Thursday, July 31, 2014

Confession Time

"How are you today?" asked the clerk at Aldi's. Yes, she put the emphasis on "today."

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This was the fourth time last week that I was in the store buying groceries. I often go in twice: once on Tuesday to get any fruit that was on sale till that day and then Wednesday or Thursday to pick up the regular groceries and the new sale fruit.

But four times?

Worst part was, that wasn't the last time I was in the store that week!

You say: Wait, Sharon. Aren't you Miss-plan-the-menu-ahead-and-go-to-the-store-once?

Yes...most of the time...well, some of the a matter of fact...that's the ideal.

I could tell you all my excuses (and there were some), but the point is, it happens to all of us. (Unless you are my mother-in-law, who has never made an emergency trip to the grocery store in her life, but we won't talk about that.)

So I want you to know that if you feel like you couldn't always be as organized as I describe, neither can I!

Just because you didn't manage to get dinner on the table several nights this week is no reason to give up on family meals. 
* Sandwiches eaten together are family meals. 
* So are fast food burgers brought to your back patio.
* Pancakes, and even cereal, are a family meal. 
The important thing is to spend the time together.

With practice, you learn to get it together more and more and putting a meal idea together gets easier. And you can do it!  

(At least most of the time!)

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For more of my thoughts on this see: 

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

18 Sides to a Meal

You would have thought I was studying for a cooking final.

I had cookbooks spread out on the kitchen table. My recipe file was open. Pinterest was up on the computer screen. And the recipes I've torn out of magazines over the years "to try" had been well perused. 

All I was doing was trying to come up with 10 days worth of meals, side dishes and all, so I could prepare for the visit of my son and his family. The idea was to have a healthy variety and lots of color at every meal.

Two hours later I was finally done. Whew!

If you are like me and frozen peas and corn steamed in the microwave just won't cut it, you might be searching for healthy side dishes, too. To help you, I have put together a collection of 18 veggie sides with links to recipes so you don't have to pull out every cookbook you own to find something to serve with your meatballs!

The nice thing about salads is if you don't have the exact ingredients, you can probably substitute for a similar, or totally new, taste!

Carrot Salad - always a winner with young and old. I used to serve this in Colombia and people who never ate vegetables would go for seconds!

Waldorf Salad - when I was dating my husband I was supposed to go to his parents house to get a dinner for guests ready. The note said, "There are fixings for a Waldorf salad in the fridge." I looked in the fridge but I had no idea what I was looking for! (Thank goodness for cookbooks!)

Broccoli Salad - what's not to love, there's bacon involved!

Coleslaw - I just shred the cabbage (or buy it shredded when it's on sale) and toss in some bite-sized apple pieces, raisins, peanuts and use a small container of vanilla or lemon yogurt mixed with 1 tablespoon of oil and 2 of vinegar and stir it all together. So easy.

Harvest Salad - kind of a variation on the Waldorf. 

Tomatoes and Cucumbers - slice thinly and arrange on a plate alternating red and green. Drizzle with lemon juice, italian dressing, or a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.

Green Salad Add-Ins
Start with some artisan or romano lettuce, the dark leaves have more iron and are so much prettier!
  • Tomatoes, cucumbers, and sunflower seeds
  • Peaches and blueberries and sweet pepper slices
  • Mangos and strawberries with spinach leaves
  • Dried cranberries, walnuts, and crumbled feta cheese

Roasted Veggies
I have made many lunches of a large serving of roasted vegetables. I love, love, love them!

Asparagus - I took full advantage of this when it was on sale in the spring
Peppers and Onions - I love it when they begin to turn brown; something magic happens to the taste
Carrots - another winner; they seem to shrink in the oven and everyone loves them, so make a lot!
Sweet Potatoes - can you believe I have family members who don't like sweet potatoes? I love them!
Gingered Honey Carrots - it's so great to have a pop of color on your plate
Tomato Halves - I cut them in half, sprinkle with bread crumbs, shake a bit of garlic salt and pepper on (and maybe oregano or basil), a tiny bit of shredded cheese, and bake them till tender and the cheese is melted. The time depends on your oven temperature where you are cooking other things, probably 7-20 minutes.

Stir-fried Sides
Ever since I started making Walnut Chicken in the 80's, I've been a fan of stir fried vegetables. If you aren't used to them, perhaps the last minute character of them isn't good for having company, but they are quick and delicious.

All these recipes are basically: heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick skillet or wok; add vegetables cut into wedges, chunks, or strips; season with salt and pepper and any other herb that sounds good; stir frequently until they begin to brown. Serve immediately.

Broccoli and Peppers - so colorful, so delicious
Mushrooms and Onions - I pretty much add onions to anything, but I like this one with the onions coarsely chopped instead of big.
Green beans and Almonds - I use frozen most of the time and this works great. Add the almonds when you are almost done to just heat them a bit. I love nuts in my food.

I hope these side dish ideas have given you some help when you are planning menus. Maybe they just trigger your memory of other sides you have used in the past. Tell me about them. I'm always looking for more!

