Special Event Today! CatholicMom.com Hosts "The Meal Box"


Did you ever wish for a magic formula that could enhance your family meal times, bring your tribe closer together, and help your kids grow in their faith?  We’re thrilled today to be hosting the creators of just such a product!  Joining us today at CatholicMom.com are Bret Nicholaus & Tom McGrath, the geniuses behind Loyola Press’ wonderful new product The Meal Box.

The Meal Box contains 54 cards, each one featuring a creative question guaranteed to spark fun family conversation during family meals. The questions, such as If you could have the voice of any famous person, whose voice would you have?, are sure to engage everyone in the family. The reverse side of each card features a quick “Food for Family Thought” tip from family expert Tom McGrath. The tip makes it easy, and downright fun, for families to apply the question and answers to their lives of faith.

Today, Bret and Tom will be joining us throughout the day to prompt conversation, field your questions about family meals time and share their perspectives on how our families can grow in faith.  Please chime in throughout the day in the comments area below or email your question to Lisa@CatholicMom.com.

Along with some great conversation here at the blog, we’re offering you two ways to win your own copy of The Meal Box.  First, Loyloa Press is generously offering one free copy of The Meal Box to a lucky winner.  To enter, drop an email to Halm@loyolapress.com with your name and the words “CatholicMom.com Blog Tour”.  I am going to match Loyola Press’s generous offer and give away a second copy of The Meal Box to one of our commenters.  Simply leave a comment here at the blog with a reply to Bret and Tom’s question or a question of your own for the authors on Tuesday, June 23, 2009 and your name will be entered into a random drawing to win The Meal Box.

Even if you’re not one of our two random winners, you are in luck because from now until June 30th, Loyola Press is offering 30% of The Meal Box, selling it to our readers for only $6.97.  Just enter the promotional code MomMeal at checkout.

So let’s get started with the conversation!  Here are Bret and Tom’s opening remarks – be sure to watch the comments, answer their introductory question and chime in throughout the day with your questions for these two great experts!

Good morning!

I’m Bret Nicholaus, and I have to confess that I have an unusual passion: I just LOVE asking questions that help family members and friends learn fun and fascinating things about each other. I’ve been writing question books for the last 16 years, so this “interest” is nothing new. What IS new to me is the opportunity to interact with all of you via CatholicMom.com. I can’t wait to get started and see where the questions—and ensuing conversations—lead.

Joining me will be Tom McGrath, who has written several books on family spirituality. Recently, Tom and I co-created The Meal Box: Fun Questions and Family Faith Tips to Get Mealtime Conversations Cookin’. Tom and I both believe that mealtime affords one of the best opportunities to help families grow in their love for one another and in their faith—and a helpful way to do that is to begin with a FUN question!

So let’s get started with a question from The Meal Box. Send in your answers—your HONEST answers—and we’ll get the conversation going! Together, we’ll have fun learning about one another and discovering ways to serve up a little faith at mealtime!

If you could open the back door to your home and step out into the PERFECT backyard, what would that yard be like for you?

Update: Our first Meal Box Winner, randomly selected from among yesterday’s comments, is Karen (#46).  I will announce the email winner soon.


About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.


  1. Ooh! That’s a good question considering our yard is still recovering from last year’s pool construction. I’d have lush grass everywhere that grass should be growing. I’d also have a stone patio instead of the wooden deck that we have. My fruit and vegetable gardens would be untouched by the family of bunnies who live under our shed (they’re eating very well these days). And last, but certainly not least, our concrete pathway that was damaged last Summer by the concrete truck would be unblemished.

  2. It would be big, green, and full of kids. It would actually be grass and not a bunch of weeds. There would be no rocks in the grass for my husband or son to run over with the mower. There would be a gazebo with comfortable seating and some kind of protection from errant water balloons and hose streams. A garden with some yummy vegetables would be healthy and thriving. The fruit trees would be mature enough to keep us stocked with apples, plums, peaches and cherries (they grow on trees, right?). And there would be a great big tree with a family built tree house.

  3. It would be big on native plants with a little grassy play area. A vegetable garden. Neat little places for kids to play with climbing trees. There would be some water. Some shade. Some sun. And it would be a whole lot bigger, extending into some wooded area.

  4. Hi, this is Tom McGrath, co-crafter of The Meal Box. I can see out the door into our back yard right now and it’s looking just as I would want it to be–my wife is sitting in a rocker on the deck having her quiet time. Birds are flitting in and out of our venerable old peach tree. A big blue ball left over from the fun day the next door neighbor kids had yesterday has drifted into our yard, and flowers are blooming in the garden patch. It’s a bit of an oasis in the city for us, an early morning sanctuary. It’s nice to begin the day reflecting that what I want is what I have been given.

