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.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Winter Wondering

Well hello, long-neglected blog space! Nice to see you again. I'm not even sure what I've come here to write about today (everything and nothing seems like a good topic when I've left so many gaps to fill in), but I was starting to feel like if I didn't come back soon, I just might never again, and so here I am. Happy January!

We had a lovely holiday season, Matt and the boys and I, one that was everything we always hope for when we have some time off together to celebrate and recharge: a couple of weeks filled with family, favourite foods, laughter, fun and relaxation, cozy moments spent at home, and lively moments spent outdoors enjoying Mother Nature's most beautiful seasonal displays. We hosted dinners and went to relatives' houses, decorated a gingerbread house, played board games and ping pong, read new books and magazines, did a giant puzzle, went walking in the nearby conservation area after a pretty snowfall, and went sledding down a deserted hill on the coldest night of the winter so far. (This was the boys' idea, and though Matt and I didn't really appreciate it at first suggestion, hearing the boys' laughter ring out as they flew down the hill under a starry winter's night sky later made the frozen toes and fingers feel worth it.)




The down time was very welcome; it was a good period of restfulness and togetherness before we headed into what now feels like the busiest season we've ever experienced.

Our family calendar is bursting right now, to the point of almost being ridiculous. Both Noah and Will are currently involved in an assortment of worthwhile, but demanding, activities. Noah coaches swimming at his old swim club four days a week and has meets to go to some weekends; he also practices a couple of days a week in the pool with his high school swim team. (He had a very successful season before Christmas and is moving on to the CWOSSA championships).

Noah made the local newspaper! :)

He has also kicked it into high gear with Team Dave, the high school robotics team, which is in its hectic six-week build season right now. What this basically means is that Noah is at the school doing something related to robots any moment of the day/evening/weekend that he is not doing something else.

Will is gearing up for competitive dance season, with extra practices and events on top of his regular three days a week of training, and he made his school basketball team this season (something he was really proud of considering his relative height disadvantage!), so he has games now after school. His Lego robotics team made provincials at the qualifying tournament back in December, so he is still hard at work with his teammates several days a week, improving their robot, missions, and project in preparation for the next round, plus, he has also joined the high school robotics team that Noah is on (which means that he is also at the school doing something related to robots any moment of the day/evening/weekend that he is not doing something else.)


It is really wonderful to see them both so happily engaged and learning in so many different areas, but it's also hard not to feel like my head is going to explode trying to keep all of their schedules straight and make sure they are fed well before we need to dash off to the next thing. I need to keep reminding myself to take it one day at a time, and to enjoy this richly full period of our lives, because like so many other phases of the boys' youth, it too will one day suddenly be behind us and I'll look back on it with a sense of wistfulness that it's over.

In the midst of all of the busyness of life with two very involved teen boys, I also need to remember to keep myself and my own interests front of mind. I've been thinking recently about where I want to direct my creative energies in the coming months. The process of moving houses, and then getting ready for Christmas, were the focus of almost all of my free time and attention throughout the fall and early winter, but now that I've spent a week wrapping my head around the new schedules and gathering new recipes that will work for healthy, hurried meals (see my personal Facebook page for a great collection of slow cooker recipe suggestions from friends!), I feel that if I put off starting a meaningful project of my own any longer, I'm just making excuses. I've missed writing; I can feel myself getting frustrated and antsy when I've been away from it too long, and each additional day away makes it easier and easier to keep procrastinating. As a means of getting back into a regular writing habit, I'm going to start using Lynda Barry's suggestions for keeping a daily journal. (Thanks to local writer Carrie Snyder for introducing me to Barry's work.)

I hope the new year has been kind to all of you so far, and that you, too, are finding everyday life to be an adventure worth experiencing fully (even if it sometimes feels overwhelming). xo

Friday, December 9, 2016

Holiday Treats: Seven Sweet Recipes Free of Gluten, Dairy, and Eggs

These early weeks of December are some of my favourite weeks of the year. All of our preparations for Christmas seem to naturally bring the family together, especially on the afternoons when I start baking and the sweet smells draw everyone toward the warm, cozy kitchen. We chat and laugh as we mix and roll and decorate cookies, while Christmas music plays and tree lights twinkle cheerfully in the background. All four of us look forward to the evenings after our baking afternoons; we know we'll gather around our kitchen table for steaming mugs of tea and a few freshly baked treats before we tuck the rest of them away to share with family and friends over the holidays. I'm glad that even though my boys keep growing, they never seem to grow too old to have fun helping with this tradition.


