Shared Meals Matter Blog

Aug 19th

Sometimes it pays to play with your food

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I’m simply amazed at the wide range of cooking and baking artistry I see on the internet. I’m also darn lucky that some friends of mine can cook up a storm. We share meals and giggle with delight at just how darn innovative their cooking treasures are.

Have you seen this post on the internet?  It really showcases the creative vision of a Brazilian mother trying to introduce new types of food to her daughter. Click here to see what one mother did to help her child be attracted to a variety of food.  I just love these designs!  As the article says, the mother is a Dentist by trade, which might explain the fine detail in her work.

Frozen

When I was writing my book The Shared-Meal Revolution, I spent some time considering how many ways sharing meals helps us be creative.

Time involved in shared-meal activities can help you…

  • Develop your creative skills by changing one or two ingredients in a recipe to create something new (how about adding curry and coconut milk to a traditional chili?)
  • Look around at your dining space and think of ways you can represent the people who dine there (one of my favorite things to do when my kids were young was to hang pictures or display crafts they created)
  • Let your imagination run wild with creative storytelling building (one person starts a story, “Once upon a time there was a ____” and then the next person builds, “Who went to the ______, and so on. You could make it fun by using only one letter of the alphabet — alligator….army…etc.)
  • Build on your improvisational and problem-solving skills (lightly dressing a salad by shaking it up in a big sealed bag instead of tossing it in a bowl)
  • Experiment with design concepts when decorating your dining space (try dressing a table in monochromatic tones, all different shades of blue for example, for a dramatic look)

 

Tending to the every day details are what helps to make a shared-meal ritual fun. We may not have all (or any) of the skills of someone who is truly artistic, but I’m willing to bet that we all have something creative to offer some aspect of our shared-meal practice.  And when we share of our selves, it makes the experience that much more meaningful.  This idea reminds me of when of my favorite quotes:

“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”  (Mother Theresa)

If you’d like to learn more about how to make the most of your shared-meal ritual, please visit my website for information and to read about my book.  Please write to me at carol@shared-meals.com any time with questions you may have about your shared-meal ritual, or just to share a story or a picture of some fabulous times around the table.

 

 

 

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Aug 12th

What are you waiting for?

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Like many, my heart is broken over the passing of Robin Williams.

There are no more words that can be said that haven’t already been said a gillion times over the last couple of days about his talent and passion.

As I’ve been struggling to get out of my ‘funk’ since this news arrived, I’ve been looking for a simple statement to sum up my feelings and to pay tribute to Mr. Williams.

Here it is:

passion

 

Let’s resist temptation to spend time on things we “should” be doing…

and instead do things that truly matter to us.

Things that make our skin feel tingly with excitement…

Things that showcase our personal talents…

Things that make us feel vibrant…

spending time with people we love…

and being the best version of ourselves.

What are you waiting for?  

 

If you’d like to learn more about why I feel Shared Meals Matter, please visit my website

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Jul 30th

Home cooking and shared meals: modern day survival strategy

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As I reported in my book, The Shared-Meal Revolution, studies have shown that a routine shared-meal practice (five or more meals in a week) has a positive impact on children’s eating patterns and diet quality (citing improvements like more fruit and vegetables and fewer soft drinks). Even better,  if you promote healthier eating in your kids when they’re young, these benefits tend to continue into adulthood.

Do you gain those benefits by simply eating inside your home? Well, no, as common sense shows us that to eat nutritiously, we’ll need to choose whole food, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and avoid highly refined, processed, and sugar-laden foods.  Overall, Americans have chronically unhealthy eating habits. We often focus on what is easily accessible versus what can bring our bodies long-term health.

foodmanufacturing

The food industry naturally plays a big role in supporting these unhealthy eating habits.  There are GMOs and processed food in abundance. As this video I found from Nutritionfacts.org aptly states, “The food industry is a business, not a parent; it doesn’t care what we eat as long as we are willing to pay for it.”

