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Pumpkin! Pumpkin!

Pumpkins are everywhere this time of year! Time to harvest, right? Following are three ideas to help you “switch it up” with pumpkin activities that will surely keep the fall mood stirring!


Read (or listen to) a pumpkin story, or two! How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, is a wonderful story that integrates math and inquiry.  We love this story so much that weve included it in our Hatchling for Kindergarten Collection! Pumpkin Circle by George Levenson, photographs by Shumel Thaler, is a terrific book that takes the reader on a beautiful book through the life cycle of the pumpkin. Continue the pumpkin science by observing two different pumpkins from various perspectives. Discuss discoveries. Talk about color. You might even compare colors to paint chips from the hardware store! Count the lines. Compare weight. Observe the stem and the bottom of the pumpkin. Cut the pumpkins open. Count the seeds. You might even pick up a sugar pumpkin and make a pie or some muffins! The possibilities are endless.


Stitch a pumpkin. This one was made years ago for little hands to learn the running stitch. The pumpkin is a simple drawing cut onto fabric fused with Wonder Under, a material that allows the design to stick with heat to the background fabric. The outer frame, the bordering crooked strips of fabric, are optional. Without these, no sewing machine is necessary. Of course, if you have access to a sewing machine, by all means create a border!

Begin like this:

  1. Have your child look at and draw a pumpkin.
  2. Trace elements of drawing to the select fabrics prepared with Wonder Under—stem, body, inner shapes.
  3. Cut out the shapes, place on the background, and heat with an iron to adhere to the background.
  4. If you have a sewing machine, run a stitch around the pumpkin to add strength. If not, run a stitch by hand.
  5. Provide your child with a needle and embroidery floss in bright coordinating or contrasting colors to decorate.=


Try to yarn bomb a pumpkin! Several years ago, I bought a white pumpkin and a skein of orange yarn. I set out scissors, glue, and the yarn in a basket next to the pumpkin. Together with my four elementary and middle school aged children we created this fun activity, one length of yarn at a time. Pant the pumpkin with glue, cut a length of yarn to reach from the stem to the underneath of the pumpkin, and attach, one by one. This slow, contemplative work is a terrific activity to set up during October!



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Pumpkin Pancakes for the Last Week of November

Who says there is no time in the morning for a cozy breakfast?

What is a fall morning without the scent of pumpkin pancakes tickling the kitchen? 

Pancakes are quick breads and quick breads are great recipes to introduce little ones to cooking. With a little preparation before hand—pre-measured ingredients in portion bowls makes cooking with kids a very Montessori experience—cooking with little ones is quite academic.

First, assemble all the dry ingredients in a one bowl and the wet ingredients in another—a perfect task for little hands. Whisk the ingredients in each bowl (they are gonna love this part). Next, have them fold the wet into the dry, counting how many strokes it takes to just blend the ingredients. When it comes time to cook the pancakes, best for mom or dad to be in charge, but  when it come to clean-up, by all means let them wash some dishes the old fashioned way in a sink of sudsy water!

– Sara

Pumpkin Pancakes
Dry Ingredients:
– 2 cups flour (I use part whole wheat or nine grain flour)
– 3 T brown sugar
– 2 t baking powder
– 1 t soda
– 1 t allspice
– 1 t cinnamon
– ½ t ground ginger
– ½ t salt

Wet Ingredients:
– 1 ½ c milk
– 1 cup canned pumpkin
– 1 egg
– 2 T vegetable oil
– 2 T apple cider vinegar

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New Year / New View


When my oldest son was a toddler, I watched him make his way toward our back yard fence toward a knothole. I watched to see what he would do. Funny thing, he just stood there. He stood there for the longest time in the silence of mid-morning. I wondered what my son was seeing. I wondered about the other side of the fence. So I tiptoed into the house, grabbed my film camera and made my way to the other side of the fence.

This is the face of wonderment.

 So her's to wonderment. Find a knothole. Have a look see.



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Apple Pie and Books


I've never understood apple pie and cheddar cheese.

For me it's apple pie and books.

