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, 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. 





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.  :)














Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Eleven Eleven

Months ago, on a quiet weekend morning, Will got out some markers and paper and painstakingly created this sign for his bedroom door.


The sign has remained taped to the entrance of his collection-laden boy cave ever since, serving as a caution to the rest of us who live in this house, and speaking volumes about the lively sense of humour and the mature self-awareness of the person who created it.

Today Will will need to make himself a new sign; he's turning eleven years old. The universe has been reminding me of his upcoming "golden" birthday (eleven on the eleventh) for awhile now, although at first I didn't recognize the connection. So often my eye has been drawn to a clock when the time has read exactly 11:11 in recent weeks, and even this morning, when the timer beeped to let me know Will's birthday doughnuts were ready to come out of the oven, four "ones" glowed brightly across the face of the stove clock. I'm taking this as a happy sign that the year ahead will somehow be a remarkable one for my youngest son, who grows more creative, thoughtful, entertaining, and wise and makes me prouder to be his mom with every passing day.

Being the parent of a self-proclaimed mischievous child can be exasperating at times, it's true. There is almost never a dull moment in our house.










Even so, I can't wait to see what escapades Will will dream up next, and what exciting places he will discover as a result.

A very happy 11th birthday to you, Will!  I hope all of your birthday wishes come true.  May you never lose your enthusiastic sense of adventure, and wherever you go, may you never be afraid to share the kind heart and wonderful mind that make you so special.  Thanks for always making my life interesting (and I mean that in every good way).

With so much love,
Mom
xoxo


Monday, March 9, 2015

Washing Machine Woes


Our washing machine died yesterday. It was in the middle of a load of laundry, and something went wrong with the sensors or the mechanism that shifts things from one cycle to another. The washer was trying to spin the clothes dry while it still had a tub full of rinse water, and that brought a sad and untimely end to the motor. The machine, a high efficiency top loader with no agitator, was only three and a half years old.

This is the second washing machine of ours that has bitten the dust in the seven and half years we've lived in this house. Our previous washer was a high efficiency front loader, and one day, we heard a frighteningly loud THUNK from the laundry room while the machine was spinning. The drum had somehow separated from its housing, and the repair bill was going to be more than the cost of buying a whole new washer. That machine was just under four years old when we bid it farewell.

Now I think I should say here that we are not especially careless or violent laundry doers in this house. We do wash a lot of clothes, to be fair, and sometimes the odd thing that shouldn't go through a washing machine ends up in there -- forgotten Kleenexes or quarters, for example, or, just last week, both boys left their USB sticks in their jeans' pockets and they got a good soaking (uh oh!) -- but we generally do not place our washing machines under undue stress. I am scratching my head today, trying to understand how we're already needing to buy yet another device for laundering clothes.

Matt and I spent a long time looking at washers yesterday and reading reviews, and we're not feeling especially hopeful about any of the options out there, as virtually all of the types of machines seem to have their own problems. It seems to us that the best washing machine we know of is the basic one we had when we were first married. It lasted us ten years and was still going strong when we sold it to the new owners of our last house at their request. (We should have kept that washer; I bet it's still working.) A salesperson yesterday told us the horror story of a couple whose newer front loader spontaneously released one of the cement bricks housed within it for stability; the brick smashed through the glass door of the washer while the drum was spinning, and it was travelling with such speed and force that it ripped a hole right through the laundry room wall! Who knew that washing clothes could be so dangerous?

After much thought and discussion, Matt and I have decided we're going to go back to basics: tomorrow a new "old school" washing machine with an agitator and no fancy electronic components will be delivered to our house. This seemed the most logical choice after our recent experiences, because a) in theory, the fewer bells and whistles the machine has, the less opportunity there is for something to go wrong, and b) I would really rather my obituary read something other than "Death By Laundry".  I know that the older style of washer is not a particularly energy efficient option, but somehow putting a busted up hunk of steel out to the curb every three or four years doesn't seem all that environmentally friendly to me, either.

Will is highly disappointed in our choice, disgusted even.  He scoffs that we are living in the 80s, and can't understand why we are buying a washing machine that operates using "gears and pulleys". I told him this morning that he hasn't seen anything yet.  If we discover that they just don't make washers like they used to (wow, that line makes me sound really old), and this new machine doesn't last as long as it should, I'm going to invest in some wooden buckets and washboards next.  The concept of family chores on weekends could take on a whole new meaning around here....

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Comfort Food: Chili and Tea Biscuits (gluten-free, dairy-free)

March appears to be coming in more like a lion than a lamb this year, so in our house we're still warding off winter chills with warm comfort foods for dinner.  I've always loved the ease of preparing a big pot of chili in the afternoon to enjoy with my family in the evening.  The chili fills the house with its delicious aroma as it simmers away on the stove, and a steaming bowl of this hearty, healthy concoction of foods makes a very satisfying meal.

When I was growing up, my mom would often bake homemade tea biscuits when she was making chili for dinner.  Those biscuits, served warm right out of the oven, were oh so good that I can still remember how much I loved them, even though I haven't had them for years.  Today I decided to try baking an almond flour version of the biscuits to go along with some homemade chili I was having for lunch. I'm so glad I thought of biscuits today -- these tasty almond flour ones really hit the spot!

Chili



1 lb lean ground beef  (or turkey)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
half of a large red pepper, diced
half of a large yellow pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
6 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 large carrot, finely grated
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 540mL can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 540mL can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 796mL can of diced tomatoes
half of a 796mL can of crushed tomatoes
sea salt, pepper, chili powder, and dried parsley, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Add the ground beef, breaking it up with a spoon, and cook until the beef is browned.  

