Want to Live a Long, Healthy Life? Phone A Friend.

I recently read an article titled, Why Millennials Are Lonely. In it, author Caroline Beaton cites a number of potential reasons for our increasing sense of isolation and one cause, no surprise, is that social media has taken the place of what Beaton refers to as “offline” socialization. In other words, many people are spending time communicating through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and texts, rather than sharing face time with friends. In the short-term, electronic communications can make us feel more connected to our peers; however, because the interactions are fleeting and lack depth, with time they can leave us empty.

That is especially sad, because loneliness is shown to increase our risk of heart disease and early death.

Conversely, a longitudinal study on health and happiness, conducted by researches at Harvard University, found that good health and longevity are strongly linked to building and maintaining positive relationships. People who have a close-knit group of friends and family members, will live longer and healthier lives. If you’d like to learn more about this 80 year project, check out Director Robert Waldingers Ted Talk here.

As the mother of a child who will grow up in a world even more consumed with electronics and Artificial Intelligence, I want to ensure that I am teaching her to value and sustain social connections. At seven years old, she already shows a deep interest in texting and Facebook. She loves the real-time conversations she can have with relatives across the world, even if they are limited to a few lines of text and some well placed emojis. And who doesn’t? Let’s face it, social media is convenient and instantaneous. However, she also loves hosting sleepovers and special events for her close friends. She finds joy in doing kind things for people, like handwriting thank you notes and gifting favorite books to younger children. Those are the interests I want to nurture.

How can we role model friendship for the young people in our lives, and in the process alleviate loneliness we may feel? Here are some quick and easy ways to connect with loved ones and build a deeper sense of community.

1.) Take time away from social media

When we step away from our phones, ipads, and computers, we become aware of something really interesting. Life is happening all around us! And when we take time to connect, life flows through us. If we just look up for a few moments, we might find something beautiful staring us in the face.

2.) Invite a friend on a walk.

Every evening after my little one has been tucked in for the night and my husband is relaxing with a good book, I take a walk through my neighborhood. Seeing other people out and about, walking their dogs, or chatting with friends on the front porch makes me feel connected to the place where I live. I will often invite one of my closest pals to go along with me. This is an easy way for us to get exercise and fresh air, but more importantly, it is a way to connect without any distractions. We talk about work, family, plans for the future. Nothing is off-limits. Those walks are therapeutic and they are something I look forward to them during my work day. Here’s another post we wrote about this topic.

3.) Host a “game night”

I grew up in the 90s when board games were still a big deal. From Trivial Persuit, to Pictionary, to Scattergories, you could usually find my family “gaming” around the dinner table on Friday nights. There is something lighthearted and comforting about the shenanigans that ensue as you play one of these classic games. Invite a small group of people over to share a bottle of wine and hunker down on the living room floor for some friendly competition. It is a great way to bond.

4.) Perform a selfless act for someone in need

Whether you bake cookies for the young family down the street, cuddle kittens at the local Human Society, or volunteer at Bingo night for the nursing home in your community, give selflessly to help others. As we take the focus off of ourselves and think of our neighbors, we can eliminate some feelings of isolation. Better yet, build community service, volunteerism, and regular acts of kindness into your life and model it for the children you know.

5.) Throw a cocktail party

Of all the parties you can put together, this one is the easiest. All you need are two cocktail choices that you mix ahead of time, and maybe a bottle of red and white wine. Put out a couple of simple snacks and ask everyone to bring a favorite wine or beer to share. Create a fun play list, and then mingle for a few hours. Cocktail parties are a great way to bring new people together. You can invite work colleagues, college friends, and some acquaintances that you’ve wanted to get to know better. It is a great way to build your social network.

6.) Pick up the phone

There is something melodic about the voice of a loved one. When I’m feeling lonely, there is always one person who can make me feel better. It’s been that way since I was a kid. After a hard day, if I can hear my brother’s voice, all is well with the world. We text an awful lot, but there are days when listening to his jokes and hearing is laughter is the only thing that will do. Next time you reach for your phone to text a friend, give them a ring instead.

