Friday, January 31, 2014

Family Valentines

I love Valentines Day!

Of course, I love celebrations, so Valentine's Day is an excuse to celebrate! I go neither for the super romantic date evening nor the Pinteresty all out decorations and glitz. I prefer to just celebrate love with those I love, and with those who could use a reminder that they need love.

Here are some of my ideas to include in your family and around your table. I hope these ideas inspire you to celebrate love with whomever you can and to be listening for who God puts on your heart to show love to.

Secret Valentines (This is one of my favorites!)
When I was in college we had "Secret Heart Sisters" during Valentine's week. We all chose names from from a bowl full of papers with our names and all week we were supposed to secretly express love to the girl whose name we had picked. I can remember wandering around the dorms trying to look nonchalant as I carried a large poster board heart in a hallway I had never ventured down before to decorate my Secret Heart Sister's dorm door.

When our children were young, a couple of years we decided to do this with our family. Every evening during the week before Valentines, we chose names for the next day. We were supposed to be "good fairies" of love. Some of the things we secretly did for one another:
  • made their bed while they were in the bathroom
  • left a chocolate on their pillow
  • wrote a note telling them what we appreciated about them
  • bought a small gift for them
  • raced to do one of their chores before they got the chance
  • gave them a card
It was so fun to watch our children who normally squabbled, like kids in all families, trying to find ways to show each other love.

Last year we did this again with our kids who live in town, except that we all lived in different homes (a dorm, an apartment, and two houses) it became a little more difficult and required more creativity. To make it easier we went back to the whole week with just one person to show love to. Some of the favorites were:

  • an avocado waiting at the front desk of college. The receptionist said the reaction was so great that she felt like she'd gotten a present!
  • cut out hearts all found all over the house, in kleenex boxes, drawers, between plates!
  • a surprise bouquet of flowers
  • My most fun was driving downtown to near where my daughter was studying and finding her car (after searching for 15 minutes) and decorating it with a gigantic bow!

Send Cards to Those Who Don't Expect Them

Every year I make more than a dozen cards and send them to widows and divorcees who don't have someone special to send them a card filled with love. At least two widows have told me that my card is the only Valentine's card they receive and they enjoy it so much. Who do you know that might need a small dose of love this year?

Tell Them Why You Love Them
I recently heard a guest on a radio program tell about her first year as single mom. She had no money for Valentines so she cut out paper hearts and put a mobile of them together for each child. Each mobile had the child's name on one heart and one attribute she loved about them on each of the others. She hung these from the kitchen ceiling late on February 13 so they saw them when they got up on Valentines'. The next year on the 13th they asked if she was going to do it again. Guess what she stayed up late doing? When a friend came over and asked what they were, her son said, "Oh my mom does that every year." A tradition was born! 

Have you told your kids what you love about them? How can you do this around your table for Valentines?

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Romancing the Family -- Family Valentine's Ideas

My uncle chose my wedding date.

If I were from the Indian sub-continent where my uncle might not only choose an auspicious date for my wedding, but also choose my husband, you might not be too surprised at that statement. But I'm a born and bred American of Irish-German descent with some of my ancestors having arrived in this country five generations ago.

So why did I let my uncle choose my wedding date?

Well, "let" being the key word, I sort of found the event out of my hands. We had picked the 28th of August as our wedding date because we needed to find a date that would work for my father-in-law who was a Missions professor at Emmaus Bible College at the time. (Back in the dark ages, many schools and colleges started after Labor Day.)

We let all my relatives know the date ("save the date" cards not yet being part of wedding protocol and expense) and my uncle called my mom to say that in the South their schools would have already started and they wouldn't be able to come. 

"When would it work for you?" my mom asked.

"If it were two weeks earlier we would be able to come," my uncle said.

So my mom called the church in California (where my parents lived and I did most of my growing up) to see if it was available that date. It was, and she changed the date to August 14 and then proceeded to call me at college in Colorado to let me know my new wedding date.

