Small but Memorable

Art museums may not be high on your list of places to visit with small children. I can understand that. We’ve heard an annoyed “shhhhh” from more than one art museum docent in our years with small ones in tow. But sometimes, small children and small art museums make for big memories!

We are Bank of America card holders, so we have the opportunity to enjoy a free museum on the first weekend of every month as part of their “Museums on Us” program. Being new to Orlando, we thought this would be a great opportunity to try out a new museum. This month, we selected the Mennello Museum of American Art.

The museum itself is small, only one floor with a few carefully chosen exhibits, both permanent and rotating. However, it sits on a beautiful expanse of land along the shores of Lake Formosa in downtown Orlando. We were also able to wander through its well manicured gardens which are amply supplied with comfy adirondack chairs for lounging, and engaging sculptures to enjoy.

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No small sculptures

Currently, they are featuring the sculptures of Alice Aycock – Waltzing Matilda and Twin Vortexes. These sculptures are anything but small. My daughters were fascinated just by walking around them and noting all the various details. As they viewed the sculptures from different angles, they pointed out different features and had lively discussions about what the sculptor was creating.

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There are a variety of other sculptures to view along the pathways in the garden. My family was particularly delighted with the larger than life crayon sculpture.

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No small impact

Inside the museum, we noticed that we had arrived on the final weekend of the visiting exhibit The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William EgglestonEggleston’s photographs have shaped many in the art world beyond just photographers. American novelist Megan Abbott said, “To me, his photographs evoke entire worlds, not worlds we merely see, but worlds we feel, smell, touch…When you look long enough at his photographs, [like the gorgeous, lonely blue parking lot chosen as one of the exhibit’s central images] you get lost in it. You’re in another place.”

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Art credit: William Eggleston, Untitled, 1973, color photograph. Collection of the University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses, gift of Dr. William R. Ferris.

Indeed, even our small children were in another place as they walked slowly and quietly through the exhibit. Ordinary moments in time become extraordinary works of art. In ways that I cannot quite explain, Eggleston’s works were remarkable in their power to capture my attention and my imagination with scenes as pedestrian as laundry hanging on a clothesline.

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Art credit: William Eggleston, Untitled, color photograph. Collection of the University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses, gift of Dr. William R. Ferris.

My girls were full of big questions about the photos and why they were so powerful. They began creating whole stories around the snapshot moments captured and displayed on the walls of this small exhibit. Unfortunately, the exhibit has moved on, but I would encourage you to check out the works of this groundbreaking artist.

The Mennello Museum also has permanent exhibits featuring self-taught landscape artist Earl Cunningham, and a fascinating sculpture by Albert Paley, entitled Hector. 

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art credit: Albert Paley (b. Philadelphia, PA 1944), Hector, 1990, steel with red paint. Collection of The Mennello Museum of American Art, purchased by Friends of The Mennello Museum of American Art, 2016, from Paley Studios Archive, Rochester, NY

This towering steel sculpture calls to mind the character of Hector from Homer’s Iliad. My husband has had the pleasure of teaching the Iliad and my daughter has read a children’s version of it as well. We had a rather interesting and engaging discussion about Hector the Greek hero and the sculpture.

No small stories

We spent not quite two hours exploring the Mennello museum, both inside and out. I’m so glad we took the opportunity to visit. I have no doubt that we will return. The museum offers multiple opportunities to engage with the art they celebrate. They offer free docent led tours on the first Friday of every month, a monthly free day for families (where your small ones can create their own art), a monthly documentary movie screening, and even a puppet led story time for toddlers.

I was thrilled to find a museum that was accessible, engaging, and thought provoking to enjoy with my whole family. Even my six year old has asked if we can return! But you don’t have to be small to appreciate the Mennello. My husband and I were grateful for the opportunity to be exposed to some new-to-us artists and look forward to our next visit.

If you’re in the Orlando area, I would encourage you to check out the Mennello Museum. If you’re not, I have a hunch that you have your own small museum in town. Maybe you’ve always overlooked it because of it’s size. You may just find something there you never expected. What’s your favorite small museum you’ve explored? Share your experiences in the comments, I’m always looking for new places to see!

 

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The end…or is it the beginning?

The End. No, I’m not writing the blog post in reverse this week. But we have reached the end of my postings about my recent vacation of a lifetime. If you’ve missed the previous posts, you can catch up with my preview post, part one, part two, and part three. I am writing an “epilogue” post in a few weeks, but it’s a bit of a different take. So I’m calling this post the official end.

