Tag Archives: Montessori

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 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
Celebrating my brother’s wedding in New Orleans
Witnessing the most beautiful wedding of 2016
Witnessing the most beautiful wedding of 2016
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.


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.


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”.


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!

Making A Day At The Art Museum Fun For Kids

Art museum security guards tense up as soon as they see my six-year-old coming. She is a disastrous mix of loud, bouncy, and unpredictable. I, of course, delight in her spiritedness and curiosity, but not those who have been entrusted with protecting national treasures worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. They do not find her the least bit adorable.

But listen here, friends! Those suspicious gazes and narrowed glances won’t deter us from developing my daughters appreciation of art! After all, the security guard is just doing his job, right?

The Milwaukee Art Museum 1

So, before we go any further, allow me back up and explain why art appreciation is important to me as a parent, and as a person….

I am someone who has always been surrounded by art. My family is a motley crew of painters, designers, writers and toilers. When I was a child, my mother’s favorite line was: “Creative children are never bored. If you’re looking for something to do, go draw.” Best. Advice. Ever.

As an adult, I apprenticed under a master artist, learning to draw and paint in a classical style. Eventually I studied art in various parts of the world before getting my master’s degree is in Art History with an emphasis on ancient Chinese archaeology. Because art has been such an important part of my existence, I want to share this passion with my little one.

However (and maybe you’ve noticed this, too) very few art museums scream “kids zone!” Many have hushed hallways, objects that MUST NOT be touched, the aforementioned scrutiny of security guards, and artwork that is hung for people 5 feet and taller. Some art museums do have children’s galleries and art stations, which are lovely and appreciated. But, at the same time, I want my daughter to experience important collections from Egyptian antiquities to Flemish portraits – from German Post-Impressionists to American modernists. I want her to walk the same halls that I do, with a shared sense of wonder. And so we have learned how to create a kid-friendly day at the art museum!

Here are some tips for making an art museum visit engaging for your little one:

The Milwaukee Art Museum 3

Move at your own pace.

Some people feel that they need to take in the whole museum in one day, or view a gallery frame by frame. Not in our family. We believe in quality over quantity. If our daughter only has the attention span to take in three paintings and a photograph, that’s fine with us. I would rather have her passionately study a few works, than mindlessly take in a thousand. At this age, it is not about teaching her to distinguish a Rembrant from a Renoir – it is about developing her inquisitive mind.

Feel it (but don’t touch it).

I once had a boyfriend ask me what he was supposed to feel when he looked at a painting. What in the world? I thought to myself. After all, feelings are deeply personal. Your reaction to a painting and my reaction to a painting may be incredibly different. I can’t tell you WHAT to feel. We broke up.

Learning from that experience, I encourage my daughter to get emotional about art. I ask her to walk through the gallery halls until she finds a piece that moves her. When she sees it, she stops. Then we talk about the artwork, how it makes us feel, and why.


If you want a child to remember an experience with a certain level of fondness, make it fun! On our trips to the museum, we like to create silly background stories for some of our favorite works. Or see how many paintings we can count that have an apple or a crow as part of the subject. Or sometimes we choose to recreate a pose from a Rodin sculpture. Little ones deserve to have fun and play injected into everything they do!

Be kind to the security guards, even if they don’t trust your kid.

“Hello! How are you today? You spend a lot of time in this gallery – do you have a favorite work of art?” Nothing wins someone over like a little bit of kindness. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try.

Share your enthusiasm.

In advance of our trip, I choose one masterpiece to show my daughter on our visit. I will do research on that piece and then, once we get to the museum, share what I’ve learned in the form of a story (so that it holds her attention…no lectures, mom). It is rewarding to be able to share my passion with her.

The Milwaukee Art Museum Art Center

Do take advantage of the kids spaces.

If your art museum offers a kid’s gallery or activity center, take advantage of those areas. After exploring the galleries, there is nothing that our family enjoys more than creating an art project inspired by our favorite masterpieces.

Follow up at home.

Sometimes my little one will ask me a question about symbolism or style, and I don’t know the answer. We will make a note of it, and then do internet research when we get home. Other times, we may be moved by a style of art (Fauvism or Cubism, for example) and then go home and create artwork inspired by that creative movement. It is fun to continue the adventure in our own space.

We obviously also let her wear a princess crown to the museum, which never hurts! I must say that most places become extra-extraordinary when you’ve got a crown…

I hope these little tips will help you on your next trip to the art museum. If you move at your own pace and tailor the experience to your child’s interests, you won’t get tantrums and boredom – you will get engagement, excitement, and active learning. Most importantly, it will be a trip that is enjoyable for both children and adults.

For more parenting fun, check out this post on inspiring books for children.

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.



Welcome to Our New Year Party!

In 2015, Jessica and I started this blog because we love entertaining family and friends. Many of you have been following along ever since and for that we are so grateful. We are excited to find out what 2016 will bring…and we look forward to sharing it here!

Mara and Jessica

Today we want to invite you inside our New Year Party. This year, rather than hire a sitter and host a New Year’s Eve soiree (as we’ve done in years past), we opted for an intimate, family friendly New Year’s Day gathering complete with a hot chocolate bar for the kiddos, champagne punch for the grown-ups, and plenty of delicious food.

Opening our event to children certainly brought laughter and lightheartedness – and, suffice it to say, there was never a dull moment! To keep the little ones occupied and in good spirits, there was a craft table set up with coloring posters and art supplies galore! And, as if that wasn’t enough, my daughter’s bedroom doubled as the “kids clubhouse” for the event. It’s always amazing how such small individuals can sound so much like a herd of gigantic elephants….


In addition to some vegan main dishes (veggie wraps, Asian salad, and roasted coconut potatoes) we invited our friends to bring an appetizer or dessert to share, and they certainly came through! Guests noshed on savory treats like delicious olive tapenade and fig & goat cheese crostini. And for dessert we were treated to chocolate cranberry dessert bars, chocolate chocolate chip cookies, and Jessica’s French apple cake (my co-author is an award-winning baker, btw!).

Of course, the best part of any celebration is spending time with people you care about. If you’re lucky – like we are – you get to introduce some folks who will go on to become friends in the new year.

Our company consisted of activists, community leaders, educators, and creatives – this mix lent itself to great conversations, a lot of laughter and storytelling…and even some tomfoolery…

New friends

Mom and daughter

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Thank you again for your support throughout 2015. On behalf of Entertaining Family, enjoy the start of a new year and all of the beauty the lies ahead!

We hope that you’ll take time to check out some of our best posts from 2015:

Christmas Tree Trimming Tradition

Photos From San Francisco

Vegan Hot Cocoa and a Hike in the Snow

Lemon & Herb Roasted Chicken

An Italian Inspired Vegan & Gluten-Free Dinner Party

Fun in Camden, Maine

Creating a Meditative Outdoor Space That Fit Our Lifestyle



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.


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