Shared Meals Matter Blog

Jul 22nd

How a Lesson About Swimming Can Help Your Shared Meals

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Recently I was marveling at the swimming trials for the Olympics.  How I love to see those swimmers. They move so smoothly and with such precision.  Each one shows incredible skill and poise.

I’m a really awkward swimmer.  The average person watching me would chuckle and say I’m a pretty poor swimmer (I laugh about it too.)  I’ve attributed this fact to my poor eyesight (“Coke bottle” glasses as a kid) and a lack of stamina in activities that require me to hold my breath (asthma as a young adult).  But the truth is I love to be in the water.  Any chance I get to hop in a refreshing pool and ‘swim’ is a good day for me, even though I can usually only eek out some mini-laps bursts, a few yards at a time.  But I still love the way swimming makes me feel.

Often, people become ‘good’ (or skilled) at activities they enjoy doing.  This may be because they become knowledgeable about what they’re doing, apply themselves, and gain a lot of experience. 

But do you have to be good at something to enjoy doing it?  Of course not!

 

diving

For some people, a kitchen is a very intimidating place.  You may think because you are not naturally a good cook that you don’t belong in the kitchen.  That’s simply not true!  I personally am not an amazing cook, or baker, for that matter.  Some people are surprised to hear this because I wrote a book [The Shared-Meal Revolution] about sharing meals.  People also assume as the youngest of 11 children born to an Italian mother I have natural cooking talents and am whipping up Osso Buco every night.  But that’s not me.  I lack discipline (in measuring ingredients) and at times I’m strangely impatient for the end result.  But there is truly nothing I enjoy more than being in the kitchen, working with different foods and ingredients, and creating something delicious.

Because I love to be in the kitchen, in the activity of making something that I’ll enjoy with other people, I truly enjoy it!

And, like swimming, I do it because I love the way it makes me feel.

I wonder…how many of us allow our self-talk of, “I don’t know how to cook” keep us away from the kitchen?

Why not “re-frame” the way you think about your cooking skills?

Here’s a few tips:
Think about the beauty of the ingredients (the shape of an artichoke, or the complexity of something as simple as the layers of a head of lettuce.)
Resist feeling defeated that your lemon meringue pie doesn’t look like Ina Garten’s on TV (It’s the taste that counts!)
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good (A famous and helpful quote to remember in general – perfection is overrated!)
Make a grilled turkey and tomato sandwich with a fruit salad on the side for dinner (and don’t knock yourself for not making a more formal entrée.)
You don’t need to “recreate the wheel” every night (Make a grilled turkey and avocado sandwich!  If it helps you grow your comfort in the kitchen, make ‘repeat’ meals with minor variations.)
Use your senses – turn on some music that makes you happy and adjust the lighting that puts you in the mood you want for that meal (and get some energy flowing!)
Invite someone in the kitchen to join you! (I always advocate for more multiple people in the kitchen…why should one person have all the fun?)
Let yourself feel good and enjoy the experience (regardless if everything goes smoothly or not!)

changingway

I hope the next time you are thinking about preparing a meal that you remember my tips, and start feeling how much you can enjoy this activity — and forget the rest about having ‘skills’.  Think about my story about swimming and “dive in”! This fresh perspective could make all the difference in your shared-meal experiences (and by the way, relaxing about your current skills will help you naturally get better with time, if that’s important to you.)
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If you’d like to learn more about how to rejuvenate your shared meals, check out my website.
P.S. Write me and let me know if my tips helped you – I’d love to hear from you!

 

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Jun 25th

5 Important Things a New Kids’ Watch Says About Our Society

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Scrolling through Facebook posts today I noticed a post about a new kids’ watch called “Octopus”.  I’m a fan of smartwatch technology (my son uses one to monitor a medical condition) so I was eager to open this Video of the new “Octopus” watch. Please take a look at this video before reading further.

I admit it took me a few viewings to sort out my feelings for it. (BTW, I have no association with the manufacturer. How we manage our home lives, and make time for sharing meals, is what I research.)

