Tag Archives: Travel

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.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy traveling! -Mara

Party Hosting Tips From Abroad

Hello, friends. The crocuses are blooming in the Midwest which means that spring is finally here. In the weeks to come, I’ll be taking our parties into the garden. In anticipation of springtime gatherings, today I am sharing some of our favorite party hosting tips from France, Italy and beyond….

It was through my travels abroad that I developed my love of entertaining. In every European country I explored as a young adult, local families welcomed me into their homes and shared food with me. That generosity and kindness was life changing.

When I returned to the United States, I continued to study the food and traditions of foreign cultures with the goal of adding more intimacy and creativity to my own gatherings. I am happy to share some of my favorite tips with you.

France: Get out the table linens, even for ordinary dinners.

When visiting my friend Mildred in Paris, I am always amazed that every morning fresh linens are brought out to cover the dining table. It makes even the simplest meals seem chic. For example, one night we ordered takeout sushi which she served on ceramic trays over a vintage chinoiserie table silk. It was impeccable. So pillage your grandmothers chest of tablecloths and set a lovely meal for your guests.

Denmark: Light candles to create a comforting environment for loved ones.

Creating coziness is what the Danes refer to it as “hygge”. It can be accomplished by putting some logs on the fire, placing a throw on the sofa and cozy pillows on the floor, and filling your dining table with the soft glow candle light. My friend Astrid is a master at creating hygge. Upon entering her home, she offers guests a pair of slippers and always has warm blankets to snuggle in. When I sit down for a cup of coffee with her, I want to stay put for hours. That is hospitality.

Here is more inspiration on creating coziness at home.

Italy: Always have two bottles of wine on the table, and two in the kitchen ready to go.

Living in Italy was a feast for the senses. I learned so much from the families I visited and it was a true challenge to select my favorite entertaining tip from a culture built around the dinner table (I could write an entire book). However, one thing that has truly stayed with me was my host country’s reverence for wine – from growing and harvesting grapes, to the art of wine making, to sharing toasts with friends. Wine was a supporting character at dinner and it made every occasion a celebration.

Find more inspiration from Italy here.  

Spain: Have friends over for shared tapas, rather than a full meal.

Nothing can stress a host out like trying to execute a perfect dinner party. Tapas are the perfect way to avoid this trap. Traveling through Spain, some of my family’s favorite treats have been premiere packaged seafood served with vermouth or wine. Just open the can and serve! From tuna in olive oil, to white anchovies in vinegar (not the kind you find on pizza in the U.S.), to razor clams in brine – it is all delicious and can be found at specialty grocers throughout the States. Pair them with a loaf of bread and some olives and host a low-fuss cocktail party. For vegetarian and vegan friends, add a plate of grilled eggplant with olive oil and sea salt or a simple heirloom tomato gazpacho. Easy.

For more ideas on tapas, check out this post on my travels in Madrid.

This week I am off to New England. My travels will take me to Boston, Massachusetts, and Kennebunkport and Portand, Maine. I’ll be sharing photos on Instagram! Happy spring.

 

 

 

Style Icon Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim

Trailblazer. Tastemaker. Trendsetter. Entertaining inspiration. Peggy Guggenheim.

I’ll never forget the day I was introduced to Peggy.

It was an October morning in Venice in 1999. The weather was lousy. It was cold and damp – the kind of day that chills your bones. People were out and about, wrapped in fashionable trench coats with the collars turned up to defend against the harsh wind. I stood along the Grand Canal in my college-chic GAP hoodie, entranced by gondolas slowly bobbing along steely water and jagged waves lapping against sinking plaster buildings. Everything was eerily gray like a pastel drawing that had been washed away with the wipe of a sponge.

I was studying abroad and for weeks had been traveling throughout Europe visiting the most important works of art from antiquity through the Baroque. This journey had taken me to the Louvre, the Borghese, the Prado, the Venice Academy, and more. Quite honestly, all of the masterpieces were beginning to bleed together and I was tired. In fact, I wondered if I wasn’t having some sort of allergic reaction to old art, as I seemed to lose my energy every time I entered another museum. On this particular day, I was visiting one I had never heard of before. The Peggy Guggenheim.

As a student of art history I was well acquainted with the Guggenheim name – but Peggy? Little did I know, I was being introduced to one of the most influential figures in 20th century art.

With a yawn, I stepped off of the Grand Canal and into her museum. Once inside my eyes grew wide as I took in the scene. It was as if I had entered another world. The Italian palazzo, which was had been her home from 1949-79, felt alive – it was breathing with bursts of vibrant color, undulating lines, splatter marks, and wild textures. The rooms did not feel “over stuffed” as some European galleries do. Instead, each piece of art was given room to shine. I felt true joy as I engaged with works by Picasso, Dali, Kandinsky, and Klee.

An eccentric heiress from the United States born in 1898, Peggy Guggenheim’s interest in avant-garde art developed while she was living in Paris in the 1920s. It was there that she was introduced to writers and artists who were challenging social norms of the time. Peggy, who as a teenager shaved off her eyebrows to shock those around her, found kindred spirits in Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Samuel Beckett. It was because of these relationships that she began acquiring works of the Dadaists, Cubists, and Surrealists and abstract expressionists. Not an artist herself, this was Peggy’s way of becoming a central figure in this world of original, innovative ideas.

