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.
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Noah set off to catch his school bus early this morning, his backpack stuffed with new binders and a freshly printed copy of an unfamiliar timetable. It was the beginning of second semester for him today, following a first semester exam week he felt really good about and a couple of relaxing days off. He was eager to get started on a new round of classes and learning opportunities, and I felt happy for him and the many ways that his high school experiences are allowing him to thrive.
Will watched his brother depart with eyes full of longing, wishing that he was starting out on a new adventure this morning, too. He's been feeling disenchanted about school lately, having reached a point in the year where the curriculum is feeling very repetitive and meaningless to him. The advanced understanding he's always had, coupled with the fact that he was already exposed to the Grade 6 curriculum last year when he was a Grade 5 student in a 5/6 split, means he feels he's not learning anything he doesn't already know. "Being at school is like sleeping, only worse," he's told me sadly when I've tucked him into bed on recent evenings. "It's like being in a void. There's just nothing. There's no point to any of it."
It's unsettling to have your usually energetic, wildly curious, eager-to-learn child slowly become despondent about school. But it's not the first time this has happened around here. Noah, too, spent the second half of Grade 6 in a gloomy, unmotivated cloud, his spark for learning practically extinguished by being asked to sit in on lessons and complete assignments that offered him no new ideas to consider. Despite both boys having a wonderful, engaging, caring Grade 6 teacher who does all kinds of interesting things in her classroom, it still seemed, and seems, a real challenge to suitably meet their learning needs within the confines of the junior division. (It doesn't help, either, that the number of enrichment workshops, where kids like Noah and Will get to spend a day engaged in creative, higher level thinking activies with their intellectual peers, have been reduced in recent years from one workshop every month to only four workshops for the entire year. There are so few opportunities now for gifted elementary school kids in our board to have appropriately challenging learning opportunities together.)
I imagine that some parents, hearing my concern about my "bored" children, would roll their eyes and scoff that it's not a real worry to have kids whose advanced cognitive abilities make the classroom a challenging place for them. But it sure feels like a real worry to me. I lie awake at night considering what options we have available to prevent Will from becoming more frustrated and sad, and even less interested in going to school. In an education system where classes are organized by age and the curriculum is primarily geared towards the average student, most of our options involve arranging something for Will that is noticeably different from what usually happens in a Grade 6 classroom. And while we encourage the celebration of differences in schools, my eleven year old is keenly aware that doing something noticeably different will still invite questions and comments from his peers that he's not sure he's comfortable with.
Will craves freedom in his learning, the kind that he feels when he discovers something fascinating and wants to devote hours of his time and energy to understanding all he can about it. He wants to move at a faster pace, and go off on tangents, and create things that he's proud of because they involved hard work on his part and therefore have meaning for him. Staying with the current Grade 6 curriculum is not providing any of that for him right now. I feel that we need to do something, because there are still five months left in the school year and they will feel agonizingly long for Will if something doesn't change. But what exactly is that "something"? My mind is swirling with questions about single subject or full-grade acceleration, with the logistics of independent study projects, with the possibilities of educational opportunities outside of school itself. I worry that I won't be able to fulfill the promise I've made to Will to help him find or create a learning environment this year that feels good for him, both academically and socially, and my worry makes me flit nervously from idea to idea in my head, unsure of which ones to pursue.
I've started with an email to Will's teacher this afternoon, outlining our concerns and our willingness to work with her to provide some new learning opportunities for Will this term. I have great confidence that she will do whatever she can to help improve the situation for him. I'm also very aware, though, of the limitations of a public school classroom where one teacher is responsible for so many different learners, and it's possible that we might have to wait longer than we hope to find what Will is looking for.
Will is my youngest boy, and I am in no rush to see him come to the end of his elementary school years. I have to admit, though, that wanting what's best for him has me wishing just a little that he was happily heading off on a high school adventure this week, too....
Thursday, January 28, 2016
I have a bad habit of getting sucked into an instant vortex of negativity when minor setbacks happen, and turning small problems into imaginary bigger ones. I often have to remind myself to step back and look at things from a more balanced perspective, to find the positives among life's typical challenges. Listening to other people's good writing is a pleasure and a valuable learning opportunity; eating recalled lettuce does not automatically lead to illness. A fall at the end of a skating party means everyone got to enjoy themselves for a good while first. A suspected broken bone can turn out to be only a sprain, and we can be thankful for good doctors and nurses who treated Will kindly and had us in and out of the ER in under two hours on a Sunday evening, feeling reassured that all was well.
In the spirit of focusing on good things, I'm sharing another edition of Worth Keeping in Your Pockets today. It feels like it hasn't been long since the last time I wrote one of these, but I've discovered several nice treats lately that I think you might enjoy, too!
