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The family dinner is the Dalmass household's main dish

Family dinner is the one constant at the Dalmass house: Kelly and Chris st down with their four children even if soccer practice – or other activity - delays it till 9:15. They see it as a way to teach the kids "to love life."

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Right after "American Idol" one recent weeknight, three of Kelly and Chris Dalmass's four children perform what looks like a well-practiced ballet of table setting, milk pouring, and arranging of chairs. The plates and the kitchen floor are well worn, the cups neon plastic.

It's 9:15 by the time their brother has finished practice and comes in the back door of their rambling home. Quickly, Nate, age 12, and his dad take their places at the table with Kelly as well as Kiera, 14; Julia, 11; and Johnny, 10. They join hands and begin a lightning round of a grace, to which each is expected to contribute. Thanks go up for everything from a new baby cousin to – simply – lacrosse, before Dad brings things to a close, as he does every night since 9/11, with a prayer for America and for the troops. The table, which Chris made himself, has gotten a bit snug for their six, his wife explains, but she likes it "because we're close."

PHOTO GALLERY: The all-American family dinner

As pork chops are passed, the meal takes on a kind of generic dinnertime feel. Wrapped in happy chatter are encouragements and admonishments, mini rebellions and micro corrections, gibes, jokes, banter, and barbs. In this house, you don't have to finish all the food on your plate; but you do have to wear your shirt, take off your hat, mind your manners. Everybody shares the same food. The day's events are replayed, and clarifications sought.


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