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Snowballs + Leonardo for all!

One winter, long ago, we Blackbirds made a box full of snowball catapults to giveaway at a conference. When I came across a few remaining stragglers, I smiled to myself. “Just in time for December!”

So, I have have been a busy little elf recreating ONE HUNDRED catapult kits! ENTER TO WIN HERE & you might be the happy recipient of one of the 100 kits we have ready to mail off!

Of course, when I think “catapult” I think Leonardo DaVinci, polymath extraordinaire!  What a persona to consider as we stand at the dawn of a new year. A bit of history:

You, of course know, Leonardo Da Vinci was a man who wore many hats: painter, sculptor, musician, engineer, father of flight, medical entrepreneur.  But did you know that he was known to sketch mechanized throwing devices just for fun?

The catapult design, conceived and put to use many, many years before Leonardo, intrigued him.  And so he went to the drawing board to do some tweaking.

Da Vinci recognized a simple fact that was likely overlooked by most: Gun powder was not 100% dependable! It just needed a bit of tweaking. And so he set out to refine the tool.

Da Vinci concocted two ideas: the single arm and the double arm catapult. The mechanisms he imagined would enable an increase in the throwing arm speed with ease. Like many of his notebook ideas, there is no historical record of the single or double arm catapult being employed but there are small scale and large scale models that have proved efficacy. More importantly, Loenardo’s tenacity to put his ideas to paper continues to inspire innovation. And this is worth celebrating!

For this reason, we will giving away one  Leonardo DaVinci catapult kit in addition to the 100 Snowball catapult kits.


And may you be inspired.


~Kimberly ❄️❄️❄️

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Dinosaur Bones


Ready or not… Here come the holidays!

Give the gift of bones.

Not real bones.

Put together a kit containing Qtips, a bottle of white glue, a stack of assorted handcrafted pre-cut imaginary dinosaur skulls, and a stack of black construction paper. Make a sample to put in the kit. And be sure to include a book or two. Here are some ideas recommended by the Smithsonian and others:






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How to Read a Great Character and Become One

Characters do things. They feel things. They hear things.
They say things. They think things. They go places. They can walk, run, leap,
and jump. They may sit and rock in a rocking chair. They may just lie in bed,
sleep, and dream. But the important thing is that characters act. And it is
precisely these actions that show us just what kind of imaginary people characters
are—friendly, sad, nosey, happy, confused, angry, or inventive. And we need to
know because something always happens in great stories. Character determines
the outcome. 

Earlier this month, my son Søren sat on the couch chuckling
to himself, turning the pages of an old favorite. It’s Lewis Carroll
re-imagined. Christopher Myers keeps the text the same but re-imagines the
beast as a basketball-playing-Jabberwocky. And the protagonist? Well, he
becomes a small boy with basketball-shaped-stars in his eyes.

What fascinated me about the scene was what happened when
the book was closed. My son smiled, got off the couch to rummage around the art
cabinet for paper, scissors, and tape. Silently he concentrated, cutting shapes
and connecting them until the characters emerged. Then he swept up the scraps,
set his characters to hold the gesture, and walked away from the table without
a word.

I know what he was up to. This was literary analysis at its
best. Carroll’s Jabberwocky is a larger than life, but there is no doubt that the
storm of neologism and nonsense qualifies it as a very difficult read. To most,
Søren’s hive of post reading activity might be deemed at best a responsive
craft. But Søren was actually deep in thought. This post-reading activity was
uniquely contemplative, was Søren’s way of unpacking Lewis Carroll’s poem and
the consequent reimagining of Christopher Myer. 

And I know where Søren’s pondering will lead. It will lead
to an idea. Sometimes we begin with a study of someone else’s idea to incubate
an original idea of our own. So it might not be this week, maybe not even next,
but I’m sure Lewis Carroll and Christopher Meyer offered fodder that has been
sufficiently tucked away in the mind of my son.


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Break the Cycle of Boredom: Build a Habit of Being

My son Taylor has remarked more than once that Danny Champion of the World is his all time favorite elementary
read. Having a dad who is a real life inventor, I’m my son could really relate
to this story. But like many young readers, I’m sure Taylor was simply drawn
into Roald Dahl’s clever tale of the antics of Danny and his loving
poacher/inventor dad.

Obviously Taylor did not build a habit of being for reading and
writing over night. The arduous process involved days upon days of providing my
son with the tools that pressed him into the work of becoming literate—in the
not just able to read and write sense, but in the able to apply and create
sense. The work was complex and the process was longitudinal. Looking back,
providing consistent opportunity for Taylor to participate in a series of small
steps, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other over time while incrementally increasing
the complexity of the reading and writing expectations was key.

