Fideos with Chorizo, Spinach, and Chickpeas

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The spice in this Spanish take on noodles will challenge little taste buds just enough. But use a milder sausage if your kids don’t like spicy!

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 6 ounces angel hair pasta
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 vegan spicy sausage links, chopped (such as Field Roast Mexican Chipotle)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup frozen spinach or broccoli rabe
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Break the pasta into 2-inch pieces, and add to the pan; cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. (Note: work in 2 batches, if needed, so that the noodles cook evenly). Remove the noodles from the pan and set aside.
  2. Heat the remaining tablespoon oil in the pan. Add the onion and sausage; cook for 5 minutes, until lightly browned.
  3. Add the chickpeas; cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Stir in the spinach and tomatoes. Return the pasta to the pan, along with the water. Cover and cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Stir, then cover and continue to cook for 5 minutes, or until the noodles are tender. Season with the salt, black pepper, and oregano.

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Try On-Site Day Care

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Today’s activity with Veronika was more of a challenge for me than for her – could I leave her in the hands of strangers for about 30 minutes to work out?

This suggestion in my baby activity book was a needed push; three-months-old is a good age to test out time away from your baby. Separation anxiety has yet to set in, and truth be told, I waited far too long before parting ways with Travis, which made separations like nursery school much harder down the line.

So today, I sought out a gym in town where I could exercise for a daily fee, and my daughter could hang out with the other babies!

Here we go! She looked so innocent and trusting as we checked in, little knowing I was about to leave her side for 30 minutes.

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But did the world end in the 30 minutes we spent apart? The answer was a refreshing…No! Not only was it nice to be in an adult realm…

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…but Veronika did just fine. The excellent caregiver on duty reported she was fine for the first half, and then did get hungry and fussy toward the end. But I had peace of mind knowing that she was in a comforting embrace until my return.

In between, she got to watch other kids play, ranging in age from 9 months to 3 years. I didn’t want to violate the privacy of the other children, else I would have taken many more pics of the great playspace! It had safari-themed structures for bigger kids to climb on, and plenty of toys for the little ones.

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Although I won’t necessarily be doing this again any time soon, it’s nice to know it’s an option. So challenge yourself, mamas! Whether it’s a solo workout, or an exercise class, or a dip in the pool, find a gym near you with a daycare center, and enjoy!

Varsity Tummy Time

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Veronika started with basic tummy time, moved on to advanced activities, and now she’s pulling out the varsity moves!

Once your little one is comfortable up on his or her elbows, try these tricks to encourage them to last longer on their bellies, and make the time more enjoyable. Ideally at 3 months old, you should be fitting in about 20 minutes of tummy time daily.

First, I held up one of her favorite toys, just above eye level. This was great for strengthening her neck muscles even further – a big first step before crawling!

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Next, we played games to encourage her to turn her head. Place a baby-safe mirror first on one side…

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then directly in front…

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and finally on the other side. Good turns, Veronika!

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You can also continue to get right on your belly, face-to-face with your baby. This time I made funny faces, puffed out my cheeks, and talked up a storm of encouragement. Don’t be afraid to get silly if it helps your baby stay a few minutes longer!

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Finally, we did another pre-crawling activity. I placed a toy with lots of colors and parts in front of her, but just out of reach. Well hello toy, Veronika seemed to say!

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I placed a rolled blanket behind her feet to encourage her to press her weight against it, and shift forward, pushing ever so slightly.

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She got the idea right away, although she isn’t quite strong enough yet! Later, I actually pushed against her bare feet and did away with the towel, and this seemed even easier for her.

Overall, have fun with tummy time, and your child will be loving it before long. What’s your favorite tummy time game? Please share in the comments!

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Early Explorers Animals

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When I saw that Travis’s newest package from Early Explorers was all about animals, I worried it would overlap with the unit on habitats. But of course the Little Passports company ensured there was plenty of new info and exciting ideas for us to explore, and I needn’t have worried one bit!

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My seasoned explorer jumped right in, telling me he was off to put the animal stickers on his map solo (“Don’t come, Mom, I can do it myself!”) though he did later have me verify that each was on the right continent.

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With that we were off and running, checking out the flashcards, flashlight game, and booklet, with fun activities like tracing and mazes.

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Animals Craft:

Travis’s booklet suggested drawing your favorite animals. Travis preferred to color in animals someone else had outlined, and luckily the website featured a bonus template of just such a thing.

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He liked making up silly colors for his animals!

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Animals Science:

The “science” project we undertook was to visit a nearby national park and chat with a ranger about what wildlife we might encounter there. So we headed off despite winter weather for a guided walk on birds in the area.

Animals Keepsake:

The animal puppets to put together were by far his favorite keepsake we’ve received from this subscription to date! These foam puppets had a crafty component, since some were stickers that needed to be added on to the bodies.

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There was a nice representational sample, everything from exotic lions to cute pandas to cows like those we can see here at home.

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Not only was he wild about putting them together, following the easy step-by-step instructions solo, but when we had finished, he asked if he could put them together again (unfortunately, not really!). From here on out, they’re great for puppet shows.

