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Da Vinci Summer III, Stitch a Tradition

I never could relate to spring cleaning. The timing just never worked out for me when Evelyn and Wesley were young. March, April, and May were busy with culminating end-of-the-year school activities. I'd say summer purging was more the thing, out with the old, space for the new.

Now that both (yes, both!) my children are off to college, summer purging has turned to summer reminiscing. Anticipating Evelyn's homecoming, I dug up memory lane in my daughter's kindergarten box. Was it really that long ago that I used stitchery to help develop fine motor skills? Did I introduced embroidery to strengthen handwriting or did I use handwriting to strengthen embroidery skills? Now there's a question.

In either case, we did a little embroidery to embellish all subject areas. We stitched a color wheel and discussed the physics of light. We stitched texture as we discussed and observed the elements of visual art. We stitched the ABCs. And we stitched the world when we explored the complexities of geography.

Scraps of fabric, an embroidery hoop, needle and floss will get the process started. It will look funky at first but you’ll see huge progress over the years.

Both my daughter and my son stitched. Looking back their stitching proved quite academic. In the early years they strengthened hand-eye coordination, learned to slowly attend to detail, became comfortable with problem solving. This little habit of being was a way to bring shape to an original idea sparked from some bit of information they were learning to master. When we studied California history, we fashioned an elaborate quilt that stitched together their knowledge of geography in a way that meaningfully stitched what they had learned into their memory.

Embroidery is an art form and like all art forms is a language worth the student's attention. I say summer is just the space to introduce the art of embroidery.

– Sara

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A Souvenir of Stars

This summer we’re exploring our Italian roots via an extended virtual tour. It’s such fun visiting all the places we would visit if we could really visit. Thanks to the wonder of technology, we can experience the landscape of Italy in the comfort of our home.

We’re beginning slow. On Sundays we eat Italian, risotto is a new family favorite that we are trying to perfect. Our touring is geographic and historical and with each click, we wander where our heels lead. Art, music, people, events, we never quite know where the trail will lead. And the great thing about a trip like this is that we can afford to stay as long as we want!

By mid-June we dove into year-one Rosetta Stone. On the 4th of July when we decided to explore the Venetian art of Millefiori, we were daring enough to venture the art of translation. “Millefiori” is Italian for “thousand flowers” by the way. Originally this art form was accomplished with glass and fire. Thankfully, nowadays a millefiori-esque process can be used to make designs with polymer clays. So we pulled out our tub of Fimo and experimented. Using the Millefiori cane technique, we made long tubes with the simple star shape and were delighted by the simple act of slicing star after star until the tube was a transformed to a mass of tiny beads—a souvenir of stars.

– Kim

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Mom’s Day Blossom Cards

I have to say, I'm always a little proud of myself when I can scrap together a cute and do-able art project for my 5 year-old with materials I already have on hand. And since I'm not a huge fan of pre-printed drug store cards I decided to make some springtime blossom cards inspired by the Bougainvillea growing in our backyard.

First I gathered some random envelopes and card stock in lovely spring colors. I think I've literally had these envelopes for over ten years. Today their destiny has been fulfilled!


Next I prepped the paint. I love craft paint. I'd buy every color if I could! I picked three colors for the blossoms, and for the stems I watered down a few drops of green paint in a small bowl.


For our "paintbrush" I used a cotton ball and clothespin to help keep little fingers cleaner. I decided to cut the cotton ball down to make it a bit more manageable and discovered a perfect blossom pattern hiding inside. I love happy accidents!


Time to make art! I puddled some of the watered down green paint at the bottom of the card and gave my boy a straw that I had cut in half. I encouraged him to blow the puddle around to create the stem and branches. It helped for me to rotate the card as he was doing this to spread the design out a bit. I have seen this techinque many times throughout my blog surfing adventures and I was thrilled to be able to finally try it out.


Next came the blossoms themselves. I squirted three small blobs onto a plate to mimic the colors of the Bougainvillia blossoms. Very little paint is required, depending on how many cards you want to make.