Often during the weeks leading up to the holidays, people ask me about gluten-free or dairy-free baking ideas, because they'd like to be able make something for a family member or friend who has special dietary needs. Today seems like a good time, then, to post an updated collection of our family's favourite gluten, dairy, and egg-free holiday recipes, all made many times in our kitchen and given two thumbs up by expert resident taste testers.  :)  Most of these recipes have already appeared in some form on this blog before, but because I'm always tweaking recipes over the years to make them just a little bit better, these ones are all more current, improved versions.


Clockwise from the top:
Gingerbread Cookies
Chocolate Coconut Triple Layer Bars
Star Cookies
Cashew Butter Balls
Thumbprint Cookies
Candy Cane Brownies
Chocolate Hazelnut Snowballs

*********

Gingerbread Cookies 
(adapted from this recipe from Elana's Pantry)

5 cups blanched almond flour
2 tbsp arrowroot flour
1 tbsp coconut flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 cup pure maple syrup

6 tbsp water
1 tbsp vanilla extract


candy confetti for decorating

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


In a smaller bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil, maple syrup, water, and  vanilla. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ones, and mix well until a uniform dough forms. Divide the dough into two parts. Form each part into a ball, flatten it slightly, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill the dough in the freezer for 1 to 2 hours.

Roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment paper, to a quarter of an inch thick. Remove the top sheet of parchment paper and cut out cookies using gingerbread cookie cutters. Place the cut-outs on parchment paper lined baking sheets.


Decorate the cut-outs with candy confetti. (We like to add faces and buttons to ours.) Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned. Cool and serve, or store in tightly sealed containers in the freezer for later.


Chocolate Coconut Triple Layer Bars

1 400ml can of coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut sugar

2 1/4 cups blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp melted coconut oil
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

2 85g bars of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), chopped
1/2 cup cashew butter

To make your own dairy-free sweetened condensed milk, pour a can of coconut milk into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the coconut sugar, and bring the mixture to a low simmer.  Be sure to keep an eye on the pot, as the mixture could boil over very easily.  Reduce heat to low-medium and simmer the mixture for 15 to 20 minutes, whisking occasionally, until it thickens slightly.  Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool while you're preparing the crust.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with two pieces of parchment paper, one going over the other in a perpendicular fashion, leaving some overhang all the way around.  In a mixing bowl, combine the almond flour and sea salt.  Whisk together the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla in a smaller bowl, and then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Stir until well-combined and crumbly.  Press the almond flour mixture into the prepared baking pan, being sure to push down firmly so your crust will hold together well once it's baked.

Sprinkle the shredded coconut in an even layer over top of the almond flour crust.  Carefully pour the sweetened condensed milk over top of the whole coconut layer, and use a fork if necessary to help spread it out uniformly, pressing the coconut and milk mixture down onto the crust.  Place in the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes.  

During the last 5 minutes of baking time, melt the chopped dark chocolate and cashew butter together in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally.  As soon as you remove the baking pan from the oven, pour the melted chocolate mixture over the hot coconut layer and spread it out evenly with a spatula.  Let cool for about 30 minutes, and then place the pan in the freezer for a few hours to allow the baked goods to firm up.

Once they're firm, remove the baked goods from the pan by simply lifting up the parchment paper edges.  Place the whole thing on a cutting board and slice into squares with a large, sharp knife.  Let the squares thaw a little longer, then serve and enjoy (or freeze the squares to save them for a later date).


Star Cookies
(adapted from this recipe from Elana's Pantry)

5 cups blanched almond flour
1 tbsp coconut flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 tbsp vanilla extract

candy sprinkles for decorating

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

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well. (The dough will appear quite crumbly at first.)

Use your hands to further mix the dough, then divide it into two equal parts. Form each part into a ball and flatten it slightly. Wrap each part in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.

Roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment paper, to about a quarter of an inch thick. Cut out stars from the dough using a cookie cutter, and place the stars on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Scatter a pinch of candy sprinkles the top of each star. Bake stars in the preheated oven for 6 to 8 minutes, or until they are lightly golden around the edges.

Cool cookies completely and serve, or store them in tightly sealed containers in the freezer for later.