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Animals Field Trip:

Our booklet suggested a trip to a local zoo or aquarium; please note that I never take Travis to zoos, as life in a cage is a sad one for animals. That said, we will visit an aquarium as long as the fish are well-cared for and there are no captive cetaceans.

And what a day at the aquarium we had! Travis was fully tuned in to the animals today, on a hunt for species we’d read about in our booklet, and marveling at them. Have you ever watched seahorses swim, for example? They truly dance.

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He was in love with the motions of this spider crab.

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And fascinated to learn about piranhas.

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And whoa – sharks are always a thrill.

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As a bonus, this was a great activity for his little sister!

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We sat down over a snack to check off all the animals we’d seen that were featured in his booklet.

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Animals Further Activities:

We weren’t done yet! The booklet was rife with further suggestions. We headed to our local park on a warm day to see how many different types of animals we could spot. Here in the winter, it was mainly bird species, but we counted 4: ducks, swans, geese, and seagulls.

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Next up was a visit to a local animal shelter, a great way to show your child how other people help animals. I encouraged Travis to ask the volunteers anything he wanted about where they got the cats from, and how they found them good homes.

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And of course there was lots of time to pet and play!

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I had also purchased the animal band magnetic set from Little Passport’s shop. Okay, maybe this didn’t teach us anything about animals, but it sure was cute!

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The magnetic case includes heads, bodies, and legs to mix and match, of adorable animals playing instruments. Incidentally, this game is great for on-the-go, since the magnetic pieces ensure you won’t lose them.

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You can keep the learning going with websites and books, from here. Travis fell in love with crabs at the aquarium, so we did further research online with YouTube crab videos. Lizards were another fast favorite, and we learned more about them.

And of course your local library will have in-depth books about many species. So find out your child’s favorite, and get reading!

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Heart-y Sandwiches

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Start your Valentine’s Day on this sweet note with hearts for breakfast! Or, serve these adorable sandwiches for a Valentine’s Day tea time.

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To start, use a cookie cutter to cut heart shapes from slices of white bread.

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In a bowl, Travis mixed a few drops of red food coloring into Daiya cream cheese; stir until you have a pretty pink.

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We spread half of our hearts with the pink cream cheese (which Travis thought was frosting, so much the better!), and the other half with strawberry jam.

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Serve to someone you love! A great little recipe suggestion from Ranger Rick Jr.

Baby Playlists

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Quick, think about music and infants, and you probably think about lullabies – am I right? And for good reason, of course, because what parent hasn’t resorted to a song to soothe a crying child to sleep?

But upbeat, silly, and rhythmic songs are also great for infants, and indeed can help signal that its playtime or time to stay awake. This is especially helpful if you’re trying to get your baby into a rhythm with distinct naps and wake cycles.

So today I created two playlists for Veronika. The first was what you’d expect: soothing lullabies. You can download these from online services like Spotify or itunes, and make a quick playlist that you can return to again and again.

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This way, you don’t have to stay and sing; Veronika’s list includes 45 minutes of soothing songs culled from our favorite Music Together collections. I can set the music near her and tackle chores around the house without having to stay by her side and sing.

Looks like the songs are working!

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The second playlist was completely different! This time I added our favorite upbeat tunes, with silly lyrics, great drum beats, or other playtime elements.

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Once she’s awake, I turn on this list, and let it be the background music to our play.

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She looks ready to have a good time!

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A few ideas to get your list started. For the lullabies, try:

My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean

Shenandoah

Braham’s Lullaby

There’s a Little Wheel a’Turning

Ally Bally

The Water is Wide

and All the Pretty Little Horses

For playtime, try:

When the Saints Go Marching In

Don Alfredo Baila

Ridin’ in the Car

Alabama Gal

Hey Ho Nobody Home

Jim Along Josie

Frere Jacques

Train to the City

Mississippi Cats

and Noses and Toes

Note: All of the above songs are part of Music Together CD collections.

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Finally, please do check out the my own lullaby CD! Hopefully the a cappella tunes can soothe your little one long after you’re tired of singing.

Egg Carton Mini Wreath

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Full disclosure: Travis and I had hoped to make this adorable wreath around the holidays, but I didn’t have anyone to borrow an empty egg carton from – talk about #veganproblems! We’ve now gladly upcycled one from Travis’s grandma, so why not make it a Valentine’s Day wreath? In fact, depending what colors you choose for the wreath, it could work to adorn your door at almost any holiday.

First, we needed to tear the egg carton into separate compartments. Nothing like ripping things apart to get out some energy on a snow day.

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Travis then used a pencil to poke a hole through the center of each segment, which might have been even more fun than the ripping!

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He then threaded all of the compartments onto a long white pipe cleaner (you can choose the color for this based on any holiday, too). He thought it looked like a snake at this point – fun!

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Once all the segments are threaded, you’ll need to bend the pipe cleaner and space them out evenly until you have your cute little wreath. Secure the two ends of the pipe cleaner together by twisting.

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We painted our wreath with green watercolor paint. In retrospect, I would paint first, let dry, and then thread them on the pipe cleaner.

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Once dry, Travis helped glue on little gems, pom poms, buttons, and other red items.