About the video…

What I liked about it…
–the little girl featured seemed eager to handle personal responsibilities (such as getting out of bed, brushing teeth)
–she took a role in family rituals like setting out the cereal bowls for family breakfast (yay for shared meals!)
–she prepared food with her mother (awesome! kids in the kitchen is always great)
–the video claims it “teaches kids good habits” (more accurately, it reminds kids about good habits)

girl-doing-chores-iStock

What rubbed me the wrong way…
–“self-esteem” examples (such as notifying a parent through the push of a button that teeth brushing is done–what’s the parent’s role in personal interaction? and do our tasks completed need to be immediately announced?)
–the video says, “It’s an assistant that helps parents prioritize their expectations” (that seems loaded, and I’m not sure exactly what it means)
–the claim of “no more daily struggles” (I hope that technology doesn’t alleviate all of our struggles, because this can rob us of opportunities to learn from each other and develop collaboration in a personal way.)

This product seems telling of challenges facing many family households. (And I am certainly not attempting to cover all of the issues here in this little blog.)

Here are 5 Important Things this Watch Says:
[along with my personal point of view]

1. Parents feel out of control in their households.
[no judgment, I’ve been there.]
2. Kids, even very young ones, feel the pressure of time as adults do
[we should be careful not to over-emphasize the value of efficiency in daily life]
3. Parents are wanting/expecting their kids to take responsibility and participate in family life.
[a welcome shift from over-permissive parenting where kids have no structure or responsibility]
4. Parents  embrace the idea of technology as a “parent’s assistant.”
[some working parents may feel forced by the demands of the workplace to increasingly create a tech substitute for them at home]
5. We’re becoming a more mechanized society to manage the most routine aspects of daily living.
[this could have some positive implications, but allowing our home lives the opportunity for spontaneity vs. (only) structure seems a more enjoyable and soulful way to live]

What are your thoughts about this watch?
Would you ask your kids to use it?

I’d love to hear from you!
——

I love the idea of kids getting in the kitchen, setting the table, and participating in a family meal ritual. To me, it’s something that all families should make time for, once a day. Click here to go to my website to learn more about my book, The Shared-Meal Revolution which will give you all kinds of info about why sharing meals with your family and friends is so relevant in today’s society.  You can also browse articles you may find helpful.

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Jun 17th

The 4 ‘Magic’ Words that Fathers Can Use that Can Change Everything

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A colleague of mine, who is a brand new father, shared with me his frustrations that he hasn’t been able to get any sleep since his newborn arrived a few weeks ago. He said his wife is struggling with breastfeeding, and maybe in general to being a new mom, and he’s at a loss to help her feel better. He asked me if I had any ideas of what to say to her, besides offering resources for breastfeeding coaching, which they are already doing. My friend stopped shuffling his papers on his desk, hanging on any word I might offer to ease the situation for his wife and allow him to catch a few more Zzzzzs, too. I stopped for a moment to recycle my thoughts about my own breastfeeding and new mom experiences years ago.  Like some women, I remember very well trying to find my way, wanting to give up at times, so I could easily relate to the feelings his wife might be going through.

And naturally, since breastfeeding is really the first shared meal that a baby experiences, I really wanted to help!

I was genuinely stumped for a few minutes, wondering if anything this mother of now fully grown adults might advise that might make a difference. As I turned to leave my friend’s office promising to think about it further on my own, I remembered the 4 words that is music to my ears when I’m feeling alone and struggling.  I spun back on my heels, turned to my friend and cheerfully offered he say these simple words to his wife:

HowCanIHelp

I said, “Just put your arms around her and say, ‘How Can I Help?’….and then just sit quietly.”

We talked about how new mothers are quite often way too hard on themselves trying to be perfect for their newborns, while valiantly navigating their incredibly important new Mom role.  Sometimes all new moms want is to know someone is there who really gets it, who isn’t trying to create an instant fix, but is standing by, ready to help.

It’s a helpful reminder that all of us, in practically any situation we’re stuck on, can offer these 4 little words, this one simple phrase, to try to ease someone’s burden.  And of course, taking action, if there is something you can do.

MotherFatherBaby

My advice to anyone feeling stuck on how to help someone, regardless of the situation, always start with, “How Can I Help?”

It’s a genuine and simple way to show someone you are standing by, and can help you both break into a larger conversation of support.

