Tag Archive | Sunday dinner

Dinnertime

Abbey Hungry 05-12-08

Abbey used to let us know when she was really hungry by bringing us her metal dish – and dropping it on the kitchen floor, making a clatter capable of waking the neighbors.

I guess today is a good day to talk about dinnertime. It’s Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday – a time of feasting the day before beginning a forty-day fast for Lent. Mim and I are planning to go out for a musical feast tonight – an organ recital by Thomas Trotter (a fantastic organist from England) at the Overture Center in Madison. We’ll probably stop at Culver’s for a cheeseburger and fries on our way there. If the flavor-of-the-day is really good, we might splurge on a small dish of custard – but only if it’s a really good flavor. The real feast of the evening will be musical.

Bread for the Journey coverOver the past few days I’ve been reading about “the meal that makes us family and friends” in the book Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri J. M. Nouwen. The reflection for February 15 in this daily devotional book started with these words:

We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

During most of my growing up years, Sunday dinner, eaten about 1:00 p.m., was the most special meal of the week. My mom usually put a roast in the oven before we left for Sunday school so that it would be almost ready when we got home from church, between 12:15 and 12:30. Mom had the potatoes peeled and waiting in the pressure cooker.  She turned the burner on to start the potatoes and grabbed a package of our own garden vegetables from the freezer, either corn or green beans. While the potatoes and vegetables were cooking Mom made gravy, and last of all she mashed the potatoes. My job was to bake some refrigerator rolls and set the table. Then the whole family gathered around the table, Danny and I said the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer, and we ate and talked and laughed together. Often my Grandma Kenseth joined us for this meal. The meal ended with a dessert of homemade cookies, cake, or pie – and always ice cream.

What made this meal so special every week was that it was the only meal we all ate together. My dad was usually in the barn milking cows when the rest of us ate breakfast, and also when we ate supper. On weekdays, my dad was the only one home at noon. My mom was at work in Madison, and Danny and I were in school. Sunday dinner was the special time to eat together.  Besides sharing the meal, it was also a time for the whole family to be involved in conversation. I guess those Sunday dinners were pretty instrumental in forming our identity as a family.

In 1973, when I first met Mim and she invited me to share her apartment with her until I could find an apartment of my own in Chicago, Mim and I went out for dinner at the Buffalo Ice Cream Parlor (for cheeseburgers and hot fudge sundaes) to get to know each other a little, and to clarify our expectations as roommates. One of the rules Mim insisted on is that we eat meals together whenever possible, and that we would share equally in the cost of all groceries. I think Mim’s concerns were mostly about not wanting to keep track of which food belonged to each of us. But as Nouwen suggests, “Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.” Maybe Mim had an inkling of how important it is to share mealtime.

Mim and me, ready to sit down for Easter dinner in the dining room of our apartment in Chicago. We’re still dressed up from church.

Sharing meal time provides an opportunity for developing relationships better than almost any other activity. I was surprised to learn that this is true even for business meals. When I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago I frequently had to travel on business. During those years I ate plenty of restaurant meals alone. I usually went to the restaurant with a notebook to outline plans and draft reports while I ate. But whenever I went out to dinner with a business associate instead of eating alone, I found that I got to know the person beyond the business context. By “celebrating the gifts of life we share” together over a meal, a genuine friendship usually developed. Meal time truly was a special time, even on business.

Twenty-some years later when Mim and I turned our farmhouse in Cambridge into Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast, we made the decision to have all our guests eat breakfast together around the dining room table. As our guests ate, we stayed in the dining room to refill coffee cups and to be sure food was passed around the table, and also to encourage conversation among all the guests. (We usually had four to eight guests at a time.)  One morning, near the end of breakfast, I remember a young man said, “I was dreading this breakfast – having to eat together with strangers, but I’m really enjoying it. I feel like we’re all friends.”

B&B Guests at breakfast

B&B guests at breakfast in our farmhouse

When we changed Country Comforts B&B into Country Comforts Assisted Living, we changed from sharing our breakfast time to sharing all meal times except breakfast. Mim and I and our residents all like to start our day at different times, so we each eat breakfast on our own. But lunch and dinner are always shared meals. I think that is a big part of what transforms our residents from being strangers living under the same roof into becoming caring family members of the Country Comforts family.

