Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Half Full? Half Empty? Who Cares, All Dirty!

Strange as it sounds, one of the most annoying things was running out of drinking glasses.  

Everyone easily keeps track of their own glass with these simple DIY markers

Every time we came home on furlough we landed on each set of parents for about three months. We weren't there all the time. The nature of a missionary furlough is travel, so we would be away a couple nights each week and many evening for meetings. But bringing a family of six into a household of two adults for that long--well our parents will definitely get their rewards in heaven!

But back to the lack of glasses...

The little kids had their own Mermaid® or Thomas the Tank Engine® cups, but everyone else used the glass ones from the cupboard. To try to save on washing (and running out) several of us would have a spot on the kitchen counter "staked out" for our glass. But if the one straightening up didn't know whose was whose, it would get swept into the dishwasher, to avoid a bunch of empty glasses just sitting around.

When all the glasses were in the dishwasher, we'd have to wash one out by hand to get a drink. That wasn't so hard, but if it was time to set the table for dinner, we might have to wash six or more glasses, which while not a real hardship, was just annoying.

One person's solution was a piece of paper with her name on it. That became the "coaster" where she kept her glass--except when she moved it. Then her glass went into the dishwasher, too.

After our kids grew up, we moved back to the states full time and they frequently come back home to visit, which we love! But it meant we had lots of people around. This past Christmas we had ten of us living in the house for ten days plus three others hanging around most of the time. The glass problem had moved on to another generation!

So I decided to do something about it. 

I bought a variety of colored hair bands and charms from the clearance section of craft stores. I also used a clearance necklace with a a whole bunch of charms already on it and an earring that lost its partner. Another possibility would be gaudy old "bling" from thrift stores and garage sales.

Using a pair of pointed nose pliers I fastened the charms to the hair bands. I also found some colorful scrunchies and otherwise decorated hairbands to add to the mix--trying to get some masculine enough for the men. When everyone came, they chose their favorite color or design for the duration of the visit, and put it on their glass. 

One of my daughters-in-law made a little chart with everyone's name and what their "glass charm" looked like so we would know where to put them at the table when we set. (This is important when there are two engaged couples and two small children who need to have the right supervisors beside them!)

These simple, but pretty glass markers allow everyone to keep track of their glass and keep you from running out of clean glasses.

It worked wonderfully! 

I still threw all the glasses in the dishwasher about once a day to avoid that fingerprint decor, but otherwise no one had to wash a glass before they could quench their thirst.

Just one more way to make it easier to get the family together around the table!

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always have clean glasses around the table

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Coming Up in This Blog:
Be sure to be back to read these topics coming up!
March 1 -- Easy Slow Cooker Mac'n'Cheese
March 5 -- Why Do We Have Kids Do Chores?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup

When we were first married my husband was invited to speak in a local church in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. One of the older couples invited us home for lunch along with another newly married couple. I remember thinking Linda really had it all together. She was a teacher and she talked about how she got most of her housework done before she left for school in the morning. I was working as a secretary and I got my hair most of the way done before I went to work!

What I didn't know was that that friendship would last over the years to this day. When we went to the mission field Linda began to write to me. She did this with three preschool daughters--the younger two were twins. And this was back in the day when you sat down with a pen and piece of paper to write a letter and then had to have sufficient postage to send the letter overseas.

Linda homeschooled her girls, canned her own homegrown food, and used a wood splitter in the summer to supply wood for the wood burning heater in her house for the winter. And hers was always the first Christmas card we received! (Usually in January because that's how things arrived in South America!)

On furloughs we were able to visit. I remember one meal where we had loads of preschoolers around the table--when they outnumber the adults it always seems like they have multiplied exponentially--and the milk spilled. Linda grabbed a rag and said, "Glad that's over with; happens every meal."

Our kids grew up and we became modern, progressing to email, and now Facebook for keeping in touch, along with the occasional visit now that we live just 3 1/2 hours apart instead of thousands of miles. 

Linda sent me this recipe. Maybe I've found her secret--easy meals! You don't even have to remember to thaw the chicken! I'll let her tell you about it, the italics are Linda talking.