  5. If only wishing would make it come true… My backyard would be a quiet, white sandy beach in Maui that leads to the clear blue waters of the ocean. And I’d want my front yard to be the Smokey Mountains. 🙂

  6. Lush green grass, plenty of shade trees, play area for the kids, deck with a grill and plenty of lounge space and since this is my perfect backyard it might as well include a pool and hot tube as well as a nature trail in the way back. Also a large garden and some fruit trees wouldn’t be amiss. (can extra people to tend the garden count as “part” of the yard?)
    Thanks for hosting this giveaway, I’d love to win!

  7. My perfect backyard would probably not include the termites that are camping out in the old stump in the front yard (yeah, I know, focusing on the negative is bad…). But I like what I have now — a swingset and a sandless box and a kiddie pool (where the sand has somehow migrated) and giggling girls and grass that grows too fast and a dog running around and… I think the only thing missing is my husband and I, sitting in chairs and sipping something cold, though we wouldn’t be sitting for long, what with those active girls and all.

    Thanks for hosting the giveaway! I’ve heard about this product in a couple of different places, and it sounds like tons of fun.

    I do have a question for you guys, in addition to my rambling answer to YOUR question: what sort of process did you use to create the questions in the Meal Box? Did you bounce things off of each other, were they already in a file somewhere, accumulated through the years, or some combination?

  8. Hi Bret & Tom! So happy to have you with us today!! I will answer your question soon, but have one of my own first. Do you have any thoughts on keeping teens engaged in activities like The Meal Box? It seems that the “eye rolling reflex” runs strong at that age and that some might be resistant to a parent’s attempts to get them involved. Any tips or success stories??

  9. The biggest thing to know about teens is that they really, really, really feel a need to control the flow of information about themselves. I think it’s because they’re in the throes of so many new and unaccustomed thoughts and emotions coming unbidden into their consciousness. They feel vulnerable and tender. So one bit of advice is to let them be in charge of doing The Meal Box, setting the rules, determining who answers first, etc. Another idea is to introduce The Meal Box when guests are joining you for dinner. The teen in your family may be a bit less anti-social if Grandma and Grandpa or family friends are there. And surprisingly, trying it when their friends are over might be the best trick yet. I recall how our daughters would be uncomfortable at our prayer before meals when their friends were there, but their friends looked forward to it and thanked us. Many didn’t say grace in their homes. I’d love to hear other suggestions on getting teens to open up and connect.

  10. Good morning from Ohio. My backyard would have a cottage look to it with wildflowers attracting butterflies, tubular flowers attracting humming birds. Homemade birdhouses and feeders bringing in the rest of the natural birds. There would a fountain made from watering cans spilling out into a pond and lush native bushes. The trees would be flowering trees in the spring, plenty of foliage in the summer and beautiful fall leaves in the autumn. Definitely a swing situated to enjoy the who view.

  11. Bret Nicholaus on

    You asked a question about how Tom and I came up with the questions and tips in The Meal Box. We tried to stick to each other’s strengths, so I came up with most of the questions and Tom came up with most of the faith tips. The challenge was to to come up with questions and faith tips that would go well together, so naturally there were some questions that didn’t “make the cut” because it was just too difficult to find a natural segue into a faith tip. So, in the end, Tom weighed in on the questions and I weighed in on the faith tips, but we wanted the product to be as authentic as absolutley possible–which meant sticking to our strengths! As far as creating the questions go, I always have 8 “guidelines” that I follow to come up with questions. Without boring you with the details of that process, the main premise is to stay creative. A question that says, “What do you like about winter?” won’t work for me–it’s too common. So I would eventually come up with something like this: “If snow could fall in any flavor, what flavor would you choose?” That’s a quick example of what I mean by “creative.” To me, the creative nature of the question is essential, and it has to work for both adults AND kids.
    Thanks for the question, Sarah!

  12. Carol Bannon on

    Great question considering we just moved into this home and the backyard is all torn up –
    But, my perfect backyard would consist of one huge deck overlooking Cape Cod Bay, with my entire family engaged in their usual loud and laughing banter – sharing stories and making silly remarks. There would be our old boat moored out front, gently bobbing up and down in high tide; at low tide she would be leaning to the side, while my grandchildren run around her on the hot sand collecting mussels, clams, and oyster shells. As the sun sets over Billingsgate island, the lanterns circling this backyard would come on, and voices would quiet as we recall another perfect day on Cape Cod.

  13. Mark Szewczak on

    Great question because I “try” and garden. My perfect garden has flowers, not too many bugs of the buggy variety, birds, bunnies, squirrels and a little bit of grass for all of us to play on. Shade in places is nice too. But mainly it is a place where you can feel God’s presence without making any effort. He is there and you can’t help but notice.

  14. Mark Szewczak on

    Lisa, about the teens rolling their eyes, just hide the box and ask a question reformatted a bit to make it seem natural for you or you husband as you ask it. I admit to doing that with my former teens to get conversations going and it works great.

