Thursday, February 27, 2014

10 Habits of Families that Eat Together

"How do you do it?"

How do families that eat together often, maybe every night, manage it? In our society it seems like that's an impossibility. Everyone has a busy schedule, including the kids, so what makes family mealtimes happen?

Here are 10 habits of families that eat together often:
  1. Start Right Away -- From day one of becoming a family they sit down together to eat. This means before the first child comes along, the couple eats meals together. As soon as possible baby is included at the table, even if he's not eating. My grandchildren have learned to hold hands and pray just by being included from long before they had any idea of what was being done.
  2. Expect It -- Develop an attitude of this is the way it will be. Not eating together should be the exception. Expectations go a long way in developing habits, so be on the same page about them!
  3. Everyone Helps -- Teaching our kids to shop, cook, and clean up are life skills entrusted to us. But getting them to help isn't just about them knowing how or me getting the table set; it's a great way to get to know each other. You know, it's easier to talk to someone about sensitive topics if you don't have to look them in the eye!
  4. Keep Meals Simple -- My mother-in-law thinks every meal needs a meat, potato, vegetable, salad, bread, dessert, and coffee. Of course, those are great meals, but sometimes we have stir-fry and rice. Oh, and I let them drink water.
  5. Block Interruptions -- There are BIG interruptions, like everyone having a different sport, practice, lesson, or appointment to get to. And there are little interruptions like television, phones, doorbells, and texts. The family that eats together blocks out as many of these as possible. Schedule things early enough to eat together. Power down, put away, don't answer. And, gasp, say "no" to some activities so you can say "yes!" to family dinner. 
  6. A Few Simple Rules -- Dinner time is not time for Mom or Dad to turn into The Enforcer, but you need some basic rules to make a meal enjoyable. How about: Don't do things that make other people uncomfortable or upset.
  7. Parents Set the Example -- Mom and Dad have to obey the rules too: no answering the phone, say please and thank you, be all there. 
  8. Keep it Light -- Humor defuses. I can remember one of my teen's mood temperature rapidly rising as they searched frantically for their shoes. For once I didn't spike a temp, too, and philosophized, "One of the great questions of life is, 'Where do our things wander off to when we aren't looking?'" Temper successfully disabled.
  9. Be Flexible -- Some days the family meal won't be on time. Some days there will  be interruptions. Some days the food will burn, or still be raw. Some days you'll have to take the phone call. Some days the appointment is unavoidable. Some days you won't all be there. The family that often eats together knows this and keeps expecting family mealtimes on most days. 
  10. Know Every Day Won't be Like the Cleavers -- Do you even know the Cleavers? I was stunned to find out many of my kids' friends don't. I guess that dates me. The Cleavers are the family on the 50's TV program, Leave it to Beaver. They always sat down to dinner in the dining room, with a tablecloth, dad in a tie, a delicious meal, and kind conversation where the kids respected and learned from their parents. Yup, won't happen every day in any home. Might not even happen most days. But you keep trying.
I am already thinking of more habits of families that eat together often. Maybe that will be a future post. But tell me, what habit helps your family sit down together for a meal?

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Meals as Ministry: Around THEIR Table

I spent most of the past three weeks at my parent's house taking care of my mom after her hip replacement. While I was there I, the chairman of our church's "Meals on Wheels" program, learned a lot about ministering to people through the ministry we received!

How can you help someone who is sick, has a sick or hospitalized family member, has had surgery, a new baby, or a death in the family? It's not that hard. Here are ten greatly appreciated help ideas:

  1. Bring a meal -- The first few days I was there, starting the day before surgery, we had people bring us meals for 5 days. I had thought that wouldn't be a necessary, but going to and from the hospital (an hour away), getting Mom settled at home, picking up prescriptions, etc. took all my time! I was so glad to not have to think about making meals, too!
  2. Use disposable dishes -- Some people brought the meals in disposable containers--foil pans, old whipped topping containers, (or those ones that are cheap and called disposable, but we still wash out and use again!) That was wonderful. There was enough to do without thinking about getting pots and pans back to their owners. 

    Chicken and Rice Casserole in disposable pan
  3. Stay and eat with them -- Now that I'm gone, Mom is lonely. (Dad's quiet personality combined with memory loss doesn't make him much of a conversationalist these days.) So some of the people who are bringing a few meals now are staying to eat with them. That makes the meal so much more enjoyable! And they can... 
  4. Do some light chores -- whether it's load the dishwasher, change a light bulb, or sweep the back patio, this is such a big help. Of course while I was there I could do that, but now that I'm gone, there are a lot of little things that they can't do and a sincere and insistent offer of help is such a, well, help!
  5. Call -- Someone just taking five minutes to say, "Hi, I was thinking of you and wondering how you are," brightens a day, chases away loneliness, and is an extra protection for their safety and health. My children talk about how "cool" my mom is, because Grandma can text or Facebook, too! If you have time you could...
  6. Offer a ride -- to a doctor's appointment or just an outing. Or you could offer to...
  7. Run an errand -- do they have enough milk and bananas? need a prescription picked up? I'm so grateful that a dear sister in the Lord is taking care of this for my mom, now, but it reminds me to make the offer to others.
  8. Visit -- If you have the time to visit for half an hour, that's another great ministry. Someone different to talk to is like a change of scenery. Just remember to do number 5 first and maybe offer to do number 4 while you are there.
  9. Send a card -- At least one card arrived almost every single day I was with my mother. Some had funny comics, one had "drawings" by her great grandchildren (my 2 1/2 and 1 year old grandchildren), all had good wishes and promises of prayer. What fun to get "real mail" when you are stuck at home!
  10. Pray -- It's not the least we can do. It's the most we can do!