"Here is an easy and good recipe that my mom cut out of the local paper.  I tried it last week and we really liked it and it was SIMPLE! I noticed on your blog that you like slow cooker recipes and thought about this one.  It's pretty forgiving and versatile with ingredients." 

Slow Cooker Taco Chicken Soup

1 lb frozen chicken breasts (I used 2 breasts, could use whatever is on sale)
Mixture of 3 cans 15 oz. beans, drained and rinsed.  (Great northern, black, kidney, pinto, etc)
1 15 oz. can of corn, undrained. 
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes, undrained  (I used a qt. bag of frozen tomato sauce from the garden) Note: She's still canning!
1 pkg. taco seasoning (or more if you like it spicier!) 

"I added some green pepper, garlic and probably a little onion too.  I used only 2 cans of beans, but one was a big can and one was a small can.  Use whatever mixture you have on hand."

Place frozen chicken in bottom of slow cooker.  Add rest of ingredients. Cook on low for 6 hours.  When soup is done (when the chicken is done), fork shred the chicken.  Top with sour cream, salsa, and shredded cheddar cheese if desired. 

My helper, my granddaughter!

"We had soup for a couple of meals and then for the last bit we used it as a baked potato topper meal.  Was good that way too."

I've learned something else from my friendship with Linda: You never know who might be your long term friend!

Another serving option
An easy recipe is a great incentive to bring your family together around the table.

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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 25 -- How to Identify Everyone's Glass OR How Not to Run Out of Glasses 
March 1 -- Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Trivia Night

The other week my newly married son and his wife were housesitting for friends. Along with the house came two teenagers. So when my kids came for our regular Sunday family lunch, they brought "their kids."

I wondered how it would go, two teens who didn't know us at all and my husband out of the country. Why did that matter? He's usually the one who keeps conversation going when it lags. 

So I brought out my newest conversation idea--Trivia Cards.

For Christmas I was given one of those page-a-day calendars. This one had one trivia question and answer a day. I've had fun reading them, so I started collecting trivia. Some is from the calendar, but more comes from reading I've done either serendipitously or purposefully. Then I started typing up trivia question cards. This way I get trivia questions that I think are interesting. 

I had the cards on the table and my older daughter asked if we were going to play the game. I was glad she asked, because I'm really kind of shy about introducing my ideas even though they usually work. I always feel like I'm forcing my games on people.

We each took a card and read the question and guessed the answers and then read the correct answer. They liked it enough that they wanted to do another round and then another. I was especially gratified when my teenage guests told me how much fun they had reading the cards and guessing the answers!

The trivia questions get people talking and thinking up answers, both serious and silly. Why not try it some night around your table. Maybe you could even make one night a week Trivia night and have a question for each person to read.

To help, I want to make my trivia cards available to you. Click the links below to get printable versions of the trivia cards. They are formatted to print directly on Avery® Business Cards 28878 (Avery® Template 8371or print them onto carstock and the guidelines will show where to cut to get cards of uniform size. 
Consider using cardstock of a different color for the childrens cards.

Trivia Cards 1
Trivia Cards 2
Trivia Cards 3
Trivia Cards 4
Trivia Cards Children 1

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

If you like my blog, do me a favor and click on the "Vote for Us" button on the right (an up a little). This will help more people learn about Around the Table! Thanks!

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 22 -- Slow Cooker Taco Soup 
February 25 -- How to Identify Everyone's Glass OR How Not to Run Out of Glasses 

Friday, February 15, 2013

George Washington's Cherry Birthday Cake

Which of the following statements about George Washington, first President of the United States, is true:

  • He was the only U.S. President who didn't live in Washington D.C.
  • He used false teeth carved from hippopotamus ivory.
  • He chopped down a cherry tree as a child.
  • He delivered the shortest inaugural address of any U.S. President--only 135 words.
  • He wore a size 13 shoe.
  • He was the first U.S. president to be on a postage stamp.

All of them are true...

           ...with the exception of the cherry tree story.

But the story, believed to be the invention of Mason Locke Weems, a man who wrote an autobiography of George Washington shortly after he died, was picked up by the McGuffy Reader and read by children throughout the 19th century and has endured as a part of American folklore to this day. 

