January 12, 2023

A Conversation Starter That’s Remarkable

You have the best opportunity to connect and talk with someone when you share a meal with them. Taking time to sit down at the table together without distractions like the TV or cell phones is essential. If you pair a good meal with an exciting and meaningful conversation, you will feel uplifted, connected, and closer to those you love. You need to eat every day, and how you do it can bring you, your family, and your guests closer together.

If you're stuck for ideas on how to start an engaging and meaningful conversation at the table, tell a story. People are used to being asked questions like "How was your day?" or "What are your plans for the weekend?" But telling a story is a real attention grabber. Everyone loves stories, and it will get the conversation flowing.

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After you tell a story, the listener may want more details, encouraging you to go on. Or they may be eager to jump in and share their thoughts and experiences. Sharing a story opens up pathways for discussion. Here are some examples of story topics to spark magic at your table.

An Oldie but Goodie

If you think your family has already heard all of your stories, maybe they have, but why not tell a great story again? Children love to hear the same story over and over again because it's good. They feel something positive when they hear the story and want to keep having the experience.

Retell a story of your greatest adventure. The way you tell a story will never be the same, and over time, parts of the story may be forgotten by your family. So telling the same story again will be a new experience. A great story never gets boring.

Sandy Cay
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One of my family's favorite stories is about when I spent a month on a remote island off the Bay Islands of Honduras called Sandy Cay. My friend grew up in Honduras, and her parents found Sandy Cay one day when they were putzing around in the ocean on a small fishing boat. That in itself is a good story about how they lived frugally but exotically. Maybe I'll tell you that story one day.

When they discovered this island, they knew immediately they had to have access to it. They negotiated an agreement with the locals and built a small cabin-like house on it.

sandy cay 2
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When I made my first trip to Sandy Cay, I didn't know what to expect, but I was up for anything. The more remote, the better. I had just finished studying non-stop for 2 1/2 years for an exam to become a certified financial planner, and a remote island in the middle of nowhere sounded ideal. So the adventure began.

After the first week of surviving lost luggage for 10 days and what seemed like 1,000 sand flea bites covering my body, the experience was magnificent. Sleeping outside on a cot under a blanket of stars was serene, despite my being slightly fearful of scorpions. Cooking for six-plus people with daily rations, without electricity or running water, and washing dishes in the ocean was certainly an adventure at every meal.

Every time I tell my family the story of my month on Sandy Cay, a new discussion surfaces. Like what we can live without, or would you take a chance and go somewhere even if you were a little afraid or had to change how you live? Follow those questions up by asking why. It takes the conversation to a deeper level.

When we have guests at our table and kids hear this story for the first time, they always have a lot of great questions. How did they build the house? How did I cook? And it's not surprising many kids ask how I lived without a cell phone. "It was easy," I tell them. "They didn't exist then." By the way, life without a cell phone is a great conversation starter itself. Imagine life today without cell phones and the pros and cons.

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The discussion around one story can go in so many directions, and the theme may last all week. Once your ideas are sparked, you may think of something during the day and extend the discussion at dinner that evening. A great dinner conversation is like a great book. Once it is opened, there is always another chapter, and everyone looks forward to hearing about what happens next.

But you don't need an incredible adventure story to start a great conversation. Tell a story about your favorite vacation. It will bring back fond memories, and it may inspire you to plan a simple weekend getaway, a day trip into the city, or to get a ticket to a neighborhood play.

Step Back in Time

Revisiting stories about the past can be uplifting and entertaining. If you're an empty nester, tell your spouse or partner a story about when your children were little. Pick an age and reminisce about a period of time. These stories are so heartwarming. They remind me how much I have enjoyed my life so far, despite it not always being easy with significant hurdles and small ones. Even if a story seems unremarkable, where it will lead you is surprising. Try it, and you'll see.

A story my family was reminiscing about recently was the time my son, Alessio, didn't want to wear pants in the fall and winter—only shorts. The boycott on pants lasted from ages 6 to 9. He was insistent about wearing shorts. Every morning was a battle. In the evening, recounting the latest episode to my husband Pierre brought me some comic relief. But it was tiring. My son's reasoning was that he was too hot. Hard to imagine when it is 4 degrees in February. I later figured out that he wanted to stand out. To dress differently and express his unique style. He craved this. It all makes sense now.

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At age 16, he is a budding fashion designer, taking college classes and making pieces with repurposed clothes and household items. His last creation incorporated the straps from a baby seat onto a vest. Now he is trying to figure out how to use a basketball as a pocket on a pair of jeans. Yes, he wants to be different.

Telling the story of the pants boycott always pleases me and grounds me. As I raise a creative who wants to abolish math and U.S. History now as much as he did pants at age 6, it reminds me that as a parent, I have to be patient, and my expectations may not always be what is best.

You have many stories to tell. You may not think some are interesting or intriguing, but the simplest story can evoke a remarkable connection and significance.

They Haven't Heard It All

If you think you have already shared every story worth telling, think about routine events in your life. Does your family know about your first job, how you spent your summers as a child, or the scariest thing that ever happened to you? Or your worst date?

While you are preparing dinner tonight, think of your story idea. Just like dinner, don't overthink it. Tell the story of an event or a time in your life.

Wooden Salad bowl with frisee lettuce and vinaigrette dressing
Frisée Lettuce with French Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

A Sweet Ending

Like your story, dinner can be simple too, like a salad with a new homemade dressing to mix things up a bit and tartines topped with little bits of leftovers like chicken, vegetables, cheese, or pesto. A simple dinner using leftovers that doesn't require much cooking can be one of the best meals.

Tartines on a wooden board topped with pesto, ham, and cheese
Tartines with Tomato Sauce and French Ham, Pesto, Proscuitto and Camembert, Tomato Sauce, and Mozzarella

Your story can be as simple as when you went raspberry picking with your grandmother when you were 5 years old. The memory of making a raspberry tart with her, and the sweet aroma that filled the kitchen, might inspire you to make a dessert this weekend. Perhaps an Italian Panna Cotta topped with fresh raspberries. It's a divine and elegant dessert you can prepare in 15 minutes.

panna cotta with fresh berries on top
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Complete your menu with a mixed green salad tossed with French vinaigrette dressing, a classic roast chicken, and potatoes with fresh garlic and parsley, and you will have a meal that is simple to prepare and worth talking about too.

Mixed green salad with French vinaigrette
Mixed Greens with French Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
Perfectly browned roast chicken in a baking dish
Classic Roast Chicken
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Oven Roasted Potatoes with Persillade- Fresh Garlic and Parsley
Toasted baquettes slices topped with slices of fresh tomato and fontina cheese, melted and sprinkled with herbs de Provence
Tomato Fontina Tartines

Your story can evoke a fabulous conversation with a delicious meal.

Stay tuned if you want more story ideas that will engage young children or get teens talking. The following blog will be about that. I will share a lot of great ideas and success stories that go with the stories. Like Maggie, who said her four children under the age of 8 sat through dinner for the first time when she used one of my story ideas. That's a huge win with just one story. I'll tell you what story starter Maggie used next week. Click here to be notified when it's published.

Tell your story tonight and watch the magic unfold. Click here and let me know how it goes.

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