Category Archives: Entertain

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.

 

 

 

Style Icon Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim

Trailblazer. Tastemaker. Trendsetter. Entertaining inspiration. Peggy Guggenheim.

I’ll never forget the day I was introduced to Peggy.

It was an October morning in Venice in 1999. The weather was lousy. It was cold and damp – the kind of day that chills your bones. People were out and about, wrapped in fashionable trench coats with the collars turned up to defend against the harsh wind. I stood along the Grand Canal in my college-chic GAP hoodie, entranced by gondolas slowly bobbing along steely water and jagged waves lapping against sinking plaster buildings. Everything was eerily gray like a pastel drawing that had been washed away with the wipe of a sponge.

I was studying abroad and for weeks had been traveling throughout Europe visiting the most important works of art from antiquity through the Baroque. This journey had taken me to the Louvre, the Borghese, the Prado, the Venice Academy, and more. Quite honestly, all of the masterpieces were beginning to bleed together and I was tired. In fact, I wondered if I wasn’t having some sort of allergic reaction to old art, as I seemed to lose my energy every time I entered another museum. On this particular day, I was visiting one I had never heard of before. The Peggy Guggenheim.

As a student of art history I was well acquainted with the Guggenheim name – but Peggy? Little did I know, I was being introduced to one of the most influential figures in 20th century art.

With a yawn, I stepped off of the Grand Canal and into her museum. Once inside my eyes grew wide as I took in the scene. It was as if I had entered another world. The Italian palazzo, which was had been her home from 1949-79, felt alive – it was breathing with bursts of vibrant color, undulating lines, splatter marks, and wild textures. The rooms did not feel “over stuffed” as some European galleries do. Instead, each piece of art was given room to shine. I felt true joy as I engaged with works by Picasso, Dali, Kandinsky, and Klee.

An eccentric heiress from the United States born in 1898, Peggy Guggenheim’s interest in avant-garde art developed while she was living in Paris in the 1920s. It was there that she was introduced to writers and artists who were challenging social norms of the time. Peggy, who as a teenager shaved off her eyebrows to shock those around her, found kindred spirits in Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Samuel Beckett. It was because of these relationships that she began acquiring works of the Dadaists, Cubists, and Surrealists and abstract expressionists. Not an artist herself, this was Peggy’s way of becoming a central figure in this world of original, innovative ideas.

Peggy ran galleries in Europe and America. During World War II, she shipped a huge number of paintings out of Paris to New York City, protecting them from the Nazi war on Modernism. She gave Jackson Pollock his first exhibit, as well as several other artists whose work would influence modern culture. She had a terrific eye for spotting talent, anticipating the next “big thing”, and was happy to give her muses an international stage. She is known to have had numerous lovers including the most influential names in the art world.

After visiting her museum, I became a huge fan of Peggy Guggenheim. I quickly devoured her biography Art Lover by Anton Gill. In 2015, a documentary film on her life was released: Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict, which I would highly recommend as it features intimate interviews with Peggy.

Today a photograph of one of her cocktail parties hangs in my living room, reminding me to savor the simple pleasures in life.

Peggy loved being surrounded by creative people with creative ideas, and she was well know for hosting parties for her friends. It is said she usually served horrible food and bad wine, but people always attended her gatherings because they celebrated life. And that is what people loved about Peggy.

So often these days, if you pick up a book on entertaining you’d think you have to be a Michelin star chef in order to host an event. What if we just served mediocre food and cheap wine, and instead focused on building deeper friendships? Wouldn’t it be amazing to skip the fancy name cards, cloth napkins, and menus scrolled on chalkboards? Would the world fall apart? That is why Peggy is one of my entertaining heroes. Let’s celebrate idiosyncrasies. Instead of being shallow, let’s go deep where the most interesting connections happen.

In 2017 I resolved to host more gatherings. It is time display my favorite pieces of art, serve imperfection on a platter, and spend quality time with great friends.

Party at Peggy's House

Fabulous Peggy

Peggy Guggenheim in Venice

A Stunning New Orleans Wedding

Hi Friends! I’ve recently returned from my brother and sister-in-law’s destination wedding in the Big Easy. It was a beautiful and memorable affair that perfectly celebrated these two artistic wanderers. Rather than writing a long post about it, I thought I’d share some photographs that captured the spirit of this perfect day. I hope you find some inspiration:

The Bride

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Ceremony

Happy Faces

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Liz singing

Married

Our Family

Lovers

Happy Moms by Bryan Patrick Photography

Lovelies 2

The First Dance

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The guys

Sparklers

Jumping In by Bryan Patrick Photography

The Bride and Groom by Bryan Patrick Photography

Commitment Reading of the Pueblo Indian

Before we met, you and I were halves unjoined except in the wide rivers of our minds. We were each other’s distant shore, the opposite wings of a bird, the other half of a seashell.  We did not know the other then, did not know our determination to keep alive the cry of one riverbank to the other. We were apart, yet connected in our ignorance of each other, like two apples sharing a common tree.  Remember?

