Sewing Lessons

I’ve been getting back into sewing lately and my projects have sparked the boys’ interest. One day, last week, I was stitching away and Dante came to ask if he could try. He wanted to make a rather complicated doll, so I suggested something simpler. He decided on a Minecraft Steve and we set to work drafting the pattern and cutting out the pieces.

It ended up being nearly as complicated as the original plan! However, he was determined, so he made Steve for Dominic and a Minecraft zombie for himself. Then he got to work, learning how to use the sewing machine. It’s tricky stuff, so I helped with the facial details, but he did the rest.

Next up, stuffing and hand sewing the opening up. Dante is already familiar with hand sewing, so that part was simple. He was amazed at how much stuffing had to go into each stuffy, though!

The finished product!

He was very proud of himself and the very next day, he made a pattern for shorts with my help and then sewed up his very own pair of shorts, which he has worn several times already.

Learning to Read: Round Three

We’re about to have three readers in the house. The older boys have been reading for a while, of course, though they’re still not that excited about picking up novels. However, Dominic is now learning.

When a three year old gets mad at you because he can’t read yet, it’s probably time to start teaching him. This kid has been trying to catch up to his brothers from the day he was born and reading is no exception. He asked to read me a book the other day, then sat there and stared at the words and finally asked me how he was supposed to read it. We started lessons that night.

I still love Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for new readers. I dug it out and Dominic and I go over a lesson or two each night. He’s extremely motivated and very quick to catch on. In fact, in just the week or so that he’s been learning, he’s already started to sound out 2-3 letter words.

His excitement level is through the roof! When he successfully reads a word on his own, he jumps up, dances and screams, “I DID IT! I CAN READ IT!” He also frequently proclaims, “I love these letters!”

Soon we’ll have all readers in our house, which will be odd. No note will go unread from here on out!

A Thumb Doodles Book Review

I recently got a few new books from The Book Depository to use for school. Two of them were for art, including this one:

What I liked about this book first off was that it includes the little ink pads for you to get started immediately. In fact, there are blank pages inside the book so you don’t even need extra paper. And the marker for detailing is also included. Very handy.

When I pulled this book out, the boys were quite excited. Getting ink all over their fingers? Yes, please!! They tore into it immediately, not at all interested in what the book had to say. I stopped them and we worked our way through the introduction on how to use your fingers as art tools and some different techniques.

There are several sections in the book, covering how to make sealife, people, etc. Here’s a page that the kids loved:

The ink isn’t like ink at all . . . it’s more like paint on an inkpad, which makes the colors a little softer and it’s much easier to wash off than regular ink. The book is half blank or inspirational pages, but that’s fine. The kids used their own papers to work on or I never would have heard the end of the fighting!

This is what Dorian did:

This was from the sea life page. Dante’s picture was scribbled on by a certain toddler and ruined, so I didn’t get a picture of it.

Overall, the book was a lot of fun and the boys have asked to use it a couple of times since. There is also a Star Wars Thumb Doodles book, which we may need to consider soon. Since The Book Depository has free shipping around the world, we can get these books really easily.

Grab your own copy of the Thumb Doodles book on The Book Depository or Amazon. (both affiliate links!)

Back to School

Weird title for January, huh? Well, here in Guatemala, the school year starts in January, so we do the same, though we do school year round. We took a month off for Christmas and New Year’s and our new year started yesterday.

Dorian is officially in Grade 4 and Dante in Grade 3. I find it really hard to believe that I have children in these grades! Dominic is doing some preschool and some kindergarten work at the moment.

To kick off the new school year, we sat down and worked out some learning goals for the new year. Some were practical. Dominic wants to learn to write his name, read all the letters and learn about police and firetrucks. Dante wants to learn origami, how to do story problems, read a chapter book and learn about Hawaii. Dorian would like to illustrate a story, learn to work with big numbers and learn about Africa and Egyptians.

However, some of their goals were kind of funny. For example, when I asked what they wanted to learn in Science, all three yelled, “Potions!” Dante and Dominic want to earn some money and Dorian would like to learn to cook lasagna. All three want to learn to swim. We are also apparently on track to get a bunny and another cat!

This year is all about practical things and timelines. We’re focusing heavily on history this year, but we’re also going to be working on skills for the future. I hope that by looking at the past, the boys will have a better idea of what they want in the future. Since they are both reading quite a bit now, we’re also doing a lot of that this year. I’ve been ordering books through The Book Depository, which ships free to Guatemala, plus we added a reading corner to their room.

Irving built the simple book rack and we found some cheap bean bags for the kids to sit in. With their books facing out like this, they spend a lot more time grabbing books to read. We also put a mini shelf by Dominic’s bed for his books.

Spanish Lessons Online

I love that my kids have grown up in a bilingual household. They speak English and Spanish fluently and are able to communicate their feelings easily with both languages. Even if you didn’t grow up with the benefit of speaking two languages, there are quite a few options available, including online lessons.

One of my teachers and a good friend is offering classes online. She’s pretty awesome and is the main reason I don’t speak like the street kids I picked my Spanish up from. She’s also a work at home mom of two. If you’re interested in learning Spanish, she offers both online classes and offline ones (if you’re in Guatemala), so there’s plenty of options!

Online classes run $8/hour and offline ones are $4/hour, but she’s offering a free trial, so you might want to take advantage of that!


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:

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!


    • 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!


    • 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


  • 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
  • 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:

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.

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.

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!

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.

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

Random Bits of Life

Dorian is learning about prefixes and suffixes in school, but he’s had a rough time trying to understand them. I did some research over spring break and found this fun idea. So I adapted it slightly and set up a prefix/suffix forest on the laundry room wall out in the breezeway. He got the concept quickly and Dante learned about word parts, too.

We’ll be adding new words to these trees and new prefixes and suffixes until I’m sure he fully understands.

Another project we worked on was chore charts. I drew a frame in marker on cardstock and had the boys decorate their own charts. Then I drew lines in the middle and we covered them with clear contact paper. I used Velcro dots to stick them to the fridge and magnets to attach a ribbon to hold the dry erase marker. Each day, I’ll fill in any new chores that need to be done and the boys check them off as they complete each task.

I’ve also been playing with food lately. Like these potato encrusted chicken nuggets with sweet potato fries. I had a tough time getting a photo because the kids were all over these! Dorian said they were the “Best chicken nuggets EVER!” and Dante said, “I never want to go to Pollo Campero again!” Pretty high praise from my picky eaters.

I’ll be adding links as I put the recipes up on Gourmet Mama.

Dominic has been obsessed with cookies lately and since we don’t usually have cookies in the house, I decided to try those two ingredient cookies with banana and oats. One cup of mashed bananas mixed into one cup of rolled oats and baked for 15 minutes at 350° and you have really delicious little cookies that the boys gobbled up so fast I had to make another batch!

I also made these carrot “cookies” which are really crackers. Again, big hit and they are good for you with whole grains, carrots and olive oil. Yum!

mini crackers

What have you been up to?