Tag Archives: family time

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)

Simple Vacations Are Rewarding, Too (no matter what your Instagram feed tries to tell you)

We’ve just returned from our spring break in New England. Over the past week we wound our way from Kennebunkport to Portland, Maine and then on to Boston, Massachusetts. Our vacation was laid back and simple, filled with fresh sea food, trips to the ocean, and long walks. This journey was also educational as my daughter learned about the Boston Tea Party, the American Revolution, and the founding principles of the United States. #parentingwin

Over spring break, I saw many of my friends posting photos of their adventures – from Mexico, to Florida, to Italy – families were taking this time to get away, explore, and unwind. Travel is a wonderful way to bond as a family, gain an appreciation for the world around us, and learn about different cultures. In an increasingly global society, travel prepares us to work with colleagues, customers, and collaborators from other lands. And as Saint Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

However, to reap the rewards of travel, you don’t have to take an elaborate or expensive vacation. Jet setting families look pretty on Instagram, but most of us don’t have the funds or the time to set off on an around-the-world tour. In fact, a “staycation” or short trip can give you the same benefits. So friends, don’t fret about keeping up with the Joneses. Create a special experience that works for your family. This is something I know a thing or two about!

When I was a kid, my family couldn’t afford many vacations…we usually had one getaway during the summer. My parents would cram sleeping bags, pillows, drawing pads and a box full or markers, food, and games into our 1980s station wagon and we’d drive three hours to a placid lake in northern Wisconsin. There we would pitch a tent, cook our meals over an open flame, and pee in the woods. It was simple and perfect. At night we’d lay near the empty country road that ran along our property and watch stars shoot across the pitch black sky. We’d tell ghost stories with flashlights under our chins while munching on Jiffy Pop.

At the lake, my brother and I lived in our swim suits and always smelled like a mixture of Coppertone, Off!, and algae. There were no cell phones, no flush toilets, no showers, and we were in heaven. Those rustic, “roughing it moments” – as my dad referred to them – are some of the best memories of my childhood.

Tent camping taught us to appreciate nature. My dad would take us on hikes through pine forests in search of deer tracks. We would catch grasshoppers and learn how to tell time by watching the sun. On the shores of the lake, we would find snails and my mom would tell us about the escargot served in France. My brother and I would wrinkle our noses.

Those long summer days were filled with teaching moments. It was where I learned about the glaciers that once covered Wisconsin and the importance of freshwater lakes. We learned about the logging industry in our state and toured paper mills. And usually one night during our stay, we would venture into a nearby town to partake in a Wisconsin fish fry. If we ever complained about being bored, my parents would hand us the drawing pads and markers and tell us to make art.

Next time you’re planning a trip, think about something simple and close to home. Head to a museum, a State Park, or go camping in the woods. Encourage your children to put down the electronic devises and spend time with their imaginations. Help them expand their understanding of the world through fun, hands-on learning.

Happy traveling! -Mara

To My Brother, With Love

This past weekend in New Orleans, my brother married a woman who is by all measures his perfect match – artistic, glamorous, well-traveled, loving, and generous. Their ceremony was stunning and I will share all of the details in an upcoming post, but first I wanted to take the opportunity to write about my brother, Seth.

For as long as I can remember, my brother has been the most influential and inspirational person in my life. Though he is two years younger than I am, his emotional maturity far surpasses my own – and it has always been that way.  As youngsters, I was the loud one – the child who defied authority, was careless when sharing my opinions, and lived to have fun. Seth was introspective, thoughtful, and always sensitive to the needs of others. As we grew, we each found greater balance – his seriousness rubbed off on me, and conversely, I’d like to believe that my irreverence helped him laugh a bit more freely.

In college, I would return home on weekends to find my brother reading the collected works of Emerson, Thoreau, and Krishnamurti. He would tell me how inspired he was by philosophies that encouraged aligning ones life to the needs of the world. That is why I was not surprised when, after completing his degree in architecture, my brother fit his belongings into a backpack and moved to Africa to spend a year living, learning and volunteering abroad. An artist, Seth would share his experiences traveling across West Africa through exquisite pen and ink drawings. He also captured the sounds of his journeys, recording the noises of traffic, birds, drums, and voices.

That same year, I married the love of my life and began my own adventure. Our childhood was over, and my brother and I were venturing out on different roads.

As adults, we have spent more time apart than together – but wherever he happens to be, a piece of my heart is there too. And though we travel unique paths, I am grateful that our roads converge at the most important times. This weekend, as I watched Seth marry an extraordinary woman who shares his joie de vivre, my heart was full. You want the best for the ones you love most in the world, and I know that in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined anything better for him.

Congratulations, my dearest friend. What a beautiful life you have created.

seth-and-masha

 

 

To My Daughter On Her 7th Birthday


My Strong Willed, Spirited Girl:

Thirteen years ago, if someone had asked me about the best day of my life, I would have told them about the moment I met your father. From across a crowded room, we fell in love at first sight and I knew my life would never be the same.

Twelve years ago, I would have told them about the day I married your dad on a pink sand beach. Looking into his eyes as the ocean waves rolled upon the shore, I saw a future of endless possibilities. I still do.

