Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

From our family to yours

a very
Merry Christmas to one and all

May you have love and laughter 
around your table
on Christmas
and all through the year!

(Come back in January to get some great ideas to stop procrastinating!)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Three Great Ideas to De-Stress Christmas!

How is your Christmas season going?

A. Overwhelming
B. Cozy
C. Worshipful
D. Stressed Out

If you said "A" or "D" or "A and D" could you possibly just take the evening off to make it B or C tonight? Come on, this is supposed to be a happy, loving, joyful time of year. Pull back a little. Turn off the Martha Stewart recording in your head. Close down Pinterest. Put your to-do list aside for a few hours. I have some fun ideas for you.

Let's Be Tired Together
A few years ago my husband was traveling the beginning of December. My daughter was involved in a Friday night ministry and I was going to spend another December Friday night alone. 

So I decided not to. 

I wrote in my Facebook status "If you are reading this, you are invited over tonight to watch A Christmas Carol with me." I had some expected guests and some I wouldn't have guessed would come. We were a small group. I made popcorn and we just relaxed together and got into the season.

Cookie Baking Night

Are you and your friends behind on your baking?
What's that? You can't face the work and mess?
Besides you want some accountability on cookie dough snitching?

Whip up 2 double batches of sugar cookie dough, wrap them well and stick them in the fridge. Get a hold of some friends and ask them to come over and bake cookies with you. Bribe them by telling them they can take 2 dozen they choose home with them.

Play Christmas carols and cut, bake, and decorate. Your friends will help you wash the pans and wipe the counters I'm sure. If you don't have disposable plates, tell them to bring their own dish to take their cookies home in.

(Cheat: Buy ready made cookie dough at the grocery store!)

Carol Sing

Our brother-in-law started this. There was a very musical college student attending our church whom our brother-in-law invited over along with anyone who could come for a carol sing. But even if you don't have a musician handy, you just need someone who's not afraid to start the song and can basically carry a tune. Get copies of the words from somewhere (we sometimes borrow hymn books from church) or only sing first verse. 

Ask everyone to bring along some plate of snacks to share if they can, but come even if they can't. Provide coffee, tea and water if you can. Remember, we are trying to relax here!

And sing yourself into the joy of the season!

Do you find yourself saying, "But my family..." Get into the spirit yourself, get some other people over who enjoy it, too, and you'll be surprised what your family will do.

You might not be around the table, but you'll be connecting in a great way!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Home Depot (DIY) Meals: The Panini Episode

Over Thanksgiving we had three of my children, two of my in-law children, and my two grandchildren with us for almost all meals. What's not to love?!!

Whenever we get together we have one meal where we can each make our own. This year's suggestion came from my younger son and his wife and they also contributed some of the goodies including the bacon. What's not to love?!!

Panini sandwiches go for big bucks in restaurants...and do you ever really get the combination you want? It's easy to do at home and everyone enjoys making their own, wandering around the kitchen, puttering, examining what others are putting together, and, of course, eating!

This could be a great, relaxing way for you to get together with family or friends over the holidays.

For added fun, you can ask everyone to come up with a creative name for the sandwich they are making. That ought to be a conversation starter!

It's really easy, too. Just set up all the possible ingredients you have in your fridge and pantry on an island or peninsula counter top or on a table people can walk around. Have a couple of panini makers, sandwich makers, or indoor electric grills set up and hot. (Make sure you won't be blowing a fuse with a trial run. If they do, find out which outlet is on a separate fuse and plug the second one in there.) Then call your guests to the kitchen and let them go to work!

Panini Bar Suggestions (but not limited to these)

  • White bread
  • Sourdough bread
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Rye bread
  • Cranberry artisan bread
  • Your favorite bread
  • Yellow mustard
  • Spicy mustard
  • Horseradish
  • Chili sauce
  • Mayo
  • Butter
  • Plain yogurt
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Italian dressing
  • Balsamic vinegar dressing
  • Olive oil
  • Ranch dressing
  • Thousand island dressing
  • Your favorite dressing
  • Minced garlic
  • Black olives
  • Green olives
  • Banana peppers
  • Jalapeño peppers
  • Dill pickles
  • Bread and butter pickles
  • Fresh sliced peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocados 
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh or dried oregano
  • Fresh or dried basil
  • Garlic salt
  • Salt and pepper
  • A variety of lunch meats
  • Cooked bacon!
  • Lots and lots of cheese slices--these make the sandwich gooey and stick together!
We had a great time. My son called his sriracha sauce, garlic, and banana pepper combo "Hot, Hot Garlic!" I called mine "Aristotle Gomez" for it's Greek (black olives) and south of the border (peppers) combination. What's not to love?!!

