Practicing Pre-Writing with a Salt Tray

We are pretty relaxed around here about all things academic. We loosely follow the Waldorf early education model and so have done absolutely no formal introduction of letters or numbers with Silas; saving those things for a few years down the road and instead focusing on open-ended play and motor skills development. So, imagine my surprise when Silas started showing a very intense interest in writing. He "writes" things all the time, on his easel, on scratch paper, on whatever he can find. Sometimes he writes directions to various locations around town. Sometimes he makes lists of what to get at the store. And sometimes he writes letters to grandma, dictating what he's writing the entire time. I guess I shouldn't be so surprised. He sees the communicative power of writing every day; why wouldn't he want to get in on that action?

While we do consider ourselves pretty Waldorf-y, I have no interest in being a purist and I always promised myself that when it came to reading and writing (as with everything else) I would follow Silas' lead. I would not push him to learn, but I also wouldn't discourage him if he showed an interest. He started making "M's" and then asked how to make "O's". It was when he started tracing on the table top to "write" with his finger that I knew it was time to introduce the salt tray.

This is just a small wooden tray filled with salt that he can use his finger to trace in. You could also use very fine sand. It creates a sensory experience and helps to connect the abstract act of making shapes with meaning to the concrete action of using his body to make those shapes. Right now we're not doing letters, but starting with some lines and shapes as a pre-writing exercise, using some laminated cards that I made as a guide.

I have to say, Silas was smitten with this project from the get-go. He was really excited and wanted to do each of the cards multiple times. There is definitely a progression in difficulty between the shapes. The "wave" line in the first picture was one of the hardest, but he didn't seem discouraged, only aware that he was struggling. After attempting the harder cards, he set them aside and went back to the simpler shapes, which were a better match for his ability.

Organizing the Preschooler's Books

We have a lot of books. Too many books? Well, I guess that depends on who you ask. Around a year and a half ago, when Silas turned two, I started a rotation system. Every two weeks a new box of books would come out and the "old" books were packed away and he wouldn't see them again for a couple months. This solved two problems. First, we weren't swimming in children's books that, somehow, have the habit migrating off the shelf and onto the floor no matter how many times I pick them up. And second, the novelty helped to keep him always interested in books. While it was in practice, it worked really, really well. I love book rotation day because he spends, literally, the entire day looking at books and I have a little bit of breathing room to get things done around the house.

This summer, though, we fell out of our rotation habit. The cardboard boxes that I was using to store books were falling apart, making pulling them out and packing them back up a chore. There were many of his books the he had really outgrown and that needed to be weeded out. There were even more books that needed to be purged from our collection altogether. And I wanted to have fewer books out at a time - only around 20 or so - which meant that I really needed to spread them all out and sort them properly.

So this was our project the other day. First, I picked up five plastic totes. Honestly, this was the hardest step for me. I always get sticker shock when I look in the home organization aisle (seriously? Nine dollars for a plastic box?) and I usually just abandon whatever project it is that I'm looking to organize. But, this needed to happen, so I took the plunge. I think they were 29 qt. totes and I chose them because they were small enough not to take up too much room, but big enough that a majority of our books would fit in them while standing upright. There were still some over-sized books, but because I was only putting 20 or so books in each box, they were able to fit at an angle without anything getting crushed.

Then, while Silas was having Quiet Time in his room, I pulled out all our boxes of books and did a quick sort and purge. First I pulled out all the board books and books that he's outgrown and put those in their own box to be stored away until next spring when the baby comes. Then, I weeded out what needed to be purged. I decided that we (both Silas and I) should truly love all the books that are in our collection. We have access to a wonderful library, so there is no need for us to own every single book; only those that are really meaningful and that we want to return to again and again.

I sorted the keepers into the five bins, making sure that a good variety of books in each set - a little poetry, books about nature and animals, some Dr. Seuss, etc. Next, I quickly printed out some numbers for the plastic bins, taped them on, and Bam! revamped rotation system! There are 24 books in each bin (meaning we have 120 books in rotation! I think I need to do some more purging!) and each bin stays out for 2 weeks. They are displayed in a sling-style bookshelf, which I much prefer to a regular shelf. Silas can see the front covers of the books, which makes it much easier for him to find what he's looking for, without pulling every single book off the shelf.

We keep seasonal and holiday books separate (fall/winter in one bin and spring/summer in another) and these books come out at the beginning of their respective season and stay out, in their own basket, for the duration of that season. There is also a separate basket for any library books that we bring home.

It feels so good to have this project done. We were getting overwhelmed by the book clutter, but now everything is back in its place. Although, I do have another 4 or so (!) boxes of "to grow into" books that I need to go through and either put into rotation or purge. Now, I just need to figure out what to do with the toys...

Balance Bike

One thing I am not is an action photographer. Silas gave me plenty of fantastic shots of him riding his balance bike and nary a one of them is in focus. Oh well! 

We got Silas a balance bike for Easter the spring that he was two. To be honest, he wasn't at all interested in it that summer. He was still in his cautious stage and I think he was worried about falling over. But this summer has been the complete opposite. He hops on that thing and rides. Usually, he pretends that it's a motorcycle or a lawnmower, but no matter what it is that he's pretending at the moment, it always elicits smiles and laughs. It was definitely worth the investment. My only wish is that the seat would raise a little higher to accommodate his long legs. It's already up as far as it will go and it's a bit too short for him; I think this will be his only summer to really get to ride it. Next summer? Pedal bike!

