Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A No-Man-tic Valentines

On February 14 this year, my husband will be on the other side of the world, in a time zone 11 1/2 hours different from where we live. (Yes, the 1/2 is correct. The nation of India is large, but in order to be in one time zone they compromised and put it half way between two time zones.) I don’t know if I’ll even be able to Skype with him that  day, it all depends on whether he’ll have Internet access or not. So I think I’ll just sit at home with a box of kleenex feeling sorry for myself while I down a box of chocolates--NOT!

 One thing I learned from my parents was, if you don’t have family nearby or another invitation on a holiday, then have your own party and see who else you can include. We always lived at least 1000 miles from my grandparents and several hundred miles from my nearest aunts and uncles, so we “made our own parties often.” And you know what? They were fun!

This year my kids who live in my town and I are going to draw names by the end of January and be each other’s secret Valentines. Since there will be five of us in four different locations, doing things for each other secretly will be a trick. We’ll have lunch together on February 16 or 17 (since I figure the newlyweds will want their own Valentines together and one daughter works the 14th and one is involved in an inner city children’s ministry on the 15th) and we’ll reveal who was whose secret Valentine with cards to each other.

We did something similar when the children were small, but they chose a different name each night and the next day they were supposed to do something for that person. That was easier because the six of us were in one house.

What kind of things am I talking about? Think Random Acts of Kindness. Here are some ideas:
  • Sneak into their bedroom while they are showering and make their bed or put away their clothes.
  • Cut out paper hearts and hide them in unexpected places--like inside the kleenex box or under the next set of underwear--to be found later.
  • Buy them a pack of gum and leave it with a note “From Your Secret Valentine.”
  • Slip a note into their lunch bag.
  • Rush in and do their chore before they get a chance.
  • Hang up their bath towel.
  • Leave a chocolate on their pillow.
  • Make their favorite dinner.
  • Don’t argue when they want their TV program.
  • Vacuum out their car.
  • Polish their shoes.
  • Give them enough money to buy a soft drink with their lunch.
  • Buy some of their favorite fruit or candy and give it to them. 

You get the idea. I think our plan is going to require some mail service and doorstep dropoffs, but it should be fun.

Another way to celebrate is think about people who won’t have a romantic Valentine’s Day--singles, widows, and the divorced. When our kids were in a small Christian school on the mission field we used to have a party for all the single teachers on Valentines. I also send Valentine’s cards to men and women whose spouses are gone. I’ve had more than one grandmother tell me that’s the only Valentine she gets.

So whether you've got a man in your life or not, you can have a Valentines filled with love if you come up with ways to show your love to others!

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Remember to like the Around the Table Facebook page to get a conversation starter for your dinner tonight!

Linking with these great blogs.

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Coming Up in This Blog:
Be sure to be back to read these topics coming up!
February 1 -- A Valentines themed recipe from a teenage friend.
February 5 -- The Pre-Dinner Meltdown: a post to pass along to the man in your life!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Coloring on Your Table

"Coloring on the table is what happens when Dan leaves me at home alone with my sister, Beth, for 3 weeks while he’s in Israel!  Our favorite coffee shop in town has similar designs on their little tables so we copied."

That's what my friend, Nikki, wrote to me when I asked about the designs on her table. She had sent me a photo of her family to go in the post where I interview her.

"Geovani [an Ecuadorian friend] helped Beth and me with this project – I figured the more accomplices I had the less trouble I’d get in!"

"The designs on our table are permanent. We colored them with crayons (ones that were really waxy that the kids didn’t like to use) and then had a layer of varnish put over it. The tabletop really needed to be redone and we figured that coloring it wouldn’t make it any worse! And it’s been that way for the last four years."

How fun is that? An old table made unique by your own family! I've seen designs on tables at coffee shops and often thought they didn't look too difficult--just creative. 

If you are eating around an old table in need of a new look (or perhaps an outdoor table or bench) gather your family, some crayons, and some photos of ideas and re-do your table. It will create a memory, be a conversation piece, and be one more way your family connected around your table.

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Have you read my book? What did you think of it? I would appreciate it very much if you would be willing to review it at I only have a couple of reviews so far. It would be a great help if I could get at least 20. Would you be willing to take the time to review my book for me? I would be very grateful!
Thank you.

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Remember to like the Around the Table Facebook page to get a conversation starter for your dinner tonight!

Linking with these great blogs.