So my uncle chose my wedding date.

But, hey, I couldn't complain about getting to get married two weeks earlier, a guarantee that my cousin could be my candlelighter, and, I discovered later, my "half anniversary" fell on Valentine's Day!

You know I would have celebrated my "half anniversary" anyway, but this gave me double the reasons. 

But Valentines has always been big in our house, and not just between my husband and I. We celebrated with our kids, our single friends, and our widowed or divorced friends, because everyone needs to know they are loved and remembered.

Over the next few weeks (while I'm in California taking care of my mom after a hip replacement) I'm going to reprise some of my previous Valentine's posts, but in the mean time, I thought I'd share my Heart Shaped Pancake Trick with you and my easy gluten free pancake recipe.

Rather than try to draw a heart, I pour the batter from a ladle in a sort of "check mark" and it comes out like a heart. At times, I've also added red food dye to make them pink. Another way is to make round pancakes and use a large heart cookie cutter to cut perfect hearts. Some people use metal outline cookie cutters and pour the batter into them, but I've never had any luck with that--the batter always leaks out. So I'll stick with my check marks.

Easy Gluten Free Pancakes for printable recipe click here
(because I am currently on an anti-candida diet)

1 1/2 cups Gluten Free flour mix
4 eggs
2 Tbsp. honey or powdered stevia (if you use dry, add more almond milk)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut oil

Mix all ingredients with blender or hand held mixer. (If using a hand held mixer, soften or melt the coconut oil first.)

Heat greased skillet over medium low heat until water drops sizzle when scattered on it. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto skillet. When the edges start to dry, turn pancake. Check for desired doneness. (A medium-low heat works best to cook the pancake through without overcooking the "skin".) 

I made extras and used them all week as my bread with almond butter and fruit spread. I don't know if you could get these to cooperate into heart shapes, though!

May you have a loving Valentine's season, feeling love from those whom you love! Come back next week for more Valentine's celebration ideas!

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dishing It Out

What's your favorite gift to receive?
Movie Tickets?
A restaurant gift card?
None of the above?

Red tray from Spain, bought at TJ Maxx as a Christmas present from my husband.
Oval bowl from Guatemala (sadly cracked and only for looks now).
Relish plate from Ecuador bought with money given my by a ladies' conference.

Would it surprise you to know that I told my husband I'd rather get a gift of pretty dishes than diamond earrings?

You probably know me as only the "Around-the-Table-Lady," so that makes perfect sense to you. But there are a lot of other dimensions to my life like clothes, dieting, reading, travel, serving God, and, yes, chocolate and jewelry. 

I even use them as decorations.
Top shelf oval bowl from Tunisia, but bought at TJ Maxx.
Yellow bowl bought in Serbia, but made in Bulgaria.
Bottom shelf fruit bowl from Ecuador.

But if I had to choose between never getting another pair of earrings and never picking out another unique bowl or plate when God allows us to visit some distant land for our ministry work, well, I'd choose no jewelry.

I have all kinds of serving bowls and dishes that have come from many countries and I love choosing just the right one for various side dishes and remembering where they came from or who gave them to me. But you know, I didn't realize how much my family and guests enjoyed them all too.

Blue floral bowl on left bought in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey.
Off white bowl from Colombia.
Blue bowl on right from Mexico.

When we came back to the states after twenty-four years in South America, I didn't bring any dishes with me. The cheap "china" we had used for over two decades had survived two international moves, being pulled of the counter by a two year old, and at least weekly use and hand washing (no dishwashers) by my children. A friend asked me for them so she could have 12 matching place settings, so they stayed at her house. My white every day dishes matched every tablecloth or placemat and occasion, but they weren't very sturdy and chipped easily. Still, someone else wanted them, so they went off to another house.

