Monday, May 12, 2014

Braised Italian Sausage Stew

Homemade Braised Italian Sausage Stew

One of our staples during all these rainy, cold spring days is a homemade braised italian sausage stew. My husband and I love this soup and I usually make enough to bring some over for my parents to enjoy as well. This was the first recipe I ever made using some white wine - very exciting! 

  • 1 package sausage
  • 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots, cut into slices
  • 3 cups Swiss chard, stems removed, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup barley, uncooked
  • 1 can (28oz) plum tomatoes, in sauce (I used crushed tomatoes)
  • 14.5oz stock (chicken or vegetable works well!)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt

  1. Heat the Olive Oil over low/medium heat in a dutch oven. 
  2. Add onion, cook 3 minutes, until slightly soft. 
  3. Add sausage to pan, cook 12 to 14 minutes or until sausage is browned and almost cooked through.
  4. Stir in carrots and swiss chard. Add the barley, tomatoes, stock, wine, italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Stir to combine all the ingredients.
  5. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and continue to simmer for up to 1 hour or until the barley is cooked.
  6. Serve with crusty Italian bread.
  7. Enjoy!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Alphabet Series - The Big Alphabet Picture

Yesterday, at brunch with my parents, we were discussing our alphabet series, and how we have been working to saturate our space with the letter of the week.

My dad brought up a fabulous point during our discussion: not only was it important for O to learn each letter independently, it was also important for him to see it as part of the alphabet, as a whole.

My dad shared that when he was younger, he struggled to understand parts of concepts on a micro level, unless he got to see the macro, big picture.

Because O seems to have a lot of learning traits that my dad exhibited as a child, we thought we should take this idea in to consideration.

My husband and I decided that we should display the alphabet somewhere in our living room, as reference, for when we are learning an individual letter - we can point up to the letter in the alphabet, and talk about the letters around it.

Here's what we came up with:
Of course, this puts an end to our physical flash carding days (sad face) until we get another oversized alphabet set, but we feel as though this visual reference is more important at this point.

The boys have already noticed the new addition to the living room, and I frequently find them staring up at it.  O will point and name each letter as he goes, and X (being only 20 months) will just point up to the letters and look back and forth.

I think this will be a great addition to our saturation attempts.  It's also great for a new game of letter seeking: we ask O where a certain letter is and he seeks it out from on the wall.  I think he will begin to get used to where the letters are, and will have an easier and easier time finding where each letter is.

Just another step towards total alphabet saturation in this house!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

D is for Dinosaurs

This week is all about the letter D, and D is for Dinosaurs!

Our "alphabasket" has a LOT of variety this week!

More-so than any previous week we have lots of BOOKS!
And why is that, you ask? We only had two books in the house about dinosaurs - the Dinosaur Alphabet, and the Kid's First Dinosaur Encyclopedia.  So we used our brand-spanking-new library card to take out a few additional books on dinosaurs!

We also have a Magic Paint Poster book.
It is technically "monster" themed, but there are several pages of dinosaurs!

We have a Micro Terrarium of a prehistoric Fern for us to plant in its egg. (this will also be a nice little lead in to next week's theme of "earth"!)

We have some model magic to make our own dinosaur bones (or whatever shape O ends up making) to later dig out of our sensory bin! 

And, finally, in our Alphabasket, we have a set of stickers to decorate our letter "D" with!

And, as always, we're saturating our space with the letter "D":  We have "big" and "little" D drawn in window markers on our large bay window:
I've also drawn a large capital D for our living room easel; and I've cut a letter D out of cardboard for the boys to play with.

This week, we'll also be going to the Science Museum of Minnesota to see their dinosaur fossil exhibit (and explore their other exhibits)!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

C is for Color - Snow Coloring Turned Bath Coloring!

Today I took O outside to use our color-filled spray bottles on the blank canvas that is snow!

For this activity we used: 
*Dollar store spray bottles (or maybe target dollar section..?)
*Washable children's paint

I had the bottles pre-mixed from a summer activity that involved using the spray bottles to paint canvas - hence the use of children's paint instead of food coloring or another method.  I will say, food coloring, in my experience, does stain clothes and certain surfaces. So, if we do this activity again in the future, I'll probably still use children's washable paint mixed with the water….it only takes a small amount of paint to get a pretty rich color in the water.

Once I pulled out the bottles, O got pretty excited.  He LOVES using his spray bottle in the bath tub during bath time.  He saw that I had several bottles and I think his little mind was completely blown. 

We got all suited up -snow pants, boots, the whole nine yards - and went outside.  I set up the bottles in a row, so O could identify each color, and easily chose which one he wanted to spray with.  He chose orange.  We started playing...
and…even though O was clearly having a great time:
…We discovered the hard way that it was 2 degrees with wind at 20 miles per hour………mommy should have checked the weather before we bundled up! (look at that face…trying so hard to stick it out!)  Even as I was telling O that we had to go inside because he was shivering like crazy, he kept saying "no, colors!"

I didn't want to disappoint the poor guy…who had suited up so diligently and nicely to play with the color spray bottles.  

So we moved our little activity to the bath tub!
Again, I lined up the bottles on the ledge so O could reach them.  We filled the tub with water and BUBBLES!  (What better indoor substitute for snow…than bubbles!?)