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Coming Up in This Blog:
Be sure to be back to read these topics coming up!
January 30 -- A Ro-tic Valentines: My plans for Valentines without my man
February 1 -- A Valentines themed recipe from a teenage friend.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Small Talk into Big Talk

Have you heard about the man who goes to lunch with a friend and monopolizes the conversation about himself. After a fifteen minute monologue about his successes and aches and pains, he says, "Enough about me, let's talk about you...What do you think of me?"

Maybe you've met him.

Or his twin sister.

Or perhaps you've had dinner conversations that revolve only around trivial things, without helping you to get to know those included around your table.

My husband and I came up with an idea that might help in those situations. We tried it at a recent extended family gathering of three generations (well four, but one generation can't really talk yet) that turned what could have been a time of "small talk" into interesting "big talk".

First Jim and I came up with a list of questions like:

  • What is your earliest childhood memory?
  • What chores did you do as a child?
  • What is one character trait you've worked on and had some victory over?
  • What nicknames have you had?
  • Other than the Bible, what book has had an impact on your life?
  • If you had done or learned _________ how would it have changed your life?
  • What is your favorite song? Why do you like it so much?

I put these on individual strips of paper and into a basket. In turn each person chose a paper and after reading their question, chose who in the room they would ask their question.

Each person could only be asked a question once, so that everyone had a turn asking and answering a question. 

We had a great time listening to the answers and sometimes asking follow up questions to learn even more. 

My mother often comments that there are many questions she would now like to ask her parents and even grandparents, but of course it's too late. With that in mind, a variation of this game could be to have an older generation think of some of those kinds of questions. Then use those questions for the children and grandchildren to ask the older ones.

Perhaps some would even like to play interviewer and have a real or pretend video camera and microphone to use as they "interview" others.

This activity would help children (and others) learn that conversation consists in asking others about their lives, opinions, and likes. We can all model this kind of conversation and when thinking people wonder why they enjoy talking to us, they will realize we frequently turn the conversation back to them.

Connectivity with our family and friends doesn't come automatically. Don't be afraid to step out of the weather-sports-news conversation box and really get to know one another.

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Remember to like the Around the Table Book Facebook page to get a conversation starter question every week day.

Linking with these great blogs.

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Coming Up!
Come back and read these topics coming up in the blog:
January 30 -- A Ro-tic Valentines: My plan for Valentines without my man!
February 1 -- A Valentines themed recipe from a teenage friend.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili

One of my good friends and my children's favorite middle school teacher is a vegetarian--an evangelistic vegetarian! At least I think she's the one who convinced my daughter to go veg.

She started when she was 15, and I figured it was a phase, but we are eight years down the road and she's still a vegetarian, though she will eat fish and shrimp sometimes, she pretty much sticks to it. Since she just got engaged, she's going to have to learn to cook some meat for her non-veg husband, but they can learn to do like I've done.

Before she "converted" I had started cooking vegetarian once a week to save money, calories, and possibly be more healthy. Meals where Rosana joins us aren't always strictly vegetarian, but they always include enough things for her to eat. Usually I make a vegetable, a salad, bread, and rice, pasta, or potatoes besides whatever we are having for meat. (Her fiancé likes the meat!) But sometimes I make straight vegetarian meals.

This vegetarian chili recipe comes (mostly) from  Slow Cooker Meals, my favorite slow cooker cookbook. But the original recipe is for 2 servings. Since it freezes well, and because I have a Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 Slow Cooker, and because I wanted to have it on hand for when the family was here for Christmas, I made enough for 12! That required some serious can opening. I'll give you my recipe for 6 and if you want to double it to freeze some, you will know it works.

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili
3 15oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 15oz cans tomato sauce
3 15oz cans whole kernel corn, drained (or 6 cups frozen)
2 cups coarsely chopped zucchini or yellow summer squash
1 cup coarsely chopped sweet red, orange, and/or yellow peppers
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cloves garlic, chopped

(I have the zucchini here in larger pieces because I decided to roast the veggies first in the oven, but I didn't detect a notable taste difference, so think I would just skip straight to the next step.)

In 4 quart slow cooker, combine drained beans, tomato sauce, corn, zucchini, sweet peppers, onion, chili powder, oregano, salt, and garlic.

Cover slow cooker; cook on low-heat setting for 6-8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 to 4 hours. 

To freeze, cook minimum amount of time, cool, and freeze. To serve, thaw and heat thoroughly in slow cooker or pot.

I served this with a green salad with mandarin oranges, toasted walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette and heated sour dough bread. It gets rave reviews, even from non-veg eaters.

To get a printer friendly copy, click here.