Finally, this post was written to people who may have let personal connections slip away, or who may be looking for ways to prioritize their friendships. If you are feeling more than lonely…if you are depressed or despondent, it isn’t because you haven’t tried hard enough and we encourage you to seek help. Depression can’t be fixed with a cocktail party or a nature hike. And finally, because it can’t be posted enough, here is the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)

Party Hosting Tips From Abroad

Hello, friends. The crocuses are blooming in the Midwest which means that spring is finally here. In the weeks to come, I’ll be taking our parties into the garden. In anticipation of springtime gatherings, today I am sharing some of our favorite party hosting tips from France, Italy and beyond….

It was through my travels abroad that I developed my love of entertaining. In every European country I explored as a young adult, local families welcomed me into their homes and shared food with me. That generosity and kindness was life changing.

When I returned to the United States, I continued to study the food and traditions of foreign cultures with the goal of adding more intimacy and creativity to my own gatherings. I am happy to share some of my favorite tips with you.

France: Get out the table linens, even for ordinary dinners.

When visiting my friend Mildred in Paris, I am always amazed that every morning fresh linens are brought out to cover the dining table. It makes even the simplest meals seem chic. For example, one night we ordered takeout sushi which she served on ceramic trays over a vintage chinoiserie table silk. It was impeccable. So pillage your grandmothers chest of tablecloths and set a lovely meal for your guests.

Denmark: Light candles to create a comforting environment for loved ones.

Creating coziness is what the Danes refer to it as “hygge”. It can be accomplished by putting some logs on the fire, placing a throw on the sofa and cozy pillows on the floor, and filling your dining table with the soft glow candle light. My friend Astrid is a master at creating hygge. Upon entering her home, she offers guests a pair of slippers and always has warm blankets to snuggle in. When I sit down for a cup of coffee with her, I want to stay put for hours. That is hospitality.

Here is more inspiration on creating coziness at home.

Italy: Always have two bottles of wine on the table, and two in the kitchen ready to go.

Living in Italy was a feast for the senses. I learned so much from the families I visited and it was a true challenge to select my favorite entertaining tip from a culture built around the dinner table (I could write an entire book). However, one thing that has truly stayed with me was my host country’s reverence for wine – from growing and harvesting grapes, to the art of wine making, to sharing toasts with friends. Wine was a supporting character at dinner and it made every occasion a celebration.

Find more inspiration from Italy here.  

Spain: Have friends over for shared tapas, rather than a full meal.

Nothing can stress a host out like trying to execute a perfect dinner party. Tapas are the perfect way to avoid this trap. Traveling through Spain, some of my family’s favorite treats have been premiere packaged seafood served with vermouth or wine. Just open the can and serve! From tuna in olive oil, to white anchovies in vinegar (not the kind you find on pizza in the U.S.), to razor clams in brine – it is all delicious and can be found at specialty grocers throughout the States. Pair them with a loaf of bread and some olives and host a low-fuss cocktail party. For vegetarian and vegan friends, add a plate of grilled eggplant with olive oil and sea salt or a simple heirloom tomato gazpacho. Easy.

For more ideas on tapas, check out this post on my travels in Madrid.

This week I am off to New England. My travels will take me to Boston, Massachusetts, and Kennebunkport and Portand, Maine. I’ll be sharing photos on Instagram! Happy spring.

 

 

 

This Crazy, Beautiful Life

My seven-year-old daughter was given a homework assignment to complete over the winter break. She was asked to reflect on her greatest accomplishments of 2016 and develop a list of goals for the coming year.

