When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Grilled Chicken, Veggie, and Pineapple Skewers with Orange Maple Sauce

Matt and the boys and I enjoyed the first long weekend of the summer by staying close to home and hanging out all together. There was lots of swimming and laughing, puttering and playing in the gardens and yard, a trip to the local farmers' market on Saturday morning, and tasty meals made easily and pleasantly with fresh ingredients and plenty of free time to enjoy the process. The start of summer holidays always comes with such an exhilarating feeling of lightness and spontaneity; we're all open to discovering new things in the wide open spaces (both the physical and the mental ones) that this relaxed, happy season often provides.

Saturday afternoon sun halo

One of our favourite meals from the weekend involved skewers threaded with chicken, peppers, zucchini, red onion, and pineapple, brushed with an orange maple sauce, and grilled nicely on the barbecue. I didn't plan for this meal to be part of a food post here, but the skewers looked and tasted so good when they came off the grill that I thought I'd share the recipe. (Luckily I have a patient family who was willing to wait to eat their dinner until I had snapped a few impromptu photos of it!)

Chicken, Veggie, and Pineapple Skewers with Orange Maple Sauce

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 sweet bell peppers, any colour
2 small zucchini
1 small red onion
half of a peeled and cored pineapple
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
a pinch of sea salt

Preheat the barbecue to medium heat. Cut the chicken, vegetables, and pineapple into similarly sized pieces, about 1 1/2 inches each. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, maple syrup, olive oil, cumin, and sea salt.

Thread the chicken, vegetables, and pineapple onto skewers. (If you're using wooden ones, be sure to soak them in water for 20 minutes first.)

Place the skewers on the preheated grill and brush them with the orange maple sauce. Grill them for 15 to 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, brushing the chicken, vegetables, and pineapple frequently with the remaining sauce, and turning the skewers 5 or 6 times during the cooking process.

Serve grilled skewers with a side of whole grain rice and enjoy a simple but delicious summer meal!

Oh, one more thing before I go: If you enjoy following my stories and recipes here, you can now also find me on Instagram. Noah recently convinced me to actually try doing something with the account I had created there a long time ago, and I'm really enjoying its format for sharing photos and little snippets of life. I'm also still active on my Facebook page -- stop by and say hello if you haven't yet visited! :)

Monday, June 27, 2016

A room makeover and other happy surprises

One recent afternoon, Noah came home from school and found our main floor bathroom unexpectedly half-dismantled and out in the hallway, and me up to my elbows in paint and hardware.

Noah: Whoa! What is happening here?!
Me: I got tired of this bathroom.
Noah: Um, okaaayyy... Does Dad know about this?

I had to laugh at his reaction. In fact, his dad did not exactly know about my bathroom makeover plans. Matt and I had casually talked once or twice about doing a refresh in that room to tide us over until we're ready to do a major kitchen/main floor renovation. I had said that I should really paint the cabinet white, because it would look much better than the very 1980s wood grain that was currently there. And I had mentioned maybe changing up the dark brown wall colour I had chosen when we first moved in as a way to draw attention away from the uninviting and very limiting peachy-beige wall tile that a previous homeowner had installed two-thirds of the way up all of the bathroom walls. But I think I surprised even myself with how suddenly I decided to execute this plan.

(Okay, no, I actually didn't surprise myself.) I went out and got the paint on a whim at noon, and by the end of the day, in between various other commitments, I had the cabinet primed and painted white (SO much better!), new cabinet hardware installed, and the walls painted a striking deep shade of blue. All that was left to do was for Matt to install a new, more modern looking light fixture I had picked up, and help me hang a heavy new mirror, and then I should have been very happy.

Should have been....

As is often the case with home improvement projects, though, one thing tends to lead to another. After seeing the shiny new paint colours, I could not for one more second tolerate the now very dingy-looking peachy-beige wall tile everywhere. And so in a fit of perfectionism, I hauled out my paint brushes and cans again the next day and painted the ceramic tile white, too. I was a little scared about how that was going to work, but it turned out unpredictably well. And voila: a brighter, better-looking bathroom that happily surprised everyone! It's amazing sometimes what a big difference a few small changes can make.

