Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day

Colombia doesn't have the most holidays in the world (according to my research that would be Austria with 38 holidays each year; what's that? You are moving?), but they do have quite a few. I remember counting 15 Monday holidays one year. If the actual day falls on a weekend, you don't always get that many.

But they (obviously) don't celebrate American holidays like Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, or Memorial Day. In fact, I don't really remember celebrating that last holiday while we were on the mission field. But Nikki, a friend of mine who lives the next country over, celebrated last year in Ecuador. Here's what they did.

"I had the privilege of hosting two American military families last year so pulled out the few red, white, and blue things I could find. We generally keep the “Americana” d├ęcor to a minimum here, but I think we made it work okay. I found some blue and white checked paper and wrapped it around an empty spaghetti jar to help with the “blue” part. The fabric napkins have sea creatures on them, but I figured that could stand for the “from sea to shining sea” part of America!

"We treated our friends to pescado encocado (coconut fish) from the restaurant across the street and then finished the meal with coffee and patriotic cookies that my kids helped decorate.

"Because we set the table on Saturday, we had a Sunday morning breakfast picnic on the front steps. Thankfully it was a nice sunny morning, full of feisty hummingbirds, a cute little blue and white bird, and a spider in a hole. 

"My husband was in the jungle, so he missed out on all the above activities and fun...but he did enjoy some leftover fish and cookies later!"

Coincidentally, we are having Nikki and her whole family over for dinner tonight!

What did you do to commemorate Memorial Day?

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

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Ease Through the Grocery Store

Or Making It Easy to get to the Table (Part 4)

I stood looking at the freezer section that held orange juice concentrates. There were probably five different brands each of which had three, four, or five variations, and two or three different sizes. Did I want regular, extra pulp, no pulp, calcium added, or no sugar added? How much did I want: six, twelve, or sixteen ounces? And which brand would produce the most orange juice for the least price while not adding sugar?

While I just stood there feeling dazed and staring, an older woman (since I was in my late twenties this could mean someone in their sixties, but my mind remembers a woman in at least her seventies) came and stood by me for a moment. Finally she looked at me and commented, "There are just too many choices, aren't there."

While I nodded in agreement, I thought if you only knew. If you only knew...

I had just arrived in the states after six years in Lima, Peru, where the grocery store had four aisles and most of them had one item--one kind, one brand, fixed government prices. There could be a whole aisle of corn flakes (not recommended as they hadn't perfected that science yet), or a row of dried beans, or a row of grainy chocolate used to make hot chocolate. There might be some chickens (whole with heads and feet stuffed inside), some beef (which required a pressure cooker to get it tender enough to chew), and some eggs (attached feathers free). If you wanted orange juice you bought a kilo or two of juice oranges and strengthened your arms by hand juicing them--full pulp, no sugar, no added calcium.

You'll be happy to know things have improved there since the 80s. I have to admit, though, that I envied those who had such "easy" grocery shopping in the states.

Now I live in the states, and it seems like every time I go to the grocery store there is something new to consider: organic? roasted? fresh? in water or olive oil? with extra vitamin C? omega-3 enriched? low fat? low carb? splenda or stevia sweetened?

When I think I know exactly what I like, the company changes their packaging or the store rearranges their merchandise. It's all designed to keep me in the store longer and spend more money. If the grocery store takes too much time or is too frustrating, we're not going to buy the food we need to have at home to make a family meal and that together time goes out the window in favor of everyone grabbing their own, fast food in the car, or eating too many calories and spending too much money eating out, just to eat.

So I have six simple suggestions to make your grocery shopping easier. This isn't how to have the lowest bill possible, there are plenty of others who can tell you how to do that. This is making it easy so you can spend your time getting your family together around your table.

