The San Juan Nispero Festival

With my sister here, we’ve been doing some fun stuff, like visiting ruins and enjoying the local sights. Over the weekend, there was a nispero festival in San Juan del Obispo, just outside Antigua. Naturally, we had to check it out.

Nisperos are also known as loquats and they are rather like little peaches. They are super juicy and delicious, with three or four large seeds inside. San Juan is known as THE place to buy nisperos.

The festival is held in the central plaza, in front of the church. There were stands with assorted nispero related offerings on two sides of the plaza and the rest was simply ironworks and wood carving booths, etc. Basically, all the artisans came out to celebrate and take advantage of the crowds. It was neat to see!

nispero festival

nispero festival

nispero wine

Prize winning nisperos!

nispero festival san juan

You could buy nispero marmalade or nisperos in syrup. My sister snagged a jar of jam to take home.

There was also plenty of nispero wine, some mixed with pineapple or other fruit.

nispero wine

nispero wine

Sometimes it’s good to be a tourist in your own area. :)

My Baby Sister

When I was 12, my parents had another baby, Caily. We were very close until I left Canada when she was 9. Over the past few years, we’ve been reconnecting and she’s down here for her second annual visit.

It’s pretty cool to have my little sister here and to get to know her as an adult. She loves cooking (she’s actually a cook in a restaurant) and we spend a lot of time whipping up food for each other. The rest of our time is spent laughing, catching up on Doctor Who and The Walking Dead and talking about life in general.

Today we’re heading to some ruins and plan to enjoy a picnic with the kids. One of the many advantages of homeschooling and working at home!

 

Teaching Kids to Cook: Age Appropriate Activities

All three boys were in the kitchen last night! They were inspired by a Jamie Oliver show they watched in the morning and so our dinner was this:

cooking kids

Mustard chicken in cream sauce, dauphinoise potatoes (sort of) and sesame green beans. It was DELICIOUS! Dante asked if we could make it again tonight.

Anyway, when I posted photos on my Facebook, a friend asked how to start her son off cooking. What is an age appropriate task for each kid?

The answer? It totally depends on the kid.

Dorian is responsible and careful and has been since he was tiny. He started cooking when he was 3. Dante is the opposite, impetuous and he tends to forget what he’s doing. He only recently started using the stove and he requires supervision. Dominic is too small and not very careful, so he helps with non-heat and non-knife tasks.

Age Appropriate Cooking Activities for Kids

Keep in mind that these are GENERAL guidelines. This is just a suggestion, you know your child best. If he or she isn’t ready for knives or heat, baking is a great option. Salads are also easy to make if an older sibling or adult cuts up the carrots, tomatoes, etc. Always supervise your little ones when they are cooking!

2-3

    • Spreading jam, peanut butter, etc. on bread or sturdy crackers
    • Pouring small amounts of liquid into a cup
    • Dumping a pre-filled measuring spoon or cup into a bowl
    • Holding the mixer (with help)

    • Snapping the ends off green beans
    • Using cookie cutters to press out shapes
    • Mashing things like avocados in a ziplock bag to make guacamole
    • Taste testing!

3-4

    • Stirring ingredients together
    • Measuring flour, sugar, etc.
    • Cutting soft foods (butter, cheese, bananas, etc.) with a butter knife
    • Icing cookies
    • Roll meatballs by hand

  • Rolling out dough
  • Arranging biscuits, etc. on a pan
  • Spraying pans or pots with oil
  • Garnishing with sprigs of herbs, sprinkles of paprika, etc.
  • Peeling onions and garlic

Dorian's peas and pasta

5-7

  • Cutting soft and medium-hard vegetables with a sharp knife (show them proper knife techniques and supervise!)
  • Making microwave mug cakes
  • Using the blender
  • Boiling and sauteing foods (again, with supervision)
  • Peeling vegetables
  • Shaping bread dough
  • Folding dough for samosas, turnovers, etc.
  • Cracking eggs (this skill takes practice)
  • Measuring liquids
8+
  • Cutting raw meat
  • Defrosting food in the microwave
  • Kneading bread dough
  • Checking food in the oven (supervise early on)
  • Using the immersion blender to make soups, etc.
  • Cutting harder vegetables (Carrots, for example)
  • Garnishing with sauces
  • Whisking sauces while cooking to keep them smooth

Do your kids cook? What are some of your suggestions for teaching children to cook?

