humorous and heartfelt stories ~ healthy recipes made without gluten, dairy, or eggs ~ ideas for living well

My youngest son Will has an endearing little habit of filling his pockets with the many "treasures" he encounters in his daily adventures. I don't always understand the value he sees in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks can one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one is beautiful and important. His habit got me thinking about how life is just like that on a larger scale; we gather up the precious bits of our many experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you will find a little something among the stories and ideas here that you'd like to keep in your own pocket. Thanks for visiting!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Room Redo, Two: For the Tweenaged Boy

In recent months, Will had mentioned to me several times that he thought it was time for a change in his room. He felt he had outgrown the Star Wars/space theme that had excited him several years ago, and he was hoping for some new decor that would reflect his current interests. I agreed that some areas of his room could use a little work, and I remembered Noah being eager about a similar kind of room makeover when he was around Will's age. Because I always love a good redecorating project, I was happy to accommodate Will's request.

We set to work on completing this project one afternoon over Easter weekend while Will was out playing with friends. Even though he had been involved in choosing his new bedding and the art work for his walls, I thought it would be fun to surprise him with the transformation on a day when he wasn't really expecting it to happen. My goal was to create a room that was fun, but still mature enough that it could last Will through his teen years.

We only made simple changes (we worked with the existing wall paint colour and most of the furniture we already had), but Will was very enthusiastic about the end result when he arrived back home that afternoon.

Duvet cover, sham, red throw blanket, and Boys Only pillow from Bouclair
Union Jack pillow from HomeSense.

Will's desk was the one piece of furniture we did replace. The rather small one he was using before was often overflowing with his random collections of important things... I was looking for a desk with more practical storage space to encourage him to be a little more organized. The desk was a Kijiji find and matches his other furniture perfectly; the storage baskets (from Bouclair) and the magnetic white board built into the desk help to give him a place for everything. 

One of Will's favourite new room features is the row of matching clocks on his wall, which he has set for three different time zones. (Thanks, Manda, for this idea!) He likes imagining what friends and relatives in other parts of the world might be up to at various times of the day. When Matt and I first put up the clocks and realized how loud their combined rhythmic ticking was, we wondered if our sensitive boy would even be able to sleep at night, but Will actually loves the ticking sound. He says it helps him have something relaxing to focus on when his brain wants to go into overdrive.

Will and I found the skateboarding poster above his bed and this black high top sneaker one while browsing the huge online selection of images at AllPosters, and I framed them myself with simple, standard-sized black frames ordered from Amazon. A row of hooks gives Will a place to hang the medals he's earned from his various favourite activities.

Will loves spending time in his new room, and I'm glad that we were able to easily create a comfortable space for him that suits his personality and his tween spirit.

I'll leave you now with a fun little game for this rainy Monday:  Can you spot the kitten? (Apparently Iris loves Will's new room, too!  In true cat fashion, she's ignoring the "boys only" rule.  Will forgives her, though.)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Random Friday Ramblings (and an update about the ice cream makers)

Yesterday I started writing a post that was very woe-is-me in nature; I was feeling worn out and unappreciated in my role as a long-time stay-at-home mom and I needed somewhere to vent. I never finished that post, and this morning when I looked at it sitting in my drafts folder, the whole thing seemed rather melodramatic, and I was relieved that I hadn't posted it.

It's funny what a difference a day can make. Sometimes we just need a good cry, or a good talk with a loved one, or a good sleep, and the world suddenly seems right again. I had all three of those things yesterday, and by this morning all the misery I was feeling had vanished. Today the boys were home from school as it was a P.D. day; it was beautifully warm and sunny outside, and I remembered all of things I love about being able to be home with them.

Spring is an optimistic reminder that change is always around the corner, isn't it?  Tiny green shoots suddenly appear out of the earth where the day before there seemed to be nothing. Gray skies part to make way for beautiful blue ones.