Because of this story, it is popular in the United States to serve cherry pie on George Washington's birthday (February 22) or Presidents' Day, this year celebrated on Monday, February 18.

But today's busy mom seldom has time to bake a cherry pie so I am sharing my friend, Karen's, simple Cherry Cake recipe because I think George Washington's birthday is a good reason to have dessert. After tasting this 3-ingredient cake (really more like cherry crumble) I think your family will agree, even if you don't live in the States!

Once again I used sugar free,
but it's probably even better with a regular cake mix and pie filling.

George Washington's Cherry Birthday Cake
1 16 oz cake mix (I used yellow for this one, but white will work too; also see variations below)
2 20oz cans cherry pie filling
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

Empty both cans of cherry pie filling into a 9x13 pan.
Sprinkle cake mix over pie filling

Drizzle melted butter over the top.
Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, until top begins to turn golden.

Serve warm or cold as is or with ice cream or whipped cream.

  • Use a devil's food chocolate cake mix to get a black forest type dessert.
  • Use apple pie filling with a spice cake mix for an autumny dessert.
  • Use blueberry pie filling because blueberries are just about the perfect fruit!
  • Make 1/2 by using 2 cups of a 16 oz. cake mix. That's what I did for the photos. That way you could use two different pie fillings to give your family a choice, or have another dessert another day.
For a printable version of the recipe, click here.

And don't forget to sing "Happy Birthday" to George Washington!

Dessert keeps your family lingering around the table longer! 

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

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 19 -- Trivia Night--a great conversation game for family and friends!
February 22 -- Taco Soup--easy slow-cooker recipe

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Questions and (Hopefully) Answers

From time to time people write or talk to me with questions about mealtimes. I've sort of set myself up as an expert by talking about family meals all the time, but believe me, I'm not. However I believe without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed. So If I don't have the best answer, or even a good answer, perhaps you can help.

Sharon, when we have guests over they bring their phones to the table and often text people who are not present and take pictures of the meal, which usually catch me with my mouth open and a bite about to go in. Inevitably these photos appear online. What can I do? I honestly feel like putting a sign on my front door saying this is a "No cell phone zone."
Talk to Me

Dear "Talk to Me",

Cell phones at the table are a real problem today. I have guests (and offspring!) who text at the table (which is really frustrating when those same people don't answer my text the next week).

I'm a firm believer in humor being one of our strongest allies. So don't get ornery when you see phones in use at your table, instead make a joke! I've heard author and speaker Jill Briscoe say she has a sign on a basket by her front door saying, "Divest Yourself". Her grandchildren know that all electronic gadgets go in the basket in the "off" position while they are visiting her.

Maybe you could do something along those lines, with a humorous twist: as soon as every one is seated, ask, "Does anyone feel the urge to take a picture of this amazing meal?" Let them take photos before you start eating while you have a nice smile plastered in place. Then pull a basket out from under your chair and pass it around announcing, "Now all your cellphones go in here until the dessert dishes are cleared away." Make it light heartedly firm. If you become known as the hostess with the basket, so be it. They'll love your for it--one day.

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Sharon, my kids have become very picky eaters, one in particular and I've let myself become a short order cook to get him to eat something, anything. How can I break this cycle now that I've started it?
Short Order Cook
Dear "Short Order",

Oh dear, once you start it's hard to change, but it can be done.

I think one way would be to let your kids see how it feels to have food you've worked hard on be rejected. You could do this two ways:
  1. Do a bit of role playing -- before dinner announce that you are all going to be a different family member this meal. Work it out so that "picky eater" is Mom. Probably any of the other kids will act out the picky-ness of him, but you can set that one up too. Rules are that you are to act like the person assigned in a lighthearted way. All of you sit in their character's seat and act like them during the meal.
  2. Have "picky eater" help you make dinner, especially one dish. Then have an accomplice (your husband or one of your other kids) just not like that particular dish. They don't have to make a big deal out of it or say, "Yuck!!", just not take it or take a little and leave it and say they "just don't like it." The one who made it will understand what it feels like to work hard on something and not have it be appreciated.
Another way to go about this is to announce new kitchen rules:

Photo credit

Contrary to Mom's Common Wisdom, children will not die if they don't eat dinner (or breakfast or lunch). When a child is hungry, they will ask for food. But, in order for this to work, you need to not allow them to eat anything until the next meal. For more help in this kind of "reality discipline" I highly recommend our favorite parenting book by Dr. Kevin Leman, Making Children Mind without Losing Yours.