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Did you know that Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

10 {Scriptural} Encouragers for Our Kids

At the grade school my kids attended, they all received an "award" each year in recognition of a positive character quality their teacher saw in them. One of my daughters consistently got either "cheerfulness" or "friendliness". One night at the table, when she was about eight, we were talking about the rewards we would receive in heaven. She let out a big sigh and said in a deep God-like voice, "For you, the reward for friendliness!"

We all burst out laughing!

I thought about those awards recently  when I was reading in 2 Timothy 4:2. Paul tells his spiritual son, Timothy
"Publicly proclaim the Word of God! Be ready all the time. Have it on the tip of your tongue. Use the Word when you need to correct and encourage others." 
(my paraphrase)

I was happy the teachers were pointing out to the children their virtues and strengths, and all the times we and others have encouraged our children with a, "Good job, buddy," but as I read these verses, I thought how much better it would be to actually use scripture to encourage them! Far more effective would be to let them know they are not only exhibiting a positive trait, but obeying God.

Here are some of the ideas I came up with:

  • To your son when he says he will wipe the counters and sweep the floor while you are out and does: "Thank you for letting your yes, mean yes." (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • To the same child who also empties the dishwasher and takes out the trash, "Thank you for going the second mile for me!" (Matthew 5:41)
  • To a child who helps the neighbor rake the leaves and won't take money for it, but tells them they do it because Jesus told them to love their neighbor: "That is the way to let your light shine!" (Matthew 5:16)
  • To your daughter when she invites the least popular person to a special event: "I was so pleased to see you not showing favoritism."  (James 2:1)
  • To the child who plays his little brother's game choice instead of what he would like to do: "I appreciate you treating your brother the way you would like to be treated." (Matthew 7:12)
  • To your daughter when she says, "No" to what everyone else is saying, "Yes" to: "You aren't copying the world, but letting God transform you." (Romans 12:2)
  • To the boy who praises his dad when all the other kids are bashing theirs: "I appreciated how you honored your father in front of your friends." (Ephesians 6:2)
  • To the child who kindly thanks an old lady for the gift of a pair of socks, "I'm sure God was pleased by your thankfulness." (Colossians 3:15)
  • To the teenager who turns the channel during the lewd halftime show saying, "We don't need to watch that!" : "You were such an example of being pure as God is pure." (1 John 3:3)
  • To your son who uses part of his Christmas money to buy a present for a less privileged child. "You have learned that it is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35)

Wouldn't it be great to have Scripture "on the tip of our tongue" like that? We would be teaching our children "when you sit in your house [around the table] and when you walk by the way [carpool] and when you lie down and when you rise up." (Deuteronomy 6:7)

What other ways can you think of to use scripture to encourage our kids?

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Rotating Audio Prayer List

When we were missionaries in Colombia my husband and I tried to take time each day to pray in depth together. We both wanted to get some exercise, too, so we loaded our youngest into a stroller and walked around and around our neighborhood, praying outloud with each other.

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At one point he came down with mononucleosis and couldn't walk with me for about a month, so I did our prayer walks alone--although I prayed silently. Stepping out of our gated community became synonymous with prayer for me and I would often find myself praying as I walked some where before I even realized I was praying. Oh to be like that always!

When we moved back to the states my husband started keeping office hours, so, if the weather cooperated, I could walk the mile to the office with him and then back praying by myself. But I found that whenever I was alone my mind would often wander and I would waste some of that precious time I could have spent in prayer.

That's when I got the idea to make an audio prayer list. Besides, I had that old MP3 player that I didn't use for anything! So I wrote down lists of people, places, and ministries that I wanted to pray for and recorded them in sections of 14 or 16 names. I would say the name and then pray silently for about 30 seconds and then say the next name.

This way when I went for my walk, I would listen. I knew I only had 30 seconds to pray for this topic before the next one would come, so I used those seconds well.

Since we have the privilege of traveling as part of our ministry, I believe I have the responsibility to pray for the places and people we meet along the way. So I have more things to pray for than I could get through in a 30 or even 45 minute walk. I wanted to pray for my family members every day, so I copied that list multiple times and interspersed it with the other lists.

 Now every day I pray for my family first and then two other prayer lists. Because there are many lists now, my prayer list "rotates." I don't always pray for the same people on the same day of the week, but I get through most of the list in a week and pray for my family every day.

This "system" has worked well for me for several years now. I'm always looking for ways to improve my prayer life, so I don't expect to stay with this forever. But perhaps it will help you whether you exercise or not while praying. I have a friend who listens to her prayer list when she drives!

Let me know the best way for you to pray!

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For more of my ideas on prayer, 
click here for 7 qualities to pray for, 
here for ideas on giving thanks vs. being thankful, and here for ways to teach prayer through example.


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Thursday, July 3, 2014

12 Ways to Make your Overnight Guests Feel Welcome

You might call me a Professional House Guest.

My husband and I are involved in ministry with Emmaus Bible Courses (ECS Ministries). We're sort of "missionaries on loan" to ECS. We travel the world inspiring, challenging, and encouraging believers around the world who work with the Emmaus Bible Courses in one of the 120 languages in over 100 countries.

