Beach Blocks and a Giveaway

Silas and I recently had the delightful opportunity to explore a set of Beach Blocks, sent to us from Andrea at Bula Jean's Boutique. Inside the drawstring bag were a collection of driftwood pieces and a shell collected by Andrea and her children from the shores of the Atlantic. Upon opening the bag, Silas immediately got to work building a house. It was a comparatively brief initial play session, but he has asked to get them out every day since. I'd say it's true love.

There are two things that this mama loves most about them. The first is the opportunity to touch and smell and interact with these gifts from the sea; a rare treat for us in landlocked Iowa. Silas has never seen the ocean (and is unlikely to in the near future), so these are a wonderful way for him to develop a sense experience of that place and to develop a connection to it as well as the world beyond. 

The second thing that I love is their absolute open-endedness. While completely smooth, these bits of driftwood are uneven and organic, making the child really have to think and use trial and error when building with them. In addition to a house, they have already been phones, roads, and signs, but the possibilities remain endless.

As we head into winter, I look forward to pulling these little gems out to add to our block rotation, where their unique sun-warmed presence can remind us of summer days that will return.

Bula Jean's Boutique is generously offering to one A Life Sustained reader their very own set of Beach Blocks. Just a few Facebook likes are all it takes to enter. See below.

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Blueberry Picking

We met some friends yesterday morning at a farm to do a little blueberry picking. It was our first time. The boys had fun running amongst the bushes, pretending to be Little Sal as they dropped berries into their pails, and in general enjoying each other's company while the mamas put forth a more serious effort at picking berries (it takes a lot of berries to make a crumble!) and chit-chatting.

It's been a bit quiet around here as of late. I've been trying to minimize computer time to maximize our time outside this summer. The swimming pool has become a new favorite spot and we've walked all over town to forage berries (Juneberries! Who knew?). We make frequent trips to the park and moved a mini trampoline into the living room because it simply made the most sense. We eat ice pops for breakfast. I thought the all-fruit would be the favorite, or for sure, the chocolate, but no, it's the yogurt that he can't get enough of. I'm trying to simplify and purge (aren't we all?) and to shake, once and for all, the guilt, the weight, the responsibility of having too much stuff. We are receiving so much goodness in our CSA box this year (Broccoli! Peas!), but are yearning to do more of our own growing. We casually mentioned to Silas the prospect of moving someday, including the fact that he could have chickens if we did. He was sold immediately.

This is all a long way to say that our days seem simple and not at all noteworthy in the moment, but are adding up to a pretty wonderful summer. I can hardly believe that August is almost here.


We are very lucky to have a volunteer mulberry tree on the fence line of our property, with  berries just starting to ripen within the last week. Every single morning Silas pulls on his rain boots (with his pajamas still on) in the hopes that he can sneak through the door when I let the dog out. "But my tummy is hungry for mulberries, mama!"

I grew up with a weeping mulberry tree right outside my front door. What is that, you might ask? Well it's the result of one great-grandfather's tree grafting experiment, crossing a weeping willow with a mulberry, causing many tasty berries to grow on branches that cascaded down where little hands could easily reach them. That tree holds quite a central place in my childhood memories: the purple stains on the sidewalk, the thrill of eating something from "the wild," the anticipation of waiting for them to ripen and the sadness when the birds ate them all. I'm glad that Silas will have his own memories of running outside through the wet grass in summer mornings to gather this little bit of nature.

Painting the Clouds

Today was the perfect day to set up the outdoor art table and have a little messy fun. We painted the clouds (inspired by this). A set of acrylic mirrors, some brushes, and a couple bowls of foam adds up to one very engaged little boy. In fact, our art session only ended after about an hour because we had a run-in with a snake (but that's a whole other story, I'm sure). The idea was for him to paint the reflection of the clouds in the mirrors, but he was more interested in just manipulating the foam to see what it could do.

You could set this up with foam paint, whipped cream, or shaving cream, but I don't like to use any of those materials for art projects, honestly. So I whipped up my own version. I used a hand mixer to blend about a quarter cup of water, 10 drops of food coloring, and about a half a tablespoon of dish soap. I used Seventh Generation soap and I was worried that it wouldn't really foam up, but it did just fine. After a couple minutes of mixing on the highest setting I had a beautiful, thick foam that was perfect for painting with.

