Tuesday, September 30, 2014

General Conference Smash Books

Earlier this week, I showed you the Apostle Blocks craft that we're making using the Special Witness Cards that were published in the September 2014 Friend.

I just wanted to point out to you how awesome it is to have the Apostles' photos all in one place, in one download, and even delivered to most of our mailboxes!!

When I decided to make the Apostles Name Board that we used to help our children learn the names of all of the Apostles and Prophet a few years ago, it took me a ton of time to gather (copy/paste/size and print) all of their pictures from LDS.org, because they were not available all in one place.  

This download of all of the Apostles' photos is a blessing to busy Moms, and I hope you'll take advantage of it!  (You can even create an Apostles Name Board like we did--click here to see it in use and here to see how it is made!)

Speaking of taking advantage of it, today I'm here to show you another way that we are using our Special Witness Cards...

...we're making General Conference Smash Books!!

A Smash Book is a sort of a cross between a journal, a doodle book, and a scrapbook.  It is a very scrappy scrapbook.  It's not meant to look perfect and the more different types of scraps and media you include the cooler it looks.  

Basically, it's a fun way to journal/take notes during General Conference that will be:

a) very personal and unique, 
b) great for kids (and adults) who like to cut and glue independently (there's no wrong way),
c) require only what you've got lying around the house already, and 
d) become an awesome scrapbook or church quiet book when you're all done!

Is that enough reasons to convince you that this is an awesome project?  
Ok, then let's begin.

All of the materials that I used are pictured above.

You will need to gather the following items:

-a file folder
-card stock
-print outs/cut outs of the Friend's Special Witness Apostle Cards (free online)
-tape (I used "designer" duct tape!)
-various scraps of paper, stickers, note cards, etc. (whatever floats your boat)

The first thing I did was opened my file folder up flat.  Then using my fancy duct tape, I taped four pieces of card stock into the center of the folder to create my book.  Each page has different tape.  (Don't you like my macaroni and cheese duct tape?)

You'll notice on the inside cover I added some stationary (Thank you, Cherry!) and envelopes for "my questions" and "my testimony". You can personalize it any way you want.

Next, I cut out each of the apostle photos and info cards from the Friend.  (I printed them on card stock, so they were nice and sturdy.)

Then, using my construction paper/scrapbook paper, I cut little rectangular pieces just larger than the Apostles' photos to form a tiny fold-over "booklet" for each Apostle.  I glued their picture on the front of each book and their "info card" on the inside of the booklet.  On the right side, I inserted a post-it note or small paper which is where I (or the kids) will write down a quote or thought from each Apostle's talk.  (If you use post-its, you can remove them if you want to write down the exact quote later or eve swap them out over various Conferences.)

Judging from Miss Honor's reaction to it, these are going to be a SMASH HIT with all of the kids!

As you can see, little hands like to open the booklets and explore what's inside this creative creation.  And if something gets taken out, never fear, your glue stick is handy.  Scarlett, Autumn, and Guy are absolutely the perfect age to sit and create, create, create.  Youth would love this too.

I love that this activity will bring them closer to the words of the prophets both as they are listening to General Conference and later on as they continue to add to and embellish the pages.

They will be able to continue to work on these Smash Books as they learn more about the talks after General Conference, and they can sit with these books in Sacrament meeting and contemplate the words of our living prophets...as they re-read their own recorded impressions. 

This project is not only cheap/free-ish to make...it's also priceless, if you really think about it!

Almost as priceless as these photos of my little one that you are now going to have to endure, because I just can't not post them.  Plus they show just how much fun even little ones will have with these books.  She can't get enough!

Scroll down to find some links to free printables that you can incorporate in your General Conference Smash Books!

You can find free smash book add-ons for note-taking and personalizing your General Conference Smash Book all over the internet.  I printed these free tabbed journaling cards for my kids to cut out and take little notes on during Conference!  Have fun with it!
I plan on grabbing some free General Conference printable online and shrinking them to add to my smash book!  There are some free ones here.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Last-minute General Conference FHE Ideas

General Conference!  Oh, that "blessed aaaahwangement!"  

It's coming you know, but don't worry, here are some quick and easy things you can do about it...tonight...with your family...for FHE.  I've got ya covered...just read on for some no-sweat GC prep!!  You've got this!