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Five Tricks I Learned in China!

Last month my husband and I had the enormous privilege of traveling around a large part of eastern China on a ministry trip.

I have to confess that I didn't expect to like China...the crowds, the pollution, the food. I thought that the food would be strange and extremely spicy. Well, I did see some strange food...

but most of what I saw, and all of what I ate, was delicious! 

I certainly didn't expect to learn anything from China about family mealtimes. The government requires that visiting foreigners stay in hotels, so we didn't have any time in Chinese homes. But I still got some great ideas to help families connect at mealtime. So here are--

Five Tricks I Learned about Meals While Traveling in China

1. Soup is fun to eat... if you get to tear bread into your bowl first! We ate paomo, a Muslim soup of rice noodles, chopped greens, and beef or lamb. First, though, you have to tear up a dense piece of pita bread into the bowl. Then the server whisks it away to the kitchen with a number on the bowl and a number for you. About 5 minutes later it reappears full of broth and other goodies. It was fun to sit around the table and "break our bread" into the bowl before we ate. I think even the kids who dislike soup the most would have fun with this and there's something about wanting to eat something one had a part in making. One way to do this would be a "mexican" flavored soup that they break corn tortillas or tortilla chips into.

2. Ethnic experiences can mean easy clean up. With stir-fry there's no need for lots of different courses. Rice and the veggie-meat stir fry can be served at the table in two simple bowls. Add to the experience by learning to eat with chopsticks out of a rice bowl. The Chinese and Japanese bring their bowls close to their mouths to avoid dropping. What kid wouldn't love to try that?

3. Small plates and shared serving bowls make a meal intimate. Often we were brought multiple serving dishes and a little "side plate" sized plate for ourselves. We used one color pair of chopsticks for serving ourselves and a second for eating. (I admit that sometimes I got it mixed up.) Somehow having to sit close enough to reach the serving dishes to repeatedly serve yourself and eating little bits at a time off your plate make it easier to get to know the people around you.

4. A lazy Susan can make the meal an opportunity to build cooperation. At round tables, all the serving dishes were placed on lazy Susans so when you wanted something you didn't have to ask, you just starting moving it along toward you. But you had to look around first, because someone else might be in the process of serving themselves and you needed to wait until they were done to move your choice toward you. Kids might have too much fun with this!

5. Letting someone else choose the menu will get you to try new foods. We can't read Chinese, and even if we could, we wouldn't have known what the various foods were. We always told our companions to choose the dishes--"We eat long as it's dead!" That way we had the opportunity to try a whole lot of different foods that we never would have known about. How can you do this in a family? Perhaps have a "choice" night once a week when one member gets to ask for the menu. Or invite someone over and ask them to teach you to cook one of their favorites. Extra points if you ask someone from a different culture or ethnicity!

We had some fascinating non-food experiences in China as well, that I wish I could tell you about, but the Internet is not the place. (That's why some people's faces are blurred, too.) I'd love to tell your ladies' group about some of what God is doing there. Just invite me!

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cooking is Better Together!

My good friend and fellow writer, Laura Gomez, is a guest poster today on my blog. I really enjoyed tossing writing ideas back and forth with her when our children were in the same class in elementary, and again recently. I hope we hear more from her again soon!

The Christmas tree lights were on, the sound of carols drifted through the house, and I was so happy just to be at home and spending time with my boys for the holidays.  Life really doesn’t get much better than that!  

 I was in the kitchen starting on our dinner to be eaten Christmas Eve, Colombian style. The boys - my husband, Mauricio, and two sons, Eric and David - were hanging out in the living room. I love cooking, especially on the holidays, so I was enjoying my work in the kitchen, but I realized I also longed to spend the time WITH my boys.

So, I went and told them I was lonely, and asked them whether they might help me make the dinner. It sounds easy, but those types of requests never seem to come out of my mouth right, and I was afraid I would ruin the holiday atmosphere.