One day, after a long walk, John sat under a tree to rest—an apple tree, of course. What better way to begin pie making than reading about John Chapman, the nurseryman who seeded much of our landscape with apples. From there, my recipe calls for Apple Picking Time by Michele Benoit Slawson about a girl named Anna who cares deeply about the tradition of gathering apples from those trees that Johnnie Appleseed so carefully cultivated. But it's still not time to go to the pantry. Not yet…


My recipe calls for How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Pirceman. An apple is easy to gather from the market, but where did that apple come from? And the butter? The sugar? The spices? The answers call for a journey. And this little story guides the way.

Once back…

N o w  it's time to go to the pantry. Peel some apples, remove the cores, and slice. Add a sprinkle fresh lemon juice to enhance the apple tang. Toss with sugar, cinnamon for spice, cardamom for warmth, and a happy pinch of nutmeg. Set aside. Cut the butter into the flour until the butter makes the flour sandy. Add water to the flour mixture, form a ball, then roll the top and bottom crusts. Fill the bottom crust with prepared apples, cover it with the top crust and crimp. Bake. Enjoy.

Nothing like apple pie and books.




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Twelve Days

Up until recently I thought that the Twelve Days of
Christmas were the twelve days before Christmas. Not so. These twelve days, The
Twelve Days of Christmas, are twelve days after Crīstesmæsse, the Chrsitmastide.

Twelve days came down to us from centuries past to represent
the timing of the Magi, the Wise Ones from the East who followed stars and
discovered something unimaginable—the Christ child in a stable.

And so this year, here in the 21st century, we
are celebrating for twelve days after Christmas anticipating Epiphany or Three
Kings Day.

Here are some ideas how you might too…

  • In remembrance, you might engage in the tradition of chalking the year
    and initials of the Magi above your door: CMB (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar),
    this, and the phrase Christus mansionem benedicat,
    which translated means "may Christ bless the house."
  • Paint the stars – Wash watercolor paper with a watercolor
    to simulate sky. Lightly sprinkle salt on the picture while it is still wet. The
    texture will increase as the salt absorbs the water around it but leaves the
    pigment behind. This chemical reaction leaves little light spots where the salt
    grains landed—simulated stars. Contemplate the journey of the Magi.

Here’s to keeping our hearts contemplating the curiosity of
days, hope and joy for the New Year.

– The Whole Blackbird Team!

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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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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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Home Ec: Fall Gardening


I was thinking today as I was working in my garden that I take mentoring pretty seriously when it comes to gardening. I am such a “wanna-be” gardener even though it looks like I have it down. Well I don’t at all.

I am constantly calling my friends who have horticulture degrees or just lots more experience than I. And I know they call people who have more experience than them. So I benefit from the trickle down of knowledge. Throw in a healthy dose of the, “How hard can it be?” mentality and, shebang!  I have a decent garden.

But I am constantly doubting what I know and have many failures. I also do stupid things like shoveling mushy compost with my white gym shoes!

Well I attempted to photograph myself gardening this weekend. Practically impossible to hold a shovel and a camera at the same time! I finally got a bin full of compost to actually turn into dirt. It took forever because I had added WAY to much green stuff and not enough leaves (I was too lazy to go hunt up leaves.) Therefore my compost spent months in the anaerobic state rather than the optimal aerobic state. But never fear, I finally added enough dry stuff that it degraded into rich dirt. I found a cute frog in my bin and you know, they say amphibians are the first to go if their environment is bad sooo… it must be okay!

I also have been feeling so unmotivated to start fall planting. So with winter on my heels, I am at last into action.

I love the idea that a gentle rain will keep my seeds wet so I don’t have too. So I dove in on Sunday afternoon. First, I harvested all my remaining carrots and beets. I took a shovel and turned the bed, and then I tossed in my compost and turned that in. Then came decision time, what to plant? And then it dawned on me that it says right on the seed package whether or not it’s a cool or warm season vegetable! So I quickly weeded through my seed stash taking out only cool season seeds. I use the Square Foot Gardening approach by Mel Bartholomew. Except he does a professional job and I just wing it using some old bamboo sticks, to temporarily grid off the sq. feet. Oh to be Mel…

In the process, I discovered that I had neglected to support my eggplant all summer and it was a mess, so I gingerly staked it up and discovered a bunch of fruit under the pile! Even when I mess up things still grow and produce! Here’s to Eggplant! A good source of Vitamin K ,Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium, Manganese and a very good source of fiber, not to mention, a good source of an antioxidant called Chlorogenic Acid, among the most potent plant-based free radical scavengers ever discovered!