We've been wrapping up more than quick bathroom makeovers this month. As the numbers on our chalkboard countdown-to-summer-holidays have grown smaller each week in June, so too have our outside commitments and responsibilities. Noah finished his volunteering at the swim club and his extra-curriculars at school for this season, and was recognized at his year end high school athletic banquet for his dedication and his accomplishments in sports and academics. I was so happy for him that his teachers and coaches see all the same amazing things in him that we do. He created an excellent first full year of high school for himself this year, devoting himself wholeheartedly to his courses and projects, his athletic and robotics teams and his volunteer work, and these awards were the icing on his cake.

Will performed wonderfully in his year end showcase for dance -- he and his friend Zach especially wowed the audience with their popping and locking duet. I wish I had a video of it to share here, as you'd have to actually see it to understand how impressive their striking unison with the music and each other was, and how vibrant their faces were as they told a very entertaining story through their movements. But the director of the studio told Will last week how many people had come to her and commented positively about that number after the show, and she has offered Will the opportunity to have a dance solo next season, which he is absolutely thrilled about!

Noah wrote his last exam this morning -- he is officially on summer holidays now -- and Will will join him at the end of the last school day on Thursday afternoon. We're all eager for lazy summer days together by the pool, for cottage time and fun visits with family, for many free hours for wondering and tinkering and creating new things. Long live the lighthearted summer months!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"You can't be looking at these hoes": An 8th Grade Relationship Contract

There was an article in our local newspaper this morning about a relationship contract drafted by an 8th grade girl and signed by an 8th grade boy, the written copy of which had been found on the floor of a classroom and then tweeted by Twitter user Max Linsky. Among the nine "terms and conditions" included in the contract were these clearly worded particulars:

"You can't talk hoes."
"You can't hug these hoes."
"You can't be looking at these hoes."
"You can't break my heart because if you break my heart I will break your face."

The contract went viral on the internet earlier in June. This morning's article suggested that the document was written by a "super smart" and "confident" girl "who knows exactly what she wants", and that while the conditions are "comical and arguably extreme", they actually provide lessons for adult couples about important relationship issues such as respect, conflict, and communication.

I might be missing something (does the word "hoes" mean something different now than it did when I was a teenager?), but I don't find anything comical or especially enlightening about any of the terms set out by this young woman for her prospective partner. Her confidence seems to come from putting other young women down, and from positioning herself as having complete control in the relationship with the young man.

I don't have teenaged daughters to talk to about relationships, but if I did, I would tell them the exact same things I've been telling my teenaged sons: it is never okay to call someone a ho, or to threaten violence, even jokingly, when someone has a different opinion or feeling than they do. As a parent, I'm disappointed that a contract such as this one would go viral because people find it comical. I'm assuming that the "hoes" the 8th grader is referring to are her fellow female schoolmates -- how does the use of such a derogatory term by a young woman make people see her as strong and smart? What reaction would we have if a young man were to use the same term? Is the threat of breaking someone's face as retribution for heartbreak okay when it's uttered by a girl?

Recent distressing news events like the Stanford assault case and the Orlando shootings have made parents keenly aware that there are important, ongoing conversations we need to have with all of our children about respect for other human beings. We should want both our boys and our girls to understand that name-calling and threats of physical injury are not acceptable. Sharing a contract like this one, or any other offensive words or images, over and over again on social media because it's "funny" sends everyone the wrong message.

If my sons decide to date one day, would I like them to be in relationships with strong, smart, confident young women who know exactly what they want? Absolutely. I just hope that their girlfriends' confidence comes not from insulting other young women or thinking they have a right to break a boy's face, but from having a healthy, positive sense of self and knowing how to communicate their feelings and needs intelligently and respectfully. I want my boys to be treated with the same consideration with which I expect them to treat others.

If we want to widely circulate a lesson about relationships in the media, let's make it this one: there should be no double standard when it comes to courtesy in human interactions. Let's hold all of our young people, boys and girls, to the same high standards of kindness.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

I planted our vegetable garden mid-week last week, and by the weekend, there were already tiny, eager green shoots pushing their way through the soil towards the sun. I never stop being amazed by this process each spring, the sudden bursting forth of potential encouraged by the combined efforts of me and Mother Nature.

