Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An Obstacle Course for Guests--Family Meals from a 14 Year Old's Perspective

I thought it would be interesting to get a "kid's" perspective on family meals, so I interviewed the 14 year old daughter of friends and fellow blogger, Grace Johnson.

Tell me about your family and any others who are regulars around your mealtime table.
I’m the oldest of 3 kids and have a younger brother and sister. It’s usually our family at the table except when we have guests.

How often do you have family meals?
We always “try” to have dinner together unless there are other activities going on or places we need to go in the evening.  Lunch and breakfast are sort of iffy depending on every one's schedules.

What do you do around your table besides eat?
Well, our table is sort of a multi-purpose table because that’s where we have school for most of the day. It’s also the game, dining, and baking table. Also since the weather in CA is so great, we oftentimes move dinner to the back porch and do some grilling.

When you sometimes watch the news as part of your “social studies” at dinner, do you talk about it or relate it to your lives in some way? 
Usually we’ll watch the news segment and then during the commercials, which we mute, we might discuss the topics or something similar to the report, if it’s worth discussing.  Or we might talk about something totally different. But any time can be a time of learning, especially with my Dad and Mom/teacher sitting at the table with you.  

What is the most unusual meal you have ever had? 
Probably the strangest thing I’ve ever eaten is pig blood while visiting the Philippines last year with my Dad. I didn’t realize what it was when it was served to me. It was a meat dish with a dark sauce on top. Believe it or not, it wasn’t that bad, but I probably wouldn’t have tried it if my friends would have told me what it was first. 

In most homes not every mealtime is happy and ideal, how does your family avoid grumpiness at meals?
We don't have this problem often, but depending on the situation, but if someone is grumpy/sad we might sing the poochy lip song.
The poochy lip will get you if you start to pout,
The poochy lip will get you if you start to pout.
So take this little tip
and control that lower lip
and chase away that poochy lip disease. 

I've been a guest at your dinner table and enjoyed it. How do you, your brother and sister feel about having guests?
I usually look forward to it.  It’s fun having people over.
Playing Basketball with Guests

When I was there we played Apples to Apples after dinner and I enjoyed getting to know your family through it. What other things has your family done to get to know guests?
We like playing games with people when they come over if they’re up for it. Our favorite games to play with guests (depending on their age and the weather) are basketball, football, Family, Taboo, Spoons, Settlers of Catan, etc. During times like this you can definitely get to know people better and their different personalities.  We had a really fun afternoon with guests when my little sister and her friend turned the backyard into an obstacle course.  That was rather spur-of-the-moment and really funny seeing the adults do crazy things!
The Obstacle Course
What chores do you and your siblings have that have to do with mealtime?  
My brother sets the table, I get the drinks, and all three of us are “on-call” for whatever other help my Mom may need like putting the food on the table, etc.  AND our number one chore around the house is washing dishes. Whenever someone asks my parents whether we have a dishwasher, they usually reply, “Oh, we have three!” Usually I don't mind doing the chores, although I'm hoping that sooner or later my little sister will take over my breakfast dishes!

You have a baking blog. How did you get interested in baking?
I like to eat desserts. As they say, “life is short, eat dessert first!” I suppose over the years of helping my Mom bake and then starting to bake things on my own and seeing my Dad and others enjoy it, I enjoy it too. I love sharing baked goods with other people and seeing them enjoy them too!  Baking is fairly easy once you get the hang of  it. The blog has encouraged me to bake even more and try out new recipes.

Have you ever baked something that some of the people in your family didn’t like? 
One time I made cinnamon eggs and offered that to my family, but after much speculation and discernment they decided it was just too odd to try it. 

What's the best thing about your family meals?
I like the fact that everyone in our family is at the table eating, singing, laughing, or just joking a bit. Oh and I really like the food part too, its pretty hard to have a mealtime without that. =)

What kind of family mealtimes do you hope to have when you have children?
I would probably like a very interactive mealtime with of course lots of food and dessert. One of my long time wishes when I was a kid is to have a drawable tablecloth, and I hope it can come true one day. =)

Grace is currently in eighth grade and 14 years old. She was born and grew up in the Philippines and moved back to California in 2006. She loves to bake, blog, play the piano, sing, and socialize. She'd love to become an overseas teacher one day and teach math or music. Visit Grace's blog at

We are still traveling, visiting ECS offices in Eastern Europe. It's been an amazing trip and we've met so many of God's wonderful people. To follow our travel blog go to here

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ecuador, Martyrdom, and Family Mealtimes

Are you familiar with Elisabeth Elliot? Her ministry spanned many decades, from the late 50s when she wrote about the martyrdom of her husband and four fellow missionaries—Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCulley, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming.