They came, perhaps somewhat begrudgingly, to the kitchen to help, but as we continued preparing the meal together they began to enjoy themselves.

That was years ago. Now it has become a tradition. They all help with our big holiday meals. And since they like to eat the same food each holiday--they love their traditions--they have traditional jobs now with meals.

Mauricio and Eric are in charge of "french cutting" the green beans. We can't buy them frozen in a bag here in Colombia, so my guys lovingly slice a huge pile of green beans the old fashioned way! I always tell them they don't have to slice the whole pile if they don't want to, only as much as they want to eat, but they love our holiday French cut green beans with slivered almonds toasted in butter so they insist on taking the time and effort to slice them all!

Some years I can’t find slivered almonds either, so we sliver them ourselves!
David is in charge of inventing a centerpiece, and keeping the Christmas carols going.  Mauricio is the master turkey carver. 
There is another job they actually fight over! They take turns putting the hot potatoes through the potato ricer. It’s a bit more manly of a job, since it takes some strength to squeeze the potatoes through the ricer, especially since they always fill the basket full. It brings back memories of playdough to see potato come oozing out the holes and into a bowl where butter and milk are waiting to make them into scrumptious mashed potatoes.
Cooking together has made the holidays more fun for me.  And I think it has also increased the rest of the family’s enjoyment of the day.

I believe that children should help out around the house, including duties involved with the meals.  But this story isn’t about children helping around the house.

I also believe that boys should learn to cook, and mine will often get in the kitchen and bake brownies or even cook a meal for the family. But this story isn't about teaching boys to cook.

This story is really about how I learned how much fun it is to prepare the meal together on the holidays. Sharon is always reminding us how valuable mealtimes are for the family. And on the holidays, when the meal and its foods are a big event, and everyone is at home, cooking together can also be a great time for interacting as a family, involving everyone, girls and boys, cooks and non-cooks. Then when everyone sits down to eat, not only does the food taste delicious, but we have the satisfaction of having made such a wonderful feast together.

Laura and her family live in Bogota, Colombia, where they work with the Navigators.  Her biggest thrill comes from interacting over God’s Word with other women.  The meals at her table are typically a true mish-mash of California Cuisine and Colombian fare, with a scattering of international dishes just to keep everyone on their toes! Her latest moderately successful experiment was with homemade potstickers or gyoza.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

15+ Quick Tips to Have More Family Meals

Don't have time to linger at the table?
Don't have the schedules that allow you sit together at a meal?
Don't have the energy to cook?

I don't have all the solutions here, but here are 15+ quick tips to designed to get your family all together at meals more often.

* Resolve to eat together. Decide with your spouse that this is something you want to do and are willing to work to make it happen.

* Talk it up with the kids. Reminisce about family meals when you were growing up. Watch some old Waltons, Brady Bunch, or even Leave it to Beaver shows where they have fun eating together. 

* Don't over-schedule. No one has to be in every activity that comes along. "No" is a word. A very important word.

* Ask your kids what kind of food they like when it's made at home. Get a list of ideas. Hopefully some will be quick and easy.

* Lists, lists, lists. Make a menu list. Make a grocery store list. Then take the time, make the time, to actually browse in the grocery store and buy everything you need. (Remind yourself how much money you will be saving over restaurants, carry-out, and even fast food!)

* Cook for two, meals that is. If you are making meatloaf, lasagna, soup, stew, or so much more, make enough for two meals. It's not that much more work and you can freeze one for a night next week when you are busy or tired.

* Find shortcuts. When I lived overseas everything had to be "from scratch." Now that I live in the states I find things like jars of minced garlic to be one of the best inventions around! When bagged salads are on sale, I go ahead and use them--especially coleslaw that takes so long to chop. 

* Don't let others look down on your unorganic sugar coated meals. Those voices are probably just in your head. But even if it's not, repeat after me: grilled cheese on white bread, canned tomato soup, and Oreos® at home are better than burgers and fries in the car. Any day.

* Enlist help. In the kitchen put on the kids favorite music and put them all to work while they dance and sing. Preschoolers can do way more than you think, but if you are skeptical, let them wash the lettuce. Older kids can cut, chop, combine, and even stir-fry. Most anyone can help set the table.

