Pull Up a Chair

April 11, 2014

Mary Poppins Happy Friday! Any exciting plans for the weekend? It’s supposed to be warm and sunny here, so we’re tossing around ideas like hiking in a nearby state park — anything that will get us outside. We’ve lately been trying to institute a family movie night on weekends, but since our girls are pretty much terrified of anything that provides dramatic tension, it’s been hard to find anything that fits the bill.

The writing was kind of on the wall when we took them to a documentary about beavers building a dam in the Canadian Rockies. We thought we’d finally found something sweet and innocent; instead, the girls sat stone-faced the entire hour and then declared it “very scary.” It was an iMax movie, so maybe it was just the enormous screen, but beavers have remained on their bad list ever since.

B probably scarred them for life when he downloaded a documentary called Chimpanzee — again, thinking it would be a winner. Turns out the baby chimp’s mother gets killed by another tribe, and a chimp war ensues. The girls got so upset we had to turn it off, and any mention of the movie sent them yelling, “No, angry monkey!” and running from the room.

We weren’t giving up, though, so last weekend we decided to try Mary Poppins, hoping it would be a safe bet. We were right: They absolutely loved it. All of us did, in fact: Somehow B and I had made it this far in life without ever having seen it (I know, weird), so it was kind of awesome to be watching it (and enjoying it!) for the first time together. It will definitely be a staple now, and hopefully we can find a few more.

For today’s drink, I’m going with a dubonnet, a classic English cocktail (and Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite, in case you were dying to know). Here’s my high and low this week:

Low: I was supposed to be interviewed by video for an online show yesterday, and after planning my afternoon around it, making childcare arrangements, washing my hair, putting on some actual makeup, and feeling proud that I was ready on time, I waited and waited and eventually learned that the producer missed the email about my being a panelist. Sigh. She was very apologetic and they may call me again, but it was all pretty anti-climactic.

High: I think spring is finally here! (Don’t tell my Nova Scotia family, though.) I don’t believe I’ve ever been this glad to welcome spring in all the years I’ve been in Maryland. Now if it can just stay lovely for a while before the heat and humidity move in… (I know, I shouldn’t be tying my moods to weather, but it’s hard not to sometimes.)

Bonus question: What’s your favorite classic movie? I must admit that I don’t tend to watch many older movies — they’re usually too sentimental and sappy for me. But the exception is my all-time Christmas fave: It’s a Wonderful Life.

Please grab the queen’s fancy and tell me about your week! Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: Disney

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by Margaret Cabaniss

16 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas Friendly PSA time: Easter is only a week and a half away. In an effort to help the time pass more quickly (I’m hoping the Easter bunny brings some proper spring weather with him), I’ve rounded up some of my favorite egg-decorating ideas I’ve found around the web. If you’re looking for some inspiration, these should do the trick…

17 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas
The local eggs I like to buy may be delicious, but their brown shells aren’t the best for dying. I love these painted eggs (from Joy Ever After) and twine-wrapped eggs (A Daily Something) for being so simple and natural.

17 Egg Decorating Ideas
I experimented with natural food dyes a couple years ago; who would have thought purple cabbage would give you such a lovely blue? Arranging them in ombre order would make a neat display (Country Living) — or, if you’re looking for more colors, check out Better Homes and Gardens‘ food dye color chart.

17 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas
These striking black-and-white eggs are a great change from the usual Easter pastels — and all you need to make them is a Sharpie. Geometric doodles from Obviously Sweet and handwritten eggs from Alisa Burke.

17 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas
Of course, if I tried to write on an egg, the results would be…less than lovely, so I’m all about these calligraphy eggs from Oh Happy Day. The trick is using printable tattoo paper: Simply download the (free!) Easter-y quotes, print, then rub on the eggs like any other temporary tattoo.

17 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas
You can also use tattoo paper to make these decoupage-style eggs (via Country Living) — and be sure to check out the kid-friendly “bug and superhero” version at Brit + Co. For a similar effect, try printing on tissue paper and applying the image with Mod Podge, like with these old-fashioned silhouette eggs (Rook No. 17).

