Tag Archives: family

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.

 

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

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

seth-and-masha

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Liz singing

Married

Our Family

Lovers

Happy Moms by Bryan Patrick Photography

Lovelies 2

The First Dance

mara-seth

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.)

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

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 Kitchen Remodel Is Complete!

Entertaining Family Kitchen Update

Dear friends, we made it. Our kitchen is finally finished! You may remember my nostalgic post that came at the start of this project. Well, after eight weeks of cramped quarters, take-out, and visits to the laundromat, the difficult days are behind us. And, I must admit, it was worth the wait (in retrospect) – we are absolutely loving our new space.

For our project we worked with Cynthia Musickant, an interior designer located in Mequon, Wisconsin. She helped us develop a personalized space that honors the way we live (laid-back, comfortable, relaxed…). After her first design consultation it was clear that she understood our style. My husband and I love vibrant colors, patterns, and textures, and crave unique design elements that are an extension of our personalities. He’s the creative director of an advertising agency, and I’m an art historian – needless to say, we don’t have conventional tastes.

Rather than create a bland space that might appeal to the masses, she put together a thoughtful plan that was perfectly suited for us. From the farmhouse sink to the old-fashioned pendant lights, the details are timeless and give a nod to the era of our old home. In contrast, the quartz counter tops, range hood, and stainless steel appliances are sleek and modern. I find that balance of old and new very pleasing. Of course, my favorite element of the entire design is the unique backsplash (the pièce de résistance) that ties everything together.

Entertaining Family Tile ProjectEntertaining Family Kitchen Island

In addition to finally having a bright and cheerful kitchen, our space is functional and easy to navigate. As people who love to entertain, we now have places to store our dishes, serving trays, gadgets, and doodads. We also have an island that doubles a prep space and a dining area – and that was important to us. Finally, our old kitchen was rather dark, as you can see in the slides below, so in order to let in more sunlight, the new kitchen has a decorative transom window overlooking our garden.

Here is a short slideshow of the before, during, and afters of our Entertaining Family kitchen project. I am so happy with the transformation. A huge thanks to our friends at Greener Roofs & Gardens who did the construction work on this project. They are also the talented team responsible for designing our phenomenal outdoor spaces.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank you for visiting! Now it’s time to get back to hosting dinner parties and posting wonderful recipes for our Entertaining Family community! -Mara

Entertaining Kids: Using Nature As A Classroom

“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”

– Richard Louv

My little one completed first grade today! Hallelujah. I can say with confidence that summer has finally arrived in the Midwest. As I type this post, I am sitting at my kitchen island with the windows wide open. The scent of sweet peonies and freshly cut grass are drifting through my home on a cool breeze. Outside I can hear my daughter giggling as she digs for worms in the garden. School may be over, but the learning of childhood continues.

I remember loving summer vacation as a youngster. It was a magical time to explore nature, as my friends and I would play and adventure from dawn until dinner time. Neighborhood trees transformed into spaceships, front yards morphed into baseball fields, and my father’s garden became a tasting lab filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. The days were long, and friendships blossomed and grew under bright blue skies that stretched on forever.

Though I can idealize my formative years, even back in the 1980s kids were susceptible to the influence of electronic devices. From Atari to Nintendo to cable TV, I remember friends staying inside glued to a television screen all summer long. My parents set limits on those things, and I was better off because of it.

We have to set limits, too.

As parents, it is our job to give kids the space to roam and explore the natural world. In the book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv writes about the important role nature plays in nurturing the physical and emotional wellbeing of young people. Playing outside helps kid builds independence, confidence, creativity, and resiliency. It also teaches children about the interconnectedness of Earth’s living beings and the need to care for the world around us. And for those parents fixated on academic achievement, nature absolutely reinforces important math, science, and reasoning skills taught during the school year.

Here are some fun ways to encourage your child to get outdoors this summer:

1.) Get her involved in gardening and yard work. After all, your backyard is an ecosystem filled with birds, bugs, flowers, and trees…it’s all there waiting to be discovered. Have your child keep a “field journal” to document what she sees and learns.

2.) Allow your child to create a “kids space” outside. It could be a quiet corner under a shady tree where he lays down a blanket to read, an existing tree house that he fixes up with artwork and age-appropriate games and toys, or a dedicated space on the patio that he uses to paint and draw.

Space for Kids

3.) As a family, explore parks, botanical gardens, beaches, and trails to discover new plants and animals. Spend time teaching your child about nature. As grownups, we benefit from these experiences too!

4.) Let your child dress up in costumes as she heads out to explore. My little one loves to put on a fancy dress or cape before adventuring into the wild. Imaginative play is creative and fun! It turns the world into a story with evolving characters, settings, and possibilities.

Superhero by Masha

5.) As much as you might want to tell him to “be careful” every five minutes, children need space to try new things and test boundaries. Scrapes and scratches are to be expected. I always tell my kiddo, if you have a scraped knee, then I know you had fun.

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Wading in the Water

Enjoy this amazing time of year – it goes by so quickly!

Does your family want more adventure? On your next stop to the library or bookstore, consider exploring one of these titles with your youngster: Lady Bug Girl and Bingo by David Soman and Jacky Davis; Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel; Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton; or, for older readers, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

If you’re looking for more inspiration from Entertaining Family, check out Family “Field Trips”.

Friends