August 26, 2013

"Feijao Verde com Molhinho, Arroz, Carne, e Batata Frita"... Aaahhhh...This dish is one of my favorites! It brings back so many great memories...

It has been 12 years since I visited my family in Brazil. So, when I crave and long to cook some of my mom's recipes, I can't stop thinking about my family and the times we used to sit at our long table together and pretty much "attack" our food! I remember how loud we were...and happy! All talking at the same time and fighting over the last piece of steak, or french fries... Then came the dessert...wow! I don't want to sound too boastful, but my mom is one of the best cooks I've ever known! She just has such a talent for cooking, and now I regret the so many missed opportunities to learn how to cook when I was a girl. Although my mom would offer many times to teach me how to cook, I didn't care too much about it, most of the times saying, "Maybe later mom". And later it was...Nearly in my thirties, married, living in the US and caring for my newborn son. My mom came to visit us to help care for her new grandbaby, and that's when I finally showed more interest and gratitude towards my mom. She taught me how to cook some of her delicious dishes, and now I find myself calling her all the time asking her to give me a recipe and to teach me some of her cooking "tricks". We spend hours on the phone sharing recipes on weekends, and I think, "Why didn't I ever take this chance to learn from my mom earlier while I was living in Brazil?"

This dish is one of the recipes my mom taught me when she was here in the US...Very easy to do and doesn't require a lot of prep! Of course, I take some short cuts like precooked french fries that I can just bake in the oven, and letting my husband grill the steaks out in the backyard.
For a lower calorie dish, you can take away the rice and french fries! I personally don't because I love eating the rice with the black-eyed peas and the dressing all together in one bite! :D

So, here's the recipe for you. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as my family does! And I hope this dish makes some mouth-watering mealtime memories for you and your family as much as it has for me and mine!

INGREDIENTS
1 frozen bag (small) of black-eyed peas
2-3 filets of steak
1tsp of steak seasoning and 1 pinch of salt for each steak
1-2 servings of frozen fries
1 cup of uncooked rice (we prefer Basmati)
1 tbs of olive oil (for the rice)
1 tbs of minced garlic (for the rice)
1 tbs of salt (for the rice)
2 1/4 cups of water (for the rice)
Dressing:
1 bundle of cilantro
1 red tomato
5 green onions
1 1/2 tbs of olive oil
1 tbs of vinegar
1 tsp salt

COOKING INSTRUCTIONS:
  • Cook the black-eyed peas following the instructions in the package (I suggest adding at least 1tsp of salt in the boiling water)
  • Rub the steak seasoning and salt on both sides of the steak, get your husband off of the couch, and ask him to grill some steaks! ;)
  • Once the black-eyed peas are cooked, drain the water and set aside in a serving bowl
  • RICE: In a 4 or 5 quart saucepan, add the olive oil and garlic and saute the garlic (until the garlic turns a golden brown caramelized color- Careful not to burn the garlic!)
  • Add the uncooked rice, stirring it into the saucepan with the sauteed garlic, and now add the water. Let the water just come to a boil and then turn it down to low heat, cover it, and simmer for 23 minutes.
  • DRESSING: Chop the cilantro, tomato, and green onions and add them to a small bowl. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Mix them all together in the bowl.
  • FRENCH FRIES: Bake the fries in the oven following the instructions on the package.
HOW TO SERVE:
Pour the dressing on top of the black-eyed peas and serve with the rice, steak, and fries. The dressing is also delicious on top of the steak! Enjoy it! Laugh! And one more thing, the Brazilian way to say
"CHEERS" with your family is, "SAUDE!" (pronounced sah-OO-djeh!)


August 14, 2013

Hello everybody! Here's a video of my 5 year old son reading and learning the alphabet with our book "Crazy Town Upside Down: An Alphabet Book"! We're using both the book and workbook to help him learn/practice the alphabet sounds and letters, so he can be ready for kindergarten! Plus, he really enjoys our book too! :D

August 11, 2013

I really thought it would be helpful to share some insights with some moms who might be wondering why their children are writing some of their letters in an opposite direction. Does it matter? Is it something wrong? When I was a teacher, I taught many students who were writing some or all of their letters from bottom to top (also known as vertical reversal). For that reason, I decided to briefly explain what vertical reversal in writing is and things we can do to help our children correct this writing style.

