home office makeover

Home Office Makeover

Our home office area has been ripe for a makeover for some time now. I spend a lot more time here than used to as I’m in the process of writing a book, so I really desired a work space that felt clear and welcoming to spend time in.

A compact space

Alas, I don’t have the luxury of a separate room that could be called a study or home office. Most of our rooms are allocated as bedrooms as we have three children. When we had a small extension added on a few years ago we planned for a built-in cupboard to house a desk, filing cabinets and shelving to be a designated home office area. There are folding doors that can easily be closed to these cupboards when no one needs to be working there, to keep the room looking neater. On the whole I am pleased with how much we have managed to fit into such a small space. Planning good storage and organisational systems is the key to a tidy home.

Over time though, the desk area had become increasingly cluttered and messy. It didn’t feel a positive space to work in and was embarrassing when friends and family came round who might see the mess if I couldn’t close the doors to it fast enough!

Concealing the ugly pinboard

Firstly, I decided to get a small piece of fabric to cover the pinboard on the wall. A lot of the items pinned to the board are important bits and pieces that I want to keep easily accessible but they don’t have to be on view the whole time. I found this piece of pale blue ‘Paris’ printed fabric on Ebay for about £7 including postage. It’s pretty cute with Eiffel towers, Sacre Coeur and Arc de triomphes dotted over it. I thought it teamed up well with the mosaic photo frame next to it which holds a selection of photos from my last trip to Paris with my husband. I can scarcely believe that was a whole seven years ago, but it must be because I found out I was pregnant with my eldest daughter the day before we went (so sadly missed out on the wine and unpasteurised cheeses…).

Ditching the garish pencil pots

Next I decided to do something about the ugly old green striped pencil pots we had. Don’t you think they look awful in the pic?! I’m not too sure what possessed us to buy them in the first place. They had become faded from sunlight and were over ten years old. I ran a couple of empty baked bean cans through the dishwasher and covered them with small strips of giftwrap that I already had. They have a little street scene printed across them which bears a resemblance to the one on my blog homepage image, don’t you think?

home office makeover

Then I just had a good declutter (something I aim to do regularly throughout the house) and filed papers away etc. The difference to sit down and work here is incredible. It feels a more relaxing and positive place to be.

Lighting

The one thing I’m still not content with is the lighting. You will see the string of heart-shaped LED lights hanging above the desk, but to be honest they emit minimal light. Yet I dislike having the ceiling lights on because they are ridiculously bright and almost induce headaches. I really need to get a small desk lamp or perhaps a spotlight integrated under the top shelf.

How about you?

What is your home office like? Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have a whole room to dedicate to it. Or maybe you have had to carve out a small corner of another room, like me? I would love to hear what yours is like, even with a pic if you’re able to add one. I’d also be interested to hear which type of lighting you have in your home office area to help me decide on my soft lighting solution!

How to manage time effectively

How to Manage Time Effectively (while at home with a toddler…)

Time management used to be oh-so easy…

Without wishing to sound boastful, I always used to consider myself a fairly skilled time manager.

I remember as far back as at high school when it came to revising for exams, I made myself a revision timetable and stuck to it religiously. It worked- I packed enough study time in to pass the exams and had enough free time to enjoy.

Then at university I obviously had to attend lectures and seminars, spend time in the library writing assignments, plus worked part-time as a shop assistant throughout the three years (anywhere between 18-36 hours a week) to help fund myself through it. Oh, and volunteered for a charity a couple of hours each week. Not to mention setting aside ample time for socialising in the Student Union bar.  Again- it was all doable as long as I planned my time carefully and kept track of everything in my trusty pocket diary.

I was a primary school teacher for many years and combined part-time teaching with having two children. Most of the time I juggled the balls fairly successfully and kept (just about) on top of my teaching workload and enjoyed my days off with my young children, scheduling lots of fun playgroups and activities for them.

Then something changed!

You may have mentioned I referred to the past tense form of  ‘used to’ in the opening paragraph of this post. That’s right. Since I became a full-time stay at home parent I had been finding that as each day passed I was feeling a growing sense of dissatisfaction that things I really wanted to incorporate in my day were repeatedly not occurring. Important things, such as working on the book I’ve started, and exercising, and reading ing a book with my little boy and toddler.

