Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday's Art Smarts: Sgraffito

Sgra - what?

I don't know about you, but I was not familiar with this word until recently. Of course, if you've read my disclaimer, you'll know that that's probably because I'm not an art teacher. But to give myself credit, I have done artistic things all my life and it's not like I'm a total newbie.

I was however, familiar with the technique. Sgraffito is art which is made by cutting away or removing a surface layer to reveal a second layer underneath. There are lots of ways to accomplish this. Here are some amazing images where the artist used this technique:

Dragonflies  Sgraffito Stoneware Art Pottery

I thought it would be a ton of fun to try this project with the kiddos. In order to demonstrate the process, I got to make a piece, too. Bonus!


1. art paper
2. crayons
3. tempera paint in the color of your choice
4. paint brushes
5. various scratching or rolling tools (I raided our play dough box for these)


This project couldn't be simpler or any easier to set up. First, have your kids color their art paper. This isn't the final picture, just the first layer. They don't have to worry about making a recognizable image. The only goal is to fill the paper with color.

I really had to encourage them to fill the paper. Natalie had an easier time with this. Daniel just wanted to color in the middle. But the more color you have underneath, the better.

The next step is to paint the entire paper with a layer of tempera paint. 

Now the real fun begins! Break out your tools and demonstrate for the kids how to use them to scratch into the paint. As you remove paint, your color should appear, creating a rainbow-like effect as you continue along. It's kind of fascinating to watch.

We used the wrong end of our paint brush when the kids wanted to "write" on the paper.

Daniel had some fun experimenting with the rolling pin. I brought it out with the other tools because I thought it would be useful for making circles, which is what I showed them. But I actually loved the result of rolling it into the paint.

And here are the finished projects. The first one is the demonstration piece that I did for the kids. I really filled the page and pressed pretty hard when I was coloring, so the effect is stronger.

Here are the kids' pieces:

Natalie, age 4

Daniel, age 3

My main piece of advice with this project is to really encourage kids to fill their paper with the first layer of color. The more color, and darker the color, the better the end result would be.

Another idea would be to paint the first layer instead of using crayons. The benefit is that you'll definitely get a dark first layer...the drawback is that you'll have to wait for it to dry. 

And, of course, you don't have to use black paint. I chose black because I wanted a real contrast between the first and second layer. But there's more than one way to create contrast ;)

Enjoy! And, as always, let me know if your family completes this project and let me see what you guys did!!

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer Wind Catcher

a.k.a., not-a-fourth-of-July summer craft.

I said to myself this week, "Self, get on Pinterest or put on your thinking cap or recall some childhood project and come up with a fourth of July craft. And do it quick, because you can't post a time-sensitive craft like that the day before the holiday. You've gotta give people time."

So I did. I looked through Pinterest. I put on my thinking cap and I tried to recall some good old American crafts. But I either came up blank or, honestly, just didn't like anything I found. I rediscovered through this whole process (because I already knew this about myself) that I actually don't really like cutesy crafts. At all.

Is that awful?

Well, it is what it is. So I scrapped the fourth of July craft idea and decided to just celebrate summer instead.  Here's what I came up with:

Summer Wind Catcher

First of all, this is an inspired project. I found the original idea at The Craft Train, and I loved it because the idea was so basic that the artist could take it in all kinds of different directions. Here's what we did.

Materials (what you see here are the materials needed to actually assemble your wind catcher):

1. One gallon milk or water jug (not pictured)
2. fabric
3. sea shells
4. wooden beads
5. jingle bells
6. paint markers (not pictured)
7. fabric stiffener (not pictured)
8. hemp or jute rope
9. fishing line
10. stick (not pictured)
11. scissors
12. hole punch (not pictured)
13. paint brush (not pictured. Make sure it's a messy brush; it's for the fabric stiffener.)


I'm not gonna lie. This project was a bit more involved than I anticipated. Once all the prep was done, then it was super quick and easy. But there was some prep work involved. Your kids, depending on their age, can help with some of it. You'll have to do the rest. All right. Here we go.

First, cut your gallon jug into little pieces. Then hole punch each piece two times. Here, I've only hole punched them once, but I quickly discovered that they needed two holes. Trust me.

