Pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween. Available in green, white, blue-gray and various shades of orange, like the deeply ribbed Cinderella pumpkin, they make an eye-catching Thanksgiving Day center- piece when you glue moss and living succulents on top.

Keep the succulents misted as they root into the moss, and enjoy an attrac- tive creation in your home into the December holidays and beyond. When the pumpkin eventually begins to soften and age, toss it in the compost bin and pot the succulents indoors in soil in a flowerpot or outdoors in a frost-free gar- den bed.

Kids will enjoy making the centerpiece with you this week. Swirling the non- toxic sticky glue, handling the wiry moss and arranging the succulents and add-ins make for artful fun.

Here’s what you’ll need for one succulent pumpkin centerpiece:

—One clean pumpkin with a flat top surface and center indentation works best.

—Water-soluble white glue that dries clear, such as Mod Podge Matte finish

—Sphagnum moss available in garden centers or craft stores

—Several succulents. Use cuttings from your garden or purchase at garden centers

—Natural add-ons such as seedpods, acorns, tiny pinecones, eucalyptus

Here’s the fun:

  1. Set pumpkin on a newspaper covered work surface. Remove stem with clippers, being careful not to cut into the pumpkin.
 Drizzle glue around the top area of the pumpkin in swirls. Cover with the moss about 1/2-inch thick, pressing firmly in place. Let dry.
  1. Remove roots and soil from the succulents from containers. Dip 1/4-inch stems into glue and poke into the moss. For balance, place a tall succulent for a focal point near the center and add remaining succulents and add-ons around it over the moss. (An adult may use a glue gun to affix the add-ons, if you prefer)

Care: Set the centerpiece on a trivet or tray. Mist succulents and moss weekly, making sure the pumpkin remains fresh and dry. The succulents will begin to root through the glue into the moss. Keep away from excessive heat, freezing temperatures and rain.

Extra idea: Make succulent pumpkin place cards for each place setting at the Thanksgiving table using single minis, such as the Munchkin pumpkin. Tuck a name card in each one and set at each plate. Guests may take it home to enjoy.





My friend David LaRochelle is an accomplished, award-winning creator of books for young people as well as an illustrator, and in my book, he’s also an inspiring educator who knows kids and knows what kids like.

When he took center stage at a “meet the author” event at our neighborhood bookstore, he not only read his newly published “Monster & Son” — illustrated by Joey Choll and published by Chronicle books (2016) — but he paused after these monster’s words to his son, “Your fearsome yawns won’t frighten me, I’ll hug you strong and tight, then gently tuck you into bed while whispering … good night,” and invited the eager children to participate in creating a big drawing of a monster. Hands went up, ideas bounced off the walls; giggles, “oohs” and “aahs” resounded as David quickly sketched their ideas. The book’s theme expanded into a playful time as vocabulary was enriched and children grew in their love of storytime — and maybe even a monster.

Judge a picture book by its potential for reading enjoyment, and for social and mental growth. Evidence is clear that reading to kids is one of the best ways to ensure success in school. It also strengthens the bond between you and kids!

Here are eight spinoff ideas David shares to enrich picture-book reading time at bedtime or anytime:
1. Look at the book’s cover and predict what it might be about. Funny? Scary? Make-believe? Factual?
2. Use lots of expression. Practice making different silly voices for the characters.
3. After reading it once, let your child retell it in his or her own words. Or, take turns using the illustrations to make up your own stories.
4. Ask what your child thinks will happen after the last page. Maybe the two of you will be inspired to write a sequel together.
5. Turn to a page at random and play “I Spy.” Choose a detail from the illustration and give clues to see if your child can spot the item. (“I spy something small and furry with a long tail”). Then let your child be the clue giver.
6. With older children, explore the copyright and dedication pages, as well as the author and illustrator bios. Ask if the book is older or younger than your child based on the copyright year. Who might your child like to dedicate a book to?
7. Many books list the medium the artist used to create the illustrations, such as collage, watercolors or digital art. Perhaps you and your child will want to try creating your own pictures using the same medium.
8. Have fun!





Bake a Dramatic Puff Pancake With Lemon for Breakfast

Make weekend breakfasts extra special when you put this delicious puff pancake on your menu. Also called a Dutch baby, this version of the recipe is simple to prepare with kids, and dramatic to serve piping hot, right out of the oven. Believe me, mouths will be watering when it arrives at the table. Take a bow, and then serve with fresh fruit or other favorite toppings.

4 eggs
1 cup skim or whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Topping: 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
1. Let one of your kids count and crack the eggs into a mixing bowl. Inspect it to be sure there are no remaining shells. Beat eggs with a beater until light and pale.