Today's positive energy sparked an enthusiasm for spring-related activity at our house. The boys and I went through all of their warmer weather clothing to determine what fits and what new things we need to shop for. I was thrilled when I could cross most of the "to shop for" things off of Will's list almost as soon as I had written them down by looking in the bins of Noah's outgrown clothes, where we found jackpot of appropriately sized shorts and shirts that Will liked. We all got outside to enjoy the beautiful day -- the boys on their bikes, and me in the backyard with my gardening gloves, where I started cleaning up the flower beds to make space for this year's blooms. I had a few moments of trepidation, as I do every year, when I scooped all of the piles of dead leaves out of the window wells with my hands. I always imagine I'm going to uncover some odd, furry, biting creature living in there under the debris! Thankfully, there wasn't one. Matt and Will and I decided at the end of the afternoon to surprise Noah by picking him up from swim practice and going out to our favourite pizza place for dinner. It was so nice to have an unhurried meal all together, especially one that I didn't have to cook!

We also had a chance today to try out the individual ice cream makers I mentioned in my last post, so as I promised, I'll share our experience with them. Noah and Will walked together to the grocery store near our house to pick up the special ingredients they needed, with only a little direction needed from me via a phone call from the shop, asking exactly which kind of cream to buy and where in the store they might find coconut milk. They each made their own flavour combination in our blender (chocolate peanut butter for Noah, and strawberry banana for Will, with chocolate chips and walnuts sprinkled in), and all three of us were amazed at how well the frozen metal bowls turned the chilled mixes (both a traditional milk and cream version and a dairy-free coconut milk version) into ice cream. It took less than ten minutes of scraping and stirring for the ice cream to reach a good consistency for eating, and both boys declared their easily made creations to be really delicious. We can now very highly recommend making ice cream this way as a fun warm weather activity for people of all ages!

If you're looking for a simple dairy-free homemade ice cream base recipe, we combined one 398ml can of full fat coconut milk, 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk, 1/4 cup raw agave syrup (you could also use honey or pure maple syrup), 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and a pinch of sea salt in a blender jar and blended it until smooth and creamy.  To add flavour, you could also blend in ingredients such as fruit (Will used half of a banana and a handful of strawberries), or nut butter and chocolate (Noah used a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter and 1/4 cup cocoa powder).  Chill the ice cream mixture in the fridge, and then follow the instructions that come with the ice cream maker for freezing it.

I think I'll hit publish on this post tonight; there is no melodrama here (well, except for maybe the bit about the creature that might have been living in the window well leaf pile). Here's to sunny spring days that seem all the more wonderful because of the dim days they follow.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Worth Keeping in Your Pockets -- Spring 2015

I'm sitting outside in the glorious sunshine to write, after spending the first part of the afternoon soaking up the long-awaited warmth of spring during a long walk.  Everywhere I look today, people seem to have suddenly sprung to life:  kids are flying gleefully on bikes down sidewalks and tossing basketballs into nets; neighbours are standing and chatting together in relaxed, happy clusters on driveways; joggers and dogs are out for an enjoyable afternoon run.  It's as though a weight (equal to a heavy coat and a pair of boots) has suddenly been lifted from everyone's shoulders, and we're all remembering how wonderful it feels to breathe freely and deeply again.

Today seems like a perfect day for a spring edition of Worth Keeping in Your Pockets.  These are some of the pretty, fun, useful, inspiring things we've been liking around here lately.

Handmade Beaded Jewelry:  My talented friend Jutta creates beautiful European style beaded jewelry in a rainbow of colours, and she has recently opened up her own Etsy shop.  I'm really excited to share her work with others, as I have a few of her handmade pieces myself and truly love them.  Her necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings are unique and add flair to any outfit.  If you'd like to keep up with the pretty new pieces Jutta is designing and crafting this spring, you can follow her European Style Beadworks page on Facebook.