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We finished our wreath with a little bow. I added a second pipe cleaner that could be the handle, and hung it from our front door.

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Happy Valentine’s to all our readers!

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Valentine’s Poetry & Signs

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With a clever little template to follow from Raddish Kids, Travis wrote his first poems this Valentine’s Day! I loved guiding him through the project, and the final result makes the perfect Valentine’s gift for a teacher, family member, or friend.

First, we brainstormed a list of three categories: things that were red; things that were blue; and things that were sweet. He had some very definite opinions about what to include i.e. blackberries are bluish purple, not black, so they could go on the list.

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What ensued was a sort of Mad Libs game. I read the original poem to him first:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Sugar is sweet,

And so are you.

Using the lists he’d made, we slotted in a new word for each line.

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The results were adorably hilarious, and will likely be so different from anything you’d come up with!

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Overall, this was a great way to introduce poetry to my four-year-old, and a fun way to make some last-minute Valentine’s cards.

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For still more language fun this holiday, teach your kids to sign ‘I love you’ in American Sign Language. Here’s his super excited face working out how to properly make the sign with his fingers!

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Travis and I decided this can be our secret way to say the words at school drop off, now.

 

Baleen Whale Kiwi Crate

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Travis received his second box from Kiwi Co today, and literally asked to start the moment we got the box inside the house. Kiwi actually terms this one the “mechanical sweeper” crate, but the term was so opaque I found it completely unhelpful as the adult assistant. Rather, the material inside is all about baleen whales, and the way their baleen “sweeps” the ocean; this explanation made Travis quite excited since he’s been learning about whales at school

First up was to Create Watercolor Whales, the crafty component before we moved on to the science of baleen. I sat back and completely let Travis pick colors and dictate how to paint.

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As he worked, he had a game going in his head; it was a humpback whale, but he could change colors and camouflage. Neat!

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He loved the wax-resist element along the whale’s jawline; the beads of water ran away from the waxed parts, leaving stripes of color behind. We wiped these clean with a paper towel, as the instructions suggested, for a streamlined look.

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For the second whale, we used an extra coat of water and then sprinkled on the provided salt.

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After the whales dry, your child can see the difference between the two paintings. Where you shake off the excess salt, you’ll see spotty patterns (more on this idea later).

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Now was the moment he’d been waiting for: to Build a Mechanical Sweeper. The idea is to illustrate how baleen whales “sweep” the sea with their mouths, thus capturing more food than they’d be able to with teeth. (Note: the Explore booklet has a cute story explaining this idea further).

I won’t go step-by-step through the sweeper here, but do note that it’s complicated, and took mom and boy a good twenty minutes of concentration. But wow did I love watching his fine motor skills, trying mostly to sit by and let him do the work. He slipped the foam sweeper tabs into the foam sweeper bars…

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Added tiny rubber bands to hold things in place…

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Slid dowels through the proper holes…

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Used stickers to hold things in place…

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And more.

At last, our sweeper was ready. We sprinkled the provided pom poms on the rug (the krill, of course), and munch munch munch – our “whale” ate them all.

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We then attached our dried watercolor whales to the sides for a finished look.

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Travis was thrilled, and needed to experiment immediately. What else could his whale eat? Was anything too small? After testing out tiny Legos, we decided the answer was no.

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Was anything too big? Only if an item was wider than the distance between sweeper blades, but this hot wheels car got through…

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…as did loads of Playmobil.

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I have a feeling it won’t be a chore the next time I ask him to pick up Lego pieces from all over the rug!

Finally, we made Watercolor & Salt Paintings with the provided extra paper, for a clearer salt-and-water experiment. Because Travis had loved the wax-resist on the original whales, I knew just how to add in this element for him – wax crayons.

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Once he’d painted, we sprinkled on big piles of salt this time.

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This allowed him to see better how the salt sucks some of the water up. You can explain to your kids that the salt and water molecules are attracted to each other, hence why the water gets pulled up, and creates that mottled final look.

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My overall opinion of this crate, aside from the very confusing name, is that it was a really digestible way for kids to understand baleen, to learn about these amazing giants of the sea, and to build a very cool STEM project in the process.

 

Picture This

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Today, Veronika and I had a very different sort of story time. Rather than simply reading text to her, I wanted to actively engage her with the pictures and words. In fact, because we were focusing on what she saw rather than the story line, magazines were better for this game than books. You can use adult magazines, kid ones, or even catalogs!

We snuggled up and talked about the images. “Look, the girl is in a red dress. Look, the boy is at the beach.”

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This will help your baby process the images on the page, without having to follow rhyming words or plots.

You can also encourage your child to point to what they’re seeing. So if I said, “Let’s touch the maraca,” I would then place her hand on it.

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She doesn’t understand yet of course, but over time this will help her associate a word with the proper image.

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You can also have your baby practice turning pages. Magazines aren’t as good for this, with their thin paper, but her latest issue of Hello magazine¬†was perfect.

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“Let’s turn the page!” I said, and then guided her hand until we turned it together.

Overall, this was an engaging activity, and a nice quiet pause just the two of us.

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