You see, computers don't work well for me but alas I must use them. If I had a good, old No. 2 pencil and a yellow legal pad there wouldn't be so many errors.
By small means great things are brought to pass.
That's what the scriptures say isn't it?
Well, not long ago we were asked to do a small thing by a couple of the Lord's apostles.
Since I figured that they might know a little something about how the Lord works, I paid attention.
I mean I want "great things to come to pass" just as much as the next sister. And even I might be able to do something right if it's small enough.
Well, you know what it was? According to them, apostles of the Lord no less, it's important to eat meals regularly with our families. Especially dinner.
That does seem like a small thing doesn't it?
And considering the realities of modern life....highly impractical.
When I first heard this I wondered in my "raggedy convert" way how that could possibly be of eternal importance anyway.
I mean we're talking burgers and meatloaf here.
I was still wondering the next day when I asked my 3rd period high school class what their favorite family dinner was.
(Hey, it was only five minutes till the bell rang and 4th period was lunch!)
There were about 12 kids, mostly seniors, all hanging in there to graduate despite their various disabilities.
One piped up right away with a mouth-watering description of his Nana's tamales and his mom's enchiladas that made us all hungry. He said they have these for every birthday, anniversary, graduation etc. when all the family gets together. (Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins etc.)
I said, "How often does that happen and can I get invited to the next one?
He replied, "Sure Mz Dub, two or three times a month at least. I'll ask my mom." He also gave us a glowing description of his mom's spagetti, which he says they have at his house every Tuesday when it's just his family.
I heard teenaged stomachs growling and somebody threw a pencil at him.
"What about the rest of you?" I asked the class, "What's your favorite family dinner on a weeknight?"
I was very surprised that every single one of my other students said they never ate with their families during the week.
Not just seldom mind you. Never.
There were lots of reasons for this....parents worked, everybody got home at different times.... it just wasn't convenient. Most didn't eat with their family on weekends either, except on rare special occasions.
"So, what do you do for dinner?" I asked.
Cereal, sandwich or microwave was the answer for most of them.
A heated discussion on the virtues of "hot pockets vs ramen noodles" ensued. One girl gave her recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches. (Toast two pieces of bread. Unwrap a slice of cheese. Put it between the toasts and nuke it for 30 seconds.) Those with cars said they relied heavily on the dollar menu at the fast food places. That started an argument about Jack vs Mac.
The bell rang before it was decided.
The class left and it was finally lunch.
So I unwrapped my peanut butter sandwich and thought that it was a little sad about their dinner situations.
What could you do, though? That's modern life.
I began to think about those modern lives as I chewed.
Several of my kids had family members in prison..... fathers, mothers, brothers, or cousins.
( Not the "Every Tuesday was spagetti" kid though).
In fact, a few had really close, working relationships with the juvenile justice system themselves. Complete with probation officers that I met with on a regular basis.
(Not the "spagetti" kid though)
I recalled that one boy had recently spent his entire Thanksgiving break in the Durango county jail.
He was highly incensed, not because he'd missed his family Thanksgiving, but because he'd planned to spend all four days getting wasted at parties.
None of them lived with both parents.
(Except for the Mom's spagetti and Nana's tamales kid)
One lived with his father and five brothers, each of them with different mothers. One sweet girl was pregnant but would graduate at the end of the semester before the baby was due. She lived in the projects with her mom, who worked two jobs to support them.
I began to think harder about the young man who ate spagetti every Tuesday with his family.
His life was very different from the others.
I knew this student's parents well and had even met his grandparents at one of the school games. They all were involved in this boy's life.
I knew, too, that the culture in their family had included regular dinners together for more than one generation. It was just the way they did things.
Could "small means" have made a big difference over the years? Is there something going on at dinner that I missed?
Are we talking about more than meatloaf here?
This was still on my mind the next Sunday during Relief Society meeting.
So I asked the sisters if they'd heard this "dinner together" counsel we'd been given.
I also pointed out that I worked outside the home and that there was no possible way I had time to cook a fancy meal every night after the day I usually had! I believe I may have said, "Get real!"
The response was immediate and amazing. Some of it outraged, even. And boy, did I learn a lot!
First I learned that NOBODY has time to cook a fancy meal every day whether they work outside the home or not.
Then I learned that, "It's not about the food, stupid."
Apparently none of the apostles ever said a word about fancy meals.
They just said to eat together as a family.
One sister pointed out that nothing was mentioned against paper plates or "Taco Tuesday" from the local chain either. She says she serves said tacos with bagged carrots, sliced cucumbers and ranch dressing (which she counts as salad), and that her family looks forward to it every week.
Another sister says that any self-respecting LDS woman with half a brain could put a family meal on the table in 15 minutes anyway.
A deluge of dinner ideas followed.
I'll share, but the women who told me about them don't want their identities revealed. What people eat in the privacy of their own homes is highly personal.
None of these meals would be featured, or even admitted to, on the cooking shows. We're talking day to day, get the gang rounded up around the table, even when you just walked in the door 15 minutes ago, food. There's no arugula anywhere.