17 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas
For something a bit more modern, use stickers to create these New York subway eggs (The Soho) — or any other high-contrast design — or skip the dye and simply wrap with colorful washi tape (Creative Living).

17 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas
Come on now, these are just adorable. Mr. and Mrs. Egg by Say Yes; colorful Sharpie egg designs (that chick!) at Mom.me.

17 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas
Dye the leftover shells from your morning scramble and turn them into tealight holders! Genius (via Little Inspiration). And honest-to-goodness golden eggs from 79 Ideas. These would make a gorgeous dinner table display.

17 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas
Last but not least, I couldn’t do an egg-decorating roundup without a plug for one of my first SlowMama posts, and still one of my favorite Easter projects ever: these hollow egg ornaments and candy-filled surprise eggs. The post explains how to blow out your eggs and sanitize them, too, which is handy for a lot of the non-food-safe ideas above — or if you just want all your decorated lovelies to last.

Do you decorate eggs for Easter? Any fun new ideas for this year?

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H & S
It’s been a while since I shared an update about our family. This Friday marks 18 months we’ve been home together, and some people are curious about how S and H are doing now, what has changed, how B and I are doing as parents, etc.

If you’re new to SlowMama, you may want to start by reading this post about what the new normal was like around here when our daughters first came home. I must admit, I have almost no memory of our first three to four months. Snippets, yes, and some general impressions, but one giant haze pretty much engulfs that period. Not surprising, since I was mostly sick, mostly beyond exhausted, and mostly dealing with tantruming, regressed four-year-olds who couldn’t speak English. (I still marvel at how I survived without any family help and B working, but I am woman, hear me roar.)

Even with all the craziness at the beginning (and apart from a two-week period where we wondered what had possibly possessed us to do such a thing), B and I have always felt incredibly fortunate that these particular girls became our daughters: By disposition they’re naturally happy; they’re very healthy; and they were receptive and eager to attach to us from the beginning. They’re also perfectly suited to us — their quirky senses of humor, personality traits and habits. I know many adoptive families struggle so much more to attach, to adjust, to cope, to even like each other sometimes. We’re very grateful.

Crazy S and H
That doesn’t mean we don’t have challenges, and I’m often reminded that even people we’re close to still don’t understand what it’s been like, or why we still do things the way we do. As I see it, however, our struggles are within the “what you can expect” range when it comes to being a new family by adoption, and that helps keep it all in perspective.

So, here’s the lowdown on S and H after 18 months home: They’re thriving. They speak fluent English, though their vocabulary is still expanding and sometimes words get mispronounced and misused. “Soaking wet” is “smokin’ wet,” for example, and there’s a lot of “Us is going upstairs” and “I doesn’t really want to.” Sadly, they’ve lost pretty much all of their native language (Tigrinya). It wasn’t realistic to expect them to retain it since we can’t speak it, they rarely hear it now, and from the get-go they wanted to let it go and embrace English. Their overall adjustment tracked right along with their ability to understand and speak English, which makes a lot of sense.

Saint-Paul Family
They’re deeply attached to both of us — especially to me, who’s been the stay-at-home parent. They still need one of us to fall asleep with them, but now Daddy can do it, which gives me a break half the week (and allows me to be out past 8:30 p.m. every so often — yay!). They’re back in their own beds now — mainly because our new king mattress was getting cramped with all the fetal-position sleepers around here — though frequently the girls call for me in the night and I need to crawl into bed with them. They eat like champs, have grown a ton, are extremely creative and entertaining, are close to being caught up with their peers in kindergarten, attract attention where ever they go, and have a zest for life.

Some days it feels like we’ve been a family forever, but other times I’m reminded that it isn’t so. We still see the signs of trauma and effects of the past, and though attachment is strong, it’s not as rooted as it would be if we had all been together since birth. They are still learning many things other kids their age have been exposed to for years, and we’re still learning to be the kind of parents they need.

I’m also still learning not to expect to “arrive” at any finish line. Change is the only constant; healing is a long and mysterious process, and “normal” isn’t really applicable here. (What is that, anyway?)