Eating at home is no longer something your mother or grandmother does for you while she shoos you out of the kitchen. For people of all ages, it’s a skill that takes a little bit of time to acquire (I’m still at a beginner level, but I’m learning every day), but it is also a lot of fun, it stimulates creativity, and you gain better control of healthy eating.  Cooking classes should be a required course in every school around the country as it’s a basic life skill (as stated in this video, “Home cooking these days has far more than sentimental value; it’s a survival skill.”)

mothersoncooking

As this video also points out, cooking our own food (when choosing quality ingredients) can help us live healthier and longer.  We need to pay attention to the ingredients we’re using to get the healthy benefits, and we need to find ways to make healthier eating taste better too, to keep everyone in your shared-meal plan craving more. Sugar, fat, and salt are common ways the food industry makes our food appealing, but there are better ways.

Here are a few ways you can create healthier eating habits inside your home:

  • Develop a 1x a day shared-meal plan (or at least 5 meals a week—breakfast, lunch or dinner — whatever meal works best for you). Focus on a committed, collaborative plan from planning to shopping to cooking, and of course enjoying meals together. Click here.
  • Show leadership with the food choices you make; select foods you know are higher in nutritional value (such as berries and sweet potatoes) and taste good too. Aim for lots of color on your plate.
  • Research what’s in your food with sites such as Food Babe; become educated so you can “vote” for healthier food each time you make a food purchase
  • Get appealing recipes that focus on adding natural flavor from healthier eating websites such as the Food Network’s Healthy Eats
  • Give your kids a head start on cooking skills by inviting them into the kitchen to help you (kids of all ages can help with age appropriate tasks)
  • Take a cooking class with people in your shared-meal circle; this kind of adventure can motivate you to find new delicious recipes using healthier ingredients

cookingclass

Remember, it is unrealistic (and boring, and emotionally unhealthy too) to try to achieve perfection when creating healthier eating habits.  I’m certainly not perfect when it comes to my food choices, but I have a mindfulness and that helps me to make healthy decisions most of the time.

Try to focus on one simple improvement, such as using whole grain bread or pasta instead of white/processed, and when you’re ready, move on to the next improvement you’d like to make.

Explore different foods together, such as finding a new recipe using jicama; doing this exploration with those in your shared-meal circle will help inspire you all collectively to make better choices.

colorfulfood

To learn more about developing a shared-meal plan, and the many benefits, including better physical/health, visit my website or find my book here: Amazon.

Let’s connect! Facebook, Twitter, Pinterestand Instagram

 

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Jul 8th

Does snacking get in the way of your shared meals?

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Have you noticed in a typical grocery store how full the snack aisles have become?

Whether it’s marshmallow crispy Oreos,  sour watermelon Peeps, rosemary and olive oil flavored Triscuits, or something healthier like a Kind granola bar, Americans seem to be having a major snack attack. And it’s wreaking havoc on shared meals in many homes.

In this Wall Street Journal article “Forget Dinner: It’s Always Snack Time in America”, a 2013 survey found that nearly half of Americans (48%) skipped meals at least three times a week.  The article offers that the trend towards heavy snacking is gaining momentum because of the rise in people living alone, hectic schedules of dual-career families, and managing the schedules of our kids’ activities.

snacks3

I add other pitfalls such as many people don’t take a lunch break while at work, so they mindlessly snack at their desk throughout the day. Then, they may not have an appetite for a meal when they get home. Many people work very long and hard days and are too tired to think about making a meal. Others like the lifestyle of being constantly wired so they need something portable they can eat/manage with one hand so they can be using their smartphone, TV remote control or computer mouse with the other.  Some people want something efficient so it doesn’t disrupt the speed at which they feel they must travel throughout the day.  Parents use snacks as a way to keep their kids occupied while they are busy taking care of other responsibilities.

snacks1

I’m not against the idea of snacking but I believe there needs to be some boundaries around the quality of snacks, and how frequently you are eating them. And as this article points out, it’s great that some of the snacks being produced are healthier, but that doesn’t solve the problem that we are at risk of losing a meaningful ritual if we choose snacks over meals together. Why would we want to let the habit of persistent casual snacking get in the way of a relaxing, joyful shared meal with people we love? There are so many reasons to preserve a shared-meal ritual.

Sharing at least one meal a day offers us the opportunity for rich socialization, healthier nutritional role modeling for our kids, and maintaining social connection with each other, to name only a few benefits.  Sharing meals with each other is an important human act–it’s one in which we accomplish so much more than just satisfying our hunger. Sharing meals with others offers a richness in experience that random snacking just doesn’t replace.  Sharing meals keeps us together versus isolated, and it keeps our lifestyles in balance, focused on nurturing relationships vs. (only) work or (only) things.

eatingtogether

Sometimes we get into bad habits because we get too busy to stop and think.  As the saying goes, “The best way to break a negative habit is to cultivate a positive one.”

