Tuesday, November 21, 2017

10 Questions to Find Out What You are Really Thankful For

I'm repeating this post from last year because it has good questions to talk about around your Thanksgiving table. Many people are grateful for these questions! 

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 8371they 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!

For more unique ideas to prepare for the holidays, click here for a Thanksgiving Challenge and here for a real life illustration of how much we have and here for the things I did right for our family gatherings last year.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

15 Things I Did Right for the Holidays Last Year

Last year we had a wonderful Christmas. I had ten days of all my kids and grandkids in town. Bliss! But there were six kids under six, three of them were under one, and anywhere from five to twenty-one people at a meal. So here's what I did right that made it a wonderful time. (I will spare you all I did wrong!)

Overshop -- When I was in the store and I thought of something, like TP, I bought extra. Butter was on sale for 60c less than normal a pound and since the store was around the corner I eventually got 10 pounds of butter, even though there was a 2 pound limit per checkout.

Easy Entertaining -- I learned from a friend who is 25 years younger than me: To have an easy party have everyone bring a plate or two of appetizers. We had one get together like this and everyone had food they liked and no one had to work too hard, especially not me.

Delegate (verb) -- Get everyone to help. They may look like they are busy on their computer or phone, but if you ask nicely they will set the table, unload the dishwasher, or make a salad. It might not be done exactly the way you would do it, but, hey! If the dishes get into the dishwasher dirty and then into the cupboard clean because someone else did it, I can spend a few more precious minutes with my grandchildren!

Menus, menus, menus -- making menus for 3 meals a day for 10 days for anywhere from  9 - 21 people and making a comprehensive grocery list is a job of about 2 hours for me, but it is two hours well spent. I checked every recipe, the fridge, freezer, and pantry and bought everything I could in one enormous, expensive shopping trip. But everyday I could just look at my list and know what I was going to make and that I had everything to make it. 

Lists, lists, lists -- I also noted what fresh things might need to be bought for each day and could send someone to the store early in the day while everyone was still organizing themselves. Two caveats: this did not mean that everything went according to plan--some days got rearranged, but it's easier to rearrange than come up with an idea, and this did definitely not mean I remembered everything
There were also lists of favorite foods, special activities, times of events, photos I wanted--basically everything so my brain had a holiday, too.

Cook ahead -- two pans of enchiladas made ahead of time and in the freezer, meant dinner for one day only needed to be defrosted and heated. That means I could spend the afternoon out doing something even more fun than cooking.

Change the venue -- I like having the holidays at my house, but just having arrived back from a ministry trip India we asked my mom if she could host Thanksgiving Dinner and we would do most of the work. Then we did Christmas at our house.

Include everyone -- we invited the whole family. Some in-town, extended family, had their own plans or couldn't come to the activities we invited them to, but they knew they were loved and wanted.

Don't include everyone -- Our in town family has an age range of 0-91. Sometimes the oldest generation just prefers a quiet evening at home rather than the controlled chaos of a houseful. It's actually a gift to them to not invite them to everything. We chose the main events and ones that would be a bit calmer to include them in. Some activities were grown ups only. Some were kid centered.

Cherish the people -- I spent a day cleaning before everyone came, but after that I didn't fuss, just worked a little at keeping the clutter under control, after all this was the year we had three new grandbabies and there was lots of baby paraphernalia around the house. But next year they wouldn't be babies, so lets cuddle them this year!

Take time out -- the "girls" all went out for coffee one day, an hour and a half of blissful conversation. The coffee shop had conversation questions on the table--and you know I love conversation questions! Those got us started, but we had plenty to talk about on our own. And we enjoyed it so much that we encouraged the guys to go out another day. They took a board game with them and had a fun time together.

