Friday, June 28, 2013

Your Table: An Attractive "Meal Zone"

Or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (Part 7)

Sandy got the chicken in the oven and had the vegetables cut up and ready to steam. She washed up the dishes she'd used so far and wiped down the counter. She opened a cupboard and pulled out four plates and got four forks and knives out of the silverware drawer. Then she turned around and looked at the kitchen table and let out a deep sigh.

Cookie crumbs, an empty milk glass, and a paper towel "placemat" from her son's after school snack were at one end. Next to that his school books sat in a pile and a few papers had spilled onto the floor. Her daughter's computer was set up at the other end with papers and pens strewn around it. An iPod also decorated the table with its earphones dangling off the edge. The day's mail was in an unopened pile. Hair bands, a key, a deck of cards, and a magazine opened to the article she'd been reading at lunch were the finishing touches. 

Now Sandy had a decision to make: should she clear off the table and set it for dinner or could they just eat standing around the kitchen as had so often happened recently. If she opted for clearing the table, what should she do with all the stuff cluttering it?

Does this sound at all familiar?

I well remember those days when the kids came home, had a snack, and left everything sitting on the table. Our table was in a great spot for a "catch-all" --anything I wanted to take down to the bedrooms or up to the loft of our tiny town house in Bogota got set there, as well as what the kids might set down on their way between the living room and kitchen to get a snack. Even though they had desks, they often used the table for school projects which left scissors, glue and scraps of paper on it. 

So how can our tables become a place that attracts our families to meals? Here are some ideas:

  • Keep your table a clutter-free zone as much as possible. One idea is to take all that clutter and place it in a basket. At dinner bring the objects out one at a time and ask, "Whose is this?" No fair putting your own away beforehand! Make it light and fun. Maybe keep score as to who has the most, least, biggest, most valuable, etc. But ask them to put their stuff away after they've used the table so it can be ready for dinner. To help, keep a pretty basket near the table for those things you want to eventually carry to another part of the house rather than "storing" them on the table.
  • Make the table attractive between meals. If you've read my blog for long, you know I'm big on this. My table is in a throughway between our living room and family room, so I consider it a part of our decor and decoration. I want it to look nice and frequently change what I have on it. This also helps make it "meal ready." Some ideas:
    • a favorite runner and a hurricane lamp centerpiece
    • a bowl of fresh fruit
    • a variety of knick knacks collected from around the house
    • silk (or better yet fresh) flowers in a pretty vase

  • Discipline yourself to use the table. If you want your table to become a "meal zone" you will have to work to retrain your family. The more often you sit down together to eat, the more they will get to enjoy it. Standing around the kitchen or sitting around the family room invites people to leave quickly. Sitting at a table encourages them to linger longer.
  • Use placemats or a simple tablecloth. When our kids were little most of our placemats were vinyl. The kids each had their own favorite--Thomas the Train Engine, the Little Mermaid, Winnie the Pooh--and we had photo placemats of places we had visited, too. Click here for a tutorial on making your own personalized placemats. Now we use cloth, but a tablecloth still usually only lasts one meal, while placemats seem to do better.

  • Add candles frequently. Their glow adds to the warm welcome.
  • Play soft ambient music that won't interrupt the conversation or annoy anyone.

  • Be as consistent as possible with the time. If everyone knows dinner is at 6, they can plan their day better. Though I still get many pleading they "didn't know" what time it would be or asking for a time change.
  • Prepare a meal that is pleasing to the senses. Remember to make it look and smell appetizing as well as tasty to bring them running.
I believe that if you work to keep your table a "meal zone" and make mealtime pleasing to all, you will find that your table attracts your family together.

To read more on this check out this post, Looks Inviting, and this one, What's On Your Table?

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For More Ideas and Inspiration:
Check out the book Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes. You can read the first chapter at this site and order a copy of the book.

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

Linking with these great blogs. 


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Invisible Illness, Visible God

"My husband Dave was a children's pastor until the summer of 2000 when an undiagnosed illness left him unable to think clearly, remember names and job duties, or hold regular conversations. He had tremors in his arms and legs, and pain in joints and muscles. Sensitivities to light, sound, motion, chemicals, molds, and even cooking smells caused dizziness, headaches, or blackouts.