So that’s our 18-month update in a nutshell. Is there anything you’re curious about when it comes to our adjustment as a family or adoption in general? Feel free to ask!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Peru from Above
What are you up to this Earth Day? Saving whales? Installing solar panels? Banning paper towels in your home for good? Me neither — though more power to you, if you are doing any of that. Instead, I’m aiming for something a little more doable right now: planning a few activities and projects to help my children think more about what it means to take care of our planet, appreciate nature, be less wasteful, and be good stewards of our natural resources. Here are a few things on our list:

A neighborhood trash pick-up. My daughters already point out garbage to me on the streets all the time; they know that littering is “not good,” and we talk about it a lot. Baltimore isn’t one of our nation’s cleanest cities, and whether it’s the high school kids across the street throwing their wrappers on the sidewalk, or neighbors’ garbage blowing around when they set out their bins, the trash can pile up. This week we’re going to put on some gloves, grab a bag, and pick up a little.

Making a paper-mache planet. I haven’t done a paper mache project with my daughters yet, so if I can find round balloons somewhere, we’re going to make an Earth and talk about its components: oceans, mountains, deserts, plains. We’re already learning about these things in our geography studies, so it will fit in with our homeschooling nicely.

Planting seeds. It’s that time of year, and I’ve been wanting to plant something together that the girls can tend and watch grow. We’ll need to rig something up to make sure the squirrels can’t get to it (they’ve defeated me and my little container gardens time and time again), but I’ve purchased some seed packages for herbs and flowers — plus some cat grass, which I love.

An up-cycling project. We’re going to take something we might otherwise throw away and create something new with it. This needs to be simple for five-year-olds — no turning old sweaters into trend-setting dresses or anything — but given how imaginative my daughters are, I think they’ll enjoy choosing something from our recycle bins or giveaway bags, and making something new.

Are you doing anything to mark Earth Day? Got any new habits you’d like to start when it comes to being more green-friendly?

Image: Lisa M.

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Opening CraftersCrate Box
It’s no secret that I’m not terribly crafty, but my girls love arts and crafts and I’m always looking for ways to help them be creative. So I was excited when I received a box from CraftersCrate to review–a craft kit designed for girls ages 5-10.

CraftersCrate Box
Opening a box with goodies inside is always fun, and this little craft box didn’t disappoint. The contents were wrapped up in tissue paper with a pink bow, and my girls were excited to look through the different crafts and decide what they wanted to do first. I was impressed with the quality of the materials; there was no “made in China” feel to this box — it seemed more like something you’d get from a professional etsy shop.

The creators of CraftersCrate are, in fact, a husband-and-wife team in Boise, Idaho, who wanted to develop a product they love and run a family business from home. (They also employ a few stay-at-home moms.) The couple comes up with the crafts themselves and decides what pieces will be needed, and then they mass produce them. Each box has a surprise theme and typically includes a jewelry or accessory craft, a painting or art craft, a sewing craft, and sometimes something related to food or science or a paper craft. The creators choose what to include based on the month’s theme and what they think girls will have fun with.

CraftersCrate Sochi Box
The theme for our February box was the Winter Olympics — Sochi 2014, and the creators did a great job with the accompanying crafts: an olympic torch, a snowboarding figure of paralympian Amy Purdy, an ice skating pendant, and an olympic medal. Of course, we got two of each. (The girls had fun making Amy jump off pieces of furniture on her colorful snowboard — and now they know who Amy Purdy is and are pretty impressed.)

Making Amy Purdy

Amy Purdy Craft
As far as any drawbacks go, or things I didn’t like: As much as I loved the box, it was anticlimactic to receive it after the Olympics were over. My daughters still enjoyed doing the crafts, though, and I could tell how much fun it would be to get one of these at the right time. I also would have liked it if the individual craft kits stayed intact a bit better: The supplies are contained in a simple plastic sheaf, which is stapled to the instruction sheet, and these came off easily, which scattered some of the materials around the box.

