Monday, March 16, 2015

Mealtime Matters

Inspired by Barb Brookbank and her recent post, The Dinner Table, I set out to make a photograph that might tell the story of  the important lessons learned at the dinner table.

The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.  – Michael Pollan



There are countless studies that support the notion that family meals are a good thing.

Finding time to eat with your family may leave you feeling less stressed.

A family meal is the perfect opportunity to expose children to different foods.

Eating frequent family meals helps children do better in school.

Eating family dinners at least five times a week drastically lowers a teen’s chance of smoking, drinking, and using drugs.

Reading these studies, I nodded my head in agreement. My nest is almost empty, but most nights we do sit down to family meals. But I also know just how much is heaped on mothers these days, and I worry that well-meaning advice just adds another item on the long list of things we should do - and feel guilty over when we fall short.

So I expanded my search and came across an interesting article, It's not the family dinner that's important; it's the time together, by Melissa Clark.

If there’s one thing that parents have heard, it’s that the family dinner is important for children. There is a lot of research to back that up. 

But here’s the problem: it just simply doesn’t work in a lot of our lives. Bruce Feiler, a New York Times columnist and author of "The Secrets of Happy Families," has good news for busy parents: it’s the time together that really matters.

I was blessed to grow up in a family with lots of family dinners. And always, my favorite time came after the meal, when we would sit around the table and the story-telling would commence. Some of these stories I can recite from memory still today and some remain only as vague remembrances, but they all made me laugh and gave me a deep and abiding sense of my place in this world.

Shrimp feast at our family home

There's camaraderie and the family bonding that goes into sitting down and talking about your day over dinner in the evening.  – Nadine Burke

Dinner with  the Hopkins family - my in-laws - Alice, me, Ranny, Doug, and Norma

In his article, The Stories That Bind Us Bruce Feiler talks about the importance of family narratives. 

The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.

Bighead and Dot  - my grandparents - turkey clean-up

Growing up, I learned life's important lessons at the dinner table. And I hope my children did, too.






This belief that it's the bonding time - and not so much the meal itself - that really matters resonates as true for me.

The stories of our lives, in pictures and words, take center stage as we show and tell, over and over again, in little spans of 10 or 15 minutes that make a world of difference.

I'm linking up with Kim Klassen today for Texture Tuesday. Thank you to Kim for her presets that bring warmth and texture to my table top photographs.

39 comments:

  1. Donna, this post just makes me smile ... not only the photos (which are spectacular) but the story as well. Those photos look just like our family when I was growing up. Then when my husband I were raising our two daughters, I must say I was pretty adamant about everyone sitting up for dinner. There was no TV, and we did not answer the phone (gasp). On Sundays we would end up sitting and talking long after the meal was over - something we still do today when we are all together. Of course the grandchildren are allowed to run off and play now ;) I must tell you your photos are just amazing, and I adore that last one - I can't believe what a wonderful composition Martha demonstrated - it truly makes the image very personal.

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    1. Barb, Thank you so much for visiting. I can't begin to tell you how much I look forward to and enjoy your posts. Your recent post with the botanical collages and the simple realization that you are leading a creative life lifted my spirits and helped my perspective. I've been making photographic collages today - and what fun! I truly love your spirit of collaboration and your kindness in sharing what you know, what inspires you, and what challenges you.

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  2. This was such a sweet post for me. I grew up in a family meal home and we do so today. Love your thoughts and personal pictures! Your photos? Divine. So inviting and calm and beautiful. Have a wonderful day!

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    1. Sarah, Your recent photo of your grandmother's tea cup falls into the same category as my family dinner pictures - memories we want to preserve. It's wonderful that our photographs can be both documentary and artistic - often at the same time.

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  3. Oh Donna, these are more than spectacular...heartwarming they are, especially the personal family dining times. Like Barb and Sarah, the dining table is a special place. We all crowd around it when many are home. And now with hubby and I, we still have dinner at the table, and sit and talk. I love to decorate the table, and use different plates, but it is the act of gathering around one place that makes it so special. Love your white "table" and arrangement!

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    1. Beverly, It's funny you should mention that like to use different plates. Truly, I have the oddest mix and match set of dishes you could imagine. Because I can justify my thrift store purchases as both photo props and practical and useful items, I buy with abandon. The set of vintage dishes in these pictures sold for about $5 and we love eating our ordinary meals on them.

      I love hearing the many stories, like yours, of family meal times and all the stories shared!

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  4. I think it is a shame that these days are filled with other activities that always seem more important to families than the sitting down to a family meal. I don't think it matter which meal but just sitting down to enjoy the day either up coming or the one at night. So important and seems that time has been lost, but one thing always happens it seems people realize what they have lost and seem to find their way back. Or at least I hope so.

    Loved seeing your family meals and of course you in them. Beautiful set up of the family meal in images all of them. Thank you for all you put forth in your blog posts.

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    1. Barbara, I would say the same to you - thank you for all you put forth in your blog posts. I am inspired by your photography, but even more so by the person you are and the kindness you share! Your triptych of the orange daisies is so vibrant, it just sings SPRING!

