Tag Archives: healthy living

Three Important Life Lessons I Learned at Summer Camp

In the summer of 1984, I turned nine. Finally, I was old enough to attend resident camp in the Wisconsin wilderness. For months I had been looking forward to the freedom of time away – the joys of spending my days canoeing, swimming, making crafts, and hiking in the woods, far removed from my urban landscape and typical routine.

The reality of summer camp was even better than I could have imagined. That first year, I lived with seven other girls in a rustic A-frame cabin draped with heavy canvas walls that smelled of mildew and pine needles. My bed was a thin mattress placed on top of a wooden board, where I carefully spread out my cozy sleeping bag that felt like a hug from home. A flowing mosquito net covered my bunk to protect me from things that bite in the night. At the far end of the room, I had a small cubbyhole to store my belongings, and a single nail to hang my rain poncho, swim suit and towel. My God! They were the worst living conditions I had ever experienced – and I relished every moment.

At camp I quickly learned that “the rules” were a framework for establishing order. It was up to me to choose my attitude, participate fully in the community, make good decisions, and accept the consequences of my actions. My counselor served as a guide on my journey, but the success of the camp environment truly rested on the shoulders of each young woman. At a very young age, we were entrusted with building a positive and supportive atmosphere. And overwhelmingly, we rose to the occasion. In a parentless world, we learned how to navigate conflict, manage abundant free time, and thrive without gadgets and gizmos.

Summer camp taught me many important lessons, but the three that have had the most profound and lasting impact on my life are these:

1.) Quiet moments can breed boredom or creativity. Choose creativity. 

Summer camp was a great mixture of planned activities and “downtime”. During my very first day, those quiet hours felt excruciating. I wanted to be  meeting new friends and participating in one activity after the next…I wanted to be “doing”. Funny thing, by day two, after spending hours surrounded by 100 other girls, I ached for the quiet times. It was up to me to decide how I would spend those moments….would I be bored or could I entertain myself? On most days, I would find a shady area beneath a pine tree where I would write stories in my journal or pen letters home. The solitude birthed my love of writing. And when you find a passion, you are never bored again.

2.) From uncertainty comes courage.

Though I was excited to attend camp, there was some apprehension about the experience. Would I make friends? Would the other girls like me? Would I get homesick? When my parents dropped me at the camp gates with my duffel bag in tow, I had to push away that self-doubt and make the most of my new reality. Today, I carry the confidence of that nine-year-old girl who thrived in the unknown wilderness and made friends with children from all walks of life. Because of camp, I know that most of the time, fear is a mental state that can be overcome when I confront that which frightens me.

3.) The world is mine to explore.

In the summer of 1984, I was a young girl who longed for more independence and adventure. Every path was new and waiting to be traveled. The experience made me incredibly curious about the world around me.

Fifteen summers later, I was on a plane headed to a new continent to live and study abroad. There I was, traveling to a foreign land where I didn’t know a soul, didn’t speak the language, and had no idea what was waiting for me. Just a girl and her duffel bag. However, that sense of being alone in a strange place was nothing new. Camp had not only prepared me to make the most of the unknown – it had motivated me to seek it out.

This time of year, I am always excited to see children heading off to camp with their pillows and sleeping bags tucked under their arms. In this author’s opinion, there has never been a more important time for summer camp. The experience helps kids step away from the constant noise and stimuli that surrounds them so they may develop self-sufficiency, confidence, and creativity – tools that will serve them well throughout life.



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)

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.


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!

5 Fun Ways to Stay Active This Winter

As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I remember looking forward to the snow! There was something magical about that first dusting and the promises it brought: sledding trips, ice skating on frozen ponds, building snow forts with my family, and best of all, unplanned days off of school, famously known as “snow days”.

As I grew into adulthood, somehow the snow lost much of its appeal and became more of a nuisance. There were responsibilities that came with snow….shoveling, driving safely along unplowed streets, and getting to work on time in two feet of slush (even if the schools HAD declared it a “snow day”). Somehow, as an adult, the cold seemed harsher and the winters longer, and I forgot about its magic. But like most things in life, it’s cyclical. Now I have a child and I love the snow again – go figure!

Winter might get you excited or it might drive you nuts. I’m not sure where you fall on the spectrum, but one thing is certain: getting outside and staying active is good for our health and longevity, even during the winter months. It’s also true that if we can find fun outdoor activities to participate in, we are more likely to enjoy winter. So while it might be tempting to stay in by the fire sipping wine and eating comforting food, it’s a good idea to get outside and explore.

Today, I’m sharing five really wonderful activities that help me stay active in winter. In the spirit of the new year (and for the millions who resolve to get healthier in 2016), here is a little inspiration to get you outside having fun!

Of course, it might go without saying, but part of enjoying the cold months is having appropriate winter gear. So, if you live in a place that gets long stretches of cold weather, make sure you invest in a waterproof, insulated jacket, snow pants, boots, and all of the accessories that will allow you to enjoy yourself. It makes a huge difference!

Winter Hikes

The trails that you enjoy hiking in summer are just as beautiful in winter – though they take on a new appeal. Nature that was once full of animal sounds and colorful vegetation is now hushed and monochromatic. Hiking becomes challenging in new ways, as you have to navigate uncleared paths or the occasional icy stretch. But it’s worth it. So put on your boots or snowshoes, and get out into nature.

