Thursday, October 29, 2015

What's On My Table?

I love the feeling I get when I see a well dressed table. 

I could be in a furniture store, a friends' home, a restaurant, or my own house. When the runner or tablecloth and centerpiece come together in beauty, style, grace, and a touch of whimsy it brings a smile to my face.

It's true, when my four children were all at home, I did very simple centerpieces most of the time--a flower in a vase, a couple of candles, a bowl of fruit--but I always took time to make sure there was some kind of centerpiece on the table. 

Now that I have more time and less people to play with the centerpiece, I often try to get that look in my own home. A centerpiece is always on the table, even when we aren't eating, even when I'm home alone, even when my grandchildren are visiting.

So what's on my table these day? Autumn!

One of the things I think is fun is to find things around my house to use as part of my centerpiece. I'm not the kind of person you will find with a variety of silk flower arrangements in different hobby store vases. I'm more likely to look through my knick knacks and kitchen to see what I can come up with to decorate my table. So when I saw a photo of a bowl filled with popcorn and a candle in it, I knew that was a centerpiece that was just right for me!

Popcorn is one of my favorite snacks! My wooden fruit bowl from the Bahamas was just right along with my pumpkin spice votive candles, and dollar store silk leaves on a table runner from Africa in the right colors.

I revisited the popcorn theme in a clear cylinder vase from my son's wedding. I put one candle in and put my scarecrows on guard duty beside it for another idea.

I bought a green, rectangle plate when I was in Goodwill with a friend a couple of years ago. When I saw the plate, I knew I wanted to add it to my collection, but I wasn't sure what I would do with it. Normally it lives on our guest bathroom vanity with some seasonal decoration, but I decided to move it into a more public eye on my table.

A few years ago I bought a leaf decorated candle holder that is my old standby for September and October table tops (before the Pilgrims come out). With a lit candle, a few silk autumn leaves scattered around it, on a runner from Ecuador and my table always looks festive.

What's on your table?

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For more ideas on centerpieces click here and here.

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Can't wait to read Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at MealtimesDid you know it is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Three Ways to Stop a Gossip Fest

Recently I was talking with a young woman who was saying she heard lots of sermons against sins like drunkeness, using illegal drugs, and even smoking, but she said, "It seems like gossip hurts a lot more people and is just as bad a sin, but I don't hear people preaching against that.

"In fact, when some of us get together with some non-believers, the gossip is thick! It's a bad testimony to the non-Christians, and I don't know how to stop from hearing it or stop them from gossiping."

It was interesting to me because the Titus 2 Alive! ministry at our local church has been reflecting on the qualities Paul tells Titus that the women should develop and a recent one we talked about "not malicious gossips". One of the questions that came up was, "How do you stop a conversation that has turned into gossip?"

I think some of the conversation starters that I have written for this blog could help; here's how:

1. Have a question ready. You could go through the conversation starter questions that I have written, and choose a couple to memorize before you go to a gathering where you are afraid there might be gossip. They could be simple things like "What's something on your bucket list?" or "What's something you've done to take yourself out of your comfort zone?" When the conversation starts to become gossip--and there's a fine line about telling people news about others and telling news that might make someone look bad--then change the subject with one of these questions. Just throw it out there! 

2. Have a pile of questions. If you plan the get together you get to organize what happens. Then you can have a pile or basket full of these conversation starting questions on cards or pieces of paper, questions like "What current event has intrigued you recently?" or "If you were going to take a survey, what question would you like to ask people?"

Tell everyone that tonight instead of just talking you are going to take turns asking these questions. I find it's best to clue someone in ahead of time who will enjoy this and ask them to go first. Tell them to pick a card and read the question. Then they can answer the question if they want or just tell the others, "I'd like to hear what you have to say." 

This way the conversation gets going on a different level. When conversation runs out on that topic, someone else gets to choose a card and read a question. 

Another way to do this is to pass the basket of questions around and have everyone choose one. This way they have time to think about what they might say in answer to their question and to get excited about it. Be sure to make it known that others can answer a question after it has been read. After all, you want a conversation, not just a Q&A.

3. BYOQ--Have them bring their own questions.  This takes a little bit of explaining ahead of time, but it can be a lot of fun, too. My friend and I call this "Conversation Matters." We have five or six friends over and explain that they should bring a question that they'd like to hear others' opinions on. It can be light hearted like, "What is a job you hope you never have?" or helpful like, "What is an activity you do that you find restorative?" or deeper like "I've been thinking about girls who are trapped in the sex trade, and wondering if there are practical ways I could help them."

Each person gets a chance to ask their question, and they can give a little background information on why they were thinking about this if they want. Then everyone can talk about the question together.