  1. Have at least twelve different meals your family enjoys and you find easy to make. This is your go to list when you are deciding what you need to buy. Choose five of these, one new, or different recipe, and plan for leftover/dinner out/potluck at church/snack supper for the other meal. Go through each recipe and check your cupboard to figure out what you need to buy.
  2. Make a grocery list. Never shop without a list. You just forget too many things. (Never mind that I am capable of forgetting things that are on my list in my hand!)
  3. Know your store. While stores will change their products around from time to time, the same types of food stuffs generally stay near each other. Organize your list in the order you go around the store. I shop mostly at Aldi's so it's easy to zip through there with my ordered list. Extra credit: print out a list of the things you often buy in the order you find them in your store. Then you only need to circle what you need.
  4. Know your likes. If you cannot stand the store brand of ketchup, then just know you are going to buy Brand X and don't worry about price comparison. If the store brand is usually the cheapest and you like it, don't stand there trying to calculate which one is one cent less per ounce than the other. Learn if you like your orange juice with extra pulp or not and grab what you like.
    This darling little shopper is the son of friends of ours.
  5. Don't shop when you are hungry or have to go to the bathroom. Take care of those needs or  your brain will stop functioning and you'll be backtracking all over the store and forget to buy the coffee, without which you will die.
  6. Talk to someone while standing in line. Yup, your line is always the slowest, so enjoy it. Make an upbeat comment to someone else in line, even if it's about the weather. The other day a lady told me that she used to eat those chocolate-covered gooey-inside cookies with her dad, now long passed, and it was all she could do to not buy a box and eat the whole thing. Today the man in front of me had placed a strong empty box inside his cloth grocery bag, when I said, "What a good idea!" He told me it holds the bag open for him making it easy to pack the groceries. Both times, I was through the line before I knew it and on my way home to put the food away, ready to make another family meal.

To see other posts in the "Making It Easy" series, click here.
The Well-Stocked Kitchen (Part 1)
Food for the Soul (Part 2)
Contrasts Make the Meal (Part 3)

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How do you get your family to talk about things that help you get to know each other better and connect with one another? Get a Conversation Starter question each week night by *like* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

If you have an idea for a great conversation starting question, you can let me know there, too! I'd love to hear your questions and might even use them in the future!

Linking with these great blogs.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cheated Out of a Last Dinner

I'm feeling somewhat nostalgic.

I was going to write a post about my Mother's Day dinner. But that got me thinking about my three children and one daughter-in-law who were able to be there and who made it special for my mother-in-law and me (and it really was).

And that got me thinking that my youngest daughter has gone to Spain on a missions trip for 10 weeks and I don't know when we'll get all together again.

And that made me realize that my other daughter moves to Germany on July 8 before the younger one gets back. She is engaged to a German whom she met when he was an exchange student and they will marry in October in Germany.

And that means I truly don't know when I'll have all four of my children around my table together again.

And that got me thinking about when was the last time we were all together for a meal. It must have been just before our younger son's wedding, possibly breakfast the day before the wedding (because the rehearsal dinner I made for 50 people, doesn't count.) 

And then I felt cheated. I was cheated out of a "last supper," a meal where we could say, "This is the last time we will all be together around our table, possibly for many years." Where we could reminisce about sitting together at our table in Colombia when they all arrived home from school and everyone having something to tell, and a request (read demand) for me, and we let the hamster run around on the table eating their cookie crumbs. (Yes, I really allowed that!)

And we could reminisce about my oldest son being able to answer his little sister's science questions completely, accurately, and age adjusted. And about that little sister sending herself to a timeout for losing her temper almost every night when she was two. And about green milk in the jug on St. Patrick's Day. And about Mom (that's me) never remembering the napkins. And about my older daughter doing charades of our Bible reading as it was read. And about the manners game we played. And about my younger son eating his food faster than anyone else. And about the three guys talking a "foreign language" about cars, cameras, and computers.

And they could all say, "Mom, don't you dare cry. We'll be together again sooner than you think."

And I would choke up anyway.

And so would Dad.

But then I realized, that even though I didn't get a last supper, I have had almost twenty-eight years of family dinners, 
and breakfasts, 
and even many lunches. 

And I can be grateful that they still want to come to my table.

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Do you know how to play the "Fleming's Manners Game"? We played it around our table as a fun way to learn manners! To read about it and many more ideas to help get your family connecting around your table, get a copy of Around the Table (the book) today! (Also available in digital format.)

If you do buy (or have read) this book, would you please write a review on Amazon? You don't have to like the book, but I would appreciate it very much if you would let the world know what you think of it.

Linking with these great blogs.

Friday, May 17, 2013

How to Come Up With an Idea for Dinner

Or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (Part 3)

Do you struggle over what to make for dinner? 