* House rules: you eat what I serve. I have one daughter who is a vegetarian so she didn't have to eat the meat, but she ate the veggies and other things I made. No one (unless they are sick) gets a special separate meal.

* Save labor-intensive meals like a roast, curried anything, and enchiladas, for weekends when you might have more time.

Quick Kid-Friendly Meals
* Macaroni and Cheese with chopped turkey hot dogs in it. Serve with microwave-steamed green peas.

* "Gourmet" frozen pizza. Take a hint from the fancy pizza restaurants and add some sautéed spinach and/or red, green, yellow, or orange peppers. That way you don't even need a side of salad to get some veggies inside your family. 

* While you are baking chicken nuggets or fish sticks cut up some red pepper strips, add some grape tomatoes and baby carrots. Give everyone their own little bowl of their favorite low fat dressing and let them have "hors d'oeuvres" while they wait.

* Hot dogs and baked beans. Maybe it's not the healthiest food they've ever eaten, but if it's only once in a while and if it's instead of a bacon cheese burger, it's fine!

* Pancakes! I love breakfast for supper. Serve it with berries and bananas and orange juice to pack in the vitamins!

Now just do it!

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

5 Sure-fire Ways to Teach Thankfulness

I just read in Reader's Digest that grateful people make better decisions!  (RD, November 2014, p. 58)

Who knew?!

We teach our children to be thankful for a variety of reasons:

  • To be nice people to be around
  • To not listen to grumbling all the time
  • So they can make friends easily
  • So they will appreciate us and all we do for them
  • Because thankful people are happier people
  • And did I say, so we don't have to hear them constantly complain about, well, everything?
So maybe there are other reasons, too: Grateful people are less likely to be depressed, more likely to have a good marriage, will have better self-esteem and improved health, have more friends and be less self-centered. 

But the best reason to be grateful is:

Always giving thanks
for all things
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
to God, even the Father.
Ephesians 5:20

Being grateful is a command of God. Even if there were no other benefits, I should be thankful to be obedient to God. But of course it does profit us to give thanks, that's why God commanded it. He is looking out for our good!

Here are five ways to instill thankfulness in our children:
  1. Good manners and gratefulness fit together like puzzle pieces. If I had a penny for every time I reminded my children to say, "Thank you." I would have a lot of very heavy jars serving as door stops around my house! While it may seem like the "thank you" is perfunctory, this is the start to teaching children to recognize kindness and generosity in others.
  2. Be an example. We know that as parents our kids are watching us. What is our attitude? I'm an introvert and so I am often just focusing on not making a stupid mistake when I'm out in public, but lately I have been pushing myself to notice when people do something for me--even those who are "supposed to" like servers in restaurants--and looking at them to say, "Thank you." Which leads to the next point...
  3. Look beyond the gift to the giver. When someone hands you a present, naturally you look at it, ooh and ahh appropriately, try it out or hold it up, but then you should look at the person who gave you the gift and express your appreciation to them. In Colombia, when a friend gives a gift, the recipient stands up and hugs the giver. Whether the gift is a dollar store trinket that made them think of you, or diamond earrings, the giver wants to be appreciated for giving the gift. 
  4. Make them work. Remember how much more you realized all that mom or dad did when you got your own place, started your own family, had to pay your own bills? Yeah, that's the idea. If they see how much is involved in making a meal, from deciding on a menu and making a list, to getting it all on the table at the same time and cleaning up the kitchen afterwards, they will be more grateful for what you do, and what others do. How about deciding together to give someone something and have them help you go to several stores to find just the right thing, buy wrapping paper, wrap it, package it, stand in line at the post office to mail it, and letting them see how little effort saying, or writing, thank you is in comparison?
  5. Join the Attitude of Gratitude club. Yes, posting or tweeting about what you are thankful for every day in November is a cliche. But it's also a good exercise. Focus on people and the non-tangibles and not just "la casa, el carro, y la beca" (the house, the car, and the scholarship--a Colombian cliche). Maybe we could start something new, "No Grump November."

Every year since our children were young we have have decorated the wall of our eating area with a multicolored turkey or fall tree with feathers or leaves listing what we are grateful for. Each night after dinner, whoever is at our table gets a feather or leaf, depending on what version we are doing that year, to write one thing they are thankful for and to tell us all what that is. It's a good tradition and one I intend to keep up, even without kids at home.