"We had been to thirteen doctors in three years. I combed the Internet, researching everything from Chemical Sensitivities to Mad Cow Disease, while raising our toddler and preschooler."

This is the story of Merry Marinello's journey with her husband and children through debilitating illness. This was not the life she thought she would have. This was not the life she wanted. But it was the life God was giving her. How would she respond?

In her book, Invisible Illness, Visible God Merry writes 101 devotions, walking the reader along her path with her. She doesn't give cliché answers to deep faith questions, instead she honestly shares her frustrations, doubts, and lessons she is learning. Merry's transparency as she talks about her struggles and faith, and her courage to tackle hard questions like, "How can I love One who makes me bitter?" are an encouragement to all who have ever doubted God in the midst of trials.

With liberal use of Bible passages, Merry inspires her readers in their own ongoing problems with illness, pain, or other long term trials. 

Along her journey, Merry discovered that many of her negative thoughts were subtle lies about God's character or His views of her which she didn't even recognize until she compared them to scripture.

Lie: God abandons us when we're hurting

Truth: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted 
and saves those who are crushed in spirit. 
Psalm 34:18

In the first appendix, Merry has a list of twenty-one lies that scripture can refute. She has a second appendix with reminders to care givers to take care of themselves as well.

Remember how I said that your own devotions will help you "get to the table" for a meal with your family? This book may be the one you need for the next three-plus months to help you give your burden to God and learn to hope and trust in Him. I'm planning to give away a copy of this (see below for giveaway details), but if you can't wait, or have a friend (or several) who you know need spiritual refreshment in the midst of their struggles, to order a copy, go to

Here are a sampling of quotes from Merry's book:

"We all want prayer to change our circumstances, but sometimes God wants prayer to change us instead." p. 43

"'Learn to laugh at yourself. Then you'll always have something funny to think about.' --My Grandmother" p. 77

"We can make the pain easier--or harder--to bear, depending on what we focus." p. 82

"I am not strong. God is strong." p. 123

"It is a strange irony that suffering moves us to love and reach out to others." p. 143

"There is no certain outcome for late-stage Lyme. I choose not to rest my hope in the possibility of changing circumstances. Instead I seek to rise to the challenge of putting my hope in the character of God." p. 188

"God values our lives and does not ignore our pain." p. 220

Would you like to win a copy of Merry's book for yourself or a friend?

Then write a comment to me below or on my Facebook page telling me that you would like this book and you will be entered in the giveaway. (I would appreciate it if you would also become a follower of this blog and/or "like" my Facebook page.) (You must have a U.S. mailing address I can where I can send the book to qualify.) I will hold the giveaway Monday evening, July 1 by random drawing and announce the winner on Facebook and in this blog next Tuesday, July 2.

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

Linking with these great blogs. 

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book to review, but not paid in any way to make positive comments about it.

Photo credits:

Friday, June 21, 2013

God Answered Me

I am interrupting my series on "Making it Easy to Get to the Table" for time of reflection. (For links to the first six parts and a preview of what's to come, see below.)

This week I had a birthday. I had hoped to spend the morning in the Arboretum in our town just talking with God and journaling and listening to what He wants from me during this next year of life, but a variety of circumstances cut that time down to an hour. But it was still a good time with God.

My husband and I have been walking through assorted trials recently, varying from concern about the souls of loved ones to annoyances in life. When one of these came to light three and a half years ago, I started asking God, "Please don't let me waste this pain. Use it for all it can be used in my life and through my life." I've seen that answered, some, but apparently I have more to learn and God has more to do in me, because that trial continues.

Wednesday, I asked God, "What are these tests for?" And you know what? God answered me:

You have been distressed by various trials
so that the proof of your faith,
being much more precious than gold
which is perishable,
even though tested by fire,
may be found to result in praise and glory 
and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

If that sounds familiar, that's because it is 1 Peter 1:6-7. I didn't hear God's voice, but after I wrote the question down, I immediately remembered (I believe led by the Holy Spirit) First Peter chapter one talks about trials. I skimmed the chapter until I saw the word trials and then read carefully what seemed to be a direct answer to my question!