Still, sometimes the task of helping Taylor learn to read and write
was like a game of limbo. Increase expectations too much and the pole was
knocked down. Increase the expectations too little and Taylor would knock the
pole off just for fun. The game all said and done, I’m pretty sure that my
son’s investment in learning to not only read great stories closely, but to
mine for applicable riches and learn to communicate his spoil in the form of
words has strengthened his ability to bring an original idea to fruition. Taylor
built a habit of being and that habit of being keeps him on his toes.

A habit of being is forged over time as our children engage in the
work of learning to tackle complex processes, processes such as exploring
literature and the process of mathematical problem solving, such as the process
of crafting a poem or an essay or a fictional story. Establishing habits of
being, best achieved slowly over time, is like transforming coal to

Habits of being spark imagination and imagination sparks curiosity
and curiosity is the stuff from which we forge original ideas. And guess what?
Bringing an original idea to fruition simply will not leave room for boredom.

Recently my seventeen-year-old son,
Taylor, was bored.

Not for long.

One Cannon FD lens, one
iPod, and a stack of cardboard. I watched my son think in threes.

The next thing I see can not exactly be
captured in words. Think the bump and jolt of stop motion. Think the colorless
blur of fast motion. Think the patience and precision of a piano tuner.

This mom moves into his kitchen studio on
a pretense. I am not noticed scouring a counter or two to spy on his process.
Soon the lens projects the screen of the iPod onto a white wall surface.
Problem is the image is in reverse.

I see his interior voice utter, “Hmmm.”

Then I hear, “WAIT.”

I see my son scramble to the art cabinet and reemerge with a piece
of tracing paper. He constructs a screen.

“I made an iPod television!” Suddenly my
presence in the kitchen studio is acknowledged.

“Let's see if I can get the image bigger
on the screen.” A few seconds later, “Whoa!
Look Mom!”

And so, the next time your child is
bored, slide a book across the table. And when they’re done reading hand them
paper and pencil and ask, “Now what’s your idea?”



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Imagine a Big Idea: A State Quilt

The big idea was to study our state in detail for one full school year, learning its basic geography and all the state symbols. There was no pattern. We just designed it the way we wanted it as we journeyed through our study. We decided to spell C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A on little pillows to create a relief effect. Each letter was cut out of different fabrics that had Wonder Under applied to the back. Different embroidery stitches were used to embellish the ironed on letters. The pillows were then hung on little safety pins.

Along the left of the quilt are laminated hand drawn watercolored state symbols—state rock, flower, bird and so on. Our children were delighted to safety pin each symbol randomly.

The middle of our quilted California is made of muslin and is a quilt all it’s own with two sides and batting in the middle. Using a large state map as a guide, major features like deserts, mountain ranges, valleys and lakes were either applied using fabric or paints.

We had children bring in photos of themselves from different places in the state or just photos they had taken in different places. We cut them small, then laminated them and attached them with safety pins. All the quilters painted California poppies and signed their names.

For the finishing touch we used bright yarns to tie the quilt together at random spots. We entered our geography unit in the Mid-state fair and won a first prize ribbon!

It’s pretty obvious that a project like this takes hours and hours. Really, there was no rush… except the deadline for the fair!

– Sara

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Cooking with Teens: The Marshmallow Bake Off!

I’m fascinated by the diversity of recipes.

My good friend recently gave me her recipe for marshmallows. Let’s just say, a certain western cooking and lifestyle magazine published a very different recipe claiming they would be easy and good. So I invited my teenagers into the kitchen and the bake off began!

The tiniest of difference in recipe ingredients, I suspected, would make all the difference, but I kept it neutral, wanting my kids to discover the miracle of chemistry in the process. Thing is, the magazine recipe calls for egg whites and the other is egg white free.

Ultimately the egg whites created a “Son of Flubber” bouncy marshmallow. My friend’s recipe had a thick heavier bite that would do well at the end of a roasting stick and would hold up well in a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

If you want to have some fun making your own yummy mallows for "Give Me S’Mores" here is the recipe for you to try.

