Monday, April 29, 2013

Where In The World?

"Where is Kyrgyzstan?" we asked our friend.

She stood up and took a step to the framed NatGeo map we had hanging on the wall above our table and studied Asia for a moment. Then she pointed to a country just south of Russian, also bordering on China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. We all focused on that part of the world for a moment to get our bearings.

As she sat down, we peppered her with more questions. What was it like? Were there lots of people? Was it mountainous? Was it desert? What language did they speak? What was their religion? When she didn't know the answers, together we discovered them by referring again to the map and some of the other information it offered, then later to the Internet for more answers.

When my husband began his world wide ministry with the ECS Bible Courses (thanks to praying 'The Prayer of Jabez' one too many times!), I finally found the perfect birthday gift for him. This map. With it we could find out where the people he was writing to lived and follow his travels from our dinner table.

What I didn't realize was that we would refer to the map nearly every meal. Living in South America at the time, our children already had a larger than normal world view because many of their classmates came from countries other than Colombia (where we were) and the U.S. (where we were from). 

We learned how far apart Austria and Australia are when two teachers each hailed from one of those countries. My younger daughter's best friend moved to the United Arab Emirates. My other daughter's best friend moved to Venezuela. One son had a friend go back to Texas and another classmate was from Sweden. 

Some conversations arose from opportunities to travel with our family as well. I remember when my 5 year old daughter, taking an interest in maps, placed her hand on an island and said, "'B' What country is that?" 

I answered, "That's the Bahamas." 

"Oh, I've been there," she said as she carefully wrote a "B" on her paper. And she had been there. Our family was flown there by a supporting church for a missionary conference. We would never forget the effects of hurricane Floyd or being served all the lobster we wanted!

The news sent us looking at our map as well--where had that earthquake taken place? What city just had another car bomb go off? Which country was having disputed elections? How were the borders in Europe changing again?

I love to read and I really have a hard time understanding people who say they "hate geography." It's all about people and places and how they intertwine.  So I read books like "Peter the Great: His Life and World" and learned so much about Russia, it's history, geography, and climate that I wrote my husband a nine-page single spaced summary of the book before his trip to St. Petersburg! Of course I told my family about it over many dinner times and we stared at the map open mouthed as we realized how far north he would be.

When we moved back to the states, the people who bought our house, asked us to leave the map for them, so one of our first purchases when we got a house was another map for our eating area wall. We've been privileged to have many visitors from all over the world around our table and they are always delighted to point out where they live. 

I could tell you many more stories of our enhanced family dinner times and exotic and stimulating conversations encouraged simply by putting a map on the wall. Am I saying you should have a map above your table? Not necessarily. I'm just saying that having a flat map on our wall has definitely helped us connect more as a family at mealtimes than a flat screen TV ever could!

What kind of chart or poster would get your family talking?

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Looks Inviting

When we moved to Iowa after twenty-four years in South America we came without furniture at the same time our son and his wife were moving from a big house in a small town to a small apartment in a big city so he could continue his education. They had bought a reclining sofa and loveseat at a furniture store close-out for a really great deal. Did I mention they were moving to a small apartment?

Some favorite memories on the big brown sofa (left to right, top first): Our daughters and friend lounging; my granddaughter giving me a spontaneous hug on New Year's Day; My mother with her first great grandson (my first grandson); Jim with our granddaughter reading one of "Uncle Samuel's" old books.

Did I mention we had no furniture? So we were happy to babysit the sofa until they had a place where it would fit.  Four and three-quarters years later, they are reclaiming their sofa. That is why we have been in many furniture stores recently.

One thing I noticed is that stores have many beautiful things that you aren't looking for and the best stores set up mini rooms throughout the store to give you an idea of what it will look like and to whet your appetite (or incite covetousness). 

So I wandered through stores looking for a loveseat and chairs, but continuously stumbled across tables with gorgeous decorations on them. They looked like tables where I could sit for hours with friends, lingering over coffee and talking about deep and worthwhile subjects.  

I have to admit, I find a "dressed" table so attractive! And I love it when I succeed in dressing mine to the occasion even between meals. It shows something about the home.

While I realize that some tables have to do double or triple duty as homeschool station, sewing table, game table, or craft area, a table that is cleared of clutter and made attractive even between meals says,

  • "This is an important spot." 
  • "This table serves a pleasant and familial function and is not a catch-all for everyone's stuff." 
  • "We care about our family meals and keep a place ready for them."
I wish I were one of those women who walks into a second hand shop, sees a rusty watering can and thinks If I use a little Mod Podge, three paper clips, and a headband, I could hang this sideways on the wall for my extra grocery store bags. But alas, all I see is a rusty watering can. So when I wander around my house and look for different things to use to dress my table, and they work, I get very excited.