My friends and acquaintances and I have had a lot of fun with all these ideas and it keeps our conversation on a higher level. 

How do you stop a gossip fest?

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For printable conversation starters follow these links:
Conversation Starter Cards 1
Conversation Starter Cards 2
Conversation Starter Cards 3
For 50 more printable conversation cards, click here.
And even 50 more click here.
For trivia question cards, click here.
For end of year conversation starter cards click here.

And for special conversations for married couples click here.
For 44 spiritual conversation starters click here.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

An Evening in Mingouwee

I cut up the green beans while the ground beef was browning after I had sautéed the chopped onions. I kept referring to the simple directions because this meal was so foreign to me. But that was the point, that it be foreign.

We were going to have an Evening in Turkey with our four children and I was preparing a common Turkish meal called Etli Taze Fasulye. My friend who lives in Turkey told me how to say it: et-lee tah-zay fah-zoo-lay. The translation was simple--Green Beans with Meat! 

We would be practicing our limited Turkish vocabulary as well. Very limited. We were only going to work on two words: please, lütfin, and thank you, tesekkür ederim. 

My younger children were busy making Turkish flags out of construction paper to decorate the walls of our eating area and I had put a red tablecloth on the table to coordinate colors. Our oldest son looked up Turkey in the encyclopedia (remember those?) to copy out some facts about it to tell us at dinner. We also searched for information in Operation World.

How could we spend one evening in Turkey? How about if I told you we never even left our home!

Artwork by: Ron Brancato
The idea for this evening was to introduce our children to another culture, another place, and to gain an interest in the world and what God is doing in these places. 

In order to do this, a flurry of emails went back and forth between my friend and I. Explaining what I hoped to do, I asked her for 
     1) A menu and recipe that I could probably recreate where we lived
     2) The words "please" and "thank you" in Turkish
     3) A few simple manner rules for eating meals in Turkey

Even though we had email, the Internet wasn't something we used in those CompuServe dial-up days. Today this would be very easy just using Google, as I did for this article! Here's one version of the recipe I made. But I still wanted a personal touch, so I also asked for
     4) A family photo
     5) A prayer request for each person

The rules were fun:

  • Shoes off in the house; provide slippers at the door
  • Oldest goes first in serving him or herself or being served
  • Don't blow your nose during a meal; if you have to, ask to be excused and go to the bathroom with the door closed to blow.
  • After the meal is over, if you must pick your teeth, use a toothpick and hide it behind your cupped hand
I put little cards at various places on the table with the words "please" and "thank you" and their Turkish translation and pronunciation so we could try using them during the meal. 

At dinner we tried to follow the rules, use the Turkish words for please and thank you, and enjoy a new and different dish. We talked about Turkey and and my friend and family who lived there. After dinner was cleared away, we read the prayer requests for each person and prayed for them. Their family happened to have four children like ours, two boys and two girls, so they each prayed for the one closest to them in age. Then we got out paper and pens and each wrote a short note to each one telling them a little about ourselves and that we had prayed for them.

It worked so well, we did this several times with other countries as well. Then, when I wrote a book with ideas of things to do to get people interested in what God is doing in other places, I included this idea. It can be used for a family, small group, or even a whole church! In the book I called it An Evening in Mingouwee, a fictitious place. I even used that as the title of the book, which is available from ECS Ministries.

Using this idea with your family for a country you are interested in can open up a whole new world to your children!

Tesekkür ederim!

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

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

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Where in the World?

"Where is Kyrgyzstan?" we asked our friend.

She stood up and took a step to the framed NatGeo map we had hanging on the wall above our table and studied Asia for a moment. Then she pointed to a country just south of Russian, also bordering on China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. We all focused on that part of the world for a moment to get our bearings.

As she sat down, we peppered her with more questions. What was it like? Were there lots of people? Was it mountainous? Was it desert? What language did they speak? What was their religion? When she didn't know the answers, together we discovered them by referring again to the map and some of the other information it offered, then later to the Internet for more answers.

When my husband began his world wide ministry with the ECS Bible Courses (thanks to praying 'The Prayer of Jabez' one too many times!), I finally found the perfect birthday gift for him. This map. With it we could find out where the people he was writing to lived and follow his travels from our dinner table.

What I didn't realize was that we would refer to the map nearly every meal. Living in South America at the time, our children already had a larger than normal world view because many of their classmates came from countries other than Colombia (where we were) and the U.S. (where we were from). 

We learned how far apart Austria and Australia are when two teachers each hailed from one of those countries. My younger daughter's best friend moved to the United Arab Emirates. My other daughter's best friend moved to Venezuela. One son had a friend go back to Texas and another classmate was from Sweden. 

Some conversations arose from opportunities to travel with our family as well. I remember when my 5 year old daughter, taking an interest in maps, placed her hand on an island and said, "'B' What country is that?" 