The warm months are my most favourite time of the year for food. Every week there is something new in the gardens or at the farmers' market for us to enjoy, and it seems almost effortless to put together meals that are full of appealing colours and flavours. Today I'm sharing a recipe for a simple, hearty pasta salad that I often make to serve a crowd during the fun-filled summer months.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad 
(adapted from this recipe from Chatelaine magazine)

3 generous cups dry fusili pasta (I used a gluten-free brown rice version)
1 540ml can romano beans, drained and rinsed
half of each of a sweet red, yellow, and orange bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
the zest of one small lemon
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/8 tsp sea salt

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, and rinse under cold running water until cooled. Allow pasta to sit in the colander for a few minutes to drain well.

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and salt. Add the cooked pasta, romano beans, sweet peppers, olives, and parsley to the bowl and toss gently to combine. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for later.

This colourful salad is really easy to prepare and is perfect make-ahead side dish or main for all kinds of summer eating: potlucks, family barbecues, picnics, a quick and healthy lunch on the go. (Simply double the recipe for a larger crowd.) Enjoy the coming season of delicious food and happy times with family and friends!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Etsy: Summertime Favourites

Will was six years old when I started this blog and decided to name it after his pocket stuffing habit. He and I and this space have all grown and changed in the six years since then, but I always find it reassuring to see that some things remain constant at their core, even as time passes. Here are some of the bits I've pulled out of Will's various pockets in recent days:

(I didn't include the pair of dirty socks that were all wadded up into little balls and stuffed in his shorts. You're welcome for that.)

I think many of us are collectors of some kind, no matter what our age. Tucked away in pockets, boxes, file folders, or drawers, we gather items that inspire us or make us remember, smile, or wonder.

Lately, I've been gathering up summery things in my "Items I Love" folder on Etsy. Here are some of my favourite handmade and vintage finds for warm weather adventures. (Click on the highlighted text for more information about each item.)

Ice Cream Bowls and Spoons from PennySpoonerCeramics

English Oak Bird Feeder from LayerTree

Raccoon Sleep Mask from JulienEmilyDesign

Bicycle Bell from BringaLingBells

Recycled Wool Picnic Blanket from EllieEllieltd

Tiny Brass Bunny Earrings from saffronandsaege

Custom Leather Keychain from madebyperri

Toasted Marshmallow Soy Candle from SmellsLikeCanada

Lawn Dice Game from ArtiZanGroup

Farmhouse Tray from ChalkedBySam

Sagan Star Chart in Navy from wildwanderco

Tablecloth Playhouse from StripedCoast

Blue Agate Slice Coasters from BullCityGems

If you live in the Waterloo area and are interested in doing some in-person shopping for handmade treasures, you can visit the Etsy Local Market at RIM Park this Saturday. There will be more than sixty creative and talented artisans displaying their handiwork there, and admission and parking are free. It's a good place to discover something new and lovely to add to your collection.

Have a wonderful June weekend!

*Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for shopping Etsy through Pocketfuls.

Friday, May 27, 2016

We were here

Photo Credit: SaultOnline.com

They're tearing down my old high school in Sault Ste. Marie. I've been following the process in bits and pieces over the last while, through news coverage shared by hometown friends and family members on social media. First, there was an auctioning off of the building's inside contents, then a poignant aerial video of the empty building set to Simple Minds' Don't You Forget About Me (sniff, sniff), and finally, this week, a photograph of the south wing of the school, its heart now exposed to the elements through the force of heavy machinery. Watching the building near its end has been an emotional sucker punch for me, and apparently also for the many other former students who have left nostalgic comments under the news posts. I found my inner self frantically yelling, "Wait!" when I realized that the demolition process had already begun, and there was no way of going back.

I transferred to Sir James Dunn C&VS at the beginning of my grade eleven year. It took a lot of effort and some really sound arguments for me to convince my parents to allow me to switch from the all girls Catholic school I had attended in grades nine and ten; they wanted to be sure I wasn't transferring schools just because many of my closest friends were doing so. They held me to my initial decision to attend "the Dunn" even after all of my friends changed their minds last minute and transferred to the co-ed Catholic school instead. I arrived there knowing only a few fellow students, and feeling as though I had something important to prove.

