use the big dipper as a means to scoop us all up into the sky. Needless to say, we had a lively discussion that morning.

On another occasion we had a guest Gospel preacher who was a missionary in Japan. I can still see the children bent over papers, learning some of the Japanese symbols and trying to write their names in Japanese. 

As a family, even when it was just us at the table, we always had a daily devotion and prayer before sending the children to school. We wanted to feed our children spiritually as well as physically and instill the habit in them while they were young.

Once in a while, even yet, one of them will bring up those guest preachers and talk about those times "around the table." Good memories filled with good learning!

Carolyn and Daryl have been married 37 years and are the proud parents of 5 grown kids, ranging from 34 to 21, including a set of twin boys.  They have spent their entire lives in the country on the farm.  An avid sew-er, when she had a daughter, after three boys, she went a little overboard with the curls and ruffles, needless to say, the daughter grew up being a tom boy!  They have 5 grandchildren with the 6th coming in November, Lord willing.  It is a joy watching them grow up and see their parents train them according to God's Word.  They have much to be thankful for and much to pray about.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shelly Esser Interview, Continued

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Shelly Esser, the Editor of Just Between Us, a magazine for Christian women launched almost 20 years ago with a vision to encourage and equip women for a life of faith. Read here to find out how Brett Favre enhances their family meals! Then come back to finish the second part of this inspiring interview with a working mom who is passionate about family meals.

In your own family and others you’ve observed, what ingredients are necessary for a successful family meal?
Most importantly is the intentionality of making it a priority. I don’t think you can use “busyness” as an excuse. If the family dinner hour is important, there’s a way to make it happen. I also think the food is so secondary. So often we get caught up in all the preparations, failing to see God’s bigger plan. People are eternal, food isn’t!
Shelly with her daughters
I have also always tried to make the family meal communicate that my family is special, that I value them. I light the candles even if we’re only having pizza on paper plates one night. 

Is there anything you would do differently if you could start over again with your family?
I would have been a lot more intentional into looking around for those people we could have welcomed around our table. 

Have you been successful in getting your children to help with cooking? How have you done that?
Overall I have done a fairly good job, especially since I don’t love cooking myself. I’m more into the creating of a beautiful, fun, and welcoming atmosphere at mealtime. I had the girls start out with kitchen duty—setting the table and cleaning up on their nights. 

Then I had them try baking. When they were in middle school, I purchased fun age-appropriate kids’ cookbooks and had them look through and pick out things they’d like to make. I wish you could have seen their faces when they presented their creation to the family. They were so proud of themselves, and so was I!  
Shelly's table decorated for Christmas Dinner

How have others around your table enriched your meals?
God has placed our homes and paths where He has placed no one else’s. No one else in the world has the same table I have. We never know who we might be influencing or touching for Christ as a result of a meal. I have seen over and over again how the seeds of a mealtime prepare the way for the gospel. 

I believe time around the table was instrumental in my own father’s conversion as year-by-year God brought incredibly godly strangers around our table who radiated the love of Christ to my dad, who wouldn’t attend church at the time, but who would gladly share a meal.

Do you have family devotions at a mealtime? 
Yes we did so fairly regularly through the years. When they were teens it was very challenging at times, but we pressed on. There were complaints but as my mother often said of teenagers, “They’re enjoying themselves; they just don’t know it yet!”

What advice would you give to families with school age children who want to start meaningful family mealtimes?
Start this tradition as early as possible. It's very difficult to have meaningful dinner hours and time together connecting and sharing with middle-schoolers and teenagers later if you haven’t built that relationship along the way when kids are little.  

Don’t let this fast-paced culture squeeze you into its mold, the family dinner hour is possible and you will never regret it and neither will your kids!  

Shelly Esser has been the editor of Just Between Us, the magazine for encouraging and equipping women for a life of faith, for the last 21 years. Additionally, she serves on the Board of the Pastoral Leadership Institute and has been active in women’s ministry through the years. Shelly and her husband, John, have four daughters ages 14 to 23.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Shelly Esser -- Editor of Just Between Us magazine

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Shelly Esser, the Editor of Just Between Us, a magazine for Christian women launched almost 20 years ago with a vision to encourage and equip women for a life of faith.  I was excited to learn that she is as passionate as I am about family mealtimes!