I go in spurts of making menus. Whenever we are going to have guests I make detailed menus that include two or more side dishes, where to find the recipes, and sometimes even when to take food out of the freezer or what time to get it going. I used to do it every week for the family, but it is a little easier now that it's just the two of us at home. One thing is my husband is very good about eating lots of veggies and  not turning his nose up at anything, so I don't have to worry about who likes or eats (or doesn't eat) something. (He does tell me if something is good enough to put in my "top ten" file or if I "don't need to repeat that.")

But even if you know what your basic food will be--say baked chicken--you still need to come up with some ideas for what to serve with it. Early in our marriage I made some pretty blah meals. How about one memorable meal of baked chicken (no skin), mashed potatoes, and cauliflower. And this was back when I thought salt and pepper were the only spices you needed, unless you wanted to make cinnamon rolls.

That meal was white, tasteless, and textureless.

Then I did some research on what makes a great meal and I found out that contrast is one of the keys.


  • hot and cold: Hot food stimulates the appetite and enhances the taste of many foods, but it needs to be balanced with foods meant to be eaten cold or at least room temperature. If you have a roast with some steaming gravy, mashed potatoes, a broccoli salad might be just the contrast you need to create an enjoyable experience.
  • colors: Think about how a meal will look on the plate. My all white meal was served on my all white plates and that added to the blandness. Now I try to involve as many different colors as possible when planning a meal. That's one reason I love my signature carrot salad--you can hardly make a whole meal orange!
  • flavors: We've come to expect spicy food to have a cool green salad with it because they bring out each other's flavors, helping us appreciate each taste and cool the mouth if it's very spicy.
  • textures: Chewing food helps take the time we need to feel satisfied. If we have a creamy soup we love to pair it with a crusty artisan bread to give us the feeling of truly eating.

To see other posts in the "Making It Easy" series, click here.
Part One: Keeping Your Kitchen "Dinner Making" Ready
Part Two: Getting Your Soul Ready for Dinner

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Get a Conversation Starter question each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

If you find this blog helpful, would you please send a friend a link and consider posting a link in your social media? I pray this blog is a ministry, but to be a ministry, people have to know about and read it. Thanks!

Linking with these great blogs.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why I Always Use Cloth Napkins

Today's guest post is written by fellow blogger, Carol Covin. She has added a special touch to her meals since the beginning of her marriage 45 years ago!

I was a newlywed.

My husband of 5 months had been drafted, reporting two days after we eloped. 
Photo Credit
He and a new buddy had arranged for me and the other wife to be roommates while our husbands lived in the barracks for the Army’s Officer Candidate School that summer of 1968.

The war in Vietnam seemed to be ramping up and new officers were needed.

Our husbands would graduate as 2nd Lieutnants in November, bound for Vietnam a year later.

My new roommate had been married two years.

The first time our husbands came home for a weekend pass, 10 weeks into training, she put candles out for dinner.
Then, she told me of the tradition she had started early in their marriage.

“I decided we would always dine by candlelight. We always have, even if, sometimes, I have to run get the candles just before dessert.”

I thought it a lovely tradtion and set about to think up one of my own.

I didn’t want to borrow the candle tradition because I didn’t think I could keep it up over a long marriage.

And, I worried it would be dangerous around children.

But, the idea of establishing a tradition that ties a family together with new rituals appealed.

I didn’t yet know that my husband would eventually teach me to like greens, a Southern tradition, far from my midwestern roots.

I didn’t know my husband would discover he liked my mother’s meatloaf, far from his mother’s style of cooking.

But, cloth. It seemed so luxurious.

A far cry from my practical mother’s paper napkins when we sat down to eat every night at 6 when I was growing up.

Cloth. Worthy of our shared commitment to eat together as a family every night.

I had embroidered placemats and napkins for my trousseau during that long week after Kennedy was assassinated and we stayed glued to the television, in 1963.

Photo Credit

I tried napkin rings, but my husband objected. He didn’t want to eat with dirty napkins.

Now, a dedicated cupboard is filled with tablecloths, cloth napkins and placemats.

I notice my daughter-in-law has swapped out her paper napkins for cloth.

Carol Covin is the author of "Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers." Her favorite set of napkins and placemats is still the embroidered set she made for her trousseau. Unfortunately, she no longer irons, so they remain unused, folded neatly in a dining room drawer, next to the pretty, unused napkin rings. You can read more of Carol's writings at her blog New Grandmas

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Do you have a good conversation starting question to connect with your family tonight? Get one each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Do You Have a Burden?