Well, with a trip to Spain over the holidays, her homework was pushed aside until the very last moment. As the clock ticked away the final hours of our vacation, my daughter frantically picked up her sparkly blue pencil and rushed to work. Her answers were honest and, even with the time crunch, contemplative. She was proud of several successes in 2016: how hard she had worked in school and the fact that she had begun reading chapter books; her commitment to ballet and gymnastics which kept her active and strong throughout the year; and her go-with-the-flow attitude which served her well as she traveled to new places, making friends along the way. Her hopes for 2017 were simple, yet earnest: audition for a role in the Nutcracker ballet; read 9 books a day; learn more about animals and science so she may become a veterinarian one day; and continue to spend time with her two favorite people, mom and dad. That one was my favorite, of course.

I found her assignment inspiring. My daughter was setting goals based on her interests and growth over the previous year. She approached the exercise from a place of abundance. Oftentimes, as adults we start the new year reflecting on our perceived deficiencies – I need to do more of this, loose some of that – be different than who I am today. It is too bad, because a long the way we forget to build upon the unique strengths we already possess. And wouldn’t that be a kinder way to enter a new year?

Taking a cue from my little one, I’ve decided to use 2017 as an opportunity to set a very personal goal focused on that which I value most in this world. My family.

My goal for 2017:

Simple. I will continue to prioritize my family above all else. We will go sledding when it snows, spend Sundays making messy art projects, plant our vegetable garden in spring, travel over holiday breaks, and invite more friends into our home. We won’t wait for moments to celebrate, instead we will celebrate the little moments. And I will continue to share them here. I am also using our crazy, beautiful life as the inspiration for a book about family traditions that I will complete this year.

Dear 2016: you weren’t the easiest year – we had our ups and downs. But in the end, I thank you for the time and the tremendous memories. Here are some of my favorites…

Mara
Mara enjoying public art in Montreal
Hello Kitty
Our little one eyeing up the treats in China Town
Family Time in Nature
Enjoying a nature hike through Milwaukee’s botanical gardens
Riding the Waves
Aunt Masha and Uncle Seth taking our daughter for a ride on Lake Tahoe
Wading in the Water
Our little one braving the cold Tahoe water
A case of the sillies
My mother and brother sharing a moment in San Francisco
mara-seth
Celebrating my brother’s wedding in New Orleans
Witnessing the most beautiful wedding of 2016
Witnessing the most beautiful wedding of 2016
Kevin
Speaking of weddings, celebrating 12 years of marriage with the love of my life
Arc de Triomf in Barcelona
Spending the holidays in Barcelona
Playground 1
Enjoying a small park in Spain

My family was the inspiration for starting this blog. Entertaining Family allows me to document our adventures and the nuggets of wisdom we learn along the way. Writing about the people in my life brings me joy and I am so grateful to have a place to share my reflections. Thank you for sharing this space with me.

 

Adventures in Barcelona: The Eixample

Hey friends! Our holiday in Barcelona has been an incredible family adventure. What a beautiful city filled with great art and delicious food – two of my favorite indulgences. I recently posted about our first days abroad as we explored the Barri Gotic (or Gothic Quarter). Today I will tell you about our time in the Eixample – a neighborhood brimming with Modernist Architecture, designer shops, stylish Catalan tapas bars, and wide pedestrian boulevards. This is a very chic section of Barcelona with inspiring architecture at every turn.

We stayed in a beautiful apartment along Carrer del Rosselló, a bustling street which leads to Passeig de Gràcia in one direction (one of the main shopping avenues in Barcelona, which showcases two of Gaudi’s most famous buildings: Casa Batlló and La Pedrera), and the amazing Sagrada Familia Basilica in the other (Gaudi’s most revered architectural masterpiece which was begun in 1882 and remains under construction to this day). The organic, undulating designs of the Modernists are awe inspiring. Even children are fans, as many of the buildings give the sense of a Dr. Seuss imagined world come to life.

Our apartment rental gave us the opportunity to live as locals, as we shopped at the Mercat de la Concepció – filled with vendors specializing in fresh produce, artisan cheeses, meats and pastries, frequented nearby shops, and discovered off-the-beaten-path cafés and bars. The Eixample is perfect for families as everything is within walking distance, and there are plenty of green spaces and playgrounds for little ones.

