Thursday, January 28, 2010

THE Ultimate Dinner-Making Time-Saver

With spring on our doorstep (gardening, yard work, outside house repairs, outside exercise, etc.), I've been thinking more and more about what we ought to be doing while we have a little more time on our hands, to get some good dinner-making habits in place. I'm convinced one of the best favors we can do ourselves in terms of making family dinner hour possible, is to become skilled at once-a-month cooking--THE ultimate dinner-making time-saver!

Once a month cooking (also called once a week cooking or freezer cooking) is an incredible way to save money and time each month.  The concept is very simple - you cook all of your meals for the month in one day. It sounds overwhelming, but if done right, it's easy. The key is planning--your time, your menu, your grocery list. Here is an overview of the 4 basic steps:

Step 1 - Clean out your freezer.  It will fill up quickly with your creations, so you want to have plenty of room.

Step 2- Pick a day. Devote this day to just cooking.  Saturdays work well for many gals.  Choose a day when you will have the least interruptions and least amount of commitments.  

Step 3 - Gather grocery store fliers. Use these to plan your meals around what is on sale. A general rule of thumb is to try not to spend more than $2/lb on meat and poultry. Grocery clubs usually have the best buys because of the bulk packaging, although grocery store chains are getting competitive with them. Bulk buying works when you have a good system for packaging the food. IDEA: You might want to check out the Tilia Foodsaver Vac 550 vacuum sealing system which has a very high Amazon user-rating. Another IDEA: You might want to start this once-a-month adventure with a friend--share the work and share the food and food costs.
Step 4 - Plan your meals. Consider some sort of posting system: a magnetic dry erase calendar for the fridge, a traditional calendar, or just a piece of paper. This is where you would list your month's meals. You'll like being able to see at a glance what's cookin' (pun intended). 

Googling "once a month cooking" will turn up literally tons of websites and blogs on the subject. There's a LOT of expertise out there, so let's not try to reinvent the wheel on this. And let's talk to each other while we're at it. If YOU have ideas and tips on once-a-month meal prep, please share. We're all in this together, remember. So let's use the last drops of winter to get ready for the hectic days of spring and summer, and until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Family Dinner Hour--the Perfect Time to Just LISTEN!

Jan. 7 I talked about a great book I read over vacation and how I planned to incorporate its philosophy into my life this year. Less than a week later I reported back on how my "Project Appreciation" was going and what great dinner hour table talk we can have around this subject. Well, it's time for another update:

I have a friend and neighbor who is very recently widowed. Who's ever ready for your sweetheart to leave your side and your life, no matter how long the cancer battle lasted? It's just stinkin' hard. Her son is dating my daughter (oops, better be politically correct here--they're "hanging out") and so the four of us went to a concert together last week in honor of Martin Luther King. The drive up to it and home from it was long and after the event we all had pizza at The Pie--in other words we had plenty of time for talk.

So here's my report and my point: With this book in my head and "Project Appreciation" in my heart, I decided to do something completely out of character: I just listened. Yup, instead of going  on an on about MY day, and MY problems, and MY opinions, and MY wonderfulness, I kept quiet and let her have the spotlight, the microphone, the time. And this filled my soul! Not only did I get to really know her much better, but I learned a ton that I could readily take into my own life.

The real deal though, was what I think it did for her. She talked about her husband and all the things they did when he was alive and how much fun they had and what a great dad and husband he was and all the neat things he did for her and all the many reasons she adored him and all the wonderful things people told her about him and... You get the point. It was cathartic for her. I know this because I said at one point, "It's comforting to know how much others loved him, isn't it?" And with tears in her eyes, she nodded "yes."

We don't just listen to each other enough. Have you noticed? And yet this is one of the most simple and generous things we can do for each other. Brenda Ueland (I don't know who she is, I just found her quote, and I love it) said this: "Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we really listen to people, there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created." Wouldn't you agree? Think about one or two of your favorite people and I'll bet you anything they LISTEN really well to all you have to say and you come away refreshed for being in their company!

