Category Archives: World Culture

Not a Run-of-the-Mill Island!

Weather is changing here in West Michigan…winds are picking up and skies are shifting and we’re drawn to start baking and making cups of hot cider! Speaking of baking, ever wonder where your flour came from back before there were automated manufacturers? Well, one example would be the windmill, which was first used in 18th Century Holland! Here in West Michigan, we have the only working dutch windmill in the entire country – and its roughly about 250 years old!

In 1964, the windmill (or the De Zwaan ) was moved to America by boat, just before a law was passed that windmills were no longer allowed to leave the Netherlands, so the purchase was the last one ever made. The De Zwaan (the Swan) came in 4 pieces which were then reassembled in Holland, Michigan, standing 125′ tall, where it still stands today! Part of the agreement with the Dutch government was that it remain a working windmill and be open to the public to teach about Dutch history and the was of the mill.  On windy days when the temperature is right, De Zwaan’s own miller, Alisa Crawford can still be found milling wheat into flour where people can purchase it online or when visiting Windmill Island. Alisa is the first Dutch-certified miller outside of the Netherlands as well as becoming the first woman admitted into the guild! So cool!

Of course, we were excited that they offer guided tours through all levels of the windmill. It is amazing how old it is, and that it is actually someone’s workplace. It reminded us how ingenious humans are to come up with the idea of using wind for power….. we knew all about turbines that create electricity, but hadn’t considered wind as a way to make grains. If you’re ever in Holland, Michigan, be sure to check out Windmill Island! You won’t be disappointed!! :0)


Matsuri in Illinois!

Lucky us! We got to attend the 20th Anniversary of Japan House at the University of Illinois. The celebration began at the Krannert Center Theatre. A three and a half hour performance of all things Japan: a tea ceremony, Japanese instruments, several bands, traditional drumming and of course a kimono fashion show! People attended from all over the world to participate in the excitement.

The next day, there was a Matsuri (Japanese Festival) at the Arboretum outside the Japan House on campus. Food vendors (YUM!), and all things Japan were sold, both handmade and Japanese products right from Japan. We wanted to bring EVERYTHING home with us, but only chose a select few items to remember the day by.

It was a super fun weekend and made is appreciate Japanese culture even more than we already did!!


Back in Time in Arthur, Illinios…

Last week, we were immersed in experiences to learn about in central Illinois, many that I plan to post on in the coming week. We spent a day in Arthur, Illinois where there is the largest community (about 4,000) of Amish people in Illinois.

At first, it didn’t seem that different from our Grandparent’s farm, about an hour North of there but after driving around and stopping at many locations, including some Amish homes, it became more and more interesting that their lifestyle was very different than our own.

First of all, you should know it was about 93 degrees the day we went. Too hot!!! Some of the most noticeable difference were the black buggies and wagons. Many of the men wore black and white clothing – keep in mid how hot it was! Yikes!

It seemed like a peaceful way to live. Simpler in many ways but harder in others. We visited a home where they had 100 chickens, 7 children and were heading off to town (not with the chickens!) piled into an uncovered wagon, half the size of our minivan. We stopped at a quilt shop that was in a lovely Amish woman’s home. Her name was Vera. We went to a fabric shop and a local store, Beachy’s, where everything was sold in bulk.

Before going to Arthur, we researched their culture and beliefs so as not to offend them while visiting. Happy we did. We learned that we shouldn’t take any photos of people’s faces. That they don’t listen to or play music. That they all dressed similarly from the time they were children. All of these things are to keep them from standing out from one another – individuality is not something they celebrate as a culture. Generations of families live near one another, which we thought was very cool since we live 3 hours in either direction of any of our relatives.

I liked how it seemed like time stood still there. It was a relief that no one had a phone in their hand, checking the weather forecast or news. Olive says she’d be interesting in trying it if she could find a cooler place to live. Central Illinois can be brutal when it’s hot!

We enjoyed being able to peek in to another culture. We left with many more questions than we arrived with but think it is awesome that they have kept their traditions alive in such a fast moving world!


Whatever way they grow, we go!

