When he was younger, my son Will had a habit of filling his pockets with the many "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 own 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 pockets. Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple Icing (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)

It was a very autumn-y sort of weekend around our house.  Matt and the boys and I went and visited a local orchard this afternoon, where we walked among the rows of fruit-laden trees and had fun filling four large bags with shiny red apples together.

These two kooky kids are always the apples of my eye.

The rest of the weekend was pretty blustery and damp outside, so it was a great opportunity to spend time in the kitchen cooking up foods for fall feasting: some homemade granola, a batch of oatmeal cookies for school lunches, beef pot roast for dinner, and a pumpkin spice cake with maple icing for dessert. This cake has quickly become a new seasonal favourite in our house; it's a just-right combination of savoury and sweet that goes perfectly with a warm mug of apple cinnamon tea.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple Icing

For the cake:

6 cups blanched almond flour
6 tbsp arrowroot flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 cups pure pumpkin puree
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
6 tbsp unsweetened almond milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

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

In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, melted coconut oil, maple syrup, almond milk, and vanilla. Add half of the dry ingredient mixture to the wet ingredients, stirring to combine, then add the rest of the dry ingredient mixture and stir again until you have a nice thick cake batter.

Lightly grease a bundt pan with melted coconut oil, then spoon the cake batter into the pan. Smooth the batter with the back of a spoon to create a level top. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 55 minutes to an hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Carefully invert the bundt pan onto a wire rack to remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely.

For the icing:

1/4 cup raw coconut butter
1 tbsp + 1 tsp coconut oil
1 tbsp + 1 tsp pure maple syrup

toasted chopped pecans for garnishing

Beat the coconut butter, coconut oil, and maple syrup in a bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until a smooth mixture forms. Spoon this mixture into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip. Pipe the icing in loops over the top of the cake, and garnish with toasted chopped pecans.

When Will came in from outside yesterday afternoon and smelled this pumpkin spice cake baking, he exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, I could just float away! It smells like heaven in here!" We all agreed after dinner that it tasted every bit as delicious as it smelled. Maybe you'd like to bake up one of these tasty cakes yourself for a fun fall celebration this month.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


I'm sitting at a small table in my local Starbucks/Chapters store with my laptop this morning in an effort to coax myself into more focused work. It's work my mind has long been eager to do, but a mind can be too willingly sidetracked when work is challenging and the outcome is uncertain. There are easy distractions at home, too many mundane things that "need" to be done before I'll tackle the work that would make me happiest. So this morning I've tried to escape the false urgency with which the stuff of everyday life beckons me by shutting the door and walking away for a little while.

I've quickly discovered there are easy distractions here too, though, in the form of the other people occupying small tables all around me. There is the blonde woman with a tote bag full of colourful yarn who weaves a crochet hook methodically through loops of deep purple, silver speckled wool, creating a pretty hat in the process. A young man rests his darkly stubbled chin on his fist in a thoughtful moment of pause as he considers what he's just typed onto his computer screen. The slender man behind me with the graying hair sips his beverage while turning the pages of a booklet filled with complex, intriguing-looking math equations at slow intervals. Across from me, a flush-cheeked young woman jots down notes in a small black leather book; I notice she is left-handed. I cast quick, curious glances at each of them every now and then, knowing I should just mind my own business, but I can't help wondering what their stories are. What pressing work has brought each of them here on this particular morning? From what might they be trying to escape?

I have always seen the world in stories. As a child, the warm light glowing from windows of other peoples' homes in the evening enticed me to imagine the lives breathing within the buildings' walls. Snippets of conversations overheard in public spaces have often flourished like vines, branching out into full-fledged fictional narratives in my mind. I am driven still to ponder the complex inner workings of human beings and the ways in which they connect with one another. Maybe, then, these people around me who come and go, giving me tiny glimpses into their uncommon lives, are not distractions at all, but interesting possibilities to consider beyond myself as I search out the stories I most want to tell. 