Set them aside. Then cut your fabric into pieces that are similar in size and shape to the ones above. After you've got them all cut, brush a layer of fabric stiffener over each piece and let dry. This was actually a pretty quick step and it's important! After they're dry, go ahead and hole punch them twice as well and set them aside.

While you're fabric is drying, take your gallon jug pieces and your paint markers outside. I showed my kids how to use the markers to paint each piece. 

Daniel painted two pieces and Natalie painted several pieces. Then this happened:

Why, yes. We were all outside in our jammies. That's how we roll around here.

After you've finished painting the rest of the pieces because your kids lost interest, go inside for awhile. Let them dry. Have breakfast and put the baby down. Then you can finish your wind catcher.

The first thing you need in order to assemble these little guys is a hanging stick. I brought my kiddos back outside and they each chose one that they liked. This might have been Daniel's favorite part of the whole project:

The boy loves sticks.

After we were back inside, I tied pieces of hemp onto their sticks. Daniel asked for 2 strings and Natalie asked for 4 strings, so that's what they got. Then I showed them how to thread our various objects onto the strings. I didn't give them directions after that. They were allowed to add as many or as little of each of the pieces in whatever order they wanted. 

Daniel loved the wooden beads. Natalie used all the objects and threaded them on her strings in what appeared to be random order. 

I am a little sad that they weren't all over the fabric pieces. I was especially fond of them. Natalie did use a couple, but I would've used the whole lot. This was an exercise in restraint for me. I kept wanting to shove a piece of fabric in their hands, and I kept having to tell myself to back off and let them create their own wind catcher. 

We did end up using two different kinds of string - the hemp was used for the pieces with larger holes. Plus, I liked the look of it - very natural. Then, they each wanted some fishing line to thread smaller things, like our jingle bells and sea shells. 

Once they were finished, I tied a hanging loop on each of their wind catchers, and we hung them on the front porch:

Summer Wind Catcher
Daniel, age 3

Summer Wind Catcher
Natalie, age 4

Briefly. After that, they decided that they wanted to give them to some friends. So down they came. And boy, were they excited when they gave them away! It made me happy :)

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Digging Holes

In the years leading up to my 16th birthday, I thought there was something magical about small used car lots, the shady kind where sales guys wore checked blazers and had pencil-thin mustaches.

 My first car, a 1979 Chevy Malibu. How I loved you.

I believed that this - THIS - was a place where all my dreams could come true.

So many the time that we almost didn't make it to the top of the Dames Point Bridge.

In the end, I didn't end up buying my first car from one of those lots, probably to my benefit. But it didn't change my burning desire to spend some time looking at the cars there.

Or repairing the starter every few months.

I do not burn with desire to see a used car lot anymore.

I like to think that I've grown up a little bit. After all, that was half a lifetime ago. I've moved on.

I will never forget you, '79.

To Home Depot.

These days, based on the way I've been behaving lately, you'd think Home Depot is the center of all things magical in my world.

(Oh, those wood floors! Ah - the appliances, stainless steel! Look! Tile backsplash! Countertops! Faucets! Fixtures - oh my!)

It's frustrating. Why can't I move past this disease of wanting things? It's like digging a hole at the beach. You remove some wet sand only to have your hole fill with more wet sand. You won't ever have an empty hole. It will always fill with something.

So I guess the question isn't, "Why can't I move past this disease of wanting things?" I know the answer to that question. It's because I'm human. We all want things. If it wasn't a widespread disease, there wouldn't be so many expressions to describe it, like "keeping up with the Joneses." 

No. I think the question should be, "What am I going to let my hole fill up with?" Because it will always fill with something. I can be passive and sort of helplessly watch it fill with wet sand. 

Or I could put something else there instead.

A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and we will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that's enough. 

1 Timothy 6:6-8
The Message

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday's Art Smarts: Experimenting with Dots and Dashes

I love Monet. I could get lost in the dreamlike quality of his simple landscapes and cityscapes. And since I think Impressionism is just tops, I thought it would be fun to explore this style with my kiddos.