The Dangerous Alphabet Art Project: Part 1

Years ago, my youngest sister gave my boys a copy of Neil Gaiman’s The Dangerous Alphabet. It’s a kind of creepy book, but really awesome! They loved it then and we read it every night for months. Recently, the book was rediscovered and now all three of them love to hear it at bedtime. However, this time around, Dante was more interested in the illustrations than the words.

“Who made these pictures? How did he make them? Can we do that?”

And so, we decided to try some mixed media and watercolor painting techniques. I had Dante examine the images carefully and asked him to think about how certain elements were created. We decided to start with something simple.

Here is the page we used as our inspiration:

Neil Gaiman

As you can see, there is a lot going on here! We didn’t want things to get too complicated, so we started with just the wall, a sidewalk and the water, plus a pole to practice some ripple effects. I told the boys they could use any colors they wanted, but to think about the effect they wanted their picture to have.

This is the one that I did. Please ignore the sawdust bits on the image, we’re renovating, heh. More on that in a future post.

watercolor art project

Here is Dorian’s picture. He wasn’t as into it as the rest of us, but he had fun with his own blend of colors. He decided not to use pen to highlight things. Since the project was done in three stages, he was pretty bored by the end of it.

Here is Dante’s. He had a little difficulty being patient enough to wait until his paint dried, but he did a good job!

Of course, Dominic wanted to get in on the action, too! He had a lot of fun and I love the way this turned out.

All four paintings together:

Over the next while, we’ll be trying different techniques and then working our way up to doing a full size painting of a scene inspired by the book.

Describe Yourself

In school, the boys are working on adjectives. Today, one of their assignments was to come up with 10 adjectives to describe themselves. It seemed fairly simple and indeed, Dorian flew through the work, writing out things like “smart” “shy” “happy” and other positive, fun adjectives.

Dante, however, stalled out after writing that he was shy and happy. “I don’t know what I am! This is too hard!”

The lesson dragged as I helped him look at some lists of words earlier in his book and Dorian helpfully suggested “grumpy” and “crazy.” Finally, with a good five adjectives left to write, Dante just wasn’t feeling any of the words in his book. He decide that he was nice and sometimes he’s silly, but what else could describe him?

I pulled out the whiteboard and started writing down random things that I thought he could use. Energetic. Funny. Artistic.

“Artistic?” He perked up a bit at that one. “Does that mean I’m good at art?” I told him it did and it was very apt for him. Then I told him that he is also very creative. He beamed and wrote the words down and we finished up our school day.

Later, in the afternoon, Dante came over to me and said, “Do you really think I’m artistic?” I assured him that he is VERY artistic. He smiled and ran off.

Tonight, at bedtime, he was busy working away in his room and came out with a new project, a matchbox man that he’d carefully colored. It was pretty clever and I said as much. He grinned at me and said, “That’s because I’m a creative and artistic kid!”

Isn’t it amazing how one or two simple words can bolster a child’s self-esteem and make him feel special? I don’t think of this often enough, but I suspect that using adjectives that really mean something (as opposed to “good” or “nice”) can make a big difference for a child. I know I’ll be using them more often.

 

Cooking Kids

When I was pregnant with our first baby, one that we lost, I wrote out a list of skills I wanted my children to master before they turned ten and by the age of fifteen. Most of these skills were meant to help them become independent. If something happened to us, I wanted my kids to be able to look after themselves.

One of the skills was cooking. To me, this is an essential skill. Not just to be able to make pasta or a sandwich, but to be able to really cook and understand the ingredients. Both of the older boys help out with cooking here and there and I’ve made a point of involving them in the kitchen. Dominic will run to push up his chair as soon as he sees me with the mixer. He likes to mix up cakes and cookies and has mastered the ability to hold the mixer upright so it doesn’t spatter.

Dante is particularly interested in baking and he loves to knead and shape bread beside me. He will do stovetop cooking, but quite frankly, he has only recently been permitted to do this type of cooking because he tends to be hyper and impulsive and is not very careful. Baking was a better choice for him until recently.

Dorian, on the other hand, has always been steady and careful, so he started to scramble his own eggs at the age of three. He’s made elegant pasta dishes, cakes, soups and assorted dishes with considerably supervision over the years and he often offers to chop veggies for me because he loves using a knife.

The other day, I was exhausted from writing and not feeling the motivation for dinner. I suggested sandwiches for supper and Dorian told me he’d really rather have soup. His brothers quickly agreed (Irving was away on a gig). I was thinking about whether or not I had the energy to make soup when Dorian piped up, “I know you’re tired, so don’t worry. I’ll make the soup, I can do this myself and you can just relax.”

