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Meals can be like writing for me at times––I have plenty of ideas and inspiration until I sit down to write them out. I’ve found the same has been true for my children in their meal planning. At first, their personal favorites take lead, but moving beyond those easy ideas can be challenging. Having recipe books, Pinterest boards, and a list of meals we’ve already made can be so helpful for this. It’s also helpful for me to give them a topic, i.e. a large salad, something grilled, a vegetable I might have on hand. You get the idea. We have a variety of recipe books on hand, but here are a few we are enjoying the most right now.

The Forest Feast for Kids | We gifted this book to my youngest a few years ago and she has loved it! The recipes are simple and easy to follow, the ingredients are easy to find or substitute, and the images are clear and colorful on every page, making it a perfect start for younger chefs. Wink. The one downside is that the amount of recipes in the book is comparatively slim, but my daughter doesn’t seem to mind returning to her favorite ones again and again. Family Favorites: quinoa edamame salad, pasta with carrots and zucchini, swiss chard quiche, pear galette.

Chop Chop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family | Here is another recipe book we have enjoyed for years. Think of it less like a recipe book and more as a visual cooking manual for children (and adults). It does offer plenty of recipes, but more importantly, it shows how to build their own [salad, sandwich, burger, smoothie]. The book offers lists of ingredients, toppings, or condiment options, combinations of smoothie mixtures or sandwich or burger fillers. The format is easy for children to flip through and enjoy, with clear instructions and images (although not an image for every recipe). This is a wonderful resource! We’ve made salad dressings, drinks, smoothies, condiments from this one.

Love & Lemons Everyday | This is a new book on our shelf and already a growing favorite. The images are clean and colorful, and more importantly, the instructions are clear and the ingredients are found in most any grocery store. To note, the recipes are vegetarian, but most would be easy to adapt with a grilled fish or an animal protein. Family favorites: Raspberry Basil Sorbet, Peach and Pole Bean Salad with Dill

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables | This is one of my personal favorites! Color-coded with six different growing seasons, this recipe book sparks broader conversations and ideas about the types of vegetables in season (when they are most economical and available at local farmer’s markets or through CSAs). The recipes are a bit more complex for children and there are fewer images, but teens and adults looking for new ways to enjoy seasonal veggies will enjoy it!

It’s All Good | Our family has enjoyed this recipe book for years. The recipes may be somewhat complex for children, but the beautiful images of the food or Gwyneth and her children will spark interest. Family favorites: Crazy Good Fish Tacos; Whole Grilled Pink Snapper with Herbs, Garlic, and Lemon; Thai Chicken Burgers.

Eat What You Love | I received this at one of Danielle Walker’s book events in the Spring, and although we haven’t made a lot from it yet, we’ve enjoyed the images and stretching into new ingredients. She has included several of her family’s favorite foods, from cookies to sweet potato fries, so your children are sure to find something they enjoy. The downside is the ingredient lists are often long, and if you don’t regularly eat GF or DF, you may find yourself spending a lot of money on the ingredients. If you’re looking to make a jump into a Paleo or Grain-Free lifestyle, this is a win! Family favorites: seasoned sweet potato fries; chicken caesar salad; white wine, mushroom, and spinach sauté.

Our family table has long played a central role in our home, whether in mealtimes, school work, or neighborly connection and yet, by the end of the Spring, it seemed to be dissolving somehow. Mealtimes were irregular or rushed. We struggled to find time for other people to join us for dinner. My children’s curiosity about food or what was happening in the kitchen seemed to be waning. I found myself shouldering most of the planning, shopping, and prepping meals again. Sometimes when life begins to spin, I become caught in the whirl, tossed by the chaos, when what is needed is for me to stop and rearrange our family life so that genuine connection regains priority. We have many regular family conversations about the collaborative work required to make a home. In short, everyone contributes; everyone’s effort matters.

On that note, last month, after a family conversation where I shared all of this, the kids took responsibility for four dinners a week again. They paired off, taking two nights per pair, rotating who leads the meal making/planning and who is the helper. Each child plans one full meal a week, checks what we already have, and writes down what we need for the grocery list. They do have to submit ideas to me for approval, mostly to make sure there’s diversity to our meals and that they don’t select anything that might be too complex for our schedule that week. I encourage them to flip through recipe books or think back to the meals they’ve enjoyed most. I still help them, of course, but I am an aid to them, available for questions and to help how they might need it, rather than leading the charge. And many times, they enjoy the freedom to direct the kitchen without my help at all. It has been refreshing.