Roger, Pete, and Jim
These men had a burden to reach an uncontacted tribe in the jungles of Ecuador with the gospel . The tribe, called “Auca” at that time, killed all outsiders who came into their area. After much prayer, some language study, flying over their homes in Nate’s little Cessna and dropping gifts to the tribes-people, the missionaries landed on a beach near one of the villages and met three Aucas. The next day, unbeknownst to the men, the Aucas had an argument about what to do with these outsiders. Finally, several of the young men from the tribe took the situation into their own hands and speared the missionaries to death.

Pete with a visiting "Auca"
Today the tribe, now known as the Waoranis (their own name for themselves) has many believers and is praying about reaching the “Downriver Waoranis” who still kill all outsiders, including their distant tribal relatives.

The book about this is Through Gates of Splendor and then she wrote more about Jim Elliot in Shadow of the Almighty.  (By the way, both of these books would be great to read to your elementary aged or older children!) 

Elisabeth with "Aucas"
She went back to the mission field for a while and actually was able to live among the Waorani with her young daughter for a time before God brought her back to the states where she had a prolific writing and international speaking ministry. From the late 80s into this century she even had her own radio program.

Did you notice that one of the martyrs was also a Fleming?

Pete Fleming was my father-in-law’s brother. When we lived in Peru we worked closely with Bert Elliot, Jim Elliot’s older brother. So there's a connection there.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote the book The Shaping of a Christian Family in 1992. This is the story of her family, of how her parents raised her and her five siblings. It has many thought provoking ideas and suggestions on how children are brought up. Of course, some of them have to do with family mealtimes and I thought I would share some of those with you.

On Family Devotions:

“[Father] was strict, but he was also merciful to us, reading no more than a page or so a day from Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible, an adequate spiritual dose for the youngest in the circle.”

“After supper we were not excused from the table until our father had read a portion of Scripture.”

On the Value of Manners:

“Table manners cannot be skipped over, for if there’s one area where the spiritual and emotional climate of a home is revealed it’s at the table.”

I have to admit there were times when our everyday table climate revealed things I didn’t want in my home. How about yours? Take heart! Today with my nearly grown kids, we enjoy almost all of our mealtimes together.

On Chores:

“We were all members of the family. Everybody but the baby was a working member of the family.”

She referring to the times when one of her four younger siblings was actually of “baby” age—probably about two or under.
Photo credit
On Hospitality:

“The menu for guests could not be much more than our usual family fare, but another place or two could always be set at the table.”

Guests love to be invited. They don't care if it's fancy food or everyday food. The invitation and time of fellowship is enough.

“My parents knew how important it was for us children to meet Christian men and women from all walks of life, to hear firsthand their stories of the faithfulness of God, and to enjoy the privilege of asking them question.”

Have you ever tried telling your children a little about the guest who is coming and asked them to each come up with a question for him or her? We visited one family who made this an assignment for their children before we—as visiting missionaries—arrived at their table. The kids had some interesting and insightful questions.

If you aren’t familiar with Elisabeth Elliot’s books, I recommend almost any of them, but especially this one and Through Gates of Spendor.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's Not Narnia

I walked where Paul walked today.

Paul, Apostle Paul.

Between visiting the Emmaus Course offices in Patra, Greece and the one in Burgas, Bulgaria, we have traveled from Cornith to Athens to Thessalonica. That's backwards from the way Paul did it. (Acts 17-18) I didn't realize how exciting it would be to see places that Paul actually saw, roads (and hills) he walked on.

When Paul got to Athens he was there alone for a while and he wandered through the market place, reasoning with the people about God. (Acts 17:17)
These columns line the road between the two sides of the Roman Forum, or marketplace in Athens. On either side there would have been covered stalls where people could shop, visit, or share new ideas. (Acts 17:21)

Then Paul was invited to the Aeropagus (Mars Hill) to discuss things further with them. He started that famous message with a reference to the altar of the "Unknown God" which the Athenians had put up to cover all their bases. (Acts 17:22-31) I didn't find the altar, but we did walk up Mars Hill at the base of the Acropolis.
Jim on the Aeropagus (Mars Hill) 

Paul also said he had been examining their "objects of worship." (Acts 17:23) Did he wander up to the Acropolis?

In Corinth the Jews took Paul to the "judgement seat," the Bema, because he was preaching the gospel. But the judge, Gallio, wasn't interested in their religious problems. (Acts 18:12-17)
That little sign on the wall says "Bema". This is Ancient Corinth where Paul stood before the magistrate.

Seeing these places has made reading these two chapters in Acts and Paul's letters to the churches in Corinth and Thessalonica so much more alive!

This is a place I thought I might like to come to for the beaches, but even though I won't get to a beach to swim, I'm so glad I came!

You could ask your children what place where an event in the Bible happens they would like to see. Talk about what countries of today are places where the people of the Bible lived, walked, and knew God. Open your Bibles to those maps in the back and look through them, comparing them to maps of today. Make the Bible come alive for your children, for yourself! It isn't Narnia. It truly happened on our planet.