I know I’m privileged to be able to spend so much time based at home with my young children and I wouldn’t change it. But being in this position can make it more difficult to manage my time well and carve out time for things that matter most to me, such as writing. There are so many distractions (including things that really do need doing at some point). Obviously my young kids expect my full attention for much of the time that they are awake.

Something had to improve…

These days my daily routine is mostly dictated by my youngest daughter’s nap times, as well as the morning and afternoon school run plus my son’s preschool pickup at 11.40am. My children have all been good nappers, something that I’m mostly grateful for, although I do sometimes wish the baby would drop her morning nap so that I could get us both out of the house more.

Still, things are what they are and I resolved to be more intentional about planning my time to get more out of my days, especially to make time for the things that matter the most.

Here’s an example of a typical weekday timetable:

8.35- Leave the house to drop the two eldest children at school and preschool.

9.10- Back home. Check what’s planned for dinner- remove meat or fish from freezer as needed. Make my breakfast – I’ve recently started eating a proper breakfast again after months of not bothering but succumbing to chocolate biscuits mid morning. Eating a healthy, nutritious breakfast has made an amazing difference to how well I’m able to concentrate. See pic below of a typical one- seeded toast with poached eggs, spinach and mushrooms.

Then finish cleaning the kitchen from breakfast, load dishwasher and any other household chores.

healthy breakfast poached eggs for productivity

9.45- Put baby down for nap. Then write- either a blog post or on my book. Aim for 500 words minimum.

11.15- Wake baby from nap. Go to collect son from preschool.

11.50- Back home. Change son’s clothes and sort his bag etc. Sit on sofa and share a book with son (toddler wants to join in too). Then start preparing lunch.

12.30- Eat lunch with kids. Tidy up kitchen afterwards.

1.10- Read another book with my son or play with his cars or a simple card or board game for a few minutes. If he and the baby are playing happily together, jump on my indoor mini trampoline (rebounder) while one energetic song plays on youtube.

1.45- synch nap time for baby and son. Unload dishwasher, carry out any household admin (make phone calls, send emails in relation to our kids, home or anything related to our rental home).

3.05- Wake kids from nap. Son in particular needs time to rouse himself! Get coats and shoes on for school run.

3.45- Back home. Play with the kids, make their dinner, take oldest child to clubs/activities. Bath baby (and others) as required. Spend a few more minutes on the indoor trampoline.

6.45- Start tidying with the kids before they get ready for bed. Read stories.

7.30- Lights out for kids to go to sleep. Start making dinner for husband and myself. If husband will be very late, eat mine first.

8.30- Clean up kitchen, prepare anything needed for the kids for school for tomorrow. Then relax, read, watch a film or recording from TV or take a bath.

Making household chores more bearable

As often as possible, I involve my kids in chores. They will happily load clothes into and out of the washing machine and the three year old finds unloading the dishwasher a real treat. Even if it doesn’t exactly save time, it is good for them to get used to helping out at home from a young age. Plus, it makes me feel better that I’m not the only person doing all the housework during the daytime!

Often I play a podcast whilst I clean the kitchen or do other chores- my current favourite is A Slob Comes Clean. This is so motivating and suggests lots of great ways to organise and clean the home. Listening to a podcast or some music makes chores feel less mundane. Sometimes I opt for classical music which calms me and has been shown to have other benefits.

Having a plan- and sticking to it

Once I made a timetable for the whole day and started allotting specific tasks to certain time slots, they were far more likely to actually happen. It feels great that I’ve gone back to writing again and have carved out time to read books during the day with my son, something that wasn’t always happening before.

It does mean being more intentional and refusing to get sidetracked by other things- eg if post arrives through the front door while I’m writing, I just ignore it now until I’m finished. I keep my iPad out of sight so that I don’t get distracted by checking Facebook or anything. This rigid type of schedule may look oppressive to some people, but I know I feel much better if I stick to it. Some things are so important, they need to be ring fenced!

Honestly, I think I’m always going to have to keep pulling myself up on this on a regular basis. I guess I am very easily distracted!

How about you?

Are you organised about managing your time, or do you manage to get the important things done without having it set out in black and white?