Taking the cottonball brush, my boy then added the blossoms. I encouraged him to "plant" them at the end of each stem. I have to say he did a pretty good job with that. Don't worry, should your young artist go on a wild dabbing-spree, the result will be just as perfect and adorable.


Once the cards dried we added a simple, heart-melting message to the inside.


This was such an easy, quick and fun crafting session with awesome results. And we've still got a day to get some of these into the mail for grandmas.

Honestly, even though I know what's coming, I'm so excited to open my own card come Sunday!


HAPPY MOM'S DAY and blessings to all of you amazing mothers out there! What you do is important!


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Sugar Cube Construction

I have vivid and happy memories from my elementary school years of building my California mission out of sugar cubes. Being that my brother is five years older than me, I was lucky to always have a preview of what was to come for various school projects. Willie was (and is) a master builder, inventor, and maker of all things cool and mechanical and as a faithful little sister, I basically worshipped him, and everything he did and made. His creations were my inspiration and although I never quite matched him in precision and craftsmanship, I am grateful for what he showed me was possible.

Sugar cubes aren't quite as common at the supermarket anymore but if you come across them, snatch up a box or two for a "sweet" construction session. They provide a great exercise in self-control…and hold magical potential for architects of all ages with their sharp edges, sparkly whiteness, and grainy texture. After all the hard work, don't forget to reward your young builder with the thrill of crunching through one perfect cube of 100% pure sugary goodness!

– Tracey


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Handprint Valentines

I'm in charge of preparing the craft activity each week for my son's adorable little Wednesday morning preschool group. My first click is almost always The Crafty Crow, followed closely by Pinterest. I never come up empty-handed, in fact it usually comes down to having to eliminate ideas and decide on just one. So hard to do sometimes.

Truth be told, I'm a sucker for handprint crafts, especialy for this age group. (Although I have seen teenagers gleefully line up to create these fun snowman ornaments.) There is just something so cute and magical about using little hands to make art…it's a creative and whimsical way to record the growth stages of our precious wee ones. And who can resist those paint-laden, pudgy little fingers!

So here's a last minute Valentine's Day idea that requires very little in terms of supplies. They come together quickly and are perfect for mass production. You might even be able to get a few in the mail today!

A huge "heartfelt" thanks to Rosy-Posy for the original inspiration! We modified things a bit, using colored paper and outlining the heart with glitter! You can find the complete step-by-step post here, and click around her blog for many other great ideas and musings!

Happy Hearts Day!

– Tracey


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Sweet Tradition


When Hannah was little, one of her favorite books was The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear. We read this story over and over! The story is clever, rhythmic and provides terrific opportunities for garden and kitchen fun. We grew a pot of strawberries, picked them and popped them into our mouths as we read, we made strawberry shortcake, strawberry tarts, strawberry sundaes. But by far Hannah's favorite was strawberry freezer jam because she got to SMASH the berries in a bowl.


Recently I pulled the book from our collection of read-alouds, and placed it on the counter next to the supplies for freezer jam. Twenty-one-year-old Hannah was delighted. She flipped through the pages, but “read” the story from memory!

The fruit of tradition is sweet as any strawberry!

This recipe is SO easy and super fun to make…. red ripe strawberries, sugar and pectin… voila! Follow the instructions on the package of Ball No Cook Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin.

– Kim


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Home Ec: Eggs

Summer is a great time to acquire some habits that have been deemed extracurricular, habits that I believe are not supplementary at all, but a vital part of learning.

Making recipes with your children provides them the opportunity to learn basic cooking skills that will serve them the rest of their life and is a perfect time to show them some science.

Home Economics is my passion, so here goes…

To begin, choose a recipe that is simple and delicious. Next, decide what specific science topic the recipe will allow you will explore.

Soooo, let’s make some Sparkling Sugar Kisses! These yummy meringue cookies are easy and fat free. This recipe below is from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion.

Making meringues is the perfect gateway for a little lesson about eggs.

Eggs are composed of the shell, which holds the egg inside. Shells are produced in a range of amazing colors because they come from different breeds. While it is terrific fun to explore shell color, any color will do when it comes to making meringue.