Be Progressive -- as in a moving dinner; I grew up living at least 1000 miles from my grandparents and only for four years did I ever live within an hour of any aunts, uncles and cousins. When we got married we moved to South America for 24 years, so this is the first time to have so many family homes in one town since our son married five years ago and lives in town and my parents moved here two years ago. So we did a progressive dinner. The plan was a salad at one home, main course at another, and dessert at a third. But one family got sick so we pared it down to two homes, and given the age of some and the cold weather, that was probably enough.

Activities -- Ask people what they want to do. I'm an idea person, but not everyone likes my ideas and I don't have to move four littles to get it done, so we asked, got some feedback and proceeded to make plans, plans that got changed, rearranged, and cancelled, but that's why we had to ...

Be flexible -- I am not a "go-with-the-flow" kind of person; it's just not the way I'm wired. (See "lists" above.) But when Christmas guests include six children five and under, three of whom don't have a year under their diapers yet, and all their parents, things are not going to go according to anyone's plans! So we don't sweat it.

Enjoy! -- I am never happier than when I have my whole family around. Sometimes I just stood back and watched them all interacting, picking up each other's babies, playing games, and I thanked God.

For more unique ideas to prepare for the holidays, click here for a Thanksgiving Challenge and here for a real life illustration of how much we have.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Preparing for Thanksgiving: We Have So Much

Mother: “Eat your food, there are children starving in Africa.”
Child: “You can send them this food.”

Did your parents ever tell you about the starving children in Africa (or China or North Korea) to get you to eat? Even if you didn’t voice the answer above, maybe you thought it.

But the truth of the matter is 

  • At least 17 million children suffer from severe acute undernutrition around the world: severe acute malnutrition is the direct cause of death for about 1 million children every year.
  • 815 million people--one in nine--still go to bed on an empty stomach each night.

  • We have so much abundance that we have to limit ourselves so that we do not gain weight. We can begin this Thanksgiving season by eating famine portions one night and experiencing what many people in the world experience on a daily basis. 

    A few years back I watched this video in a seminar given by Nate Bramsen and his father Paul Bramsen.

    I talked with Paul and his wife Carol afterward. The food given to these people might be all they had for several days so you can imagine why they were cheering when they saw the vehicles arrive! The boy you see Nate Bramsen pass over his head into the window was from a mother who wanted to make sure at least one of her children received some food. The mother herself was skin and bones.

    I have been hungry, probably because I hadn’t eaten in five or six…hours. There may have been a time in my life when I’ve gone longer without food, but I can’t think of when. In fact, for the last 25 years I’ve had hypoglycemia so I’m supposed to eat a little protein every two to three hours—and I usually make sure I do.

    Probably most of you reading this are like me, and your children also have no idea what it’s like to go to bed hungry even one night, let alone night after night. (Unless you’ve sent them away from the table for some reason, but that’s a different topic.) They might not realize why we should be thankful for every meal we have every day.

    So here’s the idea: Have a famine dinner.

    • Below is a basic recipe for lentils and rice for four people. Make this recipe for dinner one night.
    • Before you eat show them the three minute video and explain to them that these hundreds of children were so excited to get this rice and protein sauce meal—called a “manna pack”—because they had not eaten a meal in days 
    • Then have each one give thanks that they have plenty of food to eat every day.
    • Bring out the lentils and rice and divide among you. Tell them this is something like what these North African children would get, hopefully once a day. In non-famine times, perhaps they would get this twice a day.
    • Do not supplement this meal or serve dessert. 
    • If your children complain that they don't like the food, don't offer other food. One night of not eating will not hurt them. You can decide whether the rest of you should share what they don't want or you can save it for them to eat if they are hungry later.
    • Ask your children how they feel. They may still be hungry. Explain that there are thousands of children in the world who will go to bed hungry tonight and some of them will never wake up. 
    • Now tell them that 99% of the children they saw in the video are Muslims and have never even heard of Jesus. These children need our prayers that they will live long enough to hear the gospel and that they will believe it.
    • Here's why Christians feed starving Muslims: 50% of Muslims who have come to Christ have come because they saw Christians demonstrate God's love.
    • Spend some family time praying for the children of Niger and in many North African countries who don’t know about Jesus. Pray that the gospel will reach them in some way. Pray for the salvation of Muslims everywhere.
    • If your children come to you later and say they are hungry, tell them to use tonight’s hunger as a reminder to pray for the Muslim children who don’t have enough food and who don’t know Jesus. And take a minute to pray with your child right then. Then remind them that when they wake up, they can have breakfast, but those children probably won’t.