Ice Cream Makers:  For Easter this year, I decided to give the boys each their own mini Zoku ice-cream maker, suitable for quickly creating one delicious single serving at a time.  The process involves adding five ounces of homemade ice cream mix to a pre-frozen metal bowl insert, and stirring and scraping the mixture in the bowl for about ten minutes.  The result is an almost instant soft-serve, or you can freeze the ice cream after stirring if you prefer a harder version. We haven't had a chance to try out these ice cream makers yet (Noah and Will have been busy with swim meets and dance competitions this week), but I've read many good reviews for them, and the boys have been excitedly dreaming up their own flavour possibilities since last Sunday.  I like the idea of homemade ice cream so that we can choose our own ingredients and stick to healthier options.  I'll report back once we've tested these out!

Singing Sisters:  Perhaps you've already heard of Lennon and Maisy, Canadian born sisters and a musical duo whose recent lovely cover of the song Boom Clap has been playing on Songza.  I love these girls' harmonious voices, and the obvious joy they feel when they sing together can't help but make listeners feel good, too.  This sweet version of That's What's Up is one of my favourites of their covers:

I'm so glad these girls are sharing their bright talents with the world.

Knit Dish Cloths:  We wash a lot of dishes in this house (because we do a lot of cooking and baking), so I'm always on the lookout for good, sturdy dish cloths that are up to the job and won't wear thin in no time at all.  Sometimes that's a tall order, but my mom very thoughtfully sent me some dish cloths that she recently knit herself (thanks, Mom!!), and I have now declared them The Best Dish Cloths Ever.  They're thick and soft, they clean things up wonderfully, and they look pretty, too.

You can easily make your own dish cloths using Bernat cotton wool and this pattern of my mom's:

Cast on 39 stitches with 5 mm needles. (My mom says she likes to use short needles.)
Knit 4 rows
*Knit 3, (purl 1, knit 1) to last 2 stitches, knit 2 *Knit 4, (purl 1, knit 1) to last 3 stitches, knit 3 *Knit 2 rows
Repeat this* sequence 11 more times, then knit 2 more rows.
Cast off and sew in the ends.
Wanting to have more of these super (and easy to make) dish cloths in a variety of spring colours just might inspire me to pick up knitting needles again -- it's been a long while!

Bird Homecoming:  Our mourning doves returned home last week after a long winter away.  It seems a marvel, really, how these birds know to find their way back to the place where they were happy the summer before, even after travelling so very far from where they started.  Their journey is always a nice reminder of "home" and what it means to me, where I came from and the wonderful people I'm lucky to call family.  Call your folks, get together with your brothers and sisters if you can, enjoy the company of loved ones while the sun is shining. The changing season has already got me excited for my own happy return to home up north this summer.

Photo Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

That's all for now -- I'm off to relish the rest of this afternoon's blue skies.  Happy spring (finally)!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Banana Orange Cake with Whipped Coconut Cream and Fresh Berries (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)

Easter weekend was filled with a little bit of everything, both weather-wise and in terms of what our family got up to. It was sunny on Friday and Saturday, then Sunday morning we woke up to a fresh layer of snow on the lawn, which made it seem more like Christmas than Easter. We headed outside to enjoy the sunshine when we could, and spent time redecorating Will's bedroom (more on that later) and preparing an Easter feast and some special holiday treats in the kitchen whenever the weather was gray and cool. The four day weekend was a really nice break from the regular routine, and a great opportunity for some enjoyable family time together.

For Easter treats, Noah and Will requested their favourite homemade dark chocolate goodies: coconut creme eggs and cashew butter eggs. I was happy to indulge the boys, mostly just because I love them, but also because I love those eggs as much as they do! In addition to the usual sweets, though, I wanted to prepare a non-chocolate dessert for our Easter dinner that felt spring-like, even if the weather didn't want to cooperate.  This banana orange cake with whipped coconut cream and fresh berries was very much enjoyed by the whole family last night.  The cake is wonderfully moist and flavourful, and was a perfect end to our delicious glazed ham and roasted vegetable Easter meal.