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joys of spring

The Joys of Spring

Spring is finally here! It seems to have taken a super long time coming this year. We got a bit more snow than usual and prolonged sub-zero temperatures in late February, then another spell of snow in mid-March. So when the air finally warmed up a little and spring bulbs began bursting into vibrant colour they were most welcome.

I do the walk to our local primary school three times a day (school for my daughter and nursery school for my son, which is only a half day). I certainly enjoy it far more when there are pretty flowers in gardens along the route to admire. My children often point them out too, wanting to know the names of them. My seventeen-month-old tries hard to repeat back everything she hears at the moment and her attempts are often adorably inaccurate!

For some reason, the start of spring signals a fresh start, a blank slate, a time of optimism- far more than the official new year in January does for me. Perhaps you find the same? Even though I try, I often struggle to get motivated in the cold and dark winter time and find that motivation (or perhaps inspiration?) flows more naturally and effortlessly in the lighter, warmer months.

I remember planting out the mixed daffodil bulbs last autumn and having to keep chasing away a pesky squirrel that seemed intent on digging up as many as possible soon after I planted them. He (for some reason I assume it was a ‘he’!) was such a cheeky rascal and each time that I stomped outside to clap my hands to chase him away, he returned only seconds later for another attempt to thieve them! So I’m pleased that plenty remained untouched in the ground. I like to pick a few stems of daffodils to display in a vase on my kitchen table as they brighten it up no end. Daffodils are symbolic of spring in my mind.

vase of daffodils spring decoration

 

Every spring, we find a local wood to visit as most of them can be sure to have a carpet of bluebells covering the ground at this time of year. The vibrant colour lifts my spirits and makes a beautiful backdrop to take photos of the kids having fun running between the trees without a care in the world.

Visit a bluebell wood in spring

Even though I’m not a huge fan of the cold weather, I still count myself lucky to live somewhere with clearly defined seasons. Variety is the spice of life, so they say. Perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate the warmer months as much if there wasn’t a contrasting season to compare them to.

I know that some of my readers live in different countries and continents…what is the weather like for you right now? Has spring arrived where you are, or perhaps you are in the southern hemisphere and summer is drawing to a close? Or perhaps there aren’t very clearly defined seasons where you live? If so, perhaps the prospect of cooler weather is rather welcome?

I’d love to hear about it, reader comments always put a smile on my face 🙂

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How can you make yourself happy?

How Can You Make Yourself Happy?

Having long been interested in life in the Scandinavian countries, who consistently rate highly in global happiness tables, I was keen to read The Little Book of Lykke: The World’s search for the world’s happiest people by Meik Wiking when I spotted it on a supermarket shelf recently.

Wiking is also the author of The Little Book of Hygge which I had previously enjoyed very much, so I expected to enjoy this one, too.

Experiences versus things?

One of the most salient points that Wiking makes is that buying experiences, rather than things, results in a greater sense of happiness. He quotes a study carried out by Dunn and Norton, who found that ‘study after study [shows that] people are in a better mood when they reflect on their experiential purchases which they describe as “money well spent”‘.

When people are asked to review how happy a purchase made them (such as a mobile phone) compared to spending money on a holiday or concert ticket, far more people will claim that the experience made them happier than the tangible item.

Spending money on experiences will make you happier still if those experiences involve spending time with other people and make you build a closer bond to them, and if they are linked with who you see yourself as being. For example, if you are a history buff you would gain greater happiness from visiting historical sites such as Pompeii if you were on holiday in Italy. Therefore investing in experiences in this way can be perceived as an investment in happy memories and in your personal story and development.

Preserving your memories

Taking photographs whilst you are enjoying the experiences can help to prolong the sense of pleasure, as you are able to look back and prompt your memory to recall details you may otherwise have forgotten. I often create photobooks of our family holidays and the kids enjoy looking back at these with us. I hope they will enjoy doing this for many years to come, as it evokes a shared sense of history and wellbeing and strengthens the bond between us as a family.

It’s similar when I reminisce with close friends about holidays and other experiences that we shared together in years gone by. We often end up laughing so hard we are almost in tears and our sides ache (in a good way!).

