Thursday, November 26, 2015

It Happens Every November

Just as sure as the leaves change color and fall off the trees.

And then it is all undone in December.

Facebook friends begin using #30daysofthanksgiving hashtags and talk about a Thanksgiving Challenge. At churches and in homes paper turkeys and trees boast of all the things for which we are thankful.

But in December we begin to make lists--mental, written, or on Amazon--of the things we want. 

Does that strike you as incongruous? 

I did it with my kids every year, but a couple of years ago I was asked to speak to some college girls on "contentment" and it gave me a whole new perspective on thankfulness.

The world thinks we'll be content if we have a little bit more. 
Or if we learn to want a little bit less.

Is that what the Bible teaches?

Or how about:

In other words: God is enough.

How can we teach our children this? I am not sure I succeeded with being the one who taught this to my children. I'm not sure I have come to truly believe this in my own life. But I'm working on it.

I'll give you a few of my ideas of how we can teach this to our children, but I would love to hear from you and know how you are working on this. Please let me know.

  1. Be an example. Are you someone who is always talking about wanting the newest, the better, the improved? Or do you exhibit contentment? What do you talk about?
  2. Talk about contentment. If you look online you will find all kinds of quotes about contentment. Read one to your kids each night at dinner and ask if they think it's true. Is this is a clever statement or the path to contentment?
  3. Read what the Bible says. Look at the verses I have mentioned here and others. What does the Bible say is the basis for a Christian to be content? Ask who they can think of in the Bible that lived contentedly...or didn't.
  4. Look for real life examples. Talk about people who are living life content with having God in their lives. Ask your children, "What would true contentment look like in your life?"
  5. Be thankful. That year I challenged the college girls and myself to not just list things they are thankful for, but start their thanksgivings with "I'm thankful for God's presence in my life because..."
Leave me a comment and let me know your ideas for living and teaching true contentment.

P.S. I took these photos a couple of years ago while on a "leaf crunching" walk with my youngest daughter when she was a college sophomore. Today she is a senior getting ready to move overseas for her internship and then her first full time job!

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Get Along at Get Togethers

Who will be at your Thanksgiving table? 
  • Great Aunt Evelyn who never stops talking and generally about topics no one is interested in
  • Crotchety Uncle Harry who has made an art of finding something to grumble about
  • Your twin cousins who at 34 give new meaning to the term sibling rivalry
  • Three darling nieces and nephews who cry, spill their milk, and scatter food all over the table and on anyone within reach
  • Grandpa who  has adamant political views that are the polar opposite of his lawyer daughter
  • Your gossipy sister who tries to "figure out" the evil in everyone's life
  • Your husband who will see if he can hide in the study watching football most of the day
  • Your son who loves to play board games and your daughter who absolutely refuses to
  • Your sister-in-law who insists she is allergic to everything on the table and tries to make it a pity party for her when you know she's just on a continual diet

Sounds like a great setting for a holiday comedy movie...or a murder mystery!

I hope that even if you have one person who in your family who comes close to these descriptions, it's only one and not a table full. But every family has it's foibles and people who struggle to get along with each other. While none of the above are people I know personally, our holidays include four generations spanning from 9 months to 89 years old! You can bet we don't all want to do, talk about, play, or eat the same things.

In the years since we've been back in the states and been able to have our holidays with family (after 24 years in South America) we've learned a few things to help make the holiday fun for everyone. And some of my happiest times are when all my kids are in my house enjoying being together!

Be Flexible--easier said than done for some. My husband and I are consummate planners but the younger generation not so much. So we set up a schedule but if it doesn't happen, we try to let it go. The main thing is that we all have a great time together. If that happens when the kids oversleep their nap (or the adults!) and we don't get to take that family photo. Oh well. (At least that's the attitude we aim for.)

Something for Everyone--When we first started hosting holidays, I had tons of ideas for things we should do, places we should go, people we should visit. But as I became mother-in-law I did not want to be that mother-in-law so one time I planned nothing and asked them to plan. One daughter told me, "But you are mom. You're the one with the plans and ideas!" So now I try to get ideas from everyone about what they would like to do and then we put them in the schedule. Everyone gets at least something they enjoy and that makes them happier about joining what isn't their preference. That said, no one has to do everything. Prefer not to play games? Then sit and visit, read, nap, play with the littles.

He who eats, works--For the main meal, like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, I ask everyone to pitch in. They get to choose what they want to make/bring. That makes the main meal so much easier. Then during the weekend or week that everyone's around, we all help as much as we can. Sometimes that means I get to read a book to a grandchild while others do the dishes. Sometimes I'm prepping food while someone else takes a nap. Sometimes I ask for volunteers to take on even more house cleaning. It's only fair.

Conversation "steerers"--I'm known for my conversations starters and we will be using some this Thanksgiving, but we also plan ways of steering the conversation away from touchy subjects that don't edify. My husband and I have done this for years, just trying to change the subject, look for the good in someone or something that is being criticized, or look for a new activity to join in. It's fun to see our grown kids pick up on this and toss in their own "steerers" when someone (yes, even me) starts heading the wrong way in a conversation.

A, B, C--When you are stuck together and you've used up all your ideas to keep things happy and positive, use the alphabet. When you are sitting around tell everyone that you are going to do the Alphabet Thankfuls. The first person says something they are thankful for that starts with "A", the second something that starts with "B", and so on. For added fun, make it a memory game where you have to repeat everything everyone else said before you say yours. 

And finally, always remember to count...