I watch with great interest as the crocheting woman skillfully crafts a little flower out of yarn and attaches it to the hat she has now finished making. Her morning's work has produced something tangible and satisfying. I realize now with sudden gladness that so has mine. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Etsy: Made in Canada

It's officially autumn, a beautiful season of falling leaves, crisp blue skies and cool air, cozy knits, and comfort foods. Though it's still sunny and summer-like outside this week where we live, I find myself looking ahead for ways to add warmth to our home, our wardrobes, and our lives as the temperatures tumble in the coming months. For me, nothing adds warmth and cheerfulness to a gray, chilly fall day quite like a little something that has been handcrafted with heart.

This Saturday, September 26th, people in 34 different cities across Canada will have an opportunity to shop unique and beautiful local handmade items at Etsy: Made in Canada pop-up markets.  This is the second year for the event, which gives Etsy artisans and shoppers the chance to connect in person. Everyone who attends gets to celebrate up close the diverse talents that live in and are inspired by their own communities.

The pop-up market in my area is being held at Emmanuel Village in Kitchener from 10am until 4pm. I'm really looking forward to attending after seeing so many beautiful items at last year's event. Here is a small sampling of some of the handiwork of local artisans who will be at the Kitchener Etsy market this year. (Click on the highlighted text to visit the online shop for more information.)

Cabled Infinity Cowl by Freedom Knits

Etched Copper Leaf Necklace by Stray Stones

Antler Pillow Cover by HAWT Home

Sugar Maple Salad Bowl by Simply Rooted Wood Shop

Modern Teen Bracelets by ESBeadworks

Stationery Set by isavirtue

Upcycled Fair Isle Wool Dog Sweater by PupCycle Canada

Newborn Gift Set by Teegy Togs

Moose Stuffed Animal by The Blind Stitch

Girls' and Ladies' Slouchy Knit Hat by NoasKnits

To find out where the pop-up market nearest you is taking place, and to see a sampling of the lovely items that will be available there, visit the Etsy: Made in Canada page. Admission to all of the pop-up markets on Saturday is free.

If you're not close to an Etsy pop-up market this weekend, you can support Canadian artisans any time by shopping at Etsy online from the comfort of your own little corner of the country.

Happy Fall!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pork Souvlaki with Lemon Roasted Potatoes and Greek Salad (gluten-free, dairy-free)

We did one of our usual (and most enjoyable) Saturday errands yesterday -- a visit to our favourite local food shop to choose items for some delicious weekend family meals. While the four of us were discussing possible selections at the butcher counter, Will noticed some pre-seasoned pork done up on skewers and ready to grill, and he asked if we could get them for dinner. We liked the idea of trying something different, but we decided to buy whole unseasoned pork tenderloin instead, so we could put together a Greek inspired dinner all on our own: souvlaki, lemon roasted potatoes, and a Greek salad with homemade dressing. Our meal was quite simple to prepare, but you'd never know it from the enticing aroma that filled our house and yard as the potatoes were roasting and the pork was grilling. We all loved this very flavourful dinner and will definitely enjoy it again some weekend soon!

Pork Souvlaki with Lemon Roasted Potatoes and Greek Salad

For the pork souvlaki:

2 pork tenderloins, cut into one and a half inch cubes
1/3 cup olive oil
the juice of one and a half lemons, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 large clove of garlic, minced
a few sprigs of each of fresh oregano and thyme leaves, finely chopped (lemon thyme is nice, too!)
sea salt, to taste

In a large shallow glass dish, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, oregano, thyme, and sea salt. Add the pork tenderloin pieces and stir so that the pork is well coated with the marinade. Cover and marinate the pork in the refrigerator for at least three hours.

Preheat the barbecue. Thread the pork tenderloin pieces onto skewers. (If you're using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in water for about 15 minutes first so that they don't burn on the grill.) Grill the pork skewers over medium-high heat, turning frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes or until the pork is cooked through.