A Hat for the Three-Year-Old

Almost exactly a year ago, I cast on a Baby Surprise Jacket for Silas. I toddlerized it so that it would be big enough for my lanky-even-then-two-year-old and used all scrap yarn from everything that I'd knit for him up until that point. It went well for the first month or so. But then I hit a bump. And then another. And now a year later I am so close to finishing (I just have to sew up the seam), but when I hold it up to him, the sleeves hit right around the mid-forearm. It is far too small and I'm too heartbroken to look at it, let alone finish it and I've lost motivation to cast on anything else. It seems as if I'm doomed to always knit things that are too small for my child!

What's the solution to that? Well, how about an easy knit that I know I can finish in a week and that he can wear right now? Yes, that might do the trick. Silas picked out the hat pattern and the yarn (some unmarked hand-dyed wool that I found at the thrift store) and I added a little scarf. It was a hit with both of us and now we're ready for the cooler weather that is undoubtedly just around the corner.

Joining Ginny.

Fermented Pickles

We finally have pickle fermentation success! I made my first batch of lacto-fermented pickles five years ago. I had total beginners luck and they were amazing. But, every time I've tried them since then, they have bordered on inedible. We've had to satisfy our cravings with Bubbies, which are delicious, but not at all easy on the pocketbook. Finally (finally!) we again have some good pickles stored up in the 'fridge and I am being a very stereotypical pregnant lady and consuming them with reckless abandon.

We didn't plant a garden this year, knowing that we were trying to get pregnant and how tricky that first trimester is for me, but Silas was so eager to put some seeds in the ground last spring. So, we planted just two little cucumber plants. Like all endeavors such as this, he took his job of cucumber care-taker very seriously; checking them frequently, watering when necessary (and according to him, it's always necessary) and deciding when each was "just right" and ready for picking. 

I followed the instructions in Wild Fermentation by Katz, which is a very useful resource and totally worth purchasing. Luckily, we have a wild grape vine growing along our fence line, so I was able to add some grape leaves to the brine to aid in maintaining crispiness, which I do think helped. I did a spicy batch, adding some red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and some other spices I had in my cupboard (that I can't recall at the moment) and they are, by far, my favorite pickles. Yum. 

Tadpole to Frog

One big adventure this summer was adding some tadpoles to our family for time while they transformed into frogs. Silas and I both loved checking on them every morning, giving them a little food and watching them slowly change. It really is quite amazing!

A lady posted to one of my local Facebook groups that a tree frog had laid its eggs in her kiddie pool and she offered up tadpoles to whomever wanted to come and get them. So, Silas and I headed out there one day. She said that she was having a hard time keeping them alive inside and encouraged me to take more than I thought I wanted to account for loss. So I listened. I took a lot. A lot, a lot. We brought them home and not a single one died. Not one. This was wonderful, of course, but it also meant that I had more tadpoles than I knew what to do with. We gave away around 30 of them to friends and I still had 40 or so left.

They seemed quite content in the small aquarium that I scored at the thrift store, which we kept outside in our screened-in porch. After about two months, daily one or two would crawl out of the water and we'd set them free in the backyard.  I was surprised by how tiny they were; about the size of my fingernail. I did feel very privileged to be witness to such an amazing biological process, but I have to admit, I hit my limit. As we were pushing three months, I was ready to be done with frogs and tadpoles. So, we scooped up the last 20 into a jar and sent them with Steve to dump in a small pond by his work where I'm sure they are very happy indeed.

To Explain My Absence (Again)

If you've been around this little ol' blog for awhile you may remember the last time that I took an unannounced 3 month hiatus from posting (almost exactly four years ago) and you may just remember the reason why. The Cable family is again growing by one and Silas will become a big brother this coming spring.

There is so much underneath that last statement, that I'm not even sure how to really unpack it. I'm not even really sure that I want to. What I do know is that a year of struggling with infertility and then three months of antepartum depression will take their toll on a girl.

I had depression in my first trimester of pregnancy with Silas, although I don't think that I identified it as such. I referred to it as a "pregnancy-related-sadness." But it was so intense. I remember thinking that this is what depression feels like. All those times as a teenager or in my 20s that I felt depressed were nothing in comparison. This is what it felt like to really not be able to get out of bed. This is what it felt like to take absolutely no pleasure in anything, including all the things that used to bring me complete joy. This, this, this...

After Silas was born, I did some reading (specifically this post), which gave a name to what I was going through and helped to validate my experience; such an incredibly important step on the road to healing. This time around, I knew to expect it and tried my best to prepare myself. I let go of any expectations to do much of anything and saved all my precious little energy to be present with Silas and to focus on self-care. I've tried to pay special attention to diet and have taken steps to ensure that I'm getting enough healthy fats, B vitamins, and magnesium, all critical to mood regulation. I can't say that I escaped it completely this time around, but I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel far sooner than I did before. Maybe those things helped. And maybe I just had to get through it sooner because I have this amazing little three-year-old who has spent far too long waiting for his mama to get up off the couch and play.

But really, I want to end on a note of joy, because even though this summer has been incredibly difficult, it has brought us to this point. If this is the fire I have to walk through in order to have the privilege of getting to know, love, and parent another little one, then I'll gladly do it. We are thrilled. Truly.

And just to make sure that you're feeling the joy with me (and not just the sadness), I'll share the conversation I had with Silas when we told him the good news. If I can count on anything, I can count on that little boy to speak the truth of the matter, to always find the good, and to always (always!) remind me to laugh.


Mama: Silas, do you want to know a secret? There's a baby in mama's belly. What do you think of that?

Silas: Great!


Silas: Where does its poop go?


Thanks for sticking with me, my friends. I'm so excited for what the future has in store.

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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