At the Dunn, bolstered by a new-found confidence necessary for my situation, I stepped out of the shadows and flourished. My memories of the three years I spent there are rich ones, filled with warmth and positivity. There was the locker I shared with my aunt Christina, and the way we liked to surprise our teachers with our unusual family story when we ended up in classes together. A quirky French teacher who was so enthusiastic about his subject he liked to jump on desks sometimes, and an English teacher who tried jovially all semester to stump me by finding a word I couldn't spell. (He couldn't.) Hours spent happily engaged with other enthusiastic students to plan and deliver a leadership conference for teens in our region. Parking my Dad's trusty silver truck along the school's back lane when he kindly let me borrow it on cold or rainy days. Lunch breaks spent sitting in the sunny catwalk, talking and laughing with friends, and cheerful spares passed doing Calculus homework in the library in a small, close-knit group. Most affecting of all, mourning the sudden loss of a smart, vibrant, wonderful friend who died after an accident in our OAC year, and the very moving honour of being presented with an award in her memory by her father (my Chemistry teacher) at graduation. (I still keep in touch with him today.)

We all have our carefully kept stories from the days we spent in high school, our challenging and triumphant moments that were key to who and what we became during important growing up years. It should be irrelevant whether the building -- a simple collection of metal, concrete, wood, glass -- still stands or not if our memories remain. And yet, a physical building gives a comforting weight to those memories; it anchors our fleeting past to our present. A building is a place we can go back to for reassurance that what we remember from all those years ago was real. A building testifies, like the letters carved into a high school desk, that at a moment in time, we were here.

I wish that I had known my old school was going to be demolished the last time I was home. I would have gone to peer in its windows one last time, to see if its rooms would have revealed any forgotten memories that I could have then tucked away more safely. I know I won't be alone in feeling a real sense of loss when that lot soon stands empty.

Photo Credit: SaultOnline.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

May Days

I went out walking by the river yesterday morning, welcoming the warm sun on my face after a weekend of unseasonably chilly air and even a few snowflakes (!?). The whole area surrounding the trail was noisy and teeming with life; there were singing birds of every colour flitting and swooping above me, long grasses rustling under a brisk breeze, streams gurgling over mud and rocks. It was welcome noise, the gentle kind that feeds the heart and grows ideas, rather than the distracting and frustrating kind of too much going on at once.

We seem to have landed in a more balanced phase of life here this year. Some of our activities and schedules have changed, and while everyone is still very engaged in pursuits that interest them, our days feel pleasantly full, rather than frantic and overwhelming as they've often felt in previous years during the months of May and June. There seems to be time for some of everything this spring, and we're all happy and thriving as a result.

I've been doing a lot of writing recently, just not as often here on this blog. The shift of focus has given me a new energy; it's feeling really good to work hard at something new that is still a little beyond my reach. Several weeks ago, I submitted my first ever book proposal to a publisher (for a children's non-fiction book that I thoroughly enjoyed researching), and I'm currently working on a picture book manuscript (which is much more difficult to write than it sounds!) This is work I've had in me to do for years, combining my love of children and books and teaching, and the time feels right now to explore it heartily and see if anything wonderful comes of it.

Here's what else we've been up to around here lately:

We had the opportunity last week to watch Noah perform in two different ways, first as a drummer at Arts Night at his school (he was so good!) and then as a runner at our district high school track and field meet. For anyone who fears that kids today lack grit: go and watch some fourteen year olds race a 3000m. There's plenty of reassurance there that the kids are alright. This week we'll get a chance to watch Will dance at his studio during parent viewing week, a sneak peak of his performances for the upcoming showcase in June. These are proud moments for Matt and I as parents, when we see the delightful results that grow out of all of the boys' passions and hard work.

Will spent the weekend recovering from a nasty foot injury he suffered at school when another student accidentally ran over him with a heavy metal cart loaded with Chromebooks. (This is one of the lesser known risks of technology for youth, I guess!) He came home very upset on Friday about the state of his foot, which was cut and badly bruised in three places, but even more so about the fact that the child who hurt him didn't say he was sorry. A sensitive heart bruises just as easily as the skin does, I think. He's feeling better this week and is back to spending hours every day on his scooter.

Someone is excited about the new scooter parts he ordered with birthday money.

Matt and I have been working hard on the yard whenever the weather allows, mowing, weeding, edging, planting, mulching. It's always such a satisfying feeling to see our spring efforts combined with Mother Nature's to create an inviting outdoor space for all of the creatures who live in it. The robins nesting in our evergreen out front have been doing some work on the property, too. They seem to have a real flair for exterior home decor.

We're looking forward to a May long weekend with fun, good food, and a visit from family! It feels like summer is just around the corner now.