THAT is the essence of acknowledgment and appreciation--lifting, encouraging, and brightening someone's day! So I'm adding this LISTENING element to my "Project Appreciation." I'm trying hard to truly listen and be genuinely interested in what others have to say, and I'll report in from time to time with the experiences I'm having with this epiphany of mine.

One more thought: Research says children aren't heard--not by their teachers and not by their parents--key people in their lives. Ouch. The statistics show that the average child might spend one hour (two if he's lucky) in actual one-on-one with a parent in real conversation. I don't know if this is accurate or not, and you and your family are likely the exception, but by and large, this information is at least a red flag signaling the need to do better.

So, there's another exquisite reason for making family dinner hour possible--we can listen to our children. And besides just enjoying their conversation, think about the wonderful dinner hour conversations we can have with our families about our experiences with listening to others. (It's the lucky child that is introduced to the idea of really listening, early in his life.) There's going to be some heart-warming and tender table talk this year, I just know it.

So I hope YOU will share your experiences with your approach to "Project Appreciation." Please leave us your comments--we're all in this together, remember. And until next time, here's to LISTENING and of course, to making family dinner hour possible!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Depression: Family Dinner is a Key Deterrent

My friends and I were talking about depression the other day. It's not such a  hush-hush topic anymore. People are open about it--more ready to own up to their struggles with it. Oh sure, there are still those that say things like "it's all in your head--snap out of it!", and to those folks we will always answer "I'm fine." to their "How are you?" question.

I say "we" because I'm one of "them"--I've dealt with depression since I was a young girl. I think that's why I turn to writing. Paper understands and accepts--it'll never tell me to "get over it!" And that's why I also believe in talk--table talk more precisely. It's at the dinner table that we're going to find understanding and acceptance.

Thus the reason why I'm talking today about depression on a blog dedicated to kitchen work, food, and eating together. It's this eating together we need to seriously consider. Here's why: The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that depression is one of the major mental, emotional and behavior disorders that can appear during childhood and adolescence. It affects their thoughts, feelings, behavior, and body. It is serious and it is more than just a casual case of "the blues." Here are the symptoms:
  • sadness that won't go away
  • feelings of hopelessness; chronic boredom
  • unexplained irritability or crying
  • loss of interest in usual activities
  • changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • alcohol and/or substance abuse
  • missed school and/or poor school performance
  • threats or attempts to run away from home
  • outbursts of shouting and/or chronic complaining
  • reckless behavior
  • aches or pains that don't go away with treatment
  • thoughts about death or suicide
Population studies show that at any given time 10 to 15% of children have some sign of this malady. Research says 1 in 5 children suffer with depression.  So what can parents do? The NIMH says to closely observe and listen, and take careful notes so you can effectively talk to a mental health professional. They suggest parents talk to other parents, seek out a support group, get accurate information and ask questions of professionals. The one thing they say parents must never do is sweep their concerns under the rug. The "Not MY kid!" attitude only prolongs the inevitable.

Do you notice a commonality in the advice the NIMH gives? It's the connecting and communicating factor. And this is where family dinner hour comes in. In fact, Columbia  University and other organizations have proven conclusively that consistently eating together as a family (at least 4 nights a week) is a strong deterrent to depression in youth. We've talked in past posts about the benefits of dinner time talk. Take all the haranguing the news anchors do on the economy for instance (they like to refer to it as "these tough economic times"). Let's not for one minute think our children aren't affected by all this doom and gloom. They worry too. This and other worries can be dispelled as parents share their optimism, their plans, their faith and courage. Dinner time communication can keep families united, grounded in reality, and calm in the midst of storms.