It’s summer and some of the most beautiful flowers are in bloom. Luck was with us when we participated in a special workshop led by a seasoned floral expert in Japanese flower arranging known as Ikebana. She is otherwise known as… our Grandma!

Ikebana is all about simplicity, the arrangement of the flowers and the intention behind it, so we spent lots of time picking flowers and choosing things that complement each other. We learned about the roles the flowers have in the arrangement: the dominate – is tallest, sub-dominate – the second tallest, and of course the subordinate – smaller and the compliment – the accent. After spending a lot of time organizing, trading and trimming we had finished! Afterward, each of us were asked to create a Haiku to accompany our final arrangement. A Haiku (if you aren’t familiar) is a poem, 3 lines with 17 syllables – 5 on the first line, 7 for the second and 5 again on the last.  It’s quite fun and a great way to round out a SUPER fun and informative workshop!

Mom’s Haiku:

Grandma overseeing life

Five grandchildren, flourishing.

Bright, positive, love.

Thank you to our fabulous, fun-loving Grandma who sponsored  and designed this fun workshop! She even came with handouts!!!



These are what some people call frogs, see the little spears? By placing the stem on one of these, the flower will stay upright!



The Culture of Clothing

This was one of our longer projects. We get this incredibly beautiful magazine called Happinez. It is all about culture, peace and inner beauty. And their photography is incredible! For this project, we used this magazine as our inspiration and incorporated research, design and patience to create traditional clothing for 3 different cultures.

We started by taking a look at traditional dress for male and females in other cultures. We learned about the significance of headwraps that are culturally and religiously based. We tried our hand at putting on a hijab and an african headwrap ! It is trickier than it would seem :0) We decided on 3 cultures – Poland (Olive), Hawaii and Africa. After heading to the fabric store to find just the right fabric patterns, sewing began along with more online referencing of styles, significance of accessories and general understanding of their cultures. The day of the photo shoot was sunny a cool. We used DC Superhero Girls as our models, we think they most certainly should be offered with cultural clothing like these in stores everywhere!!

The Project Brief:

culture clothing




This was a ‘magazine spread’ that Mom mocked up as if it was in the Happinez magazine!poland





The Diversity in Sameness…

So as you may have noted, many of our lessons are about observing things in nature and looking at things with different perspectives. This project really showed us that even under the same label there can be many differences if you take a closer look! We gathered sets of ten different items such as pinecones and shells, a piece of paper and a pen. We collected our tiny choices from the Dunes but you can collect from your own backyard or anywhere that has nature-y things aplenty. When we came home we gathered our treasures and sorted them into groups of ten (some people had a few extra – hard to resist treats).

Olive selected rocks and mini pinecones, I had individual moss bits with their flowers and twigs from a tree and Mom had snowdrops and acorns. We looked at the color, size, what they were, their growth development when we found them and we wrote down what was similar and what wasn’t within the same species. Afterwards, we looked under the microscope to see their differences up close! In hindsight, I personally think we should all look at things from different perspectives more often and appreciate the differences we all have, despite being the same species. Different is not only good, it is found throughout the natural world.


BUT WAIT – IT’S UPDATE TIME!  Did you check out our post on the fairy houses? Well, we went to the Dunes to gather our objects for this lesson, so while we were out we checked on our fairy houses.  They were only outside for two days but the night before there was a big storm so we were exited/worried to see how they held up! Soon after arriving and seeing that the village was in ruins we realized we had a mystery on our frozen hands (it may be hard to believe, but its still grey, cold and frigid here in Michigan)! The 3D printed home was missing and nothing that went to it was there either… we never did end up finding it but we suspect that a fellow organism took it, mostly because “it” left no trace (We think its most likely a human but wouldn’t it be funny if a deer or squirrel took it?!). The woods can be a mysterious place!


A Little Peace & Fairy Dust…

The last few months of this school year we are focusing on longer term projects. They are more complicated and involve many different areas of study. Math, engineering, culture, history, language, materials and research.

Here was our first of this kind. It was a World Village. We’ll share the assignment as we were presented it in case you’d like to use it for your own, modified or not.

world village