We end with prayer, looking at the One who is truly the source of all we have. Sometimes each of us gives thanks for our own item, sometimes one person does for us all. Either way, we recognize the generosity and mercy of our God and say, "Thank you."

How do you instill gratefulness in your children?

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lessons I Learned on Family Bike Rides - - - Part Three

This is part three of a three part series telling of some lessons I learned when I took the time to have fun outings with my kids while they were still at home. I thought we were just going for bike rides and, hopefully, bonding. Little did I know what God was going to teach me!
Part One
Part Two

Accept Warnings Graciously

"Car coming!" "There's a little kid weaving on that bike ahead!" "Use your brakes!" These are the things this mother said when she took her brood on a bike ride. Sometimes the reply was a snapped, "I'm not blind!" Then I would give my Mom Pep Talk: "Sorry. I'll always be your mother and always try to protect you. It just comes with a mom loving her kids." Then someone hollers, "Mom! Look out for that pothole!" How do you think I responded?

I remember an older woman taking me aside once to explain several reasons why my comment to her was not appropriate. I didn't say much to her, but my husband heard all about how wrong she was when I got home. Whether she was right in what she said or not, she was trying to obey what James says, "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from his error will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20, NIV)

Just as we need to give warnings in love, we should also accept them in the same spirit. Have you ever thought that someone was looking to catch you in some sin? It's so easy to become defensive and even angry. But the proper response is a humble and grateful spirit that takes the warning to heart and learns from it. And that attitude can save us from a lot of trouble.

Persevere Until You Get There
I remember one sunny holiday when we loaded our bikes onto our car and drove to a park downtown. From there we had easy access to several major roads which were closed for the day to cars and open to bikers, roller skaters and pedestrians. We joined the exercising crowds and began to ride. The wind was in our faces, but we were excited because we were headed to the airport where we would have lunch and watch airplanes. 

On the return trip we discovered to our dismay that the wind had changed and was blowing against us again and even stronger. The long road became wearying, especially to the younger ones, but the only way home was to keep going until we got to the car. I realized this was another lesson about sin.

The author of Hebrews understood the endurance needed in the Christian life and encouraged his readers, "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1b NASB) As a teen my husband was privileged to listen to the preaching of many godly, well-known preachers and he dreamed of the time in his life when he would be like them, so godly sin no longer tempted. Imagine his disappointment when he began to hear them mention a greater awareness of sin in their lives as they matured in their faith. Now we both know it is true: sin will never quit trying. Amy Carmichael said it poetically, "There is no discharge from our warfare...for us swords drawn up to the gates of heaven."

On the path of life, we will experience temptations of many kinds. Satan will not let us slip by easily, but God has promised a helper. We need to learn many lessons to make it through and at the end be able to say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7 NASB)

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What does your family like to do together?
Write a comment and let me know. I'd like to hear about it!

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lessons I Learned on Family Bike Rides - - - Part Two: Look Around

This is part two of a three part series about things God taught me when I took the time to have fun outings with my kids while they were at home. I thought we were just going for bike rides and, hopefully, bonding. Little did I know what God was going to teach me! To read part one click here.

Don't Ride Too Close to the Edge

There must be a cautious gene because I've got it and have passed it on to my children. We'll never be a family of trapeze artists or rock climbers. In fact, they often walked their bikes across narrow plank bridges over the ditches along our bike paths. Of course, only pride kept me peddling over the same rickety planks. Actually, I'm glad they don't try to see how close they can get to the edge. That made me realize there was another lesson about sin on our bike hikes.

Developing a spiritual caution gene is part of the Christian's maturing process. Psalm 1:1 reminds us to not only hate the sin, but also the path that will lead us to it. "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers." (NIV) Sitting comes after stopping and standing with sinners, which follows walking along with them and their ideas. The first step already puts us on the path to sin.

One area that is a spiritual battle for me is my overactive imagination. I can dream up for myself the most fascinating imaginary situations. God had been working on me in this area for many years. I discovered a long time ago that reading a romance novel gives me a story to "ride away" on for days, so I have come to the conclusion that I can't read them. The novel isn't sin, but daydreaming away my time is. This is one way I have begun to hate the path that leads me toward danger.