This is a pretty quick project and could be put together with materials you might already have on hand, thanks to the internet. Yay! Technology makes life easier. And also lets us do things on a whim. 


1. washable paint (Or any paint that you prefer, really. Washable is less stressful for me.)
2. paintbrushes
3. art paper
4. paper plates
5. large sheet or art mat to keep your surface clean
6. the Internet (or other examples of Monet's work)
7. one or two...or three or four enthusiastic artists ;)


We started by looking at some images of Monet's work. We looked at this one, one of Natalie's personal favorites:

 The Artist's Garden at Giverny

And we looked at this one, one of my personal favorites:

Boats Leaving the Harbor

I helped the kids notice that Monet's paintings didn't look like actual life...and I used the term Impressionism to help them understand that this was his interpretation of what he saw. We also spent some time looking at several different paintings and picking out the dots and dashes he used to paint his pictures. In the first picture, I pointed out, Monet didn't paint each flower petal. Instead, he used a whole lot of dots to create what looks like a field of flowers. In the above picture, I helped the children notice that Monet used a series of dashes to create the image of moving water. 

The other thing we noticed was that most of Monet's pictures were landscapes and cityscapes - painted outside. If we wanted to use Monet as our inspiration, we'd have to take things to the front yard. Which was fortunate, because it was a beautiful day. I could see turning this project into a field trip. How fun would it be to go to a nature park and walk around until you find the perfect scene? 

We, however, stayed on our front porch. And this is what we were looking at:

I set up our project by giving the kids each a piece of art paper and a paper plate to mix colors. I decided to let them have a lot of freedom with this project (interpretation: I gave them the colors that they asked for), but I did remind them several times that we were painting a picture of the scene in front of us. 

Daniel, I discovered, was a little young for this project. He had a lot of fun with the paints, but didn't seem to be able to recreate the scene. Not a fail, though. As I said, he had great fun painting. Natalie, on the other hand, was able to complete this project as intended. She is just beginning to make recognizable pictures. Therefore, depending on your child's ability, I'd say this project is age appropriate for 4 years and up.

Natalie began by making the grass in the bottom half of the picture. She used shorter dashes to accomplish this. Next, she worked on her blue sky with longer, wispier strokes. 

She also added a sun to the left and began painting the Plumbago using a series of green dots. After that, she added some purple-blue dots to create the blooms on the Plumbago.

She looked up and noticed the oak tree to the right of the Plumbago and asked for brown. Not a color that I had on hand, so we talked about how to mix some colors to create brown. And we experimented until we got a color that satisfied her:

And she painted her tree:

I was so happy with how Natalie was able to apply the techniques she observed in Monet's painting to create her own landscape painting. I would definitely call this project a success based on that alone. But I was also happy with how she was able to translate what she saw in front of her to a recognizable picture on paper. It kind of makes a parent giddy when their child moves beyond a mess of crayon scribble to more organized thinking with their art!

Summertime Breezes
Natalie, age 4

As always, I'd love to see what your family is doing! If you use Monet as inspiration for your next project, leave a comment with a link and let me know!

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Super Quick Impromptu Counting Game

When I was a teacher (I've taught a range of elementary grades, but today I'm referring to preschoolers), parents would start the year off by telling me that their kid already knows his/her numbers and how to count. At the beginning of my first year in preschool, I remember being both surprised and impressed with how advanced my class seemed to be.  All the kids knew their numbers and how to count.

Except they didn't. 

Well, they could possibly count up to 10, and maybe 15 or 20.  But what I quickly learned is that many of those kids had no idea what the numbers actually looked like.  And if you gave them a set of number cards, say, they wouldn't have any idea which order to put them in.  Not only that, but they weren't able to accurately count out a group of objects.  In fact, they seemed mostly clueless when it came to counting and numbers.  

What their parents were referring to when they said their kid could count was rote memorization.  Which is definitely a start, but we all hope that that's not where our counting skills end.

My son, right now, is able to count up to about 6 or so. Which is huge, believe me. But he only recognizes a couple numbers (number 2, number 3...maybe number 5). He can sometimes accurately count out a small group of objects, but often gets lost along the way.  I would not say that he knows his numbers. I would say that we're working on it. So we count everything.