I knew you existed long before you understood my desire to join my freedom to yours. Our paths collided long enough for our indecision to be swallowed up by the greater need of love. When you came to me, the sun surged towards the earth and the moon escaped from darkness to bless the union of two spirits, so alike that the creator had designed them for life’s endless circle.  Beloved partner, keeper of my heart’s odd secrets, clothed in summer blossoms so the icy hand of winter never touches us.

I thank your patience.  Our joining is like a tree to earth, a cloud to sky and even more. We are the reason the world can laugh on its battlefields and rise from the ashes of its selfishness to hear me say, in this time, this place, this way – I love you best of all.

For more on the wedding, check out To My Brother, With Love.

(Thanks to those friends whose photos I may have used to complete this post! Also a huge thanks to Bryan Patrick Photography and Race and Religious in New Orleans.)

Planning A Little Girl’s Surprise Party

Hey friends! Today’s post is about planning a terrific surprise party…and honestly, I can’t think of anything more fun. Having planned many events in my day, pulling off big surprises have to be my favorite accomplishments. A few weeks ago, we hosted a fun 7th birthday bash for my daughter – and she had no idea it was coming! I delighted in the anticipation…and of course, the big reveal.

For those of you who may be taking on a similar event, here are some quick tips for a successful surprise party:

Involve other grown-ups in the secret. First of all, make sure you communicate the element of surprise to your guest list! All parents should know exactly what time their child needs to arrive so no one spoils the secret. Also, enlist a friend or family member to watch your little one while you set up the party. For our event, one of my best girl friends agreed to host our daughter for lunch and play time. That gave us two hours to decorate the house, manage final details, and welcome the guests into our house. Check out the look on her face as she opens the door to find all of her besties!

Choose an age appropriate theme. For years, my daughter has been obsessed with the Disney movie Frozen. This would have been an easy “go to” theme for her birthday party, but since she’s getting older – I mean seven seems SO MUCH more mature than six – I thought I’d move on to a new interest. Recently my little one has been hooked on a book series called Monster High. The characters are fun, flashy, and fashion-forward, so I used this inspiration to plan some fun activities for the party. And that sets me up for our next tip…..

Have 2-3 structured activities planned. We scheduled the party to take place during a four-hour window between lunch and dinner (from 1:00 -5:00 p.m.). My husband looked at me with great concern, afraid I had bitten off one more hour than I could chew. Ha! He only thinks he knows me! Just kidding, sweetheart. I had two structured activities planned which helped the pacing of the event, and both built on the “Monster High fashionista” theme. First, we decorated t-shirts (I personalized a shirt for each of the girls and then let them go crazy with puff paints). Second, the girls were able to make beaded accessories – necklaces, bracelets, headbands. Both creative activities offered take-home gifts for the kids.

Give them time to roam free. I think it is important for kids to have plenty of free-play. This is unstructured time when kids let their imaginations rule. And I won’t lie, this is also an opportunity for grownups to take a much-needed “breather”. My daughter and her friends divided their play time between our backyard and her bedroom. They played house, baked pretend cakes, weeded the back yard…it was magical.

Give your guests a small token to take home. In addition to giving the girls custom t-shirts and some handmade jewelry, I also sent them home with a few school supplies (since the first day of school was just around the corner), including a journal and some Monster High pencils. These gifts do not have to be expensive or elaborate – just a way to remember the day.

Capture the memories for your little one. As my daughter grows, I want her to remember these times fondly. I made sure to take plenty of photos (can you tell?), but I also recorded the friends who attended, the gifts she received, and some of the special moments that were shared. For example, at one point my daughter exclaimed: “This is the best day of my life!” My heart almost melted. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Entertaining Family Surprise Party

For more fun ideas, check out my birthday inspiration board on Pinterest. You might also want to check out the birthday letter that I wrote for my little one this year. Finally, a special thanks to Classy Girl Cupcakes in Milwaukee for creating those adorable skull and bow Monster High cupcakes!

Happy party planning! – Mara

When Family Is Far Away: Tips For Maintaining Bonds

My little brother has always been my best friend. As a six-year-old child I remember getting out of bed in the middle of the night, my bare feet squeaking against the hardwood floors, and then quietly kneeling beside him to make sure everything was alright. Sometimes I would fall asleep with my head on his chest – comforted by the sound of his beating heart. Knowing that as long as he was breathing, my world was whole.

Today, like so many families, a thousand miles divide us – my brother is in San Francisco, and I’m in Milwaukee – and that daily closeness that we once shared has grown into something new. I suppose it is an appreciation for who we have become and the lives we have created. To say that I’m proud of my brother would be an understatement. I love hearing about his work, travels, and everyday adventures. He is an artist and approaches every aspect of his life with a passion for creating beauty. I have been so inspired by his decision to move across the country and build the life of his dreams. My only sadness is that I don’t usually get to observe his world in person. My window into his life is often a series of photos, texts, and phone calls shared late in the evening. I’m sure that many of you can relate. That’s why the time that we are able to spend together – however brief – is always cherished.