Or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (Part 2)

I do. I have a burden. I have something that weighs on me all the time. Something I would give up everything, and I do mean everything, to have resolved, because it's a burden of eternal consequence.

I'm not so spiritual that I would find it easy to give up everything or that I wouldn't complain later or ask God give it back. But in my heart of hearts I understand that all I would be giving up is just temporary and the burden is about the forever soul of people I love. So I pray. I pray all day, many times a day, about this burden.

In relation to my burden, the past few mornings I've been meditating on Matthew 11:28-30: 

We all like these verses because Jesus promises rest from our burdens. As I've thought through these verses (that's what that hard-to-understand "meditating" is), I have come to see that rest, isn't a do-nothing-vacation, or even freedom from our burden. It is a two part rest: first, we rest by taking a yoke on us. We walk in step with Christ and that, obviously, will have us doing the right thing within the burden. By doing the right thing, responding as Christ would, we find a soul-rest even while carrying the burden.

Second, it is a double yoke. We don't carry the burden alone; Christ is carrying it with us. He is teaching us, walking with us, making it doable. He's an easy teacher to have--gentle and humble. I remember a math teacher I had who was so haughty he made my sophomore year of high school miserable. One day when I was struggling with a concept he said to me, "I guess I'll be seeing you again next year!" He didn't. Although I eventually obtained a bachelor's degree from college, I did it without ever taking another math class! How wonderful to know that Jesus Christ will never exasperatedly say to me, "Haven't you gotten it yet?!"

My personal devotions give me food for thought through out the day, and ways to pray for myself and others when they come to mind. They help me cast my burden on the Lord again. In talking with God about all that He is teaching me, doing in my life, and the things that concern me, I am strengthened for all I do, prepared for the day and all that will be contained in it.

And part of what I do is plan, prepare, and share a meal with my family. I firmly believe that my devotions help make our family mealtimes a more enjoyable place for everyone involved. 

Because I spend time with the Lord each morning, I hope I am more prepared to respond as He would want me to when the milk spills or a tough question comes up. I wish I could say I always carried His strength with me through the day to dinner. I'm afraid I haven't. But just imagine what I would have been like without that time with Him.

I firmly believe that making a habit of personal devotions, and developing a life of devotion helps us make our family mealtimes a more inviting place to be and therefore, make it easier to get the family together for a meal.

To see other posts in the "Making It Easy" series click here.
Part One: Keeping Your Kitchen "Dinner Making" Ready
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Get a Conversation Starter question each week night by *like* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

If you find this blog helpful, would you please send a friend a link and consider posting a link in your social media? I pray this blog is a ministry, but to be a ministry, people have to know about and read it. Thanks!

Linking with these great blogs.

Monday, May 6, 2013

How Do You?

Twisting his shoulders up and down back and forth until they seemed to find a comfortable position, my husband, said, "You lie the patient flat on the floor, face down. Well, not actually face down, but the front of his body down." 

At this point he stood up and grabbed his imaginary patient's limbs with his hands and placed a foot on his imaginary back and continued, "Then you lift his right foot and his left hand and gently pull them toward each other until either they reach or the patient complains. Then you do the same with the other hand and foot. Now lie the patient on his left side and kneel behind him," he said, continuing to act out his explanation. 

"Push his right leg and hip forward while pulling his shoulder back toward you. Roll him to the other side and do the same. See how many ways you can pull and twist the patient. Then run your hands through his hair and grab handfulls of it and gently pull harder and harder until either you can't pull any harder or the patient complains. Explain to the patient that they may be sore for a while, need to drink a lot of water, and that they should feel better in the morning."

What was he talking about?

We were playing one of our after dinner conversation games. Each person wrote on a piece of paper the question, "How do you...?" and then listed something that they know how to do, but others may not know how to do. Then we folded up the papers and placed them in a basket.

Some of our questions were:
How do you...
...make jello pretzel salad?
...remove candle wax from a tablecloth?
...adjust escapement on spring driven clocks? an airplane?
...take a city bus in South America?
...change a cloth diaper?
and the one my husband was answering,
...give a Thai massage?

We each took a turn choosing a paper and answering whatever the question was. The more you could get people to laugh with your answer, the better.