Here are a few suggestions to keep positive eating habits in relation to snacks and sharing meals. I hope some of these are useful to you:

-Build a half hour into your schedule each morning to eat something at home (even if this means getting up at 6:45a instead of 7:15a ). Starting the day with an energizing, satisfying breakfast will set the tone for healthier eating, and less persistent snacking, throughout the day.
-Pack a light, healthy snack (such as a small handful of almonds, or a half cup of yogurt and blueberries) if you need a little something mid- morning or afternoon.
-Set a calendar reminder for a lunch break in advance. Set yourself up for success: if there’s no reminder, you may easily get caught up with work at the office (or at home) and skip it.
-If you live alone, invite a neighbor or a friend to share a meal with you regularly. Start with one specific night a week (how about Monday?)
-Get your kids involved in age-appropriate activities in the kitchen with you; incentivize them to hold off on unhealthy after-school casual snacking by teaching them how to prepare their favorite meal with you.
-Focus on the highest quality of food that you can and resist filling your diet (and your pantry) with food (or food products) that are portable for portable-sake.
-Get others involved in making meals with you. Let’s stop reaching for the convenient solution or thinking we need to take on all the responsibilities of preparing meals on our own.

Preserve your shared meals by working with your spouse, significant other, children, neighbors–anyone you want to share meals with–by creating your own shared-meal planAccount for who you want to share meals with, schedules and flexibility, and sharing in the responsibilities (from planning to shopping to cooking) to lighten the load for everyone.

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If you’d like to learn more about how to develop your own shared-meal plan, join The Shared-Meal Revolution and read about all the benefits in my book. If you’d like to read more from my blog “Shared Meals Matter”, click to subscribe. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jun 15th

Bravo to fathers fighting for their rights to have dinner with their families

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There is some very exciting new conversation starting to happen regarding workplace flexibility.

Only this time the focus is on fathers.

It’s no surprise that this is getting more attention. Studies have been showing an increase in the amount of time fathers are spending with their children–tripling since 1965.  Changes in the workforce demographics showcased a need for this national dialogue such as the The White House Conference on Working Fathers which was held recently (June 9th) in Washington, D.C.  Fathers are fighting a stigma (just like working mothers have been in recent years) as they seek ways to use workplace flexibility to help them balance work and home life.

man-looking-out-window-437x234

The stigma concerns the perception that fathers who are looking for this flexibility (in everything from increased paternity leave and reduced work schedules to workplace parenting workshops) are not putting the company first.  Setting boundaries (such as leaving work at a reasonable time to make it home for dinner) might be perceived as a lack of commitment to their work goals or performance,  rather than what it really is — leadership, and a father’s commitment to loving his family.

According to a study by the Boston College Center for Work & Family, fathers are beginning to assert their needs and “see themselves as responsible for both the emotional and financial needs of their children.”  According to this Wall Street Journal article, employers (such as Ford and American Express) are starting to respond to this trend by offering workplace policies which promote flexibility.  But as Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute says here in Huffington Post, there’s a lot of work to be done, and eliminating this stigma needs to be a collaboration between business and what public policy demands.

Wise and progressive business leaders will pay attention to understanding the diverse needs of their employees by offering workplace flexibility.  This is because studies have shown (see this study, summary on page 2) that workforce flexibility makes for happier employees who are energized, engaged, less stressed, and show loyalty to their employers.

happyemployee

In my book The Shared-Meal Revolution, I offer that “The idea of approaching a supervisor about work-life balance may seem intimidating, but if you don’t do it, who will?”  

The truth is to make work and family live peacefully coexist, and preserve family time in activities such as a daily shared-meal ritual, families have to work together.  No one can or should go it alone!

fathers-day-dinner

Happy Father’s Day to all the amazing fathers who are working towards the goal of being present and active in the well-being of their family.