I could write so, so much more on what we saw and all that we experienced. I’m more than happy to share pictures and details to anyone who’s interested. We had an incredible adventure. I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to share so much beauty with our kids.

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I could write an entirely different blog series on camping with a family, but that one might be more a comedy of errors! All good things must come to an end, and so did our vacation.

The end of a civilization

The last park we visited was Mesa Verde in Colorado. Unlike the other parks we visited, Mesa Verde isn’t so much about the wildness of the landscape, the immensity of canyons, or the breathtaking vistas. The spotlight of Mesa Verde shines brightly on the ruins of the ancient puebloan peoples who made their home among these imposing cliffs.

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Sometimes referred to as the “Anasazi”, the ancient puebloan people were hunter gatherers, and later, farmers. They built thriving civilizations in areas where few of us would dare to attempt living today. In Mesa Verde, many of these dwellings have been painstakingly restored and preserved for us to enjoy.

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The highlight of our time in the park was the tour we took of the Cliff Palace. My girls were excited to take on a steep climb, complete with narrow passages and vertical ladder climbs. By this point in our trip, they were pretty accomplished hikers.

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To protect the ancient architecture, you can only tour the cliff dwellings with a national park service guide. As we walked along, our guide did a fantastic job of telling us the journey these ancient peoples took.

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Mystery still surrounds the story of their demise. We had some interesting conversations with my inquisitive children as they suggested possible reasons for the end of these civilizations.

Not the end, but the beginning

Exploring ruins of a people who have long since faded away reminds me that I am only one part in a much larger story. It is all too easy to think that I am the center of my universe, the be all and end all of my little world. My problems are bigger than others, my successes more worth celebrating, my failures more cataclysmic. And yet, people lived, thrived, and died, long before I existed. No doubt people will continue doing so long after my story has come to an end. I am part of something much bigger.

I believe there is an Author who is writing a great cosmic story. An author who is Himself both the beginning and the end. As I reflect on a past civilization at Mesa Verde, I am reminded of this Author who alone determines the times and places for people to live. While I may be a small piece of the story, He still knows my name. I am not lost to Him.

“And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle 

So if today finds you a little too focused on your own story, remember that you are but one piece in much larger story. Not an insignificant piece, a valuable, important, loved piece. Take comfort in knowing that the One who set the stars and planets in place is writing your story as well. And His story has no end.

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The Vacation of a Lifetime (part two) – Barren and Beautiful

As I continue to look through the pictures and remember all the beautiful sites we visited on our vacation, I am still struggling for a way to collect all my thoughts. I could easily do a post on each park we visited. But I don’t want to bore you with all the details. Of course, if you want all the info, I’m more than happy to oblige!

You can check out my preview post and my first installment if you’d like.

barren and beautiful capitol reef

So for Part Two of this series of undetermined length, I decided to group together a few parks that are still rolling around in my brain. On any given day, I’m not sure if I loved these parks, was intrigued by these parks, or was happy to move on from these parks. It’s not that I didn’t like the time we spent there, or that they weren’t beautiful. The parks were…well…different.

barren and beautiful canyonlands

Capitol Reef and Canyonlands are not generally on the top of anyone’s list of national parks. Particularly when you are looking at parks in the southwest. We all know the Grand Canyon, and most folks are familiar with Zion, Bryce and Arches as well. But we didn’t meet many people on our trip who were planning to visit Capitol Reef or Canyonlands. In my opinion, they missed out on some incredibly beautiful landscapes.

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Beautiful in the midst of barren

Capitol Reef was a study in contrasts. As soon as we entered the park, we were awestruck with the barren nature of the landscape. Towering red cliffs, expansive red vistas, deep crevices through the unforgiving rock – these were the sites by which we were greeted. We even joked that it looked like the setting of the movie The Martian.

barren and beautiful capitol reef 3

Yet, running through the middle of the park is the Fremont River and oh what a difference that makes. Instead of the wild and rocky landscape, you see green fields, lush orchards, and tall shade trees. In fact, in the early 1900s, a thriving agrarian community was nestled along the banks of the river and became known as Fruita, because of all the fruit trees that were grown there.

barren and beautiful capitol reef 4

Our campground was nestled in the middle of what used to be Fruita and it felt sometimes as if we were in a different world than the world in which we went hiking. My favorite time was at sunset when it seemed as if the mountains were on fire from within as they reflected the glow of the waning sun. Capitol Reef was definitely a study in contrasts.