Silas really liked using the scraper best and once I added a bucket of water to the mix, he quickly got wet up to his elbows and started "painting" everything around him. A fun project, indeed.

Cloud Dough

Every morning, Silas, Nikita, and I go for a walk. There are no sidewalks in our neighborhood, so we used to just walk the short jaunt down the "big road" to get to a side street with less traffic (but still no sidewalks) where Silas could more safely walk. That was getting pretty stale though, so I had to get over my mental aversion to getting in the car and driving somewhere in order to take a walk (it just makes no sense!). Slowly, we're checking out all the different walking paths and trails throughout town to see which ones we like. We explored a new one today. It was lovely and ended at a park where there were huge rocks to climb, which Silas was quite excited about, but the round-trip ended up being about a mile and a very long walk indeed. 

I have to admit that "three" has been very hard for me so far. I can see the ways in which Silas is growing in leaps and bounds developmentally, and every day I'm wowed by how sweet and kind he is. But, this has come hand-in-hand with some challenging behavior and a demand for all of mom's time. Oh, it's nothing that isn't completely normal, I know, and I keep mentally repeating, "this too shall pass," but it takes some extra squares of chocolate and more than a few deep breaths for this gentle mama to keep her cool these days.

My answer has been to spend as much time as possible outdoors (you can't pummel the pets if they're not around!) and to hold to as steady of a rhythm as possible. For me, this means that our mornings are pretty tightly scheduled: breakfast, circle time, walk, snack, activity, lunch, quiet time. It really does help. Today's activity, to go along with our cloud exploration this week, was making cloud dough (I used plain mineral oil rather than baby oil, though). It really is kind-of a wondrous substance and Silas very happily played with it for quite awhile. He loved how easily it formed and held it's shape from the molds.

It is cool and rainy today. Last night we feel asleep to the sound of the rain, which Steve and I both love. It would be the perfect day to curl up with a book, I think.

Pudding in a Cloud

Have you heard of pudding in a cloud? It's one of those recipes that frequently appears in Midwestern church cookbooks and on the backs of instant pudding boxes. It has but two ingredients: pudding and whipped cream. When I was growing up, dessert wasn't really a part of our family meals, but every once in awhile Sunday Dinner would be followed by bowls of this chocolate-y goodness. Preparing it was my job. I remember using the back of a spoon to push the Cool Whip up the sides of each bowl, pouring in the chocolate pudding and then sliding them into the refrigerator to chill while we ate our meal.

This week, we're exploring clouds, and even though the connection is a bit of a stretch, I thought it would be fun to share this little childhood treat of mine with Silas. Of course, I had to "whole foods" it up a bit and used homemade whipped cream and made the pudding from scratch (my first time!). It's still by no means a health food, but a much-appreciated treat for our post-walk snack time today.

When we started the return walk I told Silas that there was a special snack waiting for us at home. "Pudding in a cloud," I said. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "is that chocolate?" There is no doubt that this kid is my kid.

Making Caterpillars

Well, this post is one you can file under "things I meant to write about, but never quite got around to it." About a month ago when we were exploring caterpillars Silas wanted to make a toy caterpillar that he could play with. If you've never collaborated with a preschooler in toymaking, I highly recommend it. It was so much fun to hear his ideas about how it should be made and to witness him problem-solving as the project took shape.

We decided to make it out of four wooden beads. We dyed them using liquid watercolors and also gave them a dip in some vinegar to help keep the colors from running. Silas was in charge of polishing them with a bit of homemade beeswax polish and then it was time to string them all together with a cotton pipe cleaner.

He's loved playing with it. Almost immediately upon its completion he declared that I needed to knit him a chrysalis for his caterpillar to live in. I tried to comply, but my creation turned out less than satisfactory. I had a plan to make one out of felt (inspired by this), but we soon got busy with other interests and it never materialized. Maybe when our curiosity returns to caterpillars (which I'm sure that it will), this little Cabbage Looper ("It must be a Cabbage Looper because it's green!" he said) will have the opportunity to tuck inside a cozy little home and begin a transformation.

{This Moment} Nap

For the first time ever the little bug fell asleep all by himself. The combination of a very full Memorial Day Weekend with the grandparents and a little bit of a cold, made him all tuckered out. When I closed the door for quiet time, he was awake, but he grabbed a couple books, made himself a little nest, and proceeded to fall right asleep without my help. First time in three years.

Joining Amanda.