Fathers-Day-Wishes

 

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If you’d like to read more about how to create a shared-meal ritual for your family, and join The Shared-Meal Revolution, please visit my website.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jun 1st

“We stopped having kids when they started coming out in twos”

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My Dad had a great sense of humor.  After my twin brother, Carl, and I were born on June 1, 52 years ago today, he started saying this phrase:

“We stopped having kids when they started coming out in twos.”twinsphilHere’s a picture of my brother Carl and I with our (late) brother Phil.

twin

My son, John, called me at midnight last night to be the first to wish me a happy birthday. I mentioned to him that his Uncle Carl (or as he’s affectionately known in our family, “U.C.“) is travelling so he’ll have to Facebook or text him birthday wishes. As we were discussing birthday cake preferences, I told him that it just dawned on me that it’s no surprise that as an adult I promote “The Shared-Meal Revolution.” After all, from birth I’ve been doing the “sharing” thing from the start: sharing our mother’s womb during pregnancy (“wombmates”, as Carl refers to us) sharing strollers, playpens, the attention of our parents, birthdays, etc.). My Mom was keen to help us feel individualistic from the start and as far back as I remember made us individual birthday cakes (vanilla for me, chocolate for Carl). After the age of say about 4, I don’t recall being dressed in matching outfits, although I remember fondly wearing matching blue and white sailor-themed outfits.  People would often ask us if we were identical twins, which evoked a lot of laughter even from a very young age.

Being a twin helped me to learn a lot about sharing.  Although, my sister Vera told me just yesterday that she remembers the day that this picture below was taken (with my late brother Bill), she asked me to share some candy and I said, “NO” (in that crisp, don’t-even-think-about-asking-me-again way).

twinsBill

I guess it must have been annoying as a twin from time to time to always be sharing, but I was slowly becoming really good at it.  It’s only since I’ve been an adult that I fully appreciated the positive impact being a good “sharer” had on me. 

Over the years, Carl and I shared a lot.  Here we are clowning around at a family meal:DinnerI should mention that Carl is always saying he’s the “good” twin and I’m the “evil” one, but there is evidence (above) to the contrary!  Carl always has been the one with the goodhearted sense of humor:  Carl says, “I was a gentleman from the start…that’s why Carol was born 8 minutes earlier than me.”

Over the years, we’ve performed music together, AnythingGoesand we’ve travelled together….Carl has been a wonderful Uncle traveling the country (and the world, actually) to see my daughter Jini perform (and share lots of laughter-filled meals with Jini and her boyfriend Josh)..and to fly out from Green Bay to Burbank, CA to spend time at our favorite local restaurant sharing a meal with my son, John

CarlJiniCarlJohn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m so grateful for Carl’s presence in my life.  He enjoys the world-class sense of humor he inherited from our father. He’s truly Mr. Sunshine, a man of integrity, a practical joker, as loyal a friend as you could ever find, a phenomenal father, and a very proud new Grandpa to his grandson Thayer, and the best brother a girl could have.

Last week I surprised Carl with tickets for us to see Billy Joel at the Hollywood Bowl here in CA.

BillyJoelWe shared a meal before the concert, dining outside in the fresh air, and just being grateful that we were going to share another birthday together. We don’t take these things for granted.

Here we are all grown up, one of the last times we visited in Connecticut, our home state.twinphotoI’ll be seeing Carl and my other brothers and sisters next week at a solemn occasion (a dual memorial for my two brothers Phil and Bill, passed away within a few weeks of each other recently.)  Although it will be a sobering day for our family, there will also be a lot of love among all of our siblings, and surely there will be a lot of laughter (as Bill and Phil would want) and many joyful shared meals.

It will be a memorable week, and I’ll be grateful to have my twin brother Carl by my side.

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Are you taking advantage of sharing at least one meal daily with people you love in your life? Please click here to visit my website “The Shared-Meal Revolution” to learn more about my book and ways you can increase your life joy through shared meals.

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May 14th

Why, and when, it (really, truly, unmistakably) makes sense to ask for help!

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This morning, I fell off a ladder.