God was telling me it is a privilege to go through trials; because of them I will be able to give more praise and glory and honor to Christ than I would have been able to, had I not had them.

So I got bold and asked, "Show me how to go through my trials, Lord. I want to bring glory to you even now, by how I face them." Then God answered me:

Though you have not seen Him,
you love Him,
and though you do not see Him now,
but believe in Him,
you greatly rejoice
with joy inexpressible and full of glory.

That's verse eight. God wants me to believe and rejoice. I wrote in my journal, "I won't lie. It's hard. I believe and believe (this involves scrunching my eyes shut and holding my breath and tightening my stomach muscles, right? [I was trying to be funny here]) for answers that Your Word tells me are according to Your will. But it's not happening. 

"So I'm supposed to believe in You anyway? Right? Not believe that but believe in, without seeing You (which I never have) and without seeing You work in the lives of those I love. I still need to believe."

In his book With, Skye Jethani says, "Faith is surrendering control to God." That is what God wants from me in this next year of my life. He want me to believe in Him, and let Him take control, which, of course He has had all along.

I have to admit, I was looking for ministries, specifics, promises, maybe the dates when I should go visit my Mom so she can have a hip replacement, or even which pub tables my committee should order for our church fellowship room--yes, it is interesting that we are getting "pub" tables for church!--or a firm promise for the most profound need of those I love. 

But God said, "Trust Me."

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To read the "Making It Easy" series thus far, click here.
Or go directly to the topic that interests you.
Energy to Get to the Table (Part 5)
There. Is. No. Need. To. Yell. [Pleasant Mealtimes] (Part 6)

Other Posts that will be coming:

  • Attract Your Family to the Table
  • Making Your Table a "Meal Zone"
  • Saving Money on Food
  • Cooking Ahead

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

How about "pinning" this post to your Pinterest page?

Linking with these great blogs. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Please Tell Me a Story

If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you will recognize part of today's post as one that I wrote March 26, 2012. I believe the message is important and helpful so I am repeating some of it in the hopes that I can help you have ideas about how to do effective devotions with your children.

I am a big believer in stories. I think a story is a powerful way to get a point across. Think of how Nathan wove for David, the shepherd-king, the story of a family's pet lamb being taken by a rich man with many sheep. When David was outraged by this, Nathan said, "You are that man!" referring to his sin of adultery and murder. David realized it was true and he repented.

In believing stories are and effective way to teach, I must have the right idea because look at how Jesus did most of His teaching during His ministry on earth. And consider how much of the Bible is biographical and historical. We can learn much from the stories of others.

At a ladies' seminar I attended last year, the announced topic was "Simplify Your Life." Since I had agreed to be a table leader several months before I knew the topic, I went, even though I didn't really think wanted to hear about how to declutter my closet. (Not that I don't need that, but that's another topic; and that's not what she talked about anyway.)

What I found very interesting was the "Bible Stories" that the speaker told as examples, using the stories of women in the book of Luke. 

She said she wouldn't add anything to the stories, but she would tell them rather than read them. I checked the passage on one story and I discovered that she made no artistic embellishments, and in places, even used almost the exact words in my translation. But since she was telling the story, we listened closely. 

At the end of the story, she said there were five questions we needed to answer:

  1. What do I like about this story?
  2. What do I not like about this story?
  3. What do I learn about people from this story?
  4. What do I learn about God in this story?
  5. What can I apply to my life from this story?
As I thought about these questions I realized how great they are for teaching our kids or others to read and understand the Bible for themselves!

I've always used the questions:
  • What does it say? (Observation)
  • What does it mean? (Interpretation)
  • What does it mean to me? (Application)
But those questions can be a little vague, especially for people who are just learning how to study the Bible. These new questions, while they wouldn't work for every passage, help people because they are more specific

The first two are observation questions, but they give the reader something specific to look for. While looking for what he likes and doesn't like, he will pay close attention to the story. 