For the lemon roasted potatoes:

5 small red potatoes and 5 small white potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
the juice and zest of half a lemon
a sprig of fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Toss the potato pieces with the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and zest, oregano, sea salt and pepper in a roasting pan.  Roast the potatoes for about 45 minutes in the preheated oven, stirring occasionally.

For the salad:

Add mixed greens, chopped red and yellow sweet peppers, chopped cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion, and kalamata olives to a salad bowl.

In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1 small sprig of fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Shake the dressing well, then pour over the salad and toss just before serving. (Extra dressing can be stored in the refrigerator.)

Try this tasty souvlaki dinner -- it will have you wanting to shout "Opa!" (You might want to draw the line at smashing the plates, though.  ;) )

Friday, September 18, 2015

A dangerous time?

Photo credit: CBC news

I've been thinking a lot about the story of Ahmed Mohamed this week. The fourteen year old Texas student built his own digital alarm clock out of a pencil box, and proudly brought it to school to show his teachers what he had created. The school called the police because one teacher thought the clock looked like a bomb; Mohamed was taken out of his school in handcuffs. No charges were laid against him, as police later determined that the clock was harmless and that the boy had not intended to alarm anyone by bringing the clock to school, but Mohamed was suspended from school for three days.

I have sons with big ideas who like to tinker with parts and build interesting things. It makes me feel a little sick to think that a boy who tries to share one of his innovative creations with his teachers could be mistaken for a criminal, handcuffed and taken from school to a juvenile detention center for questioning. I'm concerned not only because of how confusing and downright frightening that experience would be for him, but also because of the message that this kind of suspicion sends to kids whose passion is to look at things differently and put them together in new ways: you can think it and build it if you like, but you've got to keep it to yourself.

When interviewed about Mohamed and his homemade clock, the police chief of his community of Irving, Texas said, "You can't take things like that to school." It's a fair enough comment, I suppose, given the number of incidents in recent years where students have committed horrific acts of violence in schools with weapons they brought in themselves. If a homemade device came into a school and turned out to actually be a bomb, and something awful happened due to a lack of intervention, there would be a shocked outcry of anger that school staff and police had done nothing to prevent a tragedy. But if school is not the place for a bright teen to share his harmless creative ideas and receive encouragement from mentors, then where is? The idea that our society's schools can only tolerate certain "safe" kinds of learning is sad to me.

Mohamed's story, along with others that fill our news feeds each week, show that despite our progress in the areas of inclusion and acceptance, fear still exists where there is a lack of understanding because something is not part of one's own personal experience. Different races, different religions, different kids who are able to build their own clocks out of pencil boxes are still met with suspicion, criticism, or ridicule on a regular basis. We have a long way to go yet to erase the notion that dissimilarities equal threats. I hope Ahmed Mohamed and all of the other innovative young thinkers like him will find within themselves the courage to continue dreaming, creating, and proudly sharing their own unique contributions to the world.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A new dance

We ended our summer with a collection of not-so-very fun things that needed to get done: orthodontic-related dental surgery for Noah, an appointment to have him fitted for orthotics for his shoes, and a thorough cleaning out of our garage, which has been our catch-all storage space over the almost nine years we've lived in this house and was starting to become a rather scary sight. It was as if I had subconsciously decided that I was going to march into a new school year with determination and purpose, rather than being pulled along into it reluctantly, as I'm entirely sure I would have been had I left myself too much time to sit and think on the last weekend of summer holidays.

The dental surgery went very well, Noah's feet are much happier now that he has proper support for them, and our garage has never looked tidier. It was certainly a productive Labour Day weekend; I also spent a day baking to stock the freezer with good (and good-for-them) snacks for the boys' lunch bags. And while I still felt a little reluctant about the end of a wonderful summer as the boys headed back to school earlier this week, now that we're all settling in nicely to a new reality, I'm starting to enjoy the return to routine and the promise that the month of September always suggests to me.