Add the onion, red and yellow pepper, celery, mushrooms, carrot, and garlic to the pot.  Cook until the vegetables have softened, stirring often.

Stir in the kidney beans and chickpeas, then add the diced and crushed tomatoes.  Bring the mixture to a low boil, stirring occasionally to ensure all ingredients are well combined.  Season the chili with sea salt, pepper, chili powder, and dried parsley, to your liking. 

Reduce the heat to low, and simmer the chili for several hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve hot.

Tea Biscuits



3 cups blanched almond flour
2 tbsp arrowroot flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
5 tbsp warm water
1 tbsp raw honey

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, arrowroot flour, baking powder, and sea salt.

Whisk together the water and honey in a separate small bowl, then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Stir well until a nice dough consistency is reached.

Sprinkle a little almond flour on your work surface, and turn the dough out onto it.  Use your hands to lightly flatten the dough to about a one-and-a-half inch thickness.  Using a circular biscuit cutter, press out rounds of dough and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Bake the biscuits in the preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until they are a lovely golden brown colour on the top and bottom.  Serve warm. 

These tea biscuits are delicious eaten just the way they are alongside a bowl of chili, or you can spread them with a little coconut oil if you prefer.  (I think they would also make a really nice snack on their own if you added a dollop of fruit spread on top.)

I can't deny that we're all wishing for milder weather here soon, but we'll make the most of the cold days that linger on by enjoying a few last rounds of winter's most comforting dishes. 


I hope you're all finding happy ways to keep cozy and warm, too!







Monday, March 2, 2015

This little light

Yesterday afternoon Matt and Noah and I had the pleasure of being audience members at a dance showcase, where Will and his teammates were presenting their routines publicly for the first time to kick-off the competition season.  The high school auditorium was abuzz with happy anticipation as family members and friends waited in the dimly lit room for their dancers to take the stage.

In the hours leading up to the show, Will had been feeling both nervous and excited.  This is his first year in competitive dance; the showcase and the parade of performances in front of judges that it will lead to in the coming weeks are all new experiences for him.  When Will stepped confidently onto the stage to perform, though, there was no sign of anxiousness on his beaming face. Up there under the bright lights, the music beat in rhythm with the heart of a boy who deeply feels all of life, and his body radiated pure joy in its movements, the kind that comes from doing something he truly loves. I could not help but feel exuberantly lifted up myself just watching him.  As we gathered around a grinning Will after the show to congratulate him on his wonderful performances, he told us he couldn't wait for the first competition so he could do it all over again.  It's these kind of moments, when we know that our children have discovered a bright light within themselves, that are some of the best parts of being a parent.


I was inspired by each and every one of those talented young dancers yesterday.  They moved their bodies with such grace and positive energy, the beauty of their performance giving no hint of the hours of hard work they put into creating something so striking and lovely.  To be a dancer, these young people open their tender hearts up, leaving themselves incredibly vulnerable as they share something personal and meaningful with others.  It is hard not to be moved by their courage.

This morning, with the memory of yesterday's dancers fresh in my mind, I chose a spot to sit in yoga class where the sunlight streamed in from the window, making a bright path of warmth along the floor.  It was an encouragement to rediscover the light within myself, and to be brave enough to let it be seen. As adults, we should not allow ourselves to get so bogged down by the things we must do that we forget about the things we love to do.  It is not only the young who have something beautiful to offer the world.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Winter Boredom Busters for Tween/Teen Boys

It is darn cold outside, people.  Where we live, we're on track for having the coldest month ever recorded in the region, and the first February since 1978 that the temperature doesn't rise above the freezing mark. Schools here were even closed last Friday due to the painfully frigid air, and there have been many days this winter where the kids have had to spend their recess time indoors. What this means for a lot of families by this point in the season is a full-blown case of cabin fever, and a lot of kids with pent up energy that needs to be directed towards fun, interesting, and active endeavors.

For many tween and teenaged boys, the default activity on cold winter days is crashing on a couch and playing video games. Noah and Will are both drawn to the engaging world of Minecraft and the colourful lure of Candy Crush, for sure.  While I believe there are valuable skills they can learn from certain types of video games, we do limit the amount of time the boys spend in front of screens so that they will explore other interests and develop other parts of themselves as well.  Today I thought I'd share a collection of cool, non-video game pastimes that Noah and/or Will like to turn to when winter boredom strikes.  (Click on the coloured text to find out more about each of the items below.)

Spooner board (for the skateboarding/snowboarding/surfing enthusiast, for indoor or outdoor use):




Yomega yo yo (for mastering new tricks and impressing friends and family with their skills):  



Tenzi dice game (fast-paced, noisy fun for two to four players): 




Arduino open-source electronics (for creating interactive objects):



Magnetic dart board (all the fun of a real dart board without the sharp weaponry):



Ukulele (an accessible and highly entertaining way to play around with music):



Tabletop ping pong (for instant lively ping pong matches anywhere there is a table):



Kanoodle Genius (brain bending puzzles for those who like a challenge)



Good books (to get them thinking and laughing) :

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe



Danger is Everywhere by David O'Doherty



These entertaining pursuits keep the boys' minds and bodies moving on days when biting winter winds won't allow much time outdoors.  What are your tween and teenaged boys' favourite ways to beat winter boredom while they dream of warmer weather?