Be Alert
When our family rode our bikes along the road, my husband went first, our oldest son was the "rocking chair" in the middle, and I tagged on at the end. That gave us three vigilant pairs of eyes and ears to keep tabs on what is coming toward us so we can watch out for the others. Even then, a bus might bear down on us, a biker in front of us may suddenly stop, or a distracted person could step directly into our path. We could never let down our guard. Sounds like a good strategy against sin to me!

Temptation so often appears where we least expect it. It seems to come out of nowhere! This is why the apostle writes, "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes," (Ephesians 6:11, NLT). We need to keep a lookout in all directions because as Peter warns, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour," (1 Peter 5:8b, NLT).

One of the easiest times for any of us to let our guard down is when we are tired. Whether that is at the end of a long bike ride or late in the evening of a busy day, I often find I've quit talking with the Lord. My only goal is to veg out and then go to bed. When my kids were young if they reappeared after I got them in bed, I'm afraid I often exploded. My guard was not only drowsy, but AWOL. To keep from sin, I needed to be the way I was when watching my young children ride their bikes along a busy road, "self-controlled and alert" (1 Peter 5:8a, NLT).

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How are (or were) you active together as a family? I'd love to hear about it. Please write me a comment below.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lessons I Learned about Sin on Family Bike Rides

Part One -- Changing Focus
This is the beginning of a multipart series of things God taught me when I took the time to have fun outings with my kids while they were at home. I thought we were just going for bike rides and, hopefully, bonding. Little did I know what God was going to teach me!

When our four children were growing up we loved taking bike rides together. Bogota, Colombia, where we lived had been building new bike paths that even reached our end of the city. But even when we were pathless, we took bike hikes. Sometimes we rode a mile behind our house and turned off the road to bump along beside the seldom used train tracks. Or we crossed the expressway on a a pedestrian bridge to ride through the quieter lanes on the other side.

As mom, I loved having an activity that our children with a nine year age spread could all participate in. And I just loved having all my kids together, looking out for each other, challenging one another to friendly competitions, and maybe even enjoying one another in a season when sibling rivalry sometimes seemed to rule our home.

One day as I was being jolted along a rocky path, I became frustrated that every time a larger rock or hole loomed in my path, I would make a direct hit on it. No matter how hard I watched it, it seemed as if my bicycle had a guided missle system locked onto it. Finally I decided to try another tactic: I would take note of it and then look beyond it. Doing that, I was able to ride on smoother ground. This was my first lesson from the bike ride: If you focus on an obstacle you will hit it every time.

It dawned on me that it is the same with sin. If I focus on the temptation, it will trip me up every time. Think of being on a diet--by constantly reminding myself of it, I think about food even more and eventually end up eating those calories I'm trying to avoid! I need to change the subject of my thoughts. That's what Paul was talking about in Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

I've found that that the first test--is it true?--takes care of many thought sins in my life from worry to discontentment. Do I start to dwell on what might happen in my life and body if the biopsy comes back positive? "Is it true?" I don't know that it is. So I ask God to help me not think about it and focus on other things. Did my husband have an accident when he doesn't come home at the expected time and doesn't answer his phone? No. Stop dreaming up non-existent scenarios, Sharon.

But not thinking about it is hard. If I tell you, "Don't think about polka dotted kangaroos," what are you thinking about? But I just told you not to! Paul told us to focus on something else, something true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable. So when I'm struggling with the temptation to eat or worry or whatever, I have to remind myself over and over of who God is and what His attributes are. When I manage to keep my mind centered on God, He helps me avoid the sins by changing my focus.

What unexpected lessons have you learned through activities with your children? I'd love to hear about them. Comment below or write to me at: aroundthetableblog(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Memory Verse Routine that Works!

(or Raisins and Verses Time)

Of course, I think my grandkids are amazing! But so are their parents! I'm thrilled to have my daughter-in-law, Abby Fleming, explain how she is currently getting their two little ones to memorize scripture.

My Inspiration
My kids are smarter than I am. Well, they have a better memory at least. It's always amazing to me what they can remember. Can you relate to any of these?