Cashew Butter Balls
(adapted from this recipe from Oh She Glows)

1 500g jar of natural cashew butter
5 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp coconut flour
a pinch of sea salt

2 85g bars of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil

Scrape the contents of the jar of cashew butter into a mixing bowl, and stir it to blend in any oil that has separated.  Add the maple syrup, coconut flour, and sea salt to the cashew butter and mix all ingredients well. The mixture should be firm enough to roll into balls, but not too dry looking.

Roll a spoonful of the mixture in your hands to form a ball that is about one inch in diameter.  Place the ball on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and repeat this process until all of the nut butter mixture is rolled.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the dark chocolate and coconut oil together, stirring often. Once the chocolate mixture is melted, remove it from the heat immediately, then coat the cashew butter balls in the chocolate by placing them on a fork one at a time and dipping them into the pot. Remove any excess chocolate by tapping the fork on the side of the pot, and then carefully place the dipped cashew butter balls back on the baking sheet.

Once all of the nut butter balls are dipped, place the baking sheet in the freezer for about 15 minutes, or until the chocolate is firm.  Remove the pan from the freezer, and decorate the top of each cashew butter ball by drizzling a little of the leftover melted chocolate across it using a small spoon or fork. Return the cashew butter balls to the freezer again to firm up the drizzled chocolate. 


Serve at room temperature in holiday themed mini cupcake papers, or store the cashew butter balls in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for later.


Thumbprint Cookies
(adapted from this recipe from Elana's Pantry)

5 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
raspberry jam (I use Crofter's Organic Just Fruit Spread, with no added refined sugar)

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


In a smaller bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ones and mix until well combined. Cover the dough and chill it in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Roll the chilled dough into 1 1/2 inch diameter balls and place them on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Flatten each ball to about a half inch thickness with the palm of your hand. Using a finger or thumb, make an indentation in the centre of each cookie. 


Sprinkle the top of each cookie with finely chopped walnuts, then carefully fill each indentation with a small spoonful of raspberry jam.

Bake cookies in the preheated oven for 5-7 minutes, or until they are golden brown around the edges. Cool and serve, or store them in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for later.


Candy Cane Brownies

one 500g jar of natural cashew butter
2 tbsp ground chia seeds mixed with 6 tbsp water (stir and let stand for a minute to form a gel)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup blanched almond flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp sea salt

1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup unsweetened large flake coconut
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate

4 candy canes, crushed (I use TruJoy Sweets ones, which have no artificial colours or flavours.)

Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Line a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with two pieces of parchment paper, one placed over the other in opposite directions.

Add the cashew butter, chia seed mixture, maple syrup, and vanilla to a large mixing bowl and beat these ingredients with an electric mixer until they are well combined.

In a smaller bowl, combine the almond flour, cocoa powder, and sea salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the cashew butter mixture, beating with the electric mixer after each addition.

Spread the batter into the prepared baking pan, using the back of a spoon to press it down and smooth it out evenly. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts, coconut flakes, dark chocolate bits, and crushed candy canes on top of the batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.

Let the brownies cool completely. Lift the edges of the parchment paper to remove the cooled brownies from the pan, place them on a large cutting board, and cut them into squares using a sharp knife. Serve, or store the brownies in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for later. 


Chocolate Hazelnut Snowballs

1 500g jar of natural hazelnut butter (or almond hazelnut butter)
1/4 cup of honey
1/2 cup of cocoa powder

1 tbsp coconut flour
1/2 cup of finely chopped raw hazelnuts
unsweetened shredded coconut (for coating)

In a bowl, stir together the nut butter, honey, cocoa powder, coconut flour, and chopped hazelnuts until well combined.  Cover and chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Roll the mixture into bite-sized balls, then roll each ball in shredded coconut to cover.  Chill the snowballs before serving, and store any leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator, or in the freezer to enjoy later.


********

I hope having all of these yummy recipes in one place will make your holiday baking easier! 



Monday, November 21, 2016

Everything Etsy: A Holiday Gift Guide

Winter weather arrived suddenly this past weekend, and the chilly air had all four of us eager to embrace the cozy comforts of the winter season: warm socks and mitts, time spent sitting near the fireplace, homecooked meals that roasted all afternoon in a hot oven. The shift in seasons also has us looking forward now to the approaching holidays, when we'll have the chance to share time and favourite traditions with much loved family members and friends.

Every year around this time I get great enjoyment out of finding thoughtful gifts for the many wonderful people in my life. I've been turning again and again this month to Etsy to browse (from the quiet comfort of my own couch!) for unique and beautiful handmade items that seem just right for each of them. It's always a sweet feeling to see familiar eyes shine with delight over a one-of-a-kind gift that was made and chosen for them with heart.

