The Place-Mat Dinner

If you know me, one thing you know I love…like loooove y’all, is a well set table. I am not talking the kind of table that intimidates me with four forks, three spoons and a stack of plates (although I do wish to have a reason to eat at table like that one day) but the table that reflects the reason, season and people planning on gathering around her later.

Ask my husband –while I am pretty good at letting “things” go and purging our home, I do have two prized -possessions that no matter where we have moved, I have brought with us/..our dining room tables – past and present.

Our table of past is the sweetest little dining room table we used in our small apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That 3′ X 4′ table holds our most sweet-newlywed-young-20-30’s memories of our lives before the arrival of our children. That table is a memory collector of Quinn and my tears, joys, fears, fights, romantic dinners, hours of graduate work studies, holiday memories and countless more. While she no longer is large enough to fit our family of five, she continues to partner with me while I write, pay bills, read emails and prepare lessons for our homeschool.

Our table of present is our second dining room table we purchased (after countless hours of debate) at World Market when we moved to Raleigh, North Carolina – every scratch, burn, notch, discoloration, paint stain is a memory of raising our family. She has hosted countless family meetings, painful discussions, disagreements, celebrations, high-chairs, birthday parties, anniversaries, school lessons, friends, family and the list goes on…I love those tables – my past and present places of gathering of all I cherish.

I would hope when I am long and gone my kids may not care at all for my generational “fine china” but will want to keep our dining room tables in the family and continue to host their gatherings and adding to their stories.

One of the aspects of setting a good table is ‘setting’ the intention for the gathering. The Place-Mat dinner was insprited by an IG post a couple nights ago by my sweet friend Courtney. The celebration of Passover began on Thursday and many of my Jewish friends were preparing their homes for Seder dinners. Due to the pandemic, many modifications were being made as many of them, for the first time they can ever remember, were unable to be together with their extended family and/or secure items normally used in their meals. Some, got very creative. Watching the tweaks they were making got my creative juices flowing…

With the current stay-at-home orders, many of us are eating many meals at home everyday. Our family has eaten home-cooked dinners meals and eaten all together now for four weeks straight and we are loving it! Grateful.

So, if you are looking for a fun, intentional way to add some life to the dinner table and build connection, I offer the “Place-Mat dinner.” The premise is you set the table with a place-mat for each person and identify 6 things each person has to add to their place-mat prior to dinner to share with everyone.

In the morning, I took a piece of paper, drew out a place-mat and indicated what each person was to secure and place on table through-out the day. I put the place mats out in the afternoon and family members were invited to add to their setting (and yes, one of us, who will remain anonymous, added their items just moments prior to dinner time!) Simple enough, yes? I have included a picture below.

When it was time for dinner, we turned off all the lights in the house, gathered around the table, enjoyed a delicious meal and each person was given as much time as they desired to share their items they chose for their place-mat.

Our six items (and how we used them) were:

  1. An item that symbolized your gratitude for the essential workers serving on the front line of the Pandemic, keeping us moving as a nation.
  2. A glass of water in glass/container of choice. We drank our water as a gesture of cleansing. We emphasized how many of have had moments of irritability or less than our best-selves as we navigate an ocean of emotions right now, we can always clean it up – acknowledge our feelings, apologize if necessary and then let it go.
  3. A cracker of piece of bread of choice. I encouraged the girls if they wanted to try their hand at baking some bread (no one took me up on it). For our gathering, the bread or cracker represented sustenance. We expressed gratitude for food.
  4. A candle. In addition to the candle, each person was asked to bring the name of someone who had “passed over” and during our meal we lit each candle and talked about the person and their significance in our lives.
  5. Something alive and green from outside. This item was a symbol of health and a commitment to vibrant relationships and living.
  6. A quote, mantra, poem or short story that was important to each person right now. As an aside, that afternoon, as a gift I received the sweetest book called “The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy (There are 3 images from the book at end of this post). I placed that book on my place mat to share and we read it at the end of supper. We were all in tears at the end. It was a perfect ending to a special evening.

While you are welcome to use the list I came up with, I would encourage you to take a look at your unique family blueprint (interests, ages, children, single, married, etc) and create your own! For families with younger kids it may be a fun way to pass some time and create some magic to send them on a dinner place-mat scavenger hunt! If you live alone or away from family, maybe do your dinner on Facetime or Zoom? Whatever your situation – be creative!

These are times of togetherness like never before – and while this is presenting new challenges for some, they are also deliciously laced for many of us with opportunities to connect in ways the old conveyor-belt-of-life simply didn’t allow.

Friends, gather around that table of yours – dress her up, dim the lights, turn on some soft music, set some intentions and place some imprints of love on her that will last a lifetime and beyond.

While this is a difficult time for so many of us, the Rockonliving Family trusts if we do this well – we grieve the losses, learn the lessons, witness all the beauty of the human heart and lean into one another and love well, our planet will perhaps have a chance to start healing and humanity will continue to evolve.

RockonLIVING friends.

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