It been a while since I posted a new recipe. I was planning to share the black bean soup we set out tonight, and I still have the story of a delightful vegetarian lasagna that I plan to share with you, but tonight I’m feeling more gratitude than I am feeling gastronomical.
This was a wonderful day capping off a wonderful weekend. I could list all of the important jobs that didn’t get completed. I could talk about the things I should be doing right now because tomorrow is Monday and there just so much to do. But I won’t. Because today was a perfect late winter/early spring kind of day. I made a perfect snowball and put it in my freezer, for some time in July when I am fondly remembering crisp white snow and puppies frolicking in snow drifts. I had a nap in a sunbeam, like Garfield the cat. It was glorious. I was going to read a clever book and “improve” myself, but I didn’t. Snowballs, naps, and plain old puttering around the house. Brilliant.
Do you know what happens when you are relaxed and well rested and get off the hamster wheel of life? You catch your breath and appreciate the ebb and floe of life. Like Sunday dinner and family gatherings.
We are decidedly pre-empty nest. Before long, the kids will be grown and gone and my husband and I will be left with each other for company. For the moment though, we are in the midst of an amazing season of family and community and friendship that started quite by accident.
A few years back we were hosting and leading a small group in our home through our church. The group consisted in the beginning of my husband and I and a couple of twenty somethings just starting out with a pretty small budget. Remembering what it was like to start outside and live on a tight budget, we bumped our meeting time ahead and made it a weekly “pot-luck”. We BBQd burgers every week and they brought whatever they had to add. Like mustard. By no means were we having gourmet feasts, but we had fun, and ended up bonding pretty quickly around that table.
Fast forward two years later, and our small group had turned into a big group that had outgrown our dinning room and then some, with the most amazing schedule of weekly themed pot lucks you could drum up. Iron chef bacon night, Mac and cheese cook-off, Cinqo de Mayo, French food, noodle fest, baked potato bar. If you build it they will come. We learned something that I had heard 100 thousand times, give or take, but didn’t “get” until we lived it. The fastest way to make friends and build community is by sharing a meal, and sharing time together. Not rocket science, but how could I have missed this?
This is why family dinner is so important, especially when everyone is so busy. Stop, listen, share, and breath. I know you know this, we all know this, but really. Eat together.
So when our small group literally had no more room to grow, we multiplied into three but still manage to gather around a table whenever we can. But I am hooked on the dinner table. Last summer I decided that there were some women I didn’t know as well as I wanted to, so I invited them over in groups of 6, broke out the good china, made some pretty simple meals and shared some wonderful evenings with new friends.
And then there is regular life, sometimes we are busy and can’t make family dinner happen. There can be late classes and jobs to pay for school, band practices and youth group, and just long days when nobody wants to cook or clean and everyone can fend for themselves. That happens, and that’s ok. But then sometimes we have nights like tonight. The ones where I will look back and remember what is was like to have a meal shared with family and friends and laughter, that are busy and my kitchen is totalled and the leftovers get eaten before they become leftovers.
Tonight, after a perfect day of not a lot going on, I sat at my dining room table and watched my husband talk about Stevie Wonder with the music teacher who often stays for dinner because he’s a student living on his own for the first time and sometime you want something more than ramen noodles. And my daughter who is exhausted after a busy week of school and homework and a part time job but home to join us for dinner, was listening and smiling wistfully because she understood what he was talking about when he said “horns have a difficult time playing in the key of E”, and at that moment probably wished she had time to play trombone again. My son, pre-occupied with the conversation forgot that dinner was actually healthy and ate two large bowls of black bean and quinoa soup (#winning) and some chicken, likely giving him enough real nutrition to carry his 5 foot 11 frame over the 6 foot mark, and my son’s friend who made most of the soup, enjoying the fact that everyone was raving over it. I’ll take kitchen helpers anytime, for the record.
On a given night, Sunday especially of late, there can be an unexpected guest or two at the table. Or more. And no one is more surprised than I that this is where we are in life. How wonderfully fun, and usually unpredictable our conversations are. Like Stevie Wonder and cover bands and singing Ella Fitzgerald’s Summertime as a tango, and stray cats. Not the band, actual stray cats.
I love this unconventional impromptu family gathering.
The food is not fancy, the house is not spotless, I put the guests to work regularly. The kitchen looks like a bomb hit it before and after the meal. So many dirty dishes, so worth it.
Moral of the story? Make a snowball and keep it in your freezer. Life is short. Invite someone for dinner. Get over the need to be the perfect host. Keep inviting people. Have fun.