I answered, "That's the Bahamas." 

"Oh, I've been there," she said as she carefully wrote a "B" on her paper. And she had been there. Our family was flown there by a supporting church for a missionary conference. We would never forget the effects of hurricane Floyd or being served all the lobster we wanted!

The news sent us looking at our map as well--where had that earthquake taken place? What city just had another car bomb go off? Which country was having disputed elections? How were the borders in Europe changing again?

I love to read and I really have a hard time understanding people who say they "hate geography." It's all about people and places and how they intertwine.  So I read books like "Peter the Great: His Life and World" and learned so much about Russia, it's history, geography, and climate that I wrote my husband a nine-page single spaced summary of the book before his trip to St. Petersburg! Of course I told my family about it over many dinner times and we stared at the map open mouthed as we realized how far north he would be.

When we moved back to the states, the people who bought our house, asked us to leave the map for them, so one of our first purchases when we got a house was another map for our eating area wall. We've been privileged to have many visitors from all over the world around our table and they are always delighted to point out where they live. 

I could tell you many more stories of our enhanced family dinner times and exotic and stimulating conversations encouraged simply by putting a map on the wall. Am I saying you should have a map above your table? Not necessarily. I'm just saying that having a flat map on our wall has definitely helped us connect more as a family at mealtimes than a flat screen TV ever could!

What kind of chart or poster would get your family talking?

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If you'd like to get a Conversation Starter question each week night, *like* the Around the Table Facebook page! If you have an idea for a great conversation starting question, you can let me know there, too! I'd love to hear your questions and might even use them in the future!

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Week of REAL Menus (and the Recipes)

Even though I'm the "Around the Table Lady" one of the things I struggle with is thinking of what to have for dinner. I try to come up with a week's menu before I go grocery shopping and then include all the ingredients for those meals on my shopping list. But some weeks nothing sounds good. Or I just made that. Or it's all chicken (my favorite meat). Or so-and-so will be here and they can't have sugar or don't eat meat or are gluten free or...

One of the reasons it's hard is because I want to include lots of vegetables in the side dishes, but I don't come up with many creative alternatives so we have lots of salads or broccoli/pepper stir fries (two of my favorite ways to eat veggies because I like to eat real vegetables, not sauces and fats with a few veggies thrown in to make one feel like they are eating vegetables). 

So I thought I'd tell you what our menus for the past week of dinners were, side dishes and all. My hope is that you'll get some ideas from these meals. It would be great if you thought everything I fixed this past week sounded delicious and you wanted to make it all--then your week's menu is ready! But I seldom find a full week menu like that, not even my own old menus. But I hope these meals (and recipe links) will give you a head start on your meal planning this week.

I had to leave at 1:30 to drive 90 miles to pick up my husband returning from two and half weeks in Africa. Usually we have a big family lunch at our house after church on Sunday, so this was unusual, but quick.
Grilled Cheese

Welcome home dinner for my husband!
Pork Roast -- place defrosted 3 pound pork roast in slow cooker; sprinkle beef and onion soup mix over the top; pour in 1/2 cup white wine, a little on top and the rest on the sides. Slow cook on low for 5-6 hours. While slicing meat, add 2 Tbsp cornstarch to liquid, turn to high and whisk till smooth. Cover and cook till thickened.
Roasted Potatoes
Roasted Carrots
Green beans with almonds

Strawberry/Walnut Chicken Salad -- I didn't use blueberries because they are too expensive this time of year and I had walnuts, not pecans on hand, but it was still delicious

Pork Quesadillas -- I chopped the leftover pork from Monday and put it on half of a tortilla, added salsa and cheese, folded them in half and toasted them in frying pans on medium until the cheese was melted.

Antipasto Pasta Salad -- large portions on one dish nights! 
P.S. I like my olives only cut in half, not chopped.

This was the day before my parents were moving out of our house after four months and into theirs, so there were lots of last minute things to do. How great to have dinner in the slow cooker!
Slow-Cooker Asian Meatballs 
Stir fried green beans with almond slices

This was moving day so we spent most of the day at my parents' new house unpacking, but came back to mine to have dinner. The raisin bread was because that's what we had in the house.
Chicken sausage -- they look like brats, and we grilled them
Stir fried broccoli, peppers, and onions
Toasted raisin bread

Happy Dinners!

For another week of REAL menus click here.

Photo Credit: Antipasto Salad
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To never miss an Around the Table blog post, simply sign up in the space on the right side of the blog, below the picture of the book. Each week you will receive one email that looks like this:

It's as easy as that. No searching for the blog, waiting for your browser, or missing a post. Sign up today!

*  *  *  *  *

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

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


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