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Barren becoming beautiful

Canyonlands is one big park that is subdivided into three sections – Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. We did not visit the Maze, since it is fairly inhospitable to family camping and hiking, being accessible only by 4 wheel drive on unpaved roads. Island in the Sky and the Needles are separated by the Green and Colorado Rivers. There are no roads connecting the three districts. We are tent campers, but not back country campers, so we did not camp in the park, but we did drive in to do some hiking in both Island in the Sky and the Needles.

barren and beautiful canyonlands 3

The rock formations were intimidating, the views stunning. Despite the high overlooks, we were barely able to see the rivers down below. On one day, it was so windy (upwards of 50 mph) that we found it difficult to walk and our small one was being pelted by sand. We didn’t do much hiking that day, but we were able to drive through the park and take some pictures of the wildness.

There is plenty of hiking to be done in the Needles, and the weather was much more amenable that day. However, because of the remote nature of the park, most of the hikes are in excess of five miles, which is pretty far to go when you’re six. So we kept to the few shorter trails.

barren and beautiful canyonlands 2

In many portions of the park, there is no soil in which is stick a trail marker post, so the rocky trail is marked by small piles of stones called cairns. Our girls had a delightful time running from cairn to cairn. On one such hike, we learned about “potholes.” No, not the ones you hate driving over! These potholes are small indentations in the rocks that fill with water when it rains. We visited in the dry season, so all the potholes were dormant. But in the monsoon season, these same holes team with life. There are species of shrimp who lay their eggs in the water, buried in the silt at the bottom of the potholes. The eggs lie dormant during the dry season, but when the rain comes, they tiny shrimp hatch and come to life.

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What I found fascinating was the black topped soil that was often found alongside the trails. This soil, called biological soil crust, is actually living dirt. It is filled with micro bacteria, algae, fungi, lichens and moss. The living soil helps prevent erosion and dust storms. When enough of the biological matter builds up, this seemingly barren landscape can support beautiful plants, shrubs, and flowering cacti.

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A beautiful life

As I reflected on these two parks, I couldn’t help but see them as a picture of what my life so often resembles. I may feel barren, dry, empty. As a Christian, I have the Holy Spirit in me. Even when I can’t see Him, He is there. John 7:38 says that streams of living water will flow from me. The Holy Spirit will bring life in the midst of what seems dry  and barren. He is at work in my life. Oftentimes, He is unseen, his work too small for me to notice. Are you discouraged or in a desert season? Do you feel as though your life is barren? Take courage, pray and believe. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).

I don’t often put extended Scripture quotes in my posts, but I pray this one will encourage your soul:

Isaiah 35

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;

the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;

it shall blossom abundantly

and rejoice with joy and singing.

The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,

the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.

They shall see the glory of the LORD,

the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,

and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,

“Be strong; fear not!

Behold, your God

will come with vengeance,

with the recompense of God.

He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then shall the lame man leap like a deer,

and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

For waters break forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,

and the thirsty ground springs of water;

in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,

the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there,

and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;

the unclean shall not pass over it.

It shall belong to those who walk on the way;

even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

No lion shall be there,

nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;

they shall not be found there,

but the redeemed shall walk there.

10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return

and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain gladness and joy,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

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My daughter the unwitting celebrity

I have a “famous” daughter. My children are an endless source of inspiration and I love to write about them. In fact, I just did a quick search on my own blog and found more than ten examples of posts where I mention my girls. We take them on trips to art museums, we expose them to local artisans, we encourage their own creativity, and we delight to see them embracing, appreciating, and contributing art.

We, as a school community, celebrate both the visual and performing artistic endeavors of our students in grades K through 12 every spring. The students perform a variety of musical numbers for their adoring fans.  We also have a chance to view many of their art projects on display. Students are invited to submit original artwork to grace the cover of the program for the evening’s festivities.

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My oldest daughter labored for days on getting her design just right. She wanted to find the perfect illustration for this year’s theme of “summer”. In the end, the teachers recognized her hard work by granting her the privilege of having her artwork on the program’s cover. She became an instant celebrity on campus the day it was announced. I arrived to pick her up at the end of the day, and as we lingered on campus, every student who passed us called out their congratulations.