I included a few guidelines for our meal planning below, as well as a few meals they have made. I linked to a few of the recipe resources, too. We have just started discussing meal budgets in meal planning and may in the future add that boundary to the mix. For now, the goal is simply for them to be creative and inspired by the kitchen again, to be reminded of the healing nature of community around the table and the responsibility we each have in cultivating it. I am the check-and-balance, keeping a loose idea of how rare or expensive the ingredients might be or how long a meal might take to create. It is all a part of a conversation in our Sunday meal planning together.

SIMPLE MEAL GUIDELINES

Vegetables are required at every meal. Meat is not.

Pasta only once a week, with veggies.

Limit oven meals in the summer. Use the grill when possible.

Eat seasonally, when possible.


MEALS THE KIDS HAVE MADE

rainbow chard quiche + mixed berry spinach salad

creamy pasta pomodoro + mixed green salad

roasted poblano fish tacos (we make these a variety of ways)

pulled pork sliders + jalapeño coleslaw + caesar salad

grilled herbed salmon + quinoa edamame salad

BLTA subs + sliced watermelon

pasta with zucchini + carrot ribbons + spinach salad

grilled chicken + white wine, mushroom, spinach sauté

gemelli pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes, garden basil, spinach, and fresh parmesan

baked sweet potatoes with various toppings + spinach salad

grilled chicken sandwiches with avocado + sun-dried tomatoes + parmesan truffle potato fries

Most Friday evenings, our family gathers around our large table to enjoy our borrowed tradition of Shabbat, the formal finish of a week of work and the beginning of a day of rest (Sabbath). We are in our third year of practicing this ritual, and our entire family loves it. There are weeks it is more casual with less detail, and other weeks where everything seems to fall into the right place. Regardless, the intentional breaking of bread together, the intentional choice to leave our work behind is special, and one I encourage all families to adapt to their own ethos and begin early in their homes.

I know many of you have messaged me or left comments, longing for a beautiful weekly family meal, but feeling the impossibility with young children and babies in the mix. I encourage you, your children will be such a help to this practice as they grow older––but you do not need to wait to begin. Adapting and simplifying the experience and decor is the most important part with toddlers and preschoolers in the mix. And for those who are curious to begin, here is are a few ideas to keep the younger family table approachable and appropriate for your littles.


Keep Tea Light Candles + Votives Stocked / Rolling beeswax candles is a favorite cold-weather practice here, but sometimes having top-heavy tapers on the table with toddlers feels can feel like a potential fire hazard. Instead keep some beeswax tea lights on hand to slip into votive jars. These last up to 9 hours. Or if you have candle remnants or local beeswax to use, try filling these molds and wicks for a winter craft.

Set Bamboo Tableware / Since families with littles might not have extra hands for clean-up, or may have even less hands available for clean-up because of post-dinner bedtime routines, consider having some pretty, compostable or eco-friendly tableware on hand for this regular meal. Although a bit pricey, we used these compostable plates for a large holiday meal we hosted in December to ease clean-up. We also keep this compostable flatware on hand for the same reason, and they’re gentle enough for use with smaller children, although maybe a little small for adults. Wink.

Add a Light-hearted Game / Have a small weekly game each week that your home would enjoy, and that your littles can look forward too. Perhaps it’s finding something hidden around the room before you sit down, or some stickers or a fresh coloring sheet underneath their plate. Training our children to sit an enjoy dinner can be challenging, but finding a way to encourage excitement and longer attention spans is helpful.

Prepare a One-Dish Meal / Even now, with older children in the mix, the more dishes that are begin juggled, the more attention is needed. Focus on one-dish meals to begin, such as a homemade (or frozen) lasagna, roasted meat and vegetables, a hearty soup. Our personal favorite is the Zuni Sheet Pan Chicken from this favorite recipe book. I purchase a pre-chopped whole chicken to save time, or use led quarters to save money and time. Wink. It feels like a lot of steps the first few times you make it, but it becomes easier with practice. Plus, your kitchen will smell divine.

Invite Your Littles to Help / Toddlers and preschool children love to help! Begin incorporating them now, whether creating name cards or helping set the table or put flowers in a vase. Invite them into the experience of preparation and clean-up.