Tell me about those at your dinner table. 
I am the mother of four daughters ages 14 to 23. Currently, everyone lives at home except our oldest. We do respite once a month for an Ethiopian teenager, and there are friends and family and a boyfriend on a weekly basis.

How often do you have family meals?
Throughout our kids’ growing up years, we have had nightly family meals. Now, two of the girls work a couple nights a week, but the rest of us sit down to dinner together. I have made it a priority to work around activities and work schedules where possible to ensure the family dinner hour wasn’t skipped. I am intentional, so it can be done. 

What would you say is the forte of your family meals? 
Connecting and encouraging. Recently one of my friends and one of my daughter’s friends spent the weekend with us. Two twenty-somethings, my high school freshman daughter, and my 60-year-old friend all talked so naturally. Dinner was filled with lively conversation and laughter even though everyone was strangers when they sat down together. I left the table knowing that some significant things had taken place. It was evident that God was orchestrating things as only He could. And He was able to do it because there was the opportunity through the mealtime that provided the place for eternal things to happen. The family dinner time is so much more than just food!  

What do you do at mealtimes besides eat?
All of our family and holiday celebrations. For example, every Valentine’s Day I decorate the dining room in red. We exchange valentines and share something we love about the people around our table. It’s a night of love for our family. 

We have a huge life-sized cutout of Brett Favre that my daughter won at school. We started having fun with it years ago and bring him up from the basement on special occasions putting a party hat on him, or graduation cap and gown, with signs saying crazy things for birthdays and special occasions!

We have wonderful conversations about all kinds of topics – spiritual, dating, world events, politics, school, hopes, dreams, encouraging one another, prayer, vacation plans, friendships, and  other topics that come up.

What is one rule you found yourself telling your kids over and over?
That the dinner hour is sacred and no answering the phone, texts, etc.

Read my next post to learn when Shelly uses candles on her table, what she would do differently with mealtimes, and her advice to those who long to connect with their families at dinner!

Shelly Esser has been the editor of Just Between Us, the magazine for encouraging and equipping women for a life of faith, for the last 21 years. Additionally, she serves on the Board of the Pastoral Leadership Institute and has been active in women’s ministry through the years. Shelly and her husband, John, have four daughters ages 14 to 23.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bird Brained

Recently I had a small flock of Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks at my bird feeders.
Last year I saw them once. This time they were around for several days. I had as many as five males at once.
The one on the right is the female. She's well camouflaged.

I frequently get American Goldfinches,


Blue Jays,

and sometimes Downy Woodpeckers.

The American Robins love my birdbath!

Once I even had a stray Indigo Bunting.

Last summer I watched as a pair of House Wrens courted, chose our birdhouse, feed their young and they fledged.

I have seen thirty-four kinds of birds in my back yard!

Are you wondering what all these beautiful birds have to do with family mealtimes?

I call the bird world I see from my desk window "my soap opera". I watch birds fight, court, mate, have babies, raise them, send them off, and even die (when a hawk got one sparrow and when a Goldfinch crashed into my window too hard). And it gives me a wonderful topic of conversation with my family. They might think I'm a bit "bird brained" about it. But what an opportunity to revel in God's marvelous creativity, to praise Him for it, to remind us all that God knows when even a sparrow falls, and to show them how a hobby that isn't electronic can be amazing, fun, and educational all at once.

Do you share your discoveries with your children? Do you teach them by example about how to develop their interests, even if they don't become experts? Do you talk about the wonders and care of God in everyday conversation?

I am a firm believer in our example being our biggest ministry. Our children, and others, are watching us all the time. When they see us do something right, it registers. I can't tell you how many times people have said to me, "I was watching how you related to your children and husband..." Kind of scary to think what they might see.

So what is your conversation topic example around your table teaching your children?

Connect your family with its past: For ideas on this see Family Day.

Ni Hao Yall

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Time For a Picnic!

It was one of life's embarrassing moments.