O took his time deciding which color to use, and labeled them as he pointed to the various bottles:

O explored with spraying the walls of the tub….

and then spraying his hands!
(he would spray it then immediately rinse it off.  But it was a GREAT sensory activity for him.  I was proud that he even considered doing it!) 

In retrospect, I'm glad that we moved in to the bath tub.  Because of O's sensory issues, he usually hates bubbles.  But he was so excited about the spray bottles and seeing the colors, that he tolerated the bubbles really well.  He would frequently kick the water to move the bubbles away, or rinse himself off in the running water, but nonetheless he was IN the tub WITH bubbles.  A nice little milestone for my boy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Alphabet Series - Saturating Your Space with the Letter of the Week

Every week, I tell you how we saturate our space with the letter of the week, but I wanted to really show you how prevalent we make each letter for O to see.

Every week, as I've told you, I write the letter on the big art easel that we put in the living room.
We put this easel in the living room for the express purpose of displaying the letters.  Every day, I bring out the markers for 15 or 20 minutes at a time for the boys to color on the letter - and to see if O has interest in tracing the letter.

I've also begun writing the big and little version of the letter on our big, bay window:
(Just to show how visual and obvious the letters written on the window are)

 And to show how big I draw them:
Again, every day I bring out the window markers for the boys to draw on the window - in hopes that they will find interest in specifically coloring in the letters.

In addition to saturating our space on a larger scale, I frequently bring out our white board, for O to learn to trace the letters on. 

O is actually doing REALLY well with tracing on this "medium sized" scale - I think its the first step in developing the fine motor skills to trace the letters on even smaller scales.

Every week, I cut the letter out of a piece of cardboard - usually from one of our cereal boxes:

Just like with the easel, the window, and the white board, I bring out the markers and crayons for a little while each day, in hopes that O will want to color in the letter.  Just the mere exposure to the shape is beneficial, in my opinion.  So far, X has had more interest than O in coloring in the letter, and I'm fine with that - the exposure is good for X, too!

I try to put a lot of emphasis on the letter throughout the week (clearly!), while we also work on the concept associated with that letter.  Getting O interested in the letters, thus far, has been easier than I thought.  Then again, with the amount of saturation I do in our space, I probably shouldn't be too surprised!

I hope you've gotten a few ideas on how to saturate your space with the letters for your kiddos!  What else do you do to expose your children to the letters of the alphabet?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

C is for Colors - Dry Erase Markes & Board

Today O got to play with the very special Crayola Dry Erase Markers and Board!  I keep them up out of the kids' reach, because they've developed a skill of finding the markers, taking the caps off of all of them, and then drawing on everything…their toys, the couch, each other…So the markers stay out of reach until they earn the use of them as a special treat.

But, I decided to allow the children to play with them more liberally this week, in an effort to expose them to all of the colors available to play with.

In this particular session, we used a small dry erase board that I got from the Lakeshore Learning Store.

I originally intended to write a big and little C on it, but O requested that I draw a big and little B instead…I guess he's still stuck on last weeks lessons :)

Rather than trace the B's however, he just wanted to color along the dotted lines…I should have drawn the B on the other side (which is blank)!

Eventually, O flipped over the board and requested that I draw a big and little C.  And the very first thing he did was trace both!  I was so proud of him, and praised him greatly for tracing so nicely and without being asked to do so.

After tracing however, we were back to scribbling.
I was fine with the scribbling because it still allowed us to talk about the colors he was using. He correctly identified every color that he used in this particular session - including identifying light blue as blue, and lime green as green.

I love using open-ended activities such as this to allow my son to be creative and explore.  O isn't very much in to art - he hates painting, isn't interested in coloring on paper, and doesn't like doing projects that require concentration.  I had to think outside of the box to get him interested in working with different colors, and using "special markers" on a "special surface" really interested him.

What kind of unique ways do you use to get your child more involved in activities that they would otherwise resist?

Monday, February 4, 2013

C is for Colors - Shape & Color Stacking Puzzle

I know this isn't something that would traditionally warrant an entire blog post devoted to it, but I wanted to share a unique way we play with puzzles like this during our theme weeks.

To get O interested, I just dumped all of the puzzle pieces on the floor.  He immediately came over from watching Wonderpets.  He took his time and figured out which pegs each shape fit on to.    As you can see in the middle picture above, some of the shapes didn't necessarily get on to the right set of pegs the first time around :)  But we worked on it together, and he figured out where all of the pieces were supposed to go.

After a few times of dumping the puzzle on the floor and letting him practice putting each of the shapes on the right set of pegs, I took all of the shapes and spread them out on the floor:
I then asked O for specific shapes in a specific color.  I had to use my hand to block him from going in to his **"O zone"** and just doing the puzzle without letting me talk to him or interact with him.  So, I would occasionally cover all of the pieces and attempt to make eye contact with O, while asking him to give me, say, the yellow square.  

O did spectacularly with this activity.  It was a new way for us to play with the puzzle, and I think we will do it frequently this week.  O seems to be confusing blue and yellow in the puzzle - this isn't the first time he's confused yellow and blue, so we'll have to work hard on those two this week!

Hopefully this little post can give you a few ideas on how to play with your old puzzles in a new, unique fashion!

**(When I refer to the "O zone," I'm talking about when O "zones out" and just mindlessly does an activity without allowing for interaction with anyone…I may refer to it often, as O does frequently go in to his own world and can be hard to pull out to interact with during activities.)