For example, here I took some tea cups I have stored in my decoration closet and a pashmina shawl my husband brought home from his last trip to India. The mums in the cups were left over from the bouquet my daughter brought me for Valentines.

Last week I paired my mother-in-law's now handed down Lenox bowl with my Flemington Glass factory bunnies I got as a child (seriously I bought them at the Flemington Glass factory in Flemington, New Jersey long before I ever heard of Jim Fleming!) and some colorful lemons and limes I bought for our water.

This week I have a wooden bowl from the Bahamas with apples and mangos (because they are the best fruit ever and were on sale at Aldi's) on a patch work table runner from Vietnam (and my faithful springtime bunnies).

I believe this makes my table more inviting and it's easy to set for a meal with solid color placemats. 

What can you do to make your table look inviting?

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An Evening With the Flemings

We heard our daughter Rosana's car drive up before we saw her. The car with the muffler problem is hard to miss. She arrived early enough to help set the table, adding ice cubes with slices of lemon frozen in them to the water, while I fussed that the food wasn't ready yet. "Don't worry, Mom. No one keeps time like you and Dad."

Our son, Samuel, and daughter-in-law, Laurie, arrived a little bit later, bearing a pan of freshly baked Sea Salt Peanut butter cookies that he had made after finding a recipe on his sister's Pinterest. 

We greeted each other with hugs and smiles all around as we hadn't been together since before our three week trip to Colombia. Samuel watched me take the pork out of the crockpot and proceed to shred it with a fork. "Are we having pulled pork?" he asked, his voice rising in surprise.

"Me? Fix anything barbeque??" I laughed. "No, we're having pork fajitas, because I had pork in the freezer."

Everyone carried little bowls of lettuce, sour cream, salsa (very little salsa, the jar was almost empty), sliced olives, black beans (for the vegetarian), and heated tortillas to the table. 

Before clasping hands to give thanks, my husband said, "It's so good to have you all here." Then he thanked the Lord for keeping us safe while we were apart and for providing all that we need. He ended by asking that my hands be blessed and tingle for making the food. That last part is a family joke. Whenever he hears someone ask God to "bless the hands that made this food" he always asks me if that makes them tingle.

Soon we were passing things every which way as each one had their own order for the ingredients in their fajitas. Once we had them assembled, the conversation turned to a recounting of the accident that happened to Samuel and Laurie on their way to work that morning. Thankfully no one was hurt, but we all know the horrible feeling of hearing that crunching of metal against metal. The car works and will be fixed, but the cute little Honda our daughter-in-law brought into the marriage will never be quite the same.

They had all been to our oldest son, Daniel, and his wife, Abby's home for Easter so we got lots of grandkid stories, too, which we are always happy to hear!

After two rounds of fajitas we cleared the dishes and turned the coffee pot on while we read a Psalm together and talked about being refined like silver. 

Then we brought out the famous peanut butter cookies and the chocolate chip cranberry biscotti I'd made. Samuel preferred milk with his dessert, but the rest of us enjoyed the decaf while we sat and talked, as many as three conversations going on at a time.

We took the tablecloth off the table while Samuel slipped home to get his Settlers of Catan game. I rolled the highest number so I had to choose where to place my settlement first. Several said they had their eye on a position, but no one would divulge where that was, so I picked a spot and the guys told me that wasn't a good choice and pointed out a better location to use. The game moved along trading resources and moaning when we rolled a seven forcing someone to give up half his cards. So nice that the childish bickering is past!

Photo Credit

Rosana left to watch a movie with a friend and after a few more minutes of talking, Samuel and Laurie left, too. 

As I fell asleep that night I thanked the Lord for many memories of meals with our kids over the last twenty-seven years, and that they still enjoy getting together with us and with each other around the table.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Husband Appreciation Day, April 20

Do you appreciate your husband?

Probably a better question would be: Does your husband know how much you appreciate him?

And a second good question would be: Do your children know how much you appreciate him?

Tomorrow--Husband Appreciation Day--would be a great time to let the world know!

What's that? Are you grousing about holidays invented by card companies and candy makers to increase sales? If that's your pet peeve, don't give them the satisfaction. Show your husband in more personal ways how much you appreciate him. (Of course, I'm hoping you both appreciate each other and find ways to show it, but we know we can all start taking the people we love for granted. So take some time to make a difference.) 

Here are a few ideas, which of course include some you can do while around the table.

  • Dress for him--i.e. not sweats and a hair twisted into a jaw clip without benefit of a brush. Jeans and a flattering t-shirt are enough. Consider a bit of mascara, even though it is Saturday.
  • Make him breakfast--When I was growing up my dad made waffles, pancakes, or french toast on Saturday mornings. In some homes Saturday morning is "everyone for himself." But if you know he likes having breakfast made for him, then by all means, put together a simple meal in the morning.