  15. Hi – first a comment on Lisa’s question and Tom’s response. While my oldest two are only 8.5 and 7 years, I see similar reactions to what both of you indicated…eye rolling when we’re alone, but when friends or family are around, it’s my kids who are the first to say “hey we didn’t pray yet or we forgot to pray” and their friends are always eager to participate. I find that with a lot of our little family traditions – holding hands during meal prayer, crazy dinners we do (backwards dinner or dinner of all one color), eating outside, Dad’s lame mini-fireworks display or things that might seem silly or meaningless or embarrassing to the kids at times – but their friends seem to think it’s cool. I think all the little things connect us and that’s what their friends gravitate to – the closeness and focus on the family. Obviously we’ll have to change some of those things as they grow older, and I’ll be all ears for help in the teen years, but sometimes I think we underestimate what influence the little things at home have on our kids. Now for my back yard….green grass…big grown trees for shade, a hammock and a long swing….a vegetable garden… flat space for throwing a football and playing volleyball or badminton…a fantastic deck with flowers, bright cushions, and a killer grill…a bonfire pit, and tons of kids running around. 🙂

  16. Carol Bannon on

    Regarding teens at the dinner table – as someone who raised four of them I can attest to the need for their contribution to the discussion. Both my husband and myself felt it was necessary to really listen to their ideas about all types of things – political, religious, and family related. No one was allowed to ridicule someone’s idea – but disagreeing with someone’s viewpoint was always allowed and encouraged. To this day my now-adult children love being around a table and truly discussing issues.

    Last week, while back in Boston for a family affair my sister-in-law lamented how her two children didn’t really like one another – they weren’t close. She commented how my other brother’s family had the same issue, two children who were only four years apart in age, but drastically disconnected to one another. She enjoyed being around our four children because she said you could see how much they wanted to be together: laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. I have to tell you – I feel it’s because of the effort my husband and I put into ensuring the family ate together and talked together. You need to teach children, and teens especially, how to listen. I believe its a learned skill.

  17. Bret Nicholaus on

    I love your answer–especially the part of the fountain in the backyard. Not sure what it is, but there is something so incredibly soothing about the sound of water spilling out. One of my greatest memories as a child is going to my grandparents’ house every six weeks or so and playing with the fountain in their backyard. It was a European-style fountain, about 6-ft. high, and it was SO much fun as a kid. And I remember how much my grandpa used to love to sit out in the yard at night and just listen to the water splashing down. At any rate, your fountain idea reminded me of that memory–it’s a favorite from my childhood.
    Thanks for the great answer, Sue.

  18. I would love my backyard to be a scene from the French countryside I was so fortunate to visit back in the 90’s. I still remember it very clearly…rolling hills of gold and green; the occasional steeple church that was probably more than 100 years old. Various live stock, huge shade trees and those beautiful old-world stone houses with grape vines for miles. To top it all off there would be a lovely sandy beach with crystal blue water, off to the right. 🙂

  19. Just a thought about the teens…. for years, part of our dinner time banter has included asking each person what the highs and lows of the day were…. it helped up celebrate great moments and commiserate with the rotten ones. And it helps parents get clued in to what’s happening in their kids’ worlds that are out of sight….

  20. Actually, it would look a fair amount like the one I have now. I realized that I’m pretty content with our tiny little plot of earth … especially since we bit the bullet and hired someone to come in last week and trim the unbelievably shaggy trees. It has never looked better. And, now that I’m on summer vacation (I’m a teacher, not just a writer), I actually have time to get in there and take care of the flowers, which I love doing.

    That said, there are two elements that I’d love to see when I look out my window:

    1) A comfortable, rust-proof, bird-poop-proof (is there such a thing?) chaise lounge to leave out all year, so I can relax under the trees with a book.

    2) A cleared, prepared space of soil so I can finally plant the formal Mary garden I’ve dreamed of doing for — well, forever!

  21. Great responses on teens. Pat, we did the same thing about having everyone mention the highs and lows of the day. I also heard from a friend that her family covers the following four issues quickly: 1. Name 1 thing you are grateful for today. 2. Name 1 thing you are sorry for today. 3. Name 1 thing you want God to help you on, and 4. Name one person you helped today. This really offered a comprehensive look at the day and opened up all sorts of great conversations. The whole point is that we all long to connect–we want to experience each other’s real presence even as we want Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist.

  22. Bret Nicholaus on

    As a dad with two little ones, I’ll weigh in on this one. I think the most important thing is to keep the conversation at their level. It’s real easy for mom and dad to start talking about “adult” things that kids would be totally bored with. Make the mealtime kid-friendly if you want to keep them at the table. This might mean singing at the table, telling goofy jokes, and talking about what THEY did today. And, of course, we taught our kids early on that nobody gets up from the table until everyone is finished (unless it is a special situation). I am a big believer in establishing ground rules and sticking to them. Since our kids have always known this is the expectation, they really don’t “fight” it. The norm for them is to stay seated throughout supper. But, it helps a great deal to make mealtime FUN for them and to make them the focus of that time.