2. Another child may measure and gradually beat in the milk, flour, sugar and salt.

3. Meanwhile, place butter in a 10 or 12-inch cast-iron or ovenproof skillet, or a 9-inch-by-13-inch oven-safe glass baking dish. An adult should place it in the oven until it is hot and the butter sizzles. Remove from oven and pour batter into the hot butter. Return to oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffy and golden-brown on the edges. (Keep oven door closed until done.)

4. Squeeze lemon juice on top, dust with powdered sugar and serve tableside immediately.
Serves 4. Serve with fresh fruit, such as berries, grapes and kiwi slices.

Alternate blender method for steps 1-2:

Put eggs in a blender and whirl for one minute. With motor running, add milk and slowly add flour, sugar and salt.
Whirl for an additional 30 seconds. Proceed with step 3.


For Mother’s Day on May 8, nothing is more original or more cherished than a child-made gift. These two crafts are easy for a child to assemble with the help of dad, a caregiver or a teacher.
The paper basket is a stylish container a preschooler will have fun crafting and filling with a mini-bouquet of flowers, chocolate or a small present. School-age kids can show off their artistic talents when they paint a windowsill flowerpot and plant a hardy succulent or Mom’s favorite herbs. Here’s how:
Mother’s Day Gift Basket
(Preschooler craft)
What you’ll need:
–Round plate with even edges, approximately 7 inches in diameter (for a pattern)
–Two sheets of 8.5-by-11-inch heavy construction paper in contrasting colors
–Stickers or lightweight decorations
–Small bouquet of fresh or silk flowers or small gifts
1. An adult should help the child put the plate on a piece of construction paper and draw a circle around it. Cut out the circle. Repeat with the second sheet.
2. Fold both circles in half. Slide rounded edges together. Without folding, slide the bottom creases together to form the shape of a heart. Staple circles together to make a heart-shaped basket.
3. To make a handle, cut an 11-inch long strip of paper that’s 1 inch wide, and staple to basket.
4. Decorate with stickers or objects such as a paper butterfly, and arrange flowers or gifts inside.
Paint a Flowerpot
(Schoolage craft)
–One 4-inch clay pot and saucer
–Acrylic paints
–Paper plates
–Potting soil and a succulent or herb plant
1. Place the pot and the saucer on a newspaper-covered work surface. Squeeze paint onto the plates.
2. Paint over the entire outside surface of the pot and saucer. Let dry. (For a natural look for the background, skip this step.)
3. Use a variety of contrasting colors to make designs around the plain or painted pot. Experiment with a splashy design of swirls, zigzags, stripes, dots and spots. (Dip an eraser of an old pencil in the paint to dab on spots). Let dry.
4. Fill with potting soil and plant a succulent or herb.
5. Add a card for Mom.


Josh and goat
When my friend Brittany Hagan shot me a text asking if I wanted to tag along to 9-year-old Isabel’s first rehearsal at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. You see, “Izzie” is a black lab and also a cast member — along with other therapy dogs, baby goats, a rabbit, hen, tortoise and a goldfish — in the theater’s innovative and zany spring production, “Animal Dance.”
Designed with the preschool set in mind, world-renowned choreographer and performance artist Ann Carlson creatively dances and interacts onstage with the critters. “Animals are dancers,” says Ann. “A goat wags its tail, a dog rolls over.”
And when they’re onstage together, the unexpected is the rule. Captivating moves and antics provide an improvisational production that entertains and lets young kids gain respect for animals while they discover the similarities they share.
Patty Born Selly, assistant professor of education at Hamline University and consultant for “Animal Dance,” says children are naturally drawn to animals. Observing and interacting with them gives children an opportunity to demonstrate compassion and responsibility.
Why not open up new possibilities for your kids to connect with animal friends? Here are some of Patty’s practical ideas:
–Provide opportunities to care for household pets through brushing and feeding, putting out bird feeders or tending a garden that feeds butterflies and other insects. Clean the fish tank together, or get creative and arrange the “furniture” in a guinea pig cage. Kids will develop a sense of confidence in themselves when they participate. It feels good to help others! Taking care of pets also lets kids practice gentleness and self-regulation. You have to move slowly to feed a bunny without startling it.
–Talk about animals wherever you go. Invite your kids to tell you what the animals are doing and other details they find interesting. For preschoolers, a simple line of ants on a sidewalk can be an exciting discovery. Crouch down and observe together. What do they look like? Where are they going? Even if you don’t have answers, it’s the sharing that communicates to your child that you value his excitement.
–Put on a play or your own family version of “Animal Dance” with a pet. Through dramatic play, children can “test out” the perspective of others. It’s also a playful way to learn about animals while they try on new ways of thinking and being in the world.
Resources:; “Connecting Animals and Children in Early Childhood” by Patty Born Selly: Redleaf Press.