(You don't have to do all of these, just pick one or two and go for it!)

1. Involve all of your family/children in planning General Conference weekend.  I asked Guy (age 8) to do the menu planning, Scarlett (age 7) to select three craft/activities she'd like us to do (out of a craft book we have), and Autumn to help pick the reverence stations. We also brainstormed together how we'd like to do reverence stations based on what worked/didn't work last Conference.   And they are getting frequent reminders that chores need to be done this week to make it an extra fun weekend!  Make it a team effort!  If your house needs to be cleaned to make for a more pleasant weekend, do it for FHE tonight!

2. Eat Dinner with an Apostle tonight! - Eat the favorite foods of an Apostle and introduce him as the special guest at dinner tonight!  This family made it as simple as eating French Toast in honor of Elder Andersen who served a mission in France.

3. Create a General Conference Tree - Using construction/scrapbook paper, build your tree, cut out your leaves, and get them ready for Conference this weekend!

4. Print out a Fantasy General Conference Bracket for each member of your family and make your General Conference predictions!  Pop some corn to munch or make another treat together to be eaten this weekend.  (oooh, speaking of that, I've got caramel corn to make!)

5. Have each family member write down a question they'd like to find an answer to and post it on your General Conference Wall.  Then as a family, search the scriptures or previous Conference talks to see if you can find any answers yourself.  Then listen for the answers this weekend.  Reconvene at FHE next week and share any answers you received from watching General Conference.

6. Listen to a Prophet's Voice FHE - This is a favorite activity that we often do before Conference.  Grab your tablet and play short snipetts of talks from last General Conference.  See if anyone can guess who is speaking.  (I'd recommend using President Monson, President Uchtdorf, and President Eyring.)  To make it really easy for children, print out or cut out the "Special Witness" cards that were in the September 2014 Friend...and let your kids simply point to the photo whose voice they think it is.

If you're looking for more on making the most of Conference weekend with children, see my General Conference Ideas page. 

And don't miss this idea for using the Special Witness cards for a fun craft!

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

General Conference Crafts

Through much work and effort over the last few years, General Conference has really become the core of how we talk of Christ and rejoice in Christ in our family for a while now.

We have shared a ton about how we do this on our General Conference Lessons page and our General Conference Ideas page, which I hope you will check out!!

I think you'll be glad you did!

Since we "talk of Christ" through the teachings of the prophets basically on a daily basis, I am always looking for ways to 1) solidify what we've learned, 2) celebrate another round of General Conference learning, and 3) have fun.

The craft that I am sharing with you today does all three.  

There are lots of different General Conference viewing traditions our there, particular to each family.  We are always tweaking ours.  

I've heard that some families choose to work on a craft project during General Conference weekend to keep little hands occupied.  (Last year, we did this when we made this easy General Conference Mosaic using contact paper and tissue squares!)  If you're one of those families, the project I am sharing with you today would definitely fit the bill.  It requires minimal materials, can be done by little hands, and only requires a little prep-work.

Here are our General Conference Apostle Blocks:

I hope you adore them as much as I do!!

I loved the "Special Witness" cards put out by the Friend this last month.  They are so handy.  You could print them out (or cut them out) and use them as a memory game or lots of other ways this weekend.  I decided to use them (and some 2x2 wood blocks I had lying around) to create Apostle Blocks that my kids can make and/or use before, during, and after Conference.

Materials you will need:

2x2 wooden blocks (15 count)
The Special Witness Cards from the Friend (printed on card stock)
ModgePodge (glue)


- Prepare your wood blocks by lightly sanding the edges.  (I had my children do this with me, which they enjoyed!)
- Cut the Apostle Cards and Pictures into 2-inch squares to fit your blocks. (Kids can also help!)
- Glue them to your blocks.  Coat with additional glue to protect and let dry.


We also used pictures from our family's General Conference lessons to remind us of the teachings from previous General Conferences which we have already learned.  You could easily grab your favorite FREE General Conference printables online to use as well.  Just shrink them to 2x2 inches.

Each block contains the photo of an Apostle and their information (from the Friend) plus their previous teachings.  Since each block contains the teachings of just one Apostle, these blocks can be used in so many ways to review the teachings of the prophets and they are just right for little hands.

