I fully understand the meaning of eternity, and it has nothing to do with fire and brimstone. In my world, eternal is described in one word: meals. For me, meals go on and on and on ... forever. When one meal ends, another begins. As the “bread maker” in a family of 11 people, I fix 33 meals a day, 231 meals a week!!! Keeping some variety in that routine - not to mention the preparation, serving, and clean up involved - is enough to wipe me out.

Food is gold. We’re constantly running out of it.

I live at the grocery store. I try to be organized, to plan menus, to make a shopping list, but there’s always the inevitable “gallon of milk” or “head of lettuce” that I’ve forgotten. And, once I walk
into the store, I remember 10 other items to pick up. In my dream world, my kitchen is inside Sam’s Club, and I simply take from the shelves what I need for each meal. Perhaps I should just invest in Sysco, or ask the truck to make regular stops at my house.

My eternal food situation wasn’t helped at all last summer by the fact that two of my boys were earning their Boy Scout cooking merit badge. They each had to separately fulfill the requirements for several days’ worth of menus, including planning, shopping for and preparing the food. Ahhh! On top of the hefty requirements, many of the meals also had to be “camper friendly.”

“How many meals do you have to cook over a fire?” I asked them incredulously. “Hot dogs only count for one lunch?” “How many menus do you need to plan?” “What else can we label as ‘trail food’?” And all of this times two! During those few qualifying weeks, we had enough hot dogs and hobo dinners and marshmallows and banana boats and biscuits-on-a-stick to last a lifetime.

On top of our cooking merit badge fun times, we also recently remodeled our kitchen. I survived days without a sink, and weeks without cupboard space. There were boxes and paper plates everywhere, and I was straddling a kitchen mess (while fixing 231 meals a week!). Unfortunately, little people are still hungry all day long, no matter how late the new countertops arrive. Like I said, I don’t picture fire and brimstone, I picture meals.

With all of the stress of cooking for so many, it seems that the easy way out would be fast food. But no, it’s too expensive, and not always healthy. I’ve also considered letting everyone fend for themselves. Perhaps I should turn my kitchen into a cafĂ©, and allow children to fix sandwiches at will. However, my old-fashioned upbringing has engrained in me the need to eat meals as a family, a somewhat outdated tradition.

Eating together didn’t used to be archaic. It was the norm, but busy schedules and fast food have done their battle against family mealtime. Even young children often eat on the run, grabbing a handful of potato chips from a bag before heading outside or sitting in front of the television. Many of us have lost the ability to eat an actual meal, and instead snack all day long.

Research clearly shows the value of sitting down to a meal as a family. In fact, some studies show that the biggest deciding factor in a student’s school success is whether or not he eats with his family once a day. That’s it? I don’t have to pay for a tutor, or buy him a car or a fancy calculator? Yet experts claim it’s really that easy. If I want my students to succeed, I should facilitate eating dinner, breakfast or lunch with the entire family. If success is so simple, then family mealtime should almost be sacred. Forget free lunch and after school programs ... get children home to a table with a cloth on it, warm soup, fresh bread and parents to visit with.

With 11 people seated at once around our table, I’ll be the first to admit that family mealtime isn’t always heaven on earth. In fact, I rarely sit very long until I need to get up to refresh the
lemonade, cut up the toddler’s spaghetti or serve the salad. Still, a moment of silence for a blessing on the food and then waiting until everyone is served has certainly taught my children something. And, despite how stressful it is to gather all of us at once, as soon as we’re eating together, happy
conversation flows naturally. It’s almost as if some genie has waved a magic wand over our home, and all differences and problems disappear for a few minutes.

During mealtimes we laugh, we talk, we plan. Sometimes, those happy faces on my children are almost angelic. The “what” of dinner doesn’t seem to matter much. Whether we’re eating macaroni, roast or leftovers, just being together causes goodwill to be felt among all of us. And, once the 20 minutes (or less) of eating is over, it’s enjoyable to watch children happily (most of the time) do dishes together while they chat or listen to music.

Fire and brimstone? I’m sure they’re painful, just like constantly fixing food is painful to me. However, if my eternity includes family mealtime, I can survive. In fact, as long as the food grows on trees, and there are angels to wash the dishes, I’ll enjoy the next life. Despite my complaining, my favorite time of day is when all 11 of us are seated, all together, all eating, all laughing, and all content around the dining room table. It’s almost like magic.

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