Thursday, April 27, 2017

Making Your Table an Attractive Meal Zone

Or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (Part 7)

Sandy got the chicken in the oven and had the vegetables cut up and ready to steam. She washed up the dishes she'd used so far and wiped down the counter. She opened a cupboard and pulled out four plates and got four forks and knives out of the silverware drawer. Then she turned around and looked at the kitchen table and let out a deep sigh.

Cookie crumbs, an empty milk glass, and a paper towel "placemat" from her son's after school snack were at one end. Next to that his school books sat in a pile and a few papers had spilled onto the floor. Her daughter's computer was set up at the other end with papers and pens strewn around it. An iPod also decorated the table with its earphones dangling off the edge. The day's mail was in an unopened pile. Hair bands, a key, a deck of cards, and a magazine opened to the article she'd been reading at lunch were the finishing touches. 

Now Sandy had a decision to make: should she clear off the table and set it for dinner or could they just eat standing around the kitchen as had so often happened recently. If she opted for clearing the table, what should she do with all the stuff cluttering it?

Does this sound at all familiar?

I well remember those days when the kids came home, had a snack, and left everything sitting on the table. Our table was in a great spot for a "catch-all" --anything I wanted to take down to the bedrooms or up to the loft of our tiny town house in Bogota got set there, as well as what the kids might set down on their way between the living room and kitchen to get a snack. Even though they had desks, they often used the table for school projects which left scissors, glue and scraps of paper on it. 

While I realize that some tables have to do double or triple duty as homeschool station, sewing table, game table, or craft area, a table that is cleared of clutter and made attractive even between meals says,
  • "This is an important spot." 
  • "This table serves a pleasant and familial function and is not a catch-all for everyone's stuff." 
  • "We care about our family meals and keep a place ready for them."

So how can our tables become a place that attracts our families to meals? Here are some ideas:

  • Keep your table a clutter-free zone as much as possible. One idea is to take all that clutter and place it in a basket. At dinner bring the objects out one at a time and ask, "Whose is this?" No fair putting your own away beforehand! Make it light and fun. Maybe keep score as to who has the most, least, biggest, most valuable, etc. But ask them to put their stuff away after they've used the table so it can be ready for dinner. To help, keep a pretty basket near the table for those things you want to eventually carry to another part of the house rather than "storing" them on the table.
  • Make the table attractive between meals. If you've read my blog for long, you know I'm big on this. My table is in a throughway between our living room and family room, so I consider it a part of our decor and decoration. I want it to look nice and frequently change what I have on it. This also helps make it "meal ready." Some ideas:
    • a favorite runner and a hurricane lamp centerpiece
    • a bowl of fresh fruit
    • a variety of knick knacks collected from around the house
    • silk (or better yet fresh) flowers in a pretty vase

  • Discipline yourself to use the table. If you want your table to become a "meal zone" you will have to work to retrain your family. The more often you sit down together to eat, the more they will get to enjoy it. Standing around the kitchen or sitting around the family room invites people to leave quickly. Sitting at a table encourages them to linger longer.
  • Use placemats or a simple tablecloth. When our kids were little most of our placemats were vinyl. The kids each had their own favorite--Thomas the Train Engine, the Little Mermaid, Winnie the Pooh--and we had photo placemats of places we had visited, too.Click here for a tutorial on making your own personalized placemats. Now we use cloth, but a tablecloth still usually only lasts one meal, while placemats seem to do better.

  • Add candles frequently. Their glow adds to the warm welcome.
  • Play soft ambient music that won't interrupt the conversation or annoy anyone.

  • Be as consistent as possible with the time. If everyone knows dinner is at 6, they can plan their day better. Though I still get many pleading they "didn't know" what time it would be or asking for a time change.
  • Prepare a meal that is pleasing to the senses. Remember to make it look and smell appetizing as well as tasty to bring them running.
I believe that if you work to keep your table a "meal zone" and make mealtime pleasing to all, you will find that your table attracts your family together.