(These little hands, to be exact!  Honor: You finally get your own special thing!)

Anyway, you'll notice we left some sides open to add the teaching of this and future General Conferences.

We are not quite done yet, since we just started them today.  Plus I need to run out and buy three more blocks! We will be using this in so many fun ways, including as an activity to help us sit reverently through lots of hours of Conference this weekend!

And when it's done, it's going to also make a nice decoration for Conference time and year-round!

I'm in a crafty mood recently (needing craft therapy, I guess) so I'll be back with a few more quick, easy, creative, and kid-friendly crafting ideas before the week is out!

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Letting Our Children Be Friends by Sue Anderson and Link-up

Parenthood is a stewardship from God. As their Heavenly Parent, He loves our children even more and far better than we do. No wonder He is always available to offer inspiration when we need it! God endows parents with power from on high, and the Lord expects us to use that power carefully…which also means prayerfully. As a young mother, I was taught that wise parenting could decrease sibling rivalry among my children. Here are three examples of inspiration that helped me behave in a way that did not obstruct the close relationships my adult children enjoy today:

**   On Sharing: Sharing jointly-owned items was only fair; our children understood that. Forced sharing of personal belongings, however, nibbled at their friendship, so I adjusted. I still encouraged sharing their things (explaining that generosity made Heavenly Father happy, would make them feel good, and might even be returned in kind), but the sharing itself became optional. If a child received a new game or treat, sharing was recommended, not required. Why? Because forced sharing wedged my children apart. It also gave them a sense of entitlement to everything the other had, teaching them nothing internally about respecting the rights/belongings of others, employing the art of friendly negotiation, or doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Once left to their own devices in the matter (gloating was still not allowed!), they did find their way, learning to share because they wanted to be shared with. What’s more, their autonomous offering came from the heart. Freely given, it forged feelings of attachment rather than resentment. The real sharing began when we left a space for that impulse to grow. (Creating natural incentives for kids to use their own, internal process in well-doing works better than fostering patterns where their best behavior relies on external motivators. Goodness really is its own reward, as is generosity, but it’s harder to let that truth in when it’s forced upon you.)

2* On Discipline: Sibling friendships take root when parents uproot preferential treatment. Children must be equally accountable under parental law, with discipline applied even-handedly. In one common dynamic, the oldest is selectively punished for acting out when the youngest has been tormenting him. Does being the only one to get in trouble when the blame is on both sides foster affection on the part of the older sibling? Hardly. Perceived injustice is no breeding ground for good feeling, and wrongdoing usually exists on both sides of a fight. Kids are adept at hiding their taunts and goads toward one another, so unless I had seen every part of what happened and could identify a definite culprit, I punished both children involved in a quarrel, telling them they would not be allowed to play with each other or whatever toys were involved until they could work things out peaceably. They were then separated and sent to their rooms to “think about it.” The toy did not reappear for a while. Over time, they realized getting along was in their best interests, fighting was not, and much could be gained (and avoided!) by working things out together rather than inviting parental interference. Instant bonding!

3* On Favoritism: Never show it. And if you feel it, pray to have it removed from your heart. Don’t compare your children to one another, ever––not verbally and not in your thoughts. Accept them as unique individuals and respect them in their differences. Love them for the people they are. Resist having a culture in your family where certain talents, abilities or even hobbies are ranked as being more worthy than others. And remember, showing such preference doesn’t have to be overt. It doesn’t even have to be verbalized. Children are highly perceptive, readily sensing what parents think and feel about them. Making sure your heart is in the right place for each child will do more towards allowing them to be friends than nearly anything else. Not getting enough unconditional love from parents fosters the “less than” mentality that breeds a spirit of competition rather than friendship among children. Few children will feel kindly toward a sibling who is receiving more than his or her share of attention and approval from parents. And in situations where no child is getting “enough,” the scramble for favor can get pretty brutal. The Lord does not play favorites or withhold love. Neither should we.

Remember, parent power can be used for good or ill, so make sure yours is working for you…and your kids! Families whose parents pray, receive inspiration, and act upon it will be blessed. “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another...