A very special Father’s day to all you caring and loving dads!


There are many ways fathers can help with shared meals in their homes. Look for an upcoming blog on this topic soon! In the meantime, feel free to explore the media gallery of articles on my website for ideas on how to collaborate and strengthen your shared meals.

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Jan 29th

At a loss for words by dinnertime?

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Sometimes after a long day, when everyone makes it to the table for a meal, we’re all pretty exhausted.  That means conversation can take a hit.  Being Italian, conversations in my family have come pretty easily, but it’s not that way for everyone.

So what happens when everyone in your house is exhausted and doesn’t have a lot to say?

Do you find yourself eating in front of the TV so you don’t have to make conversation?

TVeating

As tempting as that may sound (and we all have been there after a long week!), I’d like to encourage you to stay together at the table, and start chatting it up with each other.  Talking about even just one creative topic could lead to some truly energizing and inspiring conversation! And sharing a meal at the end of everyone’s hectic day is a fine way to stay connected.

Looking for some conversation topics to get things moving? Here’s 10 topics to help you get gabbing when things go stale at the table. (And I’m not talking about the food!)

  1. What was your favorite 60 seconds of today?
  2. What did you overhear someone saying that caught your attention?
  3. What vegetable do you most resemble?
  4. Describe the meal you are eating now–in only five words.
  5. If you had to choose one meal to eat for the rest of your life, three times a day, what meal would you choose?
  6. If a movie was made about your life, which actor would you choose to portray you?
  7. Would you prefer 30 consecutive days of complete solitude, or 30 days with 20 people at your side?
  8. If you could have one superpower, what would you choose?
  9. If you could be any age again for one week, which age would you choose?
  10. What person from history would you want to invite to a meal?

Sometimes all it takes is a fun question to encourage everyone to reconnect after a long day.

What will you learn at your table today? people-talking-dinner

If you’d like to learn more about the importance of sharing meals to keep us connected, visit my website for lots of more articles and helpful info!

 

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Jul 17th

Technology Addiction Hurting your Children? [Science says it is.] Here’s One (Easy and Effective) Habit to Help!

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Every time I’m on social media I see one post after another about how you can’t be in any type of social space (concerts, parks, birthday parties, restaurants, museums, etc….) without seeing obvious signs of technology addiction. When we’re gathering we’re near-silent with virtually no mental or emotional investment in our surroundings.  This common scene is kind of disheartening, don’t you think?

Why be together if you’re not really present?

techdinnertable

So when I saw this recent NY Times article about Technology Addiction and Children, I knew I had to write this blog to offer a reminder about the growing problem of our devices invading our space, and to help you be aware of how this overuse of technology actually can hurt you, and your children. [Science says it’s true.]

As this article says, too much dependence and overuse of technology can significantly affect emotional behavior (such as causing kids to feel lonely and depressed), contribute to unhealthy weight gain (for example, snacking mindlessly to marathon-play Minecraft), and leave children without the ability to learn how to handle their emotions (feeling, thinking, responding to real life situations).  Studies show that too much tech use can also cause kids to lose the ability to focus and develop critical thinking skills.  Kids need to practice actually having conversation to learn to express their thoughts and ideas (and take the time to reflect upon what their ideas are in the first place).

When we’re with others in person without the distraction of technology we can experience all the nuances of communication like noticing body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Otherwise, we might as well all look and act the same, and mechanically interact like “Master Chief” from Halo.

MasterChief

This problem is real. And it’s hardly just a problem for kids!  (Ask any parent or adult who is coping with their own tech use.)

But still–many of us deny this is an issue and consider constant tech presence a way of life.  

But is it really the way life has to be?   —-    Nope, actually it’s not.

A very logical and practical antidote to technology addiction is to share 1 meal a day.

Come out of the virtual clouds and be with someone you love!

techboy

When you think about it, sharing one meal a day is a pretty simple way to address this problem.

If you have just one shared meal a day you are helping to offset many negative effects that technology addiction can cause.  You are preserving your bond with someone you love, preserving your ability to focus, solve problems, and regulate your emotions. [These are not small things! Wouldn’t you agree?]

Making space for just one shared meal a day won’t keep people from powering up in every social situation, but it will provide us all a baseline of social skills that this society can’t afford to lose.