Well, not actually a ladder, a step-stool. It was one of those metal ones you get at Home Depot with two stairs.
I was in my storage unit in front of the carport where I park my car at my home.  Feeling pretty full of myself that I was up extra early to take care of this spontaneous task before the (unusual) intense Southern California heat kicks in today, I was sure I would be able to get in and out of the storage unit, collect the few things I was looking for, wipe my hands clean in celebration of my little accomplishment, and call it a day. It was a beautiful morning, clear, blue sky, birds chirping, peaceful.  I had moved my car back a few feet to give myself room to move boxes and such into the front of the parking space.  Recently my son, John, who takes the goal of organizing things as seriously as I do, helped me expertly reorganize this storage space a month ago and I knew things would be logical to find. When I swung open the two storage unit doors, I saw that the two items–the bronze/glass lamp I was trying to get  (the one that I thought I wouldn’t be using for a while, if ever again…clearly I had forgotten how versatile it was) was at the back of the unit, and the lovely, canvas-painted picture of a Spring scene (which reminded me of my hometown in CT…why had I put that in storage anyway?) was right next to it. There they were–tempting me to figure out a way to get them as they stood, shining brightly, against the back of the storage unit wall.

So I said to myself, no problem, I’ll just, for a moment…hardly ANY time at all, get a teeniest, weeniest, little lift by standing on the top bar of the stool (not a stair!) for just the 1 second (long enough, right?) to swing/lift my knee into the storage unit.  Afterall, sometimes in life you just need to improvise a little, so I thought, why not!

stepstool

Well, you can probably figure out what happened next:

A milli-second into stepping onto the top bar which was maybe 5 feet high (and probably the instant before my brain registered that I was foolishly trying to use the top bar as a stair), my body twisted, I felt the stool collapse below me; in slow motion, and as if it was happening to someone else, I saw my body slamming against the concrete and I hit both my head against the front bumper of the car, and my back as it initially hit at an angle/wedged between the bumper and the ground.  During these seconds, the classic “my life passed in front of me”  happened.  I wondered…”How bad could it be? It’s only a step-stool” …then, “How I will explain this to my kids”, “Is my head bleeding?”, “Did I break my back…will I  be able to walk again”…”Maybe I’ll lose consciousness?”  The visual slow motion effect stopped. I sat there, dizzy and shaken up, for what seemed like five minutes (although I suspect it was about a minute) and saw that I could move, but I was having a little trouble breathing and the back of my head hurt, as did my tailbone and my back between the base of my shoulders and and my shoulder blades.  I knew it was a doozy and kept saying, “Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic…you’re OK…you’re OK…you’re OK” and wondered what to do next.

stuntsI sat there feeling like the idiot I was for standing on the top bar of the stool, and ever so slowly decided to move ever so slowly to see if all my limbs worked first (they did) and to see if my head was bleeding (it wasn’t).  I wondered if there was a paramedic around if he/she would tell me not to move. But I didn’t have my phone around me and I wasn’t sure anyone would find me for a while. For a moment, I was sort of grateful no one was around to see me because if they did, they might panic…and then I might too. Then I realized that was a ridiculous thing to wish for since I didn’t know yet if I was really hurt.  Still calming myself down, slowly, after about 5 minutes, I gathered my keys, and walked back into my home, taking some ibuprofen to help prevent any swelling(?), and breathing slowly, drinking water, and reevaluating my priorities for the day.

I was quite satisfied that the lamp and canvas picture could wait for another day (heck, right now they have completely lost their appeal!) when I have proper tools (a real ladder), and….help!

Like many women, I love my independence.  It feels good to know that I can take care of many things on my own. It’s an important character trait for anyone to be self-sufficient.  But there’s a limit–and sometimes it’s important to swap out the temporary thrill of handling something on your own to be sure you are using your senses.

Having spent some time in recent years learning how NOT to be Superwoman, my step-stool (aka ‘falling off a ladder’) fiasco this morning surprised me. I realized that although I have a good plan for my life, once in a while I slip up and try to do too much.  Even though I wrote a book which promotes the benefits of creating a collaborative shared-meal plan(–emphasizing asking for and taking the help of others in your home/in your life to help make your 1 time a day shared-meal plan a reality–) it’s very easy in our busy lifestyles to fall into the habit of doing it all yourself.

help

We have to come to our senses if we are to preserve our good health–and I mean physically and emotionally.  This isn’t about compromising your personal strength or integrity or being any less of a powerful woman, or a powerful man. It’s simply that there are times when it just makes sense to wait and ask for help, including at work (why have to prove you are smarter than everyone else) or at home (a few extra hands lightens the load with just about any maintenance/chore in the home…so why is it 10pm and you’re still washing the dishes”), and, of course when keeping to a shared-meal ritual (one meal together every day is totally achievable, with a plan that includes people working together).

people

Don’t wait to ‘fall off a ladder’ to ask for help.  You could get really hurt (or worse), you could be burning yourself out, or you could be living in a state of constant discontent with your life because you always feel over-extended.