Vertical reversal in writing is usually caused by discrepancies between the child’s eye and hand dominance. For example, a child might be left-eye dominant but right-handed, or vice versa. Since writing requires simultaneous hand-eye coordination, this visual-motor integration discrepancy can cause confusion in the child’s brain during the process of writing. As a result, the child’s brain has to work harder to process the skills needed to write, which can be exhausting.
Vertical reversal can be corrected by using a combination of fine-motor/kinesthetic (finger tracing), visual (teach the child to visualize the letter), auditory (child listens to an adult describe the letter), oral (teach the child to say out loud the actions required to write a letter while writing it), and motor planning skills (teach the child to think about the sequence needed to write a letter).
Helping children remember how to write their letters correctly and associate the sounds they make were primary reasons my husband and I developed an alphabet book called “Crazy Town Upside Down”. When I was teaching my students, I created funny stories to help them remember the letters and was using a combination of these skills (kinesthetic, visual, etc.) to help them practice writing. These strategies really helped them remember how to write the letters, especially the ones they were reversing vertically. When I developed this book, my plan was to help children associate the letters with their stories. In addition, the characters’ actions are also associated with the actions/steps needed to write a letter. For example, the other day I asked my son (he’s 5 years old) how to write the letter “a”. He thought for a second and wrote the letter “a” with his finger in the air. He started correctly, counterclockwise, and then from the top to the bottom. I asked him how he remembered to write the letter “a” and he said, “Alex the acrobat! She does cartwheels around the loop (he made the gesture again with his index finger), gets to the top, and then she does a flip down into the bowl of soup!” In that case, my son used the words in sequence such as “around, “top”, and “down”.
There is nothing wrong with children who write a few of the letters from the bottom up. Sometimes, it’s just how their brains are wired. However, it’s probably a good idea to help them correct this writing style, if only to minimize the level of stress/energy when writing.
Hope this helps all moms who are a little concerned about their little ones writing letters in an opposite direction.
 
Wish you all the best,
Vanessa

August 10, 2013

Most of us moms would agree that potty training is a tedious process that requires a great amount of patience, encouragement, and cleverness. Right? Then, when you're finally able to say, "Goodbye diapers!", or sing, "Ce-le-brate Good Times! Come on!", a curve ball knocks you off your feet, and you think, "What now?".

So, what is this possible curve ball that I'm talking about? Well, I'm talking about a stomach flu, or even the nasty Rotavirus... which can cause a child to have painful and traumatizing bowel movements resulting in potty training regression.

Unfortunately, I had to deal with this very painful experience while potty training my youngest. He was at the point where we were considering him "potty trained" when he got a stubborn stomach flu. After a devastating week of high fever and diarrhea, my son was afraid to go potty. Even though he didn't have the stomach flu anymore, he was afraid to go number 2, thinking that the same painful cramp feeling would happen again. Fortunately, after a few weeks of reassurance, demonstration, and patience, my son lost his fear of going number 2 in the toilet and went back to his normal routine. Praise the Lord!

I'd like to point out that while my son was afraid to poop in the potty, we considered putting the diaper back on him, but decided not to. This is a very difficult decision for many parents, and I'm not in a position to tell any parent(s) which is the right choice for them or their child. Sure, no diapers meant that we had to clean up a few accidents. When they happened, we had to put on our "poker faces" again, and we never judged, criticized, nor did we force our son to go potty in the toilet. It was our choice not to use diapers because we didn't want to confuse him, and we didn't want our son to think that he was wearing diapers again because he did something "wrong". However, you know your child and his/her needs better than anybody else. So, if you feel that the best solution is to put the diaper or pull-up back on your child until he/she feels comfortable to go potty in the toilet again, then please do so.