I guess I'm just offering yet another rallying cry for gathering the family to the dinner table. And others are sensing this need as well--there are so many books, blogs, and tweetings on the subject now. Some see eating together regularly as a way to trim the grocery budget and save money, I see it as a way to save our children. So keep up the good work, tell your friends about the help and encouragement they can find here, and please share your tips and ideas. As I always say, we're all in this together, and together we can save our children, one dinner at a time. So until next time, thanks for listening, and here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Friday, January 22, 2010

EASY is the Name of the Weekend Game!

When you work outside the home (well, inside the home, too), weekends become tres precious. This is the time to maybe play catch-up with the laundry, vacuuming, dusting, etc. But, it's the perfect time to bring the family together for dinner, so don't you think EASY ought to be the name of the weekend game?

That said, here's a recipe that racks in rave reviews and is truly easy:

6-8 medium-sized potatoes, quartered
1-2 large onions sliced
3-5 carrots, cubed
1 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
5 lbs chicken skin and bones removed 
1 small onion, chopped
3/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsp whole cloves
2 tsp garlic salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano (dried could work as well)

1 tsp dried rosemary 
1/2 C lemon juice

Mix together potatoes, sliced onions, carrots, 1 tsp garlic salt, and 1/4 tsp black pepper in bottom of slow cooker. Rinse and pat chicken dry. In bowl mix together chopped onions, 3/4 tsp black pepper, cloves, and 2 tsp garlic salt. Dredge chicken in seasonings. Place in slow cooker over vegetables. In small bowl mix together oregano, rosemary, and lemon juice. Pour over chicken. Cover. Cook on low 6-8 hours, or until veggies are soft and chicken juices run clear.

And to round things out and add an extra measure of fun, try this EASY no-bake pie:

EASY NO-BAKE PEANUT BUTTER PIE (serves 6-8, unless I'm at your table, then it serves 2 or 3)

1 deep dish chocolate cookie pie crust (I'd make my own with crushed up Oreos)
4 oz cream cheese
1/2 C peanut butter (I'd go for old-fashioned here)
8 oz frozen non-dairy whipped topping (nope--it'd be real cream, whipped, for me)
1/2 C powdered sugar
1 small box instant vanilla pudding
1 C milk
Chocolate chips and peanuts for garnish 

Spread thin layer of peanut butter on bottom of pie crust. Mix cream cheese, powdered sugar, remaining peanut butter, milk and pudding. Fold in whipped topping (or cream, for me). Pour mixture into pie shell. Garnish with chocolate chips and peanuts. Chill overnight and serve.

And besides simplifying life a smidge, EASY recipes are great ways to give kids experience in the kitchen. So let's go the easy route this weekend, so we'll have more time for--you fill in the blanks here. Now do YOU have an EASY recipe you could share? We're all in this together, remember. Until next time, then, here's to making the most of our weekend and at the same time making family dinner hour possible!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Menu-Planning to the Rescue!

It's no surprise that folks would be intently interested in menu-planning at the start of the new year. There's not a better way to make your kitchen work and meal-management easier and more efficient--what a great goal to set for 2010! We all know what a crummy feeling it is to be sitting at work, it's 4:45pm, and be wondering what's for dinner. So to really make family dinner hour possible, let's plan the menu!

A product I've found that I can't live without is the Cook'n Recipe Organizer software. I don't want to sound like an infomercial, but its menu-planning feature is amazing! It allows me to simply drag recipes into the days of the week to create a menu, and  I can choose from my own cookbooks or from the great recipes that come with Cook'n. I'm ga-ga over how much time this program has saved me already! And I LOVE how I can delegate part of the meal preparation, IF I already know what I've planned. A menu is definitely an asset in getting the family involved in this effort.

Well, enough gushing, here's my plan for next week:
SUN: crock pot pot roast, spuds and carrots
MON: beef stew (using some leftover pot roast, spuds and carrots)
TUE: shredded chicken breast wraps
WED: beef enchiladas (using more leftover pot roast)
THU: spud nest (a meatless meal using mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and grated cheese)
FRI: Cook'n's Turkey Soup (but shredded chicken breast is substituted)
SAT: fettucine alfredo (another meatless meal with leftover steamed broccoli added)

As you look this plan over, you'll notice some things: 1) a couple meatless meals inserted for health and to trim the grocery budget, and 2) two basic elements are built upon (the pot roast and chicken breasts). You seasoned cooks out there know how well this approach works and I'm here to add my recommendation--make a menu plan, include a meatless meal or two, and build the bulk of your recipes around one or two key ingredients.