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Proud daughter, proud mama

I was so proud of my daughter for having her artwork recognized. Our students were so gracious to acknowledge their classmate’s success, and to be genuinely proud of her accomplishment. My daughter was definitely excited to have won, but she was also humble. I know that she does not like to be in the spotlight and was even a bit embarrassed at all the attention. She was also extremely worried about being publicly acknowledged during the night’s program. Her fears were relieved when she was simply recognized verbally that evening.

Now, I don’t know whether or not my children will ever have artwork on display in a gallery or a museum. But I do know that they love to create. Their minds of full of countless ideas, and art is one way in which they can express that imagination. I want to encourage them to be creative. We want them to enter contests, to take risks, to face their fears. I’m delighted that their school and their art provide them with opportunities to do so.

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What about you? Are there risks you can take? What art do you have to create? We all have something to share. Let’s also be the ones to cheer others on in their successes. And remember, if you should see artwork by A. Keller in your local museum, you saw her here first!

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A Gala, Grace, and Goodbye

A wise bear once said, ““How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”. If that is true, then I am indeed lucky, blessed in fact.

Two years ago, my family moved to the Austin, Texas area because my husband had accepted a teaching position at a classical school in Georgetown. This summer finds us packing up our home, saying “goodbye”, and moving yet again. I am excited to start a new adventure at a new school. However, I am finding the saying of “goodbye” to be incredibly difficult.

Recently, Laura blogged about a new painting she was finishing up for a benefit auction for our current school, Grace Academy. When I had originally asked Laura if she’d be willing to paint a landscape of our campus for the auction, I did not know we would be leaving the school. And so I found myself on a Friday night, surrounded by people who love the school and were excited to contribute their funds towards the furtherance of Grace Academy’s mission. Among the items up for bid was Laura’s painting.

goodbye to grace

Unexpectedly, I found myself anxious over it’s sale. Not because I didn’t think it would be popular, but because I was worried over who might get the painting. Would it be someone I know? Someone who loves art? A family who loves Grace Academy? Even though I didn’t create the beautiful landscape, saying “goodbye” to it felt a bit intimidating; it was also a “goodbye” to the school I’d come to love.

The auction was a silent auction, so I wasn’t aware of how the bidding was going. A friend of mine promised me that she’d let me know who purchased the painting once all the dust of the gala auction had settled. The next morning, I received a text from a dear friend that said, “guess what I have?!” and this picture:

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Not quite goodbye….yet

I found myself relieved that she was the one who purchased “Sunrise at Grace”. I told her that I was glad it was going to a good home; having it with her felt like it was still “in the family”.But I was also sad as the realization hit that she would be one of the hardest people to bid goodbye. She also texted me, “And now with y’all moving it holds another special place for me because I wouldn’t have the painting without your connection to Laura. So thank you! I will treasure it always. And always think of your and your family as well as the school we love so much!”

I have joked with her in the past that she is my muse when I have nothing to write about. On at least one occasion, she was the direct inspiration for my post of the week. I can think of countless other friends that I have met as a result of our time at Grace Academy who have so clearly influenced who I am as a person.

My friend sent a wonderful thank you note to Laura in regards to the painting:

I am writing to let you know that my family now has your beautiful painting of the Grace Academy landscape on our mantle! It is just beautiful!!! It will always hold a special place in my heart. Our two boys (currently 10th and 8th graders) started attending school at Grace in third and first grade. I can so clearly remember the first time my husband and I drove onto campus. The property is beautiful and just has a feeling of peace and joy. Even 8 years later I think of that first time I entered campus and how peaceful it was almost every single day that I drive onto the property. So thank you Laura! Thank you for your selfless donation of time and talent to our school. We will treasure it always. May God richly bless you in your artistic endeavors!

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This school will always hold a special place in our hearts as well. Even as I am writing this, I am a substitute teacher in the Upper School. I was just told by a roomful of eighth graders that I am their favorite sub, as I passed out their difficult Logic test. We will miss the students, we will miss the teachers, we will miss the parents. We are lucky indeed, for it is quite hard to say goodbye.

 

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Where is the art in your neighborhood?

On our Facebook page, we occasionally share fun venues with interesting art related events. We try to highlight cities where our subscribers live. If you’d like us to feature your city, let us know!

This past Saturday, my family participated in a fantastic art event at Laguna Gloria, our local contemporary art museum here in Austin, Texas.