Just inside the shell is the membrane.


When you crack open the egg you will see the yellow yolk sitting inside the albumen.

Out of the shell, fresh eggs stand up taller and firmer on the plate. The white should be thick and stand up around the yolk. The yolk should be firm and high. A less fresh egg will be runny and flat.

The chalaza, it’s the white cord that holds the egg in place inside the shell. There is an air cell between the shell and the membrane that grows larger with age.


Eggs are evaluated by passing them over bright lights where the interior quality can be seen. Grade AA eggs have a firm white and a thick round yolk and perfect shells. Grade A has “reasonably” firm whites and perfect shells. Grade B has thinner whites and some stains on the shells.

Now to the subject of sizing eggs. The size does not refer to the dimensions of an egg or how big it looks. Size tells you the minimum required net weight per dozen eggs. So Jumbo eggs have 30 oz. per dozen, ranging all the way down to Peewee eggs which have 15 oz. per dozen. Most standard recipes call for AA large.

The best thing about eggs is that they are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Now on to the making….

To make a proper meringue you have to do a few things to ensure success.

Always begin with room temperature eggs because when you whip them more air can be incorporated so the volume will be bigger. To warm them fast just place the eggs in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.

Make sure the mixing bowl and whisk you will use to whip the whites are clean. Wash them in warm soapy water to degrease. Fat will coat the ends of the egg white’s protein, which greatly diminishes the whites ability to hold air.


Now you are ready to separate the whites from the yolks. Strain them through clean fingers! Most recipes for meringue call for a little salt and cream of tarter to help the molecules of whites hold onto water and air molecules—chemistry in action!

To beat the whites, use an electric mixer or whisk them by hand. Either way the whites go through several stages.


The first stage is a puddle of clear liquid. As you begin to beat, a puddle with foamy air bubbles will emerge. Eventually the whisk begins to leave tracks in the bowl. To test which stage your whites are in simply lift up the beater out of the foam. If a point forms and falls over immediately, you’re looking at soft peak. From here 15 to 20 more strokes will bring you to medium peak, and another 15 to 20 strokes to stiff peaks. Be careful, don’t over beat the meringue because liquid will begin to separate out from the foam and you’ll end up with grainy, lumpy looking whites.


Meringue calls for super fine sugar because it makes a less grainy meringue. To make your own super fine sugar simply give it a good spin in the food processor and the crystals will get super finer!

Make sure not to add the sugar too soon in the beating process. Start adding gradually somewhere between soft and medium peaks.

By the way, this recipe calls for vanilla, but I flavored mine with peppermint extract. You can even crush peppermints to add to the batter. Be creative!

– Sara

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Sparkling Sugar Kisses

Yield 2 dozen // Baking temp 250F

 • 2 large egg whites

• 1/8 teaspoon salt

• ¼ teaspoon cream of tarter

• ½ cup (31/2oz) sugar, superfine preferred

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or the extract of your choice

• Coarse sugar

Preheat the oven to 250F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

In a large, very clean, nonplastic bowl. Beat the egg whites until they’re foamy, then add the salt and cream of tarter. Add the sugar gradually, continuing to beat until the meringue is thick and glossy, and forms stiff peaks. Beat in the vanilla at the end.

Drop meringue by the tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each with coarse (or colored) sugar. Bake for 1 hour, then turn off the oven and let the kisses cool in the unopened oven (don’t peek!) for 11/2 to 2 hours, or until they’re dry and crisp all the way through. Remove them from the oven and store in an airtight container.

It you use a tablespoon cookie scoop, don’t heap it; level it off; to obtain the correct size and number of cookies. For fancy meringues, pipe them onto a sheet using a pastry bag and the tip of your choice.      

Variations: Stir in ½ to ¾ cup mini-morsel chocolate chips after the vanilla.