Now, do YOU have favorite meals you could share? I'm always looking for new and interesting, yet tried-and-true ideas for my menus--why reinvent the wheel when we have each other? So please comment--share the good stuff. And until next time, here's to menu-planning and making family dinner hour possible!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Beat Those Winter Time Blues With an Amazing Cup of Cocoa!

A Yale University study shows that dark cocoa can lower blood pressure--not really new news, but always welcome news. And what better time for a hot cup of cocoa than winter time, because research also finds that chocolate can beat those winter time blues that sometimes hits families this time of year. This is also a good recipe for children to practice their cooking skills on.  

There's a plethora of instant cocoa products on the market to choose from now, but they never seem to measure up to my Aunt Annie's To Die For Hot Cocoa that she'd have ready for us when we'd come visit.

If you haven't made hot cocoa from scratch, you really ought to try it--while it's a little bit of work, the results are SO much better than just mixing an instant from a can. To give you a major jump-start, here's Aunt Annie's recipe:

TO DIE FOR HOT COCOA (5 8-oz servings)

1/2 C sugar
1/4 C cocoa
Dash salt
1/3 C whipping cream
1 pkg (8-oz) cream cheese (at room temperature)
4 C (1 qt) milk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
Sweetened whipped cream (optional)
Mini marshmallows (optional)

Stir together sugar, cocoa and salt in saucepan. Cream together cream cheese and whipping cream. Add to sugar/cocoa mixture in saucepan and mix well. Stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue stirring. Remove from heat and add vanilla; stir again. Pour into mugs and garnish with whipped cream or mini marshmallows as garnish.

You can see this is certainly NOT heart-healthy, but sometimes, who cares? This thicker cocoa really lives up to its name. Try it and let me know what you think. AND, do YOU have a favorite cocoa recipe you can share? Let's spread the good stuff--we're all in this together. So until next time, here's to beating those winter time blues with an amazing cup of cocoa, and making family dinner hour possible!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let's Put These Long Wintery Days to Good Use!

A friend, Patty, likes to cook and bake with her grandsons, and it occurred to me as she was talking about what they'd cooked up lately, that this activity is a great use for these long wintery days we're enduring right now.

Another fruit of teaching kids to cook is the obvious benefit it can be to getting the family dinner on the table. It stands to reason that if children know how to do something and are practiced at it, they'll enjoy it more and be more willing to participate in the effort. That said then, besides the actual doing, what is it children ought to know regarding basic cooking and baking?

1) They should understand and commit to following YOUR kitchen rules (i.e. we always clean up after ourselves); a big part of that is showing them HOW those rules are to be followed (i.e. this is what we mean by cleaning up, etc.).

2) They should know how to measure--the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, and what a cup of something looks like; along with this, they should know how to sift (and they LOVE this part of baking), and they should know what "2/3 full" looks like (re: muffin cups, etc.).

3) They should know basic techniques like "folding in," "whipping until light and fluffy,"  "creaming" fat and sugar together, cracking an egg carefully so no shell falls into the bowl (but if it does, we can pick it out, so "no worries"), or how to properly grease a pan for baking.

4)  They should have a system of operation in place as they create a recipe. My preferred approach is  to put each ingredient away as it is being used. This creates clarity as to what still needs doing--the less confusion, the better. And placing dirtied utensils, pots and pans into a sink of hot soapy water for easier clean-up is a good idea too.

5) Along these lines, they should be sure all ingredients are available prior to starting a recipe. No one needs the frustration of having to run to the neighbor's or the store for a missing item.