  • Sit down with him while he eats--even if all you do is nurse a cup of coffee, sit and talk to him or watch soccer from another continent with him if that's how he likes his Saturday breakfast. God said, "It is not good for man to be alone."
  • Ask him what he plans to do today--might be a big switch from that Saturday "honey-do" list! 
  • Then ask: What can I do to make it easier?--Then do what you can cheerfully.
  • Let him overhear you telling one of the kids, or a friend of yours, how much you appreciate your husband for __________.  This could be anything from not demanding a perfect house to playing with the kids to working hard to provide for you to making you feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. Tell someone what you appreciate about that man you are married to. 

  • Tell him directly, too--at some point during the day, mention to him how much you appreciate it that he __________. 
  • Make a dinner he really likes--even if he's watching his weight or cholesterol, just today let him have a meal you know he'll enjoy. And no nagging about how much he eats (at least not on today!)
  • Eat that dinner together as a family--clue your kids into this being a meal you really want to have together, "for dad's sake." 
  • Work hard to not criticize him in any way today.
  • Don't tell him that this is "Husband Appreciation Day." Just let him enjoy the attention. 
  • Find one way to let him know he's appreciated every day this week. Then stretch it to the end of the month. See if you can make appreciating your husband a habit.

I would not like to suggest that you do these things with an ulterior motivation, but the fact is that when you treat someone nicely, they will most often treat you that way, too.

A soft answer turns away wrath.
Proverbs 15:1

And if you don't want think of it as a way of getting what you want, then think of it as obedience to Christ.

Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.
Luke 6:31 (NASB)

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Linking with these great blogs.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesdays and Fridays

Since the beginning of the year I've been posting twice a week--Tuesdays and Fridays. I thought I'd take a minute to explain my plans for these two days.

Tuesdays I plan to inspire you to get your family together around the table. I just want to make it sound like such a great idea and so much fun that after reading a Tuesday post you think, "We are going to eat together tonight!"

I hope to do this through stories of my family and other families sharing around their table. I love to tell stories about conversations, games, fun meals, hospitality (successes or failures!), learning and practicing manners, teaching cooking, mealtime chores...just any story that makes you (and me) long to gather our family together for a meal.

So if you have a family meal that results in a touching, fun, creative, challenging, or inspiring time together, maybe I could tell your story here. Check out my writer's guidelines, and craft your story. Then send it to me for approval and publication!

Fridays I want to write posts that make it easier for you to get your family to the table. Up to now I've been concentrating on easy, delicious, nutritious  family friendly recipes. Some of them contain indicators for what children can do to help in the cooking process.

But I'd also like to start giving you more ideas for other ways to make it easy to get your family meal on the table and your family there. I'm planning to write in the near future on topics like:

  • 6 Ways to Make Your Table Welcoming
  • 5 Ways to Keep the Atmosphere Around Your Table Pleasant

  • Basic Kitchen Stocks to Make Cooking Meals Easy
  • 5 Ways to Attract Your Family to the Table
  • How to Save Money on Your Food Bill
  • Exercise! It Energizes You for the Table
  • Personal Devotions: Spiritual Food for the Table
  • Conversation Question Cards (this will be a free printable!)
  • How to Create an Appetizing Meal Menu
  • Hints on How to Plan Meals
  • Ideas for Cooking Ahead
  • Take the Stress Out of Grocery Shopping
Also, since our April trip back to Colombia, South America (our home for 16 years), I've been reminded how much I love to each God's Word and share what He's teaching me, so from time to time I'll get a little off topic and share some spiritual food. Perhaps I will be able to encourage or exhort you and perhaps it will give you some food for thought to share with your family over dinner that night. I pray so.

Please join me on this venture in the following ways:
  1. Read my blog on a regular basis and use the comments to let me know what posts are helpful, encouraging, challenging or inspiring to you. If there's a topic you'd like me to try to deal with, I'd like to know that, too.
  2. Tell others about my blog on the social media you use, via email, in your own blog, or via word of mouth. (There are links below that allow you to email  blog, tweet, Facebook, or Google+ respectively about each post. Simply click the icon you want and a box will appear with a link ready for you to add your own thoughts to and post.)
  3. Write a guest post. (See Above)
  4. Like the Around the Table Facebook page to get links to each new post on your home page as well as a Conversation Starter each weekday.
  5. If you are new here, peruse older posts for lots more ideas and inspiration.
Thanks for being such great friends and readers. I'm enjoying getting to know those who write comments either on my blog or the Facebook page. If you haven't started commenting yet, please start so I can get to know you and we can start encouraging each other as well!