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Remember to like the Around the Table Book Facebook page to get a conversation starter question every week day.

Linking with these great blogs.

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I would love to have photos of more families around their tables to include in my blog. If you are willing to send me pictures of your family around the table at mealtime (preferably everyday meals and not just holidays and special occasions) please send them to me here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Please Don't Let Me Intimidate You!

As we entered the dining room of our friends' apartment in Istanbul, Turkey, I commented on how beautifully the table was set. "Well, Sharon," she said, "You are an intimidating person to host!"

Me, intimidating?! Oh dear, that's never what I set out to do. My goal is to inspire!

Of course, you might read about our daily family mealtimes, the wonderful conversations we've had, and the way I organized things to serve meals to 10 people three times a day for X number of days and still go sledding, visit a friend in a retirement community... What did you think--I would tell you about the spilled milk, arguments, and burnt chicken? (smile)

Actually, I seldom burn food, my problem is usually undercooked food. Which reminds me of my son's most recent birthday--his last at home. He had the nerve to be born on January 4 which is so close to Christmas that I never got around to celebrating it until July 4--his "half birthday!" (Actually, we celebrated then on purpose, to spread the gifts around. And I did give him a cake and the present from one grandma on his actual birthday.)

But on his birthday two weeks ago he asked for a special meal including tender chuck roast, an outstanding recipe that makes the meat soooo delicious! However, it takes longer, and I mean looooonger, than the typed recipe I have states. The recipe says to have the meat at "room temperature" and in my notes I wrote "IMPORTANT! Out of fridge at least two hours." And it said a two pound roast would take 45 minutes. Since mine was three and a half pounds, I figured I should double the time. Please tell me why I didn't look this up in a cookbook to compare cooking times??

Time to serve the food to the crowd of family we were having over--I think there were eleven of us--and the meat thermometer said it was "medium done" so we took it out and began slicing. The meat was so raw that the electric knife could barely cut through it.

Eating on time was important because an hour and a quarter later, ten more people were coming to devour the two angel food cakes I'd made. So we sliced the meat and stuck it under the broiler to brown it. I have to tell you, the parts that were done were delicious.

But when I watched my mother-in-law at the end of the table trying to eat a piece of bright red meat, I signaled to my husband who was sitting by her and he switched it out for a piece that was more done. 

The worst part of this is that my son and his fiance were busy running some of the multitude of errands they need to do before their wedding on Saturday and I, somewhat testily, texted them asking them to get home right away because we needed to eat on time. And then the food wasn't ready. (blush)

The point of this story is please do not feel intimidated by me. I am just a mom trying to bring my family together around the table. The good, the bad, and the raw all bring serve to bring us closer, and that's my goal.

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Remember to like the Around the Table Book Facebook page to get a conversation starter question every week day.

Linking with these blogs.

Friday, January 11, 2013

National De-Lurking Day

Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved to write. In the fifth grade she read Harriet the Spy and just loved it that Harriet had things to write down. The little girl didn't exactly want to be a spy, but she did want to write things down, it was almost like she had to. (She even liked writing assignments in school!)

That little girl grew up and started writing some short articles for magazines and even got a poem published. It was particularly satisfying to be published--then she knew at least the editor was reading what she wrote.

After reading her children a missionary story one night she thought, "That wasn't very well written. I could do better." So she started writing a missionary story she knew about first hand (because she was also a missionary in South America). It wasn't as easy as she thought, but she finished it and got it published with cute drawings by a Missionary Kid who had become a commercial artist. She wrote to other missionaries for more ideas and wrote two more little books.

The women she worked with in South America wanted to publish a newsletter to encourage mothers and asked her to write for it. A real outlet for her urge to write! Those articles motivated her to put together some ideas into a book for moms.

The book was published in two languages--Spanish and English--and sold quite a few copies. About 10 years later, another publisher picked up the English edition and it reached many more readers.

Around that time Christian magazines went through a financial crisis and the ones which had been publishing her articles closed down. For a couple of years she had no outlet for her writing.

Then the Lord led her to start a blog to go along with the re-publishing of her book for moms. She loved it and was full of ideas and wrote faithfully.

But one thing made her sad, she didn't know if many people were enjoying and being helped by what they read. She could see that people from all over the world were opening her blog, but very few left comments to encourage her, ask her questions, or even criticize.

Are you lurking out there?