Flavoured Honey: We love using honey as a natural sweetener in our kitchen, so I was excited to learn that someone in our neighbourhood keeps bees in her backyard. Catherine Young, of the Backyard Honey Company, is running a lovely business selling a variety of locally made products using honey created by her bees. She also shares her extensive knowledge with school children and other community groups by giving educational Bee Talks. I was welcomed into Catherine's home to sample and learn more about her products, and I left with two jars of the most delicious flavoured creamed honey, one cinnamon and one cocoa. The boys savour a bit of these sweet spreads on their morning toast with nut butter, and I'm sure they'll be asking for more once our two jars run out. If you'd like to learn more about Catherine's beekeeping or would like to purchase some of her honey, you can find her here. It's so nice to support local small business people who are sharing something wonderful with their communities.
A Lovely Natural Face Cream: I've mentioned the Rocky Mountain Soap Company here several times before, and it remains the place I return to again and again for gentle, natural skin care products. My latest discovery from their online shop is the Pomegranate Day Cream, which I am very happy with as a daily facial moisturizer. The cream is light and non-greasy, smells lovely without any chemical fragrances, and moisturizes skin beautifully, even in harsh winter conditions. I only need to use a little of the cream each morning, so a small jar lasts a long time to help give my skin a healthy glow.
A Favourite Laptop Sleeve: With Noah schlepping his laptop back and forth to school every day for course assignments now, he needed some kind of protective sleeve to prevent it from getting damaged. (A teenaged boy's backpack gets some pretty rough and tumble treatment over the course of a full day, I'm sure.) I found this sleeve by Herschel online and Noah has been really glad to have it. The design is classically simple, but the features are very nice; it has a sturdy zipper and super soft plush lining to offer good cushioning. There is also some stylishly fun red and white pinstripe detailing inside. I like this well-made product from a Canadian company so much that I'd like to get one for my own laptop next.
Chalkboards and Daily Riddles: I found a fun-shaped, small-sized chalkboard at HomeSense a few weeks ago that was just right for the empty wall space in our laundry room. The cheerful yellow frame brightened up the utilitarian room a little right away, but it's what I've been using the board for that has really made things livelier around here. Every day I write a new riddle on the board once everyone leaves for work and school -- a word wink, a jumble, a logic puzzle, or a math challenge of some kind -- and leave it there to see who can figure it out. I first presented a riddle as an experimental use of the chalkboard to see how it took, but this has quickly become a challenge everyone looks forward to each afternoon (and I've been kept on my toes trying to find new and more complicated puzzles to keep them thinking!) There are lots of online resources for riddles and puzzles if you do a quick Google search, and many good books available as well.
I keep hoping the fact that the boys are spending more time in the laundry room reading and solving puzzles will somehow encourage them to do more of the actual laundry, but so far no luck. Oh well, the daily riddles have been a fun family activity for all of us!
Here's to the small but good things that are all around us when we take the time to notice and be grateful for them.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
January is not usually one of the most cheerful months of the year for me. The dark mornings and the endless sea of winter gray and white beyond my windows can seem achingly monotonous after the excitement of a new year wears off, and I find myself longing quietly for some kind of change to happen. Often by this time in the season, the winter blues begin to seep into my bones along with the chill of mid-winter's frigid air.
This January feels different though. Part of it may have to do with winter having arrived so late this year: we are just this week shovelling regular, significant snowfalls from our driveway in the evenings, all four of us awed by the new-again wonder of fresh flakes tumbling from smoky indigo skies. Instead of boredom or sadness, I feel an energetic hum within and an excitement usually reserved for spring, that optimistic season of fresh things bursting into the world .
This feeling has been helped along by me saying yes to new experiences and challenges this month, resisting the urge to let a slowly moving season lull me into a kind of sleep. I decided several weeks ago that I would enter a creative nonfiction writing contest, not because I actually have any hopes of winning it, but because having a lofty goal would encourage me to stretch and write better than I ever have before. I've been working hard to do justice in words to a touching family story that has occupied my mind and heart for months now, and the feeling of deep personal satisfaction I've experienced throughout the writing process has made me feel very much alive.
Also, last weekend, I began the writing adventure that I previously mentioned signing up for. I was definitely nervous but open to the experience as I walked into the room full of writers and other creators. Carrie was warm and welcoming as a guide; she encouraged us all to write without fear or self-criticism, keeping our pens constantly moving as she led us through a series of activities. Creating something completely unplanned, unencumbered, and unexpected was a liberating exercise for me, and made me aware of just how often my internal critic badgers me during my usual creative process. I was grateful for the sudden, exciting realization that I have many ideas and feelings within me waiting to be explored, and they're readily available to me when I'm willing to focus on the writing rather than the end result. I left the session feeling joyful, and eager to return the next Saturday. Now more than I've ever been, I'm sure that the time I spend writing is when I feel most like myself.