A mother of four and grandmother to three (with a couple in the works), Sue blogs at Sue's News, Views 'n Muse. She also maintains a website of her original poetry, Susan Noyes Anderson Poems. Sue is the author of three books entitled At the End of Your Rope, There's Hope (Deseret Book), Awaken Your Spiritual Power (Karisma Press) and His Children (Vantage-point press) and has placed work in numerous anthologies and magazines, including The Ensign. Trained in family counseling, she has worked with both individuals and families. 
Sue =)

Be sure to check out Cranial Hiccups today for another post on the Family Proclamation and link-up your own posts about The Family Proclamation below!

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Kindness at Home by Somer Christensen

During the past week, I have been canning peaches.  Knowing that they're sticky goodness had permeated every nook and cranny of my kitchen and anticipating my kids getting home from school, I wiped off the counter where they sit and do homework. As they each sat in their stool asking for help or telling me about their day, I noticed papers sticking to countertops and as they lifted them I could see the bits of peach on the back sides. No matter how we tried to clean off the stickiness, we never seemed to get it all. I had visions of peach laden homework making teachers desks and classmates papers as sticky as our kitchen. 

In the same way our attitudes are sticky; the way we treat each other at home has a lasting effect that will permeate classrooms and work environments, every place we come in contact with other people. Joseph B. Wirthlin said,  "Kindness is the essence of a celestial life. Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others. Kindness should permeate all of our words and actions at work, at school, at church, and especially in our homes." (General Conference, April 2005, The Virtue of Kindness.)

As mothers, we "are primarily responsible for the nurture of [our] children"  and as such we often set the tone in our home. Which makes the phrase "kindness begins with me" something I know I need to take to heart, but it isn't just applicable to moms. Kindness is an important virtue for everyone in the family. Some days being kind is easier than others, but there are three habits I have learned that help me to be more kind to those around me:

First, slow down. When I am in a hurry it is difficult to take the time to be kind. I am rushed and brisk with my family and I don't notice the needs of those around me. I try not to over schedule and to allow extra time for the unexpected but sometimes this isn't possible, and sometimes I just have to decide what matters most and let the other things go. We can be busy without feeling rushed; I find that if I stop during those busy times and take a moment to clear my head I can chase away that stressful hurried feeling, often that pause involves a prayer. 

Which leads to the second thing, pray often. Pray for opportunities to show love, to serve, to find peace within yourself, to remain calm, to speak gentle words, to not judge, to avoid criticism. The best way I have found to love others and show them kindness is to pray that I may see them as our Heavenly Father sees them. "We are all children of our Heavenly Father. And we are here with the same purpose: to learn to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves." ( The Virtue of Kindness, Joseph B. Wirthlin).

This third habit I find helpful is just that, make kindness a habit.  Practice kindness every day.  Return someone's shopping cart; compliment a friend, leave a quarter in the vending machine...Just do something every single day, and then do a lot of somethings.  Soon being kind becomes part of your nature.

We all know that person that makes us feel amazing--be that person.  "May we be models of kindness.  May we ever live up to the words of the Savior; 'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."

Be sure to check out Cranial Hiccups today for another post on the Family Proclamation.

The author of this post is a creator of all things lovely and of good report, with an eye for beauty, and a heart of gold.  She is also my sister-in-law Somer Christensen!

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Homeschool AFTER school by Julie White

Last night, I attended an open house for one of my children.  School has been in session since mid August in these parts.  A parent raised their hand and asked the teacher, "Can you give my child more homework, because she says she doesn't have any."  The teacher was wide-eyed and reassured the parent that the child did have homework, but that perhaps the child finished it at school.  I chuckled at the question because minutes before I left for that open house I had similar conversation with my boy.

(After taking a test last year, Alex was exhausted!)

I recently read the article Helping Children Succeed in School by Nicholeen Peck and did a silent cheer.  I realized that while I am not "homeschooling" my children in the traditional sense of the word, I am "homeschooling" my children every day when they come home from school!  And you probably are too.

When my children get home, they have a snack, do chores, and then we go through the HOMESCHOOL routine.  The for of my children that are school-aged know that "I don't have homework" is never the right answer.  

I like to look over their work.  I want to see what their handwriting looks like, then help them correct any questions they get wrong on work.  The list goes on.  Quite frankly, this is a part of the day that I really enjoy and the part of their education day when we both just might learn the most.