– Sara

Eggplant Dip
from Dr Andrew Weil MD

– 1 eggplant
– ½ med onion, grated or finely chopped
– 2 T capers
– 2 T fresh lemon juice
– ¼ cup EVO
– ½ t dried oregano
– ½ t salt
– ¾ t fresh ground pepper
– 1 T  red wine vinegar
– 4 pitas
– 1 tomato, peeled, seeded, diced
– 1 T chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Set eggplant on a baking sheet or dish and pierce it a few times with a knife. Bake until soft, 30 mins.
It should pierce easily with a fork. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Peel off skin, put flesh in a blender or processor. Add onions, capers, lemon juice. Turn on the machine, then gradually add the EVO. Continue to blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Transfer to a bowl, stir in oregano, salt, pepper, and vinegar.

Warm pitas briefly on a baking sheet, then cut each into 8 wedges. Arrange on a plate. Just before serving, stir the tomato and parsley into the dip.

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Home Ec: The Science of Yeast

I LOVE bread. A tradition of making it from scratch is easy to establish. The aroma of this yeasty wonder baking is pure gratitude and a warm slice with butter is a one-of-a-kind head-nodding smile. But home baked bread is more than yummy, it's science! Of course yeast is the agent that makes bread rise and yeast is an interesting thing to study.

Yeast has several crucial roles in bread baking. Yeast is a single celled fungus. How can such a little fungus be so important? Well, yeast is the driving force behind fermentation that allows a big lump of dough to become well risen. Yeast is a living organism that works by consuming sugar and excreting carbon dioxide and alcohol. Fermentation helps to strengthen and develop gluten in dough and also contributes to incredible flavors in bread.

There are three essentials to any bread dough: flour, water, and yeast. As soon as these are stirred together, enzymes in the yeast and the flour cause large starch molecules to break down into simple sugars. The yeast then eats the sugars and exudes a liquid that releases carbon dioxide and alcohol into air bubbles in the dough. It’s just like blowing up bubblegum! The longer fermentation goes on the more it breaks down big molecules in proteins, starches, and fats into their building blocks, so the more flavorful the dough becomes.

There are two basic yeasts that we buy today: active dry yeast and quick rise, or instant yeast. You can use either in a recipe. You just need to mix the active dry yeast with warm, (not hot) water with a pinch of sugar to activate it. Instant yeast can be added directly to the flour with all the other ingredients. This recipe calls for instant yeast and I don’t happen to keep that on hand so I used my active dry, I just added it to the warm water and let it sit for a few minutes until bubbles formed on top which lets me know the yeast is alive. If bubbles don’t form it means your yeast is expired or you killed it with hot water! About 105 degrees is perfect for dissolving yeast.


Flour is an important ingredient in bread making. The higher the quality the better your bread will taste. It’s better to use bread flour rather that all-purpose. Here’s why. Bread flour is milled from hard red spring wheat. It has a higher protein content so it has more gluten and will rise higher. All- purpose flour is great for soft breads like muffins and banana bread. It will give a more tender crumb.

Water is the last basic ingredient so it should be pure as well. If it has too many chemicals in it, that can be hard on the yeast and doesn’t taste good either.

Today I went to my favorite site for bread recipes, King Arthur Flour and found just what I was looking for. It is quite easy…a yummy and satisfying, not to mention educational, Thanksgiving activity for the whole family!

Soft Rolls

4 1/2 plus 2/3 cup bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 large egg whites
¼ cup vegetable oil   
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
3 to 4 tablespoons sesame seeds
1. Mix and kneed the dough ingredients-by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle—to make a smooth dough.
2. Cover the dough and let rise until it’s noticeably puffy, about 60 to 90 minutes.
3. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, deflate it, and divide it into 12 pieces (about 3 1/4 ounces each). Shape into balls.
4. Dip the top half of each roll into water, then into the seeds. Place rolls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press gently to flatten.
5. Cover the rolls, and let them rise until puffy, 45 to 60 mins. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 400F.
6. Bake the rolls until they’re deep golden brown, 22 to 26 mins. Remove and cool on a rack.

– Sara