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Lost Wax: Connecting the Dots


Evelyn is a high school graduate. I closed the book on her transcript over a year ago. Recently she taught me how to connect the dots:

Ever since my mom introduced me to pysanky egg making many years ago, I have been hooked. When Easter rolls around I have my friends over to create these brilliantly dyed eggs. Every year I get better and better and learn more helpful techniques. This year I was so obsessed with making eggs I would stay up ‘till midnight painstakingly scratching on eggs with a wooden kiska.

Ukrainian egg making teaches patience. It’s a quiet, slow, endeavor but all the hard work and patience pays off. My favorite part of the process is when, after hours of work, I finally get to melt off the black wax with a candle and reveal the masterpiece!

A few years ago we suffered a pysanky egg tragedy: Years worth of eggs had been left on the kitchen table while we were out to dinner one night. We returned to a floor covered in smashed eggshells. Our dog Jack had smelled the eggs and jumped onto a chair to get to the top of the table. He crushed them all.

My mom cried. She’s never gotten over the loss. I, on the other hand, just wanted to punt Jack down the staircase.

Slowly we have begun to build up our pysanky egg collection…

Eggs 3

I remember being on a Patricia Polacco roll one spring. After reading Rechenka’s Eggs to our group I heard Sara say, “We can do that.” 

The next thing I know we are blowing the insides out of eggs and teaching our primary aged children the art of batik. I find it interesting that the Ukrainian word “pysanky” comes from the verb “pysaty” which means to write. So picture teaching a group of 12 or so under ten-year-olds to write with wax on eggshells! Did I mention that there is fire involved in this activity? Yes, that’s right, fire.

Here’s the deal: children are capable. Was this activity chaotic? You bet. But not once did it cross our minds that this group of children was too young to engage in a sophisticated craft. We rarely purchased construction paper! Looking back those young children proved that focus is not the issue. Children possess an incredible store of focus power, but we deny them opportunity to demonstrate their prowess when we hand them coloring books.

The art of pysanky teaches patience, true. When pure white shells, a tiny surface of potential, are painstakingly decorated individuality emerges. As a teacher who’s a poet, I see a metaphor emerging.  

– Kim

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Perloo the Bold

When my youngest son, Søren, and his literature circle buddies began reading Perloo the Bold, by AVI his imagination was captured. Perloo, the protagonist, is a peaceful, fairly introverted scholar much like my son. I think they hit it off from the get go.

So in this story, Perloo has been chosen to succeed Jolaine as leader of the furry underground creatures called Montmers. When Jolaine dies and her evil son seizes control of the burrow, Perloo must step up to the plate.

During the second week of thinking deeply about the story, my quiet, unassuming son slipped under the loft where we keep our overflow art supplies and came into the study arms loaded with a box of assorted Fimo clay. He got to work conquering his idea.


When I asked him about the project he told me he was making a claymation film of Perloo the Bold. Søren spent many hours cleverly crafting characters and posing them in one position, then another using his camera to capture the motion.


Midway in his movie making he set the project aside, went back to the art cabinet, this time for paper and colored pencils and began work on a set of original proverbs complete with ornately illuminated letters.


With this task complete, Søren resumed progress on his little film. When the filming was complete, he enlisted his older brother, Taylor to compose original music for his piece. He was so proud when Taylor was done and his movie was complete. When I made one last suggestion, that Søren make a title slide, he knew just what to do, “I will make the title fade in, Perloo… the Bold. Yes, that’s it.” In a matter of seconds the slide was complete. Most fascinating of all, at least to me, was the strategic placement of the slide that was seemingly intuitive. He did not put the slide up front, but a couple frames into the movie to line up with a significant change in the rhythm of the music. Fantastic!


Søren’s creative response to this book not only demonstrates his deep understanding, but that his critical creative thinking skills are alive and well.

Sometimes it is the quiet, unassuming creatures that save the kingdom. Pondering this possibility, no doubt, inspired my son.

– Kim

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Idea Share: Art Trays

Our new catagory, Idea Share will be just that…a place to share ideas that we love. Quick little posts about quick little ideas that will make teaching and learning a little easier or little more special.


The styrofoam and paperboard trays that are used to package many meats and vegetables from the grocery store are resuable as palettes for paint and glue, or catch-alls for small craft materials during project time.