And then he made soup for dinner, with carrots and zucchini and a little too much rice, plus some chicken. I did give him some pointers on how to make the broth by blending onions and garlic, but he did that part himself, too. It was awesome. And delicious. Dante, my pickiest eater, had three bowls of the soup!

Cooking kids

After dinner, we watched Master Chef Junior and Dorian said, confidently, “I could do that. I should be on this show!”

I’m starting to see a future where I don’t have to cook ever single meal . . .

Art Classes!

Dante is my little artist, though Dominic is showing a lot of interest, as well. Dorian gets bored with coloring and drawing, but he likes to sit down and turn out pages and pages of comics. I’ve been pinning tons of art projects on Pinterest for the past few months, but haven’t actually many of them.

Today we had some extra time, so after schoolwork was finished, we did a little art project. All three boys got in on it, so that was fun. I had to help Dominic a bit, but he did most of it on his own.

Halloween art

black cat Halloween art project

Halloween cat art

halloween art

halloween art cat project

The end result was pretty cool! The original inspiration for the cat on a fence can be found here.

Psst, Do Your Halloween Shopping Here!

If you celebrate Halloween, you’re probably starting to grab candy and costumes and get your decorations in order. A lot of people use Amazon for this and so, if you’re planning on ordering online this year, can I suggest using my link? You don’t pay any extra, but I get a small percentage.

Usually, I make money from my Squidoo lenses over Halloween, but since Squidoo shut down, that part of my earnings is GONE. So, if and only if you plan to use Amazon anyway, I’d really appreciate if you clicked on the image below before you do your shopping. Thanks!

By the way, any time you shop on Amazon after clicking an Amazon link on my site, it helps us out and doesn’t cost you a penny! You can always click on the link in my sidebar to get there and the cookie will last for 24 hours.

 

Rainbow Sky

A couple of nights ago, Dorian ran inside, shouting excitedly for us to come and see. “There’s a rainbow in the sky! A really cool rainbow!”

I figured he was just excited because he hasn’t seen many rainbows in his life. And then I stepped out the door and saw this:

rainbow sky

We were in awe. The photos do NOT do this sky justice, but you can get a little glimpse of what we saw. It was like an oil spill in the sky. I half expected an alien mothership to come bursting through the clouds at any moment.

rainbow sky

rainbow sky

The colors smeared and bled and then finally faded to golds and greens and disappeared. It lasted for a good 20 minutes, though, and we stood out there watching the whole time. What an amazing spectacle!

Update: Apparently this is called a fire rainbow cloud. You can read more here and see a much better photo of one. I need a new camera, apparently.

Hi, Spammers! Plus a Little Update

Apparently, leaving your blog without constant updates encourages spammers. Every time I pop over to check, there are more spam comments telling me I have great tips for beginner bloggers, or asking what theme I use, etc. Even my spam filter isn’t catching them all!

I guess it’s good that my blog is big enough to attract the ‘bots and spammers? :P

In other news, things are chugging along here. My uptick in work hasn’t slowed down, so I’m still writing for long hours and trying desperately to maintain some semblance of balance. It’s all moot though, we basically get school done and I’m working until late at night. But, I never expect these things to last long, so I’m just going to enjoy it while I can. At least the kids like eating the fast meals I throw together every day!

The good thing is that I happen to love each and every project I’m working on right now. My clients are all awesome, pay quickly and the projects are all things I really enjoy learning more about. It’s made for a rather pleasant change from my usual dreary tasks of writing automotive descriptions and payday loan blog posts.

Irving has been super healthy lately. His blood sugar levels are great, even when he cheats and sneaks two packets of Oreos. Ahem. We’re all eating healthier, though, of course, it’s easier when I’m not working so much that I forget people around here neat to eat!

Potty training is done. Dominic has proven himself both at home and in the street, though he has had a few small accidents. In general, though, he does very well and is great about getting to the bathroom on time, on his own. I am still stunned to have a two year old who is potty trained, except for night, but it’s pretty awesome. We’re saving tons since we only need a few diapers each month.

The older boys are also doing well. They’ve been working hard in school and trying more foods and basically just showing how grown up they’re getting. I see more responsibility in them every day. Of course, they still fight and complain, but there are definite signs of being more mature, which is much appreciated and much encouraged.

How are my readers doing?