Ask yourself, “What do I have to gain?” by asking someone for help (in my step-stool bang-my-head case), I could have gained a nice visit with my son, lots of laughter and hugs, and we could have shared a meal together.  Alternatively, “What do I have to lose?” (my health, my sanity, my joy…to name a few things.)  It’s quite natural to ask for help really. It’s modern-day living that allows us to do so much on our own, that we forget that fact.

I guarantee you you will feel better when you take a closer look at the things in your life in which you really could use someone else’s helping hands.

Just ask for help. (And while you’re at it, offer yours.)

Ask-for-Help

At the very least, you’ll avoid a sore back.

If you’d like to learn more about ways to develop a shared-meal ritual, gaining the help of people in your home, or with friends outside your home, join The Shared-Meal Revolution! Explore my website here for information about the book and for helpful information to get you started:

 

 

 

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May 10th

35,135 meals (give or take a few)

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This Mother’s Day I will once again be thinking about my mother, Elizabeth, and the many ways she was a spectacular mother to me, and my six brothers and four sisters.  My mother passed away in 2000.  Through the years, I honor her through setting the best example I can as a mother to my own children.

I remember three distinct things about her…

her selflessness…

her humor…

…and her dedication to our shared-meal ritual.

pie

Here are a few things about my mother that I find memorable:

She didn’t like the nickname “Betty” for Elizabeth. She would squint her eyes, waiting with baited breath to explain to whomever might dare make a “Betty” reference why they never should. (As I grew older I learned the reason she didn’t like “Betty” was because a childhood neighbor  taunted her with it for years.)

Sometimes when addressing me, she would say at least two names of one of my other siblings before landing on my name (“Mary, Vera…I mean…Carol!“)

She recalled as a toddler in an orphanage (she was there briefly after her mother passed away), the magical way she felt when she received a pretty pink dress, sent from a relative in NY. She loved to tell the story that the relative was taking steps to adopt her, but another relative intervened so that her sister and two brothers (in different orphanages for some reason) could wait for her father to return from Italy with his new wife and all the children could be reunited (and they were…)

Whenever dining out at a local coffee shop in our hometown in Bristol, CT, she would routinely order a hot dog and tell the waitress to burn it –she would say those two words chuckling, with a devilish grin way to make her point. Often the waitress would be startled with the intensity of her cooking instruction. As a sensitive teenager, I would cringe each time knowing that the “burn it!” cooking instruction was about to happen! hotdog

 

 

 

 

 

During the local “Mum Parade” every year in our city, she would embarass one or more of her children performing in the high school marching band by running out in the middle of the street and planting a giant smooch on her kid(s) cheek mid-performance (She did this to me on several occasions when I played trombone in the marching band.  It was a rite of passage in our family.)

When there was a “Happy Birthday” being sung, her very deep, low voice would be an octave below everyone else’s.  happybirthdayShe would sing with gusto, and her voice would stick out like a sore thumb. Being a musical family, we loved that it was my mother who sang “bass”, in such a low vocal range!

She would get joyful tears when hearing the song “New York, New York” (She asked me to sing it once at a relative’s wedding. I declined because I wasn’t feeling well–my two young kids had ear infections and I was very low on sleep. To this day, it’s one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t sing that song for my mother that day–as it turned out, it was my last chance).

new york new yorkShe practiced the art of bellydancing in her later years (starting when she was about 58 years old) at the local “Girl’s Club” recreation center.  She enjoyed the dancing classes and the annual recital so much.  She loved mastering a new skill and having an activity that was reserved for her, and we all encouraged her– the way she did for us.  We’d say, “Keep it up! You’re doing a great job, Mom!”  At the time, my mother was considered very ‘cool’, and we were all proud of her for doing something that (especially back then) was a little unusual and brave.