Along with this, don't force them to eat large portions of every dish that is new to them. My mom read somewhere that when Caroline Kennedy was a child, she had to take a bite of new foods the first time they were served, two bites the second time, and so on until they were eating a reasonable sized portion. So guess what my mom made me do. Although I didn't believe it at the time, it didn't hurt me.

And finally, although you should serve a variety of foods and expand their taste horizons, fix things they like often, too. I mean what kid is going to enjoy brussel sprouts on a steady basis?

Check my recipes for some ideas of kid friendly foods.

I hope my thoughts help, but I'd also like to hear what you say. 

Please tell me your solutions to these situations!

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

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 15 -- George Washington's Cherry Birthday Cake
February 19 -- Trivia Night--a great conversation game for family and friends!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Got Chocolate?

Today I'm linking up with my teenage blogging friend, Grace Johnson, again. If you didn't take the opportunity to look at her fantastic baking blog The Baking Apprentice last week, check it out this week and try one of her delicious desserts! 

Do you have dessert often at your house?

We don't.

Usually we have dessert when there's a special reason (a birthday for example), company (because they expect it), or when Mom (that's me) gets the urge to make something (so she--I--can snitch some while I'm making it!)

I have been known to make up "special reasons", like:

  • George Washington's Birthday
  • The anniversary of the first time my husband and I talked
  • Baby's 1 month birthday
  • Anyone's half birthday
  • A pet's birthday
I guess birthdays are a big reason for desserts for me.

One thing I discovered along the way was that if I want my kids to stick around the table longer and visit with us, dessert was always a good enticement. Of course they had to eat their vegetables to get dessert. Always a catch, isn't there?

The first time I made this cake I made it just because I'd found the recipe and I wanted to try it. Right away I could tell I had a huge success on my hands. Since then I've used it for graduation parties, birthdays, and company.

If you are looking for an easy but decadent dessert to show your love at Valentine's (or keep your family lingering any time) I recommend this cake I originally found in The Woman's Day Cookbook.

Turtle Cake
1 14 oz. bag caramels
5 oz. evaporated milk
1 box (18.5 oz) Devil's Food cake mix with pudding (get one that calls for oil) (and ingredients called for in cake mix)
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

I used a sugar free cake mix as an excuse so I could eat some, but the rest of the ingredients weren't in my diet. Still really, really good!

Oven 350F. Line a 9x13-inch pan with foil and lightly grease. (This really facilitates clean up and I highly recommend it.)

Melt caramels and milk together in small pan over low heat (about 10 minutes). Unwrapping the caramels is the most work involved in this recipe. Maybe your kids would like to help.

Prepare cake mix according to package directions except use only half the oil called for. Beat on low speed 1 minute. Add butter and beat on medium 2 more minutes until thick and smooth. 

Spread half the batter in pan. Bake 12-14 minutes until cakes starts to puff around edges. Pour caramel mixture and spread to edges. Sprinkle with half (about 1 cup) chocolate chips and half the nuts. Spoon remaining cake batter over top and carefully spread to edges.

Bake 35-40 minutes until the cake starts to pull away from sides of pan and middle springs back to touch. Cool on wire rack.

When cake is cool (this is important) melt remaining chocolate chips. Spread over cooled cake. Sprinkle with remaining nuts.

I was impatient when I made this one and it wasn't pretty. However it still received rave reviews by my guests last Sunday!

For a printable version of this recipe click here.

So tell me, do you have dessert often?

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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 12 -- Reader's Questions Answered: Guests with cell phones and picky eaters
February 15 -- One More Dessert--Just in time for George Washington's Birthday!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

This One's For the Men: The Witching Hour

Today's post is written by one of my wonderful daughters-in-law, Abby Fleming. Of course, she's not actually talking about my darling grandchildren in this post. She's being hypothetical...