So you guessed it: The little girl writer is me and this is the blog! In the world of blogs  January 14 is "National De-Lurking Day". That means if you read this blog but don't comment, today is the day for YOU. I would love to hear from you to know you are reading my words. Please write a short comment today. You can

  • tell me a little about yourself and family
  • ask for a topic to be written about
  • criticize my ideas
  • post a link you think my other readers and I would be interested in
  • share something you do around the table with your family
  • or even just say, "I read your blog!"
ALL of your comments will encourage me! And I promise to answer every one. So please take a minute to write a comment below today.

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Remember to like the Around the Table Book Facebook page to get a conversation starter question every week day.

Linking with these blogs.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

You Asked For It

When I started writing this blog almost a year ago I had a questionnaire on the Facebook page about what you wanted to see in the blog. (Feel free to answer the questionnaire even now or again, if your family needs have changed.)

Illustration Credit: D. I. Campbell

I've tried to make my posts fit your needs and interests. I thought that perhaps you would be interested in seeing the posts that fit the bill you asked for.

The Top Three Requests:

1. Hospitality ideas and encouragement--I'm so glad so many of you are interested in this! Hospitality is a wonderful ministry and is quickly becoming a lost art. I told stories to encourage you in hospitality in:

2. Conversation Starting Ideas--This is one I love! I usually have questions sitting around just waiting to be used. I wish that they were on the tip of my tongue always, but 3x5 cards work, too!

  • Table Talk Conversation Starters--My friend Mimi Wilson wrote a book of activities to get your family close during mealtimes. In this post I share some of my favorites of her conversation starting questions.
  • How to Get Teenagers to Talk--The correct answer is: Listen. Okay, I don't have all the answers and definitely haven't gotten it all right, but I share what I know and have learned and promise you results!
  • Bird Brained--Our hobbies and interests can be jumping off points for conversation and examples to our children of our devotional lives, developing worthwhile interests, and even examples to others we never dreamed were watching!
  • Still Talking--An encouraging story from our family about why it's worth nonsense chatter with a toddler, encouraging elementary kids to discuss without bickering, and extracting comments from a teen--because when they grow up, they will still talk to you and now it's fun.
  • I Hope I Never and
  • I Laughed Till I Cried are two posts that describe games that foster lots of fun conversation and help you get to know your kids or your guests. I highly recommend you make time to try them after dinner one evening very soon. 
  • Don't forget that if you *like* my Around the Table Book Facebook page you will see a Conversation starter every weekday on your wall.

3. Family Devotion Ideas and Encouragement--Wow! What a great topic! My first and forever thought is try everything and keep trying. If something works for a while, great! If something falls flat, don't be afraid to try something different. But whatever you do, keep having family devotions. And what better place than at the table when you are already all together! Here are some of the posts where I talk about devos.
Art Credit: I. D. Campbell
  • I AM Not Too Young to Learn--here's a story of one of the ways I helped my kids hide God's Word in their hearts starting when they were very small. (Plus there's an adorable picture of my oldest praying earnestly when he was about 3!)
  • Live It Out, Pass It On--family devotions means more than reading the Bible after dinner, our Devotion is our whole life. How do you fare in that area? 
  • It's Not Narnia--a way to bring the Bible to life for your kids and help them understand the Bible has real history about real people.
  • Popcorn Children at the Table--how do you get wiggly kids to listen to family devotions? This post has some ideas that let them wiggle!
  • Of Corny Pizza, Fishy Napkins, and Anti-Bickering Spray
  • Fun Mealtimes in a Pastor's Home and
  • Shelly Esser Interview (cont.) are interviews with real life women who tell (among other things) a little about family devotions with their kids to give you encouragement and ideas. My favorite quote is from Shelly who said of devotions with teens, "They are having fun, they just don't know it yet!"
These are just some of the many articles I've posted over the last year to inspire you to connect with your family. If any of these ideas encourage you or inspire you to tell me about how it is in your family, please write to me in a comment below or at my email. I'd love to hear from you! And if you have time, fill out the questionnaire so I know more about what you want.

Linking with these great blogs.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Birthday Potatoes

Today is our younger son's 23rd birthday!

Photo Credit: Seeley Photography

He was my fourth pregnancy, but the two between he and his older brother went to heaven before we ever got a chance to meet them and then there were no babies in sight for a while. We have a daughter in between the boys who came by the miracle of adoption--born with the genes of another to be in our family. 

It does not seem possible that it was more than 23 years ago we were pleading with God for another child. These two "middle kids" came quickly--Rosana was seven days old when she joined our family and eight months later Samuel was born. The day I came home from the hospital Rosana started to crawl! So they are my "twins" and for the next four months I will have two 23 year old offspring.