  23. My perfect backyard is one that my son recently mowed, thus saving me from bestirring my lazy butt and letting me finish about five pages on the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. Handy things, kids.

  24. If you could open the back door to your home and step out into the PERFECT backyard, what would that yard be like for you?

    A large grassy backyard rolling lazily down to a secluded lake with a beautiful sunset that continues the serene natural beauty that God has given us. Flowers and plants abound and a cobblestone patio that is shaded with huge old oaks provides shelter and protection from the heat of a summer day. Birds, butterflies, rabbits, and chipmunks scamper amongst family and friends while they converse and play. The smell of barbeque and laugher inundate the senses making your mouth water and you wanting to join the fun.

  25. Bret Nicholaus on

    We’ve reached mid-morning (at least here in the Midwest), so I’m going to throw out another fun question for discussion. Your answers to the backyard questions have been extremely thoughtful and VERY interesting to read. See, I’m learning some things about you that I would never have known otherwise! So, here’s the next one:

    If you could have 50 pounds of anything other than money (e.g., cash, gold, silver, etc.),what would you want most of all?

    I’m a golf nut, so I’d like 50 pounds of brand-new golf balls. My second choice would be 50 pounds of ripe peaches that wouldn’t go rotten. YUMMM!!!! Lots of peach pies!

  26. That’s easy_ I would love a pool. Right now we are at the point in Florida where you feel like you’re melting – just going outside.

  27. Oh, I was dreaming so much about the backyard! Mosquito-free is the #1 pre-requisite for my perfect backyard in GA.

    Okay, 50 lbs of lovable, huggable, sweet….son or daughter.

    Years ago, my geeky programmer-type co-workers and I would go to lunch together. One would bring a list of such questions for us to be sure we could enjoy a nice conversation over lunch! Funny. That same co-worker would only make right-hand turns when driving, too. He was way before his time!

    Thanks for giving me a chance to give thanks today!

  28. Mary, I wanted to respond to your good post (#15) in which you talk about some of the little family rituals that mean so much. I’m a huge believer in the power of these ordinary habits and customs that families evolve into as a way of connecting us, passing on our values, and conveying our deepest beliefs. Now that my daughter’s are grown I love when they recall some of those family rituals (doing a particular jig saw puzzle, my wife reading to us all by candle light on wintry nights, songs we sang in the car on the way to vacation, etc.) Mealtime is a fertile time for rituals that help us know who we are, what we belive and where we belong.

  29. I think anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to hear that I’d love 50 pounds of books by Catholic authors – I could share them with my family, entertain myself, and maybe get closer to heaven at the same time!

  30. My yard would be full of thick green grass (only half of it is that way now, the other half is covered with those small annoying rocks). I would have a garden growing vegetables to feed my family. In one corner of the yard, behind the pool would be a more tropical area, with one of those small, fat, palm trees, and other tropical plants and flowers. There would be an area for my son to climb and play. Perhaps a rock wall or something. It would be surrounded by trees, so in the morning it would recieve sun, but would be shaded all afternoon.

    Ahh…I can dream, can’t I? Thanks for the chance to win.

  31. I have 3 teens, 17, 15 and 13. When I opened the Meal Box the first night, the eyes were rolling. What is Mom getting us in to now? They were a bit shy the first night, but quite honestly, every night since then, there has been a rush to get to the box first. They love the questions and I have been intrigued by the answers. The personalities come out and it is really great to hear their views. I think they are learning about some of their parents thoughts and dreams too. They pull a card when friends are over for dinner and they enjoy them too.

    Touching on rituals, we try and maintain some throughout the year. My favorite is when we are having birthday cake, we each take a turn and tell the birthday person what it is that we admire about them and why we love them. They are a little embarrassed at first, but I think it is important for them to learn to vocalize those feelings and thoughts and for the birthday person to hear those thoughts.

  32. Hello –

    The yard would be full of kids – our own and their friends. There would be a huge shade tree (we live in a new area and are patiently waiting for the tress to grow.) My second son would be close to the top of that tree and my youngest would be swinging in the tire swing. There would be lots of flowers but lots of grass too for the pickup football, spud and ghosts in the graveyard games. Really I am picturing our current yard with some big trees. . .

  33. My perfect backyard would be very lush and green with lots of trees. The most important feature would be a pond with a waterfall. There is nothing as relaxing as the sound of running water! I would not be able to see any other houses, just an occasional deer or turkey. My trees would flower and produce wonderful smells and I would have blooming lilacs all year round.

  34. Bret, you voiced my answer with the 50 pounds of ripe peaches. In fact I think at lunch I’m heading to Whole Foods–I saw they had a whole array of fresh peaches being loaded on display when I was there yesterday. Hmmmmmm. One summer my family was in South Haven, Michigan for two glorious weeks during peach season. Peaches and ice cream is one of God’s special gifts.