January has been an exciting month for Noah and Will so far as well. Noah has happily been spending many of his weekend and weekday evening hours at school these days as a member of a FIRST robotics team. He and his high school teammates are working hard to design, build, and program a robot that will meet the season's engineering challenge, with the guidance of some wonderful, dedicated university student mentors and adult professionals. The team has only six weeks to build the robot from scratch, and then they'll compete in several competitions to see how well it performs. I am thrilled for Noah to have this valuable learning opportunity that speaks to so many of his interests. We're very fortunate that there is such enthusiasm for large-scale, multi-faceted projects like this one at his high school and in our community as a whole.
Will is enthusiastic about his new role this month as a young ambassador. Our school's principal was to choose two students to be part of the Elementary Student Senate, which gives Grade 7/8 students "an opportunity to express their voice and opinions as leaders within their schools and communities". He decided to send our Grade 6 boy. Small but mighty; that's always been our Will! I dropped him off at our area high school for a senate orientation meeting this morning; he was keen to begin sharing his ideas about what is working well and what needs improvement at his own elementary school. He was also happy about the possibility of bumping into his big brother today in the high school hallways. I'm proud of Will's commitment and his eagerness to make a difference in his world.
There is much for me to be cheerful about in this first month of 2016. It's been a nice surprise to discover a different set of January hues.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
My grandma and I chatted cheerfully about the preparations we'd each been making for the holidays. She told me about the dozens of genettis and pintas she had baked and given away, the cheese and meat ravioli she'd prepared for family dinners, and the most recent batch of biscotti to come out of her oven that week, which were orange flavoured and dotted with chopped almonds and dried cherries. (Have I mentioned before that my grandma is eighty-six years old? Eighty-six, and still finding joy in baking and cooking up wonderful foods to share with the people she loves. "What else am I going to do?", she asks me. "You've gotta keep busy." I hope I have half of the strength and enthusiasm she does when I'm her age.)
I told her I liked the sounds of her biscotti, and she asked me if I thought I could make them in such a way that I'd be able to eat them. I told her I was pretty sure I could. And then one day in early January, an envelope addressed to me in my grandma's handwriting showed up unexpectedly in my mailbox.
My grandma had thoughtfully written out her biscotti recipe for me, and included a series of photos from a magazine to illustrate the method for making them. I was especially eager then to try making a batch of my own. Having my grandma's encouraging handwritten instructions made me feel almost as though she were here with me in my kitchen.
I had to modify my grandma's recipe quite a bit to eliminate gluten, eggs, and refined sugar, but the almond flour version I came up with has the same delicious flavours hers did. The sweet orange flavour and tart cherries scattered through a crispy cookie were a big hit with my eager dessert eaters here at home.
Almond Cherry Orange Biscotti
2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
2 tbsp coconut flour
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup dried cherries (I like Eden brand, with no added refined sugar)
the zest of one orange
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Combine the almond flour, coconut flour, coconut sugar, baking powder, sea salt, walnuts, dried cherries, and orange zest in a large mixing bowl.
Add the melted coconut oil and the orange juice to the almond flour mixture. Stir well, until a crumbly dough forms. Knead the dough with your hands until it all sticks together.
On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, form the dough into a long, flat oval with your hands. (See the example my grandma sent me in the first photograph above. I think my oval was a little too wide this first try; next time I'll try making it longer and a little taller to improve the shape of the finished biscotti.) Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, then allow the baked dough to cool completely.
With a sharp knife, slice across the width of the cooled oval to create biscotti that are each about an inch wide. Place the biscotti cut side up on the baking sheet once more, and bake them for another 10 to 15 minutes at 325 F, keeping an eye on them so they don't brown too much. Allow the biscotti to cool again until they are crispy.
I was really pleased to be able to create a version of my grandma's biscotti that all of us can enjoy. They're a delicious accompaniment to a hot cup of coffee or tea and a good book on a winter afternoon. I've saved my grandma's letter along with my own recipe notes in my cookbook now -- I'll think very fondly of her every time I make this special treat.
Friday, January 8, 2016
Monday, January 4, 2016
Even though the four of us were all home last night, there was a noticeable hush over the house, the giddy energy of freedom having seemingly been packed away with the last of the twinkling Christmas lights over the weekend. Transitions back to "normal" after a cheerful, rejuvenating, family-focused holiday are always met with some wistful reluctance around here.
We all found a new energy shortly after tumbling sleepily out of our beds this morning, though, helped along by the welcome sun that was shining for the first time in what felt like weeks, and by the shock of the suddenly frigid winter air as we stepped out our front door. It was a wake-up call of sorts, after the calming lull of the holidays, an encouragement to open our eyes to the new possibilities we can explore from where we now stand.
Thursday, December 31, 2015
I came across this quotation in my social media surfing this week, and appreciated the encouragement to tend to our minds and hearts as we ring in a new year, much in the same way I've been tending to the physical things around home.