I was wondering what kind of dishes I would choose, but I didn't get a chance. I had two sets of (used) dishes given to me. My mother-in-law had 18 place settings of her wedding present Franciscan Dessert Rose dishes and offered me 12 as she wasn't able to have large groups over any more. My daughter-in-law had been given a set of (used) blue and white Johnson Brothers Coaching Scene dishes which which didn't suit their style, so she gave them to me as well. 

I was thrilled and love both sets and enjoy using them. But you know, in the stores there were sets of bright dishes out that always caught my eye. Our living room has a bright chili pepper red wall and we brought back lots of paintings from South America. Those bright dishes would fit in so well...

I was given a couple of gifts of money for Christmas and those dishes were on sale. But I realized that to have six place settings would still cost $120. I just couldn't justify that. So I put my money in my "happy money" account to see what else I might like to buy later.

Then one day I walked into the Dollar Tree, yes, the dollar store, and they had a bright and beautiful display of dishes! I studied those dishes for several minutes and then went to get a shopping cart. I realized I could buy eight plates, eight bowls, and eight matching placemats and only spend $24 plus tax!

I wondered what everyone would say.

  • My husband loved them. He thought they were so "happy." 
  • My daughter got excited and asked where they came from.
  • Our guests the next night exclaimed about how cheery the table and food looked on those bright plates!

So, what kind of dishes do you have? Get out your nice ones and surprise your family. Or visit the local dollar store and do something bold and new. It might surprise your family and it might surprise you! If it makes you happy, it will inspire you to get your family together more often for family meals!

For another idea on fun dishes read here.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

"Home Depot Dinner" (Fix Yours Yourself): Mongolian Grill Episode

One summer my sister-in-law came to visit us when we lived in Colombia. The day I took her out shopping and to a mall for lunch in the food court I had a new culinary experience--thanks to her adventuresomeness. 

I usually got a typical Colombian dish called ajiaco soup made with three potatoes and served with a piece of corn on the cob, capers, sour cream, avocado, chicken, and rice. Mmmm...makes me hungry just to think of it! But she had already been served that at the home of two of our Colombian friends, so she wanted to see what else there was.

The food court was a round three story section of the mall, open in the center to a small ice skating rink. We wandered all three levels looking at the options and being accosted by the people who stood outside trying to entice us into their establishment.

Finally she decided on a "Mongolian" restaurant. It looked strange and different and I would never have had the nerve to try it. But we picked up our bowls and began to fill them with rice, noodles, vegetables, chicken, shrimp, and finally various oils and sauces. These we handed over to the energetic men working at the grill. They stir fried the contents of our bowls until everything was well cooked and chopped up by their sharp spatulas. Then they flopped our food into a styrofoam container which we carried out to an outside table where we could enjoy our lunch and watch the people go by.

I liked it!

The next time my husband and I came to that mall for lunch we got a large bowl to share between us. Since we are creatures of habit, that was usually what we ordered when we were in that part of town at lunch time.

When we moved back to the states we discovered that there is a chain of restaurants in the states that make this kind of meal--although quite a bit pricier than in South America!

Not long ago, my daughter-in-law decided to have my daughter over for Sunday lunch and the three of them made their own "Mongolian Grill". I filed that idea away. Then over her Christmas break, our daughter wanted to have a few friends over for a meal. I wanted to make it a fun, interactive meal and I dredged the idea up from somewhere in the recesses of my brain. 

We scoured our pantry for ideas of what we could put on it and looked through the Internet for ideas. I set up two non-stick frying pans on the stove and plugged in an electric skillet so that three could be cooking at once. It was a great success! Everyone kept commenting on what a fun meal it was.