Banana Orange Cake with Whipped Coconut Cream and Fresh Berries

6 cups blanched almond flour
6 tbsp arrowroot flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
6 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups mashed ripe bananas

2 398mL cans of full-fat coconut milk (refrigerate overnight before using)
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 F, and lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans with grapeseed oil.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, arrowroot flour, sea salt and baking soda. Whisk together the grapeseed oil, maple syrup, orange juice, and vanilla extract in a separate bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well with a large spoon. Stir the mashed bananas into the batter, making sure everything is well-combined.

Divide the cake batter evenly between the two prepared baking pans, smoothing out the top of each cake with a spatula, and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a cake comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Carefully loosen the edges of the cakes with a knife, and invert the pans onto wire racks to release the cakes from them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Prepare the whipped coconut cream by opening the two cans of coconut milk and scooping out the solid cream from the top of the cans into a mixing bowl. Add a tablespoon of pure maple syrup and a teaspoon of vanilla to the cream, then beat on high speed with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy.

Place one of the cooled cakes on a plate. Spread half of the whipped coconut cream over the top of the cake, then gently place the second cake on top of the cream. Spread the remaining whipped coconut cream over the top of the second cake, and arrange the fresh berries on top of the second layer of cream. Serve and enjoy! (Any remaining cake should be stored in the refrigerator to keep the cream and berries fresh.)

Today the sun is shining again, and while Matt had to return to work this morning, the boys and I are taking full advantage of one more leisure-filled afternoon. We're all looking forward to Easter leftovers (especially this cake :) ) for dinner again tonight! I hope your Easter weekend was lovely, too, and that spring weather is showing its warm, smiling face where you are.

This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Make mine a latte

Watching the television show MasterChef Junior has ignited a spark of curiosity in Will for what can be created in a kitchen.  For weeks now, he's been telling me that he'd love to take over my kitchen for the afternoon and whip up something really amazing.

If you think this sounds like every mom's dream, I should clarify here that his curiosity only extends so far as to include wild concoctions of ingredients that probably wouldn't even be edible in their final form.  He actually has no interest whatsoever in creating a real meal in the kitchen.  That would be too much work.

It was with a little bit of trepidation, then, that I agreed to stand back and let Will make something of his own choosing this afternoon when he asked me if he could.  His eyes lit up, and I could practically see smoke coming out of his ears as the wheels turned inside that creative brain of his. Because I could clearly envision my kitchen looking more like a science lab out of a horror film by the time Will was finished with it (remember the wood pulp experiment?!), I gently suggested that perhaps he try to find a recipe for something that he could use as a starting point, to give him an idea of how much of each ingredient he should use and how he should combine things for best results.  He liked that idea, and sat down with determination in front of his laptop to find just the right thing.

I was expecting he'd find some super sugary treat recipe and declare that his afternoon project, but I wasn't even close.  The recipe he excitedly showed me on his computer screen several minutes later was for a chai tea latte. (I'm thinking this would not be a typical choice for an eleven year old boy who has been given mostly free reign in the kitchen, but then again, this is the same boy who chose to dress up as Abraham Lincoln last Hallowe'en.)

It was sweet to watch Will work through the steps of creating a warm mug of spiced tea for each member of his family this afternoon, complete with frothed coconut milk and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top.  He did a wonderful job.

I'm starting to think there's hope that one day Will might surprise me with a delicious, MasterChef Junior worthy meal created by his own hands.  His lovely chai tea latte was an excellent beginning.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Acceleration: Noah's Story (guest post)

It was back to school for the boys this morning after a really enjoyable week of March Break fun and relaxation.  As I drove back home from my first of two morning runs to the high school, I was thinking about Noah's experiences there so far this school year, and how they've had such a positive impact on his life. It's hard to imagine that just over a year ago we were nervously and excitedly weighing the pros and cons of having him start high school courses a year early; now it seems like the choice he made was the only one that would have made sense for him.  People often voice concerns about acceleration for gifted learners, believing that it's best to keep students with their same age peers in a school setting. In Noah's case, though, we've found that a more flexible educational model has resulted in more engagement, learning, and personal satisfaction for him than a traditional school year ever has.