Skip the Tablecloth, Use a Table Runner / Reducing table linens also helps ease clean-up, and can avoid the fire hazard or spilled drinks that might come with tugging on a tablecloth. Instead, opt for a table runner, or even consider using a black or white kraft paper for kids to enjoy coloring on during the meal.

Our family is traveling for Thanksgiving this year, something we haven’t done in several years. Sometimes a change of habit is in order. Still, I have received several questions from readers asking some version of how we create our weekly table, and as this next week turns the corner I thought Thanksgiving might just be the right time to share. Naturally, the ideas here apply beyond the annual Thanksgiving meal, and that’s kind of the point. I find excess table accoutrement cumbersome for our small-ish and active home, and I have learned the value of a few steady table pieces with shifting organic detail. Simplicity truly is beautiful. It also keeps the set-up manageable to involve children. Wink. Here’s a few guidelines and sources for our table.

imperfect is perfect / Our linens are often wrinkled and napkins or plates mismatched. The botanicals are sometime fresh and ornate or other times clippings from a nature walk or dried after use. Some of these details I’ve slowly let go over the years, learning sometimes the imperfect is perfect.

mix + match style | We often use our daily wear dishes and glasses, mixing in a few pieces of China plates Mark found in a flea market at the beginning of our marriage. We also have a few random pieces that were passed down to us as an inheritance. Our cloth napkins have also come from various places and people. And we use a variety of ceramic, brass, and wood candlestick holders.

layered botanicals and edibles | Sometimes I find beautiful greens in the grocery store and sometimes I find them in a field. I am always a sucker for Eucalyptus. For this particular table I used some Eucalyptus I had dried the week before, adding in some fresh greens and bare branches. For last year’s table, I foraged all the greens, adding seasonal fruit and gourds. Leaves make perfect name tags.

garland | This is extension of the last bit, but a few of you have specifically asked me about garland, so I thought I’d separate these instructions. The way I make table garland is very, very simple. I grab plenty of greens, especially if I’m foraging them. If they’re fresh, I place them in water until they’re ready to go on the table. Some plants don’t dry as well as others. I begin with the broadest foliage and place them in opposite directions at each end of the table. Then, I slowly layer them, piece by piece, a little staggered, trimming them as needed. I fill in gap with smaller pieces, and make sure the center, where the branch stems meet, are properly covered. Then I add in pieces of seasonal fruit and gourds, opening pomegranates. I only added gourds this year.

quality, neutral basics | If you follow our table for long, you’ll realize we have the same pieces used again and again. We have two white, high-quality linen table cloths, our white everyday dishes with a few China pieces that rotate, glasses and carafes, wood chargers, and a mixture of candlestick holders. Seasonal details change with the foliage and the napkins, adding color and making each table unique. We add more florals in the spring and summer and more evergreens in the winter. Even though a few of our basics were more expensive, they are things we use again and again, not simply once a year or on a holiday.

I’m sure there are details that I didn’t cover here, so feel free to ask questions in the comments. Otherwise, happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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Rolling beeswax candles is perhaps one of my children’s favorite activities for the home, a task that needs tending more often in the autumn and winter seasons here. Most days, rolled candles array our mantle or tabletop, ready to light whenever the mood of our home needs a little twinkle––whether a family meal or a hum-drum school day. And every Friday night, when the kids set the table for our family Sabbath meal, the candles neatly wedge between our food and plates and flowers. I keep spare sheets in our bureau near the dining table, to quickly roll in a pinch, as they also make the perfect handmade gift for a loved one, a new neighbor, or a seasonal celebration of any sort.

With a little guidance, even preschool children can help with this activity. I’ve purchased this set several times and have never had any trouble with broken sheets or brittle-ness. And of course they always smell divine. It’s a nice starter set, as it includes everything you need, but I do recommend you also purchase an extra spool of wick, as we tend to run out of the pre-packaged wick before the wax sheets. I’ve considered contacting the same company to see if they offer an option to purchase only the wax sheets, but I haven’t done so yet. It seems silly to keep purchasing the same set when we have wick already.

We usually half the large wax sheets into smaller squares, which I recommend unless you’re looking to create particularly long or wide candles. I also encourage my children to keep their fingers straight and to roll slowly like dough––gentle, but tight rolls––as they initially want to use their finger tips to push and sometimes fold the wax instead of rolling it. This has happened a couple of times, and we’ve simply massaged the wax back together into a roll.