We have previously visited Laguna Gloria and greatly enjoyed it, so we were eager to return. My children LOVE all things artsy – particularly if they can get their hands dirty and create some masterpieces.

finished art projects

It was a rainy day in central Texas, but we braved the rain anyway. After signing in, we were given a map and an explanation of all the events that were going on and immediately headed off to an indoor venue where the girls could enjoy some paper, markers, chalk, and an opportunity to create their own book.

Creating some art

After a stop for some free snacks and beverages (including some specials for the grown ups!), we embarked on a tour of the working art studios. The first stop was the claymation studio.

claymation art

Our girls made their own clay sculptures that were then incorporated into a claymation video using the free app Stop Motion Studios. They are super excited to try some movie making at home.

From there, we paused a bit to watch a portrait painter. The girls were enthralled to see the portrait come together before their eyes as a patient model sat so very still. Our oldest in particular has a new appreciation for what “Miss Laura” does.

We then had a chance to watch and create our own silk screen prints.

silk screen art

The girls were fascinated with the tiny, almost invisible, holes in the silk that enabled the jackalope scene to be printed on their paper.

Our last stop of the afternoon was in the pottery studio. The girls were able to use carving tools to create a design on a clay tile. The tile was then inked and the girls were able to use it as a stamp to create their own unique card. Our youngest has already turned it into a lovely birthday card for her older sister – but shhh….it’a  surprise!

stamping art

We were there for several hours, and still didn’t experience all there was to see. There were seven open studios in all, but some had multiple exhibitions and activities going on. Despite the weather, over 1000 people showed up to enjoy all the art to be had. It was a fantastic day for our family, and it was all free!

Finding your neighborhood art

What art venues are there to be explored in your city? In our internet age, it’s easy to find fun (and often free) events in your own neighborhood. Where will you explore this week? Share your stories with us! And if you’re even in Austin, you can’t go wrong at Laguna Gloria!

 

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9 Ways to Raise an Art-less Child

Recently, I was listening to a podcast with Anthony Esolen, the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child. While I have not read the book (my husband has informed me that it is on our bookshelf), it has generated a plethora of reviews, critiques, responses and agreement that have certainly piqued my interest.

Then I got to thinking about what else suffers as we notice the collective shrinking of our imagination. Is a love of and appreciation for art next in line for extinction? 

So, in my own nod to Esolen, here is my non-exhaustive list on how to raise an art-less child:

  1. Schedule every moment for the children in your life, at home and at school. We would not want our children to have free, unstructured time. They might accidentally create something, or even worse, might find that they LIKE to create. That will not do. art-less child
  2. Ensure that your home, office, school space is a “mess free” zone. We     can’t have any residuals of the creative process lying around cluttering things up. Neat and tidy, tidy and neat. Remember, cleanliness is next to godliness.
  3. In fact, you really should just eliminate any type of crafting or art supplies altogether. If they have no tools, they can’t create make a mess. art-less child
  4. On the off chance that children gain access to art supplies and actually make something, do not display it. Instead, it’s probably best to point out the deficiencies of their work lest they be encouraged to continue along these lines.
  5. To be fair then, you really shouldn’t display any art in your home, school, or office. No sense in playing favorites – no child’s art, no art from anyone. 
  6. There’s no need to stop just at the home, school, or office. It’s best not to take your children to any museums. Those places are really too stuffy, too quiet, and not really appropriate for children. Besides, since you’ve eliminated free time, there’s no opportunity to go to museums anyway. art-less child
  7. It’s probably best then to not encourage your children to read very much.  They might stumble on dangerous works such as this book or this one.art-less child
  8. Instead of exposing them to good books, be sure then to substitute technology and banal programming. Just to be safe, avoid any shows or games where they could be creative; you want mind-numbing, not mind-enriching, so take no chances. 
  9. Do not expose them to or point out ANY beauty in nature. Goodness, if you’ve managed to keep them away from human-created beauty, don’t slip and let them appreciate God-created beauty. art-less child 

If you are able to adhere to these nine guidelines, you should be successful at killing any love for or joy in art and beauty in your own child and those of others you love. 🙂

art-less child

Just in case one of our wonderful readers has not picked up the tongue-in-cheek nature of this post and is scrambling to send my poor children a box of art goodies (don’t let me stop you…), the pictures in this post are my own children, the books listed in #7 are well-worn due to being read so many times in our home, we frequently visit natural parks and museums, I cannot store all their art supplies, and we have numerous works of art hanging in our home (Laura’s art, famous art, and my children’s art). 

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