This is a picture of a small framed print that previously hung in my dear Grandmother's kitchen for many years until she gave it to me. It now hangs with honor in my own kitchen. I captured this photograph with the reflection of my morning cup of tea. I have always been captivated by its verse which poetically reveals the essence of faith. May it be an encouragement to you at the start of this New Year. It reads:
"I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown. And he replied: Go out into the darkness and put thine hand into the hand of God. That shall be to thee better than light and safer than a known way."
-- M. Louise Haskins
Thanksgiving can often be turkey and food centered, and I’d like to offer a gentle encouragement to you in order to refocus our attention to create a people-centered and God-centered feast. I hope you will find these suggestions to be helpful:
Dine at the table. One of my favorite scenes from the movie “The Blind Side” is when Michael Oher sits down alone at the table on Thanksgiving while his adopted family is gathered around the television watching the game. They soon recognize their oversight and join him at the table and enjoy a wonderful meal and time together. It’s family time that Michael has always dreamed of. Why not take this cue as well?
Set a beautiful table. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. When you take time to set the table and make it special, you communicate to your guests of all ages, “You are special.” The most important part of the place setting is the person who is sitting in front of it.
Offer a word of welcome at the table. This simple expression communicates great value. Stand up as host or hostess (or both) at the table and thank everyone for coming and look every person in the eye. You could say something like: “On this special Thanksgiving day, we are gathered together as friends and family. We are so glad each of you is here. Thank you for coming!”. Express it in your own words.
Say Grace. Grace is a beautiful tradition. It is offered at the beginning of the meal because it is the priority of it. It is the essential act of Thanksgiving. Though we can get into a rut about saying grace, the best table prayers are heartfelt and thoughtful. Tailor it by your own expression. You can also ask a guest (ahead of time!) to offer grace. Here is one suggestion: “Lord, we want to thank you this Thanksgiving Day for the daily provisions and blessings You have lavished upon each of us and that we often fail to recognize. May we be truly humble and grateful. Thank you for the gift of family and friends gathered here today. Amen.”
Focus the Conversation-the centerpiece of the table. Conversation means personal connection. No doubt you will learn interesting things about your guests that will lead to future conversations Let's remember that if we do not intentionally direct conversation, it will take its own course which can be disappointing and disrupting. When conversation is directed, it also helps to ease possible tension at the table. When it seems like an appropriate time, try using printed questions to kindle conversation. Make them child-friendly. I like to place these written questions in a unique container to pass around, or you can place them under the dinner or dessert plate. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
· What is something that is easy to take for granted?
· What do you appreciate about your family, friends, work, school, etc.
· What makes it challenging to be thankful today?
· Why do you think it was so important to celebrate that first Thanksgiving feast? What were they so thankful for?
And lastly, greet and say good bye to each person.
Last weekend I enjoyed the privilege of speaking at the 2nd annual American Girls Tea at the USS Constitution Museum. It was a lovely time and ideal nautical setting at the Charlestown Naval Yard in Boston Harbor. Over both days we spoke to 150 guests—our own American girls accompanied by their dolls, mothers, grandmothers and guests. This event featured the 1812 American Girls’ Caroline Abbott doll. While highlighting Caroline’s story, I focused on another heroine of the day, Dolley Madison. Although Dolley Madison was officially the fourth First Lady in a long illustrious line of presidential wives, she is considered to be our first First Lady because she brought great style, vivacity, charm and vision to the role of First Lady.
We talked over cups of tea about how Dolley was a gracious hostess as well as a remarkable heroine. She redecorated the White House (then called the President’s House) and one of her favorite decorating features was her red velvet curtains. She held weekly Wednesday receptions that were extremely popular as anyone was welcome without an invitation as long as you were properly dressed. Dolley greeted everyone personally with a kind, encouraging word to say. She wanted the White House to be a place where opinions were respected regardless of one’s political allegiance. She liked to build bridges of communication rather than walls. And she served her signature ice cream at these receptions which was madly popular!
Dolley’s heroic legacy came about during the War of 1812 when the British marched on Washington City (DC) in August of 1814. Before the White House was burned she rescued many important objects at the risk of her own life. Among these items were James Madison’s cabinet papers, some of his books, and letters, some china, silverware, at least one panel of her beloved red velvet curtains, a small clock and what is known as the Landsdowne Portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796. She feared this great symbol of American liberty would become a likely war trophy and would be burned back in the streets of London.
The highlight for me of my time with these lovely young ladies occurred when I asked, after giving a show and tell of all of these rescued items, what they thought the most important item was that she rescued? The reply from one little young lady beyond her years was . . . “her dignity.”
Yes, my dear American girl, your dignity always accompanies you—a poignant and powerful truth that I shall never forget. George Washington would be mighty proud as well.