Like these:

We bought these nifty little stuffed bowling pins for Silas's birthday last week.  Turns out they're coming in handy with Daniel, too.

This was an impromptu game. It started when Daniel began playing with the pins. I glanced over and casually asked him if he could find number 3 for me (something I was fairly sure he could do). He did and the rest is history. I've learned with Daniel that you strike while the fire is hot. If he's interested, go for it. 

I gathered up all the pins (6 total) and scattered them randomly in front of him. Then I asked him to find the pin that has a number 1 on it. He chose a few wrong pins first, and when he did, I'd say, "No...not that one," and turn the pin over so he wouldn't choose it again.

Sorry these pics are upside down. I was trying to get pictures quickly and discreetly. That meant taking them from where I was sitting ;)

We put all the pins in order that way.

When we were done, we counted them together. And then I asked Daniel to point to the numbers that I called out, in random order. This was much easier for him once they were all in order.  

We played the game a couple more times, and then...

He started throwing the pins. 

Like I said, strike while the fire is hot. ;)

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The One, Big Main Thing

I heard recently that there is this one, big main thing that makes some parents stand out from the rest.*  And it surprised me.

It had nothing to do with whether or not the parents stayed together.

It wasn't their super-human patience, or staying calm in every situation, or having the all the answers.

It had nothing to do with meal planning, or doing a load of laundry a day, or cleaning the bathroom weekly.

It wasn't organization.

It wasn't the many craft projects, or sensory bins, or light tables. 

And It wasn't homeschooling.

All of those are good things.  But I am an epic fail at most of them.  I'm so thankful for my marriage, but with everything else... I'm disorganized, I go through phases with meal planning, I do okay with the craft projects - but again, we go through phases in this house, I'm not sure I have what it takes to actually homeschool my kids, and I am not patient.

I used to think I was patient.  Really.  Then I had children.

Are you ready for the one, big main thing?

It is the ability to apologize to our kids.  When we've done something wrong - something we know is wrong - it is getting real with them.  Saying sorry.

That happened to us today.  

Snack on the porch.  Before things went south.

Around lunchtime, several things happened.  I decided to walk our little party down to the street so Natalie could ride her bike.  Then I realized Daniel should go potty since it had been awhile.  Silas started crying.  We get down to the street and it's super hot.  And sunny.  Natalie rides for a few minutes while Silas is still crying and Daniel is complaining.  We go back, I drop the mail and it goes everywhere, I have to carry the umbrella stroller through the soft sand, Natalie is complaining that it's too hard to push her bike over the rocks in our driveway, and Daniel is about to throw a tantrum.  Over what?  I don't know.

I lost my patience. 

I started snapping at the kids to pick up their toys, to watch out for their brother, to hurry up already so we could get inside.

Over lunch I felt conviction creep over me.  The good kind.  The kind that brings about some real change.  Yes, they were complaining and throwing tantrums.  But they are not the adult here.  I am.  It is not okay for me to throw a tantrum.  

And I did it - I said I was sorry, and I told them why.  It was a good conversation.  Natalie asked if I had sinned. We talked about how we all do wrong things.  And mommies are no different.  

And you know what?  I felt so much better afterward.  Who knew?  Turns out that settling things, even with your kids, is good for the soul. 

*I heard this from Donald Miller's blog, Storyline

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This post was shared at Heavenly Homemakers.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Liebster Award!

So, this blog is fairly new.  I'm maybe a month in and when I browse around the blogosphere, I'm not gonna lie, I get a little overwhelmed.  There are so many truly amazing, well written, moving blogs out there.  There are so many people with so many good tips.  It seems like every kid-friendly project under the sun has been tried and written about.  It seems like I'm a day late and a dollar short.  

Then there's this: about a week into my blogging journey, I really felt encouraged after reading a children's book to my kids about David.  "I may be little," he says, "But with God, I can do big things."  And I thought about my blog and how it's so little, and what kind of big things could I do for God?  That's when I decided that I wanted this to be about more than just a few cool learning activities and art projects.  There are so many bigger, well-written blogs that are already doing that.  I wanted to be able to encourage other moms with my blog.  We are all just sort of figuring this stuff out.  Not one of us has it all together.  Because we are all people.  