From our apartment, we easily traversed the city by foot. Our longest walk was to Gaudi’s Park Güell – a glorious city garden which offers breathtaking views of the city – and that only took 20 minutes, not bad.

Here are some photos of our adventures in this exciting section of the city.

Passeig de Gràcia

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Our Apartment and the Eixample

Casa Terrades

La Sagrada Familia

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Park Güell

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Thank you for joining us on this joyous adventure. Do you have a favorite vacation spot? If you have ideas of where we should go next, please share them! – Entertaining Family

 

Tips For Air Travel With Small Children

My husband and I have been traveling with our daughter since she was a baby. She’s flown domestically and internationally – most of the time it has been delightful, and other times, meh….

There was the day she projectile vomited on a plane from Milwaukee to Detroit. The turbulence was awful and she lost it…literally…

Then, on a flight to Vermont she spiked a 104 degree fever. I had nothing to make her more comfortable or relieve her fever.

And most recently, on a trip to San Francisco she got her head stuck in the telescope handle of my suitcase (don’t ask).

These unfortunate events have happened for one reason…to ensure that I have experiences to draw from when doling out advice for traveling with children. So here goes dear parents, here goes…

Practical tips for plane travel with small children:

1.) Make a list and check it twice! Keep a paper or electronic list of everything that you need to pack and check it off as you go. Take the list with you so that you can use it again at the conclusion of your trip.

2.) If you’re lucky enough to be traveling with a partner, put one adult in charge of taking care of the little one’s needs (potty breaks, snacks, tantrums) and one adult in charge of luggage, ticketing, security, and gate navigation. Don’t rely on one person to do it all.

3.) Dedicate specific pockets in your carry on bag to keep IDs, passports, boarding passes, car keys, and credit cards. When you are stressed, these are the first things to be misplaced.

4.)When packing your carry-on bag, make sure that you have at least one change of clothes for your child, a travel bottle of Children’s Tylenol, and a small blanket to keep your little one warm and cozy (planes can get really cold).

5.) Allow your child to pack a little “carry-on” that has books, toys, coloring supplies, and an iPad loaded with parent-approved games, movies and TV programs. Keeping your little one occupied will help make the trip go smoothly.

6.) If you drive to the airport, make sure to send yourself a text with the location of your vehicle – it takes two seconds. Parents, you can get easily distracted when you arrive at the airport and have to unload luggage and children. It’s easy to lose track of your surroundings. And believe me – when you get home from a long trip, the last thing you want to be doing is wandering around the parking garage.

6.) Once you have made it through security, purchase a small snack and beverage for your little one. Then, if the airport has a kids play area let your child run around and burn off some energy.

7.) Before you board the plane, make sure your child uses the bathroom – even if they tell you they don’t need to! I’m convinced that kids have a physiological response to a plane’s takeoff which makes them have to go potty. “Mommy, mommy, it is an emergency! I need to use the bathroom now.”

8.) Once you are on the plane, ensure that your child’s seat is equipped with a disposable bag (a.k.a. “barf bag”), and take time to locate the nearest bathrooms. Remember, it is best to seat your child in the middle seat or next to the window. If there is turbulence and one of the luggage compartment opens, you don’t want anything falling on your child.

9.) Get your child situated with their blanket, iPad and a toy or two. Let them take of their shoes and get cozy. And remind them of the universal airplane rule: no kicking the seat in front of you.

10.) At some point during cruising altitude, make sure your child uses the bathroom – even if they tell you they don’t need to. Because, you guessed it…there is also a physiological response to a plane’s landing that makes a child have to go. And there is nothing more disgusting than using a plane’s bathroom after you have landed. I was once stuck in this situation – the air circulation fan had been turned off, the lights wouldn’t turn on, and the faucet wouldn’t run.Oh, the memories! Oh the horror!

11.) When you have gotten off of the plane and are waiting, and waiting, and waiting…whether it is for luggage, for a rental car, for a taxi… involve your child in little games like “I spy with my little eye” or “find the shape”. Anything to prevent boredom. When kids get bored, they get their heads stuck in luggage handles!