Sometimes I prefer the tidy, smooth lines of a tapered beeswax candle, which you can purchase nearly anywhere now. If you prefer the same, especially for special holiday meals later in the season, I’ve purchased and loved these. This fall, I hope to melt and dip our own candles with the kids, a more occasional activity as it requires more time and clean-up. I would love to hear if you have any favorite beeswax sources, for sheets or lumps of wax? I’m sure other readers would like to hear, too.

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I regularly have people ask me how I plan our family meals, and also how I include the kids in the kitchen. I’ve been working on a small upcoming project regarding this topic, which I’ll have more on soon, but for now, I thought I’d share a sample meal plan from our summer table, as it can be helpful for me to peek in on what others are doing when I’m in a rut. As for recipe books, I’ve been mostly using Clean Slate––which I love for the juice/smoothie recipes, educational front matter on clean eating, and detox plans for when for my system feels inflamed (often after summer vacations)––and It’s All Easy––because I am an unabashed GP fan and I love recipes that sound fancier than they are, such as cauliflower tabbouleh, zuni sheet pan chicken, and Bo Bun salad.

Between May and October, our family almost exclusively grills meat, saving the cool air and energy indoors. We still enjoy weekly pancakes on the griddle each Sunday morning and the occasional roasted vegetables with dinner, but more often we eat our veggies raw and varied in these hot months––chopped, spiraled, sliced, minced, or even whole. I find the varied presentation helps disguise their simple nature and also the feeling of redundancy, “carrots for snack again?” Slice or chop them differently, and you may never notice.

Summer produce is my favorite for three reasons: peaches, watermelon, and berries. These fruit naturally end up on our weekly menu in any manner until the season’s end. For simplicity right now, dinner is the only planned meal. Breakfast and lunch are an assortment each family member chooses from at will. We encourage taking only what you’ll finish, and always being considerate of others if you’re about to finish something off. I’m fairly certain years of making morning eggs has burned us out a bit, and no one seems to complain when they are gone for the week. Wink.  Dinner is specifically planned each night, and on the best nights, there’s leftovers to enjoy for lunch the next day. I sometimes shift evening meals around when unexpected things occur in a week (which they almost always do), so it’s nice to have a solid crockpot choice (shredded BBQ chicken for us this week) or an accessible main course for last minute meals. I often have frozen chicken breast or tilapia in the freezer for this reason. One easily grills and the other quickly thaws when I’m in a pinch. For those who are interested, here’s this week’s menu:

 

breakfast

eggs with mixed greens and berries

red or green juice

cereal/oatmeal with berries

fruit + yogurt

lunch

dinner leftovers

lunch meat or hard-boiled eggs

spinach salad with veggies

chips + fresh fruit

• dinner

 grilled pork tenderloin stuffed with fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and mozzarella, served with roasted green beans and asparagus

grilled chicken breast, served with lemon and herb pasta with cherry tomatoes

street tacos, a weekly community meal with friends

shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches, served with jalapeño coleslaw and mixed salad greens

Bo Bun Vietnamese salad with grilled shrimp

grilled salmon, served with cauliflower tabbouleh

one family eat out night

practicing sabbath

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.  — Ecclesiastes 3:1 

After our trip alone to Taos this summer, my husband and I realized we needed more boundaries between work and rest. Our current season of life doesn’t naturally afford stops (apart from night sleeps), so we needed to intentionally carve out time to restore spiritually, physically, and relationally. We have always been intrigued by the idea of Shabbat (Sabbath), a traditional Jewish practice of rest, family togetherness, and spiritual attention, but with our Protestant backgrounds, this concept was intimidating and foreign. Over the last couple of years, we have talked with several friends about the ways they practice rest within their homes, and this summer, we took more to read and learn about importance of Shabbat.

I’ve always thought about time in terms of utility, something used for something else entirely. In his book, The SabbathRabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes time not as a commodity, but as something holy in itself. He refers to Sabbath days as cathedrals of time which create a sense of longing within us, and poetically notes, “[Shabbat] is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” Sabbath is the enjoyment of time itself and the weekly recognition that time is a gift from God.