Sloshing through snow at Minnesota’s Twin Cities airport, I eagerly anticipated a spring break from a Midwest winter super chill — a real R and R at our cabin in the coastal California redwoods.
Upon arrival, I discovered a mini crop of bright, ready-to-pick Meyer lemons growing on our deck, a reminder of why I love a West Coast spring. I picked the “California gold” and put a few lemons with leaves in a pretty bowl for a table centerpiece, squeezed one in hot water with grated ginger for a morning wake-up, and by evening, doused another on fresh fish I picked up at the wharf for supper.
What was next? Lemonade? It wasn’t summer yet. How about keeping it simple and making a favorite dessert from my childhood, I thought: Lemon bars. To update the taste of the traditional recipe, I added lots of lemon zest to the batter for extra kick.
Lemon bars are a classic and a perfect little “sweet” to serve for a snack or dessert to remind us of sunny springtime. It’s an ideal recipe for involving kids in the prep, too. When you let one child use his nimble fingers to spread out the easy-to-mix crust layer on the baking dish while another zests and squeezes the lemons, you’ll be on the home stretch to pop it in the oven.
Bake, cool and bring in the kids to sift the powdered sugar on top before you slice it into squares. Or, any shape — why not triangles?
Makes 32 bars
For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
For the filling:
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
To make the crust, mix together the flour, butter, sugar and salt. Pat the mixture down evenly into the baking pan with your hands. Bake for 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
To make the filling, while the crust layer is baking, beat together the eggs, sugar, flour, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pour over baked crust.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the filling is set. Let cool on a rack to room temperature.
With a sieve, dust with the powdered sugar. Cut into bars.


marbled egg
While the older kids are busy coloring Easter eggs, your preschoolers will enjoy this tactile and fun way to make marbled paper eggs using an unlikely art supply: shaving cream! When complete, enjoy the artsy egg-shaped designs as decor in your home. Make a large one to hang on a door, and cut out minis for a charming garland to display just about anywhere!

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–2-inch-by-4-inch piece of corrugated cardboard
–16 toothpicks
–9-inch-by-13-inch baking tray or pan with edges
–shaving cream
–liquid food coloring, poster paint or acrylic paint, diluted 1 part paint to 2 parts water
–heavy-duty white construction paper
–scissors, ribbon and craft supplies for decorating paper eggs

Here’s the fun:
First, make a tool for swirling the color. Poke ends of the toothpicks 1/4 inch apart into the gaps of one long side of the piece of corrugated cardboard. The toothpicks should fit snugly in the cardboard, to resemble a comb.

Spray shaving cream in the baking tray or pan. Kids will have fun playing with it as you guide them to level it out with their hands.

Drop two to three different colors of food coloring or diluted acrylic paint on top of the shaving cream. (When using paint, I use small spoons or an eyedropper saved for crafts when transferring paint to the shaving cream.) The tray should now be filled with blobs of irregular colorful polka dots.

Use the toothpick “comb” to make a few swirls down and across the paint. Aim to make the designs on the surface of the shaving cream rather than dragging the colors too deep. Your child might say with delight, “Hey, I’m combing shaving cream!”

Immediately set a sheet of paper on the design, bringing the left and right sides up slightly. Press gently all over the paper, then lift. Let set for a minute or two, then, using the squeegee, remove the shaving cream in one smooth motion into the sink to reveal a beautiful marbled design. Rinse the squeegee. Let paper dry completely.
Make more designs by adding more coloring or paint.

Cut marbled paper into a large Easter egg shape. Decorate with a few craft supplies if you wish. Punch a hole at the top and tie a string for hanging. Or, make small egg shapes and glue to a long string or ribbon for a springtime garland.

Note: Remind young children that although the shaving cream may look like whipping cream, it is not edible.