That said, the instructions were clear and everything in the box is well-organized and colorful. Any little girl would be thrilled to get one in the mail, and they would make a fun gift for a child, grandchild, niece, godchild, or friend. Beware that younger children will need more assistance: At 5 years old, my daughters are in the younger targeted age range for these crafts and definitely needed my help — which was fine, because it was fun to do them together. But an older child could probably do them pretty independently, depending on their crafting ability.

H Wearing Ice Skate Pendant
To sign up for a CraftersCrate box, you can go to their website and choose how often you want to receive one: just once, for three months, or for six months. (For gifts, they offer the same options, as well as a yearly option. Gifts are a one time payment that doesn’t renew.) You can also sign up for their newsletter, where you can read hints about upcoming themes for the boxes. I’ve been told next month’s theme is super secret, but it will have at least one craft to make a Fathers Day gift for dad.

CraftersCrate is offering SlowMama readers a special $10 discount on any subscription. (Thanks, CraftersCrate!) Be sure to use the promo code SLOW10.

Do you enjoy doing crafts with your kids? Would a monthly craft box service like this interest you, or would you consider it for a gift?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Pull Up a Chair

April 4, 2014

Ringling Bros. Trailer Every spring in Baltimore when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus comes to town, the elephants leave their stalls and make their way up a downtown street to the historic Lexington Market for an enormous vegetarian lunch. Then they march right back with clowns and a Dixie band helping them along. I’d always wanted to see it, and when I found out it was happening this week, I knew I had to bring the girls.

S&H Circus Trailer
Never mind that our car was in the shop; I decided we’d be adventurous and take the bus. Well, two buses. And I forgot that when we need to be somewhere by a specific time, that’s when the girls need to use the bathroom and whine about being hungry. I also forgot how long buses can take to show up. Despite my determination, we arrived about 15 minutes too late. No elephants.

Thankfully, the girls rolled with the punches and we made the best of it. We wandered around downtown for a while, found an interesting sculptural playground for the girls to explore, discovered a beautiful fountain, and chanced upon a Brazilian food truck where we grabbed a late lunch. (Have you ever had a Brazilian croquette? Holy moly.)

At Darua Food Truck
I’m still thinking about that Brazilian food, so my drink selection for our virtual chat today is a caipirinha made with cachaça, a distilled spirit made from sugarcane that is popular in Brazil. Here’s my high and low this week:

Low: Half of my day yesterday was the worst period I’ve had with my kids in a very long time. I was so frustrated I ended up in tears — and believe me, I don’t cry easily. I knew something needed to shift for us all, so despite the fact that we still had no car and our local park is all torn up at the moment, we managed to get our shoes on and grabbed a bus to another park, and everyone’s outlook improved thereafter. I was thoroughly worn out, though.

High: There were little things sprinkled through the week, but what comes to mind at the moment is watching our daughters go to town on sashimi, seaweed salad, and shiitake mushrooms at a Japanese restaurant Sunday night. They’re such adventurous eaters now, especially when we’re out.

How was your week, friends? Grab a drink and tell me all about it!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

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by Margaret Cabaniss

What's Your Family Story?
My grandfather passed away a few weeks ago. (He’s the dashing soldier on the left above.) Everyone always says this about their grandfathers, but he was truly one of the kindest, smartest, and best men I’ve ever known, or am likely ever to know. We were lucky to be his family — and luckier still to have him with us to the ripe old age of 98. I miss him awfully.

But I didn’t mention all this to bring everyone down: Really, there were a lot of lovely little things that happened in the wake of his death — the best being all the stories his friends and family shared as we prepared for his funeral, stumbled across caches of old photos and letters, and just spent time being together.

What's Your Family Story?
We talked about his triumphs — he was a World War II veteran of the campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy, as well as a brilliant engineer who held at least a dozen patents — but also his tragedies: his mother’s death in childbirth, when he was only 12; losing his wife, my grandmother, after caring for her through a slow decline. We talked about the games he used to play with his grandkids, the puzzles he was constantly posing — and, above all, the endless stories of his kindnesses to others; the people he touched in ways I never knew; the quiet, profound impact he had on every member of his family.

