Tag Archives: Meditation

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…

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Mara enjoying public art in Montreal
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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
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Celebrating my brother’s wedding in New Orleans
Witnessing the most beautiful wedding of 2016
Witnessing the most beautiful wedding of 2016
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Speaking of weddings, celebrating 12 years of marriage with the love of my life
Arc de Triomf in Barcelona
Spending the holidays in Barcelona
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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.

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Woman, You Inspire Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photos of the Snow – A Walk Under the Blue Skies of Winter

As many of you know, everyday, no matter the season, I love to get out for a walk in nature – even if it is ten degrees below zero. And that isn’t an exaggeration.

Recently we’ve been experiencing a stretch of frigid temperatures in the Midwest. It has led some to wonder how I can brave Wisconsin winters. Heck…sometimes I wonder how I do it! But the truth is that while it’s certainly cold, it is also stunning. The stark white ground, the bare branches of the trees, and the vastness of the sky create a beautiful backdrop for living.

For me, winter has always been a season of rest and quiet contemplation. A time to slow down, but never a time to stop. Today I am sharing photos from a recent trek along the shores of Lake Michigan and the thoughts I carried on my journey.

There is beauty to be found every day.

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The world is much bigger than I am.

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I can walk a trail a thousand times and still have a new experience.

Nature allows me to view the world with fresh eyes.

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The Earth is always changing, as am I.

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Friends walk with me, no matter the conditions.

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It is important to be quiet and present. Be the lion.

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In time, I will always get where I need to be.

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As a kid, my family cultivated my love of nature. We were always going for hikes, sleeping under the stars, or spending a day at the beach. When I was old enough, I would happily go to summer camp each year – an experience that developed my independent spirit and desire to explore the world around me. One of the first songs I learned at camp was called “On the Loose”, I’m sure some of you know it. My favorite verse is this: There’s a trail that I’ll be hiking just to see where it might go, many places yet to visit and many people yet to know. And in following my dreams, I will live and I will grow, on a trail that’s waiting out there on the loose.

That sense of wonder and curiosity is with me always.

Everyone of us is balancing multiple roles and responsibilities. Sometimes it is important to step away from the noise and connect with the planet.

Take time to savor the simple pleasures in life.

 

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?

Self-Care During Times of Change

I’ve been experiencing a lot of changes in my life recently! After spending nearly a decade of my life working for the same nonprofit organization, taking on roles with increasing responsibility and visibility, I have just moved into a new position at a new agency. One thing is certain, this role will challenge me in ways that I cannot fully grasp today. I am now the leader. An entire group of employees, stakeholders, and participants are looking to me to set the agenda and move the organization forward. It is exciting, but it is also a lot of pressure (mainly self-imposed). To manage the opportunities and stresses that are ahead of me, I need to take care of myself.

Beyond stretching my professional horizons, my family life is changing in exciting ways as well. My daughter has just entered first grade – she now has homework, best friends, extracurricular activities and a desire to “fit in.” She is experiencing a whole new world of self-exploration and peer influence. As parents, my husband and I want to do all we can to encourage, support and guide her development…but this is new territory for us, too. We often give each other a special look that says, I don’t think any parenting book talked about this…

Change is exhilarating, anxiety producing and tiring. When I go through big transformations in my life, my typical response has been to push harder, move faster and work more intensely. This hasn’t always served me well, and in fact, has often led to early burnout. This time around, because in both instances of change there is so much at stake, I want to slow down, enjoy the process, and focusing on nurturing my spirit so I can handle all of the twists and turns that are yet to come. Many of the ways that I choose to live (vegan, outdoors enthusiast, entertainer…) already nurture my being, but here are some new strategies I am using to manage the changes in my life – I thought I’d share them with all of our Entertaining Family readers:

I am going to bed an hour earlier

I’m the kind of person who likes to stay up into the wee hours of the morning writing, surfing the internet, reading…it can leave me exhausted by mid-week. To have enough energy to get me through my days, I’ve started going to bed an hour earlier than usual. There has been so much research documenting the benefits of sleep…I figure there is no harm in finding out if all of this science is right.

I am waking up a half hour earlier

I am dragging myself out of bed earlier than usual to head out for an invigorating morning walk. Sometimes when I am going through changes or stresses, the first thing I put on hold is physical activity. Not this time! To power through my day, I’m starting with exercise. Not only do my walks get my heart rate up, I find that they are incredibly meditative and allow me to put the day into perspective.

I am keeping a journal

There is nothing like a new job to get my mind racing with ideas and reflections. To guarantee they aren’t forgotten, I’m keeping a journal to record all of my thoughts. It has also allowed me to track all of the advances my daughter is making as she continues to stretch her mind and spirit in great new ways. Finally, journaling allows time for honest self-reflection which is necessary to navigating change.

I am saving my wine and margaritas for the weekends

What? That’s right. After a long day of learning and processing new things, it can be relaxing to sit down with an adult beverage. However, for me, alcohol tends to zap my energy…I get a little too relaxed. So for now, water is my drink of choice during the week. It keeps me energized for homework sessions, interesting discussions with my husband, and work that I may need to finish before bed.

I am carving out more alone time with my partner

The changes that we’re going through in our home tend to take a lot of time, energy and planning. To stay grounded and keep things in perspective, I’m spending a lot of time with my husband – he is my sounding board, my adviser and my greatest source of support. Whether it is a date night, an evening gab session or a quick lunch during the week, we’re committed to managing these changes together.

Finally, I’m just trying to be kind to myself. I’m taking the advice that I often give my daughter: you don’t have to be perfect, you just need to try your hardest. There will be some things that fall by wayside during this period, and that’s okay. I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m managing change the best ways I can.

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