You could do this for your family or guests, too. Remember this is an idea that will get people to linger longer and connect more as they work together. Here's are some ideas to have; to give you an idea of how much variety you need I marked those we had with an asterisk (*).
(All the veggies and meats were chopped.)

brown rice*
white rice
wild rice
pad Thai noodles
green onions*
bean sprouts
baby corn
sliced water chestnuts
multi-colored peppers*
grated carrots*
sliced ripe olives*
chunk pineapple*
snow peas
bamboo shoots
black beans*

(I put the meat into 2 ounce disposable cups and let each person choose two cups worth to add to their mix)
deboned, skinned chicken breast, chopped*
steak, chopped
tiny deveined shrimp
pork, chopped

olive oil*
sesame oil*
rice vinegar*
soy sauce*
balsamic vinegar*
hot sauce*
garlic chili sauce
garlic broth
sweet chili sauce
hoisin sauce
ginger broth
hot chili oil
garlic oil
jalapeƱo juice
lime juice

Pour 1 Tbsp of oil into frying pans and let them get hot while diners choose their food.

Have all the ingredients set out in bowls or on plates with spoons so diners can heap on their plate or in their bowl what they want. Suggest they start with about half a bowl of rice and/or noodles. Then add the veggies and other foods they would like. Tell them how much meat they can take. 

Show them how to stir fry their food until it is well cooked. Make sure they add more oil if it begins to stick too much.

Have some nuts or other snack for those who can't cook yet to snack on or have them mix up their own beverage by adding lemon-lime soda to fruit drinks.

When the food is cooked, each person can go sit down and eat, others will join them. Have enough food so those who were timid to start with or are extra hungry can go serve themselves some more.

Did you like this idea? I have some more "Home Depot Dinner" ideas where everyone connects with each other, by connecting with the food. Over the next weeks I will offer more of these ideas for fun meals. Be watching!

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Who Said Dinner Has to be at Six?

Today's post is written by guest writer and a friend I've known since she was a teen, Ruth Killins Scott. (I fall in age about midway between her and her parents.)

I remember when my mom announced that from now on, dinner was going to be ready as soon as we got home from school, around 4pm.  I find that interesting, because I can’t really recall what time dinner was before that.  My dad is a pastor/missionary, and part of that job description included church meetings and music practices, Bible studies and home visitations that would require him to be gone around the time dinner “should” happen.  I honestly don’t remember dinner when my dad wasn’t around; but I have countless memories of sitting down for dinner as a family, with my dad, as soon as we got home from school.  I guess that, in and of itself, is significant!   

Ruth and her grown siblings, spouses, children and a friend all visiting home.

The six of us (I am the oldest of four children) sat at a round table, which my mother has always preferred because you can see everyone face to face.  A round table also allows for there to always be room for guests and friends to pull up a chair or stool and join us, regardless of how snug we all fit!   

Conversations consisted of what happened in school that day or the funny lines from a movie we had just watched.  Sometimes there were tears, and a palpable tension surrounding the table due to disagreements or disobedience.  Other days were filled with laughter and energy that brought us closer together.  Schedules were made for the activities coming up, and instructions given about the responsibilities we had.  At our dinner table, we could be interviewed about our plans for the future, or given advice about the decisions we were making.  It was a place where our personalities developed and opinions were expressed.  

This is also the time when I remember that we started having devotions together as a family.  My dad or any of us kids would take turns reading a page in a Christian devotional.  Then there were questions we answered about the passage of scripture or story we just read.  The dinner table was also a place where we learned to pray; not only thanking God for our food before we ate, but also praying for each other after our meal and devotional time was over.  

It is interesting to remember this time in my life, because now that I have a husband and two little girls of my own, I find that our schedule leans towards us having dinner around 4pm as well!  My husband works from 6am-2:30pm, so an early dinner coincides with his schedule because he is also going to bed early in order to get up to go to work at 4:30am.   This also facilitates the girl’s bedtime routine, as they have time for homework and playing before going to bed between 7 and 8pm.  I could also mention that eating earlier allows more time to digest your food, and there are numerous health benefits associated with not going to bed on a full stomach!  

But regardless of what time your dinner happens; it is worth carving out a piece of the day to sit and eat, listen and feel, talk and pray, build traditions and bond with the ones you love.    

Ruth pursues friendships, and loves taking pictures of her family and friends. She feels land-locked in Georgia after living in Florida for years. She dreams of visiting Greece one day.

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