Like you, some of my happiest memories are of cooking and baking with my kids. And I loved how proud they were of their finished products. One cute story we have in our family is when my oldest daughter was learning to make brownies. She made the typical square pan batch, cut them into squares after they'd cooled, and when she came back a little while later, they were almost all gone. Her brothers found then and scarfed them down! So through tears, she immediately made another batch, and this time she cut them into 144 little pieces. When I asked her why she did this, she said with cleverness shining in her smile, "So they'll last longer!"

And this story leads me to one final suggestion: Have a cache of kid-friendly recipes handy that they can practice on. As mentioned, brownies were one of ours, as were Rice Krispy Bars. Sloppy Joes was another thing we learned on as well. Do you have suggestions as to good things children can easily learn to cook or bake?

Now I'm guessing none of these ideas are new news and you likely have tips you can share regarding cooking and baking with children. Please do let us in on how YOU do things. We're all in this together, and there's no reason to reinvent the wheel when we have each other. So until next time, here's to putting these long wintery days to good use, and of course, to making family dinner hour possible! 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Health-a-tize Family Dinner with This Yummy Recipe!

 The other day we talked about super simple ways to health-a-tize (not a word, I know, but cool, don't you think?) our family dinners. One suggestion was to incorporate a couple meatless meals per week. After digging around my Aunt Annie's old cookbooks, I found this recipe that is easy and vegetarian. Easy, I say? Yes! Here's the stats:

Prep Time: 12 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 47 minutes

And yummy, I say? It's garnered rave reviews at our dinner table and that of several of my neighbors, so I'm saying YES!

2 (9 inch) frozen pie crusts
1 (10.75 oz) can creamed soup
2 C frozen mixed vegetables
1/4 C milk
1 C grated cheese
pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix soup with 1 to 2 C frozen vegetables and enough milk to moisten mixture without becoming runny. Stir in pepper to taste, and any other herbs or spices you like.   Crumble one frozen pie crust into bowl. Mix with grated cheese. Sprinkle cheese and crust mixture over top to cover contents. Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until crust looks brown.

And besides being yummy, easy, and contributing to better health, this recipe is also budget-minded. Can't beat that! Now, do YOU have some suggestions on how to health-a-tize our family dinner in 2010? Please share--we're all in this together, remember! And in the meantime, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Appreciation--Worth Giving and Worth Discussing at the Dinner Table

Last week I shared a book I read over vacation and the resulting goal to launch "Project Appreciation" for this new year.  I was really touched by how many of you are interested in this idea and am excited to talk about something that's come from this already. In addition to making a list of the 10 folks I want to specifically acknowledge and express my appreciation to, I've also decided I am going to make a real effort to reach out to others on a daily basis--to simply be more friendly.

For instance, I'm ashamed to admit it, but typically I'm in too much of a hurry to acknowledge people I know if I see them when I'm out and about, say in the grocery store parking lot. I'm not a snob, I'm just usually all wrapped up in myself. As said, this is going to change--it already has. 

The other day I was hustling out of Walmart and spied a friend and neighbor, Cherisse. Rather than just pushing on, head down, to my car, I called out with a sincere "HI Cherisse!" We had a great chat and I was so glad I took this opportunity to connect. We hugged goodbye and the lift that encounter gave me lasted the rest of the day.

Now, here's the upshot. Yesterday I received a darling card in the mail she sent me. The cover says "Friendship is like a patchwork quilt of caring words, thoughtful deeds, and lots of laughter, all stitched together with understanding." She wrote a sweet note on the inside: "Dear Alice, It was so fun running into you at Walmart. So great to catch up with you. Hope life continues to find you and your family well. Warmest regards, Charisse."

So there we have it, a perfect example of what can happen when we take the time to acknowledge one another. Not only was my day thoroughly enriched by taking the time to chat with a friend (taking time for people is one way we validate them--it's how we show them they matter), but her note back to me validated I mattered to her.