After receiving a couple of emails from moms who went through similar experiences, I decided to share some of my strategies and suggestions with you. However, keep in mind that every child is different and that these are only some suggestions that worked for my son. If you believe your child's case is severe, I strongly recommend you to talk with your child's pediatrician.

After my youngest son had the stomach flu (plus a horrible case of diarrhea that lasted for a couple of days), he would cry and panic when he had to go potty. This fear is normal. Children will avoid using the toilet because they are associating it with the traumatic experience. One thing you can do to help your child is to speak very calmly and explain that it is safe to go potty in the toilet. You have to pretty much start from the beginning, thinking of "baby steps" again... For example, ask your toddler to sit on the potty for just a minute or less to show him/her that nothing is going to happen (no mess, no awful tummy feeling, etc.), but don't force or command your child! In addition, praise your child for any accomplishment and progress he/she makes.

Amusement, silliness, and creativity are also a big plus to help minimize your child's fear of going number 2. For example, my husband and I explained to our son that the diarrhea was something that happened because his tummy was trying to "fight the bad guys" and send them away from his body. When he was returning to normal health, we made sure to tell him, "Now that you are healthy again, your tummy is doing great! See how your poo-poo is solid? So now, we need to flush it far away!" Create a fun story if you'd like! You might also point out to your toddler that by washing hands before eating or after going potty, he/she can stop the bad germs from getting into his/her tummy.

We also used "to the point" language when talking to our son about going number 2 in the potty. We would say, "It's ok. Your poo-poo will look like a ball, and it will plop right into the toilet. Then mama (mommy or mom) is going to help wipe your bottom, and we're going to flush the poo-poo away." Talk to your child during the process, and show him/her the poo-poo in the toilet after he/she is finished. Tell your toddler, "See, it's just like a ball!"

If you are concerned that your child will still have loose stools after the sickness, then I suggest some starchy foods like bread, crackers, bananas, rice, pasta, and mashed potatoes which can help create a more solid stool. Avoid fried foods and foods high in fat for a while, and avoid fruit juices and sodas that are either too concentrated or contain high amounts of sugar. Yogurt is a good source of probiotics to replace unhealthy bacteria in the intestine with healthy ones (if your toddler is not lactose intolerant).
I really hope these tips help you and your child return to the normal potty training routine! Once again, please understand that these are only tips. If you have concerns about your child's health, well being, and nutrition, always talk with your child's pediatrician.
Wish you and your family all the best! :D
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jbird/19650368/">thejbird</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>

August 3, 2013

A few months ago, my husband and I read our book, "Dragon Howl" to a large group of children at our public library. After we read the story, we helped the kids make a fun arts & crafts project!
I really wanted the children to imagine "flying with the dragon", and I also wanted the kids to take something home with them, so they could relive the adventure.
Trying to get the "Sparky sock puppet" right took some trial and error, but the end result was great! The children really enjoyed soaring and swooping the dragon around the room! One thing that I would strongly recommend is to use (purchase) red socks instead of dyeing white socks red... When I tried to dye some white socks red, they all turned out pink and soggy (we were afraid to put the socks in the dryer, because we thought they might stain it)... Fortunately, my husband found a few packages of red socks on sale at a local retailer. :) Here are the step-by-step instructions with some pictures. Hope you and your little one enjoys!