We get to go to a lot of places! We both love to travel, learn about countries, experience different cultures, and, most of all, see people excited about studying the Bible! Whether they use the Emmaus Bible Courses or some other method, we just want people to get into the Word of God.

We don't travel like business people, with a generous expense account and in 5 star hotels. We stay with the people. This is great because we get to sit around their table, to know them, and learn about real life in their part of the world.

So for about three months of the year, on 4 or 5 different trips, we are professional house guests.

We have appreciated everyone who has us stay with them. Some people have very little, but share it generously. Some people we have stayed with are very well to do and give us luxury accommodations. We've slept in kids' bedrooms, master bedrooms, and livingroom floors. One time we stayed with a family in India who built a second floor on their home just so they could house "The Lord's servants." What an example!

For the first time in our lives we have a "guest room" in our own home, simply by virtue of our nest working it's way toward empty. I love it that I can house extra people very easily, but we've also forced the kids out of their rooms, slept on an air mattress in our family room, put a cousin of mine on a couch with make shift curtains for privacy, and put our granddaughter in our closet(!) to make room for people in our house.

Whatever you do, when you are called on to house people overnight, you can make them feel welcome. Here are twelve ways to do that.

1. Privacy -- My dream house would have a private bathroom for each guest room, but since I don't have that, I at least hang curtains over a doorway to the family room if my guests, or I, end up sleeping there. This gives them a place to change clothes without occupying the bathroom.

2. Mirror -- I've stayed in many places where there's no mirror in the bedroom and no outlet in the bathroom. I've pretty much learned to blow dry my hair by "Braille," but I would still like to know I look reasonable when I step out of my room to face my hosts.

3. Towels -- I always put clean towels on the bed in our guest room. If there's a couple staying in there, I give them matching, but distinct colors so they can tell them apart. I also point out the hooks on the back of the bedroom door where they can hang them if they don't want to leave them in the bathroom. This saves my furniture from having wet towels draped over it.

4. Chair -- My husband loves a room with a desk where he can feel organized and sit down to write his reports, figure out accounts, and study for his next sermon (which he usually preaches by the dozen on our trips). A desk usually comes with a chair! But if there isn't a desk, a chair is always nice for ease of putting on socks and shoes and other tasks that are best done sitting. It just makes life easier.

5.  Hangers -- If there is a closet or a small place where clothes can be hung on hangers, that helps so much. Long term living out of a suitcase is difficult and we like to unpack a bit and feel a little less wrinkled. Along with the space, a few hangers are wonderful.

Photo Credit

6. Empty Drawers -- My husband always unpacks as much as he can. At first I thought that put him in danger of leaving things behind, but I've learned it is wonderful if I can slide the suitcase under the bed and just open a well organized drawer to find my things. Now, I just need to keep my guest room drawers from becoming storage bins!

7. Water -- Many of the places we go we can't drink the water and our hosts leave a bottle of water in our room. They soon learn that the Flemings need two or more two liter bottles a day! At our house, the water is potable, but I always offer our guests a glass of water to take to their room at night. It's nice to have something to drink within reach, and maybe take an evening or morning pill with.

8. Morning Schedule -- I stayed with a family once where one member needed the only bathroom from 6 to 7 in the morning. I was glad they told me the night before so I could sneak in before six for just a minute! If someone has to be to work or school, let your guests know, so they aren't making life difficult for you, nor you for them.

9. Soap and Shampoo -- I've left my shampoo in Africa, Asia, North and South America, Europe, and Australia. (See #6) Very often, that's not a problem because at the next place there will be a basket of hotel size shampoo, soap, conditioner, and lotion samples. Whew! I have one in my "guest" bathroom now, too.

10. TP -- One of my callings in life is to change the roll of toilet paper. When my kids were growing up I began to believe that I was the only one in the house who knew how to do that! But it seems that I am doomed to a life of finding the last square on the roll. Sigh. Thankfully, most of my hosts have had an extra roll cleverly hidden under a crocheted "TP hat," or in a cupboard within reach of the...well, within reach. That's where I keep mine. Open a door, you'll find it.

11. Wifi -- One of the first things my husband does at someone's house is walk into the living room holding his iPad and asking if they have wifi and what the password is. Part of his ministry involves staying in touch with those other 99 countries while visiting this one. When I have traveled alone, I've often been too shy to ask, even though, I wanted it to stay in touch with family and not just goof off. If you have wifi, offer the password, maybe on a piece of paper on the desk in your guest room.

12. A Mint -- It is so fun to walk into a guest room and see it all prepared for you! A special touch can be a couple of candies, chocolates, or mints on the pillow. I always mean to do this, but never remember. (And I don't want to have the candy in the house, or I will eat it!)

One last trick I've learned is: spend the night in your guest room. When my husband and I "rented" my parents' master bedroom from them for nine months, they took over my old room. The next day my dad was fixing a cupboard door that had never closed properly during the eight years I'd lived in that room! You never know what you'll learn in your own house!

Your guests will enrich your lives as you spend time with them around your table, and you can make them feel welcome and their stay comfortable.

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Did you know that Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!

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