I could tell you about how wonderful it's been to watch Noah grow in so many different directions this year, about how he's gained confidence and reignited his spark for learning by taking on new challenges, about how he's learning how to work hard to achieve success.  But I think it's more important that Noah shares his experience and feelings in his own voice.  Perhaps hearing from a young person that acceleration can work very well will encourage other students who are considering similar paths, as well as parents and educators who are helping exceptional children find the places where they fit best. 

Take it away, Noah.


If the title or anything my mom may have written above didn't allude enough to the author or content of this post, this is me (Noah) guest posting about my experience of accelerating in math and English to eventually be a grade 8 student in a high school setting. And although it seems like this probably only started last year or so, it goes back quite a bit farther.

Flash back to 2012. I was in a grade 5/6 split as a grade 5 student. Unbeknownst to me, this would become my first acceleration opportunity. I was one of six grade fives in the class, and most of us were highly able or gifted students. As a result, the excellent teacher we had that year gave us most of the grade 6 work, only pulling us out occasionally to give us a quick review of the grade 5 curriculum requirements, so that we would have that knowledge. The year was one of my best because of mental stimulation, which for me leads directly to happiness, and despite being somewhat isolated from most other peers my age (we were in the lone portable), I felt like I still had very good social interactions. Some relationships still stand strong today, even if those people have moved to a different school or even a different city.

I finished the year feeling great. I was confident, eager, excited, you name it. So as the next school year came, and I found out that I was in a very good grade 6 class, with the same teacher as the year before, my hopes swelled. I started the year excited -- but as it progressed, I could just feel myself shutting down. Despite the teacher's best efforts, nothing ever really happened to fulfill my academic needs. I came to strongly dislike school, math in particular, as it was (in my opinion) unnecessarily repetitive, which is one of the biggest pet peeves of many gifted students. I remember actually being bored to tears one day.

I sank into a sort of conscious hibernation. Nothing really mattered anymore. My optimistic self degraded to a pessimistic stick-in-the-mud, and I was often moody. My introverted personality showed strongly, and I would stay in my room with books and music after school, only coming out when needed.

My concern for my academic future only continued through the summer and into the next year. We had identified lack of mental stimulation to be the cause of my descent, and I did not have high hopes for the year. So when my school year began with a temporary teacher whose idea of how to deal with highly able students was just to tell them to read a book,  I sank even further.

There was some uncertainty in the first week of school about who the permanent teacher for my class was going to be and I needed someone I could work with to fulfill my academic potential. My parents and I were seriously considering pulling me out of school completely and joining the growing movement of unschooling. I had seen a Ted Talk on it and the concept intrigued me. The only thing that stopped me from completely jumping on that idea was that I would be missing the social aspect of school. All the same, I remember being in the shower (my big-time thinking place) and composing long, thought-out letters on the topic of me leaving to anyone who would be affected.

We decided to stick it out for a little bit. If things didn't get better soon, we were going to pursue an alternate education plan for me. On the Friday of the first week, I walked into the classroom to find a young man sitting at the computer desk in jeans and a golf shirt, sipping a coffee while looking at a document. Once the whole class had settled in, he stood up and introduced himself as our teacher for the year. Finally, some stability! From there on in, things looked up. This teacher was charismatic, came up with intriguing assignments, and had no problem challenging highly able students.  Despite this improvement, at times I still felt it wasn't enough.  At the suggestion of the itinerant teacher of the gifted, my parents and I entertained the possibility of me accelerating through grade 7 and 8 math (like I said earlier, the least stimulating subject for me) that school year and then going on to take two high school credits in my grade 8 year. After much thought (I was still lacking confidence about a lot of things, and I was particularly anxious of the social impact on me, being with kids a year older than me for a period a day) we decided to go for it. We organized a meeting with everyone involved to discuss how it would work.