Today I'm sharing with you an Etsy Holiday Gift Guide that features some of the many lovely items I've come across in my own browsing. Whether you're looking for a special gift or some cheerful holiday decor to warm up your home, you'll find plenty of creative options here. For even more holiday inspiration, take a look at these gift guides created by the Etsy editors.

For the Home


Snowflake Embossing Rolling Pin from Rolling Pin Collection





White and Gold Deer Decor from White Faux Taxidermy


Red Lantern Lamp from The Slumber Jack Baby



For Her


Red Plaid Flannel Scarf from Janny's Girl





Crochet Flower Slippers from Eva's Studio


Pebble Art Family Picture from Juniper Avery Sea Glass



For Him



Rocket Science Necktie from Cyberoptix



Papa Mug from Milk and Honey Luxuries






For Teens and Tweens

Felt Bag from Green Sheep PL


Bacon Hoodie from My Cool TShirt






Crochet Cat Beanie from 2 Mice


Hockey Medal Hanger from AKRO Boutique



For Little Ones

Upcycled Newborn Hat from Rowan's Tree House


Suede Moccasins from Threads and Arrows


Toddler Apron from Sable et Mer


Lumberjack Mini Hockey Stick from des Enfantillages



Small Surprises for Anyone





Linen Holiday Napkins from Kitch Studios


Harris Tweed Coin Pouches from Life Covers


Bear Fridge Magnets from Stoats and Weasels




If you live in Waterloo Region and would enjoy browsing beautiful handmade gifts from over 60 different local Etsy artisans in person, head on over to the Holiday Market being held this Saturday, November 26th, from 10am until 5pm at RIM Park. Parking and admission are free. I'm excited to take a peek myself --  maybe I'll see you there!



Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting this blog with your Etsy purchases.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Right at Home

There are echoes everywhere when one moves houses. The obvious physical ones bounce off of empty walls, growing louder each day as the soft things that make a house a home get tucked away carefully in boxes and bins, erasing at least to the eye most traces of the family who has lived and loved there. They're jarring, these strange new sounds in a long familiar place, but it's the echoes created deep within the hearts of the home's inhabitants that are the most unsettling. Every tissue-wrapped treasure evokes a poignant memory; together they clamour of all the years lived and gone now, and there's an aching realization in the final days of packing that the typical, everyday occurences in that house are suddenly significant last ones. Even when a move is decided upon with joyful excitement, there is room among the echoes for doubt and nervousness, for questions about whether choosing a new home was a good decision, or whether the unknown can offer happiness, too.


Matt and the boys and I have been in our new house for just over six weeks now, and any doubt we felt in those packing weeks has quickly dissipated as we've settled in and made this place our home. The spaces all seem just right for the four of us; we're completely at ease as we move together through the bustling days of enthusiastic family life here. All of us are enjoying experiencing the things we knew we'd love about this place when we bought it, and we're also discovering unexpected and cheerful surprises as we get to know the house and yard and neighbourhood better. Changing schools has been a happy experience for Will; he's made new friends quickly and has joined all kinds of extra-curricular activities already. Noah's found joy in discovering new running routes in this quieter neighbourhood close to a conservation area, and in having space in the basement here to play the drums he bought this fall. It's been exciting for Matt and I to be able to create the home we've long envisioned but couldn't quite achieve due to limitations in our old house. We feel at peace here, among the thoughtfully chosen touches indoors and the beautiful trees outdoors that are a haven for welcome little critters.









It becomes easy, I think, as we get older and more settled, to resist big changes that will require us to upset the comfortable rhythms of our daily lives, even when those changes are wished for deep down. A move seemed to us like an enormous undertaking filled with unknowns (and I won't lie, it's been a huge amount of work!) I remember now, though, that sometimes it's well worth the effort and upheaval to experience the pleasure of seeing life from a brand new perspective. At this house the sun rises gracefully every morning, just as it has at all of the other houses in which we've lived. But having it rise on a different side of the building, where the glowing pink light streams in our kitchen window while we sip warm drinks and munch on toast, has made us stop and take notice of its beauty as if we're seeing it again for the very first time.



Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Found in Aunt Maisie's Apartment

This post is a piece of creative non-fiction I wrote for a CBC contest back in the winter. It didn't capture the attention of the judges, but I'm giving it a home here now because it's a meaningful story for my family, especially my mom and dad. Thinking of them and all the ways they give of themselves to bring brightness to others' lives.