Last month, we began our own formal practice of Shabbat in hope of living deeper in Jesus together and not allowing our lives to be ruled by work. In just a few weeks of practice, already the Sabbath, especially the Sabbath meal, has become a place of longing and expectation for all of us, even the children. My husband let go of his Saturday work, and I have limited the amount of my own. It is helping us create the boundaries we have longed for, but more importantly, it is teaching how to trust God with our time, to know when to stop working and to celebrate. We are building the habit of saying enough to our work and the “acquisition of the things of space.” We are obviously still learning, but this is a good beginning. Below I have shared a little bit about how we prepare for this time as a family. Naturally, it will look a little different for everyone, but I hope there will be something to glean for you, something to help you treasure the holiness in time.

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PREPARATION

On Thursday each week, the children and I write out our weekly meal plan and shop for groceries after school work is finished. On Friday mornings, we work through whatever schoolwork we can complete, and we stop at lunch time. Friday afternoon is for deep cleaning our home: putting things away, but also larger jobs like washing floors and scrubbing down the bathrooms. It’s shocking how dirty our home can become during the week. I often turn on loud, upbeat music for us to enjoy and we pause for an afternoon snack somewhere along the way. This cleaning period requires most of the afternoon, and then we transition to preparation for our Shabbat meal.

I begin by making our weekend cake, a rotating baked dessert we can enjoy all weekend. The children begin by setting the table with a large, white linen tablecloth; our china that we picked up at an antique store in Kansas City ages ago; cloth napkins; candles; and fresh flowers. They often make name cards, practicing their cursive on nice white paper, and position silverware and glasses near each place setting. We fill bottles with water to refrigerate for dinner and begin chopping vegetables or preparing meat. Since it’s still quite warm here, we’ve mainly prepared fish that we can grill for these dinners, although I look forward to oven roasts for colder days in upcoming months. We often roast some vegetables and make a complimentary salad. Although we’re hoping to make our own challah bread at some point, right now, we pick up a couple of loaves of baked bread from the grocery bakery for ease.

When dinner prep is complete, I fill two more glass carafes, one with red wine and another with Italian soda for the children. We quickly wipe down counters and wash the dirty prep dishes, although some weeks we run too close to dinner-time for this and clean-up happens afterward. We all get dressed for dinner, freshening up and putting on something nicer than our ordinary daily clothes. This dinner is special for us, and we want to dress accordingly. Our home is generally very casual and our family dining out is as well, so our Sabbath meal is also a great way to teach our children simple rules of dinner etiquette, such as placing a napkin in your lap, keeping your elbows off of the table, or requesting/waiting for someone to pass food to you.

My younger sister, Kristen, is married to my husband’s younger brother–I know, crazy! Brothers married to sisters. Since traditionally the Shabbat meal is intended to be a family event and they live nearby, each week, we all share this meal together.  Before grocery shopping, Kristen and I talk about which meal we want to make and divide up the dishes. Sharing the meal preparation is such a gift! They arrive to our home, dressed, and we all sit down in our named places. Everyone has a place at the table, toddlers included.The baby might be playing in her infant seat or on a palette of blankets on the floor near the table. When she’s restless, we all take turns holding her.

THE MEAL

practicing the Sabbath | Shabbat mealpracticing the Sabbath | Shabbat meal

The first part of our meal time is quite formal. My husband wrote down several Messianic Jewish prayers on a notecard that we use, including a blessing of the meal, lighting the candles, sharing of communion, a formal hand washing as a posture of our hearts, and a formal blessing of sons, daughter, mothers, and fathers. Communion and the blessing of the family parts is by far my favorite portion of this time in our meal. Although brief, it celebrates and recognizes each family member and declares noble truths over each person.

After the blessing and prayer time, we pour drinks, serve plates, and eat. This part has been the greatest surprise for me. The adults and children slowly enjoy a nice meal and conversation together, even the youngest ones. It is not rigid or dogmatic but a natural enjoyment of all of our work and effort. As the children finish their meals, they head off to play, while the adults linger and talk together.

After the mealtime when Kristen and Tim leave with their family, our own family piles on the couch for a movie night together. Bedtime is pushed back due to our movie night, a pleasure for all the children, with the intention that everyone can sleep-in the next morning. From the moment the Shabbat meal begins, work ceases. We do not check emails or any other work related thing (unless an emergency) until after sundown on Saturday. This can be the most challenging part, especially since I work from home, So I usually tuck my planner and notepad away and stay clear of the computer during those hours. Although difficult at times, this has been the most restorative practice for me.

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The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

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THE SABBATH DAY

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Sleeping-in on Saturday morning is highly respected by everyone in our home (a perk of older children). Our youngest child is six (and often one of the last to wake up), so everyone is old enough to entertain themselves quietly until everyone is awake. During the Sabbath day, our routine is not open and flexible. We usually begin with fresh fruit pancakes my husband and Burke make together, and after that we relax as it seems fit for the day.