My husband, Jim, was having a friend over for lunch to discuss some aspect of ministry. I made their lunch, set it out and then joined our three year old son, Daniel, under a card table covered with an old bedspread for our indoor-inside-a-tent picnic lunch. I heard the doorbell ring and the two men talking. Then I heard footsteps in the room where Daniel and I were. We got very quiet, waiting to see who it was. Daniel tried to stifle a giggle and a female voice tentatively said, "Hello?"

Awkwardly I pulled back the bedspread to reveal our hiding place and discovered the wife of my husband's lunch companion who had come to see me. She found me!
It might not be warm enough outside for a picnic yet, but the sun has been shining beautifully and I'd love to eat outside where it's green.

So how about an indoor picnic, instead?
All it takes is a picnic blanket spread on the floor--and maybe some "friends".
You could add a "tent". Since we don't have a card table, I spread a sheet across two chairs.
Add some food—in this case it was just a vanilla wafer broken into tiny bits, but as my granddaughter grows, we'll add more interesting things!
She liked it and when it was all gone, she asked for "more" in sign language.

I'm looking forward to more Grandma picnics when she grows "so big."

Monday, May 14, 2012

International Day of the Family

May 15 is International Day of the Family. 

So what are you going to do to celebrate?

Here are 5 quick ideas to celebrate your family:

1. Ask each person to bring something to the table that represents your family. Place it in a pretty bowl as the centerpiece and ask each person what their item is and why it represents your family.

2. Ask each person what their favorite side dish is. If possible, make them all (or better yet, have them help make them) and serve that for dinner tonight. You might have three kinds of potatoes and no veggies, but one night won't hurt.

3. Have a family quiz. Make up trivia questions about your family. Here are some sample questions:

  • What kind of car did we have in Peru?
  • What color was the carpet in our house in Pontevedra?
  • What happened on the way to the hospital for Christina's birth?
  • Where did Dad propose to Mom?
  • Which child had surgery first and what was it?
  • What was our house number on West Third Street?
Ask the questions at dinner and see who can get the most right.

4. Talk about where your family is from. Go back as many generations as you can. Did they immigrate from somewhere? Did Grandma leave home to marry Grandpa? 

5. Get out a photo album you haven't looked at in a while (or a box of pictures or your computer photos) and go through them together talking about the pictures, the events surrounding them, and who the others in them are.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What's on YOUR Table

A while back I showed you what was on my table, asked for some help for a friend, and invited you to tell me what's on your tables.

Here are some responses I received.

Maribeth from Connecticut wrote: I love having a dining room and the table decor is always a main attraction. Usually not very elaborate but I like candles so I always have a number of them in all sizes and shapes on either side of the main centerpiece which tends to be flowers or a plant.  I also change the tablecloth or place mats to the color of the season....all winter I look forward to the “spring d├ęcor”!
Photo Credit

A friend asked: It’s so difficult for me to decorate my table because it seems to be the "dumping place" for everything:  mail, keys, papers, laptops, etc.
Photo Credit

One solution came from Corrie who lives in Texas: One of my “dumping” solutions is to have {cute} baskets around the the door, in the living room, in the dining area, etc. That way, there is a place to put things, but it keeps our home looking neat, and whenever I have a free moment, it's easy to sort thro' a basket and put things in their proper place. 
Photo Credit

Peggy, in Seattle, said: 

Hi, Sharon
Recently, on your blog you asked people what is on their kitchen table.  Nothing is on my table---all the clutter lands on the long counter between the cooking & eating areas.  Here is how it looked one morning last week when it was worse than usual:

I'm sorry to report that the table is usually bare---no cute decorations or anything.  

Tell me, or better yet, show me, what's on your table and I'll share it here!

Mother's Day! Do you have something interesting planned? Read here about an idea for preserving Mom's  knowledge for future generations!

Linking with: Titus 2sday

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hilarious Hospitality!

Today's post is written by my friend, Nikki Rogers. This could probably be included in the book I frequently write in my head "Things I Never Thought I'd Do as a Missionary."

