Family Dinners: Keeping the Spark Alive

Are family dinners important? What about empty nesters? Families of one? Do family dinners protect against the effects of teen drug use and cyberbullying? Writer Melodie Miller Davis in her recent blog post “How do you keep family dinner?” got me thinking about recent research on the topic.

In her post, she refers to Columbia Casa Family Day, a national initiative to remind parents that they have the “power to help keep their kids substance free.” Cornell University researchers also have discovered that shared meals may help prevent eating disorders. An article in Time asserts that teens benefit from interaction with their families and find security in the shared, predictable ritual of family mealtime possibly preventing early drug use and the effects of cyber-bullying. However, there is also research that claims such effects are overstated or not verifiable.

Whatever the case may be, the faster the pace of our lives and the more insane world events become, the more I long for the sweet spaces of serenity that sharing family meals can provide.

The Longeneckers and the Metzlers, two strands of my family line were oblivious of any such research but carried on the ritual of family meal time together. Here is a post from the Metzler gatherings, often picnic style.

Family dinners can be very large as seen here in Grandma and Aunt Ruthie’s house with twenty, mostly Bossler Mennonite Church friends, gathered around their huge dining table.

Mother L_Bossler eating_at Ruthies

Whether large or small, indoors or out, dinners require preparation. My sister Jean and her family provide some of the “raw material” from a shared meal at Mother’s house.


Years ago if we didn’t visit Pennsylvania, I shared holiday meal making with my sister Janice, who lives just 2 ½ miles from us.

There's one in every crowd - even in family!
There’s a joker in every crowd – even in family!


And then the over-flow table with the kids . . .


After awhile, our children began entertaining us, first in Chicago where all four worked, earned graduate degrees and started a family.


Then when they moved to Florida, two years apart, their meal making continued with Fourth of July at Joel’s house . . .


. . . and Thanksgiving at Crista’s house in her bright sun room.

Any excuse for a party! Besides birthdays, Fourth of July can be a cause for celebration too.

07_meal_Memorial Day_2009

One of us, who loved everything about entertaining from meal preparation to talking and eating around the table, will be missing this holiday season and every meal in between, our Mother Ruth Longenecker, hostess extraordinaire.

Mother slicing pig stomach with baked corn and a stick of butter close by
Mother slicing pig stomach with baked corn casserole and a stick of butter close by

 How have family dinners marked your family history?

Coming next: # 1 in a series “Moments of Discovery”


It’s No Secret: The Life of Bees and Beamans

Bee - Joel's FB

Joel Beaman and bee hive frame
Joel Beaman and bee hive frame
Beaman hive in back yard
Beaman hive in back yard

Bee Video / Facebook

The bees came the summer of 1964, the summer I turned fourteen and my life went spinning off into a whole new orbit, and I mean whole new orbit. Looking back on it now, I want to say the bees were sent to me. I want to say they showed up like the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, setting events in motion I could never have guessed.  Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees       pages 1, 2

If you’ve read Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Secret Life of Bees, you know that bees are a metaphor for the flight Lily Melissa Owens takes to escape a mother-less house (except for nanny Rosaleen) and the domination of an angry father to find a true family and home. In the process, she learns the truth of her mother’s past, finds a hive of new mothers, and discovers her own identity. In other words, she discovers her true self, the whole point of a good coming-of-age novel.

Substitute a different date and a different age, and you have my story with major variations. Unlike Lily, I had a caring family with a highly functioning Mother, but I lived the life of a Lancaster County Mennonite girl, separate from mainstream culture. I envisioned a more colorful life that would offer excitement and surprise. Thus, the bees in my bonnet (literally, a bonnet) propelled me to explore life beyond what I believed was the sheltered, nurturing, but confining, boundaries of my Mennonite upbringing. “What would happen if I sampled the honey from a different hive?” I wondered.

No, I didn’t have a jar of bees on my dresser like Lily, but I did recognize an inner voice saying to me, “Marian, your jar is open.” And off I buzzed to a different state, a changed outward appearance, and eventually a new name.

In the process, I landed in another city (Charlotte, NC) in a house with two young women, who, like Lily’s three Boatwright sisters in the Pink House, groomed me for a different life. A life with bright colors, loose hair, fancy dresses but not jarring me away from deeply held values.

Like Lily Melissa Owens, I have sampled the honey of good experience along with the vinegar of trials. Of course, I like the honey better. Here are some life secrets from the “. . . Life of Bees.”


“We lived for honey. We swallowed a spoonful in the morning to wake us up and one at night to put us to sleep. We took it with every meal to calm the mind, give us stamina, and prevent fatal disease. We swabbed ourselves in it to disinfect cuts or heal chapped lips. It went in our baths, our skin cream, our raspberry tea and biscuits. Nothing was safe from honey. . . . [It] was the ambrosia of the gods and the shampoo of the goddesses.”   (84)

August [Boatwright] said beeswax “could make your fishing line float, your button thread stronger, your furniture shinier, your stuck window glide, and your irritated skin glow like a baby’s bottom. Beeswax was a miracle cure for everything.”  (84)


What works in the bee yard works in the world. “Don’t be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don’t be an idiot: wear long sleeves and long pants. Don’t swat . . . . If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates, while whistling melts a bees’s temper. Act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.”  (92) 


“People don’t realize how smart bees are, even smarter than dolphins. Bees know enough geometry to make row after row of perfect hexagons, angles so accurate you’d think they used rulers. They take plain flower juice and turn it into something everyone in the world loves to pour on biscuits.”  (137)

4. NOTICE THAT OTHERS ALSO HAVE IMPORTANT ROLES TO PLAY; YOU’RE NOT ALWAYS THE QUEEN BEE! In the bee kingdom there are nest-builders, field bees with good navigation skills to gather nectar and pollen, nurse bees, and mortician bees. At the extreme ends: drones and, oh, yes,  the Queen Bee with her attendants.   (148-149)


“The whole fabric of honey bee society depends on communication—on an innate ability to send and receive messages, to encode and decode information.”  Gould, James L. and Carol Grant Gould. The Honey Bee, quoted in The Secret Life of Bees  (165)


The worker bee is just over a centimeter long and weighs only about sixty milligrams; nevertheless, she can fly with a load heavier than herself.  Gould, James L. and Carol Grant Gould. The Honey Bee, quoted in The Secret Life of Bees, (256)


According to August, if you’ve never seen a cluster of beehives first thing in the morning, you’ve missed the eighth wonder of the world. Picture these white bees tucked under pine tees. The sun will slant through the branches, shining in the sprinkles of dew drying on the lids. There will be a few hundred bees doing laps around the hive boxes, just warming up, but mostly taking their bathroom break, as bees are so clean they will not soil the inside of their hives. From the distance it will look like a big painting . . .  in a museum, but museums can’t capture the sound. Fifty feet away you will hear it, a humming that sounds like it came from a different planet. At thirty feet your skin will start to vibrate. The hair will lift on your neck. Your head will say, Don’t go any farther, but your heart will send you straight into the hum, where you will be swallowed by it. You will stand there and think, I am in the center of the universe, where everything is sung to life.    (286)

Bee - Joel's FB

Bee Video

Create a buzz!

Was there a time in your life when the jar of your life opened, and you flew out of it into a different orbit?

Like Lily Owens in the novel, have you found a hive of friends to nurture you?

Who is the queen bee in your life story? Well, it could be a king or a prince too, I guess.

All quotes: Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.