    For more information write to:
    Rock International

    North African Famine Recipe (serves four)
    ½ cup lentils
    2 ½ cups water, divided
    1  tsp salt, divided
    ½ cup rice
    1 Tbsp olive oil
    1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
    ½ tsp pepper

    1 large onion, halved and then thinly sliced to form semi-circles
    2 Tbsp olive oil
    1 clove garlic, minced

    Place lentils in large pot in 1 ½ cups water with ½ tsp salt. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 1 hour till tender but intact. When done drain and set aside.

    Meanwhile in another pot heat oil and fry rice over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup water and ½ tsp. salt. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer over low heat 15-20 minutes until water is absorbed and rice is tender. Remove from heat and uncover.

    In a non-stick frying pan prepare seasoning by heating the oil over medium high heat. Add onions and fry until golden. Stir in garlic and cook a minute longer, stirring continuously. Stir in diced tomatoes with liquid and pepper.

    Stir cooked lentils and rice together in large pot. Add seasoning mixture and stir together, cooking over low heat for 10 minutes.  Serve hot.

    For added authenticity, serve into shallow bowls and eat with your hands like the children in the video—but be sure it’s cool enough to touch!

    For printable version of the recipe click here.

    This would work for youth groups, Sunday School classes and even whole church dinners! 

    If you do this, please write to me and let me know how it went. Include photos!

    For more unique ideas to prepare for the holidays, click here for a Thanksgiving Challenge and here for a the things I did right last year for the holidays.

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    Wednesday, November 1, 2017

    Preparing for Thanksgiving: The Challenge

    If you were to ask the average man-on-the-street, "What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving season?" They could probably list several general things they are happy are in their life. But if you followed up with the question, "Who are you thankful to for these things?" What would they say?

    As a Christian I am ultimately thankful to God for every thing in my life. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.  James 1:17 But it's not enough to feel grateful. An "attitude of gratitude" should have the result of saying thank you. We give thanks to God for our meals, but is it a perfunctory motion, or a true act of gratefulness? And when what God has given us has been channeled to us through a person, we should also thank them.

    Ways to thank:

    • Thanksgiving journal -- Get a pretty journal (our just some papers) and put it where you will see it often. Every time you think of something you are thankful for, note it down. Maybe make this a family project, everyone can add to it. Start a new page each day and read the list at dinner together. After reading through your day's list,  pray and give thanks to God for all these things.
    • Write a note to someone -- There are people in your life who do things that make life more enjoyable. Maybe the receptionist always has a smile and bright cheery hello. Perhaps someone noticed when you were down one day and came and talked to you. Does your husband take the trash out without being asked? Did your son put his dirty clothes in the hamper yesterday? Has your daughter taken the time to give you a goodbye hug each morning? Did someone at church organize an activity you enjoyed? Can you imagine how good it would make them feel to receive one note in the mail with a couple of lines thanking them for this?
    • Tell someone -- When someone does something that you are thankful for, be sure to tell them right away. And include a hug, a real hug.
    • Tell someone else -- Brag on the person who was kind or helpful to you. Even if they don't overhear you, "You know, I'm so thankful that Sandy called me when I didn't come to Bible study. Sometimes it's nice to know you are missed."
    • Give a donation -- Perhaps there is an organization or fund that you benefitted from in the past and now you are in a position to help them. What about your Christian college? Send money with a short testimony of thanks. You might not think $25 is much, if that's all you can give, but what if half the alumni or organization members gave that much?
    • Give a small gift -- Is there someone who you are thankful for? Their favorite candy or gum, a cup of coffee from the coffee shop, a homemade cookie, something of yours someone really admired, a photograph of you together or their loved one, organize a Skype call for an older person who doesn't do technology, a pretty candle, a small bottle of hand lotion for their desk would let them know. Check out the dollar store for inexpensive finds that could be funny gifts or helpful ones. Be sure to say or write thank you with it.
    • Spend time with someone -- Time is the most valuable thing you can give to someone. We all have the same amount and it can't be bought back. If there is someone you appreciate, let them know by spending time with them, whether that is grabbing a cup of coffee together, spending an hour with someone who is housebound, or going on a trip together. Don't forget to say thank you to them for the effect they have had on your life.
    • Sing it --Find a hymn each day that expresses your thankfulness to God and sing it to Him, or at least listen to it on YouTube and hum along and use the words as a springboard for thanksgiving and worship to God.
    • Social Media it -- Sure go ahead and post a phrase or picture of what you are grateful for everyday in November. But don't let the post be the end of your thanksgiving. Make sure you have more than an attitude, that you actually thank someone or Someone. If you decide to use social media use the hashtag #aDifferentThanksgiving and #AroundtheTableThanksgiving so we can rejoice with you!