When I read the part in The Family: A Proclamation To The World , that says: "Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live,"  I know that my time HOMESCHOOLING my children after they come home FROM school is one of the ways I do this. 

We talk about their day, I get privy to their thoughts on topics they are learning, and I love expounding on those topics.  I'm not just checking handwriting and their mastery of curriculum skills.  I am checking their cohesiveness of opinions they are developing.  I am rounding out any worldly views with Christ centered themes to bring clarity.  Maybe we just spend an extra 30 minutes a day doing this, but it is 30 minutes that make a huge difference in the education they are receiving. 

Do my kids know this?  Nope, they just think this is their time to give me the 4-1-1 on their day.  Its a time they expect and eagerly anticipate.  It's part of our "homeschool" routine that helps me fulfill my sacred duties to the sweet spirits that fill my home.  The duty I have to the children that I am entrusted, I don't take lightly.  As I seek Heavenly Father's council he'll guide me to parent them in a way that brings out THEIR potential as His child.  Its the perfect HOMESCHOOL after SCHOOL set up! 


To get your started, here is a link to some questions you might try asking your child after school to get a conversation going!

Julie White lives in the Pensacola, Florida area with her husband, David, and 5 kids.  In her former life, as she calls it, she taught high school Biology and Earth Science.  She now stays-RARELY-at home raising their family.

Be sure to check out Cranial Hiccups today for another post on the Family Proclamation.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Family Mealtime Tips by Jocelyn

I'm pretty sure that if you're reading this post, I don't have to convince you of the benefits of holding frequent family meals together.
But here's a little nudge, if you're looking for one. 
"New research shows that the more frequent these (family) dinners, the better the adolescents fare emotionally, says new research published this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
"The effect doesn't plateau after three or four dinners a week," says co-author Frank Elgar, an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montréal. "The more dinners a week the better."
With each additional dinner, researchers found fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and higher life satisfaction, regardless of gender, age or family economics." (USA Today 2013)
So whether you're eating steak or raman noodle, the results are the same: eating dinner together every day makes a world of difference in your family relationships, in how your children relate towards others and ultimately how happy you will be individually and collectively.
I think that most of us know deep down that this is true, but with young children or busy family schedules, sitting down for family meals can be rocky at best.

I am blessed to come from a long line of excellent cooks, however, cooking is not exactly my favorite sport, so I tend to procrastinate making dinner, which leads to stress in the afternoons and hastily-prepared meals.  I was thinking about how silly this scenario was recently (since I do stay home and I do have the time!), and decided that if I really do believe that family mealtime is the most important time of the day outside of family scripture study, then I need to spend more time making family mealtime a priority.

But where to start?  I applied my tried and true mantra:  "You always have time for the things you put first," which lead to a few changes that have made a world of difference in our stress-levels and improved the enjoyability of eating with an almost 2, 5, 7, and 8 year-old.  Some of these traditions are new to our family and some we've done ever since I was a kid.
See if any of these family mealtime traditions might be the answer to any of your sticky mealtime situations, and if you have any family nuggets of mealtime wisdom that you'd like to share, feel free to serve them up in a comment below!

1.  Plan ALL of your meals, even snacks. - My Mom was so smart, she planned 30 days of meals in advance and went grocery shopping once a month.  I'm not that advanced...yet.  I plan for the week.  But I also plan for after school snacks, because that too is an important time of day for our family.  I like this free menu planning worksheet which you can print off here.  It helps me keep track of even the snacks that our family eats.
2. Gather ingredients in advance. - How many times have you walked into the pantry or opened the cupboard--full of food--and had nothing you could actually use to make a (tasty) meal?  Me?  Many times.  So this summer I started a new system.  I have seven baskets on a shelf in my pantry. I pick seven recipes and gather the dry ingredients for each meal in each basket.  Then I see what I'm missing and do my grocery shopping. This method has made cooking much more fun for me, because I can easily look in my pantry and know immediately if I have a meal to make ready to go.