      And yes, I do think we often realize what we are missing and find our way back to the things that matter most. Looking forward to the day when I can sit down and enjoy a meal with you - perhaps at a future GATHER - I hope so!

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  5. We were on the road a good deal of the time when I was younger, so I relished the times we weren't eating powdered-milked-drowned cornflakes, with the station wagon tailgate as our makeshift table! :)

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    1. Melodye, I'm learning about you in bits and pieces. Your recent photo of your grandmother in the field is an amazing view into your history. I love this give and take - and I am happy that you learned a little about me from my old family photos, too. Your young life sounds like quite an adventure.

      One of my favorite meal time memories involves the Sunday Drives my family used to take in our station wagon. We'd pull over at a country store and buy a loaf of bread and fresh cut bologna and make sandwiches that tasted like heaven on earth and ride while my father pointed out the scenery as though we'd never seen a tree! He made us laugh . . . and I miss him.

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  6. Wonderful post! I enjoyed seeing your family photos around the dinner table. As I was enjoying them, I realized I don't have any photos of my family around the table. That is going to change. :) I agree it doesn't matter what is on the plate, just that there is time together spent talking about each others day. (No phones allowed at the table.) At family gatherings it is fun to hear all the stories repeated again and again. As I get older I cherish these moments even more...

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    1. Michelle, You are so right about the joy of hearing the stories repeated again and again. As a kid, I do believe I thought some of these stories were a bit boring, and I'm glad I realized they are a treasure before it was too late. And yes, take some photos of your family sitting around the dinner table - and if they are messy or poorly lit or out of focus - you won't care at all. You will only care that these are the memories of some of the best times of your life.

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  7. Wonderful shots and images! Mealtime was always family time when I was a kid and still is!

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    1. Roxanne, I've just spent some time visiting your photostream, and your still life images are truly stunning! Thank you for stopping by to visit and making the time to connect. I can imagine your family around the table sharing stories of the day - and I'll bet you talk about your next ideas for photographs, too!

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  8. What a wise and heart-warming philosophy, Donna. And one with which I totally agree. Coming from an Irish family and having married into a Spanish one meal-times are central to the rhythm of our daily existence. Even when Mr B is away 9 year-old Emi and I sit down together for dinner at the kitchen table. It gives him his little moment to be the "man of the house". I loved all your old family mealtime photos. They looked so similar to the family and mealtimes I grew up with back in Ireland - all the way to Grandma Dot's housecoat-apron: my Grrandma Annie lived in in her collection of almost identical housecoat/ aprons all the time, even when she wasn't cooking. It was sort of like her uniform. Thank you for making me think back to those days and a very Happy St. Patrick's Day! All the best, Bonny

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    1. Bonny, Your remembrance of your Grandma Annie and her housecoats and aprons only serves to strengthen our sameness. It seems we all have strong memories associated with family dinners . . . and the connections that we establish there, seemingly so small and insignificant, are significantly meaningful - after all. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and blog posts!

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  9. I love what you did here, Donna. Your table settings are downright delicious! and I love how you combined the older photos and stirred everything together with your heartfelt words. Nicely done, my friend!

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    1. June, This is one of the aspects of blogging I love most - the self-discovery that leads us to a kinder and more meaningful life. Looking at old photos and re-interpreting them in the context of our today can help us appreciate our heritage, recognize our blessings, and seek to make changes as we need to. Always thankful for you, June!

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  10. oh I love this...on so many levels.....
    your table is stunning... beautifully done.... the light and details...the tones..... Oh my goodness... stunning.

    I also love seeing your family photos...especially love seeing you Donna......
    and I really appreciate that it's more than the meal...it's the time together..... Love that....

    beautiful post always sweet friend..... LOVE. xo

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    1. Kim, It's always a treat to hear from you - as you are the friend that brings this artistic and kind group together. We are learning photography and life lessons . . . I do hope there will be another Gather event where I can share a meal with you!

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  11. Thank you Donna for sharing with us your family mealtime pictures and stories from the times you were a joyful young lady... even if I'm older than you, your pictures look so much like the pictures of my family meals, including several generations and noisy with laughters or discussions... I agree totally with you on this point, meals are privileged moments during which the members of the family can share, exchange, laugh or debate... what is in the plates is a pretext... the most important thing is being together... I was lucky to live in a medium-sized town so my kids, when they were going to school, could walk home for lunch... the whole family shared lunches and dinners everyday of the week all year long...
    The pictures of your lovely, tasteful and delicate table setting are wonderful... I can see that you've enjoyed chosing beautiful and vintage props, arranging them artistically, moving them in different ways, adding here and there for a fresh spring mood one or 2 thistles, a tiny plant in an old cup... everything is so sweet, I would like so much to sit in front of your table and share a moment with the hostess!

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    1. Odile, I can picture your kids coming home for lunch - and how blessed you were! My son is home from school today with sickness, and even though he does not feel well and I'm sorry, I am also happy to have him at home today and underfoot like when he was little.