My mother spent countless hours in the kitchen preparing her family specialties from lasagna, Sunday morning French toast, to rum pudding pie, to penne and meatballs. Many meals she served were Italian (or French, because of my father’s heritage). One memory I have of my mother at the dinner table was when I created a Thanksgiving plate of food for her just prior to everyone starting to eat. She had been running around putting the finishing touches on side dishes, so I wanted to be sure she’d be ready to join us. She was so used to taking care of others,  she was giddy at this small gesture of someone preparing her plate.  When she noticed that I had forgotten to give her turkey, she laughed wildly like it was the funniest thing she had ever seen. She then grabbed me and gave me one of her giant, consuming hugs and a big fat kiss on the cheek.

How I miss the kind of affection you can only get from your mother. 

Here is a picture of my Mom, Elizabeth.

 Mom

We had so many truly heartwarming, comforting times at the dinner table. It was in my mother’s DNA to be sure we had three meals together a day, no matter what else was going on. It was her top priority, and we learned a lot about our family culture, each other, and being part of a group through these meals. Never did she waiver from her goal of creating and enjoying our daily family meals. Fortunately, as the years passed and culture and society changed, she had helping hands from her children and our father, and our meal ritual became more of a group effort–a best practice I’ve identified for sharing meals today.

By the time we were grown and off to college or jobs (35+ years of raising a household teeming with kids)

….my mom lead approximately 35, 135 shared meals.

 

As author Michael Gurian says, “Protect your family rituals like they are gold.”

Gold

As I became a mother to my own children (daughter Jini who is 29, and my son, John, 26) I always tried to channel the spectacular, fiercely committed, joyful, effervescent spirit of my Mom.  Naturally, a shared-meal ritual with my kids was featured in our home as they were growing up.

My Mom protected us, and she protected our family’s rituals. It was my mother’s commitment to our meals together that initially prompted me to research the family meal ritual, and pursue writing the book “The Shared-Meal Revolution”  It was then that I gained a full understanding of the importance and benefits you can receive from this simple activity.  I so value the role of being a mother, and understand firsthand the challenges mothers face, especially with today’s lifestyle of overcrowded schedules, work demands and distracting technology.  It was my recognition of how modern living can keep us from our best intentions, such as sitting down together to enjoy a meal each day, that inspired me to write my book.  Mothers today have the same amount of love and devotion as my mother. It’s just that life  is more complex in 2014, and this complexity can make our best intentions fall away…

Although I mentioned that my mother was selfless (very common in her generation), I believe that healthy homes include people working together towards goals. No one can, or should, do it all alone.  In my book, I offer strategies and tools to help you create a plan: either reinforce a shared-meal ritual you currently have, or develop one for the first time, working together, to fit the specific needs of your family.

As I observed and experienced with my mother, keeping a shared-meal ritual is a deliberate and daily action of expressing love.

 

How are you celebrating Mother’s Day?

Are there rituals in your home that you learned from your mother that you want to renew? 

I’d love to hear any stories you wish to share which honor YOUR mother (share a picture, too!)

 

~Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful mothers~

 

If you’d like to start or revamp your shared-meal ritual, please read more about my book/project: “The Shared-Meal Revolution”.

Click  here to visit my website. Feel free to look around for some helpful information and tools. Let’s connect on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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Apr 30th

Shared meals starting (very) young

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About a month ago I posted a picture of my niece (in-law), Liz. Every week of her pregnancy, she created a weekly chalkboard drawing highlighting how big the baby is at that week (using food references).  This picture was posted yesterday, 1 day before she gave birth (although the baby was considered a little past 38 weeks, per the doctor).

Lizpumpkin

Here’s a recent picture last week of CJ and Liz (did I mention Liz is a photographer?)

CJandLizAnd just yesterday, Liz gave birth to their son…

Meet…Thayer James Archambeault

ThayerJamesLiz and CJ have a shared meal every day together and can’t wait to have meals with Thayer, too.

Whether the mother is breastfeeding or the mother/father bottlefeed their child, that is really their first shared meal. What could be sweeter?  I recommend starting to treat meal times for the child as a sacred event right from the start, in a relaxing and joyful environment, and incorporating at least one meal a day as the baby/toddler grows to create childhood shared meal experiences, and lifelong habits.