3.  Set the table for dinner first thing in the morning. - This is something that I remember my Grandmother always doing.  She was even known to set the table for breakfast the night before!  She had her reasons for doing this, but for me, nagging my children to set the table after school was zapping my energy.  I also found when they did it, they weren't really trying to set it nicely.  I realized that I needed to take the time to set the table nicely myself for a while in order to teach my children how the table should be assembled.  Eventually, they will take it over again, but for now, the table is all ready to go for dinner before I leave for the day, making it very nice to come home to.

4. Set a complete table.: At every place setting there should be a plate, cup, fork, knife, spoon, and napkin.  That's how I was raised, although for a while here in my home we were just setting forks, but I put my foot down! ;)  Setting all of the basic utensils is the only way children will learn proper mealtime etiquette.  Even little kids can and should learn to use different utensils.  My son recently questioned me on this, citing the fact that we usually "don't use all of the utensils."  I told him that some day he's going to be sitting at a fancy dinner for a job interview and he's going to be the only one who knows what to do with his utensils and it could get him the job...and when that day comes, he'll thank me!  And besides that, setting the table properly adds to the feeling that what we are doing around the table is special to all of us and should be reverenced.  (See how to set a basic table here.)
5. Start preparing dinner early. - There are a million distractions and important tasks that were causing me to delay starting my dinner prep, so now (in addition to setting the table early) I start dinner either in the morning or at lunch time.  I feel less stress knowing dinner is well-underway (ingredients gathered, meat defrosted, vegetables prepped, or everything in a crock pot!) before I leave the house to run errands.  Whatever I can do ahead of time, I do.  This also frees me up for other things, including sitting and talking with my children when they come home from school.

6. Make everyone feel like an honored guest at the table by making name tags or assigning seats.  Our children used to argue about who would "get to sit next to Mommy" so much that we started pulling names out of a bowl before every meal to see where everyone would sit!  It did stop the fighting, and eventually everyone was so excited to pull names that it became a highlight of dinnertime!  There are a lot of place setting name cards online that you can print and personalize for free.
7. No TV, No Phones. - I remember how shocked we all were the first time the phone rang and Dad didn't answer it!!! (At least the first time that we noticed!)  This was circa 1990 probably.  There were no phone calls answered during dinner, and we never ate in front of the television.  It taught a great lesson to all of us that dinner with the family was more important than anything...and would not be interrupted or time-shared with other distractions.  The same goes today.  Don't have the TV on.  Don't bring cell phones to the table (or under it!)  Be present for this important event!

My siblings and me!  Looking like we're up to no good around the table!!
8.  Start with family prayer. - Growing up and now, it is a tradition to hold hands as a family around the dinner table during family prayer.  As a kid, I remember there were times that we didn't want to hold hands with the person next to us, because inevitably someone had just washed their hands and they were still wet, and it was creepy to hold someone's wet hand, or someone's dirty hand...however, it was also fun. Someone usually started squeezing hands, and the squeeze got passed around, and that was a loving thing.  And then if you were mad at someone, you'd squeeze super hard and try to inflict pain while Mom and Dad's eyes were closed thinking you'd get away with something!  But as years pass, you come to love the ritual of holding hands at this one special prayer of the day.  You bow your heads together as one person offers a prayer, and then you all say "Amen" and it's just one more thing that brings peace into a family.  If you are unsure how to start saying "grace" before a meal, have no fear.  You really can't go wrong.  We generally start by holding hands (or folding one's arms), bowing heads, and closing our eyes.  We address God by saying, "Dear Heavenly Father."  We thank Him for the food we are about to eat and other blessings and ask for any needs there might be in the family.  Then we end with, "In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen," with all family members saying Amen together.  Mom, Dad, and kids all should take turns offering the prayer at dinnertime for the rest of the family.

8.  Pass the food around. Our family serves up the dinner "family style" meaning all of the dishes are in the center of the table and are passed around so everyone can dish up their own servings.  This, as my grandma and mom would say, should be passed as the "cards are dealt" or "line of dance"...which means the dishes are passed around clock-wise.  This is a good opportunity for children to serve one another and practice good manners, such as taking only what you can eat, trying a little bit of everything, saving food for the rest of the family, and, of course, saying "please pass the..." and "Please and Thank you."