To read more on this check out this post, Looks Inviting, and this one, What's On Your Table?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

There. Is. No. Need. To. Yell.

Or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (part 6)

Has family dinner every sounded like this at your house? It never did at ours, well, not least not every night.

But there were those nights.

How do you keep the atmosphere pleasant at your family mealtime table? Here are some suggestions:

1. Keep your sense of humor.

2. Discuss your atmosphere goals with your husband or wife. If you guys aren't in agreement about this it's not gonna work. We tried to have a signal to say to the other when we were getting worked up about something. One would say to the other, "Elephants" or whatever we chose. I have to admit, however, that this didn't always work. (I will take the 5th amendment on who it was that had trouble cooling down.)

3. Have a talk with the whole family about it. We were never big on formal "family meetings" to discuss issues, but we did have a family meeting of sorts, every night at the dinner table. I can remember asking questions like:

  • What do you look forward to about dinner?
  • Is there anything that makes you cringe when you think about our family mealtimes?
  • What can we, as your parents, change to make it a happier time?
  • What can you do to help make the atmosphere pleasant and inviting?

4. Keep your sense of humor.

5. Have fun family reminders to use, especially if guests are present. The family of one of my good friends signaled each other with the silverware. The fork meant "get to the point." Holding up a knife signaled "cut it off." And the spoon meant, "Feed it to him!" You can use whatever your reminder is to help stop ranting, arguing, gossiping, or complaining. (Not that I think any of that would happen at your table!)

6. Agree to work on this together. Does one person feel never listened to? Another like everyone disagrees with him? Someone else feels hurried, or slowed? Ask them what would make them feel better. Get each person to offer a compromise they can do and give a commitment to do it.

7. Get a theme verse that you all want to be the working principle for your family mealtimes. Cross-stitch it and hang it on the wall!

8. Oh, and did I mention, have a good sense of humor?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Do You Have Energy to Get Your Family to the Table Tonight?

or Making It Easy to Get to the Table (Part 5)

Do you wish you had more energy?

Most people do.

Life takes energy and in our society the meal we can most often get together for is toward the end of the day after we've used most of that energy on other projects. 

How can we get the stamina to keep going, so we can get a meal on the table and have the pizzaz to have an interesting conversation?

One thing I do is exercise.

Dreaded word, I know. But it's as simple as taking a twenty minute walk.

That's my favorite kind of exercise, especially in spring and fall. I actually go for about thirty minutes. My dream is to have an hour to walk, but I'm not sure when I'll have time for that on a regular basis.

One website that encourages me in this is I can plot a map of where I walked, how much time it took, and other notes. They tell me how many calories I burned! They'll also let me know of progress I'm making, like if I have better time or more activities or longer walks.

It's just fun to have that extra information. And besides, if I ever need an alibi, this should help, right? 

In the winter or on rainy days I do exercise videos. My favorites are the Walk Away the Pounds series by Leslie Sansone.

This is the first one I got and the one I still use the mostThe One and The Two Mile Walks . I try to do the two mile walk mostly, but some days I just run out of time and the one mile walk only takes about nineteen minutes. In it she combines a little bit of weight work.

This is my favorite one! Because she does strength training and aerobic exercise in three-minute intervals, the time seems to go by so quickly. Plus, I can feel the muscles working as I use the weights. I've worked up from tuna can "weights" to five pound weights and sometimes I even use eight pounders.

It seems like an enigma, using energy gives you energy. But I think I'm proof. I am 56 and have low blood sugar, low blood pressure (last count 90/61), asthma, and no thyroid, but I have energy to make dinner every night. 

For insight in what I think about while I'm walking take a look at this post!

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Six Grocery Shopping Solutions!