Congratulations to the thirty-two excellent writers whose pieces were longlisted for the CBC's 2016 Creative Non-Fiction Prize.


The phone rang shrilly three... four... five times, its sudden clamour piercing the stuffy air in the otherwise quiet apartment. Anxiety had often compelled her not to answer when random callers beckoned in recent years, but this time it was not her mind preventing her from moving toward the phone. She was a lonely prisoner in her own home, an old woman sprawled despondently on the floor, having fallen two days (or was it three now?) earlier. Her shaky limbs were too weak to follow the commands her panicked mind repeatedly barked out at them. As darkness slowly swallowed up the room once more, she struggled to recall when exactly her body had turned such a traitor.

***

“My Aunt Maisie’s in the hospital.” Mom’s voice was tired and sorrowful, the recent passing of her own mother weighing heavily on her heart. She hadn’t seen Aunt Maisie in years, she told me, and Maisie had said everything was fine on the occasions they had spoken on the phone. It was a sixth sense, or love, or maybe a powerful message from a mom who was gone but somehow still close by that told her to try the hospital when Mom’s repeated calls to her mother’s closest sister went unanswered.

“Her superintendent finally let himself into the apartment out of concern,” she explained. “Maisie will be moving into a nursing home once she’s recovered from her fall; she can’t live alone any longer. She’s giving me power of attorney and the keys to her apartment so I can take care of everything.” I waited during an empathic pause on the other end of the line. “She has no one else.”

Mom didn’t realize then the enormity of the responsibility she had just selflessly shouldered.

It seemed improbable that the weary old apartment was capable of holding so much. Chaos spilled out from every corner and cupboard, the accumulated treasures and debris of an abundant life nearly eight decades long. It might have been a gold mine of sorts for someone without any personal connection to the rooms or the woman who had lived in them for forty-four years, someone who could seek out the physically valuable items and leave the rest behind. For my parents, whose task it was to completely empty the place while respecting Maisie’s wishes and feelings, it seemed an indomitable mountain.

There were cabinets full of tarnished silver and smudgy crystal. Newspapers and years’ worth of mail sat stacked and unopened on tables and beds. Dead plants drooped in pots and a vase held the remains of spring flowers that had withered months before. Bags of garbage were piled by the door, and the fridge held shelves full of rotting food. Everywhere my parents looked there were heaps of both precious and trivial possessions: new curtains and bedding lying across the couch, an endless supply of Swiffer dusters that nodded ironically at the inches of dust covering everything, a television sitting on an empty cardboard box, smiling collectible figurines and faded photographs. Mom walked the narrow pathway that led to the one empty bed in the apartment and felt a suffocating wave of hopelessness.

Aunt Maisie had always been a meticulous woman, Mom told me. I, too, remembered her spotless apartment from the few times I had visited it as a child, and the flawless way she had always presented herself with elegant hairstyles, clothing, jewellery, and make-up. It filled my mother with despair to imagine how Maisie’s life had fallen into such a sad state of disarray as her aging mind faltered. Scattered over many of the apartment’s surfaces were notes written in Maisie’s shorthand, a skill honed during her career as a legal secretary. My parents studied the cryptic scribbles intently, hoping to understand some small part of them, but the messages offered no clues about how they should proceed. There are no instructions for how to disperse the earnest collections of a family member’s life once she’s grown too old to take care of it herself.

Over the three months that it took my parents to empty the apartment, my mom found her own powerful memories resurfacing from the jumble. Old photographs allowed her to feel once again the warmth of familiar eyes and long-gone smiles; her mom’s pretty cursive flowed from cards and letters mailed to Maisie in the years following their reconciliation after a drawn-out, hurtful family dispute. She uncovered Maisie’s famous trifle recipe and the bowl that had held the festive dessert at many happy family Christmas celebrations long ago. Running her fingers along the surfaces of these intimate objects brought tangible proof that what she had lived and remembered was real.

I was at the apartment the day that Mom found a pretty hat box way up high in a closet. We carefully removed the lid and stood for a moment in reverent silence, staring at the small, ruffled dress and the love-worn soft monkey laid carefully inside. These had belonged to Maisie’s only daughter, who was stolen from her at the tender age of seven. A jealous river had pulled the little girl through a crack in its frozen surface and smothered her in its icy embrace.