Things are different for us this year, with Noah being in high school full time now. He is up and gone from the house quite early in the mornings to catch a school bus; most days he is on his way out the door just as Will is getting ready to have breakfast. I thought I'd miss our usual habit of the three of us eating and chatting together while we shared stories and the morning paper, but the change in schedule has uncovered a new niceness: I have time in the morning with just Will, and then in the afternoon with just Noah as he arrives home quite a bit earlier than his brother. I appreciate the opportunity to talk one on one with each of them, to hear their thoughts and feelings and the interesting details of each of their lives in those particular moments, without anyone interrupting. It's as important to me as ever in these tween and teen years to connect with my boys regularly, letting them know that I'm here for them even as they find more of their own way in the world.

The boys are both really enjoying their new adventures this week. Noah has already found many things he likes about high school life, and is eager to start training with the school cross-country team next week. For Will, going back to school seems to have lit a fire of ideas and ambitions within him. I found him poring over stock advisor newsletters early this morning and wondering what time the stock market opened so he could check the status of the companies he had selected yesterday for their potential. (This is one of his own ideas for a math enrichment activity this year -- if anyone knows of a program or app that lets kids play the stock market for learning purposes, without actually investing money, I'd love to hear about it!) He's constantly got Rubik's type cubes in his hands that he's solving while walking around the house, and he often speaks to me in html code, all while eagerly awaiting the start of a new dance class season.

Life is a kind of dance itself, isn't it? We're learning new rhythms all the time, trying out different combinations, sometimes stumbling and getting back up, sometimes feeling as though our feet can fly. While we practice the new choreography in our family's life this month, and the boys delight in their next steps, it's a perfect time for me to think about my own aspirations for this year. I find myself eager to make something new and different happen, all while staying true to what I value and love. Here's to September, and the hope of fresh beginnings.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A series of goodbyes

We returned home yesterday after one last meaningful trip up north before the summer comes to a close. Our extended family gathered together in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday to celebrate my grandma's life in the way she had wanted us to: with fireworks, wonderful memories, and laughter. The evening was a perfect late summer one, with warm temperatures and a gorgeous full red moon that lit up the sky as radiantly as the fireworks themselves. It was exactly the kind of vibrant family party that my grandma would have loved.

The drive up to the Soo felt different this time than it had when we did it back in July. It may have been the subtle physical changes I noticed along the way -- the slant of the late summer sunbeams, the hint of autumn colour already showing in some of the trees -- but I think it had more to do with the reason for our trip, and the wistfulness that always takes hold of my heart this time of year and makes me see and feel the world differently. It's difficult to say goodbye, to summer's long days of carefree togetherness, to family members whose love keeps us firmly rooted on a planet that is forever moving, to who and what we are at this exact moment in time. We want to hold on, to coax the warm sun to stay just out a little longer, to catch the fireworks' last brilliantly glowing sparks before they fall to earth and are extinguished forever.

The morning after our big family celebration, my mom, my aunt Christina, her two young daughters and I travelled up the highway that hugs Lake Superior to bring my grandma's ashes to their final resting place, a majestic bay where the waves roll in along a shoreline dotted with pretty rocks and washed up logs worn silky smooth by the water's caress. The drive was one I hadn't done in years, but its once familiar beauty filled me with a rush of emotion as we curved through lush evergreen forests and climbed hills that offered breathtaking views of the lake once we crested them. Saying a last goodbye to my grandma in this lovely place, where nature's enormity makes the effects of time almost imperceptible, felt peaceful, and comforting, and right.

So much about this last trip of summer reminded me that a rich life is filled with both sad goodbyes and joyful hellos. On this same weekend that we honoured a dear family member's last wishes, we received the wonderful news that we had a sweet new family member to love: Matt's brother Nick and his wife Krista welcomed their first baby into the world Sunday morning. Over and over the waves rush forward and then pull back again; the moon turns from a golden sliver to a glowing orb in the night sky. In the space between, each of us experiences a life in all of its wonder, its heartaches and its magnificent glories.

Goodbye, my beautiful Grandma. Goodbye, this lovely summer. Goodbye dear family, until the next time we can be together again. I love you all.