  • Mommy, yesterday at lunch you said that I could have a special treat today!”
  • When reading a favorite book, “Wait, you didn't read that right. You skipped some words.”
  • After her second ever Veggie Tales, “and now it's time for silly songs with Larry...”
  • Any kind of slightly annoying kids' songs are engrained in their little minds after only one or two times of listening to them!
  • Potty songs, anyone??

Even before I had kids, I knew that I wanted to take this uncanny ability of theirs to remember EVERYTHING and use it for something beneficial to them... memory verses. This decision was inspired by two families.

I worked in an Awana Club with the first family when I was back in high school. For those of you who don't know, Awana is a children's club with a huge emphasis on Bible memorization. It's a great program, but at the time I didn't fully understand how important it was that the children were memorizing Bible verses. At a leadership meeting one night, we were discussing whether we ought to include more “fun” things in lieu of some of the memory verse time. I was all for it, but the Mom of this family disagreed with me. She talked about how her children were like sponges, soaking up everything and how she wanted to use this time in their lives to help them soak up as many Bible verses as they could hold. The value she placed on this was contagious.

Later, when I was working my first teaching job, a fellow teacher invited my husband and I to his home for a family dinner. At the time, he had two very young children. After dinner, they told us that they needed to practice their family memory verses together. I was sitting there expecting something to the extent of “God is love” when they started reciting the entire chapter of Genesis One (motions included)!! I was blown away at what they could do at such young ages. I was also inspired to higher my expectations for my kids one day.

How we made it work
Today, I am “Mommy” to a 3 year old daughter and a 1 ½ year old son. After several hiccups and failed attempts, we have come to a memory verse routine that works well for us. I hope it can help you find a system that works for you!

The first thing we did was buy a highly recommended CD, “Hide 'em in Your Heart” by Steve Green. It is a CD composed entirely of verses set to music, but in a kid friendly (and amazingly not annoying to parents) way. There's just something about music that can help our minds remember things. I decided to use this to help my daughter memorize the verses on the CD. After owning and listening to it for a while, we started practicing. Our practicing revolves around three words: consistent, rewarded and relaxed.

Consistent. I established a certain time every day when we practice our memory verses. For us, it's in the morning right after breakfast, while we are still at the table. We break her verse down into very small phrases (2-4 words) and repeat them to her with the same exact intonation every time. Then, she repeats the phrase back to us until she can do it on her own. The next day, we review what she already knows and pick up practicing where we left off. Now that she's used to it, she can usually add a new phrase on every day or two.

Rewarded. We all need some sort of motivation, and our kids are no different. We've somehow convinced our daughter that raisins are a special treat, so that is our token bribery... I mean reward. We actually call it “Raisins and Verses Time” now. When she first started, we would line up the raisins, one for each word, and she could eat them as she said the words. Now, we break it up into two piles of raisins. First, she says all her previously learned verses, we give her lots and lots of praise, and she eats her first pile of raisins. Then, we work on her new verse, sometimes reinforcing the phrase she learned yesterday, sometimes adding a new phrase, always with lots of praise.

Relaxed. We've learned that our daughter learns her verses much quicker and happier if we keep it a fun and relaxed time. There is no pressure. Sometimes, she gets on a roll and can do a new phrase every day. Sometimes, we take a week on a two word phrase. There is no rush. No one is keeping score. We're thrilled for every verse she can hide in that little heart of hers.

With this routine, our daughter has learned 6 good sized verses and is now working on the Lord's Prayer. It's not quite Genesis 1, but we're pretty proud of her!

I mentioned I have a 1 ½ year old son too. He can't talk much yet, but he was feeling a little left out during “Raisins and Verses Time” and very jealous that she was getting extra raisins. So, he now has his own verse that he tries to say every day, too. One day, it will sound like “God is love”, but for now it sounds more like, “Dg!! La!”. He gets a couple raisins and lots of praise, and he gives us a big grin. It's a pretty good trade off.

I hope you can use this to find a system that works for you!!  

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 8 years now and have a beautiful 3 year old daughter, Anna, and a handsome 22 month old son, Kenneth. After the birth of their daughter, Abby and Daniel decided together that she could work as a full time Mommy. Currently, Abby and her husband are living in the Chicago area as he works full time and pursues further education.

Do you like to write? Do you have a mealtime story that will inspire other moms to get their family together around the table more often? Check out my guidelines and then write away! I'd love to make you my next guest poster!

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