For those of us who don’t claim Ireland in our lineage, it’s a stretch to dance a jig, much less remember to wear something green on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. No wonder I was pleased when I shared a photo of this paper strip shamrock craft idea with my neighbor and received a reply, “Your shamrock warms my Irish heart!”
The shamrock has traditionally been the national emblem of Ireland, so why not display it with creativity as a sign not only of the coming holiday, but also a welcome to the green of a long-awaited spring?
Grab some green construction paper and basic supplies from your home office. Enjoy this messless art project with your school-age kids. Your preschooler can also lend a hand, when you make it together.
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–2 sheets of construction paper in two different colors. (I chose a light and a dark shade of green for these directions)
–household glue
–thread or fishing line for hanging
–paper cutter (optional)
Here’s the fun: (Find step-by-step photos at
1. Make the paper strip hearts.
For each heart, measure, mark with a pencil and cut with scissors or a paper cutter:
2 strips of light-green construction paper cut 1 inch by 3 inches;
2 strips of dark-green construction paper 1 inch by 5 inches.
Pile the 4 strips starting with one light-green short strip, the two dark-green long strips and end with the remaining light-green short strip on top. They should be evenly stacked up at one end. Carefully staple this 1-inch-wide stack about 1/4 inch from the even end.
Bring the loose ends of the short light-green strips away from the pile (and over the staple) to form a heart shape. Hold with one hand as you pull back the long strips in the same manner.
Staple the four strips together near the pointed end of the hearts.
Make two more.
2. Make the shamrock.
Arrange three completed paper strip hearts on a work surface to make a shamrock. Staple the pointed heart ends together. Bend the paper near the staple to spread out the sides. Cut-out and glue on a thin paper stem.
Make several paper strip shamrocks and hang in a window or from a chandelier.



Pasta is a favorite national food of Italy, where it is typically cut into a variety of shapes and eaten with a sauce, in a soup or incorporated into a baked dish. But not just in Italy! Kids everywhere love pasta. No wonder it regularly appears on our family table. Mysteriously, though, when the kids were young, they often claimed to love linguine but not spaghetti, or shells but not elbows. And no matter how many times I tried to explain that it’s all the same thing, they insisted, “No! It tastes different!”

Here’s your chance to check it out when you make fresh pasta with kids. They can cut this dough into a variety of shapes right before their eyes. When it’s cooked, they’ll discover one thing is certain — eating fresh pasta (pasta fresca) opens the taste buds to something quite different from the standard dry pasta from a package.  And if, while slurping the pasta into their mouths, you hear, “We like the squiggly shapes better!” you’ll have your answer. Maybe some forms are just a little more fun.

Makes 2 servings
1 cup flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
To prepare dough:
Mound the flour on a work surface and make a deep “volcano” with your hands. Break the egg into the volcano.
Beat the egg lightly with a fork while adding water. Continue until smooth, being careful not to break down the volcano walls.
Gradually incorporate flour into the egg mixture from the inside walls of the volcano. (This is a good job for kids to exercise their motor skills and patience.)
Continue to stir in the flour until the dough is stiff. When it is too firm to mix with the fork, knead it with your hands. Incorporate just enough flour to make a ball. (You may not need all of the flour.)
Knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth and pliable. Place the dough on a floured surface, cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
To make pasta shapes:
Roll the dough out on a floured board into a very thin rectangle. The thinner the better, as the noodles will plump up when cooked. Cut lengthwise into narrow strips with a pizza cutter. Of course, you don’t have to stick to standard forms. Using a small table knife, try different “kid” shapes like wiggly lines, little triangles or stars.
To cook pasta:
Boil the pasta in salted water for 4-5 minutes. Drain and serve with a pasta sauce and cheese. Or, toss into a pot of simmering chicken soup and boil until cooked.



Make 10-12 edible chocolate rose garnishes like pastry chefs using this simple recipe.

To make edible chocolate clay:
10 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 ½ cups)
1/3 cup light corn syrup

Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave for about one and a half to two minutes in 30-second intervals, stirring each time. If you don’t have a microwave, use a double boiler.

Add the corn syrup to the melted chocolate. Stir. The lovely smooth mixture will turn into a clay consistency.

Put a sheet of waxed paper on a cutting board or kitchen counter and scoop the chocolate mixture onto it. Spread it out evenly with your fingers until it is about
½- inch thick.
Cover loosely with waxed paper and let it rest for at least 2 hours. The clay will become pliable.

To make a rose:
-Roll ten smooth balls of chocolate clay a bit smaller than the size of a marble and line them up an inch apart on waxed paper. Cover the little balls with a sheet of waxed paper. Press down hard on the paper with your thumb to spread out the clay. Aim for the size of a half-dollar.

-To create petals for a rose, remove one clay disk and curl it into a tepee shape, narrow at the top and wider at the bottom. Wrap the next disk around the opening of the tepee as if you were making it a little door. The third disk goes at the back of the tepee. The fourth along the side. Layer as many of these clay disks as you’d like. Bend back the edges of the disks ever so slightly. Don’t worry if little slits appear because they will make the petals look more natural.

-Set finished rose on a cupcake or other dessert.

Note: Use up the clay the same day while it is pliable. Candy melts (available at craft stores) and/or butterscotch chips may be substituted for the chocolate chips.