  35. Peggy,
    Thanks for sharing that about your teens. I’ve actually used The Meal Box with a youth group as an ice-breaker & you are right- they do eventually “come around.”

    I like your b-day ritual. I think I’ll have to give that a try with my family!

  36. Bret Nicholaus on

    I love your birthday idea. I second what Michelle said–I think I might have to try your idea with my kids, too!

  37. The perfect backyard…. MOWED!!!!!!!! With flowers that don’t grow weeds….. I would actually love a pool and a big trampoline, too. Oh, and since I’m at it, a porch where I could both get sun when i wanted it, but also shade when it is too hot… Can it be in Hawaii? Okay, now I’m dreaming 🙂

  38. Cheryl Butler on

    Personally speaking……..as the mother of eight kids……..there is nothing more frustrating than trying to engage your older children in a conversation about their day at school……………activities they may want to share etc…. This opens up the door to a lot of open-ended conversation, thoughts and laughs etc. when busy families do get to spend a few moments together!

    Are these broken down by ages or categories or just random thoughts for the picking?

    Very excited to learn more! Thanks for bringing this to us.

  39. Bret and Tom,
    I know lots of families struggle with prioritizing family mealtimes when schedules are so packed full of extracurricular activities – little league, scouts, dance lessons, religious education classes and more. Can you say a few words on how families might go about re-prioritizing the family dinner hour or even about how you might be able to take The Meal Box outside the kitchen and onto the road?

  40. Oh, Cheryl, great question. You took mine about if the questions have a break down based on age, but I do have a proposed solution for ahem, larger familes based on experience with respect to discussions. When we have these think about it and answer type discussions, like what talent would you like to have or what have you, we rotate, one older, one younger, one middle –with the understanding that if you’re an older and you interrupt, you go last. Sometimes it works.

    My back yard would not have large brown streaks where the slip and slide has been moved that make it look like an organic bowling alley.

  41. Perfect backyard – a few acres … a nice stone patio with an old fashioned stone BBQ … a wall to project movies on for our summer movies …lots of shade , fruit trees & flowers especially peonies ,,, stone walls ,,,,ponds & a rosary garden…. a studio shed ..and a super neat playground..and a few hammocks

  42. I would love to have a backyard that is a bit English cottage and a bit Italian Tuscan villa. I love roses, bouganvalia’s, creeping vines. lots of plants with pretty blooms and big shade trees. I’d love there to be olive trees, cyprus, rosemary and potted lemon trees. I would have winding pebble pathways and areas of grass where my kids can run and play. I would also have a little area where I can place a statue of the Virgin Mary and create a shrine for prayer.
    I love where we live with the views of the Sierra foothills and the sea of orange trees and grapevines around us. It makes up for the fact that our backyard is basically just dirt. Maybe we can acheive the “perfect” backyard one day, but until then I’m content with how it is. There are more important things in life, and besides I can feel good about all the water we are saving in the mean time. 🙂

  43. Bret Nicholaus on

    We created questions for this Meal Box that would appeal to a broad range of ages. Having created question/conversation products for the last 15 years, I have a pretty good sense of what can work with what ages. These questions were designed to appeal not only to kids of all ages, but to adults as well. Once in a while, we even have two questions on the card: one for parents, and one for kids. But from age 6 on up, the whole family should find fun in the cards. And, of course, ANY question can be altered to fit your situation. We have a question that says “What form of transporation would best describe your personality?” If you have a child who loves music, for example, feel totally free to change it to, say, “What musical instrument would best describe your personality?”

    And there are no particular categories. I have done products in the past that are category-specific, but this one is broad so that families of all types and ages will be able to enjoy conversation with one another. And the faith tips by Tom McGrath on the back of each card really do make talking about faith not only fun, but easy as well.

    Thanks for joining in on the discussion, Cheryl!

  44. If you could have 50 pounds of anything other than money (e.g., cash, gold, silver, etc.),what would you want most of all?

    My first instinct is to say 50 pounds of candy (Nerds, Original Spree, Sour Patch Kids, sour pucker powder). To say that I have a sweet tooth would be a gross understatement. But, if I think about the 50 pounds of candy for too long, I realize that my dentist won’t be happy with me if I set out to eat that much sugar.

    I could be happy with 50 pounds of photographs of my girls. Thanks to digital photography, I’ve been really bad about not printing out my pictures. Wonder how many photos out of the 29,000 I have sitting on my laptop I’d get in a 50 pound package.

  45. Bret Nicholaus on

    You said something that is key at the end of your answer: You were talking about Hawaii and then said, “Now I’m dreaming.” I encourage everyone who is blogging today to ask this same question to your kids tonight. Having used this question with kids in the past, you will notice something right away: kids will DREAM BIG with all their answers. They are not afraid to use their imaginations. When my son was asked this question, I seem to recall his answer being that he would want a Disney World ride in his backyard–Splash Mountain. We, as adults, tend to answer questions with at least SOME eye on present reality; kids don’t just think outside the box–they throw the box away. It’s a real blast to do these questions with kids because of the answers they give, and it really tells you something about who they are.