In April of 2009, we enjoyed a visit from Colombian missionaries and friends from our Bible college days and their six children in our home outside of Quito, Ecuador. 

The Twelve  MKs in the House!
Our family likes to read from a devotional book after breakfast. So after our first breakfast with our guests, my husband, Dan, pulled out “The One Year Book of Family Devotions Volume 1” and turned to April 8. He began reading, “ ‘Not again,’ Tanya complained. ‘All we ever do is have missionaries stay at our house...’” He stopped reading. There was the slightest delay while we wondered if Dan had chosen this particular story for that day, then we all broke out into laughter. He had not chosen it and our family still remembers it! The point of the story was to entertain cheerfully and that was easy to do during the rest of  their visit.

While they were with us, another missionary family (with 4 boys) from the coast needed a place to stay in Quito. We did a little more squeezing and used all four of our bedrooms and lots of floor space! 

We weren’t complaining!

"Be hospitable to one another without complaint." 1 Peter 4:9

Nikki Rogers lives in South America with her husband, Dan, and their two children. She keeps busy cooking most things from scratch and enjoys being a homeschooling mom.

If you are interested in writing a brief, upbeat, story for my blog, see my writers' guidelines. I'd love to hear from you, too.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Interviewing Mom

This Mother's Day is going to be a special one. We'll have four generations and four moms! My mother is visiting from California. My mother-in-law lives here in town. My granddaughter will be with me on my first Mother's Day as a grandmother, along with her mom (my daughter-in-law), of course. Between us we have 138 years of being mothers.
Four generations: Me, My Mother holding Anna, My Son, Daniel
I intend to do some interviewing this Mother's Day, maybe even make a few video clips for future generations. I've talked to a few women recently who said they haven't heard their mother's voice since she passed away and children who don't remember what Grandma's accent sounded like. 

My granddaughter, Anna has met two of her great grandmothers. I sincerely hope they live long enough for her to remember them. But they'd have to live quite long for her to remember the sound of their voices. One of my great grandmothers, whom I remember for giving me my "first paper money" passed away when I was 6 1/2. I remember her giving me my first dollar bill and then being so impressed several days later that I hadn't spent it that she gave me another "to keep it company" but I don't remember what her voice sounded like.
My Mother-in-Law with my granddaughter

So what will I ask the mothers? Some questions about things we might have heard before, or things we possibly don't know, questions about "the good old days"--how good were they? About their parents, their courtships, their thoughts on becoming mothers.

If you are blessed enough to be able to celebrate Mother's Day with your mother or grandmother, you might want to try this too. Ask everyone, to come up with a question or two. If you are a homeschooling mom you can make this a project!
My Daughter-in-Law with my Granddaughter
To get you started, here are some of the questions I hope to use.

  1. What is the first event you remember that would have been in the newspapers?
  2. What memories do you have of before you went to school?
  3. What was your favorite subject in school?
  4. What did you think you would be when you grew up?
  5. Who was your first crush on? What happened to him?
  6. What extra-curricular activities were you involved in in high school?
  7. Tell us about your first date or visit with Dad.
  8. How did you know he was the one for you.
  9. What did you fear about motherhood before your first child was born? 
  10. How did you choose your children's names?
I'm sure every question will bring to mind others. I'm really looking forward to this time together. 

So, Mom, be forewarned!

Friday, May 4, 2012

I Wish Laughter on My Table

Too often our family table has heard angry voices. But even once is too often. I'm so glad that these days it's a real rarity. More often now we get laughter, the essence I would spray over my table if it could be bottled.
Photo Credit: Megan Von Bergen

Here are some jokes that brought laughter heard recently around our table:

Question: Have you ever seen an elephant in a cherry tree?

Photo Credit: Megan Von Bergen

Answer: Good hiders aren't they?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Question: Why do elephants have flat feet?

Answer: From jumping out of cherry trees.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Question: Why do ducks have flat feet?
Photo Credit: Kim Keating

Answer: From stamping out forest fires.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Question: Why are elephant's feet flat?

Answer: From stamping out flaming ducks.

Wishing you laughter around your table tonight and often!

Ni Hao Yall


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