Seven years ago, of course, I would have told them about the magical day that you were born. Now that I know you, I’d say it was a perfect entrance. Quick and timely, right on your due date. I know how you hate to be late to a party! That was the day I realized how far my heart could stretch and how deeply and fiercely I could love.

Today, if someone asked me about the best day of my life, my answer would be different. Today I would say that the best day is the one that I am blessed to be living right now. Each and every minute that I get to love you and your dad, and feel your love in return is a celebration. My life is no longer defined by single, once-in-a-lifetime events, but instead measured by the beauty of ordinary moments that bring us together.

Your laughter, your smile, your dad’s bad jokes, our hikes in the woods, our dinner table conversations…those little things have become the most extraordinary pieces of my life. And every morning when I wake up and I see your faces, I know that THIS is going to be the best day I have ever known.

I am a lucky woman. You have transformed my world and taught me so much. I am constantly in awe of your capacity to love, your ability to learn, and your desire to work hard. You are thoughtful, hilarious, and creative beyond belief. You inspire me to live my best life and to reach further than I ever thought possible.

Happy birthday, my love. Thank you for making every day the best day of my life.

-Mom

Happy

Strategies for Introducing Children to Healthy Foods

    

Today we’re revisiting a post from 2015 – just in time for summer!

Fruits and veggies and legumes, oh my!

Getting kids to choose healthy foods can be difficult, but Entertaining Family has got some great pointers and tricks to help you get started.

Let me begin by sharing a story. Years ago, I was saddened to watch a little boy, who couldn’t have been more than ten years old, walking home from a neighborhood store drinking a 20 oz. caffeinated soda and eating a family-sized bag of cheese flavored chips. With all of the choices we have in our society, this was what he was using for nourishment and comfort.

It’s no surprise. Everyday, children and adults alike are bombarded with marketing campaigns, characters, and taglines pushing food and beverages that have little nutritional content and are loaded with sodium and sugar, which our taste buds get conditioned to crave. It can make it easy to feel disconnected from the origins of our food – and to miss the fact that what we eat has a direct impact on our quality of our life. Watching that little boy influenced the way I parent and the lessons I try to impart on my child.

To begin setting healthy examples, my husband and I involved our daughter in grocery shopping early on. From the moment I was able to carry her in the Baby Bjorn, we were taking her to food stores, farmers’ markets, and community gardens. Because of this, as a baby some of her first words were “garbanzos” and “cabbage”, and by the age of two she could name almost every item in the produce section of a grocery store. And fun fact: her first dolls were named after the cashiers at our local health food store!

Seasonally we bring home new offerings and incorporate them into our cooking – fresh fava beans, ramps and fiddlehead ferns are some of our favorites. We also take the opportunity to “farm” as a family and grow fruits and vegetables in our small urban garden. Our daughter loves eating tomatoes off of the vine, picking lettuces, chewing chives like blades of grass, and using fruit from our cherry tree to bake pies for dinner parties.

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Getting children interested in wholesome, nutritious food is something that parents can nurture. Like anything it becomes easier the more exposure children receive. For example, the first few times our little one tried arugula she wasn’t a fan, but we kept offering it to her and now she enjoys its peppery taste and eats the leaves right out of our raised beds.

At her school, our daughter and her classmates tend to garden plots filled with different herbs and vegetables and they are encouraged to sample what they grow. When we help young children develop an interest in real food they grow into teenagers and adults who make better choices (at times when they have the autonomy to make their own decisions and mom and dad are no longer watching over their shoulders). It teaches that food in its whole form comes from living entities – plants, trees, and animals – not plastic, Styrofoam, or aluminum containers.

I’m not naive. My daughter won’t always make healthy selections, but she won’t always make unhealthy ones either. At the grocery store, after a long day at school, she is more apt to ask for an orange than a candy bar. At home she is more likely to reach for radishes and hummus than potato chips. Her pallet has been trained to appreciate juicy, flavorful fruits and vegetables, and to crave what is in season.

Here are some of the simple strategies and tricks that we use in our house to keep her interested in healthy foods:

  • Our daughter gets to help plan our menus for the week and design what we serve at dinner parties. We try to eat “around the globe” and let her try foods from different cultures.
  • We go through my Pinterest Boards to find new recipes and flavors, and the more colors we can add to a meal, the better!
  • She helps us chop vegetables and mix ingredients which makes her feel very proud. It also gives her a sense of ownership for the meal. If she has a hand in creating it, she is more likely to try it.
  • When we’re on a shopping trip, she is encouraged to find unusual or “new” fruits and vegetables to sample. This keeps her taste buds open to new experiences. It keeps us on our toes too! Sometimes we have to Google the food she selects to figure out how to prepare it. Some flavors she likes and some she doesn’t, but she is eager to try them. Lychee and Rambutan are new favorites.
  • We stock “special treats” like clementines, kiwis, “pickles” (cucumbers in rice vinegar) and nori/seaweed chips which makes snacking fun and nutritious.
  • We refer to sparkling water as “soda”. She is in first grade, and to this point she has never had a traditional sugar or diet soda in our home.
  • For weekly desserts we try to choose sorbet with fresh berries or fruit that is in season. On special occasions we will bake vegan cookies or cake from scratch.
  • If she is really curious about something that we consider a “junk food” we will usually let her try a taste. We don’t want things to be forbidden.