9. Everyone eats. No complaining. - At our house growing up, you ate the food mom made.  And you certainly never complained.  Once I remember my Mom asking if her famous pull-apart rolls tasted ok.  We took that moment to confess that she had added too much salt.  What she really needed to hear (and what every cook needs to hear) was that it was wonderful and that we appreciated her hard work (day after day) in the kitchen.  In our house this is still the rule.  You eat what you're given.  You appreciate the work of others.  You NEVER CRITICIZE the food...that's just rude!  Herein lies another wonderful opportunity for you to teach and instruct your children.  When children are young, I've found it's best to give them the tiniest of bite-sized portions at first and let them ask for more.  This keeps them from becoming overwhelmed/disinterested by what's on their plate.  Which reminds me of my Dad: He always filled our cups just about two inches full and would famously say, "When you finish that, you can have more!" like it was a prize to be worked toward!

10. Messes Happen. Embrace them. - I remember the dinner time when many family members  were gathered for a birthday party.  Everyone was squeezed around our little table.  It was too cozy to be an inconvenience, but it was easy to knock something over with all those elbows and arms swinging around.  Well, just before dinner started, I knocked my water over, and got an earful from Mom.  I was so sad.  Then before I knew it, Grandma, who was sitting directly across from me, also knocked over her glass of water.  Suddenly, I felt vindicated.  And I always suspected she did it on purpose.  Messes happen.  Make allowances for them.
11. The "Two Fork" Rule. - There were plenty of times that we absolutely did not want to eat the meal that was before us.  Sometimes, we sat at the table until it was consumed or had otherwise disintegrated off of our plate.  But at some point we must've figured out that if dessert was involved, we were more motivated to eat.  So our Mom would say, "Eat your dinner," and we soon started to follow that question up with, "Is there dessert?"  Apparently, my Mom got so irritated with this question, which probably came at all points of the meal, that she started setting a second fork.  A second smaller fork set inside (to the right) of the dinner fork was the silent indication that there WAS a second course coming, and that course involved dessert.  That solved that problem.  My mom rarely had to hear "Is there dessert?" again!  And that's still the question at our house..."should I set a second fork??"  Soon, because we all inhaled dessert so quickly, we had to institute another rule...and that was, no one starts eating their dessert until the person who made it--the hostess--has taken her first bite.  I'd imagine we were the most well-behave children during the two minutes it took Mom to serve up dessert.
12.  "Who had the best day?" - I always remember my Dad asking us, "So, who had the best day?"  It was an odd question, given that he probably didn't always have the best day but it was so like my Dad to set a positive tone for dinnertime conversation.  And soon, we all were eager to think of some reason why our day was "the best day".  There really wasn't any complaining at the table, because of the way my Dad phrased this question.

13. Rose, Thorn, or Pickle - I found that it was often hard to get my kids to talk about their school day, especially my son.  Other kids talked too much and monopolized the conversation at dinner.  So we started sharing a "rose" and a "thorn"...something good and maybe not so pleasant.  Then to mix things up, I asked them to also share a "pickle"...which is something that makes you make a pickle face!  (Insert my pickle face here!)  A "pickle" can be something that was a quandary or dilemma where you weren't sure what to do, something funny or silly or strange that happened during the day.  Everyone enjoys making their best pickle face and giggling while they share their pickle story.

14.  Always compliment the cook. - This one I touched on previously, but it bears repeating.  Whether Mom (or Dad) makes scrambled eggs and toast or filet mignon, the Cook should be congratulated for making such a great meal.  And the best compliment is doing the dishes afterward!  (My Dad did dishes a lot, and taught us that the job wasn't done until you got the "orts" out of the sink!)  

The picture above is of my Grandma and my Mom in the kitchen in the home I grew up in.  The entire kitchen (except the table area) is pictured here.  It was small but mighty, and oh, the amazing meals my Mom churned out day in and day out. She was so amazing in so many ways, and proof that you don't need fancy to be an incredible homemaker!!!  Thank you, Mom! 
15. Telling family stories - Our kids started playing the "skinny dog" a while back, where they seemed to wolf down their food and immediately want to "run away" and leave the table.  This was not acceptable to me.  So, to entice the children to stay a little longer at the table and converse, we started telling juicy family stories from the past to keep their interest.  Stories like the time Grandpa shot his sister in the head with an arrow and the time my siblings and I got into a big mud fight which we managed to conceal from our parents for 15 years are among some of their favorite and oft-repeated tales that keep our children at the table begging for more!  