Nowadays, families are spread across the globe as we all venture out to make our mark on the world. Each of us has a set of values and a life purpose that drives us to find our place. And though we have never been more free to create the life we desire, research shows that people are lonelier and more isolated than ever. Maintaining family bonds and long-term friendships are critically important for our happiness and health. That’s why carving out time to connect with loved ones is so important.

At Entertaining Family we encourage you to savor the simple pleasures in life and spend time gathered around the table. Using those lenses, I am happy to share some strategies that my brother and I use to make the most of our visits:

We gather in the kitchen to make meals together. Sitting around a table to share a feast is one of life’s great treats. But preparing that feast can be when the real magic happens. Working together to create a meal is a great demonstration of teamwork, sharing, and compromise. For family members who haven’t been together in a while, this activity will help you bond quickly. We like to put on music, divide up responsibilities, and laugh and chat as we go.

At work in the kitchen

Sharing a love of cooking

We set a beautiful table. After preparing a delicious meal, it is rewarding to sit down at a celebratory table that truly showcases what we’ve worked so hard to create. Flowers, wine glasses, and serving trays make mealtime feel like an event. It also signals that the dinner table is a special place to spend time together.

Dinner table 1

Dinner table 2

We share stories. The food is what brings us to the table, but it is the conversation that makes us linger. Getting acquainted, sharing memories, and discussing family lore is what makes these moments so special. Looking across the table at the faces I love most in the world and listening to the stories of our shared history is one of my favorite ways to spend time. It lets all of us know that we are connected to something bigger than each one of us. The choices we make today are not just for our own benefit, but they are a loving tribute to the sacrifices of the past and a foundation for the generations who will come after us.

Family dinner

Spending time together

We ham it up, and laugh…a lot. Though the meal and the table have been designed to create a sense of beauty and abundance, our dinners are not formal. We laugh and get silly – this has always been our “family’s way”. Trying to get to know the soul of a person is what dinnertime is all about. It is through  playful engagement and lighthearted banter that we build true appreciation for one another. Laughter is sweet music, and my family is a talented orchestra.

The best additions ever

Mother and son

After dinner relaxation

We forgive each other. We understand that families are complicated social groups and sometimes this can lead to frustrations and hurt feelings. Though we are part of the same clan, we view life through our own filters. Something that is important to me may be trivial to you. Your political beliefs may be my worst nightmare. The way that I approach a situation will always be different from the way you deal with it. Forgiveness is important. In order to forgive, we have to try to see life from the other person’s vantage point and abandon the need to be right. We also have to be willing to say I’m sorry.

All of us are “works in progress”. Trying to be a better sister, mother, wife, daughter, and friend is something that I struggle with every day, but I put in the work because nothing is more important to me than my family. I appreciate that the people I love do the same thing for me.

Best friends

Before saying goodbye, we say “I love you”. My parents taught us a very important lesson early on – you always end a conversation as if it could be the last one you ever have – and there is nothing more important than telling someone I love you.

In our family I love you means I accept everything about you, I value your contributions to the world, I appreciate the ways in which you challenge me, and I will always, always support you and cheer you on.

“Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It’s not ‘I love you’ for this or that reason, not ‘I love you if you love me.’ It’s love for no reason, love without an object.”
-Ram Dass
We hope this post may inspire you to visit your family – to reach out and show them how much you care. And tonight, I think I know who I am going to call…
{Thanks to my sister Masha for capturing some of these beautiful photos.}

Our Favorite Things – Pimm’s Summer Cup

The first time I visited the UK was early June of 1995. The weather was lovely and sunny but not especially warm. The friends I was visiting warned me that “summer” can be a relative term in the British Isles and to be prepared for anything. I packed accordingly (layers!) and spent a couple of beautiful summer weeks exploring the south of England and Wales.

One memorable day was spent in Bath. After touring the Roman sites and then listening to an extraordinary impromptu concert in the courtyard of Bath Abbey, we stopped for lunch at a small cafe. Our server, upon hearing me chatting, declared that an American her first trip abroad should drink something quintessentially British. Before I knew it there was a summer cup in my hand (and shortly thereafter a Bass ale, etc!).

Pimm’s is a gin based liqueur that tastes of citrus and spice with botanical notes. If you’re wondering about the exact ingredients don’t bother Googling the recipe. The formula is a well kept secret. I think it tastes a little like bitters but sweeter and smoother, though definitely not cloying. It has an alcohol content of about 25% so it retains a lot of flavor without an overpowering alcohol taste.

Much like the Mint Julep is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, Pimm’s is regularly served at events like Wimbledon and the Chelsea Flower Show. I’ve never seen one on a menu in my town – which is a shame because it’s a refreshing and unique drink that would make a great addition to a summer cocktail list. A quick internet search will yield dozens of recipes with a variety of ingredients to make the “perfect” cup. Try mine, or another that catches your eye and enjoy!

Pimm’s Summer Cup

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Fill a tumbler half-full with ice

Add 2 oz. Pimm’s

Finish with sparkling lemonade

Garnish with mint leaves and slices of strawberry and seedless cucumber

Variations

Substitute club soda, ginger ale, Sprite or Prosecco

For the garnish, try lemons, limes or oranges. Raspberries or blackberries make tasty additions as well.