Dorian Turns Nine

I have a nine year old. How weird is that? Dorian’s birthday was on the 14th, but we celebrated over two days since Irving had to work on the actual date.

First, the cake. Dorian is obsessed with Garfield right now, having read something like 10-12 Garfield books that my sister brought down, in a month! So, naturally, his cake was Garfield. I can’t say how fun it was to do a non-zombie theme for the first time in years!

Garfield cake

Dorian requested bacon and eggs for breakfast and we had pizza for lunch. After breakfast, the boys played with their new Slugterra blasters and played with Dorian’s Doctor Dreadful – Alien Autopsy.

Doctor Horrible Alien Autopsy

Alien Autopsy Intestines

Nice and gross. You didn’t think we’d have a birthday without ANY gore, did you? ;) The boys really enjoyed playing with the Alien Autopsy, especially with the oobleck stomach contents. There is a vibrating motor under the alien that makes the stomach contents crawl up and look like worms wiggling out and then back down again. It’s actually pretty cool.

Supposedly the candy is all edible, but the stomach was basically tiny cookie crumbs in cornstarch, with water added, so that was pretty unappetizing. They tasted it and then just watched it crawl around for a good 15 minutes. The intestines were far more appetizing and involved squeezing blue goo into the intestinal cavity with a syringe which everyone had to try. That produced a kind of gummy candy that you had to fish out of the liquid . . . perfectly gross fun.

The second part of the celebration was going to Florencia yesterday. We took along Sofia and her parents and everyone had a blast! The kids ran and rolled and played until they were exhausted while the adults supervised and cooked up some meat and potatoes on the built-in grills. It was very relaxing.

Florencia

Iximche: Visiting an Ancient Civilization

While my sister, Caily, was here, we tried to get in a few ruins visits. We went to San Francisco, which she’d seen before, as well as the ruins at La Merced. But, by far the best adventure we had was a trip to Iximche in Tecpan, about 1 1/2 hours from Antigua. We packed a simple picnic lunch and headed out after some baked goods deliveries (more on that in a future post).

Iximche Guatemala

The ruins were incredible. Despite having been in Guatemala for well over a decade, I’ve never been to any Mayan ruins. Even the boys were impressed. We had talked about the Mayans and studied a little before we went, but reading a few articles on the topic was NOTHING compared to actually seeing the old temples and plazas and being able to walk across palace floors.

Temple in Iximche

Only the bases of the temples remain, but they are still pretty darn impressive. Here, Dante and Irving in Plaza A.

Another temple, in Plaza B, I believe.

Plaza B, Iximche

This was inside the royal palace. While the walls are long gone, you can still see where everything was.

ruins

I wonder what these were for? Irving and I have decided that we need to learn a bit more about Mayan architecture.

This is a terrific place for kids! There were things to climb and lots of open space for running. They were EXHAUSTED by the end of the day. As were we, but they ran around about ten times more than we did.

At the back of the town, there is this lovely little path . . .

ruins path

Which leads to this, a sacrifice site. Just beyond this is a very steep drop off that made me nervous with the boys. There are also bathrooms back there. The Mayan people still come here on auspicious days to celebrate.

Mayan Sacrifice

On the way out, there is a little museum. It’s not terribly interesting, but it does have a model of the site and some artifacts found there, including these skulls, which were apparently stabbed with obsidian knives (also displayed in the museum).

Mayan skulls

Overall, it was a fun day trip and a great place to take the family. We’ll be going back once we’ve learned more about the history. It’s so weird to think of this as the boys’ heritage!

Simple Nativity Suncatchers

We decided to make some nativity suncatchers, inspired by this post, today. We needed a simple activity since three of us have been sick over the past few days, but something that would keep everyone occupied for a bit since Irving is playing gigs pretty much every day and three hyper boys are a little much for this under-the-weather mama when they are going all day long!

nativity suncatchers

I pre-cut the nativity scenes out of black construction paper and put them on contact paper with help from Dante. Then all three boys put squares of tissue paper over the whole thing.

nativity suncatchers

We sealed the back with another layer of contact paper and then trimmed the pictures and hung them in the window so they were backlit. They all turned out really well!

nativities

The order, from top to bottom is Dorian, Dante and Dominic. As you can see, even toddlers can get great results!

Nativity

Introducing Blue Butterfly Bakery

You may have been wondering where I’ve been. Apart from being busy with my sister’s visit, I’ve been hard at work getting things set up for our newest adventure, an online bakery!

I sort of started while my sister was here and things just took off, much to my surprise. I’m not making enough to drop my writing, of course, but it is nice to supplement with a little something that doesn’t involve sitting at the computer.

Blue Butterfly Bakery Antigua

The menu was extremely simple to start out with, just French bread, butter rolls and bagels. Since then, things have expanded just a little. ;)

Christmas bread, Antigua

We deliver three days a week, which gives me time to whip up any orders for the coming delivery. When a friend mentioned the bakery on a local expat forum, more people started ordering. While it’s still relatively small, I usually have at least one order each delivery day and sometimes those orders are huge! One client asked for five dozen butter rolls and three lime pies!

pie

The kids love this because they get to eat the extras. I make a little extra bread each time and sometimes I do an extra pie, as well. Those boys love their pie!

olive bread, Antigua, Guatemala

I’ll have more posts soon on the various things we did with my sister, but first, I have to catch up on writing and baking. If you want to keep up with the Blue Butterfly Bakery, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. The website is still in progress.

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 . . .