      It's nice that you mentioned the tiny vine in the tarnished cup. I love to make terrariums and have learned that many plants do quite well in a variety of unexpected "pots" - especially love the tarnished silver as planters. You are so very creative - and so I'll hope you try this, too - as a make and take for your still life photographs!

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  12. As always, I loved your family pictures most. I have no pictures of a childhood family meal, despite years and years of them. I drank in the homey details--the Corelle bowl (I still have mine and use it!), the RC Cola on the table, Wonder Bread, Ritz crackers and a cheese ball, sliced tomatoes, that pulled-apart turkey, those sweet curtains and white cabinets . . . and your family crammed around the table in the kitchen. Save a place for me, I'll be right over with my fork . . .

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    1. You are welcome any time! Since you are so special, we'll give you one of the chairs where you can actually get out to use the bathroom (without asking 4 other people to please stand up and move).

      While you may not have photographs of family dinners, you have such a powerful memory with vivid recall of details, you will paint the picture with words - and it will be the art that you love - real, unpretentious, and cherished.

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  13. oh those old family photos are such a treasure. telling a beautiful story about you and your sacred traditions. we too have always made dinner at the table a priority. even if it's not so beautifully set as yours, it's that smile part of the day to connect. a beautiful post today.

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    1. Kelly, I spent time reading your Empty Nest blog posts, and I can see that you are a devoted mother -and all those meal times have paid off as your daughter prepares to graduate from college. Congratulations to your daughter and your family!

      My youngest son graduates from high school this year and he'll be off to college - and so my nest will be empty, too. I'm approaching this bittersweet time with an open heart for all that is to come.

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    1. Lenore, Looks like we are both cherishing memories. Love your recent post with the photos of your cherished rings given to you by your mother - a great project to photograph your family heirlooms - much like my photos of family dinners.

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  15. Your stills are stunning and what wonderful memories you have with your family photos!

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    1. Donna, Some weeks I get lost in the quiet and still and other weeks I need to be outside in nature . . . and still other weeks I find myself lost in boxes of old photos like these family dinner images. One of the things I love most about photography is the variety - so many different directions to go!

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  16. This is a posting that so resonates with me! Your photos could be any family back in the day. Love them and especially the one of you! Perhaps it was the era...but if there's one memory from my childhood that will always stay with me and that's the discussions around the dinner table. We all ate together. There was no TV until dinner was over...conversations complete...school work finished...and all clean from our baths. I so miss those days!! Your art once again blows me away! Thank you Donna!

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    1. Your description of family dinners at your home is as good as a picture! I miss those days, too - and now I have a renewed determination to keep meals like these in my life.

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  17. Hi Donna, thanks so much for sharing your photos. The family ones took me waaaay back to my childhood when we would all have our meal together, 7 of us squashed around the table ! When I had my boys , we always ate together, and now they have left home, hubby and I eat our meals together and have a chat about our day. I love your photos of the place setting, each piece is so lovely ! I'm not posting much at the moment as we're getting our house ready to sell, but I do enjoy reading everyone's posts :)

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    1. Caz, I am excited for your upcoming move - and can't wait to see the flood of pictures that will come with new home, new parks and paths to walk, new shops and props, more family . . . and more. Thanks for making the time to stop by for a visit. Love the image of you and your hubby enjoying your meals together. Even though I've never met him, I know how much he supports you - I recall him making a special trip home to pick up your memory card! True Love!

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  18. You never fail to make me smile, Donna! :)
    Thank you for this beautiful and heartwarming post, and for the lovely photos - such a treasure!

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    1. Kia, I feel exactly the same about you. I know you have been helping your mother as she recovers from surgery - and I do hope the picture is looking up. Knowing you, I'm sure her spirits are lifted by having you near. I'll look forward to more of your artful photographs soon!

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  19. So lovely. Your photos always make me sigh happily.

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  20. what a thoughtful post...indeed, I too have memories of sitting around the dining room table - as a child, dinner was always served promptly at 6pm and if you weren't there, you didn't get dinner. There was little talk at the table - there were 8 of us...and my father always said he wanted to eat in peace...we also had to demonstrate perfect table manners...which oddly enough must have paid off since I remember several instances being complimented on my table manners! But I have always endorsed the value of sitting down all together and sharing dinner...along with the escapades of the day...as an adult, there has been plenty of lively discussion at our dinner tables which only serves to enhance the flavor of the food...BTW...I am a dish/china fanatic - love your dishes...Johnson Bros/English pattern? and I too use mismatched silverware...love the eclectic nature of it...

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  21. That is such an inviting table. And a stirring conversation. I love the idea of family meals;
    we almost always ate together as a family when my kids were young. It was a soothing ritual.
    Now it's bliss when we can all be together around the table, chairs pulled up close. One of my
    favorite feelings in the world. Thanks for bringing that back, washing over me again.

    And can I say how I love your heart for family. You just radiate good-mom-ness:)
    Your kids are big time blessed:)
    -Jennifer

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