    Always giving thanks for all things
    in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
    to God, even the Father
    Ephesians 5:20

    • Here's one more idea: Based on this verse, set your phone alarm for 5:20pm everyday until Thanksgiving. When it rings, pause and thank God for one of the many blessings He has given you.

    For more ideas on how to spread thanksgiving in your house, click here and for more unique ideas to prepare for the holidays, click here for the things I did right last year and here for a real life illustration of how much we have.

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    Wednesday, October 25, 2017

    By the Grace of God, Not "Me Too"

    When we lived in South America we once hired a Christian man to do some odd jobs in our house. He came during the day when I was at home alone, and though I knew this man, I felt a discomforting atmosphere with him. I quickly let him go about his work and found my way to another room, but I was disquieted. As I thought about it, the only way I could describe it was a "sexual tension". I had no attraction whatsoever to him, but I was uncomfortable. I decided I didn't want to be alone in the house with him.

    Later when I went to talk to my husband I felt extremely awkward. I didn't want to accuse the man of anything--he hadn't done or said anything explicitly suggestive or harassing--and I didn't want my husband to think that I had felt tempted, but I knew I didn't want to be alone with him. As soon as I finally expressed my feelings, to my great relief, my husband said, "Okay, from now on I will be home when he is working here." How can I thank him for understanding and protecting me?

    We later learned that this man had seduced a woman and was carrying on an illicit affair with her. How had I known? Was it subconscious reading of body language? Was the Spirit of God warning me? (I hesitate to think that I could be that in tune with God's spirit, though I would like to be.) All I can say is that by the grace of God I was warned within, was able to voice my fears, and was believed and protected, in my case, by my husband.

    These are things we need to provide for our children: the ability to listen to their own warning system, freedom to tell their fears or the actual abuse against them, belief, and immediate protection.

    When our children were small, we started their sexual education by answering their questions in an age appropriate manner and when they were five or six, reading to each one privately a book called "Susie's Babies" which explains the miracle of birth by telling about a hamster in a classroom. It is not explicit at all, but opened the door to discussing the topic with our children. Then we had the conversation below, and at the dinner table, at least once year. This grows and changes as they are older.