Yesterday I hosted a Lady of Letters Tea, celebrating the art of corresponding by hand. It is a tea theme I have wished to create for some time. I made invitations and I invited three friends over who are all uniquely gifted in writing letters and notes. As in most all of the teas that I give, I like to incorporate an activity as well as conversation questions to complement the theme. One of our activities was to practice writing with a dip-style pen. I recently made the purchase of several of these pens which were the writing implement of choice for the entire 19th century. Elegance effortlessly flows from these pens which simply eludes the ballpoint! I purchased beautiful bottled ink through the Levenger Company and was delighted to discover that it was made in America and the ink is of superior quality. I provided quotations for my friends to practice writing in handsome notebooks that they took home. One such quote read: "It is by the benefit of letters that absent friends are, in a manner, brought together." Seneca
As we enjoyed cups of tea complemented by cucumber, roast beef, chicken salad sandwiches, scones and cookies, we talked about the importance of both handwriting and letter writing. In the invitation, I asked my friends to bring along with them a letter or two that they received that was special to them. We read aloud excerpts from these letters. It was as if additional guests joined us at the table as we read these keepsake missives to one another. I also prepared questions to guide our discussion. Two questions were: "What is an early note writing or receiving memory? and "Do you have any letter writing rituals and how do you "set your table" to write letters?" Conversation flowed easily as we exchanged ideas, habits and personal convictions about the importance of corresponding by hand. Let us not forsake this art and opportunity to influence others through our beautifully written and inspired expressions.
As you gather with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table, here is a spirited, festive toast or grace with which to commence your own bounteous feast:
"Heap high the board with plenteous cheer, and gather to the feast,
And toast the sturdy Pilgrim band whose courage never ceased.
Give praise to that All-Gracious One by whom their steps were led,
And thanks unto the harvest's Lord who sends our daily bread."
-- Alice Willams Brotherton
I am so grateful to live in a New England town where Memorial Day is truly honored. After a parade, a beautiful program on the small green before Town Hall captures the heart and soul of remembrance for our fallen heroes. A grade-schooler reads the Gettysburg Address, Revolutionary War reenactors shoot muskets in salute, the high school marching band plays, Taps is trumpeted, a wreath is placed by the Boys & Girls Scouts, Veterans speak, and the most somber of all--the names of veterans who have died this past year are read and remembered.
I have also made it my tradition to take a solitary walk through the cemetery to observe the day and to remember—to open my heart to God to seek to comprehend the awesome reality that men and women have so courageously and selflessly laid down their precious lives for me and for you. There are some who comprehend it much more fully—those who have seen it with their own eyes on the battlefield and who carry the vivid, life-changing memory in their hearts.
And so, trite as it may seem, I take this poem and read it aloud in front of a war hero’s headstone. It humbles me. It helps me to connect. It helps me to remember. It helps me to stop and realize the sacredness of the soil and of lives I haven’t known who have so greatly contributed to my own life. And with deep gratitude to all who have served to defend our Great Nation and to their families and friends and to their Sacrifice, I leave you this poem by Edgar A. Guest:
They did not pass in selfishness, they died for all mankind;
They died to build a better world for all who stay behind;
And we hold their memory dear, and bring them flowers to-day,
Should consecrate ourselves once more to live and die as they.
These were defenders of the faith and guardians of the truth;
That you and I might live and love, they gladly gave their youth;
And we who set this day apart to honor them who sleep
Should pledge ourselves to hold the faith they gave their lives to keep.
If tears are all we shed for them, then they have died in vain;
If flowers are all we bring them now, forgotten they remain;
If by their courage we ourselves to courage are not led,
Then needlessly these graves have closed above our heroes dead.
To symbolize our love with flowers is not enough to do;
We must be brave as they were brave and true as they were true.
They died to build a better world, and we who mourn to-day
Should consecrate ourselves once more to live and die as they.
Take time today to deeply remember, to connect and to be grateful. It is a sacred day to enter into.
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
What does Arbor Day have to do with your table? Well if you sup upon a wooden one, of course your table's story began with a tree. Pictured with this post is my very special antique gateleg table on the very day that I received it five years ago. My dear friends helped me move it and before we brought it into the house, we enjoyed tea alfresco upon it as we celebrated its new chapter. I remember being keenly aware that this table, possibly one-two hundred years old, was steeped in story and it was an honor to continue it.
The table came with remarkable clues. Not only was the table hand hewn, hand made without a single nail and 15 inch solid boards, but underneath I found a large J M woodburned into it and in pencil the following notes: Plymouth Table, restored in 1934 and refinished in 1972 with the names of the craftsmen recorded. Quite amazing. Although it is impossible to know any more details, it is fascinating to think about what forest the tree was hewn from, who JM was and to consider its story as it was shaped by hand into such a beautiful piece of fine furniture that became the centerpiece of its original home. Who sat around it? What meals were served upon it? What celebrations were marked? Whose feet wore away the lower rungs? What conversations were enjoyed upon it?
Your own table has a story to tell and one yet to be told. It has been the scene of many memorable meals and it has been graced by many friends and family. Be intentional about the stories that are yet to be told. Draw out wonderful conversation by asking great questions and make sure everyone has the opportunity to share their story. The table is the foremost place we connect as a family.