And if I just reach a few other moms out there who need to hear that they are not alone, that this ship is full of other moms who feel just like them, then I think I'm doing what God is asking me to do.  

Of course, it's nice when I hear that other people are reading the things I write.  It's always nice to know you're not doing something in vain.  That's why I was so thrilled when Discovering Breadcrumbs left a comment to let me know that she'd nominated my blog for the Liebster Award.

The Liebster Award celebrates the small blogs out there (less than 200 followers), the ones that have some really awesome material but aren't terribly well known, yet.  I am honored to have been recognized, and I am excited to share with you a few blogs that I have found to be well worth a read.

But first, a few rules:

Create a post containing the following information:

  • Link back to the blog that nominated you.
  • Nominate 5 – 11 new blogs who have 200 or fewer followers (This is harder than it sounds and can sometimes be difficult to determine, but give it your best shot).
  • Answer the questions posted for you by your nominator.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
  • Contact your nominees and let them know that you have nominated them.
The blogs I nominated are below. Go check them out!
Amy Writes - A super well-written, slice of life blog.
Blemories - Memories in Blog Form.  Great read!
Blessed Life Atop a Cake Stand - Everything blog - kids, house, and great recipes!
Learning for Life - Lots of inspiration to get those kids outside!
Sunny Sweet Life - Clean, easy-to-read design and I just pinned an awesome wet felting tutorial.  Gonna have to make something soon....

Questions for my nominees:

1. What do you hope to accomplish with your blog?  Where do you hope for it to be in five years?
2. What is the best memory from your childhood?
3. Who inspires you?
4. What do you fear?
5. Your perfect day would include...?
6. If you could take a for fun class, either in college or through your community, what would you like to learn and why?
7. If you have kids, give one piece of advice for your readers.
8. skim milk, 1%, 2%, or whole?  Why?
9. Which sounds like more fun: sky diving or scuba diving?
10. Favorite weather?
11. Name one of your all time favorite blogs.  Why do you like it?

11 random things about me:

1. I was run over by a truck when I was four years old and fractured my collar bone and left leg.  I have epilepsy and the doctors believe it is related to that accident.
2. I love sushi. To celebrate the birth of each of our babies, my husband would run down the street and bring back sushi for dinner.  
3. I have loads of grey hair and they are mostly coming in in one spot on the left side of my forehead.  Weird.
4. I am choosing not to dye my hair.  We'll see how long I can go.
5. I like to warm my hands over the stove in the wintertime.
6. I love teaching, but I did not like being a teacher.  All that responsibility.  All those 18 pairs of eyes staring at me.  I am not a person who likes to be in charge.
7. I have a large birthmark on my right leg.  I've always thought it looked like a dinosaur.
8. At different points in my life I've been in gymnastics, jazz, tap-ballet, and modern dance classes.  I've had piano, violin and voice lessons.  I am not an expert in anything. 
9. I love walking in the woods.
10. I desperately want a fireplace, but it isn't happening.  I keep threatening to buy one of those cheesy electric ones, to my husband's utter dismay (don't worry, that's not happening either).  
11. I am shy and usually pretty quiet in large groups of people.     

Questions I am to answer:

1.  What is your favorite thing about your blog? I'm still trying to figure that part out, but right now, I'm really loving the art projects.  I can see this turning into an art-heavy blog before long.