Remember there's 365 days in a year and that can be a long winding road full of potholes. Here's a couple of the things they told me.
Keep it quiet.
Ridiculously Easy Family Dinners:
Sloppy Joes /Cottage cheese and pineapple/ Plus the no peel, raw veggie, ranch dressing for dip, salad thing.
I learned Joes are quicker and less trouble than burgers. Brown any ground meat, drain and mix with bottled BBQ sauce. Onion buns are better here. Worth the extra money. 10 minutes.
Can Can Chile and Cornbread (Boxed Crackers if the wolves are nipping at your heels.)
Brown 1-2 lbs of any gound meat. (Or get 1-2 lbs ground meat out of the freezer because you forgot to do it this morning when you were rushing out the door. Put frozen meat in a pan with a little splash of water, put the lid on and start cooking. Every now and then turn the clunk over and break it up until all is browned. Do this any time you forgot and need browned meat. If you flatten it before freezing it'll thaw faster.
Now add 1 or 2 cans EACH of diced tomatoes, beans (like pinto or kidney), and Hormel or other canned chile. Mix it up. Season with chile and garlic powders. Heat, covered, while you mix a couple of boxes of Jiffy cornbread. 2 boxes fits in a 9x13 pan. My daughter adds 1/2 can of creamed corn to each box of mix, by the way. 20 minutes for the whole dinner. Missionaries like this.
$5 Pizza from the pizza store / Bagged fancy salad (Alright there might be some arugula.) /Peach sundaes (Vanilla ice cream, topped with canned sliced peaches and a sprinkle of brown sugar.)
Families with lots of kids really like this dinner apparently.
Put something in it before you leave home. Serve with instant salad and biscuits you bake from a can. 3 minutes when you get home plus baking.
**** Alert! Big Crockpot Bonus
The crockpot will make the house smell good. One sister reports her son said that when he comes home from school or practice and smells dinner cooking, "It feels like a hug." I've noticed that myself, come to think of it.***Technology Update!!!
Several sisters said that their ovens have a "delay start" feature that makes it possible to place even frozen stuff in there and it will magically start cooking later so it will be ready at dinnertime. Comes with that "dinner smell hug" bonus too. (I looked. I think mine has it. Who knew?)
The list went on and on.
The point being that since this "small means" might end up making a big difference it's worth a little thought and planning.
Another thing. More than one woman said that presentation means a lot when serving simple dinners like these.
One smart sister bought a set of those plastic baskets at the $1 store. The ones they use at fast food places. She uses them on burger, Joe, or hot dog nights. She buys bakery buns with sesame seeds, not the cheap ones, because it doesn't take any more time and makes a big difference. She uses a red and white checked tablecloth reserved for those occasions and everybody gets a root beer on those nights.
Her six year old calls her the " best cook in the world."
Every woman there said that a well stocked pantry and freezer make ten minute meals way easier.
One smart lady says she cooks large amounts of pasta, brown rice, and dry beans on Saturdays, puts them in zip locks and keeps them in the fridge or freezer for almost instant stir frys or spagetti.
She buys big bags of frozen stir fry veggies at the big box store to avoid peeling, and lots of on sale boneless chicken to slice before freezing. She starts cooking the chicken after just a few minutes on nuke defrost.
She says you'll need those cans of fruit and cottage cheese too.
In any case, the general consensus was........ don't get caught with your pantry down.
But then I mentioned the seemingly insurmountable problem of people getting home at different times. What about that, huh? There's no dinner bell that we can clang and have everyboy run in from chores anymore.
Almost all of my students had mentioned this as a reason why they didn't have meals as a family.
Business and crazy schedules can wreck suppertime.
Someone piped up with something like, "The Lord gives no commandment save there is a way to accomplish it." Another said, "Just do it!"
Then one sister said she too was frustrated by conflicting family schedules until she took the revolutionary advice of the BYU cooking show lady. Here it is.
HAVE DINNER AT THE SAME TIME EACH NIGHT
NO MATTER WHO'S AT HOME.
Forget coordinating schedules, because chances are you can't.
Sometimes everybody will be there, sometimes not.
But whoever is there "connects."
And, no matter where they may be, the whole family knows its dinnertime and that people who love them are gathered.
That's just the way things are done at their house.
One lady said that her family always prayed for any missing persons when asking the blessing on the food.
Her teenaged son once told her that whenever he looked at the gym clock at 6 PM during practice, he knew that his family was having dinner together and that they'd just prayed for him.
That might be an important thing for a 16 year old to know don't you think?
Someone pointed out that dinner is no time for discipline either. The only question anybody should be asked is, "What's going on in your life?"
Small means. Sure.
But just burgers and meatloaf going on here? I don't think so.
Maybe it's the connections that make such a big difference.
Maybe it's the encouragement and comfort we give each other as we pass the potatoes.
Maybe it's about laughter, love, belonging and family, and about being able to count on it regularly.
I'm not sure what it is, but the brethren have me convinced that great things could come to pass when we have dinner with the people we love.
How about you?