    The Conversation
    Tell your children:

    • If they have any questions about any of this, they can and should ask us and not their friends.
    • If someone wants to talk to them about sex, how babies are created and born, or anything like this, they should tell them that they are learning about this from their parents. (Our children's Christian school sent home information before they ever had these talks in health or science so that we could be the first one to talk to them, tell them that discussion was okay, and we knew that the information they were getting was correct and biblically sound.)
    • If they are ever touched by someone, other than you when washing them or a doctor examining them, in or on their "private" areas (and let them know what these are) they should tell you, no matter what the person says will happen if they tell.
    • If someone ever tells them they want to touch them in those areas or they feel like that is being suggested, they should tell you, no matter what the person says will happen if they tell.
    • If they ever feel unsafe around someone, they should tell you, no matter what the person says will happen if they tell.
    • That if they are ever somewhere where they feel unsafe or that wrong things are being done (including drinking, drugs, or other irresponsible behavior), they can call you at any time of day or night and you will come get them and bring them home.
    • No one should ever require them to be touched or do anything sexual to get better grades, to be on a team, to be advanced in position, get a favor, or to get a job.
    • That you will believe them and take steps to deal with the situation and keep them safe.
    Thankfully, we never had to take steps in this way, but if your child comes to you with this kind of information, you cannot just let it go. Here are the first steps of action to take.

    The Action
    • Believe your child even if you don't want to. You might not want to think that the person they are accusing would do this, but for the sake of your child, you need to take them seriously. Few children make these accusations up.
    • Assure them of your continued love and that they are not at fault for this happening to them; the other person is the one who did wrong.
    • Take steps to make sure they are never in a situation alone with this person again. This might be inconvenient, but your child needs the security of feeling safe. 
    • Seek help from appropriate authorities and counselors.
    • This link to Focus on the Family will help you know what to do in the case of a child being molested by a family member and would be a good place to start getting information for any sexual abuse of your child.
    Children are not the only ones who need this kind of information and support. You need it and your friends need it. 

    In Addition
    We need to keep our children from being harassers. Teach them that each person is valuable because they are made in the image of God and therefore the value of each one comes from the inestimable, incalculable value of God. God has proved their worth by demonstrating "His own love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). We need to teach our children not to objectify others--even if they seem to be making sex objects of themselves--but to see each one as an individual whom God loves and for whom Christ died. Because of this, not only should they not harass others in any way, they should stand up for those they see being harassed.

    It's not a simple subject that can be completely covered in one blog post, but as Christians, parents, and people made in God's image, we must be part of the solution.

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    Wednesday, October 18, 2017

    The Posts with the Mosts -- Celebrating 400 Posts!

    With this post, I have written 400 entries on this blog. I thought this would be a good time to look back at some of the posts with the most.

    Most Views — Just the Two of Us 
    With well over 35,000 views and pinned to more than 5000 Pinterest boards, this post is viral. A couple of years ago I wrote 20 questions for my husband and I to talk  to each other about on our anniversary celebration. We were in the car for 6 hours and we had plenty of time for conversation and many questions brought up more memories of our relationship and how we met and why we fell for each other. At the end of a laughter filled time, we were more in love than ever. If you have been married more than a few years, these questions can help you rekindle that spark you had at the beginning. 
    Runner Up: Ecuador, Martyrdom, and Family Meals (6001 views)

    Most Important — Do You Have a Burden? 
    This category was hard for me to choose. Of course I think many of my posts are important, but when it comes down to it, what is more important than our relationship with God? That’s why I choose this post. 
    Runner Up: Praying for What We Cannot See

    Most Purposeful — Cheated Out of a Last Supper
    Why do I write this blog? The blog statement is "Inspiring Family to Connect at Mealtimes." There are so many things we can learn about around meals: cooking, manners, chores, conversation, hospitality, devotions, love...and probably others. Our family has always eaten meals sitting down at a table when we are together and even though we are empty nesters we have family around our table at least once a week, usually four generations! But when my two middle children married the same year, my oldest lived out of state, and my youngest went on a mission trip, I realized I hadn't gotten that "last supper" with everyone together to reminisce and maybe cry a little. But this post is most purposeful because I realized that 28 years of meals as a family is worth more than one "last time" together.
    Runner Up: No Regrets 

    Most Commented  Dinner for Just Mom and Dad
    I guess that though I major on families eating together, encouraging and defending the idea of some meals for just Mom and Dad touched a lot of people. 
    Runner Up: Half Full? Half Empty? Who Cares All Dirty!