Peggy ran galleries in Europe and America. During World War II, she shipped a huge number of paintings out of Paris to New York City, protecting them from the Nazi war on Modernism. She gave Jackson Pollock his first exhibit, as well as several other artists whose work would influence modern culture. She had a terrific eye for spotting talent, anticipating the next “big thing”, and was happy to give her muses an international stage. She is known to have had numerous lovers including the most influential names in the art world.

After visiting her museum, I became a huge fan of Peggy Guggenheim. I quickly devoured her biography Art Lover by Anton Gill. In 2015, a documentary film on her life was released: Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict, which I would highly recommend as it features intimate interviews with Peggy.

Today a photograph of one of her cocktail parties hangs in my living room, reminding me to savor the simple pleasures in life.

Peggy loved being surrounded by creative people with creative ideas, and she was well know for hosting parties for her friends. It is said she usually served horrible food and bad wine, but people always attended her gatherings because they celebrated life. And that is what people loved about Peggy.

So often these days, if you pick up a book on entertaining you’d think you have to be a Michelin star chef in order to host an event. What if we just served mediocre food and cheap wine, and instead focused on building deeper friendships? Wouldn’t it be amazing to skip the fancy name cards, cloth napkins, and menus scrolled on chalkboards? Would the world fall apart? That is why Peggy is one of my entertaining heroes. Let’s celebrate idiosyncrasies. Instead of being shallow, let’s go deep where the most interesting connections happen.

In 2017 I resolved to host more gatherings. It is time display my favorite pieces of art, serve imperfection on a platter, and spend quality time with great friends.

Party at Peggy's House

Fabulous Peggy

Peggy Guggenheim in Venice

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.

 

Adventures in Barcelona: The Eixample

Hey friends! Our holiday in Barcelona has been an incredible family adventure. What a beautiful city filled with great art and delicious food – two of my favorite indulgences. I recently posted about our first days abroad as we explored the Barri Gotic (or Gothic Quarter). Today I will tell you about our time in the Eixample – a neighborhood brimming with Modernist Architecture, designer shops, stylish Catalan tapas bars, and wide pedestrian boulevards. This is a very chic section of Barcelona with inspiring architecture at every turn.

We stayed in a beautiful apartment along Carrer del Rosselló, a bustling street which leads to Passeig de Gràcia in one direction (one of the main shopping avenues in Barcelona, which showcases two of Gaudi’s most famous buildings: Casa Batlló and La Pedrera), and the amazing Sagrada Familia Basilica in the other (Gaudi’s most revered architectural masterpiece which was begun in 1882 and remains under construction to this day). The organic, undulating designs of the Modernists are awe inspiring. Even children are fans, as many of the buildings give the sense of a Dr. Seuss imagined world come to life.

Our apartment rental gave us the opportunity to live as locals, as we shopped at the Mercat de la Concepció – filled with vendors specializing in fresh produce, artisan cheeses, meats and pastries, frequented nearby shops, and discovered off-the-beaten-path cafés and bars. The Eixample is perfect for families as everything is within walking distance, and there are plenty of green spaces and playgrounds for little ones.

From our apartment, we easily traversed the city by foot. Our longest walk was to Gaudi’s Park Güell – a glorious city garden which offers breathtaking views of the city – and that only took 20 minutes, not bad.

Here are some photos of our adventures in this exciting section of the city.

Passeig de Gràcia

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Our Apartment and the Eixample

Casa Terrades

La Sagrada Familia

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Park Güell

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Thank you for joining us on this joyous adventure. Do you have a favorite vacation spot? If you have ideas of where we should go next, please share them! – Entertaining Family

 

Happy Holidays from Barcelona

Hola friends! This year our family is enjoying the holidays in Barcelona, Spain. There is something wonderful about spending this time of year abroad….we get to see firsthand how another culture celebrates the season, meet new friends, try different foods, surround ourselves with great art and architecture, and spend a lot of uninterrupted time together as a family.

Our first days were spent at The Serras, a lovely five-star hotel along the waterfront with a beautiful rooftop bar and a delicious restaurant on the main floor specializing in Catalan tapas and fresh seafood. It was the perfect home base for touring some of Barcelona’s most historic sites including Ciutadella Park, La Rambla, and the Barri Gotic (the Gothic Quarter).

I have to say, after a long flight across the Atlantic, I love spending the first days of a trip in a comfortable hotel. First of all, the check-in time at most hotels can be flexible, and even if you can’t get into your room right away the concierge will keep your bags safe while you explore the city. Secondly, a hotel has amenities to pamper you after a long flight (and as you battle jet lag) – whether it is a glass of Cava at check-in, a well made bed, room service, or an in-room massage. It is nice to feel well cared for! (To keep our expenses down, and to spend time living more as locals than tourists, on day three of our trip we moved from our hotel to a wonderful apartment rental – we will feature that in our next post!)

Barcelona is a very child friendly city, and our little one was welcomed in to all restaurants, museums, and shops. Her favorite things about our first days in Spain had to be: churros and hot chocolate, the beach, the Picasso Museum, and the incredible doors found throughout the Barri Gotic. Probably in that order.

Around every corner in Barcelona there is something beautiful to behold. Whether it is the repeating arches found in doorways and stairways throughout the city, the rich colors of the food and spices in the Boqueria Market, or the simple but profound juxtaposition of old and new, it is a feast for the eyes!

Here are some photos from our first hours in Barcelona. You can also follow Entertaining Family on Instagram!

Arc de Triomf in Barcelona

Amazing Old Doors

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