2, 3, 4--Philippians, that is. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." 

I hope your Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and all your holidays will be filled with love, laughter, and good memories!

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thanksgiving Conversation Starters

What do you do at Thanksgiving to remind yourselves what you are thankful for? We have done a variety of things to help our kids learn thankfulness at this time of year and to remind our family and guests about the true meaning of Thanksgiving. But going around the table to say one or even two things you are thankful for might make you miss out on some of the things that happened in the past year that you do want to be thankful for. 

That's where specific questions come in. If you have specific questions to ask people, that will open up memories that they might not have thought of otherwise. And as one person begins to share their answer, others around the table will have their memories jarred as well.

It also helps keep the conversation upbeat. After the food has made its way around the table or everyone has gone through the buffet line, ask someone (preferably someone who has been a bit forewarned) to read their question and answer it. Tell everyone that the "rules" are 1) no one can make fun of anyone's answer and 2) everyone who wants to can answer the question. Let the conversation flow. But if it starts to flag or degenerate, pipe up and ask the next person to read and answer their question. 

I've made the questions below available in printable format. If you buy printable business cards such as Avery® Business Cards 28878  (Avery®  Template 8371) they will print just right or print them onto cardstock and the guidelines will show where to cut to get cards of uniform size.

You might want to turn them over and print your guests names on the back to use as name cards.

Here is the link to the printable format.

Here are the thanksgiving questions:
What teacher are you thankful for this year?

What unexpected event came into your life this year that you are thankful for?

Tell about a Bible verse you are thankful for this year.

What are you most thankful for about your family?

What memory did you make this year that you are most thankful for?

What food on this table are you most thankful for?

I'm thankful for my job because __________________.

One thing I am thankful about my parents is __________________.

What place have you been able to visit this year that you are thankful you got to go to?

What event that made the news are you thankful for?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cook Something Bold and Pungent

The first time my husband and I visited India we stayed with an Indian family who, although we didn't know it, had never hosted Americans before and were quite nervous about having us in their home. 

We were a little nervous too. We got on a plane in Chicago and 15 jet-lagged hours later disembarked in New Delhi. While we were waiting to our luggage, I saw a familiar sign and told my husband I needed to use the bathroom and would be right back. I walked in and then into a stall where I was greeted by two foot rests and a hole in the ground. (I have since learned that this is fondly referred to as a "squatty potty".)  I suddenly didn't have the urge any more. I turned around and watched a large cockroach stroll across the counter where the sinks were. Where have I come to? I thought as I rushed to rejoin my husband.

Our suitcases arrived (since it was a non-stop flight they should have, but if you travel with me I recommend bringing pjs, medicines, and a change of clothes in your carry-on because I regularly have suitcase no-shows) and we headed out the door to meet our hosts. 

Have you ever watched a movie where the camera walks through a crowd of gaunt, staring people dressed in turbans and salwar kamises? That was pretty much what it was like as we stepped out to the throng waiting for arriving passengers. 

They were behind a rope and we gazed at them hoping for a sign that read "Fleming". The crowd looked back at us without one smile. So we stood in the center of the roped off area feeling rather on display in our American clothes and pale faces as we scanned the crowd for some spark of recognition. After all, they had our photo. Finally we saw the small, hand lettered sign held by a couple in their 50s and we introduced ourselves and followed them out into the fog of India at midnight.

We had a wonderful few days with them before going on to visit other Emmaus Bible Course workers in other parts of the country. The thing that amazed me was the intensity of the faith of these people. We prayed when we arrived, when someone else arrived, when we were going to eat, when we finished eating, when someone was leaving, when we went to bed. Being a Christian is not easy in many parts of India and they recognize their dependence on God.

On the day we were to leave, the wife confessed to me their fears about hosting us. Then she said they had asked a friend who often has American visitors what they should do. His advice? "Leave the chilies out of the food." So, she told me, that's what they did...left the chilies out!

Wow! I had loved the curry dishes we had eaten with them, but my goodness gracious, they were hot! I mean hot and spicy! I was so glad they hadn't put the chilies in!

But we do love Indian food and Thai and many other bold flavors. For our anniversary in Colombia we always went back to an Indian restaurant we loved. I have brought spices back from India and have been learning to cook somewhat authentic Indian dishes. 

What does this have to do with family mealtimes? Well, November 8 is "Cook Something Bold and Pungent" day. So I thought you might want to celebrate with a simple recipe from the Tamil Indians who live in Durban, South Africa where my husband was born and grew up. 

Oh, but you might want to leave out the chilies!

Curried Meat
Fry 1 or 2 sliced onions in 2-3 Tbsp oil until golden.
Add 1 Tbsp your favorite curry. (Be sure there's enough oil so the onions don't stick.)
Add 1 pound cubed meat (beef, lamb, or chicken).
Stir to coat with curry.
Add a few peppercorns, 4 or 5 whole cloves, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp. ginger, 1 tsp. minced garlic, and 1 cup water. 
Cover and let it cook 30 minutes, stirring frequently and adding water as needed (you want there to be a sauce when you are done.)
Add 2-3 large cubed potatoes, 2-3 sliced medium carrots, and 1 cup inch-long green bean lengths.
Continue cooking until vegetables are done.
Remove bay leaves.
Serve over rice.

Have several (or all) of these condiments available to eat with the curried meat:
salted peanuts
shredded coconut
chopped canned pineapple
sliced banana
plain yogurt
diced tomato and onion mixed together

P.S. There aren't any chilies in this recipe.

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