Mom sighed with sadness and gently placed the lid back on the box. “I can’t make a decision about this. It’s not mine to say goodbye to.” The box would be one of the items brought to Maisie’s new home at the retirement residence, where she would build the last stages of her life from the fragmented objects and memories that remained. I wondered if for Maisie it was distressful, or a relief, to have family members free her of the weight of her life’s possessions, and a failing memory sporadically release her from old ghosts that might haunt her.

In the final days of sorting, clearing, and moving things from the apartment, a key to an unexpected off-site storage locker revealed well-remembered treasures from Mom’s grandmother’s house: a crystal bowl, a silver teapot and a collection of dainty china cups, a small cat figurine that my mom had wanted as a keepsake and that a then-bitter Maisie had denied her at my great-grandma’s last garage sale. The contents of the apartment and locker revived old heartaches and buried anger for my mom, but she let them go. She passed on the pieces and stories she felt were worth keeping to younger family members who would appreciate them, and with relief, she allowed everything else to leave freely. “You forgive,” my mom would explain to me several months later. “You don’t forget, but you forgive.”

Aunt Maisie is never far from Mom’s mind now. She visits her regularly, shops for what Maisie needs, takes her to medical appointments, coaxes her to get dressed and leave her room when anxiety has prevented her from doing either. It’s not easy, Mom tells me; she’s had to find much patience and understanding within herself. On good days, she knows Aunt Maisie appreciates her. Sometimes she just feels she’s being taken for granted.

“I don’t want to end up like that, confused and in pain.” Mom has shared these fears with me many times before. “I don’t want any of you to have to take care of me.”

But this, too, is a part of life for many of us. We spend years building and creating, then stand by helplessly in old age as some of it crumbles or fades away. We make mistakes as we stumble through youth, then make amends as time and perspective help us gain understanding. Eventually, many of us will forget, leaving others who come after us to pick up the loose threads and continue weaving a complex family history.

There will likely come a time when it is my turn to bring comfort and support to aging family members. I’m certain of what I will remember then: the generosity and tenderness of my parents caring for an elderly aunt when she needed them, a powerful image of unconditional love.








Monday, September 5, 2016

From Summer to September


The crickets chirp in earnest now from their secret spots in the backyard gardens. It's a steady, late summer song that carries us, somewhat reluctantly, from the long, leisurely days of the past couple of months to the bustle and hum of a fresh school year.

It's been a gorgeous summer. July and August gave us sunny skies and beautiful places for both quiet relaxation and lively fun with family and friends. We rented our friends' cottage on St. Joe's Island for two weeks again early in the summer, where we filled up our lungs with fresh northern air and our hearts with some of our very favourite people, landscapes, and family traditions. We spent a fun long weekend at Matt's parents' place on Lake Nosbonsing, where all of his siblings and their families gathered at once, including a brother who lives in Australia and who surprised us all with his visit. Later in August, Matt and the boys and I took a little overnight trip to Frankenmuth, MI, always an enjoyable getaway for shopping and sightseeing and famous chicken dinners. We also spent many mornings and afternoons this summer enjoying our own backyard together -- swimming in the pool, jumping on the trampoline, gardening, grilling, reading books and playing cards in the shade of the big, friendly trees. My brother and nephew and niece joined us for a few days in late summer and the yard echoed with the laughter of four kids who always have a wonderful time when they're together, despite the physical distance that separates them for most of the year.





























The boys got up to some interesting things while they had an abundance of down time these past few months. They both volunteered as camp counsellors for a week, mentoring younger students in robotics and other STEM activities. Will mastered solving several new types of puzzle cubes and was invited to join an FLL team for the new season, which he's thrilled about. Noah spent much of the last couple of weeks at the Communitech hub, working diligently with a friend on a special design and programming project that was an exciting and challenging learning opportunity for them.

This summer, Noah turned 15 (!?!), and we finally gave in to Iris the cat's whining to go outside and bought her a harness and leash, which is both ridiculous and fun. We watched the Olympics, and the Tragically Hip's poignant last tour concert, and we sat under dark skies in our pjs late at night and watched for shooting stars. Oh, and in between all of this, we bought a new house, and sold our current house, in a wild flurry of activity driven by a hot real estate market where everything worked out in our favour. (We move in early October, and Will starts at his new neighbourhood school tomorrow morning.)



As the sun sets this evening on the last long weekend of a truly wonderful summer holiday, we'll go to bed here feeling well-rested, well-fed, reconnected, grateful, and happy. Though I'm wistful over the passing of another summer of my boys' youth, I'm also eager for the new adventures that surely await us as the seasons change once again.