Or Making It Easy to get to the Table (Part 4)

I stood looking at the freezer section that held orange juice concentrates. There were probably five different brands each of which had three, four, or five variations, and two or three different sizes. Did I want regular, extra pulp, no pulp, calcium added, or no sugar added? How much did I want: six, twelve, or sixteen ounces? And which brand would produce the most orange juice for the least price while not adding sugar?

While I just stood there feeling dazed and staring, an older woman (since I was in my late twenties this could mean someone in their sixties, but my mind remembers a woman in at least her seventies) came and stood by me for a moment. Finally she looked at me and commented, "There are just too many choices, aren't there."

While I nodded in agreement, I thought if you only knew. If you only knew...

I had just arrived in the states after six years in Lima, Peru, where the grocery store had four aisles and most of them had one item--one kind, one brand, fixed government prices. There could be a whole aisle of corn flakes (not recommended as they hadn't perfected that science yet), or a row of dried beans, or a row of grainy chocolate used to make hot chocolate. There might be some chickens (whole with heads and feet stuffed inside), some beef (which required a pressure cooker to get it tender enough to chew), and some eggs (attached feathers free). If you wanted orange juice you bought a kilo or two of juice oranges and strengthened your arms by hand juicing them--full pulp, no sugar, no added calcium.

You'll be happy to know things have improved there since the 80s. I have to admit, though, that I envied those who had such "easy" grocery shopping in the states.

Now I live in the states, and it seems like every time I go to the grocery store there is something new to consider: organic? roasted? fresh? in water or olive oil? with extra vitamin C? omega-3 enriched? low fat? low carb? splenda or stevia sweetened?

When I think I know exactly what I like, the company changes their packaging or the store rearranges their merchandise. It's all designed to keep me in the store longer and spend more money. If the grocery store takes too much time or is too frustrating, we're not going to buy the food we need to have at home to make a family meal and that together time goes out the window in favor of everyone grabbing their own, fast food in the car, or eating too many calories and spending too much money eating out, just to eat.

So I have six simple suggestions to make your grocery shopping easier. This isn't how to have the lowest bill possible, there are plenty of others who can tell you how to do that. This is making it easy so you can spend your time getting your family together around your table.

  1. Have at least twelve different meals your family enjoys and you find easy to make. This is your go to list when you are deciding what you need to buy. Choose five of these, one new, or different recipe, and plan for leftover/dinner out/potluck at church/snack supper for the other meal. Go through each recipe and check your cupboard to figure out what you need to buy.
  2. Make a grocery list. Never shop without a list. You just forget too many things. (Never mind that I am capable of forgetting things that are on my list in my hand!)
  3. Know your store. While stores will change their products around from time to time, the same types of food stuffs generally stay near each other. Organize your list in the order you go around the store. I shop mostly at Aldi's so it's easy to zip through there with my ordered list.Extra credit: print out a list of the things you often buy in the order you find them in your store. Then you only need to circle what you need.
  4. Know your likes. If you cannot stand the store brand of ketchup, then just know you are going to buy Brand X and don't worry about price comparison. If the store brand is usually the cheapest and you like it, don't stand there trying to calculate which one is one cent less per ounce than the other. Learn if you like your orange juice with extra pulp or not and grab what you like.
    This darling little shopper is the son of friends of ours.
  5. Don't shop when you are hungry or have to go to the bathroom. Take care of those needs or  your brain will stop functioning and you'll be backtracking all over the store and forget to buy the coffee, without which you will die.
  6. Talk to someone while standing in line. Yup, your line is always the slowest, so enjoy it. Make an upbeat comment to someone else in line, even if it's about the weather. The other day a lady told me that she used to eat those chocolate-covered gooey-inside cookies with her dad, now long passed, and it was all she could do to not buy a box and eat the whole thing. Today the man in front of me had placed a strong empty box inside his cloth grocery bag, when I said, "What a good idea!" He told me it holds the bag open for him making it easy to pack the groceries. Both times, I was through the line before I knew it and on my way home to put the food away, ready to make another family meal.

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