4:52. That is when my knight in shining armor comes home. Don't get me wrong, I love being a stay at home mom. I believe it is one of the most important jobs in the world, and I take it very seriously. 

Nevertheless, around 4 o'clock, I start getting more and more interested in the time. Not that I really need a clock to tell me. I could easily calculate it by the decibel of my son's cry, the length of my daughter's whine, and the decreasing breadth of my patience.

“The Witching Hour.” Before kids, we smile at the term. After kids, our tensions rise at hearing it. What is it that transforms my sweet tempered little girl into one long whine adhered securely to my leg? How does my easy going, content son know that the time has come to see how well his little lungs work? It's the mystery of the Witching Hour.

Moms are always trying to come up with some solution to this universal problem. Enter the Crockpot Mom who carefully plans ahead and makes her meals in the morning when her children are still cheerful and pleasant. I wish I could be a Crockpot mom... I really do. But one way or another, the morning always disappears, and I find I have a crockpot recipe and not enough hours left in the day to cook it. Well then, the Cook Everything Ahead Mom? I get jealous of her. She takes one day and prepares all the meals for the week. I don't know how she does it. What with: “Whoa! Someone needs a diaper change!”, “Please, do not sit on your brother”, “Sure, I can read you Good Night, Moon (for the 5th time today)”, it takes me an hour just to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

So what's my solution to the Witching Hour? At exactly 4:52 every evening (and it better not be 4:53!), my husband comes home and saves the day. He tames our little dragons and soon, instead of whining and crying in the kitchen, I hear giggles and shrieks of laughter in the living room. The Witching Hour is defeated, and I am free to make dinner in peace.

Dads- it takes a real man to come to his wife's rescue after a long day's work. It would be so easy to claim the right to sit on the couch, relax, and let your wife deal with the kids. The man who puts that right aside for the love of his wife and kids brings joy and peace to his family every evening. He is a hero. A knight in shining armor.  

Tell us: How do you handle "The Witching Hour"?

Abby Fleming graduated from Emmaus Bible College with a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and Biblical Studies. Also at Emmaus, she met and married Daniel Fleming. They have been married almost 7 years now and have a beautiful 21 month old daughter, Anna, and a 3 month old son, Kenneth. After the birth of their daughter, Abby and Daniel decided she would quit her job in education and work instead as a full time Mommy. Currently, Abby and her husband are living in the Chicago area as he pursues further education.

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

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 8 -- Chocolatier than chocolate easy Valentine's (or any day) dessert recipe
February 12 -- Readers ask question -- can you answer them?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Valentine's Day Cake Pops

Today a teenage friend of mine, and fellow blogger, is providing us with a Valentine's themed recipe, something special to celebrate your love for your family. Although I've known Grace Johnson's dad since before I was married (waaay back in the early 80s), I didn't get to meet Grace until about 2005. That is because Grace's mom and dad were missionaries in the Philippines and my husband and I were missionaries in South America.

Grace was born in the Philippines and lived there until she was 8. One of the risks of missionary life is sickness and part of the Johnson family got sick enough that they believed it was wise to move back to the states.

The Johnsons have lived in California since then and her parents work fulltime in the local church I grew up in. Two years ago Grace got to go with her Dad on a visit back to the land of her birth. Now she's a 9th grader in the Johnson Home School. To learn more about Grace go to her blog or my interview with her.

Start thinking Valentines with Grace's yummy
 Valentine's Day Cake Pops!

What you'll need:
  • 1 Betty Crocker cake mix (and the ingredients called for on the box)
  • 1 container of vanilla frosting (or your favorite flavor!)
  • 1 Package of red candy melts (This is typically found at a craft store such as Michael's)
  • Sprinkles! (Red,White, Pink, etc.)
  • lollipop sticks
  • foam block for drying and displaying cake pops.
To read the directions, go to Grace's blog! And then take a look around at the other recipes that she has tested and posted.

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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 5 -- The Pre-Dinner Meltdown: a post to pass along to the man in your life!
February 8 -- Chocolate Turtle Cake -- flavors of chocolate, caramel, and nuts baked together!


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