Who knows, maybe you could even start dreaming about actually visiting some of these places. It'll do wonders for your faith!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You Encourage Me!

I want my blog to be a ministry to families. The more I write, the more I realize I truly am passionate about family mealtimes and I long for other families to enjoy them and connect like we have around our table.

Sometimes I feel like I’m writing into a void. I’ve been really excited about some of my posts—like International Family Day, I AM Not Too Young to Learn, Mother Language Day, Our Table, How I Came to Write Around the Table, and Remembering Uncle Pete—and I wonder if they help anyone.

But then I hear from some of you and I realize God is using my simple words to reach other families. Here’s what some of you have said:

Marcia from Colorado said—you have captured the heart of meals around the table in your website. The pictures and text are so warm, the reader (at least this reader!) feels like she's had a big, welcoming hug.

Sherrin who lives in Australia said—I want you to know that I really enjoy reading your blog and it has a new significance now that Chris and I have started our own little family.

Beth Ann from California wrote—Sharon, I'm attaching some photos - taken with a not-so-professional cell phone camera - of my table last night and this morning after I cleared it, changed the tablecloth, and came up with a centerpiece of callas from my front yard.  Thank you SO MUCH for inspiring me to keep trying to make my table attractive.  The red plaid reminds me of summer picnics and this particular tablecloth belonged to my mother-in-law, who made even picnics look special!

Debbie, a missionary in Peru said—I appreciate all the time and thought you put into your blogs and the INTENTIONALITY of your family life together. I have to admit I don't get to read every post you write, but when I do, I really enjoy them.

Corrie from Texas wrote—Mrs. Fleming, I love this blog! As a wife of 3 years and a brand new momma, I am passionate about Biblical homemaking. God is so good to give me so many lovely, Godly role models.

Mike and Elaine, missionaries in Colombia, said—We just enjoyed checking out your blog, Sharon. Thanks for all the pictures and helpful ideas.

I can’t tell you how much those comments mean to me!

I’d love to know if my blog is a helpful ministry in your life and family. There are several ways you can do this:

  • When you have a comment, suggestion, question, or correction, write a comment by clicking on the blue words below “Share your thoughts” and leave a message for all to see.

  • Write an email to me by clicking here.

  • Bookmark this blog so it's easy to check it often.

  • If you think a friend would benefit from a post, send them a link.

  • If you think lots of friends should read a post, post a link on your Facebook, Twitter, or other social network site.

  • Finally, “like” my Facebook page to get a link each time a new post is up.

I’ve been writing three times a week for five months now and have a variety posts about a variety of topics that relate to connecting at family mealtimes. If you are looking for a specific topic, scroll back up to the top of the page. In the white search box in the upper left hand corner, type in the topic you want (such as “family time” or “devotions”) and hit the little magnifying glass symbol to get all the posts that deal with that topic.

This summer I will be traveling with Jim and Christina for June and part of July visiting the Emmaus Course offices in Eastern Europe. Because of this, I plan to only add one new post per week on Wednesdays during the summer. I know you are busy at this time of year, too, so I though none of us should get bogged down on the Internet when our families and the outdoors beckon us!

If you would like me to continue posting more often again starting in September, please encourage me by letting me know. And be sure to come back every week so you can be inspired to connect with your family at mealtimes.

And thanks for the encouragement!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Of Crockpots and Motel Rooms--an Interview with Martha Fowler

Tell me about your family. Who is regularly around your table?
Now it’s usually just the 2 of us, our 2 daughters come home from college on breaks; Anna, 19, Abigail, 17.

You grew up on the mission field. Can you describe family meals there?
Volcano from the roof of their house in Guatemala.
Martha is on the right playing market.
I grew up in Guatemala, came to the states at 18. We didn’t have a television, so we always ate together around the table without that interruption. We didn’t have breakfast together, but each one ate when they got up. My younger sister, Sarah, until she was about 4, would sit in her high chair and eat breakfast with all of us—just waiting for each one to come. When we went to Indian villages for meetings and clinics and would eat sandwiches together wherever we could sit. 

How often did you have family meals with your girls?
At least twice a day--lunch and supper. My husband comes from a home where they had breakfast together, so on the weekend he expects us to have breakfast together.
We did some years of homeschooling including all of high school, so the girls were home for lunch then.

What would you say is the strong point of your family meals? How did it start, intentionally or did it evolve? 
The Prayer of Thanksgiving
It would be the Prayer of Thanksgiving. Usually my husband prays or the girls and I take turns when he’s not here. We thank the Lord for the food and remember whatever other prayer requests we have in the family before we start eating. It just happened. It’s kind of an opening to what we’re going to talk about or a closing to what we’ve been talking about before the meal. It’s a refocusing of our thoughts on the Lord. 