16.  Talking all at once. - When I was a young teen, I remember that everyone at our dinner table liked to talk at once. There was usually five different conversations going at once.  It was so loud!  We didn't really have a "quiet" kid in our family, so it worked out.  I don't remember my parents ever telling us to stop, but I know some families this might not work well.  In our family, because the kids are still young, we do try to encourage quieter children to share and give them a floor when we see they're getting the short end of the conversation stick.
17.  Addressing family issues. - I've read somewhere that you shouldn't use dinnertime as a time to address family "problems" or issues.  Would hate for anyone to lose their appetite!  But in my family growing up and even now, tackling issues or making announcements are not off the table at dinner.  I can remember my parents addressing sticky issues at dinner, and I know my kids are listening best when their mouths are full of food and so we definitely use this time to talk about serious things if it's needed. 

18. Excuse me and thank you. - This is a tradition that was passed down from my Dad's side of the family. Growing up, when everyone was done eating, before clearing our plate, we always said, "Excuse me and thank you."  This was code word for, I'm finished eating, maybe I be excused, and thanks for another great meal."  Some people prefer children to ask, "May I be excused?"  You might want to come up with your own system that works for you.

Christmas Day Dinner - far away and long ago!
19. Everyone helps clear the table. - In our house growing up, we took turns "doing the dishes."  We had a small kitchen (as mentioned above).  My parents usually assigned one of us to wash and one of us to dry the dishes.  I think they did this to help us get along with one another.  Time spent working together in a small space did a lot for our relationships.  My husband's family required that at every meal participants clear their own dishes "plus 1"...or "plus 2" depending on the meal.  So clear your own stuff, plus 1 or 2 more items to help out.  I have always been impressed with how everyone in his family hops up to do the dishes together and stay until it's all done!  
20. "I always get the hardest days." - This is in here strictly as a tribute to my sister who was known to say about her job doing dishes "I always get the hardest days."  My husband was known for getting out of doing dishes by complaining that his "feet itched."  These are the family-specific phrases that will result from making family mealtimes a tradition.  It can be a real pain sometimes and a lot of work in the present, but as the years pass, these painful moments will become treasured.

21. Making special meals. - Another "treasure" from my Mom was, "You'll eat it, or you'll wear it."  She meant business.  Although, we were expected to eat what was before us, my Mom often asked us to help plan or make meals with her.  And we always could request our favorite meal on our birthday. I have always involved my children in meal prep and cooking with me, but in the last year or so we starting doing "cooking school" in which I use a funny accent to the entertainment of my children.  Little do they know I am stalling as I reread directions.  I am the one being schooled.  They are being entertained.  And meanwhile dinner is getting cooked!  For a while at dinner in my home growing up there was the "red plate" tradition, where if you had a special day or were celebrating a special accomplishment, your meal was served on the "red plate."

22. Eating out for special days. - Our family very, very rarely ate out.  This was mainly for budgetary reasons, because my mom was an excellent cook, and because eating out was just not done as much back then.  The one day a year that I remember eating out was the first day of school.  The back to school dinner was such a treat and often took us to "Bob's Big Boy's!"

23. Eat by Example - As a side note, there are health reasons for eating together.  Whenever people tell me that they have picky eaters or their children won't eat __________, I always check to see if the family eats dinner together regularly.  The reason for this is because children will eat what they see you eating.  IF children don't sit and eat with you regularly or if you serve them a separate meal from the one you're eating (say fries and chicken nuggets), they will not eat what you want them to eat.  On the other hand, if children witness you eating healthy, freshly prepared meals with veggies and a swig of milk, this is what they will desire for themselves.  It's that simple.  
I never imagined that this list would be so long when I set out to write this post, but here you have it.  Hopefully something that I have shared resonates with you or helps improve your family mealtimes, and your efforts to nurture your family.  You don't have to do it all at once.  You don't even have to do it all.  

If you aren't having meals together regularly right now, just start out simply.  Even if you can only squeeze in a snack together, do it!  You will be starting a tradition that is healthy in so many ways and builds memories to last a lifetime!

Thanks for reading and be sure to check out Cranial Hiccups today for more pearls of family wisdom!

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