2.  What cleaning chore do you hate more than the others? The bathroom, hands down.  Nasty.

3.  If you had to choose only 1 pair of shoes for 1 week, which would it be:  heels, flip flops, athletic shoes, boots, wedges, or flats? Flip flops.  I wear them everywhere.
4.  Do you prefer artwork or photographs on your walls? Usually artwork, but I do have some great photos of my family and I'm embracing that a little more these days.
5.  What book would you recommend right now to a stranger? Well...I'm not reading books much these days...
6.  Are you a morning person, or night owl? If I can drag myself out of bed, then I'm totally a morning person.  Once I'm awake (i.e. after my first cup of coffee), morning is my favorite part of the day.
7.  Name a music artist you are really digging right now. I am totally loving The Avett Brothers.  So, so good.  Go check them out.
8.  Name one trend you are tired of. Paper mache moose or dear heads and/or antlers on walls.  I think we've seen enough of those.  Seriously.
9.  What season do you enjoy the most?  BIG toss up between spring and fall. So many good things about both. At this time of year, though, I'd say spring.
10.  What one place would you travel to, right now, if you could go anywhere? Europe. Anywhere would be awesome. Yes, please.
11.  What is your favorite blog to follow (big or small)? There are advantages and disadvantages to both.  With big blogs, you get a lot of content and consistency, which is a plus, but I love the cozy feel of smaller blogs.  You might actually get a chance to communicate with the author and share ideas.  I like that.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday's Art Smarts: Father's Day Art in the Style of Paul Klee

Update: even though Father's Day has passed, this is still a great project to try and can be modified for any holiday...or skip the words and just have fun with the colors and shapes!

Father's Day looms ahead.

The first half of the year for our family (starting at Christmas, actually) is a constant holiday or celebration for us, most of which include the buying of gifts.  In between all of the regular holidays - Christmas, Valentines, Easter, Mother's Day, and Father's Day (did I forget any?), we've got all our birthdays and our anniversary.

That's a lot of presents.  Is it just me who looks at things that way?

Don't get me wrong.  I love to receive presents and I really love to give presents.  However, in order for us to survive the first 6 months, we've made a couple of rules.

1. Keep Christmas kind of small.  We don't need to buy the store; in fact, we can't afford it.

2. Use the symbolic anniversary gifts when buying presents for our anniversary.  It forces us to get creative and it's fun to use that as a guide.

3. Valentine's is more about being together than getting big gifts.

4. And Mother's Day and Father's Day revolves around the kids giving the present.

And so, Father's Day is here.  This year, I had a vision for a project that I wanted to help my kids complete, and it turned out better than I expected.

Do you know about Paul Klee?  He's got some amazing pieces.  I really love this one:

Highways and Byways

And this one is cool, too:

Castle and Sun

He used a lot of graphic shapes and bold colors.  I wanted to use Paul Klee as inspiration to create some cool Father's Day art.  Here's what we did in case you'd like to do something similar.

1. thick art paper 
2. ruler
3. pencil
4. sharpie marker
5. watercolors


Ahead of time, if your kids are preschool age, come up with a basic design and draw it out on the art paper. (If you're working with elementary age children, they can probably handle this part themselves.  Since my kids are so young, I had to help them with some of the steps.)

With your kids, start by looking through some of Paul Klee's art.  Discuss with your kiddos how he used lines and shapes to create pictures.  Introduce and define the term abstract.  Ask your kids to name the colors they see in his art, and guide them to notice that each block or space in the picture is a different color.  Discuss "cool" and "warm" colors.  Which picture is their favorite?  Why?

I then let Natalie - under direct supervision, believe me! - outline the words:

Not bad!  This is great fine motor practice.

Then I showed Natalie how to use the ruler to make straight lines and helped her to make some vertical lines between the horizontal lines.  She did several and then lost interest.  I filled in the gaps.  If you're working with preschool age children, be prepared to take over when they are "done."  This can be a tedious and time consuming project, and in all honesty, is really more suited for elementary aged kids.

The next part is where it starts to come together and is so much fun!  Break out your watercolors! Remind the kiddos not to go crazy and start coloring the whole page - this is about smaller blocks of color. I was kind of surprised with how well my kids did, especially Daniel.  Just more proof that they're getting big. Crazy-town.

Daniel was so focused! Still working on that pencil grip....

Natalie was, too.

Natalie and Daniel together finished about 3/4 of the picture and then decided they were done, so I filled in the gaps. Again, if you're working with older kids, I would expect them to be able to complete this project on their own.

This was definitely a collaborative project, a gift from the whole family.  Well, Silas didn't actually help.  But he did watch and really wanted to be in the middle of things.  I think that counts.

Anyway, here's our present!

(Still a little wet, here.)

It was super easy to complete. If your family ends up doing something similar, I'd love for you to leave me a link and let me see what you guys came up with.  There are tons of ways to get creative with this idea - no wrong way to do art!

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