    “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” –Albert Einstein


  46. Bret Nicholaus on

    You bring up a good point. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, mealitme CANNOT take place at the dinner table. I think it is important to remember that WHERE mealtime happens is not critically important; that it DOES happen is what matters. If dinner has to be in the minivan on the way to a game or event, so be it. But stay mindful of the “special” time that mealtime should be. You can pray in the car just as you would at home, you can share meaningful conversations in the car just as at home. It’s the being together that matters, the time spent where you say, “YOU matter to me. I care about your day. I want to listen to your thoughts on XYZ.” Wherever it has to be, we need to take time each day to be present to each other.

  47. Very helpful thoughts on teens, everyone! My perfect backyard wouldn’t just look like the French countryside. It would BE the French countryside. 🙂 This would be my vacation home in Provence because I’d still want a house in the United States to stay close to family. 🙂 The yard would be full of light, lavendar, and sunflowers. I’d open a little wooden gate and walk only a few paces to a beautiful market– fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, flowers. Ahhh it’s fun to dream!

  48. Just re-read your response on imagination, Bret! What a good point that we adults “dream” with reality in mind. Something to think about!

  49. Like that fact that the mom got such a nice cooperative response from her daughter to help clear the table. Was that on one of the cards? If so, pullleeese let me win!

    As far as what I would want in a my backyard, a deck that doesn’t cause everyone to get splinters!

  50. I love to garden, so my perfect back yard would be a year-round fruit and vegetable paradise to nourish my family. I would add lots of rose bushes for fragrant and visual delight. Add a couple hammocks, some birds singing, lots of sunshine and it would be paradise!

  51. Hmm, 50 pounds of . . . kids? We’ve been hoping for more. Cats? my daughter and I love kitties. Popcorn? Parmesan cheese to go on the popcorn? (YUM) Others’ answers are good too – books especially. And on a hot day like today, ice cream is a very tempting answer. :>)

    Backyard – not too different from the one I have, with a large garden and plenty of grass. Wish I had more shade, though, and more perennial flowers. We both would like to live on a lake someday, but don’t see that happening. Actually, my back-yard-to-be has cows in it – we get to live on the farm sooner or later.

  52. Lisa asked: Can you say a few words on how families might go about re-prioritizing the family dinner hour or even about how you might be able to take The Meal Box outside the kitchen and onto the road?

    I thought that I would weigh in on this also.

    Well, Lisa, that’s the $64 million dollar question, isn’t it? The problem here isn’t that we’re deciding between good and bad choices, but what turns out to be a number of good options. And so there’s probably no option that fits every family at every stage. But the research on the value of family meals compels me to urge people to consider putting regular family meals (5 times a week or more) high on their list. To me, this is a matter of committing now to long-term gains over short-term interests. Research shows that family routines and rituals offer stability during stress and transition. Regular family meals lower the risks of cigarette use, drug use, alcohol use, and sexual activity in teens and young teens. It lowers the risk of eating disorders and increases the likelihood of success in school as well as socially. Regular family meals increase children’s health, self-esteem, personal identity, and academic achievement. The list goes on and on.

    Parents need the virtue of prudence to navigate all the choices that are open to them. And there may be a limited time when a child’s outside activities can disrupt regular mealtimes. But for my money, I’d do everything I could to hold the line on being together for meals–and that includes eating meals in the van on the way to the soccer match, making breakfast the family meal, saving dessert for when everyone is together, or any other adaptation that connects people around food at least once a day.

    And I have found The Meal Box travels quite well and works great in orthodontist’s waiting rooms, visiting an elderly relative, or whenever a child says, “I’m bored.”

  53. My perfect backyard would have several areas: nice garden maybe fenced to keep the bunnies out, shady tree areas maybe with a hammock, big grassy area for ball, play area with sand and swings etc, and a nice brick/stone patio area with table and chairs for BBQ’ing. Add in some nice low maintenance easy to grow landscaping. Oh and a Mary Garden and even a clothesline. Our current yard has the nice shade and in flat and pretty big for in town.

  54. Sorry about not responding back with the discussion as often as I wish – have to be away from my computer off and on today. As I read about teens and discussions as a mother who had six teens who are now adult children – (thank goodness for aging) – for me the best discussion time was not at our dinner table – because for the most part – dinner was almost eaten on the run with sports and meetings, etc. Oftentimes the best talks with my kids – especially my sons -was late at night. They would either be coming home from a date or just hanging out and the kitchen light goes on and the food came out of the frig and we sat and talked about things that happened that day or the week before or what was on their minds. I often had one on one conversations with my daughters especially after a date in which the boy broke up with them. Many tears, many hugs. Following my divorce and their dad moved out – the kids and I had a talk as a family about situations and then after much yelling, crying and consoling – finished it with homemade chocolate chip cookies and milk. Some times the best talks happen at the oddest time of day – or night.