What do you do at the table besides eat?
Usually we’ll talk about our day, what’s happened, people we’re concerned about or appreciate. Sometimes we plan something—a vacation or holiday coming up. We celebrate birthdays with a special meal and the honored person gets to choose the meal. 

Thanksgiving with her husband
When the girls were late elementary aged they would make little name cards for us as a sort of art project that fit the season or celebration. The kids’ school work, art, and letter writing was done at the kitchen table, too.

What was one rule you found yourself telling your kids over and over?
Lately in teen age years, “Slow down, don’t eat so fast.” We really did very little fussing at the table about making them eat and things like that. I taught them to like vegetables by taking them to farms where you can pick your own and we picked together. One day we picked tomatoes and my husband was astonished that they ate tomatoes that night when they’d never liked them before.

Is there anything you would do differently regarding family mealtimes if you could start over again with your family?
I would have devotions at least once a day with them after a meal. I would have them clear and rinse their plates, because that’s a good life habit.

What’s the most unusual meal you’ve ever had as a family? 
We took a weeklong trip to Washington D.C. To make it affordable, we took the Crockpot along and cooked all our meals in the hotel room. One night we had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Our crock pot is a multipurpose cooker with a Teflon base. There’s a book by Edith Schaffer, Hidden Art, in which she talks about eating picnics in hotel rooms and making things pretty any time you eat a meal. 

How has including others around your table enriched your meals?
We haven’t had as many guests as I would like. We always enjoy having people over, whoever it’s been. It makes it more interesting and enjoyable.

What would you like your children to remember about family mealtimes when they grow up?
I’d like my girls to know the importance of family mealtimes and to continue having them, to make it a priority wherever they are.

What advice would you give to families with school age children who want to start meaningful family mealtimes?
Make it fun! That way the kids will want to do it. Include them in the planning and decorating of the table. Get them involved in the whole process.

Martha Fowler of Greenville SC, enjoys helping with Emmaus Bible Correspondence courses and Bible camps and works part time as a recovery room nurse. Current challenges include Interstitial Cystitis and memorizing the book of Philippians.  Her hobbies are listening to her daughters play cello, piano and violin, arranging flowers and thrift shopping. She has the same desert rose pattern dishes as Sharon and a refrigerator covered with pictures of family and friends from around the world.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Linger Longer

Would you like your family to linger longer at the table? sit and visit? be willing to take time to be with family rather than whatever else might be calling them?

There are strategies for this:

  1. Serve your meal in courses—a salad or soup before the main course not only has nutritional value, but lengthens the time it takes to eat, and therefore, the time people spend together at the table.
  2. Make a rule—you can’t leave until __________ (you are excused, the closing prayer, we’ve had devotions, everyone else does; whatever rule you want to make). And ask them to come back if they do. Many of our children’s friends were taught that when they finished eating they could take their dishes to the kitchen and go play. When they did this at our house I would ask them to come back and join us for devotions.
  3. Stay at the table yourself—a glass of spilled milk might send you running for a cloth, but try to have everything you normally need for the meal on hand at the table when you sit down. This takes preparation, but we noticed when our children were young that if I got up from the table, others were more likely to do it, and possibly even leave.
  4. Avoid criticism—We’ve been accused of “never listening” and “only criticizing.” Guilty as charged, at least some of the time. So we try to listen, listen, listen, and ask questions without becoming critical or judgmental and they’ll want to stay because the dinner table is a pleasant place.
  5. Don’t do the dishes—for some this will take the greatest effort of will power they’ve ever called upon, for others, it’s the happiest advice they’ve ever heard! I mean don’t do them right away. Let them sit on the counter while you…
  6. Have dessert and/or coffee—when you clear the dishes away, do it with a promise of dessert to come. If your children are small you might add, “For those who stay in their seats.” Everyone is served dessert at the same time, when all are finished with their main course. We don’t have dessert every night because most of us are trying to watch our weight, but we can have a bowl of fresh fruit or even just coffee to linger over.
  7. Have devotions—have your Bibles and devotional book right by the table so no one gets up. Make this a habit and they’ll know they stay through devotions. 
  8. Do the dishes together—this is my ideal, the child who stays and does the dishes talking to Mom while they work together, discussing the days events, going deeper into conversations started at dinner. Notice I said, “Ideal”. I know some families achieve this, but my kids are pretty normal and want to rush through the dishes as fast as they can so they can get back to whatever it is they want to get back to.
You may have thought that my kids always linger, but they and we are normal. Life is rushed. There are prayer meetings, committee meetings, yard work, homework, friends, and the Internet calling. Some days it’s eat and run. Others I do succeed in getting them to linger longer and that’s when I feel the warm glow of motherhood I long for.

Linking with:

Lessons from Ivy


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