Since it is Arbor Day, why not ask some of these questions at your table today?
What is one of your favorite trees and why?
What important functions do trees uphold in our environment?
What have been important trees in history?
What items in your house have been made from trees?
* Read books about trees, children’s books, especially. “A Reverence for Wood” by Eric Sloane is a great one!
* Visit the National Park, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller estate in Woodstock Vermont to learn more about the fascinating history of tree conservation in New England. http://www.nps.gov/mabi/index.htm
* Have your children research interesting tree facts and share them at the table. For example, did you know that the seeds of the Giant Redwoods are the size of the tomato seed?
* Gather leaves and identify what trees they are from.
* Read or write a tree poem.
* Of course, plant a tree!
We stand back a hundred years ago today to honor the tragedy and the triumph of all people connected with the Titanic. Lessons abound on every level, and in the midst of them, I offer one to you regarding the table.
The lavishness of the dining table for the upper class reached its peak during the Edwardian era and the most extravagant meal was dinner. Everything about the meal was set in luxury and elegance including the table setting, dress, menu, etiquette, ambiance and table service. For example, the last dinner on the Titanic in the first class dining saloon consisted of at least eleven courses followed by after dinner cigars, coffee and cordials1. Tables were beautifully covered with pressed damask tablecloths ornamented with a vast array of precisely set table wares and floral arrangements. Upwards of fifty pieces of flatware alone could be used per person. Everyone dressed for dinner and it was an elaborate ceremony itself requiring valets and lady’s maids. The etiquette of the day required men to escort women to their places at the table, assist ladies with their chairs, stand each time they stood, and engage in conversation to the person to the right and left. Theses polite practices represented merely the overture in the symphony of etiquette which governed fine dining.
All of this extravagance sank below the great depths that horrid night. What did prevail was the priority to save as many people as possible, and many heroically sacrificed their own lives in order to do so in hundreds of ways. We must remember at our tables that people are always most important, and every aspect of dining serves to cultivate these relationships. Dining etiquette is not about what fork to use, but about honoring those around your table. The most important part of a table setting is the person who sits before it. Focus on engaging rather than just eating. People, not possessions take priority. Relationships and not rules take precedence.
© 2012 Lisa Steigerwalt
1Rick Archbold & Dana McCauley, Last Dinner On the Titanic, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Canada 1997, p. 67
Here is an simple way to personalize and adorn your Easter table with an egg cup vase as a place card. I don't know where I originally saw the idea, but it is a favorite of mine. It is a craft that your guests of all ages can make before dinner, or you can have them already made. A variation is to place a fluffy craft chick inside with the top of the eggshell as a cap! They can be used year after year!
* Wooden egg pedestal (AC Moore Crafts)
* Fresh Egg
* Paper scraps, ribbon, buttons, tiny decorations
* Dainty fresh flowers
* Fluffy craft yellow chick (instead of flowers)
* Glue Gun
Here are the steps to make one:
1. Crack an egg near its top, and reserve egg for a recipe. Carefully rinse out egg and pat dry. Keep the little eggshell top you cracked off for the chick version.
2. Glue, using a hot glue gun, the egg cup to the pedestal.
3. Decorate the outside of the cup with ribbon, buttons, mini flowers, etc.
4. Write the person's name on a little piece of paper and glue.
5. FIll cup with water and arrange flowers or:
6. Tuck craft chick in and glue eggshell cap to its head as its top hat!
On this great somber day of reflecting upon the Cross, one of the very powerful messages is that Jesus' life was not taken from Him, but that He laid it down for us. He Himself says that this is why He was born. And in doing so, it was and is the gateway to Life.
Another event we commemorate next weekend, the 100th year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, has similar strains of sacrifice ringing through it, not distinct from Good Friday, but rather an outpouring of it. Amidst the horrific tragedy of the ship's sinking, was the astounding sacrifice made for the lives of many women and children. "Women and children first" was the decree set forth by Captain Smith. It was not every person for himself, clambering to secure a precious seat in the insufficient number of life boats. Instead, "my life for yours" was courageously acted upon that day. In the certain face of death, many, and especially men, chose to die so that others might live to tell the story.
Thinking about the nature of these sacrifices, I am reminded that this same truth is the foundation of etiquette and living a well-mannered life. The every day ways in which we treat one another are an opportunity to practice "my life for yours." Putting others first and regarding others as you would wish to be regarded, is this same principle of glorious sacrifice lived out in daily life.
At the table we see how these thoughtful, sacrificial manners come to life as we serve one another:
· Wait for your host or hostess to begin the meal and do not begin eating at will.
· Honor the eldest woman by serving her first.
· Be a good conversationalist by being more interested in the other person.
· Don’t take the last serving of a dish unless it’s offered to you.
· Serve others before you serve yourself.
· Be certain to thank your host and hostess for the meal with sincere appreciation.
Enriching home and family life, especially at the Table