  55. Some times the best talks happen at the oddest time of day – or night.

    Amen to that, Sue! Readiness on the part of the parent is the key.

  56. Space…wide open space with green grass and several garden hideaways, a small veggie garden, lots of flowers, and a little prayer garden, too, with a beautiful statue of Mary and several benches.

    Dreaming big is a good thing to teach our children. It gives them hope.

  57. We are actually starting to redo our backyard and our plans include a patio for grilling & eating, a playscape for the children, a prayer garden with a staute of St. Francis & Our Lady, a dry creekbed & a small garden!!

  58. I think having question cards is a great tool to help parents when parents know their kids have something on their minds but don’t necessarily know how to begin the conversation. As a facilitator for kids grief groups a few years back at a local hospice – having questions for children was helpful in getting the conversations started. Once started the conversation takes on its own life – and the sharing beings. Your idea is a good one Bret and Tom – hope your ministry succeeds and reaches many.

  59. Hi Lisa!
    What great dialogue you are opening up! Can a Jewish single mom participate? I posed the question ‘If you could have 100 of anything what would that be?’ to my daughter. Having just gone through the removal of her wisdom teeth, she quipped ‘I would want wisdom teeth for myself and 24 other friends!’
    On a serious note, and firmly believing that spiritual dialogue can be present at every interaction, it is in the recognition of ‘moments’ of opportunity and empowerment to allow exploration of what it means to live a spiritual life. With the busy lives we lead the deeper questions are saved for after we light our sabbath candles on Friday evenings.
    Thank you … it is great to engage with social media for such a noble purpose… Sylvia 🙂

  60. Lisa, in answer to your 100 of anything – for me – 100 more experiences of life. There was a time when I was so spent that I felt nothing – no joy, no sorrow, no laughter, no tears – nothing. I never want to experience ‘nothing’ again. I want life – and 100 more experiences of it – with its joys and sorrows, laughter and tears – love and anger.

  61. Sylvia – you are always welcome here!! You know that girlfriend! Thanks for sharing your beautiful insight. And Sue, it shouldn’t surprise me that your answer is so wise!!

  62. Sylvia,

    So nice to hear you weighing in on a 4,000+ year old tradition that values the question and respects the questioners. And I agree with Abraham Joshua Heschel that it’s not so much that the Jews kept the Sabbath as that in God’s great mercy, the Sabbath kept the Jews. Our culture needs Sabbath so desperately, and that is evident in the descriptions of the back yards that people imagine so longingly and lovingly.

  63. Bret Nicholaus on

    O.K., time for the late-afternoon question:
    If you could float in a hot-air balloon over any city in the world, what city would you choose?

    I have been using this question for over a decade–it’s one of my favorites–so I have garnered a “Top Responses” list. In order, the three most popular answers to this question are: Paris, Rome, and New York. WHAT’S YOUR ANSWER? I’d love to hear it–and tell us why!

  64. Late afternoon question! – ummmm – brain slowly starting to be dysfunctional and blood supply dwindling but I’ll give it a shot. Dublin, Ireland. I would think to look down upon the bustling city and then look out upon the green pastures has got to be a fantastic contrast of humankind’s building and God’s building! Plus I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland and visit the home of my ancestors of my father’s family.

  65. I would love to hot air balloon over Maui, Hawaii. Since I live in the widwest, I think seeing the beaches, volcanoes, ocean, etc. would be beautiful and so different from what I see everyday.

  66. I would have the garage rebuilt and a driveway put in. There would be a cement slab for extra parking and the garbage (so it’s easier to shovel). We would have grass instead of dirt and weeds. I would have a nice composter and a lovely vegetable garden as well as a small area for DD to play — swings, sandbox, pool, etc.

    But right now we are concentrating on curb appeal :).

  67. My perfect garden would be heavenly! There would be plenty of lush, green grass to run barefoot in, a big garden full of tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, etc.; a large playset for the munchkins to enjoy; lots of flowers; & a nice area for some alone time (reading, reflecting, meditating, praying, etc.) – maybe a corner w/ lots of roses, lavendar, & lilacs. We’d also have a cobblestone patio with lots of room for family & friends to visit for a cookout, yet also quiet enough to enjoy my morning cup of coffee. There would be no pesky bugs, bird droppings, or visiting animals!

  68. Backyard: FIlled with lush green grass that never needs to be cut and has no weeds, lots of shade trees, with some cloth hammocks hanging between them, a small creek or pond for splashin’ and ‘splorin.

    50 Pounds: Art supplies… my kids go through them like water evaporates in the 98 degree temps we are having here in St Louis!

    Hot Air Balloon: Vancouver, BC… my husband keeps promising to take me there, and I would love to go there in a Hot Air Balloon!