Why am I talking about this on a blog dedicated to making the family dinner hour possible? I think this subject is a perfect topic for dinner time conversation. (see "Family Dinner Hour, A Good Time to Instill Values") Maybe after a brief explanation of what it means to acknowledge people, and how you feel about it, you could ask the question, "Who did you acknowledge today?" or "Who did you show appreciation to today--how did you do that?" This theme could become a regular part of your dinner hour and a very inspiring part of the family's day. And how cool would it be to get the entire family involved in "Project Appreciation!"

I am really interested in what you think of my intention and if you have any experiences you could share. When it comes to appreciating and acknowledging one another, we really are all in this together. What a sweet and peaceful world we can create together. So until next time, here's to brightening someone else's day, teaching our children to do the same, and of course, making family dinner hour possible!

Monday, January 11, 2010

10 Simple Steps to Serving Healthier Family Dinners

January, the month for positive affirmations, resolutions, and goals. One goal I've been thinking about a lot is that of eating healthier,  and I've been thinking about suggesting we all try to serve healthier meals this new year. I struggle with this  though, because I understand how busy you are, and I don't want to say anything that would detract from the BIG picture--that of making family dinner hour possible.

I mean, we tend to have the idea that "healthy" means more work (from scratch, and all that jazz), and I don't want to imply that we ought to work harder than we already are. With this concern in mind, I've been scouring the Internet looking for resources that could help us create healthy meals without a lot of extra work. The good news is, there are a LOT of websites and blogs out there with truly good and practical information. The bad news is, there are a LOT of websites and blogs out there with truly good and practical information! In other words, there's almost too much information. I guess we could take an entire day and pour through this stuff and find what suits us (just Google "healthy eating" and you'll see what I mean).

Instead, wanting to be helpful, I decided to sum up, if you will, several hours of reading, just to start us off and to make things easier. Here's what I found 100% across the board: nutritionists all concur that it takes just a few small changes in our eating and meal habits to make a positive impact in our health.

For instance:

1) Insert a salad into our eating regime once a day--dinner is a good place to do this

2) Provide water to drink rather than juices, sodas, or milk--this improves the chance of us taking in our water quota (the average need is 64 oz per person, per day), and it's an obvious calorie savings

3) Provide fresh fruit as a dessert a couple nights a week as an alternative to the traditional sweet desserts we all love 

4) Use extra virgin olive oil or safflower oil instead of corn or canola oil in food prep (safflower oil is the darling of the "heart healthy" movement right now)

5) Serve whole grain pastas and breads (not new news, but because the benefits are so good, this news doesn't go away, so let's give it a try...)

6) Use Himalayan or sea salt rather than the typical iodized salt (many more minerals than the overly-processed round-box kind)

7) Use agave syrup or raw honey as sweeteners when preparing desserts (generally, use 1/3 C of either for every 1 C of refined sugar; both are easier on the blood sugar and contain trace elements and minerals)

8) Serve less fat-oriented food (for me, the simple way to do this is to go the vegetarian route two or three nights a week)

9) Serve smaller portions (shaving off just two or three tablespoons of this and that per meal, makes a big difference over the long haul, according to nutritionists); the advice is: lose the "Super Size Me" mindset

10) Finally,  chat and laugh while eating--this uses calories, aids digestion, and keeps 'em coming back for more!

So as you look over this list, is there anything here that seems overwhelming? I'm OK with these ideas--I think I can do this! And I think the family will be OK as well (for the most part, I don't think they'll know the difference). Now since we're all in this together, won't you share any "easy healthy meal" tips YOU have? And until next time, here's to serving up healthier choices and making family dinner hour possible!

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Pretty Dinner Table is Hard to Resist!

I talk a lot about setting a pretty table. The effort pays off--it says that what we're doing here is important and worth our time, and whether anyone understands this consciously or not, it is felt, for sure. For me, that meant lit candles, GLASS glasses (as opposed to plastic), a nice set of salt and pepper shakers, butter on a little butter plate or dish, and place mats.