To keep our family inspired, I’ve create this Pinterest Board on healthy meal ideas that I invite you to visit. And please share your tips for keeping your family healthy!

Inspiring Books for Children: Must-Haves for Your Library

Happy holidays, my dear friends! Today’s post gets away from the hustle and bustle of the season and focuses on a really fun topic…children’s literature. So take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy!

As adults, I think that one of the greatest gifts we can give children is a well curated book collection. Really great literature helps youngsters develop vocabulary, build imagination, and explore the possibilities of the Universe. I have read countless books with my daughter and today’s post shares our very favorites.

Each of the books below has been selected based on the beauty and importance of its message, and the quality of its images. As a mom I have picked books that will not only be interesting for the young people in your life, but will make reading out loud a pleasure for you as well. In fact, you will actually look forward to reading these over and over again. And with each turn of the page, you will know that you’ve given an amazing gift to the young person in your life.

1.) The Zen Series by Jon J. Muth

These beautiful books (Zen Ties, Zen Shorts, Zen Ghosts, and Zen Socks) follow the adventures of a Giant Panda named Stillwater and the human children who live next door. Stillwater helps his young friend’s navigate the ups and downs of childhood by sharing lessons derived from Zen Buddhism. These books teach about compassion, kindness, sharing, and letting go of the things that don’t matter.

2.) This is the World by M. Sasek

Is there a more stress-free way to travel than taking your child on vacation through the pages of a book? This is the World compiles some of M. Sasek’s greatest travel books in one masterwork. The illustrations and stories – which are now at least 50 years old – continue to teach children interesting facts about some of the world’s most famous monuments, cities, and spaces. It has gotten my daughter interested in traveling to new destinations and learning more about foreign cultures.

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3.) Journey by Aaron Becker

Aaron Becker has created a timeless work of art. Some people may be skeptical about this book at first because there are…gasp!…no words – but that becomes a part of the enchantment. The stirring and emotional images help children create their own narrative. This book helps kids understand and express emotions and it puts them “in the driver’s seat” as they become the story’s author. Adults can help guide young storytellers by asking probing questions that dig more deeply into each image.

Every time a child opens this book, they are creating a new adventure.

4.) Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl

The ABCs are so much more fun when you are learning about feminists that have changed the world! Angela Davis, Dolor Huerta, and Billie-Jean King are just some of the “rebels, trailblazers, and visionaries” captured in this important book. My daughter and I love reading the biographies together and then taking time to have deeper conversations about what we’ve learned. But rest assured, this book IS NOT JUST FOR LITTLE GIRLS! It should be on the shelf of every family that believes in equality – and every family that wants to raise interesting children (boys and girls) who feel empowered to change the world around them. Thanks, Aunt Masha for such a great gift!

A is for Angela

Gratitude

Today I woke up feeling incredibly grateful for this life of mine. The people, the places, the things that I love who make me the person I am. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share the top 10 things on my list today.

1. Waking up and seeing my husband and daughter, the two people I love most in the world. After a good night’s sleep, I can’t wait to get out of bed, cuddle with my girl and share a cup of coffee with the love of my life.

2. Laughing with my brother. He lives in San Francisco while I am in Milwaukee, so most of our chats are by cell phone late in evening. The minute he picks up the phone, we break out into laughter. We’ve shared a million inside jokes during our decades together, and we continue to create more.

3. Having great girl friends, some that I’ve known since I was a kid. These women know me so well that they can make me giggle by giving me “a look” or bring me to sweet tears with their kindness and understanding.

4. Writing and drawing. Putting my thoughts and dreams down on paper has always been cathartic. I am grateful that I have time to pursue these passions.

5. Phone calls with my mom. Since the day I moved away from home twenty some years ago, I’ve had almost daily phone calls with the woman. She’s my biggest cheerleader. Whether I was away at college, living abroad, starting a family – nothing has ever made me feel more grounded than talking things over with Her.

6. Filling my home with family and friends. Laughter, tomfoolery, stories, and dreams. Sharing time with loved ones helps me relax and focus on all that is important.

7. Traveling with my brood. We are lucky enough to be able to pack up and head out with little forethought. Traveling opens our mind to new experiences, new people, new flavors. Our favorite place to go is the coast of Maine – the wooded oasis on the eastern tip of the United States – our home away from home.

8. Watching my husband cook. He is so passionate about creating beautiful food and gets “Zen” in the kitchen. Watching him work is like watching poetry come to life.

9. Enjoying seasonal, wholesome meals around our dining room table. Sitting down to good food, rehashing the day, planning for tomorrow – it is all magical and a huge part of our family life.

10. Washing dishes with dad. In the quiet solitude of my kitchen late at night, I wash dishes and have conversations with my dad, who passed away five years ago but has never left me. When I’m alone doing this mundane chore, my mind connects to this amazing man and the lessons he taught me during our precious time together.

What are you grateful for today?