You will need:
  • red sock
  • 1 sheet of red peel-&-stick, adhesive-backed felt paper
  • 1 sheet of sparkly orange felt paper
  • 2 peel-&-stick wiggly eyes (blue or child's choice of color)
  • scissors
  • sharpie
  • box cutter
Directions:
  • Trace both wings and ears on the back of the red felt paper (*I'm providing a sample of both wings and ears)
  • Cut both wings and ears
  • Trace both wings and ears on the back of the sparkly orange felt paper (*Note: the dull side of the orange felt paper will be placed on the sticky side of the red felt paper, it is an INVERSE, so make sure you are making them match)
  • Cut both wings and ears
  • Turn the red felt paper wing to the peel side and make a slight cut with the box cutter about one inch from the part of the wing that will attach to the sock body, making sure you ONLY cut the peel-&-stick paper NOT the felt, so that later you can attach the edge of the wing
  • Repeat the same procedure for the other wing and both ears
  • Peel off the paper from the wing but leave the one inch part that you will later attach to the sock
  • Attach the dull orange side of the wing to the sticky side of the red wing felt paper (so the sparkly side will show)
  • Cut off the extra inch from the sparkly orange paper (the part that did not stick to the red felt paper)
  • Repeat the above two procedures for the other wing and both ears
  • Take the Sharpie and draw 5 lines on each of the dragon's wings (5 on the front and 5 on the back)
  • Take the Sharpie and draw 3 lines on each of the dragon's ears (3 on the front and 3 on the back)
  • Put the sock on your child's right or left arm
  • Remove the paper from the red felt wing and attach to your child's upper forearm below the wrist
  • Do the same for the other wing
  • Remove the paper from the red felt ear and attach to the back of your child's hand below the knuckles
  • Do the same for the other ear
  • Attach the wiggly eyes to the sock on the back of your child's fingers
  • Soar! Swoop! Play and have fun! :D






August 2, 2013

Here's another one of my boys' favorites:

"HOT COCOA" ICE CREAM SUNDAE

INGREDIENTS
2 Eggo Chocolate Chip Waffles
1 Scoop of Chocolate Ice Cream
Whipped Cream
Chocolate Syrup
Hazelnut/chocolate Spread

PREP STEPS

TO MAKE THE CUP
1. Thaw one waffle in the toaster at the lowest heat setting for 1 min.
2. Gently press the waffle inside one of the cups of a muffin pan.
3. Bake the waffle at 350 degrees for 5 min in the oven.
4. Remove the waffle from the muffin pan and place it on a plate.
5. Put 1 scoop of chocolate ice cream inside the waffle cup.
6. Spray whipped cream on top.
7. Drizzle chocolate syrup on top of the whipped cream.

TO MAKE THE HANDLE
8. Toast the 2nd waffle (not too crispy, you need to be able to bend it).
9. Cut a curved edge from the waffle (about 1/2 inch in width), bend it, and put a dollop of hazelnut/chocolate spread at both ends of the handle (to glue to the cup).
10. Attach the handle to the cup.
11. Enjoy! :D


A few months ago, I entered the Eggo Waffle contest and submitted a few recipes. Although I didn't win, I had fun creating some waffle ideas for my boys! They really enjoyed eating them too! Once in a while, my boys and I still recreate some of them for breakfast. I thought about sharing some of my creations with you, so maybe your kiddos will enjoy them too! Here's one of the recipes:



KING TEDDY BEAR

INGREDIENTS
1 Eggo Chocolate Chip Waffle
5 small dollops of hazelnut/chocolate spread
1/2 banana (cut into 6 slices)
1/2 of a large strawberry
1 brownie square
2 sausage links (or veggie sausage)

PREP STEPS
1. Toast the Eggo Waffle.
2. Eyebrows: 1st put 2 dollops of hazelnut spread near the top of the waffle (about 1 waffle square apart). With a butter knife, spread each dollop, one to the left and one to the right.
3. Eyes/Pupils: place 2 slices of banana under each eyebrow and put one dollop of hazelnut spread on each slice.
4. Nose: put one dollop of hazelnut spread between the 2 slices of banana.
5. Mouth: cut one slice of banana into a crescent shape and place it under the nose.
6. Crown: take the half strawberry and cut it into a crown and center it above the eyebrows.
7. Ears: place 2 slices of banana on the left and right sides. Cut 1 sausage into 4 pieces, and put 2 slices on top of each ear (save the other 2 for the feet).
8. Body: trim the corners from the brownie to make it oval and put 1 slice of banana on top.
9. Arms/Feet: cut the remaining sausage in half and put them next to the brownie for arms. Put the feet from step 8. 
10. Enjoy! :)