What's Your Family Story?
Of course, every family has its stories — and, as it turns out, studies show that passing these stories down to our children may be the most effective way of bonding families together and preparing kids for the eventual ups and downs of their own lives. To learn gratitude for the sacrifices of people you never met, to be inspired by their successes and know that failures and tragedies are not always the end — in short, simply to know that you are connected to something larger than yourself is invaluable in helping us find our place in the world.

I realize that I’m extraordinarily lucky to know these stories — not just of my parents and grandparents, but of great-great relatives stretching up the family tree — and to have them be a source of comfort, rather than pain; not everyone does. But whether we pass on time-honored stories and traditions or create new ones, the simple act of celebrating them with the ones we love helps bind us more closely together. I will always be grateful to my grandfather for those stories, and the family that comes with them.

What's Your Family Story?
How about you? Do you have family stories that you particularly cherish?

PS — Apparently, around here we’re real big on sharing family stories through food — like when I learned to make my great-aunt Monnie’s charlotte russe, or when Zoe shared her grandmother’s gingerbread recipe, or when Ann told some of the crazy stories behind the recipe for her father’s Hudson’s Bay Company pancakes.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss (and family)

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Do You Wear Perfume?

April 2, 2014

Perfume Bottles
I’ll always remember my very first perfume: a small roll-on vial of something that smelled like lemons. I thought it was the best, though was always disappointed when it would disappear after about an hour. Wearing perfume seemed a very sophisticated and feminine thing to do, and most of the adult women in my life had some on their dressing tables; even my mother — not the perfume type —  kept a bottle of Chanel among her things for special occasions.

As I got older, I would try perfumes here and there — sometimes in department stores or at friend’s homes, or even by rubbing those magazine samples on my neck and wrists. Nothing ever stuck. I always wanted to find a “signature scent”; friends had them and it seemed so cool. But I could never find one that seemed right. Plus, the truth was, I just didn’t really like perfume — it was too strong, and too much of a bother; I preferred to let my soap, shampoo, or moisturizer do the job. (And boyfriends never seemed to care for perfume on me anyway.)

Thankfully, aromatherapy came to the rescue, and now I can find essential-oil mixtures that reflect my preference for natural products and are much more suited to me, scent-wise. I remember spending a fun afternoon with two friends at an aromatherapy bar coming up with signature scents a few years ago. It was so interesting to see how each of us was drawn to different ones — and we smelled a lot of them! What made one of us ooh and ahh made the other turn her nose up, and vice versa. One friend loved florals and strong exotic scents, whereas I am (still) drawn to fruity/citrus scents and anything woodsy. (Turns out I like to smell like a man: my signature scent had things like balsam fir and spruce.) I’m also drawn to things like ylang ylang, vanilla, ginger, frankincense, and patchouli.

I’d love to know if you wear perfume or essential oils. Do you have a signature scent?

Image: Iron-on transfer of vintage perfume bottles on Carte Postale from Room 29 Etsy shop

 

 

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by Ann Waterman

Recovering-Perfectionist-Lead One of my husband’s favorite expressions is  “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It’s something I’d heard him say a million times — and, in hindsightprobably directed at me – but never really stopped to think about until recently — and when I did, I had a rather significant epiphany.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and in many ways, this quality has served me well in life: helping me achieve good grades in school, earning the respect of my work colleagues for my reliability, and executing perfectly planned parties. But.

Planting-Seeds-1 My perfectionism has also been a major stumbling block. It’s held me back from doing a lot of things I’d like to do or need do. I will procrastinate or completely abandon initiatives from the start because, in my mind, the timing isn’t exactly right, or my house is too messy, or I haven’t gotten all the steps figured out just yet.

I also have trouble finishing projects: I tell myself if I tweak it just a little more, it’ll be perfect…but then this goes on ad infinitum. And by the time I finish what I set out to do, I’ve wasted so much time and emotional energy making sure everything is just so that I suck out all the fun and pleasure and end up never wanting to do it again — even if it’s something I genuinely enjoy.