  69. my perfect backyard would have a baseball field for the kids, a pool for the kids, and a quiet area for mom & dad where they can still see the kids play but not be in the way. Right now my swing is right behind 2nd base!

  70. Bret Nicholaus on

    It’s almost that time of day where I have to run to catch my evening train. I want to thank everyone for the inspiring and thoughtful asnwers throughout the day. This was a lot of fun, and the tips many of you shared were fantastic. I will be using some of them with my two boys.

    Remember that tomorrow we will announce the raffle winner of the free copy of The Meal Box. For those who don’t win but are still interested in a box of the cards, you can still get a 30% discount until June 29th by entering the promo code MomMeal.

    Again, thanks for the great conversation today. Keep talking with your kids. And remember this good news that Tom McGrath reminds us of in one of his faith tips on the card: You can take heart, mom and dad–you won’t always be able to be there for your kids, but God will!
    What a blessed assurance for parents!
    Bret Nicholaus

  71. My yard would have to be enormous to have something for everyone. I would love a hottub, dh would love a built in grill as well as a shed to store the things that take up space in the garage, the kids would love a pool (preferably heated and in a greenhouse so we could use it in winter) as well as a trampoline and swingset made for even teenagers.

    Thanks for the giveaway.


  72. Love this idea! Love the questions. I guess I came a bit late in the day though. Seems as though the discussions have ended. Enjoyed reading through everyone’s comments.

  73. I am Tom’s wife and I would have said the same thing! I love our yard, flowers, trees, birds, bunnies, rocker on our little deck and remains of the fun the neighbor kids had the day before. How lucky does one get!

  74. Thanks for your comments Renee and Megan, and of course I’ll let my wife have the last word before I check out for the evening. Thanks Lisa for inviting us into your wonderful community to talk about Bret’s and my mission–getting mealtime conversations cookin’. I hope you all have wonderful conversations with people you love at dinner this evening. Peace!

  75. I’m late getting here, but I am always dreaming up my perfect backyard because right now I’m a country mouse stuck in the city with no backyard. My girls and I crave being outdoors. We’ll take any kind of backyard so long as it has some green grass and some trees to provide shade during a hot-Down-South-summer. We fantasize about having a garden someday that we could nurture and watch, waiting for tender, green shoots to emerge from the ground, although I know turning a dream into a growing and living reality will take a whole lot of work. (We do play in the dirt even in the city and actually just celebrated our first crop of the season – a perfect, red tomato from our container garden). Mainly, I just want an outdoor space where my family can play and where we can occasionally dine al fresco.

    I love the idea of The Meal Box as I’m a big believer in nourishing our family’s bodies and souls at the dinner table.


  76. A meadow. Many good trees for climbing. A good tree for a a tree house. Another one for a really long rope swing. And a couple more off in a quiet, shady corner for a hammock. Some sun, some shade, some space for a vegetable garden. Yep, that’d be nice!

  77. My backyard would have a small patch of grass around the home with enough for us to have a clothes line and get some sun. The rest would be woods with a path to a small water fall and little creek. And there would be NO BIGS! Well just no mosquitoes. Or snakes. And all the children playing outside with their friends….no toys only playing and enjoying nature.

  78. Michael Heintz on

    My perfect back yard would be tree-filled with shade, with cool breezes, and LOW MAINTENANCE!! I heard about the Meal Box from the Catholic Hack podcast and I look forward to reading it soon. What a great idea!!

  79. My perfect yard would have a large patio with an outdoor fireplace and seating for everyone to hang out–littles, bigs, and pets—a victory garden, a clothes line, space to run/play/sprawl on the lawn, and if I were living in a warme enough climate an in-ground swimming pool!

  80. The perfect backyard would lead to a warm ocean . .. but living in the midwest. . .So . .A yard filled with the children playing soccer, having fun (not fighting over fouls & PK’s!). . .something yummy on the grill with hubby in charge. . friends sitting on the patio enjoying the friendship & warm summer weather. . add a thick lawn (currently not possible with soccer players), flower gardens (again non exsistant be/c of soccer).. . a large tree that holds a swing. . .a fire pit . . .and a pool (if I had a large enough yard). But Really, it comes down to my husband & kids being happy together. . .outside!

  81. Thank you Kate, StephC, Dorothy, Michael, Ashley, and Monique for your great contributions. Thanks also for the kind words about The Meal Box concept. We’re finding that it helps families open up and connect–which is what we all want–and that is very gratifying.

    I found it fascinating at how much hunger we all seem to have for re-connecting with nature. It’s like craving a kind of food that contains nutrients we lack. There must be a lesson there for us and I’m committing to spending more time opening my eyes, mind, and heart to nature in my own back yard and beyond.

    Thanks to Lisa who invited us and to all who participated in the conversatoin. I invite you all to visit http://www.loyolapress.com/family-fun–.htm to find weekly questions and tips to share with your family. Now, it’s onto another whirlwind stop on our blogtour.

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