Don't feel squeamish about "not liking" things in the story. We can "not like" that David took Bathsheba into his bed when she was married to someone else, and "not like" that he had Uriah killed, while still understanding what God is teaching through the incident.

The next two questions are interpretation questions, again with specific lessons to look for. What do we see about human nature? Pretty much what we see in others is a lot of what we see in ourselves, so it is insightful to take the time to look at others and think about them.

Finally, there is an application question, something the reader can take with him through the day, something to actually do or change in his life.

How great would it be to do that with our kids? Stories fit every age. Perhaps your children are at the age where a Bible story book is they way to do devotions with them. Maybe you can read the incident from a modern translation round robin. Or you could even assign one child to read the story ahead of time and tell to the family. Then answer the questions, discussion style--each one who wants can have a say. Even young children will soon start to be attentive so they can tell you what they liked and didn't like.

You can let them not like the fact that David didn't recognize his own sin until he was confronted. But help them to also see that when he was confronted, he sincerely and wholeheartedly repented. And they can realize that Nathan being sent by God was an act of bravery and obedience. Just make sure that what they like and don't like is truly there--not things they add or conjecture.

With the lessons they learn about people and God, guide them with questions to lessons that are in keeping with the rest of scripture. And the same goes for how they want to apply it to themselves. The lesson of David is not that they can disobey and then repent without consequences in their lives!

photo credits RK Scott

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Friday, June 14, 2013

There. Is. No. Need. To. Yell.

Or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (part 6)

Has family dinner every sounded like this at your house? It never did at ours, well, not least not every night.

But there were those nights.

How do you keep the atmosphere pleasant at your family mealtime table? Here are some suggestions:

1. Keep your sense of humor.

2. Discuss your atmosphere goals with your husband or wife. If you guys aren't in agreement about this it's not gonna work. We tried to have a signal to say to the other when we were getting worked up about something. One would say to the other, "Elephants" or whatever we chose. I have to admit, however, that this didn't always work. (I will take the 5th amendment on who it was that had trouble cooling down.)

3. Have a talk with the whole family about it. We were never big on formal "family meetings" to discuss issues, but we did have a family meeting of sorts, every night at the dinner table. I can remember asking questions like:

  • What do you look forward to about dinner?
  • Is there anything that makes you cringe when you think about our family mealtimes?
  • What can we, as your parents, change to make it a happier time?
  • What can you do to help make the atmosphere pleasant and inviting?

4. Keep your sense of humor.

5. Have fun family reminders to use, especially if guests are present. The family of one of my good friends signaled each other with the silverware. The fork meant "get to the point." Holding up a knife signaled "cut it off." And the spoon meant, "Feed it to him!" You can use whatever your reminder is to help stop ranting, arguing, gossiping, or complaining. (Not that I think any of that would happen at your table!)

6. Agree to work on this together. Does one person feel never listened to? Another like everyone disagrees with him? Someone else feels hurried, or slowed? Ask them what would make them feel better. Get each person to offer a compromise they can do and give a commitment to do it.

7. Get a theme verse that you all want to be the working principle for your family mealtimes. Cross-stitch it and hang it on the wall!

8. Oh, and did I mention, have a good sense of humor?

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chore Chart: A System That Works for Us

Today's post is guest written by the daughter-in-law of friends of mine, Anna Shepherd. 

Oh!  There's the dryer.  I need to fold these clothes before they wrinkle.  I have GOT to wash those dishes before the playdate.  Little man, could you please empty the recycle bin.  It's overflowing!  You did it the last two days?  Hey!  Who's turn is it to empty the can?  Oh yeah, fold laundry.  Could someone please load the dishwasher for me?  Where's your sister?  I can't think about dinner yet.

I am a homeschooling mother of four (6,7,10,11), and I am NOT a naturally organized person... on top of being a little A.D.D.   I crave organization (who's with me)!  Everything in a common-sense place, all laundry folded and put away, no clutter.  For YEARS I struggled with a practical plan to get close to my grand goal.  But there are so many people living in this house!  Is it possible to have chores done well by little ones?  It may be easier to just do it all myself, but should I?  I found myself relying too heavily on the "helpful" child, while the baby and the easily distracted children ended up doing less than their fair share.  How frustrating for the "helpful" child.  How wrong of me, when God is trusting me to rear FOUR future adults with character.  