I’m a little wary of taking too many photographs, though. There is a danger that we can become so focused on taking countless pictures and striving for the perfect one that we miss actually being present in the moment and enjoying the experience for what it is. That seems a real shame, especially when you have spent so much money on a special experience in the first place.

Not everything is an item in a tick-list

I will never forget the retired couple who sat in the adjacent seats to my husband and I on the William Tell (now known as the Gotthard Panorama Express) train ride in Switzerland. In case you aren’t aware, this very scenic journey takes you through stunning lake and mountain scenery and the trains have extra large, panoramic windows to afford a better view. It’s not a cheap ride, either. When we boarded the train, the pleasant couple were friendly to us and during conversation mentioned that this train trip had featured high up on their to-do list of things to experience in Switzerland. We heartily agreed with them.

However…about fifteen minutes into the ride, both of them fell sound asleep! Shortly after the train departed, they both sat back from the window, reclined into the comfortable seats and seemed to be anticipating a nap. They didn’t wake up until we reached the final destination and I couldn’t help but think what a waste of money it was for them. Perhaps there is a danger of regarding some experiences as mere items to be ticked off in a list, rather than a special time to be savoured and relished?

Fortunately my husband and I gained maximum enjoyment out of the journey and remained glued to the expansive windows for most of it, taking in every little bit of the incredible alpine view as it unfolded before us.

Anticipation

Another point that Wiking makes is that where possible, it is better to plan ahead for your experiences and even book them well in advance. The key benefit to doing this is the sense of anticipation it brings. I have to say that I am rather the queen of doing just this. I usually plan and book holidays well in advance, usually twelve months ahead. We are going on a cruise in August and I booked it a whopping twenty one months in advance. Admittedly, that felt a little crazy at the time even for me, but I love the fact that it gives us extra time to research which shore excursions to do, chat excitedly to the kids about it (many times!) and feel, well, happy just at the thought of knowing it is definitely booked and looking forward to it so much.

I tend to book tickets for shows and concerts as far ahead as possible, too. There is the added bonus of being more likely to secure the best seats by doing so.

It has crossed my mind on occasions that if we cut right back on spending on holidays, weekend trips, concerts and show tickets, we could afford to move to a larger and more impressive home. Admittedly, we are very fortunate that we live in a home that is sufficiently large enough for our family, although it lacks rooms that others may not wish to go without, such as a utility (laundry) room and an extra bathroom. In some ways, the larger home would bring us pleasure. But I’m not convinced that having the additional rooms would compensate for the loss of life-affirming experiences we would miss out on and Wiking’s book has confirmed that we are making the right decision to stay in our current home.

How about you? Do you agree that spending money on experiences rather than things brings more happiness? Which types of experiences do you most enjoy spending money on? I would love to hear from you.

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Do you make the most of your local museums and galleries? Read about why you should!

How to Enjoy Where You Live and See It Through the Eyes of a Visitor

When we take holidays to locations away from home, it’s usual to research places of interest in the local area. Museums, art galleries and parks often feature as possible destinations.

Yet for some reason, many of us are less likely to take full advantage of the facilities that exist in our home towns and cities. I’m pretty sure that there is a syndrome describing this very phenomenon, but it escapes my recollection right now!

Perhaps if we made an effort to make the most of all the offerings on our doorsteps, in the way that a visiting tourist would, we would view our localities with fresh eyes and a greater sense of appreciation? Obviously, larger cities are bound to have a wider array of offerings, but even smaller towns often have a surprising range of options.

Making the Most of What’s on My Own Doorstep

Despite living in or close to my current town for most of my life, I only visited the main museum for the first time a few years ago- aged well into my thirties! There was lots there to engage my young kids, plenty of interactive displays and an impressive range of stuffed animals. A huge woolly mammoth model was a big hit with my son.

Recently I read about an art gallery in our town, which is small and only holds one exhibition at a time. The current exhibition is about the history of our town which is something that interests me as I’ve always been fascinated by social history. So I took my eldest child along one afternoon to check it out.