    Most Moving  — Remembering Uncle Pete
    When my husband’s brother died we held a memorial for him in our own home. It was short, but meaningful. Others have told me that it has helped their kids process the loss of a loved one who is far away.
    Runner Up: Teach Them to Pray Like Bert Did

    Most Fun  Which TV Mealtime Mom are You?
    While this may not be the "funniest", this is a fun quiz to do and figure out which of these four TV Mom's your style is closest to when it comes to mealtime. Take the quiz! 
    Runner Up: Groundhog Day

    Most Recipes  The Bright Side of Your Meal
    This post more than 35 ideas for adding health and color to your meals--your side dishes! You can also search for "recipes" in the search bar upper right hand corner for the other recipes I have posted.
    Runner Up: A Week of Real Menus (and Recipes)

    Most Conversation  Beyond Small Talk

    If you like conversation starting questions to keep things on a positive note, to get past small talk, to get to know people (like your kids) better, or just for fun, this post has lots of them!
    Runner Up: Fit This In {A Dinnertime Game}

    Most Decorative What's on My Table?

    If you search in the upper left hand corner "What's on My Table?" you will find several posts with this title. I like to have my table looking nice and I like it to be something out of the ordinary, so I try.
    Runner Up: Making Your Table an Attractive Meal Zone

    Do you have a "most favorite" post of mine that you've read? If so, tell me which one it is. I'd like to know!

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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.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2017

    Fire Safety at Home--A Dinner Conversation

    When I was a little girl a smoke alarm salesman came to our house to give my parents a demonstration of smoke alarms. I was playing in the other room when he lit a match under the alarm and it went off jarringly. I came running to see what was happening!

    I was probably 4 or 5 when this took place, but I remember another thing about his visit. He gave me a "Smokey the Bear". This teddy bear had a hard plastic hat with an elastic band, a badge attached to his chest and his legs were made of denim with furry feet sticking out. He was my teddy bear my whole childhood.

    I don't remember if my parents bought smoke detectors from that salesman or not.

    But I remember years later when we lived in two story houses, after fire safety prevention lessons at school, thinking about how I would get out of my upstairs bedroom in case of a fire.

    When we were married and moved to Peru as missionaries, I remember being concerned because all of the windows that opened in our house had bars over them screwed into the house. No way to get them off. My American safety conscious mind decided I had to to trust God. Thankfully I never had to jump from an upstairs window or try to break a window that didn't have bars so I could get out of my house.

    But a good dinnertime conversation would be about family fire safety. Here are some good conversation starters:

    1. If our house were on fire, and you were in ______ room, tell me two ways you could get out. (Eventually discuss all of the rooms in your house.)

    2. What are some good ways to prevent a house fire?

    3. If a fire starts in a pan because of grease, what is the best way to put it out?

    4. Where would be a good place for all of us to meet outside if there were a fire in our house? 

    5. How do you call the fire department when there is a fire?

    These are just some starter discussions. It would be a good idea, and actually a fun game, to have some practice fire drills at your house. You could buy a whistle or turn on a smoke detector alarm to be the signal. Tell  your family after your discussion on fires that you will have a fire drill that evening and what the signal will be. Get everyone to go about their regular after dinner activities and at the time you decide start the signal. Time yourselves to see how long it takes everyone to get to the meeting place.

    Over the next week or so, have a couple of more drills and see if you can beat your previous times. Then put it on your calendar to do this at least twice a year so everyone remembers what to do and where to go. 

    Below are a couple of websites that have more information and even printouts and games you can use to help your family prevent fires and be prepared in case of one. 

    Keep your family safe!

    Fire Prevention Week Teaching
    Fire Safety as a Family

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    For More Ideas and Inspiration:
    Check out the book Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes

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