If you’re walking with children, make sure to get them bundled in layers – my daughter is usually cold in the beginning, but then heats up along the way. One strategy we use to keep her engaged on long hikes, is to have her find animal tracks in the snow. We love following deer and rabbit prints to see where they will lead us.


IMG_1210 (1)


Ice Skating

Skating reminds me of my childhood. My dad used to take me all of the time as a kid…he was great on the ice. He’d skate forward and backward, impress me with spins and tight turns, and use his blades to stop quickly, making shards of ice fly through the air. It was fun to watch. On the other hand, my skills were – and have always remained – very basic. I can go forward…and that’s about the extent of it. However, my mom always made adorable pom-poms to tie on my toes…which made me look like I was a better figure skater than I actually was (check out the killer ones below).

As an adult, skating is a great form of exercise. Before you even set foot on the ice, the act of balancing on thin blades engages muscles throughout your body (some you may have never felt before). Second, the faster you go, the more aerobic the workout. Third, the more you fall, the more you engage your core – so have fun! It’s all good.



For some reason, I stopped sledding after my senior year of high school. I wish I hadn’t. It is SO MUCH FUN and such a great workout. Now that I have a child, it is something that I look forward to on snowy days. There is nothing like whizzing down a snow-covered hill with the wind blowing in our faces, and then trudging back up to the top to start all over again.

If you’re like me, and you outgrew sledding, try it again! Buy a saucer, or grab a cookie sheet from your kitchen and get out on the hills. You will have a ball.



I find skiing to be an introspective and meditative activity. Whether you are going cross-country or downhill, it is a solitary sport that connects you to nature. As a kid, I would go downhill skiing every winter with a big group of rowdy friends, but once I was on top of the hill, the only thing that mattered was the swish of my skis, the expanse of my thoughts, and the beauty of the trail I was following. My dad was a great skier and would faithfully take us to the hills every winter. I nicknamed him “Sven” as he would, even in his senior years, easily glide past me with the stature of a Nordic olympian.

The thought of downhill skiing can be intimidating for some first-timers, but all hills offer introductory lessons to get you on your way. And if you spend the whole day on the bunny hill, you’re still reaping the rewards.

Dad skiing

Taking a break at the bottom of the hill

Playing Like a Kid

Get outside and build a snowman, have a snowball fight, or use watercolors to paint the snow. Don’t think about who’s watching. The other night, I was going for a walk through my neighborhood when I found a piece of ice on the sidewalk. I was kicking it and running after it for three or four blocks, pretending that it was a soccer ball.

There is nothing that can bring out your inner-child like the snow. Think about what you liked doing most as a kid, and then get outside and make it happen.


You're never too old to make snow angels

What wintertime activities are your favorites?

If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out A Hike in the Snow.




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?

Our Favorite Things: Vegan Holiday Kitchen

As a vegan, I used to feel left out of holiday dinner celebrations. For years, my family would meet at a gorgeous lakefront restaurant for Thanksgiving. There were tables filled with turkey, turkey gravy, butter-laden mashed potatoes, stuffing with bacon…and side salad, oh thank goodness! Ranch dressing? You gotta be kidding me….

Conversely, some of my friends used to think who the heck wants to go to a vegan Thanksgiving? That just doesn’t sound….traditional…or good for that matter. Tofu, salad, and beans? You gotta be kidding me….

But times have changed and culinary creativity has blossomed. In our home, we find a way to accommodate multiple diets. By choosing seasonal, wholesome ingredients, we can make everyone happy.

This year my brother will be roasting Cornish game hens for the meat eaters and I will make a chestnut, sweet potato and sage tart for the vegans and vegetarians. We will also be sharing some really special vegan dishes from Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas.


I recommend this book for vegan entertainers…and those who entertain vegans. The dishes are flavorful, well balanced, and easy to make.

Vegan Holiday Kitchen is organized by, you guessed it, holiday! And it starts with my favorite – Thanksgiving. It also includes Christmas, Hanukkah, Passover and Easter, to name a few.

The pages are full of mouthwatering dishes like Spiced Vegetable Peanut Soup, Sweet Potato Biscuits, and Hearty Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie.


Today the world offers a lot of really wonderful resources for vegans. This book is one of them. Along with tasty recipes, there are gorgeous photos and interesting reflections on holiday traditions.

That’s what makes Vegan Holiday Kitchen one of our Favorite Things.

Family “Field Trips”

I’ve noticed that sometimes busy families get stuck in ruts….parents working all hours, kids plopped in front of screens, fast food served on dinner plates…everyone is together but not really together at all.

To keep our family playing, talking, and bonding, each weekend we take family “field trips.” Just like the exciting, fun-filled trips we took in grade school, these outings are designed to get us exploring and playing together…really together. They get us out of our daily routines, help us facilitate rich interactions, and allow us to build lasting memories.

We usually head outdoors and visit our community’s natural resources, living museums, and free play areas. During these “field trips” there are only five rules: 1.) no electronic devises, 2.) have fun, 3.) get messy, 4.) try to learn something new, and 4.) run wild! And yes, princess dresses are perfectly acceptable attire.

Our daughter loves the uninterrupted time with mom and dad…and we love sharing our passion for nature with our little one. We’re creating healthy traditions that, we hope, our daughter will continue when she has her own family.

Here are some photos from a trip we took this past weekend…a forest hike followed by playtime along the shores of Lake Michigan. Free, fun, and fabulous.

Entertaining Family wants to know, what does your family do to stay connected?

Waves along the shore