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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.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Vietnamese Chicken Curry or How to Catch a Husband

I'm so excited because I get to introduce my new daughter-in-law in this today's post! I've known Laurie for almost 5 years at church. For two of those years we worked on the same ladies' committee and we've been to each other's homes before there was any interest at all between her and my son. They worked together for over two years with the youth group, when suddenly they had frequent "planning meetings." I thought about why that might be, and decided I liked that idea very much!

Here's Laurie:

I love experimenting in the kitchen and any recipe that comes from a far off land piques my interest.  My recipe for Vietnamese Chicken Curry is extra special to me because it was the first meal I made for the man who would one day become my husband.  Thankfully, he enjoyed it because now he samples my experiments every night, sometimes they are not a success, but sometimes they are great!

Vietnamese Chicken Curry
1 ½ lb boneless skinless chicken, cut into 2 inch pieces
6-7 small red potatoes, cleaned and cut up into quarters
2 tsp of canola oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp minced, peeled fresh ginger (optional)
1 can light coconut milk
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp curry powder
1 Tbsp packed brown sugar
1 (14 ½ oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth

In a large skillet (large enough to eventually hold all the ingredients above), spray with non-stick spray, set over medium heat and cook the chicken until browned, 5-6 minutes. Remove from the skillet and put aside for later.

Next, heat the canola oil in the same skillet and cook the onions until they are soft, 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, curry powder and brown sugar.  The ginger gives it a little kick, but I always left it out when I made this for my sisters and their sensitive taste buds. Stir your spices together with the onions for about a minute- by now, your kitchen should be smelling AMAZING! 

Now, add the chicken, potatoes, tomatoes and broth.  I usually add about a half a cup of extra broth because I like this curry soupy. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the chicken and potatoes are cooked through, approximately 15 minutes. 

Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the coconut milk and cilantro. 

I never make a smaller batch of this recipe, even if it’s just my husband and I eating it.  It makes great lunches for the rest of the week.  My co-workers are always jealous! 

For a printable version of this recipe click here.

Laurie is a naturalized American citizen, born in Zimbabwe. Her grandfather and great grandfather were missionaries in Africa and her parents stayed on until she was 8, when they immigrated to the states. She loves mentoring teenage girls and spending time with friends. On April 19 she and her husband will celebrate their 3 month anniversary.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Inviting Salads Around Your Table

When we lived in Peru (South America), Nancy, a fellow missionary wife invited me to a luncheon at her house along with four other missionary wives. She wanted us to get together and enjoy a time of fellowship. Her plan was for each one of us to bring a different type of salad to share.

"So, Sharon," Nancy asked after I accepted her invitation, "What kind of salad will you bring? I don't want duplicates."

Salad? Salad means lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, right? "Umm, I don't know, I guess I'll just bring a lettuce and tomato salad."

I don't think real fast on my feet. 

When I got there, she had prepared a beautiful salad from Southern Living magazine with a little fruit adornment on the top. Too pretty to eat...well almost.

I was embarrassed that I didn't know what other kinds of salads there were in the world!

Not too long after that we moved to Colombia (South America). My oldest son went to second grade at a school for missionary children. I was new to the country, raising three little ones, and following my husband around to the churches where he was preaching on Sundays. As a discussion leader at a ladies' Bible study, I had interaction with a lovely group of Colombian women, but I wanted some American friends, too. 

But no one was inviting me over.

So I decided I had to "be Nancy" in my new setting. I called the six or seven other mothers of children in my son's class and invited them to a "Salad Lunch". I didn't ask them to tell me what kind they would bring, but I scoured cookbooks (no one knew what the Internet or Pinterest was in 1993) for creative salads. And, you know, I rarely had two people bring the same kind of salad to the same luncheon.

We had a great time! We thoroughly enjoyed being in our own culture for a couple of hours and chatting to our hearts' content in our native English.

Since we all had the second grade class at El Camino Academy in common, and since the teacher had just had a double barreled case of Bell's Palsy, I suggested we have a time of prayer for her and the class. Everyone enjoyed it so much, I started doing it once a semester for the mothers of each of my children's classes as they began going to school. 

In my son and daughter's class one of the mothers was the school director. Beth suggested we invite the teacher and she would find a sub for her. The teacher thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to visit with the mothers on a purely social basis and the time of prayer with us.

Beth was always full of ideas and it wasn't long before I found myself in charge of organizing a "Prayer-Lunch Mother" for each grade and hosting a lunch to show them the idea. Those evolved into parent lunches or dinners, and family get togethers on Saturdays.

Eventually, I handed over the job to others and then in 2008 we left Colombia to live in the states again. 

In the meantime, I learned a lot of salad recipes and I love creating salads out of what I have on hand. So if I ever get invited to a salad luncheon, my only dilemma will be which salad to bring.

Whether just salads, full meals, or coffee and dessert, our table time can be used to connect us with others, and with those we pray for.

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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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