The rest of that school year passed in a blur. I was happy, stimulated, and more confident than I had been in years, because I could work more independently and set my own pace for learning. As summer vacation came and went, I became increasingly excited, but also increasingly nervous. Not only was I going to high school (!), but I was going a year early, and so I was unsure of how I would be socially accepted.

The first day came and went. Everything went perfectly fine. Then a week passed. Then a month. Before I knew it, it was exam time, and I was fitting in like a round peg in that ever-troubling round hole. As for the academic perspective, it was even more than I could have asked for. The teacher himself was intelligent and hilarious (I mean, drawing pictures of blasting yaks off a scale to illustrate a concept of algebra?!), and he pushed us with side assignments that would stretch our minds further. The material itself was challenging but to the right amount -- it required thought, but I could figure it out with little frustration.
I really began loving this 75 minute block of time, and honestly looked forward to it every day. With a determination I hadn't had in years, I worked harder than ever and managed to land myself a mid 90s mark for my final grade. I am currently taking grade 9 English, and enjoying everything about it just as much.

In conclusion, I am extremely satisfied with how the acceleration has played out so far. As a bonus, I've opened up two more course slots for my later years, something that is very useful for pursuing special interest courses, or taking university courses in my senior year. Plus, I've gained confidence I've never had before, the most recent test of it being entering a speech contest, something that would have mortified me a year earlier. I've made some great friends, including a few of us who gravitate to each other for group work. And I know this is going to sound really cliché, but seriously, I'm the happiest I've ever been. 

This post is part of Hoagies' Gifted Education Page's Blog Hop for March.  The blog hop shares various bloggers' perspectives on a different topic related to giftedness each month.  If you are looking for information to help you support a gifted learner in your life, Hoagies' Facebook Page regularly provides helpful resources, interesting news, and discussions on all aspects of giftedness.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Etsy Love: One of a Kind Spring Show and Sale

Spring officially arrives later this week, and even though it may still be a little while before all of the snow and cold are gone for good, I find the simple fact that the season is changing brings a feeling of lightheartedness with it every year.  It's a time for fresh starts, for sprucing things up, for adding splashes of colour and cheerfulness to our lives.

The One of a Kind Spring Show and Sale in Toronto is a perfect place to find beautiful handmade items that celebrate the creative spirit of the season.  Held from March 25 - 29 this year, the show will be featuring a number of talented Etsy artisans, some of whose work I've represented below. (Click on the highlighted seller's name to be taken to his or her Etsy shop for more information.)

Handmade Soy Candles from CampyHome:

Handmade Fabric Postcards from RECRAFTinc:

Pottery Gingko Leaf Dish by Clayshapes:

Pure Wool Organic Dryer Balls from Moss Creek Wool Works:

Rain Drop Bird House from craftcollective:

Modern Walnut Salad Servers, also from craftcollective:

Baby Bandana Bib from Matelele

License Plate Map of Canada from Route 401:

Hand Screen Printed Pillow from Salvage Ink:

Honey Soap from Eko Ella:

If you're going to be in the Toronto area later in March, perhaps you'd like to spend an afternoon finding these and other handmade treasures at the One of a Kind Show.  With 450 Canadian artisans displaying their wares, you're sure to find something lovely that will put a little spring in your step! If you can't make it to the show, you can shop the Canadian Etsy sellers featured in this post (and many more vendors from all over the world) from the comfort of your own home by visiting the Etsy site any time. 

I've already been struck by spring cleaning fever; this past week I've been sorting out closets, drawers and shelves and finding new homes for things we've outgrown or no longer need.  It feels good to reorganize and make space for a breath of fresh air in our environment.  I'm thinking I will find space for a few new handmade treasures I've got my eye on now, too.  :)