Plantins-Seeds-2

So now I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’ve realized that, when we have guests over, the house doesn’t need to be cleaned from top to bottom — just the main floor where the guests will be (and a quick pick-up with a laundry basket that I shove in our bedroom is more than sufficient). Sometimes you don’t need to have all the details worked out; all you need is to take the first step to get the ball rolling, and the rest will follow. It’s better to finish a project with a couple imperfections (which only you will ever notice anyway) than have a perfectly executed project that only exists in your head.

Planting-Seeds-3 Are you a perfectionist? Here are 14 signs that you might be. How do you overcome your perfectionism?

Images: Ann Waterman

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Museum Visit
As children, my siblings and I made a yearly trip from our home in rural Nova Scotia to visit my father’s family in Massachusetts. My Aunt Ann would always treat us to a day in Boston, and among our many stops was a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. Although that wasn’t the most exciting part of our big day in the big city, those visits made a lasting impression. In fact, I credit them with my enjoyment of art today, and I want my daughters to grow up with the same.

Luckily, it’s much easier for us to do today than it was when I was a child, since we live near a number of great museums. At least two of them have free family programs where we’ve made fun art pieces like mummy masks, mobiles, and burlap sea god puppets. Each time we go, we make a point to visit a small section of the museum together. It’s become one of the many fun things we do as a family, especially when the weather is too cold, hot, or rainy to be outside. Whether you’re an art aficionado or just a novice, there are ways you can help children learn to appreciate art:

Expose them to the real thing.

Children may not respond like adults, but they absorb what they see and experience. It’s not so much that my five-year-old daughters can truly appreciate the art hanging on museum walls; it’s that they’re having a real live encounter with art, walking around a place that honors it, and seeing us (and others) value it.

And living in the middle of nowhere is no excuse; my childhood experience taught me that. If you don’t live near any art museums, plan a “culture day” once or twice a year and make the trip. If you do live near museums, look up their exhibits and family programs. Many are willing to put something together if you ask.

A note to those of you who don’t have children of your own (or whose kids have flown the nest): It was my aunt who loved art and introduced us to museums. If you have nieces, nephews, grandchildren, neighbors, friends’ children in your life: Consider taking them out for a cultural experience. (Their parents would no doubt welcome it!)

Modern Art Piece at BMA Make museum visits fun and interesting.

On a recent visit to the Baltimore Museum of Art, we spent some time in the modern section. We had our daughters close their eyes, then we lead them to a painting or sculpture and had them open their eyes and tell us the first thing that popped into their heads when they saw it. What they came up with was fascinating. On other visits, we’ve told them a story about a particular piece of art and then taken them to see it.

Many museums have terrific little shops where you can find quality art supplies, postcards of the museum’s prominent pieces, lovely art books, and more. Taking home something associated with your visit can be special for kids.

Make it brief.

Children have much shorter attention spans than adults and it can be easy to overdo it and then think it was a big failure and vow to never do it again. Keep a museum visit with young children brief. Choose a small section or room, or set a time limit. We never visit more than one exhibit or section at a time and we leave before anyone starts getting bored or antsy.

S with Puppet

Build art into every day life.

Art is all around us; even nature is a work of art. Point out what you see when you’re walking or driving around…a tree in a certain shape, the color of a flower, a statue in a park, a painting in someone’s home. Start collecting some art for your own home: It needn’t be expensive, with etsy at our fingertips and amateur artists who often sell their work in cafes and small galleries.

Libraries have books about art and artists that you can take home and read together. You can teach children about art through books (and videos). My favorites are Sister Wendy’s art books. I get so much out of them as an adult!

Celebrate art at home.

Children are naturally creative and often relish the chance to make art. Be sure to have craft supplies on hand so your children can draw, color, paint, and create at their leisure. And don’t forget to display their creations in your home — on the fridge, a bulletin board, or designated wall. I bought large portfolios to store their art in, too. We don’t keep every single thing they create, but much of it we do. (Now, I just need to sort through the pile collecting upstairs. It has a way of building up!)

Do you cultivate art appreciation in your home or among your loved ones? Got any tips or thoughts to add?

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out Fostering Creativity in Kids.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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