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)


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




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.


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


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


Pull Up a Chair

March 28, 2014

Winter Walking
I know it’s Friday, but let’s talk about Mondays…mine are usually the worst day of the week, and this past one was no exception. I was grumpy and impatient from the get-go, and the girls were whiny and irritable. I’m not sure whose bad mood came first, or if all of us just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Regardless, it did not make for a good start to the week.

I love the idea of Monday, because I love fresh starts — but more often than not, all of us are out of sorts. B doesn’t like it because it’s the end of his favorite part of the week — the weekend — and the girls and I seem to be grouchy and sluggish. Homeschooling always go poorly on Mondays, and my to-do list is always way too long. Tuesday is a relief.

So I’m giving some thought to how to make Mondays a little more tolerable, cheerful, and productive around here. Any ideas? I’d love to know if you get the Monday blues. Is it a tough day in your household, or do you relish the start of a new week (or somewhere in between)?

At least today is Friday, and I’ll take it! I’ll also take this low-alcohol shim. Doesn’t the name pique your curiosity? Here’s my high and low of the week:

Low: Well, the grumpy mom syndrome extended well beyond Monday. On top of that came a lot of sad news — not in my immediate circles, but in the lives of friends of friends: tragic deaths, funerals, serious illness, and challenging situations.

High: The girls and I joined a friend’s 3rd birthday celebration — a bright spot in our week.

Bonus question: Anything you’d love to have in your spring wardrobe this year? I’m still looking for my ideal trench coat and can’t seem to find an affordable one. I’ve been at it for years. Since spring is only a few months, I end up forgetting about my hunt until the next one rolls around.

Please grab a shim and tell me about your week! I hope you have a lovely, slow weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul  


Clinking Glasses
There is no harder job than parenting. Of course, “job” doesn’t accurately describe it; parenting is 24-7 with no monetary reward and no benefits like paid vacation time, health insurance, or personal days. While we moms (and dads) know that it’s the intangible things that make it worthwhile, there are times when it’s nice to treat ourselves with a tangible reward. Sometimes just getting through the day feels like an accomplishment when you’re a parent! Whether it’s a dish of ice cream, a walk outside, a little retail therapy, each of us probably has “gifts” we like to bestow on ourselves from time to time.

For me, it’s not so much about rewarding myself but replenishing myself. Getting out with friends for dinner or drinks is my favorite way. I’m a very social person who enjoys time with my friends, and whether it’s a quick glass of wine at a local pub or a planned-in-advance dinner at a favorite restaurant, the time is very therapeutic for me. And while I enjoy talking about my kids, I covet opportunities to speak uninterrupted about current events, projects, deep thoughts, and “girl” stuff.

Even a social butterfly needs time by herself, though, and there are two things I love to do all by lonesome: One is boutique browsing. I’m not a big shopper, and I get overwhelmed in big box stores, but meandering through local shops is a fun way to see what’s trending in fashion and housewares without having to buy anything.

My other not-so-guilty solo pleasure is grocery shopping. I know, weird. But what’s torture for some people is actually relaxing and fun for me. Being able to food shop without little girls in tow is kind of heavenly: I get to check out new items, read labels, and take my time. Such a luxury!

And there are also little things daily I do to give myself a lift. The main one is treating myself to some chocolate. I keep a stash of my favorite stuff on hand and typically have a square or two each day.

How about you? What are your favorite ways to reward and replenish yourself as a parent? If you’re not a parent, do you treat yourself for working hard at something?

Note: This post was inspired by an invitation to contribute to the “Give Yourself a Raise” campaign launched by, a new marketplace to buy and sell gift cards on the web. 

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Internet Menagerie

March 26, 2014

Duckpin Bowling It’s time for our monthly trip around the web! Here are some things I’ve spotted over the past few weeks that I wanted to share with you. Please feel free to mention any interesting links you’ve found lately in the comments below.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul



Why Design Matters

March 25, 2014

Chair by Jolyon Yates Growing up, “design” wasn’t a word I heard or thought about much. Both of my parents came from science backgrounds and while they had good taste, art and aesthetics didn’t loom large in my early years.