In the end, if your child did a relatively good job on the trip, compliment them for it. It is tough work for a kid to spend a day in airports and on planes following instructions, paying attention and sitting quietly.

I hope these tips are helpful. I could write a book about air travel with kids…this just scratches the surface…

If you’re looking for more ideas, check out this post from My Treks and Travels!

Bon Voyage!

Thanksgiving in Colorado

As I sit in our cozy mountain Airbnb, I can hear the crisp air whipping through the tree branches. I wrap myself in a red and black flannel blanket that feels soft on my skin. My husband is in the kitchen preparing our vegetarian holiday feast. He has purple sweet potatoes roasting in the oven. Their sweet, earthy smell permeates the home. Out of the picture window I see my daughter playing in the snow. She delights as the flakes fall around her – it is the first snow she has seen this season.

In the distance, bronze Colorado mountain tops tower over evergreens. I stop and think about how lucky I am. Getting away for the holiday has given me a sense of peace and calm. There is nowhere I have to be. There is no one I have to please. It is just the three of us, simple and perfect.

I put on my boots and join my daughter in the snow.

swing-in-the-snow

Woman, You Inspire Me

As a woman, having trailblazing female heroes that I can look to for inspiration and encouragement has taught me that I am part of a movement.

Our female role models allows us to dream bigger than we thought possible. They show us that the world is malleable and evolving, and they ignite a fire inside of us to fight for equality and change. When we are tired, or scared, or face an exhausting challenge, they shine the light that helps us find our strength. And we push forward – not only for ourselves, but to honor them.

Then one day, if we are lucky, we rise up to become the new generation of heroes that our sisters and our daughters are searching for. The work continues from one era to the next.

Today, I want to name just some of the amazing women who have inspired me:

To Ms. Byczek, my forensics coach in junior high school: Thank you for believing in me more than any other teacher I ever had. In seventh grade you handed me a famous speech given by Shirley Chisholm in protest of the Vietnam War and said, this is your moment – make her proud. That decision not only helped me win countless forensics awards, building my preteen confidence, but also fueled my interest in feminism and politics. Thank you for seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself.

To Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the United States Congress and 1972 presidential candidate: You opened my eyes to the power of a woman’s voice. At twelve years old, being trusted with your words was an exceptional honor – and learning about your journey, your passion, your bravery, and your ideas changed me for ever. You unleashed a young woman into the world who would always speak her mind. I carry you with me always.

To Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate of a major American party: As a young girl in elementary school, I was captivated by you. Your voice and presence would move through the television set to fill up my living room. At that time I didn’t know much about politics, but I knew that I wanted you to win because you made me feel safe. In an election filled with standard bearers, you brought a perspective that was both exciting and comforting. I could see myself reflected in you.

To Sally Ride, who became the first woman in space when I was an eight-year-old child: Thank you for nurturing my interest in science and engineering. Watching you board the Challenger made me so proud to be a girl. In Ms. Clark’s third grade classroom, I could not wait to get my Weekly Reader to learn more about your work for NASA. Your adventures were my adventures.

To Ying Wang, my master’s thesis professor and research collaborator: You encouraged me to share my opinions and find my scholarly voice. With your help, I became a published writer – a dream come true. You believed in me, and walked beside me every step of the way. You were my teacher, mentor, confidant, and friend.

To My Mom: Woman, you are strong, soft, nurturing, and formidable. In the 1980s, you were as comfortable welding metal and “building stuff” as you were cooking dinner, and that was important for me to see. You challenged gender roles in our home. My daughter and I inherit our badassery from you (and yes, Merriam-Webster agrees that this is a word).

To Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major American party: Where do I even begin? Standing ovation. Thank you for never giving up. You are not only an inspiration to me, but you have become my daughter’s hero, and for that I can’t thank you enough. She is in second grade and because of your candidacy, she knows that women can compete for any role imaginable.

And to the countless women who get up and show up every day: You inspire me to do the same.

 

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