It was a hot day in August of ’94 when we backed the moving truck into the driveway of our new home in Tennessee. We had come from the beaches of St. Petersburg, Florida, to chase a country music dream, leaving behind 30 sad relatives. Our real estate agent crossed the yard in the sweltering heat and handed us our keys, saying, “Spring will become your favorite season.”
A beautiful spring came shortly after the new year, but I couldn’t shake a certain dread that lurked beneath the surface of my thoughts. With Easter approaching, I longed to make the trek home for our traditional family gathering. Since I was nearing the last trimester of pregnancy with our third child, the days my husband and I could safely travel were coming to an end. As I came to grips with the realization that we wouldn’t be going home, I called my mom in search of solace.
How could I give my young family a holiday like the ones I’d grown up with if we couldn’t get home to be with relatives? Mom simply said, “Home is where you make it.” Struck by her frankness, I paused and realized I had been hanging on to the coattails of my family’s hospitality.
I had grown up in a multigenerational safe harbor. I loved the expertise and talents my grandmother and aunts brought to the holidays and other family gatherings — gifts of cooking, nurturing and creating a beautiful atmosphere around a table. But I hadn’t paid much attention to how they accomplished those tasks or how I could recreate similar celebrations for my own family.
The week before Easter, I cracked open a cookbook and started studying recipes. I bought a large ham and invited our neighbors to join us for a casual lunch after church. As the last guest was served, I took a moment to look around and realized a different kind of family was emerging. These weren’t the people I had been raised with, but they were the ones with whom I had chosen to share my days. I had begun to learn the secret of building relationships through the gifts of my kitchen.
Initially I was looking to fill a void in my heart. But opening my home and sharing my table had bound us together. Although I didn’t possess all the cooking expertise of my predecessors, I discovered that everything I needed to build community had been instilled in me at an early age: a love of cooking, the joy of gathering, setting an inviting table and planning within a budget. The skills I borrowed from the women in my family would develop and grow, along with a calling to share them with the next generation.
Since that day, I’ve hosted many gatherings, and I’ve found the path from intimidation to success is practice. I do my best to focus on my guests because whatever is on the table isn’t nearly as important as who’s around it. For carefree gatherings, I prepare as much as I can ahead of time. I have to remind myself that perfection isn’t required. The real gift I’m giving is a place at the table.
And beyond those rich and lasting connections with my neighbors, my table has also nurtured a strong sense of togetherness and belonging within my family. Through the years, I have found the kitchen to be the setting for so many essential components of our family’s daily life. The obvious reason it is the hub of the home is the food we share, but what we do in the kitchen also affects our fitness, finances, friendships, fun and even our faith. This is where we cook, eat, gather and pray, but also where we plan events, entertain guests, stay healthy and plan how to save money.
Passing Along the Tradition
After my daughter, Elise, left for college, the hardest part was setting the table for four instead of five. She was missed so much. We had built a strong family connection. During this time, the idea of writing a book about this crucial area — the kitchen and the family table — started swirling around in my mind.
A few years later, Elise became engaged. She desired to build a solid, lasting relationship with her future husband. At that point, I had a clear motivation to teach the bride and to bless the next generation of our family. I wanted to pass along the expertise that my mother, grandmother and aunts had passed on to me — the ability to create togetherness and belonging around the kitchen table.
Those are the reasons I wrote Our Newlywed Kitchen. This beautifully designed book is packed with ideas and inspiration for everything from kitchen basics to cost-saving meal plans and gorgeous place settings. I hope it will inspire your family, too.