Kari’s  Marshmallow Recipe

Step 1 ingredients:
– ¾ cups water
– 4 envelopes of unflavored gelatin
– ¼ cup cornstarch
– ¼ cup sifted powdered sugar (don’t skip sifting or you’ll be sorry)
– 2 teaspoons vanilla (or another extract of your choice, think peppermint at Christmas)

Step 2 ingredients:
– 3 cups of granulated sugar
– 1¼ cups of light corn syrup
– ¼ teaspoon salt
– ¾ cup water

Step 1:
Line a 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish with heavy duty foil and brush it with vegetable oil. Mix the powered sugar with the cornstarch in a bowl, then coat the foil dish with it, (you don’t have to use it all). In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle in the water and gelatin and let it sit for about 5 minutes.

Step 2:
In a medium saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, light corn syrup, salt and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees, and then remove from the heat.

Next, with the mixer on low speed, using the whisk attachment, very carefully pour the hot syrup into the gelatin mixture. When the syrup is incorporated, increase the speed to high and continue beating until stiff peaks form and mixture is cool about 20 to 30 minutes. Then beat in 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Poor the mixture into the prepared pan, smooth with an offset spatula( oiled well), and let stand overnight, uncovered, until firm.

Dust the top with a combination of cocoa powder and powdered sugar, then cut into squares using a sharp knife lightly brushed with oil. Coat the sides of each marshmallow with more of the sugar/cocoa mixture, trying not to eat too many. Enjoy!

– Sara

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Unplug: Wire Works


Most of my boy’s friends are not only scheduled to the hilt with summer activities, the majority of their down time is spent video gaming or surfing the web.

My boys are embarking upon August charging ahead recklessly into the Unplug Challenge.

And guess what?

My boys are enjoying the plummet into low tech!

Today, unplugged is all about wire and divergent thinking.

Here’s what Sir Ken Robinson has to say, “Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym but is an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to questions, lots of possible ways to interpret a question, to think laterally, to think not just in linear or convergent ways, to see multiple answers, not one.”

So what can you make with a couple spools of wire?

– Kim

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Sewing Fall Pumpkins!


Fall always provides inspiration in abundance. Pumpkins are everywhere! But we all know that once fall arrives, it's too late to actually plant. So if you've missed your window for sowing pumpkins seeds in your garden, use this summer to make some cute and easy quilt squares. These can be finished off and used for wall hangings, pillows, buntings, or festive table top decorations.

– various fabrics scraps for pumpkins & stems
– background fabric
– fun coordinating fabrics to surround the base square (I used bright blue which is the complement of orange)
fusible webbing such as Wonder Under or other brands
– sewing machine, needle/thread
– fabric scissors, rotary cutter, cutting mat
– fuse one side of the pumpkin and stem fabrics that you have chosen
– draw pumpkins and stems onto the fused backing with a pencil, cut out
– cut your square for the background and border pieces
– following the directions on the fusible web, iron on the pumpkin and stems to the background square
– hand stitch around the shapes or machine stitch about an 1/8th “ from the edges
– apply contrasting fabric strips along edges of square (we used a skewed log cabin technique)
– square up your finished square with an Olfa cutter and mat
– finish edge according to what your final project will be

– Sara

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Device of Wonder


Way back in the fall of 2001 we made several trips to The Getty to marvel at an exhibit of fanciful machines, Devices of Wonder. Back then Søren was barely two-years-old so he made his way via a stroller. But I guarantee, even back then my youngest boy was captivated.

One evening this past week, three weeks into Da Vinci Summer—our family’s DIY summer tradition—twelve-year-old Søren handed me a handmade device.

My husband and the boys have a tinker chest out back that keeps all sorts of cast off gadgets that this mom would not have the vision to keep. For this particular project, Søren chose a piece of square tubing that was once-upon-a-time a bathroom towel rung.

“Look mom,” I made a kaleidoscope, “but you have to look through it in the dark.”

So I followed his instructions and went into the closet, held the tube that Søren had carefully duct taped at both ends, peered through the end baring a peep hole and beheld the geometric activity of seven activated glow sticks, “Wow!”

This was no ordinary kaleidoscope.

And, though I believe my Søren is no ordinary son, I honestly believe that every child possesses certain genius. But certain genius demands certain prodding. And sometimes saying, “No,” is just the thing.

No TV.

No texting.

No Facebook.

No Youtube.

No video games.

No… !

Leonardo said, “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

But the technological world has a pesky way of diverting the child from the world of curiosity, and when the child is diverted from curiosity, then doing, at least the kind that Leonardo is speaking of, becomes quite impossible.

Søren’s kaleidoscope is a product of doing.

And as an aside, pay a visit to the virtual Devices of Wonder exhibit at The Getty, an online activity that deserves a hearty, “Yes!”

– Kim