My husband and I truly believe that chores are important for a child's character development.  They learn good work ethic, responsibility... and maybe get to earn some money (earn being the key word).  I needed to find some way to delegate age appropriate chores.. with the kids receiving accountability for the chore to get completed... and motivation to do their best.  I looked in stores for a workable chore chart--they were either designed for one child, pre-filled in with standard chores, or in some way simply "not what I was looking for".

At the beginning of last summer I decided to just make my own using a large piece of poster board, some index cards, glue, and markers.  I glued white index cards (on three sides) to the poster board to make about 20 pockets.  On each of the pockets I wrote chores like:
  • Take laundry to laundry room
  • Put books on bookshelf
  • Take out garbage
  • Empty dishwasher  

Things the kids could DO, and do well.   At the bottom of the poster board, I made a pocket with each of my kid's names on it.  I found some smaller, colorful index cards  and wrote Aaron, Austin, Ally, and Aiden on their colored cards.  Guess who's pink?   Last pocket had blue "Done" cards!  

Now, let's get organized.

The first morning, I took the kids' name cards and stuck them in all the pockets.  Some chore pockets like "clean your room" got all of their names.  They were under strict orders to only ever touch their name cards. (This taught them personal responsibility).  When a chore was finished, the child was to take out their name card and replace it with a "done" card. 

They were excited!  It's kind of fun for them to see their names on something, and it sure felt good to show mommy a chart full of blue "done" cards, especially when the "clean your room" chore pocket got all of their names eventually traded for four "done" cards.  

The beauty of this little system is the elimination of, "He's not helping!  He's shoving all his stuff to my side of the room!"  When they cleaned up all mess that belonged to them, they were free!  Everyone had to carry their weight and be accountable to ME!  

Now for the accountability part:  When each child finished all their chores, I double checked that they had been done well. It's important for kids to value doing a quality job.  The kind of kid they are is the kind of adult they will be.   

It took two weeks before "the baby" realized that doing it "well" mattered.  If the chores were done well, I'd give the child a point for the day.  10 points = $5.  "You know what, kids, when daddy doesn't do a good job, he doesn't get paid; a man is worth his wages."  That's life... in capitalism.

One more tip:  I originally set up the chart rotating the kids from chore to chore every day.  That was a bad idea.  Ha! Within the first few days I noticed a trend of all the kids finishing their chores to earn a point, but making no effort to maintain the organization.  Why should they work above and beyond if the sibling tomorrow would have to pick up their slack? If you've ever worked in an environment like this, you can understand that this built resentment.  

Week 2, the rules changed.  Each child would be doing the same group of chores for the whole week.  It then behoved them to keep caught up, to not let the garbage can overflow or the bunny's water bottle empty completely.   

This system works for us (for now).  Maybe it will get you thinking about what would work for you! There IS a plan for organization that will fit your family!   "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.James 1:5 (my favorite "parenting" verse)  

Okay, now it's time to think about dinner...

Anna Shepherd has been  married for 12 years to a charming, godly, outdoorsy man.  They're both "foodies", so love to cook together (and experiment).  Cooking is fun; the dishes that it produces are not fun.   Their family vacations by camping/fishing; they're so blessed to live within easy driving distance of the beach, the Redwoods, the snow in Tahoe, Lavabed tunnels, model rocket launching events...

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Did you know that there are entire cultures that are happier than other cultures mainly because they teach their children to work? Learn about this and many other ways your family can connect at mealtimes in my book Around the Table. What do mealtime and chores have to do with each other? How about setting the table, clearing the table, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor!

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

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Energy to Get to the Table

or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (Part 5)

Do you wish you had more energy?

Most people do.

Life takes energy and in our society the meal we can most often get together for is toward the end of the day after we've used most of that energy on other projects. 

How can we get the stamina to keep going, so we can get a meal on the table and have the pizzaz to have an interesting conversation?

One thing I do is exercise.

