Need time to breathe? Syrup can help with that.

My dad is in the kitchen, mixing and measuring, pouring batter onto the waffle iron. I’m eight years old, and my feet swing from ┬ámy chair at the kitchen table. I giggle as I read the Sunday comics and read some out loud to him. He laughs along with me, not because they’re particularly funny, but because he wants to take part in my happiness. Meanwhile, the timer dings and he places a waffle on a warm plate in front of me.

“There’s maple syrup in the microwave too,” he says. “Want some?”

I nod, and he brings it over, carefully drizzling it over the waffle. One by one, my mother and brother make their way into the kitchen and the four of us eat our waffles in shifts as the timer dings and a hot breakfast is put on a plate. This is our family routine every Sunday: my dad makes waffles, we all laze about for a while, then rush to get ready for church. Even as a child I wanted to hold onto that hour or so when everyone took the time to breathe deeply and laugh at comics that weren’t really all that funny.

Sunday morning waffles. That’s my source of gratitude today. Even though I haven’t lived with my parents in nearly a decade, I still get to have my Sunday morning waffles. Before he left for the Peace Corps, my brother gave us the offspring of his sourdough starter, and now, every Sunday, my husband and I sit down to sourdough Belgian waffles while we read the comics and listen to the radio. It’s our time to breathe deeply and laugh at things that might not be funny to anyone else. It’s our time to just be with each other, happy in the moment.

And it’s a tradition we’ll keep up when we do start our own family some day. That way, when our children are adults, they can have that comfort food that takes them back to a time when their feet swung from chairs. It will be a good reminder to breathe deeply.

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“Us” vs. “You and I”: Coming together around the dinner table

I’ve read a lot of articles lately (most recently this one on NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/26/172897660/family-dinner-treasured-tradition-or-bygone-ideal)┬áthat explore the benefits and challenges of family dinners. Working parents feel pressured to whip up a fantastic, healthy dinner for their brood, while ensuring their kids are still excelling academically and in about five different extracurricular areas. That certainly sounds exhausting, and it’s understandable that family dinners are falling by the wayside.

What I’m grateful for today are the family dinners I did enjoy as a kid. My family made a point to have dinner together every night when I was growing up. Of course, once or twice a week I would have basketball practice, or my parents would have a date night and we would eat in shifts. Overwhelmingly, however, our dinners were spent together, and I’m pretty grateful for that. Research is starting to show that the one-on-one time parents spend with their children reading, playing games or walking the dog can be just as beneficial for the parent-child relationship as eating dinner together. I don’t dispute that; what I do dispute is how getting rid of family dinners affects the entire family’s relationships, not just the relationships between parents and children.

My brother and I were like most siblings growing up, meaning we did nothing but fight. My parents refereed us as best they could, but it was not an easy job. There were only two instances in which he and I would get along: at the dinner table and on road trips. In each case, there was something about coming together as a family, as a single unit, that encouraged a friendship between us.

The point of this blog is not to judge other families’ traditions and practices. There is no doubt in my mind that families can be happy and healthy without eating every meal together. But to put it in simple terms, I’m grateful my family did make that time to sit down together, and I’m grateful my husband and I make a point to sit down together for dinner every night, regardless of hectic work schedules. It reminds me that we are more than just him and me, that we are an ‘us.’

What about your family? What family rituals or traditions are you grateful to be a part of?

Cooking up some love

It takes a real man to be comfortable in the kitchen, and I am most definitely married to a real man. Before I started dating my future husband, I could make three things well: chocolate chip cookies, Annie’s mac and cheese, and a grilled cheese sandwich. As an aside, I was about ten pounds heavier than I am now with weekly menus like that. To say my culinary skills were lacking would be an understatement.

So when, for our second date, my husband-to-be made the most delicious manicotti I had ever tasted, I fell in love. The next day, I called my mom and told her, casually, that I thought I had met the man I would marry. She started dreaming of grandkids while I started dreaming of elaborate meals cooked for me every night for the rest of my life.

Here’s a little feast he surprised me with one summer evening early in our relationship:

Summer surprise

It’s funny how dreams rarely parallel reality. After 4+ years together, I do the bulk of the cooking in our house, but I’m okay–nay, grateful–for that because I finally know how to cook and cook well. What’s more, I enjoy it. Once or twice a week I’ll take the time to cook something a little fancier. A few nights ago, it was homemade manicotti, just like he had cooked for me all those years ago. I poured myself a nice glass of California red and started sauteeing the onions and garlic. I turned up Adele and sang along in my off-key voice.

When my husband got home from work, the apartment smelled like a Florentine restaurant. He began quizzing me on what I had added to make the filling so creamy and complimented my handiwork. Cooking has become something we share, rather than a way for him to spoil me. And as much as I like to be spoiled, I prefer sharing.

What activities has your partner helped you grow in? What new skill have they taught you?