Finding Out About Local Life in Days Gone By

I had never been to the art gallery and I’m not even sure how long it’s been open for. It is located just a few doors away from the main museum. On arrival at the art gallery, we were surprised to find it completely empty apart from the lady working there who welcomed us warmly. There were numerous paintings on display, all painted by the same artist from the Victorian era. It was fascinating to observe familiar streets that I have walked or driven along portrayed in their former states, complete with historical details such as horses and carts, Victorian ladies and gentlemen dressed in their formal finery. Many shops were recognisable, albeit with their former names and selling completely different wares in the past.

We had a little time left on our car park ticket so walked the few doors down to the main museum for a quick look around. This was surprisingly quiet, too. My daughter played in the interactive Egyptian area while I pored over the town’s history display. It’s hard to imagine how life must have been for residents here over the past few hundred  years, but the detail given in the photos and text helped me to visualise it.

Appreciating Local Architecture

We enjoyed the short walk back to the car park as the museum is positioned in my favourite part of the town, close to the largest park. The houses and other buildings in the streets surrounding the park are beautiful with rich period details, mostly Victorian but also Edwardian and Georgian. Most of the owners have preserved their homes well and their appearances have probably changed little since they were built.

I would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone makes the most of their local facilities, whether they have always lived in the area or recently moved there. It feels good to forge a stronger connection to the place you live in. We pay for their maintenance through council tax so it makes sense to utilise them. If too few visitors make the effort to go to them, perhaps they will in time be closed down…’use them or lose them’ as the saying goes.

There are also quite a few independently owned cafes and tea rooms in our town centre that offer a more personal, unique experience (often with local artists’ work decorating the walls) than dropping into one of the same old chain cafes. I will make an effort to frequent these more often.

How about you? Do you have many local museums and art galleries. Those of you in large cities are probably spoilt for choice. Perhaps you always intend to visit them yet somehow never get around to it? I would love to hear about ones you have visited or at least intend to. I love it when readers share their thoughts so please don’t be shy.

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Do you prioritise your priorities?

Do you Prioritise your Priorities?

I know already I’ve blogged about to-do lists and getting stuff done fairly recently. But a couple of weeks ago it dawned on me that the days and weeks are zooming by, the year doesn’t feel at all ‘new’ any more, yet I didn’t seem to be making much progress on anything that I really wanted to. The sense of dissatisfaction and annoyance that resulted at the end of most days prompted me to find a solution.

Writing

One of my priorities this year is to write more. Both continuing to write blog posts once a week, as well as working on a lifestyle book. I’d been just about keeping up with the blog posts, but had barely spent any time on the book despite having planned out all the chapters.

Part of the challenge is that I don’t have any childcare for my fifteen-month-old baby, but it was time to stop using that as an excuse and work around it. Thankfully, she has been sleeping much better recently and has set nap times. I have now allocated morning nap time to write every day. Perhaps it’s not the best way to do it, but I aim to write 500 words daily. That may sound paltry to full-time writers, but if I manage it consistently from Monday to Friday it equates to 2,500 words a week or 10,000 words a month. Well on the way to completing a whole book within the space of a few months. From acorns great oak trees really do grow!

Exercise

Although I’m not completely sedentary, I hoped to increase my exercise levels a little this year. On weekdays I always achieve 16k steps minimum just from doing the school and nursery runs as well as generally running around after my toddler. I decided to make the journeys a little more effective by sometimes adding a little sprint (with the pushchair) from our house to almost the end of our road. To ensure I don’t get lazy and opt out of the sprint I often deliberately leave the house a couple of minutes later than it would take to walk it. Sometimes I add an additional short sprint a couple of minutes after the first one, creating my own interval training in a way.

Reading about Jennifer L Scott’s rebounding at home post recently instantly appealed. Like me, Jennifer has three young children and she admitted that finding time for regular exercise can be tricky. She explained how she had recently bought a rebounder (or mini trampoline designed for exercising) and found it was perfect for fitting in short bursts of exercise into her day.

I was instantly convinced after reading her post and ordered a rebounder. Often I simply jump for a couple of minutes, but have found numerous rebounding workouts on YouTube which are good to follow sometimes, too.

Sometimes I jump whilst watching a film or TV in the evenings to make it more of a productive use of my time.