Dreaded word, I know. But it's as simple as taking a twenty minute walk.

That's my favorite kind of exercise, especially in spring and fall. I actually go for about thirty minutes. My dream is to have an hour to walk, but I'm not sure when I'll have time for that on a regular basis.

One website that encourages me in this is I can plot a map of where I walked, how much time it took, and other notes. They tell me how many calories I burned! They'll also let me know of progress I'm making, like if I have better time or more activities or longer walks.

It's just fun to have that extra information. And besides, if I ever need an alibi, this should help, right? 

In the winter or on rainy days I do exercise videos. My favorites are the Walk Away the Pounds series by Leslie Sansone.

This is the first one I got and the one I still use the most, The One and The Two Mile Walks . I try to do the two mile walk mostly, but some days I just run out of time and the one mile walk only takes about nineteen minutes. In it she combines a little bit of weight work.

This is my favorite one! Because she does strength training and aerobic exercise in three-minute intervals, the time seems to go by so quickly. Plus, I can feel the muscles working as I use the weights. I've worked up from tuna can "weights" to five pound weights and sometimes I even use eight pounders.

It seems like an enigma, using energy gives you energy. But I think I'm proof. I am 52 and have low blood sugar, low blood pressure (last count 90/61), asthma, and no thyroid, but I have energy to make dinner every night. 

Tonight the whole family is coming over--my in-laws, my son and his wife, and my daughter who lives in town. And thanks to the walk I took this morning, I'll have the energy to enjoy it!

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)
Ease Through the Grocery Store (Part 4)

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What They're Saying

Did you know I'm not the only voice out there calling for family mealtimes? All kinds of people are exclaiming its virtues. While I may not agree with all of what each of these people stands for, we do agree on the wonder-full-ness of eating together en famille. 

Actor Dennis Quaid says (1):
"My favorite family ritual is...sitting at the table and having conversation every single day. That's the time you get to know the kids. They're a captive audience and have to pay attention to you."

Time editor-at-large, Nancy Gibbs writes in an editorial to encourage eating together (2):
"There is something about a shared meal...that anchors a family even on nights when the food is fast and the talk is cheap and everyone has someplace else they'd rather be. And on those evenings when the mood is right and the family lingers, caught up in an idea or an argument explored in a shared safe place where no one is stupid or shy or ashamed, you get a glimpse of the power of this shared habit."

A little advertisement in our local paper had a quote designed to encourage parents to eat with their kids (3):
"Kids who eat dinner with their parents are 40% more likely to say they get A's and B's in school."

Focus on the Family writer Andrea Vinley Jewell reminds us that if we dread meals for any reason we can't (4)
"forget the blessing of a shared meal and the integral role food plays in our relationships and celebrations."

The president for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Joseph Califano, Jr. says (5)
"Kids recognize the effort [of eating dinner together] as an expression of love and caring."

Chef Curtis Stone tells how he came by his love of the food and family combination in his childhood (6):
"My mum was a busy lady. She was a single mum who owned her own business while bringing up a family. Most of the time, dinner was something she threw together at the end of the day for my brother, my sis, and I. But what we ate was never as important to her as that we were all together."

And finally, my mom sent me a clipping with the comment across the top: "Thought you'd like to see this" from Michelle Obama (7):
"Family dinners are a tradition we've instituted at the White House, and it has made a huge difference. No matter what else is happening at 6:30 we stop everything and eat together...We use those dinner to connect with our girls, have conversations, and just spend quality time together as a family."

Tonight my husband is driving across east from Seattle, Washington through Idaho and into Montana. Only my oldest daughter and I are at home, but we are planning to eat together on our back patio.

Will you connect with your family at dinner tonight?

(1) Good Housekeeping, December 2012, p. 93.
(2) The Magic of the Family Meal, Sunday, June 4, 2006
(3) Dubuque Telegraph Herald, date unknown
(4) More than a Meal, Focus on the Family Bulletin, December 2011
(5) Reader's Digest, RDLiving, p. 197, date unknown
(6) HyVee Season, back to school 2011, p. 6.
(7) Source unknown

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