Here’s a few final tips to help you get started:

  • Set a time to talk about tech boundaries in your household (what are some reasonable boundaries you can create right away…today?)
  • Develop a shared-meal plan that allows you to share at least 1 meal a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner…it doesn’t matter which!)
  • Keep your devices away from the dining space (so you can converse and enjoy each other’s company).
  • Take a moment to consider if you really need to check that email the next time you are at a concert, birthday party, or any social event.  (Ask yourself, “Can it wait? Chances are, it can.)

techfree.jpg

If you’d like to read more about creating a shared-meal plan for your family, feel free to visit my website at www.shared-meals.  I’d love to chat with you and hear about your experiences in helping to preserve connection with people you love.

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May 9th

Mother’s Day: We’re getting wiser about how to be good mothers

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When growing up, I saw my mother, Elizabeth, working tirelessly—24/7 (and I say this with no exaggeration)—to show her dedication to her kids and family. I truly, greatly, deeply appreciate all she did.

But I also learned that being a good mother is not about sacrifice.

It’s about modeling loving behaviors.

I feel my mother was so busy orchestrating the moments for us, insisting on doing all the work on her own, she missed out on fully experiencing some of those moments.

That makes me sad for her. Unfortunately for my mother and the family that loved her, she developed Alzheimer’s disease shortly after retiring, so she didn’t get to take the trips she always planned to take back to Italy, or have time to just ‘be’.

One of the things my mother participated in most fully, and with all her heart, was our shared meals.  These times together nourished our bodies, but also fed our hearts with loving connection.

My mother’s legacy was helping us build a strong family over the dinner table.  It was the most important activity in our home, and was/is with my family too.  It’s the go-to haven where we fill up our bellies and souls and stop the world long enough to truly appreciate that we are fully alive, and we have each other’s support to make the often bumpy road of life a little smoother.

What’s helping mothers to be wiser is that we are realizing that we do not have to do it all.

There are helping hands all around us. We just need to ask.

Getting everyone involved in the process of sharing a meal — from picking out the dishes you’ll make, shopping for the ingredients, cooking the actual meal, preparing the dining space in which you’ll eat–is helping mothers be able to enjoy the experience much more.

And, it’s modeling loving behavior by teaching your kids about working together, and staying connected every day.

familyprepmeal

Mothers are realizing that keeping it simple, and keeping it real, is the way to go.

Ask for help from your family members.
Don’t even try to make a meal for the family every day on your own. Everyone helping just a little makes a daily shared meal  possible.

Simplify meal planning.
A lovely plate of spaghetti, or a hearty soup and salad, is all that is needed for a complete and satisfying meal.

Keep tech boundaries.
There’s a time and place for everything, but let’s turn off the devices so you can appreciate the moment of being together in person.

Make 1 daily shared meal a priority (over any other activity)
The power and benefits of sharing meals is so important to healthy development in both the short and long run that reducing even one activity in your schedule to accommodate a shared meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner – doesn’t matter which meal) is the best thing you can do for your family.

Wise mothers today know they can’t do it all, and they’re not going to try.  They ask for help.  They participate fully in the experiences they are creating with their families. And they teach their children the legacy of love through creating and sharing meals.

Don’t wait for Mother’s Day one time a year to be spoiled!

Spoil yourself, and your family, all  year long with a daily shared-meal ritual.

Happy Mother’s Day!

eatingtogetherfamily

*****

If you’d like to learn more about the many benefits you and your family receive when sharing a daily meal, and resources to building a shared-meal plan in your home, please visit my website.

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Apr 4th

Would YOU secretly hack your own family’s tech devices?

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I love how technology can help us to grow together in new ways.  This device (created in Australia by a company called Domila) is called a “Pepper Hacker.”   It’s a sneaky but effective way to help families realize that there is a time and place for technology, and a shared meal is not the place for your family’s tech devices.

How can you connect with people at your shared meal if you’re distracted and immersed in a virtual experience?

Take a look at the video (below) and please share your point of view!

  • Do you think it’s rude for people to use technology at the dinner table?
  • Would you use a Pepper Hacker device to try to control your family’s tech devices?
  • What are your tech practices when sharing a meal? 