After we all had a good laugh, we guessed who had written the question and asked them how it's really done and maybe how they learned to do this, or other questions we thought of. 

It was another meal where we celebrated family and laughter together and another way to connect.

So, how do you give a Thai massage?

For other conversation game ideas check out these posts:
I Hope I Never
I Laughed Till I Cried
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How do you get your family to talk about things that help you get to know each other better and connect with one another? Get a Conversation Starter question each week night by *like* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

If you have an idea for a great conversation starting question, you can let me know there, too! I'd love to hear your questions and might even use them in the future!

Linking with these great blogs.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Well-Stocked Kitchen

Or Making It Easy to Get a Meal to the Table (Part 1)

Frantically I pulled all the bottles and jars out of the cupboard to the left of my stove. Canola oil, olive oil, cooking spray, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and worcestershire sauce.  I ran downstairs to the pantry in the garage and scanned the shelves, moving some salad dressings, diced tomato cans, and even flour out of the way. Nope, I didn't have any soy sauce.

Now I had to decide what to do. We needed to eat in an hour and the recipe I had all the ingredients for, well almost all the ingredients for, required soy sauce. Could I substitute something I did have? Was there time to run to grocery store? Would my husband be able to stop at the store?

I hate to admit how often this kind of thing has happened to me. My husband is a gem about running to the grocery store for me. I sometimes feel like a failure at planning. I can spend an hour making a menu and grocery list and be defeated by the simplest ingredient. 

That is understandable when making a special meal, but on a day to day basis, it can make it too stressful to have family meals at home because coming up with something you for which you have all the ingredients isn't easily possible. I try to have my kitchen stocked with basic ingredients, then I can to make dinner tonight for whoever is eating at home and we'll all enjoy it more if the cook isn't stressed--especially the cook!

Here's how I keep a basically stocked kitchen and my plan to maintain it. I can't make a fail proof list for  your cooking style, but I can give you a list to start with and you can take it from there along with my ideas on how to keep a supply of those things on hand.

The Basic List (printable)

I did a fair amount of research as to what others consider required as basic kitchen staples and I went through my own cupboards and pantry as well. I realize the list will change for different households, tastes, and needs. (For example you may prefer only whole grain rice, flour, and pasta, or may need gluten-free items.) This is not even exactly the list I consider essential, but we like lots of spicy ethnic food and I have to eat sugar-free.

Here's how I suggest you keep what you need on hand:

  1. Print out this list of long shelf-life staples.
  2. Read through it and cross off anything that you have never used and/or never remember being called for in a recipe you've made.
  3. Go through your favorite 12-20 recipes and add anything to the list that is a staple, but is not on this list.
  4. Now go through your pantry, cupboards, fridge, and freezer and check off the things you DO have on hand.
  5. Start a grocery list of items you have run out of that you know you will need and buy as many of them as you can the next time you go grocery shopping. 
  6. Any you don't pick up this time, keep transferring to a new grocery list. You might do this with certain items that you know go on sale from time to time or you know you won't need until a certain recipe.
  7. If it is practical, keep two of each item on hand. When you open the second item, write the first on your weekly grocery list. If not, add it to your shopping list when it gets to below half full. 
  8. To avoid buying things you may never use again, see if you can make a reasonable substitution by consulting a site like this, or Google the ingredient along with the word "substitute".
  9. Keep track of "use by" dates. While foods are often safe well after the date, they may lose some of their nutritional and taste value. Spices that are years old, for example, may need to be doubled to give the desired flavor.
  10. Keep a mental track of what staples you do use frequently and stock up on several when they are on sale.
About every other year we go on a six to seven week ministry trip and in between we we often take trips that last three weeks. In the time leading up to these trips and when we first arrive home, I depend on what I have in stock to feed us as I don't want to be buying food that will have to be thrown out or arrive back to a house with nothing to eat.

If I can basically organize to do this, I know you can, too. And don't kick yourself if you run out of something. No one ever died for lack of soy sauce.

To see other posts in the "Making It Easy" series, click here.
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If you'd like to get a Conversation Starter question each week night, *like* the Around the Table Facebook page! If you have an idea for a great conversation starting question, you can let me know there, too! I'd love to hear your questions and might even use them in the future!

Linking with these great blogs.


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