Home is an invention on which no one has yet improved. —Ann Douglas

From Stephanie

It was a typical November day in the Pacific Northwest: gray and damp outside, and cozy inside. My daughter, Karlene, was home for the first time since leaving for college. We drove up to Anacortes, Washington, on Fidalgo Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands, where my parents live. Along the way we picked up Karlene’s “grammy,” my mom’s mom.

There we were, four generations together, in the kitchen making dinner. With a tea towel over my shoulder and the palms of my hands covered in flour from rolling the dough that would soon become flaky biscuits, I peered into the living room to spy Dad building a crackling fire in the fireplace.

As we gathered around the table that evening, all seemed right with the world. I was home—the safest place on earth. And I realized this feeling is what family is all about.

***

When you’re home, you want to breathe deeply, lower your shoulders, and relax. There’s a feeling of belonging, acceptance, and contentment. At least there should be. Healthy homes—homes that function as they should—refresh, recharge, and renew. They become places where children’s identities find flight and values take root.

For Stephanie Allen, her own home was none of these things. As a busy working mom of two active kids, it was all Stephanie could do to keep up with the demands of the daily schedule. Church youth group, soccer practice, and school activities meant lots of time in the car, and very little time for real interaction among family members.

Stephanie longed for the kinds of relationships she remembered with her own parents and siblings when she was growing up: relationships built on conversation and connection—often forged around the dinner table. She remembered the way her family would linger after a meal just to talk and catch up, and she wished her own family could do the same. But after a long day at work and a couple of hours shuttling kids from one activity to the next, who had time for making elaborate meals? Some days it was all she could do to keep up with everything and get a meal on the table for her family. She realized that she needed a game plan.

Stephanie started meeting with a friend once a month to assemble meals for their families. “It was a great time for us to talk and laugh,” Stephanie remembers. “And at the end of the day, we each had a month’s worth of meals in our freezers, ready to pull out when we needed them. One less thing to stress about.” Those monthly “assembly days” provided a sense of liberation from the dreaded daily chore of scrambling home after work to pull together a wholesome dinner for the family.

This practice continued for seven years, and before long, other friends were asking for tips to help them do the same. In 2002, Stephanie decided to host a “monthly meal-prep night” with a group of friends. The response was overwhelming, and it didn’t take long for Stephanie to see that she wasn’t alone in her desire to share home-cooked meals with her family. After that first night, friends started talking to friends, and e-mail requests for more events started pouring in.

“So many moms are working hard and trying to keep up, but it’s really difficult,” she says. “The bottom line is that we just want to raise great kids.” As it was turning out, the practical solution to getting a regular meal on the dinner table was helping Stephanie and her friends to do just that. “Suddenly, we were having conversations with our kids like never before. They were opening up and lingering around the table. The dinner hour was quickly becoming the hub of our home.” And Stephanie was hearing similar stories of building stronger family connections from the other women in the group, too.