Getting  everything else done…

Before I stared planning for my priorities, I tended to do house-related chores such as hang out loads of washing and put dry washing away as soon as I noticed it needed doing, ditto for making phone calls and sending emails. But now, these chores simply have to fit in around sacred writing time. Who cares if there’s a pile of dry laundry to be put away? It can wait. I won’t feel any worse for leaving it a couple of hours as it can be fitted in at any point during the day while my kids are awake, but the same can’t be said for my writing which is why I have to carve specific time out for that.

How about you? Are you managing to find time for the things you decided were important on the first of January? If not, perhaps it’s time to take stock and revisit your priorities so that you can be sure you really do priorities them.

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Reasons to embrace the arts

Reasons Why You Should Embrace the Arts

The older I’ve become, the more I’ve grown to appreciate the value of the arts and realise the significant effects they have on me.

Annual trip to the Ballet

For the last fifteen years, the Russian State ballet of Siberia has included our town in its extensive tour every February. The first year that I noticed an advert for it, I mentioned it to my sister suggesting it as a possible birthday present for our mother. She agreed so we booked tickets, not really sure what to expect as we had never attended a ballet before and we weren’t sure if we would really enjoy it.

We were pleasantly surprised. By chance, our tickets were down in the stalls close to the front, where the large orchestra is positioned. Sitting so close to the orchestra and their moving Tchaichovsky instrumentals, while we watched the incredibly graceful, expressive ballet dancers acting out their story on stage was mesmerising. Since then, my mother and I haven’t missed one and they all have a similar impact on us.

Other shows on offer locally…

The same local theatre offers a good range of visiting performers and we have been fortunate to have enjoyed shows ranging from the west end Cats show, Irish Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, The Sound of Music, as well as Abba and Queen tribute bands. Varied, but all thoroughly enjoyable in their own way.

The benefits of attending live theatre

Somehow, opening the mind to different types of performances has a mind-broadening effect and gives a sense of fulfilment. Sure, that’s just my subjective opinion, but interestingly Science Daily reported a few years ago that attending live theatre increased tolerance and empathy as found in a group of students who took part in the research. Tolerance and empathy are attributes that seem to be in increasingly short supply these days, so perhaps all schools should aim to take students to watch plays or ballets from a young age.

The benefits of listening to classical music

Certain types of music move me in a similar way. All through my childhood and adolescence, I grew up in a home hearing classical music several times a week as both my parents were fans of it. To be honest, I didn’t much care for it at the time, finding it dull compared to my preferred pop and rock music.

Yet now, I can’t deny that it somehow has a profound effect on me. I don’t listen to it all the time, but if in need of a little inspiration then classical music helps me find it. I find it awe-inspiring that some of the complex pieces were composed hundreds of years ago. I also find it has a calming effect on me and it seems I am not alone in feeling this way. The Readers Digest published an article featuring 10 Wondrous things that happen to your body when you listen to classical music. Amongst those were feeling more relaxed and productive. More than enough reasons to persuade anyone to give it a try. For a complete beginner’s introduction, I recommend either tuning in to a classical radio station such as Classic FM, or search YouTube for ‘best classical music mix’ or similar.

A classical Italian experience

Some years ago, my husband and I toured Italy one summer, visiting several of the major cities. While we were staying in Rome, we were taking a stroll after dinner one evening and soon after tossing the obligatory coin into the beautiful Trevi fountains, happened to stumble across a large piazza where a classical music concert was about to be performed. Chairs had been set up in rows, many of them already taken but there were still some free seats, and after a friendly lady explained that it was a free performance for the public, we sat down. It’s difficult to fully describe the atmosphere as we sat there in the moonlit, balmy July evening, with the loud, passionate sounds of of Vivaldi and Verdi echoing all around us in that historic piazza. A romantic, special evening to remember for ever.

Foreign Language Films

World cinema is another way of broadening the mind. Through my local library (as well as a small independent cinema that shows many foreign films) I have been able to access many foreign films in different languages. The ones in French and Italian have the additional bonus of helping me brush up my language skills but I have enjoyed subtitled films and series in many different languages. It’s surprising just how many countries have thriving film industries, even if they are relatively small-scale compared to Hollywood. Watching foreign language films, even if they are fictional, gives a fascinating glimpse into life in different countries.

Do you spend much time seeking out the arts in your life? I would be interested to hear which ones appeal to you the most.