As a young adult, I thought of design simply in terms of fashion, decorating a home, graphic arts, or  architecture — all of which interested me to a certain extent, but seemed to belong to those who had the respective talent and skill (and money). I didn’t consider design to be something that touched my every day life.

In the years since, however, my understanding and appreciation of design has changed.

There’s a tendency to view design as something only artists, wealthy people, or engineers concern themselves with. But design is something each of us engages with all the time, whether we realize it or not.  Every object we use and see around us is designed and has both form and function — whether it’s a wall hanging, a fork, a chair, or a box of tissues. Everything around us has been designed and while we may not give much thought to that, it affects how we live our lives.

Take for instance, something as obvious as your home. The design of your house — the shape of its rooms, the height of its ceilings, how much light it has, the way it’s situated on the land around it, the details inside — all of these things affect how you function in your home and how you feel as you live in it. Same thing with the way streets are designed, office buildings, stores, and parks.

Or take, for example, something as simple as a pen. I can’t be the only person who’s delighted when I find just the right one — something that feels fitted to my hand, makes writing easier and lovelier, looks great on the page, and doesn’t  smudge or run, etc. How a pen is designed — both in look and function — changes your experience of it. A well-designed object can make your life easier, smoother, calmer, more productive, more pleasurable.

This was driven home to me when B and I switched to Macs. B was always a computer geek and enjoyed tinkering under the hood, so PCs made sense to him. But one day he realized that he was spending most of his time getting his computer to work and little time using it to actually create or produce anything. And it’s a marketing cliche, but true: His creativity took off after he made the switch to Mac.

It was the same for me — when my tools changed,  my work life changed. My little laptop not only helps me function better, it is more pleasurable to use and to look at. It’s amazing that even a piece of metal can be “lovely,” but in line with Steve Job’s underlying philosophy, there’s no reason something useful cannot also be beautiful.

Have you given much thought to design and how it impacts your life? If so, what are some of your favorite designed objects?

Image: Rocking chair by Jolyon Yates found at


Spring Cleaning

March 24, 2014

Brooms In spite of the fact that we may actually see more snow around here this week, spring has officially sprung, and spring cleaning is on my mind. Truth be told, I hate cleaning, but I absolutely love a clean, organized house, so I’m always looking for ways to get there.

Usually, spring cleaning is all about a deep cleanse of everything, getting rid of excess stuff, and airing out the house. But I find the prospect of all that a little daunting, so I like to take it in smaller steps or projects. When it comes to actual cleaning, here are some of the tasks recommended on Martha Stewart for spring cleaning:

  • Clean rugs, carpets and floors
  • Clean windows
  • Clean shades and curtains
  • Clean fridge and freezer
  • Vacuum, rotate, and flip mattresses and furniture cushions
  • Replace filters
  • Do a safety check (replace batteries in smoke detectors, check fire extinguishers, etc.)
  • Clean out closets/edit wardrobes

I could stand to do pretty much every one of those, but this spring I’m a little more focused on decluttering and reorganizing. There are some rooms in our house that are out of control, so I’m thinking of tackling each room in order of priority — with my bedroom and the kitchen at the top of the list.

I also want to try my hand at some natural, homemade cleaners this season for any actual cleaning I get to. Here’s an all-purpose cleaner recipe on my list.

Are you gearing up for any spring cleaning? How will you approach it this year? Any tips to share?

Image via Notforgotten Farm


Pull Up a Chair

March 21, 2014

Antique Bottles
How was your week, friends? Mine started off a little rough. I had one of those days where I needed to give myself a time out and go sit on my bed with the door closed. It was a “I think I’m failing as a homeschooler” kind of moment, and I had to re-group, vent to my husband, and work on my attitude.

The hardest part of homeschooling continues to be my uncertainty about what I should expect and enforce. Should I be a stickler about sitting at the table, or do I let my daughters sprawl on the floor in their princess costumes to do their work? Should I try and try (and try again) to get them to focus on something they don’t want to do, or just let them choose what they want (and thus not get to things they don’t want to learn or do right now)? If they’re not responding to a program or plan, do I keep at it — and if so, for how long? Or do I keep changing it up until something works? [click to continue…]

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