My brother Carl (who is also my twin) is such a proud Grandpa!

Thayer weighed in at 7 lbs, 11 oz. Liz had a very quick delivery; she entered the hospital after her water broke around 3pm and the baby delivered at 5:14pm.

CJ and Liz are from Green Bay, WI, so he’s already styling in his Packers outfit–love the little cheesehead on top of his cap!ThayerGreenBay

Congratulations to Carl and Liz, and every new parent welcoming a new baby into their family.

If you’d like to read more about the importance of sharing meals, and get tips to help you start a shared-meal plan for your family, visit my site here: The Shared-Meal Revolution www.shared-meals.com/tools

 

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Apr 22nd

Does your dining space need a makeover?

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My friend Angela, a part-time design guru, recently helped me redecorate my entire home.  Because sharing meals is an important activity and priority in my lifestyle, it was especially important to me to redesign the dining space.

Here is the dining table and chairs I had been using. Nothing wrong with this table at all, really. I liked this table because it was round, white and classic. It extended to fit about 6 people comfortably. I liked the chairs because I found them at a flea market and painted them a very pale lavender, and re-covered them with different pattern/materials, so that was fun to do.  I had many wonderful shared meals here with friends and family, but this dining space and decor was feeling kind of ‘tired’ to me. It didn’t reflect the vibrancy and passion I feel about sharing meals, and the space was very awkward to use because it was narrow:

oldtableandchairs

So my good friend Angela and I set out to bring my shared-meal space back to a renewed energy.  We had to come up with a different plan to use the existing carpet, paint, and space (long and narrow) to create a fabulous space. She led the way with some great ideas on how to use the space (I must give her the majority of the credit, because she deserves it!)  We worked with what I wanted the space to be: bright, cheerful, happy, inviting, welcoming, loving, modern, and a little bit of shine….

Here are some pictures of my new space!

dining space

NOTE: what you see pictured here is modestly-priced items (many IKEA) and DIY projects.

We decided to use a long extended black table and to put it against the wall to create more room for people/chairs (the table can be pulled into the center of the space with seats for people on all sides of the table for larger parties).

table

chairWe matched with white leather chairs (sturdy, comfortable, very reasonably priced! convenient – slide in/out easily). I just love these chairs and you can sit and enjoy dinner conversation for an extended period of time because they are so supportive for the back.  The carpet was not something I would typically have selected, but my friend Angela convinced me that it would add vibrancy and energy to the room, and it surely did!

We put some fabric over canvas, and created some color with the silk flowers in the corner:

artwork

Angela created this framed art – it was simple:  mosaic, round mirror glued on a square mirror, painted matting, and framed in white:

mirrors

 

We added a little more color (and some nature) with these great terrarium bowls and filled them with lemons:

lemons

 

 

 

 

 

 

groupancestors

Next came a little artwork:

This colorful one symbolizes people working together (a must for a successful shared-meal ritual) and the beauty of coming into the ‘light’.  It’s joyful to me (which is what I was looking for in my dining space.)

This other image (right)  is a newly framed picture I have of my mother as a young woman (she’s top row,  on left) and my maternal grandparents from Italy.  I find it’s sweet to include pictures of people you once shared meals with into your dining space.

As I write in my book, The Shared-Meal Revolution, the quality of the environment where you share meals can make a huge difference in the experience, whether you are eating in your own home, someone else’s, outside, or at a restaurant.

You can create your home dining space to look any way you like it (casual, formal, colorful, neutral, exciting, relaxed, etc.) The most important detail is to ask yourself….”Does it reflect the personalities of the people who gather here?” 

I feel SO blessed to have my dining space updated, refreshed and renewed!  My kids love the new space too and we are making some wonderful shared-meal memories in this space.  I think we linger a little longer than usual because it feels so bright and welcoming and we love to share our time together here.

What about your dining space?

Are you happy with the way your dining space currently is?  Does it reflect the love and the people who share meals together here?  If not, what could you do to create a refreshed look for your dining space? Please share your thoughts, ideas, and feel free to ask any questions!

If you’d like to learn more about the importance of sharing meals, and The Shared-Meal Revolution, please click here for more information about my book project: The Shared-Meal Revolution
P.S. In a future blog, I’ll be sharing tips to help create a positive dining environment for your shared meals!

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