My opinion is this is a good way to call attention to the issue and help start a dialogue about keeping your shared meals a “tech free zone”.   It’ll at least give everyone a taste of a tech-free shared-meal experience (something they may not have had in years!) Hopefully, this new experience will be more rewarding and the “Pepper Hacker” will become obsolete!

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Jan 26th

Marja and Eric – giving their all to make people happy

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My son, John, told me a few months ago about how a childhood friend, Marja, had moved to Wisconsin to open a restaurant with her husband. Both my son and I were really impressed how his friend and her husband followed their instincts about creating a happy life for themselves from California all the way to Wisconsin. They now have a life that is hard work, but also full of joy, inspiration, and shared meals.

Here is Marja’s and Eric’s story (plus a delicious pie recipe!):

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When my husband and I arrived at what is now The Cabin Restaurant in scenic Door County, Wisconsin, we had a moment.

We had just signed our lives over for our dream– to own a restaurant in the beautiful area of the country where we had honeymooned just a short year before. We looked at each other, smiling as my husband put the key in the lock. He turned it.

It didn’t open.

It was the key for the back door.
We walked around.

The first few years were hard. Really hard. I remember being afraid to go check the mail because I knew there were so many bills we couldn’t pay. But every year it got better, and during winter (our off-season) I learned how to cook. First I learned chili, then split pea soup. I learned how to cook a ribeye on the grill, and how to broil fish. Then I tackled what is now my trademark– scratch made, decadent desserts. I definitely had pride for myself that I needed to get through the tough times.

Whenever I get down on myself, or start to feel sorry for myself for never getting a Saturday night off or a paycheck or whatever– I remind myself that I’m in the business of giving my all to make people happy. I’m not an E.R. doctor, I’m a baker. Seeing people enjoy a meal with their spouses, neighbors, or friends is such a joy. Often I can hear them raving about their favorite meals at other restaurants while they happily  eat their meal here. I feel lucky to spread joy in such a way.

So, I’m sharing with you a very unique recipe that I think you and your friends and family will greatly enjoy. A sweet and citrus-y pie, my Shaker Lemon Pie will brighten a summer evening or even a cold winter night. Please enjoy.

ShakerLemonPie

Marja’s Shaker Lemon Pie Recipe (and signature killer crust)

Day before: Wash 3 lemons and zest them. Peel a total of 6 lemons, and chop, making sure to remove seeds. Leaving them at room temperature for a few hours (or running hot water over them) helps.

Place in a small bowl and add 2 cups sugar. Cover and let sit in refrigerator overnight.

Killer crust:

In medium to large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 c flour, 1/4 c sugar, and 1/2 t salt.

Using your hands, mix in 1/2 cup shortening until fully incorporated. Add 1/2 cup unsalted butter, using fingertips to break butter apart leaving some bits rather large, pea sized or larger.

Measure 100ml cold water in a measuring cup. Add 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar.

Pouring at the edges of flour mixture, add water in 3 stages. Mix dough in between each addition. It should come together. Add additional water in very small amounts if dough is dry.

Divide mix until two balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and flatten into a disc. Place in fridge to rest for at least 20 minutes while you prepare filling.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Filling: Place lemon-sugar mixture in food processor and pulse until it’s broken up.

In medium bowl, beat 3 eggs. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter and slowly whisk into eggs. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add lemon mix and 4 tablespoons flour (all purpose is fine. I have good luck with tapioca flour as well) and set aside while you roll out your crust.

When crusts are ready, fill pie and crimp edges. Brush crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Cut slits to vent.

I place foil strips around pie edges– my Shaker Lemon Pie seems to brown very quickly. You can skip this and cover edges (carefully!) later if your pie becomes too brown too early.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes and turn down oven to 350 to cook for an additional 30 minutes, removing foil strips (if using) halfway through.

Serve pie with sweetened freshly whipped cream.

Cheers and happy eating!

******

NOTE: If you ever find yourself in Door County, Wisconsin, please pay Marja and Eric a visit and enjoy their delicious food and pies! Click on this link to visit The Cabin!

 

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Jan 21st

The State of the Union…(around our dining tables!)