Since I was always on an incredibly tight budget (feeding a family of nine on $20 or less a month--more on how this was done in other posts), I learned to be very resourceful. I always got my candles on sale at Walmart and the glasses at the thrift store. If a glass broke, it was no big deal because I could get another one for a quarter at the thrift store (they didn't need to match necessarily--they just needed to be a similar size). And the thrift store was where I found my salt and pepper shakers and butter dish as well.

But the place mats--THAT was the real creative accomplishment! I was browsing a furniture store one day ("Just looking, thank you."), and I spied some upholstery sample books lying in a corner. I started thumbing through them (not sure why--I wasn't in the market to re-upholster anything) and creative genius hit me. The samples were the same size as place mats! I asked what the destiny of these books was, and a sales lady told me they were headed to the trash. "Could I take them off your hands, then?" "Of course, help yourself!" So I did.

I cut out all the samples in the green family and all the samples in the blue family. Then I stitched under the raw edge where they'd been removed from the book. While the prints didn't match, it didn't matter--they were the same size. So one day I'd set the table with a green theme, the next day we'd have a blue theme going on. SO cute! And an added bonus: because they were upholstery fabric, they'd been Scotch-Guarded! HAH--easy to clean as well.

I share these ideas just to get YOUR creative juices flowing. What can you do throughout this new year to set an inviting table? Since we eat with our eyes before we eat with our mouths, this piece of the family dinner hour really does matter and will bring you big dividends.

Tomorrow I will talk about another GREAT resource I've found that will be a big help to our family dinner efforts, so please come back. But now I want to close with a quote I found on another wonderful blog,, from Marion Cunningham (aka Fanny Farmer): "So many people are searching for something in their lives. They look outside themselves because they're not making ties within the family or in their personal lives. I'm not such a fool that I think the world's problems can be solved by sharing a plate of food around the dinner table. But it is an easy and important place to start." Don't you agree? Thanks Pam, for sharing this inspiring quote, and thanks to all of you that are part of this needful movement to bring the family back to the dinner table. So until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

More Ideas and Resources for the New Year!

Between holiday family visits and my hunting for a job, I haven't been able to tend to my bloggy duties, and I apologize to any of you who stopped by and found nothing new. Family is all safely returned to their own homes and I'm back at it now though, (still job-hunting however).

Today I want to share a couple things: 

1) a great little book I discovered and read over vacation: Focus on the Good Stuff: The Power of Appreciation, by Mike Robbins. It's a good read, especially as we start a new year. It's divided into three sections (Our Obsession with Bad Stuff, The 5 Principles of Appreciation, and Appreciation in Action). It's also a quick read with some to-the-point exercises and a constant reminder of what matters most--people and our relationships with them. 

For instance, here's one of his exercises from Chapter 6, "Principle Four: Acknowledge Others": Make a list of ten people in your life right now and next to each name, list at least five things you appreciate about that person and at least one way he or she has positively impacted your life. In the next seventy-two hours, acknowledge all the people on this list (send a note, call them, make a visit, or...). Some way get in touch with these people and let them know what you appreciate about them and how they've positively affected your life.

I'm doing this, and I'll report back. If you think this might be something you'd like to do as well, please take a minute and comment--let's talk about this. Wouldn't you agree that we all need more appreciation? How cool to be doing something about it!

And 2) a great resource David Jones showed me: a website that could be one of our best resources for making family dinner hour possible: a website that tells us how to cook anything! 

You enter what you want to cook into the box at the top of the page, and every step you need to take shows up. I LOVE this site. I'm not the best cook in town, but I want to be, so this site could be invaluable. After all, it makes good sense that if the meal is irresistible, the family is more likely to make family dinner hour a priority! 

Now do YOU have any good meal-magic resources you can share with us for this new year? We're all in this together, remember. Meanwhile, thanks for sharing this great adventure with me, and here's to making family dinner hour possible!