As the weather cools more in the next few months, we hope to make day-trips to hike, but until then and while we’re indoors more, we tend to read or play games with sporadic walks or trips to the park during cooler parts of the day. I often let the kids have time playing video games (since we rigidly limit this during the week).  Whatever we do, the point is to do it together and enjoy time without the obstacles of home projects or work.

I hope to have more to share about this part the longer we celebrate this day.  I’m curious, do you practice the Sabbath or another time period of regular rest in your home?

Recommended readings on Sabbath: || 1 | 2 | 3

To read more about our family practice over the years: Here and here.

 

snickerdoodlessnickerdoodles-26snickerdoodles-6snickerdoodles-18snickerdoodles2snickerdoodles-20Early last week, the girls and I baked cookies together before bedtime. It was a necessary therapy following several days of harrowed conflict and petty arguments between them, not to mention my own exhaustion having managed it. Although making quality time for them in any way always helps navigate us to calmer relationships, the kitchen always has a way of healing these broken connections, of becoming a salve for the rifts caused by careless or hurried days. Honestly, my motherly reminders tire all of us some days–Use kind words. Be generous with your touch. Share with one another.–but a warm cookie that we’ve made together just before bedtime might be the precise tending our tired souls need. (And just in case you’re interested, we made the grain and dairy-free Snickerdoodle found in this tremendous recipe book.)

These moments in our home are often small and spontaneous. We largely rely on whatever I have in the fridge or shelf (or that of my neighbor’s). They tend to be messy because my children love making messes, and cooking with them is not a time to be clean or perfect or style the ideal plate.  Cooking with my children is about mixing and measuring, about tasting and inhaling, about sharing in a small and concrete process together, and above all, savoring. Literally. Figuratively.

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This post is in partnership with Odette Williams, a small business owner and inspiring mother who designs and manufactures simple and playful children’s apron sets in Brooklyn, NY. Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat. Also for a chance to win a free OW apron set of your choice, hop over to my Instagram page. 

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A large farm table sits at the center of our home between windows and books and doorways to other rooms. It is the place where we eat and work together as a family, where we naturally gather with one another and friends for food or craft or talk. Yet in a more abstract way, the table is also a telling of the soul, a litmus test of our family’s connection and availability. As our little everyday things–mail, school and artwork, groceries–accumulate and sprawl the surface, the table always asks us honestly, have you made time for one another today? Have you cleared the lingering clutter of your life to sit with food and story?  

I have learned so much about myself through and around this piece of furniture. One quick glance at our table and I know the quality and pace of our life, how ordered our days feel, and more importantly, what we value. For us, a well-nurtured table doesn’t mean it is always tidy with fresh flowers at the center–although I really love it and find it most alluring that way. Those descriptives are mere beginnings and endings. In contrast, our table can be loved most in its mess, buried in crumbs and elbows. It is where we return again and again over our work and food and life. We wipe it clear and snip fresh flowers only to dirty it again. Here, we share the peak of our days and the lowest of our failures. Over take-out food or the finest dinners alike, we remember life is one continuous meal full of mess and glory. Whether our day’s efforts turn to burned pastries or the most savory of sauces, it will pass, and we will begin something new again. The table is not a place of perfection. It is a place of honest connection, a place where we meet with one another just as we are. 

Still, it always feels easier to gather my family and friends when life feels leisure and tidy when I have space and time to make every detail perfect. Some of these meals, especially around holidays,  I painstakingly plan to the minutia–who will be there and what will it look like? What sort of food will we eat? How do I want them to feel during this time together? It’s easy to confuse a gathering with an event–and there’s certainly a place for both. It’s easy to cast off the importance of gathering because we feel ill-suited and less than best. It’s easy to allow the mess of our lives to keep us from inviting others into it. But those times around the table, when life feels full of muddled chaos, is when a meal together can be most impactful. It can be the slow and intentional elixir we crave most, even without realizing it. Although I don’t prefer it this way, on the messier, dizzying days, when we’ve shuffled around the table, using it more for storage than connection, I simply grab a pile of our day’s work and move it to another room or to the floor. I temporarily put the mess aside to make room to gather in the simplest manner. We sit together to share our food, where the mess and imperfections become a part of our story.