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Hearing President Obama’s State of the Union address made me think about taking care of our values and priorities in our homes.

It also made me wonder about how we are doing with the ‘State of the Union’ around our dining tables.

The final part of the President’s speech focused on values – what we want American culture to represent.   We’ll have to leave the work of getting America’s priorities in order to Mr. Obama and the 535 members of Congress, but we can work on our own ‘State of the Union” – how we are joining with others to fulfill our personal values, priorities…and enjoy unity with each other.

familyDinner_2549336b

What’s the current ‘State of the Union’ at your dining table?

A. I’m so focused on getting things done, I don’t have the luxury to think about having a meal with other people. Many times I feel disconnected from my own life.

or

B. There’s always something else to do, but I don’t let that get in my way. I plan a time once a day (any meal, it doesn’t matter) to be sure I’m connecting with people I care about.

If your answer is A., don’t worry.

You’re like many of us who have struggled to find time to share meals with others. But, when you don’t share meals together, you are missing out on one of the most joyful and life-balancing activities you could do! And research shows that shared-meals offer benefits in many areas including social, psychological, physical, academic, cultural-ethnic, spiritual, and creative. So don’t miss out! (Read more about these benefits in my book!)

The very good news is that once you start identifying what your values and priorities are in terms of meal sharing, you can improve your dining table ‘State of the Union’.  It’s all about aligning your values with your actions.

Here are a few steps to get you started:

1)  Determine how many times you are gathering for a shared meal. [See my website for a free 2-week Frequency Survey you can print and use.]

2) Gather your family members (or spouse, or friends) and outline the kind of shared-meal plan you would like to create with those in your shared-meal circle [See pages 103-107 in my book “The Shared-Meal Revolution” to help guide you in your discussion, and for a choice of 2 shared-meal planning templates.]

3) Support your new shared-meal plan by using available resources (such as the free ones on my website) to reinforce your daily ritual.

I’d love to hear about how your dining table ‘State of the Union’ is developing  Feel free to write to me at carol@shared-meals.com and tell me how it’s going! I’m happy to answer any questions or give you advice as well.  It’s my mission to help families and people everywhere connect one time a day over a shared meal. 

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Nov 25th

“What If….?” Give yourself permission to have a “holiday” meal every day

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We really don’t have to limit ourselves to 3 or 4 truly wonderful meals a year.

 

Shortly after Halloween, people start getting energy about the holiday season approaching.

One of the activities that people spend a lot of time and energy on is gathering together for holiday meals.

It’s this time of year when people are most cooperative…

“What can I bring?”

“How can I help?”

“Would you like me to cook something?”

“What time works for everyone’s schedule?”

 

It’s pretty amazing, right?

familystays

Although holiday meals require people to plan and do some ‘work’ for the meal, in general, the spirit of these meals are cooperative, and open.

There’s a feeling of anticipation.

The mood is lighthearted.

There’s a feeling of welcoming and inclusion.

People gathered are civil and respectful.

There’s gratitude flowing for taking the time to be together to share the meal, and experience.

What if… these thoughtful, cooperative habits were continued throughout 365 days of the year?

What if… we had at least 1 meal a day with someone we care about in which we bring that same great spirit of cooperation, joy and connection?

What if…we gave ourselves permission to have a “holiday” meal each and every day?

Don’t you feel you deserve it?  I know I do.

And I know you deserve it too.

 

Life should not be just about work and obligations.  We need to feel connection with others, and experience one time a day when we are caring for ourselves too.

We can provide that all around caring by sharing a meal, once a day.

loveis

Many people reading this post will think it’s insane to consider doing this, but the truth is, it is not.

It’s totally achievable to start (or renew) a shared-meal ritual in your home that will provide you with a daily dose of Thanksgiving.

It only requires your desire to stay connected with others in meaningful, consistent ways, and with the plan of pitching in to help each other.

It’s really that simple.

When you create a plan that’s right for you, it won’t feel like 360+ days of work.  You’ll feel alive and joyful.

***

If you’d like to learn more about joining The Shared-Meal Revolution, see my book here, and check out my website resources for helpful info.  You can also write to me at carol@shared-meals.com any time. I’d love to hear from you!

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