Sharing a meal with our Country Comforts family

Sharing a meal with our Country Comforts family

Today’s reading from Nouwen says, “The table is one of the most intimate places in our lives. It is there that we give ourselves to one another…. We invite our friends to become part of our lives. We want them to be nurtured by the same food and drink that nurture us.”

I’m glad Nouwen’s book prompted me to think about meal time. Whether we’re feasting for Fat Tuesday or eating more modest meals throughout Lent, it’s good to remember that “A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events…. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.”

Our extended family gathered around our extended table for Thanksgiving dinner in Chicago, 1984.

Reclaiming Sunday

Do not let Sunday be taken from you.
If your soul has no Sunday, it becomes an orphan.
Albert Schweitzer

When I was a little kid, Sundays had a very different rhythm from every other day of the week. The day started with a different breakfast. We had cold cereal with milk and bananas. Every other day of the week we had eggs and toast. Putting boxes of cereal on the dining room table was less work for my mom than frying eggs, and Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest.

We also built go-karts.

We also built go-karts.

After breakfast we went to Sunday school and church. We got home from church about noon. Then my mom set aside the “minimize work rule” for an hour or so and fixed us a big Sunday dinner. After dinner my dad read the newspaper until he dozed off, my mom read a novel, and my brother and I went outside to play baseball or football or cowboys. If it was rainy we stayed inside and played Monopoly or checkers. Sometimes we’d watch an old movie on TV. Occasionally the family all went to Lake Mills to visit my cousins for a couple hours, but we had to be sure to be back in time for my dad to milk the cows and for the rest of us to go to evening church. Basically, Sunday afternoon was a slow-paced time, a time to relax, a time to play, a time that was totally care free. (We didn’t even do school work!)

Wildflowers along Highland Drive - our country road

Wildflowers along Highland Drive – our country road

When I was a little older, my mom and I would sometimes go for a walk down our country road for an hour or so before supper. We’d look at the wildflowers and listen to the birds singing. One of the things we talked about was how she spent her Sunday afternoons when she was young. Her parents were quite strict about not working on Sundays. She wasn’t allowed to use a scissors because that was considered work. Often her friends from church would come over to the farm to play baseball and her mother would make root beer for everyone.

When Mim and I lived in Chicago, we usually went to church Sunday morning and tried to do fun, relaxing things in the afternoon. For several years we had season tickets to a piano concert series at Orchestra Hall. Another favorite place to spend the afternoon was visiting with the animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo. On nice summer days we biked along the lakefront. When we were in grad school, studying and working often tried to barge in and take over quiet Sundays. After a while, we’d miss the relaxing time and resolve to take back our Sundays, with mixed results.

Since moving to Wisconsin 21 years ago, we have struggled to keep Sundays as a day to relax. When we had a bed and breakfast, we worked harder on Sundays than any other day of the week. Recently I realized that Sundays have again become the busiest day of the week for me. I usually play the organ in church in the morning, and in the afternoon I often work on writing something for my Monday blog post (as I’m doing right now). I’ve talked about designating another day of the week as my “Sabbath” but have never been able to be successful in implementing the practice.

As Maya Angelou said in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now:

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.

So …  I’ve decided to change my blogging day from Monday to Tuesday. Effective next week, my new blog entry will be posted by late morning on TUESDAY. Hopefully, this change will help me reclaim Sunday afternoons as a time to relax, to be care free.

Over the past sixty years our culture has drastically changed its attitude toward Sundays. The routine of going to church and having a quiet afternoon is just one way of spending the day. For many people, Sunday is a day for shopping. (When I was a kid, stores were closed on Sundays; shopping wasn’t an option.) For some people watching sports on TV is the favorite way to spend the afternoon. For others Sunday is a day to catch up on housework or yard work. Sunday still has a rhythm that is different from the other days of the week – even if the day is no longer a day of rest, it may be a day “in which no problems are confronted.”

Setting aside one day a week as a special day has Biblical origins.

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work – not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them, he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day, he set it apart as a holy day.
[Exodus 20:8-11 The Message]

Personally, I’ve decided to try to reclaim the Sunday of my childhood. I don’t think I can convince my brother Danny to play Monopoly with me, but I’m pretty sure my partner Mim will take a walk with me down our country road. Writing this blog, as well as most other things that try to creep into Sunday, can wait till tomorrow.

Our country road leads to CamRock Park, a place with perfect trails for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Our country road leads to CamRock Park, a place with perfect trails for a Sunday afternoon stroll. This photo is from last October. Mim and Abbey got ahead of me.