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Home Depot Meal (Fix Your Own): Stuffed Potato Episode

I love having people into my home for a meal.

I love it when I can succeed in having them enjoy the home I've tried to make, feel the sanctuary from the world that I work at creating, and become comfortable enough around my table to let me begin to get to know them.

I search for ways to bring together the joy of eating and the joy of being together. One way is to have what I call a  "Home Depot" meal, a meal where my guests are involved with the food in more ways than just eating it--they fix their own. 

During Christmas break, my younger son's in-laws (all of them!) were in town and we wanted a fun evening together with the whole crowd. I thought and thought about what I should serve and finally settled on having a baked potato bar.

I searched my refrigerator and cupboards for potato "toppings"  that I could sauté, slice, chop, or scoop into bowls to later be heaped onto baked potatoes. Everything was out on the counter that can be reached from three sides in a variety of bowls and we went up in small groups with our plates to fill, pile, and heap!

It turned out to be such a fun evening of talking while making mounds of our potatoes and talking while eating. Reminiscing about going to Wendy's Baked Potato bar (that dates us!) and one topic just leading to another. 

If you've been reading me long, you know that any thing that makes you linger longer at the table is something I'm in favor of--okay, for all you English majors--something of which I'm in favor. (Who made that preposition rule?)

Another thing I want to do is break the ice and start conversations. And there's just something about starting a meal by doing more than passing the food, that gets people talking. Of course, being family, we had no trouble there and all would have had plenty to talk about anyway, but it just made the meal that much more fun!

Potato Topper Ideas (I'm sure you can come up with more ideas)

  • butter
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • black beans
  • chili
  • taco meat
  • sliced olives
  • grated cheeses
  • salsa
  • chopped onions
  • sliced green onions
  • slightly steamed broccoli
  • chopped sweet peppers
  • chopped jalapeño peppers
  • sour cream
  • parmesan cheese

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Valentine Filled Party for All!

I love a celebration!

I'm not quite sure how I got started on my Valentine's celebrations, but love is always a good thing to express in tangible ways, so I wanted my kids to learn that. I also wanted to show love to people who might not have a "significant other" to give them romantic love, but they need to feel love, too.

In our house, we had a Valentine's mailbox. These were works of art by the combined efforts of my four children. We made them on or near February 1. And we made them BIG! Every year I'd think, "We don't need a box this big," but every year by Valentines we had cards spilling out and piled up beside the box!

What the box needs is to look Valentinsy--red, pink, purple, white, lace, hearts, glitter.

And it needs a mail slot in the top or side.

After the mailbox was made, I set up a "Valentine's Central" on a corner table in the kitchen. I left supplies of construction paper, wrapping paper, glitter, lace, glue, tape, markers and crayons. This was where anyone who had a minute or two would come and make a Valentine for someone else and "mail" it in the mailbox.

I told my children to think of something they love, appreciate, or admire about the person they are making the card for and to tell them in the card. This could be a challenge when it's a brother or sister!

Since I wanted everyone to receive a Valentine from everyone, I made little charts for each child to check off when they had made a Valentine for someone. But...organization was never high on the list of characteristics of the Fleming children, much to my husband's dismay. (Yes, they get this from their mother.) However, in fairness, I'm happy to say that as they've grown older they have developed this quality...I digress.

Then we decided to include their unmarried teachers from the school for missionary kids that my children attended in Bogota, Colombia. So I sent invitations for a Valentine's dinner. The first or second year, I got a phone call from one of the teachers saying I had invited every unmarried teacher except one, could I include her? Of course! And thus the Fleming's Annual Valentine's Party tradition began.

One stipulation was that every guest also had to make a Valentine for everyone who would be present. It took some doing to get a firm list of who was coming in time for everyone to create their Valentines. 

Our guests were  the best sports. Some of the Valentines they brought were:

  • A poem written especially for each person
  • A coveted peanut butter cup (not available in Colombia these had to be imported!) for each one
  • Drawings
  • Paintings
  • Each person's favorite kind of candy (this took serious research!)
  • An origami swan for each one
  • A personal note to each person

We very seldom had cheesy kids Valentines. When everyone arrived, they "mailed" their Valentines in the box.

After a meal of as many red or heart shaped things I could think of and before a dessert of something gooey and chocolate, we played "Valentine's Games".

Some of our ideas:

  1. Starting with one person, they had to sing the line of a song that has the word "love" in it (everyone joins in if they can). Then the next person had to come up with a different song. And the third person still a different song, going around until someone couldn't think of one. There are two ways to continue here--just jump over that person, or have them be "out" and keep going until there's only one person left.
  2. Have everyone tell their favorite Bible verse that has the word "love" in it.
  3. Get some to share about their first crush way back when.
  4. Have a few tell about a time someone made them feel truly loved.

Then we read a version of St. Valentine's story. There are many and I'm not sure which one is true, but they all have reason provoke thought on true love. I googled this just now and found this one and also this one to get you started.

Finally, came the moment everyone had been waiting for: 
The Opening Of The Valentine's Mailbox!

My kids delighted in passing out the Valentines. At first people seemed pleasantly surprised that they got a Valentine or two. But as the pile grew, we often heard them say, 

  • "I haven't gotten a Valentine since grade school"
  • "Oh, thank you! That's so kind of you to say that!"
  • "This is the best Valentine's I've ever had!"

Remember, if we had 15 people, each one got 14 Valentines!

Then came the gooey chocolate dessert--what is it that makes chocolate feel like LOVE?

Everyone, even the "macho" male teachers, took all their Valentines home. One of the teachers would take the box back to her classroom for the whole class to get in on the love.

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