To celebrate Samuel's birthday, he asked for "those new baked potatoes you made a few weeks ago," a tender chuck roast, "green beans like I like them," carrot salad, and angel food cake. 

"Those new baked potatoes" are what we call "Criss-Cross Roasted Potatoes," a recipe I found on my future daughter-in-law's Pinterest boards--by the way, she will become Samuel's wife in just 15 days!

Photo Credit: Seeley Photography

I would link you to the original site of the potato recipe, but it doesn't seem to be working. Here is the Pinterest link.

So here is the recipe for our Birthday Potatoes a.k.a Criss-Cross Roasted Potatoes:

Cook pierced potatoes in oven or microwave until soft all the way through. Cut in half. Cutting just down to the skin, cut criss-cross to make cubes. Rub a small pat of butter on each potato.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and paprika.
Broil at 500F for 10-15 minutes.
Serve hot.

For a printable version of this recipe click on this link.

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Remember to like the Around the Table Book Facebook page to get a conversation starter question every week day.

Linking with these great blogs.

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I would love to have photos of more families around their tables to include in my blog. If you are willing to send me pictures of your family around the table at mealtime (preferably everyday meals and not just holidays and special occasions) please send them to me here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year's Resolution: More Family Dinners!

Once upon a time there was a busy family. They were busy with good things: Mom taught middle school full time, taught Sunday school, and had sewing classes for unwed mothers on Saturdays. Dad worked fulltime at a farm for former street children an hour bus ride from home and used his sixteen passenger van to transport his teens and others to Friday night youth group and other activities. The three sons were in drama, sports, and tutored after school. The two adopted daughters took extra English as a Second Language classes and spent as much time with friends as possible.  

No one would agree to sitting down together to eat and staying there for half an hour, would they?

Does that sound like your family and your thoughts?

I'd like to tell you that it's not too late to change. Let me tell you what happened in that family, in the words of the mother, my friend, Kathleen:

"We were parents to five children and in our sixth year on the mission field when we first read Sharon's book, Around the Table. My husband and I read the book together prayerfully. We were utterly bowled over by its common sense and practicality.

"It is not too dramatic a statement to say it changed our lives. We work with the urban poor in Bogotá, Colombia, and our home is centrally located to our mission and our children’s friends’ homes – in other words, the house phone, cell phones and doorbell ring nonstop seven days a week. 

"We personally knew the Flemings, a family, equally involved in ministry work, and saw how they put the brakes on everything for a precious time with family every evening. 

"Within a few days we completely changed our schedule and made the dinner hour an inviolable time. Three of our five children were teenagers by then so we braced ourselves knowing there would be some protests at such a drastic change. We were happily surprised to discover just the opposite – the kids LOVED recounting the day’s events, telling jokes, explaining what they’d learned in school and just being together… around the table."

You might be surprised to see how your children adjust to having family dinner. I'm not saying it won't be without a learning curve for everyone, but  I can guarantee you it will be worth it.

It's the beginning of a new year--a great time to make a goal for 2013 to have family meals one more night a week than you currently do.  {<<click to tweet!} 

Even one night a week is a huge start!

What could you make to have dinner at home together tonight?

  • If you have tortillas, cheese and some kind of lunch meat, make quesadillas! We like to set out a variety of foods--mushrooms, peppers, olives, meat, tomatoes, avocado, green onions, pepperoni, left over broasted chicken, etc. and let everyone prepare their own in a frying pan on low heat. Add plain yogurt or sour cream and salsa on the table for dipping.
  • If you have eggs and rice have eggs and rice! Cook the rice. When it is done fry an egg for each person. Serve with cooked frozen veggies or orange slices.
  • If you have pasta serve it with a can of spaghetti sauce or make up a white sauce and call it House Pasta Alfredo. Add a side of lettuce and tomato or lettuce and mandarin oranges.
Don't wait until the time is perfect or the meal is gourmet, just sit down and eat together.

To inspire you, I will be writing two posts a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays will be a story designed to excite you about family mealtimes. Friday will be some practical help, like a recipe or menu, designed to help get you to the table. I hope you'll come visit every Tuesday and Friday and tell others where they can be inspired to connect with their families too!

Kathleen continues today, ten years later, "Two years into emptynestedness, we still preserve our evening mealtime for ourselves as a couple. When we have guests our visitors are always surprised when we don't jump up to answer the phone in the middle of a meal. Around the Table is my favorite wedding gift for Christian couples."

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Remember to like the Around the Table Book Facebook page to get a conversation starter question every week day.

Linking with these great blogs.


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