August 1, 2013

Alright, potty training my oldest son was one of the hardest moments of my motherhood so far (I know, just wait until he's a teenager, right?). I'd say it ranks right up there with sleep deprivation and breast feeding. I never imagined how a two-year-old, cute little boy could be so stubborn! And when it came to potty training, my husband and I tried almost everything! So, what did we learn from our first-time parents experience with potty training our toddler? Well, many things... And I would like to share them with you, so maybe, just maybe, you can have a much nicer experience potty training your little one. So, here goes:

1. Rewards: Aaaahhh, the rewards... Have to be smart with this one... Stickers of favorite cartoon characters, points and stars on a chart, Thomas the Tank Engine trains (wooden ones, plastic ones, metal ones....), candies... Well, at this rate, we were probably going to go bankrupt before our son would successfully potty train! We didn't apply the rewards concept correctly, so it didn't quite work for us. The problem was that we were rewarding him to just sit on the potty. Now, they may be only two, but they can be so smart!
So they figure out pretty quickly how to get what they want! When my son started to tell us that he needed to go potty, he would sit on the toilet for a long, long, time, and then he would say that he "didn't feel it" anymore... As desperate parents who wanted so much for their son to go potty, we thought that the fact that he was asking to go potty was a big step in the right direction... But he kept getting his rewards and still no results. So, if you want to give your child some kind of reward (which is great and can work), wait until he/she actually goes pee-pee or poo-poo in the toilet, then you give the reward.

2. Pull-Ups: One word: Nooooo! Ok, a little more than one word, for us it turned out to be a terrible idea! While it might work for some moms, some toddlers like my son didn't mind all that much about the "cool feeling" from the pull-ups. It actually confused him even more. We think he started to enjoy the feeling since it was summertime.

3. Signs: When my son was about two, we noticed how he would go to the playroom area and get really quiet. About 10 minutes later, he would return to the living room to play with his toys. I would approach him and smell the stinkiness. I started observing him and noticed that it became his routine when he needed to go poo-poo. It also helped that he was going in his diaper at approximately the same time everyday. So, we tried to direct him to the potty instead. But, this backfired on us because he learned how to hold it longer, not wanting to actually go in the potty, even though he really needed to!

4. Underwear: Close to turning three years old, we decided to take more drastic measures. We took our son to the store and told him that he was going to wear "big boy underpants". We let him choose his own favorite underwear themes/characters. We told him that starting the next day, he was only going to wear underpants. (Note: We did this experiment during a week long Spring Break). He was excited about it, and believing he was the one "in control" of the potty situation (which was a big plus!). For the first three days, we did a lot of cleaning... We never judged him, or made a big deal about it. Using our best "poker face" we would just say, "It's ok, it's just a little accident. Maybe next time you feel it, you can go to the potty." Sometimes we would point out that our cats would go to the litter box when they felt it, and that our dog would go outside when she needed to go, and that we went to the potty when we felt it. He didn't like the yucky feeling of having pee-pee running down his legs, or poo-poo in his underwear. So, after about the third day, we noticed how he would tell us he needed to go and would run to the potty. After about the fifth day, no more accidents! No more diapers! We did have a few bedwetting accidents, but they stopped after a few weeks. In our case, creating a nighttime routine helped prevent bedwetting accidents (brush teeth, go potty, read books, and sleep). We kept the same routine every night. 

5. Second son: We learned not to pressure our youngest son. It just doesn't work. We waited until he was about two years old to begin mentioning going potty in the toilet. At that time, I had already written and illustrated the first edition of my "Silly Potty Story" book, so I was reading it to him, and he loved taking control of the silly questions by answering, "Noo mama, we don't go in the tub, we go in the potty!" Also, our son sometimes observed his dad or older brother using the toilet. Having a mom, dad, or an older sibling show where we go potty, in our opinion, was helpful. However, if you don't feel comfortable using the toilet in front of your child, then, please disregard this strategy.


Enjoy my book and whatever potty training method you choose, remember to be patient, take a deep breath and give yourself a break when frustrated, and by being positive when your child shows signs of readiness, your child will soon be successful! :)
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jbird/19650368/">thejbird</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>